Grim Victoriana: London Stone by Jennifer Williams

These people, these old people of London looked up to other gods though, Aggie. Gods with names and horns.

The 19th century is one that holds intense fascination for me – Victorian England (well, mostly Victorian London, let’s be honest) is a bizzare world. On the one side, full of invention, innovation, science, progress, exploration and expansion of the empire. Learned gents in top hats and tails unwrapping mummies at the British Museum. Courageous men hacking at jungles with machettes and discovering lost worlds. The age of iron and steam.

And from a different side, an age of hopeless poverty and appalling slums; virtual slavery in mills and factories. The age of Jack the Ripper, of murder by gaslight, of strange doings in the fog.

Needless to say, it’s this mix of the wonderful and the horrid that makes the Victorian period endlessly interesting and, for writers like me, an infinite source of plot and setting for fiction. Add in some coal-fired science fiction and you have steampunk.

As a fan of the darker side of Victorian life, I was very pleased to see a short, sharp tale by fellow author and friend Jennifer Williams appear alongside part two of my steampunk novella, The Devil in Chains, in the latest issue of Pantechnicon. London Stone. tells the story of a girl born into the seedy underbelly of the 19th century city, as she progresses from pickpocket to prostitute, and the terrible act she must commit on the London Stone to secure a future for her sickly child. But there is a price to pay, in blood…

London Stone is a tightly written short story, lean and precise, evoking splendly the dark, desperate plight of Aggie. The stone itself – a relic, perhaps an altar, left behind millenia ago by long-dead society – brings to mind the infinitely ancient source of the haunting in Nigel Kneale’s superlative 1972 television play, The Stone Tape, with a hint of Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones and the unspeakable rites of their insane tribal worshippers thrown in for good measure.

Fans of Grim Victoriana, the ‘weird tale’, and horror should check it out – London Stone can be found online for free as part of Pantechnicon #9. Author Jennifer Williams has her blog here, and can be found on Twitter as sennydreadful.