Word Count To Date: 2091
The wind whipped around her, throwing her hair in her face and scattering fat raindrops into her eyes and mouth. She cursed, tightening her coat around her, clawing her hair loose. The steady rain turned the ground beneath her feet to mud; the trees overhead provided scant cover from the elements. She’d have to hurry, though she’d already be soaked by the time she got home.
She stopped for a quick breather, leaning against a huge oak, bracing herself with a hand. The bark was slick and rough under her palm as she examined her poor, soaked, tired feet. She’d been taking a run after dinner when the storm happened upon her, and now she could look forward to a long, cold, slippery trudge home.
Suddenly, the air carried a charge, raising the hair on her body. Everything fell silent instantly around her before—
CRACK! An almighty noise crashed into her eardrums, louder than anything imaginable, loud enough to cause massive physical pain to her eardrums. Her arm went numb, then ablaze with agony, as though every nerve sequentially fired in her body. Without the ability even to scream, she fell to her knees and then, mercifully, blacked out.
Two joggers found her collapsed next to the great oak the next morning, still in a coma. The woman panicked and dialled 911; the man, her husband, found the tree astonishing: the lightning-strike split that mighty tree straight down the middle, all the way to its roots.
Maura Stanley preferred to be called “Deuce”, though most family members just called her Junior. Named after her mother, it alleviated confusion, though since they named her brother Richard Nathaniel Stanley, Jr., having two Juniors was almost as bad as having two Mauras. So, after hearing “deuce” during a card game when she was seven, she adopted it as her own.
“What happened?” she managed to eep out.
“You were struck by lightning,” her dad said. She stared at him for a moment, waiting for the punch line. It didn’t come. She was the punch line.
“For real,” he confirmed. “Well, the lightning actually hit a tree and you by proxy. It’s a miracle it didn’t hit you directly; apparently, it demolished the tree entirely.” A doctor walked in, shaking his hand ruefully.
“You know, this dry weather is the pits,” he said cheerfully, “I’ve been getting those little shocks all day! Hello, there, Maura, it’s good to see you up and about. I’m Doctor Copkins.”
“Nice to meet you. I prefer Deuce.”
“Yes, so it says here. How are you feeling?” He began checking her pulse and blood pressure.
“How about your hand?” She looked down and realized that her right hand was heavily bandaged and stiff.
“Oh. What happened?”
“You got burned pretty badly when that lightning ripped through the tree. No need for surgery or skin grafts, though; you’re very lucky. Give it a wiggle.” Other than the stiffness, they moved easily.
“Feels fine to me.”
“No pain at all?” he asked, somewhat astonished.
“No. Isn’t that a good thing?”
“Well, certainly, but...unusual, highly unusual, unless you’ve had nerve damage...here, let’s take a look.” He swiftly unwound the dressing. Her eyes widened at the sight of her hand, mottled brown by the burn, looking more like a birthmark than a true burn.
“That...was it. You’ve got a case I’ve never seen before. Move your fingers for me, that’s right. How does that feel?”
“No tightening around the scar tissue?”
“None.” He pursed his lips.
“Very well. I’m going to have you do a few simple tasks.” She snapped her fingers, played rock-paper-scissors, did the Star Trek ‘live long and prosper’ sign. Finally, Dr. Copkins was forced to conclude that her fingers were just as usable and agile as they had been before the lightning strike.
“That’s really remarkable, Miss Stanley. Let’s test your grip, now, just to rule out muscle atrophy.” She sat upright, grasping the bar on the side of her bed. As she did, a tingle ran through her hand, particularly around the burn...but then it began to spread through her arm. She let go quickly, but nothing escaped her mother’s eagle eye.
“Is something wrong?”
“Uh, no. It just felt weird for a minute, that’s all.”
“That could be the muscle atrophy we’re looking for,” Dr. Copkins explained. “It’s not precisely unusual...quite common, actually. Here we are, just grasp the end of this and squeeze like so.” Her fingers brushed the metal top and as she squeezed...a spark flew up the instrument. Dr. Copkins gave a yell of surprise and let go. She grabbed the tool with her other hand instinctively to stop it from falling.
She could feel electricity running through the metal and into her unburned hand, but it didn’t hurt. In fact, after a few seconds, she didn’t feel anything at all.
That’s when she knew, deep down in the sick pit of her stomach, that something had gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Evidently, Dr. Copkins reached the same conclusion because he hustled her parents out of the room and followed suit, leaving her alone in the room, still clutching the little metal tube.
She dropped it into her lap, fear beginning to creep up on her. What had she done? Better yet, how had she done it? Had the lightning-strike messed with her body? What did this all mean? Why did Dr. Copkins look so panicky, so fearful? Should she panic as well?
When the door opened again, a new person entirely entered the room: a young-ish woman, perhaps thirty or so, dressed in a pristine white lab coat pressed and starched with anal-retentive precision. She gave a strained smile, as though it was something she didn’t do very often.
“You’re Deuce Stanley.”
“Yes, ma’am,” she replied, though it hadn’t been a question.
“I’m Dr. Rachel Stanton. We’re going to run a few tests on your arm. Dr. Copkins informed us of your condition.” Mutely, Deuce held out her arm. Clearly, Dr. Copkins told this new lady everything because she very gingerly touched the skin, even with gloves on. Nothing happened. She became more business-like.
