Victim

Jessie screamed. Claws raked down her back; needle-sharp teeth punctured her neck. She bent under the weight of something heavy scrabbling over her shoulders.

“HELP!! HELP!! I’m… ARGH!!!”

Steps thumped towards her. Her attacker leapt away and vanished into the night.

“Lady, you OK? What’s the matter? You high? Trippin’?”

“I… something hit me…”

She put a hand up to the back of her neck – it was wet, sticky, and now her hand was dark with the stuff.

“God, lady, you’re hurt! I didn’t realise, sorry – you’re bleeding?”

She frowned, looked at the blood on her hand, and swayed.

“Lemme call triple-0, we’ll get you sorted out, eh?”

She stared at her hand, watching the darkness spread warmth over her palm and turn cool in the night air.

“Yeah, I think she’s in shock, she’s pretty banged up, I dunno what to do… NO, it wasn’t me, whad I look like… oh yeah, phone… nah, she says something hit her, but it’s ripped shreds off ‘er… I just heard her scream… uh-huh… god, thanks… “

A pair of hands put a coat over her shoulders. She cried out with pain, and looked up.

“Sorry, lady – the guy said to keep you warm, said you might die if I didn’t… someone’s coming, OK? There’s an ambulance coming, they’ll help you…”

Jessie nodded.

“Thank you,” she whispered. Conversation seemed so hard.

She looked up at the kind stranger, and lights strobed across his face. He looked relieved, grateful.

“The ambulance, lady, it’s here, you’ll be OK.”

“Your coat…”

“Screw the coat, keep it, OK? Just get better.”

She nodded slowly as ambulance officers picked her up, laid her down on something soft, and spoke in soft voices to the stranger. As she was made horizontal, a sense of floating free washed across her, and the lights and voices faded away.

****

“POSSUM bites?” a woman asked, sounding shrill.

“That’s right.” a man answered.

“You’re saying a shy herbivore dropped out of a tree and tore chunks out of someone?”

“Guess so… no marks on the face or hands, I don’t think she was trying to pat it or pick it up… it had to have jumped her from behind.”

“No way!”

“I don’t understand it either, to be honest – could just be one of those weird things.”

“Could it have had rabies? That could be a catastrophe!”

“No, I don’t think so – where would a possum get it without customs hearing? But we’re testing her to make sure.”

“Oh. Good.”

****

Jessie opened her eyes, wincing as the light stabbed straight through her eyes into her head.

“Hey, she’s awake! Doc, you almost missed her!”

“Turn the lights down, looks as though she’s photophobic.”

A nurse hurried away, and the lights dimmed to a bearable level.

“Hi, Jessie, I’m Doctor Ruther – I’m looking after you. Do you know where you are?”

“… Hospital?”

“That’s right – do you know what day it is?”

She frowned.

“Thursday? What happened?”

“Who’s the prime minister?”

“K… Kevin… oh-seven…”

“Good! Sorry, I know it’s horrible to get questions when you’ve just woken up, but we needed to make sure there was no major brain trauma.”

“What… happened? Something attacked … me?”

“A possum, our vet tells us! Jessie, do you have any idea why it attacked?”

She shook her head and winced.

“I didn’t see anything…”

The doctor nodded.

“OK, no worries… I’ll come check on you later, OK?”

Jessie tried to smile.

“Good girl, you’re doing great!”

Jessie drifted back to sleep.

****

It was dark, and she was so, so cold.

She reached for her quilt, and pain stabbed through her back. She cried out quietly, and a torch bobbed and moved toward her. She tried to focus on the form behind it, but the light bit into her eyes and hurt her head.

“Everything OK, Jessie?”

“Cold.”

“I’ll get you another blanket, dear.”

The light moved away, then back. Heaviness enveloped her lower half, and hands drew blankets up to her shoulders, then touched her forehead.

“God, girl, you’re burning up! Here -” a coldness on her lips – “open up, let me take your temperature… there we are, good girl…”

Something beeped, and the cold was taken out, and the light bobbed away as Jessie floated again.

****

“Forty-two? Her temperature was forty-TWO?”

“That’s right, doctor.”

“It’s down now?”

“Absolutely normal temperature an hour later.”

“That’s odd.”

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