Tall, Dark & LonelyR. L. Mathewson
Lancashire, England 1819
“He’s the devil!” a woman cried.
“Hush, woman! Just show the magistrate your wound!” his father demanded.
Ephraim couldn’t focus. His eyes were too heavy to open and his body felt limp. Everything felt so distant and fuzzy. He was so tired…. he just needed sleep. A little sleep and then he would ask why they were in his bedchamber.
“This woman is obviously prone to hysterics, Your Grace. This is clearly an animal bite or she stabbed herself in hopes of creating trouble for you. I would dismiss her at once without a reference,” a cold voice said.
“I ain’t lying, m'lord! Look at his mouth!” the woman demanded. Was that Mary the upstairs maid? Ephraim tried to focus. She was obviously upset about something.
“First tell me who this man is,” the cold voice ordered.
"Tell you who it is?" his father repeated in confusion. “I told you who it is! That’s my middle son Ephraim!” his father snapped.
Ephraim heard a chuckle. “That’s not Ephraim. ”
“Yes, it is!”
“No, it’s not. ” The man sounded annoyed.
What the bloody hell was going on?
Someone grabbed his chin none too gently and yanked it to the side. Ephraim wanted to protest, but the only sound he managed was a weak groan.
“This is Ephraim!”
“But…. but…. Ephraim is sixteen and he looks…. well he looks…. like…. ”
“Like a ten year old boy,” he heard his older brother Henry answer in an amused tone. Good old Henry. He would have to remember to box his ears later.
“Yes!” the magistrate agreed. “This is a twenty-five year old man. Is someone playing a jest? I assure you I do not find this funny or tolerable!”
“I would never do such a thing. This is Ephraim. I wouldn’t believe it either, but I’ve watched over him for the last month. ”
“What happened to him?” the magistrate asked.
Good, that’s a good question, Ephraim thought. Answer that! Ephraim had so many of his own questions. None of them seemed to be able to leave his lips at the moment so he would rely on this man to ask them on his behalf.
“He’s always been the devil! We all knew it! Not natural for a man to stay a boy! Not natural and now he feeds on virginal blood!” the maid screeched.
Someone chuckled. “Come now, Mary, virginal? I think that claim is five years too late. ” Of course Henry would know. He had a reputation of lifting every skirt in the town. Henry liked to diverse his attentions.
“Quiet!” their father yelled.
“I want to know how a boy known for his youthful appearance is sick for one month and then he turns into this. ”
His father sighed wearily. “We’re at a loss. All the surgeons I’ve brought in are at a loss as well. They’ve drained him, cooled him, heated him, poured bile liquid down his throat and still he remained asleep and…. changed. ”
The magistrate scoffed. “Changed is putting it mildly. He looks like a man. Are you positive this is Ephraim and your boys aren’t playing a joke?”
“I’m sure. I sat at his bedside every day for the last month. ” His father sounded weary. “I watched the changes happen. ”
“Explain to me why he’s chained to the bed. ”
Chained? He was chained? What the hell was going on? After several long minutes of heavy concentration he was able to force his eyes open. The images slowly changed from blurry to sharp.
He slowly looked around his room. His two older brothers stood in the corner, looking bored. Several footmen stood in the room, holding cricket bats and glaring at him. Mary was whimpering and cowering near the door. His father and Magistrate Nichols, a man in his early thirties and well known for his cruelties, stood on either side of his bed looking down at him. His father looked worried. Magistrate Nichols looked at him with annoyance.
“What’s your name?” Nichols demanded.
He cleared his throat. It felt like he swallowed sand. “E-Ephraim. ”
“See!” His father thrust a hand in his direction.
Nichols leveled a glare on Ephraim that made him squirm. “Has someone put you up to this?”
Ephraim turned his head to look at his father only to have cold bony fingers grab his face and yank his head back callously. “I asked you a question. ”
“No,” Ephraim said. “What’s going on?” His voice was raspy and deep like a man’s. It wasn’t his voice! He had a boy’s voice. Something was very wrong here.
“We’re about to find out,” Nichols said, nodding to himself. “Bring the girl!” he snapped.
“No! No! Please!” Mary screamed.
Ephraim watched as two footmen grabbed Mary and dragged her kicking and screaming to his bedside. Henry and Marc started laughing.
“Papa, this is ridiculous! This girl is just looking for a way to fatten her purse. Ephraim finally grows some hairs on his sack, albeit he did so in a coma. It’s odd, but there's nothing evil about it,” Marc said in a bored tone.
Henry laughed harder. “She’s just adding to the gossip. You know people have always talked about Ephraim like he’s some kind of freak. It’s not his fault he took so long. Toss her out. ”
“No! I’m not lying, yer Grace! He bit me!” she screamed.
“We’ll see about that,” Nichols said as he grabbed her arm and thrust it in front of Ephraim’s face. “Did you do this?” he demanded.
Ephraim’s eyes focused on two small scabs a half inch apart. He shook his head. He’d never been more frightened in his life. They were accusing him of biting a maid, who was accusing him of being the devil. He needed to focus.
He felt his strength slowly coming back into his body. He raised his arms and sighed with relief that he could move. He dropped his arms and was startled by the sound of chains clinking. He raised both hands again and gently turned them over. They were different. They were longer, tanner and muscular and he was chained! He raised his feet, too. They were covered by a sheet, but he felt the chains.
“Why?” he asked, lifting his arms again.
“Girl, you lied! You’ll wish you never tried this!” Nichols threw her violently to the ground.
She shook her head frantically. Fresh tears poured down her face. “No! I ain’t lying! He bit me!”
His father gestured to the footmen. “Get her out of here and remove Ephraim’s chains. ”
Relief surged through him. “Thank you, father,” he managed to say.
“No! I can prove it!” Mary said.
Nichols turned around in time to see Mary shove past as she ran towards Ephraim, wielding a knife.
“Stop!” Ephraim cried weakly.
She brought the knife down across her own palm as she made her way to his bed. He couldn’t figure out what she hoped to accomplish by cutting herself.
Ephraim struggled to push himself up in the bed and away from this deranged woman. Everything seemed to happen at once. Nichols stumbled backwards, his father tried to race around the bed, his brothers pushed off the wall and were at a full run towards him, the footmen seemed confused and were the last to react.
Mary thrust her hand a few inches from his face. Blood streamed down her hand.