This story is by William O. Webster and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Do you have a minute?” Hearing the voice, Susan Wells looked up and saw him propped against the fender of her car. She glared at him. Dressed in a dark business suit the color of slate, she looked like all the others walking out of the county court house except for her athletic build and the gloves. Her gloves were gray and stretched under her jacket nearly to her elbow.
He stubbed out his cigarette before stepping away from Susan’s car. A pile of dead butts littered the curbside.
“Ms. Wells,” he asked again, “Do you have a minute?” Susan noted his throat clearing, an unfailing indication that something of significance was in the works. Sure enough, he pushed on even more insistently. “Ms. Wells, one minute please.”
It was her experience that when someone asked for a minute it always turned into an hour. Tossing her computer bag into the back seat of her car she didn’t have a minute, let alone an hour.
“Look,” he pulled another cigarette out from his jacket and pointed it at her before lighting it, his cool, searching blue-gray eyes never leaving her face. “Lady, I don’t want to be here. But I’ve got a job. And I need to talk to you.”
Without saying a word, she walked around him, stepped to the other side of the car and opened the driver’s door. He slammed the door closed. “One minute – that’s all I’m asking.”
Pulling the sleeve of her glove down she studied her watch. “You’ve got one minute. 59 seconds and counting. 58. You’re almost out of time.” She stood there with her arms crossed. “55.”
“This ‘gift’ you have, I don’t understand it.” His words shot out of his mouth in rapid-fire succession. “And I certainly don’t believe it.” His words were stabbing and monotone like an assembly line robot welding frames. “But like I said, I got this job to do. And it involves you and your purported gift.”
“Time’s up,” she snapped as she opened the door, slid behind the steering wheel and started the engine of her Toyota. Her phone, tucked away in her computer bag, began to ring before it switched over to the car’s hands-free system. Across the car’s screen, Dr. Young’s name appeared on the caller I.D.
Susan hit the call button on the steering wheel. “Dr. Young, hello.”
“I’m glad I reached you,” he said almost out of breath. “Susan, there’s man looking for you. He’s about 6 foot. He usually wears a blue suit with a gray fedora. His name is Tom Doyle.”
“Uh, Dr. Young, I think he’s standing outside my car tapping on the window.”
“Good!” he said. “Susan,” he paused, as if to catch his breath. “Susan,” he said, “It’s important that you listen to him and help him.”
“What? I don’t understand.”
“Doyle, he’s a city detective. My brother and his wife – they’re missing. I think with your gift you can find them.”
“My gift?” she questioned.
Susan first noticed the ‘gift’ as they called it when she was hospitalized.
Following the accident, Susan remained hospitalized for most of the summer. Three times her heart stopped. Three times she was shocked back to life. It seemed, that after the third time something strange happened and the ‘gift’ was born. She, however, didn’t see ‘it’ as a gift, but as a hindrance.
It was in the ICU that Dr. Young discovered that an electric current, similar to what sharks give off, somehow operated within her. Sharks are enabled by electroreception to detect electrical currents in the ocean. This unique ability allows sharks to navigate the oceans and find food. Observing an unconscious Susan, he speculated, “Salt water which contains sodium and chlorine ions, conducts electricity.” He rubbed his chin in contemplation, “Maybe there is something that conducts electricity when Susan touches it.”
“Every living creature,” said one of the interns making rounds with Dr. Young, “creates small electrical currents.”
“Yes,” Dr. Young interrupted her. “An electrocardiogram tracks the electricity when the heart beats.” Staring at Susan even more intently he went on, “So, somehow, when Susan was shocked, the electric waves in her body intensified and gained this limitless electroreception.”
Ann, an intern who was a scuba diver said, “We know that sharks have receptors in their snouts that are sensitive to electromagnetic fields.”
“Right,” Young agreed, “so like the sharks Ms. Wells now has these receptors. And they’re lodged in her fingertips.” Young instructed the staff that they should get gloves for Susan to wear when she recovered as a form of protection from the current. “The gloves will insulate her hands,” Young told them. The gloves would shield Susan from her gift which was both a burden and a boundless energy.
Susan’s thoughts turned back to the man outside her car. Locking her car door, she thrust her gloved hands out in front of Doyle. “So,” she asked. “Are you going to cuff me?”
He shook his head, “Look, Miss, will you just get in my car?”
In silence they drove across town. When they arrived at a diner on the edge of town, Doyle pointed to the side door. “They were last seen walking out of that door.”
Standing next to the car, he pulled out yet another cigarette and with it he pointed to the security camera. “We have them getting in their car.” Then, with his cigarette pointer, he gestured down the road. “We have them driving down to the marina. That’s where their car is parked. That’s the last they were ever seen.”
Arriving at the marina, Doyle parked next to a Buick Enclave. Getting out of his car Doyle pointed to a security camera perched on the marina’s roof. “That camera is dead. It hasn’t worked for months. So there’s no video of them here. So, missy, this is why you’re here.” His voice was sharp and stinging.
He walked her over to the car. Waving his hands, he commanded, “Now, use your magic and tell me where they are.” His voice didn’t hide his smugness.
Yellow crime scene tape encircled the deserted Buick. Doyle walked around the abandoned car checking for something or nothing before stopping at a bench on the boardwalk in front of the car where he pulled out a cigarette from its pack and lit up. “Well, we’re waiting.” His voice roared like a 747 on take off.
With her head down she approached the car. She walked around it before ending at the driver’s door. Looking down at the pavement, Susan rubbed her hands together. She took a deep breath, then, little by little, she pulled off her left glove. After another deep breath, she grabbed the fingertips of her right glove and removed it. Ever so slowly she reached her right hand out toward the chrome door handle.
Since her accident and her time in the hospital, every time she touched something she endured a powerful electric shock which was immediately followed by a graphic vision of something associated with whatever she touched. One time when she touched a cafeteria food tray she saw an elderly man carrying lunch to his sick wife. Another time she touched a bed rail and saw a woman attached to multiple IVs as she lay dying from breast cancer.
She reached out to the car’s door handle. She touched it. A surge of electricity ran through her fingertips. The tingling passed through her hand and up her arm before the visions began. Struggling for breath, she spoke, “Tim and his wife,” she paused, “were abducted by three men – caucasian.” Her speech was staccato like someone plucking one string on a violin. “They drove . . away . . . in a black suburban . . . Michigan plates . . . Powells Point.” She held on as long as she could before the electric current propelled her to the ground.
Jumping off the bench, he yelled, “I’ll call it in!”
“Oh, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me,” she moaned while sprawled on the asphalt of the parking lot nursing her arm.
Propped up against the fender of Susan’s car, he stood there waiting for her to come out. When she saw Tom, she smiled, but it was a sad smile as she wondered what was on his mind this time. Crushing his cigarette out, he applauded, “Hey, we did it. Good job! They were found safe and sound at Powells Point.”
“That’s wonderful!” She smiled her sad, tired smile.
Looking at her, he said, “Ma’am, there’s an abandoned boat washed up just south of the marina. Looks like it’s been adrift for a while. The family all murdered.” He shook his head. “It’s a real puzzle. Uh, you got a minute?”