MacDuffy Suite

by Tom Ray

MacDuffy at the Emergency Room

“Take the kids with you. We’ll meet you at the hospital.” Hannah MacDuffy’s voice was shrill. Shutting off her phone, she turned to her husband sitting beside her on the sofa. “Something’s wrong with Liam. It sounds like a heart attack. Madison’s waiting on the EMTs.”

When they got to the emergency room neither their son Liam nor his wife Madison had arrived.

MacDuffy said, “We should have gone to the house first. The ambulance hasn’t had time to get there, check Liam out, then drive here.”

“Should I go there, and you stay here? I’ll take care of the kids.”

“All right. Go.”

When the EMTs arrived with Liam one of them stopped at the registration desk while the other continued pushing the gurney through the double doors leading to the exam room. MacDuffy strode to the registration desk.

“That was my son you just brought in. Where’s his wife?”

The EMT’s face flashed a moment of irritation at the interruption, then softened. “You’re Liam MacDuffy’s father?”


“Ms. MacDuffy is right behind us.”

“Why didn’t you let her ride in the ambulance with Liam?”

“We called a second ambulance to have a crew working on each patient, rather than just one crew for both.”

“For both? What’s the matter with her?”

“It appears she’s having a coronary, too. Have a seat and they’ll call you in shortly.”

At that moment his phone rang. It was Hannah.

“Madison’s sick, too. The ambulance just left with her. The kids are worried to death. She called 911, then me, and then told the kids her chest hurt. By the time the first ambulance got here she’d passed out.”

“They brought Liam in. She’s supposed to be right behind him. Stay there with the kids.”

He’d just sat down in the waiting room when another set of EMTs wheeled in a gurney. Expecting to see Madison, he approached and saw instead a man in his late 20s, about the same age as Liam.

They brought Madison in a couple of minutes after that. Like Liam, her eyes were closed and an oxygen tube was fitted to her nose. The EMT who checked in at the desk had no more information for MacDuffy than had the one who brought Liam in.

He tried to find something on his phone to pass the time, but worry kept him from focusing. The ER seemed busy for a weeknight. He gave up his seat to an older woman who told him her son just had a heart attack.

Bored staring at his phone, he looked up to see Weaver coming toward him.

“How did you hear about this, Weave? You didn’t need to come out.”

“What? What are you talking about, Duff? My girl Crystal just had a heart attack. Christ, she’s only 33. I’m sure she’ll be all right, but it’s rough. Single mom, we’ll be taking care of her kids for a while, I guess. I wouldn’t let that no-good ex-husband of hers have them. Why are you here?”

They started talking to the other people in the waiting room. The unusually large crowd consisted of middle-aged and older people waiting for news of younger relatives. All of the ailing relatives had experienced what sounded like heart attacks.

“If they’re all going to need surgery,” MacDuffy said to Weaver, “I don’t see how this hospital can have enough heart surgeons to treat them all tonight.”

“Yeah. They’ll have to call in doctors from other hospitals. Can they do that?”

After an hour a gray-haired nurse came to the door. “Family of Liam MacDuffy.”

He followed her to just inside the exam room. Patients filled all of the individual rooms, and gurneys with patients occupied the spaces outside the rooms. “Mr. MacDuffy, the doctors did everything they knew to do. Unfortunately, neither your son nor your daughter-in-law made it.”

The first thing he felt was anger. “I want to see the doctor.”

“He can’t talk to you now. There’s some kind of epidemic going on. We’re finding many more cases of what appears to be heart attack. The doctors are guessing some kind of virus is attacking the heart muscle, but that’s just a guess.”

“Could I just see the doctor for a minute?”

“No. Our workload is too heavy for him to break away. All of our interns have been infected. The senior medical staff is overwhelmed. I’m sorry. Can you notify Ms. MacDuffy’s family? We’ll be in touch about final arrangements. I suggest you contact a funeral home to be ready for that.”

