The Thorn Healer-Chapter One

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May 1918

Wounded soldiers returned from war as heroes. Wounded nurses returned as old maids.

Jessica Ross gripped the handle of her purse a little tighter and peered out the dusty train window, eager to catch the first glimpse of her hometown in two years. Home. The word swept a sweet balm over the ragged edges of memories rife with the devastation of a world at war.

The Great War, as some called it, held nothing 'great' within its muddied trenches, nothing but dying breaths and a forever-swell of hopelessness. A myriad of named and nameless faces, lost to the senselessness of battle, pinched her thoughts into the much too common headaches she'd developed over the past two years. But now, as she sighed back into the cloth-covered seat, the sweet whisper of home offered her space to breathe and a place to forget.

Her eyes drifted closed and brought visions of her mother and brother to mind, stilling her grin. Home couldn't be the same without their presence. During her last visit to Hot Springs, she'd buried her mother. Less than a year later, a German spy almost killed her older brother, leaving him with memory loss and a mutilated hand. Not the best hope for a surgeon, but David had made it work, despite the excruciating pain of healing.

The hardened fist of hatred tightened around Jessica's heart with a deeper grasp. Trench warfare, treachery, Kaisers?

She was finished with all of it—especially Germans. She hated them. Even German food was out of the question from this point on. All she wanted was to start over far away from the Front Lines.

"Next stop, Hot Springs!"

The clarion call of the train whistle followed the conductor's announcement with a glorious exclamation. A waft of mountain air breezed through the window, dampening the unusual May warmth with the scent of honeysuckles and fresh rain. Hope tickled a dangerous longing, fragile and as broken as she was, but she grasped its promise. A smile bloomed awake. Even if she was damaged beyond the use of war or the makings of a wife, even if nightmares stole her sleep and fear ripped at her peace of mind, one place always promised a sense of belonging—the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The pale summer sky painted a faded backdrop behind the blue-hewn mountains lining the track. As the train curved and slowed its pace, those precious mountains opened in grand theatrical style to unveil the moss-green roof of her hometown's pride and joy, The Mountain Park Inn. People travelled from all over to benefit from the waters bubbling from Painted Rock Mountain, and the extravagant hotel set the stage for a first-class experience. Not that Jessica had ever benefited from the massages or treatments, or even seen the inside of the marble-pooled bathhouse, but as a child, she'd caught glimpses of the rich visitors and heard tales from local employees.

The white clapboard depot edged into view, and beyond it, the vast lawn of the exclusive inn. Her breath caught with the lurching halt of the train. Were those barracks? She leaned closer to the window, blinking to clear her vision. Rows of long wooden buildings littered the once-manicured lawn. She stood, her hand steadied against the window and gaze transfixed. Men—hundreds of them—moved upon the anomaly of barracks and barbed wire. Had the war followed her home?

Surely not.

This was Hot Springs. Home. Safety.

"Miss Jesse?"

The familiar voice sliced into Jess' living nightmare. She shook off her stupor and looked up to meet the familiar smile of Stanley Donaldson, her grandfather's best friend and station master of the quaint little depot.

"I've checked every train that's come by the last two days, hoping one would bring you home."

Jessica gripped the back of the seat in front of her and pulled herself upright, careful to keep her limp in check. "Stan, if you're not a sight for sore eyes, I don't know what is."

The Thorn Healer By Pepper Basham-Chapter OneWhere stories live. Discover now