The Ward – Part Four

Hes coming

Statement of Arnold Ezekiel Warburton, Second Mate,
The Devilfish (lost at sea, June 21, 1921, Cape Hatteras)

I woke as if dropped from the sky, clinging to a piece of wreckage on the flat, still seas.  Panic set in immediately and I let go and slipped into the sea.  Being a seaman of numerous years I regained my senses and swam for the surface, again gripping the section of hull and pulling myself as far up upon it as I dared with fear of it capsizing under my weight.  I choked and sputtered and spat out the seawater that had found its way in and looked about me.  Nary a soul to be seen, nary a sign of the Devilfish or its crew, nary a sign of the storm that had rose up or the great beast that had crushed it in its angry grip.

I was hung up a but from below and reaching down to my chest with my left hand to see what was hampering my movement found the amulet suspended around my neck on its leather thongs.  It was no longer hot to the touch, but cold, cold as ice.  I looked toward the west and could see dim lights of shore and port.  I began to kick with my feet and push myself and my bit of ship to shore, hoping the cross currents wouldn’t be too much trouble.  I was dead tired, wet, cold  but happy to not be deep in the sea.  

My movement became slower as I tired.  The moon crept higher and higher into the sky and after time I saw in the light what I feared most,  fins breaking the surface. I hung still, pulling my legs up under the wood, folding myself against it in hopes of hiding from the sharks now circling my motionless craft.  After what seemed like an hour, they ceased their circling, distracted I thought by one of their brethren having found the remaining crew of the Devilfish as that was the direction they seemed to go.  Counting to  sixty a good ten times, I decided to continue my shoreward motion, steering by the light of the moon toward the glow of safety but all was not as it appeared.  One of the foul beasts, a blue by the look of its tail and snout, rose up and struck, worrying my legs and dragging me one way then another as I beat on his face.  I was done.  I sunk beneath the dark and wet and  knew all was over for me, to die beneath the sea like all sailors know may be their fate.  I was dragged deep, the pressure on my ears greater and greater, pain in my legs now giving way to a feeling of blessed sleep as blood rushed from my body.  I thought of old songs and seaman’s prayers and unconsciously found myself  gripping the amulet around my neck and praying to no one in particular for a fast death and a long restful sleep.

With a rush of bubbles and movement and a flash of moonlight I was released.  Slung up into the air and smashed down upon yet another piece of wreckage, I gasped for breath and gurgled  and again spat water out of my lungs.  I drifted into darkness as from afar I could see a searchlight casting back and forth and finally into my eyes.  I was found.

When next I woke, I was in a curtained hospital room.  Nurses came and went, most with fear in their eyes or disgust or both.  A man, another patient came to my side and I grasped at his arm to warn him but he rushed away with a look that mirrored that of the nurses before him.

Over the next day I went in and out of sleep, dark, fitful sleep, unable to explain what I wanted  to the nurses and doctors that gave me only a passing glance, and  an injection to shut me up.  I could hear the man across the room.  A vile little reporter we would have dunked overboard had we found him poking around the docks at night.  He was dodgy and full of fancy words and slick speech that he used to work the nurses and others that came to see him.  I caught him again poking in my drawer but he found nothing apart from some medicines they had stored there out of my reach.  Thankfully, he didn’t look under my pillow where a sympathetic young lady had stored my meager belongings, including it.

As night approached, I knew my time on this earth was over.  A storm started brewing and winds whipped up and leaves and spray found their way up into the air and onto the nearby windows.  I could smell the sea and the death it brought with it.  With a crash and splintering sound, I knew it had come.  The Great One had found me.  I reached and twisted in my befuddled state, under my head, and pulled out Old Tom’s amulet.. draping it around my heathen neck and through the gauze and bandages said my goodbyes to this world and my family far away and never to be seen again…

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The Ward – Part 3

nurse

3.

He lay as still as possible, controlling his breathing, trying his best to appear to not only be asleep but be in a deep relaxed sleep.  The old woman’s gnarled hand stroked his hair as one would a cat, occasionally twirling his forelock, as she spoke to the nurse.

