by Jean Davis
Jillian breathed deep through her nose and focused on the young man on the hospital bed beside her. His breathing remained troubled, even after the two-hour healing session she’d just performed. Doctors and nurses hovered in the hallway, poking in their heads from time to time to check on her progress. The pleading eyes of the man’s wife on the other side of the bed, along with the photo of their two children on the bedside table, wouldn’t allow her to give up.
She took a few moments to focus on the room, giving her body time to regroup. The remaining session would drain her, but she was so close with Mike that she didn’t dare stop now. He needed her.
Someone always did. The next patients on her list would have to hold on another day.
The television was silent, but photos of missing children still appeared behind the newscaster. Jillian secretly wished someone would steal her away. To be free of obligation, guilt and constant fatigue … she sighed.
She again rested her hand on her patient’s cool, clammy arm, re-forming the lifeline that linked them together. Jillian summoned the gift within her.
A tingle rose in her chest, building, then flowing upward into her shoulders. It shot down her left arm and swelled in her hand. There, the tingle coalesced until it gathered heat.
Jillian let go of her body, knowing it would remain in the chair as if she were asleep, waiting for her return. Her awareness seeped through the palm of her hand and into the arm of the man on the bed. His heartbeat became hers as she traveled along his arm, winding, twisting her way toward his chest. Their heartbeat grew louder, accompanied by the droning of rushing blood.
Somewhere in the room, people were talking—probably the attending doctor, checking in again. The sound reminded Jillian of when she was younger, listening to her mother chat with her friends in distant, muffled voices while she and the other children played underwater tag in the neighbor’s pool. Those pleasant, lazy days were long gone.
Spreading herself through the body, she sought out the black shadows of illness and burned them away with her heat. When all the shadows had been vanquished elsewhere, she focused on the stubborn ones lingering in the lungs.
She knew she was making progress when the body insisted that its name was Mike. He hadn’t been aware enough the last few times to put up any internal fight. Now, he attempted to push her away.
She pressed her thoughts on his defensive force. “I’m trying to help.”
Sometimes bodies were receptive to her presence, talking with her and allowing her to control their muscles and functions as she needed, but most men didn’t seem to like her female presence. Perhaps it was too foreign to them.
Mike fought, using his precious energy to oppose her rather than resting. Muscles bunched up, squeezing and shifting, escaping her calming control and dividing her focus.
Jillian didn’t want to find out what would happen if a patient died while they were both entangled in a healing trance. Would she die when her lifeline collapsed, or become a passenger, stuck in someone else’s body? If he got too aggravated, she’d have to abort her mission or risk finding out.
The shadows taunted her, dark and boiling with malignant energy. These were the times Jillian wished she had weapons other than willpower and heat, but swords or handguns couldn’t follow her into a patient’s body, and medicine had failed. This was a war she had to fight alone.
Jillian gathered her being into a cloud that rivaled the size and mass of the shadows. Heat pulsated and grew, glowing a deep red at the edges of her hazy vision. Energy crackled within her.
For a moment, she swore she saw white eyes glaring at her from within the shadows, then they were gone, and like the other times her imagination had played the same trick on her, a chill ran through her being, disrupting her focus.
The shadows formed a wall. The line of war had been established.
Jillian let her heat build until her exit path began to tremble. If she let go of the path, she’d have no way to retreat back to her own body. She considered calling off her efforts for the day and coming back tomorrow recharged, but the thought of Mike dying while she rested peacefully goaded her onward.
The healing heat rose until she could hold it no longer. She hurled it at the shadows. They absorbed the heat and extinguished its faint, nebulous glow. Shaking with exhaustion, Jillian backed away.
Instead of growing and coming after her as she feared, the shadows began to pulse. They faded from black to a deep gray, then grew lighter and lighter until they dissipated entirely.
Relief washed over her as she drifted away. Unable to muster any more energy of her own, she let the faint lifeline return her to her own body.
Jillian gasped as her awareness synchronized with the breathing of her own lungs and beating of her own heart. She squeezed her eyes shut against the bright hospital lights, dropped her head into her hands, and wished nothing more than to be in her bed at the hotel across the street.
