Sunday Psalms: Fictional Narratives Inspired by the Psalms, Proverbs, & Other Biblical Works
Doc Parson – Part 1
I suppose I’ve witnessed more epidemics than the average man: influenza, cholera, smallpox. All the popular ones. Then there’s the list of nameless plagues, ones so gruesome I hesitate to share the details.
“It’s bad, Doc.” That’s what folks always say when they call, like they need to prepare me for the horror. You see, I’m the guy they bring in when the local docs have failed. My role is to prevent communities from extermination. Some diseases, they can steal the very soul right out of a community.
On my sixtieth birthday I decided it was time to start writing these things down, my travels in medicine. Young docs need to understand that it’s much more than identifying illnesses. You can cure people, but if you don’t discover why a community is sick, you’ve only done half the job. You have to find the source: insects, water, toxins…Without this piece of the puzzle, you don’t get closure, and neither do they. You have to be a detective about these things.
“Doc, what’s it like? To save so many? Must make you feel good.” Last month I lectured at the largest medical school on our planet. I’m not going back there again. I’m sure they mean well. Youngsters determined to heal the world, to wipe out all the diseases in the entire Nocturnal Galaxy. And I get it. They want to hear about my successes, not my failures. They can’t know how the unsolved cases plague me. Like unsolved murders, haunting me in my sleep.
“You have to let it go, Pars. You can’t cure everybody.” That’s what my wife Marketa used to say. She made things simple, my wife. She’s been gone a long time now. While I was off curing a skin disease in the southern plains, she was taken by a swift case of pneumonia. Sometimes I wish one of these diseases would take me away too.
I suppose I sound a bit morbid for a doctor. This is the other reason I started writing. This reflecting calms me, even if I’m ruminating on the bad situations. Writing helps me see my life in perspective. It may not be the life I would have planned, but sometimes responsibilities come to us whether we want them or not.
It’s hard to think of my travels in a linear way. I can’t seem to remember what comes next, what comes before. Lately, I just write whatever incident is strongest in my memory, and little by little, things come into focus. I’ve written about the contaminated well in Farragut, the mosquitoes in Vine Country, the rabid wolves along the northern shore. Each situation bringing death in its own insufferable manner.
“Figured you’d be dead by now.” I hear this a lot. Folks are surprised I’m still alive. I do my best to keep them in awe. Helps with my whole appeal. The miracle doctor. It won’t help to tell them about my secret immune system. That I just don’t get sick. Scientists have never been able to replicate the natural phenomena that keeps me free from catching all these diseases. Some secret laboratory still pours over my DNA, but thus far, they’ve never gotten anywhere. I am an enigma. When death finally comes, it won’t be from a plague or a virus. I assume I’ll just get old and die in my sleep one day. Maybe I’ll fall off a mountain or drown in the Indigo Ocean. Until then, I’ll stay busy. The planet never has enough doctors.
When I lean back and consider my life, I’d have to conclude that the business in Crystal Pass is the strangest. That was only six months after my Marketa had been gone. I remember that night because I was tunneled under blankets, dreaming of her. I’ve recorded all my dreams of her. This was a recurring one, the two of us on our wedding day. Marketa was radiant in pale green, flowers woven into her thick braid. Our dreamlike selves were about to kiss. That’s when I heard the pounding at the door.
“This better be important,” I hollered, lumbering to the door. If not, someone was going to die. These dreams of Marketa were few and far between.
I opened the door to the anxious face of a boy, ten or eleven I think. We stood there at eye level. The boy blinked, temporarily caught off guard by my height deficit, then hurriedly asked, “You Doc Parson?”
“That’s me,” I said and rubbed my eyes. I was barely five feet tall and used to people’s reaction to my small frame. Relief washed over the boy’s face, and I decided not to kill him for this interruption.
“Need you to come, Doc.” He tugged on my hand then entrusted me with a pouch of coins. His people had sent a gift in advance. Things must be bad. They only bring me in when the local docs have failed.
“Where we going?” With solid money in my pocket, I was awake. I pulled on my boots, extinguished the oil lamp, hung my “away” sign.
“Crystal Pass? How long you been riding, son?” Crystal Pass was no day trip.
“Since Monday.” He’d only stopped a few times to rest his horse. I learned his name was Casper and he’d already lost family from some epidemic that was wiping out their people in droves.
“We’ll stop every few hours to water the horses,” I preemptively informed Casper. “If Wizard exhausts herself, your people will have to wait even longer.” I felt I should explain my reasoning to the boy. Of all the horses I’ve owned, Wizard was my favorite. Not the fastest, but certainly the most passionate. If I didn’t keep an eye on her, she’d press herself beyond what was safe.
“How you gonna find out what’s wrong?” I could sense the terror in his breathing. I didn’t have children of my own, but I knew what it was like. Too young to do anything yet old enough to know somebody ought to.
