The tired, small hatchback hit a rock next to the edge of the road and came to an unexpected and abrupt stop. Erica had not seen the bulky thing hidden underneath the uncut grass. She switched off the engine and got out. There seemed no significant damage to her old banger but she couldn’t care less right now, to be honest, and decided she would leave it parked here anyway. She must be close.
Quite frankly, she considered herself lucky to have made it this far; the roads had been bumpy and her car was in a dire condition, too. It wouldn’t be much longer before it would have to be scrapped. Living in London she rarely needed it and had often been tempted to sell it anyway.
This was deepest Wales, the countryside - something that the Londoner in her had not seen for years and certainly hadn’t missed. Poor phone reception, miles to the nearest supermarket with its supplies of cigarettes and bubbly: that’s what the countryside meant to her.
She guessed the car was sufficiently off the road and out of the way. Who would come here, anyway? It was unlikely that two cars would find this remote corner of Wales at the same time, she reckoned. Erica looked around: not a living soul in sight, no houses or vehicles; she was totally off the beaten track. She could see no significant landmarks; all views were blocked by large trees and hedges. It was drizzling a little and although it was past lunchtime, there was mist that reminded her of early mornings. The wind had made the spring temperatures drop more than she had anticipated and she was chilly in her inadequate city clothing.
She searched her purse for the map, which her assistant Hilda had drawn for her. It seemed as if she was in the right place; there was the small path at the foot of the hill, and the two opposing gates leading to fields with horses and sheep. Since leaving her nearby B&B, all the road junctions she had come to had been easy to recognise and here was the little shoulder by the side of the road, where Hilda had recommended she should park the car.
She assured herself once more that it was the right path and then she psyched herself up for the walk up the steep hill. The tricky part, Hilda had explained, was finding the hidden gate, which would lead her to the man himself. However, Hilda didn’t have pancreatic cancer and was not recovering from a course of chemo and so she had no idea how difficult it would be for Erica to walk up that hill. It seemed by no means the easy climb her assistant had called it. For all her recent goodness, that woman could drive her mad.
Erica looked at herself in the outside mirror of her car before getting ready to face the man. Her hair had not fallen out from the chemo but it had turned grey and made her look much older than she was. There were still crow’s feet and wrinkles despite being facially bloated – it really wasn’t fair; the worst of both worlds. People used to think of Erica as at least five years younger than she actually was, but now people thought she was five years older. Overnight it seemed, she had aged from 40 to 50 but given her current situation she would be lucky to reach 45. Additionally, she had lost a lot of weight, despite the effect that the steroids had had on her. With her mere 5’ 4’’ frame, she looked tiny and felt thin and weak.
Only this man might be able to improve her chances and she desperately hoped the trip here would be worth it. If the man really was who Hilda thought, there was a slight chance for her. If she could make him speak to her, then she was sure she could persuade him to help - if he still possessed those powers. There suddenly seemed a lot of ifs.
She locked the car and began the climb up the tree-covered hill. Her trainers slid on the moist moss, her jeans too tight for some of the big steps she had to take. There was only a tiny trodden path, which seemed easy to lose sight of, curving its way upwardly through the trees. She was glad she had the map. Hilda deserved an award for organising this; if Erica ever made it back to her position at work she would make sure to find a way of compensating her, if she had anything left after she had paid the man.
Her assistant had come here a few days ago and had scouted the place out in the manner of a gifted detective. Hilda had been an angel the last few months with an uncalled for loyalty and devotion which Erica felt she didn’t deserve.
Excerpt from The Healer by Christoph Fischer
Included in Do No Harm
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