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Leviathan's Rise: Keepers of New York #2

By Bokerah All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Poetry

Blurb

Lev is a whale shifter with a memory problem. For the last one hundred sixty years, he has been unable to piece together what happened to his wife and son. Memory repression shouldn’t happen to whale shifters, but the case just won’t crack. When a mysterious woman knocks on his door and unloads a bombshell, Lev discovers that his son may still be alive… and it’s up to Lev to save him. Woe’s ongoing obsession with hunting her husband’s murderer has left her mentally and emotionally exhausted. But when Lev asks for her help, Woe can’t tell him no, and she agrees to take a temporary reprieve from her vendetta. Together, they catch the first paranormal train out of the Big Apple and find themselves inside a hidden realm fraught with dangers beyond anything either of them has faced. With lives hanging in the balance, Woe must learn how to let go of her painful past, even as Lev swears to drain the seven seas to recapture his. *** A clean read free of graphic language and explicit sex. ***

Prologue: Going Away

New Bedford, Massachusetts

August 1850

The gulls called overhead, flying beak-first into the summer wind rushing inland from the sea. Above, wispy clouds streaked the blue skies, and the sun warmed everything beneath. The harbor was filled with ships of all kinds, seeking berth. One hand tucked around the few bills in my pocket, I hurried down the lane, thankful that everything had sold. I wouldn’t need most of my tools or the old farming implements for some time, and Anne could use the money while I was gone.

“Did you bring me anything?” A blond lad danced on his bare toes then leaned over the picket fence he’d whitewashed last week, extending his grimy hand toward me. He stood first on one foot and then the other. He was the whole of my world, a blessing heaped on top of the joy of finding his mother.

“Who goes there?” I bellowed. Catching his mood, I chuckled at my boy and scooped him into my arms. He had been the most unexpected delight of my life. Anne had wept with joy when she had shared the news that she was carrying our child. I’d never heard of a shifter in human form creating a child with a full human. Given the unknown differences in our inherent physiology, I hadn’t believed it possible to give her a child. Yet, I thanked God every night for the boy who had overtaken parts of my heart I didn’t know I had. Someday, we’d have to find out how much like me he was, but today, he was only a boy hunting for sweets.

I settled William back on his feet, and his hand shot out once more. His grin lit up the front walk. He was still too young to know his letters, but old enough to work at simple tasks, most of his days spent doing chores to help his mother.

“I might have,” I said, knowing that he’d be pleased enough at the white sugar I’d brought.

Pulling a small pouch from my coat pocket, but leaving a hidden toy behind, I lifted it up and pressed it into his hands. “Run this into your mother.” He’d receive the whale I had carved before my departure from the harbor.

The boy darted inside, clutching the precious cargo to his chest. As I followed, my whistle was jaunty, despite the ache I’d been fighting all day. Whaling was the business of our town, and I’d avoided it as long as I could, working any odd jobs that came along instead of diving headfirst into temptation. The sea had been my world, and I wasn’t sure I could deny the magic in the waves. And if that happened, my secret would be known, jeopardizing the two I loved most.

Even then, I fought images of me, gliding through the seas, my dorsal fin high in salute to the Creator of all things. My nightmares always consisted of losing the battle I fought against the water’s hold on me. My old life beckoned, but I couldn’t let anyone learn who and what I was.

My steps were muffled by the dirt floor of our one-room shack. “Where is my bride?” I issued my daily greeting into the shadows. Anne giggled from a darkened corner to my right, but I waited to move until my eyes adjusted.

Her bare shoulders had baited my eye as she bathed in the surf, and I had come willingly ashore, abandoning my fins and a watery home for two legs striding the land. Men had murdered to keep beauty such as hers, and hers had been the only love strong enough to pull me from the murky depths. Each time I saw her, the thrill was as strong as the first time.

