Punish the Holy – An Original Short Story
An Original urban fantasy short story set in a world where magic is real but forbidden. A young woman struggles to find the balance between doing what she believes is right and what she knows is safe. What will she do when she finally gives in to her desire to help others and finds herself a wanted woman? How will she survive when her world is turned upside down? Find out in Punish the Holy.
“Helping people is in my blood.” That’s my standard answer when people ask why I was relieved when I was assigned a residency as an ER nurse in one of the busiest, most hectic hospitals in the inner city. It’s the truth, mostly. It’s more than in my blood though, it’s a part of me. And it’s more than helping people that I’m drawn to.
When I was a girl, all pigtails and freckles, my parents instilled in me how important it is to help those in need. I grew up in my father’s study surrounded by his medical journals and tagging along with my mother when she would make house visits to the people who were too poor or ashamed to go to the government sanctioned hospital. With the strict regulations around the practice of medicine and healing arts they had to be careful.
Today is a day I’ve been dreading for weeks. I’ve been asked to step in for one of the other residences in the pediatric oncology unit. The sight of those children, so thin and young but filled with the most radiant hope, almost makes it hard to move. As frail as they look, these kids are the strongest people on the planet. I can’t imagine what it’s like for their parents either. And I try not to. I can’t get lost down that path or I’ll be moved to do something I’ll regret.
I step in the doors and make my usual hello’s. I keep telling myself to just focus on my duties and it’ll be OK. I just have to make it through the day and I’ll be fine.
I check charts, take vitals, dispense medications all with a warm smile offering comfort when I can. It’s not until my last patient that I find myself breaking my cardinal rule. Heal, but don’t heal.
It’s a little girl. Nine years old and diagnosed with stage IV lymphoma. It’s a matter of “when”, not “if”, for her. She’s weak and barely has strength to stand but always has a smile when she looks at you. The problem is, she isn’t looking at me. She doesn’t see that I’ve walked in, and the suffering on her face almost brings me to tears. I clear my throat to make noise and announce my entrance.
“Hi Clair.” I say, almost impressed with myself for not breaking into sobs, “How are you feeling?” As soon as her head turns she’s bright as spring sunshine.
“I’m good thanks.” She says, her voice barely above a whisper but still somehow bright.
“I’m glad.” I say as I walk in and check her vitals and the I.V. I try to make polite conversation but I can feel the lump lodged in my throat and I know I can’t speak. I can feel my face getting flushed and I know I need to leave.
“Don’t worry. I know that in the end I’ll be in a happy place.” Clair says out of the blue. Her words take me by surprise and for a second I just stare. Then, by instinct, my hand reaches out to her. It’s cold and limp but I feel the lightest pressure of her squeezing it back. I close my eyes before I realize what I’m doing. I center myself, feeling my connection to the goddess I’m afraid to talk about. She fills me with her light and I let it flow into Clair. I’m being reckless but I can’t help it. I can cure her, I know, but I’m too afraid. In the end I know I’ll only buy her some time. I can feel the cancer retreating from the divine energy I’m sending into Clair. Just some time. Maybe now the treatments will help, will hold off the disease long enough for her body to do the rest.
Clair looks at me and for a beat I think she knows. “My hair is blonde too.” She says with a smile. “Can I touch yours? It’s been a really long time since I’ve actually felt hair as long and pretty as yours. Everybody here keeps it tight or cut short so they don’t make me feel bad but it makes me happy to see long hair like I had when I was little.”
I let go of her hand and undo the tight bun I’ve kept at the base of my neck for the exact reason she said and shake it loose. The long waves fall down around my shoulders to below my collar bone. I gather it to one side and lean in to tickle her face with it. She laughs a little stronger than I think she’s used to and I feel her hands running through my hair. “It’s like gold.” I hear her say, “And it smells like sunshine.” She laughs again. “Thank you.” She says as I stand up. I pull my hair back into a pony tail and rest my hand on her head and smile. “You’re welcome.”
That night in my small closet of an apartment I go over and over what I did. I undress and shower and try to compose myself. The hot water doesn’t do much to wipe out the fear that what I did will be noticed. I can see it in my head: a new nurse comes to visit a little girl and all of a sudden she’s in near remission. I pound my fist against the shower wall in frustration at my stupidity.
I come out and towel myself off and put on loose pajama pants and a tank top. My body is still damp but I don’t care. I walk into my bedroom and stand in front of the armoire that takes up the corner. I open it and stare at the scrubs that hang there. I push them aside and remove the false back. I kneel down and begin to meditate, using my mind to light the candles on the hidden altar to the goddess. It’s been several decades since worship of the gods fell out of favor and was banned. It’s a part of me though. For generations my family has been dedicated clerics, spreading her warmth and love and healing to those in need. Though we can’t be out in the open, we still hold her dear.
I complete my evening meditation and ease my mind. If it is her will, she will protect me. It’s the only solace I can have. My sleep is not deep, but it’s enough.
Today I’m back in my own ER today and feel unbelievably relieved. I’ve hardly been in for ten minutes when our first patient comes in. A car crash victim. The man is mangled and bloody, screaming in pain. He will live for sure but as we wheel him into the OR I place a hand on him and ease the pain a fraction. This is nothing like what I did yesterday and will go completely unnoticed.
My day is full of accidents, broken bones, and injuries both serious and minor. The regular addicts come in complaining about pain that resonates from their addiction not a bodily injury. It’s a relief.
