Hold the two handles, push the button, and peek inside.
At first, nothing.
A blinding flash of light. I felt a part of me ripped away by the icy fingers of darkness that crawled up my arms and grabbed onto my high heels, enveloping me in a choking embrace. They refused to let go, drowning me in a black, empty sea for eternity.
“My, my… another sinful mortal overtaken by curiosity,” said a foreign voice, sounding rather amused.
I was slow to register the presence of a young boy. Eerily floating. Looking down upon me. He looked about ten, small and adorable with an innocent smile. His white tunic hang loosely around his body, like a playful child trying on a parent’s shirt. Long strands of dazzling blonde hair followed his movements as he circled and examined me with his large, baby blue eyes. I stared at them, mesmerized. They glowed in a way that made it impossible to look away. Glowed in a way that drew in my soul. Glowed in a way that made goosebumps climb up my arms.
“Are you not going to ask me about where you are? Are you not going to question my identity?” His smile enlarged with every step he took, he grabbed my shoulders and pressed his face so close to mine that our noses touched, “Are you not surprised that you are alive?”
I didn’t respond, for my fists were trembling and my mouth refused to open. His smile no longer resembled the sun, but blended perfectly into his surroundings. It was just a lifeless slit on his face. Like a glued-on mask.
“Huh,” the boy sighed as if disappointed and sank back into a nest of flowing hair, “How uninteresting, you are simply mortal, indifferent from so many others before you.”
“What do you want from me?” I asked after taking a deep breathe.
“Oh, oh! You can talk! For a second, I had almost mistaken you for a mute, although that would have surely made you more interesting. I would apologize, though you are unworthy for such respect. Like everyone in or beyond this world, expect for Him,” his eyes curved like they were mocking me. I felt an urge to stare back at them. Yet the moment his eyes met mine, it was as if chains sprung up from the nothingness below and pinned me down. Of course, he didn’t put a spell on me — it’s purely out of fear. Fear a rabbit has when the fox has its mouth clamped around its throat.
“You look pale. Hahaha, do not fear, I do not wish to take your life,” He reached out and settled his hands upon my cheeks and lifted my head up so our eyes almost levelled (of course, I was still looking up at him), “Tell me, you foolish, do you wish to return to your dimension?”
“Could I?” I asked, trying to bring my body under control.
“Of course, of course,” he seemed rather pleased with himself. “If you put on an entertaining show, then I shall have mercy on you and free your body from God’s judgement.”
“Then, we have a pact,” and the darkness once again seized its chance to devour me.
I felt my body drop down. I don’t know how much time has passed, some part of me say it was forever, other parts, a split second.
Eventually there was a sound of something heavy hitting the floor, which I suppose was my torso, followed by a burning sense of pain that erupted from deep within my body. And here I was, laying on the filthy, soul-freezing floor, staring at the smoking, colour-drained sky.
I struggled to bring my body up into a sitting position and looked first at myself. I couldn’t see. I was blindfolded by the silence. But I could feel the blood that’s dripping down my curls and onto the bricks,
“Are you enjoying yourself?”
I had no need to look up, because the strands of sunlight that flowed from his head is swinging back and forth directly above my head. I wish I could muster the courage to scream, to run, to do anything other than to kneel helplessly before him who I despised. But I couldn't.
“Why are you here?” I said
“Well, I will guide the lost sheep in directions that I feel content,” he smiled.
I didn’t respond, but as my eyes got accustomed to the new environment, the image they sent back hit me hard. The scent of poverty leaked from every brick in the walls and floor. The ground beneath my feet was littered with beer bottles and spilled wine flooded the little space that was left. The walls were coated in dust and mould, a light brush could send chunks of dirt and clay tumbling down. The only indication of recent human activity was the splats of liquid on the wall — a drunk man’s masterpiece. The looming trees devoured every ray of light in here (not like there’s an abundance of it to begin with). And only tiny sparkles were able to squeeze in from where the narrow alley meets the road.
“Wel-,” began the boy.
“The Leather Apron strikes again! The fifth victim’s identity confirm!” called a unfamiliar, boyish voice in the direction of the alley’s entrance.
