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The Widow in the Woods: Part 8

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

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Grace leaned her head back on the sofa and listened to the comforting sound of pots and pans rattling in the kitchen as Lexie prepared dinner for the group. She had always loved kitchen noises. They took her back to her childhood, when, raised by her grandmother, she would awaken in the morning to a symphony of spoons stirring, fire crackling, and dishes clanking. When young Grace had emerged each morning, her grandmother always stopped what she was doing, smiled, and gave her a hug. Then she would turn back to the kitchen and scoop out something delicious for breakfast.

A small smile played on Grace’s lips as she felt embraced by the memory. She wondered what her grandmother would have done in her situation. Grace felt certain that Matilda would have taken everything in stride and vanquished the intruders without an iota of stress.

It was a strange time in life when all your inspirations – all the people who gave you courage, unconditional love, and steady support – were gone from this world. Your only solace was to honor them by fighting with everything you had.

By the pain had reduced to a throbbing yet tolerable ache, she knew what she was going to do. It was a desperate ploy but the only one she could come up with in her current situation.

Slowly, she rose and steadied herself before making her way to her medical closet in the hall. There, she quickly found the sling she had sewn together a while back from a couple of sturdy bandanas. She winced as she pulled it over her head and settled her injured arm into it, but as she gently wiggled her fingers, she decided that while her arm was injured, it likely wasn’t broken. Her ribs were a different matter – it hurt every time she drew a deep breath. She dug through her stash of over-the-counter medication and shook four ibuprofen tablets out, swallowing them dry.

Then, Grace gingerly shuffled to the garden. It felt as though it was miles away instead of just across the lawn.

Once there, she pulled a big, old-fashioned iron key from her pocket. She looked around carefully before putting it into the lock of the faded violet-painted gate of the walled part of her garden. She slipped inside and closed the gate behind her.

Inside, she was greeted by her gray cat, Nightshade, which she had found as a kitten in this very space. The feline had wisely made himself scarce, seeming to divine that the intruders were dangerous. He rubbed against Grace’s legs and purred.

She sat down on the wooden bench inside the walled garden for a little rest as she continued plotting. She looked around her secret garden with a glow of pride. She had been collecting these specimens for decades. Every plant within it had power –  to kill, to maim, and, in the right dose, to heal. She kept them behind a wall for the safety of those who might wander past, whether on two legs or four. They were unique plants collected from all over the world. Some had to be wintered in her greenhouse and some thrived year round in this place. She could never get enough of the smell – earthy and botanical, with a hint of what had always felt to her like some kind of ancient knowledge, nearly lost to this modern earth. As she breathed it all in, she felt energized and like she was one with this mysterious place.

When she got up again, she filled her apron pocket with the driest leaves on her potted coca tree. Coca was the predecessor of cocaine and was a plant that was sacred to the ancient Incans. She treasured the plant she had gotten ahold of and had nurtured it carefully. The pot was on wheels and spent winters in her greenhouse. To make the illegal drug required a chemical extraction of some compounds, but the leaves had other medicinal uses, making this little bush a valued part of her medicinal garden. A person could chew the leaves for energy without concern about the addictive qualities of the processed drug.

Her harvest complete, she slipped back through the gate and locked it securely. Then she made her way into the weedy meadow behind her property and harvested some leaves from the prickly sida plants growing wild there, careful to avoid pricking her fingers on the hairy spines on the stem. On her way back to the little cottage, she visited her greenhouse workroom, filled with jars and vials. There, she grabbed a bottle of sida tincture, which was a natural antibiotic.

It had to at least seem like Rick was getting better if she intended to stay alive. He could chew some coca leaves to get a boost of energy and dampen his pain, and she could treat his wound with a poultice and his system with an herbal medication to hold off the sepsis for a few more days.

Grace knew that she was nearly out of time and that the others had to be dealt with as quickly as possible if she and Lexie were to survive.

