A big thank-you to my beta readers, Maryilee, peregrin anna and inkling. Your help and encouragement made all the difference. Maryilee rescued this story when I was just about ready to let in hide in my computer forever.
Dislcaimer: Early Edition, the characters and situations belong to Tristar Pictures and to CBS Productions, who have been kind enough to sell rights for it to be broadcast on Israel Channel One. No copyright infringement is intended
Note: This story takes place in season one. (That's all that was aired in Israel so far.)
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Out of Darkness
An ear splitting explosion. A burst of white light and then pain. Pain and psychedelic colors shooting through his head. Ambulance sirens shrieking. A bad dream. That had to be it. A bad dream.
Gary awoke in his own bed at the Blackstone hotel, his heart pounding from the nightmare. He opened his eyes, or tried to. Why couldn't he open them? Why did it make no difference in the darkness?
His hands reached up to his face and felt the bandages. Thick bandages encased everything from his lower forehead to the middle of his nose. Not a dream, then. He remembered now...
... The paper, a week ago, reporting a car bomb, outside an office building on Wacker Drive. Seventeen people would be killed, among them a newlywed woman and six children under age nine. He still couldn't shake the terrible photos out of his head. The shocked grief on the face of the woman's husband, and worse, the small, broken bodies, scattered on the blood-stained pavement.
The paper gave him no time to call for help. Gary managed to clear the area, just in time, and then threw himself to the ground. But it was all happening too fast. He had to check that everyone was out of the way. He glanced up -- and caught the explosion in his face.
Everything went blank. For how long, he didn't know. He was vaguely aware of being moved, of people around him trying to make him comfortable. Then, with a start, he realized there was something wrong. "Why is it so dark here?" he asked.
The question was met with an abrupt silence. All the bustle and chatter that had been going on around him stopped. "Take it easy fella." A young-sounding man, who seemed to be the emergency doctor, gave Gary a pat on the shoulder. "I'm calling our top eye specialist to see you."
When the eye surgeon arrived, she introduced herself as Dr. Halperin. Gary could sense that she was moving a small object in front of his face. A doctor's penlight?
He knew right then that he did not want to be offered false hope. "Doc, please, I gotta know the truth. Am I ...?" He couldn't go on. He remembered how easily, and in a matter-of-fact way, Marissa said the word "blind." But Gary couldn't say it, not about himself.
Dr. Halperin coughed a few times and explained, "We won't know how bad the damage is until your eyes have some time to heal." She touched Gary's arm gently and continued, "It's possible that you'll see again. We'll just have to wait it out."
Of course, that meant it was also possible that he wouldn't.
"You're lucky," The doctor added, as if she had just read his mind, "After an explosion like that, you could easily be dead."
Gary didn't feel very lucky. He wanted to say so, but pain kept him from arguing. "How soon can I go home?" he asked instead. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In the hospital, he slept much of the time. Each time he awoke he tried to open his eyes. But his eyes were bandaged now. He couldn't open them at all and he felt lost in a dark void.
Sometimes, through the void, he knew that Chuck and Marissa were with him. Once, half awake, he heard Dr. Halperin and Marissa discussing terms like "rehabilitation," "Braille," and "cane travel." Gary felt a cold lump in his throat. He had never even needed glasses before. How could those dreadful words apply to *him*?
Sometimes, he would startle awake and ask for the paper.
"Gary, let it go for now, okay?" Marissa pleaded, "You need to rest and get well."
"Hey, want me to find you a good looking nur...?" Chuck broke off as though suddenly remembering the nature of Gary's injury.
It bothered him about the paper. But Gary was too lost in dark nothingness to do more than ask about it.
After a week, the doctors released him to the care
of his friends. They gave orders to Chuck and Marissa to see he got plenty
of rest. He was to come back to have his eyes examined in about two weeks.
Then, depending on what happened, they would go on from there.
Gary lay in his bed. He still had a dull ache behind his useless eyes. He felt weak and dizzy. The cuts on his face and hands, where bits of shrapnel and broken glass had been embedded, still stung. He didn't feel up to getting out of bed, but it didn't matter. Even if he did get up he couldn't see to go anywhere.
Gary heard the key turn in the lock and the door to his room opening.
"Gary, it's Marissa." She let herself in and came over to sit on a chair beside his bed. "How are you feeling?"
"Well, the doctors said to stay hopeful. There's a chance that you'll..."
"There's a chance I won't."
Marissa's hand found his and gave it a squeeze.
"It must seem frightening. But I know what I'm talking about, Gary. It doesn't mean your life would be over."