“You did it! Just look at him, he looks better already,” an exuberant voice informed her. Arms wrapped around Jillian’s shoulders and squeezed her tightly. “I can’t thank you enough.”
“It’s okay, really.” Jillian resisted the urge to push Mike’s wife away. She needed space. She needed sleep. Mike’s wife clutched his limp hand while beaming at her as if she’d just performed a miracle.
“Your gift is precious. Don’t pay any attention to the doubters. People can’t just jump up from terminal cancer and go about their lives as if they’d suffered nothing more than a mild headache. True healing takes time, and you make that time possible.” She reached out and took Jillian’s hand, forming a link between the three of them. “I would be happy to stand by your side and tell the world how wrong they are.”
“That’s not necessary.” Jillian mustered a weak smile. “I just want to help where I can, and remember, you signed the contract.”
“I know, but you could help so many more people if they truly understood.”
Jillian slipped her hand from the woman’s loose grasp. “This hospital, these doctors, they support me well enough. I’m not looking for fame.”
Her energy wasn’t infinite. She was only one person and she could only do so much. People wouldn’t understand that any more than the fact that she only could offer aid in healing, not instant recovery.
She’d had enough of public ridicule, along with the dueling stacks of hate mail and desperate pleas for her help. That was why she worked out of a hotel, hiding behind a wall of confidentiality contracts.
Dr. Kellar entered the room and went directly to Mike’s side. He checked Mike’s breathing and pulse, then turned to smile at Jillian.
“We’ll have to run tests, of course, but from what I can see here, his condition has vastly improved. Thank you, Ms. Baare.”
“Would you like someone to take you to your room?”
“That would be wonderful, thank you.” As tired as she was, the walk to her hotel room across the street seemed like a trip to another country.
Dr. Kellar left, and moments later, an attendant came in, pushing a wheelchair. He wheeled it over to where Jillian sat.
“Do you need help?”
She shook her head. Her hands and arms trembled as she grabbed the arms of the wheelchair and swung herself into it. She dropped into the seat with an unceremonious thump.
Mike’s wife hovered over him, still holding his hand and grinning from ear to ear as tears slipped down her cheeks. She met Jillian’s gaze.
“Thank you. I wish there were more I could say.”
“I wish there were more I could do.”
“I wouldn’t ask it of you, even if you could. You’re exhausted. Go, rest.” She offered her benediction with a smile and shooing motion.
Jillian nodded to the attendant, who pushed her out of the room and down the hall to the elevator.
“You did a good thing in there,” he said.
They always had kind words for her after the fact. It was the begging and pleading beforehand that rubbed her nerves raw. Then again, her nerves were raw after a healing session, too. Couldn’t she just teleport to her room so she didn’t have to talk to anyone else? That would be a handy gift to have.
Jillian realized the attendant wasn’t heading for the hotel. “Where are we going?”
“The cafeteria. Last time I helped you, you made me promise to take you there before we returned to the hotel. You told me not to take ‘no’ for an answer because you needed to eat. Excuse me for saying so, but you look three times worse today. You’re going to eat something.”
She couldn’t help but smile. The staff did take good care of her, despite the fact that she tended to attract unwelcome attention from reporters and naysayers, no matter how many aliases she used or how low a profile she kept.
After devouring a ham and cheese sandwich without tasting a bite of it, Jillian sat back, and the attendant resumed their trip back to the hotel.
With her stomach full, her eyes began to sag. The bright overhead lights seemed to blink on and off. Waking glimpses of white hallways lined with multicolored stripes informed her that she was approaching the tunnel under the busy street that connected the hospital and the hotel.
The whirring of the wheels changed tones as they entered the tunnel, echoing off the tile walls. A mother scolded a child in the distance. A conversation about an ailing grandmother and who was covering the insurance deductible grew in volume and then faded away.
She pried her head off her shoulder when her chair came to a halt.
“Ms. Baare can’t be bothered right now,” the attendant said. “No. She doesn’t do interviews. Please excuse us.”
