Despite the strong sedative she was given Jill tossed and turned in her sleep, trying to escape the pain of her wounds. She was aware only of the hushed tones of her mother’s voice as she begged her to lie still. When she finally managed to struggle free of the drugs’ effects, she traced her eyes along the line that ran from her arm to the overhead bag on the drip stand. Groaning, she turned to where her mother sat knitting.
“Ah, you’re back with us at last,” she put aside the needles and laid a cold hand on Jill’s forehead. “Not too bad,” she decided, taking her hand away.
“I feel bad,” Jill struggled to sit and groaned, as the wounds protested the movement.
“Here, let me help you,” her mother’s arms felt strong, as they hoisted her up in the bed. “There now,” she plumped up the pillows.
“Thanks, Mam,” Jill was sweating from the effort.
“Are you in pain?” Her mother asked.
“A little,” Jill lied, not wanting to distress her.
Hum,” her mother as always, knew she was lying and reaching across the bed, the pressed the buzzer beside the pillow.
Instantly a nurse appeared, carrying a steel bowl.
“Hello, Jill,” the nurse busied herself filling a syringe from a vial. “This will help the pain,” she plunged the needle into the line in Jill’s arm.
“Thank you.” She felt the drug’s effects as her face grew warm and the throbbing of her skin eased.
“She’ll probably sleep now,” the nurse laid her arm on her mother’s shoulder. “You should have a rest, get a drink or something to eat,” she suggested.
“Yes,” her mother rose stiffly from the chair. “I’ll do that.”
Leaning across her daughter, she once again checked her forehead for sign of fever.
“I’m going down to the canteen,” she whispered. “I won’t be long. You try and sleep. Toby and your father will be in to see you later.”
“Thanks, Mam,” Jill’s tongue felt dry and her words slurred.
“Jill,” the voice roused her, and she struggled to open her eyes.
The light was on in the room, and as the curtains had not yet been drawn, she saw the darkness outside the window.
“How are you feeling?”
She looked up bleary-eyed at the doctor who bent over her
“Sore,” she managed to croak.
Yes, you will be for some days, I’m afraid,” he picked up the water glass beside her bed and helped her take a sip.
It was cool against her parched throat and she licked her lips, savouring the taste.
“We’ll need to keep you here another day,” he said, “in case of infection. I must admit, I’ve never seen anything like it. A stray dog, your mother says.”
“Yes,” Jill’s mother appeared as if by magic. “It was bothering the sheep and she went out to chase it away.”
“Good God, you were lucky to escape any more harm,” he said. “It could have been much worse. Many of the scars will heal by themselves and we have an excellent plastic surgeon here who can deal with the more obvious ones. Now try and rest,” he patted her hand, before leaving the room.
“Plastic surgeon?” She looked in terror at her mother.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” she brushed aside her worry. “A few small scars on your neck and chest that’s all.”
Jill brought a hand up to feel her face. It felt smooth and unmarked, but when her fingers traced down the line of her jaw and under her chin, she felt the first of many dressings.
“He says,” her mother nodded at the doctor’s retreating figure, “you can go home tomorrow, if your temperature stays down.”
“Oh good,” Jill said, but her smile belied her true feelings.
Here, in the sterile surroundings of the hospital, the memory of the past few weeks was like a bad dream. Once she returned home, there would be no choice but to face what had happened.
“I’ll come back later,” her mother shrugged on her coat. “And I’ll bring your father and Toby to visit.”
“What did you tell Toby?”
“I said you fell into a thorn bush and got scratched.”
“And he believed you?”
“He certainly didn’t press the matter any further. Now get some rest and I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”
Once her mother left, the fear Jill felt over the past weeks returned and she was once more a child, alone and abandoned. Outside in the corridor, she heard the bustle of everyday life. She looked around the small private ward and wondered how she was going to pay for her stay. After Joe left them, she had no longer been able to afford the payments on her private health insurance policy and she knew the bill for her care would run into thousands. The small mirror above the hand basin beckoned to her and she rose stiffly and made her way across to it, using the IV stand as a crutch. Her reflection was terrible to behold, and she gasped and gripped on the cold porcelain sink. Her face, though bruised and swollen, was left largely untouched by the Wraith’s nails, but a long dressing ran beneath her chin and disappeared below the neck of the hospital gown. Pulling the neck of the gown free from her body, she looked down at the numerous dressings stuck like snowy train tracks across her skin. The one beneath her breast was the largest and most painful and she grew weak remembering the agony as the Wraith had searched for her heart.
Gritting her teeth, she peeled away the dressing on her neck. Some of the stitches stuck to the dressing and brought tears to her eyes, as she eased them away from the dried blood. The skin beneath was puckered and raw looking and the row of black stitches made it look even worse. Groaning, she stuck the dressing back in to place and made her way back to the bed. She had just covered herself, when someone knocked on the door.
“Come in,” she watched the door swing open and Tom appeared, carrying a large bouquet of roses.
“Thank you,” Jill held out her arms to accept his gift. “They’re lovely.”
“You don’t look too bad,” he pulled her mother’s recently vacated chair closer to the bed and sat down.
“Liar,” she smiled.
“Considering,” he raised his hands in mock defeat.
“I’m going to have a few scars,” she touched the dressing on her neck.
“Battle scars,” he nodded, “And by God, it was some fight.”
“Yes,” Jill agreed. “It certainly was.”
They sat in silence, unsure of what to say next.
“Do you think she’s gone for good,” Jill asked.
“Yes, I don’t doubt it. It’s strange, but I feel as though a load has lifted.”
“Can you ever forgive me?”
“I’ve thought of nothing else over the past few days and I’d be a hypocrite if I said I wouldn’t have done the same thing to get Rachael back,” the sorrow in his voice at the mention of his child’s name was obvious. “Look at it this way; I got to see my little girl again.”
“Yes,” Jill whispered. “At least something good came out of it for you.”
“You know,” he stopped and wiped his eyes. “Marie was always nervy, and our marriage wasn’t always plain sailing, but that thing back there, that Wraith was not Marie, it was something else, something dark and evil.”
“I know what you mean,” Jill agreed.
“Let’s change the subject,” Tom said. “I met Paul this morning.”
“How is he?”
“A bit shaken up, like all of us, but he’s different, more assured,” He looked at her. “Does that sound strange?”
“No, I think what happened to us is bound to have some lasting effect.”
“Anyway, he said to give you his best and tell you he’ll call to see you later.”
“Great,” Jill said. “He’s been a tower of strength. I don’t know what I would have done without him.”
“He’s been put up for all sorts of awards for solving the case and get this,” Tom laughed. “He’s taking early retirement. I’d like to bet on how long that will last.”
“He’s not leaving the village, is he?”
“No and he says you’re not either. Your father told him about the gossip, and he says he’ll soon put a stop to it.”
“No doubt he will,” she laughed.
“He’s a very determined man,” Tom agreed. “He’s been in touch with his sons and talks of visiting the grandchildren.”
“I’m glad; it’s not good to be so alone.”
“No,” Tom said, and his voice was filled with sadness. “It’s not.”
They talked for what seemed like minutes, but was in fact, hours. The arrival of Toby and her parents interrupted them, and Tom left with the promise to call to the house the next evening. Toby fussed over her dressings and thought the IV was cool, as he had only ever seen one before on the television. His eyes widened when she recounted the tale of how she had fallen into the holly bush, but his quiet acceptance of the story bothered her. Had he already witnessed so many strange events in his short life he no longer questioned them or was he just too worn out to care?