Another Friday, another prompt from the brilliant Chuck Wendig.
The flash fiction challenge this week was to write a story based on the quite wonderful picture below. Here is my rather late effort!
The Journal of Samuel Forbish
I have been living amongst them for almost a month now. We have reached a certain peace. My predecessor, while brilliant, was not an easy man, and I must confess to feeling somewhat disappointed upon our arrival, to find that the number of those who have been brought to God and to Western medicine was not greater.
However, our congregation has swelled considerably since we settled in the little house in the village. Martha has a way with the young women. They like to hear her sing the hymns in her sweet, clear voice, and to help her brush out her pale hair before she pins it up of a morning.
Little William has taken to our new life splendidly. He was withdrawn for a few days when we first disembarked. The heat and strange surroundings unnerved him, I’ll warrant, but now he runs and plays with the other children as if he had been here his whole life. Children are so very adaptable and forgiving. Perhaps they truly are closer to God than we.
My surgical instruments arrived today as well as paper and ink, supplies of ether, carbolic acid and my box camera. At last I shall be able to properly document village life and the changes we hope to facilitate here. The records and photographs I make will enable my successors to better understand our work and, God willing, our achievements in preserving the bodies and souls of these people.
Martha and I attempted to set up the camera in the chapel today, but before we could gather the congregation, one of the village boys came in, saying the elders wished to speak with me. Of course, I am used to their resistance to our teachings, as they – being steeped in the dark beliefs and practices of their ancestors – will have nothing to do with this white man and his bag of tricks.
Although my grasp of the language is improving daily, I must admit there is ample room for misunderstanding when conversing with the elders. They speak quickly and in hushed tones. I felt ill-at-ease standing before them in the mud-walled house, plants and dried flesh hanging in the doorway. The smoke from the burning herbs stung my eyes and the smell was quite overpowering.
They seemed agitated, and there was something extremely disquieting about the way they bowed their heads and lowered their voices when they wished to exclude me from the discussion.
It seems, if I interpreted correctly, that there is a belief amongst many of the villagers that having one’s picture taken is somehow detrimental to the human spirit. I can only assume this stems from some incident in my predecessor’s time, but the elders seem adamant that the likeness produced by the machine can steal the very soul of a person! I shall endeavor to dispel this preposterous notion in the coming days.
Finally succeeded in persuading some of the congregation to sit for portraits. They were all terrified at first, once they saw my intention. Eventually I decided the best way to win their trust was to lead by example. Surely if there were the slightest risk, I reasoned, I would not allow my own son to have his picture taken. So William sat first, his little face somber but relaxed, and once they saw no harm had befallen him, they started, one by one, to acquiesce.
There has been an outbreak in the village, though I cannot diagnose the exact ailment. Many of our flock seem listless and without appetite. My own William is quite stricken. Martha sits with him and attempts to spoon feed him as if he were an infant again, but he turns his head from her and stares into the distance. God preserve us.
William still sick, as are the other afflicted villagers. I am at a loss. Physically, they seem quite well. Weight loss and dehydration exacerbate their lethargy, but other than this, there seems to be nothing manifest to suggest illness. It is as if they have simply lost the will to live. We all pray this passes quickly.
Three villagers have died since this mysterious sickness started. They simply refused to drink, and I have been too preoccupied with keeping William’s fluids up to attend them. I know I have failed them and ask God for forgiveness. William has shown no improvement. Constant care from Martha preserves him, but he lives now, locked inside himself like some inanimate thing. A doll. God help my son.
The village is in chaos. Ten more are dead. I fear for our lives. The elders sent a mob to take my camera and smash it to pieces. They say I have visited this evil upon them and condemned their people to an eternity of suffering. I managed to save my roll of film and, though I am loath to leave, Martha and the boy must be first in my thoughts. We will leave as soon as it can be arranged.
London. William alive but barely. All his bones and sinews thrown into stark relief by the ravages of his condition. Martha has not spoken for days. She sits and rocks, his husk of a body clasped to her chest. She looks through me as if I were merely dust motes on the air.
I had my pictures developed. Here is William, his little dress suit, his neatly parted hair. But where his face should be there is a ghastly apparition. His jaw is rent by a terrible scream, not of his making. The very essence of the boy is visible to the naked eye as it is dragged from him by an unseen force, the flesh of his cheeks drawn out into hideous tendrils. It is not possible and yet here it is.
My son is damned. And it was I damned him. God is quiet. We wait.