• ERIC BUTLER

The Ephraim Godwin Chronicles - Part 27 - chapters 64 &65


Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

SIXTY-FOUR


The inspector's carriage pulled to a stop as Dr. Livingstone emerged from the house, closely followed by the others. Ms. Whitlock wore a sour expression, and while glad to see her up and about, Kimbell wondered if it was a good idea to bring her. It is the woman's dead brother we will be chasing after all.


Ephraim stalked towards the carriage, his face betraying his anger which Kimbell assumed was the reason for Ms. Whitlock's expression. Nodding to his constable, he motioned the other three into the open seats.


"I thought I witnessed your brother earlier at the fire," Kimbell said as he tapped his cane to the ceiling of the carriage. He raised his hands to the men hoping to quiet their reactions. "Gentlemen, the man is deceased. I don't make it a habit of telling others I've seen dead men at various crime scenes."


"It's him," Ms. Whitlock said with a sigh. "His body at least...and his name; he sent me a note and signed it Zachariah J. Whitlock. I can only assume the J is now for Jonah as his true middle name was Stuart. He is headed home."


"But you are from England, why would your brother board a ship bound for France?"

Kimbell studied the faces of each man before turning his attention back to Ms. Whitlock.


"You know what my brother specialized in," she said, no question in her voice.


Everyone close to the siblings had no confusion in the two realms they occupied. Kimbell believed Zachariah Whitlock was authentic in his powers. He had witnessed too many miracles for it to be anything else. However, Kimbell also recognized death's finality in all things, and Zachariah Whitlock was quite dead when he arrived at the morgue.


Kimbell nodded and said, "no matter what I do or do not know... your brother is dead."


"True, my brother's spirit has departed," she said with a sad smile on her lips. "However his body is not as the very fiend we've been hunting all this time now resides in it."


"It's true," Dr. Livingstone said as if his voice provided some credibility to Ms. Whitlock's statement. Ephraim simply nodded and turned his attention back out the window, studying the people as they scurried by.


"Jonah Cook, the negro who worked for Devitt is now Zachariah J. Whitlock," she said without going into any further detail.


Kimbell sat still, his mind racing as he attempted to process the information he was just given. His mouth opened, but nothing came out and after a moment, Kimbell shut it with a sharp click.


"The real question," Ephraim said his attention still on those outside the carriage, "can the man be charged with an actual crime? Or are we simply riding to offer him a fond farewell?"


"Don't forget his signature on the papers found at Chattaway's," Livingstone said with a nod.


"Yes, we can and will hold him for questioning on those land purchases and the fact he was very likely the last one to see them alive...other than the killer of course," Kimbell said, happy to have a plan all of a sudden. He didn't believe they would be allowed to hold him long, but Kimbell only needed a few days alone with any man to get the desired confession.


Ephraim offered a shrug. Zona and the doctor seemed more enthused with Kimbell's proclamation. They just needed to get there before the ship pulled away.


***


Zachariah J Whitlock strolled across the deck and paused at the bow. He studied the water below. The dark cold water swirled and battled against the ships as they bobbed on its surface. He shifted his icy glare to the deck, scanning the crowds of people ready to embark on their adventures. No one paid him any mind.


Shaking his head, Whitlock allowed himself a smile. Will I ever grow accustomed to the anonymity this white face gives me? A chuckle slipped out as he wondered just how well his new face would go over in Africa on his return. Before he went home though, he needed to stop off in France and pay his last respects to a gentleman there. He hoped he made it in time.


Returning his gaze to the water, Whitlock began to chant. His words so soft at first, no one could hear them but with each sentence, those words increased in volume. He reached into his coat and produced a bag, cinched at the top. Picking open the knot, Whitlock began to sprinkle white ashy flakes over the side. As his words gained strength, the ash began to blacken and smoke, hitting the water with a hiss.


Others on the deck mumbled, glancing at Zachariah, but he didn't notice. These people were insects; they were nothing but fodder for those he hoped to reawaken. He began to rush as he chanted, spitting the words out so quick they blurred together, forming new words from the garbled syllables.


