Chapter One: 
Town Centre, City of London, 1882
It started first with a call. It was the sort of tickle that brushed against the nape of the neck and travelled down to the small of the back. It settled in the stomach and turned it in knots. It spread to the blood and made it sing and boil. The call was gentle though and the point of it was not to do more than intrigue those who heard it. It was simple but enough to move even ordinary people to their feet to follow the call. 
A strange occurrence was set to happen within the depths of the newer London. 
The Occurrence was something that many people dismissed as nothing more than a dream. It was a fantasy, they’d say; an odd one but a dream nonetheless. Nothing ever came from a dream. Not even a dream that happened every thirteen years. It was always reduced to smoky memory by the time they woke up.
Those who felt the call in their bones didn’t come in droves nor would they come by themselves. The chosen who came to the Covent Market would arrive in little streams. Nothing too much to attract attention. They would take their time to find the place where they needed to be. The Market in the centre of London was a mask for what lay beneath the stretch of roads and new buildings. It was the centre of everything they searched for. 
Soon enough, that centre called with impatience.
The last couple to enter the Market were puzzled by the lack of direction the call gave them. They’d spent the better part of their day bickering back and forth over who had heard it right and who had heard it wrong. 
“Makes no sense,” the man named Howard Lund complained to his wife as he escorted her through the packed square to a river of market stalls.
“Of course it doesn’t. Mind your step, Howard!” Mrs. Lund demanded and she nudged him hard in the side to have him step over a pile of manure. When he righted himself, she painted a cheery smile upon her face so no one might suspect her distaste as she took his arm. “As I was saying before you began your grumbling, I felt it stronger today and so did you. Had we been outside past the Westminster farm, we would’ve have taken much longer to come here.”
“Come where though?” he asked.
Mrs. Lund sighed and rolled her eyes as she picked up the hem of her poor calico dress. Spattered with muck at the hem of a discoloured petticoat, the dress, much like Mrs. Lund, had seen better days. Compared with some of the finery in the stalls that she stared at with a dog-like hunger, she was downright dowdy. As she passed a man wearing a garish velveteen suit, she squared her shoulders and strode forward. 
“I told you before: we simply have to be here, Howard,” she snapped. 
“Maybe you have to be here. I’ve got pigs to feed and hay to get off the fields.” He stepped over another pile of dung and reached up to remove his floppy black hat so he could give his bald head a good scratch. “I should be home with the young ones. So should you.”
His wife’s voice took on a doggish whine. “They can work the fields by themselves. You promised me, Howard, that I could visit the city.” 
“And not to stay.”
“But we have to stay and we both know that.” 
She twisted away from him to head down another aisle and screamed when a decapitated pig’s head and a hanger of bloody, stretched carcasses swung at her. The butcher boy behind the table chuckled as she clutched her rosary and backed away from the racks. As she gulped for air, he leaned out toward her. The boy was wielding a gory mallet that he waved before him over the table of meat scraps. The air, with its smell of blood and freshly pounded flesh, seemed to thicken around them.
“Good for stew and fresh from the farm,” he offered. Mrs. Lund recovered and patted her silvery hair with a shaky hand before turning her nose up.
“My husband farms well enough. We don’t need your city meats.”
Her attempt at snobbery passed over the boy’s head. “Your loss then.”
Howard cleared his throat and put himself between them. “You might be able to help us, Mr…” He looked at the sign which blurred to his vision. Confused, he looked back down at the younger man and frowned. “What is your shoppe name?”
“Well, my name is Art Shade.” The boy gave him a smug grin. “Master said he’d be right back. What can I do for you? Fresh chicken? Got some eggs somewhere under this bloody mess.”
He rustled the meat he’d been pounding with sloppy, wet sounds in his search for the eggs. He picked up a basket of eggs smeared with blood and dripping with entrails and Mrs. Lund went a shade of green. The lack of the boy’s propriety was disturbing.
Howard gave his wife a quick look before continuing on, “We’re looking for something.”
“Market has everything.”
“It’s a…well, it’s a…” Howard’s brow wrinkled. “What would you call it, Ada?”
