Mitchell Scott Karnes
Chrystal Jennings gathered the research books into her khaki bag and threw the strap over her shoulder. It was well past closing time, and the assistant librarian had asked her repeatedly to leave. Why did she always fall into the trap of procrastination? Here she was rushing frantically the last night to gather all of her sources and do another all-nighter for her history class. Nothing had changed. College wasn’t exactly what she had expected. Well, it was what she had hoped, but her lack of academic discipline and her love of the social life, made studying a chore. Her freshman year was relatively easy, and she was able to juggle the party life and the grades. But this year things were different. This semester, she was falling desperately behind in all of her classes and history was the worst. If Chrystal didn’t get a solid “B” on this term paper, she would fail the class and Daddy would cut his funding of her “little experiment” as he put it.
Chrystal had the opportunity to be the first female in her family to graduate from college…to leave Misty Hollow and do something other than marry a farm boy and have lots of babies. She wanted something different. She got it, but that kind of different was about to return her for good to Misty Hollow and the eager arms of Jeb Holt. “Jeb’s a good, solid boy,” Daddy had said. “He’s got two hundred acres of the most promising farm land in the county. What more could you want, Sweetie?” he’d ask. Chrystal begged for an education, a chance to make a difference in the world. Honestly, college was just an excuse to get her out of town. Misty Hollow was at least a hundred years behind the rest of the world. She thought it was true, but now that she’d gotten out, there was no doubt. In this college town there were too many things to do, even at this time of night. Oh, if her Daddy only knew what she’d become, he’d have her on the next bus home.
Chrystal waited for the assistant librarian to unlock the door and let her out. He made it perfectly clear her dawdling annoyed him. “I knew better than to let you look up one more book,” he said. “It won’t happen again.” It had taken her almost another hour to do so. It wasn’t that Chrystal was eager to learn. She just didn’t want to leave the library. Once she headed out those doors, life was waiting. Unfortunately for her, as he closed and locked the door behind her, a dark figure was waiting as well.
She turned and looked through the glass library doors, but the assistant had already put his ear buds in and was walking away. She slipped her left hand into her purse and felt for the small can of mace. Once it was securely in her hand, she turned. He was gone! She looked to the left and right of the courtyard and could not find the dark figure in the gray hoodie and black gloves. Where was he? The campus was so big and her dorm too far away. Chrystal held the can tightly and made her way down the concrete steps of the library. At times like these she cursed her newly acquired sense of fashion. Her stiletto heels were less than conducive to a brisk walk, let alone an attempt to run home, but the hairs on her neck were standing on edge. She knew something was about to happen…something bad.
Just as she started to “jog” toward the courtyard steps, he hit her from behind. Her right ankle turned and she felt the sickening pop. Searing pain shot through her leg as she tumbled down the short flight of aggregate steps, banging her shoulder and head against the brick divider. Chrystal lost the bag, and with it the can of mace. Finally, her body settled on the landing. Her head throbbed, her ankle was on fire, and the fall knocked the wind right out of her lungs. She panicked. As much as she tried, her lungs wouldn’t suck in the needed oxygen. She gasped and gasped. Chrystal couldn’t breathe, and she couldn’t move.
The man jumped over her body, straddling her chest. He grabbed her jacket and ripped it, busting the zipper. But as he grabbed for her shirt, a shout came from the other side of the courtyard. “Leave her alone.” Her assailant mumbled an obscenity and bolted off into the darkness of Everbright’s campus woods. “You okay?” the voice asked.
Chrystal looked up, but couldn’t say anything. Could it be? The dark figure with the hoodie bent over her body. He slipped the gloves from his hands and reached for her leg. “No!” she screamed as the air finally filled her lungs.
“Hey…hey…settle down. It’s okay,” he said softly, putting a gloved finger over her lips. “I’m in pre-med.” He removed his right glove and gingerly felt for the break in her ankle. The moment he touched it, Chrystal screamed, but as she did, something strange happened…the pain subsided. He touched her forehead, where her collision with the brick wall left a two inch gash. “You’re going to be fine,” he assured her. “Can you make it home okay?”
“No,” she snapped. “My ankle’s broken.”
