Cora groaned, the pressure on her right arm was unbearable. Even in her drug-induced, semi-conscious state, she managed to reach out with her free hand to brush away what was hurting her. There was vague mumbling from above and her hand was clasped in a cool, but firm embrace.
“Cora, wake up now.”
The overhead lights were blinding, so she covered her face. Her mind felt hazy, her thoughts muddled, but she managed to focus in time to see the white figure beside her bed fold the blood pressure cuff.
“Welcome back,” the nurse smiled. “And how are you feeling?”
“I fell,” she tried to make sense of what happened.
“Indeed, you did. It was a miracle you didn’t break something in a fall like that.”
“I didn’t?” She held up her hands to inspect them.
They were covered in yellow and blue bruises.
“I’m afraid you have many more like that, but never mind, it could be worse.”
Now her mind was finally clear of drugs, Cora’s hand went instinctively to her stomach, and she knew her baby was gone. She turned towards the nurse and with eyes filled with fear, asked. “My baby?”
“I’m sorry, my dear. There was nothing the doctors could do.”
“No, please,” she started to sob.
“The pregnancy wasn’t advanced enough. His little lungs were unable to cope.”
“Yes, you can see him later, when you’re feeling better.”
But Cora knew she would never feel any better and turning on her side, she howled for the loss of her child.
“I’ll ask the doctor for something to relax you,” the nurse patted the bedcovers.
“No,” Cora called after her. “I don’t want anything. Let me be.”
The nurse turned away, shaking her head. Cora wanted to scream, leave me alone. I want to grieve for my loss. Instead, she huddled down under the blankets and her sobbing made the bed shake. After a while she fell into an uneasy sleep. She was back at the house, standing at the top of the stairs with her arms full of dirty bed linen. Then, she was falling, tumbling over and over, the child in her womb spinning faster within her until finally, she was lying at the bottom of the stairs and the warmth between her legs pumped in time to the fading heartbeat inside.
A touch on her arm made her scream, and she struggled to sit up. Marie caught her and held her as the sobbing began again.
“It’s going to be all right, my dear. I know this means nothing to you now, but time is a great healer.”
“I lost the baby.”
“I know, the nurse told me. I said I was your mother. A small lie in a good cause,” she stroked Cora’s back.
Cora sat up and brushed the tear-soaked hair from her face.
“It was a little boy,” she sniffed. “They said I can see him, but I’m afraid. Can you believe that? I’m afraid of my own baby.”
“We all fear death. There is nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Would you come with me, to see him, I mean?”
“Yes, of course I will. I’ll go and ask the nurse.”
Marie left the room and returned in minutes.
“You will need to be taken down in a wheelchair. As soon as they have a porter free, they will send him in.”
During the time they waited, Marie told her how she had taken the children home with her. About Emily and finally, because she knew Cora needed to know, the house’s secret.
For a moment, Cora forgot her own grief.
“Then this Annie, this young girl, has been there for hundreds of years?”
“Yes, poor thing. Trapped in time and bound by a terrible curse to Liam’s family.”
“Is there nothing can be done to free her?”
“Nothing, Emily fears she’s become so desperate in her search of eternal rest she will try to kill Liam.”
“I hope she does.” Cora was trembling with rage. “I hope she tears out his rotten heart.”
“Yes, “Marie sighed. “But if she does, she’s damned. She will belong to the darkness forever.”
“Oh, the poor child,” Marie was unsure if her cries were for Annie or her dead baby.
The sudden whistling from the hallway made them look up and a wheelchair trundled in the door, pushed by a rosy-cheeked porter.
“Your chariot has arrived, my lady,” he joked, as he helped Cora into the seat.
His cheery manner soon abated when the nurse came in and he learned of their destination. It was a solemn, silent little procession that left the room. No one spoke, as they waited for the lift, or even when they descended deep into the bowels of the hospital and along the echoing corridor to the morgue and the chapel of rest. There was more whispering as the porter and the assistant conferred, finally…
“Mrs. O Brien. I’m Joe Hayes. I’ll take you in to see your baby.”
