April 20, 2024

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

“Come in,” said Grace. “I have medical training. I can help your friend.”

“He’s my baby brother. I’m Christopher,” the tall, dark-haired man said with a beautiful, warm smile. “I’d be very grateful for your help. Family means everything to me.”

Grace wasn’t fooled by his charm and good looks. There were some people who just emanated evil. Even if she hadn’t seen the cruelty within him, she would have known by how the pale girl became even paler. Grace had never had a daughter, only sons, who she assumed were long lost to the event that had changed the world, but she could see that horrible damage had been inflicted on this child by the man who casually showed his ownership with the arm over her shoulders.

She turned and opened the screen door, allowing the invaders into her home. “Will you walk into my parlor?” she quoted the old poem, hoping that the girl was a reader. Someone was going to be the spider, and someone was going to be the fly. Who was who would soon be determined.

A man and woman joined them. The man was a slightly less handsome version of Christopher, and the woman was a gorgeous redhead. “This is my brother Luke and his girlfriend Beth,” Christopher introduced them politely. He said all the right words, had all the right facial expressions and intonations, but Grace’s sharp instincts prevented her from being taken in. He was a wolf in an incredibly handsome sheep costume, and she knew it.

As they helped the wounded man up the steps, Grace opened her hall closet and pulled out a plastic sheet. She rapidly spread it across the daybed in her front room and gestured for them to put him there.

Grace returned to the closet and grabbed her worn leather medical bag. She hadn’t used it much recently, but the tools within felt as familiar to her hands as her garden tools did. She had delivered many babies, both the human type and fur-covered livestock, using the tools in that bag, and she had also performed a number of other procedures.

She showed the men her scissors before cutting off the wounded man’s shirt. He was barely conscious. “What’s your name, young man?” she asked, peering at the bullet hole in his upper abdomen.

“Rick Hill,” he gasped, groaning in pain.

“Well, Rick Hill, I’m going to have to get this bullet out of you, but you’re going to be okay,” Grace informed him briskly. She turned to the others. “I have to go out to my greenhouse and get some supplies.”

“What kind of supplies?” demanded Beth suspiciously.

“Some herbs to help his pain and some to prevent infection.”

“Go with her, Jon,” Christopher ordered.  The youngest man of the group stood up and joined Grace.

Wordlessly, she picked up a flashlight and went out the back door. She strode across the brick pavers to the little greenhouse where she grew medicinal herbs year-round and concocted her mixtures. The greenhouse was complete with a tiny, efficient woodstove where she could boil water, melt beeswax, and sterilize supplies.

Grace didn’t just make medicines here, however. This greenhouse was also her workshop. She had spent many hours there, dipping candles, slicing into cured homemade soap to turn it into bars,  creating remedies, and concocting mixtures that made her garden thrive and pests flee.

Even with the gun in her pocket, Grace knew she didn’t dare risk using it right away. No, she’d have to handle this slowly and meticulously, one by one. She might not be able to fight them and win in hand-to-hand combat, but she knew that in a battle of wits, she was far better armed than this evil group of people. Her husband had taught her that strategy was just as deadly a weapon as any firearm, given enough time to enact it.

As Jon watched her carefully, she picked up a mason jar filled with a light brown liquid and labeled “garden tea” and a vial on which she had handwritten “laudanum.”  Her laudanum was made from the opium poppies she’d grown from seeds her husband had brought to her when he returned from Vietnam. She had a thriving patch of poppies that burst into red flame every year. She added some cinnamon and cloves she had stored and some saffron threads from her patch of purple flowers, mashed it all up, and soaked it in alcohol. Then she decanted the mixture into vials each year for the treatment of pain or relentless diarrhea.

Her mission complete, she nodded to her escort, and they returned to the house.

Grace went straight to the kitchen next, where she set a kettle on the woodstove and took crisp, clean towels from the drawer. She got a bowl and mixed a few spoons full of the laudanum with honey from her hives. It would still taste awful – that was the nature of laudanum – but it would help to relieve the pain.

She added mint to two shiny silver-colored tea balls and poured the boiling water over them into two lovely china mugs embellished with delicate, hand-painted yellow flowers. She dribbled in some honey and left them on the counter to steep.

Next, she took the jar of dried parsley from her garden and stirred a handful into the jar marked “garden tea.” Garden tea was her homemade fertilizer that she created when cleaning up after her hens. While the manure was too hot to put on her garden immediately, she could add some of it to water, let it sit for a while, then strain it out. She put the manure she strained out on her compost pile, and the strained liquid made an incredibly fertile addition to her tomato bed. It would also serve to infect a wound she was claiming to treat.

One by one.

The parsley would help clot the blood and mask the smell of the tea somewhat, although with the solids drained out, the smell wasn’t terribly strong and certainly wasn’t obvious. She added some cheesecloth, a wooden spoon, and a basin to her pile and carried the kettle as she returned to her patient. She sat everything down on a marble-topped table beside the day bed.

“Okay, Rick, I’m going to give you something for the pain,” she announced.

“Wait,” interrupted Beth. “How do we know you aren’t poisoning him?”

“Well, I suppose you don’t. But I can give some to the young girl, too, as it appears she must have fallen into something and hurt her jaw,” Grace smiled. It was a false smile that didn’t really reach her eyes. Yeah, the girl had fallen into someone’s fist. “You can watch her and then decide.”

