Granny has no notion about time anymore, nor about the distance already covered since she left Saaquartoq. She knew the risks of cutting over the large expanse of water, but shouldn’t she see land soon? According to her estimations, the broom should at least take her halfway home, making her land somewhere outside of Quebec. From there she will take the train…
The heavy snowfall covers her face in sleet and she burrows her face in her thick woolen scarf, which is by now almost soaked and iced stiff. She can feel the magic evaporating from the broom, leaving her ice-cold hands clutching it painfully. Another gust of wind almost throws her off balance and sends the broom off course. Again. She can hardly keep it in the air anymore, and she’s forced to fly extremely low.
Suddenly the wind ceases and the only sound is the swooshing in her ears from the speed. It’s still snowing. Large, wet snowflakes obstructing her view and landing on the slate grey surface of the ocean. The broom drops further. Her skirt touches the water, leaving a trail behind her on the still surface. If she crashes now, she won’t survive. Her heart hammers fast in her chest and her mouth runs dry. She hasn’t come this far only to fail. She has to save Taïga.
Something darker grey on the horizon. Oh, my God. Land.
With a loud splash, the broom goes down.
Spluttering, Granny fights her way up to the surface. She has never been a good swimmer, and now she fights for her life, feeling the ice-cold water seize her body in a tight, deadly grip. She starts swimming, a mixture between breaststroke and panicked waving.
The progress is slow, but she doesn’t give up. Her movements become those of a robot, her mind empties. The only thing that exists is the rhythmic movements of her arms and legs. Bringing her forward, closer to the rocky coastline. The tide helps her along, pushing her towards her goal.
A few yards more and she can stand up and walk. Her long skirts swirl around her legs and she stumbles and falls. Swallowing more salt water, she struggles on, even though she can’t feel her feet or her legs anymore.
Exhausted and chilled to the bones, she crawls out of the water. Wheezing, she lies without moving. Her legs are still in the water, but she can’t feel it. She’ll just sleep a little. Just a few minutes, to gain enough strength to continue. The snowfall has almost ceased and seagulls circle the sky in search of food, their harsh calls reverberating eerily in the still landscape. A stray snow flake falls on Granny’s cheek.
It doesn’t melt.
Rowan waves away the insistent fly. He grasps for the dream he just had, but in wain. It was about something important, but what?
‘It’s time. Everyone is asleep. Hurry,’ Sprinkler’s eager voice whispers in his ear and he jumps up from the hanging chair in Taïga’s room where he must have fallen asleep.
‘Goddammit! You scared the Hell outta me,’ he whispers, shushing Valkyria who nervously shied away when he tumbled to his feet and who now is whining uneasily.
‘I beg your pardon. But you promised we should go ahead and do it as soon as possible and that is right now.’ Sprinkler doesn’t wait for the young man to answer, but starts out of the room.
‘Are you sure we won’t need her?’ Rowan motions towards his unconscious sister and Sprinkler nods sadly.
‘She’ll give me Hell when she wakes up, but you’ll explain to her,’ the gnome says, waving a fistful of dark locks in his little hand.
‘Why should I explain? Do it yourself, you’re the one who…’ He lets his sentence trail as he realizes what Sprinkler has done. With a mixture of dread and unbelief he stares at the sheer amount of hair in Sprinkler’s hand. Slowly his gaze goes back to his sister.
‘Youngsters. Always grousing,’ Sprinkler grumbles, adding, ‘I’ll wait for you in the greenhouse.’ And with that he vanishes.
‘Geez. I’m not sure I understood the bird part,’ Rowan mumbles to himself, stepping out of the room without leaving his sister with his eyes, as if he was afraid she would suddenly wake up. She’ll surely kill Sprinkler when she does. And him too – for falling asleep! And what about Granny? She’ll be furious too! Swallowing hard he hurries downstairs to pick up the trap in the cellar.
Sprinkler is impatiently walking to and fro in the greenhouse, throwing worried glances at the drooling cowplant. ‘Good. You found it.’
‘Of course I did. It was right where you said it would be.’ Rowan fumbles with the rudimentary cage, pulling out a fat rat by its tail. It squeaks and snaps with its long yellow teeth as it tries to reach Rowan’s hand.
‘Well. What are you waiting for? Go on. Feed it!’