Gary didn't know what to say to her. Blindness never stopped Marissa. She studied at the university, held a good job and got around all over the city. But that was Marissa, not Gary. Gary wondered if he could find his way to the lobby of the Blackstone. He imagined himself lost in the hallway, unable to locate the elevator or to find his way back to his room. Marissa's assurance that his life wasn't over just didn't sound convincing.
"... Good morning, Chicago. It's shaping up to be a bright, sunny Friday..."
Bright for the radio announcer, maybe. For him, every morning from now on might be as dark and empty as this one. His hand jerked out to turn off the clock radio. But Gary had forgotten a water glass that Chuck placed beside the radio last night. The glass crashed on the floor.
"Damn!" Now there was broken glass all over the floor and two people in the room who couldn't see it.
"It's all right, Gary, I'll clean it up," Marissa said gently.
"No, Marissa. You might cut yourself."
"Gary, I've cleaned up broken glass before."
"Most people use a broom," Marissa answered with a laugh and he could hear her going into the kitchen to find one. But the amusement left her voice as she seemed to realize what lay behind the simple question. "Gary, if you have to, you can learn to do everything you need to do."
Yeah, right! How was he going to learn to do anything? He couldn't even turn off the radio without breaking something.
"Well, that's fine for you, Marissa," he said, "you go everywhere you want, do everything. I just knock over drinking glasses."
"I've had a lot more practice," she told him. "It takes time, Gary. There, that's the last of the glass."
The cat meowed out in the hall and Marissa went to let him in. Gary heard the thud that meant the newspaper had arrived. Marissa would know to feel for it on the floor, but...
"I brought in the paper for you, Gary. Looks like it's coming again, now that you're home."
"I'm right here," she acknowledged him and waited.
"Marissa, neither one of us can see. Who's gonna read it?"
Gary heard the door to his room burst open and then bang shut again. "Friends, I volunteer my services," a familiar voice responded to his question.
"Nice try, Chuck," said Marissa, "you're just hoping for a peek at the financial pages."
"Guys, guys, let's be realistic here," Chuck replied to both of them, "I mean, who else have you got?"
Gary considered this for a minute. "What do *you* think, Marissa?" he asked.
He heard Marissa hand the paper to Chuck. "First, tear out the financial section and give it to me," she insisted.
Loud ripping sounds followed. "Jeez, I can't believe I'm doing this ... There you go, one financial section ... Can I start reading, now?"
"I meant *all* of the financial pages, Chuck. Let's have the sports, too."
"How did you know?" Chuck grumbled. Again they heard the paper tearing. "*Now* will you let me read?"
"Marissa, how *did* you know?" Gary was wondering, too.
]"If you listen carefully when people talk, you can hear more than just the words, Gary. You can hear what they're really saying."
Gary determined to really listen from now on, but all he said was, "So, Chuck, what's in the paper?"
Chuck rustled the newspaper a few times. "FBI to Investigate Chicago Bombing," he began reading.
Gary grimaced. "The bombers are still loose," he said.
"It's too big, Gary," Marissa's voice was firm, "You already did what you could."
"Maybe I did too much," he mumbled.
"Gary, would you rather have let all those people be killed?"
"No." He remembered the photos and shuddered. He just failed to understand why the price should be so high. "I don't know, Marissa," he added under his breath. But he did know. He never really had a choice.
If Marissa heard him she didn't comment. "What else is in the news?" she said to Chuck.
At first, Chuck read two or three stories that did not interest them. But then he came to "Schoolboy Dead in Fall From Upper Story Classroom." Gary sat up and turned toward him. "Chuck, could you go...?"
"Oh, no, no, no. You're not sending *me* off on one of your crazy missions. Look where it got you, Gar. I don't believe in risking life and limb or vision for people I don't even know."
"Chuck, let's be realistic here," said Marissa, throwing Chuck's own words back at him, "I mean, who else have we got?"
Gary, listening harder than ever before, heard for the first time how much Chuck and Marissa enjoyed their bickering. Chuck simply enjoyed an argument. But Marissa also liked the way Chuck made no allowance at all for her disability. He might disagree with every word she said. But he related to her as a person, not as a blind person.
Gary remembered with embarrassment that *he* used to feel sorry for Marissa. Of course, that was before he got to know her well. Marissa soon taught him exactly what she thought of the word "sorry."
Gary also heard that Chuck's grumbling was just a put-on. Chuck was usually willing to help, but he pretended otherwise for the sake of the cynical front he put up. In fact, Chuck had already taken the paper and gone to try to save the little boy.
At mid morning, Chuck called from the brokerage firm. "I stopped the kid from falling, Gar. The headline changed and everything."
