“Is… is there a doctor in the church?!” a woman cried out, fear and concern pitching her voice to a high screech.
Jack stood up, looking over the head of the man in front of him, and tried to see what was going on. It was his first time in this newly-built church near the heart of the new city. He’d seen it many of times during its construction as he walked past but until today’s Sunday morning service he had never been inside its grand, vaulted interior. Having recently bought a small apartment nearby, this church was his closest place of worship.
The pastor, a friendly, harmless (and, to be honest, slightly boring) man in his early fifties, had been giving his sermon when suddenly he’d stammered and fallen from the pulpit to the cool floor. Now two or three people surrounded the man – with more heading towards them - preventing Jack from seeing what was going on. His eyes rising to the ceiling, Jack grimaced, shrugged and then made his way forward.
“Excuse me. I’m a doctor”, Jack called out, striding forwards. “Let me through please. And give the man a bit of room”.
He looked at the minister who was lying on the floor, clutching his chest and having difficulty breathing. His skin appeared clammy and as grey as the hair at his temples. The man tried to call out something but his feeble words turned to painful wheezing coughs.
“It appears he’s having a heart attack”, Jack stated as he knelt next to the reverend. “Someone call the paramedics”
“Angela’s already gone to the ‘phone” said the high-pitched woman. Her deeply-lined face and grey hair indicated that she was much older than the pastor. However, although obviously worried and distressed, she looked far more alive than the man on the floor at that moment.
“Tell her to tell them it's a suspected myocardial infarction… a heart attack”. Jack paused for a moment and then asked, “Does he have angina?”
“No… no, I don’t think so” the woman said, clasping her small, wrinkled hands together in front of her. Jack nodded and then reminded her to tell the paramedics about the heart attack. He turned back to the man and studied him a little closer.
“Reverend O’Connor? I’m Dr Harper”, he explained in quiet calm tones. “I know this is a stupid thing to say but try and remain calm, okay?”
With a gloved hand, Jack reached out to the side of the pastor’s throat and tried to feel for a pulse. As he did, the man’s watery brown eyes struggled to open and then stared directly into Jack’s piercing blue ones. Their gazes met. As if seeing some great horror, the minister’s eyes opened wide in apparent fear but he could not pull his gaze away. Instead, he started to mutter something under his gasping breath.
“Domine Deus… spero per gratiam tuam remissionem… occulto mihi ex obscurum...”
To Jack, it sounded like an old-fashioned prayer. Being a medical man, he recognised the language as Latin but had no idea of the meaning. Looking away from those open critical eyes, Jack turned to a younger man who was standing nearby.
“Get some aspirin…” he began to say. Suddenly, the old man’s arm shot up and grabbed him around his exposed wrist.
Dread and alarm filled Jack first, flowing up his arm, through his shoulder and into his body. Then came rushing up the crushing pain of the heart attack - a heavy, gripping throb stabbing into his chest and taking his breath away. Darkness began to edge his vision. He clenched his eyes shut, trying to block the life-stealing tightness that began to send out shooting pains to his shoulders and arms.
The pain was intense - though he had suffered much worse before. He hoped that his curse would heal the blockage to his heart before he went and died. Again. But the pain and the panic were making it difficult to focus.
Jack collapsed to the floor, which caused the Reverend O'Connor to break his grip on Jack’s wrist. He lay there, trying to breath, trying not to throw up, and with all his will he tried to push the pain, anguish and fear away.
“My god…” he breathed through clenched teeth, unable to do anything more at that time.
The old woman had now come back and started to shriek when she saw that Jack had also collapsed. Her panic was relieved a little though when she realised that the pastor now looked better and was no longer clutching his chest. Another voice called out, this one male, saying that he thought the doctor was also having a heart-attack. And yet other voices muttered and jabbered in the background.
Jack grunted and struggled to open his eyes. His chest still burned with a torturous ache but it was bearable. Looking across, he saw the old man sit up with a look of wondrous surprise on his face. The woman rushed over to him to check that he was all right whilst a man, probably the one who had spoken earlier, tried to put Jack into the recovery position. His hands clammy with sweat, Jack managed to wave him away. He knew it wouldn’t help. He just needed time to let his cosmic power heal the physical problem, though the mental and emotion trauma would remain for some time.
The church wasn’t far from Millenia's general hospital and within a few minutes the paramedics had arrived. They checked both Reverend O’Connor and Jack. The minister seemed well but they still wanted to run some ECG tests on him. They advised the same for Jack. Jack was having none of it. By then, the heart attack had passed and, although he felt very weak, he knew he was out of danger.
“Thank you”, Reverend O’Connor said as the paramedics started to lead him out of the church. He then added, “And bless you, Dr Harper”.
There was a knowing look in the pastor’s eyes as he gazed at Jack. Jack simply nodded back and then looked away, feeling somewhat exposed. Distress from the heart attack still troubled his mind and he was finding it difficult to think clearly. However, what he did know was that he could do with a smoke to soothe his nerves.
Instead he accepted the offer of a warm cup of tea from the old woman, who’s name he discovered was Maria. Within half an hour, Jack heart had settled down and he was feeling much better. Using the excuse that he needed a breath of fresh air, he wandered lonely along the aisle and out of the main doors of the church.
Hazy daylight brightened as the sun reached its zenith.
Jack finished the end of his cigarette, dropped the stub and extinguished it with a quick stamp of his shoe. That first time he’d met the good Reverend was over seven years ago and, since then, he’d been back most Sundays to bask in the holy man’s soporific sermons and lectures about smoking. Jack couldn’t quite figure it out but there was something indubitably likeable about Reverend Daniel O’Connor.
Shrugging, Jack pulled his jacket around him to keep out the cold winter air and headed off towards the front of the city hall. Even from here, he could hear the cheers and excited chatterings of the people gathered this Christmas Eve, waiting for their first official sight of the Cosmic Knights. Shoulders hunched, Jack strode forwards inwardly hoping the ceremony would be over quickly so he could return to the familiar comfort of a large single malt.