Flash Fiction: Invisible Strings – Part 19

This entry is part 19 of 22 in the Flash Fiction: Invisible Strings

Written in 55 minutes.

It was nearly three hours before a trio of horses rode through the gates of the ranch, and Elizabeth watched their approach to the house, fretting over the dark storm clouds looming ever closer.

The horses came right up to the house, Johnny followed by Dr. Drake and Dillon—Elizabeth went to the door, pulling it open just as the group reached it. “I’m so relieved you’ve made it back, but—”

“Don’t worry about the storm,” Dillon said, patting her arm and steering her away from the door as Patrick and Johnny brought in the supplies that had been stored in the saddlebags. “Patrick and I will get back to town before it hits. I didn’t want him riding on his own.”

“Where’s my patient?” Patrick asked, picking up the dark bag he’d brought.

“Upstairs. I’ll show you—”

“Best let me do that, missus,” Alice said, bustling past them. “Mister Jason won’t want you to get too close—” She began the climb to the second story, and Patrick followed. Elizabeth stared up mutinously. Surely a few seconds wouldn’t hurt—

“Johnny said Jason was handling everything on his own.”

“He worries for the baby.” Elizabeth rested her hand against the curve of her belly. “And I know that makes sense—”

“Here, let’s go in by the fire.” Dillon swept off his hat and led Elizabeth into the parlor. He checked the fireplace, adding another log. “Jason just doesn’t want to risk you. Can’t imagine anything worse than having to lose you and the babe—”

“I—I know that.”

“And the little mite is going to need you when his fever breaks,” Dillon continued. He spied the tea tray Alice kept refilling. “Let me pour you—”

“I just—he’s my son. I haven’t—” She sank onto the chaise, her eyes round with worry. “I’m frightened,” Elizabeth admitted finally. “That all of the efforts will not be enough, and we’ll—” She closed her mouth, unable to even allow the words out into the open.

“If Jason could will it to be done, Cameron would already be skipping around with his dog.” Dillon dragged a hand across the back of his neck. “Don’t know how he’ll manage if it happens again.”

“Again—” Elizabeth paused. “You’re speaking of Michael. Alice said Jason looked after him during the illness.”

“Before, during, and after,” Dillon said with a nod. “My cousin—his brother—AJ wasn’t much of a father. He and the wife, Caroline, were rarely here, always in San Francisco. Once little Michael was able to move around, Jason brought him out here a few times a week.”

“Oh. I didn’t—”

“Wouldn’t be surprised if Michael knew Jason better than his own father. When Michael fell ill, Jason wouldn’t let anyone else touch him. Don’t know how he did it. Barely slept. Barely ate. But nothing seemed to help. Michael couldn’t keep anything down. Jason kept dribbling water and broth—anything he could. But he just…faded.” Dillon’s voice was rough as he stepped over to the mantel, resting a hand against it. “Jason washed him once last time and put him in the coffin himself.”

“I didn’t realize—” Elizabeth fisted her hand in her lap. “He’s spoken a time or two of his nephew, but I don’t think I realized that Michael was more like his own son.”

“Yeah, well, I guess I didn’t think about it much until Grandmother sent me out here with the cradle. Jason sent me back almost immediately. Michael was the last baby to use it. Probably can’t stand to look at it.”

“No, I don’t imagine he can.” She rose. “You’ll want something warm to eat before you head back, and so will Dr. Drake.”

Upstairs, Alice hovered in the doorway, worried to come any closer as Patrick leaned over Cameron, laying flat on his back, his skin still hot.

“Fever dropped a bit,” Jason said, lacing both his hands at the back of his neck. “After a snow bath. We gave him honey syrup with ginger for the throat. It worked for a while, but it’s wearing off.”

“Won’t hurt to repeat that every few hours, but best I can tell, Jase, you’re doing all you can here.” Patrick straightened, went to the wash stand where a pitcher of water awaited. It had been set out the night before so that Cameron could wash when he woke in the morning. Now, Patrick used to wash his hands, face, neck.

“All I can.” Jason flicked his eyes back to his son, restlessly turning back and forth, unable to become comfortable. “But it might not be enough.”

