SCARLET WOMAN • by Fiona Honor Hurley

At night, the sulphurous fog grew thicker, and the women took their usual positions under the doorways and gas lamps of Whitechapel. Molly’s shoes clicked against the cobblestones as she tried to catch the eye of any passing male. She had unbuttoned her bodice to display an expanse of bosom, and lifted her hem to display a shapely leg.

Any man walking the streets at this hour was treated to the usual hollers for attention. But anxiety radiated from the women even as they thrust out their chests and pouted their lips. Fear wound around corners and choked the East End as tightly as the fog.

“Oi, Molly!” one of the other women called. “Haven’t seen you in an age. You picked a bad time to start working again.”

“Better than going hungry, innit?” said Molly.

Her belly growled, and she cursed at the desperation that brought her out onto the streets again.

The other woman grimaced, patting her bleached hair into place. “Ain’t that the truth?”

A gentleman drifted in through the pea-soup air, wearing a top hat and an Ulster coat that had likely been brushed by a servant. Plenty of his type found their way to Whitechapel every night. Some men wore rough wool and some wore silk, but they were all the same beneath. He cast a proprietary eye on Molly, from her disheveled hair to the skirt she twitched above her knee with promise of more. His mustached lip curled with revulsion, but his eyes burned with lust — a combination she’d seen too many times before.

“You’ll do,” he said.

He put one hand on her spine and led her into a narrow alley, away from the other women. A single lamp barely pierced the dark as he pressed her against the grimy wall. She inhaled so deeply that her corset squeezed her ribs, and she tried not to think about the man in front of her or what she had to do. She knew well what hunger was — how it clawed at you and weakened you — and she would commit any sin to keep it from devouring her.

“What’s your pleasure, sir?” She played a finger over her cleavage, trying her best to look beguiling.

She jolted as one hand tightened on her neck and the sharp point of a knife came within an inch of her collarbone.

“My pleasure, sweetheart, will be to rip you throat to womb and send you straight to hell.”

The fear that choked London had materialized before her. He was such an ordinary man, with a finely-combed mustache and a thick black coat for the night-time cold. His ice-blue eyes locked onto hers, a cold fire of hatred that burned into her skull.

But Molly would not give him what he desired. She laughed and pushed away his hand.

“The pleasure will be mine.”

No whip-master could have knocked the knife away faster. As it clattered to the cobblestones, the man’s smirk turned to horror. Molly’s eyes blazed feral bright, and her sharp teeth gleamed yellow in the gaslight. Sometimes she pitied her victims, but this time she took only joy in sinking into his jugular and quelling her hunger on his warm red blood.

Fiona Honor Hurley lives in Galway, Ireland. By day she poses as an ordinary producer of technical documentation, while by night she practices her superpower of making things up in her head.

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