Written by: Thom Bray
Directed by: Aaron Lipstadt
Episode Number: 119
Original Broadcast Date: April 14, 2000
Guest Stars: Doris Belack (General Roskin), Timothy Devlin (Special Agent #1), Joseph Urla (Minister), Jay Patterson (Librarian), Karl Kensler (Father)
Michael sighs. "It's cruel, you know?"
"I'm sure you're right, but could you be more specific?"
"The way you read in front of me," Michael says. "The paper, your reports. It's a little like barbecuing a steak in front of a guy who's starving, wouldn't you say?"
Morris pretends to think about it. "No." He turns back to the paper.
"You bastard. You are the Devil's incorrigible brother."
"Flattery will get you nowhere."
"No, I mean it," Michael insists. "The pleasure you seem to take in denying me--"
"Denying you?" Morris interrupts. "Is that what I've done? Is that what I do? Well, I suppose it would serve me right, wouldn't it? If, when I'm at death's door, some evil man like myself snatches me up, gives me a second life and in return insists that I never look at the sports section or sneak a peek at 'Dear Abby' - oh, that would sure show me, wouldn't it? Yeah... I have to mention that to my brother Satan at Easter dinner."
"Fine, make fun," Michael says. "I know what's going on. You won't defend your position because you can't. It's indefensible."
"No, you're wrong. I won't defend my position because I don't have to."
"Oh, no? Well, just explain it to me. Why can't I read, huh? I mean, what is the problem with reading?" Michael demands. "I mean, you get a paper every day and then when you're done, you shred it. My wife gives me a book and when she's gone, you take it away. My-my body's as hard as a rock, but my mind is turning into Silly Putty. I mean, really, what is the problem?" Morris ignores him, turning back to his paper. Michael sits back, frustrated. "Thanks. Thanks a lot."
He still refuses to give up even while getting ready for bed. "What you don't get is, for me, reading is like... breathing."
Morris sighs, sitting in one of the bedroom chairs as Michael comes out of the bathroom, toothbrush in hand. "Mr. Wiseman..."
Michael continues through a mouthful of toothpast. "Words are like..."
"Oxygen," Morris finishes.
"Yeah," Michael says, choosing to ignore the Doc's derisive tone. He goes into the bathroom to spit, coming back out with a glass of water and leftover toothpaste on his lip. "Do you know I courted my wife with letters? She was still in school, and I was working in New York and back then, a long-distance phone call was... well, I mean... no one had that kind of money. So I wrote her these letters - two or three times a week, and she wrote me. Letters she still has. Letters I still have... or had," he corrects sadly. "She still reads them, and I still read mine... or I did."
Morris is interested in something else. "You look like you have rabies."
"Huh? Oh." Michael takes a swallow of the water, and walks back into the bathroom, gargling. He emerges again with a towel, wiping off his face. "Ah, and my little girl - from the time she was old enough to sit up, we read to her. Four and a half, and she could read aloud. Four and a half."
"She a good student?" Morris asks.
"Four and a half," Michael repeats.
At that moment, the clock strikes eleven, and the lights automatically shut off, and the curtains close. "Time for bed, Mr. Wiseman," Morris announces, getting up.
"Seriously, Doc, come on," Michael pleads. "Come on. Uh, forget the newspapers, just a book. Any book - that book that Lisa gave me. Or anything... Tom Sawyer. Come on, just give me a copy of Tom Sawyer."
Morris turns to go. "Good night, Mr. Wiseman."
Alone in his room, Michael sighs before wiping at his lip again and trudging back into the darkened bathroom.
Morning, the Wiseman residence. Lisa lies on her bed, remembering a letter Michael wrote her: "I could not have imagined how hard it would be to live without you all this time. Finish school and get to New York already, you lazy wench, and I promise I will never leave you."
She rolls out of bed and opens her closet, pulling a shoebox off the top shelf, fishing around for the letter and reads the rest of it silently. "Finish school, get to New York already, you lazy wench. Love, Michael. P.S. My friend Roger thinks he can get me an interview with Grand Empire Insurance. Now, if I can only remember how to tie a necktie."
She smiles, remembering, before putting the letter back in the box and leaving the box open on the bed. "Heather? You awake? It's school!"
"Yeah, I'm up," Heather mutters, still lying in bed. "I'm up, I'm up, I'm up, I'm up." She rolls out of bed, pulling back the covers to reveal that her report card is lying beside her pillow.
