Friday, January 14, 2011

The Cost of a Tasmanian Tiger

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This story is part of Michael Stackpole's Chain Story. The Chain Story is a series of free fiction from accomplished writers tied together by the common frame of The Wanderer's Club.


The Cost of a Tasmanian Tiger
By Paul Genesse

After the diminutive scholar, Professor David Fawks finished his story and the applause from the Wanderer’s Club died down, an elderly man with a weathered face covered with sunspots was brought into the room on a padded chair with four brass wheels. The old man held a leather-bound book in his gnarled hands and wore thick spectacles that exaggerated the size of his bloodshot gray-blue eyes.

He cleared his throat and glanced about the room, nodding to a few of the members. “Good evening, gentleman. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Barrow, Sir Joseph A. Barrow and I was the president of the Geographical Society of London for some years. I have come today to read from the recently published memoir of a dear friend, whom many of you have read about, and some of you have met. Today, I fulfill a promise I made to him, as a gentleman always keeps his word.

* * * * *

When I was a young man I sold a pair of Tasmanian tigers to a woman claiming to be the fourth wife of the Turkish emperor. Selling them was the worst moment in my life and I have often wondered if the price of my soul was indeed fifteen thousand British pounds. If I had kept the animals in Australia, perhaps I would not consider myself the man most responsible for the extinction of the entire species, though that is not the worst of my crimes.

Soon I shall find out if God will forgive me, though I have no illusions that a man like me will ever find salvation. I’m old now, and if my doctors are correct, I shall be dead within the year. Regardless, I wish to confess my sins and let the world know the truth about my life. My son, John William Eddington II, to whom I have bequeathed what is left of my estate, will make certain this memoir will be widely distributed. I have great faith in my son, J.W. He has sworn to help me expose and destroy the woman to whom I sold my soul. He has sworn to regain our family’s honor and help me expose the dark secrets I’ve kept for decades. If I had exposed my patron earlier there is no doubt that countless animals, and worse, innocent people, would have been spared the horrors of Bornova Island.

What little prestige I had attained during my studies at Oxford was sacrificed for access to a sizable fortune built on my patron’s bloody conquests. Much has been said about the origin of the fortune I amassed after leaving England, but do not believe the rumors that I own a gold mine in New Zealand. I have concocted many stories over the years as to how I came into such monies, but now, for the first time, I shall reveal the truth.

My benefactor, the source of virtually all of the income I have ever earned, claimed to be married to the Ottoman Emperor Abdulhamid II, the Sublime Khan. I knew her story was false from the moment I met her, which was in 1887 in a frontier town in Australia where I had emigrated from England to manage the affairs of my late uncle, Archibald Eddington. He left me his property and a small private collection of animals in the town of Hobart on the island of Tasmania. As a university educated naturalist I was more interested in scientifically studying the animals than selling them off, and so I shouldered the responsibility of turning Uncle Archibald’s menagerie into Tasmania’s first zoo.
When I arrived I found the animals to be starving, the staff dedicated but incompetent, and the patrons detestable boors who often asked where the aborigine exhibits were located. The entire collection would have to be sold and the exhibition shut down in a matter of months unless I could find the necessary funds. Releasing the animals into the wild would be certain death for most of them, and I refused to condemn them to the law of the jungle.

I had no illusions of becoming a rich man as the caretaker of a few odd animals, but I had been entrusted with the lives of two of the rarest creatures in existence, Tasmanian tigers, which are not at all related to the man eaters of India we’ve all heard so much about. I’ve spent hours tending them and they would stare at me with their soft black eyes as I cleaned their pen. I could see the pain they had endured, and I understood the hopelessness of their existence as they paced back and forth in the small enclosure my uncle had built. Then and now I consider myself fortunate to have known them and only wished I would have had time to expand their pen.

None are still alive today. It is likely the last one died in captivity at the Hobart Zoo after a careless keeper I should have fired long ago forgot to allow the old male to enter its shelter on a cold winter night. I would have never been so careless with the two animals that I came to love and dote on. The male I called Sampson and the female, Delilah. They were quiet and tender with each other and very docile, though I never pet them like dogs, or trained them in any way. However, each morning I would give them a half piece of cooked bacon and they would take it from my hand. For that little morsel they would wag their long tails and stare at me with their shiny eyes, which reminded me of my first puppy, Jolly, a little Collie I had owned as a boy.

When I first arrived in Hobart and met Sampson and Delilah, I knew what had to be done: save this breeding pair at any cost. I sent letters and made personal appeals to the government ministers and all of the wealthy landowners of Tasmania and several more in New South Wales. Without investment, my Uncle’s debts and the limited stream of income from curious visitors would sink my zoo before it ever truly opened.

Many days I remember sitting in my office wondering who else I could write to. On a particularly bleak morning when I was preparing to sell my return ticket to London to pay for operating expenses, an unexpected visitor knocked on my door. Without permission a solicitor employed by the Royal Bank entered my office as if he owned it. The pudgy and perspiring man clutched a beaten leather attaché case and eyed me as if he were a hyena and I a wounded lion. Norton Cockle, Esquire, was one of the few lawyers in Hobart and he worked for the bank repossessing mostly fishing boats and farms.

As he entered, I stood up quickly, a sour expression on my face. “Mr. Cockle, I can assure you that the mortgages on this property have been paid in full this month.”

“Good afternoon to you too, Mr. Eddington,” he said, tipping his bowler hat. “I haven’t come on business of that sort.”

“I trust you’re not here to bring the latest gossip,” I said, all too aware of his loose tongue so often wagging in the local pub.

“No, I’ve been retained by a client who wishes to help keep this venture of yours afloat.”

“A patron?” In my shock I stepped around the desk and noisily scraped out the chair.

“My apologies, sir.”

“Yes, someone has taken an interest in your zoo and has hired me to deliver this.”

After sitting, he slid a sealed envelope across my desk. I opened it with trembling hands and found a receipt for one thousand pounds that had been deposited into the Hobart Zoo account at the bank. It was enough to pay for all of the zoo’s expenses for at least three years, and we would be able to make all of the improvements I’d planned.

Cockle cleared his throat. “My client hopes that you find this a significant sum and they wish to contribute more . . . if you are interested.”