The chair set off again. The rhythmic steps of the attendant began lulling her to sleep, but the ding of the elevator brought her around again. Seconds later, the attendant delivered Jillian to her hotel room door.
A woman in scrubs approached them. “I’ll take her from here.”
“I’ll be fine,” said Jillian.
“Oh, nonsense. It’s plain to see how tired you are. You work so hard here; let me help you.”
The woman waved the attendant off. Jillian fumbled in her pants pocket for the keycard. The woman took it from her and slid it into the lock. The door clicked.
“Now, let’s get you into bed.” She rolled the wheelchair into the room.
Jillian tried to see the name on the ID card hanging around the woman’s neck. Using their names usually made them feel acknowledged so they’d leave her alone. The woman kept moving, adjusting the chair alongside the bed, then helped Jillian to her feet.
She gave up trying to be polite and snapped, “I’m fine now, really.”
The woman left her side and went to the door. The lights went out. The lock clicked shut.
Jillian let herself relax and sank back onto the bed. Just as she was drifting off to sleep, the door opened and the lights came back on.
“Stay where you are.”
The woman was standing in the doorway with a young child in her arms. She rushed to the bed and placed the girl next to Jillian, then pulled a gun from the back of her waistband.
Sweat broke out on Jillian’s brow, and her hands grew clammy. She’d seen many horrible diseases in her years as a healer, but none of them struck her as deeply as the sight of the bloody two-year-old wearing a yellow sundress, with a bullet hole in her abdomen.
“Don’t lie to me. That man confirmed who you were in the tunnel, so I know you can. You just don’t want to.” She leveled the gun at Jillian. “How about now?”
“I’m sorry.” She looked down at the pale face of the little girl and felt within herself, checking her energy. It wasn’t enough; she’d drained too much on Mike. It would be another full day before she would be ready to face her waiting list. “Send her across the street. The doctors can fix her.”
“I can’t. You do it.”
“Why would you wait here for me when there’s a hospital right there? What kind of mother are you?”
“You don’t understand!” The woman’s shrill voice rose to a wail. “If you don’t save her, she’ll die! My baby will die!”
“Keep your voice down.”
The last thing Jillian needed was more attention, for the media to grab onto the story and drag her through the mud again, bringing another host of desperate people to her door. She’d have to find a new hospital in a new city. A whole new raft of contracts and agreements floated before her eyes, blurring the view of the girl bleeding on her bed.
The mother waved the gun at her, moving closer.
“I don’t care what it costs. You will heal my daughter. Now.”
“Please, put that away. I’ll do what I can for her, but you’ll have to take her to the hospital as soon as I’m done. I won’t be able to do more than stabilize her.”
“I can’t go to the hospital.”
“Of course you can. If you don’t have money, they’ll work with you. They’re not heartless.”
“They’ll find out and they’ll take Emily from me. I can’t let them do that; I can’t.”
Jillian ignored the woman’s voice and sunk deep into herself. The only way to get the gun out of her face was to help Emily. She took the girl’s hand and melted inward, leaving Emily’s mother behind.
The room dimmed, and her vision took on a red tinge. The familiar tingle within her grew, swelling until it pushed her into the little girl’s body.
Emily’s pulse was faint. The shadows had a firm hold on her young body, and pitch black clouds surrounded the bullet hole. Grayness pulsated everywhere Jillian looked. There was so much to fix, so many shadows.
The distant muffled voice of the woman rose higher. Jillian faltered. She began to wonder about the safety of the body she’d left behind. Would the woman shoot her, thinking she’d fainted? She’d had no time to explain the process.
Determined to at least make an honest effort, Jillian concentrated her heat on the vital organs. The shadows surrounding the girl’s heart ebbed.
Jillian pulled back into her own body. “I’ve done all I can. You need to get her to the hospital now.” Her voice trembled with exhaustion.
“I won’t let them take my baby away.”
Emily’s mother leveled her gun at Jillian. She held up her hands as if skin and bone could shield her from a bullet.
“I wish I could do more. I’m very sorry, but I really need to rest now.”
