The Touch

The Touch

by Steven Altman


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In the tradition of Coma and The Andromeda Strain comes the ultimate biological terror...

A Depriver is someone who, for reasons still under scientific investigation, possesses and employs a defense mechanism that can drastically incapacitate other human beings. They are prohibited by law from touching anyone due to the inherent adverse effects of their touch.

Some people, unfortunately, don't know they're Deprivers. Therefore, a brush with someone on a bus could have life-threatening consequences.

If you have come into direct physical contact with a person suffering from this syndrome, you can be deprived of sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, memory, pain, balance, or sense of direction...indefinitely.

The Touch documents over twenty cases of Deprivers Syndrome outbreaks which will keep you in suspense until the final shocking page.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743407151
Publisher: ibooks, Incorporated
Publication date: 06/13/2011
Pages: 366
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.82(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



When Gerald Williams called and asked me to meet him at the El Station at 48th and Market at three in the morning, I didn't give it much thought. I'm a city newspaper reporter and I'm used to getting calls in the middle of the night. I don't sleep well, anyway. The meeting was in the heart of what they call a rough area, but I'd grown up in one equally rough. You had your share of people who helped you and you had your share of assholes. What neighborhood doesn't?

    They also said it was where people went to score drugs big-time. I'd had what people call a "substance abuse" problem and, truth be told, the neighborhood in which I was meeting Gerald wasn't either the best or the cheapest place to score. "They" really should check their facts.

   But, if I met Gerald, I'd find out what had happened to Donna Kate.

    Donna Kate Williams had reigned as the lead dancer for years with New York's Alvin Ailey Dance Company. She'd taken over from the legendary Judith Jamison and given Black teens—male and female—another role model. When she wasn't touring the world with the company, she was speaking before civic associations, classes in high schools, everywhere, providing the message that people should pursue their dreams, regardless of the obstacles. After Donna Kate retired, she'd come back to Philly, her hometown, and founded her own modern dance studio. She wanted to teach the next generation of dance stars and preach the gospel of getting what you wanted.

    This woman who had achieved her own dream and earned everyone's acclaim for doing so, had recently disappeared from public view, amid a huge scandal involving the death of her protégé. She'd been lambasted by the press, the girl's parents, and the community that had so worshiped her. For several months, she had refused to talk to anybody.

    Now her husband, who had gone into seclusion with her, had resurfaced. He said Donna Kate wanted to talk to me, and warned me not to tell anyone about the meeting.

    I didn't tell anyone where I was going. That didn't mean I didn't leave some word in my tiny apartment, in case I didn't return. I had to make sure people could trust me—up to the point where I could trust them.

    I met Gerald at the El stop. The last time I'd seen him had been at some ritzy charity ball, this Black man poured into a tuxedo, looking really fine. But now he looked haggard; some of the polish was off. He didn't take the hand I offered.

    "Thanks for coming," he said, his voice still wonderfully deep. He looked around, watchfully. "If you'll get inside, we'll be on our way." He waved toward the dark car almost hidden in the shadows of the El Station. I got inside. He didn't even open the car door for me. He waited till I'd fastened my seat belt and drove off. I gave him a minute, then started asking questions, but he told me I should wait and talk to Donna Kate.

    Had Donna Kate pushed her protégé—Lisa was her name—too hard? That was the question everyone was asking. It had been rumored that Lisa had started to slip in her performances before she'd died. Had she started taking drugs? Did Donna Kate know something about it? Donna Kate had never gone in for drugs herself (not that anyone knew), but she was part of that artistic world. They did whatever it took to sustain their artistic reigns. It wouldn't be the first time a star had tried to manipulate a protégé.

    I had my information from the press reports and the investigating I'd done on my own. But I also had Beverly, the twelve-year-old I'd adopted as a Little Sister. Having helped to raise my own four younger brothers and sisters, I couldn't seem to get away from raising somebody. Beverly's foster parents had enrolled her in Donna Kate's Dance Studio to help curb some of her anger. Beverly had loved it. Every time she and I had gotten together, she couldn't wait to tell me about all the new steps she'd learned and how excited everyone was for Lisa. If Lisa made it, they could, too. After Lisa's death, with the resulting publicity over unanswered questions, the Studio had shut down. Beverly became very quiet.

    Lisa had jumped off the top of the Donna Kate Dance Studio. Why such a violent statement? The rumors were everywhere; but the police couldn't prove anything and they had to let it go. They had more pressing cases, with more promising leads.

