‘Sir, your wife is dead.’

There was a brief moment of contemplation before Dr Judas Richter replied.

‘Which one?’

The leather-aproned butcher lifted a forefinger up to the doctor before he discreetly leaned back to cast a glance down the row of makeshift straw beds that lined the length of the dirty underground chamber. He counted the beds in his head until he got to the one where his assistant stood apprehensively awaiting an order.

‘Number eleven, sir.’ he announced.

There was a moment more of silent contemplation before the doctor sighed.

‘Make sure she’s been fully drained and then dump her in the pit with the others.’

The butcher nodded his understanding before scurrying off to join his assistant. The room in which the recently deceased woman lay was a long underground tunnel that had been worked into the foundations of the wooden three-storey building that stood above it. The tunnel system was large and deep and spread beneath pretty much the entire row of houses and shops that stood along the lane. The work had been done over the last seventeen years with the assistance of Thomas Farriner, who owned the building and dutifully played his part as Deacon for the London branch of Mason’s out of the Mitre Tavern near St. Paul’s Cathedral. He stood beside Dr Richter in a leather tunic and pale billow-sleeved shirt. His shoulder-length brown hair, dirty from the ash and smoke coming from the fires, was tied back in a ponytail. He was clean-shaven, like all the best gentlemen of the age, and with his thin moustache he was reminiscent of the King himself. He was lowly within the order he served, but he had high ambition and took great time to present himself as someone of standing. Dr Richter was Farriner’s superior in every sense of the word. He ran the local Chapter House and came from a family of actual breeding and wealth. He had arranged with Farriner to facilitate the construction of the underground chamber beneath his shop that now housed the doctor’s equipment and other resources which he used for his experiments. The Doctor was well-known within the Royal houses and colleges of Europe as a learned Physician, having studied under the most highly-respected medical men of the time. However, his penchant for the darker arts and ‘blood magicks’, as he would put it, would have been scorned by even his most earnest of followers within the order. His lust for arcane texts and rituals required him a place of secrecy and discretion, which Mr Farriner’s establishment afforded him. Despite this, Richter continued to keep Farriner at arm’s length, and at every opportunity reminded him of his place.

‘Thomas,’ Dr Richter addressed him nonchalantly, ‘Go wake your daughter and get her to make me some tea.’

Farriner nodded obediently before climbing the ladder back to the surface to do his master’s bidding. When he had left the chamber, the doctor fastened shut the overhead door and slid across the handle lock, trapping his subordinate out of the way – away from his moment of glory, not wanting to share it with anyone, especially a commoner such as Farriner.

The chamber in which Richter stood contemplating the next adjustments to his experiment was a large hollowed pit beneath Farriner’s shop. It sank twenty feet beneath the surface and measured another twenty feet in width. The ceiling was supported with large wooden timbers that stood upright, acting as strong pillars. Off the chamber was a long low-ceilinged tunnel in which had been erected two dozen beds, though nothing more than stables with piles of straw upon the floor. Upon these beds were manacled women of varying ages and states of health. Some as old as thirty, some as young as twelve. All were dressed in soiled rags of clothing and all were heavily pregnant. These were what Dr Richter referred to as his wives, and depraved as even he knew his harem was, they were all integral to his experiments. Each woman had a mask tied around their head which covered their mouth. The masks were being fed subduing fumes from a communal pyre upon which a mixture of herbs and rocks to Richter’s own special recipe were being heated. The fumes were enough to subdue each woman and keep them in a state of placidity that Richter required for them to be compliant to his procedures. Unfortunately, several of his wives had now died within the last two hours and the doctor was feeling a need to speed up his work should he wish to achieve what had been an accumulation of twenty years preparation. Not that they meant anything to Richter; he held no emotional ties to any of the women that lay intoxicated and pregnant within his harem. The methods of entrapment for that many women were relatively easy, especially for someone with money, but keeping them alive and in relative health to bring a child through to full term whilst keeping their presence secret was an altogether bigger task. One which the whole Farriner family had been well reimbursed to perform. This was the second time Richter had attempted what he considered the epitome of all his years of research. He had had one goal in mind ever since he had come into possession of an ancient manuscript; a manuscript that had been passed down through the centuries amongst members of the most secret and elite societies around the world. As the text had changed hands, so had it grown in its complexities and accumulated knowledge. The one underlying goal always the same – immortality. The earliest sections of the book were so old and worn that little remained of them but flaking papyrus. However, the original texts had been translated into numerous languages and inscribed with side notes and hypotheses as each fresh mind contributed to its legitimacy. Millennia of forgotten knowledge lay within its aged and withered pages, pages that Dr Richter himself had amended following his own experiments. However, his own breakthroughs or failures he had kept separate and secret to himself. The theories he had regarding how to extract and develop a working serum he had kept to himself, forever cautious of prying eyes and light fingers, even amongst his closest colleagues. Each owner of the manuscript – the sacred bible of knowledge, the book of life – had replicated the ancient rituals within, each time adjusting and adapting to perfect its methods. Magic and science merged together to create a perverted amalgamation of the two, trying to successfully recreate the ancient knowledge of unknown origin. Whatever the true source of the text was of little importance to the women now laying in an induced state of intoxication within the secret chamber beneath Farriner’s bakery. Each woman was integral to Richter’s endeavours. He required the amniotic fluid from the unborn foetus of his own children in order to complete the serum; the text had been clear of that from the side notes and detailed hand-drawn diagrams. Richter’s first attempt at creating the serum had shown promise. However, it had been clear that the amount of fluid he required was substantially more than he had first anticipated. It had taken him years to reach this point, so much planning and preparation that the thought of another failure now was not something he was going to allow. The timescale of this experiment had already been dragged forward due to the closing network of suspicion and the dreaded presence of the plague, which was mercilessly picking off the weak and frail and had a certain penchant for raising the number of cases of stillborn. Richter had already lost three wives this past 48 hours and by the morning he anticipated them all to be dead, and for him to be reborn as an immortal. This was a near certainty in his mind, so he had prepared the grand machine for one more attempt. This was to be his night of triumph.

