Verse 19: WALKING MAN
Lex wiped his eyes with the back of one hand, closed the door behind him, and pulled up the room's only non-motorized chair. "Tully," he asked, "what do you know about pain?"
"Personally I'm against it," Tully replied. "Why do you ask?"
Lex set the bottle on the floor. "How badly do you want to walk again?"
Tully laughed. "On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd say, oh, I don't know… a billion? Are you serious?"
Lex said nothing.
Tully removed his reading glasses and set them atop the book. "You are serious, aren't you? Okay, I'll get serious, too. More than anything else. It may sound selfish, but given a choice between world peace and being able to walk to the kitchen for a snack, I'd have to think long and hard. I'd probably go for world peace after a while, but I'd want them to put up a plaque in my honor. Why do I get the feeling that this is more than a hypothetical question?"
Lex opened the bottle and handed it to Tully.
"Let us drink to world peace, then," he said. Tully blinked, but took the bottle. He poured some into a glass by his bedside, and then returned the whisky to Lex. "To world peace," he raised the glass and drained it. Lex took a small swig from the bottle, then gave Tully a refill.
"Why did we just drink to world peace?" Tully asked.
"Because that is all we can do for such a lofty goal," Lex replied. "On the other hand, it might be within my power to remedy your condition."
Tully almost dropped the glass, but caught himself in time. Nonetheless, some of its contents sloshed over the side and onto his hand. He tossed the rest back, set the glass down and wiped his wet hand absently on the comforter. "You wouldn't be pulling my leg now, wouldja kid? This is for real?" Lex nodded. "By magic?" Another nod. "Permanently? I mean, it's not like you can make me move around like you did with that jar of jam? Not that I'd turn that down, because that would probably be a hoot, but you do mean for good, right?"
"If I am correct, I can repair the damage to your spine. After that, you will have to do the rest of the work."
"Hot damn!" Tully enthused, rubbing his hands together. "Let's get started!" Lex remained still. "What's wrong? Tully asked. "What's holding up the healing magic?"
Lex poured himself a finger of Laphroaig and sipped it. "There are things of which you must be cognizant before I attempt this. You should appreciate the full import of what I propose to do."
"All right son." Tully leaned forward. "I'm listening."
Lex finished the rest of the drink. "In Novagrove there are many creatures, plants, and magics that can paralyze some or all of the body. The Cure Paralysis spell counteracts the effects. Since a Licensed Minstrel spends much time by himself, this is an extremely useful spell to know. With every spell, there is a chance that the caster will fail. In class, the apprentices were paralyzed by the Master, and took turns Curing each other, but the Master was always there in case things went awry. First, I am not certain this will work. I have never cast it except under controlled settings."
"I understand: no guarantees. Anything else?"
Lex nodded. "In theory, Cure Paralysis should be equally effective in curing a spinal injury. That is what I was taught, but…" He shrugged.
"What happens if you fail?" Tully inquired.
"At best? You might experience only partial recovery. You might not get any change at all."
"And at worst?" he asked guardedly.
"In certain catastrophic instances, it could be fatal." Lex shook his head. "In truth, even if I succeed, you could still die from the attempt. There is only a slight risk of that, but it is nonetheless a danger that cannot be discounted. Are you otherwise in good health?"
Tully rapped on the nightstand with his knuckles and nodded. "Aside from the paralysis, I'm in great shape."
"That is good. Even so…" Lex trailed off.
Tully digested that for a bit, then reached for the glass. Lex did the honors.
"Anything else I should know?"
"Yes." Lex stood and paced the room. "Tully, I cannot Heal you."
"But you said –"
"I can Cure you, yes, but I cannot Heal you."
"What's the difference?"
Lex sat on the bedside and took one of Tully's large hands in both of his own. "I cannot Heal so much as a bee sting. Cure Paralysis is not a Healing Spell; it is a Pain Spell."
"Ah," said Tully. "Hence your original question?"
"Cure Paralysis belongs to a family of magics devoted to inflicting pain in others. Pain lies not in the injury, as I suspect you know better than most. If I were to stab you in the leg, you would feel no pain, correct?" Tully flinched, but nodded. "The nerves in your leg no longer communicate with your brain. That means the brain cannot tell them to walk, but also means they cannot tell the brain to tell the mouth to scream. Pain spells do not injure; they act directly on that part of the body which experiences the pain. What Cure Paralysis does is…" Lex rubbed his temple, searching for the precise words. "There is something Hannah said the other day which illustrates what I can try to do."
"Yes. Nate and Hannah were each using their computers, and Nate said something anatomically improbably regarding his machine. When Hannah asked him what was the matter, he said his computer had crashed. As far as I could see, it was still on the desk, but Hannah explained that its processes had halted because of some internal error. Then she told her brother that he should just… what was the term she used…?"
"Reboot?" Tully guessed.
"Exactly! He should turn off the computer and start it again. That, she believed, would remove the error. In essence, I propose to reboot your spinal cord. It will return it to the condition it was in before your injury, but at a price."
"Pain." Tully's mouth set in a grim line.
"Aye," Lex agreed, "Normally the spell need only be maintained for a moment, just long enough to shock the nerves back to wakefulness. For something like this, however, the spell will take far longer to complete, and thus the pain will last that much longer. It will be… bad."
