Reflecting on my First Published Work


I’m getting ready to release my second collection of short stories soon. As a way to familiarize myself with Amazon’s publishing process my first work that I ever published way back in 2014 was a short story, Heal Thyself. 

It was a story that came from a local news story that I enhanced to become an interesting paranormal tale of power and how that power is handled.

I thought it would be fun to revisit that first work and share it with you here. It comes from my short story collection Random Tales which is a collection of unrelated stories. My next collection will have four related stories that are essentially novellas. It’s been a long journey in four years.

I hope you enjoy Heal Thyself, posted here as it exists in the book along with a prelude explaining the origins of the story.


HEAL THYSELF

Author’s Note

Heal Thyself is the first published work that I have ever completed. Although I did start my first novel, Frankly Speaking, prior to writing this story, I used this piece as a way to overcome getting stuck while writing the novel. I remember traveling to Chicago for work for a period of time when I wrote this story. It was written completely by hand in a notebook while sitting in airports and on airplanes waiting to get somewhere.

The story emerged from reading news headlines. I saw a story about a man riding a motorcycle that had been in a horrific crash and his injuries had paralyzed him from the neck down with multiple internal injuries.

Instead of this inevitable outcome, I started thinking about what alternative endings there might be. I have always been an avid reader of everything written by Stephen King and I began thinking of his book, The Dead Zone which centers on a man that wakes from a coma with psychic abilities that end up torturing him. Thinking of that story gave me a direction for Heal Thyself and I was off and running.

I hope you enjoy reading this story as much as I enjoyed producing my first published work. It has a special place in my heart.

********

Ray woke up feeling like he had been run over by a truck. Wait a minute. He remembered that exact event or something very similar. Actually his last memory was riding his vintage Harley down Route 9A on his way home from work. He had worked late and traffic was light. He was behind one of those Buick land yacht type cars; the kind with a little tuft of white hair that is barely visible above the steering wheel. One of Florida’s elderly who still insisted on driving at 30 miles per hour below the speed limit in the left lane with the left blinker on perpetually. As Ray changed to the right lane to pass the Buick, the elderly driver, not seeing him in her mirror, changed lanes as well. Ray remembered flying through the air and thinking to himself, this is gonna hurt. He remembered fits and spurts of consciousness after that. The ambulance; frantic voices in the ER. People were poking and prodding him, but he felt nothing; No pain or sensation at all.

Now he struggled to move his head, an unknown appliance attached to him held him motionless. He sensed various needles in his arms and sensors taped to his chest.

He felt the powerful need to urinate. Just as he was about to feel for some kind of call button, a somber nurse came into the room. She seemed startled when he met her gaze and asked, “Where am I?”

“You’re in intensive care at Mercy General Hospital,” she said.

“Am I hurt badly?”

“Let me get the doctor to answer that for you.”

Ray thought her response was strange. How bad could it be? He felt no pain. When the doctor came in 30 minutes later, he had the same grim look as the nurse.

“Mr. Manning, I’m Doctor Phelps. It’s good to see that you’ve regained consciousness.”

“How long was I out?”

“About 36 hours. We sedated you due to the severity of your injuries.”

“The casts on my arm and leg, did I break them?”

“You did,” Dr. Phelps hesitated. “There are other, more serious injuries, however…”

He trailed off.

“How serious? How long am I going to be here?”

“Mr. Manning, when you were struck by the vehicle, it caused you to be thrown from your motorcycle several feet in the air. You landed head first on the road. Had you not been wearing a helmet, you would not have survived. The impact was severe enough that you crushed several vertebrae. The bone fragments damaged your spinal cord just above the T1 vertebra at the base of your neck.”

“Does that mean what I think it means? Am I paralyzed?”

“Yes sir, from the spot where the spinal cord was damaged.”

“Are you sure? I can still feel my limbs,” Ray said.

“Many times there are phantom feelings in cases like this. I assure you this is what you are experiencing.”

“Well I must have phantom feelings in my bladder. I really felt the urge to pee which has now disappeared.”

“Interesting. We have inserted a catheter to drain the urine from your bladder, but you should not have feeling their either.”

As if challenging what Dr. Phelps had told him, Ray attempted to move the toes of his unbroken left foot. He could feel the rough sheet against his toenails. His foot felt stiff, but the feelings were real. The doctor had a startled look as he watched the sheet move. He tentatively pulled it back.

