Spring Heeled Jack

He can spring like a goat, He can jump like a cat, He comes at night, He’s robed in white, He appears in a flash, He disappears in a dash.

Pip stood at the bottom of Park Hill. He had been told to bring a stick for the night’s event; a stick he brought. It held firm in his hand just as a bat would. He was ready. Pip put one work-booted foot in front of the other, and started to charge up the hill. Determination crinkled across his face, anger exploding through his heart. Too long had they been afraid of the man that roamed Park Hill through the shadow of night. His knuckles had gone white, the wood began to splinter. Sweat soared from his head, tingled in his armpits and dropped from his chin droplet by droplet, landing on the chest of his ripped faded overalls. Adrenaline coursed through him like a charge of electricity. His boots continued to trudge. He stopped. He had found the edge. Men were rooted around the sandy brick monument, stale sweat creeping through the air. Expressions were haunted as the night wrapped around them like a cool unstable blanket, too tight to burst through, too loose for security. The monument stood tall before Pip; he knew what it stood for but to him it was a beacon of a different message. To him it wasn’t a monument—it was a warning. A warning of the one who could jump so high—the one who could scare you half to death—the one who disappeared—the one beyond the grasp of any man—the one they named Spring Heeled Jack. Tonight was Pip’s first time. He stood on the edge, thousands of men before him. Pip could feel it in his marrow; tonight was the night the men of Sheffield would catch Spring Heeled Jack. Pip was alert, and while his bones felt ready to shake, he was determined. He stood firm. Shoulder to shoulder with the men beside him like a brick wall; nothing could get through their mortar. Getting through wasn’t the problem though; the mass of sky above was. How high could he really jump?

Don’t go out at night, he’ll come for you, Don’t forget your stick, he’ll come for you, Don’t go misbehaving, he’ll come for you, Don’t forget your wits, he’ll come for you.

‘Ey, lad, this tha first time?’ a gruff looking man said, thudding Pip on the shoulder. His hands were black, his skin stained with the city’s labour. In a few years Pip knew he would look the same. He cast his eyes over the men; they were all at various stages of deterioration. Backs hunched, fingers lost, eyes squinting, hands scarred, bodies worn, marked by a lifetime of work. These men held their stories in their skin: they were broken, battered and bruised beyond repair, yet they would not falter, they would not sway. These men before Pip, these men were made of steel. ‘Eh did tha ‘ere me lad?’ Pip was brought back to focus on the man next to him. ‘Ye, but am ready. Av ‘eard all the stories,’ Pip replied confidently, his knuckles turning whiter by the second. ‘Ar re’me’be wen it wo jus’ two of us flinging es sticks ab’at, nah look thes thou’ands,’ the man went on, swirling his stick above his head. He was right, the rumour of the vigilante had spread like wild fire through the city streets. The population was on the verge of mass hysteria. People double locked their doors at night. When the sun faded from the sky, curtains were drawn, people huddled together in their rooms barely daring to breathe.

He can spring like a goat, He can jump like a cat, He comes at night, He’s robed in white, He appears in a flash, He disappears in a dash.

