Exercising the craft—February 8, 2016

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: A man is visited by aliens who give him the ability to heal people with a touch. After helping hundreds of people, he is horrified to discover that this gift is actually a weapon.



Pierre put his gloves back on and tried to shrug off the praise the young woman showered on him.

“It’s nothing, please,” he said, his embarrassment making his cheeks hot. “Really, I’m just happy to help.”

“I just…you don’t know what you’ve given back to me,” she said, tears streaming down her face as she walked back and forth across the room. “I thought I’d never be able to run another race again, but now I can get back into training! Maybe even make it to the 2020 Games! Mr. Johnson, you must—”

She swayed, and one of Pierre’s many assistants darted forward to help her before she fell. He’d told her beforehand, of course, about the weakness. He didn’t know how or why it happened, but the recipient of his healing became overwhelmed with a bone-bending weakness afterward. They all recovered from the weakness eventually, and it had proven to be a minor setback in a life disrupted by disease or injury, but he never knew when they would recover from the weakness itself. So he made sure to caution them and they always forgot. But they usually didn’t care about the weakness. Usually.

“Please, ma’am, let Brenda help you out. I hope you brought a family member with you.”

The woman nodded, still beaming, and she leaned on the assistant. Brenda would make sure the athlete got back to her family member, whoever it was. She would also inquire gently about confirmation of payment. Some of his assistants hadn’t learned that subtlety yet, but Brenda seemed to have a knack for it.

Another assistant darted through the door Brenda had just used. “Pierre? The president’s on the phone.”

Pierre frowned. “The president? As in…the president?”

The assistant nodded, and apprehension crossed his face. “It’s not even the V-P or anything. It’s the actual president from the actual White House! What are we going to do?”

Pierre fought his anxiety into a corner of his mind. “Well, you’re going to get some lunch. I’m going to talk to the president. And if you have a minute, bring back a Mediterranean wrap for me. Veggie.”

The assistant nodded. Some of the apprehension had dimmed, but it still remained. Having something productive to do helped, though. Pierre had discovered that a long time ago, when he first began Healing and his assistants used to flutter around him with nervous energy. It took them a long time to get used to the entire venture, and even now they would get thrown off balance when something unusual—like a call from the White House—happened.

He made himself walk down the hall from the small conference room where he’d been meeting Seekers—those who wanted to be Healed—all day. The athlete had been his last Seeker of the day, and he heaved a sigh of relief as he made his way to his office. He didn’t feel the weakness like his Healed did, but he did feel tired.

The landline phone sat on his desk, an ominous red light blinking under Line 4. Pierre sat at the desk, inhaled long and deep, and picked up the hand set. After another deep breath, he pushed the button for the line to the president.

“Mr. President,” he said, forcing his voice to stay calm. “I’m honored. What can I do for you today?”

“You can explain to me why the hell we’ve got people marching through the streets,” the president said, his voice controlled stress.

Pierre blinked. “Sir? I’m sorry, I don’t understand. What—”

“Don’t you watch the news, Mr. Johnson?”

He reached for the remote on his desk that would turn on the small wall-mounted TV across from him. A quick flip of channels revealed the same thing on all of them. Breaking news about the fact that people in cities across the country had organized. The marching had begun the previous evening, and none of the marchers answered questions. They kept their eyes forward and kept moving.

Some had staggered, clearly not able to fight their bodies’ need for rest. A few fell to the ground. Those who fell were moved to the side of the path of the marchers. The media had tried to interview the people who stopped, but those sitting on the curbs just kept their heads turned and eyes trained in the direction of the massive crowd moving on.

“My intel has run all sorts of data on these people,” the president barked in Pierre’s ear, “and the only commonality they share is that you’ve healed all of them at some point.”

“What?” Pierre asked in disbelief. There had to be thousands of people, all moving with ramrod straight backs and tight formations. Hitler would have wept for joy at their precision.

Had he really put his hands on so many? His assistants kept records, of course, but Pierre hadn’t bothered to ask. When the Beings from Beyond visited him almost five years earlier, they’d found him sitting in a cardboard box on the outskirts of the city. His reputation had preceded him; even the other homeless people didn’t want to have anything to do with this man whose violence remained tightly coiled.

But the Beings from Beyond managed to follow that coil back to where it started and found him there. The young, scared little boy who had once dreamed of serving society. He could still remember an adult voice asking him once what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he could hear his childlike answer: “I want to help people.”

The Beings from Beyond found that boy and gave him an incredible gift. Their only command? Use the gift without reservation. Don’t turn anyone away. If a Seeker’s heart was pure, the Beings said, that person would be healed. Any clouded intention would prevent the person from receiving Healing.

They had found him on a dark night when the rain fell so heavily that he could barely see them. The exchange on their space vessel made Pierre re-visit his entire life as they mined his memories, but when they brought Pierre back he realized it had taken mere minutes. The rain continued to fall heavily that night, but when the skies cleared the next morning and stayed a blue so deep his heart got caught up in it he knew he’d experienced a miracle.

The Beings never told him why they chose him, but Pierre had followed the command and never turned anyone away. The Seekers came to him in all states of life, from all walks of society, and every single social stratum. He’d healed disease, addiction, loss of limbs. He’d rid people of cancer, of brain trauma, of progressive ailments. Modern medicine couldn’t explain it. They also couldn’t rival it, although plenty tried to discredit him.

He couldn’t Heal everyone. True to the word of the Beings, many came seeking help and received none. Pierre tried to explain that their intentions had to be pure. They couldn’t seek Healing with malice in their hearts. Those denied their own miracles turned away angry, sad, frustrated, confused. Some came back. A few subsequently received what they wanted.

It seemed, when he’d begun Healing, that he had offered the world the best of himself. But this? What was this? Why were these people—

“Are you listening to me, Mr. Johnson? I need answers, do you understand? What kind of scam do you think you’re running here?”

A reporter on CNN began gesticulating wildly from a live shot in front of the White House, and Pierre felt the blood drain from his entire body. The marchers had reached 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with determination on their faces and kept walking. Snipers trained their guns on the organized mass, but the people in the crowd didn’t seem deterred.

One sniper started shooting, but the bullets made no difference and didn’t slow anyone down. The cameraman managed to get a close up of some of the people the snipers targeted, and Pierre saw bullets bouncing off those people. As if the bullets made no difference.

His body started shaking with fear. What had the Beings done? What had their miracle to him produced? What would happen now?

And how was he supposed to stop it?