Mind Reading Games – short story


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Mind Reading Games

By Kalin Ringkvist

 

The first real mystery I ever dealt with, confronted me nearly twenty years ago.  I can still remember it as if it was yesterday.  It came as quite a shock, I’ll tell you that much.  Finding out you’ve got such a strange power can be terribly exciting–and frightening–at any age, but to a five year old girl it can be totally overwhelming.

I was sleeping soundly one night.  The baby-sitter was downstairs, watching David Letterman.  She had the volume up pretty loud, so I had had a bit of difficulty getting to sleep.  I’d been sleeping, probably, about three hours, when I had a dream.  It wasn’t a dream one would expect from a five year old.  It wasn’t a dream someone would expect from anyone.  In fact, it wasn’t exactly a dream–more like a vision.  I was simply floating around a scene, watching.  As I floated, one picture, frozen in time, flashed repeatedly through my mind.  It would not leave, even as I tried to concentrate on other aspects of the scene.

I saw the family station wagon from the inside, but it was not the vehicle with which I was familiar.  There were shards of glass covering everything.  The front dashboard seemed to be twisted in an odd, hideous way.  The entire right side of the car was bent inwards.  There were scraps of metal jutting sharply at different angles.  It all seemed like such a horrible mess as compared to the nice comfortable vehicle that I was used to.

The one thing that stuck in my mind more than anything else was seeing my mother’s face staring at me with perfectly blank eyes.  The back of her head had been crushed between the dashboard and the passenger side door, but her face didn’t have a scratch on it.  There was blood everywhere.  It gave the shards of glass a red shine, as if they were little jewels.  Everything on the right side of the vehicle seemed to lay in a blanket of glass and blood.

I floated upwards, away from the carnage, and saw the car from a distance.  The big white pickup truck was still crushed up against it.  There were police cars lining either side of the wreck.  Cops seemed to be swarming everywhere.  One lane of the freeway had been blocked off.

The picture of my mother’s face flashed back through my mind.

I saw my father, standing silently outside the station wagon, staring in through the drivers side window.  A policeman came to him, put his hands on his shoulders, tried to turn him around and pull him from the scene but my father shoved him away.  He persisted and finally managed to convince my dad to leave and get in one of the police cars.

He rode in silence.  My view had now changed to the inside of the police car.  My father sat, his mouth half open, a dazed look on his face.

I tried, in my sleep, to change my view so that I could look at the outside of the station wagon again, and not have to see my father.  Try as I might, I could not control my dream.

The picture of my mother in the family car, her clothes drenched in her own blood, suddenly flashed in front of me again.

My father, sitting in the front passenger seat of the police car, closed his eyes for a moment and shuddered.  I watched the vague scenery whiz by in the background of my view.

And I awoke.

I did not sit up in bed like a person normally would when waking from such a nightmare, nor did I cry out like you might expect from a five year old.  I simply opened my eyes and let the relief I got from realizing it was all a dream come flooding through me.

But something of the dream lingered.  This one was not like other dreams in some way.  Something about it was too real.  There was something I couldn’t shake off.

I stood up on my bed and, standing as tall as I could, I was able to peer out the window.  I thought that if I saw the family station wagon sitting in it’s spot in the driveway, just like normal, it would prove, without a doubt, that what I had just witnessed, had been nothing but a dream.  The wagon would be right there and my mother would be perfectly well.

But the car wasn’t there.  Instead, in it’s place, sitting next to the baby-sitter’s beat up convertible, was a blue and white police car.  I stood on the edge of my bed and stared at the vehicle for a long while.

I was only a child but I knew the nature of dreams.  At least I thought I did.  I had always believed dreams were only a reflection of the past, not a prediction for the future.  You could not learn new things from dreams unless that knowledge was already locked away inside yourself.  I was beginning, now, to question my knowledge.

My dad was downstairs now.  I didn’t know quite how I knew that.  I thought I could hear his voice but when I stopped to concentrate on the words, everything was silent.  I couldn’t even hear the television anymore.  It was as if I was completely alone in the house; but I knew there were others here.  Four people: the baby-sitter, my father, and two police officers.  Somehow I knew this.

I thought about going downstairs but I feared that if I did, I would find out something I did not want to know.  I stood on the edge of my bed, waiting.

The picture of my mother flashed again as if I had not yet fully awakened from my dream.  The suddenness of it distracted me.  I lost my balance and went tumbling to the floor, landing hard on my shoulder but not crying out.

It’s impossible for me to accurately describe to you what seeing that last vision was like.  It wasn’t just the haunting ugliness of the picture itself, it was from where the picture seemed to come.  I don’t know how else to describe it, except to say that it didn’t seem to come from my own mind.  It came from somewhere outside of myself, as if it was an actual picture hanging on the wall.  It made the vision seem all the more real.

I lay on the floor, stunned, unmoving.  I thought of the possibility that I was going insane.  That thought frightened me more than anything.

My dad was coming up the stairs now.  I could not hear his footsteps on the carpeted steps, though I knew he was coming.  As he drew nearer I could feel a pain in my stomach developing, for what reason I could not tell.  All I knew was that my father felt the same pain that I did.

After a few moments he opened the door and stepped in.  A moment after he saw me, my mind, unexpectedly, went clear.  I was back to normal.  The pain in my stomach began to subside and I no longer had visions I couldn’t control.  For that I was most grateful.

“Daddy?” I said.

“What are you still doing up?”

“I had a bad dream.  Could you turn the light on?”

“You had a nightmare?” he said, flipping the light switch.  “I’ve never known you to have nightmare’s.  You’ve never woken up because of one.”

“This was a really bad one,” I replied.

“Oh,” he said quietly as he walked towards me.  “You don’t look too upset.”

“I don’t want to go back to sleep.”

“You don’t?”  He picked me gently off the floor and put me back in bed.  “Why don’t I sit down and you can tell me all about it.”

I stared at him for a long while.  “I don’t think I want to.”

“Why not?  Maybe I can help.”

I shook my head and pulled the covers tight around my shoulders.  “I don’t think you could.”

“You know, Honey,” he said, “dreams aren’t real.  They can’t harm you.  They can’t ever really happen.  They’re just your imagination playing tricks on you, having a little fun.”

“I know all that, Daddy.  I know all about dreams.  I know they’re not real”–though at this point I was no longer sure of that fact–”That’s not what I’m worried about.”

“What is it then?”

“I don’t want it to come back when I go to sleep.”

He smiled and my mind suddenly went cloudy again like it had before, immediately after waking from my dream.  A flood of emotion came from my father.  At that point I was unable to interpret it into anything I could understand.  It felt simply like a surge of power.  Raw power.  But I did understand that it took him a great deal of effort to produce that smile.

Then the surge ended and my mind was clear again.

“The dream won’t come back,” he said.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Because dreams never come back after you’ve woken up.  Like when you have a good dream and you wake up and then try to get back to sleep really quick so you can get back to your dream.  It never works.”

“Why not?”

“I wouldn’t know.  It just doesn’t.  People don’t have very much control over their own minds I guess.”

“But if I don’t have control over my mind, then how can I hope to make the bad dreams stay away?”

He shook his head.  “What do you plan to do then?  Stay awake forever in fear of one dream?  I doubt that you could do it even until the morning.  It would be time for you to get up and go to preschool and you would just want to sleep.”

“Maybe,” I said.  I could see his logic.

“What is it, anyway?  It’s just a dream.  I’ve never known you to be scared of dreams.  What’s different about this one?”

I stared at him, saying nothing.  There was no way I could tell him what had happened.  I wanted to; but how could I explain something to him that I couldn’t even explain to myself?

“Do you think you’re ready to go back to sleep now?”