I stared at the note from the bank. It was real. No doubt in my mind.

Cockle removed several papers from his case and held them in his sausage fingers, his sweat staining the crisp white paper.

“Who is this patron?” I asked, as no mention of their identity was on the bank receipt.

“They wish to remain anonymous, and have empowered me to handle all the negotiations on their behalf.”

“Negotiations?” Now I was worried and wondered how onerous the conditions would be.

“Yes, my client not only wants to fund your endeavors here, they would also like to purchase two of your animals and bring them into their private collection.”

My heart skipped several beats as I undid the top button on my shirt.

“For the sum of two thousand pounds each, my client will take full possession of your pair of Tasmanian tigers.” Cockle pushed the contract across my desk. “Sign both pages and date them, and our business will be concluded.”

Four thousand pounds, plus the thousand in the bank, would go a long way. Everything I had been wanting for the zoo was within reach. Perhaps one of my letters had reached a benevolent person with a fondness for animals? I didn’t want to think too much about what was happening. I picked up a pen, dipped it into the ink well and touched the tip to the page . . . then stopped as the stupidity of my decision slapped me in the face. “I’m sorry, Mr. Cockle, but I can’t give up the thylacines.”
“The what?” he asked.

“The thylacines,” I said. He still stared blankly at me. “The tigers.” So many people had no idea that Tasmanian tigers were related to the marsupials of Australia. Both genders had a pouch similar to a kangaroo where they carried their young. Their scientific name is thylacine—thylacinus cynocephalus—and they look like thin medium sized dogs with small heads, and have black stripes on their backs like a tiger’s. It seemed ludicrous to me that this man was offering so much for something he knew so little about.

“Four thousand pounds is a considerable sum,” he said.

“The tigers are extremely rare creatures, as I’m sure you know.”

Cockle’s eyes narrowed. “Three thousand each.”

“No.”

“Four thousand,” he said without any hint of consternation.

“Four thousand?” I couldn’t believe it and I slumped back into my chair. “Surely, sir, you can’t be serious?”

“My client is very serious. So, you agree to four thousand each?”

“I most certainly do not agree.”

The negotiations went on for some time and finally Cockle asked what I would accept.

“I want to meet this client of yours.”

“Not possible.” Cockle buckled his case and straightened his hat as if he were going to leave.

“Then there will be no arrangement.”

“Please, Mr. Eddington, I’m sure we can come to an understanding.”

“Remove yourself from my property, Mr. Cockle, and do not come here again unless you pay for admission. Good day, sir.”

He left the contract, which I read over in detail searching for a clue to the origin of his employer. I learned nothing of consequence, but immediately after I walked to the bank and verified the amount on the receipt. It was there and the banker told me Cockle had deposited the money himself.

Later that night I thought I had made a terrible mistake. I considered signing the contract and going to Cockle’s home to tell him I accepted the deal. I even put on my shoes and left the house, but I never got past the enclosure where we kept the thylacines. Delilah looked out at me from the darkness and came forward silently. Her pregnant belly hung low and as I stared into her eyes came to my senses. These animals were priceless. How could I sell them to some mysterious collector? Would the wealthy man know how to care for them? Would he put them in some circus or expose them to maltreatment? What would happen to the pups? Thylacines were notoriously difficult to breed in captivity and few pups had ever survived. No, these animals needed to stay in their native land and deserved the best treatment possible.

The next morning as I was taking my tea on the porch a tall Negro man in a white jacket and wearing a red fez with a black tassel arrived in my backyard. On his belt hung a cavalryman’s curved saber with an ivory handle. He approached me with a steely gaze, and I knew he had killed men with that blade, and probably with his bare hands. I knew without a doubt he was not the wealthy benefactor come to speak in person. He was a killer, a servant hired to close the deal in any way he could.

“Mr. Eddington, I am Tevfik Ağdasi. We must speak.” His voice was smooth and deep from smoking too much. I also recognized a distinctly Turkish accent. I’d spent a good deal of time playing cards with a pair of Turk businessmen on a steamer from Cyprus to Alexandria and the Negro’s manner of dress and accent identified him as an Ottoman Turk.

“Please sit down, Mr. Ağdasi.”

He grinned as I must have mispronounced his name.

“Tea?” I offered.

“Tea? No. I’ve come to discuss the business Mr. Cockle presented you with yesterday.”

“Yes, of course. I’m glad you came. I wanted to personally thank you for the contribution, but I’m afraid the tigers are not for sale, at any price.”

Mr. Ağdasi grinned again and it was terrifying. With a grin like that I couldn’t help but imagine him cleaning off his saber after he’d run me through. He would be the type of man who could kill me without getting a drop of blood on his white coat.

“Mr. Eddington, do you really think these animals have a future here?”

I was taken aback by his question and put down my cup with a clatter. “Yes. I do. Why, where would you take them? How would you keep them alive? What qualifications do you—or should I say, your master—have?”

“Mr. Eddington,” he lit a pungent brown cigarette, “I’ve come a long way.”

“I don’t care how far you’ve come. I asked to speak with the patron who donated the funds, not his servant.”

“My employer cannot meet with you.”

“Why not?”

Ağdasi took a long drag on his cigarette, then blew out the sweet-smelling smoke.

“Five thousand pounds each. The animals will be picked up tomorrow.”

I found myself tempted more than I would like to reveal. With great effort I stood resolute in my convictions. “A sum I would be pleased to discuss with your master.”

“You are a foolish man, Mr. Eddington. It would be far better if you dealt with me.” His hand brushed the handle of his saber.

“Sir, please deliver my message to your employer and tell him I do not respond well to threats.”

Ağdasi stood up and stared down at me, his brow unfurrowed, his face unconcerned.

“How well do you live with regret, Mr. Eddington?”

He strolled away without waiting for an answer, smoke billowing in his wake.
Once my hands had stopped shaking I called for Billy, the son of my head keeper, and asked that he follow Ağdasi.