“Lady, you won’t have a baby to lose if you don’t get her to the hospital immediately.”
“I’ll kill you if you don’t heal her.”
“A lot of good that will do; your daughter and I will both be dead.”
“I don’t have much choice. You know my secret.”
“Look, whatever your secret is, you know mine too. Your daughter will die if you don’t go. Please.”
“They’ll find out she isn’t mine.” The woman fired the gun.
Jillian’s heart forgot how to beat. She screamed. The room dimmed and then got brighter again. Bile rose in her throat. She realized she wasn’t hurt, but she still felt the urge to throw up.
“Are you insane?”
“Don’t call me that!” The woman took aim, clearly not intending to miss this time. “Help her!”
Jillian drew a deep breath and gathered her scattered nerves. She sunk back into her healing trance, centering her awareness and seeping back into Emily.
The little girl had already begun to drift during the time Jillian had been gone. She didn’t have the strength to overpower the armed woman or to carry Emily to the hospital herself. She could only hope she had the strength to face the shadows again, and that the woman would see reason.
She gathered her heat and battled the shadows.
Emily’s eyelids fluttered.
“Can you hear me, baby?” Mona cradled the bloody little girl in her arms.
Emily’s blue-green eyes opened. Tears welled up in them and spilled down her round cheeks.
“Yes, baby. You’re going to be okay now.” She hugged the little girl to her chest.
Emily clung to her, chubby little fingers digging into her shoulders. Mona didn’t mind at all. She rubbed her cheek against Emily’s baby-soft one, reveling in the warmth she again felt there.
“Do you hurt anywhere?”
“Okay. Let’s get you out of that dirty dress and find some pajamas. Then you can take a little nap.” Mona kissed Emily’s forehead, holding the little girl tight as she stood.
The healer lay still on the bed. Mona nudged the woman with her knee. Nothing. At least she’d healed Emily before passing out.
Mona went into the bedroom. Ms. Baare had to have something Emily could use. Mona couldn’t very well carry her around in bloody clothes. People would ask questions, and questions could attract the police.
She set Emily on the bed and undressed her. A warm washcloth from the bathroom helped to remove the bloody residue from Emily’s skin. Two more finished the job.
Mona threw the soiled washcloths in the corner. She didn’t want any reminders of the drive-by shooting that had nearly taken Emily from her. They’d never go to a playground near a busy street again. Or any playground, for that matter.
The image of Emily falling from the swing right in front of her, bloodied and bawling, would be forever etched in her memory. Thanks to the healer, Emily was whole and healthy and still with her. Nothing could change that now.
Mona rooted through the drawers and found a white T-shirt, then slipped it over Emily’s head.
“There you go, baby. You look just like a little angel.” She ran her fingers through Emily’s blonde curls. With Emily in her arms, she went back to the living room.
Emily twisted in her grasp. “Who that?”
“Nobody, baby. She’s just taking a nap. Shall we go home now?”
Emily stared at the woman on the floor. “Down.”
“No. We need to go home now.”
“Down,” Emily insisted.
Mona sighed. A nagging feeling in the back of her mind told her that she needed to check the woman anyway. She couldn’t very well leave the healer alive to talk to the police. All the missing child posters in the post offices and supermarkets were bad enough.
She knelt down and put her hand on the still woman’s lips. Nothing. Not even the faintest hint of breath. She smiled.
Emily touched the healer’s face, stroking her cheek. “Night-night.”
With the little girl seemingly satisfied, Mona grabbed Emily and left.
The police could make what they wanted from the bloody scene. Maybe they’d think there had been an attack. She didn’t have time to waste finding the single bullet she’d fired, but the gun wasn’t hers anyway. She’d bought it from some guy on the street three days ago, and who knew where he’d got it from.
“What do you think about being Canadian, honey?”
Emily had already closed her eyes. Her sure and steady breathing brought warmth to Mona’s heart. No one would recognize them there; all they had to do was make it across the border.
