Season 2 Episode 10: Off to the Doctor

In this episode I tell how I learned about the cure houses which are the Dunari equivalent of hospitals, I describe how illness can be useful in world building, and the Strange but True describes the lengths some diseased people will go to find a cure.

This episode is sponsored by Cranbow, makers of the finest pain killers in all of Dunari. They say that all natural ingredients are used. That, actually, can mean anything in this place. Not that I care. The stuff works.  After a long day listening to Shinytop and Stein Cat moaning, a single cranbow pill always eases the ache in my head.

Key Takeaways:

How to think about medical facilities in your world.

How not to get sick in Dunari.

As the days wore on, and my preparation for school proceeded, I read more and more Brogant history. The most interesting aspect of Brogant history was how the Vastal Plague had both decimated and created Brogant society.

Because of this plague, the Brogant grow mounds had evolved into a series of self-contained communities sealed off from each other to prevent the spread of plague. Out of necessity, and independent of each other, these communities developed survival methods that included novel farming methods, community government, and defence.

Anyone showing signs of plague, was put on a raft and banished downriver. Many of these people survived and founded the city of Vengettan. Even though the Vastal Plague was eradicated centuries ago, bad blood remains between Brogant and Vengettan.

I wondered if my future schoolmates knew much about Brogant history. If so, they might not welcome me with open arms.

Ganhook must have noticed my interest in this plague because a wreck of a ghost cat called Number Twenty-Four arrived at my room one morning.

Number Twenty-Four had fist sized lumps missing from her body.

Her body reminded me of pictures my friend back home, Red Peter, had shown me of people consumed by leprosy.

She’d suffered no quick death.

This put Stein Cat in a new light.

Stein Cat had ‘died’ many times. How had that affected her? I couldn’t imagine what regrets, fears or stresses those memories caused.

The flashbacks alone must have been dreadful.

I struck me that being partially immortal could be as terrible as being chronically sick.

And Shinytop was dead, too.

What must that feel like?

Most of my Dunari friends were either dead, half-dead, ready to die, or surrounded by dead versions of their former selves.

And they were trying their very best to keep ‘me’ alive.

What hope had I?

When Number Twenty Four told me she was an expert on illnesses, I got an uneasy feeling that her visit wasn’t going to involve a bedtime story. I said, ‘Why are you here?’

Number Twenty-Four smiled, revealing a toothless mouth. She said, ‘Soon, you will be able to explore the city alone.’

Though this was good news, it didn’t sound like good news coming from this creature.

Number Twenty Four said, ‘But what if you get sick or injured. What then?’

‘I’d come back here,’ I replied.

Number Twenty Four flashed her empty mouth again, and said, ‘And if you were incapacitated?’

I said, ‘I don’t know.’

Number Twenty-Four said, ‘You’d be taken to a cure house.’

‘That’s good,’ I replied. ‘Isn’t it?’

‘No,’ Number Twenty Four said, ‘Not good. They won’t let you in if you’re not screened. The first rule of a cure house it to protect those inside. The sick, I mean.’

I said, ‘How do I get screened?’

Number Twenty Four shrugged, and said, ‘Today. We’ll visit a cure house and find that out together. Ganhook said to consider it a study visit.’

I’d once been on a school study visit to a leather workshop. We’d been given cool leather bracelets as souvenirs.

What kind of souvenir would I take back from a cure house? Cholera perhaps. Or a dose of the flu or some other horrible illness.

Obviously this cure house was a hospital. I hated hospitals. Not that I’m an expert. Apart from when I was born, the only other time I’d been in a hospital was to visit Aunt May when she had kidney stones. Between my parents moaning about the price of car parking, and Aunt May moaning about the hospital food, my ears were ringing so much I felt like I needed to see a doctor.

I didn’t want to visit any ‘cure’ house. I said, ‘I’ve been inoculated.’

Number Twenty Four said, ‘But never screened.’

So, off we went, the cat and me and Shinytop, who stayed so quiet as we passed through the streets, I thought he’d somehow fallen asleep.

The hospital – I still wasn’t sure if that’s what it was called – was located close to the Grufuz Hall warehouse. And with its timber front and flat timber roof, it resembled a warehouse.

What absolutely distinguished is as unique, though, were the images painted onto those timbers.

While there was nothing unusual about images painted onto a warehouse. Instead of wheat, food, fish, and whatever, the images on the hospital portrayed monsters – multi-limbed things, multi-fanged blobs, and multi-faced horrors.

If you can imagine viewing a Picasso painting through bubble glass, you’ll get a good idea of what I mean.

I pointed at the figures, and said, ‘No way.’

Number Twenty-Four looked at me like I was a day-old kitten. She said, ‘They are simply warnings. To the ‘sentient’ illnesses that plague people. It is their last chance to leave the infected before they are destroyed.’

One lesson I was quickly learning in Dunari was that when something sounded too bizarre I didn’t question it because I could well go doloopy trying to take it all in. A better tactic was to file it away in my mind, and hope my mind would understand it over time.

I said, ‘Sentient illness. Sure. OK’.

At least I would never have much trouble recognising a city of Bones cure house when I saw one. I did, however, think it odd that the cure house wasn’t built with bones, considering everyone in the city thought the bones were the best places to live.

When I asked Number Twenty-Four about this, she said, ‘Timber absorbs infections better.’

