S4 #10: Chapter Eight

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Photo ref: Pixabay.com

Chapter Eight

 

Hours later, at the hospital in Lexington, Keisha Wormwood lay in the recovery room, staring at the ceiling in confusion. Where was she? How did she get here? Why was she hurting so much, everywhere? She blinked back tears as she tried to move and found she couldn’t budge without excruciating pain. She felt a gentle hand brushing at her eyes.

‘Welcome back, Sweetie.’ A kindly nurse smiled down at her. ‘How do you feel?’

‘Hurts.’ Keisha choked out as more tears filled her eyes.

‘I know it does, Hon. Here, see this little plunger? All ya’ gotta do is push it and the pain will go away, okay?’ The nurse placed her thumb over the plunger on the morphine pump. ‘Now, push.’

Keisha did so, and soon the pain began to evaporate. Then, the world blurred and went dark again.

Dr. Alexander Bearfighter stepped out of the elevator, scanning the hall as he went. He was looking for someone from the Ranch. He almost relaxed as he saw Edward Hastings standing just outside of the intensive care unit’s waiting room. They made eye contact as Alexander made short work of the distance between them.

‘Alex.’ Edward nodded.

‘Ed. How is Keisha?’ Alexander anxiously stuffed his hands into his pockets.

‘Kie’s holding her own. Doc came out a few minutes ago to say she made it through surgery and was in recovery. He said he’d be back out soon. He had another patient from the church that needed his skills.’ Edward explained.

‘That would be Thomas.’ Alexander frowned, looking to the floor. ‘Such a tragedy.’

‘Yep. How’s Sparrowhawk?’

‘She’s doing okay. Minor concussion. She’s got some cuts and bruises, but she’ll be okay.’ Alexander’s face lost it’s cool expression as he spoke of his wife’s injuries. ‘They’re going to keep her overnight for observation. She’s not too happy about it, but I insisted. I told her that I needed to check on our people and that I’d feel better if she were here.’

Edward nodded silently. ‘We lost one of our own, in case you didn’t know, yet. We lost Tallman.’

‘I heard from the Sheriff.’ Alexander pulled out a wad of tissue and wiped at his nose.

‘The ladies were lucky.’ Edward noted softly.

‘Yes, they were.’ Alexander agreed as they saw the doctor coming towards them through the door’s glass. ‘Maybe he has some news.’

‘Hello, Dr. Bearfighter.’ The Surgeon greeted him. ‘I understand that Ms. Wormwood is one of your clients and that you have power of attorney for her.’

‘Yes. Do you need me to sign papers?’ Alexander nodded.

‘Already taken care of.’ The Surgeon held up his hand.

‘How is Keisha, Doc?’

‘She’s a mighty strong fighter. Her internal injuries were pretty hefty, and she took a hard blow to the back of her head. The head injury is of more concern than her internal injuries. There is swelling in her brain. We won’t know how significant the brain damage is until we get the swelling down.’ The Surgeon remained grim as he spoke. ‘We were able to stop the internal bleeding and Ms. Wormwood is holding her own at the moment. I have her listed Critical but stable. I’ll upgrade that as she improves.’

Alexander breathed a deep sigh of relief as he closed his eyes for a short, silent prayer. Then, he looked back to the surgeon. ‘When can I see her?’

Edward spoke up. ‘I’d like to be there when she wakes up.’

‘Ms. Wormwood won’t be awake until morning, at least. She’s sedated and on a morphine drip at the moment. Why don’t you go down and be with your wife, Doctor. I understand that she was injured as well. And, Mr. Hastings, I suggest you go on back to the Ranch and catch some sleep.’ The Surgeon suggested.

‘My wife’s injuries are mild. She chased me out of the room, so I’ll be going back to the Ranch.’ Alexander shrugged. ‘I’d rather not leave Ms.Wormwood alone, Doc. We have some security concerns in that regards.’

‘Understood. I can ask security to post an officer outside the unit if that works for you?’ The Surgeon offered.

‘We don’t need a security officer. I’ll be staying with her.’ Edward insisted before Alexander could respond.

Edward and Alexander shared a look that spoke silent volumes.

‘I would feel much better if Edward were by her side, Doc. He’s familiar with the situation, and she knows him.’ Alexander suggested.

The Surgeon seemed to consider the two for a moment before speaking. ‘I have no objection as long as Mr. Hastings does not disturb her. Ms. Wormwood is going to need all the rest she can get over the next several weeks. Rest will help her brain and her internal injuries to heal all the sooner.’ The Surgeon eyed Edward’s huge frame cautiously.

‘I won’t say a word unless she does, Doc.’ Edward smiled and tried his best to control his tone.

‘Very well.’ The Surgeon agreed, opening the secured door as he spoke. ‘If you’ll come with me, Mr. Hastings.’

‘I’ll be back in the morning, Ed.’ Alexander squeezed his shoulder.

The doctor showed him to Keisha’s room and it wasn’t long before Edward was sprawled out across the chair with his ankles crossed under the edge of the bed. He tilted his head back against the wall and was soon snoring loudly as well.

Hours later, Keisha’s eyelids fluttered open and closed several times. What was that horrific sound? It sounded like an engine with a few spark plugs missing. Rolling her head to the side, she crushed her eyes closed against the dizziness before squinting at the source of the sound. A man…chair… snoring? What was a man doing here? And, for that matter, where was here?

Her eyes took in the tube that ran down and under bandages on her arm. Then, she took in the bed railing, and beyond that the tile floor. She scrunched her nose at the antiseptic smells, too. Where was she, anyway? A hospital? How did she get here? What if…?

Suddenly terrified, Keisha tried to move, and groaned against the pain.

Edward bolted upright, instantly awake and alert.

‘Keisha?’ He spoke softly as he rose to stand beside her.

‘What…?’ She choked out.

‘What do you remember?’ He gently asked.

‘Choir practice…’ Keisha frowned in confusion, looking down to the bandage on her wrist. ‘How?’

‘The important thing right now is that you’re okay.’ Edward winked at her.

Keisha moaned.

‘Let me call the nurse for you.’ Edward touched the call button on the bed rail. ‘I promised Doc I’d let you rest.’

Keisha frowned as images swam around in her mind. ‘Explosion. There was an explos –…’

‘Hello, there, Ms. Wormwood.’ The nurse interrupted. ‘Are you in pain?’

Keisha blinked from the nurse to Edward. Suddenly, she couldn’t speak. She couldn’t even utter a sound. She just blinked.

Edward smiled as he touched her hand. ‘Just blink once for yes, and twice for no.’

Keisha blinked once.

‘She’s in pain.’ Edward told the nurse.

The nurse smiled as she pointed to the plunger in Keisha’s hand. ‘All you need to do, Ms. Wormwood, is push this and the pain will go away.’

Keisha’s eyes went from one person to the other. The man seemed to know her, but she had no clue wtho he was.

‘I’ll see that she uses it, Ma’am.’ Edward gently put his hand over Keisha’s and pushed the plunger.

Keisha frowned as the world around her blurred into darkness, again.

Edward used the remote to channel surf until he found a football game to watch. He kept the volume very low so he’d hear Keisha if she stirred. The third quarter was just beginning as a gentle knock followed by a slowly opening door brought him to his feet.

The man who stepped in the door smiled. ‘Hello, Mr. Hastings. I’m Reverend John Walford, Ms. Wormwood’s minister at the Community Church.’

Edward frowned until Alexander stepped into the room behind the minister. ‘Good morning, Ed. Pastor John wanted to come by and pray for Keisha.’

‘Yeah, sure… I’ll just -…’

‘I brought food for you, and a change of clothes.’ Alexander took away his excuse to leave.

‘You’re welcome to pray with us if you’d like to.’ Rev. Walford invited Edward to join him.

Edward crossed to the window and sat down on the sill to open the food bag Alexander had brought him. ‘She’s sleeping… morphine.’ He commented as he bit into the cold sandwich.

Alexander stepped up to the bed and reached out for Keisha’s hand. ‘Good morning, Kie. I brought Pastor John with me.’

Keisha’s eyes fluttered before opening.

‘She’s not talking, again. Blinks yes and no.’ Edward spoke from the window.

Alexander smiled at Keisha when she squeezed his hand. ‘It’s good to see you, too. I brought Pastor John with me.’ Alexander repeated as he looked up and over to the minister.

‘Hi, Keisha. It’s good to see you.’ Rev. Walford took her other hand. ‘I thought you might like me to come and pray with you.’

Keisha squeezed his hand as tears began to fall.

‘Everything’s going to be okay, Sweetie.’ Rev. Walford used a tissue to dab the tears away. ‘It’s hard to see right now, but I know God sees our shared sorrows. We have to believe that He has it all in His hands.

