Gone Before: part one
Fraught with mystery.
He woke with these words in his mind, uncertain where they had come from. His face and chest were damp, the quilt wrapped too close, pushed under his nose so that he smelled its mustiness…also an unpleasant human taint.
He had been in the almshouse. Particularly when he was ill and unclean, Honoré’s last dream before waking was this one; the face, he did not know why, that of the Pinkerton man who’d sent him to Colorado (Mr. Littlejohn in reality kind enough). He was seized by the arm and shaken to his feet, thrown into a room with walls of ice, given no cover and permitted no rest…by his feebleness confined to the place where he lay. In that place one did not wait for the bedpan, because no one would have brought it.
It seemed he’d been tended with greater humanity by those who asked nothing for their service; and that those who stood to be punished for poor work, punished in turn the ones whose suffering showed them indifferent to their duties—as often they had been. He had not known better than to speak to the inspector.
He had forgotten his resolve.
He must not doze off again, to find he’d spent the night in Richard Everard’s bed. Struggling against the quilt’s folds, Honoré struggled also against the pillows and the mattress; finally he pushed himself upright and touched bare toes to the floor. His eyes saw blackness; the door was closed, but in a moment he made out a soft yellow light coming from beneath, and through its cracked panels.
He heard Ebrach’s voice. He heard Richard’s, and one other he did not know. The conversation sounded civil, unfriendly to a degree, but in no way ritualistic. They could not, he thought, have begun. Unless Ebrach’s manner of conducting a séance proved, in the execution, a disappointing sham. But Honoré, remembering the trunks, and Ebrach’s talk of oil lamps, could not believe the mental science had nothing of theatre about it.
He was famished. Free of cover, he noticed now the air steeped in the smell of onions, chicken fat, coffee. His day had been miserable. The family had eaten their supper, fed Ebrach his…but left the unwanted companion alone in the dark. Honoré’s eyes filled. He shuffled, cautious, expecting to find his shoes by tripping over them; instead, he stubbed his toe on the bedpost, fell backwards…then, supporting himself against the foot-rail, steadied his balance, stood again, and shuffled onwards, hands held out to feel among the pegs on the wall. The mirror dimly reflected the parlor’s light. The light was not strong enough for Honoré to distinguish whether any of these garments was his. But…he now recalled, he had given his coat to Ebrach. And with his coat, his pocketbook―his money, and his letters. He had, in effect, to ask Ebrach’s permission, if he wished to return to Cookesville.
More of this piece on Gone Before page
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)