They all slept… Sammy was lying on the couch with Missy nuzzling the exhausted hand, having given up his bedroom to the witches. All other current members of the household were ensconced in their safe day-haven underground.
Late afternoon Kathleen broke the peace with three loud beeps on the horn of her pickup, then followed it up by the friendly but no less insistent yell at the back door, “OK boys… where are ya!??”
A very grey looking Samuel struggled toward the fly screen to greet their guest, Missy at heel. Kathleen was immediately thrown into ‘carer’ mode. She ran forward, ready to greet her unsteady neighbor but caught him as his legs failed and he collapsed in the doorway of his own kitchen, “Oh my lord, Samuel!! Where are the boys!??”
Missy whimpered and licked her master’s face, as the almost comatose Samuel managed to grind out “Sweet…..[pant]…. The boys are not well either….. [pant]… perhaps best if you….” Samuel arched in pain and he convulsed, as another vision hit.
“Lord help us!! What is going on Mr Samuel McLean!!??” The words would have been harsh were it not for the panicked tone of his caring neighbor. This was obviously urgent. She didn’t wait for a reply, but dialed 911 on her cell phone. The local ambulance, with driver Robbie at the wheel, was on its way before she rung off.
Kathleen was about to ‘storm the building’ when a desperate Alex emerged from around the rear of the house flanked by William, both looked grey/white and ill, and for the first time she saw Xander’s eye patchless. The gaping raw wound (made all the worse by the recent removal of the implant) was a little more ‘honesty’ than Kathleen was used to. Her suspicion of ‘war wounds’ were instantly confirmed in her mind.
She noted William’s grey/white demeanor and demanded, “My God! Why didn’t you boys ring me!!??”
Xander wavered, was caught by Spike on the way down and answered her with action rather than words, dry retching into the herb garden against the shadows of the house. They were out of sight but for Xander’s feet, however she still heard the pitiful crying that followed and saw the feet move as the man was obviously taken into his friend’s arms.
Samuel was still barely consciousness. “Please Ka..… Plee….” With an armful of friend, she was now doubly distressed to hear a plaintive call from William who was just at the corner of the building still cradling Xander to his chest. “Please dear lady… please! We can’t go back to the hospital!! Samuel has helped us… please”
It was some minutes later as she still held Samuel in her lap, that she watched the two men limp toward the corner of the building facing the kitchen door. It was ‘William’ who spoke. “We just need rest…” The tearful blue eyes framed by long wet black lashes, and the hand reaching for her in appeal were all too much.
“Rest, my moma’s behind!!! You need a help!! But right now… right today… It was Sammy’s chicken gumbo wasn’t it! I keep telling’ him he needs a proper freezer! Now you sit tight, I’ve already rung nine one one.”
“No, NO!!!... Oh *please* no… dear lady… please have pity!” Kathleen stared at an almost frantic William who continued to beg, but was also supporting Xander who had rallied a little but was fast collapsing with the new development. “We…. we… we’ll be OK… and…. Oh please!! They’ll take… Oh *please* ….They won’t let us out again… please! And… Oh God!… *please*.” The two men fell to their knees in front of the horrified, good natured neighbor.
Kathleen had watched the gradual improvement in the physical condition of the men in Samuel’s care over the previous months, and liked to think that she had more than a little to do with their recovery. But now saw the pretty young ‘man of letters’ all but prostrating himself and sobbing, and his friend still pulled close to his chest all, but doing the same, as though she was about to condemn them both. She suddenly understood, there was no ‘rescue party’ beyond Samuel for these three boys. She switched to mother lion mode. No one was going to hurt *her* boys.
“Oh dear, dear William! Sam needs help. You don’t have to go anywhere I swear! You will stay with me if you have to, or Davina, or one of the ladies can stay for a few days…. But Sam needs some help… even if it’s not his old problems and just food poisonin’!” The words fell on deaf ears as the ambulance pulled up. Graced by its shadow, Spike dragged Xander into his ‘studio’ (the shed), risking the few inches of sunshine still breaching the gap between buildings. It was only Missy that noticed the smell of burning flesh as Spike braved the sunlight to support his partner into their inadequate hiding place. Now inside with scents of wood and resin, the vampire could hear the exchange. He knew, sadly, that if the homestead was searched, they could not get out. Xander was in no condition to be left. He and Jon were ‘light challenged’. Eddie and the boys were obviously… ‘different’ and caught in the storm shelter oblivious to their current situation. And now Willow and Cassie… ?? Who knew.