Keisha blinked once and squeezed their hands.

‘Why don’t we talk to God and tell him what’s on our hearts? Would you like to do that, Keisha?’ Rev. Walford asked her, waiting for her to blink her answer before proceeding. ‘God, our Father in heaven, we’d like to speak to you, right now. We are in pain, both body and soul. We don’t understand why You’ve let Your children be hurt so much… Our love for You will not be shaken, and our faith in Your divine power will not fail. God, I ask that You reach down and heal Your daughter Keisha… Heal her broken body… strengthen her body, her mind, and her soul for the days ahead. We ask all of this in Your most Holy Name. Amen.’

Edward watched from the window, thinking of how hollow the minister’s prayer had sounded. He met Alexander’s eyes from across the room, but held his tongue. He looked at Keisha and saw the soft smile on her lips as she slept. It was the first smile he’d seen in days.

‘I am so sorry to hear that you lost your son, John.’ Alexander said as they stepped away from the bed.

‘He died doing what he loved the most… praising God.’ Rev. Walford responded. ‘I draw some comfort from that.’

‘Why?’ Edward asked, his own turmoil coming to the surface. ‘Why should you draw any comfort from what happened? People died. Innocent people died. There’s no sense to it! No sense at all.’

Alexander moved to speak, but Pastor John held up a hand.

‘Sometimes, we don’t know the answer’s, Mr. Hastings. God’s ways are often beyond our comprehension. All we can do is trust that He is in control.’

‘What the hell is that supposed to mean? Just another holy roller excuse.’ Edward snarled. ‘You holy rollers pull out that line every time you really don’t want to answer the question.’

‘I’m sorry you feel that way, Mr. Hastings.’ Rev. Walford stepped over to the window. ‘You’re right, in a sense. There are a lot of questions in this world we don’t have the answers for. I’m not going to lie to you and say that we do. We have to continually remind ourselves that there are some things that are so out of our control that we must simply leave them to God. That is where our faith is put both to the test and to the practice.’

Edward felt a deep clenching within his chest and he noted that his hands were shaking. He looked out the window for a moment, but all he saw was rising flood waters and a head going under for the last time.

Pastor John stepped closer to him sensing from experience that Edward’s silence would lead to something. ‘When I was in Korea, I served on the front lines.’

Edward instantly turned to face the Pastor.

‘I saw far too many of my buddies killed. It rocked my faith, too.’ Pastor John shared. ‘The hardest part was trying to understand the incomprehensible waste of life. Then, came what they call the ‘survivor’s guilt’. That was the hardest part. It’s not something you ever get over. The memories will always be there.

‘Yeah.’ Edward nodded.

‘I had to learn to turn those over to God, too.’ Pastor John told him. ‘It’s not easy to do; and sometimes, I still have flashbacks.’

Alexander remained beside Keisha, holding her hand and putting a finger to his lips when he saw her open her eyes.

‘… If you’d ever like to stop by and talk, or pray, my door is always open, Ed. I mean that, too.’ Pastor John offered. ‘Right now, though, we’re going to leave so Keisha can rest.’

‘We’ll come tomorrow, Kie.’ Alexander spoke as he squeezed her hand. ‘Rest easy. Edward is going to stay with you.’

Keisha blinked.

‘If you need anything, you can call me.’ Alexander told her, then looked up to Edward. ‘That goes for you, too, Ed.’

‘Got it.’ Edward nodded.

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Gatehouse East #1- Prelude

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War monument in Warclow, Poland. Photo prompt: Pixabay.com

Prelude

Stephen stood in the shadows of the trees that circled the monument. Even in its holographic state, the  monument still pulled deeply at his soul. He wanted to step forward and lay a hand on the shoulder of the one who knelt in such a solemn state. The sculpture was so very realistic that he felt as if he could almost see it breathing in gasps as sobs shook it’s slender shoulders.

‘She’s not real.’ He reminded himself, shaking his head to dispel the thought. ‘Tamai is dead. The statue is merely a projection; without substance. It is not real.’

Yet, even as he told himself she wasn’t real, the figure slowly rose and turned. His breath caught in his throat. The monument program was not equipped for animation, he knew. His eyes widened as they face within the cloak made eye contact. Instant fear coursed like liquid fire through his nerves. He had seen those eyes before, and he’d known their veiled cruelty first hand.

‘Zani.’ He identified.

She reached out for him.

He froze, terrified.

 

S4 #9: Chapter 7

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Photo Prompt: Getty Images

Chapter 7

Jack snorted and stomped across the lawn. How dare she! How dare she go and say she was in love with Edward. Edward had abandoned her when she had most needed him. He’d gone off to hide in the military while she was left here to suffer at the hands of that miserable excuse for a man, Franklin. And now, now, she was making all nice with Edward. It just was not right, not right at all.

‘Jack.’ Alexander demanded his attention.

‘What?’ Jack yelled back as he spun on his heels.

‘I think we need to have a chat. You’re too upset over this.’ Alexander addressed the issue at hand. ‘You’re angry.’

‘You’re right. I am angry.’ Jack roared. ‘I did everything I could for her, Alex. You know that. I stood by her while she found her way. And then, she went and married that disgrace to the human race! And now, after I’ve saved her life… she goes running to Edward, when she should be running to me! So, yes, I am angry!’

‘Women are very unpredictable, that’s for sure. I’m sure that she appreciates all that you’ve done for her, Jack. I know that I do. You’ve shown her what a man ought to be, and how a good man treats a lady.’ Alexander stroked his ego. ‘And in the end, she has chosen a man who is an honorable soldier for this country. You should be proud. You’ve shown her that not all men are like her ex-husband.’

Jack leaned back against a tree. ‘I love her, Alex. Why can’t she see that?’

‘She does, Jack. Trust me, she does. She knows you love her. She loves you to, but as a brother. Do you understand that. You’ve always been like a big brother to her.’

‘And… and she can’t even tell me that herself. I am learning that sign language she does, just so I can understand her better.’ He shook his head as he swiped at his cheeks.

‘No, she can’t tell you, Jack. I’m not even sure she realizes just how much you do love her. That’s why I’m here right now, talking to you. If you truly love her, you’ll have to accept the reality here, Jack.’ Alexander did what he could to calm Jack down to a reasonable level. ‘But you don’t have to lose everything in this, Jack. You can choose to accept that her love is what it is, and then you can be the best of friends. This could be a good ending for both of you.’

‘Jjaacck?’ Keisha tried to speak from behind Alexander.

‘Keisha?’ Jack looked up and started to move towards her. ‘Keisha, I love you.’

‘Jjaacck.’ Keisha said his name again, a little firmer. ‘I – I – liiccke yyu, too.’

‘Like? Is that all, Keisha? You like me?’ Jack’s countenance fell.

‘Yyes.’ Keisha nodded and wiggled her hand as she spoke. She didn’t want him to misunderstand her words. ‘I liicke yyu.’ Keisha resorted to signs to tell him the same thing she’d overheard Alexander telling him about her thinking of him as a brother. ‘thannn yyu for saaaving mmmuh liffe, Jjaack.’

Jack sniffed, wiping at his eyes. ‘So, that’s how it is, is it? Well, okay, then. I get it. We’re good, Keisha. Big brother…I get that.’

‘I will always be thankful to you, Jack.’ She signed. ‘Always.’

‘If you’ll excuse me, I’m sure that I’m needed at the firehouse.’ Jack stuffed his hands in his front pockets and headed across the lawn to where his jeep was parked.

Keisha stood beside Alexander and watched him leave.

A day later, up on the ridge, he watched from the shadows. He’d helped her find her way… and this, this was how she repaid him. He seethed inside as he watched her sipping tea on Edward’s front porch. All he had to do was remove Edward from the picture, then she would see him. Then, she would be his forever, just like he’d promised her. It was too bad that his twin brother had shown up to spoil his well-thought out plan to win her over. But now, he was taken care of. Finally, he would have his greatest dream…Keisha would be his.

‘You ready to head into town, Kie?’ Edward asked as he stepped out of the bungalow and locked the door.

‘Yes.’

She spoke so soft that it sounded like the very air had answered him. He smiled. The last two days had been completely uneventful. He’d watched her like a hawk since Wednesday. He’d even sat in the corner with a sketchpad as she worked with her stained glass, making rose after rose. All the while, he’d made sketches of her. It was something he hadn’t done in a very long time, sketching that is. Now, he had his sketchbook tucked under his arm as he walked her out to the SUV.

‘Is tonight the last practice?’ Edward asked as he opened the door for her.