    Lisa's parents were inconsolable. Their grief had turned to anger. They told any reporter who would listen (and I'd been one of them) that famous people were always using children. You thought they cared, that they wanted to give back, but they didn't. They just wanted to use the children, stand on their backs. What recourse did hurting parents have?

    Gerald Williams led the way inside the clean but rundown building. It had a fire escape, providing a quick exit if the press or the police got too close. You could just jump from the fire escape to the next building. I'd done it in the building where we had lived when I was growing up. But if I had noticed it, so would others. Donna Kate wouldn't jeté very far.

    We climbed the steps to the third and top floor in silence. Gerald opened one of the doors on the left and motioned. He didn't follow as I stepped inside. I heard the door click behind me.

    The woman I saw stretching her leg at the makeshift barre along one wall could have been the model for any dance magazine photo—she had been. From her bent-over position, she murmured, "Just a minute." Donna Kate took a deep breath as she lifted up, moving her leg off the barre. It was the middle of the night and this woman was warming up.

    She grabbed the towel hanging over the end of the barre and draped it around her neck, then waved her hand toward the solitary chair in a corner of the room and started flexing her foot back and forth.

    "I know this is an inconvenience. Thank you for coming," she said, all business. I looked at this tall, thin woman who'd become a pariah—her braided hair pulled back and her hands behind her.

    "I'm glad your husband called me," I said. "How are you doing?"

    "I asked Gerald to contact you because you have a reputation around the city. You aren't the first to jump on anyone's bandwagon—either for or against."

    I watched as she kept flexing her foot.

    "So, what happened?" I asked, getting to the point.

    "Lisa Jenkins was my star pupil," Donna Kate answered, just as directly. "She had a phenomenal talent." She gave me a look. "I know you and others outside the arts see us as full of hyperbole, but Lisa really had it. She could execute a flawless—." Donna Kate stopped herself. "I wouldn't knowingly be a part of hurting that child. Why would I?" I saw tears in her eyes. "She was following in my footsteps. We took every spare minute to practice together." She looked down at the floor.

    I tugged her back.

    "You created a piece specifically for her?" Beverly had told me how Lisa had been practicing a special dance. The other students had talked of nothing else.

    "Yes." Donna Kate shivered then composed herself. "Yes, I did," she said in a stronger voice. "I created my best work for her—in the tradition of the spiritual. It is called The Penitent. The Company in New York was sponsoring a competition and this piece, properly done, had everything that the true admirer of the dance would appreciate." Donna Kate whispered fiercely. "And Lisa could do it."

    I sat and watched as she lost herself again in the telling, half-walking, half-dancing across the floor.

    "The Penitent comes before God and her dance is a plea for forgiveness. She has willfully committed many sins and knows that only God can grant her the forgiveness that she seeks.

    "There was one day we practiced that was particularly intense. We were working on the part just before the Penitent is blessed by God. It is especially dramatic, entailing a series of jumps, and must be done just so. I had taken Lisa through every step, every sequence, over and over. I straightened her feet—" Donna Kate pinched her fingers together "—if they were even a millimeter off. I molded her arms, her body." Donna Kate shrugged her shoulders. "The practice was more intense, perhaps, than other days, but nothing unusual when preparing for a competition.

    "Lisa came in the next day feeling off-center. She kept checking everything she did. I was puzzled. She'd never done that before; she'd never had to. She kept touching things, as though to reassure herself. I thought maybe it was the tension. I told her to do her usual practice and then go home, take it easy.

    "Every day after that, she was worse. I'm used to dealing with teenagers. They're all drama queens. I thought, Maybe it's not the tension over the competition. Maybe it's some school problem, a boy, something. Lisa kept saying she couldn't feel the movements. We repeated everything again and again, and she kept saying the same thing. She couldn't feel. Couldn't feel the floor underneath her feet, couldn't even feel if she were truly pointing her toe. At one point, she took my hand and hit her arm with it—several times. 'I can't feel it!' She looked at me, daring me to tell her she was wrong.

    "What did you do?" I'd brought my notepad but I wasn't taking notes.

    "I pulled away, of course." Donna Kate looked at me as if talking to an idiot. "Her hand was warm; I thought she must have a flu. I couldn't afford to catch it. Lisa stared at me, looking at me for so long that I felt a little unnerved. That would have been anyone's reaction. I asked her what she was staring at. She said she saw a blue light around my head. I thought she was delirious. I telephoned her parents.

