Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Doctor

The morning air of the town of Brodrem was thick with the thrum of crowds moving and pushing
against each other as they went about their daily business. The hot weather of late summer meant the
streets were saturated with farmers bringing their harvest in to sell at the markets, and large queues
formed at each of the town’s gates. Already many found themselves sweating in the morning heat,
most were hoping to escape into the city before the noon sun bore down upon them.

However, at Brodrem’s North gate, something different was occuring. The crowds of impatient farmers
were desperately parting, allowing a figure to stride through. Whispering amongst themselves they
glared warily at the individual, a tall man wrapped in a large black cloak. Most distinctively of all was
the long pointed beak protruding from the hood, part of the mask of a plague doctor.

Men of such a profession were treated with disgust and fear, forcing the peasants to distance
themselves as much as possible. The Doctor didn’t care. Their foolish superstition even allowed him a
straight path to the gate. If he could, he might have even smiled.

“What a miserable bunch.” Chimed a childish voice from his shoulder. “It’s not everyday they have a
free walking freakshow appear, and they’re just avoiding you!”

The Doctor ignored the voice knowing that no one else could hear it, and even if he turned his head to
to look there’d be nothing there. He moved towards the guards and pulled his identity papers from
under his cloak with a gloved hand. Just like the farmers, the guards wanted as little to do with the
plague doctor as possible. With barely a glance from a distance they quickly waved him through and
into the town of Brodrem. The Doctor was most grateful for their attitude.

His luck did not last long, however. The town's streets were so packed that the masses couldn’t avoid
him even if they wanted to. They still tried to back away from him, but occasionally someone might
brush against him before recoiling away. He wasn’t any more comfortable mixing with them either,
however his main goal today was to resupply his stock of herbs for his medicines. With his personal
bubble increasingly under threat the doctor hurried down the streets, lined with various stalls and
shops, quickly peering into each as he passed.

Perusing through the market, the various details of life in Brodrem began to reveal themselves to him.
Grates along the roadside led down to an ancient sewer system, though with how most these grates
seemed backed up with filth it was obvious it was poorly maintained. At every street corner several
beggars reached out crying for alms. Rats were often chased out from underneath food stalls, though
were otherwise largely left alone as they scurried the streets. None of this escaped the Doctor’s
experienced eyes as he slowly pieced together a picture of the town. Although it was the voice from
his shoulder that put it to words.

“Well, this place is a bit of a shit-hole.” It said with a snigger.

The Doctor frowned at it’s vulgarity, but otherwise ignored the voice again. It wasn’t wrong however.
While it might be average by the standards of this particular kingdom, for a man such as himself there
was a lot to be desired of Brodrem. He shrugged to himself, it didn’t particularly matter to him how the
town was faring.

Eventually the Doctor spotted an apothecary down an almost empty side road, which he happily
headed towards. Even if they weren’t selling the raw herbs at least they might be able to direct him to
a source. He hadn’t even reached the door when it burst open and a man came tumbling out.

“Please!” The man shouted, scrambling madly to his feet. He was fairly tall, but thin as a rail and
dressed in little more than rags. “I’ll- I’ll pay ya back! I’ll pay ya back double!”

Two more men walked out of the doorway onto the street, one a large and muscular individual with
light leather armour, most likely a hired guard. The other was a slight man, dressed in a colourful robe,
probably the owner of the store. Deciding that getting in the middle of this dispute would be of no help
to him at all, the Doctor turned around to avoid it.

“For the last time, get the hell away from my shop,” The smaller man snarled, “You’re driving away
potential customers!”

“Pl-please Sir, I’ll get the money. Jus’ one bottle of medicine, please Sir!” Cried the first man, falling
back to his knees to beg.

“Good gods man, I have no medicine for your made up disease. You street rats are as bad as demis.
Now get lost, I have paying customers waiting! Go on, off with you before I have Gruno teach you
some manners.” With that said the store owner spun around to head back into his shop.

“No Sir, please!” The poor man screamed, flinging himself to his belly and clutching at the hem of the
store owner’s robe. “Me lad is only five sir! Please ya must help him!”

The Doctor had been walking back to the main street, hopeful he might find a herb stall nearby, yet at
the poor man’s shouted words he found himself spinning around.

“Hohoho,” The voice from his shoulder laughed, “You still won’t let it go? How pathetic...”

“Shut it,” The Doctor growled, finally acknowledging his non-existent companion with a slightly unusual,
high-pitched voice. He began striding back towards the commotion.

Not noticing the approaching observer, the store owner knocked away the poor man’s hands in disgust
while the bodyguard kicked him in the gut. Leaving him lying there, they both returned to the

“Dammit…” The man moaned, clutching his stomach with tears in his eyes. He rolled onto his back to
stare at the sky, only to lay eyes on a masked, beaked face peering down at him.

Stifling a cry of terror, he bolted up into a sitting position and stammered at the stranger, “W-w-what do
y-ya want!?”

The Doctor stared at him for a second, before calmly commanding, “Take me to your son.”


Searching through the markets had already taken most the day, so it was late in the afternoon by the
time the man led the Doctor to his house. Not that it could really be called such. Even the word ‘shack’
would slightly glorify the unstable structure before them. The patchwork wooden door barely covered
the entry way and only a single window adorned the small building. The window of course having no
shutters, just a ragged sheet of cloth to be hung up when the days light vanished.

The insides were no better, the entire home consisting of merely two rooms. A large communal area
took up most of the space, with an low empty doorway to one side that presumably led to a sleeping
area. The main room was fairly sparse; a few mats lay scattered upon the bare earthen floor around
the central fire, upon which sat a small bubbling pot. A few crates sat at the sides of the room filled
with various items.

