Burning

a Novelette
by Melanie James 

CHAPTER 1


“Clear!” bellowed the deep voice of Dr. Morton.

All hands instantly pulled back as the doctor initiated the jolt of electricity. On the cardiac monitor, the pulseless saw-tooth pattern of ventricular tachycardia persisted. This John Doe’s heart was going to pound itself to death in moments. Anthony, the paramedic, immediately resumed chest compressions.

“Try narcan,” Jenny Wayland shouted over the commotion as she continued the rhythmic squeezing of the ambu bag against John Doe’s breathless mouth.

“The drug screen was negative,” Dr. Morton replied, agitated. Stress was soaring to off-the-chart levels.

“What do we have to lose?” Jenny countered, desperately. She knew John Doe was dying of a heroin overdose, though she couldn’t admit that to anyone.

All eyes rested on the doctor. Two liters of saline, epinephrine, lidocaine, CPR, and three defibrillator jolts had done nothing for the man. They really had nothing to lose at this point. “Give it,” Dr. Morton pronounced at last.

Jenny pulled the syringe from her pocket. She had drawn up the narcan just moments after the ambulance had arrived, fighting for the order to give it. She thrust the syringe at the nurse nearest John Doe’s IV and continued bagging. It felt like slow motion to Jenny as she watched the nurse inject the clear liquid into the man’s vein, plunging the syringe to deliver the medication.

There was a slight lag as the chest compressions circulated the medication into the blood stream. Then, absolutely textbook, the rhythm started to change. Instinctively, Anthony stopped the compressions, allowing the monitor to get a clear reading. The rhythm went from bigeminy, to trigeminy, to a normal sinus rhythm. His vital signs were stabilizing too, pulse slowing, blood pressure building. Jenny had clearly been right.
Reassured that John Doe was out of the woods for the moment, the code team started to dissipate, stealing furtive glances at Jenny as they did so. She feigned unawareness.

Dr. Morton stood, stunned, never having expected it to work. When the room had nearly cleared he approached her. “How did you know that?” he demanded, startling Jenny by his tone that bordered on indignant.

“Nurses know a few things too,” she chided, making light of the situation. “It’s the one thing we hadn’t tried.”
She turned to the patient and started straightening the bedding.

Dr. Morton sighed, trying to figure out what question to ask.

She was keenly aware of his vague, unnamed suspicion, and his intentions to probe further.

“Jenny, you have a phone call. Jenny, you have a phone call holding,” came the voice over the speaker.

Thankful for a reason to cut off any further queries, Jenny turned to the phone on the wall. In her peripheral view, she saw Dr. Morton disappear through the sliding glass doorway.

“ER, Jenny speaking,” she said into the receiver.

“Hi,” replied a stern male voice. “This is Rick in the lab. Are you the nurse taking care of Island H.I.?”

Jenny turned to view the patient’s armband and verify the assigned name given to her John Doe on arrival.
“Yes, I am,” she confirmed.

“We just found a mix-up here in the lab. It turns out that the drug screen results reported earlier were switched with another patient. Island H.I. is positive for heroin,” Rick explained. “I hope this hasn’t caused any problems. “

She fought the urge to yell at him. John Doe would be dead if it wasn’t for her knowing what, by all accounts, she should not have known. But telling him the real situation would bring dangerous questions. “It’s all taken care of,” Jenny said instead.

“I’m updating the chart now,” Rick informed her.

Jenny hung up the phone, debating whether to tell Dr. Morton or let him find out the next time he opened John Doe’s chart. She opted to let him see it himself and avoid more questions, hopefully.

She rubbed at her temples, wishing John Doe would stop screaming at her. Well, he wasn’t actually screaming at her, but she was the only one that could hear him.

Stop the girl. Stop the girl.

In between memories of injecting himself with heroin, he just kept repeating the same phrase in his unconscious mind. His focus was unbelievable. Few people had minds so strong, especially when augmented by the effects of narcotics.

She pushed away the thoughts, knowing only her own mind for a few minutes, and felt the mental relief as well as the feverish burn that always accompanied turning it off. In blissfully sweltering mental silence, she prepared John Doe to be transferred up to the ICU where he would be monitored while he recovered and detoxed.

CHAPTER 2


Uneasy, Jenny lay awake late into the night. She tossed and turned, trying to relax and drift off into sleep, but it wouldn’t come. She listened to the crickets chirping outside of her window, and the breeze rustling the trees. She spent whole minutes staring at the green light on the smoke alarm attached to the ceiling in the far corner of her room. She even tried counting mental sheep. But her mind kept wandering back to the same place it had been all evening.

Attempting to understand why people did what they did was usually pretty effortless for Jenny. It was usually right there for her to hear and see and know. But this John Doe was a mystery.

