“Get away from me!” Ephraim ordered.
She didn’t. She curled her hand into a fist, forcing more blood to drip onto his chest. Ephraim eyed the blood with disgust even as his stomach rumbled at the sight. He ignored it even as his mouth began to water. His reaction to the blood frightened him more than anything.
“Get away from me!”
His father and brothers came to a skidding halt just behind her. Magistrate Nichols grabbed Mary by the hair and yanked out of the way.
Ephraim sighed, “Thank you, s-“
Nichols grabbed his jaw and yanked Ephraim’s mouth open. “Dear God in heaven,” he muttered. Ephraim watched in horror as Nichols’ finger came towards his mouth. He felt pressure against one of his teeth and then felt something sweet and delicious hit his tongue.
“Christ almighty!” Nichols pulled back a bloody finger and shook it off. “They’re razor sharp!”
“What?” Ephraim asked stunned.
He watched as his father and brothers paled. He couldn’t understand any of this. The only thing that he was sure of is that he wanted more of that sweet delicious liquid, badly. He ran his tongue over his lips hoping to lap up more. His tongue came across something pointed in his mouth. He ran his tongue over the sharp tip only to find a second one in his mouth. What was going on? Did the surgeons do something to his mouth?
“I told you he was the devil!” Mary said smugly. She held her bleeding hand against her bosom. Ephraim stared at it like a man dying of thirst.
“Shut her up!” Nichols yelled. He turned to his father. “We need to talk.” Ephraim watched as his father was dragged to the corner of the room. He was sure they were whispering, but he could hear everything they said loud and clear as if they were standing by his bed.
“Is he a devil worshipper?” Nichols asked.
“No!” his father protested.
“Tell me about his birth,” Nichols demanded.
Ephraim ignored the looks his brother were giving him and the fact that they were now swiftly moving away from his bed as if he were a leper and focused on the private conversation.
For ten years he pleaded and begged his father to tell him about his birth. The only thing he was told was that his mother died in childbirth. His stepmother refused to tell him anything. That didn’t surprise him since she hated him. She referred to him as the “thing” she was forced to tolerate. He never understood that and now it seemed he was about to get some answers.
“The mother was attacked was she not? An animal the villagers say,” Nicholls prompted.
He heard his father drag in a harsh breath. Odd that was. His father was over twenty feet from him. He could hear everything clearly, too clearly. It was starting to hurt his head. He heard the sounds of clothes rustling, steps, breathing, heart beats, bugs flying in the room, someone downstairs dropped a pan in the kitchen and swore. That was the oddest thing because they were on the second floor in the west wing, very far away from the kitchen, but he was positive that he could hear Mrs. Brown working in the kitchen.
Ephraim forced himself to ignore every competing sound and focus. His father looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was close enough to hear before continuing.
His father shook his head. “No, it wasn’t an animal attack.”
“I thought as much. I’ve heard rumors that a mad man from Bedlam escaped and attacked your first wife during the last month of her confinement.”
“Yes, I’m afraid that’s as close to the truth as we’ll ever get. I was holding a coming out ball for my youngest sister, Amy. My wife was restless with her confinement. Our two boys were asleep in the nursery and she desperately wanted to see Amy dance.”
“Understandable. Please continue.”
“Marc, what the hell is he?” Henry asked loudly. Ephraim ignored them.
“Shut up, Henry,” Marc said coldly.
“She…she….we….” his father’s voice cracked. Ephraim never once heard of his father crying. “We found the bastard bent over her body. She was so pale…and….and….”
“He was feeding her his blood! She was drinking his blood!” his father whispered harshly.
Nichols didn’t say anything. “We chased the bastard off, but not soon enough. She went into labor…but she was dead. The boy just….he came…..the surgeon couldn’t understand it. He thought we were going to have to cut her.”
“I’m sorry. I’m rather confused. You said she was dead? I saw her myself in the village not a week after the boy’s birth. I was led to believe she died a few days later from complications.”
His father looked over his shoulder again. “We had to tell everyone that….truth is she woke up the next morning like nothing happened. She tried to take the boy. She was screaming nonsense. I had to throw her out, but she came back for the boy with him!”
Nichols cleared his throat. “I hate to ask, but is it possible the boy isn’t yours.”
“You mean did my wife cuckold me?” he asked bitterly. “I…I don’t know. He looks nothing like his brothers. I just don’t know and at that point it would have created a scandal for the boy to disappear and I was most certainly not going to send an innocent child with….oh god, she was dead I buried her myself….I…..do you think….”
Ephraim looked at his brothers. They were not handsome men by anyone’s standards. They looked so much like their father. They were as Mrs. Brown liked to say "womanly men." They had very feminine features. They were pretty boys some of the ladies said. A lot of women liked that, but Ephraim always secretly prayed that he wouldn’t look like them. He always found comfort in the fact that everyone told him that he didn’t look like them. The only thing they shared was their mother’s black hair.
He was always told that he looked like a “little man”. He was a rough little boy with a thick muscular frame unlike his brother’s much thinner frames. His startling blue eyes also set him apart. Could that have changed along with everything else? It seemed ridiculous even to him at the moment, but he didn’t want to look like a woman.
Nichols looked back at him and shook his head. “He doesn’t look like you or your other sons except for the black hair. Does he look like the men on his mother’s side or does he look like-”
“Him you mean?” His father made a sound of disgust.
“He has a larger frame and different eyes but…I thought…I hoped he would look like us.” His father looked him over. “He looks like him. Do you think he’s contracted whatever ailed his mother then?”
“Yes, I think it’s a good chance the boy is diseased. If you truly are not the boy’s father then he most likely is insane as well. Tell me what happened to his mother?”
“What do you think we did? She was dead. We burned the bitch and her lover,” he said coldly. Ephraim’s breath caught.
“You’re not my father?” he asked before he could stop himself.
Both men slowly turned to stare at him. Their confused expressions turned horrified at the realization that he heard their entire whispered conversation. His father’s hand went to his chest as a collective gasp sounded throughout the large bed chamber.