©2020 by Naked Cat Press. All Rights Reserved.

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I am in my 40s and recently quit my job of 20 years to take care of my ill son and to pursue my love of writing.  Within this blog, I hope to cover all the ups and downs I will face as I go from unpublished to published writer, while facing the challenges of being a stay at home dad to a teenager battling Crohns and colitis. Along the way I'll spout off on pop culture and revisit the entertainment that made me the person I am today.  My writing primarily falls under horror but I hope to branch out to other genres as I travel down this path. 

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  • ERIC BUTLER

Ephraim Godwin and the Sins of the Past Part III

Updated: Feb 12


Image by Enrique Meseguer from Pixabay

Chapter Eight


Zona stood next to the couch staring at the slow but steady rise and fall of Ephraim's chest. She couldn't explain to Livingstone that Ephraim had no choice but to stay at the house close to her. Sighing, she moved across the room and fell into the matching armchair. Zona offered a sad smile to the sleeping Ephraim. So far everything her brother prophesied came true...Down to his death.


Zona replayed their argument for at least the twelfth time in her head. Zachariah sitting at the table, holding her hand, and speaking with that dry as the grave voice. His words making no sense then and barely any at all now, Zona argued and finally swore she would do what was needed to do to protect him. He gave her a knowing smile, squeezing her hand, and nodding his agreement.


"Of course you will," Zachariah said with no disbelieve or belittlement. He always spoke to her with the same steady and level tone.


"Damn you," she said glaring at Ephraim. He was the catalyst. Zachariah practically named him such, when he told Zona who all to invite. No matter what the others said, she was to make sure Ephraim would arrive. Little did Zona know who Ephraim Godwin was at the time, but now he would always remind her of her brother's death and for that she hated him.


***


Ephraim knelt in a field of the dead. His horse's cries filled the air, but he barely noticed. The scent of death hung heavy in the air. Ephraim stared blankly ahead, the smoke from cannon fire and rifled-muskets hovered on the field like a morning fog. A sudden flutter of red caught his attention, drawing him from his stupor.


Ephraim stood, locked on the slash of color and stumbled towards it. He was careful to avoid stepping on the bodies of his fallen comrades, although it was difficult as the field lay thick with bodies. Shaking his head, he wondered how leadership failed to take into account the absurdity of a frontal assault on such a well-defended position.


A gust of wind blew over the field and Ephraim wondered why the smoke thickened instead of clearing away. He stopped walking, slowly turning in a tight circle. The thick gloom darkened the field obscuring everything farther than a foot or so in front of him. This must be a dream. Strengthened by the thought, Ephraim continued to move forward, no longer trying to pick and choose his steps. With each step, the gloom thinned until he could see a tunnel that led to a woman kneeling by a young soldier.


Although she was familiar, Ephraim didn't know why. She held the soldier's hand, stroking the hair from his forehead and speaking softly. Where did she come from? Ephraim raked his memories, but couldn't recall a woman being anywhere near the battle. As he stepped closer she became clearer to him. She was a tall woman, with shoulder-length dark hair and wearing a blue dress. He was surprised to find her without a hat, but then there was no sunshine. Still what self-respecting woman would be outside without a hat? The woman glanced up and smiled.


"So you are an ass in both the waking world and this one it seems," Zona said dropping the now deceased soldier's hand to stand.


"What in bloody hell are you doing here?"


"I told you we are now linked," she replied stepping closer. "This is a side effect. I will have to train you in defending yourself from visitors but for now you will have to make do with me."


Ephraim stared into Zona's green eyes and wondered just how hard he hit his head. Although truth be told he didn't mind seeing Zona in this particular dream, her beauty took his mind off the horror of that day. Her cheeks flushed red as Zona tilted her head to the right.


"The first thing to learn will be to shield your thoughts," Zona replied with a sly smile. Ephraim nodded and reached out placing his hand on her shoulder.


"As much as I appreciate the distraction, this is no place for a woman," Ephraim said, his face slack with sadness. Zona held his gaze for a moment, drinking in the emotions this particular dream fed Ephraim. He broke away first, closing his eyes with a sign.


"This led to you selling your commission," Zona said softly taking his hand from her shoulder and holding it tight. "This is your second greatest regret."


"Yes," Ephraim whispered. The betrayal he experienced when it was learned leadership sent them to the wrong artillery battery still rang true. "All those British lives wasted because of simple miscommunication and incompetence."


