Note: The correct title for this story is "The Curious Case of "Jack Lime", once a sailor, as related to Amelia Eames". The quotation marks have been removed due to E2 technical limitations that there are probably some ways to get around but I can't be arsed. Thank you.

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover;
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.
-"Sea-Fever", by John Masefield


Amelia Eames woke up with a start.

Like many people, she glanced around wildly before settling back in her chair. She was in the rooms she shared with her mother, the Penny Dreadful she had fallen asleep with having slipped to the floor.

She rose and crossed to the window; outside was an old man staggering up the lane. He passed under a gaslight, and she recognized Mr. Lime, a lodger at the apartments owned by her mother. A smiled pulled at her mouth, and she hurried to let him in.

Her mother despaired of her ever Finding A Worthy Husband, but she preferred older gentlemen; they were more experienced, more sedate, and their lecherous attentions were generally limited to a pinch or a wink. And given that they were old, they weren't even good at that--

Mr. Lime had reached the door. Amelia hurried to open it, and grabbed for Lime as he staggered through, nearly falling.

She smelt Lime's breath as she steadied him: he had not been out drinking tea. There were footpads aplenty in the dark alleys between Eames' Lodgings and the nearest pub; 'twas a wonder Mr. Lime had arrived with his throat and purse intact.


When he had taken a room at the Eames lodgings, merely a short distance from Plymouth harbour, the old man had signed his name as "Jack Lime". Mrs. Eames, a sailor's widow, had recognized the joke easily enough, and so did Amelia. "Jack" was a common nickname for an English sailor, as was "Limey". Of course, there were many secrets among seagoing men, and though Mr. Lime claimed nothing, he still bore the rolling gait so common on the streets of the town. Even more common after the pubs closed.


Amelia rather liked him.

He wasn't particularly untoward in his affections toward her, and seemed to live entirely on drink and good humour. If she found him reasonably sober, he was frequently willing to regale the young women with tales of a sailor he had known-not himself, mind you-a sailor he had known who had left bootprints all over the continent, the South South seas, and even the Americas.

The girl employed a well-practiced maneuver, and managed to get Mr. Lime's arm over her shoulder. Closing the front door, she half-carried her burden in the direction of his room. She pulled the master key from her belt, and opened the door while the old sailor hummed an off-key rendition of "God Save the Queen". She hung his coat on the convenient rack, and from the doorway, it was only a few quick steps to the bed, where she lowered her tenant onto his mattress, and bent to remove his boots.

"Mother wanted me to be a doctor."

Amelia looked up. Mr. Lime was staring at her through reddened eyes, but seemed steady enough. This seemed a good enough oppourtunity to prise information from the sailor; many were the heroes of her novels who had plied a man with rum until he was drink-sozzled enough to reveal information he had held dear to his heart. Mr. Lime was conveniently pre-sozzled.

"Did you listen to her?"

The old man laughed. "No. But I should have."

The indirect approach wasn't working.

"Who are you hiding from?"

He stared at her, and opened his mouth. Then he closed it again. Then he opened it again. Amelia, naturally, thought of fish.

"I'm going to need a drink."

Amelia silently removed the bottle of rum and glass from an old pair of boots sitting in the corner.

"You know me so well. Now, where should I start?"

"At the beginning." Amelia smiled. It was an old joke between them.

"Right. I had been a score of years since I walked out of my parents' house with naught but the clothes on my back, all full o' swagger and cocksure. Time...had done some humbling. Maybe not enough. Either way, I took a berth on the 'Molly' from a small town in Italy. Don't recall the name, but they made an excellent whiskey and soda."

He paused to remember the whiskey and soda.

"The Captain, O'Bannon, was rather fond of drink, but I know few captains who aren't. The first mate, a Scot named Mochrie, liked to gamble. Dr. Dymock, now he was what they call a natcher- a naturil-"

"A naturalist."

"That too. The Captain had just...'acquired' some manner of map or guide, and none of the crew were in any condition to look too closely at any possible misdeeds. He said it would lead us to a large treasure."

"Pull the other one, it's got bells on!"

"Right, lass! We had all heard that chestnut before, but we set out nonetheless. Made it out of the Mediterranean, and went down the east coast of the continent. At some point we found a river, and the Captain took us right up it."

