by Mary F. Wardell

(previously published in Shadow Chasers Express #2)


     Surreptitiously studying his surroundings, Benny got the feeling that he had somehow wandered into the Twilight Zone and returned to those wondrous days of yesteryear when he'd been a student at City College. The large classroom which had become the main lecture hall of Burdette College's Seminar on the Paranormal was like similar rooms everywhere. Green-tinged blackboards walled the room on three sides, while the fourth wall was made up of windows which shook under the fury of the blizzard that had been the highlight of the seminar to this point.
     A polite voice from the front of the room thanked everyone for their patience, then announced, "Due to weather conditions, our scheduled speaker for this morning, Dr. Jonathan MacKensie of the Georgetown Institute has been unavoidably detained. We will, therefore, move on to the next speaker on the agenda..."
     "Weather conditions," snorted Julianna Moorhouse from her seat next to Benedek. "MacKensie preferred staying on in Carlyle to making a public statement on his work."
     "Tsk, tsk, Dr. M, your lack of faith appalls me. Jonny would never do that to you." Or risk his paycheck. Benny served the woman with one of his best 'sincere' smiles. "I thought I explained the situation. One of us had to stay for the trial of those bootleggers we bumped into and Jonny lost the toss."
     With raised eyebrows, the woman gave him a look that would have had a lesser man shaking in his boots. "You didn't have anything to do with his 'losing' the toss, did you?"
     "Moi?" Pretending hurt at her implication, Benedek shook his head, still smiling. "No way would I do that to my good buddy. He's really suffering up there. Do you know that there isn't a house free of pets in that whole town? We can only hope Jonathan made it out of town before he used up his supply of allergy medication. He'd already emptied the drugstore when I left. Besides," he leaned over to whisper in her ear. "I was really looking forward to putting Jonny on the map, paranormally speaking. The way I see it, this gig is just the beginning, a stepping stone to greater things. We'll book him on Letterman, or, maybe Cavett, first...Dick's gotta be on the air somewhere..." His smile became a full-blown grin as Dr. Moorhouse turned away, muttering something under her breath, before giving her attention to the replacement speaker.
     No longer under the woman's scrutiny, Benedek allowed his grin to vanish, his eyes returning to the storm raging outside the window. Where are you, Jack? I can't keep her happy forever. He'd spoken briefly with his friend the night before, MacKensie swearing he'd make it to the seminar in time for his speech.
     "I'm waiting for the roads to be plowed, then I'll be on my way. Another hour at most. Benedek, I'm counting on you to convince Dr. Moorhouse. She's...well, you heard what she said when we told her about the trial. You'd think I arranged to stumble onto those bootleggers as an excuse to miss the seminar." Out of breath, MacKensie had paused long enough to allow Benedek a chance to get a word in edgewise.
     "Piece of cake," he'd replied. "I'll hand her a song and dance that'll knock her socks off. She'll never even know you're not here until you are here."
     "Uh — right." Jonathan sounded uncertain. Then, with voices evident in the background, he announced, "I've got to go."
     "Drive carefully, Jocko."
     Shaking his head to clear away the morbid thoughts that lurked on the edges of his mind, Benny's eyes dropped to his opened notebook and he gasped. Dr. Moorhouse's head swiveled around with a chastising expression on her face, but he paid no attention, staring instead at the doodles decorating the white sheet before him.
     A series of drawings — all birds — all fighting their way through a storm — all failing and plummeting to the ground far below until in the final drawing a bird lay sprawled on the earth, broken and lifeless, open eyes searching sightlessly for the help that had never come..."No."
     "Benedek!" hissed Dr. Moorhouse irritably.
     "Sorry." Benny ripped the page from his pad, staring at the drawings with wide-eyed puzzlement, until his hand crumpled the sheet without conscious thought on his part. 'S nothing. Jonny's driving, not flying. He hates to fly. He'd never fly in this weather.
     The speaker mentioned clairvoyance, and Benny tried to pay attention, hoping he'd be able to crib Dr. Moorhouse's notes later for the section of the talk he'd already missed. His pencil skittered across a fresh piece of paper, as, abruptly, he was somewhere else.
     From a vantage point outside the storm, he looked down, catching sight of a small plane struggling through the clouds. Rough drafts caused the fragile craft to skid around on the air currents while snow pelted the windshield, obscuring vision. Two men struggled to see through that window. The pilot's hands nearly crushed the steering wheel in an iron grip, but still the plane was tossed about like a child's toy, first up, then down, with bone-crushing pauses in between. The passenger's face was painfully familiar — Jonathan! Obviously terrified, MacKensie still managed to scrape enough presence of mind together to attempt a radio message, continuing his efforts until the pilot shook his head bleakly, nodding toward some dial on the board before him.
     Before Jonathan could do more than stare at the indicated gauge, the plane's engine shuddered into a silence that was lost in the fury of the storm that surrounded them. In slow motion at first, then at a rapidly increasing rate of speed, the plane dropped from the sky like a wounded bird until, at length, it came to rest on the distant mountainside, snow pluming high then settling back in its wake. Like the bird. "Nooo!"
     "Benedek?" Dr. Moorhouse's face swam into view, an unreadable expression in the dark eyes looking down at him.
     Down? "Dr. Moorhouse, what're you doing up on the ceiling?" he asked incredulously.
     "Benedek, get up." Benny did his best to comply with her peremptory command. But a wave of dizziness almost sent him sprawling back on the floor. Miraculously, he managed to get his aching head positioned between his knees instead.
     "Mr. Benedek." A new voice forced its way through the drum quartet jamming between his ears. "Mr. Benedek, look up please."
     "Soon as you tell me which way is up." A penlight shining in his eyes finally brought Benny out of his fog. Trying to slap it away, he asked, irritably, "What kind of seminar is this anyway?"
     "A disrupted one," replied Dr. Moorhouse sharply, her caustic tone completing the job the light had begun.
     Taking in the fact that he was sitting on the floor, surrounded by most of the seminar's participants, Benny quipped, "Someone must've slipped a mickey into the bagels."
     "I think he'll be all right now, Julie," said the man who had examined Benny's eyes. "Doesn't seem to have hurt himself any. Might be just the altitude. A lot of people have a problem adjusting."
     "Thank you, Peter." Dr. Moorhouse gave the man a grateful smile which vanished when she turned back to Benny. "Do you think you can get up? I'll help you back to your room."
     "I can help him — "
     "Don't need any — "
     "For better or worse, Benedek is associated with the Institute, Peter, which makes him my responsibility. And, Benedek..." her voice dripped sweetness.
     "Yeah?" Benny spoke vaguely, his eyes blank as full memory returned, the image of the falling plane leaving a sense of something lost, throbbing in time with his head.
     "Come along." The false sweetness had vanished from Dr. Moorhouse's voice, as she led him stumbling from the room.
     The blizzard had changed the planned accommodations of the seminar from the local Holiday Inn to the college itself. Dr. Moorhouse guided Benedek across the campus quadrangle to the dormitory, half-deserted because of semester break, and up the three flights of stairs to the room he'd been assigned to share with Jonathan.
     In a flurry of activity, Benny soon found himself ensconced on his bed with shoes off and a blanket tossed over him. Sure wish Jonathan was here to witness this. He'll never believe me in a million years.
     Thinking of Jonathan brought back the vision in full force, holding him in thrall as the plane tumbled from the sky. Then he saw the snow rising high under impact, and...nothing.
     "Take these." Dr. Moorhouse's no-nonsense voice made Benny blink and the nightmare crumbled away until he could see her standing before him with an aspirin bottle in one hand, and a glass of water in the other.
     "No thanks. All I need is..."
     "Benedek." Something about the woman's tone of voice, her bearing, told Benny exactly why Jonathan and everyone else associated with Dr. Moorhouse obeyed her. As he did, meekly shaking out two tablets and swallowing them with the help of the water.
     He had just settled back against the pillow in the wan hope that she would take the hint and leave, when Dr. Moorhouse sat herself on a straight-backed chair.
     "Is there something you want, Dr. Moorhouse?" he asked in as weak and pitiable voice as he could manage. "I'd kinda like to get some z's, see if they help this headache."
     "Benedek, what happened?" His eyes flew open. The usually forbidding presence he knew best had been replaced by a woman who exhibited genuine concern — for him.
     Still sensitive after the shock of what he had dreamed/seen, Benedek responded the only way he knew how. Resting his head against his folded arms, he gave an embarrassed-sounding laugh. "You heard the doc. I got dizzy from the altitude and fainted away like some delicate Southern belle. Guess I ought to stick to city high rises — 100 floors tops."
     Unconsciously repeating a question MacKensie had asked long before, the woman sighed, "Don't you ever stop?"
     And as he had replied that day, Benny retorted, "No, I don't. Look, why can't we just leave it. I'll take a nap and be fresh as a daisy when Jon arrives and everyone'll live happily ever after. Whaddaya say?"
     "Is there an Edgar Benedek here?"
     "Huh?" Benny sat up too quickly, and was rewarded with a drum solo reverberating through his skull.
     "There's a call for Edgar Benedek," a sweat-suit clad coed poked her head into the room.
     "You stay put," ordered Dr. Moorhouse. "It's probably MacKensie. I'll deal with him." She swept from the room.
     Give him hell, Julie! Benedek closed his eyes, waiting for the aspirin to take effect. Good timing, Jack. Got me off the old hook.
     Just as he found himself drifting off to sleep, rapid footsteps pounded into the room, then the door slammed shut. Yelping painfully, Benny forced his eyes open, ready to strangle his partner.
     Instead of Jonathan, he found Dr. Moorhouse standing by the window, staring sightlessly out into the storm. Something's gotta be wrong with my eyes. I could swear she's crying.
     A dark foreboding rose like the tide within him, almost choking his words off stillborn. "Dr. Moorhouse?"
     Her voice was clear, precise and without any hint of emotion. "You were quite correct earlier, Mr. Benedek, when you said that MacKensie was doing his utmost to be here in time to give his report."
     Fear brought him to his feet. Jonny wouldn't fly. He wouldn't. Tell me he didn't fly.
     Amazingly, his voice, when it came, matched hers for calm. "What's wrong?" he asked, joining her at the window.
     She turned to face him and he could read volumes of guilt in her wide eyes. "The plows never reached Carlyle. Jonathan hitched a ride with a local pilot who was making a medical run."
     "They never arrived. The call was from the pilot's wife looking for news. They should have arrived three hours ago."