“No matter the cost, I, we, will cover it.  Please see he is treated with the best care.  One cannot have a dear guest to ones home become ill and not do ones part.  You understand?”

The nurse nodded and escorted the old woman and the eau de toilet she had apparently bathed in to the wardroom door.

“Are you positive there is no private room we can put dear Mister Holmes in?” As if on cue, the mangled sailor let slip another low gurgling howl.  “Dear lord…”

“No ma’am.  I’m very sorry but due to the influenza a large portion of the hospital is segregated. Maybe, if some of the unwell, um…”

“Die, yes I  understand Nurse.  If some of them shall we say make space, please consider moving him if you would.”

The nurse nodded in acquiescence and both sets moved out into the hallway.  Winston smiled to himself as he opened his eyes a few minutes later and looked to his left to see if yet another fabulous lunch had been left for him.  A silver tray beneath which something wonderful was emitting a narcotic odorous steam, sat beside him.  Also, to his surprise, the private doctor he had bribed the evening before sat, lighting a cigarette and lifting the tray to then extract a spear of asparagus which he ate as he spoke.

“Good day my boy.  I see you have worked your magic and my employer is swooning to your care.  He helped himself to a sip of orange juice as he looked distractedly, eyes only, only briefly, toward the curtained off roommate of Winston Holmes. “Maybe you’ll catch some more luck and that bastard will give up the ghost by this evening.”  He again turned his attentions to Winston. “So my friend, I am not against a little usage of what little remaining funds my employer has squirreled away to make life a little more entertaining, but be aware it is a meager amount.  I suggest you take today, enjoy, relax and sleep away the night then skip the premises.  I don’t mind keeping up the charade for today but one must take care of ones own gravy train.  Understand?”

“Of course old bean, of course.  I have to get back to Boston anyway, work, friends, weekend looming, all that.  Don’t suppose you’d be willing to help me out a bit further?  Paid of course.  I am a reporter, looking into her husband’s doings..”

“I suspected so much but again I need to watch out for my own well-being.” He sat back after replacing the now half full orange juice glass. “I’m skedaddling this week myself.  Their ability to pay my bills has become less and less quick.  I have a lead on another family in need of in-house medical care in about your neck of New England.  How say we get together next week and share stories.  For a fee of course.”

“Of course.” They shook hands and the Doctor began to walk away. He paused to peer in behind the curtained enclosure across the brightly sunlit room.  He shut them rapidly and walked to the end of Winston’s bed. “Bet you a ten spot that you have the room to yourself by ten pm.” he smiled grimly and took a deep drag on his cigarette, the smoke briefly blinding his left eye, giving him the appearance of winking.

“I say eight.”

“You are on my friend.  I have left you my card on the tray.  Slip it somewhere safe, call me next week.  Perhaps we can turn this into an arrangement for future work.” He turned to his left and walked out then down the hallway in the direction of the front desk.

Winston Holmes sat up at the edge of his bed and shuffled himself into a pair of over-sized slippers that awaited his feet.  He stood, looked out through the window at the sparkling sea beyond and breathed deeply the salt flavored air that slid into the room from the tiny opening at base.  Raising the window to its full open height, he took his seat and began to nosh on the steak and eggs that awaited him beneath the silver dome.

From behind, a gurgling rose and fell with the labored breathing of his roommate.

The Ward – Part 2

2.
Statement of Arnold Ezekiel Warburton, Second Mate,
The Devilfish (lost at sea, June 21, 1921, Cape Hatteras)

octopus
It was sunset, June 21, when the gale blew up from the sou’east.  We didn’t know till it was almost upon us.  Hunkered down almost to the gunnels with cod and chugging back to port as fast as the old bird would go.  The glass smooth seas let us push her hard and fast through the water even given the load below.  Captain Porter was drunk, first mate Kennedy asleep after almost fourteen hours of screaming and yelling at the crew, I was at the wheel, sipping thick terrible coffee and trying to stay alert.  The crew were into the rum and singing in celebration of the haul apart from old Tom the crazy sea-gypsy bastard. He was at the bow, bracing himself against the fore-winch mast, yelling into the wind and waving his arms about.  If you knew Tom, you’d know this wasn’t concerning to us.

