Your Personal Best, a Science Fiction Story, Part 1
The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Part One: Beginnings and Endings
I don’t remember much before the age of five unless you count the nightmares. My nights were full of blood bulging between and over clutching hands, inflating into the air in quick, but slowing pulses to deform and float off like twisted crimson balloons as I watched, paralyzed and suffocating.
I have no idea where those images came from; I was dropped off at a hospital unconscious and wearing nothing but a blood spattered Mylar blanket at roughly three years of age. I was very weak and underweight, but about as tall an average five year old girl. My fine, platinum blond hair, light brown eyes, and medium brown skin gave no real clues to my ancestry.
Despite my initial muteness, I either learned or remembered English fast enough to fit in with my peers by the time I entered school.
I felt affection for some of my foster parents and surely some of them felt affection for me. It was a loose, forgetful love, the kind with shallow roots that disappear in a season or two. I was moved around too much to risk attachment, even to schoolmates.
When I was grown, I fell in love with a man or three but it was hot, quick love, the kind that springs from the loins and fades too swiftly in the afterglow. Being tall and thin with perfect skin, big gold-brown eyes, and a sexy mouth made getting into relationships easy, but I had no idea what to do once I was there.
One of those lovers showed me what a true and lasting love could be.
I was wiping down the formica tabletop in our shared apartment, when Mitchell buzzed to be let in. He was carrying a large, poorly wrapped gift box with a smashed and snagged blue bow barely sticking to one corner of the lid. The box tilted alarmingly, so he bent over and spilled out a squirmy, yellow lab mix puppy, all big white feet and floppy ears. At the time, I didn’t know how to react. It was irresponsible. It was arrogant. It was the best gift I’d ever been given; I just didn’t know it yet.
"Mitch, what in the Hell were you thinking?”
The wide, delighted grin on his face imploded and he flinched as if I’d slapped him. His features rearranged into a look of complete bewilderment. “But… but you love dogs!”
"Dogs are not accessories to be bought as gifts! They’re living things!”
“Then why are they for sale?”
“Think about it, Mitch, a puppy is as dependent as a baby. Would you give someone a baby as a gift? You’ve made a lifetime commitment for me without even asking!”
The look of pure horror on his face cooled my rage slightly. Looking away from it, I noticed the frightened puppy cowering on the rug under my coffee table. I think I decided at that moment it would be more tolerable to live with her for the rest of my life than with Mitchell.
As my relationship with Mitch began its inevitable dissolution, Sammy grew, as did my love for her. Through the years it became clear to me that while other loves might fade away, hers was steadfast and unshakeable. Men came and went but Sammy was always there with a wet tongue and a wagging tail. If a person is only allotted one true love in a lifetime, Sammy must be mine.
About six months ago Sammy began to lose some of her enthusiasm and vigor; I chalked it up to aging. But then her appetite, which had always been immense, took a sharp decline and her weight began to drop. She was diagnosed with an oral cancer. It didn’t look like much, a discolored bulge the size of a thumbprint hidden under her sloppy, affectionate tongue, but the veterinarian assured me that it had metastasized into her jawbone. He explained that it was too late to do anything but keep Sammy comfortable.
When we got home from the vet I fed her a pill wrapped up in a slice of cheese, the only thing she’d still eat, and then crawled into bed with her. She laid her head on my chest with a sigh as I wrapped my arm around her, stroking the velvety fur of her cheek. Tears slipped soundlessly down my face as I told Sammy how much I loved her and how much better she’d made my life. She cocked her ears up every time I said her name, forming those dear little wrinkles of concern in her forehead. I didn’t know what I’d do without her.
We burrowed under the blankets and fell asleep, Sammy’s head on my pillow, her soft floppy ear against my cheek.
I woke, extremely groggy, about twelve hours later. For some reason I had this idea it was afternoon and I’d overslept but morning sunlight streaming in through the bedroom window dispelled it. Rolling over, I patted the bed next to me to pat Sammy, just as I did every morning. Sammy lay unmoving next to me on the bed, even when I gently prodded her. I shook her roughly and still she just lay there, completely limp. I knew she was dying, but I hadn’t expected it to happen so soon. I took a few shaky breaths and stroked warm, satiny fur over completely relaxed muscles.
Surprised, I pulled the light chenille bedspread off her. A strange, unconscious dog lay snoring softly in my bed. I gasped and backed away, tumbling off the bed onto my knees. My brain couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing. It was a dog, fully grown but very young and rangy.
Then it clicked. This dog bore Sammy’s markings, exactly, from her messy white socks to the irregular blaze on her breastbone. It was Sammy - minus about a dozen years of wear and tear but still shy about fifteen pounds. She snorted in her sleep then woke, licking her lips and sneezing. Bouncing from the bed she pushed her nose under my hand in greeting. There could be no doubt, it was my Sammy!