“Can you move that foot again? I want to rule out spontaneous muscle spasms as the cause.”

Ray moved his toes and the doctor looked puzzled. He took a ball point pen from his lab coat and moved the tip back and forth across the sole of Ray’s foot. The foot reacted with perfect reflexes.

“Let’s check your hands.”

“They seem to be fine,” Ray said as he scratched his nose with the hand of his unbroken right arm.

“I don’t understand,” Phelps said. “This is impossible. I saw your x-rays.”

With this, the doctor left abruptly leaving behind a cloud of frustration.

“Well, he seemed very unhappy with my improved condition,” Ray said to the perplexed nurse.

She gave him an uncomfortable smile and fled the room.

An x-ray technician wheeled the bulky portable x-ray unit into Ray’s room. She positioned the lighted square over Ray’s neck, chest, arm, and leg, pausing to take a shot of each area. Ray could feel the weight of the lead apron over his lower torso and groin area. If he was, indeed, not paralyzed, he was glad for the protection of that area.

As time went by after the x-ray session, Ray grew restless. He felt fine. Finally, Dr. Phelps returned with an older doctor who appeared to be from India.

“Mr. Manning, this is Doctor Suraj. He is the head of our Orthopedics Department. I brought him in to consult on your case.”

“That sounds serious. What’s going on?” Ray asked.

“It is serious, Mr. Manning,” Doctor Suraj said. “But in a positive way, from what we can tell.”

Ray was confused and getting frustrated.

Suraj continued, “I have never witnessed anything like this. I have only heard of occurrences like this anecdotally and dismissed them as myth.”

“Excuse me,” Ray said. “Can you get to the point? What are you talking about?”

“Mr. Manning, as Doctor Phelps told you, you experienced severe injuries as a result of your crash. You crushed multiple vertebrae, broke several bones, damaged several internal organs, and, most severely, damaged your spinal cord. It is a miracle that you survived. The overwhelming miracle, however, is that you seem to have healed.”

“You mean no paralysis?”

Suraj chuckled.

“No Mr. Manning. I mean completely healed. Your spinal cord is intact, your vertebrae are restored. Even your arm and leg are healed. In fact, there is no evidence they were ever broken.”

“How could that be true? It’s only been a couple of days since the crash.”

“I know Mr. Manning. It is a case of spontaneous healing.”

“So I’m completely healed?”

“Mr. Manning, did you break your left wrist as a child?”

“Yes. How did you know?”

“We could tell from your original x-ray. The x-ray we just took shows no trace of this injury.”

“How could that happen? Is it a mistake? Did you misdiagnose me the first time?”

“I checked and double checked. Skeletons are like fingerprints. I am positive the two x-rays are of the same person and the first one showed extensive damage.”

“Then what caused this? Is it permanent?”

Dr. Suraj hesitated.

“I just don’t know. There is no incident to compare it with. I would like to call in some colleagues on this.”

After being poked and prodded some more by just about every doctor at Mercy General, Ray was cleared for physical therapy. His first session, also his last, left the therapy staff baffled. Not only could he walk normally, he was able to lift more weight with his arms and legs then a man his age should have been able to despite the lack of a workout regimen prior to the accident. His muscle tone and reaction time were the equivalent of a 20 year old. Ray noticed that the knee and back pain that had plagued him for the past ten years had vanished.

Ray spent two months being examined by specialists from around the globe. None of them could find anything unique about him other than his incredible healing power. It continued after the accident. When Ray cut his finger badly fixing dinner about a month after the accident, the digit healed before he could find a bandage for it in the bathroom.

Finally, after extracting more tissue and bodily fluid samples than he could count, the doctors were ready to let him go. Just one more visit to Doctor Suraj. Then he could get back to normal. Doctor Suraj had a much different demeanor for this last meeting. He had ordered an elegant lunch to be served to them in the executive dining room at the hospital.

“Well this is quite a goodbye lunch,” Ray said as they were finishing their salads.

“It’s the least I could do to thank you for your cooperation,” Suraj said.

“I did feel like a pin cushion, but if my inconvenience can help someone else, it was worth it.”

“Speaking of helping others, I was hoping you would allow me to publish your story as a medical study”

“That’s fine as long as I remain anonymous. I don’t want to become a guinea pig for further research.”

