It took three weeks for the fever to break. It took even longer for my temperature to drop and the hallucinations to stop. When I first looked in a mirror I was horrified for before me stood a haggard skeleton with slightly yellow skin, a symptom of the fever that killed most men in their first year on the island. I was lucky to have survived but my strength was slow to return and it was even longer before I could even walk out of my room. Surgeon Fenner had been extremely sedulous in his doctoring duties, devoting quite bit of time to caring for me. It was only because of his diligent care that I had survived.
During my sickness fourteen other men had died. A grim pall fell over the small fort and the cemetery situated outside the walls was steadily growing. For a moment I wished I was sick again, anything to escape this awful place. However, due to foolish indiscretions I had been posted indefinitely to the Fever Islands, a posting that guaranteed death.
I carefully walked down from the fort on the thoroughfare to St. Anthony. St. Anthony was a squalid little town that acted as a resupplying station for Royal Navy vessels, who would rather go hungry than dock at St. Anthony and lose half its crew to the fever. Even before I had entered the town I felt the sadness that had struck the town even harder than it usually did. Something bad had happened.
The streets were empty and the windows of the slatternly houses shut. Half a dozen redcoats patrolled the central square but that was the only life that could be seen. Even the mosquitoes were quiet. I slowly approached the soldiers my weary body making every step an effort.
"Where the devil is everyone?" I asked, my voice hoarse and weak.
One of the soldiers stopped and saluted.
"Inside sir. Lieutenant Fitzroy ordered a curfew after the murder," The man spoke quickly, clearly nervous.
"Fitzroy ordered a curfew for a mere murder?" I asked drily; Fitzroy was unfortunately prone to either extremes of reaction-he would either do too much or too little-. Murder was surprisingly common on the island.
Sometimes some poor soul would be driven mad with the fever and take a carving knife to his wife, children or even an unlucky passer-by. As St. Anthony was a naval port, a small gang of blackguards and smugglers existed and even thrived; as a result every month a body would wash up on the beach and no inquiries would be made by the garrison or the governor. Violent death was commonplace on the island, an accepted part of life.
"Oh yes sir," The soldier replied earnestly "The governor was stabbed to death about a month ago. We didn't catch the murderer so the lieutenant ordered a curfew and set up patrols," I waved the man off and decided to return to the fort. I needed to have a word with Fenner.
Fenner was a gaunt man, with a disapproving mouth and black eyes. The fever had never touched him, but as patient after patient died in his care his lips tightened, his pace quickened and his bitterness grew.
"What happened to the governor?" I asked him, I was fairly at ease with him. We were friends and had been since we'd both been posted to the island. We would reminisce about England, about civilization, about families and friends we'd never see again. It was nice to have someone to talk to.
His cold eyes met mine and his hand shook slightly.
"Stabbed to death, or beaten. I can't be sure," He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts "The state of the body was not good and therefore I was unable to be sure what killed him. I can however be sure the blows were dealt by a strong right handed man. The governor fought back but that's all I was able to gather I'm afraid," His cold eyes left mine and I knew the interview was over; I made to leave "Oh and Captain?" His back was to me but I knew he was grimacing "The governor was missing his eyes when we found him," I felt my stomach lurch and Fenner was hardly in a better condition. I nodded my thanks and hurried away before he made any more gruesome revelations.
That night I returned to St. Anthony and walked its dark dusty streets by myself, alone with my thoughts. I was exhausted and could barely walk, the scabbard of my sword dragging forlornly in the dust. I continued on however, emulously patrolling the streets and helping the soldiers keep watch. I would not let another man be murdered and mutilated.
As I turned a street corner, a movement in the shadows caught my eye. I went for my sword but my strength failed me and I collapsed in the street. Thankfully, I managed a hoarse cry before all went dark.
Surgeon Fenner blearily rubbed his eyes and yawned, it was near midnight and he was half tempted to go to sleep. It was only when Captain Whitehead was brought to him, unconscious and murmuring in his sleep that his weariness fled him. He gave the man a small tonic and sent him to bed with orders that he should return to him in the morning.
As Captain Whitehead was carried away, Fenner finally heard what the Captain was murmuring: "It was him…it was him," over and over again. Disturbed Fenner retired and his dreams were plagued by the same weird being screeched at him by Whitehead: "The governor! The governor!" Over and over again the two words were repeated till Fenner finally awoke and stood up. He immediately began to look for the night officer, unfortunately Fitzroy was on duty.
Fitzroy was a stout Yorkshire man, prone to long ruminations on matters of a philosophical and useless nature. Given the chance, he would mumble about the follies of the romanticists and complain how the Whigs would ruin the country given the chance. He was an unpopular man due to his bizarre views that he insisted were right and logical.
He was also much given to telling stories that were at best apocryphal and at worst outright lies. Consequently, Fenner and Captain Whitehead held him in extremely low regard a fact which Fitzroy was blissfully unaware of.
"The governor's body?" Fitzroy's Yorkshire drawl was particularly enervating to Fenner when he was in a hurry.
"Yes, that body," Fenner snarled, his patience at its end "Where is it?"
Fenner was the only doctor on the island and the only reason that the island was inhabitable, his presence ensured the Royal Navy could maintain a fort here and not have to constantly ship new dockworkers in as the old ones perished from the fever. Without Fenner, St. Anthony would be a ghost-town in five years. Therefore his insolence was tolerated by the officers and they simply did their best to avoid his notoriously sharp tongue.