    "They took her to see one doctor and then another. They didn't help.

    "I wondered if it might be a neurological problem. I got in touch with one of the best doctors I knew. I told her parents I'd even pay for the visit. I personally walked her through all the tests, encouraged her—everything. The hospital took her through the mill; they didn't find anything. Finally the neurologist said that it had to be in Lisa's head. Her parents had no choice but to believe this. They took her home.

    "After that, Lisa became more determined to act as if everything was normal. But that didn't stop her from checking everything. I'd find her staring intently at the mirror while she did a step or as she touched a partner's hand during practice. It's like she was seeing how it looked to apply the right pressure.

    "I would have her dance The Penitent, and she kept pushing too hard. She'd lost her light touch with the movements. I tried not to get impatient. If this child could just get through the competition, she'd have access to any company in New York. She could rise to the top and take her family with her, just like I did.

    "It didn't work. She kept flubbing it. Finally, I told her she was going to have to get the series of jumps right that day or I'd have to choose someone else to do the competition. I guess I thought even then she was exaggerating her symptoms and when she got her nerves under control, she'd get it right.

    "She did the jumps. I could see her straining, giving it everything she had. I hadn't gotten it before—she was visibly trying. She had made it look so effortless before. She came down too hard. That's what made me realize, she really couldn't feel. She couldn't feel how hard she came down. She broke her leg.

    "The weird thing is that when she came down and everyone around us was screaming—I mean, the blood was everywhere and you could see the bone sticking out—she didn't react! While we waited for the ambulance, she just sat there, looking at me.

    "I had to assign her role to another student. His dance wasn't up to Lisa's level, but he would give the Studio a chance in the competition. I had to think about the Studio.

    Donna Kate looked at me defiantly. "This is art. You can't skimp on it."

    "How did Lisa feel?" I asked.

    Donna Kate held out her hands. "How do you expect? How can a dancer dance unless she can feel what she is doing? How can she do an arabesque?" She did one. "You have to feel your foot pointing upward! How can she do a pas de chat?" Donna Kate bent her leg and darted like a cat. "She has to be able to feel it." Her voice became louder. "A pirouette?" Her execution was as controlled as her voice was not. "She has to be able to feel the turn. She has to be able to feel the floor under her feet!" Her eyes filled with tears. "I took this child's dreams away."

    "Wasn't it the illness, whatever it was, that took her dreams away? Why do you think it was you?" I didn't like Donna Kate's cavalier attitude. But, unfeeling as it was, I didn't understand how this woman, who hadn't blamed herself for her behavior up to now, was feeling the bite.

    "It was funny, I didn't take it seriously when Lisa kept saying she could see a blue light around me. I thought she was getting dramatic again; it sounded so religious. You know. But a few days after I'd been working with Derek, the student I'd assigned to do the competition, he started acting like Lisa. He didn't say anything to me at first, but I saw him doing the same coping things Lisa had done. Checking every move in the mirror because he couldn't feel what he was doing. I asked him about it. He told me the same things Lisa had. I thought he was playing games, maybe had overheard Lisa saying something. I sent him home.

    "This had just been so hard on me. I took a few days off. Gerald knew I was uptight, even though I hadn't told him any details of what was happening. He rearranged his schedule and we went to Cape May for a long weekend. We are so attuned to each other. I thought I'd get reconnected and come back to the Studio refreshed and figure out what I was going to do about the Competition. We made love quite passionately the first two nights. The third night, just before we were to come home, I felt my husband was just going through the motions. You've seen him," Donna Kate cocked an eyebrow. "It doesn't take much for either of us to get stirred up. I'd never tired him out before. He just wasn't responding the way I wanted, the way I expected.

    "The bottom line," she said flatly. "He couldn't feel me. Have you ever made love, with total abandon, and known that your partner wasn't feeling what you felt? He felt nothing I was doing to him—nothing!" Her tone was no longer flat. "I took him inside me and he felt nothing!"

    Donna Kate looked down at the floor, started to speak, then tried again. She looked up. She spoke slowly, succinctly. "He said ... he saw ... a blue ... aura around me. I knew then, whatever it was, I had something and I was hurting people with it. Lisa, Derek, and now Gerald? I don't touch many people; I don't need to. The other teachers train the general dance student population." Donna Kate shrugged helplessly. "Only the people I touched were getting hurt!

