- Part Three -
Sunday, November the 27th, 1763 ~ Alaster Daughtry arrived in the port of Boston in the pre-dawn hours of this morning, aboard a ship sailing from Ireland. I met him at the dock on a tip from good Mr. Frederick Payne, and I must say, my first impression of the Order's agent has been quite dissatisfying. The first thing he asked of me was not information regarding the disappearances, but for some local spirits, making sure to cite his displeasure of the watered down rum he received during his travels. Soon after consuming the remainder of my brandy, and “politely” pointing nout its faults, he took to sleeping upon the lounge.
It is afternoon now. I managed some rest myself, but sleep is a fragile thing for me in these times, and I am still very much exhausted. I intend to wake Alaster after I procure a much belated breakfast for us from the dining room. They have just finished with dinner, but George knew to set some aside for us. I am filled with an odd blend of hope and dread for what this day may bring.
The sun had begun its descent unseen, somewhere above the gray murk of the clouds that spanned unbroken from one horizon to the other. William had let the fire go out, hoping the chill would aid him in inspiring Alaster to motion. He stood over the sleeping Irishman, who was posed on the lounge as though prepared for a wake—on his back, with arms and legs perfectly straight.
“Mr. Daughtry, sir?” said William.
Alaster's eyes opened upon the utterance of his name. They were already cast in William's direction, and very much alert. “All is well?” he said.
“Y-yes.” William was taken aback. He had quite expected to be spending the next few minutes attempting to rouse the man from a stupor. “There is samp and molasses ready on the table. Beer and cider as well.”
“No need to tempt further.” Alaster rose with equally unexpected soundness. p>
The two sat across from each other at William's small table, and both gathered healthy servings onto their plates from a large bowl. William found himself envying Alaster's vivacity during the meal.
“So,” Alaster began, between enthusiastic spoonfuls, “five children missing from the colonies altogether, three of them right here in Boston. Is this correct?”
William tried to blink away the astonishment he felt widening his eyes. “Yes, it is. How did you—?”
“Most disheartening,” he said. “I can see why you risked contacting us.”
Alaster paused just as he was about to lift another spoonful. Instead, he left it on the plate, and wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Tell me, William, how much do you know about my Order?”
“Not much, I'm afraid.” William fidgeted with his spoon. Where is this leading?
“Let's start with how you knew who to contact.”
“Well... I was informed that a certain group existed that dealt with matters of a possibly... supernatural nature.”
“By a party that wishes to remain anonymous.”
“Clergy.” Alaster shook his head. “Unbelievable.”
William kept quiet, in case this was a ruse to trick him into confirming a suspicion. In truth, it had been a member of the Anglican Church who gave him a contact in Europe to be used as a last resort. He didn't want to get anyone in trouble.
“Well, let's finish our meal,” said Alaster. “Then, I'll ask that you guide me to the site of the most recent abduction.”
They finished eating without saying another word.
“Ho, now!” William called to his horses, pulling them to a stop beside a large home, perched precariously near the edge of the Mill Pond.
A well dressed but haggard-looking man burst out of the door, and skipped down his porch steps toward their wagon. His eyes were red-rimmed with dark circles beneath, his clothes were wrinkled, and his dark hair was matted. “Have you heard anything, Mr. Holliday?”
William wished there was anything he could say besides “no,” but he felt it was important to be honest. “I'm afraid not, Mr. Doak.” The hopeful glimmer left the man's eyes and William felt the weight of his shortcomings crash down upon him. “I have brought a colleague, however.” He gestured toward Alaster. “Mr. Daughtry here, may be able to bring evidence to light that the constables and I have missed.”
The man crumpled down on the bottom step and hung his head, as though his deflating hopes were the very air within him. William and Alaster descended from the wagon. “You're welcome to search again.” he said. “Room hasn't been touched. We haven't yet gained the will to...”
William put a hand on Mr. Doak's shoulder on his way up the steps.
Once inside, William led Alaster to two doors opposite each other at the end of a small hallway. “Mr. and Mrs. Doak sleep in the room on the left. And this is young Charlie Doak's room.” He opened the door to the right, and stood aside to allow Alaster to enter first.
Alaster stepped lightly, as though trying to be quiet, and came to the foot of the bed. William stood at the doorway and watched him as he first observed the blankets and bedsheets, flecked with reddish-brown spots of dried blood, then the nightstand, upon which rested the bulbous remains of a melted candle, and finally the window. “Mr. Holliday?” he said. “Has anything at all been disturbed in this room between the time the parents discovered their child missing, and the present?”
