Chapter 3

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Amelia drifted in a semi-conscious daze. Her heart stuttered and jittered in her chest, every breath a struggle as paralysis took hold.

Sound came clearly through the haze. It was true, what they said, about hearing being the last sense to go. Clara, her voice unusually high pitched and upset, as she desperately tried to get help. Amelia couldn't hear the orphanage children, and she was glad their usual chatter was silent. She hoped they weren't near, that there was no chance they'd see. They had all suffered unspeakable traumas, and she didn't want to add her suffering to the list of horrors. She'd miss them all. They'd taught her so much.

She tried to speak, to tell Clara it was okay. She couldn't find any words. She couldn't swallow, couldn't blink, couldn't move. Death hovered. Final. Peaceful. Inevitable. It had never looked so good.

***

Dripping blood all over the immaculate porch. Aware he hadn't washed in the three weeks that he'd been on patrol, and that he stank like a bucket of rotting prawn, Mick hammered on the thick wooden door. He heard movement on the other side and a small peep-hole at eye height was opened. For an insane minute he was reminded of getting into a very dodgy club in Kings Cross, last time he was on leave in Sydney.  He caught sight of a small statue of Christ on the Cross and gave it a nod.

"Ajuda. I'm Australian. Ajuda." He summoned the Tetum word for help from somewhere. Languages had never been his strong point.

"Espera." The nun held up a hand. Wait.

So he leaned his forehead against the door and waited, listening to the pat, pat, pat of his blood dripping onto the ground.

An age later the peep-hole opened again.

"Are you in trouble?" a calm precise voice asked him. He felt soothed just hearing it.

"I'm sorry. I got caught in a flash flood and I'm badly cut. Do you have bandages? You could throw them out here. I don't need to come in."

The door was immediately thrown open, and revealed a nun, neatly dressed in a white habit despite the late hour. Her lined face looked older than time itself, deeply wise. Dark, intelligent, eyes assessed him with a look that held no fear.

"We've never turned away a person in need, and are not about to start now, young man." She had the most proper southern English accent, and he felt like he'd been caught doing something wrong by a very stern schoolteacher.

"I've bled on your porch." He held out his arm, as if to prove it. It was the first time he'd seen the wound properly and it took him a moment to realize that the white glint amongst all the blood was bone. His bone. A wide strip of flesh had been ripped away and was dangling from his arm. It looked so horrific that his brain was having difficulty with the fact that it was his arm. A weird disconnected feeling kept telling him that it must belong to someone else.

He pressed his shirt back onto the wound - afraid he'd upset the nun with the sight of it.

"No." There was a gasp of consternation, and he realized that a small group had gathered in the doorway behind the schoolteacher nun. Like a little flock of angels.  He hadn't noticed them arrive. 

"Don't do that. That rag is filthy. Come in at once." She pointed inside and scowled at him. He wasn't brave enough to argue.

They ushered him through the dark halls of the nunnery. It was a large cool building. Tiled floors.  Arched ceilings. Nothing like he'd expect from the poverty stricken area, where accommodation was usually very basic.  It must have been built by the missionaries in the 1920s.  

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