“Are you sure?” he asked.
No. She wasn’t’ sure of anything. She felt fine. Her ankle and head were no longer on fire, and as she felt for the cut, it too was gone. Chrystal held her hand into the courtyard light. It was covered in blood.
“Wait,” she said. “How did you?” As Chrystal looked back to her Good Samarian, he was nowhere to be found. She sat up and scanned the courtyard. Off in the distance she could see the dark hooded figure limping away. “Hey, wait up,” she cried, but it was too late. He ducked into the darkness of the woods.
By the time Chrystal arrived at her dorm, she realized she left her satchel of books back on the courtyard steps. Screw the books. She wasn’t going back there until daylight. Sarah, her roommate, gasped when Chrystal opened the dorm room door. “What happened? Are you alright? Should I call campus security or 911?”
“No. I’m fine.”
“You don’t look fine,” Sarah said. “There’s blood everywhere.”
“Really, I’m fine.” Chrystal went straight to the bathroom and stared in the mirror. Her hair was matted in blood. She turned on the shower, pulled off her clothes and got in. After soaking for a few moments and rubbing the chill bumps from her arms, Chrystal washed the blood from her hair and face. She watched as the water turned pink, a mixture of the blood and foam of the shampoo. She dried off and examined herself once again in the mirror. How in the…? So much blood and not a single cut. She sat on the commode and looked at her ankle. There was no doubt she broke it in the fall; she heard it snap. So where was the injury? The ankle wasn’t even swollen or bruised.
Finally, Sarah found the key and unlocked the bathroom door. “What in heaven’s name happened to you tonight?”
Chrystal shook her head and examined once more the cut-free forehead. “You won’t believe me. I’m not sure I believe it.” After Sarah’s incessant prodding, Chrystal told her tale of her fall, the attempted rape, and the hooded figure. She showed Sarah her ankle and forehead.
“I don’t know, Chrystal. I just don’t know.”
They both saw the blood, but neither could find even a trace of a wound. “Would you go with me tomorrow to look for my books?”
“Sure.” Sarah helped Chrystal change into her pajamas and tucked her in bed. She was trembling. “Are you sure you don’t want me to call security?”
As Chrystal pulled the covers up around her neck, she looked up at Sarah and asked, “And tell them what?”
“Oh…I see your point.”
The next morning Chrystal and Sarah left early to search for her books and found them exactly where she’d dropped them the night before. “Look. Bloodstains!” Chrystal said. Everything was just as she remembered.
“We have to find this hoodie guy,” Sarah said with determination. “Pre-med, huh? That shouldn’t be too hard to find. It’s a small school.” Sarah turned to Chrystal. “Did you see his face at all?” Chrystal shook her head. “Any distinguishing marks or characteristics?”
Chrystal thought for a moment and reran the images of last night. “Yeah, he had a limp.”
“Good,” Sarah added with her best Sherlock Holmes accent. “A pre-med student with a profound limp. Elementary, my dear Chrystal. We’ll solve this case in no time…”
“Time!” Chrystal screamed as she grabbed the satchel. “What time is it?”
“Six, twenty-two. Why?”
“Oh God, I only have an hour and a half.” Chrystal ran off with the book bag banging against her side.
While Chrystal went home to write a good history paper, Sarah set out to discover the mystery man who magically healed Chrystal’s wounds. There were only two sections of pre-med students, so the process should be relatively easy. She pulled out her phone and checked the university’s website for class schedules. One section would be in the Fulbright lecture hall, and the other divided into five labs at eight, ten and two. No one would care if she dropped in on the lecture, so Sarah climbed the balcony steps and looked for someone in a gray hoodie. There were only sixty-five students in this section, so it didn’t take long. Sarah descended the steps of the balcony and ran down the hall to the labs. Finding a believable reason to interrupt class would be difficult. She might get away with it once, but not five times.
By the end of the day, Sarah’s search proved futile. No male student in a gray hoodie, and no one with a limp. Maybe he was absent? Sarah called in a favor and had an office worker check class attendance. “Aha!” Three missing students; two of them were male. One was in the B lab and the other in D. She would check back on Monday.
