• ERIC BUTLER

Ephraim Godwin and the Sins of the Past - Part 9

Updated: Mar 10

Chapters 25-27

Image by Elena Arboleda Salas from Pixabay

TWENTY-FIVE


Jonah Cook was running out of time. The past few days exasperated his situation and his body was struggling to hold on. He glanced at the clock sitting on the mantle place. Oringo is late. He had given the boy a simple task, return to the place he stayed with that madman Hatty and recover an item. It didn't need to be anything specific, just something important to the man.


A coughing fit overtook Cook, and he hunched over as long and hard hacks ripped from his chest. He held his belly as the pain wracked his body, and his bloody spittle sprayed out of his mouth with each violent cough. He wiped the blood from his lips with the back of his hand. It will be a miracle if I survive the night.


Straightening, Cook stumbled over to the middle of the room. On a table lay the body of Zachariah Whitlock. He had used too much of his spirit to control the dead man, even after consuming so much of the attendant's life force. But once he was inside, the power coursing through Whitlock's dead flesh was intoxicating. Cook shook his head at the memory, he'd moved the dead before, but nothing compared to Whitlock. His heart raced at the terror he would inspire once he took possession of this body. Cook ran his fingers across the dead man's forehead, brushing back the pale hair. If he hurried, there was still time. He would start without the boy, so they could finish when he returned.


Another empty table sat next to Whitlock's body. On the table were two buckets; one filled with blood and the other with organs. Cook dipped a brush into the gore. He proceeded to write on the empty table, filling the open space with writing and symbols. His vision blurred as he pushed through another coughing fit. His body was breaking down, but soon he would have a new one; one that allowed him to move freely in this society.


Cook finished and placed the bucket down. He took the other bucket and moved to Whitlock's body. Fishing out the organs, he placed each one on the matching spot. He produced a syringe and a jar filled with a slightly yellow liquid. Mrs. Chattoway had been reluctant to share, but Cook persuaded her with his knife to part with the precious elixir in her belly. He extracted the liquid and injected it into each organ before injecting the rest of the liquid into a vein in Whitlock's neck.


Cook removed his clothing and lay on the empty table. His eyes closed and a wave of exhaustion rolled over his body. He bid Oringo hurry as sleep overtook his senses.


***


Oringo entered the building through a back window left unlocked for easier entry. Cook worried someone might be watching and moving bodies and parts in and out through the front door wasn't prudent. As his feet touched the basement floor, he reached to his right and found the lantern. He lit it and made his way up the old wooden stairs. The creaking would let Cook know he was there and Oringo made sure to hit the right spots. Each step had a weak spot where the sound was loudest. It wouldn't do to surprise the African and lose his life.


Although, if his stories are true then death holds no sways over them; something Oringo was excited to witness. Hatty made him a maestro of death, a true artist but if Cook could control who lives and dies then the two of them would be unstoppable. The smile on his face vanished as he entered the room and found Cook lying on the table next to the pale giant.


Rushing to his master's side, he placed the lantern next to the now-empty bucket. He tentatively reached out, terrified he was too late and the secrets Cook boasted of were now lost forever. His fingers pressed against Cook's neck and Oringo released the breath he held. He's still alive, even though Cook's breathing was shallow and his pulse was weak.


Cook's eyes fluttered open, and he greeted Oringo with a weak smile, "Ah, I was hoping you'd be here soon. Did you get what I asked?"


Oringo reached into his pocket and removed the packet of paper and the knife. He showed both to his master before placing them down. Cook nodded and breathed a sigh of relief. He gripped Oringo at the forearm and pulled him closer.


"For this to work, you must do as I instructed you with no hesitation. Are you ready?"


Oringo stared at his master for a moment before nodding. If it worked this would be fantastic...if? Now is not the time for doubt. He grabbed the needle and stuck it in Cook's arm, filling it with his master's blood. He quickly went to the other table and stabbed the pale man in the heart. For this to work he needed the timing to be precise. He picked up the knife he just retrieved and placed the blade against Cook's throat.


The African began to chant; his words flowing from his mouth in a musical rhythm, the syllables rising and falling in a complex pattern. Oringo waited for the right combination of words and sounds and once he heard it, drew the blade across Cook's throat. As he finished slicing through the next, he pressed the plunger on the needle down.


