The Healer | Teen Ink

The Healer MAG

April 20, 2008
By Anonymous

Ekkehart sees her for the first time on the bridge, in the carriage he has ridden for four frostbitten nights. The moon is a sliver of old corrupted lime, casting its light onto a city pearly with cold. Snow falls in dagger crystals, knifing through the air. It slashes at the top of the carriage, at its fur-lined curtains. It slashes through them and into Ekkehart’s lungs, and he coughs.

Ekkehart’s teacher turns, ancient and worn, his pale face a desiccated star. He speaks in a low rice-paper hum. “This wind carries pestilence. You of all people know.”

Ekkehart knows, and pulls the curtains tight. He tries not to remember, but still the images flow, like the ebb of blood in the heart-tides, like the rush of textures when he feels for disease. Mother bent over a bubbling brew, in the time before he learned to feel, the happy time. Father singing nonsense rhymes as he set a child’s bones with a delicate spell. Then the first prickles of disembodied pain. ­Father shivering in three woolen cloaks, Mother coughing blood into her hands. Their funeral pyre, amidst the lacy winter trees.

And later, the fraying of blood cells, the fires of fever, in the sick and dying his parents left behind. Feeling the growth of germs in strangers’ tissues like blows to his own flesh, until he cried. He learned to prick away at them with needle-bursts of power, until his pain deadened and his patients stared with awe at this prodigy healer, this miracle child who couldn’t save his own …

Unthinking, Ekkehart snatches at the curtain with wrathful hands. The snow is a mouthful of angry crystals and a stinging in his eyes, and there’s a girl walking through it, wearing a thin shawl. It looks like fever kindling and pathogens writhing; he thinks of her agony torching his own nerves, and he shouts.

The wind steals his voice, but she turns to face him. His anger plummets into eyes of crystal and slate, eyes with the harsh glitter of rock that not even winter could destroy. She stares back serenely, and her wind-chapped mouth curves into a secretive grin.

Ekkehart closes the curtain. His teacher’s rice-­paper voice brushes his awareness, a chastisement. Ekkehart smiles, certain he has found someone who would survive the cold.

***

Hannelore feels his gaze on her back and turns. She sees an ordinary boy with eyes like clear water and hair like frost. Then she focuses her eyes.

The past envelops him, faint frost-haired figures each smaller than the one before. Hannelore sees him at three, watchful before a surgery table, at five, giggling at his father’s magical star showers, at 11, pressing a kiss to his dying mother’s brow. She sees him at 12, gripping an emaciated patient’s arm, tinkering with death. Until the woman stops groaning and the bloom returns to her cheeks, until she thanks him with a supplicant’s reverence in her face.

Hannelore focuses her eyes again and the future ­unfurls from his frame, a tall shadow with that same pale hair and watery gaze. Hands that drip blood and opiates from a thousand surgeries. She sees him at 16, standing vigil over a dying king, at 18 ringed by broken arrows and broken knights. At 19, bowing before a crowned woman, who gazes at him with such wounded love and naked evil in her eyes. She sees him survive it all, until his mouth turns upward in a victor’s smile, and the light softens a little in his eyes.

She sees all this in the second before the curtain slaps shut.

Hannelore smiles, certain she has found a saint, the boy with hands deft enough to save the world. Found him like her sister’s husband, the man Annegret’s ­future-image lifted her wedding veil to kiss. Found him like her father’s killer, whose dagger lodged two inches above his future-image’s heart.

Hannelore stops smiling and starts to feel the cold.

***

They meet at the university door. Ekkehart reaches into the carriage to help the teacher down. Hannelore has walked for two miles. She leans against the doorframe, panting pale clouds into the night.

Ekkehart turns and sees those eyes, their stony ­glitter undiminished. He reaches reflexively for her gloved hand, feels instinctively for disease through the lambskin. The remnants of past sickness and old injury are a slurry of soft blows, but the health of her cells whirls through his senses.

He remembers himself and drops the hand, blushing at his secret knowledge of her past pains. And she turns away, shying from her secret knowledge of his future fame.

“Sorry,” he says. “I’m Ekkehart.”

“Hannelore.”

Ekkehart’s mouth flutters open, as if to speak, but the teacher is staggering toward him. His owl gaze rivets on Hannelore’s face. “Where is the scholar who identified you, child?”

She shakes her head. “There is none.”

“Then you have no business at this university.”

In answer, Hannelore focuses her eyes.

***

They meet other children as strange and powerful as they. Madhava, whose spirit wanders the living ­tissue of animals and plants, bidding them twist, grow, leap, and dance. Octavian, who reshapes his lungs to inhale water and honeycombs his bones to fly. Phyllida, whose dreams come awake in the night to fill the hallways with sun, blood, smoke, and rain.

Winter flees as abruptly as it came. Wildflowers bloom across the fresh-dug graves, and Ekkehart ­studies them from the castle windows. In the evenings, when the sky is rosy and his mind is soft with sleep, he dares to hope they cover his parents’ grave.

***

Hannelore slips into the observatory and finds Ekkehart by the vaulted window, telescope in hand.

