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Saturday, 23 July 2011

The Black Rose (novel) : Chapter 7



Chapter 7 – Attack


Being in the depressing mansion did not seem to lower Ann’s spirits at all. On the contrary, Ann woke up more cheerful every morning. Eliza wondered why the castle had no such effect on herself. Her friend seemed more at home in it than she did.
At least she’d managed to blow some life into her room by adding fresh ferns and – temporarily fake – flowers in every corner and on every table, creating her own private jungle as an island of light in a sea of dimness. She tried the same trick on the drawing room, but the plants died almost instantly. Perhaps because no one remembered watering them, being such a scatterbrain herself. But even then, they wouldn’t have withered over night.
“Great improvement.”, Ann said absently.
“Thanks. I can live with the room now, I’m still working on everything else though.”
“Hm. I can’t believe a whole week’s gone by and we still haven’t managed to get into the attic. These people must be obsessed.”
“Like octopi guarding their nest.”
“At least one of them ’s gone.”
Henry was at the office, though it was Sunday, but that happened more often if he had urgent matters to deal with.
“Yeah, but he left his dog.”
Ann was leafing through another one of her tabloids. She came to a page with some sort of sibling-test. “Where is your brother, by the way? He wasn’t at breakfast.”
“I know. I think he might be sick. He’s been listless for a full week and his complexion still hasn’t improved. He sleeps half the day. It worries me.” She shook her head. “Maybe I’m just overprotective. I’m sure Henry will go on and on about me overreacting when he gets back, but if he doesn’t get well soon, I’ll call a doctor myself rather than leave it to those two stiffs.”
“Why don’t you just go check on him then?”
“I might wake him.”
“Hasn’t he slept enough already? It can’t hurt.”
“You’re probably right. I’ll go grab him some biscuits from the kitchen, as a peace-making gift, just in case. He’s got to eat something, anyway.”
“Sure.”
Eliza went downstairs and piled chocolate cakes on a plate. When she went back out, she nearly dropped them.
“And where do you think you’re going, young lady, with that filth?”
“Uh, up.”
“That is hardly healthy, Eliza, we have fruit in abundance, all untouched, you’d better eat some of that before it goes to waste.”
“The biscuits are for Julian. I think these will do him a lot more good than some musty fruit. He needs something substantial right now.” The poor boy had probably barely had a bite all day, he could use the calories.
“Very well then, make sure he doesn’t smear chocolate all over his sheets, I just had those washed.”
“Yes, ma’am.” She muttered on her way upstairs. Looking back, she saw Hawkins put on her Gestapo-trench coat and straighten its stiff collar. She was preparing to go out. Or inspect the troops. Either one.
“Ann, the hawk is leaving the nest.”
“It was about bloody time!” Ann uttered in relief.
“But we’ve got to move fast, if she’s leaving the attic unprotected, Henry is probably already on his way here.”
They were watching the housekeeper from behind the corner with their backs pressed against the wall.
“Listen, I’ll check on Julian and get the flashlights on the way, you watch her in the meantime. Warn me if she’s finally out the door.”
“Sure thing.”
She sneaked upstairs and tiptoed to Julian’s room. She knocked very silently, like she always did. No answer... Still asleep? She knocked louder, still no reply, so she crept in. The curtains were closed. It was dark. She had to be careful not to trip over all his junk and wake him up. Little pig. She loved him for it.
As catlike as she could, she slipped through the darkness and gasped. “What the...” Her breathing accelerated, she froze. Someone was moving, in the shadows of the corner. “H... hello?” She waited. “J... Julian?” No answer. Slowly her eyes adjusted to the lack of light. Pull yourself together, Eliza! There’s no one here. How could there be? Julian is right in front of you.
He snored softly. There was a tiny chink in the drapes, a ray of sunlight, thin as an arrow, darted down from the heavens to illumine his face.
She gasped again. He was so pale. Deadly pale. And he didn’t move an inch. Oh my God! She rushed to his side. Was he dead? Panic hit her like a lead weight on the chest, but then the boy snored again.
It was not a healthy snore, more like the noise a fish makes on dry land, struggling for air. He was fighting the weakness of his body to fill his lungs.
She touched his forehead, lovingly brushing his hair out of the way. No fever. His face felt cold, except the cheeks.
She grasped for his wrist and closed her eyes. His pulse was so weak. What is wrong with him?
“Julian? Julian, can you hear me?” She whispered softly. “Wake up, honey. I brought you a snack.” The boy’s eyelashes slightly quivered and he moaned anxiously, but did not wake up. “JULIAN!”
She patted his cheeks, kissed him, gripped his shoulder and shook him, but he kept sleeping with his breath rattling in his throat. Did he even hear her? She took him in her arms and rocked him gently while tears streamed down across her face. What should she do?!
She ran back to the door to find the switch and flipped on the lights. No response to that either. She opened his eyelids. Pupils dilated. He’s unconscious.
