The doctor came back out onto the porch dressed in a long overcoat, carrying his bag and an umbrella. He saw the woman standing at the edge of the porch looking off into the storm. She had obviously not heard him behind her, for when he gently touched her shoulder, she jumped and cringed as if she expected him to hit her. Her reaction pierced the kind doctor's heart; he always hated to see a woman who was obviously used to a savage act when she was touched. He thought that he would make sure to check on her well-being as well as her son's when he got to their house.
“Ma'am? Let's go see to your son,” he quietly said when recognition crossed her face as she stared wide-eyed at him.
Rebecca shook her head, scattering her previous thoughts, and grabbed the doctor by the hand. Once she realized who he was, she remembered her desperate reason for being there. “Please, sir, please hurry! I just know that Erik is dying!” She began dragging him off the porch toward the black car parked in the driveway.
“All right, all right,” he said, opening the umbrella before they stepped into the rain, covering them both and protecting them from the drops falling rapidly from the sky. He walked her to the car and guided her into the front seat before circling the car and sliding in behind the wheel. He then glanced at her, and his frown deepened. No woman should have to live her life in fear, and he determined that he would do what he could to help her. He started the car and pulled out into the storm. The woman was trembling and looking anxiously at him.
“Which way?” he asked.
“Left,” she replied. “We live about three miles down the road, near the river.”
“Three miles?” he repeated incredulously. “You ran three miles to get me?”
“Yes,” she said quietly, her whole body starting to shake violently.
The doctor didn’t know if the shaking was from cold, exhaustion, or fear, but as he drove, he slipped out of his overcoat and draped it over her shoulders. She didn’t react, so he didn’t know if she even noticed, but it made him feel better to do something, anything, for this poor woman.
About five minutes passed before she told him to slow down. “There, on the right,” she said, pointing to an overgrown gravel driveway off the main road. He stopped the car before a ramshackle house that told him that this family was definitely down on their luck. There were many families in Willow that were struggling to survive, but based on the state of the house, this family was worse off than most.
It was no more than a one-room cabin. The porch was sagging at one end, and the two windows at the front were cracked. As he followed the woman toward the house, he noticed that the yard was nothing but a large mud puddle. There was no sign of grass or trees or any other vegetation. All of these impressions were made within the space of a few moments, though, since they reached the door quickly. She pushed the door open and rushed in, her eyes wide with fear.
As he followed, the doctor's attention was immediately drawn to two figures on the floor of the cabin. One was a man bending over the other, who looked to be a teenage boy. Even from the door, the doctor could see the blood covering the body of the boy as well as the floor around him. He took two long strides toward them, grabbed the shoulder of the man, and spun him around. The face he saw stunned him into momentary immobility. He knew this man! He hadn't seen him in years, but he definitely knew him.
“Albert Taylor? Is that you?” The doctor peered intently into the eyes of a man who had been a friend at one time. The man he saw in that cabin, however, bore very little resemblance to the one he remembered.
“Henry Clark,” Albert said simply.
The doctor shook his head to clear the thousand questions that sprang to mind at seeing the man in this state. He directed his attention to the boy on the floor.
“What happened, Albert?”
The woman took a tentative step forward from her position at the door, but at one malevolent glare from Albert, she froze. He turned his eyes back to Henry and spoke with slurred speech, “The boy was running in the house, and a jar fell from the shelf, landing on his head. It broke and cut him badly.”
Henry vaguely heard the gasp of the woman behind him, but his medical instincts had kicked in, and he knelt down next to the boy, noticing that Albert had gotten some rags and had held them to the boy's head, trying to stop the bleeding. The doctor could tell at a glance, however, that the wounds were bad, for the rags were completely soaked through. He gently lifted one of them and inwardly cringed as he saw the gash on the boy's temple and cheek. The wound still bled freely, and he quickly covered it up again with the rag, but not before he caught a glimpse of white bone among the red blood and tissue. He turned to the woman and saw fear and horror etched in deep lines on her face.
“Albert, what is your wife's name?” he asked the man who had moved to sit on the bed after picking up the almost empty whiskey bottle that had been on the floor next to him.
“Huh?” Albert didn’t seem to understand the question.
Henry was instantly disgusted by the knowledge that Albert was drunk, very drunk. He turned to the woman and gently asked, “What is your name?”
“Rebecca,” she said timidly, glancing at her husband with naked fear in her eyes. Albert, however, was not paying attention to her. He was looking at the body on the floor, as if seeing it for the first time and not comprehending exactly what it was.
“Rebecca,” Doctor Clark said quietly, looking at her intently until she looked back at him. “I need my bag and clean water.”
“Yes, sir,” she replied and mechanically went about gathering what he asked for, constantly directing her eyes toward her husband to gauge his reaction. She needn't have worried, though. Albert was still staring at his son with a perplexed expression on his face. She gave the requested items to Doctor Clark, who quickly turned to the boy again.
“Rebecca, I need your help,” he said, not looking to see if she heard, as he retrieved a needle and heavy thread from his bag, along with some fresh bandages and iodine. “I need your help to save your son's life.”
These words penetrated Rebecca's fear-clouded mind, and she gasped. She wrenched her eyes away from her husband and looked at her son. She saw the blood-soaked rags covering the left side of his head, and a new, unfamiliar fear filled her mind. This was a more primal, more primitive fear than that of her husband's wrath. This was the fear of a mother who was about to lose her beloved child. She quickly knelt down on the floor next to the doctor.
“What do you need me to do?” she breathed.
“I will need you to mop up the blood as I sew,” Doctor Clark said, glancing at her to see if she was able to do this. What he saw in her face surprised him. He had assumed that her husband had terrorized her to the point that all the fight had permanently left her. He saw, however, that where her son was concerned, there was still a great deal of fight in her.
The doctor checked the wound for any remaining glass, and finding none, he took a bandage and cleaned the wound the best he could. Then he began to sew up the horrific gash in the boy's head while his mother tried to keep up with the blood that was still flowing freely. It took a long time, but he finally got the cut closed. It worried him that this had been done without any sort of anesthetic, and yet there had been no response whatsoever from the boy. He knew he lived, but he also knew he was far from safe. Doctor Clark gently examined the wound and, satisfied with what he saw, proceeded to clean up a few other, minor cuts before covering the entire left side of the boy’s head with a fresh bandage soaked in iodine. He then turned toward Albert to tell him that the boy would have to come to his house for further treatment, but Albert had passed out on the bed, so Doctor Clark spoke to Rebecca instead.
“I must take this boy back to my house,” he said. “He needs round-the-clock observation.”
“Of course,” she responded without hesitation. “Please do whatever is needed to save him.”
Doctor Clark took one last look at the prone figure on the bed, who had begun to snore and then said, “Rebecca, come with me. I can protect you from him.”
At these words, Rebecca instantly returned to her previously frightened state. She also looked at the man on the bed and began to tremble again.
“No,” she said, “you can’t help. He will find me anywhere, and if I am not here when he wakes, he will be very angry.” She turned tear-filled eyes to the doctor and smiled sadly. “Just take Erik and help him,” she said quietly. “I can handle Albert.”Doctor Clark hesitated, but he knew that there was little he could do if she refused to come with him. With deep regret, he gently picked up Erik and carried him out to his car, noting the fact that the boy was not nearly as heavy as he should have been for his height. The rain had stopped, so he didn’t need to worry about the fresh bandages getting wet. He gently laid the boy on the back seat and climbed in. As he pulled away, he took one last look back at the rough cabin and was not surprised to see Rebecca standing in the doorway, watching him leave with her child.