That Sunday night, a young man in a gray hoodie walked across the campus with a slight limp. He headed over to the pizza parlor wearing black gloves. Before he got there, he accidentally bumped into a group of students on their way back from a pick-up game of basketball. “Dude! Watch where you’re going.”
“Huh, oh, sorry,” the hooded figure offered. As he walked on, one of the guys grabbed his hood and pulled him back. “Hey, let go. I said I was sorry.”
“What’s with the gloves?” he asked. “It’s not even cold outside.” The boy tried to free his hood from the other student’s grasp. “What’s your hurry, Dude? I asked you a question.”
He pulled again, but the grip was too tight. “What do you care?” he asked.
“I care.” The guy jerked the hood and yanked him over to the others. They jumped right in and began pushing him back and forth in a circle. “So, freak, what’s with the gloves?” They pushed and teased and pushed him some more. “Take his gloves,” the man instructed the others.
“Please,” he begged. “Just leave me alone.” They didn’t. After taking his gloves and stripping him of his jacket too, they hit him, spit on him, called him crude names and left him crying in the bushes. Needless to say, he never made it to the pizza parlor.
Monday morning Sarah waited in the hallway of the science building. The student in B lab was too manicured to ever wear a hoody of any kind. As the student in D lab entered the room, he did so without a limp. He did, however, have several bruises on his cheek and jaw. He wore black leather gloves and a blue windbreaker. Sarah took a picture with her phone. Then, she turned the audio recorder on and introduced herself to the stranger. “Hi, I’m Sarah. What’s your name?” He looked up, but didn’t answer. “Your name?” she asked again.
“Is this some kind of joke?” he asked.
“What? A joke? Heaven’s no,” she said. “I just wanted to get your name.”
“Isaiah,” he said shyly. “Isaiah Carpenter.” He extended his hand and shook Sarah’s. “Nice to meet you, Sarah.” He took his lab seat. “Are you a new student?”
“No,” she said, blushing at the thought of Isaiah believing she could possibly be a med student. “I’m a journalism major.” Then she took a wild shot. “I’m Chrystal’s roommate.”
He got out his laptop. “Who?”
“Chrystal Jennings. She’s my roommate.”
“I’m sorry. Am I supposed to know her?” He began working on the assignment posted on the whiteboard.
The graduate student running the lab cleared her throat and motioned to the door. Sarah whispered, “She was attacked last Thursday,” and left the lab. As Isaiah looked back to his laptop, he noticed a card with Chrystal’s name and number. He slipped it into his pocket and busied himself with the lab assignment.
Two days later, as Isaiah walked down the hall towards his lab, he noticed the girl from Monday. She was standing at the door to his class. Next to her was the red-headed girl from the courtyard. She was smiling at him. “Isaiah,” Sarah said. “This is Chrystal…my roommate.”
He held out the gloved hand and Chrystal took it. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said.
Isaiah had a befuddled look on his face. He didn’t know what to do, and it was time for lab. He simply said, “Thanks,” shook her hand and added, “I’ve got class.”
“Wait,” Chrystal said. “I need to talk with you.”
“I’m sorry, but I’ve got class.” Isaiah slipped between the two women and into his lab. They watched him take his seat, but he never looked back.
“You sure that’s the one?” Sarah asked.
“Absolutely,” Chrystal answered looking through the small square glass window to the room. “I’d remember that voice anywhere. And look; he’s still wearing the gloves.”
Sarah couldn’t imagine the scrawny little boy scaring anyone off. “He’s sweet…not very cute…but sweet.”
“Come on,” he won’t be out of class for an hour and a half. “Now that we know who he is, we can find him any time.” Chrystal checked her watch and ran on to her own class.
Her class ran over time, and as soon as the professor dismissed them, she bolted out of the room and over to the science building. The lab was empty. She ran out of the building and scanned the campus for any sight of Isaiah. Off in the distance, down the sidewalk towards the school’s early education affiliate, Chrystal saw the back of a blue windbreaker. She ran after him.