“I guess so,” I said.

“All right then.  I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”  He moved towards the door.  “You don’t have to worry.  I’ll be right downstairs if you have any more dreams.”  He looked back and smiled at me.  This time I felt nothing coming from him.  He went to turn off the lights.

“Wait,” I said.  “Daddy, please wait.”

“What is it?”

I paused a moment before answering, “Tell me what happened tonight.”

The surge of power came again, though this time, only for an instant.  The picture of my mother in the car flashed again.

He stared at me for a long while.  “What would you like to know?”

“Everything,” I said.  “Just tell me about what happened.”

“How do you know anything happened?”

I shrugged, not wanting to tell him anything of my experiences earlier that night.

He closed his eyes.  I could hear him breathing heavily.  “You always were smarter than anyone realized,” he said.

He closed the door and began walking towards me.  “All right.  You want to know what happened tonight, I’ll tell you.”  And he sat on the edge of my bed and told me the story.

I don’t think I need to tell you how it went.  You can probably figure that out on your own.  It doesn’t have any real relevance anyway and I don’t like to talk about it.  It will be sufficient to say that everything in my earlier vision was real.  I had pulled it straight from my fathers mind while I slept.

He spoke to me for more than an hour.  He stressed the idea that my mother was never coming back, as if he thought that I didn’t understand that death was not a temporary thing.  Or, perhaps he thought that since I wasn’t crying that I really didn’t comprehend what he was trying to tell me.  But I did comprehend.  I understood everything he told me.  Much of it I knew even before he said anything.  I knew the details as well as he did.

It just didn’t effect me.

Perhaps it would have if I hadn’t had that dream.  If I hadn’t discovered my extraordinary power that night, maybe my mother’s death would have had some effect over me.  Perhaps I would have gone through the same series of emotions that normal children go through when they experience the death of a parent.

But I didn’t.  Maybe that’s good, that I didn’t have to deal with the feelings of loss.  I didn’t have to go through it.

What I did have to deal with, though, was my new found ability.  It was the most baffling and frightening thing I had ever experienced.  I knew that my life would never be the same.  From that point forward I was something different, someone set apart from the rest of humanity.  I would never be able to consider myself normal in any way.

That’s a fair amount for someone so young to have to deal with.

______      ______      ______

My name is Carol Schlicting and for the last twenty years of my life, I have had the mostly unique ability to read minds.  This is my story.

______      ______      ______

It took me surprisingly little time to master my skill.  After only a couple weeks I learned to interpret all the surface signals that come from a person’s mind.  I could tell exactly what a person was feeling, what emotions they might be hiding.  I could always tell what someone was thinking at any given moment.

After a month or so, I learned how to dig even deeper.  I could probe a person’s memories, things they hadn’t thought about in ages or perhaps, even, had forgotten.  At first I was only able to get bits of information, in a seemingly random way.  Things would jump out at me–things that had no relevance–as I would enter someone’s mind.  I could control how deep I went into someone’s consciousness but I could not control what I found when I got to the  deepest regions.

Even this changed, though.  In time I had complete control.  Other people’s minds were my playgrounds.  I could jump in, rummage around, do what I pleased, and leave and no one had any idea what I was up to, for I never told anyone of my power.  At first it seemed as though I was intruding on people, invading their privacy without their knowing it, but that feeling soon subsided.  I figured that if I never held any of the information I found against these people, I wasn’t doing any harm.  I was simply exploring.

I grew up very quickly.  It is my belief that a person’s mind does not change because of the passage of time, rather, because of experiences.  People, as they get older, gradually become more mature because they are experiencing life and learning from it.  I learned everything I needed to know about life in the course of several weeks.  Over the years I have rummaged through enough minds to find experiences that would fit in thousands of lifetimes.  I know what it’s like to do almost anything you can imagine.  I have experienced the thrill of skydiving and of performing a complicated brain surgery.  I can give you details on what it’s like to hold a gun, pull the trigger and shoot a man down.  I know what it’s like to be seconds away from death and have your life suddenly handed back to you.  These are all incredible experiences that I could give you every detail on, but not one of them have I actually gone through personally.  In fact, I have led a rather stagnant life.  Others have provided my experiences for me.  My whole life has been spent roaming around other people’s memories.  Since nothing ever happened in my own life, I had to rely on other’s lives.

What I think most non-telepaths don’t appreciate as much as they should, is the mystery of life, the spontaneity.  Human beings are the most unpredictable things on this world–for most people.  For me, though, I can always tell exactly what someone will do at any given moment.  They may think they are being spontaneous, that they are bound to surprise me with something but they never do.  Instead, everything seems very monotonous to me because I always know what will happen.  It’s like watching a really bad movie, where the characters are so one dimensional and the plot so simple minded that you always know exactly how it will turn out.  Things can get a little boring.

I would not have you feeling sorry for me though.  I would never give up my power, not for anything.  It’s done too much for me.

Sometimes life can be like watching a really good movie for the second time.  The funny parts are still funny, the exciting parts are still exciting, just not so much as they were the first time you watched it.  The only difference is, in my life, I never got to watch it for the first time.

What I always wanted was someone I could talk to about who I was and communicate with on a deep level.  I never found anyone I could really connect with.  Even with my father I was forced to hide and distance myself in order to keep my power a secret.  Though I did love him, I never felt close to him.  I felt lonely all the time.  In a world of billions of people, I was alone.

I did have one thing though–a mystery to keep me occupied through my early years: where did I come from?  Why am I like this?  There must be some reason for my powers, some purpose for me to fulfill.  That puzzle was what I set out to solve.  I never believed I could solve it, but I loved trying for I was a kid who lived for mysteries.  I suppose I was like my father in that respect.  He loved mysteries too.  In fact, he made his living writing mysteries.

His mystery stories always had an answer at the end.  There was always a conclusion.  Not so for me.  I never solved my mystery.  I have never been able to explain the origins of my power.  The question has always nagged at me from the back of my mind.  It can get rather frustrating at times.

I had three major theories.  One, was that I was a messenger from God.  I believed He had sent me to complete some mission.  There must have been some quest for me to fulfill, one that could only be accomplished by someone with my kind of power.  But the years went by and that quest never presented itself so I began to doubt that I had any sort of higher purpose on this world.  In fact, I doubt seriously, the existence of any sort of god.  I have no real reason for this doubt, other than my belief that if there is a god, He would have quite a powerful mind, and I would be able to sense that mind.

My second theory was just about as off the wall as the first.  Perhaps I was some kind of government experiment, an attempt to improve the human race.  Or, maybe, I was something that could be used as a weapon.  I never truly believed this, though.  The theory came into existence, mostly because of the media, books, movies, and society’s general belief that the government is always trying to hide something.

The third theory, and the one I have believed most, to this day, is that I am simply a freak of nature.  That’s the theory of evolution, that every few generations, an offspring mutates, which might give the species a better chance of survival.  If not, it simply dies off.  I still do not know whether or not I am an improvement over the rest of humanity.  If everyone was like me, would the world be a better place?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  People seem very concerned with privacy.  I think it would drive them insane to know that everyone around them knew exactly what they were thinking.  It would probably drive them mad, just to know that one person was out there who could tell what they were thinking.  That is why I never told any “normal” person of my ability.  I was afraid they wouldn’t like me.  I suppose I still have that fear.  I don’t think I will ever be able to show this autobiography to anybody, because of that fear.