Rowan glares at the little gnome and shakes his head in exasperation. He doesn’t care about teasing the cowplant, just holds the rodent out, hoping the Laganaphyllis can aim for such a small prey. Swallowing, he tries not to breathe in the pungent odor of newly baked cake as the monstrous plant nods slowly as if rocked by a faint breeze. Rowan is starting to feel a little tired, and stifles a yawn. As fast as a viper, the plant strikes and Rowan feels the rush of adrenalin as the big jaws snap shut just a few inches from his hand.
‘Don’t stop, for God’s sake. Blimey!’
Rowan pulls out another rat, and the procedure repeats itself until all the six rodents are consumed.
Sprinkler rubs his hands. ‘Now, let’s get down to business.’ He picks up a dusty gilded cage with a plant inside and lets it dangle from his outstretched hand while waving a fistful of raven hair in the other. ‘We have all the ingredients.’
‘Are you sure the cowplant will produce an elixir? I thought it only worked if it fed on people.’
‘Aye. It’s right.’ Sprinkler busies himself with the cage. He can’t tell Rowan that the six rats are the result of a little spell of his own. The traveler had tried to trick him into revealing where he had buried his treasure and it was a suitable punishment to finish as a rat. Or six of them. ‘Here. Look.’
Rowan bends forward, trying to see what’s inside, but there’s only some kind of butterfly. ‘Are you sure this err… insect, is what you think it is?’
‘I know it is. Now stop being a nuisance and get the elixir before it evaporates.’
Rowan stands up on shaky legs. ‘But how-’
‘Blimey! Do I have to tell you everything?’ He thrusts a silver cup into Rowan’s hands. ‘Hurry! Milk the bloody plant!’
Hesitantly Rowan looks up from his mother’s birth cup at the plant hovering above him, its pink udder swinging well out of reach.
Granny is not aware of the strange looking figure who breaks into a run when she catches sight of the wet heap lying at the edge of the water. Without hesitation the figure grabs the old woman by the arms in an attempt at dragging her out of reach of the incoming tide.
The long, wet skirt adds to the weight and the difficulty to manoeuver, and the figure gives up. After a last effort, she lets Granny fall back onto the ground again. She bends over to see if the old woman is still alive, but there’s no sign of breathing, nor can’t she hear any heartbeat.
She struggles to undo the knitted woolen scarf around Granny neck to check for a pulse, but there is none.
The figure fumbles for her cell with shaking hands. It falls onto the ground and she has to brush the snow off before finally succeeding to get the number right.
‘Django? It’s me, Carli. Come quick! I found a dead woman on the beach! Or almost dead – I don’t know. Just get here!’
She puts away the cell, deciding to start on first aid. Miracles happen, right? She tilts Granny’s head back, pinching the nose and lifting the chin so her mouth opens. She peeks down the old woman’s throat. The airways seem to be clear, and the teeth seem genuine. It would be awful it she started blowing in air and a set of false teeth comes popping out. Yuk. And aren’t people drowning supposed to throw up gallons of water when you start on mouth-to-mouth resuscitation? She hesitates. The woman is dead anyway. Exhaling air into a dead woman’s mouth doesn’t make any sense. It will probably do just as well if she does chest compressions. She remembers hearing that it was more important than mouth-to-mouth-resuscitation anyway.
She has never done this before, but she has seen it on TV. It can’t be too difficult… She places her hands palms down in what seems to be the correct position between Granny’s breasts, interlocking the fingers. She starts to push on her straight arms with her bodyweight, counting to 30. Nothing happens.
She starts again, counting, pushing in rhythm to the BeeGee’s Staying Alive.
And suddenly the old woman coughs. Her eyelids flutter and she stares at the yellow hideous face grinning at her.
Granny’s eyes roll backwards as she loses consciousness again.
‘Hey! Let me take over.’ Two men are coming hurrying, slipping and sliding in their haste.
They are both dressed in fancy circus attire, much too light for the cold weather.
One of them kneels beside the red-haired clown, getting ready to continue the CPR.
‘Wait, she’s breathing now-’
‘-I think we should get her inside and warm her up.’
‘Do you think Sister Mary-Madeleine at the lighthouse will take her in for the night?’
‘Of course she will-‘
Granny murmurs something and the dark-skinned man called Django and his friend hoist her to her feet.
‘She’s strange and she doesn’t like our kind, though.’
‘Hey, there you go again. Bringing up “our kind”. We’re gypsies. And businessmen.’ Jal twins his already impeccable moustache, looking down his nose at the young woman made up as a cat clown with her make-up now smeared after her tiring attempts at CPR.
Django only nods, grunting as he carries Granny up the slight slope.
‘Right, Jal. Since when is a Circus a business?’ the cat-clown asks, rolling her eyes.
