by M.D Schultz
He comes to heal those most desperate, but be very careful what you wish for.
|It was the year of the fox and hound when a terrible plague struck the city of Fordalgo. Like a violent storm, it swept over the inhabitants without warning and left piles of the dead for the pyre. There were few jobs more dangerous than a doctor, but there was a lot of money to be made tending to the sick. For Faraday, there was no better job, and he traveled deep into the infested neighborhoods peddling miracle cures to the desperate. Of course, it was no more than sugar water, but he found that a positive outlook on life improved people’s odds of recovery. If his patients believed they were cured, often recovery followed as stress did much to advance the illness. Lest you think ill of him, he was not the only medical professional conducting himself in this manner. You see, there was no cure, and until a miracle was found, people had to suffer through. Men like Faraday offered a helping hand to those with no one left. For this reason, he traveled to the medical ward in the city center day after day.
The morning hours were truly awful times to stroll through the city. They torched the bodies then, and nothing smelled worse than burning hair and skin. A putrid, oily stench that took weeks to get out of your clothes. It was bearable when there was no wind, but Faraday had no such luck that morning. His mask was more a tool to keep the stench out than protect from the plague.
The medical wards hid beneath massive tents erected in the town square. It was like a carnival; only the air smelled of alcohol, and the people were not smiling. Thousands of beds were gathered here with only a dozen or so nurses to care for them; they would often become patients the following morning. There were not enough healthy men and women who volunteered for such a job; that’s why the reward was so attractive.
Faraday did his usual rounds, checking on those he had treated days before to be thanked for their miraculous recovery or catalog the time of death. When his placebo failed, nobody survived to tell the tale, and so rumors of his miracle cure spread as quickly as the Fordalgo pyres. Due to the shortage of nurses, however, he was forced to administer treatments himself. It was a risk that he did not like and was better suited for those beneath him. Yet, when there is no one left at the bottom, there can be no one on top.
“Doctor, I don’t think she is going to make it.” A nurse said in passing as he approached one of his patients. She was a young woman who had come to the ward more than a week ago. It just started as a cough and quickly progressed into a burning fever. Her breath was ragged now, and blood stained her lips. “Do you think another dose would help?” The nurse asked checking the woman’s temperature with a gloved hand.
“No, she won’t last much longer. It’s best not to waste our reserves.” Faraday checked her pulse which was slow and irregular, and in her right hand, he found an unusual medallion. It depicted a snake eating its tail with an eye in the middle. It likely had some kind of religious importance to her.
“Plea..se, Creata...Gayzu. Sa..ve me…” She bit down on her tongue until blood spilled forth like a fountain.
“Nurse, quickly get the gag!” He shouted as she began to convulse. Faraday struggled to hold her down as they wrapped a thick cloth about her head and through her mouth. It was at least enough to prevent her from chewing through her tongue.
“Take her to critical care.” He said, passing her off so he could attend those less ill. Sending someone to critical care was as good as a death sentence, and everybody knew it. Most days, doctors didn’t even bother visiting that section of the ward, which was home only to the corpse wagons and robbers emptying the pockets of the dead and dying. It was no surprise then when few people noticed an unusual doctor tending to the sick in that infamous corner, a doctor who was at least a foot taller than most men and wore a raven shaped mask with a crooked nose. Nobody saw his face, and yet, nobody cared too. The nurses were more than happy to deliver that young woman into his care, and not another word was said.
For hours, Faraday tended to the ailing and was relieved to find many of his patients recovering nicely. It was nice to deliver good news for a change, and it made him feel fulfilled in his duties. Yet, those that simply didn’t make it always clawed at the corner of his mind. Was it any coincidence that his mind turned towards that young woman when he heard the screams late that night?
He was filling out the last of his reports at a shabby desk by lantern light when the commotion broke out. It was coming from critical care and soon, the city guard responded marching through the tents with loaded muskets. Faraday followed with the few nurses that remained, and what they found was nothing short of a nightmare.
The young women who once barely clung to life now preyed upon an unfortunate grave robber. His neck was torn wide open and she drunk from its spring like a feral beast, tongue longer than a carnival whip. Her hands were split open with razor claws peeking through the holes in her palms and her clothes torn to shreds by the umbilical appendages that convulsed wildly. Yet, despite her horrible presence, there were tears in her eyes as if she could no longer control herself.
The guards didn’t hesitate, firing upon the abomination which recoiled with screams that paralyzed those too close. She launched herself at a man and plunged her claws through his chest, tearing him into halves with a sickening crunch. Another shot rang out, and the bullet pierced her heart, yet, with the last of her bestial strength, she tore his head from his shoulders before collapsing to the ground sobbing. They burned her still breathing the last of her screams now more that of a howling demon.
As the last of the corpse burned away, something in the flickering light caught his attention, a shadow of a man too big to be human, wearing an unusual raven shaped mask with a crooked nose. There was something off about this, and the guards must have noticed; they ran in his direction, calling after the figure that swiftly descended into the sewers.
Faraday wasted no time chasing after them; his curiosity simply had to be satiated. With a lantern in toe, he dropped down into sewers with the other men, but as he found his bearings, there was nobody there to follow. The guards had vanished into thin air. He turned around and found that even the entrance he had come through was gone. It was too late to turn back, and he was not alone.
An impossible tall stranger stood in the shadows in the corner of his eye. It was that man, no, he was a doctor. Yet, there was something in his movements that wasn't quite right, a flickering motion like a moth caught in a window. He turned the lantern and, for a brief moment, caught a glimpse of the truth, a hideous feathered beast with skittering feet and a nose like the trunk of an elephant.
"What are you?" he asked, his voice shaking and breath visible upon the air.
"I am the watcher, the keeper, the voice for the voiceless.” He emerged from the shadows twisting his head in a quick jerking motion like that of a mantis. “Listen close, pupa, you monkeys scratch upon the walls and tease at forces beyond your ken. Yet, I have sympathy." The doctor offered his hand. "With me, I will make you more; I will help you see, I will cure you of ignorance and gently rest your head upon the madness you seek."
There wasn’t a soul who could hear his screams that night, which labored on into the early hours. When the morning light crept over the horizon, Faraday was no more, and, for the men and women of that tragic city, the plague would be a thing of the past for the Fordalgo ripper was born.