Flashback Sentence

Flashback Sentence
By Ellie Dauber (c) 2003

John Winston found himself leaning against a wall. It was night. He was in some sort of slum neighborhood, and there was only an old-fashioned looking streetlight off in the distance for illumination. He took a breath and almost gagged at the smell of half-burnt oil, garbage, and human waste. His body felt very, very odd, and he seemed to be wearing a lot of bulky clothing. He closed his eyes for a moment and tried to remember how it had all begun.

* * * * *

John stepped up to the Starbucks counter. "Double latte, extra sugar." He looked around for a moment. "And two of those almond biscotti."

The counterman, a skinny blonde kid, not more than 18, studied his face. "Hey, aren't you..."

"No." John knew the question. "I just look like him. Stop asking dumb questions and hurry up with my order."

"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir." He hurried off. John had a fleeting thought that the kid looked familiar, but he dismissed it. This was just your typical slacker kid.

John shook his head. The question did bother him. Damn, there'd been so many pictures of him during the trial. Maybe it would be a good idea to leave town for a while till people's memories got bad. That shouldn't take too long. He was a fairly average looking man. "No distinguishing marks or features," his police description said. He was about five foot ten, 190 pounds, brown hair and eyes, just your average 32 year-old acquitted murderer.

'At least I have enough money to travel,' he thought, 'and to hire E.J. Zeabrucke for my lawyer. Yeah, thanks again, E.J. I still don't understand how you got me off, but it was worth every penny of what you charged. Otherwise, the only travel I'd be doing would be to prison.'

The boy came back with the order. "Here you are, sir. That'll be $4.50 plus tax... $4.77."

John handed him a five. He took his change and the order and walked over to a corner table. It was mid afternoon on a weekday, and the place was almost empty. He was just less likely to be recognized in the corner.

He took a sip of the latte. Sweet, and so different from the jailhouse coffee he'd had to suffer through during the trial. The District Attorney had asked for a bail so high it all but guaranteed jail time. E.J. had fought for no bail. "After all, my client has no criminal record and has lived and worked in this community his entire life."

The D.A. argued the nature of the crime, a sudden, violent, brutal murder of a very pretty young woman. The judge had taken one look at the two photos the D.A. offered, the girl getting ready to go to her college prom a week before, and the crime photo. The judge's face went white, and he set the bail at the two million dollar figure the D.A. asked for.

'She shouldn't have pretended that she didn't want me, shouldn't have fought so hard,' he thought. 'It was a shame she made me have to hit her so hard.' It was over, though, and he was free.

And there were so many other pretty girls out there that wanted him.

He took a bite of one of the biscotti, washing it down with more latte. It had a slight metallic aftertaste that he didn't like. He tried to stand up, so he could walk over and complain.

He couldn't. He felt dizzy all of a sudden, and his arms and legs just didn't seem to want to obey.

"You okay, mister?" The kid was standing next to the table.

There was a man next to him. Now, he recognized the kid. He'd been in the courtroom, sitting over with her family, cousin or something. The man was even more familiar. His hair was the dirty gray that blonde often aged into. His round face was distorted with hate.

"I'm a doctor, sir," the man, her father, said a little too loudly. It was true, but he was saying it for the few people in the store. "My office isn't far from here."

The two of them lifted John to his feet and walked him out of the Starbucks. They had a van outside. The man opened the side door.

"In you go," the boy said.

He pushed -- hard, and John fell and John fell onto the floor in the back. The boy climbed in after him and slid the door shut.

"No need to tie you up, Mr. Winston. That stuff Uncle Frank had me put in your latte will work even better than rope."

The van driver door slammed, and Jon heard a motor start.

"You were always a man of strong habit, John," the man said. "We found that out when they let us read the results of the investigation into... into Barbara's... death. You'd been going into that Starbucks since the week after it opened. After your... acquittal..." he spat the word, "...it was easy for Mark to get a job here and just wait for you."

"Now we've got you," the boy -- Mark -- said.

