Authors: Gow, Kailin
The Wicked Woods #3
Published by THE EDGE
THE EDGE is an imprint of Sparklesoup LLC
Copyright © 2011 Kailin Gow
Al Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the permission in writing from the publisher except in case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
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For the town of Arrowhead, thank you for the inspiration.
For my little girl who always make me look for the silver lining in every cloud, thank you.
For my loyal fans, my blogging friends, my group leaders who stick by me with such encouragement and faith, thank you!
Summer 1865 - Wicked, Massachusetts
Blood spattered the pil ow as the mayor’s daughter entered a coughing fit that convulsed her sixteen-year-old frame. The wooden wal s of the bedroom echoed with the sound as her parents looked on, her mother tearful, her father doing a better job of hiding his worry. Even in a town as smal as Wicked, you did not get to hold onto public office by letting people see what you real y felt, and the mayor, a big man in his fifties, stood stoical y. Only the slight disarray of his house coat, the slight lack of care for his beard, suggested that he wasn’t as calm as he appeared.
For his part, the town’s doctor looked grave. Even in his shirtsleeves, he was warm, the fire in the grate was built up so much, and yet the girl was as cold as if they had left her outside at midwinter. He had taken her temperature, observed her symptoms, and spent much of the last five minutes simply staring as she lay on the bed, the disease burning through her.
Time to cal in a priest. The doctor knew death when he saw it. This was not something that was going to pass.
Tonight, or tomorrow night, it would leach away the last strength that the girl possessed, and the mayor of Wicked would find himself preparing for a funeral. He would probably start looking for a new doctor too. The mayor was not a forgiving man.
As if on cue, the big man cleared his throat. “Wel ?
We cannot have Amelia sick much longer. She is to be married next month.”
The doctor shook his head. “I fear that there is little to be done, sir.”
The mayor took a step towards him. “That is not acceptable. Find a better answer if you want to earn your fee, man.”
The doctor shrugged. He had known that he would be making a loss on the day almost as soon as he saw the condition of the man’s daughter. Powerful men paid only for successes. It was simply the way things were.
“If there were something I could do, do you not think I would be doing it?” he asked.
“If there is nothing you can do,” the mayor countered,
“you do not need to be here.”
“You’l send him away?” his wife demanded, speaking for the first time that evening. She was a smal , fragile looking woman, who always looked slightly out of place beside her husband and always slightly frightened by the world. The doctor was always reminded a little of a mouse when he saw her. She looked over at him with pleading eyes. “There must be something that can help my Amelia.”
The doctor was not a young man anymore, being almost thirty now, and he had seen more than his share of death. You became hardened to it quickly, in a world where so many died young. Even so, there was something about the grief in the woman’s voice that touched him.
“Ma’am, I’l give it some more thought, but I can make no promises.”
For the doctor, seeing the hope in her face was like watching an axe being raised above him. That one phrase had bought him time, because there was no way the mayor’s wife would let her husband eject him now, but it had done little else. What could he do? Why had he been stupid enough to say it?
The doctor tried to remember some scrap of knowledge that might be useful. He recal ed reading a paper about Mon. Pasteur’s work on the transmission of disease through bacteria just recently, yet it had suggested nothing about how to deal with them. It had even seemed fanciful to him at the time.
Maybe it was the idea of fanciful things that triggered the memory, but the doctor found himself remembering back to when he had been a child in the town.
For a nurse, he had an elderly Danish woman who had lived there most of her life, and who had loved to tel him stories about the place’s history when the settlers first settled in Wicked. She had told him about Wicked’s first inhabitants, the Wickhams, and their role in founding the town when they arrived on the Mayflower with the first settlers.
The Wickhams were upstanding people… leaders who seemed to genuinely care for the people of Wicked.
They were from the long line of Wickhams from England, an aristocratic lineage, who brought with them an old world charm. However, they were also mysterious, often disappearing into the woods for long stretches of time.
Did the Wickhams have anything to do with the lore of Wicked Woods? That the Woods was a magical place where those who were on the brink of death could go and be renewed? Lore had it that loved ones would carry their sick dying ones into the woods, lay them down and left them there through the night.
In the morning, when they came to see their sick ones, they would find them healed, radiant, and even ethereal beautiful. But their sick ones would only drink blood, blood kept them young and alive, wel and not sick.
