Spirit Reaper - Draft - Chapter 1-2
“Where is she?” Throm snarled, giving the fair-haired woman a fierce look as he felt himself fill with disappointment once again, his failure in not finding his quarry at home angering him.
“The same place as when you came last,” Colleen said quietly. “You should remember pounding the nail to post your notice to my door, you old fool. It should still be hanging there, unless you ripped it away in your haste to rush inside this time.”
“Careful, you know I come on the bidding of the Elders,” momentarily fingering the badge given him, attached to his belt for all to see. “They tolerate you because of your herbs, and skills with the children. Don’t give me reason to mention your unsurely attitude,” Throm snarled with renewed confidence, his expression growing darker while brushing aside bundles of dried herbs hanging from the ceiling beams to look around the small, dimly lit home.
“As you can plainly see, your prey is not here to be trapped,” Colleen said. “Perhaps she is standing outside your own hut at this very moment, waiting for your return… waiting for the growing darkness to cover her entrance.”
“I’ve had enough of your prattle, woman,” Throm said, reaching out to grab the worn fabric of her tunic, pulling her closer to him with a grunt.
“Ah, now you lower yourself to assaulting women,” Colleen let out with a low gasp, not bothering to fight his greater strength. “I shall have words with Elder Sartten. It is a punishable crime, even when committed by one such as yourself. As you don’t wear a sword on your belt, you’ll earn yourself a lash or two in the square.”
“I’ll say you threatened me with the touch of a Reaper,” Throm said, snarling again, his spittle escaping his lips as he pushed her away from him, her words reminding him of his position with the Elders.
“As you have discovered, my daughter is not here,” Colleen said, avoiding his enraged gaze as she tugged on her clothing to straighten them. “It will be difficult to show how you were placed in danger of losing your life to a myth.”
“I will tell them how you breathe life into your lies,” he said, giving the dim corners one last glance, “You know I’ll be back, you can’t hide her forever,” kicking aside a woven basket on the floor as he stormed out the door, not bothering to close it against the coming coolness in the air brought in by the twilight, as he motioned at the mute waiting outside with his pole and straps to leave.
“He will soon return.” Colleen sighed, giving one last glance towards the skies as she closed the door, sliding the broken wooden bolt in place as best she could.
“I know, mother,” Niamh sighed, walking up to her from behind. “I am concerned for your welfare.”
“Me, child? I wouldn’t waste much time there, it’s you they’ve named,” Colleen said, resting her back against the door as she looked at her daughter. “It will earn him a silver coin to capture you. He will be relentless,” looking at the deep copper tresses that marked her daughter’s beauty before meeting her deep blue eyes.
“Perhaps it’s time I left. I’m nearly full grown, I can manage,” Niamh, said, coming closer to place her arms around her mother.
“Flee to Otherwhere? I’ll never see you again,” Colleen sobbed, letting her emotions show as she clutching the girl to her even more. “I’ll go to the Elders. I’ll go to Sartten, he’ll listen, I saved his own grandchild from the fever last winter.”
“No, he won’t. Not publicly. You have said as much yourself. The deeds of yesterday are soon forgotten, regardless of their greatness at the time,” Niamh said quietly, bringing her mother over to the table to sit down. “It has been said that once proclaimed by the council, one’s fate is sealed. We both know what happens if I stay and get caught. The passage of time is not in our favor in this.”
“I’ve been speaking with old Marta, she says she knows the words. She says she will help me get me the charm I need. I’ll go someplace, some place better than this, so that each of us will be safe.”
“He’ll never give you a day’s peace as long as he suspect’s I’m around.”
“A bright morning, Sire,” Colleen called out, noting the glance the older man had given to his colleague, Elder Burstein, at her entrance into the inn.
“Ah, Mistress Colleen, a bright morning indeed,“ Elder Sartten replied, rising slightly from his seat and showing a smile as she came closer. “To what do we owe the pleasure of your company. I trust the villagers haven’t been pressing you for simples and charms so early in the day, I hadn’t heard of any illness.”
“No, the health of the village is sound, no illness, no births, no deaths,” Colleen said, giving the elder a knowing look. “I believe you know what brings me to your meal table. I’m surprised that you weren’t expecting me, a setting placed and ready.”
“Aye, Mistress Colleen,” Elder Burstein said, giving her a cursory examination. “We are told of the man Throm’s actions. May I offer the council’s apologies, we have sent someone to effect repairs to your door latch, and to leave an offering of our good will on your table. It should provide several hearty meals, since you prefer to remain a single woman in our village.”
“It is not the lack of food that bothers me, good sir, but the lack of a daughter,” Colleen said, turning her attention back to Sartten. “You know full well that the calf she attended too was born lame and weak. It died almost as soon as the air crept into its lungs. You saw for yourself when the farmer made claims against Niamh and a witness was called. The fool had placed his bets against a prime calf while in his cups, so when he discovered his loss, he sought to evade the payments due as forfeit by his charges against her.”
“This is not a situation so easy dismissed,” Elder Burstein sighed, picking up a roll to dip into his stew. “There are those who saw her bring the maid Niota’s new born child to life by simply breathing on it’s lips. It speaks of spirits. She has displayed the power over life and death. She must come before us to be tested. Only the council can clear her of these charges.”
“Let us not speak around the bush,” Colleen said, keeping her attention on Sartten. “Someone on the council has proclaimed her a Reaper, something we both know full well has never been seen by any man living. Such foolishness with fables does not go well with a growing township such as ours.”
“I beg to differ,” Burstein said, sitting back to address her, “The Elder’s name is being discussed on this very day. The Governor’s been laid to the ground for three days, they are now looking for one who shows his abilities in governing, someone who can handle the unexpected problems life drops at our thresholds.”
“Ah, it’s all becoming quite clear now,” Colleen replied, her tone indicating her disgust at what she was hearing, “Just think of the praise one might receive if a Reaper was discovered living among us and killed, thus protecting the people and all the creatures of the woods.”
“Indeed,” Burstein said, nodding at the thought. “We’d all be safer, we would grow prosperous. Our children would have a better school with the Governor having his own home here.”
“Your children had better seek another when the fever falls upon them,” Colleen said, taking a step backwards from the two. “I fear it might grow worse this winter. You might want a barge kept ready to take them down to Harpersburg, if the ice will let it move. If they don’t survive, you can bury them next to the rotting body of the Governor.”
“Come now, Mistress Colleen. There is no need to press your ire against young children. They’ve done nothing wrong,” Burstein said, looking up to her as he resumed his meal.
“Yes, why I was thinking those thoughts my own self just yesterday, when my door was forced open and my own child sought by that man of yours, Elder,” Colleen replied. “I couldn’t help noticing your own eye has wandered her way many a time while she goes about the village on her chores, a child still herself at fifteen. Several say your wife has noticed it as well, that it is her ire you are trying to appease by supporting these charges.”
“Tell me, Elder Sartten,” Colleen asked, placing a stern gaze upon him. “If it is so fervently thought that these charge be true, as seen in the actions of your man, why is it that you would risk the ire of such a one as she? Don’t you fear the very death being spoken of in the whispers to others?”
“This is not an appropriate place to speak of such matters, Mistress Colleen,” Burstein suddenly said, giving a nod towards the doorway leading to the street. “Your tone is affecting my meal, and I am a busy man. I trust we will deal with this in due time, and in the proper manner and place.”
“Best you hurry, Elder,” Colleen said, turning to leave the two. “With the Johannsan’s, this will be the last family birth I tend until this matter as you call it, is resolved. Find another as skilled, Elder Sartten,” she added, giving him a final glance. “That will truly be a task worthy of a Governor.”
“We have a large meal this evening,” Niamh said, taking her mother’s shawl from her shoulders and beckoning her towards the table. “I kept to the shadows when they arrived, I heard them speaking as they approached the door.”
“A time will come when they will learn to keep silent,” Colleen sighed, sitting down to admire the table settings.
“Thankfully it hasn’t come yet,” Niamh said, showing a troubled look, one that she quickly hid. “Look, we have enough roast for the week, and I’ve added fresh carrots and beans to go with our bread.”
“Fresh bread, I didn’t expect the Elders to be so forth giving. I hardly believed my ears when they spoke of something for our table,” Colleen sighed, motioning for her to sit down.
“Oh, they’re not, it’s a gift from Leah Johannsan’s table to ours. She stopped by as the others were leaving. She said the walking you recommended was helpful, and the salve is tending to the stretch marks better than she had expected.”
“She hopes this is the last child, she hinted at the saving of five copper coins, and the prayers asking for them to ensure her wish.”
“Her husband is yet young, she will need more than prayers to aid her,” Colleen said, reaching for her wooden cup when she noticed the small pile of coins.