As blood bubbles popped and splattered on Cook's lips, Oringo picked up the chant. His inflection mirrored the African's as he repeated the words and sounds. When he finished he dipped his finger in the man's blood and drew four symbols on the white man's forehead. All the candles went out with a whoosh and Oringo held his breath, straining to hear anything in the pitch black.


After a moment, a breeze rustled through the room and the candles suddenly blared alive, flooding the room with light. The white man sat up and reached out to clasp Oringo on the shoulder.


"Master?" Oringo asked, doubt creeping into his voice although there sat proof he succeeded.


"We did it," Cook's voice said from the white man's mouth. "Now we can finally begin."


TWENTY-SIX


Zona stood on the hill once again. She gazed down on the village, no longer on fire but smoke still hung in the air. She glanced at her arm, expecting to view the African's as before but this time it was hers. So a dream more than a vision? Zachariah would know, but in his desire to shield her from the unpleasantness that often came with divination he rarely allowed her to exercise her talents. His stubbornness may just cost her and her friends their lives. What will be, will be; Zachariah's answer to everything.


Zona marched down the hill, focused on the hut in the middle, still untouched by fire. The aroma of death still lingered, and she could easily spot where the ground saturated with blood. She removed her handkerchief from her sleeve and covered her nose and mouth, eager for the light perfume of lilac to temper the surrounding stench.


Where are the bodies? She found herself almost to the hut before realizing they were all gone. Zona stopped and spun looking for evidence of their removal. Stop! There, her mind screamed out to her, as her eyes swept past an obvious path. Moving closer to investigate, Zona spotted the drag marks and bloodstains revealing where all the bodies from the village might have gone.


"Aren't you going to investigate the hut first?" Ephraim asked from behind. Zona let out a cry of surprise and spun to face the man.


"What in bloody hell are you doing here?" she demanded. She quickly changed her stance, relaxing and patting her hair to make sure it was in place. She was not a fan of people sneaking up on her.


"What do you mean? Why wouldn't I be in my dream?" He scratched the side of his head and frowned. "I'm just curious why my head is so damned foggy."


"Oh, you really are here," she said stepping closer to study his face. "I thought you were some manifestation of my mind to torment me."


"What do you mean, 'really here'?" Ephraim stared at her waiting for an answer.


Zona, not wanting to continue the conversation, instead asked, "Did you check the hut?"


Ephraim stood quietly, studying Zona before finally shaking his head. She moved past him and marched to the only surviving building. At the entrance, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes hoping that the bodies were gone as well. Her heart still ached when she remembered seeing them the last time. Ephraim hovered behind her, impatiently waiting for her to enter. She let the breath out and stepped forward.


"I wonder why there is no damage here," Ephraim wondered aloud. Zona opened her eyes and sighed in relief. While the blood was still apparent, there were no other signs of any mayhem here.


"A message, most likely," Zona said. She moved to the back wall and stared at a large eye carved into the wood. "Look at this...just like Dr. Livingstone described."


Ephraim stopped next to her and nodded. "Blasted thing gives me the chills. Do you think this protected the hut?"


Zona shook her head and gestured to the blood-soaked ground. "Unless it only protects wood somehow."


Ephraim sighed and turned to leave, "We better go and investigate the path you found before I wake up. Maybe it will help us understand."


Zona smiled as she followed the man out and back through the village. Whatever the Doctor had given her to help Ephraim sleep must have opened his mind to our link. It would make this easier to explain in the morning if the man thought he had some fantastical dream.

The path continued quite some way from the village. Ephraim shaded his eyes and glanced around. He pointed to a hill off in the distance, but still within sight of the path.


"Let's discover what the high ground can offer," he said as he turned towards the hill. Zona sighed, realizing the drawback to Ephraim believing it was his dream. She hurried to catch up to his long-legged stride.


"Do be careful," she said as she pulled even, "Dreams can be as dangerous as real life; especially if you are too far into one or in someone else's."


Ephraim turned his head and studied her, his eyes squinted in thought. After a moment, he shook his head and turned his attention back to the hill. "What does she really know...must have read that somewhere," he mumbled to himself.


Zona rolled her eyes but kept quiet. They moved quickly up the hill, and at the top Ephraim gave her a triumphant smile. Zona raised her hand over her mouth in shock. They found all the villagers.