     He was alive. Every bone in his body ached, he was shivering in the cold that permeated the shattered plane, and he was terrified, but the bottom line remained the same — he was alive.
     That determined, his thoughts turned to his companion. Fighting the deadly lassitude brought on by the cold air, Jonathan opened his eyes, staring straight ahead at first until he adjusted to the half-light of the stormy afternoon. Then, slowly, carefully, he turned his head to his left and saw the crumpled body of the other man.
     "Dan?" Jonathan tried to reach the pilot, but found, to his horror, that his legs were trapped in the debris that had once been the instrument panel. "Dan!" His straining fingers curled inches short of his goal.
     "I'm afraid he's dead."
     "What?" Caught off-guard, Jonathan twisted around, looking for the source of that unexpected voice, striking his head against a bulkhead in the process. As he slid back into unconsciousness, he got a strong impression of a petite brunette with the largest eyes he'd eve seen sitting beside him. "Impossible," he slurred.
     But when the darkness receded, the young woman was still there, dressed in light summer colors, a bright smile on her face that did nothing to disguise the concern in those incredible eyes. "Who — who are you?" he whispered hoarsely, starting to reach out a hand, then drawing it back, suddenly afraid.
     "My name is Sharon, and yours is Jonathan," she replied, touching his shoulder lightly, relieving his first fear that she was a phantom, an hallucination.
     He tried to move, and the light touch grew more firm, holding him still. "You mustn't. Your legs are trapped. If you try to move, you'll cut an artery and bleed to death before help arrives." There was a certainty in her voice that he was afraid to question.
     Instead he asked, "Help?"
     "Benny, and your Dr. Moorhouse. As soon as the storm lets up, they'll be out looking for you. You know they will."
     "How do you know about...?" He gave a low, bitter laugh. "You are an hallucination after all, aren't you? I am impressed. You seem so...so real. But when I hit my head, I must have conjured you up for company so I wouldn't have to die alone." No one should die alone.
     "You're not going to die," snapped Sharon, eyes burning with sudden anger. "Not unless you choose to give up. I didn't choose to come here for you to slide off into oblivion because it's the easy way out! What about the people you'll leave behind? Benny? And Dr. Moorhouse? They can't let go so easily."
     "I'm sorry." Jonathan started to apologize, then caught himself. "This is insane! I'm apologizing to a figment of my imagination because I upset her?" His brief surge of anger turned to despair. "Maybe it would have been better if I had died right away like Dan. That has to be better than having the time to feel my mind going first."
     She slapped him — hard. "Does that feel like I'm an hallucination? Does that feel like you're dead?" Her fury vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, and she settled back once more with a rueful expression on her face. "You needn't answer that, Jonathan. Of course you don't know what it feels like to be dead. You're still alive, and I intend that you stay that way until Benny gets here. And don't you dare tell me otherwise."
     Astonished by her vehemence, Jonathan touched his stinging cheek, then reached out to take Sharon's hand in his. "I wouldn't dream of it," he said, giving her a crooked smile. "You might hit me again."
     "I'm sorry about that, but I had to convince you and there's so little time..." She seemed distracted, but before Jonathan could frame a question, she added, "Surely you could have worse company while you're waiting?" Her voice took on a teasing tone that he couldn't resist.
     Gallantly he replied, "Of course you're not. I don't give up without a fight as a matter of course, but I feel so damned helpless." He fought against a wave of panic that threatened to overwhelm him, seeking a refuge in the trivial. "Tell me about yourself, please?" He tried to hide the chills that were beginning to shake him, but the woman noticed.
     She scrambled behind his point of vision and returned a moment later with a pair of heavy blankets. "Here," she said, wrapping them around him. "These should help."
     "Aren't you cold?" asked Jonathan, huddling into the faint warmth under the covers, thinking how incongruous she looked, dressed for summer while he was so cold.
     Sharon shook her head, a haunted look in her eyes. "No, I'm never cold any more. I guess it's sort of a side benefit."
     "Of what?" Jonathan frowned, sure there was some point he was missing in this conversation, but too occupied with trying to warm himself to give that thought more than a cursory consideration. He yawned.
     "You've got to stay awake!"
     His eyes opened wide under the force of her command. "Sorry," he murmured, "so hard...so cold and it doesn't hurt..."
     "It doesn't hurt once you're dead! Cling to your pain, Jonathan. Use it to stay alive!"
     "Not necessary. I read..." He frowned with the effort of constructing a coherent sentence. "I read that they say it's better to sleep, slow metabo...slow breathing to stay alive."
     "Perhaps, but is it polite to fall asleep in front of a lady?" Sharon's sudden change of tactics brought Jonathan back to painful consciousness.
     Sighing, he decided she wasn't going to let him drift off and asked, "What do you want to talk about?"
     "Tell me about your work. I know you're a teacher..."
     Flattered by her interest, Jonathan smiled. At least my hallucinations are interested in my work. "There's nothing like it," he declared, deciding to 'go with the flow' as Benedek would have said. Huddling in the illusion of warmth he received from the blankets, he answered Sharon's questions, feeling somehow warmer despite the howling wind outside his frail shelter that whipped snow against the fuselage, then blew it away.