“Thank you,” Cora held out a trembling hand to Marie.
“You’ll be fine, love,” Joe assured her.
She glanced towards the chapel doors and the stained-glass cross fixed in each of them. Somewhere behind those doors lay the body of her child, pale and cold and dead. She wanted to scream, but instead she held tighter to Marie’s hand. The wheelchair jolted as Joe kicked off the brake, and she closed her eyes. She was aware of the doors opening and cringed, expecting a rush of cold air. But there was nothing like that. The room felt warm; there was no harsh smell of disinfectant nothing, but silence.
Marie let go of her and Cora heard her walk forward. Still, she did not open her eyes.
“Ah, God bless him.”
Marie was leaning over a frilled baby basket when Cora peeped through her fingers. There was no coffin, no candles, none of the scary stuff.
“What’s he like?” Cora started to cry.
“A perfect little baby; a little transparent, but that’s to be expected. Come, let me help you.”
With Marie holding her, she moved towards the basket. A sob caught in her throat when she saw her baby. He was as Marie said, perfect. His skin so thin she could trace each vein beneath it. His fingers were curled into tight fists and his mouth pouted into a perfect cupid’s bow.
“Poor little thing,” Cora’s tears flowed as she stroked his tiny hands. “You never stood a chance did you, son?”
Marie bought a hankie to her eyes. Cora was right; he never stood a chance. Hatred for Liam O Brien and for all men like him welled up, so she had to walk from the room as tears threatened.
She had managed to compose herself when Cora was wheeled out. No longer crying, she seemed more at peace, and the hand that grasped Marie’s no longer trembled. The porter soon had Cora back in bed and left with a mumbled “sorry for your trouble.”
Marie was anxious to be back with Emily and the children. So, kissing Cora and promising to be back next morning, she left the room almost colliding with a doctor who was entering.
Outside the wind whipped up, and Marie shivered drawing her coat closer. The forecast said a clear night with a touch of frost. Now, as she looked up at the moon and the dark clouds racing across it, she wondered where the weathermen got their predictions.
Cora studied the doctor standing at the end of her bed.
“Let’s have a look at you,” he indicated at her to pull up her robe and pressed on her stomach.
“It’s amazing you didn’t break anything. I have seen people die from shorter falls than you had. Did you ever think of doing stunt work?”
She did not answer and his face grew serious.
“I’m sorry about your loss. There was nothing anyone could do.”
“Yes, I know. Thank you,” she answered automatically.
“Can you remember what you tripped over?”
“The sheets, I think. I was changing a bed.”
“Yes, that may well be, but it doesn’t explain this,” he rolled back the bedclothes and traced his fingers along a thin red mark on her ankle. “Do you remember how you got this?”
“No, I’m afraid I don’t.”
“Mmm, it’s strange. Your leg must have encounter something sharp. It is worth looking into, but not tonight. You need your rest.”
“Yes,” Cora was unable to tear her eyes away from the thin, blood red line around her ankle.
“There seems to be a storm brewing.”
“I said there seems to be a storm brewing. It’s the wrong time of the year for this sort of weather.”
“Oh, yes,” Cora’s attention went back to her leg, so she did not hear him leave.
The effects of the day begun to take effect, and she sank back against the pillows exhausted. There were no more tears left, instead she felt numb. Eventually she fell asleep and her dreams were filled with nightmare images. The one thing she remembered clearly as she awoke was lying at the bottom of the stairs and looking up at the terrified face of a young woman, and the thin piece of wire tied across the top step. Sweat coated her face as the realisation hit. Liam killed her son and had she died in the process; it would not have mattered. Her eyes flew to the clock in the corridor outside. She had only been asleep for half an hour. Easing her way out of bed, she stumbled towards the wardrobe. Her flesh was so battered it felt as though it tore with each movement. The clothes she had been wearing when admitted were folded neatly on a shelf. Though the skirt was blood stained, it was wearable and there were a few crumpled euro notes in the pocket to pay for a taxi. The corridor was quiet; there was no one to stop her flight. The night seemed darker than usual, despite the full moon, and the wind whipped her hair around her face as she stepped outside. She was leaving her baby behind in a hospital full of strangers and heading home to Liam to carry out the teachings of her religion, an eye for an eye.