“No, she won’t die before having another child,” Niamh quickly said, noting her expression. “I simply explained which nights to avoid him, and which herbs must be taken. I told her where to look, how to prepare the drink… and what to expect. She was most grateful.”
“I expect she wants you to use them to flee this village, upon the very day she gives birth,” Niamh said, looking at the coins on the table. “She fears for you, as do I.”
“You’re the one they are looking for,” Colleen said, taking her eyes off the coins to look at her. “You shouldn’t remain long, I suspect he’ll be back to check soon.”
“I’m not, I can sense things too, but it is safe for awhile longer. He is in his home, cowering from the dark,” Niamh replied, readying her mother’s plate. “I’ll be with Marta for awhile. She’s told me about the place I need to go see, the old place in the wooded hills that allows one to leave this world.”
“Other worlds exist, that’s why it’s called that,” Niamh said, serving their meal. “You should know, you found me there, newly born.”
“That place was always just a tale, something to entertain unruly children, even back in the village I grew up in,” Colleen mused as her plate was set before her, “I was curious,” thinking back, “enough to go seeking the truth when my own parents had died, leaving me with little but the knowledge of herbs and animals. The thought of traveling to another place seemed exciting.”
“And now?” Niamh asked.
“Now,” Colleen said, looking around the home she had known for many years. “Well, it brought me to where I am, but I’ve had you to keep me company. The one bright spot in my life.”
“I hear a rumble in the distance, the rains will soon be upon us,” Colleen said as they finished putting the remains of the meal away. “It will cover your way.”
“I need only the darkness to cover me, mother. I’ve been doing that for years, and yet you ever seem to forget,” Niamh said, looking upwards as a sharp crack of thunder sounded close by, the bright flash of light intruding into the room for a brief moment. “The rain will be refreshing.”
“Be careful, don’t let them get their hands on you,” Colleen cautioned as Niamh stepped back towards the restored shadows of the room. “I am getting two plucked chickens tomorrow in payment for my assistance in matters of the heart, I’ll be well until you return.”
“I am a Spirit Reaper, mother. It is they that fear my touch,” Niamh quietly said, stepping back into the shadows. “Perhaps I should have let that lamed calf live out it’s miserable life,” came to her lips as she pulled the shadows around herself and vanished into the darkness.
“So, you’ve returned,” Marta sighed, giving the young girl a sorrowful look in the candlelight. “I feared much. A pair from the village stomped through this way not an hour before the darkness descended upon the woods.”
“The cry from a late crow sent them fleeing, their eyes wide,” she added, welcoming Niamh inside her cabin. “It’s warm and dry in here, those repairs you did to the roof have held strong.”
“Thanks, Mistress Marta,” Niamh said, giving her cloak a shake at the door to dispel the rain that had settled on her as she knocked. “It is going to be a long rain, I fear.”
“Child, it is not the weather than concerns us this night,” Marta said in her quiet voice, her eyes widening as Niamh brought out a small wrapped bundle from her cloak
“It’s still warm, I set on the hearth before I left. It’s fresh bread from the home of the miller.”
“Always so helpful, a daughter to many,” Marta sighed, taking the bundle with shaking hands before seeking her chair. “Let’s sit and rest, these old bones feel the rain so much now.”
“You’ve hurt yourself?” Niamh asked, noting the poultice items set out on the table, sniffing the air to identify the herbs she had used.
“Just a scrape against a rock, I’ve wrapped it,” she said, beginning to nibble on the bread, “I’m not as young as I once was, the hills were closer and not as high then.”
“You went seeking the charm by yourself,” Niamh said, the concern showing in her eyes. “You should have waited as I asked. I was to go with you.”
“Time is no longer our friend,” Marta said, lifting her eyes to gaze out at nothing. “It has been overcome by fate, I couldn’t wait any longer.”
“I wrote down the words,“ she said, coming out of her dream and looking at Niamh. “They are on the table, next to a small wrapped object. You must repeat them out loud, as I’ve written them. Keep the charm with you. If you fail to do this, I can’t tell you where you might end up.”
“There,” she added, tossing a small morsel of bread down on the floor next to the fireplace, “That old mouse might want something soft for once.”
“My mother fears my loss, she will be alone. I’ve convinced her to move south, towards the new settlements along the coast,” Niamh came out with, breaking the silence that had descended on them as the fury of the storm began to be noticed around them.
“She would fare well there, I think,” Marta said, after a moments thought, “I hear there is a growing trade route, the great ships bring their riches along with their ills. They will pay far better, and use coins instead of lean chickens and offerings of chopped wood. I think she will find happiness there.”
“When you pocket your charm, look to the side, there is a small leather pouch. Take it to your mother, child. She will make better use of than I ever will.”
“Follow the river upstream for a day’s walk, you’ll come to an old beaver dam, that’s where you’ll go inland until you see the hills,” Marta said, looking to Niamh. “The one you want is the smaller one, the wooded one. You’ll find a grown over trail, so it’s best to locate it in the daylight. The charm can only be used under the light of the moon, so take heed to the time. You must wait there, then step under the circle lintels and onto the stone platform at the proper moment.”
“Your leg, how far has the infection spread?” Niamh asked, bringing her eyes to meet the old woman’s. “I can hear the truth, I know of life and death.”
“I am far too old for your skills with life, sweet one. The mountains still guard their secrets well,” Marta sighed, giving Niamh a telling look. “I am the last to speak of them. I only need your help with the crossing.”
“Then let’s get you to bed, it’s late enough,” Niamh said. “I’ll stay up awhile longer, there is much to dwell on.”
Setting the netting in place around the bed, Niamh blew out the candle, leaving the sleeping woman to examine what she had left for her on the table.
With care she unwrapped the charm, avoiding touching the dark red crystal with her bare hands. “A blood stone requires much in sacrifice,” she quietly said to herself, thinking back on what she had been told over the years, glancing back, seeking the dark form on the bed.
Returning it to its wrappings, she carefully hid it in her thick braids of hair, checking to make sure it was secure and out of sight. Examining the note, Niamh put the words to memory, and stuffed the missive in her pocket.
Picking up the worn leather purse, she untied the loose knot to spill five gleaming silver coins onto the palm of her hand, shifting them around for a moment with a finger before looking back at the bed once more.
Glancing around at the bundles of dried herbs, Elder Sartten made his way across to the table, setting his hat on one knee as he took a seat across from Colleen.
“It’s been a distance in time since you came seeking my help,” Colleen said, giving him a look as she continued her mending to a tunic. “Surely you’re at an age when such things should be become part of the past, fond memories for a fireside sitting.”
“Indeed, as one might expect at my age,” Elder Sartten sighed, “However that is not what brings me to your door on this day. There is a topic between us that I wanted to talk to you about.”
“You have a sound mind about such things, and I know you’ll understand what I have to say.”
“You don’t have an air about you that portends good news,” Colleen said, placing her sewing in her lap to give him her full attention.
“If only I had, its worse than I’d like to say,” Sartten said, shifting his position in his chair, his unease beginning to emerge.
“Let me say in confidence that the speaking of deaths is true,” he began with keeping his gaze on her to gauge her reaction. “No, I don’t mean this nonsense concerning your daughter. The other Elders are aware of them, and we’ve decided to stay silent while the matter was investigated.”
”Unfortunately, the matter you spoke of with Elder Burstein is also true, and the two have become intertwined. An unfortunate choice on his part, I assure you.”
“Colleen, there have been several reported deaths, the bodies found in what has been described as a horrible condition. It has been noted just upstream of us, several woodsmen.
“I wanted to gather everyone in a town meeting to explain and give warning. However, as you know, someone else took action first to cover his own personal failings. He feared dismissal from the council if his crone of a wife was to publicly accuse him of preying on children, even though it was only his eyes that have coveted the young maids. A town meeting would have given her the proper opportunity.”
“Now, I must deal with the results of his gossip and actions.”
“Can you tell me how these men appeared?” Colleen asked, “It might be a clue to what you should be seeking, instead of wasting time with a young girl.”
“No, the witness became quite ashen and threatened to falter on his knees at the memory, so I did not press him,” he replied, the unease showing on his face. “I fear it is a monster. Burstein named the killer a Reaper, a convenient untruth that has caused the situation to worsen.”
“He has the town focused on wild accusations and gossip, instead of seeking the one who has already killed several,” Colleen said quietly, thinking on the situation. “The true killer is free to move about, unconcerned with being discovered. No doubt laughing at what Burstein has caused to happen.”
“Yes, and I fear others may perish because of it. I have set armed men searching the near woods, and a team of trained hounds has been requested from Harpersburg. They should arrive soon, I’m expecting them on the ferry.”
“Should they pick up the trail, we’ll follow it to its end. The village and our towns people must be kept safe from such things.”