     "Twenty-four hours? That's completely unacceptable, young man," snapped Dr. Moorhouse, glaring at the hapless airport manager standing before her.
     Not giving an inch, the man snapped right back, "Believe me, ma'am, I don't like this waiting any more than you do. Dan Forest's a good friend of mine. But, until this storm eases up, I can't authorize any pilots to fly. It would be suicidal."
     "She understands that, Mr. Lombard," said Benny, interjecting himself into the conversation before the matters could deteriorate any further. They needed this man's cooperation. "We're all worried."
     "I can speak for myself." Dr. Moorhouse grated at Benedek, but the look she gave him reflected an unexpected gratitude. "Mr. Lombard, I'm sorry if I sounded demanding. I rarely find myself in a situation so completely out of my control," she apologized.
     Lombard nodded, a slight smile blossoming on his tired face. "That I can believe, Dr. Moorhouse." The smile faded as he caught sight of the reports clutched in his hands. "Look, why don't the two of you go back to the college? I'll give you a call as soon as anything breaks."
     "We'll wait, Mr. Lombard, but we'll wait right here." Juliana Moorhouse stalked across the room to the airport's tiny waiting area and took a seat.
     "Can't you reason with her, Mr. Benedek? God knows how long the storm's going to take to pass by." Lombard turned pleading eyes on Benny
     "You heard the lady." Benny responded to the man's look with a sympathetic smile and a helpless shrug. "No one makes Dr. Moorhouse do anything she doesn't want to do. She wants to wait here, we'll do our waiting right here." He changed the subject abruptly. "You got any coffee?"
     The airport manager raised his hands in surrender. "Come with me. I'll show you where we keep the pot. It's going to be a long night."
     "Damned straight." With a final look over his shoulder at Dr. Moorhouse's stiffly erect figure, Benny followed the other man down a short corridor into a small kitchen area.
     Left on his own, Benny let his hands occupy themselves with the mundane task of preparing two cups of the burning liquid, while his thoughts turned back to the 'vision' he'd had at the seminar, despite the pain it brought. I never wanted that again — not after Sharon... His hand shook suddenly as a surge of anger swept through him, turning one of the cups over. Forcing his hands to steady themselves, he cleaned up the mess and began again.
     I thought I could count on you, Jack. You always play it safe. You hate to fly and everyone knows it. So what do you do? You pull a stunt like this in the middle of a blizzard. Who did you think you were — Sky King? Man, you deserve to be dead... Eyes stinging, Benny dropped the cups to stare out the window at the storm, unwillingly finishing his thought. Like Sharon.
     Almost as though his friend could hear, Benny apologized. Sorry, buds. You gotta know I didn't mean that. It's just...
     "Are you all right, Benedek?" He almost jumped out of his skin at the unexpected sound of Dr. Moorhouse's voice.
     "Didn't anyone ever warn you about sneaking up on people?" he complained, trying to cover the fright she'd given him.
     Her face frozen in a mask, she said, "I'm sorry," and turned to go.
     He placed a hand on her arm to stop her, saying, "Me, too. Last thing we need right now is to start yelling at each other. Truce?"
     For a moment Benny thought she'd go, but, in the end, Dr. Moorhouse released her grip on the door handle and faced him. "Truce." With a sigh she leaned against a wall, pulled off her glasses and massaged the bridge of her nose.
     Uncertain what to say, Benny resorted to the mundane. "Want a cup?"
     "Yes, thank you." Replacing her glasses, she took the cup in both hands, absorbing the warmth through the chipped porcelain before taking a sip.
     They drank in companionable silence which Benedek broke abruptly, asking, "You've been through this before, haven't you?"
     "Writer's instinct?" she asked after a beat in which he prepared to face his Maker for his audacity.
     "No." He shook his head, placing his cup in the sink. "I recognize the look." Benny found himself wanting to put a comforting arm around the woman's shoulders but didn't quite dare. "I've been there a time or two myself."
     With raised eyebrows, Dr. Moorhouse said quietly, "Somehow I never imagined you...I'm sorry, that wasn't fair."
     "'S okay. We've got a truce, remember?" His mouth twisted slightly as he added, "Besides, I've never exactly given you cause to think I might have feelings. Edgar Benedek's supposed to be beyond all that." He stepped past her to open the door. "We'd better get back before Lombard decides we've gone back to the school and starts to feel safe."
     "Benedek." Dr. Moorhouse's hand was warm as she covered his briefly. "I am sorry," she said before going out to the hallway.
     "I know."

     "So there he was, dressed in hospital pajamas and looking like an escapee from an asylum, doing his utmost to convince the police that respectable Dr. Randall was a mass murderer. It was incredible." Jonathan finished his story with a smile. "But, despite his ludicrous appearance, he did manage to convince the police quickly enough to capture Randall and most of his associates."
     "That's Benny for you. I remember a time..." Sharon's voice trailed off into silence, shadows suddenly veiling her eyes.
     "Go on," prompted Jonathan hoarsely. "Please. I feel as though I've been talking for hours."
     "You have." Sharon glanced at him, a smile on her lips, but the shadows still lay behind her eyes.
     "What's wrong?" he asked, reaching out a concerned hand from beneath his blankets. "Sharon?"
     "Nothing's wrong. I just don't want to remember. Not now." Jonathan blinked and suddenly he was alone. For the first time since the crash, he was on his own.
     "What did I say?" he mumbled, twisting frantically to find where the girl had gone, unwilling to accept the fact that she had disappeared into nothingness.
     All right, MacKensie, you thought she was an illusion from the beginning. Now she's proven it. He fought down the panic suddenly threatening to overwhelm him. You are not going to become a gibbering idiot simply because you were right. Now that she's gone, you can try to sleep. Slow your heartbeat. Your metabolism.
     He closed his eyes, willing his tumultuous thoughts to be still. Slowly, ever so slowly, sleep crept up on him, taking away the cold, the increasing darkness and the wind which continued to blow, piling snow on one side of the small plane and clearing it away from the other. He was nowhere, floating in darkness, away from all pain, all thought, alone.

     Nothingness — floating in darkness — no pain — a hand forming, reaching out and shaking him, calling a name. "Benedek!" When he failed to respond, that same hand slapped him across the cheek. "Benedek!"
     This time he responded to the urgency in that voice and his own stinging face. "Hey!" he yelled, reaching out to grab that hand, his eyes fluttering open to see Dr. Moorhouse, face white with pain, a pain he was inflicting. "Ohmigosh, Dr. Moorhouse, I'm sorry." Benny opened his hand, freeing hers.
     "You were having a nightmare," she said, massaging her fingers.
     "Uh, yeah." Memory seeped back and he remembered the distinct image of Jonathan asleep, not dead, asleep, covered with blankets against the increasing cold of the February night. Alive? Is Jonathan ...? He ruthlessly crushed that forlorn hope with the distinct image of death he'd had originally. Jonathan MacKensie was dead and no amount of wishful dreaming could change that. "Guess I did."
     The woman looked at him probingly, as though she suspected he was holding something back. Then, with a sigh, she settled back on the uncomfortable plastic seat opposite him.
     "What time is it?" asked Benny, sitting up to stretch the muscles that had stiffened while he slept, lying across several of the chairs.
     "Three A.M." Dr. Moorhouse replied, stifling a yawn behind her hand.
     "I was asleep for two hours?" He stared at the plastic with new respect. "Kinda reminds me of the time I was waiting for Prince Charles..."
     "Spare me."
     Benedek chuckled at the dryness of her tone, pleased that his ploy to distract her from him and his 'nightmare' had succeeded. Then she began to talk and any hint of amusement he might have felt drained away.
     "I keep telling myself that Jonathan is young, strong. That the pilot is an experienced man and everything will be fine once the storm blows over and the searchers can get out." Her voice revealed the emotional turmoil Benny had known was hidden beneath the woman's calm exterior. "But, I can't help worrying that he's out there, perhaps injured, and it's because of me."
     "It's not your fault," snapped Benny, firmly. "And I guarantee that Jack's not lying out there blaming you. He was...isn't that kind of guy, Dr. Moorhouse and you know it."
     "Perhaps he isn't, but I am." Dr. Moorhouse refused to be comforted. "Jonathan's fought me tooth and nail on this project. The only reason he ever agreed in the first place was the promise of research money for his Australopithecus project."
     "Is that how you did it?" Benny's face brightened with new respect for the lady sitting with him.
     "He never told you?"
     "Jack didn't talk much about himself. Usually had to pry information out of him, or sneak it." Benny smiled at the memory of Jonathan in the train park in Santa Marta. A child had lurked behind that professorial appearance, longing for a chance to be freed.
     Leaning forward, eyes suddenly intent, Dr. Moorhouse asked, "Why do you think he's dead?"
     "What makes you think I do?" countered Benny tensely, wondering how he'd revealed himself. I thought I was being so damned careful.
     "This." She handed him a crumpled piece of paper covered with a series of doodles — his doodles — of birds struggling through the storm, ending with that poor dead creature for whom help had never arrived.
     "Where did you get that?" he demanded, snatching the drawing away from her.
     Reaching out, Dr. Moorhouse quietly pulled the sheet from his suddenly unresisting fingers. "You were holding it when you passed out at the seminar."
     "And you decided to keep it as a souvenir?" Benny bounced angrily to his feet, pacing the length of the tiny waiting room.
     "No, you forced me to take it. You were crying and, I think, trying to tell me something." Her quiet tone forced him to turn around and face her, wincing at the vulnerable expression on her face. "Were you trying to tell me Jonathan is dead?"

