Author's Note:First draft edit, started 2014.
For new readers: welcome to the story! To those who have been following the story, welcome back, and sorry about the delay in updates.
The Good Doctor was started in October 2012, and the chapters I have been posting were the very first draft of the story. Since then, the novel has been through several plot changes and modifications to the point where I felt like I could not successfully end the story without going back and updating the beginning. The chapters being posted from here on out are largely the same as before but with some very key changes, as for those who have read the earlier draft will notice. My research of the time period this story takes place in is still on-going as well, and I hope to further strengthen the plot as the edits continue.
Thank you again for reading, and enjoy!
"'Where do you come from?" an Indian asks a tall, black-hatted stranger.
"I come from far away," the stranger replies, "from…across the Eastern Ocean."
"What do you bring?" the Indian asks.
"I bring death," the stranger answers. "My breath causes children to whiter and die like young plants in the spring snow. I bring destruction. No matter how beautiful the woman, once she has looked at me she becomes as ugly as death. And to men, I bring not death alone, but the destruction of their children and the blightening of their wives… No people who looks upon me is ever the same.'"
~Pima Indian legend (John Kelly, The Great Mortality)
There was nothing between him and the ground except for a few fluttering leaves, an occasional curl of smoke, and the wide-open air.
Kale Hightower ensured that the interlocking buckles of his harness were secure one more time before moving across the outer steel skin of the windmill's nacelle, the thick leather straps the only thing between him and an unsavory plunge. Windmill Three, unofficially dubbed Atropos by him when he was hired as Arborvale's newest engineer, had been acting up for the past few days, her blades turning with sputtering starts and stops, and the town woke up that morning to see she stopped completely. Kale was in his harness with his tool belt slung over his shoulder before any of the mayor's people could ask him to go up to see what the issue was. Now he was a hundred feet off the ground, balancing expertly against the malfunctioning windmill's side and privy to a view that most the people could only imagine.
The town of Arborvale lay below him, contained within the twenty-foot tall wall capped at the east and west ends by the public entry gates. From his vantage he could see the town's entire southern district, tracing every major street running through it and picking out who lived where and which shops sold what goods. The wool-processing factories and warehouses took up blocks at a time, their dirty smokestacks and steamvents reaching into the sky like broken fingers. The lands beyond the wall were dominated by Arborvale's extensive sheep pastures and paddocks, the flocks on which the town's industry depended on meandering about like giant living snowdrifts. Shepherds moved among their wholly wards, looking like insects from such a height; Kale could see a few of them continued to don their masks and smocks even though doing so had not been enforced in years. Past the fields was untouched wilderness, the river lands to the west and hills to the east covered in a mosaic of greens and browns and the occasional burst of red and gold despite the fact true autumn was still weeks away. This was his favorite part about taking a job that put him so high above the rest of the world: The need to see living color when everything down below was so drab and monotone, washed out by the single-minded need for survival that dominated people's everyday lives.
Kale freed a wrench from his tool belt and began to work at loosening the bolts from the windmill's maintenance panel, taking care to place each part in the pouch hanging from his hip to make sure he didn't lose any. The panel remained stuck after the last bolt was undone, but one well-placed hit from his wrench rectified that problem. The metal flap swung open, revealing Atropos's mechanical guts. At first everything appeared to be in order other than the normal wear and tear from constant use and exposure to the elements; some of the gears needed replacing soon, and the low-speed shaft could do with a cleaning. He couldn't see why any of that would cause the whole thing to come to a complete…
There, down at the bottom of the compartment housing the mechanics, was the mangled body of a dead crow, its body crushed between the gears. It must have gotten inside through the vents near the back when the windmill slowed from its usual rotation, though Kale could not fathom what would inspire the crow to want to climb inside in the first place. Birds tended to avoid the windmills and their deadly spinning blades, even at low speeds. But what did he know? The crow must have had a reason that only made sense in its crow brain, and it wasn't Kale's job to try to figure it out. It was his job to clean this mess up and get Atropos running again.