She ran to the top of the stairs and screamed for her friend, then rushed back. Every now and then his eyes, sunken away in dark sockets, would fling open and made Eliza sigh thinking he’d come to, but they looked up at the ceiling and fixed on nothing. Then he would just slip away again.
What’s keeping Ann, damn it! Her heart stopped every time she noticed how bluish his lips were. With all her strength she tried to keep his body from shivering with her own body heat, gripping him tighter in her arms. “Oh, Julian, please, please.” She took his hands in hers. They were cold as ice. He looked like a doll, or worse, heaven forbid, a corps. What kind of illness could do this to him?
She carefully laid him back on the bed and ran out in the hall, out of breath, holding herself upright by the rail of the staircase, crying for help relentlessly.
Ann had gone after Hawkins, who was already on her way downhill, when she heard the call. Both came running in, hurrying after Eliza’s pointed finger as she strained herself to inhale enough air to speak.
Hawkins quickly examined the boy and crossed herself, Eliza never even knew she was religious. “Eliza, go get a face cloth and a bowl of cold water. Ann, call the family doctor, his number is in the address book by the phone, first page.”
She could hear Ann’s shrill voice stuttering into the phone in the hall as she got a bowl from the kitchen and ran as fast as she could to Julian’s bathroom to fill it with lukewarm water instead.
Ann stayed in the entrance hall to wait for the physician’s arrival while Hawkins kept pacing from the bedroom to the stairs and back, instructing Eliza as she went.
Eliza wrapped her brother in as many cheats as possible and took to his side to dab his forehead, telling him but mostly herself that everything was going to be okay, as if she could mutter and dab the life right back into him.
She opened his buttoned shirt to dab his neck and chest. That’s when she saw it.
“Miss Hawkins!” She shrieked.
The boy became more restless as her fingers lined his throat. He tossed slightly every time she touched his neck, but was too weak to break away from her. He murmured indiscernible things, reaching, trying to push her away. Who does he think he’s fighting?
She grasped his wrists to lull him. She could feel his faint heartbeat under her fingertips. Is it getting worse?
Hawkins rushed in and bent over him as well.
“What’s keeping that damn doctor?”
“It can’t take much longer.” She put her hand on the young girl’s shoulder. “Your brother will be alright.” She smiled gratefully. At least in these circumstances they didn’t have to enemies.
“I sure hope so.”
When he had slipped back into unconsciousness and had stopped fighting, she pulled his collar back very softly, making as little contact with the skin as possible to look at the marks in his neck: two reddish dots in the slightly swollen flesh. Puncture holes...
“What is that?”
“Mosquito bite?”
“Two of them? Symmetrical?” What could have possibly done this?
And I’d like to see the mosquito that can leave a mark that big?
here are two. And what kind of mosquito leaves a mark that big?”
“Spider?”
“What kind of spider would leave marks that big?”
“I don’t know... Maybe a snake? That’s hardly the point here, our first priority is to get this poor boy some medical attention.”
“A snake or a big-ass spider that suck blood, it’s highly unlikely!” She muttered, though taking the elder woman’s advice and tending to her brother rather than examining his marks.
“It must be some sort of bug. We’ll see what the doctor has to say.” She looked out into the hallway which was still empty. “When he finally gets here.”
Eliza caressed the boys forehead, desperately thinking of what else to do for him. What could she do but wait? She took another look at his wounds when Hawkins went downstairs to make sure An had dialled the right number.
The marks were perfectly horizontal, about two inches apart. They’re almost like... teeth marks.
“Perhaps it’s not what, but who bit him.”, Eliza murmured perplexed.
She rose in dismay when the doctor finally came and immediately asked her to make way. She watched his actions from the doorway. A frown came over the older man’s face and kept growing deeper. Something’s not right.
Then he pulled Julian’s collar away. One look at the bite marks apparently sufficed for a diagnosis. He hardly looked surprised.
“Miss, your brother has lost a lot of blood. There is little I can do for him here. He must be taken to a hospital immediately.”
“A hospital?” Was it that bad? She couldn’t possibly convey how much that sentence scared her. She nodded, unable to speak.
“Elvira, I suggest that I take the boy and his sister with me right now while you and the other young lady pack his suitcase and wait for Henry.”
“Certainly, doctor.”, Hawkins agreed.
He wrapped Julian tightly in his sheets and carried him while Eliza did her best to support his little head all the way to the car. She sat on the backseat with Julian’s head on her lap as they rode off. She could hardly give a single landmark she passed by in retrospect.
She was in the waiting room staring out the window, when her uncle finally strode in. She got up to meet him.
“Eliza, I came as soon as I heard.” He looked at the closed door ahead of him and whispered. “How is he?”
“I... I don’t know.”, she said in despair, “The doctor hasn’t come out yet. All I know is that they’re giving him blood transfusions.” She pressed her handkerchief against her eyes and did her best to swallow to make herself speak clearly enough. She had to keep herself standing so she was there for Julian when he woke up. If he... Don’t even go there! He’ll be alright. He has to be. She couldn’t help but see a flash of herself in a similar room and a similar situation with similar thoughts, though in vain. This will be different!