Billy trailed him down Elizabeth Street to the wharf where the unpleasant man went aboard a steamer called the Abdul Selim. The red flag with the white crescent of Turkey marked the hull. Billy found out little else and that evening I walked to the wharf, armed with a small pistol, which I hid in my waistcoat. The ship was quite impressive, a double smokestack vessel with lots of mirror-like glass windows on the upper deck that reflected the few lights of the town. This was not some second-rate cargo hauler that most often arrived in Hobart. I also noticed two armed guards wearing red fez caps patrolling the deck.

The gangplank was down and not long after I had hidden in a shadowy doorframe of a warehouse I observed Mr. Ağdasi strolling along the deck. How often I’ve wondered what would have happened if I had fled that night over fifty years ago rather than march onto the ship like a fool entering a lion’s den. If I had retreated then perhaps my life would have been entirely different.

“Mr. Eddington,” Ağdasi said, “please come with me. I will see if my employer will meet with you now.” He made a sweeping motion with a large hand indicating for me to follow him inside the ship.

I hesitated.

“This way,” he said, “or have you lost your nerve?”

Ağdasi escorted me into the foredeck to the highest level where I had seen the large picture windows. We stopped outside a door guarded by a brutish Negro armed with two pistols, a saber, and a long dagger. His facial tattoos reminded me of a picture I’d seen in the London Times. The article had been about the Mamluks, slave warriors who served the Ottoman emperors.

“Mr. Eddington,” Ağdasi said, “you are about to meet my employer, the esteemed Sultana Zeliha, the fourth wife of the Emperor Abdulhamid II. She is not permitted to be in the presence of any men aside from eunuchs, and especially infidels like you. I will be in the room with you both. If you are ever asked, you will never discuss that you met with her and will say that you negotiated with me. No one must ever know that she is behind this transaction. You will address her as Sultana and will be on your best gentlemanly behavior”—he leaned forward—“or I will make certain you are castrated and then dumped where your body will never be found.” He paused, taking me in from head to toe with a serious look that sent chills down my frame. “Do we understand one another?”

I wanted to reach for my pistol and fight my way off the ship. Instead, I nodded.

The tattooed guard eyed me suspiciously and then searched me vigorously. He found my pistol and slipped it into his belt without comment. He also took my flask and penknife. I thought for a moment he would abscond with my pocket watch, but he merely grinned when he held it in his giant hand as if it were looking at an interesting child’s toy.

Ağdasi knocked on the door and entered after a short command from a woman inside. Realizing that Ağdasi was a eunuch made me even more afraid of him, and I kept my eye on him as he ushered me into a very dimly lit chamber. As my eyes adjusted to the light I found myself in the most opulent room aboard a ship that I had ever seen. Thick Persian rugs covered the floor, and the walls were beautifully carved red cedar. Marble busts that appeared to be masterpieces from ancient Greece or Rome lined the walls on shelves. Comfortable couches and elegant furniture that would have fit well into any royal palace in Europe filled the room. Large picture windows on three sides revealed the harbor. I did not know what fragrance I smelled when I entered, though I learned later that it was frankincense, one of the most expensive spices in the world.

Seated on a throne-like chair inlaid with gold filigree was a woman the likes of which I had never seen before. The Sultana was covered in silks from head to toe and the only skin showing was on the back of her delicate hands, which were olive colored and supple. An Arab-style veil covered her face and most strikingly she was wearing amber-shaded sun-spectacles, which had come into fashion in France a few years prior. If we had been on deck during the day, the spectacles would not have been so out of place, but inside a dim room and at night? What was she hiding? I also expected there to be female servants attending her, but she was alone.

Ağdasi stepped inside, closed the door, locked it and indicated I should sit on one of the couches facing Sultana Zeliha. I felt very uncomfortable. She appeared to be looking me over, taking my measure. Her head moved just slightly—though her eyes remained hidden.

“You are a bold man, Mr. Eddington,” she said, her voice was strong and her accent was more Greek than Turkish, which I found immediately odd—though a Greek who learned the King’s English could have taught her. I couldn’t tell her age, but she did not appear to be a young woman—as I imagined a fourth wife would be.

“Thank you for meeting with me, Sultana,” I said. “I wanted to thank you personally for your generosity.”

“You are most welcome, sir, and in truth, after your refusals I wanted to meet with you. In all of my years of collecting animals for the Sultan, I have never met a man as greedy, or perhaps as idealistic, as you.”

“I can assure you that my only concern is for the animals under my care. If it was money I sought I would not have become a naturalist or come all the way out here.”

“The thylacines shall be well taken care of aboard this ship, I can assure you of that.”
I was impressed she knew their true name. “I’m sorry, but they are not for sale.”

“Then why did you want to meet with me, sir?”

“To thank you, of course, and to ask if there is any chance a long term patronage might be possible.”

“I think you are not being truthful with me, Mr. Eddington. I can sense that you will sell the animals to me, if the price is high enough. Let me guess, you will sell them to me for six thousand pounds each.”

My mind reeled at the exorbitant sum. I could find every thylacine still living in the wild for that amount. I could create a nature preserve on Tasmania. I could dedicate my life to studying them in the wild and write several books. But how could I trust this woman with their lives? Who was she really? I had to look her in the eyes and hear her plans for the thylacines. Then I would make my decision. Six thousand pounds was a price that could not be ignored. “What will you do with them and where will you take them?” I asked. “I must know this before I give you my answer.”

“They will become part of a very private collection far away from here. They will be well cared for and will live out their lives in a place far more comfortable than your quaint zoo. That is all I am willing to say.”

Ağdasi placed a contract and a pen on the table beside me.

I should have accepted her words then. I should have signed the contract, but there was a voice in my mind that I could not ignore. She was lying, and besides, who was she really? Why the bizarre glasses and her refusal to tell me where they were going? I could have never guessed the truth as I am a man of science, believing only what has been documented and proved without any doubt. I had no use for superstitions or flights of fancy. “Forgive me, Sultana, but the female thylacine is pregnant and I fear her litter would not survive a sea voyage. I cannot sign.”

She leaned closer to me. Then her delicate hands rose toward her amber spectacles. I heard Ağdasi gasp and he said something curt in Turkish. She paid no attention to him and removed the spectacles. Her eyes were cerulean blue and they mesmerized me as I gazed into them. In the deep blue I saw a heartless ocean that had killed untold thousands of sailors. Her eyes held the malice of a million typhoons. The Sultana’s gaze held me paralyzed and mute.