The man had never before used drugs in his life, that much she was sure of. His flawless skin, healthy teeth, and strong heart, liver, and lungs were enough to make that pretty clear. But more than that, he had said so—unconsciously, of course. So what kind of a person goes from nothing stronger than a Red Bull to a lethal dose of IV heroin in one shot? Nothing suggested to her that it was depression and a woeful suicide attempt. But she was sure that there was a very calculated purpose. It had to have something to do with the phrase he kept repeating. Stop the girl. What girl? Stop her from doing what?

Another part of the mystery kept eluding her, though, as if it fluttered just beyond her grasp.

It had been a busy day in the ER. The code team had come to John Doe’s code straight from another patient’s bedside. Mac Wilker was his name, a man in his early twenties with multiple stab wounds. His wounds were severe, but somehow he never actually lost consciousness, and, thankfully, the code team was an unnecessary precaution. He wasn’t Jenny’s patient, so she hadn’t stuck around long, but now her thoughts seemed caught on the moment when she’d been in the room.

Sorting through the thoughts, which are always a jumble in a crowded room, especially in an emergency, she focused on the patient’s thoughts. He reported to have been mugged, stabbed after they took his wallet and watch. However, his memories clearly portrayed him stabbing himself, four times. It was not a suicide attempt, though. Again, Jenny was sure that this was a calculated move for some other reason, and the man was certain in his mind that he would be perfectly fine.

Odd as this all was, what did it have to do with John Doe?

As the night wore on, she felt herself drifting towards sleep.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony began to play. Jenny lifted her head from her pillow to see the glowing alarm clock. It was almost 5:00 AM on her day off. She groaned and reached for the singing cell phone.

“Hello,” she answered, hearing the raspy sound of sleep still in her voice.

“This is Patty from staffing,” a peppy, very awake woman replied. “Is this Jennifer Wayland?”
“Yes,” Jenny replied, though she was tempted to lie.

“We need some extra help in the ICU today and were wondering if you can come in for overtime?” Patty explained.

Jenny hesitated. She really wanted to decline. She’d worked the last three days in a row. A fourth twelve-hour shift would be miserable, especially after her poor night’s sleep.

“Six nurses have called off today in the ICU,” Patty went on. “We really need you if you can come.” Patty’s peppy voice sounded desperate.

Jenny sat up fully. “Six nurses? That’s over half the staff! What’s going on?”

“I don’t really know. Might be some virus going around or something,” replied Patty. “Almost every nurse that worked yesterday in the ICU called in to say they couldn’t work today. Maybe they had a potluck and all got food poisoning. I really can’t say. I just know that we desperately need staff to fill this shift. Can you come in?”

“Yes,” Jenny consented. “I’ll be there.”

After hanging up the phone, she reclined back on the bed, letting her head rest against the headboard. It was too early to need to get up, but she was too awake to go back to sleep. She couldn’t ever think of a time when so many people from a single unit had called in sick on the same day.

At least she could find out what happened to her John Doe.

CHAPTER 3


Room twelve was Jenny’s assignment. Due to the patient’s instability, Jenny had been assigned only one patient. She approached the station outside the room, from where the nurse could chart on the computer and keep an eye on the patient through a large, strategically placed window.

“She yours today?” Leanne asked. Leanne was usually a very bubbly person. Jenny didn’t work the ICU often, but she knew Leanne pretty well and had never seen her in a down mood. Today, however, she looked haggard and, well, down-right depressed.

Jenny could hear it all around. Gloom clouded the entire night crew’s thoughts and the patients’ minds too.

“Yeah, she’s mine,” Jenny confirmed. “What happened?” she asked. “Everyone seems so down.”

Leanne shook her head and shrugged. “Nothing really. Pretty calm night. I don’t know why everyone seems so gloomy. It was the same way when I came in last night. I think that’s why so many people called off today.” Leanne sighed, as if trying to suck energy out of the air. “In fact, I don’t think I can do another night of this. I might call off tonight, myself.”

Jenny listened to the minds around her. Nothing good, except…she honed in on one exuberant mind. As Jenny focused, it was like nothing she’d ever encountered. The happiness was overwhelming, like a manic episode on steroids.

Who was it?

Leanne was staring at her. “Are you ready for report?” she asked, tired and ready to escape.

Jenny snapped her focus back. “Yeah, go for it.”

“This is Stella Marcum, a 14 year old girl. She came in yesterday afternoon in a coma. Her mother said that she’s been running a fever the last couple of days. Stella claimed to feel great until she slipped into a coma yesterday and her parents called 911. Since she got here, her temperature just keeps sky-rocketing.” Leanne paused to indicate the vital sign’s graph.

“Holy cow!” Jenny exclaimed. “What’s wrong with her?”

Every hour the charted temperature was higher. It started at 105.6 F and rose all the way to the last temperature reading of 108.1. There was only one minuscule dip in the pattern around eight the previous evening. Nothing that really amounted to much, as the temperature had gone right back to its tortoise, slow-and-steady-wins-the-race climb.

Leanne shrugged. “We don’t know. Vitals, other than temperature obviously, blood work, CT scan, MRI, all normal. We’ve tried culturing everything there is to culture and nothing’s grown so far. If the girl wasn’t burning to a crisp, I’d swear she was about the healthiest person I’ve ever seen.”