"Did he let anyone else take a look at the map?"

"Nay, lass. He was a canny one, O'Bannon. Didn't trust anything but the inside of his own head, and he was wary of that, too. Didn't even let the first mate, Mr. Mochrie, have a peek at it. Didn't even let us know what the treasure was. If we had known, we probably would've thrown him over the side and blast the treasure."

"Such language, Mr. Lime!" Amelia grinned at him.

"Oh, I am sorry. I beg milady's pardon."

"See that it doesn't happen again."

"I shall."

Both managed to keep a straight face. Barely. Amelia lived in a harbour town; she heard worse language purchasing tea.

"Where did you anchor?"

"There was nothing to distinguish it from any other stretch of jungle, but O'Bannon had us anchor offshore, and we took the ship's boat it. We were a small vessel, shallow draught, and could make our way a good distance up most rivers. 'Twasn't 'til we made land before O'Bannon deigned to inform us we would have a few days walk into the jungle."

"'We'?"

"The Captain left the ship with Mochrie, Dymock, and me, ordinary seaman Lime. The four nations of Great Britain, stumbling through the dark."

"I'm not sure the Captain would agree with you about the 'British' part."

Lime grinned. "That he might not."

"Did you have provisions?"

"All of us were experienced men, and we had bought a week's worth of food and water. Mochrie kept muttering about how fast we were going through the stores, and Dymock had a few specimen jars and butterfly nets and such. At one point, he halted us so he could takes notes on a certain kind of claw mark.

"The Captain employed curses I have never heard the like of, calling down fire and damnation on the doctor's head. The doctor, for his part, just fixed the captain with a sneer and sneered in that Welsh accent of his 'With all due respect, Captain, there are some things more important than wealth.' The captain wanted to kill him. I could see the blood standing out in his veins from where I stood, but he held his tongue."

"What for?"

"There was an appointed time for us to find whatever treasure he sought. Whether it was governed by the phases of the moon, or the locations of the heavenly bodies, I know not. I do know that he kept glancing at his pocket-watch every few minutes.

"We saw precious little life on that journey, come to think. There was the jungle, yes, but no animals, no birds. The air itself was still, waiting. Unnerved us, it did, so much so that Mochrie took to the bottle even more. I was the night watch after him, and I would find him staring into the dark, checking the cartridges of the gun, then holding it on his lap until worry compelled him to repeat the action. He would sometimes count the bullets in his one of our two revolvers, for variety. He spoke little."

"Did you find the treasure?"

"Aye. It was in a sort of temple, in the centre of a dead city. There were rooms full of gold, strange items we did not recognize. O'Bannon had eyes only for the central room, where the object he sought lay on a pedestal. It was a kind of statue, though of what I never learned. I suppose that the other treasures in the room did not matter to him, though they interested Mochrie greatly. Dymock was babbling something about 'flora not seen since the Diplodic age' and suchlike. O'Bannon took the statue, turned around, and said 'Take only what you can carry.'"

"I assume Mochrie didn't like that."

"I saw the sense in it. If we came back with anything we couldn't hide on our persons, the crew would get a cut. Even after being reminded of that, Mr. Mochrie still grumbled, stuffing treasures into a sack he had bought with him. Didn't even stop when he pricked his finger. For my sins, I picked up a knife, having forgotten to bring mine from Molly. Ornate, yes, but serviceable enough."

"Clearly you survived the return journey, and yet..." The young woman's gesture somehow took in the squalid little room, the lodgings, and the run-down part of town they were sitting in. "....you're here."

"Aye, so I am."

"Why? Was the statue worthless?"

"Probably not. It never made it back out of the jungle."

"Why not?"

"To understand that, you have to know what happened to Mochrie. First of all, he fell asleep the following night."

"That's common enough."

"He never woke up, despite the doctor's best efforts. And we had to make a choice; the treasure or the first mate."

"And you chose the treasure. Distrustful, you each tried to kill the others in a number of devious, subtle ways, and you emerged the only survivor. Although you lost the treasure, you learned a valuable lesson on the worth of life, and secreted yourself in one of the busiest ports in the Empire as just another ancient mariner, lest someone try the secret of the town's location from your reticent lips."

Mr. Lime gave her an an appraising look. "You're quite the mercenary lass, aren't you, Miss Eames?"

