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Authors: Lucy Pepperdine

In The Garden Of Stones

BOOK: In The Garden Of Stones
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In The Garden

of Stones

by

Lucy
Pepperdine

 

A Wild Wolf
Publication

 

 

Published by
Wild Wolf Publishing in 2015

Copyright
Jillian Ward / Lucy Pepperdine 2013

 

All rights
reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright
Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and
retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher,
except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be
printed by a newspaper, magazine or journal.

 

All characters
and locations appearing in this work are fictitious. Any
resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely
coincidental.

 

www.wildwolfpublishing.com

 

Edited by Poppet, cover designed by Poppet

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal reading only. This
ebook may not be re-sold or given away. If you would like to share
this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy
for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not
purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please
return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for
respecting the law.

 

 

With grateful thanks to
Defence Imagery

 

Supporting
Combat Stress

 

For
Derrick. My beacon of light in a dark and frightening world

Chapter 1

 

 

She
treads carefully between the headstones, the grass velvety and cool
under her bare feet, droplets of dew wetting her toes, soaking into
the fabric of her long skirt.

Above
her, through the quivering leaves of the mountain ash, gold edged
white wisps drift lazily through the shifting palette of early
morning pinks, purples, and mauves. Soon the sun will breach the
horizon to bleach the colours to a uniform blue, banishing the mist
and kissing the exotic day-lilies, strengthening warmth and light,
awakening their resting blooms and releasing their
fragrance.

From its
perch on the granite obelisk the bright eyed robin’s song is a
delightful melody, filling the dawn with innocent joy, adding
another dimension to the clean, crisp, freshness of a new
day.

She
wants to fill herself with this purity, sampling the air, closing
her eyes and breathing in…only there is nothing there. No dawn, no
dew, no grass and no air, only beetles and snakes in the darkness,
clicking and hissing.

A snake
is in her mouth, its head down her throat. It hisses air into her,
too much, filling her lungs until she fears they might burst, and
then with a click steals it back.

Hiss.
In. Click. Out. The rhythm is all wrong. She has to get the snake
out or she’ll suffocate.

She
gropes blindly, fingers scrabbling to grab its tail and yank it
out. The snake resists, probing the back of her throat with its
forked tongue.

Now she
can smell flowers, sweet and heady jasmine, knowing this is what
Heaven smells like, and that death is near. She wants to scream,
but there is no air in her to make the sound.

And then
the hissing and ticking cease, something cool – smooth - rubbery
takes hold of her hand, easing her fingers from the serpent’s
ribbed body.


You’re okay, Grace. Keep still and let me take this out for
you.”

A soft,
female voice. An angel?

A tug,
followed by a sharp burning sensation on her cheek.


Take a deep breath in for me through your mouth please,
Grace,” the angel says.

Grace
tries, but the snake won’t let her. Fight it. Fight!

A gasped
inhalation fills her lungs with warm fresh air, and the snake
moves, the length of it sliding up her airway, touching the back of
her throat, making her cough and retch to the point of
catharsis.

It is
gone. The serpent expelled.

She
swallows rapidly, convulsively, throat burning and sore.


Well done. It’s out. Now let’s have a proper look at
you.”

The
darkness shifts, allowing light to filter through lids fused
closed. Cool wetness bathes them, softening and loosening the
seal.


Try to open your eyes.”

Grace
forces her lids apart, scratchy and dry against her corneas as if
they are lined with sandpaper.

Everything is too bright in the cone of light from the
overhead lamp. Hot salt water, Nature’s own lubricant, floods into
her eyes and she blinks rapidly to spread it around to relieve the
dry burning.

Through
the blur a face swims into view, heart shaped and delicate,
surrounded with a halo of golden curls. Angelic but not an angel,
and the scent of jasmine is not a heavenly perfume, it’s coming
from her. And then someone else is there. A man.


Hi Grace, how’re you feeling? I’m Doctor Burke. I’ve been
looking after you. It’s nice to see you awake again, so I must have
done something right. Mind if I sit down? Been on my feet all day
and my dogs are barking.”

Grace
still can’t see properly, his features are indistinct, but she can
tell he is youngish, dark haired, and is wearing a blue shirt. When
he speaks, telling her what a lovely day it is outside and what a
shame she’s stuck indoors and missing it, she can hear a friendly
smile in his refined Edinburgh accent.


Now then, I just want to carry out a few tests to make sure
there’s no damage done,” he says, taking something from his breast
pocket. He fiddles with it, muttering under his breath because he
can’t make it work. “Ah, got it now. I was pressing the wrong
button.”