"All right. If you want me to drop you off, you have to be ready to leave by 7:30," Lisa reminds her. As she continues, Heather picks up her report card and puts it in a shoebox beneath her bed. "There's that an appointment with your guidance counselor at 7:45 and I don't want to be late. Heather?"
"Don't worry, I'll be dressed," Heather assures her. "We'll be ready, we'll be on time."
"Wonder what she wants to meet me for anyway," Lisa says. "You have any idea what it's about?"
"I told you, Mom, I have no idea," Heather says, lying through her teeth.
Lisa yawns. "I should have gotten your report card by now. Do you know why I haven't gotten that report card in the mail?"
Wisely, Heather doesn't volunteer an answer.
Inside the limo, Morris is reading his paper yet again. "Have you no shame?" Michael asks.
"With regard to what?"
"Never mind," Michael sighs, giving up. "So, what are we doing? Where are we headed?"
"We're jumping from the barbecue into the steak house," Morris says. "Allegorically speaking, that is."
Morris folds the newspaper. "We're going to a library."
"No kidding?" Michael asks hopefully. "You've changed your mind and decided to let me do a little light reading instead of heavy lifting?"
"Mm, not really. We're going to a scientific library, a medical archive. Most of my nonclassified papers are research journals and studies are stored there, where other scientists and medical researchers can have access to them. They called me this morning, asked that I come by. Something they wanted to show me." He looks back at his paper. "I assumed you'd appreciate the opportunity to take a ride - get out on a beautiful spring day."
"Wow. You are thoughtful," Michael says. "A scientific library. And I always worried I'd never get to see one of those."
In the Morris archive, the head librarian explains the situation to Morris and Michael as they follow him past shelves of books. "We first realized there was a problem on Saturday, when a student came in to review your case studies on phantom sensory experience and artificial limbs. I took him to the Morris Archive and we took down one of your case studies." He hesitates. "Well, let me just show you."
He leads them to a shelf, pulling down a certain book and handing it to the doctor. Morris takes the book, turning it over in his hands. "Wow, it's been a long time."
He looks back at Michael, who is looking over his shoulder. "I saw the movie," Michael quips.
"Open it up," the librarian says. "Look inside."
To Morris' shock, all the pages are blank. "What? What's happened here? Did the ink somehow fade? Is this a joke?"
"That's what I thought at first," the librarian says, "but then I realized - a joke on who? And it was a Saturday, so there was nothing to do. There was no one to tell. It wasn't until Monday that we realized it was the whole row."
"Aw, that's the thing with his writing," Michael says. "It just doesn't stay with you."
Morris is too concerned to pay any attention to the quip. "How is this possible? These are all original, bound copies of my work." He turns back to the librarian. "Exactly how many volumes are affected?"
"That's what I'm trying to tell you," the librarian answers. "On Saturday, it was just the one book. By Monday, we realized it was the entire row and now, today, it seems, it's the whole section."
Frantic, Morris starts pulling books off the shelves, flipping through them. Behind him, Michael picks up a book and opens it, only to find blank pages. "But whatever it is," the librarian adds, "it seems to be eating the print right off the page and it does not affect the bindings or the spines. It just... seems to gobble the words." He pauses before dropping the bomb. "And whatever it is, it seems to be spreading."
Heather comes home from school to find Lisa waiting for her on the steps. "You want to tell me where it is?"
"Where what is?" Heather asks, feigning innocence.
"Your report card, honey. I know it came and your guidance counselor already told me what's on it... so, what do you say you show it to me?" Lisa suggests. When Heather doesn't move, she adds, "Otherwise, I'll have to go look for it in your room. Who knows what else I might find. Right?"
Sighing, Heather hurries up the stairs, and Lisa follows. When she pulls the box out from under her bed and retrieves the report card, Heather freezes in shock, staring at the paper in her hands. Lisa stands in the doorway, waiting.
"Well, what else do you have in there?" Lisa asks, pointing at the shoebox. "Anything good?" Heather continues to stare at the report card. "Oh, come on, Heather. You didn't notice all those C's before? Give it to me."
"Mom, I swear..."
Numbly, Heather passes the report card - what's left of it - over to Lisa. "I didn't do this."
"Didn't do what?" Lisa asks again, taking the paper. "What is this? This is a blank piece of paper."