‘Yes, it is.’ She said breathlessly as she smiled up at him and gestured him closer. ‘Come here.’

Edward stepped up to her knees. ‘What do you want, Kie?’ He asked in a low voice that didn’t hide his attraction.

Keisha clasped her hand in the front of his shirt and pulled him closer until their lips met. He tried to pull back, but she deepened the kiss. He couldn’t help but respond as she parted her legs so he could get closer. The kiss deepened until they finally broke apart with small gasps.

‘Aw, Kie…why do you do that to me? We don’t have time to…to…’ He winked.

‘Affer?’ She whispered with a grin.

‘Don’t make promises you can’t keep, girl.’ He kissed the end of her nose before stepping back and shutting the door. As he rounded the back of the SUV, he rubbed a hand over his head. She was going to kill him for sure if she kept this up. He’d never make it back to his unit if she kept distracting him from his goals.

‘Calm down, old man.’ He told himself. As he got up into the driver’s seat and fastened his safety belt, he turned to her. ‘After practice, Keisha, we need to have a serious talk. Agreed?’

Keisha shrugged, wondering what had changed so suddenly. She watched him put the SUV in gear and start down the lane, noting how the smile had faded from his face. And how the joy in his eyes had been replaced by something else; a cold, calculating look that could freeze the devil himself. She frowned and looked away from him. Talk…that’s what he wanted to do, talk. She had a feeling that the kind of talk he wanted to have would end with her heart being broken, again.

They drove to the church in silence. A tense, aggravating silence, Edward thought. Just as they were pulling up to the church, Edward’s scanner blared out the tone for a fire run. He stopped in front of the church and paused with his hand on the gearshift as he listened.

‘Are you good from here, Kie?’

Kie looked from him to the church, and back.

‘I can stay if you want.’ He meant what he said, too.

‘I gud.’ She answered.

‘Okay. I’ll be back as soon as I can.’ He leaned over and gave her a peck on her cheek. ‘I love you, Keisha.’

‘I luv you, Ed.’ She replied before reaching for the door handle.

Edward couldn’t hold back the grin that spread across his face. He knew that he’d travel a million miles to hear her say that, again and again. For someone who hadn’t spoken in years, she was really making grand strides. ‘I love you more than you can imagine.’ He spoke to air as she shut the door behind her and headed up the church steps. He watched until she stepped inside, and then floored the accelerator as he headed to the firehouse.

Keisha took her place on the front row with the other sopranos. Excitement was buzzing through the assembled singers. Everyone was ready for their special concert. Once a year, they did a benefit concert to support the volunteer fire department. This year, they were hoping to earn enough in ticket sales to cover the cost of a specialized speed boat used for river rescues. After the spring floods, the timing couldn’t be better.

Keisha opened her music folder on cue, and readied herself to sing out the first notes of her solo that would open the program. It wasn’t a scriptural song, but one the fire department considered their theme song. She took a breath and began…

‘Lean on me, when you’re not strong…’ Her voice echoed in the empty sanctuary.

A few blocks down from the church, one of the local police officers pulled over a pickup truck for a faulty brake lights. It was a routine stop, one where he’d give the driver a warning and then follow them home, just to be on the safe side.

‘Good evening, Sir. Do you know why I stopped you..?’

The officer never saw it coming, the knife that swung out and caught his cheek, that is. ‘Damn it, man.’

The truck sped off.

There was no way in hell that he was going to be stopped tonight, he thought as he pushed the accelerator to the floor. He would get her this time. He’d made sure of that by setting fire to the old warehouse down by the mill. He’d heard dispatch call for all personnel. Only, this time, he wasn’t going to show. This time, he’d leave it in the hands of his Lieutenant. This time, he would redirect his efforts into achieving his goal. He would kill her.

Anger fueled his foot down to the floor as he saw the flashing lights behind him. The scanner in his dash told him that the officer was in pursuit. He wasn’t going to be caught, not if he could prevent it.

No, he had other plans, and those plans did not include the officer on his back bumper.

Suddenly, he slammed on his brakes and swerved into the parking lot at the store. He knew a shortcut through an alley that would bring him out on the old river road, which would dump him back onto main street. If he played his cards right, he’d outfox the officer on duty tonight.

He skidded around the back of the store and into the dark alley, spraying gravel in a fog behind him. So far, the officer was still on his tail. He looked down at the speedometer. He didn’t dare push it any faster, not with the alley being so narrow. He’d just have to wait until he got to the river road to lose his tail.

The scanner buzzed with conversation between the officer and dispatch. So, he’d managed to slice the officer up pretty good. Great.

‘… For, it won’t be long, ‘til you’re going to need someone to lean on…’ The choir’s voices joined hers along with stomping and clapping to carry the rhythm.

At that moment, the church shook to its foundation. A very loud explosion ended the song abruptly as the wall and window broke into a million deadly fragments. The concussive force of the blast hit the back row of the choir with such force that they were blown out of the alter area altogether. The second row of vocalists slammed into the first row and beyond. The first row crumpled under the weight, taking down the mic stands and speakers along with them. No one escaped the blast’s force.

Within moments, the sudden silence was filled with the sounds of injured people crying out for help, and the sirens heading in their direction.

Keisha slowly opened her eyes, frowning. There was something heavy holding her down. She blinked and tried to move. A hand fell down across her face. She saw the hand, the blood. She tried to scream but the sound came out like a croak. Darkness swirled around her, drawing her head back down to the floor.

The air filled with sirens. The dust from the blast was already settling as the first responders entered the sanctuary at a run. Instantly, they headed for the altar area where the choir members lay sprawled out in positions the human body was never meant to lay in. Most of them were unconscious. those who were conscious were sobbing and crying out for help.

‘Let’s start triaging here.’ The lead paramedic called out. ‘Call Careflight and have them send us all the choppers they can. Tell them… looks like twenty, maybe thirty, casualties, unknown conditions.’

‘Aye, Cap.’ Another firefighter acknowledged as he placed the call.

‘This one’s dead, Sir.’ A paramedic gagged as he slid his fingers off the man’s bloody throat.

‘So is this one.’ A second paramedic gulped.

‘Tend to the living.’ The Fire Chief ordered as he joined his paramedics. ‘And, my heaven help us save as many as we can.’

The Reverend was already on his knees beside one of the bodies. ‘My son! My God, why my son?”

‘Got one alive, here. Louie, help me get this body off of her.’ Edward ordered the younger firefighter to action as he drew the hair back from her face and gasped. ‘Kiesha? This is Keisha Wormwood. Someone will need to contact Hope Ranch.’ His voice caught in his throat.

‘Sorry, Sir.’ The younger firefighter acknowledged his co-worker’s pain. ‘She’s alive, Sir.’

‘Great. Let’s get her out from under this mess, then, Louie.’ Edward began lifting another dead body off of her. ‘Then, we’ll assess her injuries.’

‘Small contusion on her forehead, Sir. Possible concussion.’ Lieutenant Jordan began to assess her. ‘Don’t see any broken limbs.’ He ran his hands down her ribcage. ‘No obvious rib breaks… wait… there’s some bruising… we’ve got an internal bleed, Sir. Priority one.’

‘I got her, then. Go to the next one.’ Edward ordered as they gently rolled Kiesha to her back. She moaned softly. Edward felt a tug in his chest at the sound. ‘Dear God, please, let her be okay.’ He prayed.

‘Got another live one here, Sir. Another with possible internal bleeding.’ Lieutenant Jordan spoke from where he was tending to the next unconscious person.

Edwards noted the few choir members who were rising on their own, looking terrified and in shock. He took his mask off as he stood up. With a loud voice, he drew their attention. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, if you can, just sit down on a pew until we can get to you, okay.’

‘My husband!’ One lady screamed as she dove for one of the dead bodies. Another firefighter caught her and held her back while she screamed. Her scream triggered the others to the reality around them. Screams of pain, anguish, and grief rapidly filled the sanctuary.

‘Sir, we’re gonna need more people… anyone who can help.’ Edward called out the Fire Chief.

‘They’re on the way. I put out an all-call to the county.’ Chief Franks answered. ‘In the  meantime, it’s up to us. Let’s see about getting the critical ones out to the landing zone behind the clinic.’

‘Roger that.’ Edward snapped and began directing the firefighters bringing stretchers in.

At a time when mere minutes could mean life or death, the local first responders and volunteers from the street worked in unison to evacuate the church sanctuary. The critical patients were taken to the clinic a block down to await evacuation by chopper. The walking wounded were held in place until they could be evaluated and then transported out to local hospitals. The local fire and police officers worked in tandem, getting everyone cared for in record time.