I could see some chop beginning to form and was about to tie the wheel and go outside when I saw the Captain stagger forward with a bottle in one hand and a cod-billy  in t’other. The crew had kept them apart as much as possible these past two months as the hatred was strong and fiery in the Cap’s eyes, he being a devout RC and Tom being, well whatever Tom was.  Cap wasn’t what one would call tolerant.  He left the table when the old bugger sat down, demanded silence when Tom spouted his strange curses and prayers even though they seemed to work.  Tom just walked away and swore he was done and gone after the solstice.  He warned us all that never paying our dues for what we took from the sea would be the end of us all.  I tried to listen to the grizzled old man without judging him and sat with him on deck when the others got a little too rowdy for rest. Seeing the Cap head his way I had no choice but to leave the bridge and try to keep them both alive till we got to port.  Dragging one of the crew from the mess I shoved him to the wheelhouse and made my way fore.

The Cap was ten feet away from Tom waving his club as he staggered side to side, the rising wind not helping his attempt to stand firm and prevent Tom’s escape.  He offered the grey haired sailor two choices, drop whatever he had in his hands, his “blasphemous tools”, and join him in drink or simply prepare for a beating.  Tom refused, not in word, but deed.  He continued his foreign ramblings raising into the air a symbol of sorts, wrought of black metal and suspended from his hand by a thick leather thong.  In the other, he held a live octopus, its tentacles wrapped around hand and wrist, writhing and undulating, staring its lone wide eye.  Tom turned his back on the Captain, rushed to the edge of the rail and pulled back his arm as if to toss the beast back to the sea.  Before he could finish his words or throw the slimy creature the truncheon struck him behind the knees.  He dropped like a sack of potatoes and at once the captain was upon him wrenching the symbol from his hands and tossing it backward.  I caught it in the air, shocked at how warm, no, hot, it felt.  I continued rushing forward upon hearing the captain’s scream, seeing that the ‘pus had moved from the hand of Tom onto the neck and chest of his attacker, working its way up toward the face. I didn’t make it in time.  Tom yelled a few more cryptic words aloud into the wind from beneath the bulk of the Cap just as the truncheon came down upon his face.  At once, the sea rose up and with it the ship. We swung to port, turned aside and with a crash, we were capsized.  I clung to a net that was now loose and hanging from the starboard side rails but when I heard the wet sliding and thudding I knew we were done.  The cod in the hold had moved and with it all hope of righting ourselves.

As I hung  I heard the screams of drunken men  below decks, saw Tom fall and disappear into the sea.  I swear, swear to all that is holy, that I then saw through the thickening darkness and sea-spray, the captain pulled outwards and upwards back over the ship toward he keel by some sort of huge ropey tentacle, his hands tearing at his face trying to remove the ‘pus that was wrapped round his head. The net shifted, swung me toward the vertical deck just as a crab trap came free, trapping me as it fell, crushing my legs against the port railing.  I screamed in pain and went black as water enveloped me.

I woke hours later, in darkness, clinging onto the upturned lifeboat, the black metal symbol around my neck. From a distance I could see the rescue vessel approaching, horns blaring, spotlights lights blazing...

Ward – Part 1

 

1910_2nurses_vu_or
Winston J. Holmes woke to the scent of the ocean.  His eyes fluttered open and caught the fleeting face of a stern, yet many years from matronly nurse who had set down his silver breakfast tray and threw open the curtains thus allowing a glimpse of the first rays of the sun rising above the horizon.  He watched the sea, dark, blue and still as a flock of gulls flew past headed toward Culley Bluff where they circled year round above the fish plant. A ship’s whistle in the distance announced its departure from port and with it, hopes to return laden with fish to be unloaded. Also returning would be men who would work as quickly as possible in hopes of becoming blind drunk before they were ushered out by the first mate at midnight. Cod were running.  If you lost a days work you lost more than one could afford.

