“She’s waking up!”
“That’s it, just over here. What’s the report?”
“Stable, minor injuries. No worrying amounts of blood loss.”
“There now, take it easy. Don’t sit up too quickly, you’re still recovering.”
Footsteps squeaked against the polished white flooring as Amber opened her eyes, blinking rapidly and staring up at the bland, neutral walls and dull white wards. She was laying on a hospital bed, with a couple of nurses by her side, wheeling her into a room away from the bustle of the waiting patients and small families and friends chatting tactfully to their loved ones propped up with crisp white pillows, gifts spread on their nightstands. Her head was still hurting from the blow she had taken...
Then it all came back. The forest. The creature.
Amber’s eyes widened as her memory of the night’s events came back to her, and she gasped, trying to sit up.
“Not so fast, not so fast! Are you still feeling dizzy? What’s your name, hun?”
Amber shook her head, dazed, propping herself up carefully and gazing up at the kind-faced blonde nurse.
“Well, Amber, you were found passed out on a street - outside Melbroke Forest? You were displaying signs of...” she glanced at the clipboard, “shock, and possibly mild trauma.”
Amber bit the inside of her lip. She remembered all too clearly what had happened in the forest. But who would believe a sixteen-year-old girl that claimed she had been kidnapped and attacked by an unseen, horrifying unnatural creature? She’d be made to see a therapist, then put in an asylum for hysteria and insanity. Amber took a deep breath, looking straight into the young nurse’s blue eyes.
“Do you remember what happened, Amber? Were you alone?” She frowned a little, looking at the girl properly. “How old are you, honey?”
“I’m... sixteen. And,” she tried to make herself looked quite confused and weary, “I don’t really remember. I think I tripped or was dehydrated.”
The nurse didn’t look very convinced, but she nodded, jotting it down on a file.
“Well, Amber, you’re going to be just fine. Take it easy, and be careful. Your father is on his way.”
Amber’s brows knitted as she looked back up.
“Yes... a Mr Theodore Lennard,” she replied, slightly confused. Amber sighed lightly, resting against the pillows.
“He’s not my dad,” she mumbled, combing her fingers through her tangled ginger hair. Just then, Theo came rushing in, his dark hair slicked back, work uniform still on.
“Amber, Amber, Amber,” he groaned, pushing his glasses up his nose and smiling faintly at her. “What have you gotten yourself into this time, you silly girl?”
Amber smiled back tiredly, sitting up properly and trying to get herself off the bed. The nurse nodded at them, directing them to the exit, and he waited tactfully until they were alone to ask his questions.
“Were you running off into those woods again?”
Amber shrugged and nodded after a moment, seeing no point in denying it, and he shook his head, looking up at the morning sky.
“At that time of the night? You’re lucky you got away with a graze and dizziness, Ambs, and not a raping or an attack by some sort of psycho.” He messaged back a work text distractedly, then pushed his pager back in his pocket, looking down at her.
“Why do you insist on going there, Amber? You know Mazel hates the very idea of it. You’re a young lady now, and she wants you to grow up respectable, with a good IQ and a husband.”
“A husband? But I’m only sixteen!”
“You won’t be for much longer though, Ambs, and that’s the thing. All of this daydreaming and running off, fairytales - they’re all childish traits. Even Meadow has her future practically written out - and she’s younger than you!”
“I know, Theo. But it’s just who I am.” Amber tried to think of other things to say, but couldn’t find the words. After all, it was who she was, part of her personality - but no adult-like himself would be able to comprehend or understand it properly.
“Well, as long as you promise me you’ll try harder. And for goodness’ sake, be aware. You’re lucky I’m starting work later today. You know Maze won’t like this one bit, and she’ll probably lecture you much more than I’m attempting to. I know it won’t really make a difference.”
Amber sighed as they approached their house.
“Look, I’ll try to try harder. Okay?”
He nodded, ruffling her hair and following her indoors, deciding that it was safer for her to skip school just this once.
“But can you please collect Jackson from his kindergarten when it ends? I’m working late, and I’m not sure when Mazel will be back.” Amber rolled her eyes internally and nodded, guessing that she’d have to babysit for the night. Again.
Theo checked himself over quickly in the long diamanté wall mirror before grabbing his briefcase and heading towards the fridge.
“There’s food in here for tea that’s easy to heat up. Anything else, there’s-”
“Money on the table, I know,” Amber finished, sitting down at the breakfast bar. He nodded, hesitating.
As he started speaking his pager starting buzzing from inside his pocket, and he stalled, taking it out and glancing at Amber.
“Answer it, you know you want to. I’ll be fine.”
He nodded briefly and patted her awkwardly on the back as he answered the call, his voice fading as he closed the front door and got into his black Audi. Amber sighed deeply, watching as the car rolled off down the road. Another day of babysitting whining children, when there was so much to think about.
She went into the living room after getting herself a milkshake and breakfast bar, and dropped into the sofa, grabbing her bag and taking out her sketchbook. Amber flipped through it, stopping at her latest sketch of that dark, stuffy room at the horrifying girl’s house. Her eyes widened, as she remembered the book she’d taken with her, and rummaged about in her bag to check if it was still there.
Amber picked it up, setting it on the table as Marcel came plodding in, lying underneath her legs after being stroked. She opened the front cover, to a yellow-white aged page, with one simple word written in dark red ink.