May 30, 2024

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

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Lexie remained frozen on her daybed for a long time after Beth left the room, cognizant that she was laying in the same room with a corpse but at the same time, unwilling to move.

Because when she did – when this day progressed – she knew that all hell was going to break loose. However bad life had been, it was about to get even worse.

Finally, she pushed herself up and, with her back against the wall, edged her way out of the room. Her heart banged against the cage of her chest so loudly she was certain everyone within five miles would hear it. Even though she knew Luke was dead, she dared not turn her back on his body, lest it somehow reanimate and grab her, pulling her down into some supernatural depths with him.

It felt like a journey of a thousand miles to sidestep her way to the door, open it, and make her escape through it. She felt like she’d been running for an hour as she leaned against the wall in the corridor, gasping for breath.

Grace.

She had to find Grace.

At that thought, Lexie did run, her bare feet skimming lightly over the aged wooden floors. She raced to the front porch, hoping that Grace would be there in her rocker, peacefully stitching something.

She burst onto the porch, and Grace was exactly where she had expected her to be, looking as angelic in Lexie’s eyes as the night she had first seen her.

The moment Grace saw Lexie’s pale, terrified face, she knew that something was horribly wrong. She rose from her chair with an ease that belied her age, putting her arm around the girl and leading her over to a seat.

Lexie frantically shook her head “no” and pulled at Grace’s arm, trying to convey the urgency she felt for Grace to accompany her back to the sunroom.

“Okay, sweet girl,” Grace said, finally catching on to what Lexie wanted her to follow. “Show me what’s going on.”

At the door of the sunroom, Lexie froze. She was never going out there again. She pointed at Luke’s still body, still resting where Beth had covered it up lightly with a yellow paisley sheet.

Grace was bolder and entered the room to check on Luke. Before she even touched him to check for a pulse, she knew that he was gone. She had seen death many times before, and the absence of life was obvious to her even from a distance. But she had no idea how he had died. She had given him laxatives to make him appear sick so that it would be less shocking when she gave him the final dose of the poison she had prepared, but the laxatives had absolutely not been enough to have finished him off.

While she wasn’t sorry that he was gone – it was one less enemy inside her home – her mind raced with the possibilities of how Christopher would respond. She had sensed a rage in him that, when ignited, could lead to any cruelty imaginable and many that had never crossed her mind.

This was bad.

She exited the room and closed the door behind her. Lexie was still waiting in the hallway, her eyes huge and dark in her narrow face.

“Come help me in the garden,” she said, taking the girl by the hand. Grace felt like the garden, a place of work to some, was the least likely place to encounter the others.

Once at the garden, she handed Lexie a pair of gloves and a hoe. “Weed,” she ordered.

Lexie mutely obliged, hacking at the ground with the hoe, still visibly shell-shocked. Grace continued her monologue softly, “I don’t know what happened to Luke,” she said. “I didn’t give him anything that could have killed him.”

Lexie shook her head animatedly. Her lips moved, but no sound emerged. She wanted desperately to tell Grace what had happened but the words just wouldn’t come out. She began gasping for air again, feeling the panic close in like water over her head.

“Weed,” Grace reminded her. “Feel the ground under your feet. Smell the fresh, green scent of the garden. Look at the yellow blossoms on the squash plants.”

After a few moments of taking in her surroundings, Grace’s calming words brought her back to a place where Lexie could at least function.

“I’m going to ask you some questions, dear, because I need to know what happened. Is that okay?”

Lexie nodded, swallowing around the huge lump she felt in her throat.

“Did you see what happened?”

Another nod.

“Did someone do this to him?”

A look of distress accompanied the next nod.

“Was it you?” Grace inquired gently.

Lexie looked up from the soil quickly, shocked that Grace would think such a thing. She shook her head “no” adamantly.

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” Grace apologized. “Was it Christopher?”

Lexie silently indicated another negative.

“Jon?”

No again.

“Oh, stars above,” whispered Grace as realization dawned on her. “Beth?

Lexie’s eyes met hers and she slowly nodded, the horror of watching the shocking event rushing back to her.

Grace’s mind raced frantically as she sought a way out. Christopher would believe it was her, and she would be hard-pressed to convince him otherwise. She couldn’t believe this was how it would end for her.