I jerked my head toward the source of the foreign voice — the only reason I had to dismiss him from my mind. It was a passing boy with a stack of newspaper in his right hand, shouting and waving the newspaper at passing men, who are all rushing with worn shoes from store to store, and road to road, looking down as if any interference with their momentum could cause them their life. Strangely, they are eager to stop in their tracks for the newspaper.
“You should go grab one, that is how the script goes.”
I ignored him but went for one. It would be a good idea to know where I am (if I’m still in a place on Earth, that is). Even holding onto the walls, I was barely able to drag my body across the floor. Any movement of the joints felt like knives jabbing into my muscles, reminding me of my misfortunes. I was able to shoot that damned kid an enraged look, but felt defeated when it did not make a crack in his smile.
“Excuse me, may I have a newspaper?” my hands shook a bit at the sound of my own voice, the words that came out were raspy and barely recognizable, like a soulless demon.
The young boy froze, blinked twice, stuffed the pack of paper in my hands and took off in a hurry, murmuring a church prayer. But I wasn't in the mood to care about a minor newspaper boy’s perspective on me. I scanned through the front page, and there it was, right under the headline — Monday, September 23, 1888, Whitechapel, London .
“It seems that you have discovered the setting of this play,” he laughed.
Wandering the roads like a strayed cat, blood sliding down the forehead, curls that tangled themselves into a bird nest and the eyes of a person maddened with fear. No one could have thought I was sane. And indeed, I was no longer in full control of my body. Four hours in a twisted nightmare can have strange effects on your mind.
Why is it me? I thought, why wasn’t someone else chosen to suffer in my place?
“Are you all right, miss?” A voice rang above and I swung my head up at a neck-breaking speed. It was a tall, slender man on a snow-coloured horse, wearing a shiny black tuxedo, his tie professionally tied around his neck with a matching top hat. Thick, dark hair dangling right below his hairless chin, completed with a perfect curve of the lips that made the ones around him seem colourless.
“Are you an angel?” The words slipped through my lips before I could lock them away.
“Hm?” The man opened his mouth, but didn’t speak. He looked quite surprised and puzzled at my comment.
Oh great. Cassandra you dumb-ass! Now you’e done it! Now he’s going to run away, and you’ll be stuck with that monster child (whose giggles of mockery attacked my ears) again.
To my surprise, the man burst out laughing after a short period of silence, “My, my, I have never received such a compliment before. Thank you miss, for your kind words. However, I’m only a doctor,” then he took the time to examine me, stopping an excessively long time on my dress and my hair. I felt my face burn with embarrassment. I know fully well that I am captivated by this gentleman at first sight, after all, who wouldn’t be if a handsome stranger reached out for you when you’re desperate for any sort of comfort? This man that I’ve known for less then five minutes was my newfound lifeline.
“Miss, please forgive me for saying such a thing. But you look terrible! Would you care to tidy your hair? And… Oh dear god, your dress is terribly... well...ripped! Oh, I’m terribly sorry for looking at your dress when it is in such a state. Nevertheless, you haven't been attacked, have you?”
“Attacked? No. No! Of course not!” I silently tucked as much of my short-short dress, although perfectly intact, under my arms. But uneasiness struck me as I caught the key word in his sentence, “Attacked? By what?”
“This is odd. You have not heard about the rumoured killer — Leather Apron? Oh, maybe you would know him as Jack the Ripper. He is truly a famous artist for his style of murder. He goes for the throat first, quite generously saving his victims the pain of having their organs removed from their original place within the abdomen and chest, ” and the angel in my eyes leaned forward (which had set my face on fire) and whispered, “That man, he is truly THE genius when it comes to beautifully crafted reaping of one’s life.”
And before I can say anything, he flustered me again with a gentle stroke of my curls and putting them behind my right ear, “Oh yes, my lady. It would be rude to not invite such a beautiful mistress to a meal that is equally matched with your beauty. Will you allow me to treat you to dinner in an extravagant restaurant?”
“Of course,” my heart raced as I reached out my hand for his, mimicking how the ladies in those 1800s movies (for once, I was thankful of my mom’s out-of-the-ordinary interest in old movie). I kept my head held high and enjoyed the pride as passing women glared at me, pointing and gesturing at my dress. Some had a disgusted look, while others seemed curious or shocked. I concluded that they were simply jealous.
