• ERIC BUTLER

The Ephraim Godwin Chronicles - Part 23. Chapters 58-59


CHAPTER FIFTY-EIGHT


Ephraim opened his eyes, wincing at the blaring sunlight. His head ached, and he reached up tentatively to rub his jaw. It was tender but nothing seemed broken. His back was cold and wet and Ephraim realized he was lying on the sidewalk. Dr Livingstone appeared from the left, leaning over him and moving to hold his eyes open.


"Oh jolly good," he announced, "seems like he's going to be fine. No reason to stick around...so off you go."


Livingstone motioned to a man lingering, shooing him with both hands as he stood. He waited for the man to stalk away before turning back and offered his hand to Ephraim.


"Can you stand?" Livingstone asked with a forced smile. He leaned closer and said softly, "And if not you bloody well better try as that man most likely will be back sooner than later."


Ephraim took the extended hand and allowed the Doctor to pull him up. The blood rushed from his head and back again in such a way, Ephraim thought he might fall down or at the very least, vomit all over. He pressed a hand to his forehead and leaned forward a bit, hoping a few deep breaths would steady him. A whistle blasted in the distance and Livingstone snagged Ephraim's arm and spun him around, forcing him to start walking in the opposite direction.


"That man is quite adamant that you owe him a new dog. When you fell you spooked the man and his mangy cur and the beast got away. Probably to a better life, but who can say,"

Livingstone explained as they marched down the street.


The whistle sounded again and Ephraim glanced back before saying, "Maybe we should stop and explain the situation. I don't mind paying the man for his loss since we have a reliable witness."


Livingstone shook his head, speeding up to distance them from their pursuers. "No, I got a look at the dog. He is claiming it is pure bread, but the dog is nothing more than a mutt. We will not be hoodwinked by this man...not with everything going on with Ms. Whitlock."


Ephraim clammed up, suddenly aware that something had been up with Zona, and yet he struggled to remember. Darkness, maybe water, reaching out or in, grabbing her hand and pulling. Each thought more a fragment of a fragment, but he was sure he was saving her from something truly horrific.


"Yes, yes," Ephraim said, a newfound purpose driving him forward. He just hoped the strain didn't end him.


***


Emma stared at the entrance to the alleyway. She was beginning her first day of selling flowers, a step up from the near rotten apples the week before. Times were tough, and she knew she must do a better job to help her ma and nana. Her father died only a year ago, and the family scrambled to stay together and survive. Her brother and sisters had been out selling for years, but Emma recently became old enough to trust with the box.


Maybe ma was wrong? She bit her bottom lip in worry, before shaking her head. Her best friend Jenny was also six and handled it fine. Just sell the first one and the rest will be easy peasy. Emma smiled remembering her brother whispering that in her ear as he left to help the chimney sweep. Jimmy was always doing that, saying the right thing, and encouraging the girls.


Emma's smile faltered before sliding off entirely. She wasn't sure, but there seemed to be something in the alley; not near the entrance but farther back in the shadows. It was more a feeling than anything else, but it made her bowels turn to water. The day was beginning, and she wondered if she should move. Alice would be right cross if she did, so instead she decided to confront her fear straight on like Jimmy always suggested.


Emma moved across the street, hesitant at first but with each step, her confidence grew. She stopped at the alleyway and stared as hard as she could; willing her eyes to see what was there. A rotting stench rolled from the alley, and she stepped back, her stomach threatening to empty. She'd never smelt anything like it and no longer wanted to confront anything.


Emma spun around and waited to run back across the street. She took the first step when something slithered up her leg and wrapped around her calf. Emma glanced down in shock and stared as a dark thick tentacle pulsed around her leg. As she opened her mouth to scream, the tentacle jerked back, dragging her into the darkness.


Emma struggled while surrounded by rolling chilly flesh. Tentacles slithered over her bare skin and slipped in and out of any opening they found. She tried to cry out, but a thick dark tentacle pressed tight against her lips. Her eyes moved from the slithering appendages to the box of flowers sitting by the entrance, the contents being smashed and driven into the ground as people walked by.