Ephraim opened his eyes with a shudder. Many thought they knew why he left the Cavalry and called him a coward and a traitor to the Crown. He ignored the slurs and whispers and left the continent as soon as possible, racing to get home to his wife and son.


Zona placed her hand on his cheek, "You need to rest now. We have a busy day tomorrow, and we can't afford you fainting all over the place."


The world around him began to darken, and he slipped away from the battlefield. The last thing in his vision was Zona's sad smile and sparkling eyes.


CHAPTER NINE


Ephraim woke with a start. The last thing he remembered was speaking with Zona about the war but that couldn't be right. He never spoke about his time in the Cavalry. He decided after he sold his commission that it was easier to simply ignore that time of his life and move forward. Moving forward was short-lived for when he returned he found his family gone.


"I was just about to wake you," Zona said from the hallway. "Would you like some tea or coffee before we meet Dr. Livingstone at the café?"


How did she know I was awake? The thought lingered a moment, attempting to drum up a memory before he finally shook his head. "Tea, if you don't mind. I'll be there in a moment."


Ephraim listened to her light steps move away from the door and sat up. Dull light filtered in through a dirty window, reminding Ephraim of the fog from his dream. Again a memory scratched at the thought, but Ephraim stood and moved to a dresser on the other side of the room. A pitcher and basin sat next to a towel. He poured the still warm water in the basin and splashed it on his face. Under the towel he found a bar of soap and quickly washed his hands, arms, and face, before patted himself dry.


His stomach grumbled as he buttoned his shirt up and slipped on his jacket. Scanning the room, he found his shoes by the door. After a cup of tea, he hoped Zona would be ready to answer some questions. As the door shut behind him, Ephraim wondered if he was prepared to hear them.


***


Zona stared out the window her hands resting in her lap. Ephraim had just finished brushing his teeth and was searching for his jacket and shoes. He would be down soon, and she wasn't ready to answer his questions. Not yet. It would be easier when they met up with the doctor. She didn't want to repeat the story, not so soon after her brother's death.


She sighed. After last night's discovery, Zona no longer felt the burning hatred towards Ephraim she experienced before entering his dream. Such a sad man...sad and lonely; we will make quite the pair. She frowned at the thought. A throat clearing pulled her attention from the window.


"Good morning," Ephraim said motioning towards the empty chair. Zona nodded and studied the man as he sat. He was tall with a long torso, and limbs to match. He still wore his hair in the classic military cut and his bearing was that of a soldier used to being in command. While still fit, Ephraim seemed thinner than she would have expected, and she wondered how much weight he lost after his return to England.


"Good morning. I hope you don't mind waiting until we arrive at the café to ask your questions."


Zona smiled sweetly at the look of surprise on Ephraim's face. His eyes narrowed a bit but he said nothing. An older woman appeared with a tray and placed it on the table.


"Thank you, Mary," Zona said. "I think Mr. Godwin and I can take it from here."


Mary offered a curtsy and disappeared the way she came. Ephraim's eyes followed her until the door swung shut before turning his attention to Zona.


"You may call me Ephraim if you like."


Zona moved to pour him some tea. She shrugged before saying, "I have no feeling either way so Mr. Godwin it is." She fought the urge to smile as he frowned.


Ephraim took a sip of the tea, studying Zona as she prepared a cup for herself. Zona ignored his gaze and stirred some milk into the brown liquid. They drank their tea in silence. Ephraim helped himself to a crumpet Mary had prepared for them.


A clock gonged from another room and Zona stood. Ephraim stuffed the rest of the crumpet into his mouth and followed. Gliding from the room, Zona stopped to pin a feathered hat to her hair and slip on a jacket that matched her green dress. England was no longer under winter's spell, but the days were still chilly. As they moved to the entryway, Mary appeared holding Ephraim's overcoat and bowler from the night before.


Zona waited as Mary helped him slip on the overcoat. He thanked her and placed the bowler on his head with a tip towards both ladies. Zona shared a look with Mary before leading Ephraim outside to the waiting carriage.


***


Zachariah's cold body lay on a steel table. A bloodied white sheet covered his unusually long body to the knees but the rest of his legs hung out. The morgue attendant glanced at the body for the third time this hour. Everything about the man's remains unnerved him which Jones found strange since he'd been working there coming on ten years.