     Voices roused him from the peace he'd found in the nothingness that surrounded him. "This isn't where you were supposed to go!" complained a young male voice. "Just because I had to take the other one over right away didn't mean you could settle in here. Helping him is not the reason you were allowed to cross."
     "I was given permission to help Benny through a bad time."
     "His name is Jonathan, not Benny."
     "It's my way of helping Benny," faltered the female voice, uncertainly adding, "You can't say this won't help."
     "Maybe, maybe not. Just remember one thing, Sharon. You've only got twenty-four hours. Then you've got to go back, and this guy's gonna buy it like he's supposed to if his friends haven't found him. And you'll never get to see your boyfriend again." The boy's voice changed, took on a wheedling tone. "Unless you want to become a conductor, take my place? I could take this one back, keep the balance and you'd be able to drop in on lover-boy whenever you liked."
     "Stop it, David!" Sharon's voice held a note of longing that sent a thrill of fear through Jonathan.
     That's my life you're bargaining with!
     As though aware of Jonathan's conscious presence, David gave a harsh laugh. "I gotta go...it's a busy day. But, you think about it, Sharon. We'd both get what we want. Me out of this nowhere job, and you with a chance to see this Benny character regularly. You just have to let me take this guy back. That's all." He laughed again, a chilling sound. "See ya."
     "I won't change my mind, David. Do you hear me? I won't!" The intensity of Sharon's cry pulled Jonathan out of the void and back to the cold reality of the broken plane and his desperate situation. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes to find Sharon leaning over him, crying. "I'm sorry, Jonathan. So sorry."
     "For what?" he croaked, pulling a hand free of his cocoon of blankets to touch her cheek, not quite sure whether or not he'd been dreaming about the argument.
     "For walking out on you like that. For leaving you alone. He always hated being left alone."
     "Benny?" guessed Jonathan, trying to read the girl's eyes in the dim light provided through the plane's cracked windshield.
     This time no shadows blocked his glimpse into her pain, as Sharon nodded, seating herself beside him once more. "Benny. He was always the life of the party, surrounded by a crowd. That's when he felt safe. But, later, when the party ended and everyone went home... Did you know he was abandoned as an infant?"
     Jonathan shook his head. "No, I don't know much about him at all. Benedek hardly ever talks about himself, or his past, and when he does, I'm never quite certain when he's 'pulling my chain' as they say or telling me the truth."
     With a rueful smile, Sharon nodded, taking his hand in her own, then carefully tucking it back under the blankets. "You've got to keep covered, conserve your body warmth."
     "Surely, holding hands with a beautiful woman will help conserve body warmth," he replied gallantly, disconcerted when her eyes filled with tears again. "Sharon, what did I say now?" he cried dismayed.
     "Nothing." She hugged herself as though in pain. "You still don't know. I was so sure you understood."
     "Understood what?" Perplexed Jonathan twisted as far as he could onto his side to look up into Sharon's stricken face, then, remembering the odd conversation he'd overheard, added to that her apparent knowledge of his partner's background while his eyes traveled from her summer clothes to his own blanket-covered figure. "You — no, you can't be." The logical side of his mind said this was impossible, but somehow he knew the truth. "You — you're the girl Benedek was going to marry, aren't you?"

     "Were you trying to tell me Jonathan is dead?"
     "What makes you say that?" hedged Benedek, trying desperately to come up with a clever way out of this mess, and finding none.
     "These drawings, and the way you keep talking about Jonathan in the past tense. Benedek, what are you hiding from me?" Dr. Moorhouse rose from her seat and crossed the room to stand in front of him, no longer the regal, domineering head of the Anthropology Department, but a woman, worried both for Jonathan and...
     Me? She's worried about me? Nah, that's crazy! Dr. M can barely stand having me around, why's she getting into a tizzy?
     Before he could do more than file that startling bit of insight away for later consideration, Lombard came running from his office, calling them. "Dr. Moorhouse, Mr. Benedek — good news. The latest radar shows the storm has just about blown itself out in this area."
     "The search?" Apparently forgetting their confrontation, Dr. Moorhouse shifted her attention from a relieved Benedek to the airport manager.
     "I've already got calls out and the spotters will be in the air at first light. The ground teams take a little longer to organize..."
     "Ground teams?" Benny asked, puzzled. He'd expected something along the line of the medevac choppers they'd had in 'Nam.
     Lombard must have guessed what he was thinking, explaining, "A lot of the terrain in this area is too steep for a chopper to land, plus the air currents are treacherous at the best of times, let alone after a storm like we've just had. However, we have a number of local Red Cross people with rescue experience. They use four by fours and snowmobiles to get to the victims once they've been located. This isn't the first time we've had to organize a rescue, Mr. Benedek."
     "Call me Benny," he said absently.
     "Benny." Lombard continued his lecture. "Once the spotters give us a fix, the closest rescue team will go to the site."
     "Do you think there's a chance that Mr. Forest and Dr. MacKensie are still alive?" asked Dr. Moorhouse, giving Benny an appraising look which warned him he wasn't off the hook with her yet.
     "There's always a chance, ma'am. Dan's something of a local legend for surviving against long odds. I wouldn't give up hope."
     "I won't." Again her eyes flicked over to briefly meet Benny's. "However, if it can be arranged, I want to join the search."
     "I kinda figured you would, Dr. Moorhouse, so I've arranged for you and Mr. Bene— Benny to ride with my brother Evan. There's no room in the planes for passengers, and normally, we wouldn't take civilians along on the ground crews, but, Evan's usual partner's laid up with the flu." He studied both of them speculatively. "I don't suppose either one of you has first aid qualifications? It'd sure be a big help."
     "I do." A part of Benny reveled in the startled look Dr. Moorhouse gave him. The first predictable reaction you've had in hours, lady.
     "So do I," she added quickly, not surprising him in the least.
     Benedek gave a mental sigh. Is there anything you can't do? Aloud he asked, "What's the game plan?"
     "The other ground teams are being organized at various checkpoints around the county. Evan will be here with his 4x4 at six. That'll give you time to get into position before the spotters go out at seven." He gave them both an appraising look. "If you've got any outdoor clothing with you, I recommend you change and get back here by six yourselves."
     "Sounds reasonable to me. Any questions, Dr. M?"
     "No, everything seems quite clear. We'd better hurry. Thank you, Mr. Lombard." Dr. Moorhouse took his hand, giving it a firm shake.
     "Better wait to thank me," he replied.
     "I can thank you now for trying, regardless of the outcome." Her facade of calm almost cracked, but she managed to retain her composure. "Come along, Benedek." Much more herself for having something to do, the woman hurried along the corridor toward the exit and the parking lot where he'd left his rental car. "We can finally justify a part of your expense report."
     His own mood rising in response to hers, Benny retorted, "Dr. M, this beauty's not costing the Institute one red cent. I'm charging it off to the Register."
     "So you can put a serious conference in that birdcage liner of a paper?" She peered at him through her glasses, eyes sparkling for the first time since they'd gotten the news about the crash. Already forming a suitably withering reply, Benny froze as she continued. "You'll do that over my dead body..."
     Or Jonathan's. From the way her face changed and an uncertain hand flew to cover her mouth, Benny could tell that that had occurred to Dr. Moorhouse as well. Their brief exuberance spent, they walked the rest of the way to the car in depressed silence.

     The storm over, the roads had been plowed, allowing Benny to make good time back to Burdette. With an hour to spare, Dr. Moorhouse had suggested they take the opportunity to rest before returning to the airport. "I suspect we'll be having a long, hard day."
     Benny had agreed readily enough, eager to escape any further interrogation about what he had or had not 'seen'. You don't want to know, Doc. Why get hurt any sooner than you have to?
     Already dressed in the jeans and a heavy sweater he'd packed for a short vacation scheduled to begin after the seminar finished, he lay back on his bed, head pillowed against his arms. I don't want to go through with this, Jack. Don't want to see your — see you like that. He fought down a sudden lump that formed in his throat.
     He rolled over onto his stomach, now resting his chin on his hands. But I can't let Dr. M go alone. Wouldn't be right. Everything's harder when you're alone — everything. I'm glad you weren't alone.
     His eyes drifted closed, and he could see Jonathan, blanket-covered as before, speaking with a girl. MacKensie shivered with cold, but still reached out a hand to the girl, who took it in her own, then leaned toward him, crying as though her heart were broken. "Figures, Jack — you get 'em wherever you are."
     "Where is he?" Dr. Moorhouse's crisp voice brought him back from his vision with a start.
     Dazed, Benedek rolled over once again, ready to make some facetious remark and found himself staring at a stranger. This was a Juliana Moorhouse he'd never seen, never even imagined. Gone was the proper executive, complete with ever-present pearls. Instead, clothed in well-worn jeans and work shirt, carrying a heavy parka, she stood before him, ready for the wilds, only her determined eyes behind her glasses the same as always. Shades of Indiana Jones.
     Her next words brought his wits back. "Just where is Jonathan getting what and how do you know?" she demanded, coming closer until she loomed threateningly over his still supine figure. "And, Benedek, I warn you, no more evasions."
     "Wouldn't dream of it, Indy." Benny squirmed across the bed until he felt relatively safe from the woman's wrath.
     A favorite GI truism — do not provoke the wrath of Dr. Moorhouse unless you are prepared to meet your doom — flashed through his mind. But I don't want her to know. Not yet. Look at her, for all that bravado of hers, she's bleeding inside now. Why send her out with the knowledge that all she's going to find is a body? 'Cause she'll go anyway.
     "We've already established that you think Jonathan's dead." The anger had vanished from her voice, leaving only a plea for understanding. "Why?"
     He grew angry in turn, tired of trying to protect her while he hurt so much. You want the truth? Okay, you got it.
     The words came pouring out. "I know he's dead. I saw the crash. Back during the seminar. I saw Jonathan in a plane and I saw it crash." As she continued to stare silently at him, Benny's voice rose, "Damn it, I felt him die! I tried to brush it off, call it a nightmare, but then you got that phone call. Jonathan's dead, Dr. Moorhouse, and there's nothing we can do about it!"
     All of his pent-up emotions threatened to break free and Benny turned to face the wall, biting his lips while he fought back a breakdown that would have thrilled soap opera fans everywhere. At the same time, he listened for a reaction, any reaction from Dr. Moorhouse.
     When it came in the form of a hand placed gently on his shoulder, he almost cracked. Only her words saved him. "And when you had the nightmare at the airport? And just now? What did they tell you?"
     "They told me I've got a great imagination," Benny snorted. "Jonathan alive in that plane having an up-close-and-personal chat with a pretty girl? Unless Dan Forest had a sex-change operation en route, there was no girl with them. I just wanted — I wanted — dammit!"
     "You want Jonathan to be alive. But, why do you believe the first nightmare so strongly, if you choose to ignore the rest?"
     Amazed, Benny stared up into her face, and again saw past the stern facade to the woman beneath. She really wants to understand, no matter what.
     His eyes locked with hers, he said quietly, "This isn't the first time."
     "I see."
     "No." He shook his head, pulled away from her comforting touch. "No, you don't because you've never had to stand in an airport with a bunch of people all hoping against hope that the person they loved was gonna be one of the lucky ones. You didn't have to stand there knowing there wasn't any hope at all and you weren't even gonna get the chance to say good-bye!" To his horror, Benny felt the dampness in his eyes break free to slide down his cheeks. No! I didn't cry then, and I'm damned well not gonna cry now!
     Thankfully Dr. Moorhouse had the wisdom to say and do nothing while he fought to regain a semblance of his normal self. Until at last he found a handful of Kleenex in his hand. "We should be going," she said quietly.
     "Yeah, we've got to bring Jonny home." Benny caught the way the woman flinched at his words, and tried to undo the damage his outburst had done. "Maybe you're right about those other dreams."
     "Perhaps." Briefly Dr. Moorhouse touched his hand, and Benny knew his secret would be safe in her hands. More briskly she added, "We're running late."
     "Not to worry, Dr. Moorhouse. Get ready to hold on to your hat. A.J. Foyt himself taught me how to drive." His cheerful tone seemed only slightly forced as they exited the room.
     "But did he teach you how to brake?" she asked caustically.
     "On a dime."

