The Bluebottle Boys — Chapter 13, Part 9: In the Clutches of the Witch [section 4 of 7]

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I assumed that it was the stench of the dust on the ground from the beings I’d destroyed. The wind rose as well – or at least I thought it was the sound of leaves in the wind.

But the sound had that oncoming Doppler effect, and I knew at once that I was wrong on both scores. I dared not look at them directly, but only from the corner of my eye. I thought I saw glowing, mummified beings, moving about the courtyard of the catacombs on what seemed to be scooter-like contraptions. Instinctively, I realized they were here for one purpose: to “expose” me to the others so I’d no longer retain my “invisibility,” no longer shielded from them by the potion’s effects.

By hearing the noise they made, however, I could tell when one was coming my way and roll away from the brightness. I hoped, correctly, as it turned out, that the paths were random: Unless and until I was within their light, they’d be no more be able see me than any of these other creatures had. It did make destroying the remainder of the old witch’s horde more difficult, but I finished them off at last: accompanied by yet one more scream of rage from the witch.

She screamed something unintelligible – at least I didn’t understand the words she was uttering.

In the next instant, the glowing mummified creatures all converged on each other and collided, body parts flying, as the ground beneath them shook and cracked open and the smell of brimstone filled the air.

A smoky-red whirlwind slowly rose from the fissures; the body parts hovered around for a moment, then were sucked into it. With thunder-like clap, the whirlpool vanished; something that looked like a study in a human anatomy text stood in a light so bright I had to shield my eyes.

When it dimmed enough for me to see again, I saw a giant of a man – just under seven feet tall – with thick, black, shaggy, curly unkempt hair, wild, bushy, Rasputin-like beard standing out in every direction and equally bushy eyebrows, squatting like caterpillars over wild, demented eyes. He was dressed like an early nineteenth century ship’s captain, down to a pair of knee-high boots. The leathery forehead above thoseprofuse,impenetrable brows was the only flesh exposed;the only place I’d be able to touch him with the charm.

The witch cackled again. “Meet Captain Obadiah Fahey – ‘Captain O’ to those who knew him in the day.”

“Captain of an English slaving vessel, until Parliament outlawed the practice, then he switched his allegiance to the United States, until Congress outlawed the practice – then he switched to Portugal. But the British ships who patrolled the seas by then regarded what Captain O did as piracy, still a hanging offense in those days. They boarded his ship and took him prisoner.

“They meant to convey him to London to be tried and hanged, but he escaped when they docked in Bristol, and became a fugitive, living as best he could, usually by his switchblade, until he reached Birmingham.

“When the King’s men finally found Captain O, his mind was far too devastated from gin and laudanum for him to speak on his own behalf, and none there who’d speak for him, for he’d terrorised his crew as much as anyone.

Captain O’s not buried on this ground – he’s not buried anywhere – for when convicted was he of piracy, he was sentenced to both death and dissection. But, days before they hanged him, his mind grew lucid enough that he swore revenge on those who’d brought him to this fate – and, like me, offered himself to the Dark One.”

Her cackling gave way to full-bore triumphant laughter. “Destroy him if you can – if you DARE!”



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