Amelia grinned. "Mother says I read more than is good for me."

The sailor stared at her for a few more seconds. "No, we didn't. O'Bannon didn't seem too concerned by the loss of the sack. He told us that the sum he would get for the statue would be more than ten sacks."

"And you believed him?"

"He didn't have any say in the matter. O'Bannon hadn't been too particular in his hiring. As a result, he had ended up with the worst crew of criminals, blackguards, and ne'er do wells to sail the seven seas, outside of the British Navy."

Amelia giggled.

"If he lied about the amount, they would likely kill him. If he ran off with the treasure, whatever it was, he would have nowhere to hide. The second he spent any significant money, we would know." His smile exposed his yellowed teeth. "What good is money if you can't spend it?"

A cough.

"The jungle was full enough of life, then. We could hear it, the three of us. All sorts of skittering, scampering things, always out of sight. Worst of all was the way they made Mochrie toss and turn in his sleep. We realized later they were...calling to him."

"They?"

Lime leaned forward, and whispered. "The creatures."

Despite wearing a warm dress, despite sitting in a room in a reasonably decent part of town with the door locked behind her, Amelia felt a chill run down her spine. "What creatures?"

"We never got a proper look at them. They were big, maybe human sized. Maybe even human, once."

"What do you mean?"

"Three shifts. Me, the Captain, Dymock. The doctor had the one closest to morning, and he was there when Mochrie...changed."

"Changed? Changed to what?"

"He woke up suddenly. Dymock said he was scratching all over, until he got close enough. Then he looked up at the doctor suddenly, bit him, and ran into the jungle. The doctor's shouts were enough to rouse us, and we decided against chasing him."

"You left him to die in the jungle?"

"You have to understand; we had no way to track him, and we thought he was infected. Perhaps he had been bitten by a mad rat, and it hadn't started to show until the worst possible time. Perhaps he was simply sick. A sailor's life is a perilous one, and so on. That's what we told ourselves.

"'Twasn't long before we realized what we were truly dealing with. These weren't tigers or baboons or savages. We all knew how to deal with those. Whatever those creatures were, they were...You've heard of werewolves?"

"Of course I have! One terrorized London just last week!"

Mr. Lime raised an eyebrow. "That was a rabid dog, lass, and one scared banker does not count as a 'reign of terror'."

Amelia frowned. "Your point?"

"These...creatures were like werewolves."

"Oh, come off it! You're trying to tell me that there were big hairy things with fangs and claws in the bloody jungle?"

"For a lass who believed a mad dog was a werewolf, you certainly are skeptical."

"But still!" She made fangs with her index fingers. "Grr!"

"They weren't really bloody werewolves, you silly girl, just like them! It's a wonder you can hear anything over the echoes in that big empty space you call your head!"

Amelia looked at him, shocked. Lime passed a hand over his forehead.

"I'm sorry," he said at length. "It's just...well, think about it. Look at the facts. All Mochrie did was scratch himself-not even a deep cut-and he had started to change."

"What about disease, or poison? 'Twould make sense for the people who lived there to salt the earth behind them, so to speak."

"Have you heard of any poison that would keep, in the open air, for hundreds of years? What type of poison causes sleep and madness, d'y'know?"

"I just--"

"And there was the matter of the city itself. There had been many people there, and they all seemed to have just up and walked into the jungle."

"Like a ghost ship?"

"No, no, there was nothing like that. No plates left mid-meal or letters half-finished. It was as if they set their things in order, and never came back. As if they deliberately wanted to turn into the creatures, as if they did it to themselves."

"Why would they want to?"

"Dymock came up with the theory. We didn't believe him, at first. What really bought us round was the creatures."

"I thought you never saw them."

"We never did. It was their whispering, their mad whispering. Sometimes they rose their voices, and they all sounded like they were laughing at us. One sounded like Mochrie. He was out there. With them."

"Once we had...considered the possibility, it was easy enough to speculate on the why. O'Bannon hit on the idea of guards for the treasure."

"Then why would they let you reach the treasure?"

"Because didn't need to worry about people getting in, just getting out. If you can add folk to your number any time, with just a scratch, then all you need do is wait until they're too far in to do anything about it. Personally, I don't think they were guarding the treasure. I think they were guarding the statue."

