The Doctor’s Tale


          I wrote this short story to help an unsaved friend, a young mother, deal with the anger she felt toward God while her husband was dying from cancer.

 

THE DOCTOR’S TALE

 

 

          "A Stranger!  There’s a Stranger in town!" like wind-driven sparks leaping through a drought-stricken forest, the fleet-footed children sped the news from cottage to rustic cottage.

          Sturdy timber doors and lime-glazed windows thrown suddenly open caught and fanned the flames, "What does he look like?  Which road did he use?"

          "S’not a he!  It’s a Girl! and she came on the Forest Road!"  The dry tinder of isolation exploded in a rushing conflagration: the whole town was ablaze with curiosity.

          Bang! Bang! Bang!  The fastest of the youthful runners, reaching the northern-most edge of the town, pounded impatiently at the door of a small stone and timber cabin. "Doc!  Doc Peters!  You’ve got to come quick!" he managed to shout before his winded lungs strangled his exuberance.

          Black bag in hand, the startled old man burst through his door.  "What is it?!  Who’s been hurt?  What’s wrong?" he shot the rapid-fire questions at the mop-haired boy panting before him.

          The youth, realizing what he had done, burst into laughter which made further demands on his already belabored breathing. "No!  No, Doc!" he finally managed to say through his chuckles. "No’uns been hurt.  There’s a Stranger in town!  Everybody’s gatherin’ at the Circle to welcome her!"

 

          Isolated in their peaceful Valley, safe within the arms of the High Mountains, the people of Hidden Meadow usually lived a quiet life of relative prosperity and health.  The Great Forest, which surrounded them for miles in each direction, effectively blanketed them from most of the influences of the Outside World.

          They breathed clean air. They drank pure water.  Their food was wholesome and simple.  The innocent people of the Valley had not been touched by the stresses of hurry or want.

          As a result, Old Doc Peters was never hard pressed to keep his rounds.  He would appear, black bag in hand, whenever needed.  His tasseled white mane would shake with joy when, guided by his hand, life opened the sacred door and breathed its first.  His familiar bushy brows, frosted with the snow of age, would squint in shared pain as he carefully reset the occasional broken bone or tenderly mended with cat-gut stitches the living fabric of mortal flesh.  From his wrinkled and age-spotted hands the people gladly received the medications which he rarely but wisely prescribed.  And yes, those caring hands, wet with tears, would close the eyes of those who could not close their own and then reach to comfort those who also cried.

          Trusted guide, venerated counselor, life-long friend, and beloved physician: Doc Peters was that and more to each of the inhabitants of Hidden Meadow.  He was, that is, until that fateful day.

 

          "Cummon, Doc," said the impatient boy as he pulled the physician along by the hand, "ya got to see her.  She’s beautiful!"

          The young Stranger had walked directly from the Forest to the Green in the center of town, where she stood in silent vigil.  Like waves of a rising tide the townspeople surged around her only to pause, frozen at the crest, by what they saw.

          Her long garments were simple and flowing, colored with the hews of the earth.  Her luxuriant hair tumbled down her back in a golden waterfall that shone like the sun.  The perfect, child-like beauty of her face forever redefined that word in their thoughts and dreams.  The sky-blue light of her dancing eyes pierced hearts and captured all who fell into their depths.  In her arms she carried a rainbowed sprig of wildflowers gathered during her journey through the forest.  She looked alive and full of the best things in life, the prettiest young lass that any of them had ever seen.

          Caught in the spell of her beauty, in hushed silence, the people of Hidden Meadow surrounded the traveler and waited for her to speak.

          She smiled at them and, when at last she spoke, the people heard in the melody of her sweet voice the song of the first robin in spring, or the gentle chimes of the clear mountain brook as it tumbled its cleansing way down from snowy heights.

          "My name is Mandy," she said slowly and softly (yet all could hear what she said).  "I am a healer.  I have come to help you if you will let me."  Then she lowered her eyes and waited to hear their verdict.

          Such was her effect on them that no one bothered to protest, "But we already have a doctor!"  Some did think to themselves, If one healer is good, two will be better.

          A tiny little girl, peeking from behind her mother’s calico skirt did ask, "But where’s her little black bag?"

          Mandy laughed in response and held her arms open to the questioning child.  To the little girl’s delight, the beautiful Stranger swept her up and tossed her high into the warm afternoon sky, only to catch her securely in the strong arms of a hug.