‘Yeh look frightened kid, yeh sure yeh al reyt?’ The man looked down at Pip, his eyes piercing through him like a man who had seen the world’s troubles. Like a man who saw life for what it was: a struggle. Pip looked firmly at him. ‘Am fine,’ he said, his tone angry. The man gave a grunt before he returned to staring ahead into the vast throng of men. Pip copied, but as he did an odd feeling began to stir inside him. One that caused his eyes to twitch, his lips to quiver, his hands to tremble. Pip willed his body to stop; it wouldn’t. He looked up at the man trying to conceal the emotions of his face beneath his tattered flat cap. The man whipped his eyes to look at Pip in his peripheral. Pip avoided eye contact and looked straight ahead. The man continued to stare. Pip felt his gaze blister on his face, causing Pip to rotate himself to meet the man’s eyes. ‘Wot is it kid?’ the man said gruffly, yet there was an air of softness to his voice as he rubbed the tired from his eyes. ‘Wot de yeh do?’ Pip asked, a slight tremble to his voice. ‘With wot?’ The man looked up to the sky, searching for something he was sure he would find. Eventually. ‘When he comes, wot do I do?’ ‘Ah ryt, why din’t yeh se that in the first place’, the man said with a chuckle running through his face. ‘Wot tha need t’do is as soon as tha sees him, ‘nd tha will see him, tha need t’raise the stick high ‘nd charge him.’ ‘Charge?’ ‘Yeh, charge, as fast as tha can, cos he’s a slippery lil devil ‘nd he can disappear or jump out of thos gaps before tha knows it.’ ‘Av you eve caught him?’ Pip asked. ‘Well, no,’ the man replied with resistance in his voice. Pip hesitated, and then asked ‘As anyone ever caught ‘im?’ ‘Well… No… But that’s not the point…’ The man opened his mouth to offer further explanation, but thought better of it after seeing Pip’s whimpering face. He was just a lad after all. ‘Nah quit yeh askin’ ‘nd stand up straight.’ Pip did as he was told, though he began to wonder what the point of all this was. Thousands of strong men stood, waiting with their sticks for a figure that may or may not appear, a figure that, as was becoming clear to Pip, they could not catch. Why? Moments had passed. The quiver had stopped but his morale had slumped, in fact Pip just wanted to sit down or go home. But that was weakness to be ridiculed among them, so he kept in formation and waited. A pulsation filtered through the crowd. A light began to shine through the cracks in the men’s arms. He’s here, Pip thought to himself, he’s actually here. He started to patter on his tip toes, ready to sprint, holding the stick higher. Pip looked to his side and saw the man grasping the stick at the other end. He wasn’t looking at Pip, though. He was looking out towards the bright shining light. ‘Nah wot ‘av we told you lot ab’at this,’ a voice rippled through the crowd, firm, a whisper of authority within. ‘Nah clear off and stop the nonsense.’ ‘No,’ another shouted. ‘His real en we’re gunna stay ‘ere until we catch him.’ ‘Not if I’ve anything to se about it,’ the voice from before grumbled. Men started to be pulled from the crowd and thrown down the hill like they were disposable. That’s when Pip saw them storming through in their pressed navy uniforms, the silver buttons glinting in the moonlight, their hats giving them the height of authority. Pip bowed his head, trying to shield himself from the light. The light suddenly flickered and went out. Pip opened his eyes, and as he looked up he saw a hailstorm of stones soaring over him. He heard expletives being uttered between ignored orders. The policemen cowered, trying to deflect the bits of rubble and various stones that were flying their way. ‘Eh’I’se—clear off—‘nd n’bdy—il get hurt,’ a policeman dictated between shielding his face from oncoming stones. Pip looked around him and saw that the men of Yorkshire paid no heed to police threats such as this. Instead of retreating, they began to clang their sticks together. Pip felt the energy of the men as they smashed their sticks so hard they splintered with every bang. Pip felt geared up with momentum as he presented his stick as high as he could, ready for it to be clanged. He closed his eyes in anticipation, a smile stretched across his face. Nothing happened. A silent pause beamed around the park. It was only for a moment before a rapture of noise hit every surface. Pip opened his eyes to see the men attacking forward, charging in the direction of the policemen. ‘Oh,’ Pip said to himself, lowering his stick. ‘Well I guess that’s that then.’ He dropped his stick and sprinted with all the speed he could muster to join the chaotic crowd. He swung himself in, all singing and dancing. Pip threw a kick this way and that, throwing a few punches, too. He felt exhilarated by it all, even if his blows kept meeting air more than they did the opposition. He was a part of it. After a few minutes, Pip began to realise he had no idea who he was fighting with. Was it the steel men of Sheffield, the ones who work till their backs ache, or was it the policeman? He had no clue. He was just happy to be involved in whatever this was. Through Pip’s elation sirens could be heard, lots of them. The noise pierced through the commotion like a needle through cotton. All the men went silent. The policemen stood up from the ground, grabbing their batons where they could, their arms folded, their stance strong as more police began to pour out of cars. They lined up shoulder to shoulder, a thick strong line in front of the rough haggard men. Pip could feel the anticipation swelling around the park. Pip knew it was the calm before the storm. There was going to be a fight and it was going to be a good one. Or so he thought. Pip readied himself to join the fight. He placed his feet apart one in front of the other and put his fists up, one slightly higher than the other. Just as his Dad had taught him. Before he knew it, the men were running full pelt, but not in the direction Pip had expected. They weren’t running towards the policemen, they were running down the hill. Pip chased to catch up with them, and as he did he saw the man he had been talking to before. The one who had been telling him about Spring Heeled Jack. ‘Ey, lad, ‘ow’s it going?’ he shouted through the stampede, his voice nearly lost. Pip gave him a nod. He wasn’t sure if he could run and talk. ‘Yeh had fun?’ he asked. Pip nodded again. ‘G’d, I’ll si tha next time then.’ Pip looked at the man as he realised what his words meant. Pip, unsure what to do now, nodded again and continued to run down the hill.

He can spring like a goat, He can jump like a cat, He comes at night, He’s robed in white, He appears in a flash, He disappears in a dash.

Emily Elizabeth France