America's Most Critical Journal (since 1999)
The Inamesia Scare
23 May 2016
It has long been the decided opinion of the majority of the combined populations of Balton, Seabridge, Foe’s Landing and other towns within calling distance of Quarl-on-Tewing that the entire population of Quarl is fit for the madhouse. The reasons for such a conclusion are, of course, completely unfounded. The inhabitants of Quarl have been prone to uncalled-for merry making, however and, for the most part, are a bit eccentric in their ways, but these are not valid points of evidence for labeling them as mad.
There is one incident, though, the one which seems to reduce the Quarlians to the level of madmen in the eyes of their neighbors, that should be related. It happened in July of 1792, when all of Quarl-on-Tewing seemed caught in an uproar over some such nonsense or other. The nonsense in question was an epidemic, a thing which should never be taken lightly.
The Mayor of the town had called in the village physician that day in July and ordered that the town be quarantined to prevent the spread of a disease called Inamesia, a dread ailment, little heard of in the West, in which the afflicted slowly loses all sense of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. The good doctor had never heard of such a disease as that which the Mayor described but made the announcement of the quarantine anyway. If this be one of his honor’s frightful jests, reasoned the physician, then it would be better to humor him than to risk piquing his anger and wrath.
Here began the aforementioned uproar. As soon as the announcement was made every man, woman and child feared that he or she had come down with the dreaded affliction. There was instantaneous panic in the streets of Quarl-on-Tewing. Cries of, “I think I’m losing my sight!” and “What was that you said?” and “You call this food delectable? I can’t taste a thing!” rang out throughout the town. Everyone was running home as fast as they could lest the illness should catch up with them before they could reach the warmth and comfort of their beds.
The following day the streets of Quarl were devoid of human commerce or social intercourse and groans and sobs could be heard emanating from every home, from every quarter of town. No one was taking any chances. Rumors spread quickly that Inamesia was far worse a disease than the pox and the plague combined. And so the groans of fear grew louder and louder.
Through it all, the town’s doctor was elated, for all his practice had tripled overnight. He prescribed potions and pills for every imagined symptom for every individual in town and charged exorbitant prices for his services. As he went about his work, the doctor gave silent thanks, in his mind, to the Mayor for working out such a scheme, for the Mayor had earlier confided in his friend, the good doctor, that the whole epidemic was nothing more than an elaborate hoax. “Fun and games,” he said with a hoarse, coughing laugh. “Just fun and games is all that it is.”
There was a young man of Quarl, a stalwart fellow he, whose name was Benjamin, straight as an arrow, with convictions no greater could be. Enough, though, with the rhyme making. The muse is off somewhere, fishing or sunbathing or some other form of vacation. Whatever the case, she is surely not here by my side as I write this. But the tale goes on anyway, despite her negligence.
The women of Quarl all loved Benjamin and he them, each in her own turn. Had these been days of yore (relative to 1792; not relative to nowadays) and his family was of a stature of a higher order, some townsfolk say, then this Benjamin should have been a knight, so brave and bold, fearing no foe, defiling those who would defile and elevating to the highest pedestal that which is beautiful, good and true.
Sans shining armor but with all good intentions and senses intact, Benjamin, our hero, rushed forth to meet the challenge that Inamesia, the new tyrant of the day, posed for the town of Quarl-on-Tewing. “I must go alone,” he said to himself aloud, giving some credence to the assumption that those of Quarl were less than reasoned in their actions. “For the rest of the town is busy burying itself in its own grief.”
So, with the courage of a warrior Benjamin mounted his gray mare and, in the dead of night, rode like the wind to the neighboring town of Balton. Upon arrival there, he cried, “Help! Help! Epidemic!” at the door of that town’s leading physician until the man appeared at an upper story window and answered Ben’s plea with an irritable, “What the grumble goats are you shouting about, boy?”
“Please, Doctor,” said Ben as he labored to keep his horse under control. “We need help in Quarl. There’s an epidemic spreading through our fair town.”
“What sort of epidemic?” asked the doctor.
“Inamesia?” The old doctor scratched his head, creating a small snowdrift of dandruff on his window sill. “Never heard of it.”
“It’s the ones that you never hear about that kill you the fastest and without warning,” said Benjamin.
“I don’t quite like the way you put that, boy, but it is a good thought nonetheless,” said the physician before closing his window. “Be patient. I will be there as soon as I can.”
In a scant few minutes the doctor was dressed and ready, out the door and straddling the rump of Ben’s mare. The doctor took a bumpy ride that dark and moonless night, through glen and glade, marsh and wood, holding onto Ben with one arm about the boy’s waist while clutching his satchel of instruments to his side with the other.
When Quarl came into view, no cries or groans were sounded, only the silence of sleep abounded. And here again, that damned muse leaves me with her grimy old cast-offs and again, I continue on without her assistance.
Silence. The town was in a hush.
“I don’t understand it,” said Benjamin. “When I left, the place was a veritable din of caterwauling and despair.”
It was true. Not a sound could be heard save that of the rustle of a creaky bed here or the piglike grunt of a snore there. All the town was asleep, it seemed, except for the sounds of merry conversation issuing from the ground floor of the Mayor’s house on the central square.
“Perhaps he can explain what has transpired here,” said the doctor from Balton. “For ‘tis certainly evident that he is awake and about.”
“Ah, Benjamin, my boy,” said the Mayor, jovially as he opened the door to the two callers. “And the good physician from Balton. Welcome. Welcome, gentlemen and have a cup of tea, won’t you?”
“What the devil is going on here?” demanded the doctor from Balton once he had entered and the door was closed behind him. “I was told that my assistance was required to help stay an epidemic.”
“Epidemic?” queried the town’s doctor from the farther end of the room. “Oh, that! Yes, well, you see the Mayor declared the crisis to be over, oh, about an hour ago and sent the townspeople happily to their beds. Tea, Benjamin?”
“Yes, please,” said the boy.
“This is ridiculous,” cried the doctor from Balton. “You can’t just drag a man out of his bed at three in the morning under the pretense that his dire assistance is needed, transport him twenty kilometer out of his way and then simply shrug him off by offering him tea.”
“Oh?” The Mayor furrowed his brow. “You mean that you don’t care for any?”
“No! You…!” began the doctor and then, glancing about the room at all who were present, so blithely sipping their tea, exploded, “Oh, never mind! Benjamin! Is your steed at my disposal for my return home?”
“Yes sir,” said the boy. “But treat her gently, sir. And be sure to return her on the morrow.”
The doctor stormed out of the Mayor’s house like some uncaged beast, cursing the mad and maddening idiots of Quarl-on-Tewing as he went.
“Excitable chap, wouldn’t you say?” said the Mayor with gentle humor in his voice after the departure of Balton’s leading physician.
“Yes, indeed,” said Benjamin, blowing cooling ripples over the surface of his tea. “Would you pass me the sugar, please?”
Stephen Faulkner is a native New Yorker transplanted to the Atlanta, Georgia area. Since arriving in Georgia Steve has worked in a variety of industries that include manufacturing, publishing, healthcare, education and entertainment (behind the scenes). Steve is now semi-retired and writing fiction. He has had the good fortune to get stories published in such online publications as Aphelion Webzine, Unhinged Magazine, Hellfire Crossroads, Temptation Magazine, Hobo Pancakes, Serendipity, Liquid Imagination, Dreams Eternal and Sanitarium Magazine. He and his wife, Joyce, have five cats and a busy life working, volunteering at different non-profit organizations and going to the theater as often as they can find the time.