There was only one way in and out, and the only light down in the laboratory was that provided by the lanterns and the ominous glow that emanated from the wet-cell batteries that Richter had constructed as per instruction from the book. A ladder rose from the entrance chamber up to a covered trapdoor in the rear warming room of Farriner’s bakery. The harem of pregnant subjects was housed in a corridor that led from that chamber and that included a crudely dug deep pit into which bodies and trash were disposed of. Richter’s wolf-hounds patrolled this chamber, sniffing the foulness coming from the women and eagerly lapping up their sweat as they moved from one to the next, as if they were licking salt from overfed pigs ready for slaughter. In the corner was a wooden cage, the contents of which were for Richter the closest he had come to achieving his goals thus far. A male chimpanzee had been the subject of his first experiments. Not wanting to risk his own life nor giving immortality to some other man, he had chosen instead to use a chimpanzee that had for a time been an attraction at a small travelling circus visiting London from the Far East. Richter had arranged for its liberation and kept it secretly in his laboratory beneath Farriner’s bakery. The first experiment had been very similar in methods as the one Richter had planned for himself tonight; however, amendments had been made for failings that had previously occurred. The animal sat within its cage in the dark. A painted sign upon it simply read ‘Greyson’ – a reference to Richter’s childhood manservant. The chimpanzee rocked back and forth upon his haunches, fingers curled around the bars of his cage. He was shaven bald, and his long spindly arms looked like mere bone, skin and sinewy muscle. His teeth chattered as he quietly mumbled to himself. There were numerous bullet holes in Greyson’s torso and hundreds of razor blade scars ran the length and breadth of his body, each having healed sufficiently to have stopped bleeding. However, the scars remained. The chimpanzee should have been dead, but he wasn’t, and this was the success that Richter wished to build upon. The doctor’s dogs knew to keep their distance. The inner chamber was the third and final room. In this main room was the grand machine with which Richter planned upon making history. It stood nine feet tall and was constructed from wood with reinforced trimming and braces, with various canisters cast from metal. Tubes and piping made from animal bladders and tar-coated fabrics snaked from the machine, creating paths between its various chambers. There was a furnace burning ferociously beneath the machine, creating steam that was driving a paddle system with a vicious speed. The wet-cell batteries sat all around the base of the machine, glowing luminescent as the acid contained within reacted with its casings, creating an electrical current that titillated the wooden circuit breakers that prevented the flow of current to its final destination. In the centre of the machine sat a large metal sphere, crude in its production yet sitting proudly as a centrepiece element of the mechanism. A smaller metallic sphere sat within a custom-made cradle just in front of the larger sphere. Two metal-lined constructs sat either side of the machine. One resembled a coffin, upon which a metal slab had been placed upon rollers that slid in and out of the cadaver. The second construct was a large container above which a line of pulleys and a large funnel fed into it. Richter placed the sacred book within a lead chest and secured its lid; his own additional research he folded and tucked back within a leather pouch that he tied with a buckle. He placed this beneath the lead box before removing his shirt and boots.