"What makes you think that?"

"I'm no scholar, but it seemed different from the rest of the treasure. 'Twas placed in the most important part of the city, in the middle of the largest amount of the treasure-"

"A lure," Amelia breathed. "Bait, on a lure, in a trap."

"Yes. Once any treasure-seekers fell or turned, 'twould be a simple matter to return the statue and the treasures, to set the trap afresh. More concerning was the statue itself; what could it be, that an entire civilization would give their humanity to keep others from it?"

Amelia pulled her shawl tighter.

"We also figured out why the jungle was so quiet. All the animals had been eaten. Or maybe herded off by the creatures, to keep our path clear, or to psyker-psy--"

"Psychology. Trying to make you scared. What I don't understand is why they did not simply kill you outright."

"Because they thought it sport. What cat does not like to play with his food?"

"So they were werecats?"

"I say again, I do not know what they were or are. After we discussed the creature, we went to sleep. I had the first watch, then O'Bannon, then Dymock. We found his body the next morning."

"How did they--"

"To this day, I'm not sure if 'they' did. We found the shotgun in Dymock's mouth, and his hand on the trigger. It looked like he had done it himself, and neither O'Bannon nor I had tracking experience, so we couldn't tell one set of footprints from another. We noticed that the doctor's hand, it had started to change. The nails were longer, sharper, more like claws, and the fingers themselves seemed more bestial. I don't know what he was turning into, but he apparently knew enough. More than enough.

"Neither of us had heard the gunshot, and there was no suicide note. Why wasn't there a note? There was paper aplenty, and he had several fountain pens and charcoal. I suspected, later, this was a trick by the creatures; one of them could've killed him, yes, but so might one of us. And why wouldn't we? If the others were dead, there would be no one to contradict the survivor when he walked out of the forest alone, said the map was a lie, and sold the statue. Of course, the crew would search his quarters, but there are many...useful little nooks on board a ship."

"So I was right!"

"No, lass, you were wrong." He paused. "At least, I think you were wrong. O'Bannon could've killed the doctor, but the doctor might've killed us, after he...changed. If he did, I wouldn't have blamed him. The creatures might've done it, just as easily, or come upon Dymock before we did and stolen the note, intendin' to cause us to look sideways at each other."

"We didn't have time to bury him. If we stopped, if we slowed down at all, it would give those things another chance to...attack us. We didn't even have a proper lunch stop, eating and drinking while we were walking."

"That can't have been good for the digestion."

Me. Lime smiled, briefly. "I admit, we stopped for that. Not that we needed to very often. Sometimes fear has a way of sealing a man's bowels."

Amelia smiled politely while the lodger laughed at his own joke.

"Were there any further problems?"

"Well, lass, one small one, the next day. O'Bannon had burned the map."

"Burned?"

"He said...he said the crew might try to come back if they had the map, and they would. He said we were close enough to the river to make our way out on our own. And we were. He said the...creatures would try and stop us. And they did. He said that if anyone wanted the statue, they would have to pry it out of his cold, dead hands. I did that a day later."

"You killed him?"

"What? Me, no, they did. Herded us along a path, right into what's called a 'man-trap'. I had heard about it from some boys who visited the Malay tribes. It consists of a hole with stakes at the bottom, and a mat of leaves to make it look like solid ground. If you don't break a leg or your neck in the fall, if you aren't pierced clean through by those blasted stakes, you still have no way to get out of the hole.

"It was worrying, because these creatures still had some measure of human intelligence. Not half as worrying as losing the Captain, though. Suddenly I was all alone in a hostile jungle, precious little munitions and food, with who knows how many of those creatures between me and the boat. And how was I to know they hadn't gotten to the boat?

"At some point, I realized they wouldn't let me leave with the statue. Not alive, anyway. I threw it into the bush, and I heard them scream and rush toward it. Some rushed to retrieve it, but most stayed with me, laughing. I'm sorry to admit they got to me; I loosed a few wild rounds into the underbrush."

"Did you go 'Face me you cowards!'?"

"Yes," Mr. Lime admitted ruefully, "but I didn't say 'cowards'."

"How did you bear to sleep?"

"I didn't, that last night. I've gone without before, and I figured eight hours march would be worth tripping over my feet. Besides, I didn't have anyone who could keep watch.