     While Sharon leaned against his shoulder, sobbing, Jonathan had no time for thought, for anything other than trying to offer comfort to the woman. "Easy now, shush..." he found himself using phrases vaguely remembered from his childhood, his hand awkwardly patting her shoulder.
     But later, when she pulled away and his hand fell back against the dry blanket — Dry? — he began to shake with the realization of what he had said. Sharon was the girl Benedek had mentioned only once, back in Fartham. The girl he'd planned to marry and whose death had sent Benny headlong into the world of the paranormal. Her death...
     Once he started shaking, he couldn't stop, his fear joining forces with the cold that had settled in his bones. His breathing grew harsh and irregular. As darkness closed in around him, Jonathan embraced it as an escape.
     Words of encouragement drew him further into the void. "Yes, an escape. There'll be no more pain. Come on, I'll help you and you'll feel better."
     But as he searched blindly for the source of that vaguely familiar voice, he heard Sharon calling from a distance, felt hands holding his trembling body still. "Jonathan! Jonathan, it's going to be all right. You've got to hang on. You mustn't cross over. Jonathan!" He felt a stinging blow against his cheek and gasped, pulling air into his struggling lungs.
     His eyes cleared slowly and sought Sharon's face, finding her leaning over him, one hand clenched to her mouth. "I'm sorry, Jonathan. So sorry."
     He attempted a smile, but Jonathan knew it to be a weak effort. "Sorry for what?" He took in a deep breath, shuddering at the pain in his chest. "I think you just saved my life...again."
     "After nearly sending you off...David would have taken you...I heard him." It was her turn to shake. "I couldn't let him...I couldn't."
     "David?" Fragments of a conversation he'd thought part of his dreams floated up out of his memory, triggering a new fear. "My life. You and...someone else were..! And just now...Sharon, what's going on here?"
     She turned white, "You heard?" He nodded slowly. "And David knew. That has to be why he started bargaining the way he did. It has to be. I'm so sorry, Jonathan."
     "Being sorry doesn't explain what's going on!" Jonathan struggled to pull himself up, but exposure had taken its toll, and he fell back, gasping for breath.
     "Stop it!" Sharon's wail broke through his rising panic. "Stop it! You'll start bleeding...don't make this be for nothing! I can't stand it if it's for nothing! I won't get another chance!"
     "Unless you agree to David's deal." Jonathan's voice was low, almost lost in a coughing spell that shook him. Hunched up on his side, he caught a glimpse of Dan's crumpled figure. Wide-eyed he stared, finally understanding the situation — David's waiting presence. "I'm supposed to be...oh, god, I'm..."
     "No!" Sharon's answer was quick and firm, as she leaned in to take his flailing hands in hers. "You are not going to die today. If you heard David's deal, you must have heard the rest, the reason I'm here. Believe me, Jonathan. You've got to believe me. I never meant to scare you. When you accepted my being here so calmly earlier, I thought you knew..."
     He tried to accept her words, to draw comfort and calm from her touch. His reply came slowly, forced past the burning in his chest that was only now easing. "Perhaps I did...but, Benny would be the first to tell you...I do my utmost not...to — to believe in anything that can't be measured..." He paused to take in another long breath, trying not to cough as the cold air filled his lungs, afraid to set off another spell. "He's doing his...best to c-cure me of it." Jonathan tried to shift position, and realized that there was no more pain, that he'd lost all feeling below his waist. Growing pale, he wet his dry lips, too scared to put his worsening condition into words.
     Reading his thoughts, Sharon took his hand in hers, squeezing it tightly. "You are not going to die today," she repeated. "I need you, for Benny's sake. You have to believe that they are coming for you. They're out looking already. Don't let David win. Fight him — for a few more hours. It'll be all over then."
     "I want to believe you," he replied, eyes slitted against the light as the sun rose higher in the sky. The storm's over? He felt a fluttering of hope. Shifting his hand so that he now held hers, Jonathan drifted back into darkness, no longer able to keep his eyes open. "Help me believe..."

