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Josh McDonald slowed his Dodge pickup to a stop and allowed his friend Jack Ryan catch up with him. Jack was towing his Osprey speed boat and the rough trail made it difficult to maintain progress.
Josh known to his friends as Big Mac, glanced at his wife Maggie as she slept in the seat beside him.
“Wakey, wakey, Mags. We’re here” he said, as he shook Maggie’s shoulder.
Maggie brushed her hands through her hair and rubbed the sleep from her eyes as she looked around seeing nothing but dense woodland and dark foliage.
“Where’s this lake cabin you haven’t shut up about for weeks now?” She asked, still not fully awake.
“Just a little way up that trail.” said Josh. “I want to wait for Jack and Betty to catch up, so you can all share the scene together. I promise, it’s the most beautiful place you will ever cast your eyes on.”
Moments later Jack’s old rust red Ford twin cab truck pulled up behind the Dodge. Jack hopped out and walked up to Josh’s open window.
“What’s up pal? Your old Dodge finding the trail too tough? I’m tellin ya, ya need a good old Ford for this here terrain.” Jack drawled in his deep southern accent.
“No Jack. This here Dodge will still be eating up the roads long after that there Ford is turned into beer cans. I just wanted to share your first sight of the McDonald lodge with Betty and Maggie. It’s just up that trail. What do you say to leaving the trucks parked here and hiking up to the cabin together?”
“Whatever Pal, you’re the boss on this trip.” replied Jack before ambling back to rouse his wife Betty, who was also sleeping after the long trip.
The men had been friends since childhood, played college football for the Coyote Kings and served together in Iraq. Betty and Maggie had also been lifelong friends and had met their future husbands when they joined the college cheerleaders team.
The four friends had left home on the three hundred mile journey before sunrise and it was now mid afternoon. They all stretched to ease cramp from from their bodies as they walked through the forest along an ancient track. Dappled sunshine filtered down through the treetops, lighting the path. Old railway sleepers placed to avoid soil erosion, were now rotted and broken from years of neglect. Dense foliage and under-brush encroached onto the trail, threatening to devour it.
Fifteen minutes later the four friends emerged from the trail into a lakeside clearing. Josh stood back and watched as his friends stopped, jaws dropping as they took in the natural beauty of their surroundings.
Slightly to their left the lake spread out almost to the horizon. it’s calm waters mirrored the dense woodland that surrounded it from shore to shore. A small dock projected out into the water and beside it a timber table and rough hewn benches lay beside a wide fire pit. Up to the right a gravel path led to the lodge. Originally a small wood cabin built by Jack’s ancestors in the early eighteen hundreds, it had been added to and expanded by subsequent generations. Now, it was magnificent, constructed from local timber, housing six en-suite bedrooms, a modern kitchen, a library and two lounges, one of which incorporated a dining area overlooking the lake. The structure was surrounded by a wide veranda furnished with hammocks, rocking chairs and occasional furniture.
Josh gave his wife and friends time to absorb the beauty and serene atmosphere of the lodge and panoramic surroundings, before heading back to the trucks.
“Come on guys, lets get the trucks up to the cabin and unload our stuff. There’s plenty of time for me and Jack to put the boat in the water and go catch some trout for supper.”
Half an hour later they were settled in and ready to launch the Osprey.
“Okay, Ya’ll ready for some fishing?” asked Josh.
“Not me” said Betty. “I’m heading back to that small town we passed about ten miles back. I spotted an old antiques and curio shop I want to explore. How about it Mags, fancy some shopping?”
“No thanks Betty, I’m all tuckered out from the trip. I’m going to lay back in that there hammock and just while away what's left of the day. Enjoy the fishing boys. I’ll see y’all later.”
Soon, Jack and Josh were out on the lake, Betty was headed back to the small town of Rattlers Rock and Mags was absorbed in her novel.
After a pleasant afternoon spent exploring Rattlers Rock, Betty arrived back. The back of the truck was loaded with curios she had snapped up in the antique shop and a new dress from a boutique she discovered just off main street. Happy, but hungry after her shopping expedition, she was looking forward to a fresh-fish supper.
The old trail, which had been so pleasant in the daylight now seemed gloomy and ominous in the fading light. The dark canopy overhead appeared oppressive and the surrounding forest felt as if it held hidden threats. The sounds of birds and insects which had brought life to the forest earlier had been replaced by the sounds of branches and foliage rustling in the cold breeze coming in from the lake. Betty shivered, more from a sense of isolation or foreboding than from the chill in the evening air.
