Flash Fiction: Invisible Strings – Part 18

This entry is part 18 of 22 in the Flash Fiction: Invisible Strings

Written in 60 minutes.

Elizabeth knew that she ought to simply accept Jason at his word and allow his reassurances to soothe any lingering doubts, but it proved to be more difficult in the days that followed the assembly.  She told herself that Jason had never been anything other than honest, but she also knew he was kind and could find ways to shade a truth and cloak it with that decency.

Perhaps it was the child she carried that had caused these worries to resurface after months of lying dominant. And the cold, bitter winter that set in during early January, she thought, hardly helped. There had been a brief respite from the heavy snowfall when she and Jason had taken Cameron into town for a winter fair, and he’d begun teaching Cameron how to ice skate.

But then another storm hit shortly after that confined Elizabeth and Cameron to the house, only Jason braving the outside to tend to the horses and other animals out in the stables and barn — most of the ranch hands had left for the season, heading south for warmer weather as they did every year.

“How are you feeling today, Miss Elizabeth?” Alice asked cheerfully, setting down a breakfast plate. “Have you felt the new baby kick?”

“Flutters—” Elizabeth pressed a hand to her belly, the curve just beginning to deepen. “It was a few more weeks with Cameron.” It had been such a blessing to feel that movement, even when it had been painful and uncomfortable—it had reminded Elizabeth in the dark days after she’d left home and struck out on her own—that she wouldn’t be alone forever.

Alice drew her brows together. “Speaking of our young master, he’s not come down yet.” She smiled again, touching Elizabeth’s shoulder. “You stay and eat, miss. I’ll fetch him. Likely, he’s been distracted by that puppy.”

“All right. Thank you.” Elizabeth was grateful — she tired easily and the thought of taking those stairs again so soon was too much. She picked up her fork and began to eat.

Jason shoved another log onto the fire in the parlor, grimacing out the front window. He could see the dark storm clouds on the horizon and hoped it wouldn’t bring as much snow as the last one. Otherwise, they’d be trapped out on the ranch for weeks.

“Mister Jason.”

He turned to find Alice in the doorway, her hands clutched in front of her. “Alice? Is something wrong?” Her face was pale, her mouth pinched. His breath caught. “Elizabeth?”

“No, no, the missus is eating in the dining room. I don’t wish to alarm her in her condition—I went to check on little Cameron, and oh, he’s running a fever.”

A fever. Jason swallowed hard. It could be nothing. Children ran fevers. There were small colds and sniffles. But Alice had raised a son. Had looked after Michael and Emily. She knew when to worry. “Be sure Elizabeth stays down here,” he told her. “I’ll check on him.”

He forced himself to take the stairs slowly—the sound of his heavy footsteps rushing up the stairs would only carry and the very last thing he wanted was to worry Elizabeth before there was a good reason.

The little dog, Pip, was whining when Jason pushed open the door, circling and likely needing to be taken out side. The room was darkened — the sunlight was too weak to carry much light.

And Cameron lay on his back in the bed, the bedclothes kicked off. His blond hair was damp against his forehead. Jason gently perched on the edge, his pulse skittering as he drew closer—he could feel the heat from the little boy’s body even before Jason could touch him.

Jason brushed his hand against Cameron’s cheek. “Cam?” he murmured, still hoping it was nothing more than a simply illness. “Cam? Can you open your eyes?”

His eyelids fluttered but didn’t fully open, nothing more than a sliver of blue. “Papa.” The words were hoarse, pained. “Hurt.”

“Where?” Jason murmured, checking over his small body, praying he’d find no evidence of rashes. It could be so many things—

“Head. Feet. All over.” Cameron rolled over and curled his body into a fetal position. “Hurts.”

“Okay. Okay.” Jason smoothed his sweaty hair back off his forehead, then jerked back as Cameron began to cough violently, his small body wracked with tremors. It wasn’t a dry cough—

He exhaled slowly. The grippe. Fevers. Coughs. He’d had it as a child and survived, but he’d known several other children in town that had been killed by the high fevers. The body could only handle so much heat—and it was contagious. Highly contagious.

“All right.” Jason drew the covers back over Cameron. “Stay here. Rest. I’ll bring you something to help.”


“I know. Close your eyes. I’ll be back.”

Jason left the door open a crack and carried Pip downstairs. “Alice,” he said, finding the housekeeper hovering at the bottom. “I need you to take care of the dog, and then I need—” His mind raced. “It’s the grippe,” he told her.

Alice’s breath rushed out. “Oh, oh. Oh, dear. I have some honey syrup, and, oh, I stocked up on ginger when I was last in town. And I’ll get Johnny to get a snow bath ready.”

“Good. Good. I need to tell Elizabeth. And Alice—” He stopped her as she headed for the back of the house. “It’ll just be me looking after him. I won’t risk Elizabeth falling ill, and you need to take care of her.”

“You can depend on me, Mister Jason.” Alice always did better with a mission, and with her shoulders squared, she continued back towards the kitchen.

Jason went the opposite way, finding his way to the dining room where Elizabeth was finishing her breakfast. She had a teacup in her hand and a smile on her face when she saw him on the doorway. “Oh. Good morning. I slept so late—” The smile faded when he remained where he stood. “Jason?”

“Cameron has the grippe,” he said, and she was on her feet in a flash. “No,” he said, holding out a hand. “Don’t come any closer. I’ve already been in with him, and this can spread fast.”

“He’s my son—”

“And he’s mine, too,” Jason said. “I’ll see to him. We can’t risk you—”

“But—” Her eyes filled even as her hands rested protectively over the child she carried. “Jason, you could fall ill—”

“I know it. But I’m an adult, and I know how to take care of myself. Cameron’s still young. He’ll fight the snow baths and some of the medicine. If you weren’t—”

“If it were just me.” Elizabeth closed her eyes. Nodded. “Of course. Of course. You’re quite right.”