When Grace entered the kitchen, the three somber intruders at the table froze and stared at her silently.

She ignored them and set to work as though they hadn’t invaded her kitchen.  She set some water to boil. Then, using the mortar and pestle, she pushed the bowl against her abdomen to keep it steady, and, using her good hand, lightly bruised the coca leaves, then covered them with some of her remaining precious granulated sugar.

Then she put those aside and added the prickly sida leaves she had harvested into the bowl without rinsing out the residual coca leaves. She mashed it all together with as much energy as she could muster using only one hand, then added just enough water to create a paste.

She added a splash of laudanum and a hefty dose of sida tincture to a mug, then covered it with boiling water. A copious helping of honey was added to mask the bitterness.

“Lexie?” she called out. The girl instantly appeared at her side. “Please help me carry this in to care for Rick so we can try to help with his infection.”

Lexie nodded and placed the mug, bowl, and plate of sugared leaves onto a tray to carry them into the parlor, where Rick lay, pale and feverish. Christopher’s chair squeaked loudly as he shoved it back with a clatter and rose to follow them.

In the parlor, Grace used her good hand to smooth Rick’s hair back from his hot brow. He was running a high fever, she discerned. “Please go get a cloth and a bowl of cool water, Lexie, dear,” Grace ordered. Rick’s lashes fluttered open. His eyes were dark with pain. “I’m going to help you feel better, son.”

“Can you help him to sit up?” she addressed Christopher, who looked pained to be taking an order from the old woman he had determined to be the enemy. Wordlessly and with more gentleness than she had expected, he aided his brother in sitting up.

Before Grace could get the mug of laudanum and sida tincture up to Rick’s mouth, Christopher demanded, “You try it first, old lady.”

“Gladly,” said Grace. Her arm and ribs were throbbing mightily, and though she had no need for a systemic antibiotic, it certainly wouldn’t hurt her. And the laudanum would provide some blessed relief. She took a deep gulp of the hot liquid, wincing slightly at the bitterness of the combined herbs.

Christopher was mollified and took the cup from her. He held it to his brother’s lips and said, “Drink it down, Rick. It’ll help with the pain.”

Dutifully, Rick drank down the rest of the noxious brew.

Grace instructed Christopher to help Rick lay back down, and then she went to work on his wound. First, she tested the temperature of the poultice she’d made – it had cooled to a degree that wouldn’t cause undue pain. She gently scooped the goopy concoction onto the wound, then laid clean gauze on top. She passed a clean bandage to Christopher. “Wrap this around his middle to keep the poultice in place.”

Once that was done, she spoke to Rick. “I’m going to give you a leaf with sugar on it to chew. It will make your mouth feel numb, but it will help ease your pain and make you feel –“

“Wait,” Christopher interrupted. “You go first.”

Grace took one of the leaves and chewed on it. As she’d warned Rick, the inside of her mouth felt like she’d visited the dentist and been injected with Novocaine. In fact, that was another use for the coca plant. You could chew the leaves to help manage the pain of a dental problem.

She raised a brow in askance at Christopher and gently placed a leaf in Rick’s mouth when the older brother nodded. He made a face but chewed it dutifully. She followed it with a couple more leaves, then rose to let him rest. She was certain her treatment would provide at least the illusion of an improvement between the pain relief, the energy boost, and the herbal antibiotic she’d dispensed in both topical and oral form.

Lexie questioningly looked at the tray, then at Grace. “Yes, let’s take that back to the kitchen,” Grace acknowledged her unspoken question. When the two returned to the kitchen, they were alone.

Dirty dishes had been abandoned on the table. Lexie pulled out the most comfortable-looking chair for Grace and gently pushed her toward it. Then she cleared the table and brought Grace a bowl of the soup she’d held back while the others had dined. Even though the soup was no longer piping hot, it was tasty, and together, they ate in companionable silence.

They’d require all the strength they could get if they were going to survive.

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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