As soon as she pulled up beside Josh’s truck Betty knew something was very wrong. The truck was too low to the ground, all four tyres had been slashed. She ran to the lodge, shouting for Jack and Josh as she ran. Before going into the house she looked out across the lake and saw the guys about a hundred yards offshore. Too nervous to enter alone she turned and sprinted towards the shore, yelling and waving all the way.
Josh noticed Betty from the corner of his eye and realised straight away that she was extremely agitated. Without waiting to reel in the lines, he started the boats twin engines and raced back to shore. He beached the Osprey on the shore beside the dock.
“What’s wrong, Betty?” Josh shouted, as both men jumped off the boat.
“Someone’s slashed the tyres on your truck Josh, and there’s no sign of Mags anywhere. I’m really worried.”
“Take it easy, Betty. Mags is probably sleeping. She was exhausted from the trip. Lets go back to the cabin and check in on her.”
They hurried back to the cabin, calling out for Mags from the front door. They were answered by silence. Josh ran to the bedroom, still thinking that his wife was sleeping. His face drained of colour and he felt his stomach heave at the sight that greeted him. His wife was gagged and tied spread-eagled on the bed. Her face was a mass of bruises and cuts. Blood dripped from her nose onto the pillow. Her body was black and blue, covered in lacerations. She was naked. Her chest rose slowly, almost imperceptibly. At least she was alive.
Josh ran to her side and began to untie the ropes binding her to the bed.
“Help. Help me” he roared.
His friends ran into the room, stopping in their tracks for a second, before rushing to help.
Josh wrapped a blanket around Mags, picked her up in his arms and headed for the door.
“Whoa there buddy, we should call an ambulance and the police.” said Jack.
“No cell phone service out here. There’s a medical clinic in Rattlers. We need to get there fast. Bring your truck around front. Betty, hold the doors for me.”
Betty and Josh held Mags as Jack drove the truck back down the old trail, bumping and rocking over the sleepers on the overgrown path. Soon they bounced back onto the main road and Jack floored the truck all the way back to town. They screeched to a stop outside A&E and ran inside screaming for assistance.
From there on time seemed to go into slow motion. The nurses and doctors were composed and relaxed, working quietly and efficiently. Mags was wheeled away through a set of swinging doors. An orderly held Josh back from following.
Almost out of his mind, frantic with worry, Josh had to restrain himself from punching the local sheriff, who had been notified by the clinics receptionist. Sheriff Cooper, a pot bellied cantankerous old man, persisted with non-stop, pointless questions. All Josh wanted was to be left alone with his wife. Cooper, his eyes hidden behind dark glasses, and chewing gum as he talked, made it clear that Josh was the main suspect for the crime.
Eventually, Cooper relented, realising that the three friends were too distraught to give coherent answers. He advised them not to leave town and to hold themselves available for further questioning.
What seemed like hours later, a doctor came into the small waiting room and approached Josh and his friends.
“Mr McDonald” he said. “Your wife is okay. She has no life threatening injuries and should make a complete physical recovery. However, she has suffered a major trauma and will need a lot of time and support to help her come to terms with what's happened to her. I’ve given her something to help her sleep. You can come in to see her now, but be prepared, she looks an awful lot worse than she really is.”
Josh held Mags hand as she slept through the night. The bruising on her face was turning blue and yellow, her lips were cracked and her eyes were reduced to two slits under all the swelling. As he kept vigil over her, he swore to seek revenge on the monster who had caused her so much pain.
“I swear to you, Mags, he’ll pay for this. Whoever he is, wherever he is, he’ll pay. I’ll find him and when I do, he’ll regret the day he was born. No matter what happens, that man will suffer.”
Through the night Betty and Jack took turns to sit with him. Jack booked two rooms in a nearby guest house and as dawn broke they persuaded Josh to go and get some rest. The next several days were spent enduring further questioning in the sheriffs office and keeping Mags company. Sheriff Cooper had made no progress with his investigation and believed that some transient had attacked Mags. He swore that he had never experienced a crime like it before and that no one living in the area was capable of anything so horrific. With so little to go on, there was very little chance of catching the assailant.
A local mechanic had towed Josh’s old pickup back to town, but in addition to the four slashed tyres, the engine had been thrashed. Most of the wiring had been ripped out and the Dodge wasn’t worth the cost of repairs. The mechanic offered to buy the truck for spare parts and Josh agreed to part with it.
A week later Mags was discharged from the clinic. She still carried the reminders of the assault. Her face and body battered and bruised. But it was her mental state the caused Josh the most concern. She was withdrawn, barely talking and unresponsive. She cringed if Josh tried to hug her or hold her hand. She was more relaxed with Betty, but avoided talking about what had happened to her.