Isaiah rolled his neck from side to side. The bruises were healing quickly, but the stiffness in his neck was lingering. He walked down the shaded area of the sidewalk, past the preschool hosted by the university’s education department. As he glanced over to the playground, a little girl waved at him. When she did, her other hand slipped momentarily from the swing’s chain and she flipped back out of the seat and landed awkwardly on the ground. She screamed. Her arm bent backwards and dangled loosely as she got up from the ground. Isaiah was over the chain link fence in a single leap. As children scrambled, calling for the nearest teacher, Isaiah rushed to the little girl’s side.
Chrystal watched from the fence as Isaiah looked toward the school building, removed his black gloves, and touched the little girl’s arm. Her crying ceased immediately. Her arm straightened and she moved it back and forth without pain. She wiped her eyes and stared at the strange man kneeling over her. Isaiah picked up the gloves in his left hand, grabbed his right arm that suddenly dangled to his side and held it tight against his body. Isaiah bit his lip as he doubled over in pain and then shuffled to the fence. He looked back once more to see if anyone was watching before attempting to climb the fence.
She noted how odd it was that Isaiah sprang over the fence to help the little girl, but now struggled to climb back. Isaiah looked like an old man. He put one leg over and leaned his body over the edge of the fence. Chrystal grabbed his shoulder and steadied him as he fell awkwardly to the ground. Isaiah winced in obvious pain.
“What’s going on?” she asked. Chrystal looked back at the little girl who stood silently staring at Isaiah, obviously confused. Chrystal took Isaiah’s hand in hers, and he dropped suddenly to his knees. He bit his lip; tears filled his eyes. He pulled free and ran off, holding the injured arm against his chest. Chrystal followed after him. “Isaiah! Come back.”
“Leave me alone,” he said.
Chrystal stopped and watched him run off in the distance. He obviously wanted to be by himself. Chrystal turned back to the playground and observed the little girl who leaned against the fence and watched Isaiah run away. As teachers rushed out to the playground, they questioned the girl and examined her arm. They chided the other children for lying and took them all back inside. Chrystal stood silently for several minutes before realizing she was missing class.
Three days later, Chrystal spotted Isaiah across the courtyard in front of the library and waved him down. Reluctantly, he waited for her. “Where have you been?” she asked.
She looked at his right arm. It held the heavy backpack containing his laptop. “I don’t understand,” she said. Isaiah set the pack down and motioned to a bench. Chrystal sat down. “Your arm was hurt.”
Isaiah stretched it out and showed her nothing was wrong. “I’m okay.”
“But I saw you,” she challenged. “You touched the girl and your arm was suddenly broken…just like my ankle.”
Isaiah pulled the hood back and smiled. “There’s nothing wrong with my arm.”
“So what’s with those?” she asked, looking at the odd black gloves.
“I like them,” he said. “Don’t you?”
That got a brief snigger out of her which eased the interrogation, at least temporarily. “Did you know that girl?” she asked.
“No.” He checked his watch. There was still plenty of time before his class.
“Then why help her?” Chrystal asked.
It was a simple answer, and by her evaluation of his body language, Isaiah meant it. “Because people just don’t do that anymore. We don’t help others unless there’s something in it for us.”
He turned. The way she twisted the “us” caught him by surprise. “Who’s us?”
“People…especially young people…college students. Come on, throw me a bone here.”
“Haven’t heard that one in a while.” Isaiah unzipped his backpack pocket and pulled out a granola bar. “Want one?”
“Sure,” she said. “Thanks.”
“I suppose people…I mean young people…don’t do that anymore either.”
Isaiah watched people pass by and head in every direction of the campus. “Who’s to say what any of them will do or not do?” he asked.
“So what about you?” Chrystal asked. “Why do you do it?”
“The little girl needed help, so I helped her. That’s why I’m training to be a doctor. I like helping people.” He looked at Chrystal. “What do you like to do?” She laughed. “What’s so funny?” he asked.
“I’m not sure what I like to do is…” She searched for the right words. “My hobbies are not as altruistic as yours.”
Isaiah smiled. “In other words, you like to party.” She nodded and turned red. Hearing it the way he said it made it sound shallow and petty. Probably because it was. “I’m not throwing any rocks,” he added. “That’s what most of the college students in our country experience when they leave the confines of home.”
