Touch Me

Touch Me
By
Shirley Hailstock

Breath congealed in the cool night air as Donahue ran. He was used to jogging, used to exercise. But he’d left his car parked at Blythe Cove Manor and run further than he intended. It was almost midnight and his the symbols had already begun to appear on his hands. He didn’t want to be on the streets. St Patrick’s Day in New York would official begin in a few minutes, maybe seconds, Donahue thought. He’d returned to the Vineyard where he’d been last year at this time. No bells and whistles would sound on the island. No click in his head or change in his body would signal an alarm. Only the imprint on his hand would show a sign that the annual St. Patrick’s Day curse had begun.

He didn’t expect to encounter another Transferer on this trip. He’d met one last year, but didn’t reveal the truth of his heritage. He expected the same this year.

Donahue’s feet pounded on the pavement. No one was out walking or running at this hour. Cars sped down the narrow streets. Donahue never worked on St. Patrick’s Day. It was an Irish holiday. He was Irish. It was expected. He’d begun taking the weekend off and spending time away from the crowded streets of New York. Martha’s Vineyard was a perfect place; cool, only Martha, the tabby cat as a constant companion and the food Blythe cooked at the B&B was delicious. But there was another reason. He glanced at his gloveless hand. It had already begun. The rainbow on the heel of his hand was faint, but darkening with every minute.

The seconds ticked by. Donahue could practically hear the clock in his head. He ran a little faster, his lungs burning and his arms and legs protesting the punishment.

Finally, he could see the B&B. It had three levels. Donahue occupied a room on the second floor, giving him a stunning view and having glass doors that brought the sunrise in. He slowed as he reached the three steps that led up to the walkway and then to double doors that would bring him into the inn’s foyer.

He hauled breath into his lungs, sucking it in as if it was solid enough to cut with a knife. His heartbeat pounded in his ears, but he had enough energy to get inside and shower. Donahue bounded up the steps as if he was completing a basketball jump shot. Martha, the tabby cat, sat in the window, looking lazily out at him.

Just as he reached the door, someone flung it open and rushed out. He had no time to stop or move out of the way. Whoever it was had to be in such a hurry. His arms instinctively came out and the person barreled into him. The two went down, both falling end over end until they were lying prone several feet from the two porch steps, Donahue on top of someone softer than himself, someone with long red hair that obscured her face.

“I’m so sorry,” she began, her hands reaching for his shoulders, but touching his face and neck, all the while slinging her head from side to side in an effort to move the offending hair.

Donahue quickly levered himself up and off her. He felt the exchange where she had touched his skin. Brushing debris from his hands, he saw the symbols. Two identical twins of a pot filled with a leprechaun’s gold, one each hand had grown distinct in the past few seconds.

“I apologize, Miss,” he said, but he knew it was already to late. She’d touched him.

And it had happened.

She sat up, one hand finally securing her hair away from her face. She had huge brown eyes, an oval shaped face with a small nose and a mouth that was pursed, although perfectly contoured and kissable. Her lipstick matched the red vest jacket she wore.

“My last night on the Vineyard and I have to fall on my butt.”

That wasn’t all she’d done, Donahue thought. She’d touched him. That was all it took, not a hard press, but even the pad of a finger was enough. And their tumble down had brought their bodies into contact several times. Both were fully dressed due to the March weather, but Donahue didn’t think that was a protection.

“Are you all right?” the woman asked. Donahue realized he should be asking that question. After all, his weight had pinned her to the concrete. She scrambled to her feet. He didn’t reach out to help her, something he would have done unconsciously any other day of the year.

“I’m fine,” he said, feeling an ache in both his back and side that he knew would affect his thirty-five year old body when he woke in the morning. His left leg where her foot had kicked him when she burst through the door, was throbbing. “You’re obviously in a hurry, so I won’t keep you.”

He needed to get away from her. Then as he said that, he realized that he couldn’t let her go. He’d transferred a power to her. He didn’t know what that power was and she had no idea that she was holding onto something that could be as benign as an ice cream cone or as lethal as a bomb.

Feeling like an idiot, Donahue sat down on the bottom step of the B&B and hung his head. She stooped in front of him and placed her hand on his arm. Donahue didn’t pull away. While he didn’t know what had transferred to her, he knew it could only happen once. No matter how many times he touched her in the next twenty-four hours, it wouldn’t compound the transfer. Once was all she got.

