DarknessFalls

Storybook | Game

Changes

 

1

She wasn’t from this part of town. She’d made an effort to disguise herself; her clothes were old and worn, her hair scraped back, no makeup. Not that she’d’ve gotten makeup on over those bruises. Her face was swollen and bloody; her eye already closing, her lip thick. The nurse dabbed, noticing the wincing when she shifted.

“Honey,” she said, “the doc’s going to want you in x-ray. You got insurance for that?”

The woman shook her head, gritted her teeth against the pain. “No,” she said, “I’ll pay if I need to. How much is it?”

“Could be a hundred and fifty.”

The woman almost laughed. “Oh God is that all?” she said, “OK I can afford that.”

The nurse glanced shrewdly at the woman’s purse; her wallet bulged with credit cards. Her hair, casually scraped back, was glossy and expertly cut and her manicure looked like a hundred dollar job. Yet here she was in a public hospital dressed in what looked like her gardening clothes. “You know,” said the nurse, “I got to ask about these injuries.”

The woman’s eyes widened and her anger flared. “I told you,” she said, “I fell down a flight of stairs.”

The nurse nodded. “Well,” she said, “we can’t tell the police -”

“You will not tell the police,” the woman began to gather her belongings, “I knew this was a mistake -”

“Will you sit down! I said we can’t tell the police. Now you will stay there until you have seen a doctor you hear me?”

The woman smiled sheepishly and settled back. “I’m sorry,” she said, “it’s just that... no police.”

“Ok.” The nurse dabbed at her wounds. “But we are going to get you to a doctor. And a dentist, looks like some of those teeth knocked loose.”

The woman’s eyes filled with tears. “Hey now, hey now,” the nurse tried to sooth her, “don’t you worry, I’m sure they’ll heal. We just got to keep you away from stairs for a while.”

After the nurse left the woman lay on the bed. The curtains around her bed made a poor job of concealing her, and through the gaps she watched the work of the emergency room. Blood stained and battered the jetsam of Darkness Falls were wheeled or staggered past her. Police officers wandered and chatted to nursing staff, she avoided their eyes. And noticed a young girl, rather scantily dressed, watching her. She risked a tentative smile then froze a little as the girl got up and walked over to her.

“Hi,” the girl smiled, “my name’s Jennifer pleased to meet you.” She leaned in conspiratorially. “You as bored as I am? And that’s quite a beating you took.” The woman recoiled, flushed, her face crumpling between rage and tears. “I fell down a flight of stairs,” she said, “not that it’s any of your business.”

Jennifer threw up her hands. “Hey,” she said, “I’m just making conversation, ain't no business of mine what happened. Although if you’re sticking with that stairs story you might want to cover up the finger marks on your neck.”

The woman scrambled frantically for a mirror and studied herself. “Where?” she said, “I can’t see any.”

The girl smiled. “That’s cos there ain't any,” she said, “he looks like he just used his fists. Sweetheart half the women in this place, including the nurses, have taken a beating from men. We know what it looks like, you ain't going to get away with a fool story like that.”

The woman’s eyes flashed rage. “You have no right to pry,” she said, “no right. What in God’s name gives you the right to pry on me? I just want a doctor. I just need a doctor. I just need some damned pain killers and I can get the hell out of here.” She tried to stand, gasped, and nearly fell. Jennifer caught her under the arm.

“What in the name of hell is going on here?” The nurse stood at the foot of the bed. She fixed Jennifer with a stare. “Sugar I cannot off hand remember which bed you were in but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t this one.”

Jennifer looked back. ”I’m just visiting a friend,” she said, “and you may want to get a doctor right now because I don’t think she’s doing too good.” The nurse opened her mouth to retort, then looked sharply at the woman. “You stay with her,” she said to Jennifer, “keep her awake.”

“This is stupid, this is all too stupid.” The woman looked around herself. The emergency room was swimming, voices sounded like they were coming from far away. Oh god her wallet, this street trash would have her wallet, she would’t be able to pay for treatment, she’d have to call... she’d have to call.... she felt the tears splash on her face, felt Jennifer’s small hands dig painfully into her armpits as she tried to stop her falling, heard the shouting, echoing and faint as the world went away. And then the world went away.

She woke up in a bed; head heavy and for a moment confused. Then memories started resurfacing and she struggled to sit up.

“Lie still.” Jennifer was dressed in a pair of pink pyjamas, she stood over her, placing a hand on her shoulder. “They gave you something for the pain, you’ve been out for a while. You got any kids? Anyone we should call?”

She shook her head. “No kids, no calls. How long have I been out?”

Jennifer shrugged. “Since last night, you been here all night. It’s gone ten now.”

She lay back, mind racing. He’d be looking for her, of course he’d be looking for her, already planning how he was going to weasel his way back into her affections, how he’d cry, and apologise and beg for forgiveness, somehow make it seem her fault, that somehow she’d provoked him, unleashed something shameful in him that he’d have been able to control if it weren’t for her. Her stupidity, her selfishness, her insensitivity. Horseshit. Not this time.

“What’s your name?” Jennifer was sitting on the edge of her bed. She became aware that she was wearing the same pyjamas as her. And she was nude underneath. They’d undressed her, someone beside her husband had seen her naked for the first time since.... a lot of years. The thought was strangely liberating.

“Ann.” To hell with it, she thought. There had to be an end, there had to be a new her, a fresh beginning. She’d lived in fear for twenty years, more, hiding bruises, making excuses no-one believed, turning a blind eye to his ‘business trips’. Did he beat on his mistresses she wondered, did they have to lie the same lies, listen to the same excuses, the same empty promises that there would never be a next time when there was always, always a next time?

“Ann.”

Jennifer grinned. “Well I am pleased to meet you Ann. You know I got some friends coming in later, you should talk to them, they might be able to help you with your little stairs problem.”

Ann’s blood froze. “What do you mean?” she said.

Jennifer leaned in conspiratorially. “Let’s just say that sometimes you hit on a woman”, she said, “woman hits back.”

Ann’s heart started pounding. “No”, she said, “no, you mustn’t, no you don’t understand, my husband is a dangerous man, he has dangerous friends, you don’t know what you’re suggesting. His friends they could kill you, they could kill me.”

Jennifer’s face hardened. “I don’t really like being threatened, especially not by some... what is your husband anyway?”

“He’s a civil engineer.”

“A what?”

“A civil engineer. They design -”

“I know what a civil engineer is, I just don’t associate them with the dark side of the street you know? Gangs of Hell’s Civil Engineers terrorising up the place.”

Despite herself Ann laughed. It felt good. She was in a women’s ward, surrounded by women. For the first time in a long time, in one of the roughest areas of the city, she began to feel safe.

“Oh God Jennifer”, she said, “be careful. Civil engineer or no I meant what I said, Goran, my husband, is a dangerous man and he’s backed by some very powerful friends.”

Jennifer laid her hand on hers, Ann felt a surge of affection for this plucky little girl. “Ann”, said Jennifer, “just who are these powerful friends? Come on, tell me, whose ass are we kicking?”

Ann squeezed her hand. “Oh sweetheart please don’t joke about it,” she said, “my husband is a member of the Order.”

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Storybook | Game