I often wondered if my mother had some trace of an ability like mine.  I thought, perhaps, there was something in the genes.  My father didn’t seem to have any sort of ability, though it could have been hidden, somehow, from his own consciousness and from my probing mind.  It seemed to me like there should have been something there, but I couldn’t find anything and nothing in my father’s memories indicated that my mother had any sort of power.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I probably wasn’t going to find any clues to the reason of my existence in my father’s mind.  I started looking other places, hoping that there was someone else out there like me, or hoping, at least, that there was someone out there that could give me an answer.  But there never was.  I was alone.  There was no one who was anything like me and no one who knew about me.

After a couple years, I gave up my search, and went on with my life, trying to pretend that I was normal.  But I always longed for the return of my mystery.  Some new clue.  Anything to occupy my mind again.  But my puzzle was gone, beyond my solving abilities, and I would have to force myself to think about other things.

______      ______      ______

You must think that having a power like this can be nothing but helpful.  True, it does have it’s advantages.  It makes communication easier since I can understand the meaning behind a person’s words and get exactly what they’re trying to say.  It’s also easier to know when a person doesn’t understand what I’m trying to say and where they’re confused.  That’s probably the main benefit of my ability.

But it’s not all positive.  It has caused me some problems in the past.  One of those is the feeling of loneliness, separation from the rest of society.  It’s not easy to keep something like this a secret and it requires me to distance myself from people.

There was once when I was just barely seven years old and my father brought me along to a potluck picnic at a friend’s house.  I don’t happen to remember what the party was for.  They must have had occasional get togethers like this, just for the hell of it.  I didn’t know who the people were, and my father didn’t know them very well either

My father actually didn’t want to go himself.  He would have preferred to stay home and write in the novel he had been working on.  Since my mother’s death he had fallen behind in his writing and had begun to worry about his income.  We had a very large house in a wealthy part of town and since my mother’s death, having less than half the income of before, he began to grow concerned we wouldn’t be able to keep it.  The main reason he decided to go was that he wanted me to get out and see new people, though I was not interested in this.  I never had any difficulty meeting people; I just didn’t enjoy doing it.

The party was very crowded and everyone was having a good time.  Hordes of people, talking and laughing, roamed around the huge house and yard.  I often had difficulty staying out of their way.  I was small and they didn’t always see me.

There were other kids my age there–about half a dozen of them–and my father immediately suggested that I go off to play with them.  He still wasn’t having a good time, but was hoping that he could find an attractive woman and strike up a conversation with her.  He hadn’t done any dating in the year and a half since my mother died and was looking to start.  This was the perfect place and I would just be in his way.

I went off and found the rest of the children, playing by themselves in a large sand box out in back of the house.  I sat down in the grass and watched them for several minutes as they continued to build little creations in the moist sand, taking no notice of me.  Occasionally someone would throw a bit of sand into the air or at someone, all in good fun.  Eventually one of the young boys noticed me and asked me if I would like to join in.

I thought about this for awhile but the prospect of sitting and digging around in the dirt for no real purpose did not exactly appeal to me.  On the other hand, they had been gracious enough to ask me to join and I had nothing better to do.

I was about to get up and join them when I saw that in the several seconds I had taken to reply, they had lost interest in me and had gotten into a large sand-throwing contest.  That’s just as well, I thought as I sat and watched them.  I didn’t really want to get in there anyway.

The dirt fight broke up when one of the girls ran away, crying, with bits of sand caught in her eye.  The rest of them now decided to consolidate their building efforts and construct one gigantic creation in the center of the sand box.  They argued over what it would be but finally decided on some sort of a castle, or rather, mound of sand with a bunch of tunnels dug into the side of it.  One boy suggested that they make believe there was some monster living in the depths of this mound.  Off the top of his head he came up with a physical description of this monster and background information on it.  I have always been amazed by people who can do that–in fact most people can to some extent, though I have never been able to.  I can’t ever seem to come up with stories or characters off the top of my head like that.  Everything I ever come up with, always originates in someone else’s mind.  I suppose being bombarded with so many ideas all at once for one’s entire life, you learn to depend on them and your own imagination ceases to exist.

They spent a long time building this creation of theirs.  I soon became bored with observing them and began to wonder about my father.  I turned my attention away from the kids and began scanning the minds of the rest of the party goers, searching for my father.  I wanted to know if he had found himself a woman to talk to.  But I couldn’t find him.  There were too many people here, too many minds.  I couldn’t pick his out.

I turned my attention back to the children playing.  Their castle kept collapsing and they started to get frustrated.  They kept simplifying their designs in order to make it easier to build.  They started to grow bored as their castle idea wasn’t turning out to be as exciting as they had hoped.  One of them turned his attention toward me.  “What are you doing?” he said.  “Why are you staring like that?”  And they all looked at me and wanted to know why I found them so interesting to look at.  I didn’t give them any answer because, in fact, I didn’t know why I found their little game so interesting to watch

After a few seconds their questions turned to insults.  They called me names, said I was stupid, ugly, et-cetera–whatever kids usually say when their only purpose is to be cruel.  They were bored and they needed someone to pick on.  I wasn’t very interesting when I was just sitting there.

The insults soon got to the point that I couldn’t bear to listen to them anymore.  I got up without saying a word and went off by myself.  I went to the shade of a large tree that was quite a distance from the house and from the crowds of people, sat down and basically just felt sorry for myself for a long while.  I even felt a couple of tears forming in my eyes.

A time passed and I noticed a house cat wandering in the bushes not far from where I sat.  With a little bit of difficulty, I entered it’s mind.  Animals are generally harder to read than humans because their minds are so different.  I can read the minds of most mammals, though not all, a few types of birds and one or two species of fish.  Other than that, the animal kingdom is basically closed off to me.

The mind of an animal is usually based around the emotion of fear.  It’s all just different levels of fear.  When the fear reaches a low level, other emotions start to present themselves.  Usually that happens only with domesticated animals who have very little to worry about and nothing immediate threatens their survival.

This cat that I was now staring at was like that.  I read as deeply into it’s mind as I could.  It was a meaningless existence that the cat had–much like my own–and it had no delusions about that.  It went through it’s days sleeping, wandering, exploring and eating.  Nothing more, nothing with any real purpose as far as I could see.

But it was happy.  It’s fear was at a low level and that’s all it cared about.  It didn’t matter to the cat that it led a meaningless existence.  I think that may be the main difference between people and animals.  They never feel as if this world has to make sense.  They go through their lives, understanding the world as best they can but if they can’t get everything, it doesn’t matter.  And animals always seem to know where they stand.  Most humans I meet haven’t found their place in the world yet, and probably never will.

I wished, for a while, that I could be like the cat, uncaring, not hoping, constantly, for something better to come along.  But after a time, I began to make myself think like the cat.  Rummaging around in the animal’s mind for so long perhaps changed my own thinking a little.  I was a little happier now, thinking, nothing really matters, so why should I worry?

After the cat was out of sight and I had lost mind contact, I got up and went looking for my dad.  I touched his mind after a few minutes of wandering through the crowds and went to him.  He was sitting in a small group on the back porch.  He didn’t take much notice as I sat down on the ground next to his chair.  The group was having a heated debate about politics, a subject that, even at that age, I understood fairly well, though was never the least bit interested in.

I sat, occasionally listening to the silent voices of their minds, watching and listening to the group talk about Bill Clinton, Rush Limbaugh, and other such figures that seemed to be important in that year.  None of it interested me, though I listened just the same since I had nothing better to do.  Nobody in the group asked me for any of my opinions on the subjects.  Most, didn’t even notice I was there.

There was a woman sitting on the other side of my father.  It was fairly obvious that he liked her.  I think, perhaps, that a non-mind-reader could have seen there was an attraction, though she didn’t seem to get it.  She wasn’t contributing much to the discussion, just sitting silently, much like I was doing.  My dad kept looking over at her, wondering if she agreed with the points he was making, hoping he wasn’t making himself out to look like an idiot in her eyes as he spoke.  The truth is, she didn’t care much.  Like me, she wasn’t interested in the conversation.