“Lexie, you have to run,” Grace whispered the order. “Christopher will kill me, and I won’t be able to protect you. Run!”

Lexie shook her head stubbornly. She was not going to leave Grace behind.

“Please, Lexie!” Grace pleaded. “You can get away while they’re focused on me!”

Lexie choked on unfallen tears, still shaking her head no. She would have dropped to the ground sobbing if the woman hadn’t had hold of her upper arms, refusing to let her fall.

“At least go hide in the greenhouse until the worst is over. Can you do that?” Grace didn’t want Lexie to watch her die. Slowly, Lexie nodded. The tears spilled down her cheeks, sparkling in the sunlight, dampening her thick lashes. She clutched Grace’s hands in her own, desperately yearning to stay there in the garden forever with the only person left in this world who wanted her to be safe. She had no idea how she’d go on after this brief respite from the hell her life had become. She didn’t even want to go on.

“Promise me!” Grace demanded, leading her to the greenhouse. “Promise!”

Lexie nodded miserably, and the door closed behind Grace. She was left, surrounded by the humid smell of earth and plants. She made her way to the furthest corner of the greenhouse and tucked herself into it, wishing she could disappear completely. She sobbed for the first time in she didn’t remember how long, deep, wracking sobs that made her entire body convulse.

Grace closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and returned to the house to find Christopher. Her mind raced, seeking a way out, trying to concoct a plan. But for once, strategy failed her. There was no way out of this. All she could do was try to keep the blame away from Lexie and perhaps commit one last desperate act.

Even though she was positive it was still there, she patted her apron pocket, where she kept her Glock. She was a very accurate shooter, according to her beloved James, and she draped herself in that knowledge like a cloak, hoping it would give her courage.

So lost in thought was she that when she heard a bellow coming from the house, she was so startled she let out a little shriek, and Grace was not a woman who was given to shrieking and hand-wringing.

Enough was enough. Luke had spent all day in bed because he had the runs and Christopher was fed up with it. It was time for him to get up and rejoin the world, whether he liked it or not.

He went into the sunroom to wake up his slumbering brother and shoved him hard.

Luke’s arm flopped limply off the narrow bed, but he didn’t respond otherwise. Christopher shoved him again. “Get your lazy ass up!”

Then, the horrible truth began to dawn on him. “Luke! LUKE!” he screamed, but his brother didn’t move.

And he never would.

Christopher let loose with a roar of profanities. Luke was only two years younger than him, and they’d been nearly inseparable their entire lives. He couldn’t possibly be gone. What had that old hag done to his brother? Where was Lexie? Where was everyone? He was practically blind with rage and grief as he shouted his fury to the world.

He stormed out of the room, slamming open doors so hard that the knobs smashed holes into the walls they crashed against. Beth met him in the hallway, grabbing his harm. “Christopher, what’s wrong? WHAT’S WRONG?”

“It’s LUKE!” he raged. “Luke’s gone!”

“Gone?” Beth played dumb. “Where did he go? Are you sure he’s not in the outhouse?”

“He’s dead! DEAD!”

“No!” Beth screamed back. She had prepared herself for the moment when she would have to portray the grieving girlfriend. “I don’t believe you!”

She ran down the hallway as if to check for herself, red hair streaming behind her.

A kinder man would have stopped her, but nobody had ever accused Christopher of being kind. Beth reached the dead body she had created herself, flung herself down beside him, and wept prettily, the picture of beautiful bereavement.

In the kitchen, Jon heard the hullabaloo and assumed that his younger brother Rick had succumbed to his injuries. He rushed out to the hallway just in time to learn that it wasn’t Rick, but Luke, who had died.

Reeling in shock, he followed Beth down the hall.

Sure enough, Luke was laying there, paler than he had been in life, with a bluish tint to his face.

Grace froze on the path, willing herself not to flinch as Christopher strode toward her with a look of bloodlust in his eyes.

“What the hell did you do to my brother, old woman!?!” he raged.

“Nothing except give him the same tea I gave to Lexie to settle his stomach,” she replied, outwardly calm.

“Then why is he DEAD?” Christopher reached her, and she felt rather than saw when his fist connected with the side of her face.

She felt a sickening snap in her left wrist as she tried to catch herself before hitting the ground. Grace curled up to protect her vital organs as Christopher’s booted foot kicked her again and again. Is this how it ends? she thought as pain strobed through her body with every blow. I can’t even get off a shot. 

