"Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that."
Marley was dead.
He lay face-down in the grey snow, stabbed three times from behind. I wiped
my blade on his overcoat and walked away into the shadows. Two hard-eyed
street urchins had witnessed my crime from behind a water butt, but they
were of no consequence. Allowing them to pick the body clean of valuables
would ensure their silence if ever brought before a magistrate.
The partnership of Marley and Scrooge had been dissolved. It remained to be
seen how favourably Mister Ebenezer Scrooge reacted to the news.
I left the narrow alleyway and rejoined the main thoroughfare. The
Christmas Eve throng of pedestrians clogged the street, slowing my
progress. Several passers-by greeted me as I made my way amongst them. I
acknowledged each with a smile and a touch of my top hat, but nothing more.
None of them really knew me, of course, but I have a face that many find
familiar. Mere memories of childhood dreams, if they but knew it.
My entire body itched as if constrained by over-tight clothing. I longed to
break free: to shout, scream, kick against the dead weight of Victorian
sentimentality that threatened to crush my wild spirit. Inwardly I raged at
the stultifying conservatism of my fellow pedestrians, but did nothing. I
was bound by the conventions of this genre like Prometheus to his rock.
But listen closely, not for very much longer, I've got to keep control.
A random memory, a snatch of song lyrics, lifted my spirits. I hummed the
tune under my breath until reaching my destination; a narrow-fronted town
house showing signs of neglect. I sidled around to the back door and stood,
listening for the tell-tale crunch of following footsteps, but there was
nothing. I rapped softly on the door with my cane and waited.
No lantern was lit but eventually I heard the turn of a key, a bolt being
withdrawn, and the door opened a fraction. Yes?
The voice from within was entirely devoid of the frailty one associates
with the elderly. Here was a man who mouthed malice as surely as a set of
dentures. I inclined my head. What was to be done has been done. I suggest
we conclude our contract in private.
The gap opened wider and I stepped inside, standing while my host secured
the door behind me. The rasp of a match brought life to a candle stub and I
regarded my client, Mister Ebenezer Scrooge. The paltry flame he held was
enough to show a threadbare housecoat worn over his bed gown, pale legs
thrust into mismatched slippers.
He sniffed. Youre sure? Ill want proof positive before parting with the
sum we agreed.
I snapped my fingers.
Murder, horrible murder in Whitechapel! Jacob Marley found dead!
The cry of the news vendor reached us plain enough. Its a little trick of
mine, a form of narrative acceleration Ive found useful on occasion. The
reference to Whitechapel gave me pause, but I had no time to dwell on the
apparent incongruity. Your business partner is dead, sir. You may rest
assured of that. Now, to business?
With evident reluctance Scrooge set down his candle and lifted a tea towel,
revealing a small strongbox. From this he withdrew a stack of gold
sovereigns and thrust them into my hand. Now, begone, and never- He broke
off, staring at a point over my right shoulder. Ye Gods, what have you
brought to my house?
I dropped the coins, seized the top of my cane and twisted, freeing the
slender blade housed within. Swinging around I slashed at the spot which
had so transfixed Scrooge, but found nothing. Fearing betrayal I turned
again and pressed the point of my swordstick against his neck. The ice-blue
metal glowed softly, lending his skin the pallor of a three-day-old corpse.
It also revealed the abject terror in his eyes. No attempted ambush then,
but some genuine threat.
My voice was a snarl. Out with it, man, what has you so afeared?
He swallowed with difficulty. Smoke from the candle. It swirled as if in a
draft, but there is none. It took on the form of a face, such a face as I
I thrust him aside and bent down, snatching up such coins as came readily
to hand. Leaving Scrooge I strode down the hall and unbarred the front
door. Taking a moment to compose myself, I sheathed my blade and stepped
out onto the pavement. My only defence lay in the company of strangers,
those who could not be held to account for my crimes. I set off diagonally
across the street thankfully free of any traffic other than pedestrians.
What stalked me was the embodiment of guilt, guilt that I did not feel as a
consequence of my actions.
I needed to find someone, I needed to find
An aged flower seller, muffled against the cold, making her way home. She
still carried a few blooms in her wicker basket, prominent amongst them a
solitary red carnation. I touched cane to hat by way of introduction and
her resigned features slid into an approximation of welcome.
And how may I serve you, good sir, on this most auspicious of evenings?
That carnation of yours. Grown in a hothouse I shouldnt wonder, and
A fine bloom, to be sure, but one that wont last. Perhaps a sprig of
I flicked the flower into the air using the tip of my cane and caught it
deftly in my left hand. Pinching off the stem between finger and thumb I
slid it into place as my buttonhole.
She inclined her head in acknowledgment of my dexterity. Perhaps, sir,
sixpence? Given the time of year and seasonal goodwill?
In response I pressed a sovereign into her hand. I insist you accept this
as full payment, and may I wish you a Merry Christmas.
The crone gazed in wonder at the gold coin. And a Merry Christmas to you,
sir. And may I say
But I had moved on, ducking into a quiet alleyway. The veneer of Victorian
convention started to crack and I felt a savage grin spread across my face.
Im the Iceman, a killer, and I stalk Wonderland for those with the means
to pay for my services.
Jack Frost, at your service.
Id worked for Father Christmas to get back in his good books but it was
obvious the fat bastard had welched on the deal. Eventually The Man would
notice and hold him to account, but by then Id be history. Bad things
happen to those on the Naughty List, and this particular Bad Thing was hard
on my tail. My random act of generosity, even born of cynical
self-preservation, would hold it at bay for a while. Id bought myself some
time, but not long. The faint sound of jingle bells drew my gaze upwards.