    "I took the risk of going to a doctor outside the state. I didn't tell him anything, just had him give me his most thorough examination. He found nothing! I called his office a few days later to check on the test results. The nurse reported that I was perfectly healthy. I asked if I could schedule a follow-up with the doctor. She said she'd give me the name of one of the doctor's associates. The doctor who'd seen me had taken a medical leave."

    She looked at me, no defiance left. "You're a reporter. I'll give you his name and you confirm what's wrong with him. I already know.

    "Out of all of this, you want to know what gets to me?

    "Lisa couldn't feel her bed! When she was in the hospital with her broken leg, I went to see her. She waited till her parents had left the room. She had told them that her sense of feeling was coming back. She said she told them that so they wouldn't worry. But she still couldn't feel, she said. Even though she knew her body was horizontal on the bed, she couldn't feel it. She couldn't rest because she couldn't feel what it was like to release her body into the bed. I'd never thought about it before; you have to feel the bed underneath you in order to rest. And she couldn't feel it. I had not only taken this child's dreams away, but I'd taken away her ability to dream more dreams. She couldn't rest. How could she live?

    "The day they let Lisa out of the hospital, she waited till it was dark and snuck out of her house. She got a hack and came here to the Studio after hours. She hobbled up to the top of the fire escape—and jumped off. Her parents asked me, at the funeral, why their daughter had died and what the note she'd left meant. They'd found a note in her room. In it she asked them not to worry. She'd chosen to go this way. She told them she wouldn't feel the pain of hitting the ground—just release. Only I knew what she really meant.

    "What could I tell her parents? What can I tell them now? They think it was because I pushed her too hard. They blame me. They should, but not for the reasons they do.

    "Besides," Donna Kate sighed, "the 'why' doesn't make a difference to them. Their daughter's dead. And what they think caused Lisa's death is probably a lot less scary.

    "Something's wrong with me and they can't find what it is. I'm not an hysteric. And if you think I am, you're more than welcome to come over here and let me touch you."

    I remained sitting where I was.

    Donna's bravado cracked. She asked, in a whisper, "You don't see anything around my head, do you?"

    I looked. Her braids were beautifully done, but I saw nothing around her hair or her head.

    Gerald took me back to the El Station. I noticed there were suitcases in the back of the car. I asked him about them. All he said was that I needn't come back for a second interview.

    When he pulled up at the El Station, I said. "I appreciate the care you took not to touch me."

    Gerald turned his head and looked at me. "I don't know if I have whatever it is. I don't even know if I got it from my wife. It just seems wise not to touch anyone."

    He turned to stare straight ahead and waited till I got out of the car. I looked at this man and remembered how he had used to look—handsome, tall, and built. I watched him drive away.

    If Donna Kate's story was true, and I would check it out, what did it mean? I knew neither Gerald nor Donna Kate had touched me, but what effect did close proximity have? Had I been exposed to whatever it was, anyway? Even though Beverly had trained with the other dance teachers, had Donna Kate touched her, even once? A pat on the arm, maybe? Was I sure I hadn't brushed up against Gerald in the car?

    I heard the El coming. I could catch it if I hurried.

    I didn't hurry. I didn't take the El that night.

    I walked the 15 blocks back to my apartment in West Philly.

    I wanted to feel the ground underneath my feet.

Table of Contents

THE PENITENT Linda K. Wright3
AFTER THE WAR Karl Schroeder15
Jon Edelstein54
DON'T TOUCH ME Sean Stewart110
THE JANITOR Maggie Estep123
RENT MEMORIES Keith Aaron151
THE LIEUTENANT Harry Turtledove165
FOR GOOD PEOPLE LIKE YOU Jonathan Shipley175
THE COMPANION Lisa D. Williamson185
THE ONLY ONE Leah Ryan195
ANGEL Janet Harvey213
ELLIS ISLAND Joanne Dahme245
SHARED LOSSES Bob Mahnken271
GIFTED Diane DeKelb-Rittenhouse308
FREAK William F. Nolan328

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The Touch 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I haven't finished this book yet but i really like it. It's got a bunch of short chapters that are a biography like story on how these people called deprivers get along in life and live, not being able to touch another human. By one simple touch, brushing someones hand, face, arm any where you can be left with out any thing that your nevrous system controlls. Life with out sight, hearing, touch, time, careing, any thing. it's a real good down to reality sci fi i really recomend it.