I pushed my way deep into her mind, trying to find out if she would be a reasonable match for my father.  Her name was Susan Smith.  She was single, had never been married.  I suppose she was looking for a relationship, though it wasn’t an urgent desire.  She wasn’t particularly attracted to my father but if I managed to get the two of them hooked up, I figured she would probably change her mind.

She got up to go to the bathroom after a few moments and I followed her.  No one noticed me going.

I waited for her, standing next to the bathroom door until she came back out.  When she did I stepped out in front of her.  She nearly tripped over me.  “Whoa,” she said.  “I didn’t see you there, little girl.  Did you need to use the bathroom?”

“Hi Susan,” I said.  “No, I don’t need the bathroom.  Actually I was hoping to talk to you about something.”

She gave me an odd look, the look most adults would give me when they first heard me speak.  I guess I sounded older than I looked.

“And what’s your name?” she asked.

“Carol.”

“What did you want to talk to me about?”

“It’s about my father.”

“I’m sorry,” she replied.  “I don’t know who he is.”

“The man you were sitting next to, out on the porch.”

“What about him?”

“He likes you,” I said.

She smiled and laughed a stunned little laugh.  “What?”  She shook her head.

“He’s not doing anything this Friday night,” I said.  “You should ask him to go to the movies or something.”

She peered down at me.  “I don’t understand.  Why are you telling me this?”

“Come on,” I said, motioning with my hand.  “Follow me.”  I led her out of the house to a spot near the garage where there were less people standing around.  Susan was shocked by what I had told her.  She wasn’t surprised that my dad had some attraction toward her, but she was surprised that someone like me would be confronting her with it.

“So are you going to ask him?” I said

“I don’t understand,” she replied.  “Why do you want me to ask him out?”

I shrugged.  The truth is, I just wanted something to do while I was at this party.  It didn’t make that much difference to me if my dad had a date.

“So are you going to ask him?” I said again.

“What makes you think he likes me so much anyway?”

“He told me.  He made me promise not to tell anyone though.”

“I don’t even know his name.”

“Nathan,” I said.  “His name’s Nathan.  So are you going to ask him?”

She smiled down at me.  “I’ll tell you what, I’ll go back and talk to him for a while, and if he turns out to be an okay guy, yeah, then I’ll ask him.  Is that okay?”

“Sounds good.”

We walked back to the back of the house.  I ran ahead of Susan so that my father wouldn’t think that we had spoken.  I sat down next to him and a few moments later Susan came and sat down next to me, so I was down between them.

Sure enough, she started talking to him.  I sat and listened to their conversation drift between different light topics for almost an hour.  She finally asked him to go to the movies with her and he gladly accepted.  Content, now, with the knowledge that I wouldn’t be needed to make sure things ran smoothly, I got up and left.

I went looking for the kids again.  I hoped that they had found something more interesting to do and that I could join in.

It was getting dark now so they had decided to play a game of tag amongst the trees.  I found them back in the woods a little ways, laughing, screaming and running around in pursuit of each other.  I noticed that the group now consisted of five boys and no girls.  Apparently they hadn’t wanted to join in.

When the five boys were finished with the next round of their game, without pausing to search their minds to find what their answer would be, I asked them if they would mind if I joined in their game.

They looked at each other for a moment then one of them turned to me and said, “We want to play by ourselves,” or words to that effect.  “You can watch though, if you don’t get in the way.”  He was afraid that since I was a girl I wouldn’t be able to run as fast or play as well and I wouldn’t be any sort of a challenge.

So I sat and I watched.  Just an observer, nothing more.  That always seemed to be how my life went anyway.

I had come to this party, perhaps, with the hope of making a friend, finding someone I could connect with.  That’s what I wanted more than anything.  Instead, I felt more alone than I ever had before.

An hour or two passed and it was time to leave.  I got up and found my father and we went home.  I was more than a little happy to be done with that night.

He started dating Susan soon after that, though their relationship didn’t last more than a few months.  I never had anything to do with it after that first night.  They would go out on Friday or Saturday nights, leaving me at home with a baby-sitter, feeling withdrawn from the situation and more than a little lonely.  I always seemed withdrawn from situations though.  I was always, just an observer.

______      ______      ______

Not long after the relationship between my father and Susan Smith had broken up, I asked my dad if he would like to move.  I knew that he did, though he was too worried that I had grown attached to the house and my surroundings to suggest it.  Once he knew that I felt the urge to move on to some new place too, he did not hesitate in putting the house up for sale.  We packed up our stuff and left our home without wasting much time at all.

My plans had been more for a small move.  Maybe to another part of town, a smaller house that would be easier for my father to afford on his unsteady pay as a young-adult mystery fiction writer.  The most I expected was maybe a move to another city or maybe to another providence but a month later, I found myself on the other side of the continent, in another country, moving into a small condominium in New York City.  I guess that made sense, since my father wanted to be closer to his editors.

What surprised me was how little the move affected me.  I had expected everything to be different in New York.  New city, new home, new country, but everything seemed the same.  Same life, different background setting.

I realized I hadn’t left anything behind.  There had been nothing at my home in British Columbia that I had become attached to and I didn’t feel even the slightest pang of loss as I left it behind.  I didn’t have any friends, at least none that I truly cared for.  The only person I could actually say that I loved, was my father, and even then, I think I could have easily lived without him.

It has been that way for me all my life, never growing attached to anything or anyone.  It’s been that way up until very recently, anyway.

______      ______      ______

When I hit middle-school, I started dating.  I never found it very difficult to find a member of the opposite sex that was interested in me, though I found it difficult to ever get interested in any of them.  There were so many boys to choose from but they all seemed the same.  They were all too predictable.  Nothing was ever new with any of them.

Boys, for the most part, are only interested in one thing anyway, especially at that age.  I knew and accepted that from the beginning.  For a many of my boyfriends I gave them what they wanted.  Why not?, I thought.

In all of the minds of the adults I knew at the time, sex seemed like such a big thing that brought everyone so much pleasure.  I never got it though.  I never saw the joy in the act that others seemed to.  Perhaps that was because of my age.  Maybe I was simply too young to get the right experience from sex, but most of my partners seemed to.  So there must have been something wrong with me, I thought.  So I continued experimenting with different guys for a couple years, hoping each time, that this one would be different, that this one would make me happy.  But it was always the same, I’d lie down with some guy, he’d be overly anxious, and three minutes later we’d have to think of something else to do.

By the time I hit high school, I had given it up simply because of extreme boredom–and also I didn’t want to make a name for myself.  I gave up dating almost entirely and decided that if I was ever going to find joy in life, it probably wouldn’t be from something so simple.

______      ______      ______

Nothing too interesting happened to me in the following years as I went through high school and entered college.  I never had any difficulty maintaining a straight “A” average, in fact, never seemed to have any difficulty with anything.

I think that I have been writing this a little one-sidedly.  Perhaps I have been trying to make you feel sorry for me.  I’ve been trying to convey how lonesome and stagnant my life could be.  But, in fact, it wasn’t all terrible.  I never had difficulty accomplishing anything.  This, of course, was mostly due to my power.  I always knew that I could make a stable future for myself through the use of my ability.  If all else failed I could become a professional gambler and make quite a good living, or even announce to everyone what I was and gain some fame and fortune.  That was always an option.

So I went on with my life, mostly bored but basically hopeful for the future.

I moved into my own apartment when I was eighteen, got a simple waitressing job and supported myself with that for the next six years.  I could have worked for something better I suppose, especially after I had gotten my degree in psychology, (why I chose psychology, I can’t tell you; I guess I thought it was somehow fitting) but I never felt the need for more money or a nicer place to live so I never bothered.  Wealth, to me, always seemed like just status, something to show off, and I was never into making people think I was better than them.