"Uh, I know. That's the weird thing," Heather stammers. "Every single piece of paper in this shoebox is blank but this morning, I swear..." As Lisa gives her a skeptical look, Heather starts fishing out other scraps of paper, all of which are blank. "This was a note that Bobby Dingus passed me during an assembly on how to write a creative college essay. And this, this was the combination to my locker in ninth grade gym. And that was my report card."
"Wow. You're knee-deep now, girl. Keep shoveling."
"Mom, I'm serious!" Heather insists. "This is creepy."
"Creepy," Lisa repeats. "Fine. You have five minutes. I'll be in my room." She turns and leaves a very confused and frustrated Heather to stare forlornly at her report card. Back in her room, Lisa sighs and puts the blank paper aside, straightening things up on her bed. It's a moment before she gets around to looking in the letter box. She stops and pulls out one of Michael's letters, then another, horrified as she realizes that they've all gone blank as well.
6:00 a.m. the next morning, the townhouse. Michael groans as the curtains in his room automatically slide open, rolling over on his other side. He's surprised to find that Morris is already there, not singing, simply sitting beside Michael's bed with a newspaper in his lap. "Wow," Michael mutters. "You've been waiting for me to get up just so you could give me that? You could just slip it under the door with the room service tray."
"Turns out there's another location experiencing this disappearing ink phenomenon," Morris says.
Michael tries to burrow back into sleep. "Oh, yeah? And where would that be?"
Michael's eyes fly open at that comment, and he comes fully awake as the Doc continues. "I'd really like to get a look inside. Want to come?"
For answer, Michael practically leaps out of bed.
The Wiseman residence. Reporters are gathered out on the front lawn in droves. Lisa, Heather and Roger are all gathered in the foyer as the phone rings. Lisa picks it up. "Hello? Hello, Mrs. Lockhart. I am sorry about the commotion on the front lawn with all the reporters and the strangers and... no. No, I didn't call them. No, it was a friend of the family's." She glares at Roger, who tries to look innocent. "He called the police and the fire department and all the papers in the hopes of getting an explanation. No, I have no idea. But the man from the town said that he thought it was some odorless... something coming up from the ground but no one here is sick. It's just that all the... the books and things are blank."
The doorbell rings, and she covers the mouthpiece, turning to Roger. "Would you get that? And whoever it is, tell them that we don't want to give interviews or talk to anybody - would they just please leave us alone."
She turns back to the phone as Roger goes to the door. "Yes?" he calls, not opening it. The person at the door knocks, and Roger goes to the window to see who it is. He's understandably startled to see Dr. Morris grinning at him. "Mr. Bender, how nice to see you again. You mind if I come in?"
"What are you doing here?" Roger demands.
"Well, when the government heard about what was going on here, and they knew that Mr. Newman and I had a history with Mrs. Wiseman. They asked if I'd drop by... have a look. You mind if we come in?" Roger looks back to Lisa for help.
The answer is presumably yes, and Lisa shows Michael upstairs. "My pictures and paintings don't seem to be affected," she tells him, pointing out the still-intact paintings on the walls, "only the words."
In the living room, Morris looks around, checking books, while Heather looks on. "So, what does the government think? Do they have any ideas about what's causing this?" she asks.
"Not yet, but it's early," Morris tells her, flipping through an empty book and setting it down. "What about you? You have any theories?"
"I don't know. Maybe it's someone's way of telling us that we don't read enough," Heather jokes. "Actually, the whole thing creeps me out. I keep waiting for the walls to drip blood or something."
"Well, that's not going to happen," Morris assures her calmly, focused on another book. "I know I'm just a tax man, but I know this. There's a scientific explanation for everything. And no doubt, there's a scientific explanation for this."
Upstairs, Michael picks up a book off a table in the bedroom."My husband loved to read," Lisa says.
"Yeah, I know." He flips through the book, focusing more on her than the pages. "Uh... Grisham. He liked Grisham."
"Mm-hmm. And, and it seems to have spread to these," Lisa adds, going to the closet and pulling the letter box out. "They used to be letters... from my husband but now, now all the, the, the pages are... blank. I mean... look." She pulls out a sheet of paper, aged but completely blank. Michael takes it, and as she turns back to the box, he sniffs the paper as if to verify the real thing. It is, and he turns away, close to tears.