Gary was still keeping his resolve to listen with full attention. "That's great, Chuck. So, what's wrong? He asked.
Then Chuck told him that the child's teacher misunderstood and almost threw Chuck out the window instead of her pupil. Gary knew just what he meant. That kind of thing happened to him all the time on paper business, but somehow he was more able to take it in stride. It was not Chuck's unwillingness to help with the paper that worried Gary. It was his inability to cope with the unexpected problems and hassles that came up with it.
Gary didn't attempt to get dressed that day or for most of the weekend. He felt too weak to do much more than sit up in bed. He let Chuck or Marissa bring him food and lead him to the bathroom when he needed it. He drifted off more than he stayed awake. The first day, Friday, Marissa took off to stay with him. Chuck offered, but Marissa felt that this time she could be more help to Gary.
"You sure you don't want me to stay over?" Chuck asked again, as he and Marissa prepared to go home that night.
"No." He wouldn't mind Chuck's company. But Chuck's stuff had a way of taking over a room. The last thing Gary needed right now was to stumble over Chuck's belongings in unexpected places.
"Let me call your folks. Have them come over and take care of you."
"No!" He insisted even more emphatically. There was no point in worrying his folks before he had the final verdict about his eyes. It was bad enough letting friends wait on him. His mom would cry and fuss as if he were about four years old. She'd also worry herself sick, maybe for no reason. And keeping his dad from the paper was like trying to keep a naughty kid out of the cookie jar.
"Gar, it's not like you twisted your ankle. This is a big secret to keep from the people who..."
"I said no!" Gary broke in before Chuck could bring
up changing diapers. He didn't tell his parents when he got hit by a car
and landed in the hospital with head injuries. He wasn't going to tell them
about this -- unless he had to.
By Sunday afternoon, Gary started to get restless and wanted to get up for while. He felt silly and helpless, but he let Chuck run a bath for him. Showering wasn't possible because he had to keep the bandages dry. Afterward, Chuck handed him his clothes so that they faced the right direction to put on. Even so, getting dressed took about three times as long as usual. It wore him out so much he almost felt like going back to bed. Chuck led him to the couch, instead, and Gary dropped down on it, exhausted.
"You missed your calling, Chuck," Marissa teased, "You should have been a valet."
"Since when are you a career counselor, Marissa? I could *have* a valet if you and Gary would just let me..."
"You never learn, do you, Chuck?" Marissa asked him.
"Yeah, I do. I learned that my friends enjoy keeping me poor."
"Here we go again," Marissa said with an air of long-suffering.
Gary just smiled to himself.
"What are *you* smiling at?" Chuck asked him.
"You two. You're having a great time."
"He's on to us, Chuck." Marissa laughed.
But Chuck refused to admit it. "I don't know what you're talking about," he muttered.
Gary got up again, because he wanted to try to find his way around the room. Tomorrow was Monday and both Chuck and Marissa would be at work. He needed to be able to get about the room without them. It was in his own familiar hotel room; he had a clear mental image of it. When his groping hands found the dresser or the table, he was able to picture the piece of furniture and his own position in the room. It gave him a sense of knowing where he was. He no longer felt quite so lost in the dark void.
Gary knew that Marissa went blind from meningitis when she was only sixteen months old. "You can't remember what things look like, can you?" he asked her.
"Well, sometimes I think I remember colors," she replied, "but it could just be my imagination."
For the first time since the explosion, Gary felt lucky. He could remember colors, colors and people's faces and the sky in different kinds of weather. He could visualize them; Marissa couldn't. She had lost her sight too young.
"Gary, you're not feeling sorry for me?" Marissa chided him. "You know I hate `sorry.'"
Gary almost wanted to laugh. *He* was the one who could barely find his way around his own room. "I'm not exactly in a position to feel sorry for you," he answered, "I was feeling lucky for *me*."
"Good," Marissa approved. "Good on both counts."
On Monday morning, Chuck only had time to lay Gary's clothes on a chair for him, before rushing out to stop a chain accident in which four people were going to be killed. The volume of Chuck's grumbling was increasing and Gary's concern about Chuck and the paper was growing steadily. Gary felt lost and helpless again. The clothes seemed to fight him as he dressed, as if deliberately turning themselves upside down or back to front. He almost thought they were mocking him because he couldn't see. Getting dressed left him battle weary and he lay down for a while on top of the bed.
Chuck called from the cell phone, "My car got wrecked again. It's gonna cost eighteen hundred bucks to fix it!" Chuck sounded distraught.
Gary had to promise to let Chuck place bets at the track, to cover the damage, before he would calm down. "But, what happened to the mother and her baby and those two truck drivers?" Gary asked, "Did you save them?