     The sun shone incredibly brightly for mid-February, turning the landscape into a glittering ice show that would have dazzled Benny any other time. Now, he slumped lower in the back seat of Evan Lombard's Jeep, eyes closed, only half-listening to the negative reports coming in over the radio. Three hours and nothing. Even Dr. Moorhouse's determined optimism was fading, a painful evolution to watch.
     Shifting position, Benny suddenly felt as if the lower part of his body were gone, while his chest burned, starved for oxygen. No, not his body, Jonathan's. Despite the blankets tucked around him, the cold was beginning to win the uneven battle and he was spiraling down into darkness and release. His chest heaved with the effort of breathing. Only a hand gripping his kept him in contact with the world.
     A hand and a voice. "Benedek! Benedek, come back!" Dr. Moorhouse's urgent voice broke through the darkness, pulling him back, helping him to breathe.
     "Maybe we'd better get him back to town." Evan's voice, tinged with worry. "Looks like he's having a heart attack or something."
     "No." Benny managed to get that one word out as he concentrated on fitting into his body again. It's never been like that before. I always watched. This time...
     "Benedek, what was it?" Dark eyes insistent, Dr. Moorhouse knelt on the seat, facing him while she retained her grip on his hand. "What did you see?"
     Evan made a protesting noise of some sort, but fell silent under an imperious gesture from Dr. Moorhouse. "Benedek?" she prompted.
     "I saw Jonathan...no, not saw. I was Jonathan. Cold, so cold, couldn't breathe any more, couldn't feel anything but the fear..." Benny met Dr. Moorhouse's gaze and cringed for the flaming hope he'd given her, because the vision brought him none at all. "He's dying, Dr. Moorhouse. Dying, and we can't do anything about it." Anger mastered his grief as he thumped his free hand against the seat back. "Why can't those damned planes find them? The wreck's in plain sight on the side of that mountain!"
     "What mountain?" Evan broke his silence, caught up in the emotions surging between the two of them. "Can you describe it?" No questions, no doubts, just acceptance of Benny's wild words.
     Retaining enough of his normal curiosity to file that fact away for future reference, Benny closed his eyes, trying to remember a detail, any detail that could make a difference, but finally had to shake his head in defeat. "Nothing."
     He pulled his hand free and fell back against the seat with his eyes closed. "What's the use of seeing things if I can't do anything about them?"
     "You know he's alive. That's more than we knew before," Dr. Moorhouse pointed out quietly.
     "But for how long?" Benny wouldn't be comforted.
     The crackle of paper being unfolded drew the pair of them from their melancholy thoughts. Evan handed Benny a map saying, "If you've been tuned into your friend since the crash, you might be sensitized to his location."
     "That's crazy..." Benny shook his head.
     "Any crazier than your having these visions in the first place? Or your friend Melody feeling walls? The spirits of the dead speaking through Hortense? It's a chance, Benedek, and it may be Jonathan's last." Dr. Moorhouse spoke with a passion that amazed Benny.
     Almost sounds like she really believes. Benny raised troubled eyes first to the woman, then to Evan who held the map encouragingly toward him. He does, that's for sure. Wonder why?
     "What the hell," Benny acquiesced. "Give me that thing." Taking the map in his hands, he closed his eyes again, trying to regain, just for a moment, the link with Jonathan that had tied him to the other man's dying. No — not dying, his fight for life.
     The atmosphere in the Jeep had grown expectant, the only sound that of their breathing and the occasional negative reports from the spotters that came over the radio. Come on, Jonny. Show me. Show me...
     Once again he 'saw' his friend's blanket-shrouded figure, 'heard' his harsh breathing and 'found' the girl, her face masked by the dark hair that fell forward as she bent over Jonathan, concentrating on the hand she held between her own. Somehow Benny was certain he knew her, the way she held herself, but maybe that was from the other visions. Perhaps if he just touched her shoulder, got a good look at her face...
     "That's it!" Evan's voice broke into the vision, shattering the images.
     Benny found himself back in the Jeep, listening to Dr. Moorhouse's hope-filled voice asking him how he felt. "Did I do...anything?" he asked, rubbing his aching head.
     "We'll see." Dr. Moorhouse spared him a sympathetic look before giving all of her attention to the radio which crackled into life.
     "Evan, are you sure about those coordinates you gave me?" A questioning voice emerged from the speaker in reply to Evan's eager broadcast.
     "Mike, trust me. You know I've had pretty good luck with hunches before." replied Evan, twisting in his seat to give Benny a thumbs up sign."
     "All right, buddy, but you get to explain things to Tom if he tumbles to the fact that I'm out of the assigned pattern." Mike's voice held friendly warning.
     "I can handle Tom," replied Evan confidently. "You just get on up to Jeffries Point and tell me what you find."
     "Roger." The radio fell silent and Lombard gave Benny and Dr. Moorhouse his full attention. "It's going to take Mike about twenty minutes to get to the Point from where he is."
     "So we wait?" asked Dr. Moorhouse, giving Benny an anxious look.
     "You willing to trust hunches?" Benny felt the challenge in the man's words.
     Feeling Dr. Moorhouse's eyes on him, Benny met her gaze with a questioning lift of his shoulders. She nodded and he answered Evan for them both. "Let's blow this pop stand. Jonny needs help now."
     "We're outta here." Evan started up the engine. "And we're going to be in time."
     "Do you have visions too, Mr. Lombard?" asked Dr. Moorhouse, clutching at the dash to keep steady as they jolted along the narrow track.
     "Sometimes," replied the man sparing a sympathetic glance back toward Benny, who remained silent, staring ahead as if he could spot their destination.
     Fifteen minutes along the track and the radio crackled back into life. "Don't know how you do it, Evan, but that's Dan's plane all right." The pilot reported briefly. "Right up at Jeffries Point just like you said."
     "Thanks, Mike," replied Evan, giving his passengers a triumphant glance. "We're already on our way. Want to notify the hospital?" After the pilot agreed, Evan signed off.
     You hear that, Jack? We're on our way and the hospital's gonna be waiting for you with open arms. So you'd better hang in there. 'Cause if you go and do something dumb, like die when we're so close, I'm gonna kill you.

     "I want to believe."
     Believe what?
     Trying to remember what it was he'd needed to believe, Jonathan found himself floating in darkness once more, drifting away from the biting cold, the nightmare sense of his body being taken from him bit by bit, the increasing struggle to breathe. I believe I want to stay here.
     But, even as that tempting thought took form, inviting him further into the void, a voice called his name, seeking to pull him back from the abyss. "Jonathan! Listen to me, Jonathan! You've got to listen to me!"
     Why? Why should I listen? I don't feel good. I'm not going to school today. The half-remembered words from another time, another life, carried the image of a young boy into the darkness with him.
     The voice grew more anxious, more insistent. "Don't trust him, Jonathan! That's David! He's just trying to use you. He belongs there, in the darkness. You don't. Not yet. You must come back. Now!"
     No. Jonathan studied the small figure standing in the shadows with him. He just wants to help me.
     The boy turned a shining smile on Jonathan, holding out a welcoming hand, pointing across the void with the other toward a faint glow on the horizon where other figures waited. The light surged briefly and Jonathan fancied he caught a glimpse of familiar faces in that distant group. Father? Mother? His smile wider now, the boy glanced behind Jonathan before beckoning MacKensie forward again. Mesmerized by the thought of his parents waiting for him, reluctant to go back to the pain of the present, Jonathan tried to return the gesture, only to find he had lost the use of his arms as well as his legs.
     "No, please, let me go," he groaned, the disapproving expression on the boy's face telling him that this was none of his doing. Sharon's then?
     The darkness shattered around him, the boy angrily retreating with it to reveal the brilliant glory of the sun reflected through the myriad cracks in the windshield. Breathing heavily, Jonathan fought to keep from crying. "Why?" he asked bitterly, huddling in the blankets that no longer had any warmth to them. "Why keep bringing me back to this? I've got to go with him sooner or later."
     "Listen," ordered the woman, releasing her grip on his arms, her eyes shining with unshed tears.
     "To what?" Jonathan complained, then he too heard the distant sound of an engine, growing more distinct as the moments passed. "They're coming?" he asked, renewed hope banishing David's image back beyond the darkness.
     "Yes. Benny and Dr. Moorhouse with a friend. They're in time." Sharon gave Jonathan a tired smile. "You're safe now." She started to get to her feet.
     "Wait!" Jonathan caught her hand before she could move out of his reach. "You can't mean to go now, not with Benny so close. He'll want...you could..."
     "No. I couldn't. David is still waiting. And there isn't much time left." Her words conjured up that beckoning hand in the darkness, growing impatient.
     Jonathan tightened his grip on her hand, but Sharon gave a regretful shake of her head, looking past him to the wintry landscape outside. "There's a price to be paid for everything, Jonathan, on both sides. I was given permission to do one thing and it's done. David's tired of waiting for his passenger."
     "Can't you stay a little longer?" Jonathan closed his eyes against the sadness on her face. "Perhaps I should have gone."
     She stopped him with a finger pressed firmly to his lips. "Don't say it, Jonathan." His eyes flew open as she continued, "I thank you for your most generous offer, but I can't accept. One moment is not worth another person's life." Leaning down, her hair brushing his cheeks, Sharon kissed him.
     The image of the boy rose up between them, his lips forming a single word. Now.
     Sharon straightened, adding quickly, "Jonathan, I told you, I paid the price of my own free will, but there is one thing you can do for me when I'm gone."
     "I think I know." Jonathan managed a smile as Sharon disentangled herself from his hand and got to her feet.
     "I know you do."