No one stopped them when they left the hotel. Mona hummed a lullaby she remembered hearing someone sing to a baby in a movie once. Lilacs scented the air as she traveled down the sidewalk. Sunlight warmed her skin.
The rusted, silver sedan sat in the parking space alongside the park, right where she’d left it. She couldn’t bear to look at the park or the swings. The park should have been a safe place, and this one was mostly vacant, which had set her at ease. There were no meddlesome people on cell phones who might call the police. Now she knew the true reason why no one played there.
A car drove by, slowly. Her heart pounded. She couldn’t remember what the other one had looked like before the bullets flew. This one kept going.
Her hands shook as she buckled Emily into the stolen booster seat. Another car turned the corner and headed towards her. She ran around her car and got in, thrusting the keys into the ignition. The engine rumbled to life.
She fumbled with the radio knob, hoping to check for news reports, but it seemed to be malfunctioning on a whim. She gave up on it and headed to the nearest northbound highway. Emily’s head was already resting on her shoulder, eyes closed before they got up the ramp.
Ohio had given way to Michigan before she heard Emily stirring around in the back seat.
“Waking up, baby? Do you need to go to the bathroom?”
Potty training on the run wasn’t the easiest thing, but when she’d taken Emily three months ago, she’d been in underwear, so she thought she’d better keep up the effort. Besides, she didn’t have money for diapers.
“I gotta go.” Emily squirmed in her seat.
“We’ll stop in just a minute. I need to get gas, anyway.”
Mona pulled into the next gas station. After she parked the car, she unbuckled Emily.
The little girl pushed her away. “I do.”
“Sure, baby, you can get out by yourself.”
Emily didn’t want her help in the bathroom, either. She closed the door to the stall before Mona could get in. The lock clicked.
“Let mommy in. You need help. That’s a big toilet.”
“Emily, really. Let me in. This isn’t funny. You could get hurt.”
Mona bit her lip. This was the first time Emily had refused her help. Ever since she’d stopped crying for her other mommy and accepted Mona, she’d been very cuddly. It was almost as if she were afraid to let Mona out of her sight.
“What’s gotten into you?”
Was this the “terrible twos” she’d heard so much about? As terrible as they might be, as long as she had her baby, it didn’t matter. She’d love her right through two and three and every year afterwards.
The toilet flushed and the door opened. Emily walked out, her bare feet padding over the gray cement floor.
“You did that all by yourself?”
“Yep. I big girl.”
It suddenly seemed so. Mona wasn’t sure what to make of this new development. She liked the needy toddler better. Having someone need her made the nights warmer and the days brighter. Someone had to listen to her for a change. That felt pretty good.
“Are you hungry, honey?”
“I wash hands first.”
Since when did two year olds care about washing their hands? They ate old gum from under tables if you didn’t watch them.
“I’ll help you. You can’t reach.”
She scooped Emily up and held her next to the rust-stained sink. The water dribbled out of the faucet. The soap dispenser was empty. Emily’s petite face crumpled up as if she were disgusted.
“You play in dirt and mud puddles and you call this icky? Silly girl.”
Mona shook her head and carried the little girl into the gas station. She had to set her down to grab two sandwiches and two sodas, but kept the little girl close as she approached the counter.
“I need gas too,” she told the attendant. “Give me twenty bucks worth.” She ruffled Emily’s curls. “We’ll eat in the car.”
“Don’t want to go,” Emily said.
Mona picked up the little girl. “That’s enough, baby.” She smiled at the young man and slid the cash across the counter. “Someone is grumpy today.”
Emily lunged forward, grabbing the counter. “Not my mommy.”
The cashier gave Mona a questioning glance as he handed her the change.
The cashier nodded, as if that answered everything. “It’ll be a long year.”
Mona held Emily tight and balanced the food and drinks in her other arm. The walk back to the car was precarious. She set the drinks on top of the car and buckled Emily back in her seat.
“What’s gotten into you, baby?”
Emily sulked in her seat, not even looking at her.
Mona sighed. She put their lunch in the front seat, the drinks in the cup holders, and went to pump the gas. Another woman parked at the pump beside hers, but she didn’t leave the car and kept her purse on her arm the whole time. Hopefully, there would be better opportunities for easy money in the near future, or they’d be going hungry real soon.