When Anne crossed the only light that streamed into the room through our one window, she came into focus, carrying an iron skillet in front of her. Her fiery red hair fell from the bun she had hastily tucked it into when she saw me off that morning. She set the dish on the table with a thud. “Hungry?”

“Mmm,” I said, “for more than food.” Her gaze met mine, her eyes so light blue that the irises were almost white. Her cheeks flushed, and I let my eyes travel down her figure, reaching for her. Even hidden behind petticoats and topped with an apron, she was the most perfect girl I’d ever known.

In a thousand years, Anne had been the only woman to call me from the depths to live at her side as long as she lived. My existence belonged to her as long as she would have me. I’d loved her since that first moment on the beach. We’d played our parts: she, as the siren, and I, as the sailor. She lured me to the shore with her song, where I fell in love with her kindness.

“Still tomorrow?” Her lower lip quivered.

“Tomorrow.”

“John…” she sighed, and her eyes turned glassy with unshed tears. Someone’s laundry sat in a tub by the fire and a steaming kettle rested on the woodstove—her work for the day abandoned. She dabbed at her eyes with a clean corner of the apron, and I swallowed the lump in my throat.

Nothing bothered me as much as seeing her cry. “I can stay,” I said. “We can move, find work in a different town…” I didn’t want to join the crew, but she’d been proposing it for years. Everyone worked the boats. It was good money. But I had been able to make enough as a handyman and odd-job man to keep us fed and clothed.

And then her mother had fallen ill and needed regular visits to the town doctor and the expensive medicine he prescribed. New Bedford wasn’t ready to meet a whale-man. Staying ashore would be safer, but, in a moment of weakness, I had finally given in to her repeated suggestion. I had signed on to manage the Half Deck boys. I wouldn’t man a harpoon or be involved in the killing. I couldn’t do that. I wouldn’t do that. It would be only one voyage, but even the thought of being aboard already brought a nervousness that made me swallow twice.

Anne shook her head, and her chin trembled. “My mother can’t make the trip. I’m all she has. Besides, the captain offered you a good share for a green hand. We can survive it. I know we can.” She turned away. I was going because she asked me. I would give anything to give her peace. She was the only reason to risk losing myself to the ocean.

William piped up, “Where will you hunt them, Papa?” He had been abnormally quiet during the exchange. Maybe he understood, maybe he didn’t.

Taking my seat, I ruffled his hair and savored the baby fine strands between my fingers. He’d likely be seven the next time I saw him. “In the Bering Strait. Hundreds of them swim there. We’ll fill the hold with whale oil, and when I come back, I’ll never go again.” Anne’s mother would be gone or better by then, and we both wanted to try our luck out west. We’d heard good things about Sutter’s Mill and the California gold rush.

Anne caressed my shoulder, placing a bowl of soup on the table in front of me. The chowder had been thinned twice already, and it was the last night we could stretch the soup. She took her place to my right.

Worry creased the skin between Anne’s eyebrows. “What did Mr. Patterson say?”

“He will allow you to purchase necessities on credit until I return.” My Anne was frugal. She wouldn’t abuse the mercantile owner’s grace. Hunger would be my sailing companion, but they would eat while I crossed the world—a small price for their wellbeing. I lifted the wooden bowl to my lips.

“At least it’s a hen frigate with the captain’s wife aboard,” Anne said, sipping carefully from the only spoon we owned. “Maybe she will demand a level of decency from the men, even in re-stocking ports, and maybe you won’t be so miserable. Without…” Anne’s voice caught. “Without me.” William slurped at this meal, his portion bigger than either of ours.

“True,” I agreed, though, I didn’t know if it was or not.

William dropped his empty bowl with a clatter and wiped his mouth on his arm. “Will you miss us, Daddy?”

“More than anything,” I said and meant it, fighting the churning in my stomach. I didn’t want William to grow up with the words “Lost at Sea” his only memory of me.

I prayed it would only be two years; my return home already seemed an eternity away.