“That’s one option, Mr. Manning. I have enough corroboration that would result in getting a study published, but think of the big picture. You have gone through a truly life changing experience. With your personal journey and your body’s regenerative abilities, you can bring great benefit to yourself and have a positive impact on many others.”

Ray considered this. Since his childless marriage ended in divorce four years ago, he had taken his considerable computer skills and moved to Florida to make a new start. He made decent money, and had a few friends, but still felt like he lacked purpose. He tried to put some excitement into his life. The Harley was evidence of that and look how that turned out.

Ray felt inspired when he left the lunch with Doctor Suraj. Many ideas for how to share his story were emerging. He could write a book, become a motivational speaker, or many other possibilities. As he was lost in his thoughts, a familiar face appeared in the hospital corridor. It was Valerie Warren, the nurse from the ward where Ray had spent four weeks while they tried to find something wrong with him. Something about her looked different. She looked frail and thin.

“Hey Valerie. Are you working on a different floor?”

“No I’m off. I’m actually a patient on this floor.”

“Oh. I hope everything is OK”

At this comment, tears formed in Valerie’s eyes. For whatever reason, Ray felt the overwhelming need to hug her. When he did, his body took on a strange feeling. His lower abdomen felt like it was on fire and he collapsed.

Once again, Ray woke up in a hospital bed. He felt fine, just a bit tired. His watch read 2:05 PM which meant he had been out for about an hour. He sat up on the bed. Almost immediately, Doctor Suraj came into the room.

“What is it Doc? Is my healing starting to reverse?”

Suraj lowered himself into the chair, smiled and shook his head.

“Quite the contrary, Ray. This is truly unbelievable.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Did you know that Valerie Warren had terminal ovarian cancer?”

“I didn’t. I thought she looked sick, but I had no idea. How long does she have?”

“She had about three months. Now, she has at least 50 years.”

“OK, now I’m confused. She’s cured?”

“Apparently she is and it appears you cured her.”

“That’s ridiculous. How could I have cured her?”

“She said you passed out right after you hugged her. At the same time, she felt an intense sense of warmth and then nothing, No nausea and no pain. We did an immediate sonogram on you. The technician thought something was wrong with the machine. When she examined your abdomen, a faint pair of ovaries appeared and then vanished. I reviewed the recording and confirmed it. Two ovaries in an advanced cancerous state appeared and then disappeared. Valerie’s sonogram was completely clear of cancer. Ray, this puts our earlier conversation in an entirely new light.

Ray’s life changed from that day forward. Any hope of anonymity was taken out of his control. The media frenzy was in full effect. He was sought and attacked from all sides. Religious groups wanted to claim him as a divine presence. When he resisted, he was condemned by those same groups as a fraud or a demon.

Ray wrote a book with the help of a ghost writer which sold quite well. The numerous unauthorized biographies and tabloid stories diluted Ray’s first-hand account of his life changing journey. He tried public speaking, but instead of drawing people in search of inspiration, it became a parade of broken and battered humans looking for a miracle cure for a variety of maladies. The resulting circus caused Ray to withdraw. He wisely invested the money earned from his book, movie options, and speaking engagements. He was able to build a fortress in the North Carolina Mountains where he could retreat from public attention.

Over the 20 years since his transformation, Ray learned some key things about his healing ability. He could only heal others for whom he felt genuine empathy. Total strangers could not benefit from his power. He had to know the person or have resonance with their history. Each instance of healing caused Ray to temporarily manifest the symptoms and illness of the patient. He could not heal afflictions that existed from birth. Once a person had been healed, Ray needed a period of time to recover. This time varied based on the severity of the illness. He could require anywhere from an hour to a couple of days. Another phenomenon that was a byproduct of Ray’s condition was his apparent lack of aging. Over 20 years, Ray had barely aged visibly. He was now 55 chronologically, but he hadn’t changed much since his accident. Whatever aging he observed seemed to take place after curing a particularly advanced illness. He would suddenly notice a gray hair or fine wrinkle.

Ray did not completely stop using his abilities to alleviate illnesses. He focused his efforts on children. He would identify children with compelling stories with the help of Doctor Suraj. The children with the direst prognoses or those facing the most prolonged and painful treatments were brought back to health by Ray. Parents resisted at first, believing Ray’s abilities were too good to be true. Eventually, with the full weight of despair that only parents of a dying child can experience, they relented and allowed Ray to save their children.