“You will accept fourteen thousand pounds and will sign the contract, John Eddington. You will sign it now.”

Her eyes blasted into me like the most brutal polar wind. My body shivered and my lungs felt like they were being squeezed by a clawed hand. I could not breathe, or move and felt my life being driven from my body by an unholy demon. I knew that if I disobeyed her command I would die on the spot. Her gaze could kill me if she willed it.

“Sign the contract,” she said.

Trembling, I picked up the pen and scrawled my name on the paper, unable to blink or look away.

As I sat rigid in the chair I saw a smile in those terrifying eyes.

“Sleep now, Mr. Eddington,” she said, “and perhaps tomorrow, if your will is strong, you will wake from your nightmare.”

Her eyes opened wider and I felt the full force of her gaze penetrating to the depths of my soul. My mind reeled and my mouth opened in a silent scream as I tried with every bit of strength to turn away from the horror that lived within her. I saw the faces of bloated corpses as she cast me into the blackness of an unfathomable void where no light or hope existed. I collapsed, and at that moment, when I felt myself drowning in darkness, I thought I had died and been exiled to Hell.

I shall not recount the nightmares I suffered while under the Sultana’s power and even now I fear that when I die I will be taken back to that terrible place. As I learned later, what I thought was weeks in Hell turned out to be thirty-six unbearable hours.

An aborigine man and his son found me on a beach north of Hobart. I was close to death and unconscious, but with no visible injuries. The aborigines built a fire and danced while they sang their old songs, asking the Dreamtime Spirits to spare my life. I finally awakened when the sun rose the next morning. It had been a day and half since I met the Sultana on her ship.

The aborigine man could not speak English, but his boy told me that they had been looking for his older sister on that desolate shore. She was gone, but the spirits told them they must bring me back from the Dreamtime. They helped me and under their care I regained my strength. When I was able to walk they led me back to Hobart, only a few hours hike away through the bush. I thanked them and before I walked away the father stared at me and spoke several strange words. I looked to his son and asked what he said.

“Find the tigers and their keeper,” the boy said, “and bring them home.” The man nodded and they both disappeared in the bush. Before the father had said anything I had felt the fire burning inside me. I was compelled to find Sultana Zeliha and the thylacines. No matter how long it took, I would do it or perish in the attempt.

I returned to the zoo and was not surprised to learn the tigers had been taken. My head keeper said Mr. Ağdasi had come with the contract signed by me, and a note from the bank proving the amount of fourteen thousand pounds had been deposited in the zoo account. Negro men with tattoos on their faces had crated both thylacines the morning after I went missing. Their ship had sailed and no one knew where I had gone.

My anger at the keeper for allowing the animals to be taken was misplaced. It was entirely my fault and I resolved to get the thylacines back. I could only imagine what that devil woman would do to them, or what would befall Delilah’s litter. How would she react to the motion of the sea? Those small pups might have been the salvation of their entire species.

In front of the chief constable, the mayor and my head keeper, I vowed to track down the Sultana and her Mamluk servants wherever they went. I did not tell them what had really happened on her ship, but instead said I had been forced to sign the contract after being drugged and then was abducted and left for dead on the coast north of the town. I avoided any questions about the funds being deposited in the bank, as it would have cast doubt on my story, and said the copy of the contract and the bill of sale left at the zoo was a fake.

Undaunted, I finished recounting my story to the constables and then immediately withdrew several thousand pounds from the bank, glad the clerk was sworn to keep my transaction confidential. The next day I left Hobart on a ship heading north, putting my return ticket to England to good use at last.

My journey—fueled by obsession that bordered on mania—to find the Abdul Selim is detailed in an addendum to this memoir, but it took six months of tedious investigation and brought me from Hobart to Java, Singapore, India, Somalia, the Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula, numerous Red Sea ports, Alexandria, Cyprus, Rhodes, and finally to an island off the coast of Turkey in the Gulf of Ganez, which is northwest of the Dardanelles strait. The tiny island was called Bornova, and the local fishermen said it was owned by a reclusive nobleman known as Pasha Arif. He had his own Mamluk slaves who guarded the island and at least two fishermen had been executed by the Mamluks after going ashore uninvited. The Pasha ruled his tiny bit of rock with impunity and no one dared offend him. Almost all of my inquiries met with resistance and I quickly deduced that Pasha Arif had paid all the local officials to maintain his anonymity—and privacy.

After several days of toil I could find no one who would sail me to the island, despite offers of generous compensation and assurances that I had legitimate business there. After having come so far and bribed so many ship captains, port masters and even pirates, I had thought the British pound could solve any problem. However, the superstitious folk of the Turkish coast were beyond simple bribery or coercion by a desperate infidel—and worse, an Englishman! They hated me and were conspicuously afraid of the Mamluks and the Pasha living on Bornova. I also made inquiries about Zeliha, but upon mentioning her name, many of those I questioned would make the sign of the evil eye and leave my presence as rapidly as they could. If any had ever seen or heard of her, they would say nothing.

Local police tried to arrest me twice, but I managed to elude capture by wearing peasant attire and sleeping in abandoned fishing shacks. Finally, I purchased a small watercraft and sailed toward Bornova, intent on boldly going ashore and demanding a meeting with the Pasha and whoever Zeliha really was. Instead I underestimated how difficult it would be to sail there by myself and arrived within sight of the island as the sun was setting. I failed to find the dock where I’d heard the Abdul Selim was moored. The darkness defeated me and I ended up crashing into submerged rocks and having to wade ashore onto an abandoned gravel beach.

The cliff I ascended brought me to an orchard of olive trees. The lingering doubts that I harbored bled away as strange hoots and cries echoed from the far side of the grove. I was close to finding my thylacines and all the other animals that had been brought to the island. In the course of my investigation I knew that agents of the Abdul Selim had purchased or stolen various animals during its voyage. Zeliha’s servant, Ağdasi had managed to acquire a pair of orangutans in Java, Bengal tigers in India, Malayan Sun Bears in Singapore, and red wolves in Somalia.