"Yeah, yeah, they're fine."
Gary was relieved at the news.
"But my car isn't," Chuck yelled, "My car! Don't you care about that at all?"
Gary sighed. "I said you can go to the track tomorrow."
"You'd better remember that, Gar!" Chuck hung up to head for work.
Well, he would have to send Chuck to the track soon, anyway, to pay the hospital bills. But he hated feeling so helpless. Everything was wrong. He shouldn't be allowing Chuck to read the paper for him and then go bungle what needed to be done. By rights, *he* should be the one in charge of the paper. By rights, he should be yanking it out of reach if Chuck so much as glanced in it's direction.
Gary sighed again. He couldn't do any of that if
he couldn't see. How was he going to cope if he didn't get his sight back?
How did he get himself into this? Gary groaned. But he had promised Marissa. He got up and found his way to the table.
Marissa was teaching him how to read Braille. She made him promise to practice with the primer she had left him. Gary balked at first, "I'm not really bl... I don't need Braille, Marissa."
"Well, I *am* blind. Learn it for me. We can send each other messages about the paper."
When she put it to him that way, Gary felt a little sheepish. For Marissa, there were no maybes about being blind. But he also remembered her conversation with Dr. Halperin. Marissa wanted him to start learning Braille because there was a good chance *he* would be needing it.
There just wasn't much to do during the long week days when she and Chuck were away. She had also lent him a talking book player, but he didn't feel like sitting around listening to recordings all day. So he struggled with the primer for hours, learning to distinguish the different combinations of dots for all the letters. When Marissa came to check on him at lunch time on Wednesday, he was able to read a few simple words for her.
You're catching on fast, Gary." Marissa was impressed.
"Yeah. Like a kid in first grade."
"If you were in first grade it would be easier," said Marissa, "It's harder to learn Braille as an adult. You're doing well, Gary."
"Marissa, you don't suppose there's a Braille edition of the paper?" Gary asked, still fretting about letting Chuck take it over.
Marissa laughed. "I'd settle for a Braille label on the financial section. It would sure make it easier to keep it away from you know who."
When he thought he remembered the letters fairly well, Marissa taught him the number sign, as well. The next evening, Thursday, she brought her deck of Braille playing cards and placed them in his hand.
"What's this, Marissa?"
"I challenge you to a round of gin rummy."
It took all of Gary's concentration to try to determine which cards he held. He made several mistakes and his playing was painfully slow. But he managed to win one game out of three. Against a crackerjack player like Marissa he wasn't doing too badly.
"Anything more on the bombing?" Gary asked on Friday morning, when Chuck and Marissa came over to read the paper with him.
"Nope, no new developments since that bit about the FBI." Gary had been asking the same question every day for a week and Chuck answered impatiently, "Okay, you want the guys who did this to you behind bars. Anyone would. But they may not ever solve it, Gar. Even if they do, they probably won't tell us."
"No, it's just -- I don't want them hurting anyone else." It was true, but he knew that Chuck had also struck a chord of truth. The bombers had left Gary in darkness that seemed like a prison. *They* should be in prison, too.
"Gary, you did everything you could. Nobody got killed," Marissa added, "Maybe the paper knows you can't do anything else right now."
"Well, I'll feel better when I know *they* can't do anything else." he answered.
"Why don't we see what the paper does want us to do today, Gary?" Marissa continued reasonably, "Chuck and I need to go to work soon."
That morning there was only one news article in need of attention. Chuck thought that Gary could handle it on the telephone. Gary agreed. He hated having to ask Chuck for help.
He had Chuck read out the names and then look up the phone number. Marissa also wrote it out in Braille. But Gary memorized everything before Chuck and Marissa left for work. He couldn't read accurately. A mistake in a friendly game of gin rummy was one thing, dialing the wrong number now would be a lot worse.
Gary dialed slowly, because he had to feel for the position of each phone button before he pressed it. But he did get the correct number.
"Hello? Mrs. Clarence?" he began, "Listen, Mrs. Clarence, you gotta move the space heater in your daughter's room. It's too close to the bed."
"Who is this!?!"
"Mrs. Clarence, you got a five-year-old girl named Jennifer." It felt strange not to be able to see the paper and check the information, to have to remember everything in his head. "The blankets on Jennifer's bed are too close to the space heater," he repeated, "You gotta move the heater or the blankets are gonna catch fire."
"Is this the man from across the street? Have you been peeping into my house with binoculars again?"
"No, lady, I haven't been ..." A sigh escaped him. "I haven't been doing *any* peeping lately."
"You pervert! I should call the police on you."