‘Since people pay a fee to watch us,’ Django says irritably. ‘Now stop quarreling and give me a hand here. Why don’t you hurry ahead, Carli? Tell the old woman we’re coming.’
They can see the lighthouse from where they are standing, it isn’t far away, but the access is difficult, and carrying Granny up the steep hill will be both straining and hazardous. Carli sets off, slipping in her too big clown shoes. Her striped pants are already soaked but she struggles on. The slush is starting to freeze, making the uneven steps leading to the lighthouse perilous. The lights are on in the living area. Flickering gas light, or candles, their feeble light throwing faint squares onto the snow.
Carli leans against the railing for a short moment, throwing a quick glance down the steep path. She’s worried Django and Jal won’t make it. They are both muscular and well-trained acrobats, but she had trouble getting up here and she didn’t carry an inert body.
She starts banging on the door with her fists, calling out for help. The door opens on a frail woman of undetermined age. Sister Mary-Madeleine is a Benedictine nun, living as a recluse in the old lighthouse. When she sees Carli’s yellow painted face and grinning black mouth, she instinctively backs away, signing herself.
‘Saint Mary, Holy Mother of God-’
‘We’ll need both her and God himself, sister nun. We’re bringing up someone who almost drowned,’ Carly wheezes and leans against the doorway.
Sister Mary-Madeleine squints at her, trying to see over her shoulder into the heavy snowfall. ‘Come in. There’s a kettle on the stove, help yourself to a cup of tea while I get a bed ready. And close the door behind you.’ She turns on her heels in a movement of dark robes and hurries silently across the room. She’s back again before Carli has had the time to do anything but check out the spartan surroundings.
‘Here.’ Sister Mary-Madeleine hands her some blankets and nods towards a bed in the corner.
Shouting outside makes her scurry back to the door, but not before asking Carli to finish getting the bed ready. It’s Django and Jal with their precious burden.
‘Wait! Not on the bed. The mattress will get all soaked.’ Mary-Madeleine gestures towards the fireplace and the men put Granny down on the warm floorboards. ‘We’ll need scissors,’ the nun adds tartly.
‘I’ll get them,’ Carli dashes towards the kitchen area and the can hear her slamming doors and drawers. She’s soon back, flustered but brandishing a huge pair of scissors.
‘Leave us gentlemen.’
The two women get Granny out of her frozen garments and into a warm grey something belonging to the nun – a thermal wool onesie from Stanfield’s. It’s warm and cozy from hanging over a chair next to the fireplace.
At the nun’s orders, Carli and Jal carry Granny to the bed, hovering next to it while the nun sets a saline drip.
‘Err… We didn’t know this was part of a nun’s job,’ Jal says, twinning his moustache.
‘It isn’t,’ the nun answers acidly, tapping Granny’s hand to find a vein where to stick the needle.
‘Here. I brought more warm towels.’ Django puts the towels on the chair next to the bed. The nun doesn’t acknowledge him, busy tending to her patient.
‘Maybe we should just let her do… her thing?’ Carli whispers and Jal nods.
‘Yeah. We’ll just wait in… err… Over there.’ They start away but immediately turn on their heels when the nun speaks again.
‘There’s a room divider in the basement,’ she says without looking up.
‘Yeah. Right. Privacy.’
Jal and Django disappear through the door to the kitchen and Carli walks over, nervously wringing her hands. ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’
Sister Mary-Madeleine looks up at her as if seeing her for the first time. She starts enveloping Granny’s extremities in warm blankets, touching her pale, cold forehead. ‘We’ll need more hot towels. And help me place the warm water bottles in her armpits. Tuck in the blanket under the mattress – it will help steadying her. She’ll probably start shivering soon…’
‘Shouldn’t we cover her head?’
‘Just put a warm blanket over her forehead. She’s in deep hypothermia and the next hours will be decisive. We don’t know for how long she was in the freezing water, nor for how long her heart stopped beating. I have heard of the Dive Reflex, it can save your life… But she’s old… We’ll see about the frostbite in a few hours. Maybe it’s only frostnip, and then it will reverse after rewarming… The broken ribs are also adding to her difficulty to breath properly…’
‘… and she’s got frostbite – you didn’t see her feet. Ugh.’ Carli shudders.
‘I just hope her toes won’t fall off,’ Jal says smugly.
‘Why do you say that?’
‘Remember dad’s Uncle Vadim? He had such a funny gait because he had picked off his own toes during the battle of Stalingrad.’
‘Really?’ Carli stares wide-eyed at Jal.