S4 #8: Chapter Six

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Photo prompt: Pixabay.com

Chapter Six

‘PTSD is a real beast, Ed. It will strike you when you least expect it to, and it is not always a predictable response.’ Alexander explained. ‘For some people, it never completely disappears from their lives. But, you can learn ways to manage it. I can help with that.’

‘It’s her, Alex. Keisha is my trigger. I just can’t get Keisha out of my mind.’ Edward reacted. ‘If I could just get away from her…’

‘Avoidance. That is one way.’ Alexander nodded. ‘It might work in the short term, but not in the long run.’

Edward ran his hands over top of his shaved head. ‘I don’t know what else to do, Alex. I’ve apologized to her, and she said I was forgiven. But, the nightmares are still there… and there’s still this deep ache right here. It feels like I’m having a heart-attack, Alex.’ He fist-bumped his chest.

Alexander reclined comfortably across the chair. ‘I think there’s more here than just the PTSD, Ed. The way you talk… it sounds like you still have a serious thing for her. Face it, you love Keisha, deep down in your heart, even if your brain tries to deny it.’

Edward blinked at Alexander, not really wanting to admit that what he was saying could be true. It was something he’d been thinking about as well. Ever since he’d seen her, he’d been thinking of how much he missed having her in his arms, in his bed. Damn, but he had it bad. Alexander was right, even if he wasn’t ready to admit it. He did love Keisha.

‘I don’t know, Alex. I honestly don’t know much of anything anymore. Then again, maybe I do… in some way.’ Edward sighed.

Alexander nodded.

‘Last night, at church, I heard her sing, Alex. I heard her speak the words, distinctly and without any difficulty. I don’t understand it. If she can sing like an angel, then why the hell can’t she speak? Why, Alex?’

Alexander leaned forward, elbows on his knees. ‘Only Keisha can answer that one, Ed. She’s the only one who knows why she can’t or won’t speak. I’ve always held that her inability to speak is psychosomatic, and with the right encouragement, she’ll speak again.’ Alexander paused. ‘You may not realize it, but she’s made more sounds outside of the church choir since you’ve been here then I have ever heard her speak since she came to us.’

Edward’s brow rose. ‘How long has she been at the Ranch?’

‘She came here from the hospital after her fall.’

‘When, when did she marry, then?’

‘She married a year after you left. She met Franklin at the Ranch. He was a stable hand we hired for the summer.’ Alexander explained. ‘A few months later, her parents were killed in a plane crash. She stayed at the Ranch, and we hired her full-time.’

‘About her husband…?’

Alexander drew in a deep, regretful breath. ‘Hiring Franklin Wormwood was the worst mistake in judgment that we ever had, Ed. His resume was spot-on, and he had a stellar reputation. We had no idea what he was truly capable of. None of us suspected what a beast he would be to Keisha.’

‘What did he do to her?’

‘That’s not really for me to say, Ed. Confidential.’ Alexander took a long breath. ‘Might be something you’d best ask her.’

Edward pursed his lips and stood up. ‘I will. Right, now.’

‘Sorry about this morning, Jack.’ Edward said as Jack took his place on the porch swing for the meeting.

‘Don’t sweat it, Ed. It happens.’ Jack shrugged. ‘You more than made up for any inconvenience when you got that ladder motor up and running. By the way, here, I brought you a fire scanner. If we’re called out while you’re here, I’d appreciate if you’d suit up with us and help out.’

‘But – …’ Edward hesitated, exchanging glances with Alexander, who nodded approval.

‘Chief Smitty always spoke so highly of you, Ed.’ Jack smiled. ‘He always said that if you ever came back, then you would be welcome to sign up.’

‘Thank you, Jack. I’ll give it my best shot.’ Edward took the radio and set it on the table between them.

‘If you two are through…’ Alexander prompted. ‘It’s time for us to get the meeting started.

‘I’d like to talk…’ Stands spoke up.

‘The floor is yours, Stands.’ Alexander sat back to sip at his iced tea.

Keisha lifted a pitchfork full of straw and manure, pitching it into the wheelbarrow before pausing to catch her breath.

Jack entered the barn, leading Storm toward his freshly mucked out stall. He couldn’t help but see Keisha standing there wiping beads of sweat from her brow. ‘Afternoon, Keisha.’

Keisha jumped. She hadn’t heard him or the soft-stepping stallion enter the barn. Her mind had been on someone else. Still, she waved a quick hello to Jack before disappearing into the next stall with her pitchfork.

‘Thank you for cleaning out Storm’s stall for me, Keisha.’ He called out as he took the horse into his stall and removed his bridle. ‘He had a good ride all the way up to lookout point today.’

Keisha stepped out of the stall and dumped a load into the wheelbarrow, nodding to Jack as he latched the stall door. As Jack grinned and looked like he was about to say something, she looked past him towards the silhouette that was stepping through the door with another horse in tow. Edward. She smiled broad and wheeled the wheelbarrow out of the way so he could take Cloud into his stall.

‘Hi, Ed.’ She signed to him. ‘How was your ride?’

‘It was very relaxing, just as you said it would be. Thank you.’ Edward patted the stallion’s neck. ‘Cloud, here, is a great horse, too.’

Jack watched the interchange between the two. They seemed so relaxed, so comfortable with each other; unlike the tension he felt every time he tried to have a conversation with Keisha. He couldn’t help but feel a bit of jealousy.

‘Keisha, I meant to ask earlier…’ Jack ventured. ‘They’re having a mid-week movie tonight at the theater in town. I thought I’d ask if you’d like to go with me?’

Keisha loved movies, and especially the classic ones the theater showed on Wednesday evenings. But, this week, she couldn’t go. She had choir practice every night this week leading up to their show on Friday. She’d already missed her solo practice yesterday. She didn’t dare miss this one.

‘No, but thank you for inviting me, Jack. I have choir practice all week for the concert.’ Keisha signed her answer slowly. Jack understood a good number of signs, but she had to move slowly for him.

‘Okay. Maybe next week, then.’ Jack shrugged as he hung Storm’s bridle on its peg outside the stall.

‘Speaking of choir… Alex asked me to give you a ride to and from the church tonight.’ Edward noted as he slipped past her with Cloud.

‘I can drive myself.’ She signed with force.

‘Hey, now, don’t shoot the slave. I’m only following orders from the top around here.’ Edward grumbled as if he was none too thrilled to be charged with the task. ‘Trust me, the last place I want to be is in that place.’

‘Why?’ Her fingers asked.

‘I can give you a lift if Ed doesn’t want to.’ Jack offered.

‘No.’ Alexander stepped through the side door from the corral. ‘I want Ed to take her.’

‘Whatever.’ Jack huffed, turning and walking out of the barn.

‘What’s with him?’ Edward asked in a quiet voice.

‘He wants me.’ Keisha explained. ‘He’s been asking me out for over a year. I keep refusing. He keeps asking. I think he hopes that one day I’ll actually say yes. Besides, I don’t think Jack really likes you.’

‘If he doesn’t like me, then why did he invite me to serve at the firehouse?’ Edward countered.

‘Obligation. Jack does things because he’s obligated to, not because he wants to. He’s always been that way. Keisha, it’s about time to leave for town, so why don’t you go and get cleaned up. I’ll finish with the horses while I talk to Edward in private.’ Alexander explained as he dismissed her.

When they were alone, Alexander opened the conversation. ‘Tell me about your last mission, again. You had mentioned last time that there was a family at the hospital.’

‘I really don’t want to talk about this right now, Alex.’ Edward grabbed the handles of the wheelbarrow.

In turn, Alexander lifted and placed a foot on the rim to keep him from moving. ‘Talk, Ed, now. You’ve only got twenty days left to get your head in gear, so talk.’

Edward groaned, dropping the handles and plopping down on a bale of straw. ‘The family. The hospital. It was bad, Alex. There isn’t any other way to call it. We evacuated everyone we could, starting with the babies. We got almost everyone out save for a nurse and one ambulatory patient. By that time, the chopper couldn’t get through.’

Memories of that horrific night began to play through his mind with a clarity that he didn’t believe was possible. The memory was so real that the barn seemed to melt away around him. He was back on the island, fighting the rain to see.

‘We had orders, Alex. But, I couldn’t… I couldn’t just leave ‘em to die… not like that.’ Edward fought back the flood of emotions.

‘So, you took them with you to higher ground. What happened, then?’ Alexander encouraged him to continue.

‘Yeah, we all headed to higher ground. We were hiking up the road that was quickly becoming a river.’ Edward’s voice cracked as he told Alexander how the women had been caught but the sudden surge of flood waters. Tears fell as he told how he’d pulled out the nurse, began CPR, and then had to give her up for dead. ‘… The patient, well, the patient didn’t have a chance in hell of surviving.’

