Jen Air: Springheel, Part One
I mentioned a while ago I was going to some short stories and novellas set in the Jen Air universe, so now I’m finally getting around to actually doing it. Naturally they more or less they just carry on from that story, with Jen, Kay and Ten all now sharing the lighthouse together.
In this, our plucky heroines come up against a Victorian urban legend, or at least one modern incarnation of it. Springheeled Jack, who is not to be confused with Jack the Ripper although some story tellers have conflated the two. But they’re seperate entities. As far as I know, back in his heyday, Springheeled Jack was only associated with one actual murder. Most of the time he just jumped out at people and caused mischief. I resisted putting the name Jack in the title as there are lots and lots of creepypastas with Jack in the title, and this isn’t a creepypasta. There are some elements of horror, but it’s really more of a super hero/villain, detective type of affair. Like Batman, but without anyone ever dressing up as a rodent. Tenley doesn’t even wear her bear outfit in this story.
As ever comments, suggestions, corrections and ideas are always welcome. So, here we go:
Springheel, Part One
Twelve year old Henry was having a miserable day. As he had yesterday, and the day before, and knew he would again tomorrow. Nothing in Henry’s life ever changed. Each day he was woken by his alarm. He got up, dressed, brushed his teeth, had some cereal and got on the bus and went to school. He went to his classroom and sat behind his desk at the back where no one would ever talk to him. They did talk a lot about him, always sniggering behind his back about how chubby and smelly he was, or slow and clumsy at sport, or just the fact that his name was Henry.
The teacher asked him for his homework. The cat had died and mother made him bury it, so he hadn’t done any. The teacher thought he was lying and the children all laughed. He was told to come back during his lunchbreak and do it, which was fine by him. He hated being outside anyway.
He spent the next hours or so only half listening to the teacher talk about China and the great wall while he dismantled his pen and fidgeted with the spring. The bell rang for morning break and the children started to run out, all still laughing about his dead cat. Except one.
“Don’t be mean!” She told the others, putting her little foot down. Alice was a popular, athletic girl and was almost certain to be a future cheerleading captain. The reason she was so popular and always surrounded by lots of friends was… well, she was actually just really nice to everyone in the school. Even Henry.
“Don’t you remember how sad you were when your parrot died?” She admonished one of her friends before sighing and turning to him. “Are you all right, Henry?”
He couldn’t look at her. Doing so always made him feel funny. And, in truth, he hadn’t really been that sad about the cat dying. It was a fat old cat and hadn’t long for this world anyway. But Alice always tried to sympathise with people and he was too embarrassed with her standing over him smiling so kindly to tell her that she was wrong. So he just blushed and nodded.
“Well,” she said, Henry involuntarily shuddering as she gently placed a hand on his shoulder, “you try to feel better, okay?”
Behind her, some of the other children still sniggered. But she left with them, leaving Henry alone. She was the only thing that made his days bearable. The only person who was ever kind to him and the only reason he ever bothered to get up each morning. He wished she hadn’t gone so soon.
“Go! Fight! Win!” Two girls practiced their cheers, which would have been fine but for the fact they were doing so in the back of their dad’s car.
“Save it for the field,” he winced and groaned and silently cursed god for inventing song. They did pipe down, a little, but continued to giggle and refuse to sit still for any more than a nanosecond at a time.
He must have closed his eyes for a second because suddenly a dark figure appeared in the middle of the road, glaring at him through the headlights with bright red eyes. The brakes screeched and the car swerved, accompanied by the surprised and startled screams of the girls in the back. The chassis shuddered and the front crumpled into a brick wall. For a time, there was a silence. And then the father groggily lifted his head, asking, “Is everyone okay?”
There was a sore neck and one of the girls had somehow hit her nose, but otherwise they were fine. “Wh-what was that?” The eldest stuttered. “Was that a deer? Did we hit a deer?”
