The next day Patton stuck around the house long enough to see the Shirk Brothers finish hooking up the remaining drainage pipe, then headed down to Mt. Morris for an appointment with Dr. Feeley. It was a good day for a motorcycle ride, the late April weather was warm and sunny. He had to squint in the sunshine, but he had never felt there was enough sunshine in western New York to justify putting a tinted shield on his helmet. On days like today he regretted that choice.
The back roads between Henrietta and Mt. Morris were too short, and before he knew it he was parking his bike at the clinic. A short wait, and he was ushered into an examination room down the hall and around the corner from where he’d recovered from his accident.
“Good morning, Mr. Patton. How are you doing?”
“Much better, Dr. Feeley. I’m still feeling awfully moody and depressed, but I think I’m getting better.”
“It’s good to hear that.” Dr. Feeley wasn’t really listening, distracted by the chart. “Let me see your charm.”
Patton took the gray disk from around his neck and handed it to Dr. Feeley, who slid it into a slot in the box that was sitting on the desk. Some solid-looking numbers popped into the air above it, which he studied for a moment. Then the disk popped out of the slot and he handed it back.
“Your absorption rate seems to be increasing, but that disk should be good for another two months. We’ll check it again at your next appointment.” He made some notes on the chart, then turned back to Patton. “I am reminded that I agreed to teach you a little magic. Specifically energy deflection, yes?”
“Yes, sir. When can we begin?”
Dr. Feeley took his hand and started transferring knowledge. The experience was different from anything Patton had experienced before. The witches didn’t seem to transfer knowledge as such, with them it was more like waking up long-dormant instincts. When Rich had taught him levitation it had seemed more like a classroom experience only the teacher was inside his head. This experience with Dr. Feeley felt like new wiring being added into his brain. He could almost smell the smoke curling up from a hot soldering iron.
“Let’s try it.” Dr. Feeley shined a laser pointer at Patton. Nothing happened until the light came at his eyes, then Patton turned shiny and the light was reflected to the wall. “Good! Let’s try something else.” The doctor picked a stress ball off the desk and threw it at Patton. He caught it. “Don’t catch it, let it hit you.” Patton tossed it back, and the doctor tried again. This time the ball hit him in the chest.
“I don’t understand what’s wrong.” The doctor levitated the ball off the floor and sent it flying around the room in unexpected directions until it was flying at the back of Patton’s head. Just before it hit it changed course and smacked into a wall. “Ah! That’s it. If you see something and can anticipate it is one thing, but when you sense something unexpected you react instinctively to protect yourself. Very good!”
“But didn’t you know that already? You’re the one who taught it to me, after all!”
“What I taught you were the actions. Your own magic, in particular your enhanced sense of touch is what determines when you activate it. Right now you’re sensing things on a subconscious, almost instinctual level. To learn to consciously use that enhanced sense you need to — how should I put it — get in touch with your feelings.”
“Oh? How should I do that?”
“Let’s play catch.” The doctor summoned the stress ball to his hand, then tossed it to Patton, who caught it and threw it back. “OK, now close your eyes and catch the ball when I throw it to you.” Patton closed his eyes. The ball hit him in the stomach. Dr. Feeley retrieve the ball and tried again, a little harder this time. The ball bounced off Patton’s shield and Patton opened his eyes in surprise.
“I did it again, didn’t I?”
“Yes you did. You need to practice. When you get home I want you to talk one of those witches into blindfolding you and throwing things at you. Practice sensing and either catching or deflecting them.”
“Oh, they’ll love that! The chance to assault me while I’m blind? Before I know it I’ll be trussed up and attacked with a riding crop.”
“Whatever. You should be able to deflect their blows regardless. Unless, of course, you get off on that sort of thing.”
Patton parked the bike and walked around the back of the Coven House.
Margaret was alone in the back yard, soaking up as much of the late April sunshine as she could. The only thing she had on was her sunglasses. She looked up as Patton approached. “Oh, my! Don’t you look all shiny and new!”
“Tell me, was the light bothering your eyes when you left the clinic?”
“Yes, how could you tell?”
“I can see Dr. Feeley was teaching you to deflect energy like he promised. Your skin has an unusual shine to it. Either you just oiled down for a Venice Beech photo shoot, or you’re deflecting the sunlight so that it no longer bothers your eyes.” She took pity on him. “Here, put these on.” She handed him her sunglasses. “You should get your own, you know, and wear them any time you go outside. Otherwise people will start mistaking you for a Calvin Klein model.”
“Thank you. Uh, would you mind putting something on? I need you to talk to you, and I find your nudity … distracting.”
She put on her robe and joined him at the umbrella table, where he explained how his session with Dr. Feeley had gone. “Let me get this straight. You want me to blindfold you and throw things at you?” A look of wicked glee crept across Margaret’s face.
“That’s right. I need to practice sensing and deflecting attacks, and I need to learn how to consciously make use of the enhanced sense of touch you girls gave me.”
“What are the stakes?”
“I mean, how do we keep score? Let’s say you get a point for each thing you catch, and I get a point each time I actually hit you with something. What do I get if I win?” Her eyes turned devilish, and Patton was suddenly worried.
“I don’t know. What do you want to win?”
“I’ll let you know later.” She threw a rock at him.
“Hey! You’re supposed to blindfold me first!”
Of course Margaret cheated. She started by getting Patton upset — she used his Bugs Bunny tie to blindfold him.
“Hey! That’s my favorite tie!”
“I can tell we’re going to have to work on enhancing your taste next,” was her sarcastic response as she blinded him with polyester.
When he couldn’t see she stepped off the patio and started tossing peanuts at him. Patton’s shield was deflecting them right and left while he concentrated on getting in touch with what his skin was telling him. The first thing he noticed was a warm energy radiating at him from Margaret’s direction. He tried looking closer with his skin, and some detail developed with the characteristics of her aura. Hmm.
He caught flickers of other creatures racing around him. He strained his ears and heard soft scratching on the patio, accompanied by occasional chittering. “What’s happening? What’s running around on the patio?”
“Oh, the squirrels are going after the nut I’m tossing at you.”
He concentrated harder, and began noticing bursts of energy when the nuts hit his shield. He started swatting at the flashes, always too late, but getting closer each time he tried. He started to feel their approach as he developed some depth to this touch sensation.
Finally he caught one! As he opened his mouth to cheer his success, dozens of peanuts pelted him from all directions, overwhelming his defenses. He tore off the blindfold to see squirrel tails disappearing over the ridge of the house and up in the trees.
“I win,” Margaret said in her most deliciously evil voice.
“You cheated! You didn’t win, your furry minions did!”
“Me, minions, what’s the difference? The point is, now you owe me.”
“Oh? And what do I owe?”
“I’ll tell you tonight.”