Donahue just didn’t know what that was.

“You aren’t all right,” she stated.

“I’ll be fine. You’ll in a hurry. I can get to my room alone.”

She took his arm and pulled for him to stand up. Donahue knew she would. He was an expert in human behavior. He’d studied psychology and psychiatry, the street versions not what comes from a book or institution of higher learning, but what came from the experience of observing and reacting as events unfolded.

“What is your name,” Donahue asked when they reached his door. “If I’m going to let a woman in to my room, I should know her name.”

She laughed. “You can be funny,” she told him. “My name is Brenda.”

“Hi, Brenda. I”m Donahue.”

“I know,” she said. “I’ve seen you a few times, coming or going from the building.”

“You’re staying here too?” Donahue had not known that. He knew little about his neighbors. His hours were sporadic and he wasn’t the coffeekatch type or even the shared beer with a friend kind.

“Across the hall,” she said. “Although this is my last night. I’ve been working at the hospital, attending a teaching program.”

“It ends tonight?”

“It ended earlier today.”

Donahue dropped heavily down on the sofa, an act for her benefit.

“Can I get you something?” she asked.

“Water. It’s in the fridge.”

She left him, her hips swinging beneath the red vest. Coming back, she handed him the bottle.

Donahue opened it and took a long drink.

“Water is not what I expected,” she said. With his frown, she continued. “Donahue? Isn’t that Irish?”

He nodded.

“Today is St. Patrick’s Day. I realize the clock just turned over, but the Irishmen I know begin their celebration at the stroke of the midnight.”

“Is that where you were heading? Out to a midnight St. Patrick’s celebration?”

“I was meeting a friend. Which reminds me. I need to call and cancel.” She pulled a cell phone from a back pocket of her jeans and hit a few keys. Brenda turned away, but he could see the phone light brighten her face and a corresponding image on her phone. He was also privileged to both sides of the conversation.

“Leah, I’m going to have to cancel. Sorry for the short notice, but you should go on and meet the others.”

“What happened?” the person named Leah asked.

“Nothing big. I had a small accident, fell down the stairs. . .”

“Are you all right?” Donahue heard the concern on the other end of the phone.

“Just a brush burn on my arm. I’ll probably feel more of it tomorrow, but they’ll be nothing lasting.”

“Are you sure?”

“Leah, I’m a doctor.” Brenda paused. “See you soon.”

She punched a button on the phone and turned back to Donahue.

“I didn’t know you had a brush burn,” he said. “Let me look at it.”

“It’s nothing, although I should clean it. And I should make sure you’re all right too. That fall could have injured you, too.”

“Beyond a few bruises, I’m as fit as I was before,” he said.

“You could have a head injury.”

“So could you,” he replied.

“I didn’t hit my head. I learned how to fall years ago.”

“So did I,” he said. “Martial arts classes?”

“Gymnastics,” she said.

“Police academy,” he explained his own training.

“You’re a cop?” Her brows rose.

He shook his head. “Decided that wasn’t the life for me.” It was too much contact, especially hand to hand. And his hands were unpredictable.

“Are you in any pain,” she asked.

Donahue shook his head. His shoulder hurt a little, but he knew it would be all right. Most of the pain was in his side.

“Would you mind if I examined you?”

He tried valiantly to keep his face expressionless. Touch was the one thing he often avoided, at least for three hundred and sixty four days a year. This was his one werewolf night, the night when he could cause unintentional changes. Thankfully, they were temporary. When the clock struck twelve on the eighteenth of March the world would return to the kilter everyone expected. But that was if he stayed away from anyone else. It had been his intention. Too late for that now. She’d exited the building not giving him enough time to pull his instincts back.

And the accident happened.

“Donahue?” Brenda prompted.

“I don’t need examination.”

“At least let me check your shoulder. Dislocation could have happened during the fall.”

Donahue didn’t say anything, but indicated it was okay for her to touch him.

“It’s better if you remove your shirt.”

“Are you going to remove yours?” He watched her shocked reaction. “We both fell down those steps and we both rolled.”

“But my shoulder doesn’t hurt,” she bantered.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not injured. You’re a doctor. I’m sure you know that.”

She nodded. Donahue had been kidding her. He didn’t expect her to disrobe in front of him. Shedding his sweater and undershirt in one movement, he was bare from neck to waist.

