Medicine Man: A Short Story

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A Native American healer examines the futility of his abilities in a world where salvation is achieved through death.

Submitted: March 31, 2019

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Submitted: March 31, 2019

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 People littered the small knoll just outside the rustic cabin. The remote valley had become a Mecca for the hopelessly ill. The valley was not the promise of hope the infirm sought, but its lone inhabitant referred to as the Healer. For the span of a decade, pilgrims sought out this reclusive man. Stories and testimonials of his abilities spread like wildfire among those for whom modern medicine failed to provide salvation. The testimonials revived hope of deliverance from disease and did not fall on deaf ears. The ill took notice. However, others, the leeches, who profited from treating human suffering took notice as well. A slight murmur began to rise from the crowd as the door of the cabin opened. A young woman crying tears of joy emerged, followed by a middle-aged man. The man was of average build and dressed plainly in denim and flannel, however, his prominent Native-American features were hard to miss to even the most near sighted observer. At his appearance, those who could walk lumbered toward him, others crawled or were carried. They frantically converged upon him. The young woman with tears streaming down her cheeks nimbly navigated the throng of sick. Holding up his hand, the man said wearily, "That is all for today. I must rest or I will not be able to continue." A drastic change in the demeanor of the crowd was evident. Their spirits sagged like a sail emptied of wind. Their vehicle of hope was, for the time, stalled. All the assembled could do was wait until the breeze of promise returned to power their hopes. As the crowd resettled themselves in the late afternoon sun, the healer re-entered the modest dwelling and closed the door.

The cabin was humble by all standards. It consisted of two rooms and was sparsely furnished. A table with a kerosene lamp and four chairs marked the kitchen area from the sleeping area. A wood burning stove for heating the structure and cooking was tucked in the far corner right of the table. A pallet for sleeping lay immediately to the left of the front door. These were the only creature comforts he afforded himself. The waning daylight poked through the windows casting shadows on the dirt floor. The shadows of two people reminded him he had guests. "Gentlemen, please sit", as he pushed his dark braided hair behind his shoulders. The two well-dressed men took seats next to one another, while their host positioned himself directly across from them. An awkward silence ensued as the Healer lit the kerosene lamp. "That’s better!" he exclaimed, "Now we can see each other.”

The older of the pair cleared his throat, "We didn't witness anything miraculous or extraordinary in anyway, Mr. Dry."

"Joe."

 "I beg your pardon."

"Call me Joe, Dr. Greene. That's my name."

"Ok, Joe. Dr. Patton and I have witnessed nothing verifiable.

Joe chuckled, "I haven't asked you to verify anything. You asked to see what I do. I generously agreed."

Patton interjected, “What my colleague is suggesting is to observe and study your 'gift' of healing in a clinical setting. One where there are controls, and the patients' ailments are documented and verified, and-"

Joe laughed heartily.

Puzzled, Patton asked, "Something funny?"

"Yes! You call this a gift!"

"Isn’t that the consensus among your faithful? If you don't consider it a gift," asked Greene, "What do you consider it?"

 "A penance."

The pair looked at one another in surprise. Greene, his curiosity piqued, asked, "How is it a penance?"

"I hate being in the company of crowds. I turned my back on my tribe, society, and my fellow man. I am serving a penance for hiding myself from the world. My solitude has been intruded upon for the last ten years without reprieve."

"So, you don't perpetuate your reputation as a healer, willingly?" asked Greene.

"I do not!"

"Why not stop granting the seekers an audience?" queried Patton.

 Joe sighed, “They will not leave, the sick I mean. If I refuse to see them, they will mob me, destroy any boundaries I've established. This remote valley was once my refuge. Now, only this cabin is where I find solitude."

 At this reply, both men were stunned. The silence hung heavy in the cabin, until Greene spoke, "You consider your alleged ability a burden and do not profit, materially?"

"Exactly," Joe responded blandly.

"Be that as it may, Joe, will you agree to come with Dr. Patton and I?"

 "No."

 “May I ask the reason?" quipped Patton, "You'll be compensated for your time, and all your expenses provided."

 "No! Just like I told the men from those drug companies."

Greene and Patton realized it was futile to continue pleading. Greene, curious, asked, "How is it you live here? I mean you're not a squatter, and you have no means of income, as you claim. How is that possible, Joe?"

 "I live here on the good auspices of a man of great means, whose son I healed. You have no carrot to dangle, gentlemen."

 "If we could provide you what you wanted," began Patton hopefully, "in exchange for your cooperation. What would you want?"

"Peace, which is not yours to give."