I followed the odd sounds and animal smells, and soon found myself wandering down a cobbled path between various enclosures containing the animals that had been brought to the small island from across the world. A large Bengal tiger eyed me carefully. The two red wolves—Ethiopian wolves to be precise—crouched together in the back of their large fenced yard. As I explored further into the zoo I found several older enclosures that must have been there for decades. The bars were rusting and the stone was pitted and stained. Some part of me wanted to see that the animals were being mistreated, but I found no evidence of that. Was this a legitimate zoo?

Inside the next large pen I saw a magnificent statue of a giant wolf—a dire wolf—which had to be from North America, though they had gone extinct long ago according to my professor at Oxford. The sculptor had done a wonderful job and I wanted to examine it more closely, but my attention was drawn to another statue in the middle of the path.
The creature was an apelike monstrosity over six feet tall with huge feet and hands. It stood more like a man than an ape and stared down as if looking right at me with saucer-sized sad eyes and long lashes. I had never seen anything like it and the only practical name I could give to the thing was mythological in origin. The furry ape had to be a yeti.

I approached it and was astonished at the perfection attained by the artist. Individual stone hairs could be seen coming off its body and though the moonlight was not bright, I could see wrinkles and jagged fingernails on its overly large hands. What I found most disconcerting was the aura of sadness that surrounded the statue, like it was a living being trapped inside a shell of stone.

A familiar yipping sound drew me away from the statue of the yeti and I found the Pasha’s collection of Australian animals. Kangaroos and wallabies were kept alongside my pair of thylacines. Samson and Delilah came over to the bars of their cage, whining, wagging their tails and barking loudly. I’d never seen them so excited and suspected they must have been mistreated to react so favorably to my familiar scent. All of my efforts during the past months were worth it when I saw the joy in their eyes.

“Where are your pups?” I whispered to Delilah.

She made a wuffling noise as I scanned the enclosure, hoping to see a pack of little thylacines, as they were obviously not in her or Sampson’s pouch.

“I’m here, don’t worry,” I told them. “I’m taking you home.” Both of them licked my fingers and for the first time in my life I pet their furry heads and scratched their ears. My fingers brushed down their necks and I felt dried blood on the Delilah’s coat. The male had the same bloody fur on his neck and I could feel small puncture wounds underneath. Had they bitten each other? Or been attacked by some other animal?
“Who are you?” In unison, a pair of girls with high voices and thick East Indian accents asked from the shadows a short distance away.

I stumbled back a step, regained my wits and cursed myself for being discovered. I wasn’t going to let a couple of waifs who were probably from the slums of Bombay frighten me. “I am the rightful owner of these animals. Now come forward and tell me who you are.”

The girls inched closer and I recoiled in horror. I had seen a photo of Siamese twins before, but was not prepared for this. The Indian girls shared a squat body with two legs and a pair of almost identical heads rose from oddly wide shoulders. One of the heads was turned slightly inward and they walked with a lumbering gait. “I am Jagriti and this is my sister, Araja.”

I could only stare in mute disgust as I imagined their wretched existence, though I could not imagine how they had arrived on Bornova. “What are you girls doing here?”

“We help take care of the animals, sir,” Jagriti said, bowing slightly, which was when I noticed the singular dot on each of their foreheads meant to protect them from the evil eye.

“These animals?” I asked, pointing at the thylacines.

“Not them,” Jagriti said, motioning toward the Bengal tiger’s pen. “Warrah is supposed to take care of these.”

“Who is Warrah?” I asked.

Araja looked over her shoulder and whispered something. A moment later a girl, no older than fifteen appeared from the shadows. Her dark brown skin, thick brow ridge and wide face marked her unmistakably as one of the aborigines from Australia, though she was dressed in dirty sari similar the Indian girls.

“You are Warrah?” I asked, dumbfounded.

She nodded and her eyes pleaded with me for help. “Did you come to take me home?” Her Australian accent was so similar to the boy on the beach north of Hobart.

My mind reeled as I remembered the aborigine boy and his father who had found me. They had asked me to find the tigers—and their keeper—and bring them home. Warrah was their keeper.

“Did the Sultana bring you here against your will?” I asked Warrah.

She nodded, averting her eyes, and touching a bloody scarf tied around her neck.

“What have they done to you?” I asked, my anger at the Sultana intensifying.

Warrah cringed, then fled back into the shadows.

“Tell me,” I said to the deformed twins, “what is happening here?”

“We serve the masters of this island now,” Araja said.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Jagriti said. “They will kill you.”

“Who?” I demanded, as the Indian girls and Warrah slunk back into the shadows then disappeared around a corner. I heard young high-pitched voices and knew there were more children hiding in the shadows than Warrah and the twins.

I started to follow after them when the thylacines froze in place, ears up and eyes focused on the pathway leading deeper into the center of the island. I whispered to Samson and Delilah, “Don’t worry. I’ll be back.” I hid myself behind an olive tree on a small hillock where I would have a good view of the enclosures and cobbled paths. I didn’t have to wait long before I saw who was coming.

The woman who claimed to be Sultana Zeliha sauntered down the path wearing a purple silk veil that covered her entire face, and a form-fitting ivory dress more appropriate for a harem.

The Bengal tiger across from the thylacines snarled at her as Zeliha approached the bars of his pen. The beast wanted to kill her and I hoped that it somehow would escape its enclosure and attack. To my astonishment, the tiger calmed down as Zeliha opened the animal’s door with a key and stepped inside. Her back was to me as she walked toward the powerful beast, but I could tell she had removed her veil and hair covering.

The Bengal eyed her intently and she stroked the fur on its head. Somehow her witch’s gaze had kept the animal from tearing her to shreds. If I had any doubt left about her supernatural powers, I let them go then. The Sultana turned her back on the tiger and it followed her out of the cage like it was a loyal dog. It paid no attention to any distractions, lumbering forward as it were half-asleep.

Zeliha stopped at the crossroads of the cobbled path and I thought she glanced at the tree where I was hiding. Her veil was back on, but I could tell she was looking at the thylacine pen suspiciously. Did she know I had been there?

The Sultana hesitated and then led tiger back into its cage. Then, to my utter surprise she walked toward the thylacines’ enclosure and opened their door with her key. Both of them hid in the back corner, but once her gaze had locked onto them they came right to her. She stroked their backs and both of them obediently followed, staying right on her heels.

