• ERIC BUTLER

Ephraim Godwin and the Sins of the Past Part II

Updated: Feb 12


Image by Enrique Meseguer from Pixabay

Chapter Four


A match flared and illuminated Livingstone's face as Ephraim eyes opened. He quickly lit all the candles on the table. Ephraim struggled to rise.


"Careful, you've suffered a nasty fall," Livingstone said as he reached down to help Ephraim sit up.


The room spun a bit as he fought off nausea and finally made his way to his feet. He wiped at his face and was surprised to find blood running from his nose. He dug a handkerchief out of his pocket and pressed it against his face. The bleeding stopped after a moment. Ephraim reached over and picked up the closest candle before moving to inspect the room.


Zona lay on top of her brother, her body shaking while she wept. Ephraim placed his hand on her shoulder as he squatted next to her. She calmed at his touch and after a moment glanced over. His heart broke at the despair visible on her face; a mirror image of the despair that snuck up on him in the middle of the night without warning, forcing him to drown his feelings in the closest bottle.


"Godwin," Livingstone said as he stumbled over to them. "Chattoway is unconscious and the others are gone. Whitlock..."


"What do you mean gone? How long was I out?"


"A few minutes at most," Livingstone replied as he helped Zona to her feet before guiding her to a chair.


Ephraim squatted next to Zachariah and studied the man. Blood stained the front of his shirt and jacket. The man showed no sign of taking breath and after checking his pulse, Ephraim stood and motioned for Livingstone to come over.


"Have you examined the body?" Ephraim asked in a hushed tone. He glanced towards Zona, but she sat staring blankly at the wall.


"No more than to observe the man is dead," Livingstone replied. "A bullet in the chest has that effect more times than not."


Ephraim nodded and stepped to Zona. She glanced up, a sad smile on her lips, and Ephraim's heart ached for her loss. However, he needed to discern the truth before the police arrived.


"Was this all a ruse?" he asked, wincing at the harshness in his voice.


"A ruse?" Zona snarled as she stood so her glare was on equal footing. Ephraim took a step back, but she followed, driving her finger into his chest at each word. "You sir, may go to hell. My brother is dead because the spirits failed to protect him from whatever madness you all have become mixed up in."


Ephraim stopped moving away from her only because his back met the wall. He gazed into her eyes and saw anger, sadness, and most importantly, the truth. He nodded and held his hands up in surrender.


"My dear lady, I beg your pardon, but this whole nights has been a series of events too fantastic to believe."


Her mouth opened but before she could offer a retort, he held up a finger and spoke first, "But I sense I am wrong, and while fantastic...it must be true."


Zona offered a sharp nod and spun to Livingstone. He was bent over the body, moving his hands to different parts. He glanced up with a shocked look.


"Dear God, he's still alive, but barely," Livingstone said as he stood. "I'll be honest, it's been an age since I practiced surgical medicine but I know of a Doctor who might be able to save your brother's life. We will need to send for him, Doctor William Bent on Garden Street."

Ephraim rushed out of the house and flagged down a coach dropping off an older couple. "How quickly can you get to Garden Street?"


"Garden Street? This time of night, it might take a bit."


"Here are two shillings. Find Doctor William Bent. Tell him David Livingstone requests his immediate attention and don't take no for an answer. I'll have another two waiting on your return," Ephraim said as he pointed back to the house. The driver took the coins, tipping his cap before snapping his whip and speeding off.


Chapter Five


When Ephraim returned to the house, Zona was sitting on the floor by her brother holding his hand. Livingstone knelt over Mrs. Chattoway's unconscious body. He looked up and followed Ephraim as he stalked to the hosts.


"So even if I relent and declare this to be truth," he said motioning around the room," we still need to discover what exactly is going on."


"Yes, I was thinking the same thing," Livingstone added as he slid next to Ephraim.


"If you think I am going to discuss this with you while you two tower over me, you have another thing coming," she snapped, pointing to the table. "You may sit over there and once my brother is tended to, I will speak with you."


Ephraim and Livingstone shared a glance. Livingstone shrugged and shuffled to an open chair at the table. Ephraim stared at Zona a moment longer before sighing and following Livingstone's example. The woman was exasperating.