“How old are you?” Chrystal asked.
“You sound like an old person.” She touched his shoulder and added, “I mean that in a good way…sorry.”
“How can ‘You sound like an old person’ be a good thing?” Isaiah asked pulling away from her touch.
“I offended you.” Her voice softened. “I do that a lot.”
“No. I just don’t like people to touch me,” Isaiah said. “It makes me feel…”
“Hey, you two.” Sarah plopped down on the bench between them. “Becoming besties now?”
Isaiah rose from the bench and said, “I’ve got class.”
After he walked away, Chrystal hit Sarah’s shoulder and snapped, “What’d you do that for? He was beginning to open up.”
“About what?” she asked, taking a bite out of an apple.
“About everything,” Chrystal said. “He’s kind of strange.”
“Not the way you’re thinking either, Sarah. He’s strange…different…I mean he actually cares about others.”
When Isaiah walked out of lab, Chrystal was waiting for him. “Are you stalking me?” he asked playfully.
She smiled. “Actually, I came to confess that I’m kind of a jerk.” He tilted his head to the side and put the backpack over his shoulder. “I never thanked you for the other night.”
“No thanks necessary,” he said as he began walking towards the stairs. “You needed help and I happened to be there. It’s no big deal.”
She grabbed his arm and then let go. “Sorry.” She looked into his dark brown eyes. “It is a big deal. Who knows what he would have done to me.”
“You would have done the same for me,” he said, turning once again to go.
“No, Isaiah. I wouldn’t have.” He stopped. Isaiah kept his back to her. “Nor would most of the people on this campus. You’re different.”
“I’ve heard that before.” He still didn’t turn. “What exactly do you want from me?”
“I just want to thank you for…”
“What’s wrong with you?” she snapped. This time he turned and stared through her. “Oh, God. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t do that,” he chided. “Don’t use God’s name that way. It really bothers me.”
“Oh, God, I’m…didn’t mean that.” She smacked her forehead with the butt of her palm. “I’m not very good with words…or people for that matter.” That seemed to ease the tension. “My Dad would have jumped me for that too,” she admitted. “He’s a big church guy.”
“Big church guy? What’s that mean exactly?” he asked.
“You know. We went to church every time the doors were open.”
“I take it you don’t do that anymore?”
Isaiah took the pack off of his shoulder and set it on the ground. “What do you want from me?”
“Just a conversation,” she said.
“Really?” He picked up the pack and started towards the science building.
“Why won’t you let me in?” Chrystal asked.
“In?” Isaiah studied her face. “Because, it never works…especially with people like you. That’s why.” She huffed. It was obvious his words stung her. Isaiah paused and looked deep within her eyes. “You want to know more about me. Okay, shoot. One question. Ask me anything you want and I’ll give you an honest answer…just not here.”
She nodded silently. “You lead the way.” Chrystal followed Isaiah across campus and to an apartment complex a couple of blocks past the library. “You live here?”
“Is that the way you’re going to spend your one question?” She shook her head. Isaiah unlocked the door and stepped aside. Chrystal walked into the small one bedroom apartment. It was basic and almost sanitary. Other than a few chairs, a card table, and a small kitchenette, the place was bare…all except a stack of books against the wall. She looked at them, expecting to see medical journals or textbooks. Instead, she found various translations of the Bible and a few commentaries. He noted her glance. “It’s what I read when I’m not studying for class.”
“Do you believe that stuff?” she asked. “Oh, that’s not my question. I take it back.”
“That’s okay. I’ll give you that one as a freebie. Yes. I believe ‘that stuff.’ I don’t know what I’d do without God,” Isaiah said, pulling a chair out for Chrystal. “Want something to drink?” She shook her head. “Not a believer?” he asked.
“Used to be,” she said, “before I left Misty Hollow. The world’s a big place. A lot of that stuff doesn’t stand up to science.”
“Oh, really?” he asked. “I beg to differ.” Isaiah bent down and grabbed a book from the stack. “Here, you can have this one.”
“A Case for Creation? Really?”
“Yeah, he used to be an atheist too. Now he’s a Christian through and through.”