II

 The kerosene lamp lost its flame long after the departure of Greene and Patton. The breaking of dawn crept gently into the cabin through the easterly windows. Joe awoke as the rays lightly rained down upon his face. Sitting up, he wiped the sleep from his eyes. He felt a strange sensation on the morning air. Leaping from his bed, he frantically sniffed. He strained his ears to listen, but only silence replied. Now on high alert, Joe closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. He did not detect the putrid odor of rotten flesh and disease. He only caught the scent of air perfumed with wild flowers. Frantically, he flung open the cabin door, as the hinges squealed in protest. Joe surveyed the knoll, emptiness greeted him. He found it peculiar that crowds of people left no tell-tale mark of their recent presence. No sign that only hours ago the ground cradled the infirm bodies of a wretched humanity seeking his help. His mind could not comprehend the emptiness.

A deep male voice from behind called, "Good morning, or should I say ‘How?”

Startled, Joe turned to meet the owner of the voice. Momentarily blinded by the rising sun, the Healer shielded his eyes with his hands.He could make out the silhouette of a person. The figure closed the distance between them quickly. The stranger stopped an arm's length from Joe. As the resolution returned to his eyes, the indiscernible image became a man, a man dressed in all black tactical clothing, like a soldier. His hair was blonde and close cropped in a crew cut. The man was powerfully built and tall in stature. His right arm was close to his side, and his hand held the handle of a carrier, like one used to transport a small pet. Joe's mind reeled to comprehend the gravity of the situation in which he was unwillingly involved. The soldier smiled, "Remember me?"

"No," replied Joe mechanically, "What do you want?"

"I want you to heal my bunny," was the sardonic reply as he held up the carrier.

“Who are you?”

I'm your Salvation."

"What's your name?"

"My name is of little consequence, but you may call me Ari, as in Aristotle."

"As in the writer of the Organon?"

"Yes, something like that. You and I are going to conduct a little science experiment. May we go inside?"

Joe entered the cabin with Ari following behind. Ari spoke, "Now no sudden movements, Chief." Joe nodded and took a seat at the table facing his antagonist. Ari placed the carrier on the table, and the butt of a pistol showed prominently from Ari's belt, concealed previously by the carrier. Ari stared at Joe, amused. "Remember me now?" asked Ari.

"No."

 “I was here several months ago. I work for Charon Pharmaceuticals. We attempted, unsuccessfully, to solicit your help in developing a cure for a viral disease. Ring any bells?"

The Healer strained his memory, but drew a blank. “Many come here for my help. I can't remember all of them. Actually, I can't remember any of them."

 Joe knew it was Ari who dismissed the crowd of infirm pilgrims. He wasn't sure how he accomplished it, but he definitely knew why. This was a comfort to Joe. He understood he was to be murdered this day. He felt no fear of death and relief flooded over him. For too long he had borne witness to the suffering of wretched ill seeking his help, only to delay the inevitable. Joe understood their desire to be relieved of pain, but not their desires to believe mere men could find immortality and cheat Death of his due. Perhaps that was life's biggest irony. To his way of thinking, he had been an enabler. Yes! An enabler taking away from people the ability to accept reality. The reality to use their second chances to change and become better people. The saddest part was almost all those who received a reprieve from death inevitably returned to their former habits. They weren't truly healed, weren’t healed of their hubris or saved from their own destructive natures. Joe realized he was guilty of the same crime. "You said you are my Salvation?"

Ari smiled coolly, “I will provide you solitude. The solitude you seek, rest." 

"Solitude? What price must I pay for Salvation?"

Ari tapped the butt of the pistol, "Cure the bunny and I will deliver you. Fail and I will forsake you," Ari paused briefly, “In this carrier is a bunny, a very special bunny. Five days ago it was a strong, young, healthy bunny. Now it is a sick bunny at Death's door. Five days ago it was injected with a virus, which has no cure. Its blood has been tested, categorized, and verified for every possible constituent, parasite, factor, and variable. All that data will be re-analyzed, if you can cure it and restore its health."

Joe digested Ari's words, "What good will that accomplish? You'll have nothing to verify a cure or even if it's the same rabbit.

Ari began tapping the pistol butt again, "This rabbit has a specific DNA code and its identity documented beyond reproach. Basically, the genetic equivalent of a human fingerprint." Joe thought for a moment, and Ari smiled, "Also, I'll be taking samples of your blood and specimens of your tissues."

 "What if I can't cure the rabbit?"

Ari's face turned to stone "I will forsake you to your miserable existence ministering to rabble until you break and go insane. In short, leave you to damnation."

A chill of fear ran down Joe's spine, as he realized Ari understood him better than anyone else ever had. This assassin had peered into his soul and knew, instinctively, the burdens he carried. Joe thought that perhaps Ari's own salvation was lost, and to be a murderer was his damnation.

"Open the cage, Ari."

The assassin complied and pulled a limp white rabbit, barely breathing, from the confines of the carrier. The helpless creature lay upon the table as still as a woman's fur stole lies about her neck. "Before you touch it, I must take a blood sample from it." Ari pulled a box from the cargo pocket of his trouser leg and opened it. "Cryogenic storage," muttered the assassin, “A technological marvel, really. A box that can store specimens at the optimal temperatures almost indefinitely. Something you have probably seen. Am I right?"