Brenda’s fingers were sure and efficient, but that didn’t stop the goosebumps that appeared on his body as she probed his arms and shoulders for any sign of a break, from growing to pimple size.

“Tell me if any of this hurts.”

“Donahue smiled. “It tickles, but doesn’t hurt.”

“Good,” she said and continued. Those efficient hands tested his back and then the bones of his rib cage.

“Anything?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he said, holding his breath. There was definitely something going on with her, with them. Why was it that he was the transferer and she the transferee, yet it was as if she was transferring some sort of magic to him? Her hands were warm and sure and seemed to impart some sort of strangeness, he wouldn’t call it magic, that went past his skin and into his core.

Then it happened. She pressed along his left side. Donahue jerked, not at the sexiness of her fingers, but at the pain that shot up his rib cage and spread up his arm and across his back. Brenda yanked her hands free, removing her touch.

“How bad?” she asked. “Order of one to ten where ten is the worse.”

“Four,” Donahue said, but he lied. The pain for more like a six.

“Raise your arm,” she said. The physician order was no longer in her voice. It was replaced by a note of concern.

With effort, he did as she asked. Because Brenda was shorter than he was, she ducked under his arm and gingerly smoothed her hand down his torso. The pain subsided, then disappeared as if it had never been there. Donahue breathed and sat up straighter. His side was warmer than usual. The same happened with his shoulder and back. Her touch did more than just her hands moving across his skin.

“That feels better,” he said. He lowered his arm, letting it go down behind her without making any contact. What she had done gave him the answer he sought. She had manipulated his cells, changed them, repaired them, so they returned to their natural state, pain-free. Even the redness was gone. Grabbing his sweater and shirt, he stood, quickly pushing his arms within the fabric and concealing the area she might see if her observant medical eyes fell on it.

His problem now was what could he do. How could he keep her from finding out the power she had, the power he had transferred to her, until it vanished at midnight, nearly twenty hours from this moment?

“Other than me as a patient, and you were meeting friends, are you off for the night?”

Before she could reply her cell phone gave off an emergency signal ringtone. It was obvious something she added after market. He hoped it didn’t indicate anything medical.

Her next words told him he was wrong.

“It’s the hospital,” she said.

***
Brenda slid her finger across the cell’s screen, then placed the phone to her ear and spoke. “This is Dr. Parker.”

Donahue watched as she listened for several seconds.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can get there,” she said.

“Damn,” he cursed under his breath. He should have known he had no control over the situation. But he would have to go with her. He needed to try to contain things or at least keep her safe until the clock struck midnight and the next day began. I’ll drive you,” he said.

She didn’t argue. They left the building and quickly walked to his car. If he hadn’t run so much further than he usually did on his exercise routines, he would have missed her coming through the doorway at such a fast pace. But the fates or the fairies seemed to have abandoned him this St. Patrick’s Day.

At the hospital, Brenda swung out of the car and headed inside at a near run. Several ambulances blocked the entrance, their lights flashing red and blue in the darkness. Donahue didn’t know what department she worked in, but she’d told him there had been an accident and she was needed in Emergency. He saw her the moment he came in after parking the car. She said something to a nurse and then came to him.  The walls held various pictures or Leprechauns and St. Patrick’s Day elves or fairies. Donahue frowned at them.

“Donahue, you don’t have to be here.”

“I’ll wait for you.”

She glanced around. “I’ll be here for hours, probably until long after sunrise.”

Someone called her name. Brenda looked away, then back at Donahue.

“I have to go,” she said. She took his hands, squeezed them and left. The room was humming with people, some of them with bloody bandages, others hanging their heads with forlorned looks on their faces.

Donahue took a seat. Ten minutes later he was up on his feet. He couldn’t sit still. Going to the cafeteria, another room celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with green images plastered to the walls and along the tray slide and cash registers. He got a cup of coffee and returned. An hour after that, he got another glimpse of Brenda. She didn’t see him. Everything looked normal. Donahue took a breath praying he was right.

On his third trip for coffee, his heart sank. Two men walked in front of him. Both were dressed in blue with wraps over their shoes.

“Did you see that,” one of them said. “It’s like she has magic hands.”

“Yeah, but I’m sure glad she does,” the other one said. “That child would have died if she hadn’t do what she did.”

“What was that?”

“Damn if I can explain it,” one of them said while shaking his head.

“I only which I had her magic hands.”