He let her guide him back to the waiting room as another nurse came out and called “Family of Crystal Braun.” That was Weaver’s daughter. 


“Sorry I missed Zander’s service, Weav. Hannah was having a rough time, and I didn’t want to leave her alone.” Zander was Weaver’s most recent grandchild to die.

“I understand, Duff. We appreciated the flowers.”

“How are your other grandkids?”

“I’m worried about the last of Crystal’s kids, Bridget. She’s 23. I’m afraid they still won’t have a cure by the time she reaches dying age.”

“They might. I think they’re getting a better handle on it.” MacDuffy tried to sound hopeful, although he doubted the researchers would find a cure in the next two years.

“How are your grandkids, Duff?”

“Fine. Micah is making money hand over fist truck driving. He’s married, you know.”

“I bet Liam would have been proud of him.”

“Well, I guess, but he wouldn’t like seeing his son driving a truck. Once they get a cure and the colleges start up again, I’m sure he’ll get his degree and get a white-collar job. Maybe in finance, like his dad.”

MacDuffy didn’t believe that, but wanted to cheer up Weaver.


MacDuffy at the Wedding Reception

Seeing a fourteen-year-old getting married still bothered MacDuffy, even though he recognized the necessity of it.

He hated wedding receptions. In his younger days he could at least get drunk, but now the booze didn’t sit so well on his stomach, and the morning-after hangover wasn’t worth the temporary lift. Sitting sober at this reception, he felt out of place among the younger people.

Good manners required him to seek out his friend Weaver, the great-grandfather of the bride. MacDuffy finally went across the room to his old buddy.

“Duff, you son of a bitch, where you been all night? I was afraid maybe you’d ducked out. You need to freshen your drink? What is that, rum and Coke?”

MacDuffy’s plastic tumbler of ice and Coke (no rum) was three-quarters full. It was like Weaver to be pushing the alcohol.

“No, Weave, I’m good. I been over in the corner, waiting for you to come greet me. Since you didn’t have the good manners to do that, I finally decided I’d have to come to you.” A little good-natured ribbing. In fact, he’d been avoiding Weaver, who tended to get you off to one side and start long, depressing discussions.

“You liar.” Weaver turned to a woman of about 17 standing next to him, a baby in her arms. “I’ve known this guy for 80 years, and I can tell when he’s lying, ‘cause his lips are moving.” The woman smiled politely.

“Duff, this is Janice. Janice, Duff.” They exchanged greetings while Weaver took a long draw off his whiskey and water.

“If you’ll excuse us, Janice, I need to talk to my old buddy here.” He took MacDuffy by the arm and steered him away from the girl.

MacDuffy said, “Who’s she?”

“A great-granddaughter-in-law. Married Cody. You were at the wedding.”

“Oh, yeah. Thought she looked familiar.” Actually, he remembered the wedding, but neither the bride nor the groom.

When they reached a spot with nobody nearby, Weaver drew close. “Did you hear about that study at Johns Hopkins?”

“Yeah, that Richtler thing, like three years ago. I thought they said on TV it was a dead-end.”

“No, not Richtler.” He squeezed MacDuffy’s arm and shook it. “A new one was on NPR this morning. They think it might pan out. They got a kid who lived to 30.”

“Proving what? I know of a couple of kids who made it to 29, and I think maybe 30. When Johns Hopkins gets a kid to 36 I’ll think they’ve got something. This sounds to me like propaganda to quieten down the talk about changing the Constitution.”

“You think so?”

“I’d bet on it. There’s a lot of octogenarian politicians who’ll be out of jobs if 20-year-olds can run for Congress and for President.”

“Yeah.” Weaver sounded deflated. “I guess I knew it was too good to be true. Something’s got to give, though. If they don’t find a cure in the next 10 or 15 years, there won’t be anybody left old enough to run for office.”

