The plot, she congeals! Do I have even a remote idea of what I'm doing? MAYBE.
They had the kid laid out on a towel in the middle of the lobby, flanked by distant gawkers and a woman Black Jack could only assume was his mother by how closely she stooped to him. The whole front of his shirt was messy and wet.

Black Jack shucked his coat off and threw it to Kiriko. “Sit him up.” Any trouble breathing didn't need aggravation by choking on vomit. He joined the mother on the floor and assessed the cringing, flushed face of the boy before he gave her a second glance. “How long was he having trouble breathing?”

“Not too long,” she said. She squeezed the little hand she held before lifting him up to lean against her. “He tried to stop throwing up and choked.”

“Good.” Black Jack was quiet a while. Pulse was normal, at least for a panicked child. “What's your name?”

The boy's head lifted a little. He blinked. “Toby.”

“I'm Dr. Black Jack. Toby, does your head hurt?”


“Does it feel like your heart's beating really hard, like you've been running?”

Toby shrank against his mother's side. He couldn't have been more than seven. “Yeah.”

“Okay. Thank you.” He turned his eyes on the mother. “Did he eat dinner here tonight?”

She nodded. “He had half of my tuna steak and a bread bowl. You think it's food poisoning?”

“I'm fairly certain.” If he had tuna – in a land-locked state, on a mountain – it dovetailed perfectly with his symptoms.

“But I'm fine. We shared it.”

“Not everyone who ingests scombroid toxin gets sick,” Black Jack said, rising. “Do you have Benadryl or anything like that? An antihistamine?”

“In my purse.”

“Give him one of those and give it three hours or so. It normally resolves by then.”

“I'll be okay, right?” Toby asked.

Black Jack sighed. His patience for kids only stretched so far in most situations. “You'll feel yucky tonight and tired tomorrow, but you'll be fine.” He nearly walked into Kiriko turning around to storm off. “Hey.”

“Are you going to track down the proprietors and tell them they're poisoning people, or should I?” Kiriko asked dryly, handing him his coat.

Black Jack snatched it back and swished it onto his shoulders. “That's where I was going. You can stay here and warn people ahead of time if you're feeling uncharacteristically helpful.”

“Aye aye, doctor.”

His first stop, he decided, must naturally be the kitchen. Black Jack crossed the dining room quickly, but not so quickly that he didn't notice the ultimate fate of Eleanor's snowbells: They had indeed been brought up bulbs and all, suspended in clear vases on some of the dining room tables. Maybe Eleanor thought they made for pretty centerpieces, but there was a certain cruelty in taking something wild and growing and making it into a sterile specimen for aesthetics. At least, Black Jack felt so.

The kitchen was empty of people, but it was clean. Everything was new and shiny and well-scrubbed. If Patrice was the terrible cook Kiriko made her out to be, she made up for it in fastidiousness. Black Jack popped his head out the back door and scanned around for any sign of Patrice. None. Nobody.

Behind him, the swinging door into the dining room squealed. He whirled around.

“Can I help you with something, doctor?” Henry asked. He had a big bale of towels under one arm and held the door open with one foot.

“I was looking for your niece.” Black Jack went to the door, and to Henry. “Do any of you know the fish is making people sick?”

Henry nodded and threw the towels into a bin under the counter. “Yep, and I'm real sorry about that and it making more work for you to do when you're already, well, you know. Gonna be a continental breakfast tomorrow just to be safe, and I'll get the distributor on the phone in the morning.”

Black Jack exhaled his relief. “Is anyone else sick?”

“Afraid so,” Henry said. He followed Black Jack out into the dining room. “I don't wanna think too hard about what it'll do for our reputation, but it is what it is.”

“Did the lodge have a poor reputation before?” Black Jack asked. He paused to consider one of the snowbell specimens. No, he didn't like the morbid display at all, even on second consideration.

“Don't know if I told you, but the chapel burned a long time ago and the original lodge building went up a few years after. I can't tell you as good as my wife coulda because this was way back before I married into this, when it was all Wentworths up here. It's less about bad reputation and more about a string of big setbacks.”

That would explain tidily why only the stone elements of the chapel remained, at least. Black Jack, to his own disappointment in himself, was intrigued. “So your wife owned the property.”

“And Eleanor owns it now. On paper, mind, I still do most of the... administrative junk, I guess is what it is. You could call me the manager.” Henry wandered to a cluster of framed photographs on the wall behind the coffee counter. “C'mere, come see.”