Christopher nodded. “Give Lexie the drug first.”

Grace wiggled her finger to summon the girl to her. Lexie was a pale, pretty, haunted child.  “I must warn you, dear, this tastes terrible. But it will help your jaw.” It would also help her to sleep deeply and keep her away from the odious man in charge, at least for one night, Grace thought with satisfaction.

Lexie nodded and held the spoon while Grace poured the mixture of honey and laudanum into it. “I know it’s bitter, but try to hold it under your tongue. It will work faster, and I have peppermint tea brewing to take the taste out of your mouth.”

Lexie made a face at the horrible flavor of the laudanum. There wasn’t enough honey in the world to make it palatable. But she didn’t say a word, and she obediently held it under her tongue as Grace had directed.

The room was quiet as everyone watched Lexie. When she finally swallowed the laudanum, Grace said, “Now go get yourself a mug of tea from the kitchen and bring in the other one for Rick.”

Lexie disappeared into the kitchen to do as Grace had instructed. When she returned, she curled up in a big chair on the other side of the room. She sipped her tea and pulled a soft, fuzzy blanket knitted with yarn containing all the green shades of the forest off the back of the chair to cover up. She was still damp from the rain, but she felt cozy and comfortable for the first time since she had been in Hell.

Rick moaned in pain. “Go ahead,” Christopher ordered. “Give him the medicine.”

“Don’t spit this out. I have to remove the bullet, and this will help you withstand the pain,” Grace told him firmly.

He nodded, and she spooned the bitter liquid into his mouth. He coughed a little but held it under his tongue. Grace spoon-fed him a few sips from the mug of tea to cleanse his mouth of the dreadful taste.

She sat down in a chair beside him and picked up her needlepoint, put on her reading glasses, and began to stitch. “What the hell are you doing?” barked Luke.

Grace peered sternly over her glasses, giving not an inch. “I’m giving the medicine time to work unless you’d prefer that I go digging for that bullet without pain relief.”

Luke subsided sullenly and disappeared from the room. Grace heard noises from her kitchen that sounded like Luke was helping himself to a snack. Beth left the room to join him, and soon, the room was filled with the smell of something delicious heating up on the stove. They’d found the chili she had pressure canned just last winter. Beth brought a bowl and spoon to Christopher. Lexie was sound asleep on the chair.

Rick seemed to be getting some relief from the laudanum. It was time.

“I’m going to need some help from you young men,” Grace informed them. “I need you to hold your brother down while I get this bullet out.

Jon and Luke took their stations at Rick’s shoulders and feet. Grace had seen bullet wounds before, and she was nearly certain this one hadn’t hit anything terribly important. But the bullet had to come out.  And even if the wound wasn’t lethal now, it would be by the time she was finished.

She used the lit candle in the cozy little parlor to sterilize the long, stainless steel medical tweezers, then poured a little of the laudanum mixture over them to cool them down.  She lifted Rick’s shirt and nodded to Jon and Luke. “Don’t let him move or this will do more harm than good.” They pinned him down firmly. Grace placed the wooden spoon in between his teeth.

She inserted the tweezers as gently as she could, feeling around with them to get a sense of the angle of the wound. She followed it carefully and felt it when the instrument touched the metal of the bullet. Rick was screaming around the spoon and would have been thrashing around if his brothers hadn’t been holding him so firmly. He went still as the pain became too much for him, and he lost consciousness. Victoriously, Grace pulled out the bullet and dropped it into the mug of tea with a plop.

She covered the basin with the cheesecloth she had brought from the kitchen, then strained the garden tea and parsley liquid through it to get the particles out. She took a large syringe that looked suspiciously like a Thanksgiving turkey baster and began to irrigate the wound with the tainted liquid. After several minutes, the blood coming out of the wound ran pink. Grace topped the area with a bandage and added pressure. When it appeared that the bleeding had slowed, she taped the bandage into place.

Grace returned to the kitchen and dumped the liquid from the basin down the drain into the septic system. She put the lid on the jar of garden tea tightly. She’d be using that daily to “clean” Rick’s wound. She washed her hands in the kitchen basin using her homemade soap and washed the dishes that Luke and Beth had left carelessly on the counter.

She returned to the parlor, the perfect hostess. “Would you like me to show you to your beds?” It appeared that Beth and Luke had helped themselves to some of the laudanum in her absence. They were slurring their words when they talked, giggling softly and nodding off on the sofa.

She led them upstairs and directed the couple to the upstairs guest room. Jon was given the pullout sofa in her sewing room. She gave Christopher the master bedroom. Grace had already pegged him as the type of person who wanted to be venerated and feared. It would work to her advantage if she treated him like the king he thought he was and bided her time. His arrogance, she mused, will give me the opening I need and be the end of him.

She returned to the parlor and checked on her patient. Rick was asleep, pale, and still on the daybed. She touched his forehead, checking for fever. He was cool. For now, she thought.

Then Grace turned to the big chair where the girl was curled up, sound asleep. She pulled the blanket up over Lexie’s slender shoulders. She gently smoothed the girl’s hair back from her face. She couldn’t do much for her, but at least she could spare her one night of abuse.

Grace sunk down on the fluffy, overstuffed sofa and pulled over herself a heavy, handmade afghan dotted with crocheted roses. She never imagined she’d be able to sleep with everything that was going on, but somehow, she dropped off almost immediately.

About Daisy

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

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