I stayed as far away as I could and trailed her to a large white Mediterranean style house with thick white walls and tiny windows. A chapel with a bell and a tall cross on the roof stood beside the mansion. As Zeliha entered the courtyard between the chapel and the house, four torches blazed to life. I had no idea how they suddenly started burning, but I was even more convinced that this woman was in league with the devil. I took up a position beside a low wall and peered over it, though I kept in the shadows.

A slight man, perhaps forty years old and not much taller than Zeliha strode out of the chapel, which was lit with many candles. He had a long mustache and a dark pointed beard reminiscent of the Boyars of the Russian steppe. His archaic looking clothing marked him as an Eastern European prince more than an Ottoman Pasha, though I knew this had to be the one known as Pasha Arif. He wore a tunic of blue decorated with gold crosses and soft boots. No Muslim would wear such overtly Christian symbols and I realized the high level of deception perpetrated by the deranged folk on this island.

The Sultana removed her veil and Pasha Arif raised one of his peaked eyebrows. She pulled off the scarf from her hair and the long, curly black locks fell down her back.
To my astonishment, he stared right into her face.

“Finished praying already, my Prince?” Zeliha asked playfully in English.

“Why are you speaking English tonight?” he asked, with a thick Eastern European accent, confirming my suspicions. “I prefer the sound of your voice best when we speak the old tongues.”

“Perhaps these new Tasmanian beasts like the sound of English,” Zeliha said, then she rubbed the thylacines across their backs. They stood still, as if her touch immobilized them.

“I asked for a real tiger tonight, the female Bengal, not these skinny Tasmanian dogs.”

“Forgive me, my Pasha” Zeliha said, “I thought you said you wanted them again.”

“Are you showing off?” Pasha Arif looked at Zeliha and then I thought he glanced toward me. “I tire of your games and will you please stop calling me Pasha and dressing like you’re from the Turkish court. You know how it irritates me. Why don’t you wear the dresses I had delivered from Austria?”

“When are you going to stop dressing like a Christian knight?” she retorted.

“It suites me,” he said.

“Perhaps it does, but I sailed around the world for months finding presents for you as Sultana Zeliha. I’m not ready for a change yet, or would you rather that I’d been gone longer?”

“Forgive me,” he bowed in the old style of European nobility making a sweeping gesture with his hands. “It does please me to have you back. I worry sometimes that you might not return from these trips abroad.” He reached for her, extending his hands. I noticed his skin was pale, such a contrast to his dark hair and eyes.

“I don’t want you to worry,” she took both his hands into hers, “but, perhaps it’s time for me to stop.”

“I thought you enjoyed the travel?”

“I’m finished with it. I’d rather remain here with you, my Prince.”

“Tevfik can lead the next expedition,” he said.

“No,” Zeliha shook her head. “He is efficient in some things, but what I have in mind for you cannot be found in markets or zoos. The animals will have to be trapped in the bush and I wouldn’t trust the locals this time.”

“Now I understand.” The man’s gaze floated over her shoulder and he looked right at me. The urge to run made my stomach lurch. Then Zeliha turned and somehow her eyes pierced the shadows and met mine. I was instantly paralyzed, like I had been lashed to a stake driven into the ground.

“John Eddington. Come here,” Zeliha ordered.
Terrified and powerless from her gaze, I could do nothing but obey. I marched into the courtyard and felt as if I was in someone else’s body, a passenger without any ability to exert my will.

Zeliha’s face was beautiful, but her dark blue eyes promised death eternal.

“So this is the man who has been asking questions about us,” the Prince said, then he put one of his hands on my shoulder, and stroked my throat with cold fingers and sharp fingernails. “He has come a long way.”

“All the way from Tasmania,” Zeliha said as she faced me.

“This is your doing,” the Prince said to her. “You brought him here, didn’t you? Shall I spill his blood now or dispose of him in my old way?”

She glanced at her Prince with a wry grin and her hold on me weakened slightly.

I was able to force out the syllables of a few distorted words.

The Prince and the Sultana regarded each other, amused.


“He wonders who we are,” the Prince said.

“Of course he does. Don’t they all?” She looked back at me and said, “Oh, Mr. Eddington, I have been many things over the years. Daughter, sister, priestess, exile, mother, queen, Goddess and so much more.”

The Prince smiled at her, showing his slightly yellowed teeth. “So much more indeed. I am little compared to you.”

“I detest it when you’re humble,” she said. “You were a Prince, a general, a king, the Defender of Christendom in the Order of the Dragon and now the Pasha of Bornova.”

“I tire of being the Pasha,” he said, “and I tire of this new world.” He stared at me, his eyes drifting toward the rapidly pulsing vein in my neck. “Who will I have to be next to keep my privacy? Where will I have to live? What is there new for me after all of these centuries?”

Centuries? I couldn’t fathom what he meant. Another joke perhaps? Neither of them appeared to be past their fortieth year.

“If it were only centuries for me,” she said.

“How?” I managed to ask, my face wrinkled with incomprehension and strain.

“Because we share the same curse,” she said.

“Not the same,” the Prince corrected.

“You’re not going to tell him, are you?” Zeliha asked.

“Of course not,” the Prince said, “but why did you bring this man here? Honestly, he’s far too common for me, and not right for my collection, or even yours for that matter.”

“Don’t you know,” Zeliha said, “he’s my replacement. He’s a driven man, a naturalist and an idealist. He will lead the expeditions to the far corners of the world and he will send specimens back to us.”

“Splendid,” the Prince said, his hand once again on my throat, “but I find him lacking.”
I stared at them not comprehending what was happening and afraid I was about to die.

"There, there,” she said to me as if I were a child, “you will go wherever we wish and locate rare and interesting . . . animals for us.”

“Mammals,” the Prince said, “I hate the taste of reptiles, and all common things.” He painfully squeezed my shoulder.

Taste? Did he eat them? Is that what had happened to the thylacine pups? Had the Prince eaten them? When I was free of Zeliha’s spell I would choke the Prince to death with my bare hands.

“You will send live specimens back here to us,” Zeliha said.

The rage in me allowed me to break her hold. “No, I will not send them here for you to slaughter.”