‘You tried, Edward.’ Alexander reassured him. ‘We can’t save everyone, that lies in the hands of God.’

‘God. God?’ Edward shook his head. ‘What kind of God let’s good people die, Alex? What kind of God leaves people broken, like… like… like Keisha?’

‘You know the answer to that, Ed. I know you do. You were raised in church. I’m sure you’ve heard about the story of Job, of how he suffered the loss of everything he knew and loved in this earth. You know how God answered his questions of ‘why’?’ Alexander half-asked.

‘No.’ Edward frowned. He’d been raised in church, but he hadn’t really paid much attention to anything save for the snacks and music. He did know that this Job character was in the Bible, but he hadn’t even seen a bible in years.

‘In short, God asked Job where he was when the universe with all it’s intricacies was formed. God asked him where he was when the stars were set into motion, or when the seas were filled with life.’

‘More of that holy-rollin’ malarky.’ Edward snorted disgust. ‘Never made no sense to me.’

Alexander smiled. ‘See, God was reminding Job that he wasn’t really the one in charge of things like life or death. Only God has that power, Edward. Not you, not me, not Command, or anything else in this world… only, God. And God’s wisdom is the only thing that knows why things in the Earth happen. We can’t change God’s plans. The best we can do is to do what we can do and leave the rest to God. Does that make sense, Ed?’

‘I’ve got to go.’ Edward rose. ‘You wanted me to take Keisha to choir practice. That is something I CAN do.’

‘You’re starting to get it, Ed.’ Alexander smiled. ‘We’ll talk again in the morning, right after breakfast.’

As Edward started to leave the barn, he could still hear the screams in his mind. The sound reminded him of another scream… her scream. Only, the scream wasn’t in his mind anymore. It was real.

‘Keisha!’ Edward hesitated to verify what he was hearing. ‘ALEX! ALEX, IT’S KEISHA! She’s screaming!’

Edward ran past his bungalow and up the trail towards Keisha’s bungalow even before he smelled or saw the smoke. Behind him, he could hear Alexander’s pounding strides.

Keisha screamed for help at the top of her lungs as she pulled and kicked at the door. It wouldn’t open. She was trapped, and her bungalow was on fire. The kitchenette was in flames, hot white flames. Her intercom to the house wasn’t working. The fire alarm wasn’t working. The fire extinguisher was deep into the red zone and not working. Keisha screamed and continued to scream, hoping and praying someone would hear her.

Edward reached the door, calling out to her as he grabbed the knob and then yelped in pain. The knob was red hot as was the door, too. Through the heavy wood, he could hear Keisha’s coughing amid her attempts to yell. He pulled his shirt off, wrapped it around his hand and tried the knob again. It was locked.

‘Unlock the door, Keisha. Just turn the lock, Babe.’ He yelled, trying to keep his voice calm as he did so.

Inside, Keisha screamed again. ‘Iii – cough – lahhhed!’ She attempted to speak.

‘Here, let me.’ Jack burst around the side of the bungalow with an axe in hand. With a few quick strokes, he broke the lock away and the door swung inward with the force of his kick.

Edward leapt through the door just in time to catch Keisha as she passed out. ‘Oh, God, please, don’t let her die!’ He cried out to the God he wasn’t even sure still existed.

Hours later, in the clinic’s waiting room, Alexander and Edward were continuing with their earlier conversation.

‘Go on, Ed. You were going to say it reminded you of something…’ Alexander spoke into the night quiet of the waiting room.

Edward cleared his throat and coughed, a lingering remnant of the smoke he’d inhaled at the bungalow. ‘Her scream reminded me of that day, Alex. That’s what I was saying. It reminded me of the day when Keisha fell. She screamed… Oh, God have mercy. She screamed, and it sounded so scared, so tangibly dead. Today, it sounded – sounded the same, Alex.’

Alexander noted how shaky Edward’s hands were as he reached out to touch his shoulder. ‘You saved Keisha then, and you saved her today, Ed. She’s going to be okay because you pulled her out of the river, and out of the smoke.’

‘I tried… I tried… the current was so fast… so strong.’ Edward began babbling as he held out his empty arms. ‘… It just… just yanked her right out of my arms, Alex. She screamed for me to help her. I tried… I couldn’t… the current was too strong…’

Alexander squeezed Edward’s shoulder. ‘And so, you lost her, Ed. You lost the patient you were never meant to save. You were not in control of that situation, God was. God needed that girl for another reason, a reason we’re not meant to understand, Ed. But, you didn’t lose Keisha. She’s here. She’s alive. God still has something for her to do on this Earth. God still has something for you to do on this Earth, too.’

I did lose her, Alex. I lost Keisha just as much as I lost that girl on the island.’ Edward shook his head.

‘Keisha is alive, Edward. She’s just down that hall there. She’s got some smoke inhalation, but she’s alive. She’ll be okay.’

Tears fell from Edward’s eyes as he dropped his head into his hands.

‘You need to talk with Keisha, Ed. You need to be honest with her about how you feel. After you make good with her, you’ll find it helps you here.’ Alexander tapped his temple.

‘I can’t, Alex. I can’t just go back that hall and make it like nothing ever happened. I can’t fix what took her voice. I can’t even drum up enough courage to tell her how much I love her, or that I can’t imagine spending even one more day without her at my side. I just can’t do that.’ Edward babbled, totally unaware of the chair that rolled into the room beside him.

‘You don’t have to, Ed. You just did.’ Keisha spoke in a near whisper, her voice raspy and low from the smoke.

‘Keisha!’ Edward jumped out of his chair and then down beside the wheelchair she sat in. ‘You spoke – words! You just talked!’

‘I can, you know.’ She rasped slowly, coughing again.

The outer screen door opened and Jack reentered the clinic. ‘You…talk?’

Keisha smiled, suddenly speechless again. Her voice caught and wouldn’t budge from her throat.

‘You can talk to him… but, but not to me? I don’t understand, Keisha. I’m the one that busted down the door. I’m the one that came to your rescue. I’m the one who loves you.’

Keisha blinked at Jack. She saw raw hurt in his eyes. ‘I – I’m saaahry.’ She tried to speak to him.

Jack began to shake. ‘I am, too!’ He shouted as he turned and stomped out the door.

‘Jjjaaack!’ Keisha called after him, trying to say his name.

‘Alex?’ Edward gestured towards the door. ‘He needs help.’

‘I got it. You take care of Keisha.’

S4 #7: Chapter Five

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Photo prompt: Pixabay.com

Chapter 5

Edward opened the church door and encouraged Keisha to go inside. ‘I’ll call Stands from out here.’

Keisha reached out and tugged on his hand. ‘Come.’ She insisted with her gestures.

‘No, Keisha. Church and I don’t mix.’ Edward pulled back his hand. No, he and church definitely did not agree on most things. He knew that for sure. After all, with what he did for a living, there was no way that God could ever forgive him. ‘You go on inside, Keisha. You’ll be safe.’

‘I’m scared.’ She admitted. ‘Come with me. You don’t have to sing… Just… Just sit in the back where I can see you.’

Edward took a deep breath.

‘Please.’ She signed.

With a grunt and another deep breath, he met her eyes. ‘Aw, hell, Keisha. When you look at me like that… Aw, hell. Let me call Stands, then I’ll be in.’

‘Agreed.’ Keisha’s hand wiggled.

Inside, Keisha entered the sanctuary with a lighter step. She loved being in God’s house. It was the only place she knew she’d always be safe from her ex-husband. Partly because she knew he’d never step foot inside the holy place. He wouldn’t even marry her inside the church. His heart was too full of hatred for him to ever come inside a place so filled with love. At the thought of her ex-husband, A shudder jerked up her spine.

‘Good evening, Keisha. It’s good to see you tonight.’ The Choir director’s greeting interrupted her before she could say a prayer for her ex-husband.

She waved a greeting as she retrieved her music folder and took her seat amid the sopranos.

‘Okay, folks, let’s warm up with a hymn we’ll be singing Sunday. ‘It is Well with My Soul’ on page four-forty-seven, red hymnal.’ The director gave a tap of his wand on the top of the music stand once everyone had found the page, and began to sing. ‘When peace like a river…’

Edward entered the sanctuary feeling more than a little self-conscious. He hadn’t been her since the day that Keisha’s parents had accused him of putting their daughter in danger of death. The next day, he’d left for boot camp and had planned never to return to Pine Ridge. Yet, here he was.

Silently, he slipped into the rear pew to wait. As he focused on Keisha, he realized she was singing… actually singing! He could hear her clear soprano voice mixing with the others. His eyes betrayed his surprise before he cleared his face of emotions. He had a job to do, that was all this was… a job. Keep her safe. Edward sighed as he sat back to listen.