“Wait! WAIT!” A voice interrupted but Grace couldn’t tell whose voice it was. All she could do was curl herself up more tightly as pain engulfed her.

“Don’t kill her! We still need her to look after Rick!” The voice of reason must be Jon, Grace thought weakly. “She’s the closest thing to a doctor we’re going to find! Stop it and think of Rick.”

Christopher raged incoherently, but the blows stopped coming. She heard footsteps going away but she dared not move.

Finally, after what felt like a long time, eyes tightly closed against the late afternoon sun, Grace began to mentally check herself over. First, she wiggled her toes, then her feet. They worked. Her fingers all worked. Her attempt to move her left arm sent pain rocketing through her body and made her see flashing lights behind her closed lids, but her right arm worked. Carefully, painfully, she pushed herself up to a sitting position. It hurt to inhale very deeply, it was excruciating to sit up, and she was pretty sure that at least one rib was broken, if not more.

She sat there, staring at the path she was sitting on, wondering how on earth she would stand when Lexie’s bare feet appeared in her line of vision. Grace forced herself to smile despite the pain in her jaw from Christopher’s blow. “It’s okay, dear, just a few bruises,” she said with fake cheer. “But I could use a hand getting up from the ground.”

Lexie knelt beside her, checking her bruises and testing for spots that were painful. Then, ever so gently, she slipped her arm around Grace’s waist and helped the older woman to her feet. Once Grace was upright, she did not let go, and instead braced herself like a human crutch to help her inside.

Beth, Jon, and Christopher were still in the sunroom with Luke, and the two quietly made their way to the parlor, where Lexie situated Grace on the plump purple sofa. She rushed back to the kitchen for a glass of water and returned with a cloth and bowl to help clean up Grace’s bruised and bloodied face.

With the gentle touch of a mother to an infant, she carefully blotted the dirt and blood with cool water and a soft cloth made from flannel. Grace leaned back against the arm of the couch, and for a moment, she allowed herself to relax and let someone take care of her.

“I believe my arm may be broken, Lexie,” Grace said. “If I tell you how to do it, will you make me some medicine?”

Lexie nodded, eager to help. “In the hallway, there are some embroidery pieces on white and black fabric. Please get the third one on white fabric from the left and bring it to me.”

When Lexie returned with the sampler that had been stitched with three plants featuring dainty dark purple flowers. , Grace explained, “You need to go out to the garden and pick leaves from the comfrey plant. We’ll want three big handfuls of comfrey, and you can see what it looks like from this embroidery. The white samplers are all medicinal recipes.”

Lexie nodded. “Bring it to me first so I can confirm it’s the right plant. Then, in the greenhouse, look for a brown bottle labeled “arnica oil.” Bring those into the kitchen and set some water to boil.”

Lexie was relieved to have something productive to do and started the kettle on the stove before she set off to the garden. The plant was easy to identify, with its pretty purple bell-shaped flowers, and she had filled her basket with tender leaves in no time at all.

Once Grace had confirmed she had indeed picked comfrey, she explained how to bruise the leaves with a mortar and pestle and pour the hot water over them, then cover the mixture up with a lid. While the comfrey was soaking in the water, Lexie came back with the arnica oil Grace had made and began to gently dab it onto the woman’s many emerging bruises.

“Making a poultice is simple, child,” Grace told her as the water in the bowl of comfrey cooled to a tolerable point. “You’re going to lay those leaves around my wrist, then soak a cloth in the tea you’ve created from it and wrap that around. Then you’ll wrap the whole thing in a dry towel so we don’t make a terrible mess.”

Carefully, Lexie followed her instructions, then she covered the comfrey concoction to use the rest later. By the time she was finished, Grace was laying back and resting a little bit easier. Grace would have loved to take something for pain relief, but she couldn’t risk being addled by the laudanum.

Lexie went to study the other pieces of embroidery in the hallway, far more interested now that she realized these were like a secret code and a magical recipe book adorning the walls.

She knew that the ones on the white background were healing recipes. What, she wondered, were the ones on a black background?

She returned to the kitchen, still pondering the ebony-clothed samplers as she made dinner from some of the jars of home-canned food in Grace’s pantry.

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.