"Do you think they'll come back?" Lisa asks.
"Excuse me?" Michael is somewhat choked up.
"The words. You know, once they figure out what it is and it's all over do you think the words will come back? It's like invisible ink, but they're there. We just... can't see them with our eyes." He turns back to her, handing her the letter back. "I don't know. But you know, uh... no matter what, you can always remember them. Nothing can stop you from remembering them."
"Right," Lisa says, smiling. "Of course not."
"The crowd is thinning out," Michael reports a little while later. Morris looks out the window to confirm it as Lisa comes downstairs, joining the other four in the foyer.
Roger sighs. "That's because the reporters figured out that you can't make notes out there. They jot anything down, it just disappears."
"Thanks for letting us in, showing us around," Morris says.
"So, what do we do now, gentlemen?" Lisa asks as they turn to leave. "I mean, what's next? I mean, do we move out or do we stay put? My newspaper comes to the front stoop and by the time I get it into the kitchen, it's gone. My daughter can't do her homework except on the computer and I am trying very hard not to be upset, but..."
"No, no, you have a right to be upset," Morris tells her, "and you deserve some answers, and I'm going to make sure you get some just as soon as possible."
"Really?" Heather asks. "Did you write down our number?"
Morris' hand instinctively goes to his jacket pocket before he remembers himself and glares at Heather. "There is something that you should know," Lisa adds. "Whatever it is, it's spreading. My next-door neighbor called to say that the typewritten labels on her prescription medicine bottles are gone, and it's starting to affect her books as well."
"Thank God for TV," Heather says.
"Like I said to your daughter, Mrs. Wiseman," Morris sighs, "there's a scientific explanation for everything - and no doubt, there's a scientific explanation for this, too. It's only a matter of time before someone figures it out and somehow fixes it."
"Well, I certainly hope so," Lisa says as the two men leave.
In the limo, Michael is staring out the window thoughtfully. Dr. Morris is equally baffled. "Odd. If I didn't know any better, I'd be tempted to say it's behaving like a biological virus - a disease. I mean, the whole idea that it's spreading... it's like a plague or something."
"Yeah, well..." Michael says, "I get it spreading from my house to my neighbor's house, but from that medical library to here in the suburbs? How do you make sense out of that?"
"Well, if we were dealing with a disease we'd probably have to find a Patient Zero," Morris replies, "someone who was present at what seems to be the point of origin. Who might also have been able to carry it back to the next outbreak point."
"You mean, someone who might have had contact with our library or the things in it and also would have visited my home?"
"Huh. Well, that would have to be you, Doc. I mean, the papers in your archive, you wrote those - and you have been to my home a couple of times."
"What are you trying to say, Mr. Wiseman?"
"Not trying to say anything. I'm just stating the obvious. If we're looking for someone who has those two places in common... the only person I can think of is you. Hey, I'm no doctor, but you sure seem to fit the profile of Patient Zero to me." Michael hesitates before adding, "No offense."
"Mm, yeah, well... no offense taken."
Arlington, Virginia. Somewhere in the Pentagon. Admiral Roskin is chairing a meeting to discuss the spread of the "plague." While Texas, Utah, and the West Coast is unaffected, sightings have popped up in Vermont and West Virginia. Roskin calls Dr. Morris into the meeting. "Dr. Morris," she begins, "what do you think we're looking at here?"
"I don't have the foggiest idea, Ma'am," Morris admits.
"That's curious," Roskin says, "because our people do have an idea, and they felt very strongly that you would concur with their hypothesis."
"I'd be fascinated to hear their theory."
Roskin asks Morris to explain to those assembled what a "nanobot" is. Morris happily complies. "The nanobot will be to this next century what the transistor was to the fifties and sixties - what the computer chip was to the eighties and nineties. It's a way of creating new and different types of matter beginning at the molecular stage by arranging atoms in a particular way. The object is to create microscopic molecular machines. For instance, during the experiments that ultimately yielded Mr. Wiseman, we introduced certain nanobots into what became his blood. These replaced functions normally assigned to an immune system. They safeguard the body from foreign germs, and are also responsible for the extremely high rate of healing Mr. Wiseman enjoys."
"These particular nanobots also replicate, do they not?" Roskin inquires.
"That's part of what makes them so effective," Morris points out proudly. "The more a disease or foreign particle penetrates Mr. Wiseman's system, the more the nanobots multiply, overwhelming the hostile germ or organism."
