The Frost Prince – Flash Fiction Piece
A piece I wrote for a flash-fic contest, based around the topic “A Street Corner in November.”
Like it? Hate it? Let me know your thoughts.
The Frost Prince
Tiny ice crystals clung to the dirty stone wall of Hudson’s Bakery, each crystal a minute speck of pristine white which glistened beautifully in the moonlight. Mary studied the tiny crystals as she stood beside the street corner; watching each one grow larger as the temperature dropped helped to take her mind off how cold she was, helped her to ignore the way her breath frosted when she exhaled, how numb her toes felt inside her thin leather shoes. Not for the first time, she cursed God for sending winter so early to London this year.
A stone’s throw away from her usual corner, a dozen ships were moored at the old stone dock. Two of them were newly arrived, one carrying goods from Africa, another come to collect passengers to take back to the New World. Freedom was the name emblazoned on the hull of the transatlantic ferry, and for a brief moment, Mary toyed with the idea of trying to sneak onboard, to stowaway, to find a new life and fortune in America.
It was a fanciful dream. She knew she would be severely punished, if she was caught. Even if she wasn’t caught, she had no skills to speak of; the only thing she knew how to do was lie on her back, which was all a prostitute needed to know. But whether you were a prostitute in London or a prostitute in New York, it was still the same old song. The same men, with their grubby hands and breath reeking of stale alcohol, paying the same meagre fee for a quick roll in the sack.
Besides, George was waiting for her, back home. If she didn’t return before dawn, he’d wonder where she had gone.
A group of men approached from Freedom, and by their garb she saw they were sailors. Mary smiled and hitched up her dress, exposing one pale, slender leg. As the men passed, boisterous and jovial, two of them carrying bottles of rum or gin, she exhaled slowly, letting her barely-covered bosom rise and fall seductively. One of the men glanced at her, and she smiled with all the coyness she could muster, but he walked on, trailing after his friends. The noise of their merry-making died away, leaving only the sound of the Thames gently slapping against the side of the ships at dock.
Mary let her dress fall back down over her chilled leg. It had been a long shot at best. Sailors were good fare during their shore-leave, but only if you caught them alone. Once they were ‘out with the boys’ it was hard to separate them.
“Are you working tonight?”
The voice was deep and scratchy. It came from behind the shop, from the shadows clinging to the alley between the bakery and the cobbler’s workshop. Mary narrowed her eyes, squinting into the darkness, trying to see who spoke. Some men hid in the shadows, paranoid about being seen near a working girl. But a customer was a customer, and as long as he could pay, Mary did not judge.
“Aye, sir,” she said, leaving the ice-crystal corner, strolling towards the alley. “If you’ve coin to pay, of course.”
“Of course.” He stepped forward, into the pale moonlight, and she caught a glimpse of his face; narrow and clean-shaven, it was a face of harsh angles. That didn’t matter to Mary. After four years of working the streets, she no longer saw faces. They were all the same; indistinct featureless blurs. Even when she saw the same man twice, it was rarely his face she remembered.
“Here you go,” he said. He took out a small coin purse and counted several silvers. When he handed them over she pocketed them, glancing through her lashes at the dark suit he wore. Clearly he was no sailor, and no labourer. Why a well-to-do member of society would want to hire the services of a working girl, she did not know, but then again, she did not particularly care.
“Come along this way,” he said, stepping back into the alley. The darkness swallowed him, and Mary hesitated. As a rule she tried to keep to the main streets, which were well-lit and populous. But this man was a customer, and that he had paid her in advance proved he wasn’t likely to swindle her.
Lifting her head a little higher and fighting the unease she felt in her stomach, she followed him into the shadows. It wasn’t easy to see, in the alley, and twice she tripped over broken pieces of wood which had been casually strewn aside, but she could hear his footsteps up ahead, and she hurried along after him, trying to keep pace.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Mary Nichols,” she replied.
“Well, Mary, what would you say if I was to tell you that I’m going to make you famous?” There was humour in his scratchy voice.
“What do you mean?”
She heard him stop, and in the dimness of the alley she could just about make out that he turned to face her.
“My name’s Jack.”
There was a flash of something cold and bright, which reflected the moonlight as the ice crystals had, and Mary felt a searing pain across her neck. Ice flashed across her skin, chilling her. But then something warm began to pour down her chest. She went light-headed and sank to the ground. Her life did not flash before her eyes, because she’d had no life to speak of. Just one more painted face in a city of filth and sin. The last thought that crossed her mind before it ceased to work was that George would wonder why she hadn’t come home. Her son would grow up believing his mother had abandoned him.
When the sun rose over London, the tiny ice crystals on the wall of the bakery began to melt. And a tiny river of red ran along the ground, spilling into the dirty gutter.