Desperate Remedies

Submitted into Contest #248 in response to: Write a story titled 'Desperate Remedies'.... view prompt


Fiction Fantasy

“And what of the blood?” the boy heard an old man ask his father.

“Black,” his father responded.

Pate had only known one other boy that had been cursed. He hadn’t known him for long.

“He lost a tooth today and the bleeding…it just won’t stop. I’ve changed the rags a few times, each time as bloody as the last.”

The old man bent lower over the boy and used his fingers to pry the boy’s eyes wide. The boy felt the old man’s cold fingers on his face. They felt good after sweating for countless hours. It was an odd sensation to be hot and cold at the same time; to sweat so much it looked as if he’d laid down in bed after a swim. Though the sweat didn’t bother him as much as the ache. He ached as though he had worked the field for a week straight. Nowhere in particular hurt, just all of him.

“Dear God, Mael,” the old man said to the boy’s father, “look at the color of those rags.”

“I know,” the boy heard his father say, “What do we do?”

“What can be done?” the old man asked quietly.

Silence filled the room again. The boy’s eyes closed and he did not hear the end of the conversation.

 “I could take him to her,” Mael grimaced.

The old man’s head spun, peeling his eyes away from the bloody rags.

“Are you out of your mind? Your boy needs leeches not a charlatan. She’ll kill him faster than the sickness.”

“Charles, she’s a sorceress, I’ve seen it myself. Look at the blood. You know as well as I do that black blood is a curse. I don’t think he has a chance without her.”

“Then you’ll be doing it against my wishes,” the old man said angrily as he gathered his coat and left the room.

A bump awoke the boy. He found he could not move, though if it was the wrappings on him or his own fatigue he did not know. A view of the sky was all he had, with tree tops passing overhead. They were dimly lit by the setting sun, or maybe it rising, he had no way to know. It didn’t matter to him he decided. His eyes blinked and the trees had become silhouettes, back lit by the moon and the stars. No effort was given to concern himself with where he was or why he was there. Each time he opened his eyes, he was surprised he did so.

During one of these occurrences he noticed he had stopped moving. His father was standing nearby, reading from a piece of parchment by lantern light. If the moon was still out, then it was blocked by the thick trees around them.

The boy blinked. His father was carrying him now. Something about the scent of barley on his father’s clothes told him everything would be alright, even if he didn’t open his eyes again. The warm thought swam in the boy’s head as he closed his eyes.

Mael stood at the precipice of the stony shore where the trail had died. The warm, salty wind whipped at him and the bundle in his arms. The wagon hadn’t made it through the stones, but no matter. The top of the sorceress’ mangled tower just peaked from behind the remaining trees on the beach. On the front door he knocked.

Mael stood in silence, the knocks being the loudest sound he had heard in hours. He considered leaving for a moment, but looking down at his shallow cheeked boy gave him the courage to knock again, harder this time.

The door swung open but nobody met him. He entered the stout tower guided by a lone flame that sat in a ring in the middle of the room. The floor and walls were bare stone and only a single upholstered chair sat facing the fire. The door closed behind him, but still he was alone when he turned to look. The flames from the fire flickered and stirred, then they popped and seemed to bubble. They grew suddenly higher and higher until they were as tall as him, taller even. The flames spit themselves from the pit to the floor and, with horror, Mael watched as they spun and twisted, slowly growing darker in color until the light had extinguished itself. From the flames stood woman holding a staff in a brilliant purple and red cloak. She looked at him. Then her eyes looked down at his boy. He gripped his child tighter in his arms, fearing she would rip the boy from him. She turned and made for the chair by the fire, which itself had returned to normal.

“You’ve come for me, so speak,” the sorceress began, “It must be something important or else my door would not have let you in.”

Mael stood, stuck for a moment. He had spent the entire day and half the night trying to reach this place. His mind and body were exhausted from the travel and worry.

“It…it’s,” he stammered, “it’s my boy. He is very ill. I was-”

“Then you should have taken him to your village quack,” the sorceress interjected, now seated in her chair. She was turned away from Mael watching out a window that had not been there before.

“I…I have, my lady, but I feared that the healer would not be enough to save my boy. His blood runs black.”

The sorceress didn’t turn her head towards Mael, but she did not interrupt him. Mael took this as a sign to continue.

“His skin is nearly see through and he is very weak. He hasn’t eaten in two days and I fear I am losing him quickly. Is there anything you can do to save him?”

“Oh yes,” the sorceress reassured, “however, what I do comes plain and easy. The question is now yours. Is there anything you can do to save him?”

“Me?” Mael protested, “But I’ve come to you for help; I’m no sorcerer.”

“No, that much is clear,” the sorceress sighed, “Sorcery is not instantaneous, it is not immutable nor can it violate laws of the universe. In order to save your boy, sacrifices must be given, regular sacrifices that is.”

“Sacrifices? Of what kind?”