"So, let's speculate. What might happen if one of these..."
"Yes. What if one became airborne?"
"Hmm, quite honestly, I couldn't give you a definitive answer. Nanotechnology is so new, so..."
"We've taken some of these blank pages and put them under an electron microscope," Roskin interrupts. "They're teeming with your little molecular machines." As Morris stares at her, dumbfounded, she continues. "They eat the ink, apparently confusing the lead in it for some sort of biological threat... and then make more nanobots."
Morris is aghast. "My God."
"Yes, sir. If you pardon the pun... it appears that you are the author of our current plight."
In the townhouse, Michael is awakened by the sound of a news broadcast. He looks up to see Morris sitting out by the gym, watching a small TV set. "Oh, yeah, I forgot. It's B.Y.O. TV night." He checks the alarm clock. "It's 3:00 a.m. Now you bring the TV," he groans, sitting up and trying to get to full awareness. "So, what infomercial are you watching? How to gain hair or how to lose weight?"
Morris shuts off the TV. "News. Just watching the news. It's the only thing on anyway - every channel, all day. News."
Michael gets out of bed and jumps down through the open panel in the partition, walking around the pool. "Well, to what do I owe the pleasure? I mean, I don't get many visitors at 3:00 a.m. and I certainly don't get a lot of television sets."
"Needed a secure place to go, keep up with things," Morris says as Michael sits down across from him. "They're rioting outside. It's started to eat ink off money. And they're rioting."
"So, should I be worried for my family?"
"No. The craziness is confined to the cities for now. Although the virus - the plague, whatever you want to call it - apparently, it's made its way to the west coast. I've heard scattered reports in Australia and I think I heard something from Japan."
Michael sighs. "I'm sorry, Doc."
"All the governments of the world, universities, libraries - all working feverishly to scan what's left into computers... but the words keep disappearing."
"You want to sleep?" Michael asks. Morris shakes his head. "Can you sleep?" Again, Morris shakes his head. "Well, for what it's worth my terrarium is your terrarium. So... if you change your mind just wake me up and, uh... I'll take the chair for a while."
Morris just keeps staring bleakly at the TV set. Clearing his throat, Michael gets up and starts off, patting the Doc on the shoulder before heading back to his room. Morris takes a deep, shuddering breath, trying not to cry.
In the truck - presumably the next day - Morris takes a sample of Michael's blood and puts it on a slide, looking at it under a microscope. He puts his glasses back on and enters some data into his laptop. As the results print out, he smiles... but then the ink starts to fade right off the page. Frustrated, Morris snatches up the printout and crumples it, tossing it to the floor.
The paper falls at Michael's feet. Curious, he picks it up and unfolds it, trying to see what, if anything, is on there. Morris sees what he's doing and glances at the bald agent, who jumps up and snatches the paper out of Michael's hands. Michael rolls his eyes in frustration, and Morris shoots him the Look.
The Wiseman residence. Lisa is sleeping in when Heather comes into the bedroom. "Mom? Could I get into bed with you?" Lisa sticks her head up from the covers. "Oh. Sure, honey. Come on." She scoots over for Heather to climb into bed, and Heather sits at the head of the bed with her knees tucked up against her chest. "Oh, what is it?" Lisa asks. "Did they shut down school again? They have to stop letting a little thing like no books get in their way. You still have a blackboard, right? And-and lunch? Lunch was always the best time anyway."
"It's Sunday, Mom."
"Sun - oh, right. Well, since my calendar faded..." Lisa sighs, sitting up. "You know, it's a good thing your dad isn't around. He would have hated this. One of his favorite things to do was get that morning paper and then... cuddle up with a good book at night." She stops, seeing how disturbed Heather is. "Heather, what's the matter? I can hear your heart beating over here."
"I couldn't sleep, so I went downstairs to watch TV and the President was on, and it must have been a tape from earlier in the day, but they passed this law."
"Now, what law could get you so upset?"
"Anyone that has a book, a book that hasn't faded - you can't read it anymore," Heather answers. "Not by yourself and not to yourself. You're not allowed to read any surviving book unless you get ten people together and read it out loud. So, if it fades - when it fades - theoretically, someone will be there to remember it." She sighs. "But... it's not a book anymore, it's a memory. Like when someone dies, and you realize that... they're never coming back again. The world is different now, and you just do it. You just get up in the morning and move on. That's what this is like. When I'm old, I'm going to be telling my kids about these things we used to have - books." She stops. "Am I making any sense?"