“I better head back upstairs.” He hovered another moment, hating that he couldn’t touch her, couldn’t hold her and offer more hope. He wouldn’t, of course, promise that Cameron would come through this. The odds were in their favor, but Jason knew better than most how fragile life was.

Particularly slight little boys like Cameron.

“I’ll take care of him,” Jason said, instead, holding her gaze.

“I know you will.”

Jason turned and went upstairs to await Alice.

He was right. Cameron fought like a wild man when Jason lowered him into the bathtub filled with snow. “No! No! Burns!”

“I know,” Jason said, wincing. The tiny fists that flew at him barely made an impact, but the tears and sobs of the miserable child did. But Cameron was burning up and he had to cool down his  body.

Alice hovered near the door, the container of honey syrup and a glass in her hand. After a few minutes holding Cameron down in the bath, Jason lifted him out, quickly wrapping him on a long dry cloth.

“Hurts,” Cameron sobbed, but he’d lost much his energy in the earlier fight and just slumped against his stepfather. “Papa.”

“I’ve got you,” Jason murmured, sitting in a chair in the corner of the room, cuddling Cameron in his arms, keeping him as far away as possible as Alice and Johnny removed the bath. When they were gone, Jason gave Cameron the syrup, unsure whether to be relieved or worried when Cameron didn’t fight on the medicine, only let the spoon between his lips with a grimace at the strange taste.

He dressed Cameron in a fresh, wool nightshirt, then kept him in his arms, sitting back in the chair as the exhausting and trembling boy curled back into his embrace. The fever still burned, but not quite as high, Jason thought.

“Johnny’s riding to town for Doc Drake,” Alice said from the doorway.

Jason frowned at her. “But the storm—”

“Still aways off, and the snow is packed hard enough. We need a few supplies, and you’ll want your family to know—not Miss Lila,” Alice added. “But Mister Dillon. In case—in case.”

If the worst happened, Jason wouldn’t have to leave Elizabeth to inform his grandmother. He nodded grimly, tightening his hold around Cameron as if that alone could protect him.

“And I’ll see to the missus. She’s already fretting something fierce,” Alice added, “but I know she feel better knowing you’ve got in all in hand.”

Alice disappeared down the hall, and Jason exhaled slowly. He certainly hoped that was true. He readjusted Cameron and reached for the book on the table beside him. “‘At the appointed time I returned to Miss Havisham’s'”, Jason read,  “‘and my hesitating ring at the gate brought out Estella….”

Elizabeth was pacing the length of the parlor, unable to consider the basket of mending at her side. Her little boy, the center of her world, was ill, and she couldn’t touch him, couldn’t look after him—

She knew Jason had made the right choice—that she had more than just Cameron to think of, but, oh, it felt as though she were choosing between her children—and what if—

“Now here, missus—” Alice bustled in, a tea tray in her hands. “You need to rest. Keep off your feet. Mister Jason will do better if I can bring him good news of you—”

“How is Cameron?” Elizabeth asked, allowing Alice to settle her back in the chair. Then the housekeeper poured tea. “I heard—”

“He didn’t enjoy his snow bath, but he already looks better,” Alice said, patting Elizabeth’s hand. “Mister Jason knows all about caring for little ones. He saw to little Michael all on his own, you know.”

“No, I—” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “I didn’t realize that.” And cholera was a nasty illness—it would have been dreadful to watch a small boy waste away like that. “How awful.”

“Wouldn’t hear of anyone else. We were so thankful at first,” Alice said, “for the little master had been tucked away in the nursery and we thought he’d been spared. He and Miss Emily. Such a sweet girl. You have the care of her Ruby, you know.”

“Jason said as much. And I know Cameron’s pony was meant for Michael.”

“We’d already lost Mister Alan and his son. Mister Edward hung on for as long as he could, worried over his Lila.” Alice’s voice had roughened. “And my boy. My Ryan. We lost him within a few days.”

“Alice, I’m so sorry—”

“But little Michael—” Alice pressed a hand to her chest. “Well, that felt too much, you see. As if perhaps we’d been forsaken by a vengeful God. I know that might be blasphemous, but he was just a baby. Only just beginning to speak and be his own person—” She cleared her throat. “But Mister Jason took care of him from beginning to end. You shouldn’t worry about that.”

“I don’t.” And she realized that was true. She knew her son would receive the best care—that Jason loved Cameron as his own. “But it won’t stop me from worrying at all.”

“No, of course not. That’s a mother’s lot in life. But we’ll do our best, missus, and pray for mercy.”


  • Oh no! Cam has to get better!!! I can’t even imagine if he doesn’t get better what it will do to Elizabeth and Jason. I’m worried about all of them including Lila and Alice. That storm better hold off!!!

    According to arcoiris0502 on April 9, 2023
  • Poor little Cam. I hope he gets better soon. I love that you brought Great Expectations into this story. It’s my favourite novel of all time.

    According to Lisa on April 9, 2023
  • You had me crying about what Cam is going through. I hope he gets through his illness and Jason not getting sick. Having read this story, I am completely captivated.

    According to Shelly Samuel on April 9, 2023
  • I hope Cam will be okay. Jason is so good with him and Elizabeth. Love Alice in this story as well.

    According to nanci on April 9, 2023
  • I hope Cam is going to be alright. I’m glad Elizabeth didn’t fight Jason on who would take care of Cam. I hope no one else falls ill.

    According to Carla P on April 9, 2023