“He’ll be okay! Is he going to be okay? Please, tell me he’s going to make it!” She cried.
Henry gave her a consoling – but not very convincing – smile and took her in his arms. “There, there, little one, he’ll be fine. He’s a Haywood, remember? It takes more than a bug to take one of us out.” He stared off into space for awhile. “This is an excellent hospital. They’ll do whatever they can for Julian.”
She nodded, desperate to believe him, despite knowing that he would have said the same thing regardless of Julian’s condition. She dried her eyes. Her voice still sounded coarse from crying.
“Where are Ann and miss Hawkins?”
“They’re unpacking Julian’s things. A nurse brought them to the room they’ll take him when he gets out of the emergency room.”
If... She started sobbing heavily.
“Now, now. They’ve already assigned him a room, that’s a good sign, you know? Calm down, honey.”
She nodded again.
“You should sit down and take a breath. The best you can do now for Julian, no, the only thing you can do for him now is to take care of yourself so you’ll be strong for him when he comes to.”
“I know.” She whispered faintly, staring at the ground.
“Do you need anything? Have you eaten yet?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Do you want me to fetch you some water then?” He looked at her nervously as if he was desperate to be of some use.
Finally, more to make him feel better than because she was thirsty, she complied.
“I think I saw a water machine near the elevator. Be back in a flash.”
Still, she accepted the plastic cup with genuine gratitude. Apparently her throat was dryer than she thought.
It felt like an eternity before a nurse came out and rolled Julian to his own room. She looked at her questionably. “How is he?” The nurse smiled the typical reassuring smile of a person accustomed to death, the same one that nurse gave her when she ran into her in the corridor, fleeing with tears in her eyes from her mother’s death bed. As if nothing happened, even though her own world had jilted to a stop.
Eliza took a seat by her brother’s side and held his hand. Hawkins and Ann looked at her uncomfortably. Henry loitered at the door waiting for the doctor.
When the white coat finally arrived Henry used his corpulent shape to keep him from entering as they had a whispered conversation.
Eliza didn’t like the looks they exchanged. Was she missing something? They both looked at her and exchanged a meaningful look.
She strained to catch the words, but they spoke too quietly for her to overhear a thing.
The man left and Henry paced to the nearest chair to drop his colossal weight into with a big smile on his face.
“See, what did I tell you? Julian is going to be okay. Just a lot of blood loss, nothing else is wrong with him. They will have to keep him her for observation for awhile, to make sure he didn’t catch an infection. The doctor says he’ll be up and about in a week or two.”
“And where did the blood go?”
Henry seemed too occupied with his own lines to listen to her carefully.
“What was that, dear?”
“What did this to him?”
“Eliza...”
“Uncle, just look at his neck! Do you think marks like that are normal?”
“Girly...”
“Something bit him!” She paused. “Or someone, and took his blood.”
Henry reacted as if she had stung him.
“You think a human did that to him? Why on earth... How could anyone...” He took a deep breath. “That’s a little farfetched isn’t it, honey?”
“Whatever it was bit him in the neck, left two holes and sucked the blood out of my little brother. What is your explanation for that?”
“It’s more common than you think. According to the doctor it might have been a vampire bat.”
“A bat?”
“Yes. They had a few other cases like this.  More cases this month than in the last decade, he said. They think a colony has settled somewhere nearby. Global warming makes it possible for them to survive around here.”
“Vampire bats live in South America. What would they be doing way out here?”
“I don’t know, escaped pets? Migrated? Hid in ships or planes... Does it even matter? Bottom line: your brother will recover completely. All he needs is a little blood, a lot of sleep and good food. They’re going to test him for rabies and everything else conveyed by bats and then as soon as his strength is up, he can go home. Will you let it go and be happy about that?”
“How can I let it go as long as I don’t know what the hell did this to him! Whatever it is, it’s still out there. It could attack him again any time, or us for that matter.”
“Eliza, I just told you what did this to him: a bat. Are you going to get over it already?”
“Do you want me to believe that?” She was panting in her anger. “And did this... bat happens to nest in a chemical waste site or something?”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at those marks!”, she said pointing at Julian, “It has to be at least three feet tall to have a teeth span like that. Did it knock on the window for Julian to let it so it could suck his blood, or did it just follow Hawkins through the open door when she came back from town with the groceries?”
“Eliza, please.”