Lex pondered. "On a scale of 1 to 10? One being a stubbed toe, ten being the worst pain you can imagine?"
"Twenty. Perhaps thirty. There is no way to foretell."
Tully let out a long sibilant breath. "That's a lot of pain." He waved the glass. "So this is the anesthetic?"
Lex shook his head. "No anesthetic will work. The liquor at most serves as a muscle relaxant. There will be, um, convulsions."
For a long time they sat there in companionable silence. Finally, Tully set down the glass with a sharp report. "I'm in. Let's light this mother up. "
"Are you certain?"
"Son, you spelled out the facts. I'm old enough to understand them. How do you want me? Do I roll over on my stomach or what?"
Tully threw the covers aside. Lex got his first look at the man's legs and pursed his lips. "Even if this works, I cannot see how you will manage on…"
"Such spindly, flabby things," Tully finished for him. "That's thirty-five years' worth of atrophy, Lex, but that's my lookout. I'll work these suckers until they fall off, I promise. What next?"
Working together, they got Tully into position: face up with his feet at the headboard, his head propped up on three pillows. Lex set his chair at the foot of the bed. That way, he explained, he could best access the bundle of nerves in Tully's neck-and-shoulder region. Two thick towels separated Tully's buttocks from the bedspread, in case of "accidents." They had debated the advisability of restraints, but decided that neither knew what they were doing in that regard, and therefore probably should not risk it.
"Gimme that pad and pen," Tully requested. He scribbled a few lines then folded the paper. "Give this to Gloria, if – well, y'know. If."
All preparations done, Lex gave Tully one last large drink. Tully's eyes misted, and his speech was quite slurred by then.
"Lex, c'mere a second, son." The Minstrel leaned over, and Tully grabbed him by the shirtfront. He exhaled pungently in Lex's face. "I love you, kid." Lex smoothed the hair on Tully's brow. He had begun to sweat. "I want you to promise me two things before we start, in case I don't make it. First, I want you to promise me you'll watch over Gloria and the kids."
Lex, who had not shared his plans to depart when next the portal opened, agreed anyway. "And the other?"
"I want to be cremated, then sprinkle my ashes over Zoot."
Lex put a rolled up, whisky-soaked washcloth between Tully's teeth. Tully bit down, and the liquor trickled down his cheeks. "I will do as you ask," Lex said. He put his hands lightly but firmly on Tully's collarbone. "But you must promise me something as well.”
"Hmmmm?" Tully inquired through clenched jaw.
"Do not die."
He cast the spell.
Every muscle, tendon and sinew in the upper half of Tully's body tightened into fists of wrought iron. Lex exerted pressure with both hands and forced his subject's shoulders back onto the bed. Tully's withered legs tensed and began to twitch. Even through the gag, the screams were terrible. Lex had possessed the foresight to soundproof the room beforehand using the acoustic shaper in his spellengine, but that only prevented sound from escaping the room itself. Inside, they were heart-wrenching. Tears streamed from Tully's wide, beseeching eyes. Lex was crying, too, but dared not lift a hand to wipe the tears away.
After ten eternities in as many minutes, Tully's body ceased shuddering. Only then did Lex consider it safe to remove his hands. He took the gag and set it aside. Tully's mouth moved, and Lex had to bend until his ear was almost pressed against Tully's lips to hear what he had to say.
"T'work?" he whispered.
"Did it work?" Lex asked. Tully nodded. "It is too soon to tell. Can you still feel pain?" Tully nodded again. "Where?"
"Veewhere," came the faint reply.
"Yes." Tully's eyes closed tight, then opened. "Everywhere," he repeated, a bit louder and much more clearly. He smiled weakly. "Everywhere, Lex. I can feel it everywhere."
Lex looked down the length of Tully's body. At the very far end, the largest toe of Tully's right foot moved a feather's breadth, then returned to its former position. "Do that again."
Tully did. Twice.
"Try the other," Lex urged. The left big toe did the same tiny dance. Something inside Lex snapped, and he began to sob. Tully reached up with one surprisingly strong hand and grabbed the back of Lex's head. He pulled the Minstrel close and held him tight.
"You did it," Tully murmured. "You really did it." Lex tried to say that it was a joint effort, but the words stuck in his throat. He could only weep and nod.
Lex stayed with Tully over the next three hours. The pain in Tully's torso and upper extremities soon faded, but the pain in his unused lower body remained. In time, though, it receded to mere agony. Lex cleaned Tully up, and, after helping the man out of his sweat-drenched nightshirt and into something dryer, rearranged him on the bed so his head was once again at the top. At Tully's direction, he was able to set the stereo up to play music of Tully's choice in continuous "shuffle" mode: Tom Rush's The Circle Game, Judy Collins's In My Life, Pentangle's Basket of Light, and Eric Andersen's 'Bout Changes & Things. Tully continued to moan and cry out, but at long last wearied himself to sleep.
Just before he slipped into a dreamland where he could run, jump and dance in the rain like Gene Kelly. Tully motioned Lex closer. "Don't tell Gloria or the kids. I want to surprise them."
"My lips shall remain sealed," Lex assured him.
"Good," Tully smiled. "I can't wait to see the look on their…"Lex waited for another half-hour. Confident that Tully would remain asleep, Lex left his bedside vigil. To the soothing sound of Mr. Andersen advising the listener to "close the door lightly when you go," Lex did just that.