Somewhere in the Pacific

January 1851

Pressing my hands over my ears, I hid in the hold, below the main deck and tucked against the bulkhead, whimpering like William had during last year’s Nor’easter. God help me, the pull was too strong. The trip had been a mistake, the temptation to reunite with swells nearly unbearable.

“Greenie!” my shipmate roared as he rummaged through the barrel, settling on a length of rope and hanging it over his shoulder. “We need you up here.” He paused when he met my gaze, and time stopped. His ragged clothes were soaked and torn. Terror pulled at his face, the flashes of lightning turned him to a live gargoyle, glaring at me, beckoning me to my doom. Then he dashed up the ladder.

Heavy rain mixed with hail clattered over the deck. Wood splintered and the ship shuddered as something broke, felled by the wind. Men in hunting boats and harpooned whales echoed each other, screaming together as the sea spun out her wrath. Death songs vibrated the chords of my soul, and my feet moved of their own volition until I stood on the uppermost deck.

Topside, the gale raged about me, begging for my help in freeing the surrounded pod. My knees buckled as images of Anne and William battled with the horror of the slaughter in front of me. In a lull, a young song rose above the others. Somewhere, a whale child wept over its dead mother, shattering my tenuous hold on my humanity.

Stealing molecules from the elements, I reached for the magic I hadn’t summoned since Anne had sworn to be mine until death claimed her. I covered the short distance to the railing as a wall of wind and rain rushed toward me. Two more steps and I broke the surface of the waves.

“Man overboard! Man overboard!”

Panic colored the now-muffled voices as they repeated the call for a rescue. But I was no longer the man they knew. A spout burst upward from the water over me as my breath left me in a rush. In my shifted form, I could understand the words to the bull calf’s lament that honored her life even as it ended.

“There she blows,” came a cry.

“What is it?” another answered.

Even now, I recognized the voices, but I felt nothing. They had killed without mercy, and I had no mercy to give.

“Jesus, Mary, Joseph! It’s going to ram us.”

“Hard aport!”

Swimming straight for them, my skull crashed into the side of the whaler. I wouldn’t sink them, but I would halt their task. I made a wide circle, preparing to strike again, planning the crippling blow.

Aboard, men ran one way and then the other, aligning themselves along the railing I had only just stepped over, clutching weapons. The remaining small boats rowed alongside the larger vessel. The captain raised an arm and called, “Get ready, men!” Thirty men raised their arms.

My nature gave me no choice, and I barreled forward, slamming my head against the ship that had housed me.

A sharp pain in my side dulled my fury, and my speed slowed. Moments later, I could taste my blood as it poured into the water around me. Another pain. And another as more spears and harpoons joined the first. With the blood, magic seeped out of me, and I lost my grip on reality. Darkness filled my vision.

I had no idea what would happen once I lost consciousness. I fought to keep control. I couldn’t risk an uncontrolled shift.

The shipmate who had demanded my help no more than an hour before caught my fluke in his rope, pulling me against the ship.

Anne. William.

My worst fear had been realized.


New York City

Present Day

I wiped the familiar tears from my eyes and reached for the stained glass lamp on the nightstand beside my bed. The fragments, the pieces of that life were worst of all. It was hard to bridge the chasm between two versions of myself—John and Lev. Each side contained pain enough for a hundred lifetimes, but it had taken me one hundred and twenty years to realize that I hadn’t always been just a memory-challenged shifter that couldn’t shift and felt older than the seven seas.

It took one hundred and twenty years to remember the brief fragment of time when I had been John, husband of fiery-haired Anne, father to five-year-old William.

I had fallen unconscious as a whale and then woken, trapped as a man, stripped of my clothes, and stuffed in a shipping crate, staring up at a priest who had freed me with a crowbar, quoting verses as he splintered my prison.

I woke sputtering in the church foyer, my memories barren and my body trapped in a box marked only with the date and the word Lev.

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