          Freeing one arm, Mandy touched the little girl’s forehead and said softly, "My medicine is here!" Then she touched a spot over the child’s heart, saying, "And here!"  Next the beautiful Stranger extended her free arm and spun in a circle that encompassed the surrounding mountains and forest.  Her voice rose as she spoke and seemed to echo from the heights, "My medicine is the whole great realm of Mother Nature and the wondrous power locked in the heart of all humanity!"

          On the outer rim of the Circle of spectators, Old Doc Peters muttered something and a great sadness plowed furrows in his once happy face.  What he said would one day haunt those few who had heard his words, "Each much choose his own way."  Then he turned and walked silently from the Circle.

          So it was, that the kind people of the Valley opened their hearts and homes to Mandy, the beautiful Stranger from the forest, the healer.  Not a few were jealous of her vitality and exceptional good looks.  All the eligible young men soon had new ideas of what to do with their time.

          So it was, also, that when she began to speak of new ways of healing, the people gave her ear.  "Do you think," she asked them one day, her voice carrying through the clustered shops that encircled the Green, "that my health and beauty came by accident or chance?  I tell you, NO!"

          Indoors, a young seamstress paused mid-stitch with needle and thread held high.  Dust settled at the feet of the shop-keeper’s daughter, her broom, unaccustomed to idleness, stood rigidly at attention in her hands.  Forgotten bread dough began its slow rise again as the Baker’s wife stood poised with her flour-dusted ear near an open window.  No one ever realized that Mandy’s daily out-door health class had become so well attended (especially among the young women who had the most to gain, or lose).

          Outside, Mandy continued to instruct her growing group of students, "I have found the secret of beauty and health!  You must forsake everything man-made and return to the simple power of Nature.  Chemicals and medicines are poisons which destroy the body’s own ability to heal itself."

          These were new words and new concepts to the simple people of the Valley.  In truth, they did not feel that they had been overly exposed to chemicals or over-medicated.  Yet, they had the proof before them, in the person of the Mandy, the beautiful.

          Over the next few weeks more and more began to listen to the gospel of health that this Stranger preached.  She was an ardent and zealous advocate for the cause she championed.

          By the time one summer month had passed, the Town Council had voted to ban all chemical fertilizers and insecticides from the Valley.  And people were not calling on Old Doc Peters as often.  After all, he was OLD and set in his ways.  Ready to retire!  What did he know about the power of Nature, or natural childbirth, or Meditation?

          Slowly, like the changing of seasons, the peoples affections for the elderly physician turned from the warm joy of summer to the cold bleakness of winter.   There came a day when no one called for the doctor.  Then another.  And another.

          Always Mandy was there, continuously helping the people grow in the wisdom of the new ways and teaching them to despise the old.

          In the late summer, another meeting of the Town Council was called.  This time Doc Peters was not invited.

          Late that night the aging physician was roused from his bed by a loud and insistent knocking on his door.  "Yes! Yes, I’m coming!" he cried.  He threw on his clothes and grabbed his black bag, not even turning on the light to accomplished this oft practiced routine.

          Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Still the knocking continued, growing even more impatient and demanding.  The Doctor hurriedly threw open his door.  And then stopped in stunned silence.

          Many voices, gruff with hostility, assaulted him in a chorus of treacherous anger, "There he is finally!  Grab his stuff!  Let’s do what we have to do."

          Rough hands tore the beloved black satchel from his grasp.  Then, those who came, saw that ancient face suddenly impaled with sorrow and they stopped. Guilt gave voice to Silence and eternity took its momentary toll on the conscience of the mob.

          As he stared back into a sea of angry torch-lit faces, the elderly physician spoke only one short phrase, "So it’s come to this."  It was a statement, not a question, for the time for questions was over.  As one, the mob regained its voice and roared its defiance.  Visibly, the future draped its dark and heavy mantle over the old man’s now stooping frame.  A single tear watered the furrows of his cheek, the first drop of a season of rain.

          Outcast and alone, the Doctor "retired" to a dismal shack in the mountains.  From its heights he watched over the town that had been his charge those many years: forever out of his reach, he had been banned from ever practicing medicine there again.

          But in Hidden Meadow all was not well.  With the onslaught of colder weather, a deadly virus had broken out in the town.  The herbs and remedies that Mandy rushed here and there seemed to mask the symptoms, but offered no permanent healing.