They would offer them pheasant, animal blood, which would satisfy them at first, but after a while, these sick ones with bloodlust soon began preying on people. Some of the people of Wicked fought back, but many fel prey. Of the few that fought back, they found a precious weapon right in the woods itself on the highest slope, large quantities of silver ore. The people began making silver crucifixes with the silver, which seemed to drive al the “Undead” back into the woods. She had told him stranger stories too; of beasts that walked like men, and of odd guardian creatures from the legends of her homeland.
In amongst such nonsense, though, she had also said something that the doctor found himself latching onto.
Years back, close to the time the Wickhams had first come to town, people too sick to help had sometimes been left in the forest at night. They had apparently come back cured of al their il s, so healthy that they seemed younger and more beautiful. Even as a boy, the doctor remembered laughing at it, yet the old woman had claimed that it had been done with an aunt of hers, and that she had stayed looking young for years before disappearing one night. Had she been serious?
More to the point, was he real y getting desperate enough to trust to fables and stories for children? The doctor almost laughed as he realized that he was. He liked this town, and did not want to have to find somewhere else to ply his trade. Nor did he want to have to watch the mother’s face as her daughter slid down into darkness.
Nothing else he knew would help now, so why not try something that might? What was there to lose?
The doctor made up his mind. Yes, he would probably look stupid. Yes, the mayor would probably have him thrown out of the town just for suggesting it, yet he would not stand by without at least making the attempt. He cleared his throat.
“Sir, there might be
thing we can try…”
Winter 1865 - Wicked, Massachusetts
The doctor wrapped his greatcoat around him and braced himself against the cold as he waited, watching from the shadow of a doorway. The house he stood observing was quiet and dark, yet he knew he could not take his eyes from it. Too much had happened in recent days for him to let slip his vigil.
It had taken almost half an hour of talking to persuade the mayor to leave his only daughter in a forest overnight. Half an hour of the desperate pleas of his wife, and an admission that there was nothing that the doctor’s science could do for the girl. They had laid her down unseen by the edge of the trees, and forced themselves to walk away.
Of course, the doubts had set in almost as soon as they got back. The mayor had accused him of trickery, and had threatened to have him hanged if his daughter died from being left out there. Somehow, though, some spark of hope had made them wait, to keep from going back to where they had left Amelia.
She had walked into the mayor’s home in the morning as though nothing had happened. Her mother had been ecstatic, of course, while her father had given the doctor almost a hundred dol ars. A fortune for a single night’s work. What did it matter that the girl would not answer questions about what had happened, or that she refused to eat? She looked wel . In fact, she looked radiant.
Al had seemed wel . Amelia had married her suitor, and moved into the house that the doctor now stood watching. She had taken her place at the heart of Wicked’s society, and was said to be wel loved by al . Everything had seemed perfect. So much so that the doctor had tried his unusual cure twice more, with great success. Two young women were walking around in the world that would not have been without the stories of his nurse.
Yet, as time passed, the doctor started to hear the rumors. That Amelia Fischer, as she now was, slipped out at al hours. That animals were being found kil ed in the forest with strange marks on them. That one of the women who had been saved had been spotted coming out of the forest with blood on her mouth.
The doctor had tried to tel himself that it was al superstitious nonsense. That people were making up stories to explain such sudden recoveries. When he had heard his housekeeper uttering old tales from Eastern Europe about blood drinking beasts, he had even threatened to dismiss her if she went around spreading such foolishness.
Last month though, Amelia’s new husband had sickened, and the doctor had seen for himself how pale he was. How anemic. Then the Evans boy had gone missing.
Oh, people said that it was just the winter, or a bear, or simply an urge on the boy’s part to see the world, but that didn’t ring true. The boy knew enough to stay safe in the woods, and he seemed happy enough where he was. It wasn’t quite proof, but it was… worrying.
Which was why the doctor was standing in an inch of snow at one in the morning, watching the house of a young woman he had helped save. When he saw the door crack open, and a cloaked figure slip out into the night, he nodded to himself, and started to stride forward.
A hand clamped onto his shoulder, strong enough to drag him back into the shadows. The doctor looked around, and found himself facing a man slightly younger than he was, dressed in the kind of rough furs hunters sometimes wore in the cold. Given the way the doctor currently had to struggle to keep his teeth from chattering, he envied the young man his coat, even as he tried to pul away from him.
The young man kept his hold easily. “What are you going to do, doctor? Confront her?”
The doctor tried to draw himself up to his ful height.
He would not be accosted by strange men like this.