The first few months, Jones had been a tad jumpy but after the first year nothing bothered him anymore; except the man brought in last night. He removed the clothing and covered the man, as best he could, in such a hurry his heart practically burst from the activity. Jones couldn't remember the last time he moved that quickly.


The clock told him three hours to go before his replacement came in. Three hours in the same room with that man. A chill ran down his spine at the thought. Jones buried his nose in the latest yellow-back edition of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Although he would never admit it, Jones would never read any of the darker works for fear of his imagination running wild in the morgue. Defoe was perfect for moving the time along, at least until another body arrived.


As he turned the page, motion just on his peripheral caught his attention. He ignored it, immersed in Defoe's writing. Again movement fluttered off to his side. Sighing, Jones slipped his finger into the book to save his place and glanced over. The book slipped from his grasp as he lurched from the stool he sat on; the table was empty.


The white sheet lay on the floor and the body was simply gone. Jones stumbled forward, staring at the empty table. How is this possible, have I fallen asleep? He pinched his arm. Winching from the pain he decided he was indeed still awake.


"Where are you?" Jones asked not expecting an answer. His blood froze when he received one in a deep, gravelly voice.


"Behind you. Now may I ask where are this body's clothes?"


Jones turned slowly, pointing with a shaking hand to the box where he left Zachariah Whitlock's belongings. Icy fingers wrapped around Jones' throat and squeezed. Three hours, the thought echoed in Jones' head as he stared into Zachariah's dead eyes.


CHAPTER TEN


The carriage pulled to a stop and Ephraim stepped down, holding out his hand to help Zona. She took it after a moment and exited with a slight nod of thanks. The carriage pulled away as they entered the café.


Dr. Livingstone stood and waived. Zona led Ephraim to the back table and Livingstone took her hand. "My dear, again I am so sorry for your loss."


"Thank you, Doctor," Zona said slipping into the chair next to his.


"I've taken the initiative and ordered some tea and cakes," Livingstone said motioning to the tray in the center of the table.


"Thank God," Ephraim said grabbing a few of the cakes. "For some reason when I woke, it was as if I hadn't eaten in days."


Zona poured tea for herself and Ephraim before topping off Livingstone's cup.


"Thank you Ms. Whitlock," Livingstone said. "Now I hope we can get to the bottom of what happened. I mean we witnessed a murder last night unless I've completely lost my senses."


Ephraim nodded his agreement, afraid if he spoke pieces of cake might fly out. His stomach grumbled and churned, as he finished the second cake and picked up a third. Hope no one else wants extra. There were three left on the plate, so he would take one more and wait.


Zona glanced at Livingstone and then to Ephraim. Her eyes rolled at his puffed cheeks causing them to darken as he tried to swallow the whole mess in his mouth. It wedged halfway and he stopped moving for a moment. He tried to clear his throat, and when that didn't work he snatched the teacup and gulped the hot liquid. Nothing happened for a swallow or two but then the blockage cleared and Ephraim sighed in relief.


Zona flashed her teeth in what Ephraim hoped was a smile. "Slow down Mr. Godwin. You will not starve."


Livingstone tried to hide his smile behind his cup as he sipped, but Ephraim caught it and offered the man an injured look. Last thing I need is both of them teaming up against me. Looking to change the group's attention he agreed with Livingstone.


"Oh, we witnessed a crime all right."


Zona hesitated but eventually nodded her agreement. "No use in trying to call it anything else. Although Mrs. Chattoway wasn't the murderer, she was the murder weapon."


"I'm sure the weapon was the gun she discharged," Ephraim commented as he grabbed his third cake.


Zona glared at him. "I mean Mrs. Chattoway wasn't herself when the shooting occurred. She is as much a victim as my brother. Since that is the case, we can't just go to the police and declare the crime. We were lucky that Inspector Kimbell is the one that showed up to investigate. He has a history with my brother and I. A history that stops him from asking questions as long as we keep him in the loop. At the end, once we have this solved, we can offer up to him the killer."


"Solve the case?" Ephraim asked sharing a look of bewilderment with Livingstone.


"Yes," Zona replied sipping her tea and studying the two men.


"Well...how?" Livingstone finally asked.


"Stop," Ephraim said holding up a hand to Zona. "Before you continue with that insanity, I want to know what you wouldn't tell us last night."