“I don’t know,” the father answered. He didn’t think they’d hit anything apart from the wall, but there had definitely been something there. There had to have been, because otherwise he’d have crashed for no reason which wouldn’t look good on his insurance claim. But he didn’t think it was a deer… he’d only seen it briefly but it looked human in shape, dressed in a black coat and wearing some kind of mask or helmet. Peering back down the road he saw it was empty, which was a relief. But he supposed he should go back and check.
“Where are you going?!” The unsettled girls asked as he opened the door to get out. He assured them he was just going to take a look and would be back in a moment.
The girls waited impatiently for a long time, looking back through the window as their father glanced back and forth between both sides of the road. “Should we call the police?” One of them asked, already reaching for her phone. The other had no idea what to do, or even if they should do anything yet.
Suddenly there was a thud. The girls jumped at the sudden shaking as something banged the side of the car three times. Then silence for a moment, and then more rapping, tapping, and scratching at their door.
“Something’s there…” the younger girl observed although it was obvious. The eldest looked back again over her shoulder. The road was empty. “Where is he?!” The young girl suddenly screamed. “Where is dad? Where did he go?”
The older girl shushed her as they felt another judder. She slowly leant to the side, pressing her nose against the cold glass of the window as she tried to look out and down. She couldn’t see anything and fought back the urge to open the door. The urge to know, even though the answer might terrify her. She leant back, away from the window, and then her sister screamed. It was at the other window, staring at them. A man with pale skin and dark lips twisted into a cat-like grin. He wore a black cap and metal goggles with round, red lenses and what looked a clock face etched on each of them. He craned his neck back, and then jerked it forward smashing it through the glass, the grin never leaving his face.
The girls screamed again and crawled back, but the younger one who was nearest to the intruder still had the presence of mind to grab the nearest weapon, which turned out to be a baseball bat rolling across the floor. There wasn’t room to swing, but she jabbed and hammered him with it. But all that did was make him laugh, and he continued to tick and turn and slither his head and shoulders in through the window, leering over them.
“Who are you?!” The eldest demanded desperately.
The attacker ticked and twitched, his turning around as he spoke broken words. “Call me… J-J-Jack… Jack… Springheel… Jack…” he suddenly broke into another strange manic laugh. He suddenly clamped his hands either side of the door and bent back, pulling it from its hinges as he stepped back and did a twirl, the car door bumping and rotating round his long black coat.
While that was going on, the girls opened the other door and crawled out, starting to run toward the nearest building which seemed to be some kind of office building that had closed for the night. Jack laughed, and then in a single bound leapt to the roof of the car. Then he leapt again, further this time, over the heads of the girls as they ran. The paused, panting as he landed in front of them, the eldest girl taking the bat and attempting to shield her sister as Jack stalked forward, slashing at her with steely claws.
She jumped back, pushing her sister out the way as she tried to fight him, but she never stood a chance against this thing. She swung at him, and Jack laughed, catching the bat in his claw and splintering it. He then twirled as if in a dance, facing her again with his palm flat under his lips. He puffed and a pale blue flame erupted from his hand, the girl screaming once more as her clothes, hair and skin and she fell.
The remaining sister whimpered, falling as well and crawling on her back as Jack twitched toward her. She cried and pleaded, “W-what do you want?!”
Jack ticked and twisted his head. “W-w-want? I want…” he chuckled. “Want you…”
As he was leaning over the crying girl, salvation for her arrived in the form of a police car. The officer stepped out, at first just seeing the crash, but then he saw the girl and her attacker with his clawed hand raised and instinctively cried, “Freeze!” Which of course almost never worked, and Jack just seemed irritated. He moved his hand to cover the lower part of his face as the officer fired on him. Again he just laughed, as the officer radioed for back up, and then he ran and jumped and leapt onto the roof of the building. He paused a moment, looking down on the startled policeman before dancing a little jig and disappearing into the night, leaving only the echoes of his laughter.