“I’m not an atheist…I’m not really anything anymore. I used to be a Christian,” Chrystal began.
“I doubt it.”
“That’s not very nice. You don’t even know me.”
“No, but it’s probably very true. A person doesn’t believe in God, accept Jesus into her heart and then just suddenly unbelieve,” Isaiah said. “You probably went to church, memorized some verses, repeated another person’s words in a religious setting, but I doubt you were a Christian.”
Chrystal started to argue, but then she found herself mulling over Isaiah’s comments. He was strange. He was blunt. He was also right. She’d gone through the motions…walked the aisle with her friends one summer at camp, but she never really believed it. The whole discussion made her stomach queasy…anger and guilt stirred in her heart. “I’m ready,” she said suddenly.
“To believe?” he asked, somewhat surprised that she was ready so quickly.
“No. I’m ready to ask my question.”
“Oh.” With slight disappointment, he sat next to her. “Okay.”
She sat and stared at the pile of books in the corner. “I’m trying to think of a way to ask it so I get the most out of my one shot.” He waited silently for her to formulate the question. “Okay. What exactly did you do for me and the little girl, and how do you do it?”
He put his hands on his knees. “That’s a good question. Nice use of the compound sentence. You certainly got your money’s worth with that one.” Isaiah took a deep breath and let it out slowly and deliberately. “I’ll tell you, but you must swear to keep it a secret…even from Sarah.” She nodded and then made a crossing motion over her heart. “I have the gift of healing, but it comes with a heavy price.” He looked into her eyes to see if she was following. “When I touch a wound, I take the injury, cut, and pain all away. The problem is…” He paused. He couldn’t tell if her smile was disbelief or affirmation of what she’d already guessed to be true. “The problem is, to do so I have to take on the injury, cut and pain. I heal faster than most, but I can’t heal others without accepting their wounds myself.”
“Oh, God, I’d…” She put her hand over her mouth.
“Yes, I know. I’m different.” He looked over at his collection of Bibles. “But that’s exactly what someone else did for me.”
“So the gloves?”
“To keep me from making inadvertent contact. I can take the pain from someone else, but I can also pass it on if I wished.”
“Wow! I’d do that in a heartbeat.” She looked off in the distance, through the window.
“No you wouldn’t. You’re not that selfish.”
“You don’t know me,” Chrystal said, refusing to make eye contact with him. “I’m pretty shallow.”
He reached out and put his gloved hand on her shoulder. “I wish I could take that kind of pain away too, but I can’t.”
“What kind of pain?” she asked, turning and looking up through tear-filled eyes.
“Heartache. I’ve never learned to heal that one. Only Jesus can…”
“Stop it with this Jesus nonsense! No one can love me that much.” She stood up so quickly, the chair crashed to the floor. She bolted out of the apartment and down the flight of stairs. Before Isaiah reached the door, he heard the screeching of car tires followed by a loud thud.
He ran as fast as he could. The driver was lying on his stomach looking under his car. “I didn’t see her. She just ran out in front of me.”
Isaiah pushed him aside and crawled under the car. Blood was oozing from Chrystal’s mouth, nose and eyes. He pulled one glove from his hand, but she grabbed him by the arm and pushed it away. She tried to shake her head and say something. As soon as he heard the gurgling, Isaiah knew her lungs were filling with blood. She didn’t have much time. He smiled and said, “It’s okay. I know where I’m going. You’re getting a second chance on life.” Her eyes screamed, “No,” but Isaiah removed the other glove and held her face in both hands. Her eyes rolled back in her head, and her breathing slowed. “You want to know why I really do it? I do it for love.” She made one more attempt to stop the contact, but she was too weak. “Please, Chrystal, it’s…my gift…to you…” His breathing became labored, raspy, gurgled. He set his head down on the pavement next to Chrystal’s, looked in her eyes, and took his last breath.
When Chrystal’s eyes cleared, she realized Isaiah lay next to her. Blood trickled from his mouth, nose, ears, and eyes. She noticed for the first time a set of dog tags around his neck. As she pulled on the chain, she read the inscription: “Isaiah 53:1-6 / Live it, My Son.”