Inch by agonising inch the door swung open as the orderly moved into the room.
Panic caused Jessica’s vision to swim, a blackness encroaching from the edge of her sight. Just as the moment came for her to be revealed, time stopped. Pin pricks of light blossomed to punctuate the rolling fog that engulfed her. She froze. Everything froze. Then suddenly, the pin pricks erupted in a rush of light, eclipsing the sterile surrounds of the pharmacy store and dumping her into a different scene entirely. She collapsed onto a bed of mouldering leaf litter.
A bird’s call woke Jessica. Fatigued and spent from her ordeal, she struggled to bring her mind back from her dreams. Slowly rolling onto her back, she heard a twig snap under her. “What had she been up to last night?”, she wondered distantly. That twig was doing nothing to enhance the comfort of her mattress, and judging from other protesting body parts, it wasn’t the only one she’d brought home with her too.
Well she’d get to that in her own sweet time, right now she was knackered she decided. In her professional opinion, another couple of hours of sleep was just what she needed to face whatever mess confronted her this morning. As she wriggled trying to get comfortable, the bird called again … which was weird right?
This far into the city, the only real bird life was pigeons. She’d never heard one of those airborne rats sing like this before. And for that matter, she’d brought a hell of a lot of other stuff home with her apart from just sticks by the feel of it.
She opened her eyes and then sat up with a start. She was lying on a bed of mouldering leaf litter. Above her, trees sheltered her from the open sky. She lay in a wood, all she could see in all directions were trees and undergrowth. It disconcerted her. She was used to the sharp lines and defined boundaries of her urban environment, but the unplanned growth of the wood felt confusing and alien.
Where was she? The panicked thought made her jump to her feet. Had the gang found out about her? Had they found out she was preparing to run? Why would they bring her here and just leave her? She turned around quickly, searching for a sign of her abductors. Scanning the area she saw nothing. Surely she couldn’t be alone.
“OK guys, where are you?”, she called. In her confusion she wasn’t sure what she feared most – them being there or not? Picking a random direction, she stumbled forward. It was hard going through the undergrowth. Thick brush clawed at her clothes, scratching her arms, her face, any exposed skin. Deciding she’d rather trust her street cred than her survival skills, she hoped that the gang was behind this.
“Look guys, I can explain”, she called. There was no response. Were they going to toy with her before… The thought trailed off. No, they had a good supply line going with her, this was just to teach her a lesson. “I’ve got leverage on another of the pharmacy staff”, she lied. “Luckily for us he’s got a dirty little side habit that he’d much rather his family didn’t know about.”
She stopped trying to listen for a response, but her heart hammered in her ears. Damn, how was she supposed to hear anything like this. They could be anywhere. Altering her direction slightly she pushed on, the effort doing nothing to reduce her heart rate. The bird called again, funny how she could hear that.
“Just remember that you’re onto a good thing with me”, she tried for the final time. Now she’d shut up. The ball was in their court and sounding like a panicked school girl wasn’t going to help, no matter that it was the truth. She noticed an urgency in the bird’s voice that she hadn’t before. Was that new, or was she more perceptive now? No she decided, something definitely had it spooked. Someone hopefully.
Finally she heard a new noise, a scuffling coming from the bush ahead. A sound of someone moving through the undergrowth, reasonably close. Nothing about it suggested that they were trying to hide their progress and she wondered if she might have heard it sooner if she’d been a little calmer. No matter, she had a direction now.
Moving purposefully towards the sound, she noticed the bird’s song intensify. It matched the cadence of her heart, their rhythms increasing as she wondered who they had sent for her. Most of the gang would be OK. She could handle herself against them – all except Tony. He was definitely a thug like the rest of them, but he also seemed to be able to do a little thinking for himself. Added to that, his instinctive ability to smell a lie was uncanny and was why he was the gang’s top enforcer. It worried her, like training a pack of dogs and finding out that one of them was actually training you in return. She was obviously above them, but then there was Tony. Damn, it would definitely be him.
Suddenly the bird’s song stopped. She wondered for a second if that meant her heart had too, but the pounding in her ears put that thought to bed. The scuffling ahead stopped too. Silence blossomed for a few seconds until a loud roar brought Jessica up short. She stood rooted to the spot as she heard a loud snorting intake of breath that preceded a second louder roar. Then it charged. A black bear barrelled into view through the undergrowth taking a big swing at Jessica, catching her on her arm and opening a deep gash near her shoulder.
The shock hit her quickly, darkness enveloping her vision as she vaguely noticed an almost familiar pattern of pin prick lights form. It consumed her, first the foggy blackness which was then eclipsed by the expanding rush of light.
She appeared on the lawn outside the hospital, collapsing onto the manicured grass. The first bystander to notice her shouted his surprise, and soon she was surrounded by medical professionals who shuttled her rapidly into the Emergency Department.
By the time she regained consciousness, she found herself in a ward, stitches in her shoulder and assorted cuts cleaned with antiseptic. Only this time around nothing intruded on her thoughts as she dropped back into sleep.
(To be continued…)