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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Outbreak (04/07/11)

TITLE: The Spinster and the Pox
By Shirley McClay


I made my way through town to the church, determined that nothing would stop me. No one strolled the street; no horses were waiting at the hitching posts; no wagons lumbered down the rutted road; no children played.

The church doors opened and Reverend Wilson stepped out. He stared at me for a moment, his expression blank, and his face gray and sunken. He sank to the stairs and stretched his spine.

“You sick, too?” His voice sounded like wood being rubbed on a rasp.

“No, I heard the Doc is sick. You need my help.” I took a step towards him.

The reverend looked up at the gathering clouds. A storm was about to let loose. “Only the sick can come in, Doc’s orders.”

“I know that’s not true. Mrs. Merryweather is in there with her husband, and Mrs. Hogan. Pete Yarrow is in there too.” I gathered my skirts to walk up the church steps.

He smiled, but it was a sad, helpless smile. I knew he was going to refuse me. “They all have a spouse or child in there. Or both.”

“You mean I have to be married to a sick person to help? That’s ridiculous. My father and brothers are all doctors in Boston. I’ve grown up helping them and I’ve survived smallpox.” I pushed past him and marched up the steps.

Jack burst through the doors; his black curls tousled and dark circles under his eyes. “Reverend Hank, Pa needs you. I think his fever is worse. “ We both turned to him and saw it at the same time. The wind lifted one of the curls from his forehead and revealed a pox.

The Reverend gazed at me bleakly for a moment. Then something changed. A light flickered in his dead eyes. Hope sparked, then I saw determination set in.

“Uh-oh.” I clamped a hand over my mouth when I realized my thought had slipped through my lips.

Jack raised an eyebrow, questioning.

“You two are getting married. Jack’s got the pox and you’ll be able to help as his wife.” A grin spread across his face, pushing back the deep lines that had shadowed his countenance.

Jack reeled and grabbed the railing. I saw the sickness in his eyes now. Caring for his ill father had been his undoing. He was tired and weak already and he would likely die.

I nodded. “I’ll do it, but be quick. He’ll be keeling over soon enough.”

Jack stared at us like he thought he was imagining things. Understandable.

The Parson married us and we both put a shoulder under Jack’s arms to get him inside and on a mat.

Then I got to work.

Three weeks later the last were buried and there had been no new cases for a week.

Jack was still alive.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t disappointed about that. In fact, I was changing my viewpoint on being a spinster.

Jack was sweeping the church when I went in to collect my bonnet. He leaned the broom against a pew and picked up a bunch of wildflowers. “I reckon you didn’t get much of a birthday last week.” Then he handed me a brown paper wrapped package.

I stood with the flowers in one hand and the gift in the other. A blush crept up his neck and across his cheeks as he shuffled his feet. I struggled to think of something to say.

“I’ll hold these while you open it.” He snatched the flowers back and I looked down at the package. I carefully opened it and looked down at a beautifully illustrated bird book.

“You know I love birds?”

“Course. I bought it for you when you first moved here from Boston, but then you made it known to the whole town that you were a spinster and planned to stay one.”

“Oh.” Now I felt the heat touch my own cheeks. “Well, I don’t feel that way now.”

He chuckled. “Good thing, since we’re hitched.”

The awkwardness of the quick wedding melted away. The birthday gifts had been an amazing bridge to talk about the subject we had been avoiding.

Then he kissed me. I couldn’t remember a single reason I had for wanting to be a spinster.

Jack helped me into his wagon and handed me the flowers and book. I knew I had to tell him the truth. “Jack, My birthday isn’t for six months.”

He grinned at me. “I know.” Then he winked.

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This article has been read 721 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Author Unknown04/14/11
the title pulled me in- how could you resist reading that?!

I love the story but it's way too quick- this would make a fun short story (longer than this- a 3-4K word one) or maybe even a novel if fleshed out right.
But as is it was too this, then that, then this-- and wham that's our ending, done.

But hear me, this is a fun, fun story that is capable of really haunting moments and real depth.

my two cents :)
Lillian Rhoades 04/14/11
A second reading helped me understand a few details of the story that at first were somewhat fuzzy to me. I loved the feisty Spinster and I'm not so sure the sudden light in The Reverend's eye was solely due to the situation at hand.

With that thought in mind, the title could have been The Spinster and the Fox:-)
Helen Curtis04/15/11
I love this story!! I want more, too. I would love to read this as a part of a novel with the main theme being the plague in a village (with a happy ending of course!).
Cris Cramer04/15/11
I like the story, but think the constrained word count works against it; my skeptical side wants to say "Oh, really? Just that quick and easy, and she's okay with her life being turned upside down?" I feel like there's a much bigger story here, straining at the seams to come through -- I'd really like to know more about how these two people are drawn together by a really hard time, to help me believe a determined spinster changes her mind in such a complete reversal -- or so see why it's not such a big reversal as first appears. I really like the story as it is, limited by the Challenge format; but I also think it could be even better, outside of the Challenge restrictions, with room to grow up into itself more fully :)
Virgil Youngblood 04/15/11
A fitting title and a fun ending. Well done.
Kimberly Russell04/15/11
I really enjoyed this and agree with the previous comments. While the word count constraints made for wrapping it all up neat and tidy quickly, it was entertaining.
Carol Penhorwood 04/15/11
I thought this was well written considering the word limit constraint!
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 04/16/11
You managed to grab me right away and keep me all the way to the end. This could let a great novel or an episode on a Little House or Dr Quin- like show. Great job!
Verna Cole Mitchell 04/16/11
Fun--from title to the end.
Sharlyn Guthrie04/18/11
This would make a great play. I love the spinster's character, and it's such a cute story!
Loren T. Lowery04/18/11
So sweet. It made me smile. I did get caught up in the story and heroine is so well fleshed out that a whole another chapter or book could be written around her - and her possible "new" husband.
Christine Rhee04/18/11
Masterfully done....
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 04/26/11
Congratulations for ranking 26th overall.
Laury Hubrich 04/27/11
Hey Shirley! This is a fun read. You do have some parts that need to be cleaned up a bit. They were a little unclear but overall - it was clever and romantic. So glad to see you writing again! Keep it up and you'll get your super writing skills back again! I've been in hiding, too. Let's make a comeback together, yes? :)
Jan Ackerson 10/27/11
Shirley, I'm going to feature this on the Front Page Showcase for the week of November 28. Look for it on the FaithWriters home page--and congratulations!