The first thing Lucy was aware of, was pain. A dull aching from every inch of her body, except perhaps one or two toes and fingers. She groaned, stopping mid-way as she realised even groaning was painful. She lay in a bed, and was acutely aware of bright lights all around her. The mattress felt like a board behind her back, and her pillow did little to cushion her head. She clenched a fist, and adjusted herself ever so slightly, wincing at the pain and the melody of creaks that emerged from the bed. She was exhausted, and she couldn’t remember why.
It took a further few minutes to work up the strength to open her eyes. Pale blue curtains hung around her bed, hiding a busy hospital ward. Lucy started to notice other sounds outside of her small space. She could hear people talking to her left, and the sound of wheels on a smooth floor somewhere out of a door. There were the sounds of people coughing, sneezing and groaning in pain. She frowned, trying to move her head to see either side of her, but it hurt too much. She took a short breath, and looked up at the ceiling. The last thing she could remember was being attacked by something in the dark, and then she could remember the face of a man above her, telling her something. She vaguely remembered saying something back to him, and feeling some sort of pressure on her chest.
A headache nagged at the side of her skull, and she winced. Lucy shut her eyes again, letting herself yawn, before she fell back to sleep.
Lucy woke up sometime the next day, with the curtains pulled back and sunlight in her eyes. She raised a hand to shield her eyes, and glanced around wearily. The ward had five other beds, three of which were filled. She herself had one of the two beds closest to the windows. Tilting her head to the right, she could see a small bedside table, and the back of a chair facing the bed next to her. There was an old lady sitting in the chair, holding the hand of the patient beside her. She couldn’t make out the face of her roommate. If she looked to her left, she could see a chair right beside her, and the view out of a large window.
As she looked out over the roofs of neighbouring buildings, she saw birds swooping around, landing on aerials, nests or the edges of roofs. She gazed longingly at the streets below, and the blue sky above. It was another cold day, she guessed. The windows were fogged up near the edges, and a few wispy clouds dotted the sky. On a rooftop a few buildings over, she could see a rather large bird. Its wings were folded neatly by its side, and it looked down at whatever was going on on the street below. She frowned, squinting at it. Something wasn’t quite right about the bird- it didn’t look like it had feathers.
There was a loud clang from the other side of the ward, and she twisted her head around to look. She didn’t fancy moving her body- she could still feel the aching of it. A cleaner had dropped their broom, and was kneeling down to pick it up, apologising profusely. By the time Lucy looked back outside, the big bird had flown off. She made a face, before looking around for something new to entertain her. She got the feeling hospital life would be very, very boring.
After a few days had passed, Lucy finally knew exactly why she was there. She had been attacked by some large wild animal- what it had been doing in the middle of a town nobody knew- and had sustained deep claw marks on her chest. Her left leg was broken, and she had a large bite wound around her calf. She’d sustained a mild concussion, from hitting her head on the flag stones of the pavement. She remembered snatches of what had happened, yet she couldn’t remember a single detail about her attacker. She had the horrible feeling that she was attacked by nothing, like darkness itself had leaped out at her and pulled on her leg. She shuddered at this thought, and she found herself staring out of the window again.
There was only one part of the experience that she could remember somewhat clearly. The small glimpse of the man who had helped her. She remembered the sounds of somebody fighting something, and the clatters of metal on the pavement. After that, she remembered feeling a sudden burst of warmth, extending past the feeling over her own blood on her skin. She remembered the voice, a comforting tone that soothed her in a time of confusion. She remembered feeling pressure on her chest, and then she had blanked out. After that, she remembered looking up at a face- a face that she now realised she recognised.
For the first day or so, she couldn’t figure out where she had seen the face. She couldn’t match it to the person who had worn it. However, after a little thought had gone into it, she realised it was his face. The man she had thought was crazy, deranged, even, had been the one to help her. She felt a pang of guilt as she remembered what had happened when she had first seen him.
Lucy glanced to one side, seeing the heavy coat. She was certain it was the same one he had worn that previous night. The nurses told her that she had been found lying in the street, the coat over her chest, with dark red hand prints where the man had pressed down. He had left moments before an ambulance had arrived. Nobody knew exactly why- he hadn’t given a name or address, either.
After looking at it for a few moments, she noticed something on the shoulder. Frowning, she reached over and plucked it from where it hung on the chair. She pushed herself up in bed, fiddling around with her pillows until they lay, just right, behind her back. With the coat draped over her knees, she looked closely at the top of the right sleeve. It hadn’t just been a trick of the light, she thought to herself. She felt the large holes in the thick leather, tracing the ragged edges with one finger, as she poked another one through it. She bit her cheek as she looked at it, furrowing her brow and turning it inside out. Whatever it was had pierced straight through the material, and, from what she could see, had gone deep into the other side. Dark black stains ringed the holes, and spidered out in close proximity. Whoever had worn this coat had been injured on the right shoulder- a bite, from what she could tell. The blood looked very old, but the holes looked new. The threads surrounding the inner lining were still mostly hole, and the gaps weren’t too frayed.