Then, a woman is brought through the door. Gunshot wound from a drive by shooting. She was walking home with her daughter. She had a bag of groceries and didn’t even see the gunman coming. The bullets miss the daughter completely because her mother was standing in front of her and took seven shots meant for someone else. She’s heavily pregnant and hemorrhaging badly. The doctors try but there’s nothing they can do. They know both she and the baby will be lost.
I can’t let it happen.
I breathe and find my center and place a hand as inconspicuously as possible, hoping in the bustle I won’t be noticed. I pull on the power and let it flow into the woman but it’s too strong. I was moving too fast and didn’t stem the flow. It’s not natural to only partially heal someone and my power and the goddess won’t be denied. The woman’s wounds close up, blood drying and flaking off leaving bright new skin. Her breathing evens and she is asleep. I can feel her unborn child’s stress alleviate and its heartbeat grow strong. I know it is a boy and he is in perfect health. Now.
My eyes blink open and I see everyone staring at her body in shock and confusion. I remove my hand quickly as I can without too jerking of a movement and back away too. I don’t think anyone has seen me but I don’t know for sure. I feel like a trapped animal as I look around and try to mirror the looks of shock and amazement I see around me. The doctors start examining the woman again, their initial shock having worn off. I see a necklace turned to the side that I hadn’t noticed before. She is wearing a symbol of the goddess. It’s possible this will be chalked up to divine intervention by a secret faithful. The woman will face a horrible inquiry, but I know she has no power and should pass the inquisitors tests. I try not to think about what it will be like for her. It’s hard.
I don’t know how I make it through the rest of my shift but I do. I can’t bring on anymore possible suspicion than I already have. My eyes dart around and I feel certain that everyone is talking about me. I know that they know. They have to. First Clair and now this woman? It’s too much of a coincidence. Even though no one has mentioned the girl I’ve convinced myself that it’s all over the hospital and I’m just the last to find out. I know I’m being crazy but at the same time, how can I be sure?
On the way home I feel more than see eyes on me. I look over my shoulder and see a man walking behind me, jeans and a gray sweatshirt with black sunglasses. He doesn’t react at my glance but I pick up my pace. He follows me two more blocks before making a turn.
I get in the door and slam it behind me bolting the chain. My breath comes in gasps. I nearly ran the whole last block and up all four flights of stairs to make sure there were no surprises waiting for me in the elevator on my floor.
I run to my room and grab a duffle bag and start throwing clothes in it. There’s a bag with money in it tied to the bottom of my bed. I grab it and stuff it inside the bag. I have a bank account but barely use it. Once before I’ve had to move with no notice and I told myself I’d be prepared if it ever happened again.
I change into yoga pants and a tank and zip a hoddie up over it. Just as I zip my bag up I hear a knock on my door. My heart is pounding like a tribal drum in my ears. I know for sure whoever is there has to be able to hear it. It would be impossible not to. I stay perfectly still. Nothing happens. I wait for an eternity but there’s still silence.
I sling my bag over my shoulder by inches, staring at the direction of the door as I walk through the bedroom and down the hall. As silent as I can be, I approach the door to look through the peephole and into the hall. I made sure to pick an apartment at the end that had a view of the entire hall for just this reason. I press my face to the door.
The hall is empty.
There’s a crash behind me and I know my mistake immediately. The fire escape. I picked this unit for another reason too. There was a fire escape right outside the living room window that offered an easy escape if needed, but in my blind fear I forgot to check it. I feel like a rabbit staring in shock while the hawk dives in from on high.
The chain on the door that I hoped would save me proves to be my undoing. My hands are numb with fear and I try to get the thing off but it’s like I’ve forgotten how to hold things. Three men, one of them is the one who followed me, rush up behind me. I scream as one grabs me by the waist and pulls me back down my entry hall and into the living room.
I can hear them talking but I can’t tell what they’re saying. I kick and yell, but my captor covers my mouth with his hand stifling my shouts.
I lash out with my legs, kicking towards the other two men but they’re too far. They each grab a leg and pin me down. I twist and turn and try to buck them off but they’re too strong.
One of them reaches back with a free hand and takes a small, rectangular, silver case out of his back pocket. Before he opens it I know what it contains.
My eyes are wild. I know I can’t let them take me. That’s when it comes to me.
Power builds as a pressure in my core. I hold it and condense it, let it build as he walks towards me. I close my eyes and scream as I let it fly free, the divine strike burning the hands and arms of those holding me and pushing all three back fifteen feet at least.
I scramble up, ready for them to attack but the three are knocked out or dazed. Possibly worse but I don’t think about it. I don’t take any time to find out. I grab my bag and leave. I have to run. I have to get away.
I bolt down the stairs but slow to a fast walk when I hit the street so I don’t draw attention. I could be a young woman going to the gym for all the passersby on the street know.
My heart thuds and I try to control my breath. I turn two blocks down to the bus depot, yet another reason for this particular building.
I pay for a ticket on the next bus leaving for anywhere with cash from my bag. It’s just about to leave. Another blessing from the goddess. She will help me survive. I don’t know why this happened, but I know I can trust her.
I take a seat next to the window in an empty row, on row behind the rear emergency exit. Less than five minutes pass before the bus pulls out.
My heartbeat steadies as the city streets pass by. I don’t even know in which direction I’m headed, but I can’t stay here.
We’re on the road for nearly a hundred miles before I can actually relax. I rest my head back against the seat and stare at the pattern of the fabric on the bus roof. I will survive and I will start over. I have to. I close my eyes to sleep. Hopefully when I wake up I’ll be somewhere safe. If a place like that even exists for someone like me.