A voice cried out, shattering the night. One after another lanterns struck up, illuminating the camp like angry spirits. The fire had gone out and as people raced back and forth across camp, their voices pleading desperately for answers, Jessie watched them from inside his wagon. Lights drifting in the darkness. Inside his stomach tightened. Shouts and fire always presaged pain.
The flap of the wagon burst open. It was Percy. His face looked drawn and pale.
"What is it?" Cade already had one put on and was pulling up the second.
"Henry. He's come up sick."
By the time Jessie and Cade made their way over to the boy's wagon it seemed the entire camp had gathered round.
"Alright now," Jessie said, straining to find the tone that Cade seemed to wield so easily. "We're here now. It's alright. We'll check on him."
None of them moved. In the darkness of the desert, their faces lit by nothing more than a handful of torches and the moon's pale light casting down on them, they looked dead. Drawn, gaunt faces. Dark shadows ruminating under their eyes. Staring at them, Jessie wondered if maybe it was true. If whatever had stricken the boy was contagious--or if more primal forces were at play--then maybe they were all dead and it was Jessie and Cade, and Percy too who were the only ones in denial.
"Let me see here."
Cade had climbed into the carriage and was hovering over the boy. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Sickness and disease, while common in caravans, were not his strength. Jessie had been there two seasons back, when a breakout of measles had threatened to wipe out an entire convoy. After two days of inaction, Cade made the hard call. Jessie still remembered the looks on all those people's faces when Cade told them what needed to be done. He still remembered that ferocious feeling of absence in his gut when Cade told him they'd need to burn the bodies. Living and dead. He spent the next three nights wondering if they'd come for them in their sleep. The living, and the dead, to enact some terrible vengeance for what they'd done. They never did, but the fear had never truly left him. At night, even now, all these years later, he still kept a keen ear out, listening for torches being lit, the shuffling of feet, and the murmur of conspiratorial voices.
"What you think?" Jessie asked. It was more for him. Something to keep his mind here, in the present.
Cade's hand continued to work the rough stubble of his chin. If not for all the years together, Jessie would have missed the near imperceptible nod of his head. "I don't know," it said, "but not good."
"May I?" Percy held a lantern out, offering it to Cade. It represented more than a question, Jessie knew. And by the look on Cade's face, so did he. But like Jessie, Cade understood that hard men break when they're too rigid for their own good. The momentary relinquishing of leadership would do better for all of them.
Cade nodded, took the lantern, and with his other hand, offered it to Percy.
It took the young scholar by surprise. From his vantage point, Jessie could see a shadow of fear pass over his face, as if he believed Cade was going to strike him. But, to his credit, Percy straightened his back and accepted the help.
"Henry?" His voice was soft, gentle. A harsh contrast to Cade's heavy silence. The boy responded by groaning. His hands were on his stomach and his was contorted in pain. "I'm going to use some of my tools to try and see what's wrong. They're not going to hurt you." Reaching into his bag, Percy pulled out a "U" shaped set of... Jessie didn't know. They almost looked like reins you'd put on a plough to attach it to a horse, except the ends of them were attached to rubber tubing.
When he turned to look at what the doctor was going to use on him, Henry drew back, startling the crowd.
A clamor rose from the crowd. Whispers of dark magic and city folk experimenting on sick kids.
"It's ok," Percy said to Henry, though his voice was raised loud enough for everyone to hear. "See?" He held out the tool, extending it the way you might a pair of pinchers. It failed to garner any comfort from his patient. Now it was Percy's chance to draw back. He held the utensil to his chest like one would a beloved heirloom. Then, softening, he asked, "Would you like to use it?"
This peaked Henry's interest. Lifting his hand, the boy reached out and touched the metal. Again he flinched, pulling his hand back as soon as he touched, eliciting another gasp from the crowd. Somewhere in the back, a man cursed and took off for another part of camp. Apparently no longer willing to sit through what he presumably assumed was some sort of pagan ritual.
For his part, Henry gathered his courage and reached out again, this time touching the metal apparatus longer.
"Would you like to try it out on me?"
Henry's eyes shifted to Percy. There was suspicion there, certainly. But also the eagerness of youth. He would get to use this new, wonderous
The following challenges were completed during the writing exercise:
Begin Start typing to begin
Words Reach 50 words
Words Reach 100 words
Location A desert
Event Someone gets food poisoning
Letter Use the letter F
Words Reach 200 words
Words Reach 300 words
Words Reach 400 words
Words Reach 500 words
Words Reach 600 words
Words Reach 700 words
Words Reach 800 words
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