I cannot walk on water. I cannot raise the dead. I cannot feed a multitude with a few loaves and fishes. I am not the second coming of the Christ though there are many who believe I am because of what I can do.

I can cure the sick. I can let the blind see. I can make the crippled walk.

Jane and I were in Africa though I forget which country. I can never keep them straight, anyway. We’d been in the village for four days. One more day should be enough to complete the healing. One more day and then on to the next village and its people and their wretched conditions.

I was cleaning up after the day’s work when I saw the cloud of dust from an approaching truck. In this village, trucks are feared. Rarely, they bring supplies or people like me who only wish to help the villagers. More often they bring a warlord’s thugs or, worse, soldiers from the government.

The villagers gathered their children and hid in their huts. Jane and I went to our hut as well. While Jane checked her guns, I watched the approaching truck.

“Here,” Jane said, tossing me a pistol. “Turn the safety off.”

I flicked the safety off and shoved the gun into my pants pocket. Jane never trusts me to remember basic gun safety. “I do know how to handle a gun, dear.”

“If by ‘handle’ you mean ‘shoot yourself’ then I guess you do,” she replied.

I shrugged, “I can’t shoot well enough to hit anyone else,”

The truck stopped in the village center and five heavily armed men jumped out. One fired two shots into the air.

“We come for the healer!” he shouted. “We know he is here. Bring him to us!”

“Stay here and cover me,” I said to Jane and then walked out the door.

Five guns covered me as I approached. The one who called for me kept talking but I ignored him. I’d been through this routine in other villages and knew what was coming. The script never changes. There was a gun battle. The warlord was badly wounded. He would only survive if I healed him. His men threaten the villagers, who will pay if I fail. Yada yada yada. Yes, I knew this scene all too well.

But I was wrong.

Blankets were piled in the back of the truck, forming a kind of nest. A woman was curled up in the nest, holding a newborn child. The woman’s breath came fast and sweat covered her face. Anyone could see she was dying. The infant wasn’t doing well, either. The child rasped and wheezed, fighting for breath. A large, powerful man—the local warlord—cradled the woman’s head in his lap.

He looked at me, his eyes shining, and said, “Healer, you must help my wife and my son! You must heal them! If you do not, my men will raze this vil—”

Climbing into the back of the truck, I said, “Stop making threats. If you know enough to bring your family here, you know I will help them.”

I gave the woman an encouraging smile and gestured toward the baby. She held to me. As soon as I touched him, I knew the child’s problem. His lungs had not fully cleared. He was slowly suffocating. It took but a thought and the boy’s lungs were clear while mine, suddenly, were not. As the boy let out his first cry, my gift cleared my lungs before I even coughed.

Placing the boy back in his mother’s arms, I took her hand and sensed internal bleeding. Without immediate help, she would be dead in minutes. Back when Jane and I still lived in the States, I’d have had no idea how to treat the mother. Her uterus was the source of the bleeding. I couldn’t simply transfer her wound to me and let my gift heal it for no man has a uterus. But injuries like this are all too common in Africa. I’ve long since learned to work around our bodies’ differences. I must concentrate harder to transfer the wound elsewhere—my stomach, I decided—but I can do it. Perspiration beaded on my forehead as I worked. A minute later she was healed.

“The boy is healthy, now. Feed him and he’ll be fine,” I told the warlord. “Your wife will need to rest for several days, but she’ll recover as well. She may feed the child, but someone should handle everything else until her strength returns.”

I stood and climbed from the truck, leaving the warlord staring at his wife and child in wonder.

“So, the stories are true,” he said. “You truly are a magic man.”

“No magic but yes,” I replied, turning back to my hut, “the stories are true.”

“I thank you for the lives of my family,” the warlord said, “but I cannot let a man of your value leave. From now on you work for me, healer.”

Damn, we were back on script again. Why can’t men like this warlord simply leave me in peace? Reaching into my pocket, I gripped the pistol. I even remembered to check the safety. It was off.

“You’re hardly the first man to try holding me,” I said. “You won’t have any more success than those who tried before you. Your wife and son will live. Rejoice in that knowledge and leave while you still can.”

“Hold him,” the warlord barked. Laughing without humor, he added, “You are a healer, not a warrior. You will do as I say.”

Two of the warlord’s men grabbed my arms and pulled me toward the truck. Dammit, I hate hurting people but idiots like the warlord leave me no choice. Gritting my teeth, I pulled the trigger of the pistol in my pocket. Pain flared as the bullet blasted into and through my thigh, cutting my femoral artery. I pushed away the pain just as I pushed away the wound. The man on my right screamed in agony and dropped to the ground. Blood fountained from the fresh wound in his leg.

My gift to him.

From behind me, I heard the crack of Jane’s rifle and a man near the truck dropped. The man holding my left arm looked at his bleeding companion with incomprehension. Tightening his grip on my arm, he hurried toward the truck. I fired the pistol into my leg a second time. The man fell screaming as blood spurted from his leg.

My gift to him.

Jane fired twice more and all the warlord’s men were down, already dead or bleeding to death from my gifts. The warlord’s head swung back and forth, shock and confusion contorting his face..

“You can still take your family and leave,” I told him, praying he would act reasonably.

Anger washed over the man’s face and he leapt from the truck. “You will heal my men! You will come with me!”

The fool still thought he could win. Yet, by leaving the truck, he made himself an easier target. Jane could shoot at him without worrying about hitting the woman or child. This warlord was quicker than I expected though. He grabbed me, spun around to face my hut, and pointed a pistol at my head.

“Stop shooting!” he yelled. “Stop shooting or I will kill the healer!”

“You’re already a dead man,” I told him, “you just haven’t fallen down yet.”

I heard the crack of Jane’s rifle and felt the bullet pierce my chest. It tore through me and into the warlord. Without conscious thought I passed my wound to the warlord.

My gift to him.

The arm around my throat went slack and the warlord dropped to the ground. As the light faded from his eyes, I yelled, “Dammit, all you had to do was leave! Why don’t people like you ever leave? Why do you always make me kill you?”

Turning back to the truck, I found the warlord’s wife was staring at me, her eyes wide and terrified.

“I did not want to orphan your son on his birthday,” I told her, “but his father gave me no choice. Don’t worry, I do not blame you for his actions.”

“W-what will h-happen to me?” she asked through trembling lips.

“Someone from the village will drive you home. You will tell your husband’s men what happened here. They give the villagers the truck and let them return home safely. The men will leave this village alone or they will face my wrath. Do you understand?”

Her head bobbed up and down rapidly.

The warlord’s men would obey my commands. They always do. Superstition is still a powerful force in rural Africa. Fear of my gift would keep them in line.

For my gift means life for the wretched and death for the wicked.

****

Editor’s note: check out Gene Kendall’s “The Problematic Journey of Mr. Scratch,” the winner of the Villains contest and then cast your vote for who should triumph here.