I love first-person narrators. They have a special power to draw me in, making me feel invested as they share their deepest thoughts and emotions. Then there are the unreliable narrators, folks who, despite all this lovely sharing, can’t be trusted. Either they’re crazy, or forgetful, or they have an agenda—or sometimes all three. The […]
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Henry Jekyll is dead.
I whisper the words and then listen, as if I’ve dropped a stone into a well and await the plunk and splash . . . But inside my head there is only silence. All around me a chorus of celebratory noises fills the void: the simmering pop of the coals in the stove, the nautical creak of the whole wooden cabinet, and a faint, high-pitched cheeping from beyond the windows that sounds almost like baby birds. Here I sit in Jekyll’s chair by these three encrusted casement windows, with his mildewed overcoat draped about my shoulders like a travelling cloak. My journey’s end. The transformation has never felt so smooth before. No spinning sickness, no pain. Just a gentle dissolution: Jekyll evaporating like atomic particles into the air and leaving me behind in the body. This time for good.
Extinction. That was the word Darwin used in his book, which Jekyll befouled weeks ago and then dumped from the chamber pot out the window (no doubt it still lies down there in the yard like a spine-broken bird tumbled from flight). Extinction. Do the races of men, Darwin said, encroach on and replace one another, so that some finally become extinct? Jekyll refused to explain this concept to me. But now I begin to glimpse what extinction really means. I have been singled out. Selected for survival.
The fine hairs along my forearm rise into filaments. I look down at my left hand, resting in my lap like a pale crab, belly-up, the fingers loosely curled. The fraying cuff of Jekyll’s shirt is folded back once, revealing the lavender tail of the vein that runs to my wrist. Gingerly I draw the cuff farther up the arm and see the purple lines of infection fork and branch into darkened tributaries that reconverge at the crook of my elbow, which I bare with a hissing wince. The abscess in the notch has gone black, juicy and fat, like a blood-gorged spider at the heart of its web, its abdomen a-throb. I brush my thumb down the cubital vein, hard as a violin string under the skin and scattered with systematic punctures, some scabbed over and some red and fresh, my various points of entry. Look at what he’s left me. What he’s made me do. All those experimental powders, those double injections—and for what? The end is the same.
My pulse thumps in vindication as I turn in the chair and stare across the cabinet laboratory at Jekyll’s writing desk. The white envelope sits propped up against the brass-and-bell-glass lamp. Just as he left it an hour ago. Even in this wan light I can read the elaborate contour of ink across the envelope face: Gabriel John Utterson. For the past week I have watched Jekyll scratch out those buckled pages of frantic confession that are folded inside this envelope. Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case. Possessed by his own demented monologue, Jekyll would scribble, lips twisting, for hours—and then he would stop cold and glance up, as if he’d detected a furtive footstep from behind. Amazed, I peered out, surrounded by the pump of his blood, the fizzling whisper of his thoughts, and watched him ease open the lowest drawer of the desk, lift the false wooden bottom, and stash the accumulating pages in the secret under-space compartment. As if he somehow hoped to hide them from me. As if he believed I could not read through his own eyes every word he was writing—believed I would rip his precious manifesto to scraps if he were to leave it lying in the open. Lunacy! And yet after all that, this very morning when he is finally finished, what does he do? He stuffs the pages into that envelope, addresses the crazy thing to his best friend and solicitor, and props it up right bloody there on his desk for me to destroy at my leisure!
I won’t destroy it, of course. I have no reason to touch it. Let Utterson find it and read it. The solicitor is no fool. From the moment he first heard my name fall from Jekyll’s lips, Utterson knew he was not being given the story entire but rather a carefully manicured account. Why should Jekyll’s written confession be any different? From the first line, Utterson will see that the statement is anything but full, that it is little more than his friend’s dying, desperate protestation of innocence. Why should I waste the effort? No, I won’t deny Jekyll his pathetic self-exoneration. But neither will I let him have the final say.
I don’t know how much longer I have before Poole realises it’s me festering up here—the wanted murderer Edward Hyde—and not his master. Jekyll’s man to the last, trusty old Poole. Twice a day for the past two months, he’s been ferrying his master’s meals on a tray with a domed silver cover across the gravel courtyard from Big House: charred bangers and glutinous eggs and a leaky slice of grilled tomato for breakfast, then a chop or chicken or minced pie sometimes for supper. But this arrangement won’t continue indefinitely. Surely this evening, the moment Poole throws open the rusty steel door, he will feel the change, like a temperature drop, in the gloomy depths of the surgery block below me. With chilled breath he will stand at the foot of the stairs, holding the tray, staring up the dark rickety ascent at the cabinet door behind which I crouch. Will he climb up to the door himself and knock? Or will he fetch Utterson to do it? Yes, it will be Utterson who knocks, Utterson who shouts out, Harry, open this door at once! Jekyll knew his friend would be coming, of course. Jekyll knew how it all would end: Utterson pounding at the door and Poole a step below, armed with some implement to smash the door down, that black-headed axe with a silver gleam along its lip. Take it down, Poole! Utterson will cry, and the door will jump and crack as the blade bites in. Our saviours, who will arrive far too late to save anyone.
I shake off a ripple of goose flesh and peer out one of the three iron-framed casement windows that overlook the white gravel yard. A low stratum of morning fog moves like dense liquid over the stones. Above the boxy, silhouetted back end of the surgery block, to the east, the sky is soft cerulean blue, ribbed with pink fire. My breath mists up the glass, and I draw back, wipe the pane with the squeaky meat of my palm. Seven o’clock. Jekyll stopped winding his pocket watch over a month ago, but I can tell the hour by the light and by Poole’s comings and goings. Breakfast at half past eight, and supper at six. I have some time yet. And anyhow, the end will not come today. I am oddly certain of this. I have been selected. Granted this final spell of solitude, alone in the body, to set our story straight. I don’t want to die with Jekyll’s hectic lies echoing in my mind like the jeers of a mob at an execution. I don’t want to die at all, but if there’s no escaping it, then at the very least I want to remember everything properly first, the way it truly happened. The truth is inside this head. I simply must extract it. In the end no one will know it but me, but that will be enough. I shut my eyes, blow out a trembling breath. A nerve in my hand is twitching an erratic pulse, like a telegraphic code. Tap-tap, tap, down the wire.
I am alone, I whisper.
I am all alone.
Table of Contents
Day 1 morning 3
Day 1 afternoon 32
Day 1 nightfall 42
Day 2 before dawn 63
Day 2 morning 83
Day 2 dusk 104
Day 3 before dawn 136
Day 3 noon 186
Day 3 night 228
Day 4 sunrise 277
Introduction to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 303
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 307