“Look at the stars,” she says mechanically, turning her gaze toward his face instead of the sky.

She leans in to catch his whisper. “They look like the future.” She sees a change in him, a widening of the eyes. “It’s so distant and inscrutable.” And she feels his voice like the heat of a too-close flame and thinks vaguely of escape. “You have telescope eyes,” he says.

Hannelore wonders if it’s a challenge or a plea.

***

She decides the next morning in the underground library called the Paleocrypt, amid the dripping of subterranean water and towers of ancient tomes.

“Ekkehart,” she calls, and he whirls, wearing a look of cautious surprise.

She draws close to whisper in his ear. “You’ll save lives.” His breathing quickens; his shoulders tense under her hands.

“I feel so helpless sometimes,” he murmurs.

“I’ve seen the future. You’re hardly helpless.”

His pale head sinks, and Ekkehart crumples, sobbing. The other students are drawn from their studies, all gasps and murmurs of concern. Before their curious eyes, Hannelore embraces Ekkehart and he winds his trembling arms around her neck.

“Thank you,” he says, two mornings later. They are eating breakfast together, amid muffled speculation about their sudden friendship. “You told me what I needed to hear.” He smiles sheepishly, handing her a fritter.

She bites into it. “It was true.”

“I think that’s what I have to do,” she continues. “You were born to heal, and I was born to tell the truth.”

***

Ekkehart awakens to screaming and wonders if one of Phyllida’s night-ghosts has run loose. Then he hears the plink of shuffling glass and rolls his sleeves up. He grapples in the darkness for his needles and knives, but the screaming swells, and there is no time.

In the hallways he can see no blood-slicks, but his temples are throbbing with disembodied pain. Follow the pain, he thinks, winding through corridors and down the cellar stairs.

It leads him to a broken flask on the stony floor, splinters of glass and a pool of emerald liquid. He recognizes it with a prick of anguish as dragon-ichor, a heavy acid, and the agony burns at his crown.

Ekkehart lights the sconce with a candle. Hannelore materializes from the gloom, face-down and fists clenched. The blood pounds at his temples, but his nerves deaden into crystals of ice. Slowly, clum­sily, he clasps her hand to seek the point of her pain. Winding through the spaces between her cells, he finds her skin unburned, although a section of hair has been seared away. No acid in her digestive system, lungs functional, pumping the air out in frenzied sobs. Nerves fine, and …

He stops, blank.

“Ekkehart,” she whispers, “I’m blind.”

***

The teachers storm in, and Ekkehart is screaming.

Old hands shake him gently, then roughly, until the teeth rattle in his skull. He groans, pressing his temples, where her blindness is now a conflagration, now a snowfall of wintry knives.

The face of his first teacher wavers before him, and the rice-paper voice crackles with urgency. “Only you can heal her.” Ekkehart tries to shake his head, but fear holds him immobile with cadaver hands.

“Like I healed my parents?” He tries to scream, but his voice is a weak whisper, hollow even to his ears. He trembles, remembering warm hands and smiling faces, remembering a wind that carried the scent of roasting flesh.

***

Then he’s kneeling beside her, hands on her temples. He sings nonsense rhymes like his father, smooths her forehead like his mother, until her ragged breathing levels. Then he winds through the disordered nerves, the sundered sensory cells. Slowly comparing her remarkable ruined eyes to his ordinary whole ones, he nudges the cells, prompting synthesis, encouraging regrowth.

After two hours, Hannelore’s breathing softens, and she sleeps. After three hours, Ekkehart is interrupted with breakfast and he waves it away. After four hours, the pain in his eyes – in both their eyes – fades. Ekkehart tells the teachers. Gravely, wearily, he accepts their praise. But he worries he has robbed his dearest friend of her greatest gift. After five hours, Ekkehart collapses on the cellar floor. He dreams of ruined prophets and healers dead from grief.

***

After nine hours, Hannelore seizes Ekkehart in a jubilant embrace. He awakens reluctantly, then he remembers and bolts upright. “Your eyes?”

They glint. He sees her tear stains, and under them the pink blooming of new skin. “All better.”

“Completely better?” he persists.

Hannelore focuses her eyes.



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JOIN THE DISCUSSION

This article has 128 comments.


on Nov. 18 2011 at 3:37 pm
Athena19 SILVER, Central Point, Oregon
5 articles 1 photo 103 comments

Favorite Quote:
'Love people. Cook them tasty food.' -Penzey's Spices

WOW. this is amazing. keep writing please!

Jeast10 GOLD said...
on Nov. 18 2011 at 2:48 pm
Jeast10 GOLD, Beaumont, Texas
10 articles 0 photos 19 comments

Favorite Quote:
"when nothing goes right... go left."

if this book went on into a novel, i would sooo read it! i love how it flows, and has the flashbacks! i looove it!