“So what’s the plan?”

“All we can do is try to bring the temperature down superficially. She’s getting indomethacin, there’s a cooling blanket on the bed set as low as it will go, we’re packing her in ice packs, and we’re running chilled saline into IVs in both arms.”

“Goodness!” Jenny exclaimed.

“She’s also getting three antibiotics, just in case, even though we can’t find any infection.” Leanne handed the med sheet over. “Any other questions?” she asked, clearly hoping there weren’t. Her bag already on her shoulder, she was poised to make a quick exit.

Jenny shook her head. “No, I’ll take it from here.”

Jenny left the computer station and went straight in to see her patient. As she walked in the room, she became even more acutely aware of the despondent feeling settling over her. At the same time, she identified the euphoric glee she had found earlier. It was coming straight from the mind of Stella Marcum. The contrast between her own thoughts and the girl’s was astounding.

As Jenny approached, she could feel the warmth radiating off of Stella’s body like scorching heat pouring off of a rock in the dessert’s punishing sun. She picked up the pink bath basin and went quickly to the ice machine, filled it up, and then added enough water to fill in the gaps. She hurried back to the room. The human brain couldn’t handle temperatures so high. Stella wasn’t long for this world if her temperature sustained itself much longer, or worse, kept rising.

Methodically, Jenny dipped washcloths in the icy water and laid them across Stella’s head, neck, arms, legs, and torso. By the time she was done—mere minutes—the first cloths she had placed felt as if they’d been dipped in boiling rather than ice-chilled water. She repeated the process three times, replacing the steaming rags with frigid ones. She could have gone on all day for all the progress it was making, but she saw the last drops leaving the IV bags and knew she had to get on to the morning medications. Jenny packed the scorching body in fresh ice packs and dashed off to the med room.

Moments later, she returned to the room carrying saline, vancomycin, and a syringe with an injection of indomethacin, an antipyretic drug which should reduce fever, but which obviously hadn’t had any effect on her.

“None of this is working,” she said to herself. “Why did I even come in today?” She shook herself. It wasn’t like her to be so pessimistic. But she didn’t feel like being happy, or positive, or hopeful.

As Jenny spiked the new saline bags and hung them, she tried to focus on Stella’s thoughts and unravel the mystery of this girl. The utter, blissful euphoria in the girl’s mind smothered every other tangible thought. She reached for the vancomycin and started switching it out with the previous bag, still hanging on the IV pole.

“She’s right over here,” Jenny heard Chuck, another ICU nurse, say out in the hallway.

Jenny hadn’t been paying attention to the other thoughts on the unit, just background noise she’d learned to live with. Startled, she looked up just in time to see Chuck lead a tall, pretty, blond woman into the room.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

“This is Mary Watson,” said Chuck.

Linda Lines, the internal voice of the woman corrected, but she nodded at Chuck’s assertion as the truth.

“She wanted to see Stella,” he said, as if that explained it all.

There’s no problem with that. She can stay.

Jenny heard the words in Linda’s head and an echo of the same words in her own, as if this woman was projecting her thoughts into Jenny’s mind. That couldn’t be, could it?

“Why do you want to see Stella?” Jenny asked.

“We’re old friends,” Linda answered. I’ve never met her before, but the stupid girl is going to kill us all if we don’t stop her.

Jenny fell back a step. The words from yesterday replayed in her memory.

Stop the girl.

Was Stella the girl John Doe was so concerned about stopping? She suddenly felt that she had to know.

“Okay,” she agreed. “Chuck will you keep an eye on Stella while I go check on something?”

Chuck shrugged. “Sure, no problem.”

Jenny departed as Linda took a seat next to the bed. Jenny tried to keep a hold on Linda’s thoughts as she headed to John Doe’s room. It was just three doors down from Stella’s room.

“Angie,” Jenny said as she approached his nurse. “How’s this guy doing?”

Angie turned from the computer screen to face her wearing a flat expression. “Oh, he’s doing fine. Woke up last night, he’ll probably be out of here soon.”

“Has he been acting strange at all?” inquired Jenny.

Angie shook her head. “No. He’s been a model patient.” She shrugged. “I guess, considering that he’s a heroin addict, that is strange.” Thank goodness. I can’t deal with anything else today. It’s just such an awful day!

Jenny knew he wasn’t an addict, or hadn’t been, but didn’t mention the fact.

“I was his nurse yesterday when he came into the ER. I was just wondering how he’s doing,” Jenny explained, though Angie didn’t really care in her current mood, which mirrored the predominant feeling on the unit—which included, increasingly, Jenny’s.

“You can go in and see him if you want,” Angie replied, an empty look in her eyes.

Jenny nodded. “Thanks.”

Oh no, someone’s coming! Too late, I’ll have to stay here. It was John Doe’s mental voice. She recognized it clearly. She’d heard it playing over and over in her mind throughout the night.