Tears slipped from her eyes as the pressure from the tentacles grew. She hoped Alice wouldn't be too terribly cross when she found the day's profits ground into the dirt. Would Jimmy still call this easy peasy, if he knew what was in the shadows? The thought lingered with her until the tentacles squeezed and Emma was no more.

CHAPTER FIFTY-NINE


Dr. Bent exited Ms. Whitlock's residence as Ephraim and Livingstone hurried up the walkway. He tipped his hat and made to move past the men but Ephraim slid in his way.


"Doctor," Ephraim said with a nod, "Is Ms. Whitlock well?"


Dr. Bent studied him for a moment, glancing at Livingstone before shaking his head. "Honestly, I have no idea. Nothing seems to be wrong with the woman except maybe dehydration."


"She was poisoned," Livingstone said, his cheeks turning red.


"Yes, yes," Dr. Bent replied, waving off Livingstone, "I was made well aware of the woman's misfortune by her maid." He stopped talking and studied both men again.


"Can she have visitors?" Ephraim asked to fill the silence.


"Huh? Oh, no...at least not at this moment," Dr. Bent said sliding past the men. "I was finally able to get her to fall back asleep. That's the issue, gentlemen. She acts like a person not getting any sleep. Her maid swears she's been in bed for the last few days but I find little to no evidence of that. Good day."


Ephraim watched him walk away, "What do you think Doctor?"


"I think we heed Dr. Bent's advice. Rest will do her a world of good."


"Then I guess it's good Constable Clark is heading this way," Ephraim replied as he pointed to the young man rushing through the crowd.


"He looks quite upset," Livingstone added as they moved back away from the house.


"Oh thank God you're here," Clark said, gasping for breath. "Been looking all over for you two."


"What's happened now?" Ephraim asked, aware only one Inspector would be looking for the two of them.


"Trouble in Mile End," Clark said.


Ephraim smiled at Livingstone, "I knew it! Lead the way."


***


Kimbell glanced at the alleyway and back to the young lady pointing and crying. As soon as he thought he understood her issue, he sent Clark to find Godwin and Livingstone. Thirty minutes later, and he was still standing here no closer to understanding what the slip of a girl was trying to say. Every time she got a coherent word out, she would begin to sob and wail again.


"I see you have your hands full," Ephraim called out, appearing from the crowd.

Kimbell shrugged, not sure how to answer.


Livingstone knelt in front of the girl and studied her face. "She's in shock."


Kimbell fished inside his coat and produced a small silver flask. He handed it to the doctor who in turn placed it into the girl's hand.


"Drink this...just a bit," he instructed her. Kimbell licked his lips as she raised the flask. She took a drink, pausing for a moment before beginning to cough and hack. Livingstone snatched the flask and handed it back to the inspector.


Kimbell held it for a moment, his eyes lingering on the spout. Shaking his head, he slipped it back into his coat and turned his attention to the girl.


"Her name is Alice," he told the doctor.


"Ah, Alice...what a beautiful name," Livingstone said with a broad smile. Alice blushed, and Kimbell wondered if it was from the drink or the attention.


"Thank you," she said her speech now slow and purposeful. Earlier she spoke so fast, Kimbell had no idea half what she said. Wish I would have thought of giving her a nip earlier.


"Now whatever is the matter?" Ephraim asked, leaving his question open to whoever wanted to answer.


"My sister," Alice said with a squeak, clearing her throat she continued. "She was supposed to stay right here even when all the flowers were gone. But she's not here and the flowers are over there."


All eyes followed her finger, pointing to the opening of an alleyway. Kimbell made out the remainder of the wilted lavender ground into the muck.


"And is that the box she carried them in?" Ephraim asked as he stepped closer to the opening. He hesitated a moment before reaching into the shadows and grabbing the box.

"Yes sir, that's it," Alice replied on the verge of tears returning.