“No, I’m serious! And did a bat get so hungry that it drunk nearly all of a human’s blood? With so much cattle and all sorts of easier prey right outside, by the way. Julian lost litres... Do you think a bat capable of that? Even if it could, it would be too heavy to fly away. And the window was locked. Did it close it afterwards? If it didn’t explode; with all that blood in its stomach it must have swollen up like a balloon.”
“Will you drop it?”
“Not as long as your explanation doesn’t make any sense!”
“And is yours any better? What do you think? That he was attacked by a real vampire?”
Eliza pouted shuffling her feet over the smooth hospital floor when she realized how ridiculous that sounded. “Well, no... Of course not. But it could have been a human. Some psychopath with an ice pick. Some freak sleeping in a coffin somewhere. We should call the police and report this, let them look into it.”
“And how did this, psycho, get in then, huh? Crawled underneath the front door? Or through the keyhole, like Dracula himself.”
She hadn’t thought of that. It must have been someone in the house that did this to him... It hit her like a bomb. Shock came over her face. Henry stared at her as if all sense had just left her and his niece was lost forever.
Eliza returned to her chair and semi-obediently kept her thoughts to herself, but her folded arms and clenched teeth indicated that she would not surrender.
Eliza watched Hawkins and Henry closely, the glances they exchanged, the gestures they made, the change in pitch in their voice when they spoke to her... They know more than they’re letting on. Why won’t they tell me?
What if Hawkins was the one that attacked Julian. That old hag. She sure looks demonic enough. There is your logical explanation: Hawkins with an ice pick. Mystery solved. Or... Henry? Could he really?
But Henry wasn’t there. However, she couldn’t say how long her brother’s... condition lasted when she found him. Hawkins was there all day, she could easily have crept into Julian’s room when she wasn’t looking. But why wouldn’t she have stopped her from seeing him if she already knew in what poor state she’d find him. Her concern for him afterwards seemed genuine enough as well. But if it wasn’t them, then who did it? And why wouldn’t they alert the police except from a desire to protect the guilty, especially if the guilty were they themselves. It just doesn’t add up. How to make sense of this...
She made up her mind to come back alone and find out as much as she could from the doctors treating her brother, though it couldn’t be much more than she had already guessed. The rest she’d have to puzzle together herself. She would contact the police, secretly if necessary, and get to the bottom of this. She would find whoever put her brother in this damned hospital bed and punish them. She’d do what she had to and make his world save again for him.
Every time she saw Julian looking so helpless her fury was heated further, flaming through her veins like liquid fire when she saw the tubes sticking into his skin, saw his chest moving up and down only at the rhythm of the breathing machine he was hooked to. “Just a precautionary matter, miss, just for the night until he builds up his strength.” A nurse ensured her when she saw her worried look at the machinery.
Perhaps the attic wasn’t a bad place to start her quest. It seemed to be a vault of secrets, so this secret had to have a key there too. Why else would they try so hard to keep her out of it, the same way they tried to make her leave the police out of it, with silly arguments and pointless treats. She would discuss it with Ann tonight, when they were alone.
Soon as she got back in her own room she turned on her computer to do a little investigating herself.
As it turned out vampire bats had “four teeth, two front teeth and two canine.” Wouldn’t that make four holes rather than two? That just doesn’t fit with the marks on Julian.
“They have very small teeth and leave marks of about seven millimetres long and eight millimetres deep.” Julian’s marks were inches apart, how could a bat do that.
 “A typical female vampire bat weighs 40 grams” how could a 40 ram-bat possibly have a teeth span wide enough “and can consume over 20 grams (1 fluid ounce) of blood in a 20-minute feed.”[1] It took litres! I knew it couldn’t have been a bat!
She sent a mail to the police explaining the situation and giving her arguments against the bad explanation she was expected to be satisfied with. She added the material on bats as well, just in case. That should be enough to convince something wasn’t right.
For the rest of the day she was silent, even more than usually and said no more to Hawkins or Henry than was strictly necessary. All the while, she was biding her time.


[1] For the information on vampire bats given in this chapter, I made use of Wikipedia. The information is retrievable at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vampire_bat. The representation here is of course not completely literal.



2 comments:

  1. Ah, we're now getting at the mysteries of the old castle. It's like a stepping off place that you've entered as a writer - no turning back now.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's the hot, mysterious guy from the club, isn't it? Or at least, that seems to be what you want us to think...

    Certainly Henry and Hawkins know more than they're letting on but I don't think they'd intentionally hurt Julian. And what does this all have to do with what's in the attic? I guess I'll just have to keep reading to find out.

    ReplyDelete

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