by Raji Singh
Will the unjustly incarcerated Doc and Shelva Fiction be saved from the noose? Will the Sheriff’s wife Millie get the Doc’s potions to their accuser before vigilantes arrive?
From the jail cell, Doc Fiction instructs Millie how much elixir to apply beneath Efraim’s tongue. “If he has two lines on his neck, Mrs. Jackson, just below his Adams apple, apply one drop. 3 lines, use 2 drops. 3 drops if more than 4. If he’s got red worm-looking squiggles at the ends of any of those lines, well then, pour the whole ka-schmeer down his gullet.”
Millie carefully wraps the vial and medicine dropper in a handkerchief and gentles it into a basket. Her eyesight is continually improving, further proving the efficacy of Doc’s ancient curatives. Candlelight, she’s never seen it before: She’s intrigued, by the warm glow it gives – the jailhouse – the Fictions – her own body. She strokes Shelva’s face. “You look beautiful as I imagined. A dearest friend we have found in one another.”
Before exiting the jailhouse for Efraim’s cabin she turns, tears streak her cheek as she says, “Because of you and your husband I will be able to see my baby. Come nine months Shelva, I shall see yours as well.” Millie disappears, guided through night’s shadows by Luny Mum.
An hour passes. The Fictions sit on the jail cell cot holding each other. Doc worries, “Mrs. Jackson should be back with some word. Something must have gone terribly wrong.”
“Do not fret, mine druzhyna. We have dear Millie on our side.” ‘And the powerful Luny Mum guarding the other side,’ she assures herself.
They hear shuffling outside and a whining lone voice half singing – half wailing like a cat in heat. The foreboding lyrics draw them closer to each other. “Ol Efraim he’s dead and gone. Those done him in ‘ll pay for ‘der sin. ‘Der goose the Sheriff’ll cook. The noose, it won’t be loose ‘round their neck come the morn.”
Sweat mingles in Doc and Shelva’s clasped hands. Their mutual thought: ‘Mightn’t even see the morn.’ How many are out there? Just one? Is he rousing a mob? They yearn for Sheriff Jackson’s presence, and protection.
Their terror heightens as the doorknob jiggles. The locked barrier between them and the outside unknown is thick, bastion oak. Shelva and Doc breathe a little easier. This sense of security departs quickly when they hear the scratchy sounds of a key inserted into the lock, then on this quiet night, what to them are the rumbling sounds of tumblers moving.
Then…, an explosion-like, “CLICK”. Unlocked.
“EEEEEEE!” The hinges scream in their ears as the door moves. Like rats are they, in their cage. Helpless, their eyes dart about for any escape. ‘There is hope,’ Shelva knows. Because she feels Mum’s protective glow coming through the jail window and cloaking their shoulders.
Doc makes his voice deep, menacing. “Sheriff Jackson allows no one here. Leave now!”
“Now is that a good bedside manner way to greet one of your patients Doc?” A solitary, bedraggled man enters. So dirt covered you can’t tell the kind of clothes he wears – looks like some sort of coveralls to the Fictions. He glances Shelva. “I ask ya ma’am. Is that any way for your hubby to speak to a man just risen from his deathbed?”
“Eee-phra-im?” Doc can hardly speak.
“Thas’ my name, Doc. Don’t wear it out.”
Shelva is speechless.
Not Luny Mum. Her speech comes in the form of a bright quasar-like warning that makes Efraim squint. ‘You’ve scared them enough, Efraim. Explain yourself now. And quickly!’
Who knows if a campfire horror story tall taler as Efraim has time to cultivate the mystic ability to communicate with nature’s forces, or to hear its warning, yet he complies with Mum. Maybe it’s out of guilt – for causing them to endure jail, and now scaring them. Or maybe out of thanks for their magic elixir that a miraculously suddenly seeing Millie gave him. The medicine, almost instantly made him feel better than he had in his whole life. “I felt I could do a dozen jigs after I had it, Doc. That’s saying something, because I’ve never jigged before.”
Efraim apologizes for “funnin’” with them when he was outside. “Now, to make a long story short,” he tells the Fictions, then proceeds to make it too brutally long… Then he sums it up all too graphically, with the intensity of a player in a Chekov drama, but without the grace.
