A night of deep, dream-free sleep saw Beck wake refreshed and looking forward to his day, even if he did spend much of his breakfast touching his head to ensure it was still on his shoulders. He washed and dressed with an almost cheerful air about him, perhaps it was being away from the dark sooty skies of New Babbage that did it, or maybe it was just spending a night in his own bed, however humble, that revitalised his soul. Whatever his mood could be attributed too, it saw a distinctly happy man all but skip downstairs to his surgery to prepare for the day ahead.
As he opened the door and crossed the threshold he noticed a folded slip of paper on the floor; nothing unusual in that as many of his patients left him letters and the like in such a manner so he simply picked it up and carried it over to his desk. He was idly opening it when he noticed another letter on his desk, this time an altogether different missive than he would expect. It was a short, polite and formal note from a Miss Rhianon Jameson of Caledon expressing her regret in missing him having speculatively called by whilst he’d been away in Babbage. He knew the name yet it was a few seconds before he could recall the face… close to his… through the smoke… wanting something… someone… oh God! It was the woman in the den, the one asking about The Scientist, and he’d sent her to him! His mood wavered as he wondered what she could want with him again and, if she’d been successful in her quest, what her connection with the Scientist now was.
He put the letter down, unsure how (or even if) to reply, and turned his now distracted attention to the first note still in his hand. He read it and immediately re-read it. It was from Li Fe’s father, was dated the very day he had left and, in a shaky hand and broken English, was begging him to come and help his wife who was out of her mind with grief over the loss of their only child.
Beck felt sick as the black emptiness he tried so hard to keep at bay suddenly throbbed deep inside his gut. He grabbed his bag and all but ran out of the door and into the narrow streets and alleys of the slums.
It was late evening when he returned. He stared at his meagre belongings in his small, rotting room and wondered, as he often did, what his wife would think of the shabby state he’d let his life tumble into. He’d lost so much getting here and had so little to show for himself that he half-feared he would vanish into the gulfs of his life.
He caught himself, chiding his pointless self-pity into remission and reminded himself where he’d been all day, what he’d seen. Li Fe’s mother, Xan, had spent the last two weeks beside herself with grief and anger, lashing out at everyone around her. Her husband had borne the brunt of it as she blamed him for allowing their child to be stolen. Her family, Christian converts Beck had learnt, had watched her every minute of the day, fearing she would do herself an injury until, but a few days ago, her mood had calmed a little. She grew less wild, less frantic and her husband began to hope the worst had passed. And then her brother had been found murdered.
A fisherman, Chi Yun had landed after a two week trip with old Captain “Pastor” Williams and was evidently walking home when someone had attacked and stabbed him, leaving him to die in the filth of a slum doorway. The family expected Xan to take this badly and braced themselves, but instead of the breakdown they feared, Xan retreated within herself and remained there ever since. She had not eaten for two days and barely slept. Beck had been unable to reach her, it was as if she had pulled a veil down and vanished from view. In the end all Beck could do was mix a sleeping draught and advise that Xan be confined to her bed until her delicate emotional state improved. Her sister, a young woman who seemed oddly familiar to Beck, was caring for her and thanked the doctor warmly for his help. Beck accepted her gratitude with grace but each of her nods and smiles was like a knife-point in his belly: he was as much use to her as he’d been to his own wife and children. He sighed, rubbing his tired eyes as he sat down heavily in his worn armchair by the small fire. Deep inside him the empty feeling grew a little bit more.
As Beck slept, snoring away in the armchair by the still-glowing fire, someone moved outside his surgery in the night-shrouded streets below. A tall, haunted figure took a brush dripping with black tar and began to scrawl across the filthy windows, leaving a message from his Lord to His new subjects.
He was coming and they would bow to Him. Oh yes, they would bow to Him and offer their heads.
To be continued…
Links to other blogs and stories:
1) A “Steal Head” Story So Far recap can be found here.
2) All my “Mutations” posts can be read on my blog here
3) All my “Snatched from Steelhead” posts can be read on my blog here
4) All my “Steal Head” posts can be read on my blog here and on the Steelhead Ning here.
5) All my “Creaky Gloom” posts can be read on my blog here