          Soon everyone in the Valley, from the youngest to the oldest, was feeling the painful cramps and burning fever that marked the onset of the disease.  Nor was any comfort found in the joys of new life, for the sickness also attacked the fruit of the womb and children were born deformed.

          The little girl from the Circle, once so full of questions, was the first to die.  The first of many.  Everyone was sick.  Except for Mandy, the beautiful.

          And old Doc Peters, alone on the mountain.

          The sickly Council was hastily assembled. Those people of the Town who still could, crowded into the Courtroom.  The call went out for Mandy, the healer, to come and stand before them.

          She came, weeping, into their presence.  "Its not my fault!" she pleaded.  "I came too late.  All those years of chemicals, and fertilizers and, and, insecticides!  All those poisonous pills you swallowed!"

          Mandy didn’t look so beautiful to them now as she broke down in sobs, but she did look like a grieving mother.  That carried a beauty, too, which many noted.

          "Its not my fault!" she continued, raising her hands imploringly to those who would judge her.  "The power of Nature is strong!  We should not be sick like this!  Give me time and I promise I will find a natural way to make us well again."  The young healer included herself among the suffering, though in fact, she was not.  Hearts were touched by her concern, the elders bent together to discuss their options.

          "UNLESS!…" the sudden shout exploded from Mandy.

The entire Courtroom jumped at the force of the sound.  She held every eye captive as she rose to her feet and turned to face the startled members of the Town Council.

          "UNLESS," she continued, shouting even louder, "OUR WATER SUPPLY HAS BEEN POISONED BY SOMEONE LIVING IN THE MOUNTAINS!"

          "What are you saying, young lady?" the Chief Elder of the Council demanded, not liking where this would lead.

          "WHEN DID THIS SICKNESS START?" demanded the woman, passion, like brands of fire, burning from each of her eyes.  "WHOSE WOUNDED HEART WOULD BEST BE HEALED BY OUR CALAMITY?"

          Disbelief formed a fleeting mask on the faces before her.  She spun to face the gathered Townspeople and raised her open hands toward them.  "WHOSE VENGEANCE WOULD BE SERVED IF WE ALL DIED FOR LACK OF MEDICINE?  IF HE CARES SO MUCH, WHY DID HE ALLOW YOU ALL TO GET SICK?"

          The people sat in stunned silence as the meaning of these words first touched, then gripped their hearts.  Doubt faded under the weight of Suspicion, only to be crushed, too soon, by the impenetrable mass of solid Conviction.  The morbid despair on the faces before her quickly changed to anger, then to wounded rage.

          Vindicated in her own eyes, Mandy, the proud and beautiful once more, stormed out of the Courthouse.  Let them come to their senses, she thought, then they will come crawling back to me!

          Such was her emotional state that she failed to notice a young Stranger walking into Town from the Forest Road.  He carried in his hand a small black bag.

          If the truth were ever to be learned, Mandy herself had unknowingly brought the pestilence down on the people.  Inoculated (by the medicine she now despised) in her forgotten youth, the illness had no effect on her.  In far off Dark City, where she was from, it was not even considered a threat.  But, unaware, she carried it to all she touched and cared for until it conquered even the strongest in unprotected Hidden Meadow.

          Inside the Courtroom the sickly people had begun a slow chant.  Foreign to their nature, this macabre dirge sprang from the depths of their sorrow: they had been betrayed by one whom they had trusted.  Remembering not the indignities that they had done, they had found a scapegoat for their pain.

          "WHY?  WHY?" began the terrible melody. 

          "WHY DOES THE DOCTOR ALLOW US TO SUFFER?

          WHERE IS HE NOW THAT CAUSED ALL OUR PAIN?

          THE DOCTOR COULD HEAL US IF ONLY HE CHOSE TO.

          WHY, IF HE LOVES US, DOES SORROW REMAIN?"

The sad notes and questioning, accusing words filtered out to Center Circle where the city used to welcome strangers.

          The young man, hearing, strode purposefully through the Circle and up the Courthouse steps.

          Inside the dirge continued, growing louder and more mournful with each new word.  Suddenly, the door was thrown open with a bang!  The people started with shocked surprise, as though caught in an evil and wicked act.  Intense feelings of guilt welled up in their hearts.

          The young man stepped boldly and fully into the room and, in a low but intense voice, demanded of all present, "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY FATHER?"

          The people gasped!  They had forgotten.  Years before Doc Peters had sent his only son away to medical school in Big City.  This tall young man who stood before them must be that same son, grown and graduated.