"Nice if Ms. Blair was still here to offer refreshments," Livingstone mumbled as he surveyed the room. He let loose a cry of triumph when he found a serving tray and rose to retrieve the last remaining glasses. He paused at Zona's side and held out a small glass of sherry. She eyed it, as one might a viper, before taking it with a slight nod of her head.


"Thank you, Doctor," she said, draining the glass in one long gulp. Her attention returned to her brother, the glass slipping to the floor with a clank.


"Interesting woman," Livingstone said as he slipped back in his chair and placed the last two glasses on the table. He gestured to Ephraim who responded by shaking his head.


"No thank you, Dr. Livingstone. I've had enough tonight," Ephraim said fighting the urge to lick his lips. The truth was actually far from that, but Ephraim needed a clear head to try to decipher what exactly just happened. The last thing he wanted to do was lose himself in the bottle, the only place that first drink would lead.


"More for me than," Livingstone said as he gulped the first one down and picked up the last one to sip.


"So if Ms. Whitlock is unwilling to speak to us about this fiasco forthwith, let us discuss what we might know."


Livingstone finished the second drink and grimaced, "Yes, I guess we should. Did you recognize anyone here tonight...besides myself?"


Ephraim shook his head, "You?"


Livingstone's mouth opened a sliver but nothing came out. He stared at the wall, and after a moment Ephraim decided it wasn't the wall the doctor was looking at but something far away. He waited patiently, knowing that if rushed the man may lose not only the words to this story but the will to tell it.


"Did you know one of the first times I went to Africa I was attacked by a lion? Right in the middle of a village, as if the beast owned it...and in a way it did. It owned the right to do as it pleased, to simply exist, but we Brits always know better. Don't we?"

Ephraim nodded but kept quiet. He glanced at Zona who was studying them while holding her brother's hand.


"We were there to explore and more importantly to expose the natives to God."

"Noble actions."


Ephraim's response appeared to amuse Zona as a quick bark of a laugh slipped out before she turned her attention back to her brother, becoming somber again. Both men ignored the interruption.


"Yes, well...the young lady is closer with her reaction," Livingstone said, his face a mask of misery. "God works in mysterious ways, and I believe the lion's attack was one such event. It got me out of there, but for a price. Hell, I can't raise this arm higher than my shoulder." He demonstrated but winched and stopped once his left arm was equal to his chest.


"Is that why you came? To see if the lion is waiting for you?" Ephraim asked.


"What? Oh, heaven's no. When my Mary died, the witch doctor did a reading. The bones told him I was cursed," Livingstone said before pausing and then shaking his head. "That's not right; he said I was touched by a curse. Almost like a shadow of bad luck was following me. He said it was the reason my wife fell ill."


"So you understand what that voice was talking about?" Ephraim asked fighting the urge to roll his eyes at the question, suddenly well aware he still thought it all a trick. That will have to wait until Doctor Bent arrives.


"I wouldn't have," Livingstone replied, "Except I knew William Devitt when he was Billy Devitt, a soldier commissioned to guard a group of missionaries in Africa. And that means I most likely met his partner, Stanbury, and whoever they claim was blackmailing them."


"Do you know what happened?"


Livingstone's face grew tired. Ephraim thought the man appeared to age ten years with the question. He waited, holding his tongue, confident the doctor would speak in a moment. Livingstone wrung his hands and his gaze went blank. They sat in the quiet for a few minutes before Livingstone nodded.


"I heard the rumors, and they were horrifying. The man in charge of the missionaries was a liar and a thief. He used Christ as a shield to allow him to do terrible things to the Africans. That lion shortened my efforts to dissuade the others to turn on the man. But years later, there were stories of butchery and debauchery that made my blood grow cold. Those men, weren't after converts, they were after conquest and treasure."


Chapter Six


A bell sounded and Zona's blank gaze focused. The bell rang again and Zona stood, letting her brother's hand fall to his chest.


"Your friend is here," she said, gesturing towards Livingstone and disappeared towards the front of the house. Ephraim could hear voices but nothing clear. He stood and after a moment, Livingstone followed his example. A smallish man burst into the room with Zona on his heels. She was pointing to her brother, but only a blind man could miss who needed the doctor in the room.


"David," the man said as he slipped to his knees next to Zachariah," what can you tell me?"