 


on Nov. 18 2011 at 8:23 am
I really enjoyed drifting over the cadence of this piece.  At first I felt like it was the beginning of a a novel or something similar, but you rounded it off into an exquisite short story.  Your descriptive phrases are amazing.  One thing:  Make sure you don't rush the end too much.  It was beautiful writing, but ended all too soon.  I salute your talent!

on Oct. 5 2011 at 5:08 pm
ladynovelist BRONZE, Denver, Colorado
2 articles 0 photos 6 comments
I liked it, but the ending felt rushed.  Perhaps you could expand it?

on Oct. 5 2011 at 12:31 pm
ZookTheGnome SILVER, Zanesville, Indiana
6 articles 0 photos 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.
~ James A. Froude

Very well written. I especially like the feel that your story portrays. Makes me feel like I'm in the midst of a re-imagined 18th century London.

However, I believe I would have to read what happened before this scene to truly appreciate the characters for who there are. I would highly suggest expanding on this idea.

Hope to read more soon!


on Oct. 5 2011 at 10:41 am
hobo12321 PLATINUM, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
20 articles 11 photos 62 comments

Favorite Quote:
none, there's too many, although the one about the grapefruit is good. Any by Douglas Adams

i disagree, i think the characters are amazing, so original! you should expand this, there's so much you could do!

Desanyx SILVER said...
on Sep. 13 2011 at 9:37 pm
Desanyx SILVER, Westfield, New Jersey
5 articles 0 photos 30 comments

Favorite Quote:
The imagination is man's power over nature. -Wallace Stevens

Good word choice. The imagery was lovely. The story...not so much. You can write good prose, but that is not enough. A story requires living breathing characters, not caricatures. 

on Aug. 22 2011 at 9:43 am
SocialPariah GOLD, Laurel, Maryland
16 articles 0 photos 14 comments

Favorite Quote:
A dream is just a recycled memory.

This made me smile :))))))   I love it.  How do you learn to write like this?!?! This is AMAZING you should really make a book about this and publish it.  That would be awesome!  I'd totally buy it!!!! <333

on Jul. 31 2011 at 7:35 pm
caycay15 BRONZE, Marysville, Ohio
4 articles 0 photos 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.
Cyril Connolly

For me, writing is exploration; and most of the time, I'm surprised where the journey takes me.
Jack Dann

I like your word choice and it seemed very structural, unfortunatly I was unable to understand the story's meaning let alone imagine what was happening. sorry but i would like to read more.

on Jul. 31 2011 at 3:11 pm
StrangeJade PLATINUM, Relative Obscurity, California
36 articles 17 photos 389 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it." - Life of Pi

SO VERY GOOD! Made me cry. :( And that's not easy, mind you. Oh, please write more! Pleeeeeeeease!!!

Deharminator said...
on Jul. 31 2011 at 11:03 am
Sorry, I don't like it. 

on Jul. 31 2011 at 6:57 am
Laden with purple prose, which unfortunately detracts from what could have been a great story.  There were simply far too many occassions when unnecessary adverbs and adjectives where thrown in for no apparent reason. 

on Jul. 12 2011 at 10:36 am
Tongue_Blep PLATINUM, ????, Ohio
40 articles 1 photo 769 comments
I loved the story! Great job! Hey everyone! just posted two of my stories here there called Nightstalker and The Beast. if you read them tell me if you like them or not! Thanks! :D

iswim24 BRONZE said...
on Jul. 9 2011 at 10:12 pm
iswim24 BRONZE, Howell, New Jersey
2 articles 0 photos 3 comments
I want more this is goooooooood!

on Jul. 9 2011 at 1:53 pm
Ladywarrior123 SILVER, San Antonio, Texas
8 articles 0 photos 16 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Life's like a novel. With the end ripped out. The edge of a canon. With only one way down."
-Rascal Flatts (Stand)

One word. Intense.

on May. 4 2011 at 6:54 pm
sunflowergirl7 BRONZE, Lexington, Massachusetts
2 articles 0 photos 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
\"To see the world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wildflower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.\" --William Blake

wow. the depth of both characters that you create in such a short piece is amazing. i felt like i was there. usually i would say be careful not to get bogged down in all the fancy language, but i actually think for this particular piece the style of the language reinforces the tone that you expertly convey. great work!

Jbohn GOLD said...
on May. 4 2011 at 6:26 pm
Jbohn GOLD, South Plainfield, New Jersey
10 articles 0 photos 16 comments

Favorite Quote:
"You dont know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.." <3
"What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger!"- My Coach
"Forget about the past, think about the present, and dream for your future."

Wow... this is really good! check out my work?!

on May. 4 2011 at 5:20 pm
Vacilator BRONZE, Merritt Island, Florida
4 articles 2 photos 96 comments

Favorite Quote:
No cup of tea is large enough, or book long enough, to suit me.
-C.S. Lewis

Whoa. 

Very surprising, totally great.


Aderes47 GOLD said...
on Apr. 12 2011 at 5:13 pm
Aderes47 GOLD, Cambridge, Massachusetts
11 articles 0 photos 897 comments

Favorite Quote:
You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments when you have truly lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.
Henry Drummond

AWWWW

That was so sweet!


on Apr. 12 2011 at 10:51 am
LilyPotter BRONZE, Edmonton, Other
1 article 0 photos 8 comments
This is one of the best fiction pieces I've ever read! Tell me more!