Thursday, 7 April 2011

Riders - Missing (Chapter 5 - Death)

Zoe was again curled up in the upright armchair next to her father’s bed.  The nurses had given her a brown hospital blanket and pillow but she did not think she would sleep.  It must have been the early hours of the morning when her eyelids eventually drifted shut.  She was physically and emotionally exhausted, drained after crying and weak from lack of food.  She had barely touched the food Betty had brought her earlier but had managed to finish the hot chocolate.  Betty had wanted her to come home with her but Zoe had refused, wanting to be with her father in case he woke again.
The doctor had, as promised, called her when they had finished conducting various tests.  The results of the test would only be available the next day, so Zoe had curled up in the hard chair and sat watching the monitors around her father.
As she drifted in and out of sleep she wandered what she would do if her father died.  She had no real family as both her fathers parents had died before she was born and he had been an only child.  She therefore had no grandparents, no aunts or uncles and as her father had not re-married she had no brothers or sisters.  She was alone in the world.  She did not know if her mother had any family and if she did if they even knew she existed.
The Defender’s engines roared as it ploughed its way through the rising wave, crashing with a resounding crunch as it descended over the lip of the 20 foot wave.  Wiping the rain lashed window of the cabin did nothing to increase the visibility.  The torrential rain making sea, land and sky merge into one.  The howling wind tore at the surface of the sea, spraying salt water over the deck of the small seine fishing boat battling to reach shelter at Axl Cove.  The cold front and the unpredicted energy from the low had combined to create the gusting 40 to 50 knot northwester.  The intermittent streak of lightening that blinded the sky was the only time land could be distinguished where the waves were hurled mercilessly against the cliff face.  The sea and sky were in a battle of rage, neither wishing to admit defeat.
She battled the wheel her wet hands slipping, shouting for help from her father who stood at the bow of the boat in his yellow all-weather gear.  He appeared to be oblivious of her and the storm surrounding them.  Instead he stood tall and strong gazing into the distance at something she could not see.  Releasing the battle with the wheel she pushed at the cabin door which was suddenly whipped from her hands and crashed against the side of the boat.  She clung desperately to the rail fearing she would be blown or washed overboard into the freezing, black sea.  She shouted again but the words were chopped off abruptly and whisked away into the water drenched air.   Not daring to venture further she clung to the railing, her jeans and t-shirt plastered against her body and her black hair flat against her head, she searched the horizon.
A flash of light rent the air and the image of black, rugged cliffs and a lone figure standing looking out to sea was burnt on her retina.  She blinked, wiping the stinging salt from her eyes.  The black silhouette was familiar; but what man, creature would brave this battle of the forces.  No man, child or beast should be wandering the cliff face in this weather.  She looked back towards the bow and her father, but he was gone.  She screamed.
‘Miss Alexander, Zoe,’ an urgent voice sounded in her ear. ‘Wake up, dear, you are dreaming.’
Zoe sat up suddenly, heart racing, eyes open wide and looked around frantically.  There was no black storm or fishing boat, no ragged cliff or lonely figure, just the pale grey morning sky and her father resting peacefully in the hospital bed.  Zoe looked at the young nurse standing next to her, concern and sympathy shining in her eyes. ‘I’m so sorry,’ said Zoe. ‘I must have fallen asleep.  I’m fine now, thank you.’
‘Your father is resting peacefully,’ replied the nurse. ‘Why don’t you freshen up and get something to eat.
Zoe nodded absently and moved her chair closer to her father’s bed, picked up his hand squeezing gently.  There was no sign of turmoil or unrest and the heart monitor continued to beep at an even pace.  It was her heart that still raced with the after effects of her dream.  A dream she had had before, many years ago as a child; a dream of a dark figure standing on the cliff and her father disappearing into the sea.  As a child her father would have woken her gently and soothed her until she fell asleep again, but not today. 
Her father had told her the story about the day he had found her mother at Axl Cove many times.  He had explained that the weather had not been as dramatic as in her dream, nor had he been that heroic, but this is not what other fisherman had remembered.  The stories they told about the day of the Big Storm had always horrified her and this was the storm she had dreamt about as a child.  Her father’s disappearance into the sea was when he had leapt into the huge surge and swum towards the rocky cliff to rescue a young damsel in distress.  But in her dreams he was lost to the depth of the ocean and the damsel was whisked away in a cloud of red smoke.
Shaking her head in an attempt to rid herself of the feeling of unease, she stood up slowly and made her way out the ICU and down the passage to the cloakroom to freshen up.  Splashing icy cold water on her face took away the remnant feeling of salt on her skin and cleared her head of her nightmare.
Grabbing a cup of coffee from the machine in the waiting room, she slowly returned to her father.
‘Dad,’ exclaimed Zoe happily. ‘You’re awake.
Alex gazed at his daughter lovingly, seeing the tired worried look in her eyes.  He held out his hand and she rushed to sit next to him and held his hand to her face.
