“Whatever you do, do not move.”’ I wasn’t sure if the voice was mixed with the ringing in my ears or if it was part of the marching band pounding in my head. It did not matter any way, every inch of my body was screaming in pain. I had no intention of moving.
“Ah, I see the little lass is finally awake.” A coarse hand grabbed my bruised chin and jerked my face up. A nauseating smell hit me taking what little breath I held in my lungs away. The smell reminded me of rotting flesh combined with sour mash and sweat of someone who had not had a bath in about a year. I tried to focus my eyes a little so I could at least get a good look at what held such a smell, but my eyes were so swollen that to open them was impossible.
“Don’t move.” My brain was on over drive with pain, whoever was telling me not to move had no idea that I couldn’t if I had too. (This was not a good thing because the smelly beast of a man had intentions that were not of the godly sort.)
What bothered me more was how was someone speaking through my thoughts, my twin sister and brother could only do that and the voice was not even close to theirs?
"If you move you will may be hurt." I winced when the voice boomed in my head again. This unfortunately only excited the beastly man sending his meaty claw into my already bruised temple.
“Did that hurt lassie?” His mad laugh sent my tender skin crawling with fear.I was not sure who I wanted to inflict pain on more at the moment. The voice in my head or the beast pounding on it.
“We saved you for last my sweet. Give me a kiss.” Before I had a chance to respond he
grabbed the back of my head and began stretching my face toward his.
“Now Red, Fallon said this one was for him. You don’t want to go making him mad now ya hear. Red!”
He ignored his buddy and continued with me, “Wench I said give me a kiss!” My hands were tied behind my back and were stretched around the rough trunk of a longleaf pine. I couldn’t move if I had wanted too. The man was so wasted from the liquor that he staggered backwards almost stepping in the fire. This made him extremely angry. “I’ll teach you, you little wench!!” This time he charged me grabbing me by the shoulders, “stand up and kiss me.”
This time the voice in my head said, “Lean your head back.” I did as he said, I had nothing left to lose at the moment.
Sensing my resistance, Red, let out another of his horrible blood stirring laughs. “You are going to be fun, lassie.” I felt the breeze as his fist, flew by nose. “You stupid little wench, didn’t yer mama teach you how to please a man.”
A voice bellowed in my brain, “Don’t move.” Move! Didn’t who ever this was now I was unable to move?
“Little girl I will teach you how to treat a man properly.” This time when the fist came toward me I relaxed my head back against the tree trunk and braced for the blow that would knock me into tomorrow. Instead I heard a gurgling sound and a prominent thud followed by complete silence. The crickets had even stopped chirping. A peace poured over me then everything went black.
There was fire and screams, charcoal-grey smoke filled my lungs. Then I was falling for what seemed an eternity until my head hit the unforgiving surface of the deep swirling muddy water. I gasped from the cold sending much needed oxygen coursing through my brain. The metallic taste in my mouth told me I was bleeding. My long petticoat and dress soaked up the river water making it impossible for me to stay afloat. So this was my end, I threw my hands over my head allowing my body to slowly be drawn below the waters murky brown surface. If I was going die it was going to be on my own terms. A large hand snatch reached down into the muddy river grabbing me by the hair pulling me toward the surface, ' again have been saved today is not my day after all, “Well look-e-hear we meet again huh, little lass. Your protector is not here to save ya this time is it.” This time, I had air in my lungs and a scream shattered my dream.
I woke with a start wishing I hadn’t my head felt like a militia band was marching init banging cymbals in my ears. Coffee, I needed some very strong and very black coffee. In fact just put the beans in my mouth and I’ll suck on them. Then I remembered were I was and braced my body for the blow that was sure to follow. I was surprised when a roughly- gentle hand touched my forehead sending a peaceful glow throughout my aching bones and muscles. Startled from the unrecognized sensation I sucked in a cool wet breath of river bottom air. That sent another shock of much needed oxygen to my brain. Whoa, glad I was not standing.
“Claire, it is alright. I will not harm you. Please look at me I need to see if you are alright.” The voice seemed so familiar, maybe I know my savior. I slowly opened my right eye and was surprised that the swelling was gone. My body healed quickly but never this fast, although I am not sure how long I had been asleep. It took a few tense seconds for my eye to focus and to my dismay it was someone I did recognize. He was the man from the beach, my protector in Spanish Alley, the man in the shadows outside my grandparent’s house; I even remember seeing him at the theater several times. He was always standing in the shadows never in the light.
“Claire, coffee?” a warm steaming cup of black coffee was raised into my line of sight.
“Coffee!” I croaked out hoping he could hear the smile in my voice. I felt his strong arm behind my head slowly easing my head up toward his other hand which held the much needed hot liquid.
“Careful, it is hot. I added something to it that will help you to heal quicker and to cool it so it wouldn’t burn you. God knows you don’t need anything more to add to your discomfort.” The cool edge of the tin cup touched my lips as the pungently strong steam of the coffee filled my nose. I drank carefully enjoying the warm pain it produced on my dry, parched throat. The coffee was very strong like I liked it but it had a slightly metallic taste that seemed familiar but I couldn’t place. Finishing the cup he gently laid my head back down onto the comfortable Spanish moss mattress that he must have laid me down on. I could feel my headache slowly ebbing. The fuzz in my brain was slowly clearing and as it did the screams and horror of the explosion returned. I gasped, remembering the attack that followed. Everything glowed red and smelled of death, people were screaming in fear and pain. Without thinking I grabbed my head trying to stop the sounds, this sent fire burning throughout my body the pain was almost unbearable. I fought off the need to escape and passing out. Then a rough hand gently touched my cheek and carefully wiped the tears away.
“Easy there little ghost, no need to run you are safe. Rest,” a look of curiosity crossed over his face, “you know you are healing much faster than I had thought. By the time Matthew returns with the healer you may not need her help. Amazing?!” I could hear the many questions he had about me in his last word. He refrained from probing for the answers but the strain was evident in the air around him. “We have plenty of time, I am sure you have quite a few for me as well?” He caressed my check again and then whispered ever so softly, “sleep Lil’Ghost .”
“How did he know that was my other name? The only person who called me that was my grandma Birdie. Who was this man and what did he want with me?’ My body over road my thoughts and found the sleep it greatly needed, this time I dreamed of my protector. It was a rememberable dream one that will go down in its own chapter in the book of my life.