I was as happy now as I ever hoped to be for I could see no other opportunities my life had to offer.

______      ______      ______

One thing that I enjoyed doing was attending rock concerts.  The one problem with this though was that a good concert from a band that I liked was fairly rare but when they came around, two or three times a year, I would enjoy them to their fullest.  There was something about that smell that gave me such a great feeling.  If you’ve ever been to such a performance you know: the smell of ninety percent human perspiration and ten percent marijuana.  And it was the fun of being in such a huge crowd, the thousands of minds pressing down on mine and melting together into one.  That could usually give me a thrill.

It was at one such concert that my life changed.

The band was Picknickel by name and opening up for them was a band I had never heard before called Flow.

It was early in Flow’s performance and I was beginning to get into the music.  The arena was dark except for the stage where colored lights flashed through a constant flood of smoke.

I spent most of my time close to the front, down in the middle of the pit.  That’s what I enjoyed the most.  Dozens of people were constantly pressing against me, leaping around in time to the music.

Then I saw one man thrown up, above the crowd, very near me.  I watched him as he rolled around above our heads and finally fell through to the ground again.  I looked over to where he had gone up and saw that there was a group of people congregating within the masses and lifting up any individual who wished to go.  I began forcing my way through the tightly packed bodies towards that area because I felt an urge to go up.  Crowd surfing is always the most enjoyable part of a concert like this.

I reached my destination and a man, probably twenty years old, about five years younger than me, offered out his hands for me to step into as is the proper procedure for such a situation.  As I lifted my right foot to put in the cradle his hands had made, I tried to focus on his mind.  I blocked everything out and concentrated on him.

And suddenly everything went blank.  Within all those people, all those minds, it all went blank and I was alone.

Somebody knocked into me from the side and I nearly fell but was able to grab onto the shoulders of others around me and hold myself up.  My sense returned and I looked back up at the man who I had tried to read.  He gave me a shrug, since the music was too loud to make verbal communication possible, as if to ask if I planned to go up or not.  But I was too stunned by what had happened to make a reply.

I tried entering his mind once again but this time I made no attempt to block out all the others.  To my astonishment, I hit a barrier, something I could not penetrate.  This man was unreadable, though I was not completely sure of that since there was too much confusion to be sure of anything.  I tried him again and yes, yes, completely blank, as if he were nothing more than a cardboard cut out and not a flesh and blood person.

He put his hands down and waved them impatiently and I had no choice but to step into them and allow myself to be lifted up above the crowds.  I floated for half a minute or so, being tossed randomly about then fell through onto the plywood floor.  The crowd moved aside for me and someone helped me get to my feet.

After gaining my bearings again I looked around for the man whose mind I hadn’t been able to enter but he was gone, lost in the crowds.  There was no hope of finding him again.  Finding such a tiny gap in such a huge mass of minds all converging would be nearly impossible.

I remembered his face though.  Hopefully that would be enough.  I had to meet this man and find out what made him different.

I pushed my way out of the front pit area and out into a more open area where the crowd wasn’t so dense and found a place against the back wall of the arena to sit down.

What could have happened?, I wondered.  I had never experienced anything like that.  I had always been able to read the mind of anyone I came in contact with.  There were many species of animals that I could not read, whose minds were blocked from me, but humans’ minds were basically all the same in form and structure.  It shouldn’t have been possible for this one man to be so different.

Perhaps he’s an alien, I thought, posing as a human.

I wasn’t quick to jump to such outlandish conclusions though.  I must have imagined the whole thing, I thought.  And that’s the Conclusion I stuck with.  It was just a trick, something about all those minds converging that made it seem as though I hadn’t been able to read him.

After resting for another five or ten minutes, I got up and headed back toward the mosh pit.

______      ______      ______

I stood in line, about an hour later, waiting to buy a Pepsi to quench the thirst I had built up since I had been dancing.  Flow had stopped playing and everyone must have been taking a break at the same time for the refreshment lines were surprisingly long.  I had been waiting about ten minutes and was barely half way to the front.  I was a fairly patient person though I was beginning to get incredibly thirsty.

Suddenly I sensed something odd, to my right, in the next line.  I couldn’t tell you what it was exactly–just a sense that something wasn’t right.

I looked over my shoulder and saw him.  He was just standing in line, silently waiting.  It didn’t appear as though he was with anyone.  I stood, staring at him, trying to enter his mind and was completely unsuccessful.  I tried again, scanning the minds of the people standing near him and passing over his.  I was sure of it now.  There was a gap that I couldn’t deny.  It was as if he was completely brain dead.

He noticed me staring at him and looked over at me.  I smiled, nodded to him and looked away.  Several seconds later I looked back and he was still staring at me.

His line moved a few steps forward and he was nearly beside me.

“Hello,” he said.  “Do you find something interesting with me?  You seemed to be staring pretty hard.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I replied quickly.  “I didn’t mean to draw attention to myself.”

“It’s no problem.”

“You remind me of someone I know,” I lied.  “That’s why I was looking at you like that.”

“Ah.”  He paused and nodded.  “You didn’t hurt yourself when you fell, did you?  It looked like you hit the floor pretty hard.”

“No, no.  No damage done.  Somebody helped me up.”

“I’m glad to hear it.  So many people these days are so quick to trample you if you fall.  So what’s your name?”

“Carol.”

“Hi, I’m Daniel.”  He held out his hand for me and I took it.

We made small talk until we had bought our drinks and then went off together back toward the arena.  We ended up sitting against the back barrier that separated the bleachers from the main floor.  The lights were much brighter now that there was no band on stage.

“So do you go by Dan or Daniel?” I asked, trying desperately to start a conversation that we both could find interesting.  I was having a great deal of difficulty since I had no idea what subjects interested him.

“I generally go by Daniel,” he replied.

I nodded.  “Most people, I think, would go by Dan.  Maybe they think Daniel has a sort of dorky ring to it.  I think it says something about your character that you would want to go by the complete version.”

He shrugged.  “It’s just a name.  I think people read too much into things like that.”

“You’re probably right about that.  I think people read too much into just about everything.”  At this point I was just babbling about any subject I could think of.  “Like writers.  Everyone thinks that the stories they write somehow reflect who they are and how they act, that the characters they create are just duped up versions of themselves.  Stephen King, I’ll bet you, isn’t some perverted serial murderer like his story characters–just as an example–though I’ve never met him.  The only thing a story reveals about an author is what kind of stuff he or she likes to write about.  Sometimes not even that.”

“Do you write?”

“No, I’ve never had any interest in writing.  It all seems kind of pointless to me.  You create a bunch of characters, throw them together in some sort of conflict and hope that it turns out good.  I’ve never been able find story characters very believable.  I guess if I can’t see them, they just seem one-dimensional to me.  My father does a lot of writing though.  Makes an okay living at it.”

“Is that right?  What kind of stuff does he write?”

“Young adult mysteries.  Short novels mostly.”

“What’s his name?  Maybe I’ve heard of him.”

“Nathan Schlicting.”

He paused, then shook his head.  “Nope.  Never heard of him.”

“He’s not famous.”

Daniel looked around the arena, lifted himself up a little to get a better view.  “It’s taking quite a while.  When’s Picknickel coming on?”

“How should I know?” I replied.  “Be patient.  It hasn’t even been thirty minutes yet.”

He slid back down the wall to his original sitting position.  “You want a cigarette?” he asked, pulling a pack from his pocket.

“You smoke?” I said.

“Nope,” he replied, carefully lighting his cigarette with a pocket lighter.