          "HE HAS A BLACK BAG!" someone shouted and bedlam broke out in the Courtroom.  The people had been so deluded by lies that truth had become an ugly and terrible enemy.

          "ITS THE DOCTOR’S BRAT, COME TO BRING US MORE POISONS!"

          "NOT ON MY FAMILY HE WON’T!"

          "LET’S GET HIM!"

          "WE’LL TEACH HIM AND HIS NO GOOD DAD A LESSON!"

          And so the innocent young doctor was seized by the mob.  His cursed black bag was stripped from his hand.  The new suit he had worn so proudly was shredded from his body.  He was beaten mercilessly.

          "STOP!" shouted the Chief Elder above the din.  The violence abated momentarily.  The pack had the taste of blood and would not be silenced for long.

          The Elder filled the void with words, but he sought not to squelch their anger only to redirect.  "IF WE KILL THIS MAN, HIS FATHER WILL SUFFER SUDDEN LOSS, BUT KNOW NOTHING OF OUR AGONIZING PAIN.  A QUICK DEATH IS TOO GOOD FOR THIS PRACTICER OF MEDICINE!"

          The raging beast faltered in its attack, smelling fresh blood in another direction.  "WHAT DO YOU WANT US TO DO?" it howled in sadistic glee.

          "THROW THIS ONE IN THE MORGUE!" came the surprising response.  "LET HIM CATCH THE DISEASE HIS FATHER GAVE US!  THEN IN A COUPLE OF DAYS THROW HIS DYING CARCASS ON HIS FATHER’S FRONT PORCH!"

* * * * *

          "My son!  My son, what have they done to you and why?"  The elder Doctor rocked the still form of his only son in his arms.  "You were innocent, yet they hated you so.  Did they do this because of some supposed evil that I have done?"  Yet, in all this, the Great Physician could not bring himself to hate the people.  He would love them still.

          Thrown on the ground next to his helpless son was a the young doctor’s black bag with a note attached to it.  Scrawled in a nearly illegible hand were the words of an ancient proverb, "Physician, heal thyself."  Doc Peters shed a tear.

          Then, unbelievably, the tattered bundle of human flesh stirred in his arms.  Eyelids fluttered and opened.  A dry and desperate whisper escaped from those parched and broken lips, "F-f-father, I live!  T-take from my bl-blood… and make a serum… for the people!"

          Doc Peters sprang into action.  He grabbed his son’s medical bag and shouted to his mountain fastness, "WHERE THERE’S LIFE, THERE’S HOPE!"

          Far below, in a sleeping town of dying people, the shout was heard and many wondered at its meaning.

* * * * *

          Two weeks later mysterious notes began appearing overnight in the town of Hidden Meadow.  At first, the Town Council thought they were the results of a cruel hoax, but when they continued appearing, night after night, they decided sterner action was to be taken.

          A reward was offered for capture of the Purveyor of the Notes.  Sentries were posted.  Reading of the Notes was banned.  The elders themselves rose before dawn each morning, ill as they were, and scoured through the town to gather all Notes that had been distributed during the previous night.

          Still the silent messengers persisted.  It was as though the Notes were falling from the heavens.

          Yet some of the townspeople did read the Note and news of its message spread among the desperate citizens of the Valley.

          Many disbelieved what they heard.  From their bitter and diseased hearts the Sad Song of the Courtroom would always play its broken and hopeless chords.  From that day on, they would spread its shadowy rumor in an effort to squash the false hope that the Notes would bring.  When Death or Pain or Sorrow approached, they would again chant the familiar tones of their Litany of Despair, the song of the deceived:

          "WHY?  WHY?" began the terrible melody. 

          "WHY DOES THE DOCTOR ALLOW US TO SUFFER?

          WHERE IS HE NOW THAT CAUSED ALL OUR PAIN?

          THE DOCTOR COULD HEAL US IF ONLY HE CHOSE TO.

          WHY, IF HE LOVES US, DOES SORROW REMAIN?"

 

          But forever wafting down on the gentle night currents, from the Hospital in the Mountains, would fall the Prescriptions signed by the Doctor’s own hand:

 

 

MY SON IS ALIVE!

A CURE HAS BEEN FOUND!

COME TO THE DOCTOR,

AND LIVE!

 

 

 

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About Robert Dennis Wilson

Author, Poet, Avid Reader, Scroll Saw Artist, & Singer-Songwriter. Telecommuting programmer/report writer by day.
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