‘…Let this blessed assurance control, That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and shed his own blood for my soul…’

Edward remembered the hymn well. Back in the day, when he’d been a regular ‘church person’, he’d sang the song and meant every word. Now, as he heard the chorus that told the world it was indeed well with his soul, he felt anything but that. It was not well with his soul, and he doubted that it would ever be so, again.

Reality set in.

‘Wait a minute,’ He thought, ‘Keisha’s singing. She’s actually singing the words, too. And, she’s saying them clearly. What’s going on here?’ He frowned in confusion. ‘How was it she could sing when he hadn’t heard her say a clear word?’ While he tried to figure it out, the choir moved on to another song.

‘… Down to the river to pray…’ Keisha’s voice continued to cut through his disbelief.

Edward’s eyes continued to scan the shadows, even as he listened. There were too many shadows. Even here; especially here where safety was presumed, Edward felt something was just lurking and waiting to make itself known. Maybe it was just that he felt it would be too, too easy for her ex-husband to slip into the church unseen.

Two hours later, Stands pulled up in front of the church to pick them up. As Keisha slid into the backseat with Edward coming in beside her, Stands smiled back at them.

‘Did you have a good practice?’ Stands asked.

‘Yes.’ Keisha nodded as she signed. ‘We are working on music for the concert. It’s going to be awesome.’

‘We can’t wait.’ Stands grinned as he turned around to drive.

‘Did they catch him?’ Edward growled. Listening to the music of faith and repentance had left him feeling unsettled even more so than he already was. ‘Could God truly forgive a sinner such as I?’ His mind asked as he sat back to brood.

‘Yes, Mr. Wormwood is now a guest at the jail downtown. You won’t have to worry about him again, Keisha. So, we’re heading back to the Ranch.’

‘Thank you.’ Keisha signed with a relieved expression on her face. She was safe, it was almost too much for her to fully comprehend. Quickly, she closed her eyes and thanked God for his protection.

The next morning, Edward decided to take Jack up on his offer to visit the firehouse. He had trained as a volunteer firefighter when he was in high school, so he was relaxed and at home as he entered the equipment bay’s open door.

‘Hey, Ed. Good to see ya.’ Jack called down from atop the ladder truck ‘Come on in.’

‘Hey.’ Edward called back. ‘Just thought I’d take you up on your offer, Jack, if that’s okay?’

‘Sure is. Come on up. I could use a hand with this motor. There’s a short somewhere in the circuit.’

Edward shrugged as he hefted his body up the rear ladder. ‘Can’t say I know much about circuitry. It’s not exactly my specialty.’

‘What is your specialty, if I might ask?’ Jack used the multimeter probes to check the continuity of a wire.

‘Mostly, I’m a mission planner. I have some other special skills, too, but that’s classified.’ Edward answered shortly. It was a common question and so he had a pat answer.

‘Good skill to have, I suppose. How are you at aiming a hose?’ Jack inquired further.

‘No clue, Jack. I haven’t touched a fire hose since high school; and that was only in training fires. Old Smitty was real particular about that.’ Edward easily admitted to his past as his eyes traced the circuits. ‘Here’s your problem, Jack. See how the wires are fused… here, and here. You’ll need to replace this wire.’

Jack smiled. ‘And, you say this isn’t your specialty. I’ve been hours at this… and you just look at it…’

‘As I recall from shop class, you were always more into the engine than the electronics.’ Edward chuckled easily.

‘You’re right about that. But, around here, ya’ gotta be versatile. So, Ed, what do you want to see or do around here?’

‘First, fix this.’ Edward noted. ‘Then, well, we’ll see.’

‘You know what we need, so let’s go down to the hardware store and see what we can get to fix this. I’d hate to be called out and not able to use the ladder if it’s needed.’

Keisha looked out of the window above the roses. There he was, walking down the street with Jack. She couldn’t pull her eyes off of him. As her memories played across her mind, her tongue slipped out and licked her lips.

‘So, which one are you dreaming about?’ Karen asked.

‘E – D.’ Keisha signed slowly.

‘Ah, the Marine. Good choice. He is the handsomer one.’ Karen winked as they both broke into giggles. ‘He’s also only going to be here for a few weeks of R&R, so I hear.’

‘Yes.’ Keisha wiggled her hand.

‘So, what are you waiting for?’ Karen winked. ‘He’s just what you need… a little rebound romance with no strings, and no commitments. You could do with a brief fling, ya’ know. I hear they even train them how to drive a woman nuts with passion.’

Keisha blushed intensely at Karen’s forthrightness. Edward didn’t need to be trained, as she remembered. He’d always known just how to make her scream in pleasure.

‘Oh, my, girl, you got it bad!’ Karen clicked her tongue as she winked at Keisha.

Edward looked up when he saw movement across the street. His eyes made contact with Keisha’s through the window. He stopped, staring at her as she was surrounded by glowing roses. His mind took him back off on a tangent, back to halfway around the world from reality. He was in Spain, and there was another woman’s body surrounded by roses…real roses.

‘Ed?’ Jack stopped, turning around to face him. ‘Are you okay?’

Edward clasped a fist to his lips. The memory was too strong, it took over, bringing the brunt of his unspent grief to bear.

‘It’s okay, Ed.’ Jack stepped forward to wrap an arm around Edward’s shoulder. ‘It’s going to be okay. Why don’t we get you someplace less conspicuous.’

Edward felt like he was going to die right then and there. He felt as if he needed to scream to release the pain before his very heart broke. He did. Even as Jack took control and led him across the street to the Hope chest, he screamed out his pain.

As they entered the store; Karen, who’d heard the scream, was waiting with the door open. ‘I heard. Take the office in the back. I’ll call Alex.’

Jack led Edward into the office and sat him down in a chair beside the desk. ‘It’s going to be okay, Ed. Let it out, man.’

Edward choked for air. He’s known pain before. He’d been shot enough times to know pain. But never, never had he felt such pain as this. He clutched at his chest and cried out to the heavens, to the God that he wasn’t sure even existed anymore.

Then, he felt the light touch of a woman’s hand.

‘No!’ He cried out, batting it away. ‘No! Leave me alone.’

She didn’t. Instead, Keisha leaned down in front of him and gently wiped the tears from his cheek. She wanted to be able to speak words of comfort, but couldn’t get her throat to cooperate with her heart.

Finally, Edward looked up. ‘Kie?’

Keisha smiled and nodded. ‘I’m sorry you’re hurting.’ She signed.

Edward reached out to touch her chin. ‘I’m so sorry, Kie, so very sorry. Can you ever forgive me?’

Keisha smiled, pulling him to her chest. She couldn’t speak, but she could sing. ‘…Precious Lord, take Ed’s hand, lead him on, help him stand…’ She prayed for him in song.

Slowly, Edward’s sobs turned to gentle weeping, and then to calm silence as Keisha sang the old hymn.

‘I- I’m so sorry, Kie. You – you didn’t need to see me like this.’ Edward blushed with embarrassment as Keisha offered him a box of tissues.

Keisha tilted his chin up so he could see her sign. ‘You don’t have to say you’re sorry, Ed. It was a long time ago, and I’ve forgiven you. And, as for right now, we all have bad days. I understand.’

Edward blew his nose against a new wave of tears. What was happening to him? Why was he suddenly bursting into tears all the time? He felt like he was getting worse, not better.

‘I hate to interrupt.’ Alexander said as he poked his head in the door.

‘Come.’ Keisha gestured. ‘Ed is having a bad moment.’

‘That’s an understatement.’ Edward noted, still sniffling.

‘I’ll just leave you men to talk, then.’ Keisha smiled as she crossed to the door.

‘I assume from Jack’s description that you had a pretty bad flashback, Ed. Are you back in Kentucky, yet?’ Alexander asked as he pulled up an extra chair and sat down.

‘Yep.’ Edward answered, still clutching at his chest.

‘Feels like someone’s ripping your very heart out, doesn’t it?’ Alexander surmised.

‘Yes, yes it does. Exactly like that.’ Edward admitted.

‘Believe it or not, this is a good thing. It’s cathartic to let the pain out every once in a while.’ He explained as he leaned back and crossed her ankles. ‘Now, let’s talk about it.’

‘I don’t know, Alex. I don’t know if I can survive this. The pain -…’ He pounded against his chest with his fist as tears threatened to fall again. ‘… Right here.’

‘What did you see out in the street, Ed? What was it that triggered the flashback? Think about what was going on around you. What sounds, smells, tastes, sights… one of those things was your trigger.’