     "There it is! Up there!" Impatiently, Benny leaned against the front seat as the Jeep approached the wreck, maneuvering carefully up the mountainside. His brief feeling of triumph leeched away as they drew near enough to see the broken wings, the shattered tail.
     "Oh my god." Dr. Moorhouse's low cry, pulled him from his own misery.
     "He's alive, Dr. M," he repeated her earlier words, as much for his own comfort as hers, while reaching across the seat back to give her shoulder an awkward pat. You'd better still be alive, Jack.
     "Maybe I ought to go in alone," offered Evan, braking the Jeep scant yards from the shattered plane.
     "No way." They answered simultaneously, and Evan accepted their decision with a shrug before grabbing up a knapsack from the back seat and opening the door.
     Benny and Dr. Moorhouse followed him out and found themselves picking their way carefully through the snow and debris toward the main body of the plane. Watching Evan try to open the hatch, Benny gave Dr. Moorhouse a worried glance, remembering other rescue efforts he'd witnessed in his journalistic career. Hope you're as tough as you look, Doc, just in case.
     When the younger man fumbled with the jammed hatch, Benny moved forward to add his own strength to the effort. After a struggle, and a few angry curses, the door gave way with a shriek of tortured metal that sent chills up Benny's spine. Loud enough to wake the dead. He shivered again. Damned clichιs.
     Inside the plane, they found the small cargo hold a jumbled mess of scattered boxes and bags, with no sign of either the pilot or his passenger. Or the girl. Her image still nagged at Benny, so tantalizingly familiar, yet a stranger. He recognized Jonathan's battered suitcase in passing. "Now I know what to get him for his birthday," he muttered, helping Dr. Moorhouse step over some of the rubble.
     She gave him an unreadable look, but her grip on his hand tightened briefly before she released him. You think I'm scared, don't you? That I need someone to lean on? Well, I got news for you, lady. You're absolutely right. And if I delayed us too long, if I ignored the signs because I gave up, I think you're gonna need someone too. He fought down the guilt he'd been carrying since realizing that Jonathan was alive. Water under the bridge — damn, another clichι. What're you doing to me, buds?
     "Up here." Evan's quiet call from the pilot's cabin drew Benny from his morbid thoughts, and with Dr. Moorhouse on his heels, he picked his way to the front of the plane. They found Evan kneeling by the side of a still figure, a grim expression on his face as he searched for a pulse. After a moment he announced, "Dan's dead."
     "And Jonathan?" Benny stared down at the dead man, wishing he felt something, at least some regret for the lost life, but all of his emotions were tied into his friend. Had they delayed too long?
     "He's alive." Dr. Moorhouse was kneeling by a blanket-shrouded figure to his right, pulling off a glove to check for a pulse. "Barely." Only the sudden fogging of her glasses gave Benny so much as a hint of what she was feeling."
     "Get the blankets from the Jeep," ordered Evan, leaving the dead man for the living. "Dr. Moorhouse, can you give me a hand here?" He tugged the cold blankets loose, so he could check out Jonathan's injuries.
     Obediently, Benny raced to the Jeep, skidding to a halt by the door. He scrambled through the supplies in the back, grabbing the thermal blankets they'd carried as part of the rescue equipment. You're gonna make it now, buds. We're here. All ya gotta do is hang in there just a little longer.
     Once back inside the plane, Benny handed the blankets to Dr. Moorhouse and crouched down beside Jonathan. "How bad?" he asked, staring down at the still figure.
     "Can't say yet." Evan grunted, trying to push the wreckage of the instrument panel off of Jonathan. "Benny, can you give me a hand here? If we can get his legs free, we can get him out of here. Dr. Moorhouse, I want you to be ready to pull him free."
     Benny wanted to protest, to remind Evan that moving Jonathan so roughly would only exacerbate his injuries, but stopped himself in time. They all knew the risks, but the odds against Jonathan increased every moment he remained trapped in the plane. He had to be moved.
     While Benny struggled with his anxious thoughts, he watched Dr. Moorhouse place her hands beneath Jonathan's shoulders, and nod. "Go," she ordered.
     The two men fought with the equipment, Benny quaking at the thought of what all that weight might have down to Jonathan's legs. Then the panel was moving ever so slightly and he yelled, "Do it, Dr. M, now!"
     As Jonathan was moved, he screamed, but Dr. Moorhouse held firm, dragging him away from the ruined equipment, then dropping down beside him once more. "Jonathan?"
     His eyes were open ever so slightly, searching, despite the pain, for something he couldn't find. "Benedek?"
     "Right here, buds." Benny crouched behind Dr. Moorhouse. "Hey, next time you want to avoid a speech, tell me and I'll come up with something a little less drastic, okay?" He tried to cover his overflowing emotions with his usual verbal smokescreen.
     "'s good to see you too." Jonathan's voice was almost inaudible now, as he slipped back into unconsciousness. "She said...you'd come. I should hold on." His eyes closed.

     Benny paced the small, sterile ICU cubicle where Jonathan had been brought once the doctors had managed to stabilize his temperature. Prepared to storm the gates, he'd been more than a little surprised to find himself listed as next of kin on the medical emergency card in Jonathan's wallet. He paused by the bed, hands thrust deep within his pants pockets.
     "You think you're pretty smart, don't you, Jack? Figure the only time you're likely to land in the hospital is when you're hanging around me, so you list me as the person who gets to tell Dr. M. Thanks a heap."
     Unable to remain still for long, Benny resumed his restless movements while continuing his monologue, all hint of humor vanishing from his voice. "Maybe you're not so far off track at that. It's just...well, you kinda threw me for a loop — 'next of kin' — I never thought you trusted me that much. Oh sure, Benny's good for a few laughs, but not for the serious stuff. I'm flattered, buds, honest."
     Benny rubbed at his bleary eyes as he warned, "I don't want you taking advantage of my good nature, hear? No more'n once in a lifetime?" He winced at the maudlin turn his thoughts were taking. "Tell you what." A wheedling note entered his voice. "Just to make this a fair deal, I'll change my card in the morning. We can be blood brothers or something. How's that sound?"
     When only the expected beeping sound of the heart monitor answered him, Benny halted long enough to stare at the quiet blanket-covered figure in the bed. Except for some bruising on the side of his face, the leads of the heart monitor that snaked beneath the covers and an IV tube dripping some liquid or other into his right arm, MacKensie looked almost normal. Almost.
     A hint of desperation entered Benny's voice. "Jack, look, you gotta do something soon. I don't know how much longer I can hang out here. The nurse, Sheila, Evan's wife — oh, that's right, you don't know Evan, do you? Anyway, she's already bent or broken half the rules in this place to let me stay. She even found Dr. Moorhouse a place to sack out for a couple of hours. Don't you think it's time you did your part? Just open up those baby browns and start complaining. That's not too much to ask, is it?" To his horror, Benny felt the emotions he'd held in check so long threaten to overwhelm him at last. Determined not to break down, he threw himself into the room's only chair and knuckled his burning eyes. Sleep — I need sleep. That's all it is. When Dr. Moorhouse comes back, we can trade places. His eyes drifted shut and he found himself wrapped in darkness...
     But the darkness was different this time, warm and supportive. Beneath the impression that he was floating, he caught the sensation of hands supporting him, trying to pull him back from the void. He felt no fear now, no longing to escape pain, only a sense of comfort and safety. Voices, yes, but not David's sullen tones or Sharon's laughter-filled soprano..."His temperature's stabilized. Let's get him out of there."
     He felt himself lifted up and a blast of air swept across him that started him shivering until a fleecy blanket was wrapped around him bringing a delicious warmth. Then the same hands placed him on something incredibly soft and smooth, unwrapping the blanket long enough to shift his arms about while putting clothes on me? He struggled to tell them he was awake, that he could take care of that little detail for himself, but instead, found himself drifting away again, listening as a soft, achingly familiar voice filled the darkness...
     "Mr. Benedek? Mr. Benedek? Are you all right?"
     "Wha'? No, don't go! Sharon!" Benny tried to get to his feet, but found himself pinned in place by Sheila Lombard's surprisingly strong hands.
     "Are you all right, Mr. Benedek?" she repeated, brown eyes narrowed with concern.
     "Sha — Sheila!" Benny took a deep shuddering breath, catching sight of his trembling hands. "Y-yeah. I'm fine, just a dream, I guess."
     Backing off, the woman continued to look at him appraisingly while he rubbed his sweat-beaded forehead. "Or a vision?"
     Disappointment filled his voice. "You know? I thought I could trust Dr. Moorhouse not to tell anyone."
     "She didn't." Something in the nurse's voice brought Benny's head up, and it was his turn to study her closely, while reassurance surged between them. After a moment he offered a silent apology. Sorry, Dr. M. Guess there's a good reason Evan accepts the paranormal so easily.
     Sheila favored him with an understanding smile before saying, "I finally got Dr. Moorhouse to rest. Maybe you should do the same? You won't do your friend any good if you make yourself sick."
     Benedek started violently, although whether at the sound of his friend's raspy voice or the name he'd called out, he would never be certain. He found himself on his feet, standing by the side of the bed, hands clutching the railing with a deathgrip. "Jonathan?"
     A puzzled frown creased MacKensie's forehead as he opened his eyes and took in his surroundings. "She's...gone."
     "Yeah." Benny choked, unable to say any more, the memory of the voice in the dream haunting him.
     Sheila intervened, giving Benny a chance to recover himself. "Welcome back, Dr. MacKensie. I'm Sheila Lombard. How do you feel? We've been worried about you."
     After a moment's effort, Jonathan managed to focus on the nurse. "Thirsty," he croaked.
     "I'll page Dr. Bonnard and maybe we'll be able to do something about that once he's examined you." Sheila glided from the room, the door falling shut behind her.
     At first the two men waited in silence, not knowing what to say, until Benny caught a whitening of Jonathan's face as the man started to lift the blanket away with his unencumbered left hand.
     "Trying to take an inventory, buds?" he asked, trying to keep things light.
     The blanket slipped from a nerveless hand. "Benedek?" The eyes Jonathan raised to his friend were filled with nightmare images. "M-my legs?"
     Remembering the horror he'd felt during the brief link they'd shared earlier, Benny hastened to pull away the blanket himself so Jonathan could see. It's plenty warm in here, he told himself. And this's got to help a lot more'n it can hurt. "They're both there and in prime working order," he announced, adopting a cheerful voice. "You live right, pal, 'cause that wrecked panel looked a whole lot worse than it was."
     "I — I couldn't move. And after...I couldn't feel anything either." Daring to flex muscles he'd been afraid wouldn't work, Jonathan began to relax, then tensed as his mind began to race along dangerous ground. "What else?" he rasped.
     "You want me to play doctor?" hedged Benny, glancing over his shoulder. Bonnard had seemed an all-right sort of guy, but how he'd take to a civilian horning in on his bailiwick...he turned back to his friend and realized that his hesitation had only served to convince Jonathan to expect bad news. The hell with Bonnard's feelings. Jonathan's imagination'll send him over the edge before anyone gets here. Decision made, he leaned over the bed with a conspiratorial air. "No long faces allowed, Jonny." He grinned enjoying the chance to give good news for once. "Don't let on to the doc that I spilled the beans, Jack, but you're considered something of a miracle around these hallowed halls. Don't get me wrong. You're not about to get up and dance a jig. You've got a mean case of hypothermia, which is why the heart monitor and the IV — dehydration and all that medical mumbo-jumbo." He glossed over the details. "But you've still got everything attached and not a hint of frostbite, so it's going to stay that way. The docs can't scope it out either — not after you spent twenty-four hours trapped in a wrecked plane in mid-February."
     "I can," said Jonathan softly as Benny deftly replaced the blanket.
     "I'll just bet you can. She was a special lady." Benny found himself looking everywhere but at his friend, trying to avoid the question that had been eating at him since Sheila had pulled him from the dream.
     Jonathan must have sensed his distress, because he tried to pull himself up while explaining, "She had...permission to come back...to help you..." He fell back against the pillow, face beaded with sweat.
     "Jack, take it easy. You could still have a..." Benny looked around wildly, this time hoping for the doctor's arrival.
     "...heart attack," finished MacKensie, closing his eyes while he regulated his breathing. "I'm not stupid, Benedek, I know what hypothermia means." He paused, then, after taking a few careful breaths, opened his eyes, saying urgently, "Please, Benny, you've got to listen to me. Sharon was on her way to see you, to help you through...a bad time." The usually articulate professor struggled under Benny's watchful stare for the right words, but didn't seem able to find any, finishing lamely, "and she...she took a...a left at Poughkeepsie...sort of."
     "You're never gonna let me forget about that are you?" Some of the tension eased out his body as he absorbed Jonathan's explanation, and Benedek found himself able to face his friend, the hint of a long-suffering smile on his stubbled face..
     Equally relieved Jonathan retorted, "When you let me forget about Hooperville." He tried swallow. "I could really use a drink. Wish the doctor would hurry."
     "Patience, Jack. You've got plenty of time to drink the reservoir dry," counseled Benny, wondering just what was taking Sheila so long.
     Jonathan nodded silently, then added, "Sharon came back to say goodbye."
     The darkness whirled around Benny, threatening to sweep him into the void. A hand gripping his arm, and a voice anxiously calling his name were the only things that kept him on his feet. "Benedek? Benny, can you hear me?"
     His vision cleared and Benny found himself staring into Jonathan's concerned eyes. "Whoa, Jack, you've got this all wrong. You're the patient, I'm the visitor. Remember?"
     "So long as you do." Suddenly exhausted, Jonathan lay back, eyes closing. "She should have kept to her original plan. I told her I'd botch it."
     "Don't say that!" Idiot! He's gonna think he should've done the noble thing and gone to the great beyond! "You did good. You both did." And Benny knew that he meant the words wholeheartedly. Sharon said goodbye all right, in her own inimitable style. Before Benny could say as much, the door opened and Dr. Bonnard stepped into the room, followed by Sheila and an older nurse who bustled Benny outside before he knew what hit him. Collapsing in a heap on a nearby bench, he found himself drifting off into sleep once more. Did real good, Jack. 'S important to — to say...goodbye.