I was euphoric. My beloved pet was not only better, she was young again! I didn’t know what I should do. I couldn’t tell anyone. Who would believe me? All I had to prove my story was a dog, which as far as anyone else was concerned, could have come from anywhere. I knew that this thing was too good to keep to myself. I was dizzy with the possibilities. The only problem was, I had no idea how I had done it. I don’t know how I knew, but somehow I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was the agency behind Sammy’s healing. Whether from a repressed memory or some unconsciously processed evidence I felt certain it could be the only option. I could barely breathe, but in a good way.
I decided to experiment a little to see if I could repeat my performance with another sick animal. Over the next several days I checked four pet stores before I found exactly what I was looking for. Looking into the over-crowded glass cages of feeder mice I found three that would suit my purposes.
Two scrawny, scratched feeder mice huddled together in damp fluff under the water bottle. They’d obviously been chewed on by their compatriots. In another glass tank, a large, ginger-furred mouse with patchy, sticky looking fur and what looked like a tumor growing from her side tried to avoid pursuit from a black and gray mouse. It was either attempting to mate with her or bite her face, I’m not sure which.
When I pointed out the specific mice I wanted, the tired-looking teen told me, “You know, these aren’t pet mice; they’re just feeders, right?”
“Oh, yes, I just feel less guilty about it if the mouse is already, you know, on its way out when my snake eats it.” I’d thought that up one pet store before when it occurred to me how weird it would look to purposely buy an unhealthy mouse.
Humoring me, he nodded, pulling one fear-paralyzed rodent from the cage. “Oh, that kind of makes sense.”
He still rolled his eyes at a coworker when I bought a little ventilated plastic carrier to take them home in.
At home, I put the three mice into an old aquarium with fresh pine shavings, installed a water bottle, and fed them, congratulating myself for having the foresight to pick up a screen top at that first pet store. By the time I fixed myself a grilled cheese sandwich and took Sammy out for a walk, I was bushed.
Since I had healed Sammy as we both slept, I decided to try it the same way with the first mouse. I picked out the old mouse with the tumor, put her in the plastic carrier and brought it to bed with me. The sad old mouse huddled so miserably in a corner of the carrier as Sammy pressed her nose against the plastic I was afraid it would die of a heart attack before I could even get situated. I wiped dog spit off the clear plastic box and evicted Sammy from the bedroom for the night.
As I started to drift off to sleep to the occasional sound of a muffled whimper from the hallway, it suddenly occurred to me that I had been physically touching Sammy when I healed her. I sat up in bed with a curse.
By this time the mouse was so lethargic that I figured I could probably pull it off. She didn’t even react much when I picked her up. The small furry body seemed a bit cooler than it should have been.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to fall asleep with a live mouse in your hand? The tickle of her whiskers and the faint prickling of her tiny claws on my palm kept reminding me of her presence. Thoughts of potential mouse poop in my hand or bed weren’t very relaxing, either. Eventually I did fall asleep.
I woke up to a scratching at the door, punctuated by impatient whines. Remembering the experiment, I realized in horror that I had rolled over in my sleep and was clutching my pillow instead of a semi-comatose mouse. That brought me wide awake. I searched through the covers and shook them out. No mouse.
I groaned. Stupid, stupid, stupid!
After hunting around my bedroom, pulling furniture away from walls and peering under my bed for about half an hour, Sammy whining pitifully in the hallway the entire time, I gave up. I’d found nothing but an embarrassing amount of dust, crumbs, and dog hair and a single black sock whose mate I’d already thrown out.
I took Sammy for her walk and tried to figure out how I could heal a mouse without losing it while she pranced about gleefully baptizing every interesting object along the way. I had healed Sammy while we both slept, but I didn’t know for certain that the sleep had been a necessary component. It could have just as easily been a side effect of my emotional exhaustion. So I decided to try healing a mouse while awake.
I fed Sammy breakfast and cooked myself a big omelet. Since Sammy’s healing, my appetite had become as ravenous as hers. After a second slice of toast and a cup of coffee, I got down to business.
The two remaining mice looked better than they had the day before; a little rest, food and time away from their cannibalistic buddies had worked wonders. However, they were both still covered in scabs and one of them was missing a pretty good portion of his ear as well.
I chose the little fellow with the notched ear and picked him up gently in both hands, cupping him between them. I was a little worried that he’d bite me, being confined like that, but oddly enough, he didn’t. He curled up for a snooze instead. I didn’t have much experience with mice but it seemed out of character; I took that as a good sign. I sat on the couch, mouse between my hands and thought about how much I wanted to heal him. He just snoozed peacefully in my hands, but when I peeked in at him, he looked no better than before. If thinking about it didn’t work, maybe not thinking about it would.