“They’ll figure it out. We may not be here to see it, but they’ll figure it out.”

“Hey, Weaver.”

MacDuffy looked down to see a boy eight or nine years old looking up at them.

“Hey, Nathan! What’s up?” Weaver’s enthusiasm had returned.

“Do you guys have superpowers?”

Right away MacDuffy disliked the kid. He wore a slight smile which MacDuffy thought meant he was laughing at them, and he spoke with that phony voice of kids on TV coached to be cute.

Weaver laughed. “Oh, I don’t know. What makes you think that?”

“My dad says you’re a mutant. All the superheroes are mutants.”

Weaver laughed again, but looked puzzled. “I wouldn’t mind being a superhero, but I don’t have any superpowers. Why did your dad say I’m a mutant?”

“Because you’re so old. That’s not normal.”

Weaver laughed again, then pursed his lips.

Before Weaver could respond MacDuffy said, “You know what a mutant is, dude?”

Nathan looked uncertain, finally saying, “No.”

“A mutant is somebody whose DNA got changed for some reason to make them different from other people. Me and Weaver’s DNA hasn’t changed from normal human DNA. What’s happened is, there’s a virus that makes people sick. Once a long time ago everybody between the ages of 25 and 35 got sick and died. People who were already over 35, like me and Weaver, kept on living. But everybody born now lives to age 25 or so and then dies.”

“So people younger than you are mutants?” The kid looked thoughtful rather than mocking.

Weaver said, “No, Nathan. People like you, and your mom and dad, are normal. It’s just that they get sick in a way Duff and me don’t. How old are your folks?”

“Mom is 21 and Dad is 22.”

“That’s good. The doctors are working on a cure for this disease. They’ll have it by the time your folks are 25 years old.” 

“Oh.” Nathan stood there for a second as if trying to think of something to say. Then he just walked away without so much as a good-bye. He headed back to a couple of other kids, who MacDuffy guessed had egged him on to ask Weaver about being a mutant.

“Rude little bastard. And what’s with that bullshit about a cure for his parents before they reach 25?” MacDuffy knew he sounded mad, but he didn’t mean to.

“Why not?” Now Weaver sounded angry. “It doesn’t help to have him worrying about losing his parents in a few years.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Does he have any grandparents? By the time my current batch of great-grandkids dies, I’ll be dead already. Who’s going to raise their kids then?”

Weaver looked like he was about the cry. “I’m his great-great-granddad.”

Duff felt bad for Weaver. He had a rum and Coke with him to make up for sounding hateful before.


MacDuffy’s Tribe

Britney walked through the camp, making sure everybody finished packing. She arrived at her own family, where her oldest, 12-year-old Abel, had just loaded the pack horses.

“Good job, Abel,” she managed to say, before her knees buckled and she fell to the ground. Then, whispering, “Go get Yoder.” As the boy ran toward the other end of the camp her younger children gathered around her.

“What’s wrong Mom?” the 10-year-old asked, his face and that of his siblings reflecting fear.

Britney shook her head, her eyes closed, finally saying, “Round up as many of the old people as you can and bring them here.”

Abel came back accompanied by Yoder, a tall man in his early 20s. Kneeling by the motionless body, Yoder said, “Britney, can you hear me?”

Slowly opening her eyes, she whispered, “Tell me when you have a crowd around me.”

“There’s half a dozen here now, they’re all coming.”

She turned her head to see the people gathering around her.

“Listen, everybody. I’m done. I told you before, Yoder will be the new chief. Now he is the chief. Do what he says. Leave me here and go on to the jam. Damn this hurts.” She closed her eyes again, her fists clenched to her chest.

Yoder said, “Abel, do you know how to make a travois?”

“Two poles make a frame that a horse pulls?”

“Good man. Make one to carry Britney.”

She said, “No, leave me,” but in a voice so low nobody could hear her except Yoder.