“You foolish mortal, you are making a grave mistake if you are to believe in this wolf in sheep’s clothing,” but I ignored the child’s warning.
My gentleman and I walked without conversation for a long time, my hand in his. I was too flustered to open my mouth so I focused my attention on his lips. No matter how long I stare at them, the shape and curve of his mouth always matches my image of Prince Charming. I want to reach up and feel them…
“Miss. We have arrived. I am glad that we made it, for it is beginning to shower.”
“Oh!” I jerked my hands back, “Oh. Yes. Let’s go, I don’t want to get soaked.”
It wasn't where I expected a lovely diner to be. It was another dark, ghostly alley. A void of nothingness, where darkness swallows everything, where I could see no end.
As I gazed into the dark, there was a jabbing pain in my eyes, forcing me to close them.
“Do you wish to see how all this is going to end? This recounting of past sin?” The monster whispered.
He placed his hands on my eyes, and forced them open though his fingers barely scraped my skin. Nothing seemed different, I am still standing, staring into the alley. But something caught my eye, something I know will never let go of me.
It was me, but she, no, it didn’t resemble me anymore.
It’s slouching against the brick walls. The left eye socket is empty, all but a few dangling veins are ripped out. I can see my reflection, so vivid among the deadness that shrouded the original colour of that eye. Even with the rain pouring down, the splatters of blood still clings to the wall, painting the once worn-down bricks a brilliant shade of dark red. The knife wound ripped so deep into the neck that it nearly decapitated the dead body. Its torso, if it could be called a torso anymore, was still gushing blood from the opening across the chest and abdomen. The intestines, the stomach, all the organs were spilled over the floor like the killer purposefully ripped them out and played with them. Then the corpse decayed right before my eyes, skin started to peel, exposing the semi-liquified flesh. The remaining solid parts dangled from the rib cage that still held firm, like it was still protecting a breathing lung. The right eyeball drooped from its socket by a single strand of vein. The short-short dress I had, the one I was so proud of, now hang on my skinless skeleton, soaked with blood. The contents in my stomach was forcing its way back up my throat and I wish I could bet down to let it out. But I was too scared.
“My lady, are you all right?”
And the distorted scene flickered and vanished, like it never existed. The alley returned to how it’s always been. An overshadowed alley in Whitechapel. A regular alley in a poor, and undeveloped district in London. I stood there and the rain poured down over my head.
Was it an hallucination? I’m right here! I’m not dead. That couldn’t have been me, but the metallic stench refuse to dissipate and the sound of dripping blood echoed on the walls of the alley. Every brick, every stone, screaming at me to run.
I turned around, ready to take off, but I couldn't. Because he’s there, his tall stance blocking the only source of light. His lips formed that flawless curve which resembled an angel descending from heaven.
“Oh, I was thinking that we can have dinner together, say… tomorrow. This isn’t making me feel very comfortable. I mean the alley. I think that I, um, just saw my de—”
“I’m afraid you won’t have time for tomorrow,” he interrupted, his right hand reached up, taking down his top hat as he bowed like the gentleman he is.
“Wha- Why?” then I saw a glitter behind his back. My instincts told me that it won’t be jewelries or a pocket watch. It will be something to paint the walls bloody red.
I was right. The pointed dagger revealed itself from behind his back, a cold, crazy fire raged in his eyes and a split second later, I was pushed against the wall, the dagger locking my neck.
“Do you wish to know why a man as brilliant as me dwelled in this city that is neglected by God?” he went on with stopping for my answer, “I, the great Jack the Ripper, shall proof my faith to Him through the reaping of unclean souls like yours. The act of selling out one’s body for riches is a disgrace. For that, I shall punish those deceived by the devil by releasing their souls from their body. To be honest, I was surprised why a girl as beautiful as you are would commit to such a sin. However, it does not matter any longer,” And he lifted the dagger to plunge it into my throat, but just before the icy blade touched my skin, the world turned black and white. The tick-tocks of the clock stopped.