Reluctantly, he did. Interspersed among amateur shots of the mountain landscape and faded photo postcards of co-ed groups posing in ski gear, were the curated family shots Black Jack was sure Henry wanted to showcase. Portraits, mostly, and a few candid images of birthday parties in the lodge's lobby. A few stood out, one of which featured a young woman in hexagonal sunglasses and a billowy paisley print shirt waving from the grass under a big tree. She bore more than a passing resemblance to Eleanor.

“Your wife?” Black Jack asked, pointing without touching his finger to the glass.

“My Morgan.” The old man's voice dipped into unguarded tenderness for an instant. “I was a library clerk at the university when she was studying there. Fell hard for me even though I was already going gray around the edges.” He ruffled his wild white hair. “Yep, God bless her.”

Black Jack swept his gaze over the other photos. “I'm sorry for your loss.”

“Don't be,” Henry said. “She left us when the girls were still small. I've heard plenty of apologies and condolences already.”

Black Jack's eyes came to rest on a photo of, he supposed, the girls. One of those fairy tale photos taken at the chapel, this time in the full bloom of summertime. The photo caught a tall, skinny girl with long black hair dancing by the marble altar, one blurry arm arced over her head and her white dress flying around her knees. Another girl, similarly dressed, could be seen immersed in a book on her open lap in the background.

This time, he did tap the glass. “Patrice?” he asked, indicating the reading girl.

“Aha.” Henry drew himself up to his full height, hands behind his back. “Yes. She used to spend summers up here.” He sighed, the breath whistling. “Anyways. It's late as far as time in Vermont in the winter's concerned, so I'll let you get free. Your friend's taking care of the sick guests.”

“That man is no friend of mine,” Black Jack said, turning for the door.


“No.” He shut the door hard when he stepped into the lobby.

“Well, excuse me!”


It was even later by the time Black Jack found himself crashed out in a chair by the lobby windows again. People kept getting sick, and Kiriko's dispersed advice to treat it with antihistamines and rest did nothing to dissuade them from finding Black Jack. No amount of yelling could keep them away from his door, either. He worked into the evening checking off symptoms, assuring frantic parents, and handing out roughly half his own supply of antihistamines. He finally attained some measure of peace by offering to administer ipecac syrup to anyone unwilling to just try the Benadryl and sleep it off. Nobody wanted that, which worked out swimmingly because he didn't actually carry any.

Impatience contributed to his disinterest in sleep as well. He kept his laptop close at hand, open on the side table and awaiting messages from the lab. Still nothing. The wind, which by that hour had built to a roof-rattling gale that stripped the trees outside of snow, may have been partly to blame. A sudden storm could inconvenience anyone. Still.

He sipped from the mug of hot water he'd boiled from a bottle in his room. Picked up from Chinese acquaintances in school, the process gave him something hot to drink while the wind tried to force the cold through every gap without threatening his sleep any further.

He tapped the trackpad on his laptop to wake it. Still nothing. The wind wailed outside and footsteps fell a few yards behind him. He waited.

“You're up awfully late, doctor.” Eleanor slid into his peripheral vision. “You aren't sick, too, are you?”

“I skipped out on dinner, so I'm fine.” He looked up at her. She wasn't dressed down for bed at all. “You're the one who ought to be in bed.”

“You're sure you're all right?”

He sneered. “I told you, I didn't eat your cousin's poison fish. Go to bed.”

She walked to the window, the light from the single lamp by the fireplace painting her white form gold. “It's not easy to sleep waiting on those results,” she said, hands folded over her belly. “I'm sorry.”

“You already know it's not good,” Black Jack said. “We just need to know how bad it is so I can decide how to proceed.” He pulled his laptop over and hovered the cursor over the LINE icon on the desktop. It would be mid-morning in Japan.

He closed the laptop instead.

“Of course, of course,” Eleanor murmured.

“And you'll go to the hospital tomorrow for imaging, and then we can proceed in earnest.”


Black Jack watched her hunched shoulders shake a little. “There's nothing else you need to tell me, is there?”

“No.” Her jaw worked behind closed lips in the reflection. She turned abruptly. “I'm sorry, I'm just a worrier. I'll leave you alone now, since I'm being a bother.”

“Thank you,” Black Jack said. Annoyance flashed on her face, but she did leave Black Jack to his work. If he couldn't get at Eleanor's results yet, he could at least familiarize himself with her history and similar cases.