‘You shouldn’t have been lifting those heavy crates,’ she reprimanded softly, blinking rapidly to get rid of the unshed tears welling up again.
‘I’m sorry, my child,’ whispered Alex weakly. ‘I did not mean to scare you so.’
‘It’s fine,’ rushed Zoe. ‘But from now on you are going to take things easier.  Simon can do all the heavy work and you can relax a little bit.  I will make you healthy meals, not too much red meat and lots of vegetables and we can go for walks along the beach for exercise.  You watch you will never feel as healthy.’
‘I always feel wonderful when you are by my side, angel,’ acknowledged Alex slowly.
‘Well, I am not going to be going anywhere,’ replied Zoe earnestly.  ‘Betty came to visit and she says everyone sends their love and I was told to remind you about the quiz evening next Saturday.’
Alex smiled slightly and closed his eyes.
‘Dad,’ started Zoe worriedly.
‘It’s ok,’ replied Alex gently, opening his eyes again. ‘Just resting.’
‘Mr Alexander, I am very happy to see you awake,’ said Dr Marshall entering and walking to the side of the bed.  ‘Your daughter has been keeping a vigilant eye on you during the night.  You have had us all concerned.  How are you feeling?’
‘I feel like a pin cushion with all these needles and tubes in me,’ smiled Alex.
‘Well once we have all your results back from the lab, we might be able to rectify that,’ replied the doctor bending over to do a quick examination of his patient. 
Happy with the result he informed Alex that the nurse would be in shortly to change his drip and instructed him not to tire himself out.  Smiling gently at Zoe he turned and left.
‘You would make an excellent doctor,’ commented Alex to his daughter.  ‘You have always been so good with the injured and sick.’
‘Oh no,’ replied Zoe. ‘I think it would upset me to much and besides I enjoy my job as a carer.  It gives me more time to be with you.’
‘I am an old man,’ sighed Alex.  ‘You need to be with people your own age.  Simon and you have been friends since you with babies.’
‘You are not old,’ denied Zoe quickly. ‘And are you trying to find me a husband or something?  Anyway, Simon is like an annoying little brother, nothing more.’
Alex sighed sadly again.  He felt that he was not going to be able to keep his promise to her mother.  Before she had gone she had asked that he protect Zoe and ensure that she became everything that she could.  But just like her mother she was very headstrong and did not listen to an old man like him.  His time was short and he knew it was time for her to learn the truth about her mother.  A truth that was very difficult to explain and even more difficult to believe. 
He shivered, feeling a coldness drift across the bed.  He opened his eyes and looked at the dark man standing behind his daughter.  His arm extended towards him sporting a familiar looking thick gold ring on his bony finger.
‘Wait,’ he gasped in recognition. ‘I must explain.’
‘What,’ said Zoe in concern unaware of the presence behind her.  ‘What is wrong, what do you need to explain?’
‘The chest,’ he gasped frantically. ‘In the chest.’
‘Doctor, doctor,’ shouted Zoe standing up quickly and running out in search of the doctor who had just left. ‘My dad is complaining about his chest, please come.’
The doctor quickly rushed past Zoe and on entering noticed that the heart monitor had stopped its rhythmic beeping.  Calling for assistance he proceeded to commence CPR.
Zoe rushed in after the nurses to find the doctor and the nurses working on her father, and sitting in the chair that she had just vacated and holding his hand was the man in black.  With the black hood of his jacket hanging down his back, his white blond hair shone angelic like in the bright hospital light.  His black eyes appearing hollow in his gaunt face and in stark contrast to his pale translucent skin
‘What’s happening,’ cried Zoe frantically. ‘Dad, please.’
Another nurse entered and gentle guided Zoe away from the scene of frantic hands and loud machines.  Who was that man, was he a specialist?  Dr Marshall had not mentioned any other specialist.  Zoe’s heart pounded in her ears, she felt faint and wanted to be sick.  Her father had been fine, he had been talking to her, then it had all changed and he had said his chest hurt.  No, he had said it was in the chest.  Confused and frantic Zoe fainted.
The fluorescent lights circled above her head and the walls and roof expanded and swayed.  Feeling very disorientated, she found herself lying on her back on a hospital bed with a concerned nurse hovering nearby.
She sat up quickly causing the room to sway even more and her head to pound in pain.  ‘Where is my dad,’ moaned Zoe holding her head and looking frantically around.  She had been put on a spare bed at the end of the ICU but she could still hear the monotonous single beep of her fathers monitor.  Then her father appeared from behind the screen dressed in his hospital gown and smiling.  Following closely behind him was the tall, thin man dressed in black.
‘Dad,’ shouted Zoe trying to get off the bed. ‘Where are you taking my father?’
Her father continued to walk down the passage oblivious to her call, but the man in the long black coat turned and looked directly at her.
Zoe stopped halfway down the ward, looking into his puzzled eyes.  Unlike before, his eyes now appeared to be a dark blue in his angular pale face.  ‘Where are you taking my dad,’ she asked softly.
The man frowned slightly and turned his head slowly to look at her father walking down the passage.  With the movement of his head her eyes were drawn to the thin black tattoo now visible on the side of his neck.  The long black handle with curved blade projecting from the left side stood out stark and symbolic against his pale skin.  Blackness enveloped her and she sank to the floor.

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