Robbie had jumped from the vehicle stepping toward the house oblivious of the two pathetic figures moving from the east wall to the shed. Kathleen was confused by the exchange with William, but she described Samuel’s condition as best she might. “Sam here had a bit of a turn… Now I know with his history…. but I’m pretty sure this is straight food poisnin’!” Samuel threw up again and passed out almost on cue.
Robbie had been to the house before.
“He bin takin’ ‘is drugs?”
“Well I reckon so… he’s been so well of late… Better than ever… Oh come on Rob, I can’t look after the farm again… and he’s got those lovely boys with him now… what will they do… I reckon it’s just his chicken gumbo or some such… you know…?”
A very pale Jonothon rounded the shaded side of the house, as though it was scripted… “Oh Lord!! Sam!!??? Kathleen? What the…?” He fell to his knees near Kathleen, but dared not touch Samuel who was now on oxygen and being examined by the medico. He also retched a tiny amount of bile onto the dirt near his knees then looked up with teary eyes and an apologetic… “So sorry!... I’m so sorry…”
“It’s OK Jon…. Robbie here is just trying to sort it… We think you boys might have food poisoning… You don’t look too good either honey… Robbie here can..”
“No … NO! It’s OK!” Jon backed off so quickly as the lab coat clad Robbie turned and began to approach, that Kathleen wondered what sort of hospital the poor boys had been in previously. They certainly did not seem insane, or dangerous in any way. Robbie was a quiet character, though Kathleen knew, had a military background before ‘retiring’ to his mother’s house after the third tour of duty. ‘More medals than should be given for a man so young’ according to his proud parents. Kathleen had always wondered, the man had the lost look that she sometimes saw in the eyes of these boys. Robbie left Jonothon alone and refocused on fixing the temporary IV to Samuel’s arm and checking the oxygen mask.
Jon was looking toward Sam when he saw Willow emerging from the house and shook his head almost imperceptibly. Willow took the message and retreated quickly. She and Cassie could still be useful to Sam, but perhaps not… modo iuxta. [‘now close by’]
Kathleen pushed her point a little with a ‘new ear’, “I’m worried about the boys Rob… Is Sam?”
“He looks as to bein’ just fine ma’am. Was lucky you called us when you did mind, but he’ll mend just fine… just you tell him to stick to your cookin’ from now on!” A cheeky wink accompanied the last statement, but Robbie wondered about the other farm residents also. The whole county knew of Sam’s good works with some of the ‘afflicted’, but despite all and sundry purchasing the lovely tables and unique pieces of fine furniture now coming from the farm… and enjoying prolific quantities of new produce, until today, no one had sighted any of the young men Kathleen spoke so fondly of. Robbie now had one of them at his… Kathleen’s feet. The man was kneeling face in his hands… kneeling… thin… pale… and apparently quite… knowingly submissive. Robbie wondered.
Xander and Spike watched in horror as the paramedic reached toward Jonothon. If he felt for a pulse their game would be ‘up’. There could be no more hiding. Robbie was stunned when two other men flew across the courtyard to join their companion, literally diving to hold each other in a three way hug that spelt desperation, but desperation that smacked of experience, not madness.
Robbie left the distraught group to check on his elderly charge one more time. He smiled at Kathleen, then squatted down in front of the terrified men. He’d seen this before, on rescue missions to find hostages, releasing political prisoners in fraught regions, with many of the ‘shell shocked’ troops from anywhere… He’d heard first hand of torture but never seen ex colleagues post capture. He tugged Xander’s hand from Spike’s grasp and quietly pulled until Xander looked at the man.
Robbie reminded Xander of the now presumed dead Riley a ‘strapping line backer’ in younger days… but the lined face gave away a life of seeing too much. Robbie saw the same in Xander and saw the horrendous damage to the man’s visage. He recognized the signs of a wound reopened and ‘exploited’ for torture, and gasped “But for the love of god…” Instead of being shocked, Xander saw a kindred spirit, even if for a different purpose. Robbie was a ‘white hat’. Xander turned fully to the paramedic, squeezed the hand and with a teary smile simply said, “It’s OK now, we’re healing… it’s slow but… warriors for the good… we always heal… yeah?”