Then, even this strategy hit a significant snag. The child was Jeremy Mason. He had childhood leukemia and his body had rejected two bone marrow transplants. He was brought to Ray’s attention by Dr. Suraj.

“Jeremy is truly a tragic case,” Dr. Suraj told Ray. “His older sister died of the same disease and he has developed the same aggressive type that has been resistant to all treatment.” Ray met Jeremy’s parents and immediately felt strong empathy for their circumstance. Their daughter had died two years earlier at the age of eight while in the midst of treatment that had left her frail and vulnerable to infection. Jeremy had been diagnosed about three months after her death.

“We are at the end of our rope,” Bob Mason, Jeremy’s father, told Ray. “My wife is blaming herself. We just can’t watch two children die like this. Do you really think you can help Jeremy?”

“I can try,” Ray had told them.

This was the truth. Ray had to feel true empathy and, in this case, that was probably not an issue. Ray was now ready to meet Jeremy who was in isolation in the hospital ICU to protect him from infection. He immediately noticed how delicate and small the seven year old was in his bed. He had lost all of his hair and was severely underweight from the aggressive treatment. Ray pulled a chair up next to the bed and as he did Jeremy opened his eyes.

“Jeremy, my name is Ray and I’m going to try to help you feel better.”

Jeremy’s nod was barely perceptible. A weak smile formed on his lips. Ray put his hands on the boy’s shoulders and immediately felt a burning sensation flow through his body. He suddenly felt weak and nauseous. He had felt this sensation many times before, but this time it was stronger. He knew that he would black out soon and then awake fully recovered. Right before blacking out, however, disturbing images passed before his eyes like a music video full of quick cuts. He saw a small dog, a white puppy, happily wagging its tail. Next, he felt the sensation of kicking the dog and felt his own hands around the dog’s neck choking the life out of it. Then darkness. Ray woke two hours later feeling drained but otherwise OK. He sat up on the edge of the hospital bed and slipped on his shoes. As he was in the restroom splashing water on his face, a nurse came in to check on him.

“Mr. Manning, are you alright?”

“I am. I’m actually ready to leave.”

“Before you go, the Masons would like to see you.”

Ray usually tried to avoid this. He didn’t want recognition and hated the attention he received from those that benefitted from his abilities. His abilities were due to a freak occurrence. He didn’t earn them or work toward having them. He was just in the right place at the right time. Somehow being recognized for the outcomes he provided seemed wrong. In this case, however, he remembered the vision of the dog. That was something new and it pushed Ray to meet with the Masons.

When Ray arrived at Jeremy’s room, Mr. and Mrs. Mason were sitting on either side of his bed. Jeremy was sitting up eating a cheeseburger and fries like someone who hadn’t eaten in days. When they saw Ray, Jeremy’s parents immediately brightened. They looked ten years younger than when Ray had first met them nearly three hours before.

“Mr. Manning, what can we do to thank you?” Jeremy’s mother said.

“I take it things look encouraging?” Ray asked.

“The initial blood test after you…saw Jeremy shows a normal white blood cell and platelet count,” Bob Mason said. “The doctors are very encouraged. They just want to keep him for a couple of days to be sure.”

“And Jeremy is hungry,” Mrs. Mason added. “That’s the most encouraging sign of all.”

“That’s great,” Ray said. “Jeremy, how are you feeling?”

Jeremy looked up from his ketchup soaked fries He had new life in his eyes.

“I feel good. I want to go home.”

“You will soon sweetie,” his mother said. “Can you thank Mr. Mason?”

“Thanks,” Jeremy said through a mouthful of cheeseburger.

As Ray was getting ready to leave he decided to ask about what he saw in his vision.

“Mr. Mason, do you have a dog?”

The Masons exchanged a quick look.

“We had a puppy. Jeremy’s grandmother thought a dog might help Jeremy take his mind off his illness,” Bob Mason said.

“You said you had a puppy. What happened to it?”

Another exchange of looks took place between the Masons.

“I went to let the puppy out one morning and found that he had died during the night. Jeremy was too sick to pay much attention to him. I guess we all were so focused on Jeremy, we neglected the little guy.”

As Bob Mason was telling this story, Ray noticed a disturbing smile pass across Jeremy’s face.

Could he have killed the puppy? Is that what I saw in my vision?