“Impressive,” the Prince said. “I’ve never seen someone break your hold so easily.”

“That’s why I made him come here,” Zeliha said. “Don’t worry, Mr. Eddington. Any specimens sent here will live a good and long life. They will not be required to die, just bleed a little for my Prince. He has such exotic tastes now.”

“What happened to the litter of pups?” I asked.

“They were born on the ship and died off Sumatra,” she said. “I don’t know why.”

“What will happen to the animals you want me to send here?” I asked.

“They will live a carefree life and when they are old I will preserve them,” Zeliha said.
“Did you not admire my work when you came down the path?”

“The sculptures?” I asked.

They both laughed.

“I did not carve them,” Zeliha said. “I took what was left of them and gave them their own immortality in stone.”

“Impossible,” I said. How could any of this be true?

“It’s my curse,” Zeliha said.

I actually staggered backward then as a particular Greek myth came into my mind. A beautiful priestess of Athena had lain with Poseidon in Athena’s temple incurring the wrath of the virgin goddess. Athena’s punishment had been severe, the curse of the gorgon. No man or woman could look at the girl’s face or they would be turned to stone, so she was exiled. The myth had to be at least thirty-five hundred years old. I couldn’t look away. Could it really be her?

She smiled at me then and I expected her dark curls to turn to snakes and pluck out my eyeballs.

“Look at him,” the Prince said as my fear shown through. “He knows who you are.”

“I am Sultana Zeliha for now,” she said, “and I will be for many more years. My first name no longer suits me, and I have tired of the others as well.”

“Whatever you wish,” the Prince said, “though next time you must not pick a name that reminds me of my enemies. Perhaps your next name should be Ilona. I always liked that name.”

“That was your second wife’s name,” Zeliha said, the hint of anger in her voice.

“Perhaps a biblical name?” the Prince offered. “Jezebel or Lilith?”

Zeliha and the Prince laughed.

“Must you always talk about the bible?” Zeliha asked.

“God sustains me,” the Prince said as he made the sign of the cross on his chest. “Without God’s forgiveness how would I be forgiven for what I have done? Or for what I am about to do?”

She grinned at him and the Prince smiled, his canine teeth elongating into fangs. The Prince moved toward me in a blur and I felt his breath on my neck as he sunk his teeth into my flesh. I screamed as Zeliha’s eyes burned into mine. I could not move as the man drank my blood while she fed on the fear radiating from my eyes. The demon woman watched in delight and when the Prince finished I collapsed on the ground.

“So ordinary,” he muttered, then wiped my blood from his lips. His hunger not sated, he crouched beside one of the still paralyzed thylacines and sank his fangs into Delilah’s neck.

I blacked out and was awakened much later by the hoots of an ape, perhaps an orangutan. Zeliha sat in a chair in front of the soft couch where I lay. The furniture was on a wide veranda overlooking the Prince’s zoo complex. She wore the amber colored sun-spectacles again and a linen dress of the ancient Greek style that left little to the imagination in the bright sunlight. Her hair was braided and she wore a golden tiara of coiled snakes around her brow.


“Good, you’re awake,” she said.

I sat up and touched the puncture wounds on my neck.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “my Prince is resting today. We’ll have time to talk alone.”

“Where will I be when he returns? Locked in a cage so he can feed on me again?” I thought I had nothing left to lose and was determined to die a man, not like a lamb brought to slaughter.

“You will be on a ship heading for Athens,” she said.

“You’re letting me go?”

“I am your new patron, Mr. Eddington, or may I call you John?”

I didn’t answer.

“Everything you have ever wished to do is now within reach. My Prince and I will fund all of your expeditions. You will become the most famous naturalist in the world. You will go to the Orient, Siberia, the Amazon, even to the depths of central Africa. Every scientist and naturalist in the world will be jealous of your adventures.”

I knew what they wanted, though I questioned my sanity for considering it. I touched the still very sore puncture wounds on my neck and knew I hadn’t imagined it all. They wanted live specimens so the devil Prince could satisfy his blood urges, and then Zeliha would immortalize them in stone when they became too old. Warrah and the Siamese sisters had felt the bite of the Prince as well. What a terrible fate they would they have to endure. I wondered how many others the Prince and Zeliha had enslaved and tortured over the impossible number of years they claimed to have lived.

“You will do this for us and we will make you a very wealthy man,” Zeliha said.

“And if I refuse?”

“You won’t,” she said.

“Why are you so certain?”

“This is your chance for immortality. You can find the rest of the Tasmanian tigers in the wild. You can protect them. Your legacy will become part of history. The nature preserves that you establish will save countless species. My Prince and I know what will happen in the future and it is a blight of grand proportions. You can be the defender of the natural world, and all that is required of you is to find rare animals and send two specimens, one male and one female back to this island.”

“What if I ever refuse to continue this arrangement?”
She stood up and stared toward the zoo, her eyes locking on the large ape in the pathway that I assumed was a yeti. “Do you see that tall statue?”

I nodded.

“I trapped him in the high Himalayas, in Nepal. It took me two years. Two long years I was gone from Bornova. When I returned my Prince drank the yeti’s blood twice a week for over seventy years. The snow ape was dear to us both, and we made him as comfortable as possible, though the heat of the Mediterranean never agreed with him. Then, when he was old and his body wracked with the infirmness of age, I made him immortal in stone so he can be with us always, in spirit if not in flesh.

“He isn’t the last of his kind, and I didn’t manage to capture another, but I found their tracks in the snow on more than one occasion. Would you not like to find another like him? I can help you. I know where the yeti live. I have maps and will give you the secret of how to trap another—or rather a pair of them—though I do not care to spend the time it will take living in the Himalayas. Think of it, John, the capture of a yeti will make you the most famous man alive. You will live a life that other men dream of. My Prince and I will allow you to reap the rewards of showing it to the world before you send it to us.

“And that will only be the beginning. No one knows what is hidden deep in the Amazon. Perhaps you will find something there that no one has seen before.”

“Will you ever release me from this contract?” I asked.

“Whenever you wish, though my patronage will be withdrawn, and at anytime, please return here and I will make you immortal.”