Livingstone nodded and turned his attention to Zona to Ephraim's satisfaction. Maybe with both of us united we can get somewhere. As the men stared, Zona took measured sips of her tea and sat quietly. Ephraim fought the urge to reach over and snatch the cup from her hand. Instead, he studied her face, she was quite lovely and her eyes were captivating. Her dark lashes were long, and combined with the downturn nature of her eyes, gave them an exotic shape of a feline. Although she appeared fine, Ephraim could tell from the puffiness around her eyes that she had taken the loss of her brother hard.


"Yes, I have," Zona said, peering at Ephraim with a sad smile. "But we must continue, if not for my sake than to save you two. My brother told me that everyone who attended last night was connected in ways they would not know, even if there was a specific reason for their seeking us out."


"Well we know Livingstone and Devitt are connected, but the rest?" Ephraim asked grabbing another cake since no one else showed interest in eating.


"I have no idea," Zona said with a sigh. "My brother didn't share if the spirits told him the connection or not. His only provision was you. He said without Ephraim Godwin all would die, including he and I."


Ephraim chewed the last bite in silence. He wasn't sure how much of this was just for show but a man was already dead.


"But he was there," Livingstone said, "and your brother still died." Ephraim nodded, swallowing the last bit of cake and waited for Zona's reply.


"Yes but everyone else is very much alive, and yet we have a serious problem on our hands; something came over and stayed gentlemen."


"What does that even mean?" Ephraim asked, weary of all the talk of supernatural forces. Give me a rifle and a target any day to this nonsense.


"It means," Zona replied, "We have to find it and send it back before it causes more chaos than just my brother's death."


"And how do you propose we do that?" Livingstone asked. Ephraim closed his eyes, suddenly aware of where this meeting was headed. He had enough of all this spiritual nonsense and wanted some quiet time to think about the things his wife said...if that was her last night.


"We need to go and speak with the others there and find out the connection to see where the spirit is most likely to strike first."


Ephraim's groan was interrupted by a loud commotion outside the café. The three stood as Livingstone dropped some change on the table to cover their breakfast. Zona took a few steps ahead of the men before turning her head back and flashing a triumphant smile. Ephraim could only wonder at the woman's sudden excitement.


"Well, I'll say," Livingstone exclaimed pointing at the café window. "This will be easy if they all come to us."


Standing in front of the café was Mrs. Chattoway and a man in his early to mid-twenties. He was of average height, with brown hair, and most likely brown eyes Ephraim surmised. His suit was the kind a banker or clerk might wear. He held his bowler in his hands, nervously working the hat through his fingers. Although it appeared to Ephraim to be a discussion or argument, he was sure Mrs. Chattoway was the only one speaking.


Ephraim and Livingstone followed Zona from the café, donning their hats and stepping off to the side.


"I'm telling you this is yours," Mrs. Chattoway said in exasperation while holding her stomach.


"And I'm telling you I don't care. Good day," the man said slipping on his hat and storming off. Mrs. Chattoway hung her head as tears ran down her cheek and her body shook from her sobs. Zona made a tsking noise and moved to the woman, slipped her arm around her waist to navigate her off to the side and out of the way. Mrs. Chattoway froze for a moment but after recognizing Zona, allowed herself to be moved.


"Oh how embarrassing," she moaned before resting her face on Zona's shoulder. She cried a bit longer while Zona patted her gently on the back.


Ephraim and Livingstone hung back, not wanting to intrude or cause any further embarrassment to Mrs. Chattoway. A loud voice drew their attention and they turned around. Inspector Kimbell rushed towards them from the Police Station across the way. Livingstone glanced at Ephraim who offered only a shrug as he had no idea who the man was running at them and waving his arm.


"That's the detective...on Mr. Whitlock's case," Livingstone whispered just before the man slowed and stopped in front of them.


"Dr. Livingstone and...," Inspector Kimbell said, snapping his fingers and pointing at Ephraim, "the fainting man."


"My name is Ephraim Godwin."


The Inspector nodded and stuck out his hand. "Pleasure to meet you, I'm Inspector Joseph Kimbell. Stroke of luck finding you all here." He glanced at the women and tipped his cap before continuing. "Another murder, this time at the morgue and whoever did it stole the body!"


"What body?" Zona asked as she pushed past Ephraim to get in front of the Inspector.


"Why your brother's of course," he replied with a huff.



© 2020 Naked Cat Press. All Rights Reserved


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