“We never know, do we?” Patrick murmured. “Maybe the day will come when we do. But until then—you keep up with the usual. Wash with soap every time you leave the room. Have your housekeeper do the same—” At Jason’s confused glance, he continued, “Read a new article from a journal in San Francisco. Dr. Lister’s germ theory. Anyhow, you want to make sure your wife doesn’t fall ill. She won’t have the same reserves to throw it off, and unborn babies don’t do well with fevers.”

“I’ve told the others I’ll handle it.” Jason followed Patrick to the hall. “But that’s it. Nothing else we can do?”

“It’s the grippe, Jason. There’s no cure. We treat the symptoms. Keep his fever down, make he rests. Eats, drinks. Ease the pain in the throat to make that easier.” Patrick pressed his lips together. “When this storm passes and the roads are safe, I’ll come back out this way.”

“Thank you.”

“Soap and water,” Patrick tossed over his shoulder as he headed to the stairwell. Jason grimaced and went back to Cameron’s room. He peered out the window. The storm was still another hour or so away—they’d need to do another snow bath quickly or else it would be too dangerous to leave the house.


The slurred words drew Jason’s attention, and he all but leapt to the bedside, kneeling down so that his face was only inches from his son’s. Cameron’s eyes didn’t open, his cheeks and neck flush with fever.

“Hey, kid.” Jason touched his forehead. “What do you need?”

“Mama. Mama.”

Jason squeezed his eyes closed. Cameron needed his mother, of course he did. Until the last year, she’d been the anchor in his life. He dared not to risk her, but—

“Don’t be angry.”

He whipped his head around and saw Elizabeth at the doorway. He rose. “Elizabeth—”

“Dr. Drake told me about the soap and the water. And he said—” Her eyes were round and wide, hopeful. “I couldn’t—for longer than a moment. But, oh, please, just for a moment.”

“Yeah. Of course.” Jason exhaled in a rush. He went over to lead her to the wash stand — best if hands were clean going in, and then cleaned again, right? That made sense.


“Hello, my darling boy.” Elizabeth perched on the edge of his bed, and Cameron smiled. “Is Papa taking good care of you?”

“Bestest…” Cameron forced his eyes open. “Hurts. Everywhere.”

“I know, I know—” A tear slid down her cheek, but she made herself smile. “But you’ll listen to all that Papa says, and you’ll be feeling fit in no time.”

“Okay, Mama. Good boy.”

“You are a good boy. The absolute best.” She touched his cheek, then rushed out of the room, her heels clicking hard against the floor. Jason followed, finding her across the hall in her room, washing her hands fervently.

Wordlessly, he joined her there and washed his own hands. Then he drew Elizabeth into his arms the way he’d wanted to earlier, praying Patrick was correct. That the illness was less likely to spread.

“I’ll do whatever I have to make him well again,” Jason found himself promising, though it was a foolish offer to make, and he felt her body jerk in response. “Elizabeth—”

“That is not your promise to keep,” she murmured. She drew back, her eyes searching his. “But I know that you’ll do what you can, and we will pray it is enough. He was a strong, sturdy boy. That can matter sometimes.”


“And sometimes it doesn’t matter how healthy the child or how well-loved he is. How devoted his guardians are—” Elizabeth touched his jaw, the tips of her fingers brushing across his lips. “Sometimes the world is cruel for no reason at all. Whatever happens, I know that you will have done all you could.”

He kissed her fingertips, then drew back. “I need to get back to him.”

“And I need to be sure Dr. Drake and Dillon start back to town and that we are well-supplied. That storm looks worse than the last.”

Jason walked her to the stairwell, gave orders for a snow bath in a quarter of an hour, then returned to Cameron’s bedside. He picked up the book on the table, found their place, and continued to read. “‘His spirit inspired me with great respect…'”

Elizabeth watched Patrick and Dillon ride off under the gate, then made sure with Alice that they had all they needed—and checked their supply of soap.

“Imagine a thing such as soap keeping a man from being ill,” Alice murmured, staring at the chunk Elizabeth placed next to the washstand in the kitchen. “Makes sense, I suppose, don’t you think, missus?”

