Fiction: Poor Girl

An essay by Jackie Rivera, as provided by Traci Castleberry
Art by Errow Collins

From across the cobbled street, I watched the rag-clad girl who huddled on the leeward side of the Dolphin Inn. She held one trembling palm extended toward a passing gentleman. “Spare a copper, mister?” The man, like all the other passers-by gave the girl a wide berth, especially when she let out a barrage of coughs.

She was perfect for what I needed. The difficulty breathing was bad enough to be indicative of pneumonia or consumption, either of which would probably kill her soon. From the livid red scar and the fused fingers clutching at the collar of her worn dress, she’d been burned, and not all that long ago. No one would miss her, and she was near enough to death that if she passed on, I wouldn’t feel bad.

My missing hand itched as it always did when I was excited. I wound my way through the crowd and crouched in front of her, ignoring the stares of those walking past. “Spare a copper, mister?” she asked me.

I touched the knuckles of my good hand to my cap. “Morning, miss. I don’t have a copper, but I do have a hot bowl of stew to fill your belly and a nice warm bed to rest in.”

It was hard to make out her expression beneath her dirt-stained face, but her eyes widened as she gazed suspiciously at me. “I don’t have nothing you want. I got the consumption. Ain’t fit to lie with.”

“I don’t want to lie with you.” I held out my hand. “I’m just trying to be gentlemanly and help the less fortunate.”

“You ain’t no gentleman.”

I inhaled sharply, wondering if this pathetic urchin had guessed the truth I hid beneath my jacket and trousers. Then again, those near death were often delusional. “It’s your choice. Come with me or stay out here in the cold.” A night on the streets of Whitby was nothing to wish for with the constant threat from the sailors, traders, and dockworkers, as well as the bitter sea wind that almost never stopped.

Another round of coughing left her bent double. When the fit ended, I saw defeat in her eyes. She was so worn and tired that any risk would be better than enduring another moment begging on the street. She accepted my hand. I had to help her rise as she stood on unsteady legs. The poor girl was barefoot, her feet black and thick with calluses, and she shivered when I put an arm around her waist for support. She was hot, feverish, and I wondered more than once if she’d make it to my dwelling, which was not in Whitby proper but hewn into the cliffs below.

There were still a couple of functioning alum mines up north in Boulby, but for the most part the ones in Whitby had been abandoned, leaving me the ideal place to hide. The only time I feared trouble was when overzealous scientists had discovered the fossilized skeleton of a gigantic crocodile and incited searches for more. There were also those searching for veins of jet, the black mineraloid locals carved into crosses and beads and other jewelry. Men and boys scoured the cliffs after each high tide and storm, looking for any veins that might have been exposed. Fortunately, few came near my mine, and when they did, I scared them away with strange noises, letting them think the place haunted.

The main entrance had been sealed up, but I’d found another hidden beneath an overhang, which made it all but invisible from above or below. It was here I guided the girl, who by then had nearly collapsed from exhaustion. I had to catch her when she stumbled, though having her half delirious was to my benefit. The less she was aware of, the less she could reveal later–if she lived to say anything at all.

Illustration of two people, one with a claw-like hand.

It was a frightening, ugly thing, covered with the bristled fur of a boar and bearing claws as sharp as a hawk’s.

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Autumn 2019 collection.

Jackie Rivera was born in Batavia to a Chinese mother and Portuguese father and speaks a half dozen languages fluently. Jackie has traveled the seas as a pirate, escaped from being a prisoner of war, studied Chinese medicine to become an alchemist and acupuncturist, and isn’t afraid of a damn thing.

Traci Castleberry lives in southern Arizona with two cats and a Lipizzan mare. She’s been published in numerous anthologies, is a graduate of Clarion, Taos Toolbox, and is a first reader for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Errow is a comic artist and illustrator with a predilection towards mashing the surreal with the familiar. They pay their time to developing worlds not quite like our own with their fiancee and pushing the queer agenda. They probably left a candle burning somewhere. More of their work can be found at

“Poor Girl” is © 2015 Traci Castleberry
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Errow Collins

This story originally appeared in Daughters of Frankenstein.

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