I moved to the sofa and relaxed, trying to empty my mind of extraneous thoughts. I can’t really describe it but, at some point in my meditations, I became aware of the mouse on a level I’d never been consciously aware of any other creature. I could feel his body and sense its processes, his heart beating, his intestines moving. I smelled his blood cells surging through his capillaries and heard his tiny toenails growing somewhere in the distance. Then I was pulled in deeper to things I couldn’t even recognize.
My mind slowly processed it into something more familiar and the unrecognizable became something like strings of bubbles. I soon made out a pattern and instinctively moved and soothed strings to make the pattern “look” right, withered ends reforming gracefully under my mental fingertips, broken bubbles filling in and smoothing out. When it was all done and the pattern sounded perfect, my perceptions flooded outward until I recognized cells, then flesh and bone and finally my own sensations.
I opened my eyes and hands and examined the mouse. He was completely healed of all his wounds; his ear was whole again. His fur was soft and unblemished. He looked perfect. He also looked and felt completely unconscious.
Counting the time I spent thinking down a blind alley, it only took about forty minutes from the time I took the mouse from his cage until I finished healing him.
I sat there for about five minutes waiting for him to wake up then put him into the plastic carrier and brought it with me into the kitchen so I could keep an eye on him while I fixed myself something to eat. I wasn’t too concerned about his unresponsiveness. After all, Sammy had been limp as a dishrag when she was first healed and I had no idea how long it had taken to heal her or at what time of the night it had happened.
I was so hungry I made a second breakfast of leftover bacon and cheese, ate two tuna sandwiches for lunch, and snacked on junk food all day, thinking about the ramifications of my newfound ability. The mouse woke up at about suppertime, by which time my appetite had returned to normal.
After dinner, I tried, unsuccessfully, to heal the other mouse. I should have known something was off by his behavior when I picked him up. Not only was it difficult to meditate with a squirming, scratching mouse in my hand, it just didn’t feel right. So I shelved the idea and put him back in with his pal for the night.
I tried to heal the mouse after work the next day, again, nothing but a very pissed-off mouse. I was getting a little concerned that I couldn’t do it anymore but the following evening it worked like a charm.
Two more sick mice and a largish hamster habitat later I had it down. I learned I can heal one creature in about fifteen minutes, once every 48 hours. I also learned that my “patients” sleep for seven to nine hours afterward, regardless of species, and I’m hungry as a starved wolf after every healing.
My next plan was to use my ability on some human beings. To do this, I would need access to sick people. Becoming a candy-striper seemed like the logical thing to do but the local hospitals were not accepting any new volunteers at the time so I had to think outside the box.
I decided to become a floral delivery driver at a busy flower shop. I knew the city pretty well and people send flowers to sick people. Besides, I like flowers.
Eventually, I landed a job as a flower shop delivery woman. The pay wasn’t very good, but I put in my two weeks notice at the office anyway. I owned my house and had a decent nest egg besides. I could get by without touching my equity or savings even on a sorry wage if I kept to a tight budget.
I hadn’t even touched my entertainment fund since Sammy was healed other than to buy a few sick mice and some things from the pet store to keep them comfortable. I was too obsessed with the idea of using my healing power on human beings to have time for anything else. I spent hours online every evening learning about anatomy, physiology, and genetics instead of going out. It reduced my spending substantially.
Once I started at the flower shop I realized that it had been a mostly great idea. I did get to see a fair number of sick people every day when I was delivering flowers. The only problem was selecting the right person (young enough for a bit of rejuvenation to be unnoticeable) and finding a way to hang out with him or her for fifteen minutes without any witnesses around – without losing my job.
I parked the delivery van in the general parking lot behind the hospital and carried the crate of arrangements to the empty flower room. I left all but one of the flower arrangements on the appropriate section of pistachio green counter-top. Tucking the crate and its foam liner under one arm and holding the vase in the other hand I headed for the elevators.
A small Asian woman wearing lavender scrubs with blue piping reached the elevator bank seconds before me and pressed the up button. I stepped in after her when the elevator arrived. The petite woman looked at me, shining black and midnight blue hair flipping perilously near her left eye as she cocked her head to the side and raised her eyebrows. My heart was pounding and I was sure she could tell I was up to something.
I swallowed and stammered out, “Uh, third floor, please. Thanks.”
OK, so maybe she just noticed my hands were full and thought I could use some help. I can only hope my forced thankful smile didn’t look quite so much like savage indigestion as I suspect it did.
As I walked down the long hallway, painted some soothing shade of almost-green and punctuated by large, unremarkable artwork, I began to feel nauseous. I just kept moving forward as I began to experience tunnel vision until I suddenly felt cold water running down my arm. I tipped the vase upright and took a few deep breaths. The sound of voices echoed oddly down the corridor. As I approached the recipient’s room, I realized where the voices were coming from.