William searched the room and his mind simultaneously, and they matched until his eyes fell upon the window. “Yes. They must have closed the window and latched it. The mother said it was open when she came to wake him for breakfast.”
“Is this unusual in your experience with these disappearances? An open window, I mean. ”
William felt a chill touch his spine. How does he know these things? It was unusual. In fact it was the first time. “Yes. The previous four abductions were most puzzling, as the windows were closed and latched upon discovery.”
“Is there anything else you noticed this time, that wasn't typical of the others?”
“That candle was still alight when she came in.” William pointed to the nightstand. “Charlie is horridly afraid of the dark, to the point of mania, and will often leave one burning, especially after he wakes from a nightmare. No other time was there light in a room during an abduction.”
“Very thorough gathering of detail, Mr. Holliday. I am curious... have all the abductions occurred in the homes of the affluent?”
“In the colonies, yes,” said William “Among the Indians, it only stopped when they started keeping the children between the adults. I assume it is for the same reason less wealthy households are spared.”
“Because the children and parents sleep together.” Alaster nodded. He then hunched over and inspected the floor, step by step, as he made his way to the window. There, he removed a glove and ran his forefinger across the sill, then brought it close to his face. He tilted his head back and looked down his nose at the dirtied finger as he rubbed it against his thumb. “Mr. Holliday, I must ask you to stand outside, and close the door.”
“ Why? Have you found some& mdash;?”
“Do not let the parents within, regardless of any unnerving things you may hear.”
Great, just when I want answers the most, I will be left with an even bigger mystery.
Not wanting to build a tension between them, William did as instructed. He stood in the hall with his back to the door, left to wonder what strange things Alaster could possibly be doing on the other side.
Soft steps could be heard, and some mumbling, but little else. William placed his ear close to the door, and tried to quiet his breathing. The more he strained to listen, the less he could hear. Then all became quiet for a few agonizing, long minutes.
Mr. Doak passed by with a tray of food for his wife, who was bedridden with worry in the other room. Embarrassed, William explained that Alaster worked better by himself when doing his inspections. He seemed disinterested, and shut the door behind him, leaving William alone in the hallway again.
This is ridiculous. Me, a college educated man, set outside like a mischievous pet. He doesn't need me to guard the door. We could have simply locked it from the inside. What could he believe would be too much for my eyes? I've been tracking this villain halfway across the New World, through wilderness so savage it would have the Irishman weeping from the mere sight of it. Does he think I could not remain quiet and still while he conducts his craft? I hid in the mud as Pontiac's cavalry passed within a hair's breadth of trampling me beneath its hooves. 'Unnerving things' the man says. Indeed! p>
William heard Charlie's mother whimper, and he immediately felt ashamed at the unimportance of his own troubles. He found himself thankful in that moment that he did not have any children of his own. It was bad enough suffering the loss of another's. How many more crying mothers would he hear before the nightmare was over?
No... not a crying mother. William put his ear flat against the door. There was quiet, then a child pleaded “Please, no!” in a choked and terrified voice. William gasped, and nearly every muscle in his body spasmed in unison. He opened the door and burst into the room. Alaster was on the bed beneath the stained blankets. He was writhing about, his face locked in an expression of pain. His eyes were shut tightly, and his breathing was coming erratically through clenched teeth. He was grasping at his neck, trying to pull away something that William could not see.
“Alaster?” William rushed to his side, and tried to help him remove whatever was at his throat.
As soon as he touched his hands, William's perspective altered. The ground gave way beneath him, and he somersaulted until gravity was at his back. It became night and he was lying on the bed. Something cold and clammy was wrapped tightly around his neck, choking the life out of him. A flood of panic filled every inch of his body. It was not only his own—he could feel Charlie Doak's, and Alaster's as well. They all shared the boy's mind and body, trying desperately to fend off a shadowy creature that was killing them.
A flickering candle provided some light, but his vision was fading, at times becoming blurred. He could make out a dark and inhuman shape that loomed above him, and had him pinned beneath. It felt as though a snake were curled around his neck, drawing tighter with every attempted breath. What little air he managed to pull in carried the stench of stale rotten flesh... old death.
Suffocating helplessness filled the thoughts of all three victims. The boy's mind screamed for his mother and father. William could feel strands of sanity tearing apart, though he could not tell who they belonged to.