“It can make a man smell sweet which is no easy feat.” Elizabeth washed her hands again, the third time since she’d left Jason upstairs. It had been worth the risk for the moment with her son, to hold Jason in her arms. “And we’ll follow the doctor’s orders.”

“That we will, missus. And that includes making sure you have your meal.” Alice set down a plate at the kitchen table. “You eat up while I take these pails snow upstairs.”

Cameron’s fever raged on for five full days and four nights as a blizzard pelted the house with snow for three of those days. Johnny kept them well-stocked with logs for the fireplaces, and he himself hunkered down in one of the guest chambers to be ready if Jason needed anything.

Elizabeth tried very hard not to go into the sick room again, but she hovered in the doorway from time to time. Jason developed a routine quite quickly — medicine and a snow bath every four hours. Alice kept a pot of broth simmering on the stove, ready whenever Cameron seemed able to keep down his food.

Cameron coughed and wheezed, rarely able to do much more than lay in bed or in Jason’s arms while Alice changed his sheets, sometimes more than twice a day. Alice looked for any small chore she might be able to accomplish towards Cameron’s recovery.

Elizabeth scarcely slept through any of it, pacing the floors of the parlor and her own bedroom, worried sick for her entire family. What would she do if she lost her little boy? Would Jason ever forgive himself? And would she able to keep her own promise if the worst happen? Would she be able to believe that they’d done all they could?

But finally, finally on the six day, Elizabeth woke in the early morning hours, the sunlight streaming in through her bedroom window — the first truly sunny days in more than a week, which meant the clouds had gone.

Elizabeth got to her feet, slid her feet into slippers, and drew on her dressing gown. She stopped to wash her hands, then went across the hall.

Jason sat in the big chair by the window, his head lolling to one side, his arms wrapped protectively around Cameron, curled up in his lap, a counterpane wrapped around the little boy. It was the first time she’d seen Jason asleep at all, and it was a—

Her thoughts stumbled to a stop as she looked more closely at the pair, and gasped. She went into the room, pressed a hand to Cameron’s forehead.  Tears gathered and she sank to her knees, a sob rising in her throat.

At the sound, Jason jerked awake, his arms tightening around Cameron. “What—” He stared at Elizabeth, at the tears. “Elizabeth? You shouldn’t—”

“His fever—” Elizabeth could barely say the words. “Oh, his fever. It’s broken, Jason.” The tears slid down her cheek—tears of relief, of victory. He stared at her for another moment, before looking at their son, at the damp sweat on his cheeks, his neck— Jason sat up, his eyes bloodshot.

“His fever is gone—” Jason closed his eyes, pulled Cameron against him, and rocked gently, the little boy stirring slightly. “You’re all right. You’re all right,” he repeated. He kissed Cameron’s damp forehead, a tear sliding his cheek. “You made it.”


  • You’ve got me teary eyed. I’m so glad for them. I love your use of history and science in your stories.

    According to Kentisha on April 10, 2023
  • I was so worried about Cam and what his loss would do to his parents. Thank goodness, the fever broke. I couldn’t take much more. Jason was wonderful and so was Dillon, Drake, Alice and Johnny. Elizabeth found comfort knowing that they were great in helping her son. This is so good!

    According to arcoiris0502 on April 10, 2023
  • I was holding my breath all through this chapter. I am so happy Cam’s fever broke. I hope no one else gets it.

    According to Carla P on April 10, 2023
  • Lovely update. This makes me very happy that Cameron pulled through. I hope neither Elizabeth nor Jason become ill.

    According to nanci on April 10, 2023
  • I didn’t use snow baths but I did ice water. Gave my son a bad cold too. Later the doctor said to just use cold water. This was my 5th child. Why did didn’t they say that 4 kids ago. Time changes they way we do things.

    According to leasmom on April 10, 2023
  • Thank God Cameron is ok, and I hope Liz, Jason, Johnny, and Alice don’t get sick either.

    According to Shelly Samuel on April 10, 2023
  • So love everything about this chapter … from the recovery to the science mixed in. Perfection.

    According to LivingLiason on April 10, 2023