"So why are we here, Inspector?" Ephraim asked as he handed the box to Alice.

Kimbell studied the shadows of the alley for a few seconds before turning his attention back to Ephraim.


"Well Mr. Godwin, that alley is what the majority of complaints from the last few days have been about. Now we have a missing girl as well, and I think this ties in with all the mumbo jumbo going on lately."


"Just as you surmised," Livingstone said, nodding towards Ephraim before turning his attention to the Inspector. "Godwin recently explained to me the rise in four-legged disappearances."


"Well it all points back to this alley," Kimbell said. "Clark, go fetch us some lanterns."

He stepped away from Alice, motioning for the other men to join him. Livingstone and Godwin leaned in as Kimbell studied each man.


"No one believes any of this," Kimbell said motioning generally at the men and the alley.


"They want to lay the blame on some poor immigrant bastard raving in the loony bin and be done with the whole thing. But that will only delay the inevitable...whatever that might be."


Ephraim clapped the inspector on the shoulder and offered a wide smile, "Looks like we have a new recruit, huh doctor?"


"Seems to me, he's been with us almost from the beginning," Livingstone replied.


"True, true," Godwin said waving to Clark, "and here is the constable returned with some lanterns."


"Sorry sir, but they didn't have any matches on hand," Clark said as he handed one to the inspector and the other to Ephraim. Livingstone patted his coat and found his box of Lucifer matches. He produced the last one and struck it against the side before lighting the two wicks inside the lantern.


"Be on your toes constable, and you...young lady, please stay here."


The four men entered the alleyway, Kimbell leading the way with Ephraim at the back. They held their lanterns high as they moved slowly through the muck.


"Good God what stinks," Clark said as he began to gag. Kimbell worked to ignore it worried he might vomit if he stopped to investigate.


"I've only smelled something like this once...we are about to find a pile of bodies gentlemen," Ephraim warned from the back.


Clark hunched over, vomit spewing past his lips. Livingstone patted him on his back and stepped past him. He gazed at the back wall. No doubt seeing the weird bumps and colors, Kimbell thought with a grimace.


"Bloody hell," Ephraim said with a hiss, "are those eyes?"


Kimbell followed where he pointed and gasped. A pair of eyes blinked at the men, the bright lantern light reflecting off their wet surface. A rumble began to sound throughout the alley. Garbage and muck exploded from the ground, raining back down on the men as tentacles slithered toward them.


Clark cried out, pointing and jumping from foot to foot, unsure what to do. Livingstone swung his cane back and forth, doing his best to keep the flailing appendages from the men.


"They are behind us as well," Ephraim called out to the others. Kimbell glanced back and saw a wall of squiggling and writhing flesh blocking them from the street.


Kimbell's ears rang as loud cries and screeches issued from the mass. He wondered if the noise was from the creature or its victims. From the corner of his eye, he saw Clark slip to his knees. A tentacle slithered up his body and wrapped around his neck. A loud crack sounded as the creature lifted his now lifeless body in the air and waved it back and forth.

Kimbell reached into his coat and removed his flask. He emptied the remaining liquid like a Bishop performing an exorcist, the cheap alcohol splashing against the pulsing flesh. He then threw his lantern against the wall, watching it shatter and light up the creature. Ephraim grabbed the doctor and inspector by the shoulder and pulled them back, a moment before a loud explosion pushed them through the tentacles and out of the alleyway.


Kimbell lay on his back and stared at the darkening sky. The clouds billowed in and within no time, the rain poured down helping to keep the fire contained to the alley and the surrounding buildings.


"Well I'll be damned," Ephraim said as he sat in the road next to the inspector. "Talk about timing."


"Good lord...just what is going on?" Livingstone asked to no one in particular. The men stood stunned as the rain came down and put out the fire the inspector started. The fire brigade showed up, excited to work so close to home, but after moments the fire was out; leaving only the smell...and the partially dissolved body of a tiny girl.



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