2. that cast a bloody shadow from o’erhead;
There was a frenzied pounding at the door. Phillip shook his wife awake and got to his feet. As the village doctor, he was always prepared for an emergency. Like when the boy had broken his leg last year and the girl who’d fallen in the ditch the year before that. Suzanne lit candles and unrolled a blanket as Phillip opened the door. For a second he was blinded by the first rays of the dawning sun and the cool wind that seized the hair of his skin, and Kenneth nearly knocked him over. The sobbing man was carrying someone, Phillip didn’t recognize who, but the smell of blood was overwhelming. Suzanne nearly reeled from it but composed herself, making haste to gather bandages and boil water.
“Set her down, Kenneth,” Phillip instructed. Kenneth laid her gingerly on the blanket, his chest heaving and his hands clenched at his sides.
The woman’s face was half-destroyed, her neck and chest a gaping wound. Phillip tried to wipe her clean and check for signs of life. Her hands were cold but he detected a shallow pulse. The bone of her cheek poked through. There was hardly flesh to piece together.
Suzanne masked her horror as she knelt beside her husband and attempted to stem the bleeding.
“I’ll see to her. Phil, see to Kenneth,” she whispered to him. Kenneth was shaking and covered in blood.
“Kenneth, my friend, what has happened here?”
He tried to speak, but his voice choked in his throat. His eyes bulged and welled with fresh tears. Suzanne’s hand laid on Phillip’s shoulder. He looked at her, beyond her to the woman, and she shook her head. Kenneth saw this and dropped to his knees.
“Gloria,” he sobbed. “My Gloria, my Gloria.” His palms shoved against his eyes, smearing the blood.
Suzanne gasped and saw the woman anew. Sure enough it was Gloria. Wavy black hair matted with blood, blue eyes forever closed, body limp and cold, small as it ever had been in life. Suzanne cried quietly, not stealing Kenneth’s grief. He’d loved her more than all and now he was her widower.
Phillip pulled Kenneth into his arms like a brother or father would have. “Hush, son, and tell me what happened.”
There was a haunted and empty look of Kenneth’s eyes, as if he were dead and didn’t know why.
“I don’t, I didn’t,”
“It’s obvious that some sort of animal has been at her,” Suzanne prompted softly. Kenneth looked at her, stricken, as if he’d been reminded.
“It was dark outside-early. I don’t know why the silly woman was up so early. She always did things like that, my Gloria,” he groaned, clutching his stomach. Phillip frowned. So the woman had crossed paths with a mighty beast. A wolf, perhaps. Except…except that there were no wolves this close to the village. This troubled Phillip greatly.
“Must have been a rogue wolf,” Suzanne sniffed, voicing her husband’s thoughts. Kenneth nodded. Phillip looked at the man: dark brown hair, flat with blood and sweat, body dirtied in the same, eyes wide and unseeing.
“Kenneth, we’ve got to get you clean and checked over.”
“No. No, I’m fine,” he said dryly.
“You can’t be about in your state,” Suzanne insisted, placing a comforting hand on Kenneth’s shoulder. “You need to get cleaned up and rest, dear. Arrangements need to be made.”
Looking ten years older, Kenneth nodded slowly. Suzanne offered him a sweet, sad smile and left Phillip to care for him while she cleaned Gloria’s body properly.