"Nothing you can't see for yourself. This man was shot in the chest. He's still alive and my skills are no longer as sharp as they once were. I recommended you as this man's best chance at life."


Doctor Bent popped open Zachariah's jacket, vest, and finally his blood soaked shirt. Zona gasped and turned quickly, finding herself in Ephraim's arms. She buried her face into his shoulder and her tears soaked into his jacket. He held her stiffly for a moment before focusing on the cause of her distress. Her brother's chest was a bloody mess. Ephraim relaxed a bit, tightening his hold on Zona. No one could survive such devastation and Dr. Bent confirmed this by covering the wound and standing up.


"I'm sorry," he said as he moved to Livingstone. "The damage was too extensive for anyone to help this poor man. I can have him moved to the morgue."


Livingstone placed his hand on Bent's shoulders, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "That would be most helpful, but we have one more patient for you to inspect. This one should be easier to help."


He led the doctor to Mrs. Chattoway's prone body. Ephraim continued to hold Zona while she wept. He noted the doctor's smile as he knelt beside his new patient. With shocking familiarity he moved his hands from place to place before digging into his bag.

"Dr. Bent," Ephraim called out, "Be careful she is with child."


"That I already know, my good man. I am the one who diagnosed her," Dr. Bent said as he produced a bottle. He removed the top and moved the bottle back and forth under her nose. Mrs. Chattoway choked a bit before coughing and then opening her eyes.


"Dr. Bent, what on earth are you doing here?" Mrs. Chattoway asked with genuine confusion on her face.


He offered her a smile and patted her shoulder, "It is okay...everything is okay. David can you get Olive here some water?"


Livingstone stood still a moment before realizing the request was directed at him and sprang to the serving tray at the back of the room. He poured a glass of water and after a slight hesitation, poured a second one. The first he handed to Mrs. Chattoway, and then held the other glass out towards Ephraim and Zona.


"Ms. Whitlock," Ephraim said softly as he pushed her to arms length, "Dr. Livingstone has some water for you."


She stared at Ephraim with bloodshot eyes and a look of sadness so pure that Ephraim thought his heart would break if it had not already done so years ago. He fished out a handkerchief and offered it to her. She nodded and offered a smile of thanks before turning towards Livingstone.


"Thank you...for everything," she said, her voice quivering at the end. She drank the water down and handed the glass back before wiping her eyes and nose with the handkerchief.

"My pleasure, and I am so sorry for your loss."


Zona nodded and turned back to Ephraim. She stared at him a full minute, and he started to become self-conscious. He fidgeted with his collar and sighed. Ephraim would play her game if that's what it took to get some answers. He locked his gaze to hers, and they stood in the middle of the room, a few feet apart staring at each other.


Ephraim noticed the lack of sound first, followed quickly by his peripheral vision disappearing leaving only Zona in his sight. All he experienced was an intense feeling in his chest; a tingle that moved slowly, snaking its way through his torso and to his limbs and only ending once they came to his toes and fingertips. The sensation hummed throughout his body for a count of five before rushing back into his chest with the force of a cannon ball strike. He stumbled backwards and tripped over one of the knocked over chairs.


"Goodness," Livingstone said rushing to Ephraim, "Are you all right?"


Ephraim rubbed his chest and stared at Zona, "Honestly, I have no idea? Maybe our spiritualist can offer some answers?"


"Gentlemen, if you are finished with whatever this was," Dr. Bent said with Mrs. Chattoway on his arm, "I will make sure Mrs. Chattoway returns home safe and sound. I will send a driver to alert the police and the morgue."


Ephraim and Zona both nodded their goodbyes, but Livingstone walked them to the door and returned with an alarmed look on his face.


"Don't worry Doctor, now that the witnesses are gone we can get down to business,"

Ephraim said, leading Zona to the table and sitting her down.


Chapter Seven


Ephraim stood a few steps from Zona waiting for her response. Dr. Livingstone slipped into the closest chair to the others and closed his eyes with a sigh. The quiet was oppressive but Ephraim refused to fill it until Zona spoke. Her blue eyes stared through him and a chill ran down his back. The tingle sensation started again but stopped after a few seconds. Ephraim hoped he simply imagined it. Not something I want to feel again. Zona glanced away with a huff, and studied Livingstone for a moment.


