Dusk. Deb couldn’t repress an exclamation of joy as the border came into sight through the shattered remains of the jeep’s windshield. She abandoned the vehicle, dented and punctured with bullet holes, and limped the remaining few feet out of Bongavi. A temporary perimeter fence had been erected but, lucky for her, the same guards were on duty as had been when Deb had left that morning. Recognizing her, they opened the heavy gates to admit her. The sun sank behind the distant mountains as Deb stumbled over the border into safety.
“Doctor,” she said. One of the guards pointed towards a tent in the distance. Deb, clutching her left arm, headed for the same, a makeshift field hospital. Electric lights blinked on as she passed under them; she could hear the hum of generators kicking into overdrive. The spotlights were augmented with natural torches, stuck in the sodden dirt at random across the campsite. Deb slapped at buzzing insects with her good hand. She stopped at the entrance of the tent, holding her breath. Laid out on cots only a few inches apart, the bodies of wounded filled the tent to capacity. The staff meandered through narrow lanes in the midst of the suffering. One young woman, kneeling beside a child sucking his last breaths through a plastic tube, glanced up at Deb with weary eyes.
“I’ll wait outside,” Deb said.
A few minutes later, the woman joined her.
“That one’s going to need stitches,” she commented, noting Deb’s arm, blood seeping through Deb’s fingers as she clutched the wound.
“Yeah,” Deb said.
The younger woman stepped back inside, returning a moment later with some supplies, among them a bottle.
“We’re having to ration the painkillers,” she said. “But we’ve got vodka.”
“Any port in a storm,” Deb said, taking the bottle. She swallowed a mouthful of the bitter liquor, watching the younger woman thread a needle.
“You don’t look old enough to be a doctor,” Deb said.
“Don’t worry. I am.”
“What’d you do,” Deb asked. “Come here straight out of medical school?”
Deb continued to watch as the doctor used hydrogen peroxide to wash out the gash along Deb’s forearm. She did look young, fresh-faced, even, despite the sheen of sweat that plastered her coppery hair to her forehead. Sparse freckles dotted her cheeks, adding to the impression of youth. Despite the experiences and hardships that reflected so clearly in the doctor’s large eyes, she looked pretty. Deb would have gone so far as to call her a beauty.
“What’s your name, Doc?” Deb asked.
“Gale,” she answered. “You ready?”
“Go for it.” Deb winced as Gale pushed the needle into her skin, pulling it through with a pair of forceps. “You sound British. Am I right?” Deb asked between the periods of clenched teeth.
“Yeah,” Gale said. “And you’re a Yank?”
“Detroit Rock City, born and raised,” Deb said.
Gale almost smiled. “I had you pegged as a city girl,” she said.
“Sometimes,” Deb said. “These days, I’m about as rustic as you can get.”
“You a reporter?” Gale asked.
“What else? The rag I work for this week decided I was expendable enough to drop me off here. Half-hoping I’d get myself killed, no doubt.”
“Looks like you gave it a shot,” Gale said.
Deb grunted at the pain. “Yeah. Some stragglers from the rebel army decided to use us for target practice. Typical strategy—if it moves, kill it.”
“Yeah. My escort’s back in the bush. A little beyond your help.”
“Did you get your story?” Gale asked.
“Enough of it.”
“Okay,” Gale said, snipping the thread with a pair of scissors. “All done.”
“I feel it,” Deb said. “Thanks, Doc.”
“You didn’t tell me your name,” Gale said.
“Deb Ashemoore. Pleased to make your acquaintance.” She turned to leave. “You take care out here, Doc.”
“You, too,” Gale said. “Keep the vodka.”
Deb smiled, realizing she still had the bottle. “Thanks. Don’t mind if I do.”
Gale stood, heading back inside the hospital. Deb started on her own way. Neither progressed far.
Miles away, Charlie Drenth pressed a button. A bizarre machine began to vibrate. The animals of the forest grew quiet, sensing something wrong. And, in the refugee camp, the gates of Hell burst open.
The Darkness had been freed.