I stared at him for a few seconds, wondering about his choice of words.  “It certainly looks like you do.”

He smiled at me and laughed.  “Well, don’t ask stupid questions.  Do you want one or not?”

“Yeah, sure.”

He passed me a cigarette and lit it for me.  “That was kind of mean of me, wasn’t it?  I’m sorry.  You were just trying to make conversation.”

I said, “Don’t worry about it.”  I tried as hard as I could to smoke the cigarette like I knew what I was doing and keep from coughing and looking like an idiot.  It seemed strange for me to be worried so much about what I looked like in the eyes of another person.

“So what is it that you do?” I asked.

“I go to concerts,” Daniel replied.

“What do you do for a living, I mean.”

“I don’t do anything.  I won the Lottery a few years back and have been living off that, traveling around the country, going to shows.”

“Are you kidding me?”  Maybe it was just the fact that I couldn’t read his mind, but this guy was seeming weirder and weirder the longer I talked to him.  I began wishing that I could just reach in, getting a glimpse of what he was thinking.  It was becoming frustrating how his mind was completely closed off to me.  But there was a sense of mystery, of the unknown, with Daniel that I had never experienced and was greatly enjoying.

“I just drive around,” he said, “seeing concerts, exploring the country.  That’s just about all I do.”

“Exciting life?”

“Sometimes.  It gets lonely sometimes.”

“Where does your family live?”

“I don’t have one.  I grew up in an orphanage.”

“Really?” I said.

Perhaps I would have pressed him on the subject, asked him what it was like to grow up without parents but I had no idea how he felt about the subject and was too frightened I’d offend him by asking personal questions.

“So what bands have you seen in your touring?” I asked.

“Well, I was in Chicago a week ago and saw–”

The lights suddenly went down and a cheer came up from the crowd.

“Oh, here we go.”  Daniel stood up quickly.  “Picknickel’s coming on.  I’ll see you later, Carol.  I’m going to try to get down in the pit before they start their first song.”  And he walked off, toward the front of the arena, not looking back.

I couldn’t believe it.  He was just walking off.  He wasn’t even going to ask me for my phone number.  Why would he spend so much time talking to me and then just walk off, not bothering to find out if he could see me again?  He was totally baffling to me.

I watched him go, wanting to call out to him but not being able to bring myself to do it.  I was simply too stunned.

An immense light show began as Picknickel took the stage, making quite a showy entrance.  When I looked back down, Daniel was lost in the crowd.

______      ______      ______

I walked out of the concert, staring at the ground, trying to ignore the minds of the people walking close by.  The band had played loudly.  That, coupled with all the minds weighing down on me and my confusing encounter with Daniel had given me quite a headache.

It had still been an enjoyable show, though, I had to admit.

I reached the parking lot I had spent seven dollars to use, and after several minutes was able to find my car.  As I fumbled with the keys, I noticed a dark figure several rows away.  There were others, scattered about the parking lot, searching for their cars, but this particular figure caught my attention more than anyone else.  I focused my mind on the figure and as I half expected, could not get in.  Apparently I had become quite adept at noticing the gap that Daniel represented, though it hadn’t been a conscious effort.

He was beginning to get into his car now.  I started walking toward him but increased my pace to a run when it looked as though he was about to leave.

I reached his vehicle and he looked up at me from the driver’s seat.  He smiled, looking surprised by my appearance.  Rolling down the window, he said, “Hey, it’s you.  I thought I’d lost you.”

“I thought I lost you too,” I said, leaning against the back window of his car.  “Why did you run off like that?”

“Picknickel was coming on.  I wanted to get up front before they started playing.”

“I was kind of expecting you to ask for my phone number,” I said.

“I kind of wanted to.  Maybe I was a little too nervous.”

We stared at each other for a long while, saying nothing.  The midnight breeze made me shiver.

“You want to come in?” he asked, indicating the passenger seat.

I shrugged.  “Sure,” I replied, and started around the back of his car to the passenger door.  He unlocked it for me and I got in.

He leaned over in front of me and pulled a notepad and a mechanical pencil out of the glove compartment.  “You want to give me your number now–since you’re so anxious?”

“I’m anxious, you think?”

“You expect me to pick you up like some chick at a single’s bar.”

“Where do you get that from?” I asked.

“You do.  That’s what you expect.  That’s what you want me to do.  Don’t try to deny it, Carol.”

“All right.  Okay,” I said.  “That’s what I was expecting, not specifically what I was hoping for though.”

“What are you hoping for?”

I smiled and laughed, desperately uncomfortable with the situation.  I had no way to tell what he thought of me, so naturally, I felt apprehensive about talking to him.  I had no way of knowing what he wanted me to say.

“I’m hoping I can see you again,” I said.

He stared at me, his head cocked slightly, and nodded.  “All right.  I think I’d like that too.”  He clicked his pencil and handed it to me along with the notepad.  I wrote my name and number and gave it back to him.

“Do you have to be anywhere tonight?” he said as he stuffed the scrap of paper in his wallet.  “You don’t have to be to work tomorrow morning, do you?  I don’t want to prevent you from getting enough sleep.”

“Don’t worry.  I don’t need to be anywhere.”

After several seconds of silence, he said, “Would you like to hear some music?”  He pulled a small book of compact discs from under the seat and handed it to me.  “Pick one.”

We spent the next hour and a half listening to his CD’s and talking.  The subjects of conversation drifted from one to another fairly easy.  We were rarely stuck for anything to say, though I cannot remember even half the things we talked about.  None of it was especially important.  We were just getting to know each other better.

At about two in the morning, I decided it was time to leave.  I feared if I stayed any longer I would have difficulty driving in my already tired state.  “You’re going to call me, right?” I said as I stepped out of the car.  He had no number that he could give me and so I was feeling as if I had very little control over the situation and just had to make sure.

“Yeah, I’ll call you,” said Daniel.  “Sometime next week, okay?”

“Sure.”  I threw the door closed and walked back toward my own car, several rows down.  I looked back once as I heard him start his own car and gave a friendly wave.

______      ______      ______

Instead of calling, Daniel showed up, several days later at the Denny’s where I worked, at three in the morning.  He came in, sat down at the bar and I went over to him.

“What can get for you?” I said, for lack of a better greeting.

“Hello, Carol,” he said.  “Coffee and a menu, please.”

I handed him a menu and waved at the other waitress to pour him some coffee.  “I assume you’re here to see me.  Correct?  If not, this is quite a coincidence.”

“I’m here to see you, of course.”

“How did you know I worked here?” I asked.

“You told me.”

I couldn’t remember when I had told him that, though I didn’t think much of it at the time.  “Why didn’t you call?” I asked.

“Too impersonal.”

“How’s that?  You don’t like the phone?”

“You can’t tell anything about a person from a phone conversation.  You weren’t sitting around, waiting for me to call, were you?”

“No,” I said, though, in a way, I had been.

He nodded.  “So when do you get off work?”

“About forty-five minutes.”

“Do you want to do something after you get out?”

I stared at him, trying to imagine what he could possibly be thinking and not having much success.  “It’s three-AM,” I said.

Daniel shrugged.  “I’m a night-owl.  I can’t help it.  Maybe we could take a walk through Central Park, watch the sunrise or something.”

“Central Park at this time a night?” I said.

“You don’t fear going out, do you?”

“No, of course not.”

“Don’t worry,” he said.  “I’ll protect you.”

“I’m sure you will,” I replied, sarcastically.

“Well, I would… if there was no risk to me, personally.  Actually, to tell you the truth, I’d probably run at the first sign of trouble.”

I laughed at this.

“I’m being completely serious,” he said.

I shook my head.  “God, you’re weird.”