“The medicine Millie gave me, made me sweat like a stuck hog. Thought I’d die that very moment. Suddenly yer elixir took holt. My eyes flashed and I knew I just hadda rise. Ran to the outhouse faster ‘n I ever felt compelled. Never took such a big, or painful…. Instantly, I knew I was cured of every ailment. Sorry Mrs. Fiction, but I’ll commence to be getting indelicate on this next part. So kiiver yer ears if ya feel the need.”
Shelva considers it, but is oddly enamored of Efraim’s storytelling.
“Well, Doc. I just had to see what came out of me. When I looked down the hole – moonlight shinin’ bright in for me to see – Round stones, bigger ‘n any marble I played way with as a boy, some of ‘em big as chicken eggs, just layin’ on the surface. You’d think they’d ‘a sunk.”
Now Shelva’s had enough. “Why didn’t Millie come back, Efraim?”
“She’s spinnin’ and dancin’ in the moonlight celebratin’ her newfound sight, Mrs. Fiction. Never ever seen her so sprightly.”
“And I’m celebratin’ plain ol’ life by comin’ and thankin’ both you and Doc Fiction for savin’ me.”
Efraim talks so excitedly the Fiction’s can’t even get in a “You’re welcome.”
He meanders behind the Sheriff’s desk. “I’m why you’re here. I’m fine. No use for you all to keep coolin’ yer heels.” Efraim suddenly realizes the jail’s keys aren’t visible to the Fictions. ‘Ah, a truly captive audience for yet another yarn.’ “Shoot! I guess the Sheriff has the keys,” he tells them.
Shelva tired, though entertained by the boob, challenges Efraim quickly. “Than how did you get in Efraim? Unlock us. PLEASE!” Her please is stern, like the school marm who’d ruler-whack his knuckles as a tyke. Efraim kinda liked her, despite her wicked discipline. Efraim’s suddenly smitten by Mrs. Fiction. Nothing sexual. Just someone who cares about him in a stern, but not knuckle whacking way. Most people just ignore him.
“Phooey, Mrs. Fiction. You caught me red-handed.”
“I most certainly see your red face. Unlock us. Now!”
Efraim hates himself for having lied to this woman. All he can think of to cover the lie about the keys is to have some fun with truthen’-‘bout other keys. “I opened the door with a root.”
“Now Efraim,” Doc says.
“Honest Doc.” He pulls from his pocket a near-petrified tree root he’d carved into a key. “Sheriff Jackson’s locked me up plenty’s the time. I made this so’s I could come and go at night when he went home to bed. Got me some fresh air, a leg stretch, and a little white lightening that caused me the condition that caused me to be here in the first place.”
“Inebriated,” says Shelva.
“Well you might say that Mrs. I prefer it to be just a small misunderstanding twixt the Sheriff and me.” Efraim knows his story time is at an end. At least he has a grand conclusion. “Lift up the cot, Doctor Fiction. There. See that hollow out part of the foot frame. Pull out what’s hidden.” Doc does. Another root key. This one for the cell door. Doc smiles. Efraim bows. Come join me in a moonlight stroll,” invites Efraim. “Hmm,’ he thinks, ‘this truth telling has some merit. I should try it more often.’
Outside, Doc and Shelva breathe deeply the night air. Never did the smell of freedom seem so pure.
~ ~ editor epilog: On their ride out of town, they see Millie slowly spinning in Luny Mum’s glow. Good-byes are said. Millie will square things with her husband, the Sheriff, concerning their departure and Efraim’s recovery. The town will forget the incident. Memories of Ephraim in the town will fade.
But, at the Fiction House, it will grow. Because, little do the Fictions now know, he has stowed away in their wagon. How could he let get away from him the people who so changed his life. Soon the Fiction House will have a new and permanent tall taling resident.
As an editor, I know this conclusion of the story seems anti-climactic, but I have personal reasons for knowing it is not. You see, Shelva and Millie’s babies were born on the same day; would become lifelong close as Millie and Shelva became and Doc and the Sheriff would later become. You see, their children, would marry – James Thaddeus III and Paige Turner Fiction, are my grandparents. If not for them, I’d not be here. ~ ~
(Join me every Sunday night at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment. Meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures. You can read their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE, but that’s a different story. It’s available at Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.)
©Raji Singh, 2013