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Doctor Victor Morris finished the last forkful of cherry pie, ordered a third cup of coffee, and sat back to look at the other patrons of the diner. He like to watch people, to observe. It was something he was very, very good at.
Something had been niggling the back of his brain since he entered this diner, but his thoughts had been too focused on the case of Katie Keeley—and getting something too eat—for him to identify the problem. But now he was relaxed—and full—so Reached out with his mind.
Almost immediately, he jerked back in his booth, knocking over a glass of water and getting looks from a few of the other patrons. He mopped up the spilled water with a few napkins as his mind spun. He was dizzy with the thought. Nearly everyone in this place was wrong.
No, not wrong. Different, unlike all the other sane and insane minds he had Touched over the years. Almost…alien. But not alien. Human. One might say, too human.
Morris shivered unexpectedly. It was like suddenly realizing that you’re standing in a room full of snakes. One misstep, one lound noise, one sudden movement, and he knew that they’d be all over him. He had to get out of here.
The waitress—she, at least, was one of the normal ones—was at his table before Morris realized it. She began pouring coffee into his cup without a word. He cleared his throat politely and managed not to scream. “Actually, I’d like the check too when you get a chance.” She smiled sweetly at him, and pulled a notepad from her apron. Using a pen that had been sitting behind her ear, she totalled up his bill and left it on the table.
“Hope you liked the pie,” she said, and then she walked over to one of the other customers. One of the…Morris banished the thought by gulping down the entire cup of coffee before him. It scalded his tongue and throat, but the pain helped his mind stay focused on itself. He dare not risk Reaching out again, even accidentally.
Did she know about them? Morris thought. She I warn her, somehow? Get her out of here? What would they do once he left? No time, no time to worry about that. He was the one in the most danger here; she was probably blissfully ignorant.
Without even looking at the check, he put $30 on top of it. Probably too much, but he didn’t want to stick around and wait for change. He nodded at the other girl behind the counter who was waving and saying “Good night!”
Morris stepped outside into the warm Texas night air and breathed a brief sigh of relief. He began to walk toward his car when someone called out “Excuse me, Dr. Morris!” from around the corner of the diner. He quickly whipped his head around to see an old gentlemen, probably in his late 60s, stepping out of the shadows and into the light of the nearby parking lot lamps. Morris tensed slightly, but saw that the old man wore a fine gray suit and didn’t appear to be holding any sort of weapon. He was tempted to Reach out, but after what had happened in the diner…
“Dr. Victor Morris,” the old man repeated. It was not a question. He seemed certain of Morris’ identity.
Morris nodded, a little afraid to speak.
“Dr. Morris, you have to help me!” As the old man shuffled closer, Morris could see that his suit was a bit rumpled, as was his hair. His wide brown eyes were moist and rolled about in his skull like a pair of dice.
“How do you know my name?” Morris asked, taking a step back.
“I recognize you from the television.”
The tension in Morris’s neck abated slightly. He had been interviewed by the local news networks this afternoon after meeting with Katie Keeley. He had been identified as a psyschologist, surely, and now this old man, showing some outward signs of dementia, wanted his help. This was something he could deal with.
“Sir, I’m sorry, but it’s simply not feasible for me to give you a comprehensive psychological examination here at a truck stop in the middle of the desert. That’s not how it works.”
The old man stepped a bit closer. Morris could see some kind of yellow crust at the corners of the man’s eyes, as well as the tiny bit of spittle that flew from his lips. “You have to help me. It’s very important. A matter of life and death.”
“I’m sure that it is very—”
“Life and death for the whole world!” The old man practically shouted. “You have to cure me, use your Gift.”
Morris was taken aback, but he tried not to show it. Did the old man know something? Was he like those inside? “Whatever do you mean?” he tried to play coy.
Suddenly, the old man was on top of him, gripping his shoulders and holding him fast. The old man’s voice lost its quavering pleading quality. “Reach inside my mind, Victor, and heal it. Otherwise, the whole human race is doomed.”
Morris obeyed, almost instinctively. After all, if it got this crazy old man out of his face…
And Dr. Victor Morris touched the mind of a mad God. It was like a flash of bright light, burning and blinding at the same time. Morris knew everything about everyone that had ever lived. He knew it all in an instant, and he knew everything that was to come. He began to cry. He could not tear away.
“Oh, Victor, what’s wrong? Too much?” The old man straightened up, and opened his mind the rest of the way. Morris’ consciousness was drawn in and obliterated, like a moth spiralling towards a flame. The doctor’s lifeless body fell to the ground and turned into a thousand tiny flecks of starlight before it hit the ground.
As the motes spiralled toward the night sky, like a mass of fireflies caught in an updraft, the old man smoothed back his hair and straightened his tie. “Couldn’t have a smug bastard like you walking around here at a time like this,” he explained to no one in particular.