John found that he could talk... slowly. "What... what... are... you... go... ing... to..."

"Going to do to you?" The man finished the thought. "Why, we're going to give you an opportunity to advance the course of scientific knowledge." Dr. Franklin Newlander was a doctor, a neurologist. He was also a researcher at the university's Institute for Advanced Technology.

John shuddered. He remembered that Barbara had once referred to her father as a "mad scientist". She'd been joking at the time, but now John was going to find out just what she meant. He could see buildings going past the van's small rear windows. He recognized a few. They were nearing... no, they were on the university campus.

The van drove down into an underground loading dock. Newlander stopped and turned off the engine. He stepped out and walked around to open the side door. He and Mark picked up John -- none too carefully -- and put him on some sort of wheeled cart. Mark jumped out of the van and closed the door. He had a tarp in his hands. He opened it and draped it over the cart, covering John.

John tried to move. He couldn't. He could barely speak, and the tarp muffled any sounds he made. The cart could move, though. John felt himself being wheeled down a long hall. They rode an elevator up three floors, then down another long winding hall to some sort of secured laboratory. John heard a computer voice ask for an ID card. Newlander did something, and mechanical doors opened. They closed after the three of them were inside.

Someone -- Mark -- pulled off the tarp. John felt a pinch in his neck.

"There," Newlander said. "You should regain movement in your neck and head momentarily. You can speak, but don't bother to scream. All these labs are fully soundproofed. Part of security, you know, plus it keeps out the noise from the chimp lab down the hall."

John waited a few moments. He could move his head. He looked around. The place looked like the "Sick Bay" set from that new STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE TV-show. Fancy electronic equipment and parts were everywhere. He didn't begin to recognize a tenth of it. What he did recognize, a surgical table and a tray full of instruments, for example, didn't exactly make him feel any better.

"They'll find my body, you know," he said, hoping that he didn't sound as scared as he was. "Even in a place like this, you can't hide a human body."

"Certainly we can," Newlander answered. "There must be a half dozen dissection units in this building, and besides the coolers and freezers for samples, they just put in new furnace to dispose of bio-waste." The man grinned at the effect he was having. "But they will find your body, John. They'll find it over in the park a mile or two from here. And it will be alive, though, comatose, and reeking of cheap gin."

"Alive? Then you're not going to kill me."

"Ummm, not exactly. Your body will be comatose because your consciousness will be gone from it."

"I... I don't understand."

"We've been researching time travel, John. Oh, not the 'Zap! Welcome to the year 1500' sort of thing. We've discovered a way to project the human consciousness into the past. In a short while, you'll find yourself a non-interactive insert observer. That means you'll be riding in someone else's mind. You'll see what that person sees, hear what that person hears, and so on. You just won't be able to influence the person's actions. You'll be in the past, over a century back, and we've even learned how to pick the body we send you back into."

"And I'll be trapped there." The prospect was hardly pleasing.

"Not exactly. Normally, the consciousness returns in about 24 hours. You'll just... well, let's just let it be a surprise."

John felt a pinch in his arm and raised his head to look down. There was an IV tube; a pale green liquid was flowing through it into his arm. He felt something, some sort of helmet slide down onto his head. He tried to fight it, shaking his head as hard as he could, but to no effect. He felt straps slide under his neck and heard the click as they locked in place. Newlander pressed the helmet, actually a sort of metal mesh, in various places. Everywhere he touched, something from the helmet stuck to John's skin.

The helmet was heavy. John lowered his head and was surprised to find a small pillow under it. "I'm not entirely heartless," Newlander said. "Unlike some people I could mention." He looked over at some gauges. "Ah, we have a lock, already."

John saw him slide a pair of control knobs forward. It looked like Scotty's controls for the transporter in the original STAR TREK.

"Goodbye, John," Newlander said. "And good riddance."

There was darkness and John felt as if he was falling from a great height.

