On a beautiful night in April of last year, in the picturesque town of Weeder’s Clump, when the moon was full and most of the citizens were reposing in the soft and gentle arms of Morpheus, Dr. James Canada of the Health Science Department at Heliotrope University had finished grading a set of quizzes. He was working on his regular column “Wellness” for the Weeder’s Clump Messenger, when the phone rang.
The caller was Dr. Wanton Slaughter, who said in an urgent voice, “Jim, I need your help. It’s a matter of life and death. I don’t have the time to give you the details. Just hurry over to the hospital as fast as you can.”
When Jim Canada arrived minutes later, he saw a small group of concerned people outside. Although the moonlight was ambient, he could recognize Mr. and Mrs. Sterling Hart, Boone Fowler, Darlene Maxwell, August Provender, Suds Guzzle, and Professor Markem and his dog Bosco.
Jim was met at door by Seymour Pipes, the famous X-ray tech at the hospital, who quickly ushered Jim to the emergency room. There Jim saw the sickest human being he had ever seen, sprawled on the examination table and attended to by Dr. Slaughter and his nurse Mercy Gentles. The patient was Troy Hart, a senior at Weeder’s Clump High School who planned to attend San Andreas Fault State University in the fall.
Relieved to see Jim Canada, Dr. Slaughter quickly explained that he could not diagnose Troy’s illness. “All of his vital signs are fine, and I tested him for post-nasal drip. Then I thought it might be the Fort Lauderdale Syndrome, but Mercy informed me that Troy was not a college student,” Dr. Slaughter said.
“Mercy is right,” Dr. Canada replied. “The Fort Lauderdale Syndrome affects only college students and some professors. Along about the first week in March, when people have had their fill of winter and Mother Nature is living on the cusp of spring, college people get crispy with each other, want to skip all of their classes, and kick sand in someone’s face. Troy will have those symptoms next year when he is in college.”
This discussion was interrupted by a groan from Troy, who lay sprawled on the examining table, his arms useless at his side and his breath coming in labored gasps.
Jim Canada leaned over and spoke, “Troy, can you describe all of your symptoms? Be sure to leave nothing out because even the smallest detail might be significant.” Jim realized that Troy was suffering from something that was clearly life-threatening.
With a superhuman effort, Troy pulled himself together and began to speak in a husky voice. “I distinctly remember that it all started in the last week in March. I was walking down the hall at school, softly humming “Another One Bites the Dust,” when suddenly I felt as if I had been seized by a powerful force. I had the feeling that I was the victim of some relentless, unseen stalker, but no one else was in the hall at that time.
Then I had a mystical feeling that was exhilarating. I felt I was a hero marching off to a war in some far distant clime. My heart surged with excitement, and I felt capable of great feats of strength. That feeling soon passed, and the rest of the day I felt hopeless, as if I were at the bottom of the abyss of despair.
That night my parents told me that I looked pale. When dad asked me what grade I got on my geometry test, I fainted and fell on top of my dog Bulger. I was all right except for the bites and scratches on my face and neck. But the rest of the evening I felt a sharp pain in my side.
The next day a new mood came over me. Fear began to gnaw at me like some hideous reptile. Gripped in the saurian teeth of fear, I lost my appetite, and I could not concentrate. I wandered off like some fog-bound child, and I missed the student council meeting and baseball practice.
Today there were new developments. I felt as if I was losing my mind. I was given to fits of moaning and weeping. Mrs. Penn kicked me out of her AP English class, claiming that I made more noises than a Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western movie. Dr. Canada, I am so miserable and it is clear that modern medical science with all of its wonders can do nothing to save me. Alas, I shall perish. It’s high time to call Dr. Kevorkian.”
Seymour Pipes spoke up, “Maybe someone slipped something funny in Troy’s Mountain Dew.”
Hard glares from Jim, Mercy, and Wanton gave Seymour the message that he had misspoken.
Wanton Slaughter picked up his cellphone to make the call, but Jim said, “Hold that call, Wanton; I know what ails this lad. Troy, you are in love. Cupid has been firing his little darts at you.”
“What a brilliant diagnosis,” Mercy Gentles opined.
“Go home and eat a dish of ice cream and take a cold shower, as cold as you can stand,” Jim said. “The next day follow the vibes and approach the girl, engage her in conversation, and ask her for a date.”
Hope restored, Troy rose from the examining table, but he was still a bit perplexed. “What is a date?”
“Just ask her to help you take some bottles back to the IGA. Ask her to help you catch night crawlers for your biology class. Invite her to accompany you to watch the fruit flies fight over the bananas at Provender’s Market. Anything to give you the chance to show her what a great guy you are.”
When the medical people escorted Troy outside and everyone could see that he was all right, Professor Markem’s dog Bosco licked Jim’s hand. Mr. and Mrs. Hart were so grateful that they offered to make Jim governor of Illinois.
A short while later, the town of Weeder’s Clump lay dreaming beneath a lover’s moon. Well, everyone except a young girl named Floral Gardens, who was so excited that she could not sleep. She had an intuition that tomorrow would be a wonderful day for her, and she would no longer have to stick pins in a little wooden doll that bore an uncanny resemblance to Troy Hart.
Dr. Logsdon is the much-loved English professor who has inspired students at Western Illinois University and Eureka College for many years. He lives in Eureka with his wife, Mary, and writes a weekly story for the Woodford County News Bulletin.