The sky was empty save for drifting snowflakes; lost souls, each following
their own path to oblivion.
Not my fate. Not yet, at any rate.
I needed a gun, but the only firearms this Dickensian niche had to offer
were cumbersome pistols or a comedic blunderbuss. Neither had the stopping
power to see off a Bad Thing, even at point-blank range. Not that you could
ever kill it. The best you could hope for was a few hours respite while it
lurked in the shadows, reforming. Luckily my latest crime had drawn it like
a moth to the flame, before it was fully formed and ready to torment me. I
wouldnt be so fortunate a second time.
So, there was no mileage in hanging around, even assuming I could
ingratiate myself with the likes of Bob Cratchit and his family. It was
time to pay the real world a visit, but without leaving any trace of where
Id gone. And for that I needed to snag a dreamer. Standing in a recessed
doorway I struck my cane three times on the flagstones.
Close your eyes and set your mind free
My dreamer was agitated, their point of view swooping between the buildings
like a swallow. That meant they were on the point of waking up, but I
couldnt wait for someone more deeply immersed. I followed, letting the
perspective of my minds eye catch up slowly. I had to take things
cautiously in case that feeling of something behind you was enough to
push them into consciousness. I felt the prickle of awareness as my dreamer
experienced a change of persona, my persona, but that meant I could turn
and look back to where theyd come from.
A twist of silver winding back through the streets Ariadnes thread for
the mind. I followed, my imaginary pace quickening until the buildings on
either side became blurs, people beneath me mere flickers of humanity. All
detail faded until I was rushing down a dark tunnel, the only illumination
my path to salvation. Ahead of me I could sense a blank wall, the end of
all songs, the barrier between
The world blinked. The world became
A medium sized bedroom in darkness. Central heating, street lights visible
through the curtains, a figure lying in a single bed. Im not the Tooth
Fairy, I dont get a kick from creeping around, watching kids while they
sleep. There was a burble of TV from downstairs so that meant a quick exit
via the window was in order. I slid the catch open but the damn thing
wouldnt budge. I propped my cane against the wall and used both hands, but
still no joy.
Theres a trick to it. You need to lift from the top, not the bottom.
Otherwise it always sticks like that.
I froze. It was a girls voice; young, but older than anticipated. I stood
upright and turned around, trying to think of what to say. The bedside lamp
Youre Jack Frost.
Says who? Instinctive denial always my first line of defense.
Im Carole Geola. Im twelve. She had fair hair and freckles. I could see
no superabundance of soft toys to indicate an immature intellect for her
Twelve? But you still believe in me?
She nodded. Oh yeah, Ive seen you before.
Somehow I seriously doubt that. The only people who knew me were clients,
confederates or victims. Sometimes two from three.
Three years ago, when we had all that snow. My dad built a winter hide in
the garden, so I could watch the animals coming in from the woods to feed.
The patio doors were all covered in frost and I saw you step out of them.
All white at first, then you coloured in. You wore the same red waistcoat.
I tried to smile. Neat trick, eh?
Carole cocked her head to one side. You killed a man just now. In my
dream. I saw you.
Ah, that wasnt real, OK? It was just like a story you watched, with me as
She frowned. I could hear you in my head, afterwards. Just before I woke
up. You were afraid, trying to get away. It wasnt an act.
. But maybe twelve was old enough to understand. OK, Carole, it was
real, in a way. But that man was going to die, regardless, even if I hadnt
been there. Thats just the way he was written. All I did was use his
death, the circumstances of his death, for my own ends.
I dont understand. She drew her knees up and hugged them.
Right, look, ah, stories, usually old stories, they can become real. Not
real as in here, but real as in the place you go when you dream. Some fade
away but others last forever, all existing side-by-side. Like, like a big
That wasnt half of it. Belief kept a storyline alive, feeding on each
dreamer who visited it. That generally meant children, the devout and the
seriously disturbed. Wonderland was an unstable mix of fairytale, religious
fervour and the plain mad. It takes some getting used to.
My pre-teen interrogator bit her lip. Stories like Twilight?
Ah, no, only tales written by hand, with a pen. Theres something in the
ink that captures the imagination, makes it real. People wrote about me, a
long, long time ago, and Ive been around ever since. Its the same
with all the classic fairy tales, including the scary ones.
Carole stared at me hard for a moment looking a damn sight older than
twelve then sniffed. You came here to hide, to get away. A statement
rather than question.
I shrugged. There are dreams and there are nightmares, even for people
like me. You visit Wonderland when youre asleep, and leave it behind when
you wake up. For me, for all of us who live there, you dont get to wake
up. Coming here - your world, the real world is my escape. Except that I
cant stay for long. I cleared my throat. Speaking of which
Youd better go, in case my mum looks in.
Damn straight. I turned and slid the window up. It was Christmas Eve no
snow, but at least dry and frosty. My home turf. I removed my top hat,
pressed it flat, and sent it spinning off into the shadows. My swordstick
was another matter. I lifted it and turned towards Carole. You give it a
sharp twist like this, then pull. Careful though, its sharp enough to cut
the air itself. Call it an early Christmas present.
For me? Cool.
You bet. Because it comes from Wonderland itll be there when you dream,
if you need it. Sometimes a blade beats running away, hands down. I placed
the cane on the end of her bed. Oh, and if you see Santa, give him a poke
from me. She giggled.
I eased out of the window and slithered down the drainpipe, leaving a trail
of fern-leaf frosting. The garden was quiet, the air still as stone. My
feet left no imprint as I walked over to the gate. Looking back I saw
Carole at the open window, waving. I bowed in return, then turned away
Its always good to meet a fan.
© Martin M. Clark 2018 All Rights Reserved