Jack packed up their gear and checked them out of the guest house and soon the group began the long drive back home. Mags sat in silence while the others engaged in small talk to try lighten feelings of gloom and hopelessness that had enveloped them ever since the attack.
About twenty miles out of town they passed a young hitch hiker standing on the hard shoulder with his hand out, thumb up looking for a ride. An oversized backpack lay on the ground at his feet. He looked scruffy with long dirty blonde hair and several weeks beard. His clothes were dusty and worn from life on the road. As they passed, Mags sat upright in her seat, pointing out the window.
“That’s him, that’s him” she screamed, over and over. “That’s the man, that’s him.”
Are you sure, Mags?” asked Josh. “Are you absolutely certain?”
Still pointing, her face ashen she continued to scream. “That’s him, that’s him”
Jack pulled in to the side of the road, exchanging a questioning glance with Josh. Josh just nodded in return. Both men jumped out and looked back down the road.
The young man, thinking he had a ride, had picked up his pack and was jogging towards the waiting men. As he approached he seemed to sense that something was wrong and slowed to a walk, before stopping about ten feet from the truck.
In seconds, the men closed the gap and wrestled the hiker to the ground. Raining punches and kicks they shoved him over the side of a deep culvert and continued the assault. Shocked and disoriented by the ferocity of the attack the boy offered little resistance. In moments Jack had him pinned down in a dirty stream of water that meandered down the culvert floor. Josh pulled the youths blue jeans down around his ankles and pulled his hunting knife from his belt.
Roaring at the terrified boy, Josh’s rage exploded. “You filthy animal. You’ll never hurt another woman.” With one slice he cut the boy and shoved the bloody organ in his face, before throwing it out across the road. The boy screamed in agony, before passing out from shock, his lifeblood pumping out from between his legs, turning the water red.
Jack and Josh climbed out of the culvert, pausing only to toss the back-pack down beside the body, before returning to the truck and resuming the journey home. They drove in silence. No one spoke a word of what had happened. The only sound came from the purr of the truck’s massive V8 engine and Betty’s quiet sobs from the back of the cab. Privately, both men felt vindicated. They had achieved vengeance and justice for Mags, and had made the streets a little safer for all women. There was no need to ever talk of this again.
Over the following weeks Mags withdrew further into herself, rarely leaving her bedroom and never leaving the house. Visits from Betty and other friends did little to help. She had no interest in conversation or company. Josh was at his wits end. He was spending sleepless nights in the guest room. He had no idea how to help his wife.
Linda Chambers, a friend of Betty’s, who was a therapist practising in grief counselling, offered to visit Maggie. After a little persuasion from Betty, Mags agreed to talk with the counsellor in private.
Linda arrived at the McDonnell home on Friday afternoon. She was a young woman, tall, with a striking head of beautiful jet black hair. After brief introductions, she went up to meet Maggie in her bedroom. After an hour long session Linda, came back down to the lounge and spoke with Betty and Josh.
“I’m afraid this is way beyond my area of expertise. Mags is deeply traumatised and is seeking protection through her isolation. Her mind can’t handle what happened to her, so this is her way of blocking the experience from her memory. She will need expert trauma counselling, probably in a residential environment. I can make an appointment for her to meet a colleague, Dr. Mark Rivers next week. I’ll prescribe a mild sedative for her, otherwise I doubt that you’ll be able to get her to visit him.”
Mags appointment was made for Tuesday morning. Josh gave her the sedative pills with her breakfast. He and Betty had to support her out to the car for the drive to Dr. Rivers office. By the time they were seated in the doctors reception room she was more alert and becoming anxious to return home. Betty gently but firmly persuaded her to wait and a few minutes later the receptionist escorted them to the doctors office.
The consulting room was lavishly furnished, with an old oak desk and matching table, burgundy leather sofa and chairs. Wood panelled walls held exquisite oil paintings depicting seascapes and sailing ships. The doctors golf clubs stood in a corner and a strip of artificial grass led to a putting cup. A glass cabinet in one corner held a collection of trophies and photographs displaying the doctors prowess in golf and deep-sea fishing.
Doctor Rivers, a tall man in his early forties, with dark hair, going grey and intense blue eyes, stood up from behind his desk to greet them.
“Hello Doctor. I’m Josh McDonald. This is my wife Mags and her friend Betty” said Josh, extending his hand.
“Please call me Mark.” said Dr. Rivers “There’s no need for formality here.”
As the doctor approached them, Mags cowered back into the corner of the room. She trembled with fear as she pointed at the doctor.
“That’s him, that’s him. Help me, please help me. That’s him. That’s the man that raped me.”
That was when Josh’s real nightmare began.