This Weeks Prompt: 9: Dr. Eben Spencer plot.
The Research: Who is Dr. Eben Spencer?
The year was 1864, and never had Ebenezer had such trouble writing. His hand shook violently, always had since he was young. A deplorable defect in a doctor, it rendered him a useless surgeon, despite his practical knowledge of the practice. Few patients want long jagged cuts running through them, and as such he maintained his work as a herbalist. On occasion, during this great war betwixt states, he was called upon to amputate a man’s limb or tear free a ball of lead from a slab of flesh.
And this year had made it all the worse. Loss after loss was being heaped upon the Northern armies, rout after rout, and now some fool of a drunk named Grant was in command. Ebenezer wasn’t far from the lines of fighting, and it was this more than distant patriotism that refused to grant his hands rest. No, he hadn’t done any fighting himself. A rifle in his hands might as well belong to the enemy camp. But there were always risks, this close to shot and cannon.
Despite the shaking of his hands, the letter managed to become legible on the third or fourth try. It was a missive, to an old acquaintance out in western Virginia, informing him of Ebenzer’s current plan and destination. Like many men who were near death, Ebenezer had a revival of faith, albeit not the chaplain’s kind. No, no, Ebenezer had faith in older things. Things that he, in distant providence, only dimly recalled from across the sea in Arkham. Of remedies lost to Indian, of rat-things, and of terrible old men with daunting powers.
And certainly, Arkhams woods was not the only one where the man in black, towering with his dread book walked. These things, he thought and said, would secure victory without a single shot fired. Or at the least, he thought, they would secure his life.
No, no and if the danger was to pass, if the war was to be won, such a place must be found. Ebenzer was no fool, however. Like any zealot of a new found faith, he was keenly aware of danger. He bore a crucifix in his pocket and a bible on his breast when he set out from camp all dressed in blue. He had set things in order, lest the wild powers and dark riders sweep him away.
So through the hills and woods he went, to a little town nestled far from gunfire at the moment. To little Greenwood, in the new state West Virginia. He had asked local regiments about strange stories. Not where they could find witches or healers, no man would confess to knowing that. But, strange places? Towns inhabited by weird folks, strangers that act funny? Those they knew, and those were the places around which fog circled and haunted by strange spirits.
Greenwode was little more than a chapel and perhaps two farms. Maybe three, Dr. Spencer thought, as the fields seemed to bleed through any attempt at partition. Perhaps two had become one or one was in the process of slowly dividing into two. The farmers here were tall men, large and with necks that flowed seamlessly into their bodies. They were slow to speak, eyes squinting at Dr. Spencer as if he were some dreamed up phantasm walking among them.
In time, he managed to persuade them to direct him to a healing woman. He had received a dreadful cough, he explained. And despite the best of his profession, he attested with shaking hands that he could not heal himself.
“Not a doctor in all of Providence, no, in all of Rhode Island could give me cure. I fear that this particular terror is harbinger of something greater,” he said frowning, “Yet, I heard out here there may be some cure to every malady. Some terrible plague I fear is coming down soon upon me, and I wish it gone.”
The farmer he spoke to was silent, staring at him blankly for a moment, and then pointing with pitchfork towards the western woods. He said there was a woman up in the wooded hills, in a cave between two bent sycamore trees that could do something about most anything. How she got so famous, he didn’t know. He’d always thought her daft and mad, but if Dr. Spencer wanted someone it was probably her.
The woods did take a peculiar shape up toward the cave the farmer had noted. The tops seemed to sag, holding some great invisible weight from touching the ground. Dr. Spencer mused as the branches seemed to curl into spirals towards the healers home, bent away as if in fear or wonder. The roots seemed to weave themselves into a net to catch incautious feet in front of the great maw that was the cave.
The woman sat there in the cave, lit only by a small fire and smoking a long pipe. She was wrapped in cloth, waiting by a fire, hunched over and with shoulders knotted back. Branch arms with twig fingers wrapped around the pipe, smoke serpents winding upward. A number of pouches hung by a line across the top of the cave, some smoldering and smoking above the fire.
“New face in the door, new smell as well. Tell Alice why you have come. Speak quickly, time is still moving,” the woman said, raising her blindfolded head.
“I have …a cough, deep in my lungs,” Dr. Spencer said, aping illness as best he could.
“And? What of it?”
“I heard you could cure any-”
“A cough is a simple aliment for even a failed wise woman to fix. They don’t come to Alice for simple cures, fear and common sloth keeps them back. Why do you come so far on your own?”
“It’s a peculiar cough, it’s out smarted every doctor I’ve seen or met. I’ve fear it is a harbinger of something worse, something fatal,” Dr. Spencer replied, crossing into the many smoked cave.
“All men have a fatal disease lurking in their spirit. Sometimes lungs, sometimes heart, sometimes head, sometimes throat. Sometimes it is shakes, others its aches, and for the special ones, it a sudden stabbing of steel or bone. Is that what you wish Alice to cure?”
“Ma’am, if what you have in mind will cure my cough, I’ll take it,” Dr. Spencer said. Alice chuckled, and reach up to the bags hanging. One she grabbed and lowered, a small brown leather bag that Dr. Spencer swore squirmed between her fingers.
“This, this will do. Its an old work, from the old country. Put it on your chest, and your…ah…cough will go,” Alice said, handing the bag to Dr. Spencer.
“Oh, thank you, thank you. Now…what is your fee?”
“Fee? Is charity already dead in this country? Get you gone, that is my fee.”
As he left, Dr. Spencer opened the small bag, and clenched it when he saw what was in. There was a a polyp of flesh that was at one moment squamous, at another moment feathery, at the next full of eyes and claws with fur sticking between as his hands shook the bag violently. Dr. Spencer stared transfixed, the shifting thing in the bag captivating him. At one moment, it was animal, vegetable, and mineral. It seemed to pull itself out of the bag, up toward Dr. Spencer. It seemed, to the good doctor, rude to not assist the strange thing and lift it to his chest.
A few days later Dr. Spencer returned to camp, his shakes completely calmed. He smiled and jovially spoke with his fellow man. He smiled teeth now crisp and white, explaining how a family emergency called him to the hinterlands. And after the battle, he and several of patients vanished in the night. The men, they say he can still be found in little valleys and creeks, silent and slow like a statue given life.
I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that this was one of the most difficult corpses I’ve stitched together. I admit, fellow members, that I am not particularly fond of it. Perhaps it strikes an inspirational chord with one of you?
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