The water around the ship foamed and churned, sending the vessel up and down as if out to sea. Mumbles turned to cries and angry proclamations, but still, no one approached Zachariah as he continued to chant and sprinkle ash over the side.


The ship began to move away from the dock, the gangplank pulled free from the vessel and splashed into the frothing briny darkness. Screams and cries of terror filled the air as the ship slipped farther away. Zachariah Whitlock closed his eyes and continued to chant as the strain soon overwhelmed him.


CHAPTER SIXTY-FIVE


The carriage jolted to a stop as people swarmed from the docks, rushing past Ephraim as he opened the door to jump out. Livingstone and Zona joined him but the inspector ordered the driver to pull as close as possible. Constable Hill hesitated a moment before hopping down to join the others.


The group pushed through the mob, struggling to get closer to the water's edge. Ephraim watched in wonder as a ship moved away from the docks, dragging through the water as if pulled by Poseidon himself.


"How in the bloody hell?" Livingstone said, paused and then repeated louder as if volume would provide the answer. Ephraim shook his head and glanced at Zona.


Sweat ran freely down her brow, and he suddenly wondered if this was too much, too soon for the woman. She just woke up. She turned her head and their eyes locked for a split-second and Ephraim saw a determination there that would allow no argument.


The carriage stopped a few feet from the dock when a roar sounded. For a moment every living thing paused, their reaction to the awful noise to shut down and freeze. Ephraim noted Zona's lips moving in slow motion, and he wondered if maybe they were no longer awake. Yes, that's it. We are in a dream once again.


The motion jerked and then everything was back to normal as people crashed into each other, screams filled the air, and the water rose like a mountain over the dock. The ship, no longer dragging, turned in such a way that the wind caught its sail and pushed it away from the land.


"I hope that wasn't the ship," Livingstone said as he pointed to the vessel.


Zona slipped, stumbling to her knees, and cried out, "But it is Doctor."


The water was no longer pouring down and the cries grew louder, more forceful as another roar issued. Ephraim's attention snapped to the sound, his gasp loud enough to be heard over the rush of bodies desperately trying to escape.


A giant creature stood by the docks. Ephraim thought at least 8 rods high. The torso was almost circular, and wiggling tentacles flailed every foot or so around the circle, appearing as appendages or hair depending on what part you stared at. The bottom quarter of the torso disappeared under the waves. Ephraim wondered just how large the beast was.


Large wet eyes covered the torso, seemingly haphazardly but Ephraim soon recognized the pattern of an enormous circular spiral that grew tighter and tighter the closer they got to the center of the monster. Ephraim fought the urge to scoop Zona up and retreat as his eyes followed the path of the spiral to a large open maw of razor-sharp teeth.


The creature's mouth was giant, making up almost half of what he could see. The teeth varied in size; some long and sharp like sabers, others stumpy and jagged. They slipped back and forth as if a woman being pulled by two suitors. One gigantic eye sat above the gnashing teeth, breaking the spiral pattern a bit.


Livingstone gripped Ephraim's arm and pulled. He glanced back at the doctor and shook his head before freeing his limb. He pointed to Zona, waited for the man to nod, before sprinting off shouting.


"Watch out for her good doctor."


Zona reached out to Ephraim as he rushed past her, but Livingstone slipped his arms around her and helped her stand. Ephraim shuddered as her screams sounded over the clash of noise, but he continued forward. He spotted the carriage just ahead, so he angled towards it and the inspector. Hopefully, he has come prepared; although, Ephraim couldn't honestly think of anything short of a canon that might fell such a beast.


Another roar blared as the creature began to lift people from the ground with its slimy tentacles before stuffing them into its great maw. Their screams lost in the grinding of their bodies and the beast's growls of delight.


Multiple tentacles snaked out; slipping around the horses and carriage Ephraim ran towards. He cried out in warning but the monster's limbs grabbed the driver before he could jump down. His cries of terror washed out by the horses as the beast pulled them to its mouth.