I thought of the yeti’s statue then, and was chilled to the core. What would it be like to be immortal in stone? I had the terrible feeling that the yeti was not dead and could perceive the world around it. The creature was trapped in a prison, going insane with boredom and despair.

“Become a statue in my garden of stone today,” she said, “or accept my offer. The choice is yours.”

Zeliha let me leave and I was on a ship steaming away from that accursed island by mid afternoon with Tevfik Ağdasi watching over me. Willingly I had agreed to do the Sultana’s bidding and signed a contract to that effect. I was given access to funds and a ship, the Abdul Selim, which I renamed the Saint Michael as soon as I was able. My first expedition would be to the Amazon, and I would send funds to Tasmania to protect the thylacines in the wild there.

That is how it all started. That meeting on Bornova is why I spent my life in the most remote places on Earth, though my longest expedition, the one in Nepal ended in failure. Despite that, I kept my end of the bargain. I sent them live specimens. Jaguars, and Siberian tigers, red pandas and silverback gorillas. I used Zeliha and the Prince’s seemingly unlimited wealth to create the Geographical Society of London and more. I spent my life educating the public about the world and the animals we share it with. I accepted the fame and the adoration. I used my status to get everything I wanted.

And I pretended not to notice what Ağdasi was doing. He collected rare humans for the Prince with the same vigor I gathered animals. He found more like Jagriti and her sister, and tribal folk like poor Warrah, who was taken from her land and her family by force. I rationalized that they would live better lives on Bornova than in the freak shows of traveling circuses or dying young in some God forsaken jungle or slum.

I never protested and I turned my eyes away whenever it suited me. I allowed those
poor souls on Bornova to endure unimaginable depredations at the hands of the Prince and his diabolical accomplice. I visited those poor animal keepers a few times over the years and each time the light in their eyes was dimmer, like they were candles about to go out.

Whenever my resolve was flagging and I was having nightmares about the Siamese twin sisters and Warrah being fed upon by the Prince, I would receive another large payment, often in gold, which would allow me to continue my mission or start another. I was overwhelmed with guilt and by the thought that the money I was using was soaked in the blood of oppressed people. Worrying about the money let me think of something else beside the human specimens Ağdasi was collecting.

So much wealth was given me over the years that I began a clandestine mission to find out the source of it all. Through the diligence of several investigators, including a famous British detective I knew as S.H., I learned that the Prince’s armies had ravaged Eastern Europe before he faked his own death rather than face decapitation by the Turks. During his bloody reign he had stolen countless priceless artifacts from churches and the nobles of his realm, who he butchered or impaled. It must have been then that he was cursed.

The Sultana was harder to trace. There is little written evidence, but I believe she originated in ancient Greece itself, in the age before the War at Troy. I was able to trace her back to imperial Rome in the time of the mad Emperor Nero. She had been one of his lovers and directed his murderous rampages, profiting by stealing the property and estates of those nobles Nero had killed. One report even credited her with suggesting that Nero have his legions seize the treasures of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

I was overwhelmed with guilt at the thought that the gold I had used to fund my expeditions could have been part of the looted Temple Treasures, or perhaps the Arc of the Covenant itself. But I never refused a payment and I never unmasked my benefactors or betrayed their dark secrets until now. Perhaps Ağdasi would have killed me if I had, but that would have been far more preferable to the evil I allowed to roam unfettered.

There was no spell or curse upon me that forced me to do their bidding. I did it for the riches they gave me, and though it appears otherwise in the press, my life has been an utter failure. My conservation projects have done little and most of the world has never heard the word thylacine, and few care that the last Tasmanian tiger in captivity is dead. The species is gone and my efforts to trap the wild ones hastened their demise when hunters decided that the large sum to trap them was a government lie, and chose the much smaller reward for the animal’s striped pelt. My precious Delilah and Sampson died years ago on Bornova, and I have seen their sad statues. The longing in their eyes is still there, for their souls are trapped in this world.

I have often privately lamented the number of rare animals have I condemned to feed the Prince and entertain his devilish concubine. Far too many, but there will be no more. This memoir will expose my patrons and show them for what they are. Vile creatures of Satan and me their willing pawn.

Once this book is finished, my son and I will travel to Bornova island and confront the nigh immortal Prince and the woman who calls herself Zeliha. We shall free all the slaves and return them to their homelands. I will do what I should have done years ago, though it is too late for Warrah and the Siamese twin sisters, as they are now in Sultana Zeliha’s garden of statues because I failed to bring them home with the tigers.

My son and I shall not be going alone. I have used the last of my fortune to train and equip a small army of God’s warriors—the modern order of the Knights Templar. I am old and crippled, but I will see an end to this before I meet my final judgment.

If my son or I survive this attack on Zeliha and the Prince, a full recounting will follow, and will be published in a subsequent volume.

I beg the forgiveness of all the people I have ever worked with around the world. I lied to all of you and thought I was working for the greater good. In truth, I lied to myself and did nothing to protect the most vulnerable among us. Now I realize my good intentions showed me the path to Hell.

* * * * *


From the London Times dated one month after this memoir was published:

The British ship, Saint Michael, sank off the coast of Turkey after running aground while steaming at night. The handful of survivors who found refuge on a small island have now returned to England and they most notably include J.W. Eddington, the only son of the famed naturalist, cartographer, and explorer, Sir John William Eddington. J.W. Junior’s esteemed father drowned in the disaster and his son has vowed to continue his father’s work as a naturalist and conservationist.

J.W. is now organizing an expedition to the Himalayas that is projected to last for up to three years and will retrace the footsteps his father left decades ago. The Geographical Society of London is not sponsoring the expedition and the funding for the mission to find the elusive Tibetan snow leopard or the abominable snow ape appears to be from one of his father’s gold mines in New Zealand.

A memorial for the greatest British explorer of our time will be held this Sunday at eleven o’clock at the newly renovated Carfax Abby outside London in Purfleet and a statue of the late John William Eddington will be unveiled in the adjoining cemetery.




This story is part of Michael Stackpole's Chain Story. The Chain Story is a series of free fiction from accomplished writers tied together by the common frame of The Wanderer's Club. Read more examples of Paul's work on his website.

5 comments:

Chris van Soolen said...

I LOVE this story!!

Sal Sassone said...

That was amazing.

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