She sniffed and looked away down the row of stalls. As her husband began the unfortunate task of explaining that ephemeral sensation to a disinterested and downright grotesque boy, she let her eyes wander over the array of shops. Used to the ordinariness of her home, this was a feast for the eyes. She stared and wondered for the first time what it might be like to run away from Howard into this sea of people. Here was something to make her dream once more, she considered with a wistful smile. Dreaming, in her opinion, was for much younger women and for a moment she wished that she was younger. 
When her eyes drifted across the aisle to the stall of a bookseller, she felt it again. That tickle…that brush of excitement that had brought them to the middle of young London in the first place. It rushed up her spine and settled in the base of her brain with a heat that made her dizzy. She reached out for her husband’s elbow. He was so preoccupied with explaining why they were here that he missed the way she clutched at him.
It was within the bookseller’s little space somewhere. Perhaps wedged between two tall shelves or within the books themselves. It throbbed, sung, screamed with an utter impatience, for her to go there. For her to bring her husband and come to a place that wanted her. 
It needed her.
Her excitement gave way to a deep-rooted fear and a hungry anticipation to delve through the shelves. She needed to be there in a way that she didn’t understand. Releasing Howard’s elbow, she started off by herself. Immediately she felt him at her side, calling her name. She couldn’t bring herself to look at him, not when she was in the middle of such seduction.
“I want you more,” the call insisted. 
Breath coming fast, heart racing, and a cold sweat gathering on her palms, Mrs. Lund walked through the crowd into the book stall. She stared about herself.
Crouched in a corner, an old and gnarled man wearing a pair of gold wire spectacles glanced up at her. He snorted before turning back to his search for a book within the shelves. Mrs. Lund looked left, right, left, right, and settled on the place before her. When she looked, the pressure in her head was so strong but what she saw was nothing special. It was a narrow space between two sagging shelves, that for no reason drew her attention. It led to the shadows and should have not spoken to her. The call now screamed like a church bell in her ears.
She moaned in pain, bit her tongue, and swayed on her feet.
“Ada?” Howard asked in concern. “My dear, you look flushed.”
“Howard,” she managed past her swelling tongue tip. “Just shut up.”
She grabbed him by his stained sleeve and hauled him after her into the space between the shelves. It was a tight squeeze for her belly and breasts and his own ample gut. Somehow they managed not to knock over the two shelves that teetered so on either side of the tiny chasm. Mrs Lund reached an arm out into the shadows and felt something strong and cold take her hand in a gentle grip. It caressed her palm and knuckles before taking a tighter hold on her wrist. 
Before she could scream, something yanked her through the darkness. On her way, books and tables toppled. Howard’s startled shout followed her. The space closed in around them like a thick black blanket. Then there was nothing left of them but the fluttering of the stall’s walls. There was a gulping sound that echoed through the air for a heartbeat before fading into the background noise of the Market.
The man in the corner, now young and handsome, unfolded his tall, oddly angular body from the low stool. He sighed as he set his battered copy of some old poetry onto the card table. He picked up the black hat that had dropped and dusted it off before setting it atop the box kept beneath the table. With a quick glance around the aisle, he saw that no one had noticed. Then again, he knew they never would. The people not chosen would never let themselves notice.
Picking up a tiny notepad from the corner of the desk, he plucked the pen from its ink blotter and licked the tip as he thought over what he had to do. The scratch marks, all in groups of five, were immensely satisfying in their organization.  He smiled as he marked off the next set of five by scratching a line through the marks’ centre. The pen made a loud screeching sound as he did so and he then began using his finger to count the bunches.
“Seven hundred and fifty one. I suppose that is more than enough.” He frowned and tucked the notepad into his waistcoat. Adjusting his spectacles, he looked out at the crowd still milling about. “I certainly hope so. Seems like every time there needs to be more and more.”
He reached into his other pocket and checked his watch. Three hands were twisting fast and he winced when the middle hand, the fourth, ticked slow.
“My job’s finished for the day,” he told the watch. “So you can go to sleep proper now. It is in their hands unless they pay me for a return.”
The watch, in response, shimmered once and the hands slowed their insane speed to a sedate ticking. The man snapped it shut and turned to set the table back to rights.
When his next customer arrived, his appearance was once more that of a stooped old man. He looked more concerned with his books than the strange occurrence that had happened between his shelves. His smile was gentle, his eyes wary. No one suspected that each time they came to his bookstall that he was sizing them up the way a man might his next horse.

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Stacie Hanson