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The Widow in the Woods: Part 3

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If you missed the first part of The Widow in the Woods, you can find it here.

Part 2 is located here.

When Lexie woke up the next morning, she thought for a moment she was home. It felt like she was back in her bed, under the brightly colored quilt she’d had ever since she could remember. That quilt had become soft, almost satin-like, because of being washed so many times over the years. Before she opened her eyes, Lexie nestled deeper under the covers and touched the familiar hem of the quilt…

And then she awakened fully, with a devastating mental jolt that felt like a shock of electricity.

She was not home.

It hadn’t all been a horrific nightmare.

She looked around the room through slitted eyes, pretending to still be sleeping. She was on a soft, plump overstuffed chair, the kind that had room for two if you wanted to cuddle. The crisp fabric of a pillowcase was cool under her cheek. The room smelled of herbs, beeswax, and old books. She could dimly see through her lashes. There was furniture in shades of warm red, rich green, and lush purple, surrounded by darkly gleaming wood walls. A lacy curtain fluttered in a gentle breeze, filtering the morning sunlight into the room. While it wasn’t the bedroom, she had dreamed she was in, it was cozy and comforting.

Lexie wanted to pretend to sleep and stay in that chair forever, but she desperately needed to relieve her bladder. She finally, grudgingly, couldn’t wait anymore. She sat up and her feet had just touched the floor when the voice of the angel startled her.

“Good morning, sweetheart – do you need to go outside?” Grace whispered.

Lexie nodded and Grace gave a “come this way” gesture. She eyed Rick suspiciously, giving the daybed where he slept a wide berth.

They both padded, barefoot, to the back door where some large, broken-down boots awaited their feet.  The screen door squeaked as Grace pushed it open and she led Lexie down a path to an adorable little building with a faded blue door. Lexie went first, enjoying the privacy of the four walls after being accustomed to surreptitiously squatting outdoors.

When they were both finished, Grace said softly, “I’m going to make breakfast for everyone. Would you help me?”

Lexie nodded and followed Grace to the coziest kitchen imaginable. There was both an old-fashioned wood burning kitchen stove and a small gas range attached to a propane tank. The walls were a buttery yellow, and the cupboards were a gleaming warm-toned wood that were so polished Lexie was sure that if she looked hard, she would see the light dusting of freckles on her nose reflected back to her.

Grace got an onion and some potatoes from the wooden cupboard with mesh doors and plucked some herbs from the sunny window adorned with another lace curtain. She put a knife and a cutting board down on the counter and showed Lexie how she wanted the potatoes cut. Eggs from a bowl on the counter were broken into a cheerful red floral bowl and whipped with a hand beater. Grace added some lard to a frying pan and turned on the precious gas to heat it up.

Lexie held the knife in her hand after the vegetables were chopped. She didn’t want to relinquish it and did so grudgingly when Grace gently took it from her. “Now isn’t the time, sweet girl,” she murmured.

Lexie released the knife into Grace’s custody and felt bereft.

Grace dished up breakfast for the visitors. She made each plate lovely, sprinkling the eggs with some of the dried Parmesan cheese powder from a canister then used a dainty spoon to sprinkle another white powder onto only two servings of eggs.

Then she added a flourish of green dried parsley from a jar and a generous grind of black pepper to each plate.

The unwelcome visitors had begun to stir to smell of onions and potatoes frying. Grace brought water to boil on another burner and added it to the French press, where she had her own mixture of a few coffee beans and some roasted chicory root from her garden. She sprinkled in a little cinnamon and briskly took an amber bottle off the shelf. The bottle was equipped with a dropper and the white-haired woman added a generous amount to the press.

When Lexie tilted her head to the side curiously, Grace told her, “This is chasteberry. It grows on that pretty purple bush outside and I began to grow it when I took care of women’s health. It has many other purposes, too, and tastes sort of like black pepper.” She left the French press on the counter to brew her concoction.

Lexie nodded and pulled down enough charmingly mismatched china cups for everyone and put them on the counter beside the French press. She watched solemnly from the furthest corner of the kitchen she could squeeze into as Beth and the brothers trickled into the kitchen.

Ever inconsiderate, they drained the French press without leaving any coffee behind. Grace quietly set another kettle full of water on to boil for some tea for herself and Lexie.

Grace handed her one of the plates that had the white powder on it. She tasted it suspiciously and it seemed fine. She wondered what it was, but not enough to stop eating. If someone had assured her the white powder was poison that would cause her rapid and untimely death, she still would have eaten the delicious food. The eggs were so fluffy and the potatoes so crisp that she marveled such delicious food was still available in the devolving world. Lexie silently devoured every bite with the hunger of a person who hadn’t had a good meal in a long time. Grace stood beside her at the counter, nibbling at the food on her own plate. Her plate, Lexie had noticed, was not one of the ones with the white powder. She wasn’t sure who’d gotten the other one but her stomach was comfortably full and she didn’t give it more thought.