‘Let’s get this done, yes? Hook up my wives!’

The butcher and his assistant looked up from their chores to nod acknowledgement of the doctor’s orders. They pulled out the syringe from the stomach of the dead woman and pushed her drained corpse into the pit. They then carried the bucket of fresh amniotic fluid and placed it next to the machine.

‘Bring number one, up front with me. She can be the primer.’

The two butchers removed the shackles from the woman lying upon bed number one. They dragged her over to the machine and strapped her into a harness that they used to suspend her in the air using the pulleys. She dangled, belly down, roughly five feet in the air. Her head hung loose; she was deep within the grips of a drug-induced paralysis.

Richter removed the remainder of his clothing and wandered naked toward the machine. He lay down upon the metal trolley before tying buckles around his ankles. He then picked up the syringe that lay next to him and introduced it into his forearm, into the vein, then lay down. The syringe was attached to a thin line of bladder tubing which ran directly to the machine. He then placed his hands by his side, awaiting assistance. Soon enough, the butcher appeared and buckled the doctor’s wrists down. The butcher’s silent assistant grabbed the bucket of fluid and, lifting it high in the air, he poured it into the vat beside the hanging woman.

‘Fill it! Come on, hurry!’ Richter screamed at his servants.

The two men skipped over themselves back into the harem, where they systematically between them grabbed large syringes that hung by each woman’s bedside. Whilst one held the women in position the other rammed the syringe deep into their motherly bulges. The aim of their actions was to secure a feeding line between the protective sack of the unborn child and the awaiting tank of the doctor’s grand machine. When the lines had been secured to the twenty remaining women, the men came back to ‘number one’. They pushed her, and she swung as the arm that suspended the pulley dangled her over the doctor lying naked in wait, until she hung just a foot above him.

‘Come on, hurry up!’ the doctor shouted, his anticipation rising.

A gesture, and the butcher’s assistant ran to a small walking wheel into which he climbed. The structure was made from wood and allowed its occupant to walk within it, permitting the wheel element to revolve. This would systematically run a pressured squeeze along the accumulated feeding tubes that led from the women to the machine. The faster he walked, the faster the wheel turned, creating a suction effect that began to suck the very life’s fluid from all the women at the same time. The feeding tubes eventually began to spurt the amniotic fluid and blood into the waiting vat of the grand machine.

The butcher removed a small three-inch blade from his apron pocket and used it to quickly remove all the clothes from the woman until she hung naked and drooping above the equally naked doctor.

‘Do it! Do it now!’

With that command, the butcher proceeded to slit the woman’s stomach open in one long, quick slice. The pressure exerted upon her stomach meant that no sooner had the blade pierced the skin than the woman’s body seemingly ripped itself apart. There was an immense eruption of blood, guts and fluids that poured like thunder down upon the doctor. He opened his mouth and strained up to meet the bloody shower. The woman did not scream; she didn’t even respond other than involuntary shudders as her body evacuated itself of organs. From within the muscle and bone of her innards hung the legs of her unborn child. The butcher quickly rammed a fist deep into her birthing cavity and grabbed hold of the baby. He yanked it hard until it broke free from its sanctuary. He then tossed the small body onto the floor where it was met with the steely snapping jaws of the doctor’s hungry dogs. The doctor himself was writhing amongst the woman’s entrails and afterbirth, but most importantly the fresh birthing fluids that had until seconds before been keeping Richter’s unborn child alive. He lapped up the warm juices with his tongue and wriggled within his restraints.

‘Now! Start the machine!’

The butcher pushed aside the limp, dangling carcass of the woman and then proceeded to push the trolley upon which the doctor lay. He slid upon the roller until he had almost disappeared within the gaping mouth of the cadaver. The butcher then flipped up the metal end and shut the doctor in entirely. He then went to the other side of the machine, where the vat of amniotic fluid sat, and turning the tap, he released its contents which poured through the tubing and filled the metal coffin, pushing its way through the syringe into Richter’s own bloodstream. The doctor continued to scream his commands from within the metal tomb.

‘Do it! Do it!’

