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Dr. Brumble's Magic Show

The Medicine Man

By Dennis HumphreysPublished 9 months ago 21 min read

by: Dennis R. Humphreys (the DreamWriter)

Sometimes out here in high country, you might see two wagons spreading dust over the countryside as they traveled from town to town. There was a rhyme and reason generally, for the path they took. They followed the pathways among smaller towns that didn't see what the folks in larger towns saw, as far as entertainment was concerned. A few towns were more lucrative than others, where people parted with their money a bit easier. They were the targets for the show.

Brian Brumble had been doing his show for eight years now. He was fifty years old and had been through a number of professions throughout his life. He started to get his doctor's degree from John Hopkins's University in Baltimore, Maryland, but he flunked out after three years because of his drinking and incessant partying. It wasn't because of his intelligence.

At forty one he had the bright idea of just calling himself doctor, since no one checked his falsified degree he hung on the wall. Brian Brumble knew as much as most doctors anyway. He created an elixir that was mostly grain alcohol, with seeds of peyote crushed in it, turpentine, colored with tobacco juice and coffee. It was the cure all for anything that ailed you, developed after years of research and testing, according to the sales pitch the good Dr. Brumble used to extort cash. He needed a gimmick to entice people to watch... a show. Then midway through the show he'd sell his medicine, like a television commercial. He found a magician by the name of Ed Henney and his wife, Madeline that fit the bill. She was young and attractive appealing to the male audience. while he was older, and a good magician. However, was also into the booze like Dr. Brumble. The two of them ended up drinking buddies most of the time but between Brumble and Madeline, they straightened him out in time for each show. The times he tried doing the magic show drunk, was disastrous. Ed Henney could have been a excellent magician and a headliner if not for the drinking. Brumble lucked out finding him and his wife.

Brumble managed to find a young Indian boy in his early travels as well, who was orphaned by the army, clearing out his tribe's camp one day in Wyoming to open the land for settlement. The boy had nowhere to go and Brumble did take care of him but he also used him as his whipping boy during his drinking tirades. The boy did odd jobs for Brumble, washed his clothes and cooked.

The four of them traveled together and seemed to have some parasitic need that made their relationship work, but Brumble was not a nice person, still the other three seemed to put up with the overweight man that gloried in his rhetoric. The bigger the crowds he grew, the larger his claims. What Brumble did or didn't realize was the cure all concoction he developed destroyed most people's liver after drinking it regularly for a few months. It made you feel good at first. Maybe you found things a little more entertaining in those lonely moments in the evenings out here,. Eventually you might see someone looking a bit yellow in the mirror one day looking back at you. Of course the answer was to take more of the elixir to get rid of the jaundice. .after all, .the label on the bottle said one of the things it cured was jaundice. It did by getting rid of the person who owned the liver. Even after getting a few reports of the problems, Brumble continued selling the product. But then people kept buying it too.

“I hold in my hand that answer to all of mankind's afflictions... whether you suffer from pneumonia, arthritis, bursitis, lumbago, vertigo, given to bouts of frivolity, jaundice, constipation, hesitation, uncontrollable malevolence, excess benevolence, headaches, backaches, even heartaches from those broken romances, just two tablespoons of this three times a day will cure those ills. I graduated as a doctor from one of the world's finest institutions... John Hopkins's Medical College and spent years treating patients with things that didn't work... needless operations. I realized there had to be a better way and so I began researching... looking for the common cause of all these illnesses and their cure. After ten years of intense work I discovered the solution which I hold in my hand. And for a mere dollar... two fifty cent pieces... four quarters, you can hold the solution to your problems in your hand as well. The benefit to you is you don't have to go to the doctor and pay those expensive fees for them to do things that don't work. You hold the power of making yourself feel better, be better and have a happier, healthier life. Come on up here... any of you wanting to have a happier life without the pain or aggravation of ailments. Come up here and take charge of your lives for a mere dollar...” Dr. Brumble disseminated.

“My wife and I have been trying to have kids. Will this help?” the man holding his dollar asked as he approached the doctor.

“It most certainly will. I once sold two bottles of this to a Mormon in Salt Lake City that couldn't have children. He assumed more was better and drank a bottle a week. Do you know he now has a family of twelve children?” Dr. Brumble lied to the man. “So be careful you don't overdose!”