"Now, lass, these things were worrying enough in daylight. Worrying enough when you have a fire at your back and a loaded gun in your lap. Imagine stumbling through the dark, a torch in one hand, gun in the other, wondering if the ground is going to crumble under you, wondering if one of them is behind you, creeping, creeping on their little cat feet."

"Were they?"

"I don't know. Several times I thought I heard something, and fired into the dark. I'm not sure if I hit any, but I don't think it would make a difference. There were plenty of those buggers out there. They lived for their blasted treasure, they could die for it just as well.

"The last two miles were the hardest. There was a quarter-mile of open ground between the jungle and shore. Once I was out of the trees, the crew could cover me. One of the creatures...had been Mochrie, he knew this. That was why they hadn't pounced on me during the night; they were massing between me and the boat.

"That part of the tale is not proper for a young woman's ears, but when I stumbled out of that thrice-damned greenery, I was down to the last few rounds in my revolver, and I had nothing but the remnants of clothes on my back and the specimen jar in my pocket."

"What jar?"

"Dymock's."

"Didn't you say Mochrie attacked him and ran away?"

"That he did."

"Then what was in the jar?"

"Dymock knew he was changing. He had forceps in his bag, so when he realized..."

"Oh no."

"He pulled his tooth out, put in one of his jars, and then...he ended it."

"Oh. His tooth. Why would he do that?"

"Because he was a scientist. He was--" a tap at the side of his head "--a thinking man. He wanted there to be something to study, something the professors could poke and prod and dissect. He wanted a legacy.

"I made it clear of the trees, the blasted things grabbing at my clothes. I had forgotten that there was a field of long grass between the boat and the shore. Imagine it, if you please. A grown man, running for the shore, screaming and waving his arms, with these weird...holes in the grass behind him, following him. The man fires three shots at the things before dropping his revolver and running for his life.

"The crew made good enough play with their rifles for me to shove off unhindered. Why the things hadn't hulled the boat during the night, I didn't know. Perhaps they weren't that smart, perhaps they had thought they would be able to stop me." He smiled. "They were wrong."

"What did you tell the crew?"

"The truth. I said Mochrie, Dymock, and the Captain were all dead, and the 'treasure' was nothing more than a trap for the foolish. I said I had barely made it out with my life. I did lie when I told them what had been chasing me; monkeys. The same monkeys, in fact, who had killed the others. We had been on a desperate run for my life from the beasts, and with no stop for rest nor succor, I had been the only survivor. The Captain had charged me with his last breath to--"

"Mr. Lime!"

"Sorry lass. Got a little carried away. "With his last breath, O'Bannon had told me of a...gentleman's club. It was where he had been planning to sell the statue. The crew were not inclined to look too closely at my story, and we set sail back home. Once we were there, I sold the boat, paid them off, and sent the rest to O'Bannon's mother. He had made me swear to that. Then I visited the club."

"Was it full of hard-bitten men of adventure?"

"No. It was a quite normal manor house. A butler showed me in through the tradesmen's entrance, and I showed them the tooth and told them of the fate of O'Bannon. The man I spoke to was an oily sort of character, with a thin moustache. Strong handshake, though. Didn't give his name. He paid me for the tooth, and hat the butler show me out. As I was walking through the hall, I noticed, for the first time, what was on the walls. Sketches of strange and fantastic beasts, along with a few stuffed and mounted specimens. And this was only a small portion of the house; we passed many closed doors. A few weeks before, I would've thought all of those artifacts to be false, cooked up in a kitchen in Mayfair. My views had been...broadened."

"So why are you hiding here?"

"Because of what I did next. I kindly requested the servant show me back, and asked for a refund. The gentleman refused. I tried to reason with him, to tell him about the danger of the thing, that it should be burned as soon as possible, but all he would think about was his blasted science. He went 'good day, sir' and turned his back on me. There was a plate on the table, with the end of a dinner on it. With a stake knife."

Lime reached up and closed Amelia's gaping mouth.

"The papers burned easily enough. The oils, the ether, less so. I made good use of their stores of lye, retrieved the tooth, took all of the money, all of their pocketwatches and left."