When she pulled back the curtain covering the doorway, she saw that the bed was empty. She made a cursory scan of the room, deserted.

Please don’t start looking for me. She’ll kill us all if I can’t stop her.

She couldn’t see him anywhere in the room, but his mind was clearly nearby, and he could see her. In a split second she decided to keep quiet.

Angie eyed her as she emerged from the room.

“He’s sleeping,” she whispered. “We’d better let him rest.”

Angie nodded and turned back to the computer, obviously not really caring.

Jenny headed back to Stella’s room. She expected to find Linda alone with Stella. She’d heard Linda suggest to Chuck in the voice that reverberated in her mind and his that he leave and check on his other patient. She’d seen in Chuck’s mind that he’d done it. Now she listened as Linda silently spoke to Stella.

I don’t need to do this anymore. She was speaking as if she were Stella. It’s too hot. I think I’ll just turn it off for a while.

These thoughts didn’t echo in Stella’s mind, too clouded by euphoria to receive them.

“It’s not working,” Linda whispered.

Who cares? I don’t really care if we do die.
 

Of course, I do. What’s wrong with me?

John Doe was nearby. She could hear his mental and whispered response to Linda’s words, “I was afraid it wouldn’t work. I’m coming in.” Somehow, unseen, he had traveled closer to Stella’s room. “Is it clear?” he asked.

Linda, unaware of Jenny’s proximity, replied, “Yes, I think so.”

Jenny watched it in his mind, acutely focused to see every thought. He entered the room by passing through the wall. Was that what she’d really just seen? People couldn’t walk through walls! Then again, she reminded herself that people couldn’t read minds either, and here she was.

Jenny could hear John Doe’s mind crying out for the drug, aching and needing, like a predatory beast the addiction had already taken hold.

I don’t need any drugs. That one shot just about killed me, it was utterly miserable. I’ll never do that again.

Jenny heard the words in both of their minds and saw a hypnotic calming to the craving.

“Where’s Mac?” whispered Linda.

“He’s in room sixteen. He’s so antsy he’d probably stab himself again just for something to do. But we’re not ready to tear the place up, so I think we’ll leave him out of this for as long as possible.”

“Good thinking,” responded Linda.

“We better just get her out of here, now,” said John Doe.

That was where Jenny had to draw the line. She charged into the room. “Stop right there!” she commanded, but kept her voice down to avoid drawing any of the other staff’s attention. The two would-be-kidnappers froze.

 “Who are you?” Jenny directed the question at John Doe.

The man put his hands out in a surrender gesture. “My name is Brian Smith.” Ben McHugh. “We were just talking to Stella. We’re friends.” This girl’s a ticking time bomb.

“How did you get in here?” Jenny demanded.

“Just walked down the hall from my room,” Ben lied.

“So all of Stella’s friends just happen to end up in the ICU the same day as she does?” Jenny asked skeptically. “You don’t even seem sick. How did you get admitted to the ICU, Linda?”

I never told her my name was Linda!

Linda and Ben exchanged significant glances.

Before Jenny heard the thought, she had already realized her mistake. She had been introduced to Mary Watson. She had snatched the name Linda Lines from the woman’s thoughts. Would they realize how she knew? Surely they wouldn’t guess the truth. She was usually so much more careful.

Flashes of a dark room pounded in her head. There was a small window in the door with black bars through which the bald man was peering at her.

She had to hold it together; she couldn’t panic. They wouldn’t know.

“You have a gift, don’t you, Jenny?” said Linda.

She reads minds. You can hear me right now, can’t you?

Jenny’s eyes betrayed her. There was something very suspicious about the way she deliberately avoided
Linda’s gaze that told Linda that she was right.

We’re like you. Gifted. Not the same, but you don’t have to hide. Dahlia knew you’d be here.

Jenny sighed. Gifted? She’d thought of her telepathy in many ways before, but never as a gift. She didn’t know what to do, and she was sure she’d regret what she was about to do, but she did it anyway.

“Who’s Dahlia?” she asked.

Ben and Linda both beamed at her like they’d just been handed the most wonderful Christmas present.

“She’s a friend of ours,” explained Linda. “She…knows things.”

“What kind of things?” asked Jenny, impatient.

“She sees the future, or at least where the future is headed at any given moment,” explained Ben.

“And she saw me?” speculated Jenny.

“That’s how we knew I’d make it,” said Ben. “Dahlia saw you knowing what had happened to me and what medication to give. I didn’t like the idea of heroin much, but it was the only thing that Dahlia saw making me sick enough to get admitted to the ICU without actually killing me.” He spoke so matter-of-factly, as if he discussed death defying stunts every day.

“After what you took, you should still be very ill. You should still be detoxing. You shouldn’t be standing here talking to me like a rational person.” Jenny couldn’t believe she had just described any part of this conversation as rational.

I purged the drug as soon as I woke up, and Linda’s helping a lot. Ben said nothing, but Jenny heard his response in his mind. She was not entirely sure what he meant about “purging.” She rubbed at her temples, massaging away the mounting tension.