“In the meantime,” he said, reaching into a pocket, “I’d like for you and Niamh to leave for a spell, until all this nonsense has been properly dealt with,” setting down two gold coins on the table with a slight clink of metal. “One for each, it should see you through this with comfort.“
“No,” he added, noting that Colleen was to say something as her eyes widen at the sight of the coins, ”I owe you even more for what you have done for the village over the years, even my own has greatly benefited. These were set aside several years ago, they were buried for a better time. They won’t go missing by my family, no one will speak of their loss.”
“I can’t thank you for all you’ve done,” Colleen said, looking at him. “Come south once you’re Governor, to visit. I hope to set a small shop along the piers, where the great ships come to off load their wares. Your coin will ensure I can provide for myself, and still select a proper building. One with rooms up above to live in.”
“It’ll be a trek to collect your herbs from there,” the Elder mused, looking about the room again, “But I expect you’ll be able to train someone to help.”
“I’ll send someone on the ferry to collect these,” Colleen said, following his gaze. “They will hold me over for some time. I already have many ground up into powders for teas and treatments.”
“Speaking of that,” she added, standing up and placing her sewing down on the table before walking to one corner of the room, “These should go with you,” selecting a hanging bundle.
“Remove some of the petals and flowers, then grind them as best you are able. Before you retire for the evening, place two spoonfuls to a mug of hot water, ensuring you let them steep. You will sleep better for it. Discard the stems, the rest can be crushed by hand to release their essence, and placed in a small sachet for your pillow.”
“When an Elder comes to visit the single woman who lives on the edge of the village, it’s best that he’s been seen bringing something back.”
“The ferry is on time, that’s the first in many a month,” Niamh whispered from their position between the buildings.
“They bring the hounds,” Colleen said, listening to the baying from the waterfront. “We must wait for them to disembark and move on before boarding. The boat won’t tarry with these rumors going about. The hunt is expected to begin at dawn.”
“I’ll see you to the ferryman, then I must leave,” Niamh said, looking over to Colleen. “Maybe I can help, who better than I to find this creature who seeks only death?”
“Come, they’ve moved on towards the town hall,” she noted, her night vision allowing her to see the movements in the darkness as she lifted a bundle of belongings in preparation. “We should get you on board. As you’ve said, they won’t stay long against the dock.”
“Don’t worry mother, I’ll see you in a month’s time, after I’ve ended this and it’s safe for the villagers,” Niamh told her, as she paid her fare to the deckhand. “There’s a gift there from Marta,” nodding to the bundle as it was about to be taken to her cabin by a smiling lad. “Added to what you have, you will be considered a women of substance where you are going. I can’t wait to see the new shop.”
“And Marta, will she be with you?” Colleen asked, beginning to weep at being parted from her daughter.
“She is with me, mother,” Niamh said calmly, stepping backwards onto the dock. “She will always be with me.”
“I have a coin, it’s all I need. I’ll be well. You know I will.”
Finding a nearby tree to use as a shelter, Niamh watched as the deck hands quickly loosened the ropes and the boat finally began its downstream journey, her mother standing silent near a lantern, giving a final wave until the trees finally blocked the view.
“A coin is it?” Throm said, with a rough laugh, “I’m going to do well this night,” as the large mute with him suddenly grabbed Niamh from behind, wrapping his thick muscled arms around her to pin her arms to her sides.
“Let’s not be so hasty in calling out, you know what they’ll do if they discover you’re here in town,” he added, shifting the staff he had been holding so he could run one hand down over her tunic. “I think we’ll go back to your place, where we’ll have a lot of time to get to know each other. Yes, I think that’s what we want to do. I’m thinking the two of us will find more than a coin upon your person.”
“I’d rather scream, and bring the others upon us. Why keep all this excitement to ourselves,” Niamh said in a quiet voice, struggling to rid herself of the man holding her.
“I think not,” Throm gasped out as he swung the staff to strike against her side, the unexpected heavy blow causing the mute to momentarily loosen his grasp, allowing her to free one arm.
“Foolish one. In your designs of lust and money you’ve forgotten an important detail,” Niamh said, reaching upwards to grab the mute’s hand, watching as Throm’s expression abruptly changed, his face losing all color as he watched the mute’s skin suddenly pale and shrink against his skull, just before the body collapsed down into a loose heap of bones. “You’re searching for a Spirit Reaper, one whose touch can bring death.”
Staring in horror at what had happened, Throm let out a yell as he swung the staff again, the leather straps flailing as he swung a savage blow against Niamh’s head, the far end of the staff hitting the tree trunk with enough force to splinter off the end, the hindered blow still enough to send Niamh sprawling down to the ground.
“I’ll kill you myself, demon,” he raged, seeking to stab her with the jagged end of the staff, striking out blindly as Niamh tried to flee by rolling towards the shadows beyond the tree.
“I think not,” Niamh gasped, her words almost inaudible from the wounds she had suffered, her neck covered in blood as she suddenly reappeared, reaching out from her position on the ground behind him to grasp his bare ankle firmly with one hand.
“The hounds have a strong scent,” the handler muttered, peering around the water’s edge, “It leads us now towards the dark hills. Perhaps the creature seeks to lose us up among the rocks. It may be seeking the shelter of a cave.”
“We’ve been on the hunt for a full day, I feel we are gaining,” Elder Sartten sighed as he adjusted his sword once again, the practice of wearing one beginning to discomfort him.
“Aye,” Elder Burstein said in agreement listening to the hounds as they picked up the scent again, wiping sweat from his brow with a cloth as he looked around the area, ”The men will be most pleased to end this quickly and get back. It is unpleasant business.”
“What is it?” Sartten asked, as the tracker paused, his eyes on the ground before them.
“Fresh blood,” the man replied, glancing around at some of the nearby brush, “We are on the same path now, and it is leaving a trail of blood behind.”
“Maybe from a new victim of the one we pursue,” Sartten said looking over to where the dogs were being held, lunging against the chains in their eagerness for the hunt, “Perhaps we should increase our pace.”
“We should proceed with caution, then,” Burstein said, motioning at the handler to move on, “We don’t want darkness to meet us at the top of the hill we’re headed for, I’ve heard tales.”
“The full moon is expected, it will rise soon,” one of the men muttered, peering upward as they made they way through the trees with their pikes over their shoulders, “We should be home, a planting in the fields tonight.”
“I expect to catch up with this beast by the morning, lads,” Elder Sartten quickly said, trying to appease them before other complaints could be uttered, “We’ll be done with it then.”
“Might we halt here, Elder?” the handler asked, checking the dogs after the trek of some miles, “It’s already been a long day and everyone needs something to eat, and a good rest if we’re to meeting this creature with the rising sun.”
“I’ve been told the trail climbs soon after here,” Burstein advised, pointing towards the hill rising before them, “It might be best that all rest here, least we meet it worn and weary.”
“Very well, then,” Sartten sighed, judging the heights before them, “I too think that’s best. Wilkens there, and I will take the first watch. These old bones of mine hurt too much to sleep so soon.”
Moving slowly, Niamh struggled to make her way up the trail in the dimming light, her vision beginning to fail from the loss of blood, the sound from the baying hounds, still eager to give chase as they sought to free themselves still echoing in her ears.
She had followed the trail as far as she could, her injuries telling her to leave the chase to those who followed her, knowing her own fate might be the same should she be found.
Grasping a limb that she had found, she used it as a crutch, letting it give her some aid as the trail wandered among the trees. The sharp pain of being brought up against a tree nearly sending her down to her knees served as a reminder of her condition as she looked upwards to the area Marta had spoken about.
Pausing, Niamh felt around for the one she had been keeping track of, it’s movements slowing as it’s own energy waned. It had kept ahead of her, but now she sensed it was close at hand.
With a low moan of pain, she lurched forward once more, her mind set on finding her goal, her feet seeking the path leading to the ancient stone circle that would allow her to flee this world, and those who followed.
“Whoa, what was that?” Rick asked, the sight of an odd light bringing him up in his seat to peer towards the park through the rain covered glass.
“Lightening strike I think, Sarge,” Officer Williams said, bringing the patrol car to a slow halt as both of the men looked towards the area the light had been seen. “This storm is something else, it’s been raining for days.”
“Let’s check it out. Try to bring us around and up along the walkway, and keep two tires on the concrete. I don’t want us getting stuck out here in the mud.”
“Boy, its getting bad down this way,” Williams muttered, leaning forward to look through the wipers as he cautiously maneuvered the vehicle around several downed limbs. “There better not be any power lines down in this mess, we won’t be able spot them.”
“I think we’re alright on that,” Sergeant Rickett said, looking back towards the main complex, “The street lights at the office are still on, so we haven’t lost power over here yet,” pausing to listen to the radio traffic, the words sometimes getting lost in sudden static as the storm swirled around them.