‘C’mon, Jal. Uncle Vadim was born with a clump foot. And he was five during the war.’
‘So what. It wasn’t only soldiers getting frostbite. Anyways, I’ve seen pics of someone losing his nose due to frostbite climbing Mount Everest-’
‘But it’s true! Saw it in the Times and-’ He’s interrupted by Sister Mary-Madeleine who’s tugging the blankets closer around Granny.
‘She has Trench foot and it can be treated. Her toes won’t fall off. Not if I can help it. And our Lord, of course.’ She quickly signs herself. ‘Her life lays in the hands of our Father. We must all pray for her.’
The nun lays a soothing hand on Carli’s shoulder and she realizes she’s crying. She bites her lip, angrily drying her tears. She doesn’t know who the old woman is, and she has never set foot in a church, but suddenly she knows she will pray to whomever it takes.
The three circus artists finally troop off into the night, before their own family gets too worried. Carli hesitates. It doesn’t feel right to abandon the old woman. But the storm is intensifying and the already bad cell reception is totally gone. If they don’t leave now, they’ll have to stay at the lighthouse for the night too.
The storm rages for several days. The Benedictine nun goes about her business as usual, seeing to the light high up in the lighthouse tower and tending to her patient. She takes the thermometer out of Granny’s mouth.
’99.6°. A little on the warm side, dear. But the temperature is definitely going down.’
She checks the frozen peas enveloped in a towel on Granny’s chest. The swelling from her broken ribs is diminishing, but the skin is still badly bruised.
After 48 hours of high fever, the worst seem to have passed and Granny’s labored breathing has become more rhythmical, though still painful.
The nun fluffs Granny’s pillow and takes the lifeless arm with the IV attached, putting it under the blanket. She adds some Ibuprofen before settling on the Spartan wooden chair next to the bed. She picks up the Bible and it opens on the Genesis.
‘Hmm… “And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also… God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day”… We know what he did on the seventh day, so I think we can pass the family tree part and go right to Dina.’
Granny coughs, and Marie-Madeleine hurriedly poses the Bible and reaches for a handkerchief. With an arm around the old woman’s frail shoulders, she holds her up making Granny grunt in pain.
‘At least she doesn’t cough up blood anymore, and that must be a good sign. The broken ribs will take at least three weeks to heal, probably longer…’ Carefully she lets Granny rest against the pillows. ‘Deep breaths now… It’s a good thing she coughs or mucous will build up in the lungs and cause her pneumonia..;’ she mumbles, picking up the Bible again.
‘Where were we? Oh. She will like this one; Genesis 32… It’s about Joseph and his brothers, and about Dina and-’
A loud rap on the door makes the nun jump. Last time, she had opened the door on something like a demon from Hell. Or a yellow clown. What would it be this time?
It’s only Carli. Scrubbed clean and with her rich red hair in pigtails she scrunches up her freckled nose when she smiles broadly at the nun, who is blocking her way in.
‘Sister Mary-Madeleine, I’ve come to see how our patient is doing.’
Reluctantly the nun steps aside, letting the bubbly young woman inside. She nods towards the bed.
Carli stomps the snow off her boots and hurries over to see for herself that Granny is alive. ‘She seems almost normal… Why isn’t she awake? Has she said anything? Maybe she doesn’t remember her name… What shall we call her? Jane Doe? Why is she wheezing like that? Shouldn’t we-’
Sister Mary-Madeleine puts up her hand to stop the flow of words. ‘She’s drifting in and out of consciousness and her ribs are broken-’
‘OhMyGod! Did I do that?’
‘Don’t misuse the name of our Lord.’ The nun looks sternly at her. ‘Broken ribs are a common side-effect of CPR.’
‘Better a few broken ribs than being dead, huh?’ Carli looks at Granny with a slight frown.
‘Yes. I think we can agree on that, my child,’ the nun says and sits down again, picking up the bible. ‘Now, if you don’t mind?’
Carli doesn’t budge. ‘Of course not! Go ahead and read. I’ll talk to her. I’ve heard you should talk a lot to patients in a coma. And sing.’
Sister Mary-Madeleine looks up at her.
‘All right. Maybe I won’t sing. I don’t know the old songs she probably likes best anyway. Even though I do have a lovely voice, you know. Django says I sing like an angel.’
