Chapter Ten

Once again, I didn't sleep well that night after the interview with Dr. James. Even though I kept waking up throughout the night, I kept falling back into the same dream theme. I must have had a hundred dreams that night. Katelynn was in everyone of them and I witnessed her death a hundred times over in a hundred different fashions. I woke up exhausted, feeling as though I had already put in a full day's work and wanted to just go back to sleep but I had no desire to watch reruns of Katelynn dying over and over and over again. I got up and tried to sere away the sleepiness in a steaming hot shower and came to realize that the reality of the day ahead looked no more promising than the nightmares I had just left behind. More death.

I didn't know exactly how Dr. James was going to decide on conducting his experiment, but the method was not my biggest concern. It was the mere idea of the experiment that bothered me.

At 2pm, I was to meet Dr. James and Katelynn at his office in the hospital. Then I would briefly be introduced to some pre-selected group of presumably dying elderly people under some false pretense invented by Dr. James, and report my findings. The whole idea made me feel dirty, like a peeping tom or a thief; like I was trespassing in someone's very personal space and stealing vital information not intended to be shared.

As we had completed that initial meeting, just to confirm its consistency, Dr. James had politely asked if either one of us minded if I were to remove my gloves and repeat the process with Katelynn since her numbers had already been exposed. I looked at Katelynn before I answered. I was willing, but it wasn't my death I was predicting. Her intense blue eyes were already locked with mine as she slowly nodded her assent to Dr. James' request.

I hated doing it. I could see in her eyes that she was hoping beyond hope that the numbers would for some reason be different this time, proving that I had been wrong about the meaning of the numbers all along. Maybe Dr. Getz's numbers and death were a crazy coincidence. But I knew they wouldn't have changed. I think she knew, too, deep down. She had only agreed so that Dr. James could witness the phenomenon first hand before testing it out on some unsuspecting patients.

I rose out of my chair, stepped towards Katelynn and removed the glove from my right hand. Katelynn remained seated, her eyes never leaving my own and extended her left hand towards mine. For a quick moment before our hands clasped, I too, allowed myself to hope that her numbers would have changed. But even sent together, our wishes were ignored by whomever was running the wish-granting department that day and were left unfulfilled. The instant her soft, gentle hand crept timidly into mine, (29:29) took its place at the front of my mind. She read it in my eyes before I was able to pass along the information to Dr. James and broke our gaze, looking resignedly at the floor, but her hand remained in mine until I spoke.

"It hasn't changed," I said, and felt Katelynn's warm hand slide slowly from my loose grip. "But I am not convinced that means it has to happen."

I felt like such a schmuck for blurting that out right then at that moment. I had no idea what I was talking about. I didn't have a clue what we were up against here. But I carelessly let my wish fly past my lips and watched Katelynn's eyes return to my own with a renewed hope in them that I had just falsely implanted with my remark. Truth was, I was not at all sure that there was anything that could be done. I just knew if there was, I was going to try to find it.

* * * * *

I arrived at the employee parking lot at 1:45. Katelynn was waiting for me atop our stone wall and hopped down when she saw me angle in towards the lot. Once again, even though she had been granted a few days off by Dr. James after yesterday's meeting, she was dressed in a freshly cleaned, pressed and disinfected uniform. She obviously planned on accompanying Dr. James and I on my tour of the terminal wing.

"Thank you for agreeing to this," Katelynn said, as I dropped the kick stand to my bike and turned towards her. "I know this isn't easy for you."

She seemed a little stronger today than she had when I had said good-bye to her from that very spot the day before. I think we were both still holding on to a sliver of hope that I would be unable to properly predetermine the final day of the terminal, therefore dismissing my original conclusions right then and there.

"Certainly isn't my idea of a good time," I said, "but I also understand that it must be done. I am more worried about how you are handling all this right now than I am about me."

"I'll let you know in a little while," she said, forcing a smile.

We walked through the hospital's main entrance and took the elevator to the third floor where Dr. James' office was, silently lost in our own individual thoughts and hopes. I was still hoping with Katelynn that the test would be a failure, but I was also trying to prepare myself for what would happen next when we discovered otherwise. There was no way I could have possibly been prepared for what actually happened.

* * * * *

"I want to involve as few people here as possible," Dr James said, after seating us in our prospective chairs. "I had to first deal with the ethics of what we are doing here. I don't think it is right to approach people under false pretense and try to steal information from them," he said, intuitively voicing one of my biggest objections right out of the box. "But at the same time, I don't want to tell them the truth either." He paused, allowing this moral dilemma to sink in before unveiling his solution.

"To appease the moral ethics involved here," he continued, "we are going to have to tell our subjects the truth. In order to do that, we need to change what is the truth."

At this point he had me thoroughly confused.