The left door bulged out, pressing against the monster's flesh. The door relaxed but a moment before bulging again, this time until it splintered and cracked. Kimbell slipped out and gripped the door frame, dangling in midair as the beast moved the carriage ever closer to its mouth.


"Inspector!" Constable Hills screamed as he ran past Ephraim.


Both men sped up, pushing through the crowd of frightened people trying to move away from the nightmare in the water. The inspector shifted his weigh, glanced down, and with a cry of defiance let go. Ephraim stumbled to the ground; falling as he finally pushed past the retreating crowd. Hill reached down to offer him a hand, the two men followed the inspector's fall to the ground with a thud.


"Come on," Ephraim said as he regained his feet and lurched forward. He prayed Kimbell was all right, but he'd witnessed enough falls from that height to know death was possible. Hill ran next to him, eyes locked on the inspector.


"Steady yourself," Ephraim warned; worried the man would lose himself so close to the flailing flesh.


Hill nodded his understanding, his eyes locked on the inspector as they darted back and forth to avoid the tentacles. Ephraim glanced up, seeing many of the eyes lock on to their movement. Select tentacles stopped moving so chaotically and slithered towards the two men. He grabbed Hill, pointing to the approaching flesh.


"Head up," Ephraim barked, slipping back into his leadership role. He very much wanted them both to make it to the inspector.


"If he still lives," Ephraim shouted over the crash of noise the beast created with every movement. "You are to take him to the doctor. No delay...do I make myself clear?"


The question said in such a way, Hill nodded without question or comment. The men advanced as the stench of the beast began to overpower their senses. Tears ran from their eyes and Hill paused to vomit before they advanced once more. Ephraim forced himself to take shallow breaths through his mouth, but the little he took in still burned his throat. His stomach tightened, as his bowels grew loose, and he found himself wishing he was back in the Crimean War instead of in the shadow of some great beast.


Fear is always more manageable when facing a human opponent. The thought lingered as they slid to a stop next to Kimbell. He let out a low moan as Hill gently shook him. A smile broke out on Hill's face, and he glanced up at Ephraim who mouthed "GO".


Hill pulled the inspector to his feet, slipped his arm around his waist, and hurried back as quickly as he could. Ephraim kept an eye on the monster as it roared and slammed its tentacles against anything left standing. A matter of moments and that will be me.


A gleam of metal alerted Ephraim to a pile of discarded harpoons near a grinder stone. Someone left their job unfinished. Hoping not to make the same mistake, he rushed to the pile, slipping to his knees as he scrambled to search for the sharpest one. A tentacle knocked against his side, throwing him over the pile and onto his back. He frantically flung out his arm, desperate to find any of the harpoons as the tentacle wrapped around his leg and began to lift him.


Ephraim's fingers grasped the end of a harpoon, and he struggled to move his grip up the pole as the beast pulled him higher. His hold weakened and the weapon slipped from his grasp, a wordless howl of defeat ripped from his chest.


"Mr. Godwin," Hill called out. Ephraim opened his eyes and his heart leapt with excitement as Hill threw the harpoon back up. He reached out and grabbed the wooden shaft with both hands. Cackling loudly, Ephraim shifted his weight and as the tentacle brought him to the beast's might maw, drove the harpoon's tip into the one great eye.


Time froze. Ephraim hovered in midair, his legs bound by the slime encrusted appendage. The beast's eyes bulged out, and its teeth stopped moving for a moment before a roar like a thousand cannon blasts rushed out. Ephraim shuddered as a pop sounded in his ears, and then nothing but a hum. The beast's tentacles flailed about, no longer in any pattern or purpose.


The tentacle released Ephraim's legs, and he flew back, sailing over the inspector and Hill. He landed hard against an overturned fish cart, his head smacking against the splinted wooden wheel. As his vision dimmed, the beast slowly sank into the water and Zona Whitlock rushed towards him. Although Zona's mouth moved and her motions were quite excitable, there were only the hum and the approaching darkness.


Ephraim took her hand and offered her a smile before closing his eyes and allowing himself to slip away.


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