Jenny inhaled and exhaled, methodically. “So,” she hedged. “You are Ben McHugh and Linda Lines. I’m Jenny Wayland, and none of us are exactly what we seem. I read minds, you,” she indicated Linda, “seem to control them to some degree. And you,” referring to Ben, “can walk through walls.”

It was all out in the open, refreshing and terrifying all at once. She fought the urge to run.

They both nodded, seeming comfortable with the knowledge of their gifts.

“If you all know so much about these ‘gifts,’ what causes them? I’ve never known anyone else who had one.”

“Genetic mutation, evolution, exposure to teratogens in utero—we don’t really know for sure,” admitted Ben. “But I can promise you that you are definitely not alone. I’ve even run across other telepaths.”

“What does all this have to do with Stella?” Jenny asked. “You both seem to think she’s lethal.”

“Dahlia saw it,” said Ben. “Stella has a gift too, though we don’t know exactly what it is.”

“She’s sucking all the fun out of life,” said Jenny, humorlessly.

“Excuse me?” said Ben. “What do you mean?”

It seemed so obvious now. Jenny hadn’t considered that Stella’s fever could be related to an ability like hers because she’d never met other gifted people. She could shut other minds out, but it burned like a fever after a while, and she would have to stop blocking them.

“You feel it,” said Jenny. “The sadness. She’s pulling all the positive energy to herself. The girl’s mind is in raptures of complete bliss right now. It reminds me a bit of an addict. She just wants the pleasure no matter what the cost.”

“So that’s it,” said Linda.

“What did Dahlia see happening?” asked Jenny, curiously. She had always wondered what would happen if she just kept blocking it all out. Sometimes it was so temping.

“How much do you know about gifts?” asked Ben.

“Not much, other than what I’ve experienced myself,” she admitted quietly. “I’ve never known anyone else who had one.” This whole conversation was making her intensely uneasy. “Could you just think whatever you want to say?’ she asked. “I’ll get it, and I don’t want anyone else overhearing this.”

Ben nodded. There are two kinds of gifts. Ones that favor being on, like I assume yours does. He waited and she nodded. Others favor off. Both types can be switched, but that brings an attraction of energy and a heat sensation. My gift favors off, so does Linda’s. When I make myself non-corporeal or Linda projects thoughts, we feel the burning, he explained in thought. Once we let our gifts return to their favored state, the energy slowly dissipates, no harm done. The problem here is that Stella is keeping her gift on to the point that the energy is killing her. She can’t survive the heat much longer, and the moment she dies the energy, which took days to accumulate, will all release instantaneously. The result will be very similar to a bomb. Dahlia saw hundreds of people dying.

“Is Dahlia always right?” whispered Jenny.

She sees what will happen if things remain on their current course. Anyone can make a decision and change the path they are on, and that will change the future. Dahlia sees where current decisions and circumstances will lead. In that, she is never wrong. If we don’t find a way to get Stella to turn it off soon, this will happen, today.

They all stood, intent in thought. Then Jenny remembered the other man, the one who stabbed himself, the methodical plan to get to the ICU.

“Isn’t there another one with you?” she asked, keeping her voice low.

“Mac?” asked Linda.

“I think that was his name. He stabbed himself yesterday.”

“That’s Mac Wilker, and yes, he’s here for the same reason as we are,” Linda confirmed.

“Is he…” she hesitated, still uncomfortable with the subject. “You know, gifted?”

They nodded.

“So what are you guys? Some vigilante group of comic book superheroes?” asked Jenny, dubiously.

“We’re no superheroes,” Ben whispered. “We are more of a group of friends who happen to be gifted. We help each other out with our unique abilities. We don’t go around saving the world. But, in this case, a lot of us would have been in Stella’s blast zone, so that made this our concern. We could have made a run for safety, but we decided it was better to try and stop her—I mean, we wouldn’t want to have to rebuild our houses,” he added to avoid sounding noble.

“Oh, of course,” she agreed, sarcastically. “So what are we going to do?”

“Does that mean you’ll help?” asked Linda.

“Well,” she replied, thoughtfully. “I’m rather fond of my house as well.”

“Excellent.” Ben exclaimed, clapping his hands in enthusiasm.

CHAPTER 4


“I already tried projecting thoughts to get her to stop,” explained Linda. “Usually, people latch on to the thoughts as if they were their own and act on them. It’s not working with her, though.”

“I heard you doing that,” said Jenny. “But the thoughts never penetrated her mind. She’s too focused on the euphoria to think of anything else. We’ve got to bring her out of this coma or we’ll never be able to get through to her.”

“How do you propose we do that, nurse Jenny?” Ben asked, a little bit mocking.

She scowled at him. “I don’t know. I’m just trying to talk this through so we can figure something out.”

“Our best plan is for me to extend my gift to her and carry her right out of here,” said Ben.

“You can do that?” asked Jenny, surprised.