Amelia leaned back in her chair. "There was a fire in Brixton twenty years ago," she said slowly. "A mansion burned to the ground. They blamed it on thieves or brigands desperate for money. There were, I've heard, rumors of Irish Secessionists. The bodies of five were found, and one of the horses was missing."

"Was it?" Lime looked at her neutrally.

Amelia wondered at her chances, should Lime make a sudden lunge-- "What happened next?"

"I considered that the end of the matter, and sought myself a job."

"But you had the money they gave you. You were rich."

"And half-mad with boredom! I am not a sedate man, Miss Eames. I cannot abide long without a wind under my stern, not unless I'm..."

"Drunk," said Amelia flatly.

"Aye, drunk. Don't look at me like that. Many's the Jack Tar who enjoys the bottle. I would not even have tarried here this long if not for..."

"If not for what?"

"Nothing."

Amelia crossed her arms, frowning. She had only a short time before he was unable to perform, or simply fell asleep. "And then what?" she grumbled.

"Not a fortnight later, I was coming back to my lodgings after a day of seeking gainful employment-"

"And drinking."

"-Aye, a little drinking-when my landlady informed me that two stout gentlemen had been asking after me. As I looked out of her window, I saw them speaking with a bootblack across the way. I gathered all I could carry, and nipped out the back door just as they came in the front. Gave the bootblack a clout upside the head as I passed."

"And then what?"

"I laid a false trail," the old man chuckled. "I visited Mama, and told her I was making for the Indies."
 
"East or West?" said the sailor's daughter.

"Exactly. That 'gentleman's club' probably counted some powerful men in it's numbers. Seemed retirement deserved to be reconsidered. I found a quiet town and settled down. Grew a beard, colored my hair. A few months later, I moved to another town. I've been all over the British Isles by that method. Ottery St. Catchpole, Totleigh-in-the-Wold, Hobbs End, I've even spent some time in--" a shudder "--France."

"If these men were as powerful as you say, wouldn't they have had watchful eyes in every port here or across the Channel?"

Mr. Lime looked at her, a smile growing broader and broader upon his face, until he laughed outright.

"I fail to see what is so amusing," Amelia said stiffly.

"Bless you, lass, and bless your innocence. There are many ways a man can cross a body of water, and not all of them require papers and seals."

"Oh." She should have thought of that. She'd read enough of the adventures of "Cuthroat Jim and his Black Freighter", after all.

Mr. Lime yawned. She had roughly one more question before he fell asleep.

"Why did you stay here?" she asked softly.

Lime's eyes were closed, and she thought she had missed her chance--

"Did I ever tell you that I had a sister?" he said softly.

And he was asleep. Likely wouldn't remember which two words he put together the next morning, and the pounding in his head would send him into the morning light--too bright, too bright!--for a liquid breakfast. "Hair of the dog!" he would say, toasting the bartender.

She drew the blanket over him, yawning suddenly. Dropping back into the chair, she considered Mr. Lime's story. An interesting pack of lies, but a pack of lies, nonetheless.

Surely, as a sailor, he had a surfeit of adventures to relate, embellish, and exagerrate without resorting to nonsense about temples and monsters. Perhaps he had read a fantastical story, or was misremembering a relatively normal expidition where the participants were set upon by monkeys. And the Brixton murders had been the talk of the nation fifteen years ago. It would be easy enough for an old drunkard to overhear, and later confuse the memories with his own.

It is perhaps not so surprising that Amelia rose, and examined Mr. Lime's coat. In the left breast pocket, she found a revolver, which explained something of how her tenant dared walk the streets alone. In another, cleverly-concealed pocket, she found a small vial, able to fit neatly into the palm of her hand, filled with a clearish liquid; ether. There was a pointed white object inside; a tooth.

She would, of course, want to examine it, as any young woman with her interests and tempermant might. It would be a simple matter of carrying the vial over to the gaslamp. And once there, how else would she be able to distinguish the thing from that of any animal without examining it? The stopper could be removed easy enough, and once that was accomplished, there would be nothing for it but to--pull--the tooth--out!

All things considered, Amelia could not be blamed. Perhaps the fumes were responsible, or the ether still present on the small white object made it difficult to handle. Perhaps both. In either case, it was not the young woman's fault that her grip slipped, and the edges of the tooth cut her.

Not her fault at all.

ENDF

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.