     Voices spilled out from Jonathan's room as Benny approached, arms filled with the battered remains of his friend's suitcase. "I'll expect you to have completed the revised draft of your speech by the time you are released from the hospital, MacKensie. We'll have it printed up, and copies distributed to everyone who participated in the seminar."
     "Dr. Moorhouse, I can't..." Jonathan's feeble protest was interrupted in mid-phrase.
     "Of course you can. Because you chose to play the macho man and fly during a blizzard is no reason to disappoint the people who expected to hear you speak at Burdette." Not a hint of the guilt she'd suffered during Jonathan's ordeal entered the woman's voice and Benny mentally applauded her acting ability.
     "I was not trying to be...macho," retorted Jonathan, "However, the fact remains, I can't do what you want me to do, Dr. Moorhouse."
     "And why not, pray tell?" Icicles dripped from Dr. Moorhouse's voice.
     "My glasses were broken in the crash, and since my luggage appears to have been lost, so are my spares."
     "And since your scrawl is bad enough when you can see what you're doing...I take your drift." A thoughtful silence descended on the room, a silence which Benny took great pleasure in breaking.
     "Good morning, everyone!" he announced cheerily, placing the battered case on the stand beside Jonathan's bed. "Did I hear someone mention something about needing a spare set of glasses?"
     "Where did you find it?" Smiling broadly, Jonathan touched the old leather, before opening the lid.
     "Evan grabbed it when they went back for...Dan." A somber mood descended on the room.
     "He was a good man," murmured Jonathan softly. "I'm glad he wasn't alone."
     Benny flashed him a surprised look. You understand? Then he gave himself a shake. Of course you understand. Sharon told you. The memory warmed him now, instead of sending him screaming into the crowds that had always surrounded him since her death. "So am I, buds. Anyway," he changed his tone before the discussion could slip into the maudlin. "I'm glad you'll have something to keep you busy while I'm gone. Unless you want me to show you a few tricks for playing strip poker with the nurses...oops, sorry, Dr. M."
     She stared at him like he was a particularly ugly bug under a microscope, but he caught the twinkle hidden in the back of her eye. "For one brief moment, I thought there might be hope for you, Benedek, but I can see I was mistaken." Turning back to Jonathan, she added, "The doctor says you'll be released by the end of the week. I'll see that your classes are covered until then, but I expect you in your office on Monday morning. Is that understood?"
     "Yes, ma'am."
     "Good. I'll see you then." She turned to leave, pausing only to say over her shoulder, "With the speech in hand."
     "That's a promise." Jonathan's eyes followed Dr. Moorhouse until the door closed behind her. "I didn't mean to scare her," he murmured.
     "She knows that." Benny plopped himself down on the edge of the bed, pleased to see that his friend looked much improved after a couple of days of TLC from a devoted nursing staff. "Otherwise she'd have had Liz up here with grade reports for you to do instead of a rewrite on what was a pretty boring speech, let me tell you."
     "You read it?!" Distracted just as Benny had planned, Jonathan turned an irate glare on the other man.
     "It fell out of the bag when I sort of dropped it on the floor..." Benny grinned unrepentantly. "Hasn't any of my flair for words rubbed off on you yet, Jon? You make a ghost sound so boring, he wouldn't have anyone to haunt. They'd all be asleep."
     "Your flair for flash and dazzle, you mean. I manage to write perfectly well without turning everything into a circus sideshow, thank you very much."
     "Whatever." Benny yielded with uncharacteristic speed, suddenly staring down at the blanket. "I'm just glad you'll have something to do while I'm up in Carlyle."
     "I'm glad one of us could go to the funeral."
     "So am I. Jan shouldn't be alone at a time like this." Benny hesitated before plunging into the speech he'd planned all the way over from the college. "Jonathan, this is for real now, no jokes, no flash, okay?"
     "Button it, okay?" Looking uncomfortable, Jonathan nodded, and Benny gave him an uneasy glance. "Okay. Look, we kind of got interrupted the other morning and I think you had the feeling I was upset because Sharon helped you out instead of me. Well, forget it, Jack, because she did help me by making sure I didn't have to bury another friend. You didn't botch anything, and if you ever even hint that you think you did, I'm gonna tell the world where you hide that old teddy bear of yours. Got it?"
     "How did you find...?" Startled out of his embarrassment by Benedek's outrageous threat, Jonathan flared briefly, then sighed as Benny gave him a satisfied smile. "Got it."
     "Good boy." Benny got to his feet and headed for the door. "I'll be back in a couple of days. Try not to get into any trouble while I'm away. Bonnie's cute, but you should see her boy friend."
     On MacKensie's pained, "Benedek!" Benny was out of the room, marching jauntily toward the elevator. After punching the down button, he stood by a nearby window staring out at the snow-covered landscape. A small bird caught his attention as it fluttered to a landing on the branch of a battered old fir tree. After resting for a moment, the bird burst into a loud trilling that Benny heard even through the glass, then launched itself once more, darting higher and higher into the sky, until he lost sight of it against the sun.
     The elevator door opened, but Benny let it go, pulling a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. He smoothed out the wrinkles and studied the drawing he'd taken back from Dr. Moorhouse. After a moment, he looked up at the sun and smiled while tossing the sheet into the trashbin. Then, whistling, he stepped on to the next elevator. Goodbye.

-the end-


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