"Mm-hmm. The world is different now, honey." Lisa sighs, hugging her daughter. "The world is different now."
"It'll come to you," Michael tells Morris in the limo.
"The cure. The antidote. Whatever you want to call it." Michael pauses. "It's killing you, isn't it?"
"Remember what you once said to me? That it's like cooking a steak in front of a starving man? Well, this is like devoting your life to being a farmer - only to discover that everything that you worked so hard to grow kills people instead of nourishing them."
"You didn't know," Michael insists. "You couldn't know."
"You want to hear the irony?" Morris adds. "I remember the date I got my first library card. Eight years old. I used to walk there by myself. Always clean, they had air conditioning. And they had this water fountain that no matter how hot it was outside somehow that water fountain was icy cold. That's the reason I first went there was to get out of the heat. And then when I was twelve, I came across A Christmas Carol." He chuckles. "I had already seen the movie on TV with Mr. Magoo. So, I started to read this book and I was waiting for Mr. Magoo to show up and there were songs, so I was just waiting for the songs... but none of that was in the book." He smiles. "The book was better."
"Really? Listen, I happen to be close, personal friends with Magoo."
"What can I say?"
"You're entitled to your opinion, I guess."
"When I was fifteen," Morris continues, "I stole a copy of Gray's Anatomy - put it in my bag and walked out the door. Oh, I wanted to have it in my house, you know, forever. I just wanted it on my shelf in my room right next to my autographed baseball and my monster magazines. You know, just to be there."
"Anyone find out?"
Morris nods. "Yeah, I was caught... putting it back."
"Putting it back?"
"I loved that book so much. What it showed me, what it taught me. I put it on my shelf and it was like 'The Tell-Tale Heart.' You ever read that? Where the guy hears the heart beating of the guy he killed?"
Michael puts a hand to his heart, grinning. "Oh, yeah."
"This was the same thing. That damned book. All night long, it was talking to me, telling me what a disappointment of a human being I was for stealing something so precious. The next day, I brought it back. The librarian caught me pulling it out of my bag. I wasn't allowed in the library for three months." Morris groans. "Oh, it killed me."
"Yeah, I know what you mean."
Out the window, Morris spots smoke coming up from a parking lot, where people have set up a large bonfire. Curious, he tells the driver to pull over.
As Michael and Dr. Morris approach the crowd, they see that the people gathered are throwing books into the fire. "Come on!" a man yells. "Let's toss them on there! Well, we got to burn them! We got to burn them all! Come on! Let's toss them on there!"
Morris picks up a book that has yet to be torched, flipping through it, before he approaches the man. "Wh-what's going on? What's this about? Why are you burning books?" He opens the book he's got to show that there's some print left. "Some of these still have words inside."
"They're bad! They got germs!" the man cries. "First, they eat your letters, and then they eat your money. We got to kill them!" He turns back to the crowd. "We got to kill them all! Come on! Toss them on there! We got to burn them!"
On the other side of the bonfire, a father is trying to wrest a book from his daughter's grip. "Here. Give it to me, honey." She shakes her head, clutching the book against her chest and whimpering. "Honey, you have to give it to me. Please, Samantha, give Daddy the book. We have to burn it."
He finally pries it from her fingers and tosses the book on the fire. The book lands face up, and as it catches fire the title is clearly visible to Morris: A Christmas Carol.
In church that day, the minister can't read his sermon. "Ladies and gentlemen, normally at the commencement of a service like this, I would ask you to pull out your missals and follow along with today's reading. Obviously... today there are no words in the missal for you to follow along with no lyrics in your hymnals to sing, no church bulletins to tell you when the women's group is going to meet, or who got baptized, or who's getting married." He pauses, letting that sink in. "I just, uh, heard on the television before I came in that we've now lost the last original print of the Gutenberg Bible - the one they keep in the Library of Congress."
Shocked moans can be heard from the congregation as the minister continues. "Let's join hands and pray. Dear Lord... give us the strength to confront the feelings of despair that engulf us as we watch our printed history wither before our eyes - our stories blown away like so much dust - our memories taken from us while we sleep."