It was all too much, Rob saw the desperately thin figure of Jon keening against Spike’s chest and heard the whimpered, “Please sir…” Robbie heard it as a soldier might, “Please Sir.” He had seen first hand what prolonged torture did to men of sound mind. These frail figures were no more mental patient’s than he was… and his response was one of anger. Robbie ceased contact and stood. He gently pulled Kathleen aside, incensed on the men’s behalf, “Why were they in hospital?!! Were they under arrest? Court marshaled … No wait that couldn’t be right… Kath please… these boys… I’m happy to help… I know people…”
Kathleen had her own version of the ‘truth’ but simply gave what she knew. “Well I don’t rightly know where they’ve ‘been’, but they were powerful thin and right terrified when they first came… You’re seein’ ‘em practically healed, though I confess Alex has never had his patch off when I’ve been… and Oh my Lord the dear love!!!!” She pulled Robbie further around the truck and spoke rather conspiratorially, “ Now I know you’ve been in the service, and now with the….” She looked his paramedics uniform up and down,“ Anyways they near on had a *fit* when I suggested meetin’ some of the church ladies. Jump at the slightest noise too. But… Oh Robbie, they’re so sweet and polite… You think you know what’s troublin’….?” She paused and saw the knowing look…
Robbie dropped his voice to a near whisper, “Ma’am I believe these boys here have been traumatized by war or conflict. And it looks to me as if they have all been tortured to some extent. Now I ain’t sure where their battle field was, but they’re on our soil and were at a private institution… so I reckon we’d find a medal or two were we to push…. But let’s not…. If you forgive me ma’am… at another time, I’d like to make a connection… My momma would like it I think?!” Kathleen smiled and gave the large man a kiss on his cheek. He too had returned a changed man from his years on the front line.
“I think your momma would like it just fine….” If Robbie did nothing else on this day, he felt a little happier that he had the chance to help out three fellow soldiers. The when and where could wait, but he was also fairly sure that they weren’t of a mind to ‘share’ with their well meaning neighbor. He could come by in a week or two. He had one final little test before resolving that plan of action but still needed to deal with Kathleen and Sammy! He pulled from his musings
“He’ll be fine, but those meds he’s on?! He seems to be severely dehydrated. He *has* to drink more water! It um… ma’am [whispers] it binds a man up!”
Kathleen’s eyes went wide with the realization. “Well we can’t have that! I’m sure there’s one or two decent sized drink bottles goin’ a beggin’ at my place… and got my mom’s old date and senna recipe that’d move our bull to bein’ regular!”
Robbie winked and gave a knowing grin, stepped toward to the three men still huddled together. He touched Xander and Spike on the shoulder, the two as much in error as on purpose. “You like to have a beer sometime? I know Sam’s is a bit hard going” He grinned knowingly and Spike returned the expression with the beginnings of a smile, “but I make a pretty good brew myself… If you’re all free Friday I’ll come by and we can compare the produce.” He then continued rather conspiratorially “Just don’t tell her ladyship over there… she’ll let my momma know and all hell …. Well you know!” Robbie winked enjoyed the surprised smile from Spike and went to relieve Samuel of all the ‘added extras’ with strict instructions to go to bed and for Kathleen to call his mom later that evening.
Spike was the first to rise as the ambulance headed out the front gate.
He took Kathleen’s hand and kissed the back of it gently. “Thank you, dear, dear lady. Thank you.”
“He’s a nice boy. Been in the army too you know?”
Spike simply said, “Oh.”
“Anyways… I’ll be back tomorrow to check on you naughty boys… Lord you need a mother in your life! But then…” She trailed off as a lost look flew over Spike’s gaze… “Well anyway…” Samuel was slowly making his way to his feet (with assistance) and Xander and Jon were heading indoors.
As a final gesture Kathleen grabbed Spike’s hand… “Now you’re sure?”
“Yes we’ll be fine… thank… thank you!.... Thanks to you we’ll be fine.”
She kissed him on the cheek, collected the rocket lettuce and eggs from the previous day and bade farewell to ‘her boys’
Willow and Cassie stepped from the house as Kathleen’s truck left the property. It was all they could do to help the men inside.
Cassie moved quickly to assist Samuel and the other boys while Willow ventured to the storm shelter. She took great delight in collecting two squirming little figures ready for their afternoon feed, and leading Eddie with Jessie in arms up the steps to join the others.
A little later, the group sat around the kitchen table, it was all very, very quiet. The only sound seemed to be the sounds of three tiny people sucking happily on bottles and the crunch as Missy attempted to access the marrow of her latest bone. For the rest of the group it seemed that organic green tea had suddenly taken on a whole new fascination.
After The Fall: 14