“It’s difficult. It took a lot of practice and it makes the burning come faster,” he said. “It was really useful, though, once I was able to take my clothes with me. I learned how to hone in on specific things and take them or leave them at will. That’s how I purged the heroin, I just left it solid and stepped away.” He smiled in satisfaction. “We can get her far away from here and everyone else.”

Jenny shook her head vehemently. “I’m not ready to let her die,” she insisted. “We need to find another way to dispel the energy before it kills her.”

“We’d love to save her, but we don’t see how,” said Linda, consolingly. “If you’ve got any ideas, we’re open, but there’s not much time.”

Jenny started pacing, trying to think. What could dispel energy? Nothing they were doing was cooling her at all…except…

She ran from the room to the desk outside and fumbled for the vitals flow sheet. There it was, the little dip in her temperature around eight PM. But what had caused it?

She pulled up Stella’s chart on the computer and read through Leanne’s notes from the previous evening. Unfortunately, she hadn’t been very detailed in her documentation. However, she did mention that right after shift change, Stella was taken down for an MRI. Jenny pulled up the test results and discovered that an MRI was performed at 7:55 PM. She dashed back to Stella’s bedside.

“I might know what to do,” she exclaimed. They waited, fixated on her. “We need to take her for an MRI, Magnetic Resonance Imaging. It creates a magnetic field and I think it will pull the energy away from her. She had one yesterday, and her temperature fell slightly. It was the only dip in her temperature at all. It has to be related.”

“So we need to keep it going longer,” concluded Ben.

“Exactly,” said Jenny. “I’ll call the doctor and get an order. I’ll have to think of something to convince her to write it for lots of tests to keep Stella in the magnetic field as long as possible. Hopefully, it’ll be enough to wake her up and then we can make her understand and get her stop.”

“Let’s do it,” said Linda.

“It’s worth a shot,” agreed Ben.

Jenny looked at the monitor; Stella’s heart rate was becoming a bit erratic. Time was growing short. She spun on her heels and headed back to the door, trying to decide what to tell Dr. Prush. But just as she stepped out into the hall, she heard a crash coming from a room just down the hall.

“I’m getting out of this bed, right now! Keep that slimy, stinkin’ garbage you call food away from me!” Mac Wilker came traipsing out, walking like he was fit as could be, not bothered by the way his hospital gown was flapping open in the back.

Milly, the aide, came out of the room behind him, looking worried and upset. Jenny gave her a little wave as a sign that she’d take care of the situation. After all, Mac was heading straight for her.

He stopped when he was inches from her.

She stood there, stunned.

What do you want to call the doctor for? I always say, if you need something done, just get it done. Only causes problems when you start asking permission.

He whispered in her ear. “Dahlia called. You don’t…”

She cut him off. “Don’t need an order, huh? I can’t get them to run the MRI without it,” she protested.

“I think that if we all put our heads together, we’ll make it work,” he said, confidently.

He grabbed her by the arm, not hard, but purposefully, and led her back into Stella’s room where the others awaited. None of the staff on the unit intervened, and Jenny knew that none of them were paying any attention, lost as they were in their own despair.

Linda and Ben both seemed unsurprised.

“Finally couldn’t sit still anymore?” asked Ben.

Mac gave a wide grin. “Dahlia called. She saw this nurse calling the doc and getting shot down. Didn’t have time to explain what happened next, only that we didn’t make it in time. She said its best to not ask for an order. We’ll just have to go get the MRI ourselves,” he explained.

“We’ll need everyone for this to work,” said Ben. “It’s too many people for me to take.”

“Hey, Nurse, you can push Stella on her bed and meet us down there,” suggested Mac.

“My name is Jenny,” she replied, feeling smug. Mac was exactly the type of guy that immediately got under her skin. “And I don’t think that will be a problem. The gloom Stella is creating on this unit is making it so that no one cares enough to ask many questions, it seems.”

“Good plan, Nurse,” replied Mac.

It’s so funny how much that seems to bother her.

Jenny tried very hard not to show that she was bothered. “Hold on,” she said. She ran to the linen closet and came back with three gowns, the same type that each of the patients was wearing. She handed one to each of them. “You can put this on backwards like a robe so you won’t have to worry about your gowns coming open in the back,” she explained.

With practiced discipline, Jenny tried to ignore the sarcastic remarks coming from Mac’s mind. Still, she blushed and had to turn away. He laughed, right out loud. Mac clearly had been let in on the secret about her telepathy, maybe by Dahlia. He was going to be a challenge to be around. It had been less than five minutes and she was already wishing she could put a few choice sedatives in his IV.

With practiced skill and speed, Jenny switched Stella from the wall monitor to the travel monitor. With trepidation, she watched the increasingly irregular beats of the girl’s heart.

“Go,” she said. “I’ll meet you down there.”

Ben took hold of Linda and Mac by the arm, walked straight through the back wall, and disappeared. There was no change in their appearance, none of the shimmering translucence that she had expected to see. But they had passed straight through solid brick like it was air.