After the intermission to the magic show where Brumble sold plenty of product to make the stop worthwhile, the show continued. This was the part where Ed Henney sawed his wife Madeline in half. It was the highlight of the show and raised a lot of oooos and ahhhhs from an audience looking for something bigger than their small town experience. The men in the audience were happy to see Madeline Henney whole again. It would have been a shame to have detached a gorgeous pair of legs like hers from that gorgeous body.

Usually the two wagons made it to two rural towns in a day, sometimes less. They kept a full schedule reaching ten to twelve small cities a week. Many of the small towns were too small for a doctor and there might be one that covered multiple towns., making someone like Brumble welcomed. It was a full schedule but worth it since they sold plenty of product, sucking people in with the free magic show. For ten cents anyone could take a closer look at Madeline's midsection, to look for scars or cuts. Men who were there without their wives, gladly paid the ten cents for a closer inspection. Madeline would lay down in the back and succumb to the inspections which sometimes got a little out of hand.

“Brian... I was thinkin', we've been hittin' at least ten towns a week pretty consistently and with all this traveling, Madeline and I would like to take a couple of days off in the next town and recoup,” Ed Henney suggested.

“What? We need to strike while the iron is hot. You don't know what the future might bring. Don't be ungrateful. Maybe in a few months we can think about taking time off. I can't sell product without the show. That kills our income,” Brumble clamored.

“We're not ungrateful. It's just we're both tired,” Henney complained.

“That's what sleep is for... and hot baths. Go get a hot bath in town and go to sleep,” Brumble suggested.

It wasn't worthwhile talking to Brumble at times and this was one of them. All these towns they visited were all the same. After a while you needed a break. The name and faces varied from place to place but nothing else did. The questions were the same. The comments were the same. Their clothes all looked the same. After a time it looked like someone duplicated all the people with cookie cutters.

“You ungrateful Injun,” Brumble cried, beating Agen with his shaving strop for burning his dinner. “Ed Henney had to stop him for fear he might cripple the boy.

Brumble had been drinking, and drinking brought out the worst in him. The boy had welts over most of his body by the time Brumble was stopped. Madeline applied ointment to the boy's marks to alleviate some of the pain. She felt sorry for the boy because he bore the brunt of the doctor's anger. There was no escaping, he depended too much on the quack and he had no where to go.

“Ed, I think we should think about leavin' this arrangement we have with Brian,” Madeline told her husband one night as they prepared for bed.

“We're making good money. I fear if we leave, we'll starve,” Ed told her.

“We're not going to starve. If you can control your drinkin' we can go to a big city and you can perform there regularly. People will pay to see you like they did before. Until then, I can get a job. We'll do fine. Brian Brumble is an evil man. We might even think about taking Agen with us,” she suggested.

“What? Take an Indian kid with us? He would get worse treatment in the city than he does with Brumble,” her husband responded. “Besides we might bear the brunt of the way a lot of people feel about the Indians.”

“Brumble's goin' to kill that boy one of these days,” Madeline commented as Brumble's bouts were getting worse and there was more of them. No one knew what his pent up anger was all about but Madeline suspected it had to do with a woman when he was younger. Perhaps his flunking out of medical school was also related. You tried to talk too personal with Brian Brumble, you got silence and a dismissal with an irate look. His past, personal life, was kept pretty hidden.

After two more months, Brumble relented. He noticed the couple's attitudes were becoming more labored about their work. He felt Madeline was an instigator anyway, turning her husband against him. He suggested they take a few days off in the next town when they got there. They'd perform the next show before they left. Brumble didn't want to sell a lot of product there and then have to deal with any complaints he received by selling the elixir first and then sticking around. The couple went into town, got a room at the hotel, and ate restaurant cooking instead of their common staples over a campfire over their next three days off there.

It was quiet at night around the campfire without the couple. Brumble took advantage of Madeline not being there, rid of the disapproving looks as he guzzled his booze. He drank steadily through the evening, stumbling past the campfire and almost falling into the flames a few times, as he went to relieve himself. Agen pulled him away again and again from the fire as he was the man's guardian angel.

“You're good for nothing Agen. Why the hell I put up with you is beyond me. The only thing you're good for is a good beating once in awhile. It gives me some exercise for my weary bones.

“Why don't you drink some of your elixir?” Agen responded.

“Don't be a wise ass. I wouldn't touch that crap if my life depended on it,” Brumble answered.

“Then why sell it to people to drink?” Agen asked.