Joe had been ignoring Ari's racist remarks, but he channeled his indignation to the present and the rabbit in front of him.  A port catheter implanted in the animal had escaped Joe's attention. Ari inserted a needle into the port and an empty vial into the recessed holder. Immediately the blood invaded the vacuum of the vial- tainted blood. Joe watched, mesmerized, as he thought to himself, - "Blood is life"- but he also knew blood was as susceptible to death as it was to life.

With the vial full, Ari removed it, leaving the needle in the port. He examined the vial as he shook it. Placing it into the mini cryobox, he removed another empty vial. Ari began collecting another sample. The assassin smiled, "These ports make it more humane for the animal when collecting samples.

“Joe winced at the idea. “Labs infected animals with horrible diseases, and he speaks of humane treatment when collecting blood samples?!" He was beginning to dislike Ari, a lot! Yet, a thought bubbled up in his Joe's mind “Perhaps Ari and I can be each other's Salvations."

Ari removed the needle from the port. He smiled, "You know they call you the Medicine Man in the Pharmaceutical industry?"

"No, I didn't."

 "It's not a compliment, Chief" chuckled Ari, "Go ahead, heal the bunny, Medicine Man!"

Joe placed his hands, palms down, on the dish-rag- limp creature. Joe felt energy leaving his body in a rush he never experienced during any healing! His hands trembled as the energy channeled through them into the rabbit's form. Ari watched intently as Joe's eyes began to water. A ringing began in the Healer's ears and his heart raced in his chest. His hands and arms ached to the shoulder joints as energy uncontrollably coursed through them. Sweat began to saturate his entire body, and his breathing was rapid. Joe began to wonder what infected this host. It was more virulent than anything he ever encountered in humans. Just as he thought he would lose consciousness, the energy began to wane. His heart was slowing, and his breath was returning.

Ari was amazed when Joe removed his hands and the rabbit sat on its haunches. Health and vigor had been restored. "Well done, Medicine Man, well done!" praised Ari, as he returned the healthy animal to the carrier and secured the door.

 The Healer was regaining his composure when he realized he had almost been drained of his own health. This healing was like a thousand healing sessions combined into one. Joe looked at Ari, who was using a hypodermic needle to withdraw blood from the second vial.

Ari held up the hypodermic “If I injected you with this tainted blood, could you heal yourself?”

""No."

"Why not?"

 "I don't know. It doesn't work that way."

Ari scoffed, "How ironic you could save anyone in the world, except yourself."

Joe replied, "I suppose it's the artist’s paradox"

"What do you mean?"

"An artist can create, but he is always outside of his creation."

Ari smiled, “That changes today, my friend!"

In a flash, Ari reached across the table and caught Joe's right arm in a vice-like grip and pulled him across the table. He plunged the needle into the stunned Healer's shoulder and began to depress the plunger.Joe felt the tainted blood flowing into his shoulder muscle. Instinctively, he pressed the thumb of his free hand into the vulnerable carpal bones behind Ari's thumb. Ari automatically released the needle still imbedded in Joe's shoulder. Free from the grip of the assassin, Joe overturned the table as both men fell to the floor.

Pulling the hypodermic from his shoulder, he leaped onto Ari, plunging the needle deep into the side of the man's neck and depressed the plunger to the hilt. Ari screamed with rage as the poison fluid flooded the unguarded tissue of his neck. Ari screamed, "You bastard! You bastard! Cure me! Cure me, Medicine Man!"

 "I can't. I won't!"

 In a fury, Ari drew his pistol and pointed at Joe.

 “Go ahead. Do it," pleaded Joe.

 Ari shook violently with anger and indecision, momentarily unable to speak. To Joe’s great surprise, Ari began to laugh and slowly lowered the weapon. Ari laughed until tears streamed down his face. After a moment, he regained his composure, and positioned the barrel under his chin. He pulled the trigger. His lifeless body hit the floor with a loud thud.

 Joe watched as the gun smoked in the lifeless hand. "I guess I was his salvation, after all."

 

III

 

Joe knew Charon would send more men like Ari. Joe knew he would never receive salvation from anyone except himself. It was apparent what must be done, and he resolved to take the necessary actions.

After dousing the cabin with kerosene, Joe removed the gun from Ari's dead hand. He placed the mini cryobox and its tainted contents on his kerosene-soaked pallet and struck a match. He tossed the lighted match onto his flammable make shift bed and stepped backward as it ignited. As the flames quickly spread, he picked up the carrier and fired a lethal shot to the lone inhabitant. Dutifully, he sat down on the nearest chair. He could feel the intense heat of the developing inferno, which was consuming the structure. He placed the muzzle of the weapon under his chin, "Salvation!” and squeezed the trigger.

 


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