“That was Bronson, out at the old bridge. He says it’s crept up another two feet, a public works truck just showed up and he’s helping them set out the warning signs,” Williams said, seeing the glance. “Boy, the Mayor’s going to piss vinegar if that old thing falls into the river before he can cut the ribbon on the new one.”
“So will we if it happens while we’re driving over it,” Rick said, giving Williams a tired smile, “That’s the shortest way back to town.”
“Oh, that’s right,” William’s sighed, bringing the vehicle slowly up along the tree lined path, “I knew I shouldn’t have went for the overtime tonight. Nancy is going to clobber me with a frying pan if I’m stuck on this side of the river tonight. Water was already up next to the garage, and I’ve got the truck.”
“It’s supposed to slacken soon according to the last report,” Rick said, giving the laptop a quick glance before staring out into the rain, “It was up two more trees I think, I remember seeing that stunted one over there,” pointing the way.
“Another tree probably got hit by lightening, I heard that’s what got that one last year or so back,” Williams muttered, zipping up his jacket in preparation to getting wet as he brought the car to a halt, “The way I heard it, some fool was out here playing with his golf clubs when it happened. The old geezer thought he could practice his swing in the rain. The clubs are still in the back of the evidence locker, Barnes takes them out from time to time, just to make sure they still work.”
“If he’s that fond of them, tell him to put in a request for disposal of unclaimed property to the Captain, they’ve been in there long enough,” Rick said, getting himself ready to face the rains.
“You can do that, Sarge?” Williams asked, looking over as he opened his door.
“Yeah, Teddy. You can do that,” Rick replied, tugging down on his hat to keep the cold winds from claiming it as he got out.
“Jeez, you see what I do,” Williams called out, pointing towards the shadowed oak tree. “That looks like somebody’s out here.”
“Teddy, get back to the car and hit me with the spotlight,” Rick yelled out over the wail of gusting winds as he made his way to the dark form beside the tree trunk, turning on his flashlight as he kneeled down to pull away the heavy soaked cloth from the young girl’s face.
“Sure, Sarge. I’m on it,” he called out turning back towards the vehicle. “Boy I don’t need to see any bodies tonight,” he muttered, swinging the light towards the trees, the falling mist and rain shining in the beam as it lit up the area. “Nancy is going to kill me if I get stuck at the morgue all night.”
“What is it, a transient,” he called out, glancing out at the dark trees around them. “Maybe he was camping out in them woods, and got caught up in all this.”
“Get on the radio, we need a Medic out here,” Rick yelled back, noting the wounds to her neck. “She’s still breathing.”
“Oh, jeez, Sarge. She’s in bad shape,” Williams said, opening up an umbrella he had brought from the patrol car. “Look, she’s bleeding all over.”
“What they say?” glancing up to Williams as he tried to examine the girl, seeking to determine her condition as the radio came to life again for a moment.
“They say the waters up past the bridge, it’s not safe to cross. They can’t reach us until the flooding goes down,” Williams replied, listening to the static.
“Come on, Teddy, grab her legs, and be careful. We’ll put her on the back seat, we’re not going to get a chopper out here in this weather,” Rick said, folding the cloth back around her form so he could use it to grab her with.
“Which way, Sarge,” Williams asked, his attention on turning the patrol car around without getting them stuck. “The bridge is out for us, too.”
“We’ll take her to Pine Ridge Medical Center, we can’t waste the time trying to go around to the clinic,” Rick said, picking up the radio to send in his report. “We’re going Code Three, so give me some flashing lights and siren, it’s what you’ve been waiting to use all night long.”
“We’ll use the new bridge to the expressway, no time like the present to test it out. You can call Nancy from the ER since you’re going to be late getting home. We don’t want you getting laid out, too.”
“Man, just wait until I tell the guys when we get back,” Williams said, grinning at the sergeant. “I was the first unit over, code three all the way. I even beat the Mayor over.”
“What we got, Doc?” Rick asked standing up as the doctor came out, a frown showing on his weary face.
“Well, she’s stable,” he said, “Hypothermia was starting to set in, along with shock from multiple injuries. She might not have held out over night in all this weather,” he sighed, glancing down at a clipboard. “As far as I can tell at this point, we’re looking at concussion from blunt trauma. There’s bruising down the right side of the chest area, that thick cloak she was wearing probably saved her from some broken ribs. The worst of it seems to be the wound to her throat. It looks like someone tried to skewer her, we took out several wooden slivers.”
“One of the nurses checked for ID for you, but all they found was this,” holding out a gold coin, “They’re telling me she’s oddly dressed, the material looks homemade. We’re putting everything aside for you, it’ll need to dry out.”
“She’s headed up to OR for that neck, we need to be careful patching her back up. She won’t be talking for some time, but you might want to come back tomorrow and check in on her. She’ll be in the IC unit the rest of the night.”
“Oh, you’ll find Chrissy over in maternity,” he added, noting Rick’s glance back towards the ER as someone opened the doors, “We’re shorted staffed with some of the roads being flooded, so she’s doing double duty for us tonight.”
“Did he say Miss Chrissy’s in maternity?” Williams asked, giving Rick a smile as he brought back a soda from the lobby for him. “How’d that happen, you’ve only been dating for six or seven months now. I’m always the last one to get told these things.”
“Hey, the TV out there has the news on it, they’re saying the storm’s done it’s worst, and we’ll be seeing sunshine tomorrow.”
“She’s doing a double shift tonight,” Rick said, popping open the drink as they began walking down a hall. “I had to bring Elise in last night, and she worked it so she’d be here to check in on her for me.”
“Elise... again? You should have called Nancy, she’s mentioned wanting to help out if you needed someone,” Williams said, shaking his head at the news. “That kid’s going through some rough times.”
“Yeah, she scared the hell out of me this time, fell right over on the living room floor. She was back to normal by the time they got her here, so she’s been riding out the storm while under observation,” Rick said, taking the candy bar being offered to go along with his drink as they turned down the hallway towards the maternity wing. “We’ll check in on her next.”
“Come on, boys. You know there’s no eating in the halls,” one of the nurses suddenly said, walking up behind them, “You’ve been told often enough. Accept evolution and use the cafeteria.”
“Supper, Nurse Summers,” Williams managed to get out, moving to one side to let her pass. ”We’re on the job. I’ll try to remember next time.”
“Sure, Teddy. I believe you,” she said, giving him a smile as she turned into one of the open rooms. “I’ve heard that often enough.”
“Gosh, Nancy is going to take an iron to my hide if she finds out I’m over here hanging out with these cute nurses,” Williams muttered, stuffing his empty candy wrapper in a pants pocket.
“I’ll explain it’s all in the line of duty,” Rick said, giving him a smile before looking around the nurse’s station. “I’m sure she’ll understand. You were wet and shivering from saving the good citizens of Lexingburg, and she was standing there holding a warm blanket, her large dark eyes full of worry and maternal concern for your welfare.”
“You just missed her, the elevator doors just closed. She’s on the way up to see Elise,” one of the nurses said, interrupting Teddy as he opened his mouth to reply, as she noticed the two policemen in the doorway, “I don’t think she was expecting you, Rick. The radio’s been saying the bridge is underwater, along with the mall parking lot.”
“Yeah, well,” Rick replied, “I wasn’t planning on coming out this way until tomorrow, but we had to bring you ladies some business.”
“A kid, some girl that got mugged or something,” Williams added, walking closer to the nurse’s station. “We just came from the ER. The doc says me, and Sergeant Rickett saved her life. There was blood all over and everything.”
Making an upwards pointing motion with one hand to the nurses from behind William’s back, Rick stepped over to the elevators, pausing for a moment to remember which floor his daughter was on, giving out a weary sigh as he punched the button to start the car moving upward.
“Dad!” Elise called out at the opening of the door, not bothering to use her cane to make her way over to give him a hug, “I wasn’t expecting a visit till later. I knew you’d be busy raking in all that overtime.”
“Hey, how’s my pumpkin,” Rick asked sweeping the teen up in his arms before setting her down. “Boy you’re too big to keep doing that, I’ll put my back out,” he said, grinning at her smiling face as he reached out and moved some of her hair to one side. “Sorry I’m still damp from outside.”
“You’ll look grandpa did,” Elise said, grabbing one of his arms to bring him into the room, “I got a single this time.”
“So I see,” he said, exchanging smiles with the dark haired woman in the room. “You have your own private nurse, too. You’re moving up in the world.”
“Chrissy just got here, we were trying to see the river but it’s too dark outside,” Elsie said, waving a hand towards the window. “I’ll have to wait for the sun to come up.”
“You’ll be deep asleep when the sun peeks,” her father said, walking over to the window beside Chrissy. “There will be pictures in the paper. I’ll pick one up for you.”
“You’re looking tired, I guess they’ve kept you on the move during all this,” Chrissy noted. “Elsie won’t be the only one deep asleep when the sun peeks.”