The camera pans back to show an anguished Dr. Morris in one of the pews. The old man next to him sees the look on his face and tries to console him. "Don't worry, son. They'll find a cure for this. They find a cure for everything, eventually."
Morris can't hold back the tears as the minister continues. "...and most of all, give us the patience to understand that there is always a reason behind your riddles, and give us the wisdom to see it. Amen."
Somewhere in Central Park. Dr. Morris is standing behind a microphone, reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer aloud. "Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. Surveyed the fence and all gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden. Sighing, he dipped his brush and passed it along the topmost plank; repeated the operation; did it again; compared the insignificant whitewashed streak with the far-reaching continent of unwhite-washed fence and sat down on a tree-box, discouraged."
He turns the page, and stops. He flips a few more pages before sighing and turning back to the mike. "I'm sorry. It's gone." The huge crowd assembled starts groaning and jeering. "The rest of it's just gone," Morris repeats. He sits up in bed with a gasp, finding himself back in his apartment. Realizing the reading was a dream, he sighs in relief and glances at the clock - and is shocked to find he's overslept. He grabs the phone and calls someone on his team. "Are you with Mr. Wiseman? Good. Have we heard word back from the C.D.C. on the blood work we did yesterday?"
The response stuns him. "What do you mean, what blood work? What day is today?" He hesitates. "Let me call you back."
He hangs up the phone and gets out of bed, hurrying to his front door, unlocking it and looking down... to find the morning paper on his doormat. Morris picks it up, grinning broadly as he discovers that every word on the page is intact; the entire "plague" was a bad dream.
On the way to the townhouse - with "Ode to Joy" playing in the background - Morris passes a bookstore, stops, and goes in.
The townhouse. Under the supervision of the bald agent, Michael finishes three hundred repetitions bench-pressing. "Great," the agent says. "Now let's just do one more set of 300 and we'll hit the pool."
Michael sits up. "Are you on crack?"
"Were you there when they pulled the puddle that was me off those tracks and put the rest inside this figment of some Phys. Ed. major's imagination?"
"Mr. Wiseman, I do not appreciate your tone," the agent snaps. "I'm simply trying to carry out Dr. Morris's instructions."
Morris interrupts before Michael can utter another smartass remark, entering with a shopping bag in each hand. "Gentlemen. Let's not fight."
"Hey, the regular teacher's back," Michael says, getting up. "It's a good thing, too. None of the kids like the substitute. So, where have you been?" Morris doesn't answer. "Okay... for $200 and Final Jeopardy - what's in the bags?"
"Oh, well, actually, something for you, Mr. Wiseman." Morris sets the bags down in front of Michael, pulling a book out and handing it to him.
Michael takes it, confused. "What's this?"
"Tom Sawyer. You mentioned you wanted it." As Michael stares at him, he adds, "Remember... a week or so ago? Lights went out in the bedroom and you said, 'Bring me back any book. Anything. Tom Sawyer.' Well, there it is."
"Doc... that was last night."
"Oh, yeah," Morris realizes, remembering. "I guess it was."
"Forgive me, but I'm confused," Michael says. "You... just gave me... a book. Now... in order to use this in order to appreciate this, in order to enjoy this doesn't that mean I'm going to have to... read it?" Morris nods. "And aren't you the guy who said that if you ever found out I was reading, you would make sure that I went blind or crazy or got warts on my hand?"
"Well, I... guess I changed my mind," Morris replies. "I think I was wrong."
The agent's eyes widen. "This is scary."
Morris digs through the bags. "I, um... I have some, uh, Grisham in here for you and, uh..." He pulls out a thick gray book, smiling. "Gray's Anatomy." Michael looks at him blankly, since they never really had that limo conversation. "Uh, it-it was just there, and I thought: well... I'll, I'll keep this." Morris put the book away. "And, uh... anyway..."
Michael stares at him, almost unable to believe it. "You mean it? I can read?" Smiling, Morris nodds. "Wow. Thank you." Without really thinking about it, he hugs the Doc.
Morris stiffens. "Oh... uh, get your hands off me, please."
Michael gets the point and backs off, picking up both of the bags. "I'm going to go put these in my room." He starts off to the bedroom, but stops, chuckling as he realizes how he's acting. "Wow! This is like Christmas."
As Michael heads for his room, Morris can't resist. "'And God bless us, everyone.'"
The agent stares at him. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Yeah." Morris smiles. "I think so."
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