I automatically filed that away, too. Infections? Timbers? What next? It wouldn’t have surprised me to hear these ‘sentient’ infections become ‘ghost’ infections when they were killed in the hospital.

I didn’t ask about that. I really, really didn’t want to know.

The only way in was a door that appeared and disappeared at thirty second intervals. And once the cat nudged me inside, I found myself in a bare, grey chamber that reminded me of a crypt.

So much for the comforting welcome.

I would rather have spent a week in Dracula’s castle while the werewolf and Frankenstein’s monster were there on holiday, than spend a single night in this place.

Like some low-level energy coursed through them, the walls shimmered.

And when a figure peeled away from the wall and drifted towards me, I’d have bolted if the door had been there.

But the door had vanished.

Considering I could see through the figure, it was obviously a spirit. Some kind of medical spirit, I hoped. I also hoped it was a bit like, the jeweller’s spirit, Hamnatt, who’d stayed on to ensure the younger generations got the most experienced tuition in their craft.

Oddly, thinking that this spirit might have centuries of medical experience behind it, slowed my pulse until I no longer heard it throbbing in my ears.

Instead, I heard soothing music coming from somewhere beyond this chamber.

Number Twenty Four said, ‘Remember now. You’re here to be screened. That’s all.’

I said, ‘The door will reappear then?’

‘Well,’ Number Twenty Four said, ‘If it doesn’t, I don’t know what you’ll do. Me, however. Well, I can always drift back out through the wall anytime.’

If it hadn’t been a ghost, I’d have pulled that cat’s ear.

‘You know,’ I said, ‘You’re no funnier than the living Stein Cat.’

Turns out the medical spirit had been expecting me. It knew my name and connection to Ganhook. After snipping a lock of my hair, the door reappeared, and I was ushered out.

Once outside, I said, ‘Was that it?’

Number Twenty Four shrugged. ‘How would I know? I’m only a cat. This is a human cure house.’

There was a sadness in her voice when she said that, a tone that filled me with sympathy. Was there no cure house for cats? Had she wandered the streets, suffering, with nowhere to go when she was sick?

And why hadn’t Ganhook helped her?

I didn’t want to know the answers. We returned to Ganhook’s compound in silence.

Not long after Number Twenty returned to wherever she’d come from, Ganhook arrived and told me I was now ‘passed’ to attend any cure house in the city if I needed medical treatment.

While that was all nice and comforting to hear, I couldn’t stop thinking about how Number Twenty Four must have suffered.

It’s one thing hearing about how a death, it’s a whole different level of grim to actually see the evidence of that death when the deceased returns as a spirit.

Now, with all my talk about spirits you might think that Dunari is packed with ghosts. It’s not. Their numbers are limited.

And they mostly exist for specific purposes.

The last spirit census in the city showed there was one spirit for every two-hundred-and-sixty-two people. That’s about 4200 spirits. It might sound a lot, but this is a big place, and many of these spirits are inactive. Of course, you can add another couple of hundred to the total because not all spirits participate in the census.

Overall, though, they are few and far between.

It’s just my luck that, on account of Ganhook, I know more than most people do.
So, just to keep you awake at night, here’s a little bit of context about illness.


So, just to keep you awake at night, here’s a little bit of context about illness.


Pandemics, plagues, and pestilence. They’re some of humanities’ greatest scourges. They’re also absolute gold for world building.

How do you create and use a pandemic or plague situation for your world?

Well, think Covid-19. We’ve all recently experienced a situation unparalleled in modern history. Pretty much the entire world was locked down. To one extent or another, everyone’s lives changed. Countless died. Countless still suffer.

Covid-19 has led to long-term societal change.

During this time, we experienced a whole range of emotions. We can use these emotions to add authenticity to our secondary worlds.

I mean, what did you think when you first heard about Covid, or when the first lockdown was declared, or when you saw empty shelves in the supermarkets?

What did you think about some people’s behaviour, or the anti-vaxxers claims?

Did you experience Covid? I hope you didn’t, but if you did what did that feel like?

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Using your personal experiences of that time can help shape the world you build.

Of course, you don’t need to use it in a contemporary sense in your world. Your plague, or whatever, could have occurred centuries earlier, and shaped the world your characters live in today.

It’s still too early to see Covid’s long-term societal effects. But history is full of examples.

In the 17th century, the black death killed so many in Western Europe, the ruling class had a greatly reduced labour force to work their land. This led to higher wages and greater freedoms for peasants who were, before the plague, little better than slaves.

In 2nd and 3rd Century Rome, smallpox devasted the population, but Christianity exploded from a niche religion to the dominant one. Why? There are a number of factors. But one worth noting is that the Christians cared for their sick better. When the pagans saw that the Christian smallpox survival rate was higher than theirs, they associated Christianity with better health, and converted.

What kind of societal change can you imagine for your world?

A pandemic is also a great way to show medical advances or how certain health centres might evolve under stress.

Or did some exterior forces try to take advantage of a plague ridden world? If some are immune, how could they have used this new power they found themselves with?

Maybe certain areas in your world are known for being dangerous to travel to without inoculations. Think about what might happen if your characters venture there and one falls sick. The whole dynamic of a story could change if one character begins to sneeze.

Sickness and plague provide endless possibilities for drama.

And while it’s great to have big, toothy monsters in your world, don’t forget the microscopic monsters, because some of the greatest monsters that prey on humanity are monsters you can’t even see.