Quickly, she unlocked the wheels of the bed and started pushing it out into the hallway. Just as she had suspected, the melancholy staff ignored her departure.

CHAPTER 5


When she reached the MRI room two floors down, she found the others in the waiting room across the hall. When they saw her, they followed.

I think it’s time for a break right now, Jenny heard in Linda’s mind and the minds of nearly every staff member in the MRI room. I don’t care that they’re bringing a patient in. It’s my break time, and I’m taking it now. They can wait for all I care.

Three nurses walked passed them toward the door, purposefully ignoring them. That left two MRI techs in the room. They were both looking at the new arrivals with surprise and confusion.

Mac reached for the one nearest the door, pulling him to his feet by the back of his collar and escorting him to the door in the same gruff manner. He hadn’t gotten Linda’s hint, so Mac had decided to give the guy some of his charm.

Thanks to Linda, the man thought, I do need to leave right now. And he didn’t protest. Jenny stifled a laugh. The scene was just too preposterous.

The other man looked on with growing concern. When Mac came back towards him, he jumped to his feet.

“Don’t worry,” said Jenny, stepping between Mac and the frightened tech. They needed one tech to run the machine. She didn’t know how, and she was pretty sure none of the others did either.

“We just need an MRI done on this patient. There’s an order in the computer for it,” she lied, giving Linda a significant glance as she did so.

I’d better just do it and I’ll check for the order later. Jenny heard the reverberating words in both Linda and the man’s mind. He nodded and sat down at the desk.

“Put her on the table,” he commanded. “Make sure you disconnect that monitor. We can’t have anything metal in the room with her.”

Jenny disconnected her from the monitor that now read a temperature of 108.8, heart rate of 127, and a very discouraging heart rhythm. “There could only be minutes left,” she whispered to Ben as he leaned down to lift Stella and move her almost effortlessly onto the thin table that fed into the MRI machine. He nodded, grimly.

“You can all watch with me from back here,” the tech said. They rushed over to the desk and he shut the door that divided the room into sections. They could see her through a large window above the desk. Stella’s expression was serene, but the rest of her body seemed tortured.

I’ll just run the system check first, to make sure the images come out clear, thought the tech.

“The doctor needs these results, STAT,” insisted Jenny as she gave Linda another telling glance.

No problem. I’ll start the MRI immediately, Linda projected. There was a slight whirring sound as the machine started up and the table on which Stella was lying slid into the large cylinder of the machine. Jenny could feel, hear, and see the tension from five different vantage points. She could see Stella’s breathing becoming more labored.

I’d better get an MRI view of every part of her body.

The tech followed the mental suggestion as if it were his own thought.

No longer attached to the metal monitor, it was difficult to judge the effects on Stella. Any second, it could be too late. Linda was focused on her task. The machine was slow and methodical, but after one complete pass, there was no visible change in Stella’s condition.

Jenny could see and feel the anxiety from each of the room’s occupants. Everyone but the tech realized that their own lives, as well as thousands of others, were at stake. Ben was considering snatching the girl and making a run for it. Mac’s thoughts centered on doing something—anything. It was killing him to just watch and wait. No one moved. Linda mentally pushed the tech to continue the test.

Fortunately MRIs are slow and lengthy. Still, the tech was considering ending the test once the images of Stella’s head and chest were recorded. Stella was still unconscious, but her breathing seemed visibly steadied. Linda pushed him to continue the test.

I’d better continue on down, all the way to her toes.

The machine continued generating the magnetic field. Over and over, Linda directed the tech to prolong the test, and, amazingly, he did each time until he’d collected duplicate images from head to toe. Then, he finally managed to fight the prodding.

One more time, just in case I’ve missed something.

“That’s all,” he said. “I’ve gotten all of the images we need. Probably more.” He looked like someone who had just woken from a sleepwalking episode and was trying to remember what he’d done.

Mac tensed. We’ll see if you won’t run it again!

“No, Mac,” Jenny whispered, stepping between Mac and the tech to prevent him from grabbing the man. “It might be enough.”

Jenny rushed back into the room and reattached the monitor, hoping against hope.

A beautiful, even heart rhythm danced across the monitor at a rate of 76 beats per minute. Mercifully, her temperature had fallen to 99.4 degrees, but she was still unconscious, and Jenny could feel the glee inside her and knew that this was only a temporary solution, holding the tsunami at bay.

Jenny glanced over at the tech; he wasn’t paying attention. He was looking over the images he’d just collected and rubbing his head with a puzzled expression. She turned to Ben. “Can you keep him busy for a bit?”

“Sure,” he whispered. “I’m on it.”

She watched him walk back to the control desk, casually shutting the door behind him. Though she couldn’t hear through the door, she listened to the thoughts of the conversation, just to make sure it would keep the tech distracted.

Hi there. I’m a fireman here in town, he said, and she could tell that it was the truth. This is quite the gadget you guys have here. Have you heard about mini MRIs they are installing in some of our department’s ambulances now? This was complete drivel, but she could tell he had the tech’s attention.