In time, though, not even the wind could keep him awake.

“Black Jack.”

His eyelids wouldn't cooperate when he commanded them to part. Nothing would. He heard his own voice call out, “Who is that?” but couldn't feel his lips or tongue moving.

“Black Jack!”

Everything was weighed down, like a lead blanket pinning him to the chair. He made his fingers curl and felt a cold, straight plastic edge. He tried to lift himself, to push up and off. But everything was so heavy. Even his lungs felt heavy, laboring to expand as he hauled himself up on legs that refused to straighten out and support him.

Legs that buckled, sent him to the glass-smooth floor where he flopped like a fish with a pick through its brain. It hurt. Everything hurt underneath the drugged heaviness.

“Black Jack!”

He grit his teeth and forced himself to roll onto his belly and lever himself up on his elbows. “Wait, God damn you!”


“No one by that name lives here.” His bodiless voice made the sounds while his body's mouth sneered at the floor. He pushed up hard, and his elbows left the floor. The rest of him followed. The heaviness evaporated. The floor disappeared. He knew without having to see it.

“Black Jack.” The voice turned playful and distantly familiar. It spoke in English. “Black Jack, I want to teach you a new word.”

He floated, drifting hands grasping nothing. Maybe his eyes had been open all along in this black void. “What?”


“What?” His mouth made the word and he felt his body become still, suspend itself in the air.

“Sarcocarp. The fleshy portion of a stone fruit. It's also called the mesocarp.”

He opened his mouth, and at that instant something collided with him and a noise he could swore split his ears drowned out any sound he might have made. It was like a crack in the Earth screaming, deep and rolling and vicious.

Black Jack woke in the day-bright lobby in the wake of a thunderclap that rolled away as the dream faded. He clapped a hand over his mouth, registering the sick feeling rising in his throat before anything else. Without any conscious thought, he launched himself up and scrambled for the bathrooms outside the dining hall. He made it as far as the sink.

Coffee and water wasn't much to throw up, and even if it burned it was over quickly enough. His empty stomach lurched while he ran the cold water and swished his mouth clean. He wet his hands and wiped down his face and neck, impatient to settle himself.

He hadn't dreamed himself sick in years and years, but his reflection showed no flush and he felt fine enough outside of the dissipating nausea. Thunder rolled again and he tried to bring his breath down to his diaphragm without heaving.

Was cross contamination a possibility? Sure, but he hadn't had anything from the kitchen.

Nerves, then. Black Jack blew out a breath and raked a wet hand through his hair. Sleep deprivation, low blood sugar, and stress made an ugly combination. He swished his mouth again, made sure he was clean, and killed the water.

Crackers from the kitchenette in his room would be good. And coffee. He dragged himself up to his room and ate while watching thick curtains of snow whip down from the black sky. He was halfway through his second cup of coffee when it occurred to him he'd left his computer in the lobby. Feeling somewhat more functional, he went to retrieve it.

Except, someone had already found it. Patrice, barefoot and dressed for sleep, had it open on the table while she clattered at the keys. Black Jack stormed down the remaining steps, the strike of his heels on the wood startling her before he even spoke.

“Hey!” He reached her before she could get up and bolt, which she did try to do. He caught her wrist. “What the Hell do you think you're doing?”

“I-” Her eyes were huge and wild. She looked between his face and the laptop's screen, which still awaited a password. “Is that yours?”

“It is. What are you snooping on it for?”

She flexed her hand and he felt the cords in her wrist work. Her lips pooched out. “I wanted to see whose it was. To return it.”

“It's mine.” He practically tossed her hand away. “Get out of my face.”

She drew a breath so deep it puffed her up and stepped backward. “Fine. It's yours. Good night.”

He watched her slink away to the dining room before he scooped his computer up and hurried up the stairs. In his room, he set up at the desk and fixed himself a fresh cup of coffee.

The metallic ping Pinoko had helpfully set as his secure email notification sounded the instant he logged in, and he slumped into the chair in relief. He opened the attached records file and glanced over the results. All normal enough, even improved, except-

Black Jack frowned and sat up straighter. He set his coffee cup aside and pulled up the most recent set of blood labs from Eleanor's previous physician. The hair on his nape stood up in the chill that washed over him.

Eleanor Audrey Makube's blood type, listed at the very top of her records, was A+.

The woman using Eleanor's name, the woman whose blood he had collected and sent to the lab, had O+ blood.