"You are well aware, my brother just died," she said finally turning her attention back to Ephraim. "You could be more understanding...more polite." Her teeth came together on the last syllable with a click, and she baring them in some sort of hostile smile.


"I feel the time for politeness left when I was pushed across the room by some unseen force," he replied while arching his eyebrow.


She waived her left hand in a dismissive gesture, "Oh pish posh, that was nothing. I was simply connecting our spirit in case something came back before I was ready."


Livingstone opened his eyes a slit inspecting Zona a moment before speaking, "What in good heavens did that mean?"


Ephraim nodded, running his hand through his hair, "My thoughts exactly." His stomach rumbled and his head suddenly ached. He stumbled to the closest chair and slung himself down.


"My brother is dead, gentlemen, " Zona said, exasperation dripping from the words. "He was my link to this plane, and I his. Without a tether, one can accidentally get lost if not careful. I had no choice as Ephraim...excuse me Mr. Godwin was closest."


Ephraim shook his head, attempting to clear it but instead increasing the pounding. Livingstone shifted to the end of his chair and studied Ephraim for a moment. He frowned, stood and moved to the water to fill a third glass. He stepped to Ephraim and held it out.


"You look like you need something stronger, but let's start with this," Livingstone said offering a smile that only touched his lips. Ephraim nodded his thanks and gulped down the slightly cool liquid.


"But that's not important," Zona said, looking at each man directly before continuing. "What is important, something made it over. Something dangerous, and we need to find it and stop it."


Ephraim stared at the woman. How could a madwoman be so beautiful? The glass slipped from his fingers, crashing to the ground as darkness visited him once again.


***


"Bloody hell," Livingstone exclaimed as the glass shattered on the floor. He hurried to Ephraim and rested his fingers to his throat. "Well, he's still alive but that didn't end up the truth on the last man I checked."


Livingstone's cheeks flushed, and he grumbled an apology as Zona stared at him. The bell ringing pulled her attention away from Livingstone to his great relief. The woman had him off balanced, and he desperately wished Ephraim would wake up. He seemed to know how to handle her...unless that's why she bewitched him. The thought shook Livingstone to his core, and he spun around to accuse her of that very idea.


"Dr. Livingstone, this is Inspector Kimbell," Zona said trailing a rather tiny man in what appeared to be a hand-me-down suit. The inspector came to a stop and surveyed the room. He hummed as he took in the scene, only stopping for a moment when his eyes fell on Zachariah's body.


"And this is the victim?" he asked no one in particular.


Standing behind the man, Zona raised an eyebrow and offered Livingstone a wide-eyed look. "Yes sir, my brother was shot less than an hour ago."


"Suspect?"


"Not exactly," Livingstone said, "You see the lights went out and there was terrible confusion for a moment. The gun shot sounded and by the time we relit the candles, this poor man was on the ground. He survived a little while longer, but couldn't hold out for Dr. Bent to help him."


Inspector Kimbell nodded, and turned his attention to Ephraim, "And this gentleman? Is he dead as well?"


Livingstone squinted at the man for a moment to see if he was missing something, as it was obvious to everyone else in the room that Ephraim was quite alive.


"He just fainted," Zona said placing her hand on the Inspector's arm. "With some rest he will be right as rain."


The Inspector glanced at her hand and grunted. "I think I have everything I need. I'll keep you informed as I learn more." He motioned to the men from the morgue, and they lifted Zachariah's body and removed it from the house.


"Well that was...strange," Livingstone said shaking his head and moving to check on Ephraim one more time.


"He can stay here, Doctor. I will make sure the staff takes care of him. Let's meet at the café closest to the police station...say nine tomorrow morning?"


Livingstone nodded his agreement and moved to the front of the house. He hadn't been aware there was any staff other than poor Ms. Blair but maybe they knew better than to show themselves during a séance. He stepped from the house as Zona closed and locked the door behind him.


Livingstone stared at the house. He had come to this place for answers and left with more questions than ever before. Hope I'm doing the right thing leaving Ephraim. The thought lingered a moment, then Livingstone gave a sharp nod and disappeared into the night.



© 2020 Naked Cat Press. All Rights Reserved

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©2020 by Naked Cat Press. All Rights Reserved.