He
places a cold thumb against Grace’s left eyelid and forces it
firmly but gently upwards. The light from his tiny torch is
blindingly bright, then gone.


That looks okay” he murmurs. “Now the other.”

He’s
been eating cheese, Grace can smell it on his breath – cheddar,
with tomato chutney. She can smell soap and aftershave
too.

Her
right eyelid is lifted. Another beam flares and dies.


Follow the light with just your eyes, please
Grace.”

The
pinpoint of light moves slowly from side to side, and then up and
down, and her focus follows it. The light goes out, leaving a
purple shadow on her retina.


Good. How many fingers am I holding up?”

There
are two and she tries to tell him so, but her throat is clenched,
all the moisture gone from her mouth, and she only manages a dry
croak.


Can you show me then?” he says.

She puts
up two fingers of her own.


Not exactly the sign I was looking for, but it will do,” he
says. “Now this next test may hurt a wee bit, but not much, I
promise.”

He frees
her feet from the bed sheet, presses something sharp against the
sole of her right foot, and scratches it toward her toes. A sharp
pain flares and she flinches. “Ow!”


Sorry.”

He does
the same with her left foot, getting the same reaction, but seems
satisfied and covers her again.


Okay, the patient is awake and compliant, pupillary
reaction equal and normal. Reactions to stimuli are also normal. Do
you know where you are, Grace?”

She
nods, rips her tongue from the roof of her mouth and tells him,
although it comes out as no more than a lisped breathy
whisper.


Hothpital.”


That’s right. The smell’s a dead giveaway, eh? And do you
know what day it is?”

She
shakes her head.


Me neither. I’ve been on duty so long…” He laughs lightly.
“Not much wrong with you that a good rest won’t put right, so I’ll
leave you in Anika’s tender care and pop back later for a chat.
Okay Grace?”

“’
Kay.”

At the
foot of the bed, out of Grace’s earshot, he confers with Nurse
Anika, scribbling his instructions on a clipboard. He then fights
his way out of the privacy screen and leaves to see to his next
patient, the clicking of his heels on the hard floor gradually
fading.

Nurse
Anika draws the privacy screen fully back and Grace can see where
she is. The high dependency unit. Nobody comes here unless
something has gone spectacularly wrong with them.

There
are at least eight other people in here with her, stretched out or
propped up in their beds, attached by wires and tubes to all manner
of gently beeping machinery. Some have snakes in their mouths too,
hissing and ticking as they ration the air.

The air
hums with restrained chatter and that low background drone that
seems to permeate all hospitals.

So thirsty. Throat is on fire. Mouth feels like it’s lined
with carpet and hairballs.


Anything I can get for you, Grace?” asks Anika, as she
unplugs the intravenous drip from Grace’s wrist.

Grace
puts a finger to her hard, cracked lips. “Can I have a drink
please?”

Anika
takes a beaker from the bedside cabinet and presses a fine tube to
Grace’s lips.

She
takes in the offered straw and sucks on it. Liquid fills her mouth.
It tastes tepid and flat, like it’s been standing too long, but it
is wet, which is all that matters.

Grace
lets the water sit on her tongue before releasing it to slide down
her throat and quench the fire. The thirst is overwhelming, she
needs more, much more, and sucks again, and swallows, and sucks and
swallows and... The straw is withdrawn.


Easy now,” Anika says. “Take a little bit at a time. Too
much and you’ll be sick, and we don’t want that do we?”

She’s
right. The water is swilling around in Grace’s empty stomach and
already nausea is building.

Grace’s
eyes fall closed again as a sudden draining tiredness overwhelms
her, so intense that her whole body might well have been stuffed
with straw. A pounding headache starts up, making her eyes throb,
and a light frown creases her brow, giving away her
discomfort.


Headache?”

Grace
nods.


I’ll get you something.”

Anika
returns after a few minutes with a tiny paper cup containing two
small white pills. Grace swallows the tablets with a mouthful of
the stale water.


You should have a nap, to gather your strength,” Anika
says, plumping the pillows and straightening the sheets. “When you
wake up, I’ll bring you a cup of tea and a little toast. After that
we’ll see about getting you moved into a general ward.”

Grace
takes more water, grimaces as she swallows, her hand to the base of
her throat.


Your sore throat is from the endotracheal tube,” says
Anika. “We had to put you on a ventilator for a while after your
seizure. It will pass soon.”

BOOK: In The Garden Of Stones
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