Kale set to work undoing the bolts and washers connecting the shaft and gears to the rest of the windmill, taking extreme care to set them aside in the same order in which he removed them so he didn't risk getting them mixed up and making his job more difficult than it needed to be. Finally he was able to free the crow from between the gears, taking a moment to examine it with macabre fascination. The spokes of the gears had crushed every bone in its body and completely wrung the neck out like an old rag, the head connected only be the delicate skin and a few sinews. One leg was ripped off, and its feathers were bent and shredded and even torn away in large chunks in some places. At first Kale contemplated just dropping the bird to land where it may at the tower's base, but instead he placed the little broken body on top of the nacelle to take down with him when he was done. Anyone else would have tossed it aside like a piece of trash, but to Kale, it was a somber reminder that nature was no match against the relentless march of humanity's industrial achievements, which only grew in size and brutality with each passing year. The least he could do was take the crow down and place it under a bush or something, to let the natural world finish what mankind's indifference started.
He then snorted at himself. Brom would never let him hear the end of it if he knew Kale thought such things. So instead of dwelling on it, he set to cleaning away the blood the crow left on some of the components before putting the whole thing back together again. Satisfied that Atropos would be back up and running with no further complications, Kale released the break and reached up to close the panel, only to meet a pair of beady black eyes staring hungrily back at him.
The crow came back to life!
The big black bird cawed raucously in his face, flapping its wings menacingly. Kale yelped in spite of himself, arms spinning in wild cartwheels as he fought to keep his balance, but it was all to no avail as he lost his footing and fell off the side of the windmill.
Kale barely had time to register what was happening when he felt a sharp, painful jerk at his midsection as his spring-powered lifeline snapped into action, stopping his fall with such force it knocked the wind from his lungs and rattled his teeth in his skull. For several moment he let himself hang there, as limp as a child's doll on a string, his legs dangling uselessly below him as the straps of his harness dug painfully under his armpits and around his ribcage, waiting for both his heart rate to slow and his dignity to return before getting back to the task at hand. Reaching for the winch at his hip, Kale gave it a half-dozen cranks and flipped the switch beside it. The rope he was hanging from began to feed through the lifeline device, lifting him back up the length of the tower he had fallen until he was back at the nacelle. The crow was still there, standing over the mangled corpse of the other bird, almost as if it was protecting it, challenging Kale to do anything else.
With a growl Kale pulled a second wrench from his belt, banging it against the steel shell. "Shoo! Get out of here!" he hissed, taking a swing at the crow. The bird took off nosily, cawing its disdain and leaving several feathers behind in its wake.
"Stupid thing," Kale muttered, watching the crow shrink into a black speck in the watery, overcast sky. He knew it wasn't the bird he was actually mad at; not entirely, anyway. It was things like that that kept him wearing his lifeline every time he went up on the windmills, even though he had done it countless times before – you just never know what can happen when you're a hundred feet off the ground. What he was really stung about was that Brom would say if he knew about his potential accident today.
Or, even worse: Allison.
In a last wave of irrational anger, Kale swept his arm across the top of the windmill, knocking the crow's corpse off the nacelle to let it tumble to the ground with a feeling that he wasn't quite sure was satisfaction or guilt.
A commotion from down below drew Kale's attention to the ground. A group of unmasked shepherds had gathered on the edge of the road leading to the eastern gate, talking to three men on horseback. He was too high up to hear what was being discussed, but judging by the tones being carried to him on the updraft, it was a rather heated argument. He squinted, then saw the potential source of the problem: All three riders wore deep purple uniforms and tall, pointed hats; marshals of the BPW. Now what in the world are they doing here?
The argument carried on for another few minutes before one of the marshals presented something to the shepherds with a flourish and continuing onwards to the gates.
Unbelievable. The plague has not been reported in this part of the state for ten years and yet they're still fining people for being outside the town walls without their masks. It's probably more than their salaries can afford, too. He watched until the marshals disappeared through the gates. But who are we common folk to argue? What is it that they say? For the greater good, or some other such nonsense.
A thick bank of clouds was rolling in from the northeast and a shrill wind whistled down from the hills, cutting through Kale's thick gloves and work vest, chilling the skin beneath. With those thoughts hanging over his head he finished gathering his tools, flipped his lifeline in reserves, and started a slower and much more graceful decent from the windmill.