“For their money, kid... for their money. It's better I have it then they. Those poor stupid fools. They're too jack ass stupid to have any money. My purpose in life is to take it away from them,” he would dictate to the Indian boy. “When is my supper going to be ready boy?”

“Soon,” Agen told him.

“You stupid Indian! You've burned my food again. That costs money and I'm not about to eat that crap you burned. You eat it you son-of-a-bitch,” Brumble screamed at the boy, dragging him by his long hair over to the campfire where the dutch oven was emitting a burned odor from the food.

He pushed his face and head into the boiling food, yelling at him to eat it. The embers around it were still aglow so the boy's flesh began to burn as well. Brumble pulled his belt off, his pants dropping below his hips when he did so, and began beating the boy with the belt. He was furious... enraged... incomprehensible as he swore and yelled. He was relentless in his rage, until he tired. Brumble stumbled to the wagon where he climbed into his rope bed and passed out.

“Agen! Boy... where the hell are you?” Brumble screamed in the morning when he awoke. “Bring me my coffee.”

He waited but the boy never appeared. Brumble was angered and ready to deliver another beating to the boy, so he stood and shuffled to the wagon door. He looked out and noticed tumble weeds all around the wagon in a circle. There were more tumble weeds this morning than he had seen all week. It was late August and time for tumbleweeds It must have been windy overnight. The day was clear though, and it looked to be starting as a good one. There were no birds singing though. There were plaintiff cries from a few coyotes in the distance but other than that there was silence. There were no sounds from the campfire where Agen should have been cooking breakfast.

“That lazy, good for nothing Indian,” Brumble complained, as he went to the campfire. Agen was lying by it, “Get up you lazy kid. Get up and make my breakfast. Wake up!”

Brumble, angered again, almost to fury, walked over and kicked Agen, but there was no response. He kicked him again to awaken him but nothing. Finally he took his foot and turned the boy over onto his back. He gasped when he saw him. His face was burned and swollen and his upper body blistered to an extent he had not seen before even with burn victims. Brumble stepped back in disbelief, thinking back to the previous night.

“Dear God... did I do this?” the charlatan cried..

But a small voice in the back of his head answered.

'Why are you asking God?' the voice questioned him.

Then Brumble turned, startled by a slight rustling behind him. When he turned though it was only the tumble weeds moving slightly in the breeze. He breathed a sigh of relief, thinking it might have been the Henneys returning to camp. Brumble daren't let them know what happened. Madeline would surely turn him into the authorities. Nothing would come of it though since it was only an Indian boy. There would be those that would judge him and he didn't need that. Plus Madeline Henney would use it as an excuse to prompt her husband to leave, especially since the woman liked the kid so much.

Brumble pulled the child's body away from camp a distance. The most exertion he had in many years' and it showed it. His large frame huffed and puffed with the labor of dragging the boy to a nondescript spot to bury him. Near a tree, among some larger boulders, he scooped out an area and placed the body. He covered it with dirt and more rocks from the area, so the coyotes and wolves didn't pull the body out before they left camp. When he got up and turned, there were more tumble weeds behind him, shaking in the breeze.

Brumble brushed and cleaned himself off of dirt the best he could. It looked like he had been laboring, and the Henneys would suspect something if they saw that. The next day they had planned a show. Brumble packed his wagon and drove it into town to meet up with the Henneys to do the show. Then he planned leaving. Driving into town though there were tumble weeds that seemed to follow him. Brumble would turn and stare around the side of the wagon to see some slowly moving along behind him. He thought nothing of it other than it was a strange occurrence, so he continued.

“Where's Agen?” Madeline asked, as she met Brumble outside in the street, ”I have something for him.”

“That ungrateful kid? He ran off the first night you two went into town. I haven't see him since,” Brumble told her.

“Ungrateful because you beat him all the time? Thank God he finally ran off before you beat him to death,” Madeline commented.

“I don't need to hear from your big mouth,” Brumble answered her.

“Come on you two. Let's not start your arguin',” Ed Henney interjected, trying to defuse anything before it got started. If he didn't, they'd go on for some time yelling and screaming. Then it would be followed by hours of silence from Madeline towards the both men.

“I swear he did something to that boy,” Madeline told her husband later as they got ready for the show.

“Nah... Brumble is mean to that kid but I don't think he'd really seriously do anything to harm him,” Ed Henney told her.

“Mark my words... he got into one of those drunk spells of his and he beat that kid to death. He's completely senseless when he gets into a mood like that. I was always afraid you might get like that if you didn't curb your drinkin',” she told her husband.