“It-It’s no’much Sir, but please make yerself comfortable.” The poor man said, dusting off a mat.

“Just take me to the patient.” The Doctor replied, barely sparing a glance at the accommodation, “And
don’t call me sir.”

“Of course Si- Um, what would ya like me to call ya?”

“‘Doctor’ will do.”

As the two men quickly moved to the sleeping quarters, ducking under the door-frame, a feminine
voice called out to them.

“Mikhail, are you back? Did you get the medicine?” Asked the woman. She was knelt down beside a
straw bed upon which rested a sleeping child. She turned her head to her husband and fell back onto
her rear in fright as she caught sight of the black cloaked stranger behind him.

The poor man rushed to his wife as she collapsed. “Don’t worry dear, it’s a doctor! He’s come to help

Horror being quickly vanquished by hope for her child, the woman shot back up, “Thank you so much

“Enough, just tell me how the boy is.” The Doctor interrupted, his high voice at odds with his
commandeering tone.

“He’s- He’s bin’ like this for days doctor.” Mikhail said. “He jus’ wouldn’t wake up one mornin’. No
temperature or nuffin’. The other docs’ just said I’m lyin’, but it’s true!”

The Doctor pushed passed the man and his wife, kneeling down beside the bed to examine his
sleeping patient. The boy was small for his age, and bone thin like his parents. Despite the many
differences, another image from the Doctor’s memory covered that of the boy’s. Another young child
lying in bed. Motionless.

Banishing the thought from his mind, the Doctor focused his attention on the task at hand. The boy’s
parents weren’t mistaken; there was no temperature, the pulse was steady, the pupils were normal,
there were no odd swellings or any other physical symptoms. After continuing his checks for another
few minutes he’d come to the sure conclusion that there was nothing wrong with the child. Medically.

“Tell me, what had your son been doing the day before he fell into this state?” The doctor inquired.

“We-well it was jus’ like any other day; he’d gone out on his own to play and came back in the evenin’
for dinner.” The father nervously replied.

“Did he speak about anything, or perhaps anyone unusual?”

“Nah doctor, t-there’s always odd folk out.”

The Doctor leant back, giving the child one last once over, before turning his neck for the parents to
see. Upon the back of the neck two small, dark semi-moon shaped marks could just barely be seen.  
“He’s not ill. He’s cursed.”

“C-cursed?!” The father spluttered, “Who’d do a thing like tha’ ta me lad?!”

“I would presume he’s just unlucky.”

While put off by the dull tone with which the diagnosis was given, the father quickly moved to the main
question. “Can ya heal him?!”

“Of course,” The Doctor replied, standing up. “A man of my position must be able to heal all afflictions.”

Ignoring the excess of praise and pleading of the parents, the Doctor reached into his cloak and began
to rifle through the bags beneath. Eventually he pulled out a handful of small candles and a piece of
chalk, along with what appeared to be a tooth. Without a word to his confused audience he walked
straight past them back into the main room, and began outlining a shape on the floor.

“Wha- What are ya doing doctor?” The father asked as he followed him in.

“Preparing to dispel the curse.” The Doctor replied, not sparing another word of explanation. Leaving
the bewildered man to one side he carefully arranged the candles around a circle drawn on the floor,
complex patterns and runes running through it. Lighting each of the candles the Doctor finally turned
to the father. “Bring your son, quickly.”

The voice from his shoulder chuckled as the father hurried back to the other room. “You seem
confident, are you sure it’s going to go so fantastically? Seeing as you failed with me? It was a pretty
similar curse as well…”

The Doctor clenched his hands into fists, and silently bowed his head. The image of the child once
again invaded the front of his mind, along with other images of his great failure. But they were all
quickly banished. Replacing them was the determination to save this boy.

He did not have to wait long, the father soon carried the motionless boy into the room with the mother
following behind. Under his instructions the boy was placed in the center of the circle.

“Stay back, and stay silent.” The Doctor ordered. When the parents sat cowed in a corner of the room
he took the tooth and placed in upon the flame of one of the candles. Despite the low intensity of the
flame, the tooth quickly caught fire and burnt up immediately. The chalk circle began to glow a pale
blue and the Doctor placed his hands on a line, closing his eyes in concentration.

After only a brief minute had passed, the blue light faded and the doctor opened his eyes.

“It’s done.”

“W-what, already?” The father timidly asked.

“Yes,” The Doctor calmly replied as he stood, “He will wake up on his own in a few hours.”

“Th-thank you doctor!” The man cried, flinging himself at his cloaked saviour’s feet. As the Doctor
retreated backward his head collided with the low doorway to the other room, knocking his pointed
plague mask loose and sending his hands scrambling to catch it. To his horror it began to fall to the
ground. Yet even as the mask fell, a beak remained attached to his face.

The man fell back in shock, staring up at the doctor. A black feathered face with a pointed yellow beak
looked back down upon him in trepidation. “De- Demi-Human.” He muttered with horror.

“Monster!” Screeched his wife, “How dare you disguise yourself to sneak into our home!”

Completely forgotten, their son continued to sleep in the dying light of the candles.

The Doctor crouched down to pick up his mask and wordlessly walked towards the door as he
refastened it to his face. Without a glance backwards he sped out onto the street.

Recovering at the same time the man and his wife both leapt to their feet and hurried after. The Doctor
finally turned to them as they exited the house. The mother’s face was dyed red in rage and disgust,
while the father’s was still white from shock and confusion. Yet despite this he had enough sense of
self to toss a handful of copper coins over, then pull his wife back into their home.

“Well,” The voice from the Doctors shoulder chirped. “That went better than usual.”

This is a piece I wrote for a critique group I recently joined, special thanks to Diggpen, Errorwrites and