“I’m almost done, had to check on my two girls. A policeman’s job is never done,” he sighed, reaching out to hold each of them for a moment.
“Can’t stay though, I brought in a young girl, maybe your age,” he said, looking down at Elise, “She’s banged up pretty bad. Found her out in the storm, near the edge of Liberty Park.”
“Maybe you can talk to your nurse here, and get her moved in here with you after the IC let’s her go. She’ll give you some company until you go back home.”
“A young girl out there, all by herself?” Chrissy asked, showing concern on her face at the thought. “Do you have a name?”
“No, nothing yet, a Jane Doe. All she had on her was this,” he said, holding up the gold coin after fishing it from his pocket. “It looks like the real thing, I should know more tomorrow.”
“Well, go get out of those damp clothes, otherwise it’ll be us girls will be visiting you in your sick bed,” Chrissy said, reaching out to push at him with one hand. “Now go, finish the paperwork at home, with a cup of hot tea. We’re both doing fine.”
“Dad,” Elise whispered as she let go of his hand at the door, “You better pop the question before someone else comes along and beats you to it,” giving him a smile.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Rick replied, bending down to whisper back, “Two beautiful girls in one house, it might affect my heart. I hear those Japanese girls like to eat healthy. We’d have to give up those late night raids on the fridge, and have proper sit down meals. No more watching TV and tossing popcorn at each other.”
“I’ll learn to deal with it, dad,” Elise said, “You do your part and I’ll try to do mine, that’s the way it is, and I don’t care if she’s a lot younger than you. She’ll age over time, I’ve heard it happens to us all.”
“Sounds like you’re getting serious with her,” Rick said, reaching out again to move some hair away from her face.
“Well, somebody has to while you’re tap dancing around her,” she said, pushing him out into the hall. “Now, go back to work. Us girls are busy talking in here.”
“Alright, I’ll see what I can do, it’s not all up to me you know,” he said, giving her another smile. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”
“No excuses, dad,” Elise said pointing a finger at him, “I’ll be watching you.” came out as she closed the door.
“Is she okay?” Williams asked, seeing Rick coming back down the hall towards him, a frown still on his face.
“Oh, she’s back to her usual weaselly ways,” Rick said, giving him a tired smile. “Let’s head back, our shift’s up, I’ll do the report at home and follow up tomorrow. We won’t have to hang out around the shop this time.”
“That’s sounds good, I think I need to dry out some more, them nurses back there said I’m all wet,” Williams said brushing at his jacket.
“Yeah, we don’t want that badge to rust,” Rick said, holding out his hand for the keys. “I’ll drive.”
“You call Nancy?” he asked, looking of at William’s expression as they pulled out onto the roadway.
“Oh, Sarge, I’m in trouble deep,” Williams moaned, watching the trees as they passed by for a moment. “I was talking to her all nice and sweet like, then one of the nurses came out with one of those carts to show off one of them little darlings, and it started crying. So Nancy hears it, and wants to know where I’m at, and I get to explaining and telling her about it. I figured the truth was best, cause she could ask you.”
“Well, what did she say that’s got you worried about walking in the door?” Rick asked, shaking his head at the story.
“That just it, she didn’t say anything,” Williams said in a hushed voice. “There was this deep silence, and I could sort of hear those wheels turning in her head, like I sometimes do. Then she just said she’d be waiting for me when I got home.”
“I’m a dead man, Sarge. Dead man walking,” Williams sighed, looking down at his badge to check for any signs of rust.
“Is there something wrong?” Chrissy asked, giving the other nurse’s pale appearance a concerned look as she passed by the IC unit.
“Oh hey, Chrissy. I think I’m alright. I was feeling a little dizzy there for a moment, had to sit down out here,” Carrie said, rubbing her head for a moment.
“Want to go get some water or a snack, I’ll keep an eye on your patient for you,” Chrissy asked, stepping over to give the other girl another look. “It’s been a long night, you seem a little tired.”
“I’ll be okay,” Carrie sighed, “I was just holding the girl’s hand for a minute, and all of a sudden it felt like I was losing all my energy. I just had to go sit down for a spell. Give me a minute, I’m starting to feel better now.”
“Is she the one the police brought in?” Chrissy asked, looking through the glass partition at the covered form on the bed.
“I’ll check in on her for you, take a break,” she said, opening the door and entering the room, her eyes going over to the monitors. Moving to the side of the bed, Chrissy lifted the sheet and carefully set the girl’s arm underneath, pulling up the cover, taking a few minutes to look at the sleeping girl, noting the neck bandages nearly hidden beneath escaped strands of copper hair from her braid.
Satisfied the girl was comfortable, Chrissy stepped down to the end of the bed, not noticing in the lowered lighting, the blue eyes that opened slightly to watch her as she checked the chart before leaving.
“You’re the charge nurse tonight?” Chrissy asked, returning to sit down beside the other girl.
“That’s me,” Carrie said, trying to cover a yawn. “Lisa’s street is flooded, so I came in to cover for her tonight.”
“She’s looking good in there, I’ll go ask Doctor Jenson if we can move her into one of the rooms upstairs in a few hours, the floor nurse can check in on her. That’ll free you up for awhile before the shift change. I’ll bring you something back to snack on, maybe your sugar levels dropped.”
“Ohayo gozaimasu, I didn’t mean to disturb you, I picked up the morning edition for you,” Chrissy whispered, seeing Elise’s eyes flutter open. “It’ll be on the table when you get up later. Your father will forget.”
“We are giving you company, she is asleep as you should be, so get rest,” Chrissy said, pulling the covers up around her. “Keep an eye on her for me.”
Looking through sleep tired eyes, Elise gave the other side of the room a glance, spotting the other bed in the room, “Okay”, she mumbled, yawning, “I’ll take care of her,” as sleep once more began to take over her world. “Can you see the flooding?”
“Oh, you scared me for a second,” Elise said, looking over to see Niamh’s head turning to follow her in the dim light as she went over to the window to gaze out again.
“I’m Elise,” she said, coming over to the side of the other bed. “We’re room mates, at least until one of us heals up or something,” Elise said, peering at Niamh’s bandaged neck. “I guess you’re not going to be much of a talker for awhile. That’s alright, my dad says I talk enough for two anyway.”
“We’re in the hospital, up on the fourth floor,” Elise explained seeing Niamh eyes explore the room after studying Elsie for a minute, ”That’s the bathroom over there,” pointing towards the open door, “and that’s where I’m sleeping these days,” nodding towards the other bed.
“You need to get in there?” Elise asked, seeing Niamh’s eyes going back to the bathroom door, “I’ll help you get up if you want, I’ll let you know now, the floor in there is ice cold. I’m guessing slippers cost extra, because I didn’t get any.”
“Man, you’re wrapped up worse than a mummy,” Elise noted, pulling at the covers to free the legs, and helping her to sit up. “Let me get on the other side.”
“Gosh, your hair is longer than a horse’s tail,” Elise said, moving the braid to get an arm around her, “I’ve got a brush around here somewhere, we’ll fix you up pretty once we get poked and prodded by the morning shift.”
“It’s kind of dark in here cause it’s so early in the morning, so let me know if I run you into something,” Elise said, trying to guide both of them across the room. “Chrissy brought me a night light because the overhead lights give me headaches these days, it should be enough to find everything, if I ever remember to plug it in. I don’t remember things so well lately, and I use a cane sometimes because my balance is off most days now.”
“I like these hospital toilets, they’re higher than the one back home. Bang on something, or turn the water on in the sink to let me know when you’re finished in here and I’ll help you back into bed,” Elise let out, gingerly letting go as they reached the stool. “I’ll be by the window, I want to see if I can see the river yet. It’s supposed to be the worst flooding around these parts in the last thirty years. It’s time of the sun to be peeking.”
“Darn clouds,” Elise muttered, looking upwards at the sky, “Can’t see anything,” she muttered, turning at the sound of the other bed squeaking from Niamh weight.
“How did you get back? I didn’t hear you make a sound,” seeing Niamh sitting up to peer at her. “You’ll scare me if you’re going to keep that up let me tell you. It’ll be like rooming with a ghost.”
“Oh, don’t mind me. If you haven’t noticed, I tend to ramble,” Elise added, coming back over to help Niamh get covered again. “You might as well go back to sleep, we’ve got a couple hours of peace before they march in here. Its like we’re part of the tour, and you can expect a couple newbies with the regular floor nurse in the mornings. The parade should happen right before we get something to eat.”
“Morning, sleepy head,“ a voice said from the doorway after a quick tap or two, “It’s morning meds, so cover your backside.”
“Oh, Moses, I forgot you’re back from vacation,” seeing the black man sticking his smiling face around the doorframe. “What colors do you have for me today, another blue?” Elise asked, setting the paper back down on the table as she looked over at him. “Please keep the lights off, they’re giving me headaches these days.”