“Right. I’m going to draw some blood, first.” Instead of the index finger, Dr. Stanton chose Deuce’s ring finger, which had a big of the burn-birthmark square across the pad. Then, strangely, she also took a sample from her unburned left hand. “And a cheek swab, I think, just to make sure.”
“Make sure of what?” asked Deuce, opening her mouth obediently to receive the swab, but Dr. Stanton didn’t respond.
“Well. Thank you. I’ll be back shortly.”
Rachel Stanton walked down the hall, nearly running over that boot-licker, Dr. Copkins as he haunted the doorway.
“Well...?” She bit back a sneer.
“Thank you for calling me. As soon as I get a result from these tests, we’ll know for sure.”
“We will deal with her parents.” She considered the samples in her hand. “If she turns out to be another one, the same arrangements will apply.” She walked off without waiting for a response. He would accept it. He had to.
Once inside the lab, she handed the sample to her scientist, Jones, and indicated the labelled parts.
“Blood and cheek. A is from a burned area, B is from an unburned area, and the cheek swab is our control.” Jones nodded and, being a man of few words, took the samples and set to work. Rachel took out an empty manila folder and labelled it: Stanley, Maura E.
“Anything yet?” Jones handed her a print-out, which didn’t tell her anything more than the girl’s blood type (O positive) and haemoglobin count (normal, if slightly high). She stowed it in the folder anyway. She waited in silence while he prepared slides and peered at them under the microscope until,
“Rachel.” He beckoned her over to the microscope. She peered inside as he placed the first slide underneath. “A sample from a different person entirely.” She looked at some bog-standard red blood cells. Nothing exciting here. “And this is Sample A.” Her knuckles whitened, gripping the table. The cells had mutated, all of them. “Sample B.” In this one, the majority were normal, but some...weren’t. She switched through them again, absorbed. Yes, the mutation continued in the non-burned cells as well! But it could easily be explained by blood travelling through the body...when she looked up again, Jones had the slide with the cheek-swab in his hand.
“Are they replicating with the abnormality?”
“That’s what this sample confirms.” Holding her breath, she fixed it into place and peered inside the microscope once more.
She smiled. The abnormal cells made an appearance here, as well. She turned to Jones, still smiling.
“How long will it take until all of her cells carry the abnormality?”
“Two days, perhaps.”
“And will it be fatal?”
“It’s hard to say.”
“Very well. Thank you, Jones; write up a report and put it in her file, won’t you?” She walked out of the lab and into Dr. Copkins. She forced down her irritation. Did the man have nothing better to do? “You will keep her here for three days under observation. If she still lives at the end, we will take her. Go fill out the appropriate paperwork. Where might I find her parents?”
“In the waiting room.”
‘Good.” She entered the waiting room, pasting a blank smile on her face. “Mr. and Mrs. Stanley?” A man and a woman in the corner snapped to attention. She walked over to them briskly, all business. “Hello, I’m Dr. Rachel Stanton. Your daughter has been transferred to my care.”
“What about Dr. Copkins?” demanded Mr. Stanley. A useless lick-spittle.
“Your daughter’s case is highly unusual, sir. I specialize in these unusual patients. You may talk to Dr. Copkins, if you like, but we both decided that this would be in your daughter’s best interest.”
“Does Deuce know?”
“Oh yes, we’ve met. Now, we’re going to keep her here for three days under strict observation, to monitor her condition. If anything changes, we will, of course, alert you immediately.”
“Is that likely?” asked Mrs. Stanley, alarmed. “Dr. Copkins said she had amazing recovery time! I thought we were just dealing with a burn...”
“Well, we can’t always be sure. The body is a very delicate thing; the observation time is entirely normal, I assure you. Lightning-strike victims are a rarity, and we want to make absolutely sure that she’s perfectly okay, no complications. If she remains stable after three days, she’ll be released to you none the worse for wear.” Mr. and Mrs. Stanley hardly looked happy, but they accepted this arrangement, as Rachel knew they would. They really had no choice; Rachel wasn’t about to let this girl out of her control for even a moment.
“Excellent. We’ll be sure to take the very best care of her. She’ll be home again in no time.” She turned and left the room, noting down the
It was the third day and Deuce grew ever more panicky. She knew that something was happening to her, but she couldn’t begin to say what. Every day, they drew more blood from both arms and scraped her cheek, checked her pulse and temperature...and tip-toed around as though she lay on her deathbed. None of these doctors would tell her why, and she began to dread seeing Dr. Stanton.
It was the third day and her dread grew. She hadn’t seen Dr. Stanton at all, but the hysteria around her seemed magnified, barely contained. It was the last day, and she had a sinking feeling that things weren’t looking up for her.
Rachel looked at Jones impatiently while he inspected the final slide for what seemed like an eternity. He finally looked up.
“Well?” she demanded harshly, barely able to contain her impatience and anxiety. He shrugged.
“All the cells now carry the abnormality.” She sighed in satisfaction.
“Oh, excellent. And her health seems to be blossoming. Oh, this is very good. Very good. We have another one. Let’s go run our own special tests, shall we?” Jones nodded and stripped off his gloves and mask, setting about cleaning up the lab equipment.
Annnnnd we're off!