A wet gurgle followed by a sorrowful groan was emitted across the stark white room.  Winston ignored the pained noises and shuffling sounds at first trying with all his heart to soak up as much of the burgeoning day possible through such a tiny window.  Another moan was emitted from behind the yellowed curtain drawn around the bed followed by a small crashing sound and more muffled noises.  Now dully distracted, he reached to the side table and rang the small silver bell until the nurse returned,. She sported a look of forced concern as a starched white napkin quickly dabbed her prim little mouth. He pointed toward his mysterious roommate and returned to  voyeuristic exercises, pondering a bit of toast and egg that sat steaming before him, beckoning his attentions.  The sunrise slid from red to orange to yellow as the noises behind the curtain began to subside.

“I’m sorry about the noise Mister Holmes” the nurse spoke unseen through the curtain “he is in quite a bit of pain”.

“Not at all Nurse.  I understand.  He was a survivor from that shipwreck the other day?” Winston asked, sympathy forced into his bleary eyes and quiet tone, journalistic ways and means never on vacation.

She walked his way, looking toward the door, back to the curtain, then lowered herself to his ear as she re-adjusted the pillow.  The nurse pretending to search the side table drawer for nothing in particular. “The ONLY survivor Mister Holmes and if you were to see him, you may think that perhaps he would have been better off not surviving…” she raised an eyebrow as she whispered, pursed her lips, nodded knowingly, eyebrows raised, then exited the room. Her perfume, a faint wisp of eau of lilac, stayed longer than she and he inhaled it as one would the first floral fragrance of spring. Turning to his tray, he began to eat, ravished following a long night of medicinal sleep.

He listened for her footsteps to recede down the quiet marbled hallway and after a few bites of toast and a large sip of orange juice, he slid himself into a sitting position at the edge of the bed.  He was, one who knew him would say, not at all unwell.  A feigned illness the evening before was utilized to escape an overzealous woman.  Her husband was under investigation for fraudulent use of investors money and his fortuitous dinner with the mans spouse went beyond the pale.  She seemed not concerned that her husband was a mere hour away by train.  Evidence gathered, he fell “ill” and attempted to leave.  The wealthy heiress sent him for recuperation at the local hospital when her personal doctor, well bribed, suggested it was possibly due to food poisoning.  Three sheets to the wind as the locals said, he decided that a clean bed, free food and attentive young nurses was a superior end of the week to dodging the heavy end of a cane upon waking in Mrs. Bensons chambers.

He stood and carefully, quietly, walked across the cold marble floor to the curtained bed of the seaman.  Perhaps another story awaited his pen beyond the yellow sheet?  A tray containing a glass and metal syringe sat on the table beside, likely containing the sedatives that quieted the noises minutes earlier.  He carefully moved it aside and reached for the curtains edge, ever thoughtful to listen for sounds from the hallway. Slowly, quietly, he pulled it aside and peered upon an absolute mess of a man, eyes fixed on his from behind bloodied bandages. He looked downward as a fetid odour of fish and gore wafted toward his face then threw shut the curtain and stepped backward in horror.  He only had a brief a quick glimpse at the vacant bedding where legs should have been before a hand reached toward his, scratching his skin with unkempt nails. Winston rushed back to his bed and rapidly cooling, untouched breakfast.