"I asked three patients if they would agree to take part in a test and they all agreed. I told them I had a visitor coming today that claimed he could tell people how old they were by shaking their hand. And this is what I want you to do. Just shake their hand and let us know what the first number is in your mind. Keep the second number to yourself. If the first number turns out to be right, you can write down the second number after we leave the room and we will seal them up until they are needed, to keep the integrity of the experiment in tact. Only you will know what that number is that you wrote down. You with me so far?"

Katelynn and I both nodded.

"Good. I chose these particular people because, I am sorry to say, I do not expect them to live more than two or three weeks, possibly less. Needless to say, in order for the test to prove that this phenomenon is undeniably real, you must be right on all accounts. Even one wrong answer, on their ages or on the numbers you write down, and it means you could just as easily be wrong about Katelynn.

"Is this acceptable to you, John?" he finished with.

"Yes," I answered. I was actually very relieved that we weren't going in under completely false pretenses. I was still going to be stealing some personal information out of their minds for my own purpose, as noble as that purpose may be, but at least we were being upfront about the fact that I was indeed trying to get inside their minds. It made me feel at least a little less criminal.

"How about you, Katelynn?" he said turning his attention to her. "How are you handling all this?"

"I'm doing okay," she said. Then she surprised me by adding, "I thought a lot about all this last night. I knelt down to pray before bed. I meant to ask God to make this experiment fail today but then I realized, whatever happens is His will. God has his reasons. We don't always understand them but He is good and I will accept what He wills. I know if I must die, He will watch over Faith and take care of her. If there is a reason she must grow up without her parents, then God must have a good reason."

She said all this with her head bowed towards the floor, as if still in prayer. I think it took Dr. James a little off guard too and Katelynn looked up almost a little embarrassed when only silence followed her confession.

She broke the silence herself. "Shall we?"

* * * * *

"Good afternoon, Mrs. Ikatsu," Dr. James said, as Katelynn and I followed him into the first room of his three pre-selected subjects.

The name registered even before the sight of subject #1 had been established. Dr. James was certainly going to make this as difficult as possible. Ikatsu is Japanese. The Japanese always look a decade or two younger than they are, at least compared to us westerners. Dr. James released her hand and stepped aside and I got my first visual.

She was definitely old. If I were to have to guess without using this new, unwanted supernatural ability of mine, I would have said 125. Well, 100 at least. Any gene the Japanese have to keep their skin smooth and young looking had long since grown dormant in Mrs. Ikatsu. Even lying in bed with the sheets covering up most of her tiny torso, I knew she probably wasnít more than four and a half feet tall. Her skin, however, appeared to have once belonged to someone closer to my own size. The multiple bags under each of her eyes drooped to the lower level of what had once been probably a cute and dainty nose. Her cheeks folded down over themselves, appearing out of place on such a tiny face. Even the ridges in her forehead seemed to be drooping towards the gravitational pull. But her eyes smiled. It was easy to imagine that there had once been a beautiful face surrounding those eyes.

That was the worst part of all this for me. In order for this to work, I had to be looking into their eyes; sad, lonely eyes; knowing their time is so short, so near, so precious. I didnít even hear Dr. James going through his introduction of Katelynn and myself. I knew Mrs. Ikatsu would not be long of this world without having to touch her hand. Despite the still evident smile in her eyes, their color had faded to paler shades of pale, making their original color indeterminable. Once I registered that Dr. James wasnít talking anymore and that everyone was looking at me, I applied a friendly feeling smile to my face and extended my hand out to Mrs. Ikatsu.

She managed with noticeable effort to raise her right arm a couple of inches off the bed and I reached out and gently grabbed it before she had to try to move it any farther.

"Hello, Mrs. Ikatsu," I said as I helped her lower her hand back down onto the bed. "I am happy to meet you."

"You know age now?" she asked in a squeaky, high pitched, heavy eastern accent.

(92:166) had indeed surfaced the instant our hands had met. She was 92 years old. She had until her 166th day of her 92nd year.

"I believe you are 92 years old, maíam."

Her eyes doubled in size telling me I was correct. "How you know?" Mrs. Ikatsu demanded, making the question sound like one long word. .

"You told me with your mind when our hands touched," I said, glad I didnít have to make up any stories.

Her eyes immediately narrowed back down to normal size and beyond. "What else I tell you?" Mrs. Ikatsu then snapped back, surprising me almost speechless.

"Nothing else," I lied. "Itís just a weird thing I can do. I can guess someone's age when we touch."

"Bah," she spat out, looking unimpressed. "I, 92," she confirmed.

"Well, thank you very much for your help, Mrs. Ikatsu," Dr. James said, stepping in and taking back over the control in this still ongoing experiment. He could tell this was rather awkward for me. Katelynn and I were already back out in the hallway before Dr. James had finished whatever his closing spiel to Mrs. Ikatsu had been. I just wanted to get this over with.