“Now honey, I could never git like that towards you. I love you way too much,” Ed told her as he wrapped his arms around her waist.

“I hope not but I think it's time for us to go elsewhere on our own. Maybe even after we leave here tonight,” she suggested.

“Tell you what, let's wait until the next town. I'll tell him then. I am feelin' kid of like you as well,” he promised Madeline.

That afternoon, they sold more elixir than ever before... Brumble just knew someone was looking down on him... or perhaps up. He hungrily counted his take from the show and sale of product and then stuffed it into his pocket. That evening they moved out. They decided to go up the road a few miles and camp for the night. They'd leave to get into the next town by mid day, hopefully. As they moved, Brumble kept checking behind him. There were numerous tumbleweeds that seemed to be following the wagons.

“That man has a guilty conscious,” Ed Henney told Madeline, “he keeps lookin' back like somethin's after 'im. There's only a few tumbleweeds blowin' in the wind our way. Brumble acts like it's a posse or somethin'.”

“You can't tell me he didn't have somethin' to do with the disappearance of that poor boy. That's why he's actin' so guilty,” she told him.

“Maybe..., that just may be. It won't matter much longer... we'll be rid of 'im. When we camp and sit down to eat, I'll tell 'im this our last town,” Ed told his wife, much to her pleasure. Every hour that went by became more uncomfortable being around Brumble. She couldn't wait to be done with him.

They made camp and Ed made a campfire which normally Agen handled, and then tended to. Brumble stuck a piece of beef he bought in town on the end of a stick and held it to the fire. That was his dinner. Afterwards, Madeline poured them both coffee and she glanced at her husband.

“Brian... this is going to be our last town we do a show. Madeline and I talked about it and feel it's time to move on,” Ed told the doctor.

“What! You're leavin' me too? You ungrateful drunkard,” Brumble began.

“Now let's not git nasty about it. We can part friends, or we can part enemies. We've had a good run, but it's time for us to try and settle down someplace,” Henney told his associate.

“Nasty? I have every right to be nasty, you two taking advantage of my good nature. You've been livin' off me all this time,” Brumble complained.

“Now wait a minute Brian. Our show brought the people in so you could sell your product. It was pretty much a shared responsibility. We didn't take advantage of you,” Ed defended their position.

Ed left the fire and went to his wife. He thought it better just to let Brumble wallow in his self pity and booze. And that's where Brumble stayed... by the fire taking swig after swig of whiskey as he sat by the fire and sweat it back out, mumbling to himself. Occasionally he would look up towards the edge of the camp where there were clusters of tumble weeds rustling in the breeze. The only other noise were the horses and their periodic snorts. Brumble stayed there, angry with the world, when Ed Henney came out of the wagon to pour a cup of coffee. He didn't say anything to Brumble. He figured if he said anything, things would start up again, so he left him alone. As he bent over to grab the coffee pot he felt something come down hard on the back of his neck.

“Take that you traitor,” Brumble said accusingly, as he beat him over and over again with a partial tree limb he had for the fire, ”I'll leave you and your wife out here for the coyotes.”

Brumble was relatively sure Ed Henney was dead when he went to the wagon to get Madeline.

“Madeline... Madeline, come quickly. Something's wrong with Ed. He bent over to get coffee and he just fell to the ground. I can't get him up,” Brumble told her as a bothersome tumble weed blew into his legs. He kicked it out of the way as Madeline came out of the wagon closing her robe and looking towards the fire. The tumbleweed was difficult to disperse as its stickers had hooked into his pants.

“Ed! Ed!” she called as she ran to her husband lying motionless by the campfire with a pool of spilled coffee from the pot, trickling next to his head. She dropped to her knees by him in an attempt to revive him.

Brumble stood over her then with the same piece of wood he used on her husband. Madeline began to look up and say something as she saw the limb come down on her, rendering her unconscious. After a few more retaliatory strikes from Brumble... she lay dead.

The wind must have picked up s bit as the tumble weeds were shaking noisily. One blew into the camp then, and almost into the camp fire, if Brumble hadn't kicked it out of the way.

“Damn tumble weeds. The most useless things on earth,” he commented out loud. He drug the couple's bodies to their wagon and loaded them onto it. In the morning he would drive the wagon to the other side of some rocks nearby and set fire to it. People would just think their campfire caught the wagon on fire, and they died in their sleep. He'd have to find another act but at least he was done with these ingrates.

