Father Murphy thrust open the rectory’s door and looked down the gray cement sidewalk, past the lilac bushes. He saw Ethel on her knees with one hand on her head. He ran toward her with the two police officers right behind him.
“Ethel, are you alright?” Father said, kneeling next to her. “What happened?”
She brought a bloody hand from her head, along with the green scarf she had been wearing. “It was a bird. A big black bird. It attacked me.”
Father took a folded white handkerchief from his trouser pocket and handed it to Ethel as he looked into the canopies for the culprit. “Hold this against the cut and we’ll help you stand.”
Ethel gently held the cloth to her sore head as she struggled to her feet with the help of Father and one of the officers. Small pebbles fell from her scraped knees as she stood. “Do you mind if I sit down for a while, my arthritis is acting up.”
“No, of course not,” Father said, supporting her, fearing she would fall again. “Come inside and we’ll get you fixed up.”
The officer on the other side of her watched blood trickle down the side of Ethel’s face. “Would you like me to take you to the hospital, ma’am?”
“No, I’m fine,” Ethel said, wiping the dripping blood. “But I’m afraid Father’s hanky is going to need a bleaching.”
“Don’t you worry about that; there’s more where that one came from,” Father said, as they practically carried Ethel up the rectory steps and in the front door. “Let’s go into the bathroom, there’s a chair in there where you can sit down while you get cleaned up.”
They went past the rectory office and to a small hallway on the other side of the kitchen. Once inside, Ethel sat on the chair while Father took a couple washcloths and towels from a cabinet and sat them on a small table next to her. “Would you like me to call Mary Ellen, the secretary, to help you? She lives right next door.”
“I think I’ll manage,” Ethel said, taking the blood-soaked handkerchief from her head. It was saturated with so much blood that she thought she was about to faint.
“Is it alright if I look at your cut?” Father asked, already leaning in to inspect the bird’s nasty work.
“Go right ahead.” Ethel’s hands began to tremble as she sat her torn green scarf on the side of the shiny white pedestal sink. The trauma caused by the fall and from the frightening giant webbed wings of her attacker, had also zapped her strength.
Father gently moved aside blood stained strands of Ethel’s brassy red hair. It was thin and made the laceration easy to see. “You might need a couple of stitches, but I can’t say for sure. But it does look like that bird took some skin with it. I think you should have me take you at least to the walk-in clinic here in town.”
Ethel did not want to go to a medical facility, she never did. Her home remedies always seemed to take care of things, except for her arthritis. Especially now, even her ability to turn the faucet handle and wring the washcloth were difficult and painful, to say the least. Then, with her usual harsh voice, she said, “Where’s my purse?”
The police officer handed it to Father who then handed it to Ethel.
“My rheumatism medicine is in here,” Ethel said, struggling to unzip the closure.
Father looked at Ethel’s gnarled fingers. “I’ll do it for you.”
Ethel handed him the bag. “It’s in a small orange bottle.”
While Ethel wiped around the head wound, Father opened the large shoulder bag and reached inside its colorful flexible body. He moved aside her small beaded change purse, a pack of wood-tip cigars, and a set of car keys before finding the pain killers. He took them out and turned the bottle so that he could read the label. “Ah ha, I found them. Do you want me to take one out for you?”
“Yes, thank you,” Ethel said, having now worked her way down to her raspberry knees.
Father handed Ethel the pill and a disposable plastic cup filled with water before taking a small tube of triple antibiotic ointment and a box of Band-Aids from the medicine cabinet. “When you get that dried I’ll put this gel and bandage on for you, but I don’t think it’s going to stick too well.”
Ethel swallowed the pill and tossed the cup into a nearby wastebasket.
“If everything’s okay here, we’re going to leave,” the officer said, looking in through the bathroom door.
“We should be fine. I appreciate your help and God bless.” Father watched the policemen leave and then turned back toward Ethel, “Are you sure you won’t change your mind and let me take you to get that cut checked out?”
“I’m not a fan of doctors.” Ethel patted the bandage covering the bird’s handiwork, making sure it had stopped bleeding. It had.
Father laughed. “White coat syndrome?”
Ethel shrugged. “But a ride back to The Feathered Peacock would be nice.”
“Sure, I can do that. Would you like an iced tea or something before you go?”
Ethel thought it was best to give the painkiller time to kick in before she walked out to the car. “That sounds nice, but I’d like to finish up here first.”
While Father went into the kitchen to prepare the iced tea, Ethel stuffed the torn green scarf into her purse. With stiffened muscles, she stood up and looked at her reflection in the mirror. “I look like crap,” she whispered.
When she finished wiping her face with cool water, she walked out of the bathroom and joined Father at the kitchen table where he had a pitcher of cold tea sitting in the center and two tumblers filled to the top with cubes of ice. He poured them each a glass.
“This tastes great,” Ethel said. The ice rattled against the glass from her trembling hand. She debated whether to use two hands, but she did not want to give the impression that she was crippled.
“I brew it myself,” Father said. “I make it just like coffee and then allow it to cool.”
Ethel looked around the kitchen. It was clean and well maintained for a single guy. A picture of a colorfully feathered rooster hung on the wall next to the table; rooster imprinted potholders were hanging next to the stove; and a square tile, with what appeared to be a hand-painted rooster perched on a fence, rested against the backsplash near the sink. “You must be a fan of roosters. I like them, too.”
“They give the place a homey appearance,” he said. “I grew up on a farm. My siblings and I would get up at four in the morning and milk the cows before going to school. It was hard work but I remember it with fond memories.”
The young priest was talking as though he were an eighty-year-old man. “Hard work never hurt anyone,” Ethel said. But her mind could not stop thinking about what happened outside the rectory. “I’ve never seen a bird like the one that took a bite out of me. Any idea what it could be?”
Father shook his head. “You said it looked like a giant bat? I’ve never seen anything like that around here before. Maybe it was a mother hawk protecting her young.”
“It didn’t look like any hawk I’ve ever seen before,” Ethel said. Her bangles clinked against the wooden tabletop as she turned the tumbler in a circle, envisioning the deadly flying animal. She looked up at Father. “Do you think it was a vampire?”
Father sipped his tea and shrugged. “In fiction vampires could turn into bats.”
“Yeah, in fiction,” Ethel said. “But sometimes fiction is based on truth.”
“Yes, that is so,” Father said.
They spent the next fifteen minutes talking about things other than vampires and dead bodies on the beach. Instead, they discussed Father’s tea brewing process, Ethel’s hobby of beading jewelry and handbags, and the upcoming Flag Day festivities scheduled in Maryville.
The pain pills were now doing their job, so Ethel took her empty glass to the sink and turned to Father. “Thank you for all your help, but I guess I ready to go back to The Feathered Peacock, I have a class I have to prepare for.”
“Sure thing,” Father said. He stood and walked into the living room to retrieve his car keys from a wooden bowl on a side table.
As they walked down the short hall toward the front door, a cracking sound came from the office. Ethel stopped at the office door and looked inside, she gasped. “Did you do that?”
“Do what?” Father said, walking up next to her so that he could see what Ethel was looking at.
There on his desk was the relic, having escaped from its now shattered glass case, sitting a few inches away from its encasement. It twitched as it lay on a sheet of paper.
Feeling something trickle down the side of her face, Ethel reached up to touch it. She noticed it was wet. She brought her hand down to find that it was stained red with blood. “I think you’d better take me to the clinic after all.”