Edward was silent for several moments. ‘It was her, Alex. It was Keisha as she stood in the window… The roses were glowing with light from the store.’ He gulped several times, refusing to give in to the memory. ‘I – My mind – saw Rosalie. Rosalie as she was the last time I saw her. Rosalie surrounded on her deathbed by a wreath of roses. But, it wasn’t her, Alex. It was Keisha.’

Alexander’s brow arched. ‘Rosalie? You’ve never mentioned her before. How did she die?’

Edward’s face reddened with shame. ‘It was partly my fault. We were assigned to protect her, daughter of privilege and all that. She was beautiful, and had the heart of an angel.’

‘How did she die?’ He repeated.

‘She – my team was assigned protection detail. I – I was assigned as a personal guard. I ate, slept, lived by her side for weeks. I -…’ Edward’s blush went as deep as it would go. ‘… I went over the line. I fell for her, hard. She was so damn beautiful, Alex. At the end of the mission, we escorted her home, back to Spain. Whatever we were protecting her from was considered past and no longer a threat. There wasn’t supposed to be any danger. There were no indications of danger.’

‘And, then?’

‘Then? She was on the steps of the parliament building waving to us as we boarded a bus to the airport. The mission was over. She – She looked so lovely. She blew us a kiss…then… She was dead before she hit the ground, Alex. A sniper got her. Our mission was over. We thought she would be safe.’ He gulped again. ‘… I watched… watched her wake on television. There were so many roses…’

Alexander was quiet for a few moments, hearing what Edward was saying without saying. ‘Do you think that Keisha is still in danger, Ed?’

Edward looked up at him. ‘I – I hadn’t thought… maybe, I do. Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but I feel as if this whole thing is not over, yet. Maybe because capturing her ex-husband was too easy.’

‘I’ve always found it best to trust my instincts in such situations. It served me well in the service, and helped me save my wife, Sparrowhawk, too. So, what does your instinct tell you, Ed? How do you think we ought to proceed from here?’ Alexander paused. ‘If this were a mission… A protection detail… what would you do right now?’

‘Right now, right this very minute, I would -…’ And then Edward laid out a plan. It was what he was trained to do, and he did it well.

Keisha waved goodbye to Karen as she stepped out the door of the Hope Chest. Adjusting the purse on her shoulder, she set out in the direction of the diner. The way she figured it, she had just enough time to put away one of Cookies’ specials before walking over to the church for her special, solo practice.

Behind her, Jack stepped out of the Hope Chest, heading in the same direction. ‘Hey, Keisha, wait up. I’ll walk to the diner with you. I fancy myself a big platter of fried chicken, too.’

Keisha waited with a small smile. ‘Aren’t you staying to help Ed?’ She asked in sign.

‘No, Alexander’s good to go with him. Besides, he’s better equipped for handling emotional breakdown’s than I am. I hate eating alone, so why don’t you join me?’ Jack asked, matching her stride.

A Survivor

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Mdina, Malta © Steven Tilly, Google Maps

I am a survivor.

That’s good, right?

Everyone around me seems to think so.

Just look at what you survived, Girl.

Not many could do that.

I am a survivor.

And, I’m supposed to be thankful?

How does one become thankful?

A life, my life, forever changed.

I walk alone.

Not many could do that.

I am a survivor.

The road I walk is narrow

separated by walls of experience

contained within corridors of pain.

That’s good, right?

WC: 78

 

This is written for “What Pegman Saw” a weekly writing challenge that takes us to a new destination each week. This week, Pegman has taken us to Mdina, Malta…. If you’d like to join the journey and add your own tale of derring-do, find us at:

S4: #6 – Chapter Four

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Photo prompt: Pixabay.com

Chapter Four

Ever so slowly he raised the window pane and propped it up with a crowbar. Then, with ease, he slipped over the sill and into the dark hallway. He paused; listening, before he moved down the hall looking in doors until he found her room.

Holding his breath, he turned the handle, easing the door open a mere crack. It was enough to see the bed… and her. She was sleeping like an angel on a cloud, he thought. She was beautiful when she slept. He’d always loved the way she smiled in her sleep. Tonight, he wanted to wipe that smile off her face.

He let the door gently swing open as he stepped into the room. She never even budged as he closed in upon her. Then, he was there and he couldn’t restrain himself any longer.

‘You are mine.’ He whispered low as he leaned over her.

Keisha’s eyes popped open as she heard a voice. Then, her eyes say his bulky form leaning over her. She opened her mouth to scream, but his hand was already cutting off the sound.

He leaned close, hissing a threat into her ear as his other hand found her throat. Her body jerked as it struggled for air.

‘Soon, Keisha, you’ll be mine forever, and I mean, forever this time. I’m gonna see to it that you never leave me again.’ He pulled her up from the bed.

Keisha began to thrash, fighting against his hold on her throat. Her eyes began to feel like they would explode if she didn’t breathe. As her arm flailed, it made contact with the table lamp. It crashed to the floor.

He dropped her and bolted out the door to the room across the hallway.

 

Edward’s eyes snapped open. A sound… something breaking. Adrenaline surged through his veins as his mind went back to the jungle.

‘Ed?’ Sparrowhawk whispered. ‘Did you hear – …?’

‘On it.’ Edward whispered back as he was crossing the room. He moved down the hall at full alert.

‘Kie?’ He called out as he entered her room to find her huddled on the floor gasping for breath.

‘Sparrow!’ Edward yelled.

Sparrowhawk ran down the hall to join him. ‘Here.’

‘She’s – I don’t – she – …’ Edward was shaking as he tried to help Keisha.

‘It’s okay,’ Sparrowhawk spoke to both of them. ‘Can you breathe, Keisha?’

Keisha shook her head while she put a hand to her throat and pointed towards the door with the other hand.

‘Come on, let’s get you to the clinic.’ Sparrowhawk wrapped an arm around her to help her to her feet.

Keisha adamantly shook her head, pulling away and shoving her finger at the door.

‘Hold up, Sparrow.’ Edward focused on Keisha. ‘What are you trying to tell us?’

Keisha released her throat long enough to use her hands to sign. ‘Husband. Hurt.’

‘Got it.’ Edward headed to the door. ‘Lock this. I’ll be back.’

Edward slipped into the hall, silently shutting the door behind him. His eyes slowly and methodically searched the hall. He felt the cool thread of night air and followed it into the room across the hall. There, he found the open window.

He searched the room as well as the hall and found the other open window. He searched the other rooms, too, before returning to the women. ‘I found two open windows… end of hall, and the room across the hall.’

‘Intruder.’ Sparrowhawk spoke.

‘Long gone, no doubt.’ Edward shrugged. ‘Sorry.’

‘Eh-…’ Keisha made a sound.

‘Yes, Kie?’ Edward knelt beside her.

‘Heaa- hea- …’ Keisha struggled to make a word as she grabbed at her throat. Then, she swayed against Sparrowhawk.

‘Ed, help me get her to the clinic.’

Edward swung her up in his arms and strode out the door. He didn’t stop until he deposited her on the clinic’s exam bed.

‘Thank you. Will you please call Alexander, and then bring the SUV around.’ Sparrowhawk ordered him as she started an oxygen feed and took Keisha’s vitals.

 

An hour later, Keisha was resting in the town’s clinic with Edward standing guard beside her. They were waiting for xrays that would say whether or not she would be transferred into Lexington. Meanwhile, the Sheriff had been called.

‘I don’t need the Sheriff.’ Keisha signed in protest.

‘Yes, you do.’ Edward insisted. ‘A bad dream doesn’t explain those bruises on your throat, or the blood under your nails, Kie.’

Keisha’s eyes widened as she looked down to her hands. Tears reappeared in her eyes, and she began to pant for air.

He stepped up to grab her hands. ‘It’s going to be okay, Kie.’

‘Ed.’ Sparrowhawk spoke as she entered the room. ‘I need you to step outside.’

‘I’m not leaving.’ Edward insisted, still holding her hands away from her body.

‘I need to take photos, and Alex needs to do an exam. I’m sure Keisha would prefer that you leave as well; wouldn’t you, Kie?’ Sparrrowhawk pressed as Alexander joined them.

Through her tears, Keisha nodded. ‘Puh-…’ She tried to speak.

Reluctantly, Edward released her. ‘I’ll be right outside the door if you want me.’

Keisha tried to blink away tears.

As the door closed behind Edward, Sparrowhawk explained what she was about to do with the camera. ‘This will ensure it’s documented, Kie. That means that you will have evidence – proof, of what he did. And, that means that we can arrest him. This will hold in court; and then, he’ll go to prison. He won’t be able to hurt you again.’

Keisha sniffled while the photos were taken.