After squeezing out one last drop of gas, she went back around to her door only to find it locked. Emily stood on the front seat, showing off her pearl white teeth and the tiny dimple on her left cheek.
Mona swore. Apparently she couldn’t take her eyes off Emily for even a minute.
“Baby, open the door.”
“Emily, please.” Mona looked around, but no one paid her any attention. “This isn’t funny. Open the door for mommy.”
“Not my mommy.”
Mona laughed weakly, plastering a smile on her face. “Don’t say silly things like that, baby. Open the door.”
Emily crossed her arms over her chest and giggled.
“This isn’t a game. Open the damn door.”
“Ma’am?” the man at the pump in front of her called out. “The kid didn’t touch the passenger-side door. Try that.”
“Thanks.” Mona flashed him her best frazzled mother smile and darted to the other side of the car before Emily caught on and continued her game. The handle creaked as Mona swung the door open. She slid inside and grabbed the troublesome little girl.
“That was very naughty, Emily. Mommy should spank you.”
“Spank Mommy. Spank Mommy,” Emily chanted. “Naughty Mommy.”
“I’m not the naughty one, little miss. Now sit back in your seat and eat your lunch. If you stay put, I won’t buckle you in until we get back on the road.” Mona pulled the car away from the pump and into one of the vacant parking spaces. As she took a bite of her sandwich, she glanced in the rearview mirror.
“How on earth did you get out of your seat?”
Maybe she hadn’t pushed the belt latch down all the way; the stupid thing stuck half the time. It didn’t surprise her that it might have jammed and not fastened completely.
Emily nibbled at her sandwich, eating neatly for a two year old.
“All done,” she announced as she held out the empty can and wrapper to Mona.
Mona took the garbage and crumpled it up with her own. Making sure to keep the door open and holding one hand on it, she tossed the garbage into the can on the sidewalk.
She fastened Emily into her seat again. This time, she made sure to click it closed and double-checked it.
“I can’t have you wandering around inside the car while I’m driving.” She landed a kiss on the little girl’s nose and then got back in her own seat.
Mona continued northward for an hour before jutting east. With all the people in Detroit, it would be easy to get lost in the crowd heading into Canada.
Emily squirmed in her seat. “Out.”
“Sorry, baby. Gotta stay safe in your seat. I don’t ever want you to get hurt again.”
“No more heal. I free.”
Mona’s breath caught in her throat. “What did you say?”
“Out!” Emily yanked in the lap bar of her seat.
“No, before that.” Mona eyed the girl in the rear view mirror.
Emily stared back. Her young, round face was innocent, but her eyes were anything but.
Mona’s hands shook on the steering wheel. Her voice came out even shakier than her hands.
“We’ll get out and play soon.” She tore her gaze from the child in the backseat just in time to see the semi-truck stopped in front of her. “Damn traffic jams!” she said, stomping on the brake pedal.
A scream welled in her throat as she realized she was too close. It was too late. The front of her car crumpled under the back end of the trailer. The steering wheel slammed into her chest. The impact knocked the air from her lungs. The car came to an abrupt stop in an explosion of metal.
Mona coughed and drew a ragged breath. She glanced up to check the rearview mirror, but the windshield’s shattered glass lay sprinkled over her and what remained of the front seats.
“Emily,” she croaked.
The click of a seat belt being unfastened was the only indication that Emily was alive. Seconds later, the rear door opened. Mona tried to turn to look behind her, but pain kept her head pinned against the headrest.
“Emily?” Movement outside the car caught her attention. Mona’s vision blurred as she tried to make out who stood outside her broken window. “Help,” she breathed.
Emily came into focus. She stood safe and healthy on the gravel roadside. Breathing was so hard. Why was it so hard? Mona looked down. So much blood.
The little girl peered over the jagged glass at the bent edges of the window frame. Her words were slow and deliberate.
“Nobody can heal you now.”
Copyright © 2014 Jean Davis