Donahue didn’t have to ask who they were talking about. Instinctively he knew it was Brenda. He didn’t know what she’d done, but by the way she’d healed his side, and that was a minor bruise, she could be building an entire human form.

The thought sent shivers down his spine.

***

Donahue found Brenda standing in a hallway close to a collection of brightly colored chairs. She stared at her hands, turning them over and over, inspecting them as if she’d never seen hands before.

“I don’t understand,” she said, speaking to no one. “I didn’t even touch him.”

Donahue didn’t say anything. She must have felt his presence and looked up. Her expression showed no surprise at him still being in the hospital.

“What happened?” he asked.

“He healed. I healed him.”

Her hands were still in the air. Brenda stopped and blinked several times as if she needed to clear her head in order to speak coherent. “I never touched him. I ran my hand over him, just above the wound and it closed. It healed like some futuristic science fiction movie.

“I think we should go,” Donahue suggested.

“No,” she nearly shouted. Taking a step back, she looked around the area to see if they’d attracted attention. A few people looked at them, then quickly looked away. Lowering her voice to a whisper, she added, “This is a miracle. I’ve done it three times. I need to see if it will happen again. Do you know what I could do?” She looked at her hands again. “How many people I could help?”

He knew more than that, but Brenda had taken his arm and was propelling him into one of the examination rooms.

“Is the emergency over?” he asked.

“What?”

“Do you have to return to Emergency?”

“No, everything is under control.”

“Good. We should go.”

“Take off your shirt,” she ordered.

Donahue was taken aback. “We’ve already done that.” He knew where this was going and didn’t want it confirmed.

Without asking, she yanked his sweater and shirt free of his pants and glared at his uninjured side.

“Four,” she said.

“What’s four?” Donahue already knew, but he hoped he was wrong.

“You’re the fourth person I’ve healed.”

“You touched me.” He pulled his shirt down.

“Something happened to me. I don’t know what.” She walked to the wall where emergency equipment was stationed, then turned around. “The fall,” she said. “It must have happened when we fell. Somehow. . . something. . .” she yo-yoed her hands, moving them close together then further apart, trying to find a logical answer to something that had no logic. “Something happened during that fall.”

She stopped a second time. Donahue could see her fighting with herself for the truth, for an explanation she could believe. “It’s a miracle.” Her look at Donahue was for confirmation. “I know miracles don’t happen. My brain tells me this is impossible, but. . .”

“It’s not a miracle,” he said softly.

Brenda stared at him, looking for some sense that he was kidding. Donahue was serious and he knew his face showed it.

“You’re serious,” she said. “How would you know? How could you? What do you have to do with this?”

“We need to get out of here,” Donahue said. It was just his luck that the one person he bumped into, the one he touched, was a medical doctor.

“I’m not leaving,”she said. “Not until you give me a good reason to go.”

There were a couple of guests seats in the small area. Donahue offered one to Brenda and he took the other one.

“I’m a Transferer,” he began.

Brenda looked confused, and Donahue went on to explain how the powers she had came to be. “I am the descendant of a fairy and a changeling,” he said.

Brenda pushed herself back as if she’d just discovered the man in the room with her was an alien from outer space. Donahue supposed it sounded like that.

“I know it sounds crazy. What I’m about to say will sound even crazier, so if you want to move closer to the door, I won’t stop you.”

While Brenda stayed where she was, Donahue moved to lean against a wall, the furthest distance from her the confines would allow.

“I know what a fairy is, what’s a changeling?” she asked. Her voice was calm, but Donahue thought she still looked at him as if he was an alien.

“A fairy is a class of creatures that have different powers. The ones I’m descendant from are manipulators. They change things. Changeling can be one many types. Mine was an ancestor obsessed with beauty. They would swap their fairy child with a human baby.”

Brenda nodded. Donahue wasn’t sure she understood. He often got the genealogy mixed up.

“How does this affect me?” Brenda asked.

“Every year on St. Patrick’s Day, I have the ability to transfer a form of magic to another human being. All it takes is a touch. I usually avoid people as much as possible.”

“We fell?” she whispered.

“I came to Martha’s Vineyard because there are few people here off season. And Blythe Cove Manor is one of the few B&B’s open all year. I was returning to the inn later than expected. I never thought anyone would be leaving, but there you were. Instinctively, I tried to prevent us from being hurt. In the process, we touched and you took whatever transference I had.”