“Let’s go get some water for washing up,” she told Lexie, pointing to a bucket in the sink. They went out to the side yard where an old red hand pump stood. Grace showed her how to pump the water and Lexie carried the heavy, sloshing vessel back inside.

“You can wash the dishes, Lexie, my girl,” Grace instructed as she grabbed her medical kit to go care for the patient in the living room.

Lexie plugged the sink and added a bit of the soap in the container on the counter. Wordlessly, she cleared the empty plates from the table as Beth and the brothers sat there, expecting to be waited on. She flinched when Christopher shoved his wooden chair back with a startling squeeaaak across the linoleum floor. Beth snickered mockingly at Lexie’s response, but for once, Christopher wasn’t paying attention to her.  Instead, he was following Grace into the parlor where his injured brother was.

Rick was still asleep on the daybed, as still as the dead. His pale cheeks all but blended into the white pillowcase beneath his head. When Grace touched him, his skin was clammy. He peered at her groggily as she pulled down the sheets to check his wound.

The wound looked less angry than it had when she had removed the bullet. Grace clucked her tongue and wordlessly got up to get her special wound dressing and supplies from the kitchen.

As she walked to the kitchen to get the jar of Garden Tea and some laudanum, she felt closer to James than she had in a very long time. She could almost hear his voice, telling her stories of the Viet Cong and how they ensured that anyone who was wounded by one of their punji sticks would succumb to infection. She wished that it worked faster. She could almost hear his warm chuckle as he teased her about her lack of patience.

Tears filled her eyes for just a quick, blinding second, but she blinked them back. She had no time for sentimental nonsense right now.

Lexie sat stiffly at the kitchen table, alone. Grace gave her a wink and gathered her supplies. “Do you know how to weed a vegetable garden, my girl?” she questioned.

Lexie nodded wordlessly.  Grace opened a drawer and handed her a pair of worn gloves with a faded pink floral pattern. “Go out and do so, please, dear. You’ll be safe there. Don’t go into the area with the wall around it.” The screen door squeaked as she left the kitchen.

Grace got her jar of Garden Tea, the syringe, more gauze, and added laudanum and honey to a cup. She fully intended that Rick’s wound be fatal, but she wouldn’t inflict pointless suffering on any living creature.

She returned to the kitchen and handed the cup of painkiller to Christopher. “Give this to your brother before I begin cleaning his wound,” she ordered. Christopher didn’t look delighted to be taking orders, but he helped Rick sit up nonetheless, and guided the cup to his mouth, whispering encouragement to his brother.

Once the laudanum had time to take effect, Grace began to work on the wound. What nourished the soil would do the opposite to a wound, she was most certain. She also knew that continuously flushing out a wound would prevent it from healing, which would give the bacteria she was introducing more time to work. Meanwhile, it looked to the untrained eye like Grace was diligently caring for a wounded man and doing her best to make him better.

As they left Rick fitfully resting, she pulled Christopher aside. “I’m worried about your brother. His wound doesn’t look quite right to me.”

Christopher flashed a beautiful smile. His straight white teeth and dimples belonged to a different man, a kind charming man. It was like a disguise that hid the relentless rot of who he really was. But one thing about times like this one was that masks that worked in The Before began to slip and expose who people really were.

At least they did if you looked hard enough.

Unfortunately for her unwelcome guests, they weren’t people who looked hard enough. When they looked at Grace, they only saw a sweet little old lady. They completely missed the streak of iron inside of her underneath her own mask. It was that determination which had caused James to fondly nickname her “The General.” He would say, “Whatever the General wants, the General will get” whenever some injustice made her angry.

He’d always had complete faith in her.

She hoped that his faith was not misplaced because two lives depended on her skills and her willingness to do whatever she had to do. She pulled her attention back to the handsome man in front of her.

“You don’t know my brother,” he stated with great confidence. “Hills don’t die easily.”

“It’s a severe wound, and I just want you to be prepared – he has a rough road ahead of him,” Grace warned.

Christopher chuckled and walked back to the parlor to sit with his brother. He is very condescending, thought Grace in silent satisfaction. This will work against him because he thinks he’s smarter than everyone else.

He thinks he’s smarter than me.

He’ll never see it coming.

As she walked through the hallway, she stopped to peer at a sampler on the wall she had stitched herself. The sight of the carefully embroidered herbs, vines, leaves, and flowers in it never failed to make her feel calm and centered. She counted the flowers and plants for a moment, then headed out to the garden.

She had some herbs to harvest.

About Daisy

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, adventure-seeking, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty; 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived; and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. Her work is widely republished across alternative media and she has appeared in many interviews.

Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books, 12 self-published books, and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses at SelfRelianceand You can find her on FacebookPinterestGabMeWeParlerInstagram, and Twitter.

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