TWENTY-SEVEN


"Good God," Ephraim whispered, the smile slipping from his lips. Zona could only nod as they stared at the villagers arranged into a giant circle, with a smaller circle inside. At the center, there was a well acting as the iris.


"What is he doing?" Zona asked as the tall African man picked up objects and dropped them in the well. She strained to see closer but couldn't make out any details from so far away.

Ephraim reached out and took her hand, "I don't know but let's get closer."


On the last word, the two suddenly stood closer to the well, just outside the largest ring of the eye. The man looked back and Zona recognized Jonah Cook. He looked through the two before turning his attention back to the well. She released the breath she had been holding. He can't see us in the dream. Again she wished her brother here to guide them, but nothing happened.


"I don't think he can see us...hopefully that extends to sound as well," Ephraim whispered. "What in heaven's name is he doing?"


Zona stared on in horror as Cook picked up a child from a pile of bodies and threw it into the well. There was a moment of silence followed by the splash of the body hitting the water. He continued to do this until the only sound was that of flesh landing on flesh.

Jonah Cook stepped back and started to draw symbols and words in the ground around the well. When he was finished he knelt in front of the well and removed a dagger from his belt. He kissed the blade and quickly drew it across his throat.


Zona gasped as Cook slumped to the ground and his blood leaked out. It ran toward the well, pooling against the stone. As the life flickered in Cook's eyes, a rumbling began deep in the ground. The lifeless bodies around the well began to move and shift as the ground started to buckle and shake. Zona reached out and grabbed Ephraim's arm to steady herself.


The pool of blood seeped through the stone, disappearing into the well. Cook's body rose from prone to his knees to standing in two unnatural movements. His arms stretched out, and he rose a foot off the ground. As he floated, the well shrunk and expanded, giving the illusion of breathing.


Zona stared at the well's opening as darkness began to burp up covering the area until the entire eye was dark. The earth no longer shook but Zona couldn't see past the first ring of bodies. Ephraim cursed under his breath and stepped forward. As he entered the darkness, Zona sighed but followed.


Inside the circle, the darkness appeared more like thick smoke than an absence of light. Zona watched horrified as long tentacles wiggled and wreathed pulling something from the well. Cook's head hung, resting on his chest and the man still was suspended in the air. The tentacles poured from the opening and began to poke and squirm over the man.


"Child of Adam, why have you called on me?" a voice boomed through the darkness. Ephraim covered his ears with a hiss. Zona's blood ran cold.


"I come seeking power. I come seeking retribution. I come seeking justice," Cook said his voice weakening with each word as his blood drained slowly from his wound.


"Power, retribution, justice...what you ask for is not cheap. What you want will cost you dearly. Are you ready to pay any price for that which you ask?" The voice boomed again.

"I offer you the flesh of my people, my blood, and my soul to do with as you will after I have my vengeance."


"No you fool," Ephraim cried out. Zona reached out and grabbed him to stop him from blindly stumbling forward.


"Done," the voice said as a tentacle shot forward and slammed into Cook's mouth. Zona and Ephraim shuddered as the tentacle pushed its way farther and farther down the man's throat. The other tentacles began to grab at the bodies and dragged them down the well. The tentacle in Cook's mouth stopped moving. He rose higher in the air, his body shaking like a leaf in the wind.


When all the bodies were pulled into the well, the last remaining tentacle broke off and Cook's body fell to the ground. A weird mash-up of African chanting and some unknown language hummed through the darkness until Cook was standing on his feet again.


He raised his hands and spoke in a deep voice, "All hail Ojo'out. With your help, I will seek revenge on those that destroyed my family."


"Yes, with my blessing you will seek those that wronged you out and afterward you will bring me the Whitlocks and Ephraim Godwin. Then your debt will be paid and your suffering will be passed to them for all eternity." As the voice boomed through the darkness, a few tentacles slithered toward the two observers.


Zona grabbed Ephraim in a tight embrace and closed her eyes, "Away, anywhere but here," she cried out.


When her eyes opened, Ephraim stared at her with a look of horror on his face. They stood in the middle of the village, their arms wrapped around each other. He cleared his throat and stepped back, letting her go.


"What was that?" he asked in a quiet voice.


"Something much worse than I thought," Zona replied. She stepped forward and tapped him on the forehead.


Ephraim opened his eyes. The room was pitch black, and he shuddered as he remembered the tentacles moving towards them in the dream. He sat up, suddenly desperate for some light.



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