“Well, I try.”

______      ______      ______

“Did you actually want to go to central park?” I asked as we walked out of the restaurant together.

“Hell, no,” Daniel replied.  “That place scares me.”

“Have you ever been there?”

“No.”

“Well, we have to go back to my place before we do anything,” I said.  “Where’s your car?”

“I took a cab.”

“So I guess you’re coming with me.”

It was a fifteen minute drive to my apartment.  Daniel came in and waited in the living room while I changed out of my work clothes.

“So what did you have in mind for us to do?” I asked as I came out of the bedroom.

“Don’t ask me to come up with something, Carol.  I’m really bad at it.  Why don’t you think of something?”

“You were the one who asked if I wanted to do something.”  I crossed the room and sat down beside him on the couch.  “Nothing’s going to be open this time of night.  What could we do?  Would you rather just stay here and watch TV?”

“That would be okay.”

We sat together and flipped through the five hundred stations for forty-five minutes without finding anything worth watching.  Eventually my thumb got sore and I handed him the remote.  He went through the stations slower than I was used to, which annoyed me a great deal.  Eventually I asked him to just turn it off.

Then we talked.  This time the conversation was more personal than it had been a week ago in his car.  Perhaps it was the early morning tiredness we both were feeling that made us speak more openly.  We talked of past relationships and our plans for the future.  I told him about my mother, gave him a brief overview of how she died, though did not go into details.  I did not tell him about what else happened on the night of my mother’s death, nor did I tell him anything of my powers.  I still didn’t know him well enough to tell him something like that, and since I could not read him, I would have no way of proving it to him.  I assumed that I would always keep it a secret from him.

He put his arm around me at one point and didn’t seem to be at all apprehensive about doing so.  I figured that was simply because his mind was closed off to me so his fearfulness just wasn’t thrown in my face like it would have been with most men.

It didn’t take us long to start kissing.  I don’t recall who it was that initiated it.  It just seemed to start without my noticing it.  After a few moments, I found my hands frantically running over his body and a great fear ran through me, like nothing I had experienced before.  I didn’t know this man and had no possible way of knowing what he was capable of.  Things were moving too quickly, but I just couldn’t seem to help myself.

Without saying a word we got up and walked, hand in hand, to the bedroom.  We made love at five in the morning, as the sun was beginning to rise outside.  I was scared at first, not knowing what to expect, but I soon lost myself in the moment.  I must admit, now, that it was probably the most thrilling experience of my life.  I had never thought sex could be like that.  Without Daniel’s thoughts getting in my way, it left me free to explore my own emotions more thoroughly and I could fully enjoy the moment.

After it was over, we lay, huddled together silently, for an hour or so.  I eventually fell into a deep sleep, feeling surprisingly comfortable with a person I knew so little about.

______      ______      ______

Daniel showed up at work the next night and the night after that.  We began spending all our free time together–or all of my free time.  Daniel didn’t work, had no obligations.  He always had free time.

We would go out to dinner together every night.  He always paid.  He said that he felt guilty about taking advantage of my hospitality.  (Since he had no permanent residence, he had been living in my apartment.)

Something was happening to me and I couldn’t seem to make myself believe it.  I was falling in love.  It was such a strange experience for me.  I had never believed it was possible and yet here it was happening.  It wasn’t just that I couldn’t read Daniel’s mind and the fact that I found him so unpredictable; there was something more, something I couldn’t explain to you but that I was falling hopelessly in love with.

Underneath it all, I couldn’t help wondering if he felt the same way for me.  I kept asking myself that question, over and over again.  But it wasn’t as frustrating as I would have thought.  It was a mystery, and, as I have told you, I always loved mysteries.  I treated it as such.  I looked for clues in the way he acted, in the way he treated me and the way he looked at me.  From what I could see, yes, he was in love with me, but I was well aware of the fact that I was not adept at interpreting a person’s emotions without any extrasensory perception.

One person can never be totally devoted to another.  From examining many relationships, I have realized this.  I had never been able to get close to anyone, knowing that they weren’t completely in love with me.  With Daniel, however, I could pretend.  That was enough.  I didn’t know for sure, and didn’t want to.

I still did not know him, nor could I expect to get to know him as well as I could get to know anyone else, but that did not concern me.  I was happier now than I had ever been and that’s all that mattered–or all that should matter.

______      ______      ______

I had been seeing Daniel for nearly three months when he called me at work and asked me to meet him at a little cafe we had been to a couple times before.  He said he wanted to talk to me about something.

When I pulled into the restaurant, he was already waiting for me in a booth by the window.

I came in and sat across the table from him.  I hadn’t seen him in a couple of days and he looked somehow different today.  “What is it that you wanted to talk to me about?” I asked.

He looked down at the table for a moment.  “Would you like anything to eat?” he said.

I started to wonder what this could be about.  This seemed so strange.  For the first time that I had noticed, Daniel seemed nervous about something.  He was clearly uncomfortable with what he was going to say.

“Tell me what this is about first.”

He looked up at me and gave a long pause.  “I’m leaving,” he said and turned away from me, closed his eyes tight and put his hand to his head, as if he was trying to force something out of his mind.

I stared at him, not giving any visual signs of the shock I was feeling.  “You’re leaving,” I said simply.  “Why?  Where are you going?”

“I’ve got to move on,” he said, still looking away from me.  “I’ve stayed here too long.  I don’t like people getting attached to me.  I have to break this off before anything happens in our relationship.”

“I thought something already happened,” I said, stupidly.

“Maybe for you,” he replied.

I said nothing.  Even though I couldn’t see his face, I could tell that he was having as much difficulty with this as I was.

“I’m sorry I have to do this to you, Carol, but I just can’t stay here any longer.  It’s in my nature to keep traveling.  I know you were hoping I’d settle down with you but I just can’t do that.”

“I understand,” I said.  “I’ve been in your place before.”

“I doubt you’ve ever been in exactly the same position I am.  This is very hard for me, Carol–not that I think it isn’t hard for you too–but it’s different for me.  I usually break up with someone over the phone.  I know that sounds cruel and impersonal but that’s how I generally do it.  It’s just easier.”

“I can see how that would be.  Why is it different with me, though?”

“I don’t really know.  You’re different from other girls.  I don’t know how else to explain it to you.”  He looked at me now and for the first time since he’d started talking, I got a clear view of his face.  He said, “You have such a unique mind.”

This time I felt the shock showing on my face.  My eyes widened, my mouth dropped open.  “What do you mean by that,” I said, barely able to get the words out.

He took a deep breath.  “I can read minds, Carol.  I can read yours and I have been ever since we’ve been seeing each other.  That’s why this is so hard for me, because I know how strongly you feel about me.”

I stared at him, dumbfounded.  Unable to think of anything to say, I remained silent.  The silence went on for several seconds.

“My God, you believe me,” he said.

“I believe you.”

“Why?”

“Why not?  I never thought you would want to leave me.  This is just one more thing on top of that.”

“I’ve never told anyone before.  I figured no one would believe me.”

“I don’t think anyone would,” I said.

“You believe me.”

“You said yourself, I have a very unique mind.”

“You do.”

“How so?” I asked.  I was quite curious of what someone else’s opinion of my mind would be.

“How so,” he said.  “Your signal is weak, for one thing.  That’s not a bad thing.  It just means I have a little more difficulty reading you.  You are so much more intelligent than most people but don’t seem to care or don’t try to use that to your advantage.  You understand human nature so well and grasp concepts so quickly.  Does any of this sound familiar?”

“You’re being fairly general,” I replied.

“You have a strong mind.”

“Strong?”