“Don’t have any idea.” I wasn’t going to pull punches, but I could see I had disheartened him. “Look, son, I never have an idea. Can’t tell you how it all comes together. Guess I just ask questions. Don’t mind ruffling feathers to find out what I need to know.” I don’t suppose this was the comfort Casper sought, the miracle doctor, but I don’t believe in lying to children.
Within minutes, we were mounted and galloping west. The icy wind blew my hair back, almost as far out as Wizard’s tale. The sky was a deep blue-black. Bits of starry yellow twinkled down on us from the great expanse. Dots of hope moving us forward. We rode most of the way in silence. You move faster that way.
It was just before dawn on Friday when Casper and I looked down on the settlement at Crystal Pass. Bits of smoke billowed out of cabins, and I could feel the new warmth of spring. I never much liked the heat, which is why I’ve rested my hat in the wintry hills. But this warmth was comforting, like the touch of a soft hand in the dark.
As we entered town, the first landmark was the cemetery, bursting with fresh graves. Without any coaxing, the horses automatically slowed their gait, walking as quietly as such creatures can.
“Ma said to take you to our place first.” Casper did not look at the cemetery. He kept his eyes on the muddy road. He was strong. He’d make a good doctor one day.
Apparently, the town was gracious enough to provide me with a room over the general store where I could snatch moments of sleep. Casper’s mother was the owner.
Macaw was on the porch when we rode up. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d been standing there for hours, waiting for her son. She was a tall, muscular woman with chiseled features; these were offset by creamy brown eyes and infinite eyelashes. Her hair was a long black rope, tied at the end with a piece of twine. The absence of a husband seemed an intentional decision. She did, however, possess a string of children who adored her. Casper had already informed me that two of the six had died right before he left. He hoped the others were still breathing.
“You’re a foolish man, Doc.” Macaw greeted me in a rich voice, the kind you imagined would be commissioned to read long oratory works in a public square.
“Nice to meet you too.” I wasn’t offended. If you don’t understand my health status, I probably do seem like an idiot, exposing myself like this. I gladly shook Macaw’s hand and followed her inside. She motioned to a bar stool.
“Be right back with breakfast. You’ll need to keep up your strength.”
Food. I already liked Macaw.
While she was gone I examined the store. A glass case contained perishable goods. Jars burst with candy and dried fruits and nuts. Barrels of flour and sugar and rice and beans lined the walls. Shelves brimmed with fabrics and various household supplies. I could tell Macaw was proud of what she had built here.
“I was taking a risk, sending my boy after you. Casper’s never been on the other side of the mountain. Didn’t know if I’d ever see him again.” She had returned with a plate of hot food that instantly warmed my blood.
“He’s a brave one,” I told her, My mouth watered at the sight of thick stew and buttery biscuits. I gratefully shoveled the food down while Macaw began to talk:
“First symptoms showed up last week. Annabel Kinsey was the first to go. Doc Devereaux didn’t last long. Buried him on the third day. Right on the corner of the cemetery. He’s near my two youngest. My middle girl — for days she’s been on the verge of perishing. My oldest girl hasn’t left her side. Wiping her brow, bringing her water. Seems like me and the others must be immune to whatever this thing is. Maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part.”
Normally, I don’t do well with incessant talking. It clutters the sick-bed with superfluous information. But Macaw was different. She talked steadily. Not in a chattering way. More like a constant flow of information. Somehow I found solace in its melody. Besides, I knew that once she stopped talking, she’d have to deal with her grief, and I didn’t have time for that. I needed her crisp. She could fall to pieces after I left. And as long as she kept feeding me like this, I figured Macaw could talk as much as she wanted.
“So far we’ve lost sixty-three. Another fifty or so are down at the church. Turned it into a makeshift hospital. After you finish your food, I’ll take you on over. Give you a chance to see this beast up close.”
After that Macaw grew quiet. She started wiping down the counters, organizing jars. It was when I finished my last bite of biscuit that she sat down next to me, a giant compared to my five feet. She leaned in, and I could make out a small freckle under her right eye.
“Please, Doc. We’re disappearing. If you don’t do something, we’ll be gone by the end of the month.
Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak: O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also sore vexed: but Thou, O Lord, how long?” Psalm 6:2-3 (KJV)
Question to Ponder: Where do you need healing in your life?
Book Recommendation: Heal Me, O Lord by Calvin Tadema
Song Recommendation: We Will Go Home (Song of Exile) as sung by Symphoholic
Go on to read Part 2 of Doc Parson.
Written by Heidi Sadler, Inspired by Psalm 6. Copyright © 2016 Heidi Sadler, All Rights Reserved.
-Read Previous Sunday Psalms from Season Two: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5,Episode 6, Episode 7, Episode 8, Episode 9, Episode 10, Episode 11, Episode 12, Episode 13, Episode 14, Episode 15, Episode 16