That night Brumble had trouble sleeping. The wind picked up and tumbleweeds hit the side of his wagon throughout the night, just enough to be aggravating. Morning came and Brumble hooked the Henney horse to their wagon and drove it the spot he would set fire to it. He built a campfire near the wagon closer than what anyone with an ounce of sense would do. He circled it with rocks to look normal and piled wood in it. He set fire to it and got it blazing. When it was going good he set fire to the wagon and watched it as the dry wood flared up in no time. Rumble stood there watching as tumble weeds blew into him over and over again. He swore he could hear talking now... soft and indistinct, there was annoying mumbling.

He went back to his own camp with the Henney horses which he tied to the back of his wagon. They would fetch a fair price in the next town and compensate him for not having a magic show now.

He stoked the fire's ember and threw more wood on to make more coffee and cook a little bacon and beans he had. The doctor hated cooking for himself but would have to until he found another act. It didn't have to be a magic act. It could be a couple of Shakespearean actors reciting some nonsense. That always did good out here. People thought it gave them class. Dancing girls would do well too, but that would alienate women in the towns though it sure would draw the men. Maybe a good looking woman singer. That would appeal to everyone and she could cook his meals. He'd give that some thought and check in the next town to see what he could do.

As he sat drinking his coffee and eating the bacon and beans, more tumble weeds started blowing into the area... all shapes and sizes. Every so often one would tumble into Brumble and he'd push it away angrily.

“Annoying damn things. Worse than that Madeline,” he commented as another blew up and hit him in the face, placing several thin scratches on his cheek. It almost looked like a woman's fingernails did the deed.

Brumble pulled out his bottle and took a swig. He put some on his hand and smeared it on the scratches. It stung and Brumble cursed at the sensation. He swore he heard laughing coming from the perimeter of the camp where about thirty tumble weeds had accumulated, but shook it off as his imagination.

“I'll find a better act than those Henneys. I'll make even more money. I'd better take some of the time I have now to make more elixir. I'm running low. Maybe I can get some orphan to replace that Agen... do my cleaning and cooking,” he told himself as he attached the horses to his wagon and prepared to leave.

As he left camp there was still smoke nearby, rising in thin wisps, from the other wagon. He drove away whistling out loud and smiling at his command of the situation. A few tumble weeds blew by him as he moved along the dirt road. The next town of Stubbings was ten miles away according to the old, rickety sign, as it seemed more tumble weeds blew by the wagon. Brumble turned to look behind him. It appeared he was being followed by at least forty or more of the bothersome weeds. In the distance there were more rolling towards the others as far as he could see. Something just didn't seem right. He had never seen that many tumble weeds rolling around in one spot. More and more blew around the wagon and some were blowing into it. Then others started blowing into the horses making them skittish. Brumble held onto the reins and attempted to quiet the equines but they were not happy. Soon they took off and were not controllable by the doctor. They were frightened, as more and more tumble weeds struck them. It was as if the plants were purposely scaring the horses, chasing after them. The horses ran full blast down the road, sending up dust into Brumble's face and eyes. He could barely see where they were going as he pulled back hard on the reins and tried applying the brakes. They tore around curves in the road following the path of least resistance but finally the pin holding the guide to the wagon popped out. The horses took off almost taking the doctor with them. All Brumble could do was hold on for dear life to the seat as the wagon flew straight forward from the curve in the road and the horses ran unabated across the field, scared. The last thing Brumble saw was leaving the edge of a cliff on his way downward with only the sound of the wind in his ears. Looking to his side there were a number of tumble weeds accompanying him on his three hundred foot plunge. Agen was the cause of all this, he thought. The selfish little brat put him in this position, as he fell downward to the sound of laughter and screaming all around him. He massaged his brain as the decent seemed to last forever. Then he broke out in uncontrollable laughter just a second before the wagon splintered into pieces, meeting the ground, casting a huge cloud of dry dust that could be seen for miles, if anyone was there to see. Silence once again prevailed as the yipping of coyotes was the only thing to prevail. They seemed like they were laughing in judgment of his predicament and the final evaluation of his life. Only the buzzards would point the way to the con man's final resting place if anyone saw or cared. Chances were Dr. Brumble' s sun bleached bones would never be found as they would be carried off by wolves and coyotes feeding off the marrow as the only source of nourishment the doctor ever provided.


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