She sat there in thought for a while, pondering over the situation. The holes were arranged in a rough, rounded rectangle, cut off at one end. They looked like they were made by some large animal, perhaps a dog, biting down hard. She fiddled with the shoulder a little longer, before she turned the coat around in her lap, running her hands over the smoothed leather. It seemed like an old coat. From underneath the flaps of the pockets, Lucy guessed the hide had once been a deep brown, almost black in colour, but had been worn for a long time under a hot sun. The leather on the shoulders particularly was bleached from exposure, paler than the original shade. The colour went in a gentle gradient, getting a little darker the further down the coat it got. It was a long coat, she noticed, as she tried to hold it up fully. Her arms weren’t near long enough, and the sleeves trailed on her lap.
Laying it back down, Lucy put her hands into the bloodstains. Her hands were dwarfed by the shapes made of the now- brown blood, and she found herself smiling as she realised that this blood was her own. There was something strangely fascinating about seeing so much of her own blood on a piece of clothing she had never seen before. She flipped down the collar of the coat, and folded it as best she could sitting down. She ran her hand down the lapel, before she placed the coat neatly back on the chair, this time on the seat.
Folding her hands back up in her lap, she sighed. Her mind began to wander once more, until she began to think about her escape from this dreadful place of illness and injury. She had been told she could be released soon, allowed to return to her own home, as long as she spent most of her day in bed, healing.
She wasn’t looking forward to going back home- it would bring back the worries of a job and such, but at least it would get her away from the regular visits from various family members. Each visit was the same. Somebody she was related to- most often her father, and younger sister- would peer into the ward nervously, spotting her at the last moment and hurrying in, apologising. They would sit down beside her, holding a hand in worry, and ask whether she was okay. Lucy would answer with the same thing each time, reassuring them that she was fine and they didn’t have to worry. Small talk would be exchanged, she would be updated on the tiniest of events in the small family, and then hurried goodbyes would be exchanged. An excuse would be made by the visitor, some important meeting they had to get to, or a meal that needed cooking. She would be told to take care, and then whoever it was would leave just as quickly as they had appeared, and nothing would have changed.
Every now and then, a visitor would bring in some flowers, or something similar. Lucy had quite a collection now, all somehow squeezed into a small vase. She could smell the flowers from where she lay, with every breath she took. The scent was overpowering, but at the very least it took away the dreadful smell of antiseptics and other cleaning agents.
She looked at these flowers now, deciding which among them she liked the most. There was one particular flower, a deep red one with broad petals, that caught her eye each time she looked over. She decided this one was the best, and would be among the few flowers she actually kept.
Most of Lucy’s stay at the hospital passed away without major event. On her final day, as she was readying herself to leave, when she saw a heavily-built man standing by the door, one with a familiar face. He stood there in silence, and they made eye contact for a second. His face was expressionless, set in stone. She slowly stopped preparing her crutches, and straightened up to look at him. She hadn’t seen the man in full daylight before. She took note of his key features- Darkish eyes, strong jawline, low brow and sandy-brown hair.
It took her a second to remember that she had his coat, and her eyes widened slightly at the realisation. She turned around, her eyes darting around before she found the coat. It had been moved from the seat of her visitor’s chair, and tucked neatly beneath her bed. She knelt down, picking it up, careful not to disturb her folding. By the time she turned back around to locate the man once more, he had gone. Her arms slackened, and the coat fell to the bed. She stared at where he had been, frowning. Had he not seen what she had intended to do? She shook her head slightly, rolling her eyes as she got back to packing. She would have to take the coat with her. The hospital staff had been very insistent that she take everything with her. To them, that included the coat that did not actually belong to her.
The man had only gone to see the girl to check. He wasn’t sure if his crude first aid had actually helped- he wasn’t sure if he’d done the right thing. It had been a long, long time since he had worked on a living person before. He was glad to see that she was alive and well, and from what he could see, she was preparing to leave the hospital. He stood there for a few moments, making eye contact with her. He had seen the job through.
He waited an extra moment or two, as she turned her back to him. Turning on his heel, he strode back down the corridor, retracing his steps to the front door. He let himself put the matter back into a deep corner of his mind, satisfied that the task had been completed. He felt himself relax as he walked through the doors back out into the open. He looked down at his arm, examining the cuff of his white shirt. He needed to find a new coat.
Lucy sat back in her favourite armchair, stretching out her leg. It was clad in a white cast, and it itched like hell. She glared at it in frustration, hoping that if she glared at it long enough, the itching would go away. After a few more moments, it didn’t. She glanced out of the window, ignoring the small scaled shape that was walking along the street, focusing instead on the steps to the house on the opposite side of the street. The hallucinations still hadn’t gone away. She made a mental note of this, and refocused her attention inside her house. Over the past week or so, she had seen strange visions of creatures of varying sizes, most with wings, some without, darting around outside, playing with each other and rummaging through bins. These beasts ranged from four-legged serpentine things to short, two-legged creatures with a pair of large bat wings coming out of their backs. She put this down to stress, as she had only started seeing them after she had been attacked. After all, she had knocked her head, and the doctors had told her it was normal to see such things.
She was reluctant to leave the house, however. Half the time she felt wreaked, and the other half she ached all over. She didn’t have to worry about her house for the meantime, and so far she had been able to persuade her older brother to bring her food every few days, convincing him that she couldn’t use her crutches very well.
Picking up the book on her coffee table, she decided that life at the current moment wasn’t the best. She had a dreadful feeling, deep down inside, that it was about to get far, far worse.