Ray eventually put the encounter with the Masons out of his mind until a dark day in September eight years later. While watching the morning news, a disturbing story from a small town in New Mexico caught his attention. It was yet another school shooting. Ray watched the story, like many others, waiting for the body count and the gory details. Seventeen students and five teachers, along with the principal, had been gunned down at a high school. The gunman, in typical cowardly fashion, had put a bullet in his own head before the authorities could get to him. When the fifteen year old gunman’s picture and name were put on the screen, Ray’s heart sank. It was Jeremy Mason. He was older now, but that same devilish smile that Ray saw as Bob Mason talked about the death of the puppy was on Jeremy’s face in the photo.

Ray was in agony. What had he done? Instead of saving one life, he had allowed the premature end of 24 other lives. A long period of depression followed. Ray reached out to Doctor Suraj, now retired. He was very matter-of-fact about the situation.

“Ray, as a doctor, I have learned not to judge the patient. I never agonized over the moral character of those that I saved. My job was to fight their ailment and move on to the next patient.”

“But I had a premonition into this boy’s character and ignored it.”

“Ray, you cannot blame yourself over this. If the boy had these tendencies at an early age, any people, including his parents and teachers, also missed it.”

Ray felt only marginally better. One thing was certain. He would not be saving any more lives until he sorted this out.

As the next ten years passed, Ray sank deeper into depression. He became an alcoholic and began a three pack a day smoking habit. In spite of his behavior, his body recovered. He would drink and smoke all day and wake up the next day hangover-free ready to do it all again.

He came to hate his very existence. At a chronological age of 70, he was still in the physical shape and had the appearance of someone just over 35. He began to attempt suicide on a regular basis. Cutting his wrists resulted in a mess, but the wounds healed before he could bleed to death. Hanging was no good He just hung from the rope fully conscious. He tried shooting himself in the head. It hurt like hell, but all of the damage repaired itself and he woke up on the floor with another mess to clean.

He became more isolated and reclusive. At the age of 95, virtually everyone Ray knew had died of old age. Doctor Suraj was long dead. Even those he had saved had passed into their 60s and 70s and were beginning to die off. With all of his alcohol abuse and suicide attempts, Ray had aged only slightly.

On his 96th birthday, sixty one years after his accident, Ray was ready for one last grand attempt to take his life. He had tried individual suicide methods, but had a theory that combining multiple methods might be too much for his body to recover from. He had planned it out carefully ordering the highest strength sleeping pills available through several online pharmacies. He had filled several containers with gasoline. On the night of his 96th birthday, he would go out in style.

Ray soaked the entire first and second floors of his house with gasoline. He saved the last gallon for his bed. He trailed gas up the stairway to his room and then soaked his bed. Ray purchased a remote control electrical outlet and plugged it in downstairs. He stripped the wires of an extension cord and plugged it into the outlet. All he needed was a spark to start the gasoline burning.

Ray settled on his bed. He smashed nearly 80 sleeping pills into a powder and funneled the powder into a bottle of scotch. His plan was to drink the mixture and, just as he was on the edge of consciousness, trigger the fire downstairs. The amount of drugs in the liquor was enough to kill ten men. While Ray’s healing abilities would be fighting off the drugs, the fire would burn him to a crisp. His theory was that his body could not possibly recover from the dual assault.

Ray drank the liquor/sleeping pill mixture and began to feel the wave of artificial drowsiness wash over him. Just before closing his eyes for what he hoped was the last time, he hit the remote’s on switch. A he drifted off, the last sound he heard was the high-pitched squeal of the smoke alarm.

Ray saw a blindingly bright light. Was this it? Had he succeeded? He had read many accounts of near death experiences where patients reported seeing a bright light. He saw faces hover around him. Were these other souls that had crossed into the afterlife? A wave of euphoria washed over Ray. Had he actually accomplished what he set out to do so many times without success?

Then he heard voices murmuring. Then a single authoritative voice.

“Welcome back Mr. Manning. You are in the hospital. You’ve been in a terrible fire. You’ve suffered third-degree burns over 95% of your body. You’ve been fighting off the burns, however, and new skin has formed. It’s quite miraculous. We believe you are going to fully recover with no visible effects from the fire. You are one lucky man.”

One lucky man indeed.

All euphoria faded away and Ray could feel the tears flowing from his eyes.

21 thoughts on “Reflecting on my First Published Work

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