Meanwhile, Edward made his statement to the Sheriff.

‘Thank you, Mr. Hastings.’ The Deputy shook his hand. ‘I’ll do everything I can to protect her.’

‘So will we.’ Alexander spoke as he joined them.

‘Now, I’d like to speak with Ms. Wormwood.’ The Deputy nodded towards the door.’

‘Come with me.’ Alexander invited the Deputy to follow him.

Edward was sitting at the nurse’s station when the trio emerged from the room several minutes later. Instantly, he was on his feet.

‘Is she okay?’

‘Physically, yes.’ Sparrowhawk answered. ‘She’s been through this before, Ed. This time, though, we’ve got the solid evidence that she needs to prosecute him.’

‘She’s been attacked before?’ Edward’s voice mixed with concern and anger. ‘I’ll kill the bastard!’ Edward’s hands drew up into fists.

‘Ed, come into my office. The Sheriff and I would like to speak to you.’ Alexander motioned from the door. ‘We need to talk.’

 

When Edward finally came out of the office, he was totally in control of his emotions. At least he hoped it appeared that he was. Inside, he was still angry, but he now had a direction for that anger – protecting Keisha. Forget why he’d been sent to the Ranch to begin with, Keisha was in danger, and this time he would keep her safe. It was as simple as that. He turned out of the office door and went straight for the exam room, stepping softly through the half-open door. His heart clenching painfully as he saw Keisha cowering on the bed.

‘I’ll kill the bastard.’ His mind repeated as he took a breath to calm himself. It wouldn’t do any good to frighten her any worse than she already was.

‘Kie?’ He spoke in a soft voice that he prayed didn’t sound threatening to her.

Keisha looked up. She couldn’t stop the tears; couldn’t stop shaking long enough to speak with her hands. Her throat hurt, too, really hurt bad. She swallowed and cringed at the pain.

‘Aw, hell, Keisha. You know how much I hate to see you crying.’ His voice choked as he stepped to her side. ‘I’m here for you, and I’m not leaving your side until you’re safe. That’s a promise upon my honor as a Marine.’ He sat on the edge of the bed and pulled her to his chest. ‘Shh, you’re safe now, Kie.’

 

He ran from the clinic’s shadows; dashing into the darkness, trying to follow the SUV on foot. She was getting away – again! He yelled in frustration as the tail lights faded into the fog at the edge of town. She was gone… gone! It wasn’t fair at all!

Frustration wracked through his body as he kicked at the pavement and threw his arms up into the air. Hot, angry tears poured out of his eyes, as he finally exhausted himself. Through his tears, he saw the flashing neon of the tavern across the street. It was just what he needed; a good, stiff shot of bourbon to drown his frustration.

 

‘Come on, Kie.’ Edward tugged her hand. ‘The coast is clear.’

Holding her close to his side, Edward rushed her the few feet from the clinic’s rear entrance to the SUV that was waiting for them. Alexander slipped out of the driver’s side as Edward came around to take his place.

‘Keep her safe, Ed.’ Alexander patted his arm.

‘I won’t fail, Alex. Not this time.’ Edward spoke as he slid into the seat, closed the door, and pulled out of the parking area. The Sheriff, along with Sparrowhawk had turned right, heading out of town towards the Ranch. Edward turned left, heading into downtown.

Holding the cell phone to his ear, Edward gave Alexander and update on what he was seeing. ‘I see him in the rear-view. He’s down by the tavern throwing a hissy-fit in the middle of the street.’

‘We’ve got visual on him, Ed. You take care of Keisha.’ Alexander acknowledged.

 

Inside the tavern, he slunk to a far booth near the rear hallway and hid within its confines. A waitress took his order as he sat back to brood over his situation. Closing his eyes, he thought back to the Ranch. He’d had her in his grasp, so why hadn’t he just finished her then and there? Why hadn’t he just gone ahead and snuffed her out? He couldn’t answer.

As the waitress sat down his drink, he licked his lips with relish. His only regret was that he didn’t finish what he’d set out to do earlier in the evening. But, if he had, he wouldn’t be able to enjoy her prolonged fear. And, he so loved causing her to be afraid. He lived for the look in her eyes as she gasped for air, not knowing if she would have another breath. Not even to mention the way her weak little arms had pounded against his stronger ones. She’d been so helpless underneath him, just the way he liked it. Even thinking about it, he felt invincible.

With a satisfied groan, he lifted the bourbon to his lips. ‘I’ll get you, Keisha. And, next time, no one and nothing will stop me. You’ll be mine forever.’

He didn’t see the Sheriff enter the door at the end of the hallway behind his booth; nor did he see Alexander secure the front door as he entered.

 

Two blocks down from the clinic, Edward hung a sharp right into an alley between two buildings, eliciting a yelp of pain from Keisha. Instantly, he extinguished the headlights but did not let up on the gas as he flew down the narrow alleyway. Several more sharp turns and dark alleys later, he pulled into the Hope Chest parking lot and came to a sudden stop.

‘Sorry for the rough ride, Keisha.’ Edward apologized as he slid the gearshift into park. ‘I wanted to be sure that we weren’t followed.’

Keisha tapped the side of her temple, indicating that she understood.

‘Alex says that there is a rear apartment upstairs. That’s where we’re going.’ He turned in the seat as he unbuckled his safety belt. ‘Now, I want you to stay in the car until I come around and get you. Understood?’

Keisha sat, staring out into the darkness. Did she understand? She didn’t understand anything. She didn’t understand why Edward had left her so long ago, let alone why she’d gone and married Franklin to make her parent’s happy. She didn’t understand why Franklin wanted to hurt her so much. She’d always done everything that he’d asked of her. Why did he hate her so much? And why, why was Edward the opposite. No matter how much she balked against him, he stayed. And now, now he was protecting her… she just couldn’t grasp why. Tears welled, but held in her eyes.

‘Keisha? Did you hear me?’ Edward asked with concern. ‘Do you understand what I want you to do? Keisha?’

Keisha blinked, keeping her gaze out the front window.

Deliberately, Edward reached out and turned her chin until she was looking him in the eye. ‘I know you’re afraid, Kie. I get that. I know that seeing me again was a surprise, too. Seeing you was a surprise to me, too. I know that we’ve got some unfinished business to discuss, and we will, later. Right now, though, we need to get you inside where I can protect you better. Once we get your ex-husband behind bars where he can’t hurt you, then we’ll sit down and talk about us. I’d like us to talk heart-to-heart, Kie, really.’

‘Ehh-d.’ She gasped. ‘I- ah-…’ She swallowed against the pain in her throat.

‘Just relax, Kie. Your throat’s gonna hurt for a few days. He must have had a hard grip on you. He did, didn’t he?’ Edward very gently brushed his hand over her bruised throat. ‘I’m so sorry her hurt you, Kie. I won’t let him get to you again.’

Keisha’s eyes nearly rolled back in her head. ‘Ed – I – uh – …’

‘Shh, relax. Take a slow, deep breath.’ Edward suggested. ‘Now, I’m going to get out and come around. Wait for me, okay?’

Keisha unhooked her safety belt and reached for the door latch. She had to get out, to get away. She felt trapped. Her throat was spasming, cutting off her air. She couldn’t breathe. She was choking. The flashback took her back to her room in the main house a few hours earlier. He was on top of her, again, squeezing the life out of her throat. She was dying.

Edward’s hand reached over, covering hers on the door latch. ‘Wait, Kie. Wait for me to come around.’

Keisha adamantly shook her head. ‘No.’ The sound emerged from her mouth before pain caused her to cringe. She pulled the latch and the door swung open. Keisha bolted out of the car, hitting the ground at a dead run.

‘Aw, hell, Kie!’ Edward snapped as he dove after her.

He caught up to her a block away, behind the church. She was on her knees next to the foundation, panting for air. He stepped in front of her, bending over at the waist to put his hands on his knees.

‘Kie, it’s time to stop running.’ He spoke between breaths. ‘Come on, we need to get you inside.’

Keisha cringed, looking back towards the glow of the stained glass windows. She loved how the light seemed to make the images come to life. It was why she loved making stained glass windows, herself. Tonight, she just felt safe within their glow.

‘Keisha, I am so sorry for what your ex-husband has done to you, and I’d give anything in the world to see that he never touches you again. To do that, though, I need for you to trust me.’ Edward held out his hand again. This time, she placed hers in his broad palm.

He pulled her up to his side. ‘I really don’t think we ought to walk back from here. So, here’s what I propose… We step inside the church and I call Stands to bring the car around. How does that sound?’

Keisha pointed up to the window and wiggled her hand.

‘Good’ Edward winked, squeezing her hand. ‘Let’s go.’