“Do you know why it was you that was chosen to look in the box? You were chosen because you were sinful. The Box of Phanuel only punishes those who has sinned in the past,” That haunting ghost wrapped his arms around my shoulder and his body coiled around mine like a serpent strangling its prey.
“Sinful? You’re joking! What did I ever do to deserve all this?”
“So does this not remind you of anything? Being betrayed by someone you have trusted?” he cupped his hand over my left ear and whispered softly, “You should remember that moment two years ago, right? The moment you deceived an innocent soul into ending her own life against His will. Truly disgusting, even for a mortal.”
With that, the memories I’ve hid deep within my soul flooded into my brain. Of course I remember that neglected, unpopular and ugly girl who stolen my crush from me in twelfth grade. The one that committed suicide because of a bullying incident. That was my sin?
“She jumped off herself! I didn't push her! I wasn’t even the one who made her go all crazy! It was Crystal! She messed with Crystal! That b**** only jumped off a roof because Crystal told some boy to rape her! I only said that she was disgusting and she didn't deserve Toby!”
“Oh, you foolish and ungrateful mortal”, he lowered his eyelids, as if he no longer wanted to see me, and the tips of his mouth dropped, “You never learn to admit your sins. You are the one who pretended to lend her help. You are the one who offered to be her lifeline. You are the one who, poisoned with jealousy, betrayed her at the end. If you have not went out of your way to concoct such a devilish plan, our Lord would not have accepted her into the heavens. You are the true demon that dragged her down to hell.”
“I—” but he melted into thin air before I got a chance to explain myself, before I could say that I did nothing wrong. The colour dissolved back into the sky and the clouds, time started to flow again. There was nothing that could stop the dagger anymore.
I felt blood explode from my neck and I expected everything to slowly fade. But the pain refused to numb. I can feel fully well, though I can’t see it: that man slitting my abdomen open very slowly, as if enjoying the blood fighting to escape from the slit across my chest. Every organ was carefully cut from my body: stomach, lungs, heart, one by one, artery by artery. He did it a way that only doctors could, being so careful because they were his prized collection. I could only imagine his expression when he ripped my left eye from its socket and the pain finally dumbed my senses.
“Although you are sinful, our deal still holds. Your body shall be spared from the eternal hellfire,” it was the demon, chanting prayers as everything fades.
“Well,” someone coughed, “what did you see?” I knew that voice, it was Rand, the gallery owner. The one who had set all of my sufferings in motion. The one who forced me to look when he’s the one curious. The one who is sinful, not me. His organs should have been ripped out, not mine. I’m his scapegoat.
I wanted to sink my nails into his throat and tear every organ in his body out so he could experience what I’ve gone through. But I can’t reach him. Although I reached and reached, my body remained frozen. I can’t control it anymore. In fact, I’m no longer in it, someone else is inhabiting my body. I could only watch as I said, “Can we go home now?” I wanted to regain control over my body, I wanted to call out to mom. But my hands are pinned at my sides and my mouth seemed to be sewed together.
“Your soul, however, will be banished to the depths of hell. Your sinful body will now host the soul of your victim. Do not worry, she will not do anything undesirable to it, since she has already gone mad, but it is likely that your body would not survive very long under her control,” the demon said, as calmly as stating the number of peas on his plate.
“You are the devil!”
“No, mortal, you are very much mistaken. I am not the devil. I am an angel — an angel of judgement. A keeper of this box which He called Phanuel and you mortals called Nightmare,” and he smiled, as innocent as anything could have been, as bright as the sun itself, “Now. Repent.”
Then time came to a stop, and light filled the empty void. But it was despair that followed. The flames below roared and licked my body. Anything covering my body was gone. My dress, my high heels, even my golden curls. All are swallowed by the embers of hell.
“No! No! Stop! I’m sorry! I’m sorry I killed her! Let me out! Please!” my tears of pain evaporated before they left my eyes.
There he was, as elegant as ever, as carefree as ever, laying against his nest of radiating hair, watching me with an amused smirk, was the devil who claims he’s an angel. And he said, in a gentle tone, the last words I will hear in eternity, “Do not worry, someone will be accompanying you very soon.