Here we go, another installment of Them Doctors. I know in my last post I said I’d try to write a longer section and get the plot moving more, but I’ve decided instead to leave off here for now. It could be awhile before I post another section of this story… I don’t think I should write anymore until I’ve actually come up with a plot for it. I don’t want to just keep stalling, don’t wanna ruin the story, you know. Anyway, for this section, I must thank my best friend, who advised me on the herbal stuff. Thanks, best friend! :D
It burns. My stomach’s on fire, like someone took a red-hot brand and jammed it down my throat. My throat’s raw, too, from the screaming. It’s hard to remember a time before the pain. That woman–I think her name was Birch–brought us to a room. We spent most of the next day in there, resting up, and in the evening Mama went out to talk to people and learn things. I think by then I’d already started feeling weak. I held my little brother in my arms and curled up on the bed, little drops of sweat beading on my forehead. That was the beginning.
It ain’t possible for me to say how long it’s been since then. Days and nights of fire, that’s all I’ve seen, pain and screaming and sweat. People sometimes come shuffling around the bed, old women who chant and mutter and burn things to make smoke. Sometimes I think they’re burning me. I tell them to stop but they never listen. Sometimes they force liquid down my throat that makes me feel funny, and other times they put cool pastes on my skin. The coolness almost seems to burn. I hate the old women. They won’t leave me alone! But I ain’t strong enough to struggle and fight them off. I hope Mama’ll come along and rescue me, but she don’t.
Sometime, I start dreaming. I see colors mostly, but that ain’t all; I also see Pa, but with horns coming out of his head. Mama’s there too, and my little brother, but they don’t look like themselves. They look like monsters and they want to eat me. I scream and try to fight them off, then the pain comes back in and wakes me up. I’m staring up at the dirty ceiling, panting, soaked in sweat. One of the old women comes over then and spoons something into my mouth. It tastes awful, but I barely have time to notice the flavor, because I’m asleep a moment later. Next time I wake up my belly don’t hurt as much. My throat’s dry, though, parched, and feels cracked. I croak for water. This time a different person comes. It’s a young man, and his brow wrinkles in worry as he tips a cup of water down my throat. Too late, I taste the bitter taste in the water and go back to sleep. I dream again, but this time it ain’t the same. I see a little boy. He must be younger than my brother. He takes my hand and leads me off into a field of flowers, and I feel like there’s gotta be something special on the other side, but we don’t get to it before I wake up again.
Fever’s gone away, I find myself thinking as I wake up. The sweat’s stopped pouring down my face, my stomach ain’t burning. It’s rumbling something fierce, though. I sit up, my head spinning. My arm almost gives way, but I ain’t a weak little kid, and I stay upright.
“Good morning,” someone says.
I turn and see him there, that young man who gave me water. He’s sitting in a chair next to the bed and he’s got a book in his hands. It says “The Lord of the Rings” on the cover. Pa’s told me that story. The book ain’t allowed to be read anymore, but he told me the story. It’s one of my favorites.
“You seem to be feeling much better,” the young man says, sliding a ribbon between his book’s pages and setting it aside.
“I’m starving,” I said.
He laughed. “I’m sure you are. I’ll bring you some food, stay there.” He gets up and strides out the door, his long white coat trailing behind him. It’s the same kind of coat doctors wear. They got a doctor in here? That don’t seem right, somehow, but I’m too tired to worry about it.
I lay back on the bed and stare at the ceiling. There’s little white roots poking through it, like so many tiny hairs. I imagine what it’d be like if they got big and grew down into me and my body, and shudder. That ain’t gonna happen. They’re just tree roots, nothing evil or dangerous. I look away from them. The room’s tiny, and I realize it’s different from the one Birch first brought us to. Mama and my little brother ain’t there, for one, and it’s much smaller. A dresser sits in the corner with a lamp on it, and the chair the young man was in is snuggled into the alcove between my bed and that dresser. Ain’t much else in the room. Seems homey. Anyway, there ain’t an Eye in the corner, and that makes me feel safer. I always hated the Eyes they have in houses back home. You could never get away from the feeling of being watched.
The young man comes back then, with a tray in his hand. Steam’s rising from the tray and it smells so good I want to faint. My stomach rumbles so loud the young man laughs again.
“Here,” he says. “Sit up.”
I do and he puts the tray on my lap.