* * * * *

'Damn that Newlander,' John thought. 'Whatever he did seems to have worked.' The person he was in looked around. 'Look down! Look in a mirror! Anything! ’ John thought angrily. He wanted to know just what sort of a body he was stuck with.

"Hello, Polly," a voice said.

The head turned. John saw a tall, bearded man dressed in what looked like an old-style sailor's uniform, blue pants with a mass of buttons instead of a zipper, a red and white striped short-sleeved shirt, and a sort of flat-topped hat with a ribbon hanging down the side.

John realized what the sailor had called him. 'Polly'. No, it... he couldn't be.

He was.

"Hello, luv," he heard himself say. The voice was high and very feminine, with a strong cockney accent. "You looking fer a little company on a night like this?"

John saw a hand -- felt a hand, "his" hand stroke the sailor's chest. The fingers were long and thin. The nails looked like they hadn't been cleaned in a while.

"I might be." The sailor squeezed "his" breast. "And a bit more... if the price is right."

John considered his... the woman's voice, trying not to think of how the man was groping her... their body. He might be in England, or, for all he knew, he was in the body of an immigrant girl in New York City. Then John felt the body flush. The slut actually liked this.

"Oh, it is, I swears the price is more than right. I just love spending time with a fine toff like you." She lowered her hand and stroked the man's member through his pants. "A fine, big toff like you."

The rest was a nightmare. The sailor kissed Polly -- and through her, John -- and groped at her body. She giggled and squirmed, adding to his pleasure. She wheedled him out of a beer first, a warm, half-spoiled liquid, whose taste made John want to gag. He couldn't hear enough voices to be certain where... or when he was.

They walked out the back door of the pub into a shadowed alley. Polly raised her dress and untied her drawers. She leaned back against the wall and waited while Berty, the sailor, finished the lengthy job of unbuttoning his uniform pants. John felt the hard penetration. Buying Polly the beer had been Berty's idea of foreplay. Polly loved it, loved the feel of it. John felt even more reason to want to gag.

It was over in just a few minutes. Berty paid the five shillings Polly asked and wandered off, smiling and thinking himself quite the man. Polly cleaned herself off as best she could with a rag. She retied her drawers, lowered her skirt, and went back to work.

Polly had a good night.

In the next few hours, she -- and John -- had intercourse with five other men. Three others said her price was too high. Ever the businesswoman, she gave them blowjobs for two shillings each.

It was getting late now. Off in the distance came a sound that John recognized as the famous clock, "Big Ben." He was in London. It was after two, and a fog was starting to roll in from the river.

'Go home to bed,' John pleaded. 'Please, let this nightmare end for a while.'

"Excuse me, young woman. Do you know the way to Pinchpenny Lane?" The man was tall and well dressed in an expensive-looking top hat and frock coat.

Polly jumped at the opening. "Why I was just going that way. Would you like me to walk with you?"

"That would be a delight," the man said, offering her his arm. They walked a block or so before Polly stopped. "Is something wrong?"

"No sir," Polly said. "I just thought..." she rubbed her hand against the man's shirt. "...maybe we don't have t'be getting there so fast."

"An excellent idea," the man said. "But this is a rather public place."

"I knows just the spot," Polly said.

She took his hand and led him into a narrow alleyway. The alley turned sharply a few feet in. Past the turn, in the shadows and fog, no one would ever see them.

"Perfect," the man said.

Polly began to fumble with her dress. "By the way, luv. I'm Polly. What do they call a big, handsome fellow like you?"

"My name is unimportant," the man said. "Lately, they've just been calling me 'The Ripper.'"

The last thing John saw -- or felt -- was the flash of the long knife as it entered Polly's chest.

And in a laboratory in 2003, Dr. Franklin Newlander and his nephew, Mark, watched an indicator light suddenly flare red, and then fade to black. The connection – the subject -- was lost.

The End

Quick postscript. No one is sure of all of Jack the Ripper’s victims, but a cockney prostitute named Polly Anne Nicholls is one of the five “canonical” (definitive) victims.

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