“I mean, incorruptible.  I can usually influence the thoughts of most people I meet but not so much with you.  I can a little bit.  That’s why you noticed me in the parking lot at the Picknickel concert.  I was calling to you.”

This was quickly becoming the most shocking conversation I had ever been involved with.  Not only was Daniel a mind reader like me, but he had the power to change people’s thoughts.  That’s something I have tried occasionally to do, but have never had success with.  He must have one powerful mind, so powerful I couldn’t read it.

I started thinking about the belief I had always had about the possible existence of God.  I had always thought that if there was a God, He would have a mind that I could read.  And here was Daniel, someone who certainly was not a god but who, nevertheless, had a very powerful mind that I could not read.  Right there, I started changing my belief systems.  I had been talking to Daniel for only a few minutes and everything had changed.  Anything was possible now.  I wasn’t as omniscient as I had once believed.

But Daniel wasn’t as omniscient as he believed either.  Somehow, though he had had complete access to my mind, had missed the fact that I was a telepath.

“You have a unique relationship with your father.  I almost never meet a person who loves a parent as much as you love your father.  It’s like he’s your best friend.  I wish I had something like that.”

“You grew up in an orphanage,” I said, almost to myself.

“Actually no, I didn’t.  I had parents.  Two of them.”

“You lied to me?”

“I moved out when I was fifteen,” he said.  “They didn’t love me.  I showed off my power too much.  They never knew exactly what I had, but they knew I was different.  They feared me.  I couldn’t take it any more so I left.  I haven’t seen them in eight years.”

I stared across the table at him, trying to take in everything that he was saying.  I had always thought of myself as unfortunate, that if there was anyone else with my power, they would have a much happier and fuller life than I had.  I could hardly comprehend Daniel’s position, being completely on his own, not attached to anything.

“Don’t pity me, Carol,” he said.  “I wouldn’t give up my power.  Not for anything.  It’s given me too much.  But it’s caused me some problems.  I can’t ever get really close to a person.  It’s like I know them too well.  It’s a little different with you.  I can’t dig as far into your mind as I can with most people.  That’s what attracted me to you, but in the end, it’s just the same thing.  I can’t love you, and that’s basically all I wanted to tell you.  I didn’t mean to get into all of this.  I’ve never told anyone about my power.”

“Have you ever met anyone with your power?” I asked.

“No, I’ve never met anyone else like me.  Why do you believe I’m telling you the truth?  This is something I should have to prove to you.”

“You tell me,” I said.  “Why do I believe you?”

“I don’t know.  I told you, I can’t dig as deep into you as I can with most people.  And right now my mind is a little clouded with my own feelings.”

“So are you going to offer me some proof of this, even though I do believe you?”

“All right,” he said.  “Why don’t I tell you about the night your mother died?  You said she died in a car wreck, but I know the details.”

He knows about that night?, I wondered.  How could he and still not know about my own power?  “All right,” I said.  “Why don’t you tell about that?”

“You were barely five years old, sitting in the back seat of some old station wagon.  You had some kind of connection with that car, like it was some safe haven or a trusted friend.  Your dad was driving, your mom in the front passenger seat.  She wasn’t wearing a seat belt.  Some old drunk guy came across the median and slammed into the right side of your car, ripping everything apart and killing your mother.  What really sticks in my mind is her face–the way there was no blood on it, the way it looked so perfect and yet the back of her head had been so thoroughly crushed, beyond any recognition.  I keep seeing the little bits of glass, coated with blood.  They looked like little jewels.

“What I can’t understand, is the way your dad just let you stare at her, holding you in his arms, looking in, just outside of the drivers side door.  If I was him, I’d want to get you away from there as quickly as possible.  Something like that is traumatic enough without staring at it longer.  I guess he was probably too much in shock to think about that though.”

He looked at me for a second and cocked his head.  “Does that prove to you that I wasn’t lying?”

“I already believed you,” I said.

He had gotten the key points of the experience correct but had gotten the basic structure wrong.  He’d missed the whole point.  How could he have done that?, I wondered.  Perhaps his own thoughts had gotten in the way and he had perceived the experience in his own way and changed it without even knowing it.

What if I’ve been doing that?, I thought.  What if all this time I’ve been missing the big picture too?  Maybe people’s minds aren’t exactly as I perceive them.  Maybe I’ve been manipulating them so that they fit what I think they should be and not knowing it.

What if everything I’ve ever thought, is wrong?

“I know you believe me, Carol,” Daniel said.  “When I said I could read minds, I expected to have to prove it to you and that’s what I  came up with.  I felt like I had to say it.”

“I understand,” I said.

He stood up slowly and looked down at me.  “I have to go now.  I’ve said what I had to say and now I must leave.  Maybe I’ll call you someday.”

“You don’t have to,” I said.

He nodded slowly.  “I’ll call you.”  He turned to leave.

“Wait,” I said, wanting to tell him everything he had missed.  But as he turned back around I found myself unable to speak.  The entire conversation had been too shocking.  My stomach ached and, for some reason, I was unable to say what I thought he deserved to know.

“You never won the lottery, did you?” I said.

He shook his head.  “No, of course not.  I find money here and there.  I get by.  Having this ability makes it easy to get cash.  I gamble a lot, stuff like that.  I steal sometimes, when I know no one’s looking, but I try to keep that to a minimum.”  He turned again and I let him go.

I sat silently, still stunned.  I looked out the window and watched him get into his car.  He saw me and stopped for a second but didn’t wave.

How could I just let him go?  He needed to know.  I found it amazing that I could do this to him.  It would change his life so drastically to know that there was someone else.  It had changed my life, probably for the better.  He deserved to know that he hadn’t been reading me completely.  I deserved to hear him talk more about what telepathy was like for him.  The two of us could learn so much from each other.  It would be such a wonderful opportunity for both of us and I was letting it end as if it was nothing.

Hardly even noticing what I was doing I leaped up from the table and sprinted out of the restaurant.  He was just starting to pull out of the parking space.  I ran up and slapped my hand against the side window.

“Carol?” he said as he rolled the window down.  “Carol, what are you doing?”

“Daniel,” I replied.  “I have something to tell you.”

______      ______      ______

So here I sit, writing all this out.  I feel as though this story needs to be told.

Daniel is sleeping in the next room.  He decided to give our relationship another chance.  I’m not sure exactly why.  Perhaps he realizes that there are more levels to me than he is capable of perceiving and doesn’t know me as well as he thought.  Perhaps he does know me well enough and is only staying with me because he can’t bring himself to go through the whole deal of breaking it off again.  We have something in common and maybe that is enough for him.  Maybe he’s found something in me that he can actually fall in love with.

Or maybe not.

It doesn’t matter.  I don’t know what he’s thinking.  That’s okay.  I don’t need to know.  I’m human.  I wasn’t meant to be totally omniscient.  I wouldn’t want to be.

Now that I know who Daniel is, I’m not quite so attached to him.  I can’t say I don’t love him but I think I could let him go.  Being with him doesn’t bring me as much joy as it used to.  There’s still a mystery to him, but now there’s a mystery to the whole world.  Anything’s possible.  That’s something I hadn’t realized until two months ago when I had that conversation in the cafe with Daniel.  I know now that I don’t understand people as well as I always thought.  There’s a mystery to every person that I have always missed but can now perceive.  So now I think more about those other people than I do about Daniel and our relationship doesn’t matter to me so much anymore.

What does matter is that there is someone else like me.  Whether our relationship lasts or not, I know he will always be around.  He’s someone I can relate to.  He’s someone I can talk to, who knows where I’m coming from.  He understands me better than anyone else possibly could.  And I know now that I am no longer alone in this world.

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KalinBooks.com is the ramblings of Kalin Ringkvist, a science fiction author with a passion for peace and freedom.