“Enjoy.” He sits down and crosses one leg over the other. “That’s garlic bread and stew enriched with herbs. Goldenseal, elderberry, ginseng to strengthen your immune system, a bit of cayenne for your heart, some ginkgo and dandelion… sounds weird, but it’ll make you stronger.”
I don’t even say thank you, I’m so hungry. I just tear into that stew and bread, slurping and chomping like there ain’t no tomorrow. And in this world, who can say that there will be? I’ve almost finished the food before I even notice what it tastes like. The bread’s good. Very strong, but good. I’ve never tasted food so flavorful. The garlic tingles my tongue and almost makes my stomach churn because it’s so strong, but it smells so good. The stew is the same way. Full of vegetables and little chunks of meat, with all sorts of strange flavors swirling about it, it feels like an explosion of color and life in my mouth. It’s so good I have to close my eyes to taste it better.
When I finish, I hand the tray back to the young man. “That was amazing,” I say.
He grins. “You like it? Magdalene’s a great cook. I was surprised by how good the food is here. They don’t eat proper food back in… well, back home. We’ve got our own farms here, hidden in the forest, and our food’s got real flavor. Not that we never have to steal from the outsiders, mind you.”
I nod and smile, not sure what to say.
“I used to be a doctor,” the young man continues. “Well, I was about to graduate from medical school, not quite a doctor yet. Then I did some digging, found out what they really put in all those drugs they tell us to give people. You know they’re designed to weaken you? To addict you? To make you easier to control? It’s despicable. It’s–well, that’s why these last days have been the way they were for you. The withdrawals, you know.”
I blink. “Withdrawals?”
“Yes–of course–I forgot they don’t teach you about those anymore. Your body had come to rely on those drugs. I used to think people needed so many because of all the diseases, but… you know the drugs and pills and such cause more diseases than they prevent? I had to leave when I found that out. They tried to kill me, of course, but I escaped and found my way here. All those poor people.” He sighed and stared at his hands.
I feel sick to my stomach, and all that stew I ate churns around. I’ve been poisoning myself all my life? My whole family has been. Everyone I knew has been. And them doctors, they’ve been the ones telling us to do it, telling us it would be all right. My fingers curl into a fist.
“They lied to us,” I say.
“Yes.” The former doctor sighs again. “They lie. The longer I spend with the Underground, the more I realize how much they’ve lied.”
“I hate them.”
He looks at me then, raising an eyebrow. “Hate? I don’t know. Most of them are just doing what they’ve been told. Following tradition. I used to hate them, too, but now….”
“Well, I hate them anyway.” I swing my legs over the side of the bed and stand, but fall backwards a moment later, the room doing circles around me.
“Be careful!” the young man says. “You’re still weak. The drugs have left you a shadow of yourself. Your immune system is almost nonexistent. Your muscles are atrophied. You need rest, and you need to heal.”
“I… I don’t want… what about my Mama and little brother? Is the same thing happening to them?” Little dancing lights fill my vision. Somehow, I can’t make out the room.
“Yes,” the former doctor says. “But your mother is stronger than you. She’s recovering faster.”
“And… and my little brother?” I swallow.
“He… we aren’t sure. The witches are with him night and day, but….”
My vision starts to clear. “W–witches?” I ask. Could they be anything like the old woman in the woods? My old friend I don’t know anymore.
“Yes,” the young man says, a hint of distaste in his voice. “I don’t believe in their ‘magic’ powers, mind you, but their skill with herbal healing… it is unsurpassed. They won’t teach it to me.”
“Why not?” But I only half care. My brother’s the one I’m really worried about. Is he all right? He’s always been sickly. But he’s got to be all right. We came all this way.
“They say they won’t share their secrets if I don’t become a warlock,” the young man muttered. “Birch has taught me a little, but she doesn’t know as much as they do, and… well… I can’t become a warlock. I can’t forsake my beliefs. Not when I know them to be true. Sometimes I ask Jesus–”
A shiver runs down my spine. “Do you worship the Old God?” I ask, sitting up again.
The young man blinks at me. “Why, yes… my family always has. We weren’t about to give up our faith, not even when it became illegal. I’d hoped I could use my position as a doctor to… well… but that didn’t work out.”
I lay back again. “The Old God,” I whisper. Then I frown. “Do you think my little brother will be all right?” A moment passes, and I yawn. Seems like the ceiling is getting blurry. My eyes don’t want to stay open.
The young man takes a deep breath. “I… I can’t… yes. I think he will.”
“Good.” I almost smile, but sleep takes me before I can.