The Light

moor night

I again climbed the stairs up into the spire

Then opened the door that is held shut by wire

I slid to the window and peered as before

Looked North cross the massive, thick, foul, Crosswinds Moor

I scanned the horizon through windy dark night

Till I saw it again, a sick yellowish light

I took notes and I muttered, referred to my map

Then was startled by light and a loud thunderclap

Sprang to my feet, near tumbled down stair

Quickly retreated, I was not wanted there

The next morning came and I was pleased to see

Sipping tea over breakfast, Lizbeth smiled at me

My dearest of friends had the run our our home

So sayeth my Uncle, we ate and we roamed

An orphan was I in his sprawling estate

My parents in India had met their fate

We secreted away to the grand oaken hall

I showed Liz my maps and told her all

The lights on the horizon that made no good sense

The map of the moor, calculated distance

It was not in a place where any home stood

She agreed with me then that a quest would be good

We fashioned a list of supplies we would need

Clothing to find, torches, such we might need

We went to my Uncle, for he had once explored

Silence was deafening, then he spoke one firm word

“No.” Was his response, he shook his grey mane

Gathered our maps and notes, ushered us away

Three long weeks after December rolled in

Uncle  and his old pals were well into the gin

they spouted tall tales of adventures long past

They sat by the fire, slipped away we at last

Having not much daylight as solstice was nigh

We trudged using compass, sun low in the sky

Bundled like Eskimos, staves in our hands

A rope tied between for we knew not the lands

We trudged to the North, to source of the ill coloured light

We planned to be back well before fall of night

We stopped for a break at the game keepers shack

We marvelled how quickly the sky turned to black

I started a fire as a storm boiled outside

The keeper away, we began to confide

It was mutually felt something odd was amiss

We silently ate and then with a loud hiss

The door was flung open and with whisky soaked stumble

The game keeper arrived, near frozen, a tumble

We explained our quest and he smiled and he said

“Make yourselves at home master, now’s I’m off to bed…”

“..I’ve seen yon light for many a year and ye wont find the source, no ye wont.”

He muttered, wrapped up in a blanket, closed his eyes, and said, “Don’t”

So we supped and we whispered, looked out at the storm, and at midnight it stopped as if frozen

We looked out the northernmost window and saw our path for us had nowbeen now chosen

Assembled our gear, borrowed some of his things, bundled up and stepped into the snow

Moved round the old cottage, the clouds flying West while North was the way we would go

Unused to his snowshoes, we made our best effort and finally came to move well

‘tward distant light that outshon solstice moon and that held us both under its spell

The creaking and crunching from down underfoot was the only sound other than wind

We paused only twice in an hour or so, for a pull of fresh water we’d skinned

Traversing the snow covered, thankfully frozen, Crosswinds Moor, we crested a hill

To the right and left a thick wood cut on in, a barrow before us did spill

The light from a lantern held ‘loft by a spirit of a man dressed in old Roman clothes

It blinded our eyes yet we trudged on toward it, no control of our limbs, no sounds rose

from our lips though we both at once wanted to scream as Latin words pelted our ears

What had we discovered but a wraith who sucked strength from our soundless utterance of fear

Tendrils and wisps of unnamable source lifted both Liz and I off of the ground

The Wraith spoke in spell, the snow whipped in vortex, we spun rapidly round and around

To the top of the barrow, his ancient raised tomb, we were dropped down as he floated by

His visage a withered old man with black holes, where one would expected to see eyes

We were held tight to the ground as wisps drew about, he spoke more venomous sound

He opened his mouth, thrice the size it should be then with anger he spun full around

From the trees came a voice that boomed like a cannon, said “Not on this eve shall ye feed!”

As a man dressed in red burst forth from the wood on a sledge drawn by elk with great speed

It was Father Christmas! For real and for true! He yelled, cracking his whip in the air!

“No child under my watch be taken tonight you foul beast, get ye back in your lair!”

White crackling light shot forth from the whip and the wraith with a whirl and a scream

was sucked back into the barrow with fantasmal haste, the snow where he’d been, turned to steam

We ran to our savior, he held us both tight and then produced blankets and drink

We spoke of our ordeal and he smiled as we did, his eyes bright and his cheeks rosy pink

Then he turned round the sledge and took a circuitous route telling tales of the things he had seen

And the good that exists and the evil there too, hidden silent in places he’d been

We were dropped near our homes and he bade us goodbye as we waved a farewell from the door

We gave him a promise to be good as we age and never be scared to explore