Misshapen yellow teeth appeared in the shadow, and parted to reveal a long, glistening, black tongue that angled it's way toward his face. With a violent thrust, it straightened and shot into his mouth, breaking teeth, and splitting his tongue before continuing down his throat. The pain was drowned beneath a wave of terror as William felt his insides being torn and sucked away while the tongue thrashed about within him.
God, what is happening?! Father! Please help me! You black devil bastard! William didn't know which thoughts were his own. He was no longer able to fight, and his body went limp.
Flashes of light sparked as his mind slipped, and just then, William glimpsed a young boy standing by the window, shrouded in a glowing blue haze. He didn't see the boy's lips moving, but another voice entered his mind. I'm sorry I couldn't warn you. But it's okay now, you don't need to fear anymore, Charlie. I'll protect you. You can come with me, where there is always light. The boy's clothes were in tatters and he was barefoot and dirty. His face was impassive, but his eyes were full of sadness. He looked familiar to William, but it was a fleeting thought in a terrified mind that was losing consciousness.
The boy pointed out the window, and began to fade. The last thing William saw was a large brass key hanging around the boy's neck from a piece of twine. Then his own life left him.
“William!” Alaster's voice sounded hollow, as though spoken from the far end of a tunnel. William tried to move through it, toward him. Alaster kept calling, and every time, he sounded closer, his voice more full. “William! Come back William!”
William heard a loud slap, accompanied by a sharp sting on his cheek, jolting him awake. He was lying on his back, on the floor beside the bed. Alaster was on his knees, leaning over him. William's lungs were burning, and he felt like he had just emerged from some deep, dark sea, and that Alaster had somehow saved him from drowning. He struggled to rise, sucking in air with loud gasps.
Alaster pulled him by his shoulders to a sitting position, and rubbed his back with rough, quick strokes.
“What... in God's loving name...?” The words tickled William's raw throat, making him cough.
“Easy, you damned fool.” Alaster slapped his back. “Why did you not listen to me? I told you that you might hear strange things. You should have stayed outside the door, like I asked.”
“I heard a child... fearful,” said William. “How could that be? And when I touched your hands...”
“I suppose I shall have to be more elaborate with my instructions.” Alaster kept his voice low, but with a sharp edge. “Can you imagine what would have happened if the mother had come into the room and witnessed my soul walk? Or God forbid, touched me, and saw her child dying through his own eyes?”
“I am sorry... truly.” William looked down at his shaking hands, then pressed them hard against his stomach. “What I saw... what happened... I did not think such things were possible.” He raised his eyes to Alaster's face and saw a scowl there, but it softened as he continued. “That... thing. That is what I have been pursuing all this time? For the love of Christ, what if I had caught up to it?”
His skin crawled as the creature flashed in his mind, candlelight dancing on its slick, black tongue. Dizziness overcame him and he leaned forward, placing both hands on the floor in an attempt to steady the spinning sensation.
“Alright, alright. Settle yourself, Mr. Holliday.” Alaster rose and stood by the open door, leaning out to listen. He then closed it gently, set himself down at the edge of the bed, and gave a long sigh. “I know you don't think highly of me yet, William.” William opened his mouth to protest, but Alaster quieted him with a raised hand. “But you must believe that there are reasons for everything I say. If I suggest a path, it is because I have walked such a path before. I don't have the luxury of earning your trust the old fashioned way, we simply don't have time. You must give it, or we must walk separately. So, do I have your word that you will trust my direction in the future?”
William's mind was still reeling from the ordeal, but he tried to focus on Alaster's words, and managed a feeble nod.
“Good.” Alaster removed a small, but full black pouch from his cloak, and tossed it to William.
William swiped at it, but caught only air, and it fell to his lap. “What's this?” William said, picking it up. It felt like it was full of sand.
“Salt and gunpowder, mostly.” Alaster laid back on the bed, and entwined his hands behind his head. “Sprinkle it on the floor, between the bed and the window.”
This is a test. Not yet fully trusting the soundness of his limbs, William cautiously lifted himself from the floor, and unstrung the pouch. He didn't speak until he had already started to do as Alaster requested, so as not to seem suspicious. “What is this for?”
“This black devil will not be caught with reckless haste. So, foreknowing our time together may be extensive, you must learn to operate as one of the Order if we are to be compatible. The first and most important rule is to obtain ironclad proof that what you are hunting is real.”