"Listen, lady, just check the heater. I don't live across the street. I said that because I -- I was in an accident and I can't see."
"Oh!" She gave a little gasp. "Oh, I'm terribly sorry." There was a pause that lasted a minute or two. "Well, I moved the heater now. The blankets were practically on top of it. I don't know what would have happened tonight if ... What did you say your name was?"
"It's Gary. Gary Hobson."
"I'm very sorry for you, Mr. Hobson. You poor man, how awful for y..."
Gary hung up on Mrs. Clarence, feeling the cold lump
in his throat again. He was used to being strong, healthy and athletic, never
an object of pity. No wonder Marissa said she hated "sorry." It made him
feel like something less than a whole person.
Although he had been feeling stronger that morning, the phone call left Gary worn out and discouraged. He barely had energy to locate the couch and sink down on it.
Something small and furry sprang onto his lap, taking him by surprise. He found the cat's head and started stroking it. Gary knew that he sometimes showed ambivalent feelings toward the cat. The cat and the paper always arrived together, so for a while, he blamed the animal for the paper and for the upheaval it caused him. But now losing the paper would seem like losing his purpose in life.
That had happened to him once already. For years he believed he was working hard to buy a home and raise a family with his wife. When Marcia dumped him, it was as though she had tossed his reason for being out the window, along with the clothes. He didn't want that to happen again.
The paper was his purpose, yes. But it was also a yoke on his neck. Knowing the future meant he took any disaster, large or small, to be his own fault. It was his responsibility to prevent it. The responsibly had gotten him hurt. Now, how was he supposed to handle it?
"Why did you do this!?" He demanded of the unknown entity that either sent or *was* the paper, "Now I can't even read the damn thing!"
Gary had grown accustomed to the cat now, too. But if Gary couldn't see, the cat might have to take the paper elsewhere. It was the same as when he found Gary after the death of Lucius Snow.
"You're gonna have to find a new victim, Cat. If I can't see, I can't help you."
The cat butted his head under Gary's hand, purring loudly. He wasn't behaving as if he planned to move in with someone else.
When Marissa came in that afternoon, he told her what was bothering him.
"You don't know that you're permanently blind," she reminded him.
"Well, I could be permanently bl..." He still couldn't bring himself to say it.
"Blind' isn't a dirty word, Gary."
"I know it's not a ..." He stopped, wondering if Marissa was teasing. "It's just hard to say. Besides, I'm not really..." He broke off again.
"It gets easier to say after a while," she assured him and then continued, "Maybe the paper would keep coming to you anyway. You aren't dead like Snow and you're not helpless."
"I'm not so sure about that."
"You are *not* helpless, Gary," Marissa insisted. "You stopped that little girl's bed from catching fire. Chuck said the headline changed."
"Don't remind me." Gary told her about his conversation with Mrs. Clarence.
Marissa sighed. "Some people are like that. If you think this was bad, you should have heard my grandmother's friends when I was a little girl. `Isn't she brave, the poor little thing!' Once, I almost put salt in their sugar bowl."
Gary smiled in spite of himself. "*You*... put salt....?"
"No, but I wanted to. I thought if I got them mad enough, they would stop feeling sorry for me. But they were old ladies, Gary. One of them had a walking cane. One was nearly as blind as I am. I couldn't...
"I hate it, too," Marissa went on. "But, the important thing is, you saved the child."
"But I can't read the paper, Marissa! Those headlines -- they can change two or three times before -- Chuck can't go on like this."
"No," Marissa agreed, "Chuck doesn't have what it takes. Maybe the paper would send you a different reader."
Gary didn't think so. "The paper's a one person kind of thing," he said, "Marissa, you're the one always telling me the paper does things for a reason. Why would it do this? It doesn't make sense. Now I can't *read* it."
"I don't know," Marissa said thoughtfully, "But if I know you, you'll always be finding ways to help people. You don't *need* tomorrow's paper for that, Gary. The paper is just tool."
"Maybe," Gary said doubtfully.
"Gary, when you found out that someone got the paper before you, what did you do?" she asked him.
"I tried to find my predecessor," he answered, "to find Snow."
"Then, what would whoever got it next be likely to do?"
"You mean the next person would try to find *me*."
"That or they'd be snooping at the archives, asking questions about Lucius Snow. Morris would send them straight here. Either way you'd be more help than Snow because *you* aren't dead."
"You're trying to tell me I won't be free of the paper so easily?" Gary quipped, remembering all the times he had tried to shake off the yoke.
But he did feel a little better after talking to Marissa. No sense in speculating, anyway. He'd just have to wait and see what happened. Well, "see" so to speak.
Continued in Installment 2
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