Katelynn silently handed me one of the three envelopes she had been carrying with her. Each envelope contained a name on the outside and a blank scrap of paper on the inside. She was handing me Mrs. Ikatsuís previously assigned envelope. I removed the scrap of paper and took the pen out of Katelynnís other extended hand and wrote Ď92:166í on it. Folding it once, I returned it to the envelope and licked the gummy flap, sealing inside my prediction of when Mrs. Ikatsu will die. I did not know when her birthday was so I didnít know how long she had to live yet. Dr. James knew her birthday, but not the number in the envelope. We would not be sharing information. The envelope will not be opened again until her passing. All these steps were necessary, according to Dr. James, to keep the experiment honest and uncontaminated. I handed the pen back to Katelynn and the sealed envelope to Dr. James just as he was joining us in the hallway, closing the door behind him. He calmly tucked it into the outer pocket of his white jacket and started left down the hall.

"Mr. Crawley is just two doors down here," Dr. James said, continuing to walk. "Are you ready or do you need any time, John? I take it you wrote a number down on the paper in the envelope you handed me?"

I think he was possibly getting a little excited after witnessing success with his first test. I think, even as open minded as Dr. James had claimed to be, he had never for an instant truly believed that he wouldnít be able to prove me wrong. He might have even thought he had played his strongest chance to do so right out of the gate, for Katelynnís sake.

"Yes," I replied, glancing at Katelynn. "To both questions. I just want to get this over with."

I could already tell, looking into Katelynnís eyes, she understood as I did. We were both now doing this simply for Dr. Jamesí need to remain scientific. She knew as I did, that all three envelopes would soon be sealed with their own folded up scrap of paper with a number written on it. And it really didnít matter what those secret numbers were on those folded up scraps of paper inside those sealed envelopes because all of a sudden, in the last 5 minutes, another clarity of comprehension had just slammed home for her...when she lays down to bed tonight, she has but twenty-five days left to watch her daughter grow.

"If I am right on this one," I said to Dr. James, who was already waiting at Mr. Crawleyís closed door for us to catch up, "do you still think it necessary we see all three?"

"It certainly eliminates the possibility of doubt if you get them all correct," he answered. Then he too, for the first time, noticed the effect the last few minutes had had on Katelynn. The first tear was half way down her right cheek though she looked determined not to allow the escape of another. "Why donít you hand me the envelopes, Katelynn," he continued, taking his hand away from the door knob and extending it towards her. "We can handle it from here. Why donít you head on back down to my office and have yourself a cup of coffee. Weíll be along rather shortly here, I am sure, and we can catch you up with the results then. Okay?"

"Okay," Katelynn quickly consented. "I could use a cup right about now," she said, but I think she was actually concentrating hard on holding in the flood of escapee-wannabes lined up just behind the corners of each eye.

Katelynn handed Dr. James the remaining two envelopes. Our eyes met once again as she walked back toward me. I wanted to hold my arms out and take her in, tell her I wouldnít let anything happen to her, assure her that everything was going to turn out right and perfect and as it should be. But I could not. I had no words of comfort to offer. I had brought all this into her life. A few days ago she had been planning her summer vacation with her daughter. They were planning on spending a week out on the farm she had grown up on. She was going to teach her daughter to swim this year in the same pond at the edge of their property line where she herself had learned to swim when she had been five years old. There was so much she still had to teach her daughter to prepare her for life and all it hurls at us. But now she needed to forget about vacations and lessons and creating memories. Memories were over. There would be no more. Now was time to start planning on who was going to be raising her daughter for her after next month. I was probably the last person in the world she wanted to have hugging her or trying to console her at that moment. This was all my fault.

In spite of my fears of her hatred towards me for bringing all this doom and gloom into her life, her gaze was not malicious or accusatory in any way. Beneath the brave facade she was trying to convey, her moist eyes revealed her sad acceptance of the truth as we both now understood it. And for the second time, she stepped right up in front of me and wrapped her arms around my back, pressing her eyes into my shoulder. As I returned the hug, noticing how natural she felt in my arms, I whispered into her ear, "Donít give up yet, okay?"

She pulled her head off my shoulder and faced me, our eyes inches apart. My hands still clasped one another in the small of her back. 29:29 had the decency to remain silent for the moment. There were a couple fresh escapees running down each cheek now. She said nothing. A half smile formed as she nodded in response to my request. I saw a few more tears released as she stepped back and continued past me towards Dr. Jamesí office.

* * * * *

Chapter Eleven


Michael

Front Desk

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The Master Plan

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Tweny-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three
Chapter Thirty-Four
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Seven
Chapter Thirty-Eight
Chapter Thirty-Nine
Epilogue