“To save his life,” the sorceress waved a hand towards the boy still in Mael’s arms, “you must be willing to take on his burdens. He cannot do it alone. The pain, the darkness that has found its way inside of him, must go somewhere. It will be a burden shared by the both of you. In time it will fade, but it will get worse before it gets better.”

Mael was exhausted and he felt more of it crashing down on him the longer he stood and listened. He crouched, still holding his boy, until he sat on his heals weeping into the bundle of blankets that wrapped his child.

“This is your decision, but you may want to make it quickly,” the sorceress insisted. She continued to look out the lone window in the stone wall.

The room was filled by the sound of the popping fire and Mael’s soft sniffles. A moment, or ten, went by. Mael pulled the blankets away from the boy’s sleeping, sunken face and kissed his forehead.

“Of course,” Mael whispered.

“Hmm?” the sorceress questioned.

“I’ll do anything it takes. Please help him.”

The sorceress turned to look at Mael finally. Her disinterest faded into tight lips and a furrowed brow.

“Then we begin immediately.”

The sorceress stood from her chair and strode over to Mael, pulling him to his feet with a single pull of his cloak.

“Place him here,” she commanded as a table was summoned out of the air. Mael laid the boy down and began to unwrap the blankets so that the sorceress saw the boy for what he was.

“Another day and we’d have been too late,” she said.

“So you can help him?” Mael asked again, as a substantial answer had not been given yet.

“Yes, and so can you. We must kill what grows inside of him and replace his blood.”

Mael was horrified of these words.

The sorceress continued, “The process itself is not precise, but it’s all we have. His blood has mutated, and that mutation has flooded every inch of his body. We must kill as much of the corruption as possible. This will take time and many sessions. We will supply his body with new blood intermittently. Eventually, we will lay a new foundation for him to build upon.”

“But before, you said we needed a sacrifice. What is it I must sacrifice?”

“Your own body. You must provide the boy with blood. In this way you will share the burden.”

The sorceress summoned another upholstered chair near the table.

“Sit,” the sorceress ordered. Mael did. Before he knew what was happening the sorceress held out a knife, grabbed his hand, and ran a small gash across his palm.

Mael called out in anguish.

“Quiet now, this is the least of it,” the sorceress said unperturbed, “Your boy hurts more than you do.”

Blood from the knife was dripped into a small bottle and capped off. The tip of the sorceress’ staff glowed brilliant reds, blues and greens as she worked. She darted between cabinets that appeared out of nowhere to a cauldron that now hung over the fire. Mael hadn’t noticed when the cauldron had appeared either. His eyes were glued to his boy, laying flat and unmoving on the table next to him. If the sorceress hadn’t been so sure, Mael would have assumed his boy had already been lost.

Several hours passed, and Mael drifted in and out of sleep. The sorceress worked in silence, occasionally bringing different bottles of liquids and powders over to Mael’s son. She had managed to get him to swallow some things. That was enough to let Mael know his son would be in good hands.

As he awoke, Mael found the sun shining in through several windows that certainly were not there the night before. Then he noticed he was alone in the room.

In a panic Mael shouted, “Pate! Pate where are you!”

Mael jumped to his feet, his legs unsteady from the previous day’s journey. He swung the front door open and ran outside.


“He’s here,” the sorceress reassuring voice called from nearby.

Mael found her on the stony shore watching the water, and in a small chair nearby, his son.

“You took him,” Mael said angrily, but before he could continue he heard a small voice.

“I asked if I could go outside,” Pate croaked.

Mael blinked at the sound then realized it was his son. He knelt down near the boy.

“You’re awake,” Mael beamed, his eyes wet.

“He wished to see the sea, and you needed your rest,” the sorceress smiled.

Back inside, they sat and ate.

“You will stay here for a month for daily treatment. After that, you will return home and travel back each week. The interval will grow from weeks to months and so on. Several years will pass until this is through, and it will not be easy.”

She looked directly at Pate.

“We must give your body time to rest in between treatments as to not exhaust your system.”

“We can do it,” Pate said smiling back. He grabbed his father’s hand tight. Very tight.

Michael woke up. The smell of disinfectant singed his nose and the sunlight blinded him through the slit in the curtains. He lifted one hand to his eyes, rubbing them, remembering now where he was. His left hand was resting on the arm of the recliner, squeezed tight by his son. Michael surveyed the infusion pump at Patrick’s side, and glanced at the clock on the wall. Nearly nine, she’d be in soon.

As diligent as the clock, the nurse entered the room.

“Good morning,” she winked.

“Good morning,” Michael chuckled back, embarrassed.

“I see dad got a nap in too.”

“He sure did,” Michael smiled.

Michael stood from his chair, still holding his son’s hand. With his other, he gently rubbed Patrick’s bald head.

“Hey buddy bear,” Michael whispered.

Patrick’s eyelids opened just a bit.

“Nurse Mary is going to take some blood and then we can get something to eat, alright?”

Patrick nodded, smiling.

“I’ll be just a moment,” Mary said, and she was.

As she left, everyone exchanged smiles.

“Alright,” Patrick grinned, “let’s eat.”

April 30, 2024 18:23

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