“Haven't we done that already? I was there with you, inside the boy's mind—I felt everything.”
“I obtained proof for myself, this is true,” said Alaster. “However, there are those more skilled than I that could create such a vision, and place it among the thoughts of inexperienced minds such as yours. While I know that this isn't the case at present, you must rule out that possibility for yourself.”
“But aren't I supposed to be placing my complete trust in you?”
Alaster's lip curled, but his smile lacked merriment. “I do hate to contradict myself so early in our partnership, but that rule comes before all others—even before placing trust in fellow Brothers.”
William shook out the last bit from the pouch and observed the mess he created. “Well then, if you don't mind my asking, what exactly is this supposed to garner proof of?”
“Strike a flint to it, and see for yourself.”
William found his tinderbox and held it close to the edge of the powder. He scraped the striker against the flint and, even though he was expecting it, he was startled when the spark ignited a burst of yellow flame. Here and there, small plumes of blue twirled and swayed as the powder beneath them bubbled and hissed. The flame dwindled, and William noticed that the still sizzling areas of blue formed distinct shapes. When the fire died completely, the scorched outlines were well defined, and they were unlike anything he had ever seen. They had the shape of a large man's foot, but the heel, and tip of each toe, ended in long points. My God, what is this creature?
Alaster remained unmoving on the bed, staring at the ceiling. “ What do you see?”
“Footprints. The damn thing's footprints.” Amidst the smell of burnt gunpowder, William thought he detected the slightest hint of rotten flesh. A sudden wave of nausea came over him, and he unlatched and opened the window to breath some fresh air. “I don't believe this... I mean, yes, I do believe it, but... how unbelievable.”
Alaster rolled off the bed and proceeded to swipe his boot across the sooty footprints, smearing them unrecognizable. “Come. Let's return to the boarding house. We are finished here.”
The clopping of hoof beats, along with the steady wooden grind of the wagon wheels against the cobbled streets of north Boston, helped to distract William from the chaos in his mind. He watched people walking about, on their way to whatever daily business they had become accustomed. He envied their obliviousness to the inhuman murderer that lurked among them, plotting it's next kill. William and Alaster rode the wagon in silence until about halfway along their return to the boarding house.
“Now that I know for certain what we are dealing with,” Alaster began abruptly, “there are certain preparations I can tend to that you need not participate in. I want you to take some time to rest and come to terms with the events of this day.”
“I'm okay, really. I want to be a part of everything.”
“There will be time to show you later,” Alaster said. “You will be much more useful to me if you are of sound mind and body. I do want to discuss one thing however...”
“The ghost—the blue lad with the key about his neck. Charlie recognized him, and I sensed that you did as well, but the vision ended before I could see either of your thoughts clearly. Did you know him?”
“Yes, well... I'd heard of him. That was the first time I'd actually seen him. I had initially come to Boston when I heard of the disappearance of a boy named Benjamin Holcott. However, George, the old soup vendor you met this morning, told me another boy had gone missing before him.”
“You think the ghost was this boy?” Alaster said.
“Tell me everything you know about him.”
“Well, George described him as a somewhat feral orphan, named Simon. Strange lad, by his account. Never talked, and numerous times was caught trying to steal the oddest things—bricks and planks of wood and the like from newly raised houses. Never valuables, though—he wasn't a pickpocket. George told me he used to stop by the boarding house after meals to beg for food. One day, he didn't show up for the scraps from breakfast, and George& mdash;kind hearted old man that he is—sought out to bring the food to Simon instead, thinking perhaps he was sick. He said he slept in an old, broken down, abandoned house on Salem street, but he didn't find him there. Only fresh blood stains amid dirty old blankets. Now I've been up and down Salem street countless times, as well as every adjacent stretch of road in the area, but I could find no such residence. I even took George with me once to point it out, and we both searched to no avail. Even still, George was positive of what he saw. The constables dismissed the account, and eventually, so did I. But after...” William nodded his head back in the direction of the Doaks house. “...after that, I have to believe that the evidence George found was indeed genuine. His description of the boy matches perfectly what we just saw in that ghost, even down to that key he was wearing.”
“Hmm.& rdquo; Alaster frowned. William guessed it wasn't the revelation he was hoping for.
“I wonder what he was pointing at?” William mused.
“I don't know,” said Alaster. “The dead do odd things.”
to be continued...