The Wellness Plague – Installment One: Jack

I’m starting a serialized novel sequel to the Knee Deep video game, running in tandem with the new Cypress Knee MUSH. For the duration of the COVID 19 pandemic, these posts will be available to everyone (not just patrons). However, new patrons are always welcome – and will find their way into the story! Art used in these posts is by Mike Inscho.

Jack Bellet never considered himself a religious man.

This, despite the fact his grandparents had been strict, God-fearing, fire-and-brimstone Southern Baptists.

He wouldn’t have called himself an atheist, though. Agnostic? Sure. No one could prove the existence of God, karma, or some nameless higher power, but neither could he rule out the possibility.

Growing up in a seedy little Florida tourist town called Cypress Knee, he’d cycled up and down Highway 39 on his battered black Schwinn, often passing the rundown relic of Chief Roadside’s Wonderland. The park had been a major roadside attraction back in the 1950s, with a mini-golf course, the teepee observation tower, and, of course, the Leapin’ Lizards gator show. But by the time Jack was a teenager, in the 1980s, Interstate 95 had sapped the traffic away from these forgotten communities.

That wasn’t a deity at work, he thought. That was just the price of progress as the Sunshine State evolved. If you could call it progress.

His decades of work as a journalist – and his failed first marriage – had led him to believe that if an omnipotent entity existed in the cosmos, then they were a sadistic monster that treated humans like ants under a bully’s sun-focusing magnifying glass.

Better to hope for the relative neutrality of universal chaos, he’d thought.

And then there’d been that night in Cypress Swamp in 2012, when he’d been among the few survivors to escape the explosion in the old factory that triggered a massive sinkhole that swallowed everything from downtown Cypress Knee to the remnants of Chief Roadside’s.

He’d seen things that left him less certain.

He’d been fired from his job as a washed-up reporter at the Cypress Knee Notice. Now, he owned the newspaper.

His ex-wife Tamara tried (but failed) to murder him and a couple of his – were they friends now? Maybe. She’d been part of a wealthy cult organization called the Church of Us. She perished in the destruction of Cypress Knee. He’d secured a massive settlement from the church that allowed him to rebuild the newspaper and make sure that his boy, Reggie, wouldn’t need to worry about paying for college.

In a time when print journalism seemed to be tumbling into the maw of the internet information sinkhole, Jack now ran one of the most successful newspapers in the United States. The Notice flourished as the paper of record for the sprawling new Cypress Knee community that developers had built around the Little Okee – a lake formed from the sinkhole that consumed the old town.

Things like that made him think that maybe – just maybe – he had a destiny moved by the hand of a higher power.

But then reality set in.

Like the fact he was in his early 50s, thirty pounds overweight, with dangerously high cholesterol. Now he sat on the exam bed in a room in Dr. Larry Vassar’s general practice. Someone knocked on the wooden door.

“Yeah?” Jack said.

Vassar, a man twenty years older than Jack but with a full head of silver hair, gave a faint smile as he stepped in with an iPad in his left hand. He closed the door, then asked, “How have you been, Jack?”

“Can’t complain,” Jack replied. “Reggie’s off to FSU in the fall.”

“Ready for the empty nest?” The doctor started tapping on the screen of the tablet in his hand.

Jack knew the doctor had three sons and a daughter – and a bunch of grandkids. He smirked at Vassar. “Is it ever really empty?”

“No, it is not,” Vassar said. He perused the screen of the iPad. His brows knitted.

“Something wrong?” Jack asked.

“Well, not exactly,” the doctor replied. “Your weight’s still 220 pounds. I want that lower. Can’t risk your heart. But…” He shifted his attention to Jack. “I didn’t prescribe any medication to control your cholesterol, did I?”

Jack shook his head. “Diet and exercise.”

“How much exercise have you been doing?”

The newspaper editor frowned and stared at the floor. “I walk. Sometimes.”

“Diet?”

“I can’t give up chicken wings. Or beer. Or pizza. Or…well, cake.”

Vassar raised his right hand. “That’s a horrible diet. And, apparently, it’s working. Your labs show that your cholesterol is back down to healthy levels.”

Jack blinked. “Down? Healthy?”

“Imagine my surprise,” the doctor said. He set the tablet on the exam bed next to Jack. “I’ve had this practice since before you married Tamara. I’ve never seen a turnaround like this that didn’t involve a combination of medicine and a strict dietary and exercise regime.”

“Guess you’re a miracle worker,” Jack said.

Vassar scratched the back of his neck. “I don’t know, Jack. We like to tell ourselves that the best thing in the world would be putting doctors out of a job. But, the truth is, I need the work.” He picked up the tablet, swiping away Jack’s report. “I’m thrilled that you’re healthier. I just hope it’s not contagious.”

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Wes Platt

Lead storyteller. Game designer and journalist. Recovering Floridian.

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