The butcher, anticipating his superior, made his way to the switch that would remove the wooden block that held back the current from the wet-cell batteries. When the command came he pushed with all his might, releasing the wooden slat. The whole machine crackled into life. The initial surge of current was enough to blow the butcher clean across the room, frying his hands to a crisp and setting him on fire. The maniacal laughs of the doctor from within the metal coffin soon disappeared as he became submerged within the flood of fresh amniotic fluid, a cocktail of the combined building blocks of life that until moments before sat within fleshy sacs protecting the precious beginnings of new life. The butcher’s assistant, having seen what had become of his superior, leapt from the treadmill and went to the front of the grand machine as he had seen the butcher do before and pulled the lever that released the smaller of the metal spheres from its clamps. The ball began to rotate upon a central pin. The grinding whirr it made growing louder and higher-pitched as the ball span faster. The butcher’s assistant then went to the second control panel and pulled the awaiting lever. This one released the current that had built up in the machine and introduced it into the birthing chamber the doctor lay within. The charge of electricity shot like lightning to the metal casket, immediately covering it in a net of electrical current and static. A charged arc of blue light connected with the butcher’s assistant and he began to fry beneath the burning hot charge of the machine. His mind was instantly destroyed, yet his body remained rigid and held firmly onto the lever of the machine. Quickly the man’s flesh crackled and split and as his flesh began to shrivel and his fat ooze out through the splits in his skin, it caught light and he began to burn like a human candle. The metal casket began to judder and shake as the current running through it began to peak uncontrollably, rattling upon its hinges. Suddenly the end of the casket blew open and the machine spewed out the contents prematurely, like a birthing cow. The doctor slipped from the trolley, no longer restrained by its shackles, and his bright red-raw body slapped the floor like the meat he had been reduced to.

Hearing the commotion from underground, the baker and his family were all trying to gain access to the locked laboratory to no avail. They hollered and called but nobody could hear them. The doctor’s dogs were going wild, frantically trying to escape the inferno that was erupting in the main chamber. Even their great hunger was replaced with another greater priority, that to survive. They ignored all the tasty fresh raw meats on offer and began feebly trying to ascend the ladder to the ground above.

Amongst the horrors that were occurring, one scream outdid them all; that of the doctor. He unceremoniously clambered to his feet, using the machine for balance. He stood weakened and freshly baked. His skin was red-raw, and he had been made devoid of any body hair. He stood, in agony and covered in an oily marinade, in a triumph of sorts. The screaming made way for laughter as he thanked God he still breathed air. Then the silent butcher’s burned corpse crackled and popped, and he fell away from his charred hands, which remained squeezing tight to the machine’s lever. The butcher’s body exploded upon impact with the floor, his burning remains setting alight the fluids that had poured from out of the machine’s birthing chamber. Instantly the room was awash with fire. The doctor himself went up in flames and burned in such an intense inferno that his maniacal laughs soon turned to screams of fear and pain. Had the machine worked? Had he endeavoured to crack the code for eternal life? Right now, he sincerely hoped not as he frantically attempted to extinguish himself. He bounded into walls and patted himself down, but the flames stubbornly remained. The pain was excruciating yet he could see no yield in their torment. He could feel no wavering in his consciousness or existence. He remained, in total agony, alight in some damned freakish fire. He was alive but the never-ending fuel of the devil’s own fire. He screamed and ripped at himself but remained an unquenched burning pyre. As he staggered through the chambers he ignited anything he touched until everything was alight. The comatos beds, the butcher and his assistant, even the doctor’s dogs shrieked and howled as their bodies went up in flame. The grand machine had failed, like so many machines before it. The amended designs were not the answer. The book itself was safe within its lead case, yet the very building around it was quickly losing its strength. As the fire lapped and ate the wooden beams and struts, the floor above began to collapse and drop through the cavity beneath.

Greyson shrieked from within his cage as he too caught fire. He hammered the bars until they loosened, and the cage fell apart. He immediately began to run frantically around the chambers, howling in agony, but possessed of the same inability to die as his creator. The flaming body of Dr Richter finally managed to find the ladder which led to the surface and as he climbed, the flames jumped and licked the locked trapdoor. The wood was eaten by the fire’s heat and a desperate arm burst through the hatch, grasping at the surface. The Baker and his family backed away, looking on in terror. The Farriner’s maid screamed and fainted on the spot. The Baker gathered his children to him and they bravely made their escape from the fiery monsters emerging from their yard.

Screams began to echo through the side streets and alleyways of London as the fire spread like the bowels of hell erupting. Families left their homes and fought to get to safety. Men ran to the Thames to gather water with which to quench the flames, but it was all in vain. The fire was too great, and it was to consume everything in its path. Amongst the siren calls and early morning screams, reports of wild beasts and hellish creatures running frantic amongst the flames confirmed in everyone’s mind that the devil himself had sent his minions to smite old London town.

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