“Two blues and a pink,” Moses replied, using the hall lights to check the contents of the small paper cup on the tray he was pushing ahead of him as he entered, “and a green and two white ones for your new roomie, I heard they had to drag her in from the rain when she found out she was bunking in here with you,” he added, looking over to the sleeping form on the other bed.
“Just leave hers, I’ll make sure she takes them when she wakes up,” Elise said, trying not to respond to his grin as she poured herself a cup of water from the pitcher sitting next to her bed.
“I’ll stay and watch all the same,” Moses said, giving Elise another smile. “Did I ever tell you the trouble I had with two girls… back, oh maybe three years now it was,” he said, “Twins they were, I got never be sure which one was supposed to get the purple, and which got the greens. Gave me a headache it did. I finally had the nurse put colored wrist bands on them.”
“Come on,” Elise said, finally grinning at him, “You can tell who is who, she’s the one who’s quiet as a mouse, it’s easy to pick her out. I’m the one with the brain tumor, the gabby one.”
“Well still, all the same, I‘m going to just wait the time it takes for you to down these,” he said, handing the cup over to Elise, “Then we’ll both see if she sleeps naked cause I’ve got to wake her next. I know it’s a rough job, but somebody’s got to do it.”
“Sorry to disappoint you so early into your shift, but she’s covered, and wrapped up better than a Eskimo in winter. Nothing’s peeking this morning, not even the sun,” Elise said, making a face as she swallowed the pills. “Ugh, these things taste nasty.”
“Well, if they made them taste good, we wouldn’t be here having this conversation, now would we?” Moses asked, picking up the other cup. “It just goes to show that the grand plan is all thought out.”
“What a face, she must have had the greens before,” Moses said, as he turned to see Niamh sitting up, and staring at him with widened eyes.
“I don’t think it’s the greens, I think it’s you,” Elise said getting up and walking over beside him to watch Niamh’s reaction to Moses. “She was found by the police… maybe someone black was the one who attacked her.”
“She don’t look scared to me,” Moses said, slowly walking over to hand the cup to Niamh, “It’s like she’s never seen anyone my color before, like I’m a surprise,” Moses said, turning to accept the water from Elise, watching as she followed Elsie’s example and finally took the pills, smelling the contents of the cup and examining them for a moment first.
“Yeah, that’s weird,” Elise said, “That would mean she’s never watched TV either. It’s like she’s part of some kind of mystery.”
“Well, I’ve got rounds, let me know how that goes,” Moses said, giving out a smile. “I still think the greens might have something to do with it,” as he maneuvered his cart back out into the hall, closing the door behind him.
“A mystery. This visit might not be so bad after all,” Elise said, turning back to look at look at Niamh, her own eyes widening as a sudden thought came to her mind. “Wait a minute, I just realized something. I bet you don’t understand a word I’ve said, you don’t speak English.”
“Can you tell me your name?”
With the stabbing pain shooting through her head, Elise felt herself falling down as she screamed, unable to reach out for the side of her bed as everything dimmed around her, never feeling Niamh’s hands as they slipped beneath her head before she hit the floor.
“Those girls down in here in the ER need to get a life,” one of the techs said, dropping a Lab sheet down on Doctor’s Jensen’s desk without stopping, moving on past him as Jensen picked up the blood test results and glanced at the numbers. “What’s this?” he asked turning to follow the lab worker.
“A joke, I guess. I was asked to drop it off on the Director’s desk, Doc,” he said, giving a shrug and gesturing towards the paper. “I think it’s like that time last year when one of the girls was dating somebody who did vet work over at the zoo, that time when we got lion’s blood sent in under the name Mr. Katt.”
“This time we’re thinking it’s an alien ’cause it doesn’t match anything in the book.”
“We have a problem then,” Jensen said, standing up while holding up the paper, “I drew this myself last night.”
“Oh,” the tech said, looking at the paper again, “Maybe it was a bad tube, Doc. Contamination of the sample.”
“Doctor Jensen,” Chrissy’s voice came from the office intercom. “We need you up in room 413, STAT.”
“On my way,” Jensen replied, grabbing his glasses from the desk. “Which one?”
“Both of them,” Chrissy said, turning away from the speaker to look at the girls on the floor. “They’re both unconscious, and the Jane Doe is bleeding again.”
“Where is she?” Rick asked, rushing his way across the lobby to the receptionist’s desk.
“Relax,” Chrissy said, coming up behind him, “She’s still with us. She just came out of radiology. Come on, I’ll take you to her.”
“You must be the new holder of the land speed record,” she came out with, trying to get him to calm down. “I had them call you only a short while ago.”
“I was on the way,” Rick replied, looking down the hall, hoping to catch sight of Elise.
“She’s okay, take it easy. I bet you forgot her paper, too,” Chrissy said reaching out to take his hand. “We have to go up a floor.”
“This is damn strange,” Doctor Jensen muttered again, looking at the illuminated panel on the wall, barely noticing Rick’s arrival as he folded his arms and turned back to the radiologist behind him. “Damn strange.”
“I can’t explain it, sir. Its a excellent picture,” the young man said, looking over Jensen’s shoulder to examine the X-rays again. “Its telling it like it is.”
“Yes, so it is,” Jensen sighed, looking back at the slide, ”You do good work, Jeffery, it’s just a bit much to accept. Maybe I need to catch forty winks and look at this again tomorrow.”
“What are we looking at,” Rick asked, noting Chrissy’s reaction to what was being displayed.
“Ah, Rick,” Jensen said, turning to him as the other man left. “Sorry, I didn’t see you standing over there. This is a picture of Elise. It was taken when she was admitted the other day, when you said you found her on the floor of your house.”
“This one,” he said, reaching out to tap on the sheet beside it, “This was taken after we found her laying on the floor of her room upstairs. I just got it.”
“What’s so strange about it?” Rick asked, not understanding what he was looking at. “A fracture?”
“Oh, the tumor,” he muttered, lost in thought again as he studied the second slide. “It been reduced in size by half if not a bit more.”
“How did that happen?” Rick asked, looking over to Chrissy. “I thought you said it was inoperable, that nothing could be done.”
“That’s part of the mystery. Other than me reaching in there and trying to scoop some out, there isn’t anyway for it to have happened,” Jensen said, finally snapping off the light panel and turning to look at both of them. “It’s damn strange.”
“Maybe the X-ray had some effect,” Rick asked, trying to think of a cause.
“No, it doesn’t work that way,” Chrissy said, looking at Jensen. “You should tell him the rest before I take in to see Elise.”
“It’s your Jane Doe,” Jensen said, waving a hand at the new concern in Rick’s eyes, “We found her cradling Elsie’s head when we found them. It appears that she caught her fall, as there isn’t any trauma from hitting the floor. She was bleeding from her neck again, so I took another sample for matching up her blood type.”
“And?” Rick asked, raising an eyebrow as he waited for the doctor to continue.
“I can’t match it. The lab thought it was a practical joke when I sent a sample down last night after she came in, so I took this one down myself.”
“She’s one of a kind, Rick,” Jensen said slowly, “She can’t be matched with any mammal on earth.”
“There has to be some mistake, someone messed up. Overworked maybe,” Rick said, glancing over to Chrissy.
“There’s something else, isn’t there?” he asked, seeing the look she gave Jensen.
“Rick, it’s hard for us to understand, but we can’t touch her with bare hands right now,” Chrissy said, giving him a confused look. “If you touch her skin, you begin to get tired, as if she’s draining the energy from you.”
“Let go, and you recover a few minutes later. We learned to use rubber gloves after one of the nurses fainted.”
“We’re thinking she’s using the energy to heal herself, and Elise too.”
“Wait a minute, go back a bit,” Rick said, glancing at the two. “She was in the room, and all seemed normal. Elise falls over, and she catches her, holding her head until help arrives. The next thing your telling me is that Elise is halfway to a full recovery, and this girl’s recharging herself from anyone who touches her. Is that what I’m hearing?”
“Damn strange, isn’t it,” Doctor Jensen said, quietly. “You might want to start thinking on a place for her to stay, someplace quiet until we understand things a little better.”
“Before you know it, word gets out and folks are standing outside, waiting in line to ask if she’s seen Elvis.”
“Her name’s Neeve,” Elise said, not looking up as her father entered the IC room, her attention on the sleeping girl, her own hand entwined with one of Niamh’s. “You should hear her accent, dad. I think she’s fresh from Ireland.”
“Ah, pumpkin, maybe you should let her get some rest,” Rick said, seeing the contact. “Let’s get you back upstairs. I’m sure they want to keep any eye on her for awhile. Maybe she can see you later, after she’s recovered.”
“She missed breakfast, I guess we both did,” Elise said, looking over to Chrissy. “Do you think we can eat together when she wakes back up?”