Jenny turned her concentration back to Stella. Linda was already attempting suggestion again, more specific now that she knew Stella’s particular gift. It still wasn’t getting through. But Stella’s mind was clearer. Though still wrapped with a sugary delight, for the first time there were other thoughts present as well. Jenny focused to catch the snatches of memories and thoughts. The picture was becoming clearer to her.

“Stella,” she said, and instantly she was aware that Stella’s mind could hear her. “Stella, you didn’t know what you were doing. You didn’t know that when you make yourself feel happier, it makes other people sad. You can’t keep blaming yourself.” Jenny took a deep breath. “You didn’t make her kill herself.” She could see that Stella’s guilt and grief had caused her to turn to her gift like a drug, the likely culprit of her grief becoming her sanctuary.

Every eye in the room was on Jenny, amazed at the direction this was taking.

Stella’s mind was clearing, but was still an unfocused jungle that was difficult to read clearly. Jenny glanced at the monitor. Stella’s pulse had risen to 121 beats per minute, a likely sign of stress. Maybe Jenny was getting through. Stella’s body shifted suddenly, moving like a child in the midst of a horrid nightmare.

Jenny persisted. “Stella, you have to stop collecting happiness. I know it makes the sadness stop, but it hurts other people. Now that you know what happens, you have to stop it. And Stella, honey,” Jenny reached out to touch Stella’s cheek. “It’s killing you. It causes the burning. You have to stop it! You have to let the energy go. It’ll be okay. We’ll be here to help you.” She was making so many promises. She didn’t know if she could keep them, but she had to save Stella’s life.

They all watched Stella, waiting. And then, they all felt it. Like a drop in the barometric pressure, the gloom began dissipating like fog. Jenny could hear and see clarity returning to Stella’s mind. She had finally let the gift revert to off.

“It worked!” exclaimed Linda.

“Not bad, Nurse. That telepathy sure would be nice to have,” muttered Mac.

And that remaindered her of a question. “What’s your gift, Mac?”

I heal myself, his mind reflexively answered her question.

“I’m a supernaturally good kisser,” he replied with a wink. “Want to experience the heat?”

Jenny could tell from his thoughts that he was harmless, finding humor in the way he put her off balance. She tried to seem indifferent, but she felt her face redden.

He laughed.

“So,” she pulled the subject back. “That’s why you didn’t mind stabbing yourself. You knew you could just heal yourself whenever you wanted.”

He smiled. “Yup.” He pounded on his abdomen. “Good as new.”

At that moment, Ben reentered the room, the tech heading off for a break. He surveyed the group and felt the relief from despair. “I take it that all is well?” he surmised.

“That’s right,” replied Linda. “Once again, Dahlia was right.”

“About what?’ asked Jenny.

“That you were the key,” supplied Mac.

“Really?” asked Jenny, doubtful.

“It’s true,” promised Ben. “We thought of a hundred ways to sneak into the ICU to get Stella, and Dahlia always saw disaster. It wasn’t until we came up with the plan for all three of us to get ourselves actually admitted to the ICU that Dahlia saw you and saw the possibility of success. She couldn’t be positive what would happen because it was still based on choices that you and Stella hadn’t made yet.”

“Oh,” she said stupidly, but it was the only response she could think of.

“Jenny, we could really use you,” said Ben. “How do you feel about joining the group?”

Jenny’s heart raced. This was going too far. She had spent years hiding her telepathy. She didn’t think she could handle joining a group of people with gifts. She had already made hers far too public today. The realization was bringing up waves of nausea.

“I…don’t think so,” she stuttered.

“Just think about it,” he persisted. “We call ourselves the Clandestine Ensemble.”

“You call us that,” Linda interjected. “We don’t have a name, it’s not that organized.”

Ben shrugged and smiled sheepishly. “Fine, I call us the Clandestine Ensemble. But, like Linda said, it’s really informal. Just a group of friends that help each other out when there’s something only we can do.” He reached for his wallet, then remembered that he was still wearing that ridiculous hospital gown. He sighed. “When we get upstairs, I’ll give you my card. If you ever need us, just give me a call,” he said.

Jenny took deep, cleansing breaths. “Okay,” she consented. “Let’s get you all back upstairs. Hopefully security hasn’t already been called.” Now that the crisis was over, she was beginning to worry about her job. She started to push the bed towards the door.

Ben reached out and caught her arm. “By the way,” he said. “You’re the only one who knows our real names. We’d appreciate it if you kept that quiet.”

“Oh, the fire department doesn’t look favorably on heroin?” she asked, sarcastically.

“Not really. And Linda’s better off not being mentioned either. Prominent lawyers don’t like looking weak. Mac, on the other hand, used his real name. But it’ll just go to his head if you talk about him.” Linda and Mac both shot Ben warning glances.

“Your secret’s safe with me,” she said, making the only promise she was prepared to give.

The End

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