“It’s getting very dark,” Laura pressed her nose against the window and looked out into the deepening gloom. She had grown tired of waiting for Marie to return and turning to Emily asked. “What’s taking her so long?”
“Perhaps the traffic is bad. It has turned out to be such a windy night. The power lines could be down. Who knows what damage this storm is causing?”
“Yes, but it’s not a real storm,” Laura traced her finger down the pane following the path of a raindrop.
“Why, of course it’s a real storm,” Emily replied. “You can hear it, can’t you and see it?”
“Yes,” Laura shrugged, slipping down from the window seat, and joining Emily and Shelly by the fire. “I mean it’s not caused by the weather.”
“That’s silly,” Shelly stopped writing in her copybook and looked up. “It has to be cause by the weather. You’re weird.”
“I am not,” Laura grabbed at the copybook and a tug of war ensued.
“Stop that at once,” Emily shook her hankie at them with all the power of a demented butterfly.
Laura let go, causing Shelly to fall back against the fireplace and bang her head.
“Now look what you’ve done,” Emily eased her way up from her seat.
“I don’t care. I’m sick of her calling me names.”
“That’s no reason to hurt her,” Emily rubbed at the small lump already beginning to form at the back of the child’s head.
“I didn’t mean her to fall back, did I?” Laura glared at her sister.
“Yes, you did,” Shelly sniffled. “I hate you. You’re a pig.”
“Well. If I am a pig, you must be too.”
“Well, you’re an even bigger pig.”
“Girls give over that nonsense at once. You do not know how lucky you are to have one another. If I had a sister, I might not have ended up in that dreadful place.”
This stopped them, as each had a picture of Hillcrest seared into their memory.
“I’m sorry,” Laura offered. “It’s just people at school are always calling me names. They say I am weird because I see things they can’t. They call me witch and other things.”
“I always stick up for you,” Shelly said.
“Yeah, I know, sorry.”
“It’s OK,” Shelly retrieved the fallen copybook.
For a while peace was restored. Shelly went back to her homework, Laura leafed through a magazine and Emily stared into the flames remembering better times. She had to agree with the child. Marie was taking her time. There was a shuffling beside her, and Emily looked across at Laura who was holding the palms of her hands over her ears.
“Have you an earache?”
She shook her head.
“Why are you doing that?”
“What do you mean?”
“Voices, in my head.”
“She always hears voices,” Shelly threw her eyes skyward.
“What are they saying?” Emily was intrigued.
“Crying, Annie’s crying and a man, I think it’s my Dad saying help me.”
Emily looked towards the dark window. “She’s out there?”
“Yes, I tried to tell you that. She’s in the storm.”
“We have to save her. We have to get to the house.”
“Shelly, get your pencil case,” Laura ordered, and taking her own from her satchel, she emptied the contents onto the coffee table.
Between them they had over sixteen euros in lunch money.
“This should be enough for a taxi,” Shelly said.
. Marie’s address book was beside the phone, so they found the number of a taxi firm. Laura, taking charge, helped Emily and Shelly into their coats and stuffed the notes and coins into her pocket.
“We better leave Marie a note,” Emily said.
Laura tore a piece from the back of Shelly’s copybook and scribbled a short message. Outside a horn tooted and she ushered the others out.
“You see?” She whispered to Emily, as she helped her down the steps in front of the building. “The sky is crying.”
Marie arrived back at the flat just as the taxi drew away from the curb. She ran inside pulling of her headscarf and unbuttoning her coat. She knew something was wrong. It was too quiet.
“Emily, children,” she called, her voice echoing back in the stillness. Their coats were gone from the hallstand, but everything else was still there. Her eyes were drawn to the copybook on the table and the note lying on top of it. Picking it up, her eyes grew wide in terror at the six words printed in childish scrawl. Annie’s back, gone to save her.