Fitzroy shrugged and muttered something, Fenner cleared his throat and fixed the Lieutenant with his beady gaze and at last the Lieutenant finally replied to the surgeon's question.
"The cemetery, he's in the cemetery: buried," The Lieutenant turned away and Fenner did the same, he'd already decided what he was going to do.
It was a dark, dark night. The moon was a mere crescent that provided the merest flicker of light as Fenner slowly searched the cemetery. His lantern was painfully weak and provided little illumination but after maybe an hour of painstaking searching, he found the governor's grave. He breathed slowly, preparing himself for the grisly task he was going to carry out. He stabbed his shovel into the loose earth and began to dig. Thankfully, the earth was loose and Fenner suspected that someone had dug here before him, after the body was buried.
When the coffin was unearthed, Fenner was held back momentarily by some superstitious taboo. Disturbing the dead was wrong but the surgeon dismissed his qualms with the slightest shake of his head and jumped lightly into the hole.
With an unsteady hand he opened the coffin. He peered into it for a moment and then after a moment of thought he began to laugh, a wild, maniacal sound. He returned to the fort, carrying the shovel to the fort and whistling a merry tune. He neglected to rebury the coffin, for that was all it was, a coffin without a body.
Fenner laughed again, for he had an idea of where the governor's body was and possibly where his killer was. But that would all be resolved in the morning, and Fenner knew he would sleep well.
The next morning I was shaken awake by Fenner who was particularly animated. A healthy hue was in his cheeks and his black eyes sparkled with mirth.
"Might I inquire as to the reason for your good humour?" I drawled, pleased my friend was in a good mood despite the situation.
"I've found him! The governor, his body was not in his coffin! The murderer took the body; so one can deduce that the murderer is someone who has access to the body. Therefore our list of suspects is relatively short." As he said this, his voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper "I believe I know where the murderer is. I believe he's concealed the body in an abandoned building. I request that you accompany me as we investigate the building,"
"Of course Fenner, it's about time we bring this devil to justice," I replied and heaved myself from my bed. I hadn't changed out of my uniform, so it was rumpled and dirty but good enough for arresting a murderer. As we left I grabbed my sword and pistol, God only knew what the rogue would do if cornered; but if he fought back I resolved that I would end his life without a moment of hesitation.
Fenner led the way, his cane scything through the air as we marched side by side down the thoroughfare. I knew that Fenner had no qualms about our mission; he was focused and set on his path. He would find the murderer, he would do anything to satisfy the nagging curiosity he felt.
At last, we reached the building, a particularly dilapidated and sordid looking building. Fenner kicked the door down and entered the building with hardly a pause. I followed him into the unknown.
After about a minute in the darkness, Fenner's eyes adjusted and he was horrified by his surroundings. Half a dozen bodies, rotting and covered in dirt hung from the ceiling, their glassy eyes gazing into nothing. It appeared the murderer had made a habit of collecting bodies. Blood was smeared across the walls in no particular pattern and the sheer disorder of it made it even more horrifying. The house was a madman's playground and a sane man's nightmare.
He heard the Captain collapse and he turned away from the horrors to attend to his friend. He took Whitehead's pulse and checked his temperature, all seemed normal. Then the captain's eyes opened and Fenner gasped. For the Captain's eyes were of the purest blue.
Slowly, elegantly, like a snake uncoiling the Captain rose to his feet. A mocking smile played across his face. He seemed to grow bigger, the height and muscle he'd lost after the fever had ravaged his body returned and the lines disappeared from his face. Only his blue eyes remained; Fenner backed away slowly, silenced by abject terror and despair. He'd found the murderer, the murderer had been under his nose the entire time. Fenner felt like laughing at the sheer tragedy of the situation.
Whitehead, or the thing that had once been Whitehead smiled, showing perfect, white teeth as it approached Fenner, hands outstretched.
"Come here, friend," It whispered "What's one more death on this island. Don't you want peace friend? Don't you want to rest?"
Mortified, Fenner turned to run but it lunged and caught him by the scruff of the neck. With a raucous bark of laughter, it tossed Fenner across the room, into the wall and walked towards him. Fenner scrambled across the floor in a vain attempt to escape but the monster pursued him.
At last it all came together in Fenner's mind, the pieces of the puzzle fitting together. The Captain, the commanding officer of the fort would've had the run of the place, his comings and goings unrecorded and unquestioned. Nobody would have dared challenge him, particularly when he had proved himself strong enough to survive the fever. Obviously, it had been in the depths of the fever that Whitehead's mind had twisted into the two identities: one his own and the other belonging to this hyperbolic version of Whitehead.
"What's one more death?" It crooned "Why bother fighting? Just lie back and accept it. Simply lie back and close your eyes, you'll soon be home," Fenner was tired now, soothed by the thing's soft words and he stopped fighting. He let his cane drop from his nerveless fingers, stopped moving and simply watched as it approached. It knelt beside him, and he looked into its eyes and saw death.
He met its eyes and smiled. The thing slowly drew the sword and put it to Fenner's neck; the surgeon did not flinch. He was tired of death, of fighting, of the fever, and he simply wanted to rest. He sighed in relief, and closed his eyes as something cold ran across his throat and something wet and warm poured down his neck. Finally, James Fenner slept and was at peace.