“You didn’t know?”

Her question made him wonder if she was believing him, humoring him or buying into the story as fantastic as it must sound.

“I don’t know what magic you will get,” he said.

“So I got the ability to heal?” she asked.

He was about to shake his head, then thought better of telling her she had the ability to manipulate matter Since everything in the universe was comprised of matter, her ability was far more dangerous than she knew.

“You have the ability to heal.”

“You say this happens once a year,” Brenda confirmed.

“From midnight to 11:59.”

“Then what happens?”

“I’m safe for another year. My touch has no effect, that is no unexpected effect.”

“You’re safe. What about me? Will this continue?”

He was shaking his head before she finished the question. “Your abilities end at the same time.”

“What about next year on St. Patrick’s Day?”

Again he shook his head. “It’s a once and done situation. Once the gift wears off, you’re free of it and you can never receive another transfer.”

Brenda stood up, taking a look at the large watch on her wrist. “Then I’d better go. I can do a lot of good before midnight.”

Donahue straightened from the wall. He didn’t move to stop her, but she halted as if he had. “I wouldn’t do that,” he said.

“Why not? Does what I’ve done revert back at midnight?”

“No. Whatever changes you’ve made remain.”

She breathed a sigh of relief.

“Think about it,” he said. “At first you didn’t believe me. If you go out there performing miracles as you called them, you’re bound to be noticed. Someone is going to wonder how you can do these things.”

“And when I can’t reproduce them, they will study me until the end of my days.”

Donahue said nothing.

Brenda resumed her seat.

“I know you feel like you have a curse and not a gift. You could probably go through the hospital in the next few hours, curing everyone inside its walls, but at what price?” Donahue asked.

She hesitate a long moment, before saying, “You know?”

“I know,” he replied.

“Did it happen to you?”

“It happened to my mother. Right after she gave birth to me. For years she was poked, prodded and experimented on.”

“People here have seen what I did.” Brenda indicated the hospital and Donahue remembered the two men he’d seen discussing her abilities.

“After a few days they won’t believe they saw what they saw. And you’ll be leaving the Vineyard to return to your home. No one there knows, and the ability will be gone by morning.”

Brenda looked down as if she was sad.

“Now, I think we should leave. Normally, I imagine you’d be too tired to do anything but sleep. In light of this, I’m sure sleep is out of the question. We could spend the day together and I’ll answer any questions you have.”

“All right, but there is one person I want to visit before we leave.”

“And heal?” Donahue question.

She nodded, keeping her gaze directly on him. “It’s a child. I meet him the first day I came here. No one will find it strange if I visit his room.”

They left the examination room and went to the children’s wing. The little boy was about eight. He was wide awake even thought it was nearly five o’clock in the morning. He was pale and gaunt looking, although his face lit up when he saw Brenda.

She sat on the bed and took his hand.

“This is my friend, Mr. Donahue.”

Donahue realized he’d never told her his last name. The boy extended a hand, and Donahue walked over and took it. His grip was weak, his hand so thin Donahue felt the bones in it.

“You’re going tomorrow,” he told Brenda.

“I didn’t want to forget to say good bye, but I thought you’d be asleep at this hour.”

“I’m not sleepy anymore,” the boy said.

“You need your sleep to get better.”

“I know,” he said without conviction.

“You’ll do what I said, try to eat and drink and take your medicine.”

“I’ll try.”

“And I’ll see you on the screen,” she told him. “I want to see you’re improving.”

“I promise.” He looked up at her and she hugged him. For a long time she held the child, her hands smoothing up and down his back. When they separated, Brenda wiped one eye with the back of her hand.

“Get some sleep now,” she said.

He smiled and she stood up. Donahue stepped beside her and took her hand. She waved with the other one and looking over her shoulder, Donahue led her out of the room.

In the hall, she wiped away another tear.

“Don’t be sorry,” Donahue said. “Just think about how perplexed his doctors are going to be.”

She laughed still whipping her eyes.

“It’s a gift,” he told her. “But it can be a curse, too.”

***
What Donahue didn’t tell Brenda was that the memory effects didn’t last. They had lasted with his mother, but he hadn’t inherited everything from her. Brenda’s memory of ever healing with her hands would fade in a few days. The two doctors’ memories would be gone long before Brenda’s faded.

She had a gift. The real curse was, it was only temporary.

The End