They started out before Abel finished building the travois. Britney and her family, led by Abel, caught up by the time the tribe reached the campsite for the night and set up their tents.

Yoder and Essie had saved space next to their tents for Britney’s family, to watch over Britney’s last hours. Both families sat by the fire after supper, except Britney, who lay in her tent. Ozzie approached with a group of elders, 20 somethings. Yoder sat silent as Ozzie stood opposite, the campfire between them.

Ozzie said, “We have to talk about this.”  Yoder guessed Ozzie talked so loud in order for the whole camp to hear.

“About what?” Keeping his eyes on Ozzie, Yoder stood and walked around the fire toward him.

“You’re not the next in line to be the leader. You’re barely 20. I’m four years older than you. I’m taking over.” He glared at Yoder as the two stood face to face.

Moving so fast nobody saw it, Yoder’s fist hit Ozzie with an upper cut squarely on the chin. As Ozzie crumpled to the ground his wife Carla stepped out of the crowd brandishing a club. Essie ran at Carla with a stout walking stick, jabbing it into the other woman’s midsection.

Carla maintained her footing, but doubled over. “You bitch,” she said, as soon as she could speak.

Motioning with his head toward Ozzie, Yoder said, “Get him up.”

Carla reached down to grasp her husband’s arm. “Come on, baby. Come on.”

The entire camp stayed quiet. Ozzie finally moaned, then sat up.

“God, what happened? Man, my jaw hurts.”

“You should have seen it coming, dumbass. That’s why Britney named me the leader instead of you. Plus, you don’t know shit. How many people are in our tribe?”

After a silence Ozzie answered, “’Bout 60 or 70.”

“The answer’s 83, stupid. It’ll be 82 when Britney passes. How many head of goats do we have?”

“One or two hundred.”

“Two hundred eighty-three. The leader has to know this stuff. Get on up and get some rest. You’ve got a daughter due to be swapped at the jamboree with the Weavers. We have to be at the forks of the river in one week. There’s no time to fool with this shit.”

As Ozzie and Carla hobbled back to their tent a man in the crowd said, “Good job, Yoder. I wasn’t with that asshole Ozzie. He came through the camp saying you called a meeting. That’s why I came. If I’d known what he was up to I wouldn’t have come.”

“Yeah,” another man said. “Everybody knows, the old leader picks the new leader. That’s the way it’s always been. Besides, Ozzie’s almost as old as Britney. He’ll be dead in a year or two.”

A third man laughed. “Ozzie’s still pissed because Fender picked Britney. Hell, we all knew she had more sense than that damn Ozzie. And you do, too.”

People in the crowd laughed, talking among themselves and moving about now, relaxing after the tension of the confrontation.

“Like I told Ozzie and Carla, let’s get some rest. We have to be up early tomorrow to head to the jamboree. We have brides to swap, and after that head south before the cold sets in.”

“You’re right, Yoder,” a woman called out. “Life goes on like it’s always done.”


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8 Responses to “MacDuffy Suite”

  1. MacDuffy Suite | Says:

    […] « MacDuffy Suite […]

  2. Nick Gallup Says:

    Very interesting plot. Mr. Ray has quite an imagination. Don’t know if I’m ready for the next installment or not. Sounds like a Stephen King story.

  3. MacDuffy Suite | Says:

    […] This is part three. Read the suite from the beginning. […]

  4. Matt Hollingsworth Says:

    Love these stories. Such a creative idea, well told.

  5. Dianne C. Stewart Says:

    Another of Mr. Ray’s intriguing stories! I hope Installment #4 is coming soon.

  6. Charlotte Guthrie Says:

    Reminds me of a Twilight Zone type of genre. The kind of story that makes one want to figure out what on this earth is going on with the world.

  7. Jorene Says:

    Now I’m intrigued. I can not wait till the next installment.

  8. And the Winners Are… | Says:

    […] The Grand Prize Winner: “MacDuffy Suite“ […]

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