“Sure, I’ll send something up to hold you over until she’s back with us,” Chrissy said, holding out a hand, “Let’s let her sleep for awhile longer. We’ll bring her back up after we’re sure the bleeding has stopped.”
“How do you feel?” Rick asked bending down slightly to look at her, before giving her a pat on top of her head as he guided the wheelchair into room.
“I’m feeling just fine, even my headaches from the lights are gone,” Elise said, stopping to think for a moment. “Those new meds must be doing something.”
“Well, as I hear it, you were saved from having a bump on the head when you took a dive for the floor in here,” Rick said, standing back to look at her as they ended up at her bed.
“Oh?” Elise said after a moment, her eyes looking at nothing before she turned back to him. “She was over there on her own bed, and I was over here standing by mine. I don’t see how she did that.”
“Things don’t always look right at times like that,” Rick remarked, “Everything gets distorted. She was probably right next to you, you just can’t remember.”
“Maybe,” Elise said, looking over to the empty bed across the room.
“Did you remember my paper?” Elise asked, as her father swung her legs over and pulled up the covers for her.
“Ah, I think I remembered to leave it down in the box out front, I’ll check on the way out and see if it’s still there. I got a call when someone fell over, I forgot.”
“That’s alright, Chrissy told me you’d forget it, so she picked up one for me,” Elise said, reaching out to pat his hand. “I was just checking. How long before you let me come home, I’ve got homework waiting.”
“We’ll let the doctor decide that, feeling better is one thing, being better is the goal. He has the final word on that, let’s not rush anything the rest of the day,” he said, pointing his finger at her. “So, rest up. I’ll try and sneak in some apple pie or something tonight, along with your DVD player. You girls can have a movie night if she’s up to it.”
“And ice cream?” Elise asked, giving him a sweet look.
“Ice cream, I’ll look into it,” he said, glancing up as a nurse came into the room.
“Look into it during visiting hours, Rick,” she said pushing in a cart ahead of her. “It’s bath time. Take a hike.”
“I’ll be back later, pumpkin,” Rick said, stepping back. “I’ll go back down and pick up the clothes your new friend was wearing when we found her.”
“Her name is Neeve dad, it’s Irish, like her accent,“ Elise said, “That should give you something to work with, and she has the deepest blue eyes I’ve ever seen.”
“Okay, Detective Rickett, you’re on the case,” Rick said, giving her a smile and a wave as he headed out the door. “Don’t forget to keep field notes.”
“What’s that?” Rick asked as the radio suddenly came to life, peering over to the patrol car from his position kneeling beside the tree where they had found the girl during the storm.
“Report of a vicious turtle, can you believe that?” Williams muttered, looking over to him with an expression of disgust. “That Adams throws me all the odd calls that nobody else would touch, Sarge. I think she secretly hates me,” Williams said, making notes on his clipboard. “Maybe she’s jealous, ‘cause I’m out here on the street and she’s stuck in the office.”
“A turtle call of all things, I can hear the guys laughing from here. If she sends us on an alligator call, I’m shooting it. I hear they taste darn good.”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Rick said, settling himself back in the seat and closing the door, “This one’s probably just a snapping turtle that got lost in the flood. I hear they make good soup, if you can convince Alice down at animal control to let you take it home. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that happening.”
“See anything down there,” Williams asked, starting the engine and heading them towards the caller’s house.
“No, the wind and rains were pretty strong, I guess they took anything I might have found,” Rick replied, “I’ll come back when it dries out a little more and I have more time to check the area.”
“I hate these ‘Check the welfare’ calls,” Williams muttered as he brought the patrol car to a stop in the driveway. “Did I ever tell you I had a woman come at me with a broom when I had to look in through a window once?”
“No, I don’t think I‘ve heard that one yet, “ Rick said, setting the radio mike back down, “The tags on the vehicle under the carport there come back to this address, so she should be home. It’s not someone else just visiting.”
“Jeez Sarge, what if she naked in there, I had this one old gal that did that to me, it was the worst sight I could have seen let me tell ya,” Williams said shaking his head as he followed Rick up the steps to the front door. “She just had this new hot tub put in without telling anyone in her family, she said she was enjoying it before they found out. Didn’t feel like answering her phone. I’ll tell ya, there are just some things they don’t tell you about back in the academy.”
“I’ll look first if you want, that way I can warn you,” Rick said, quietly, listening for motion inside as he knocked on the door and rang the doorbell.
“Nobody’s moving around in there,” Williams said, after spending a few moments peering in the front window. “She hasn’t picked up her newspapers out here for several days,” he noted, tapping a rolled up paper with one foot, “and there’s mail is still in the box. Maybe that’s why somebody called it in.”
“Yeah, maybe longer than a day’s delivery, the flooding might have stopped one or two as well,” Rick said, checking the screen door and finding it unlatched.
“I thought Angry Adams on dispatch said she had a dog, one of those little yapping ones. The kind that squeak when you step on them accidental like,” Williams muttered as the door opened at a twist of the knob and they entered the silent house.
“I thought she convinced you not to call her that,” Rick said, peering around as they made their way across the living room. “I saw her shaking her fist at you last time.”
“She said ‘If she caught me’ and she’s not here,” Williams said, turning on the lights once he located the wall switch. “Her and her turtle calls, I should have brought the darn thing back and stuck it in her locker instead of releasing it down by the river. Shame it wasn’t a big crab, that would have been a sight. We could have sneaked it under her desk.”
“I could of called Danny over to help, he once asked me to help him push a stray up over the dog shelter’s fence. It would have worked if Adams hadn’t been listening in on that channel.”
“I guess you got her angry, she’s a dog lover,” Rick said before calling out for the homeowner.
“Yeah, well they won’t come out for strays on the weekends, so he was just trying to help out a bit with the situation,” Williams said quietly, listening for any response to their presence.
“This place feels sort of creepy to me, smells funny in here, Sarge,” he noted, “and the lights were off, so maybe she didn’t get out of bed this morning.”
“Yeah, go check the kitchen for open trash or food, and see if the fridge is still running. Keep an eye out for that dog, there might be a basement. I’ll check upstairs,” Rick said, giving the room a final glance. “You’re right, there are some things the academy doesn’t prepare you for.”
“Sarge! You better get down here,” Williams shouted, backing out from the kitchen with his weapon in his hand, “Something funny is going on here. The back door is all busted out and there’s pieces of it laying out in the yard.”
“Check around the outside, Teddy,” Rick called down from the staircase, holding his handkerchief to his mouth as he leaned down on the railing. “Then get on the radio. I think whoever did this is long gone.”
“Who we need up there?” William’s asked, taking in Rick’s pale face, as he walked back into the living room, looking intently into all the corners.
“We’re going to need everybody on this one,” Rick finally said, wiping at his mouth as he sat down on a step. “Let them know it’s a DOA, and we’re going to need homicide and forensics out here as soon as possible.”
“Don’t worry about looking for the dog, I found part of it upstairs.”
“Hey, I found my brush,” Elise said, watching as Niamh was wheeled into the room and settled back on her bed. “We’ll get you looking a little better once you’ve rested up.”
“Thanks for saving my hide,” Elise said, standing beside the bed as the nurses closed the door behind them as they departed, “All I needed was another knot on my noggin.”
Giving a smile, Niamh pulled the covers back off and sat up, her eyes going over Elise to check her condition.
“Oh, I’m doing just fine,” Elise told her, noting the look. “It’s my turn to make sure you’re the same,” gesturing towards the bandages.
“Just fine,” Niamh replied, lifting the hospital gown so she could get at the bandages wrapped around her, and began unraveling them.
“I don’t think you should be doing that,” Elise said quietly, watching as the last of them ended up in a pile on the bed.
“Well, since you’re sitting up, let’s get your hair brushed out, I’ll put one of my ponytail ribbons in it,” Elise said, beginning to untie the end of the braid.
“Oh, look, you’ve got something stuck in your hair here,” Elsie muttered, separating the twists of hair to get at the object.
“This goes back to you,” she told Niamh placing the wrapped crystal piece in the palm of her hand as it was held up for her. “I guess that’s a safe place to keep your jewelry. Who’d think to look in your hair. It works for you being it’s so thick and heavy. It’d fall right out on my foot if I tried doing that with mine, let me tell you.”
“There,” giving the thick copper waves an last touch, “Now you’re looking like you should. We need to go show you off, and dump those wrappings you took off, otherwise they make all these weird expressions on their faces and try to make you feel bad over the extra work they’ll have to do in wrapping you all up again when they see them,“ Elise said, giving them a brief look. “I know just what to do.”
“In here, this is where we want to go,” Elise whispered, guiding the wheelchair around a metal cart and into one of the many rooms that dotted the hallway. “They always have a bunch to dump after the patients on the wards get checked. Yours won’t get noticed.”