“Hi there, folks, I have a delivery for a Cassie Davidson.”
“Oh, uh, sure, that’s me,” said the bruised teenager propped up in the bed, “Just set it on the ledge there, OK?”
I must admit I felt a little relieved that my first attempt to find a human to heal had fallen through. Nor did it work the second time because, while the patient was alone and sleeping, he looked a lot older than I expected. The third time the set-up was perfect.
The occupant of the room was a woman in her twenties, apparently comatose but stable enough to have a regular room. Her injury had occurred weeks before so the external signs of it had mostly faded. She was also completely alone.
I set the vase of orange and red tulips on the shelf provided and sat down in the easy chair beside her bed. A passing nurse looked in as she walked by and I almost chickened out. Once my heart stopped racing I took the young woman’s limp, bony hand in my own, took a deep breath and reached for that quiet spot in my mind. Fifteen minutes later I was walking to the hospital cafeteria to stuff my face.
I thought I’d felt the most joy possible when I’d healed Sammy, but I was wrong. Remembering the transformation of her face from gray, slack, and blank to rosy-cheeked and merely sleeping, I could barely contain my emotions. Nothing had ever felt so right. I devoured my sub-par ham and Swiss on soggy sourdough with tears of joy streaking down my face. My mind went back to the card on her flower arrangement. It had been signed, “Get Well, Princess. Love, Grammy.” Grammy, whoever she was, was going to be in for a wonderful surprise.
A few days later, when, as part of my job, I called the same hospital to get patients’ room numbers for deliveries I slid her name in with the rest.
The receptionist said, “I’m sorry, it looks like Miss Eckhardt was released this morning.”
I thanked her, hung up, and put my head between my knees.
It took me two weeks to find another person to heal but I was still high from the first one. I found the second through pure, blind luck. I was delivering two large, expensive tropical flower arrangements to a private stone residence, also large and expensive, when I was invited inside by the recipient. One card read “You Are in My Thoughts and Prayers” and the other “Thinking of You” so I accepted his offer.
Flower shop employees soon learn that “Thinking of You” is what is said to a sick person only when they are totally screwed and have no hope of getting better, especially when combined with someone’s thoughts and prayers. I figured if he were dying and lonely, I could spare a few minutes of my time. I was due for a lunch break soon anyway.
I drove through the big iron gate after it opened up with a clang, parking the delivery van in the circular driveway. When I reached the door carrying the flowers, a plump middle-aged woman wearing thick glasses took them from me and carried them into another room.
She called over her shoulder, “You can join Mr. Walker in the living room and I’ll bring you some tea.”
I ambled into Mr. Walker’s living room looking around as an emaciated man in a wheelchair rolled into the room.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Mr. Walker, I’m Megan.”
“You can call me Mark,” he said, extending his hand to shake mine. It felt too dry, cool, and frail though his grip was still strong.
The maid was right behind me, bustling in with a tray of tea and sweets. She set it down on a small table in front of Mark and motioned me to the chair next to him.
“Thank you,” I said.
She replied, “You’re welcome, miss.” Turning to Mark she asked, “Is there anything I can get for you before I leave?”
“Oh, no, Marjorie, this is more than enough. Enjoy your afternoon.”
“Thanks, Mr. Walker, you too.”
Mark was charming and made wheezy chit-chat around his oxygen cannula as I awkwardly sipped tea. As he paused to catch his breath I heard the silence of the house, broken only by his gasping. It felt like a hand clenching around my heart, the sudden realization that I was completely alone with a dying man.
Mark was in his mid-thirties so he was older than I would have liked. His long illness had wrinkled, shrunken, and dried him to an appearance years, if not decades, older. Thin wisps of hair made only a token struggle to cover his pale scalp. That combined with the fact that he was conscious and speaking with me made him a terrible choice. But there in his presence, talking to him over tea, I knew I couldn’t just walk away.
I interrupted him, reaching out to touch his hand. “Mark, there’s something I have to tell you.”
His voice softened and began to slur. “Tell me anything, dear, I won’t have long to carry any secrets.”
“That’s just it. I can heal you,” I said, clasping his hand. His dark brown eyes flashed with anger and he feebly struggled to pull away. His teacup crashed against the plate, slopping out tea, but I kept a firm grip on his hand.
“What kind of shit are you trying to pull?” he growled weakly, tears glinting in his eyes.
My healing trance overwhelmed us both.
The Story Continues in Part Two
- Your Personal Best, a Science Fiction Story, Part 2
Megan has broken all the rules that keep her safe and her secret is out, at least to Mr. Walker. Will his knowledge help or harm Megan's quest to share her good fortune without being destroyed by it?
© 2015 Kylyssa Shay