I doubt you do, sister Mary-Madeleine thinks. She puts what she hopes is a nice smile on her face and says out loud, ‘I believe you have a pleasant voice, my child, but our patient needs calm and rest. As soon as the phone lines are up again, I’ll call for a medevac-’
‘But there’s nowhere a helicopter can land, and look at the sea-’ She gestures out the window. ‘I almost got blown away struggling up here. I think it would be better if we take her with us to queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown. We’re headed there anyway.’ She pauses for breath.
‘Django has found a stretcher, so we can transport the old lady to our camp. We’ll be leaving soon, but we have friends who are willing to take her in until she gets better. They are travelling the old fashioned way, so she’ll have a big soft bed and won’t be disturbed.’
‘I don’t know. I think she’s been through the worst,’ the nun says thoughtfully. ‘The frostbite has been taken care of – it was only frostnip anyway – and the broken ribs will heal by themselves. If other organs had been damaged, we would have seen the symptoms by now so I think her lungs are all right…’ She looks at Granny’s frail figure. ‘She needs to get some X-rays of her chest, though, and certain pain medication. We have to wait for her to wake up and see what she wants. We don’t even know her name…’
‘She looks old enough to be my grandma, so I’ll call her Granny. She probably has dozens of grandchildren, anyway, and who knows – it might trigger her memory. If she has lost it, of course!’
Carli looks out the window. ‘It’s starting to snow again. I’d better be off, but I’ll be back with some of the men from the circus as soon as the weather clears…’
A few days later, at the Kaminski – Ivanov gypsy winter camp
Granny is lucky. The people ready to take her in, are her good old friend Tsura and her boisterous family. Tsura’s daughter, Irina, and son in law, Oleg, has given up their trailer to let Granny have a more spacious bed. But there hasn’t been much quiet. Everyone suddenly has business in the trailer with Rayna, who spends her days watching over Granny, feeding her a mixture of Ibuprofen, hot milk and honey and generally keeping her old friend comfortable. The family’s dog sneaks in when he can, resting his head on the bed and drooling for honey and a caress that never comes.
Tsura is a professional fortune teller. Professional as in getting paid for her services. Mostly bogus, she doesn’t want to bother with the tiresome interpretations of what her crystal ball – which is very real – reveals. Being a better analyst than psychic, she has become an expert in reading people’s body language and most clients leave her caravan with a smile on their face. With her family and friends, she tries to be as accurate as possible, preferring her Tarot cards to the whimsical crystal ball.
She has obligations to her family, though, and after installing Granny as comfortably as possible, she invites them and the old woman’s rescuers to an informal meeting in the cosy caravan. Carli, Django and Jal are excited to see Tsura in action. She has read their fortunes in the Tarot cards on multiple occasions, but the crystal ball is still a rare event.
Even the children, Yelenana and Danyl, have their place around the crystal ball which is precariously installed on some upturned craters in guise of a table.
‘I want all of you to think about our friend here, Tara Grey. Conjure up memories of her, even if they are only recent ones.’
Everybody concentrates, except perhaps Danyl, who awed looks at the pink sphere. His grandmother closes her eyes and reaches out her hands, letting them hover over the crystal ball, caressing without touching. Something takes shape in the milky interior and Tsura opens her eyes, staring at it. Danyl claps his hands.
They all scrutinize the faint object dimly seen through the mist.
‘What is it?’
Tsura expires loudly and the image vanishes as if aspired into the depths of the sphere, leaving it as impenetrable milky pink it was in the beginning of the very short séance.
‘I don’t know…’ she murmurs.
‘I think I’ve seen it before,’ Django says thoughtfully, scratching his chin. Everybody turns their attention to him. ‘But I can’t see what it has to do with the old lady.’
‘Why are you saying that?’ Irina asks.
‘Because it was hanging around a vampire’s neck and-’
‘Enough!’ Oleg interrupts. ‘There are children here.’
‘Oh, but dad. I want to hear about vampires!’ Yelena squeals excitedly. ‘I knew they were for real. Tell me more, uncle Django,’ she pleads, but to no avail.
‘Your father is right. You know “uncle” Django exaggerates most of the time,’ Jal scoffs.
Her mother picks up Danyl and takes her arm in a light but firm grip. ‘There are no such things as vampires, Lena. It’s time to go to bed now.’ She ushers the grumbling child out the door, rocking Danyl on her hip. He starts screaming as soon as he understands they are leaving.
‘Just leave him here, he’ll fall asleep on the couch soon enough…’
‘Why can he stay and not me?’ They can hear the girl’s protests all the way to the caravan they are now sharing with Tsuraa.
The old gypsy pats the seat next to her, encouraging Django to sit. ‘Now, tell us.’
Part II – End of Chapter 42