“Let’s go down this way next. I want to see if Mrs. Grady is still down here,” Elise said, steering the chair back out into the hall and turning the right. “I try to see her each time I’m here, I met her awhile back when her family had come in for her birthday with cake. She saw me going past all by my lonesome, and asked me to join them. She looks like she’s a hundred years old.”
“She’s not out on the ward, she’s in Room Three, down the hall there,” one of the nurse said, seeing Elise’s questioning look as they passed the beds. “She wanted it that way.”
“To be alone?” Elsie responded, showing a frown.
“Some folks prefer it that way, Elise, they want some privacy. You might not want to tire her out, she hasn’t been doing well lately.”
“She’s suffering. Can you help her too?” Elsie asked, looking up from the pale face of Mrs. Grady to Niamh’s as they stood in the doorway looking in.
Pausing for a moment to take in the situation, Niamh slowly nodded her head before standing up and stepping away from the wheelchair. Placing an arm around Elise’s shoulders, she led them into the room, closing the door behind her.
“You’re late,” Elise said, trying to give her father a stormy look as Rick entered the room, “I was just telling Neeve all these nice things about you, too.”
“Sorry, ladies. Sometimes I have to work late. I had those advancement exams to deal with too,” Rick said, holding up a small cooler in front of him as protection from Elsie’s look. “I’ll make up for it, I brought ice cream, two different kinds.”
“And I brought the DVD’s and the player,” Chrissy said, coming in behind him. “It’s not all his fault, you must have hundreds to choose from in your movie collection.”
“He let you invade my private space?” Elsie asked, giving Chrissy a smile, “He’s grown bold since I’ve been away. I’ll have to get out the club and retrain him when I get home.”
“Oh, wait, I’m forgetting. Neeve,” Elise said, turning to look at her, “This is my father and Chrissy, the apple of his eye. She’s one of the best nurses who work here, so you might remember her from earlier. Her real name is Hikari Takashima, but everybody just calls her Chrissy. Don’t ask me why.”
“Yes,” Niamh said, giving each of them a nod of her head from where she was sitting on the bed with Elise, her eyes resting on each of them for a moment before returning to study Chrissy’s appearance for a moment.
“She doesn’t say much yet, but we’re working on it,” Elise noted, “She’s got a good memory and picks things up real quick.”
“I hope you’re getting some good information for me, I’m still trying to figure out where she came from. Her parents are probably looking for her,” Rick said, setting the cooler down on the end of the bed.
“Oh, sure dad, I already know,” pointing out the window. “Across the river, towards town. Acted like it was important,” Elsie said, reaching out to take the bag of movies from Chrissy and dumping them out on the bed beside Niamh, “So, I figured that’s where she came from.”
“Town? But she isn’t carrying any ID, and she had strange clothes on when she came in,” Chrissy said, bringing out paper bowls from another bag. “I checked them.”
“No, Chrissy. I meant the river,” Elsie said, looking up at her, then her father. “I don’t think she even knows the town exists. You can’t see it from here, there’s too many trees and hills.”
“Then, Detective Rickett, why didn’t she come from the woods?” Rick asked, sitting back on the other bed as he observed Niamh’s reaction to the DVDs as Elise dumped the bag on the bed. “With all that flooding, I doubt anyone could have crossed over, even if they were a good swimmer. Too much debris in the water.”
“Dad,” Elsie said, giving him a look, “The trees are on the other side of the river.”
“So they are,” Rick said, giving a look over at some papers on the table. “Looks like you’ve already begun to catch up with your homework.”
“Dad, that’s just some scribbling so don’t go changing the subject, I’m too bright for that. I was checking her writing skills,” Elise sighed shaking her head as she picked out a movie and handed it over to Niamh to look at.
“Well, there aren’t any missing person reports that match,” Rick sighed, looking over to Niamh. “We’re still recovering from all that flooding, the departments been kept busy looking for looters and stranded families in some areas. With all that’s been going on, they don’t have room in the system for a lost teen right now, they tend to cater to the younger ones first.”
“That’s a sad comment for our wonderful civilization, Dad,” Elise muttered, before looking at Niamh’s fascination with the illustration on the case cover. “Send us only the little kids, the rest don’t count.”
“Oh,” Chrissy suddenly said, peering closer at Niamh’s face, “The bruises are gone, they’ve faded away.”
“Yeah, she’s healed up, for the most part anyway,” Elise said, turning to her, “Those bruises were still there yesterday, but about an hour after she was brought back up here they started to disappear.”
“I didn’t want to check the bandages on her throat, but I suspect she’s recovered by now. She’s already removed the ones that were wrapped around her chest, Chrissy.”
“That can’t be,” Chrissy said, pulling out a penlight from a pocket, “Those would have taken a week or two at least,” she added, turning the light on as she walked over to Niamh.
“You see that?” Chrissy asked, looking over to Rick as Niamh shied back from the light.
“Oh, I forgot to mention that,” Elise said, noting Niamh reaction. “She did the same thing when I turned on the overhead lights earlier. I don’t think she’s seen a flashlight before.”
“I don’t think she’s Amish either, it’s like everything’s new to her.”
“You’re a mystery, that’s for sure,” Rick sighed, looking at Niamh, who quickly glanced up at him as he spoke, listening intently.
“She should come home with us,” Elise said, seeing the look he gave her, “You saved her, she’s ours to take care of until we find out where her parents are. You don’t want her ending up in some state run teen home somewhere. Who knows what would happen to her.”
“I must agree,” Chrissy chimed in with, satisfied that the bruises had faded away as Elise had said, “There is more to Neeve than her clothes, and her coin.”
“I think Elise is correct, you should look into having her released to you. After all, you checked her in, and you are the police. It makes sense.”
“Well, I’m beginning to think you’re right, so if I can the doc’s okay on the two of you, we’ll plan on going back home in the morning,” Rick said, nodding his head as he considered everything. “I still need to do some investigating on Niamh’s belongings, it’ll be useful for her to be with us.”
“She’ll be the sister I never had,” Elise said, turning her attention to the DVD she had handed over, “but I’m thinking Neeve’s never seen a movie before dad, I don’t know how she’s going to react to a monster attacking Tokyo. She might just freak on us.”
“Maybe another choice, she might think that’s why I’m here,” Chrissy said thoughtfully, “I still find it difficult to accept your suggestion. That monster’s an icon today, everyone’s seen it before.”
“Well, we’re about to find out,” Elise said, holding out the plug for her father to find a place for power. “Let’s all have some ice cream served before I start it. Maybe I can think of a way to explain it’s just a movie monster.”
“Shame we don’t have any popcorn to throw at the screen when the monster appears.”
“Monster,” Niamh suddenly gave out, repeating the word, still looking at the image as she tapped the cover of the movie case, showing a thoughtful expression. “It kills?”
“What is ice cream?” she asked, looking over to Chrissy.
“Oh damn,” Elise let out, shifting her attention from her father to Niamh. “You do speak.”
“I say some,” Niamh said, her eyes now on Elise, “I have been listening, and the words are not much different from those I know. I hoped to learn more before saying.”
“Much of what I see is new to me. I don’t understand those things.”
“Hold up,” Rick suddenly said, raising a hand as both Chrissy and Elise asked questions at the same time. “Let’s start out slowly,” he added, setting the ice cream down on the table.
“I am Niamh, daughter of Colleen,” Niamh said, anticipating his question. “I am not born here.”
“Oh boy,” Elsie slowly let out, turning to look at her father, “I think we need that ice cream first.”
“I still don’t understand,” Elise gave out for the second time as she gave Niamh another thoughtful look. “Just where is Otherworld?”
“Choose a direction and point,” Niamh replied, setting her empty bowl down on the table, “It is there,” giving out a slight shrug. “I can not explain more.”
“She’s lost,” Chrissy offered up, looking over to Rick, “That would explain it.”
“How come you can heal people?” Elise asked, setting her own bowl down to give Niamh her full attention. “Explain that one.”
“I am what I am,” giving another slight shrug as she avoided the question, “I do not have the words.”
“Don’t have the words… or aren’t ready to tell us?” Rick asked, watching her reaction to his words.
“Answer remains the same, in either case,” raising an eyebrow. “I am what I am, no more… no less. If you fear me, I should thank you and return to the woods now.”
“Should we fear you?” he asked, raising a hand at the look Chrissy was giving him.
“Perhaps. The others did,” Niamh replied, giving each of them a quick glance, judging their reaction at her words.
“The ones who sought me, for their pleasure and my death,” she added, seeing Elise was about ask another question. “The ones who caused my injuries.”
“It seems that any question only leads to more,” Chrissy noted, “It’s getting to be a lot to take in,” looking over to Rick. “How about we hold off on the interrogation, at least until Neeve is feeling more comfortable with us.”