A Queer Condition – Part Two

Hey, careful…before reading this, make sure you read the first story about the caffeinated psychic, and the first half of this story. That’s about 6,000 words of stuff that helps the rest of the words in this post make sense.

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I really didn’t need the added stress on top of finding out I was dying. But I had that mythical sense of ‘had to do it’ like the grim action heroes get in the movies. So I stood outside my parents’ locked door, staring through the ornate frosted glass at the home I couldn’t return to.

Then mom opened the door with a face almost as frosty as the glass.

“Hey,” I said with a bit of a choking sound.

“What?”

“I just found out I’m adopted.”

Her mouth twitched.

“It’s true, then?”

“I wish it wasn’t,” she said. “Maybe then you wouldn’t be…”

“A lesbian? You can’t even say the word.”

“I thought I raised you right.”

My eyes stung. “Mom, I don’t want to do this again.”

“You should’ve thought of that before you made this choice.”

“What, the choice to be myself?”

She huffed. “Why did you come here? You have a problem with being adopted? Would you rather have been aborted?”

I opened my mouth but nothing came out.

I’m dying.

Maybe she wouldn’t care. No reason to let her down any more than I already had.

“I just wanted to make sure it was true.” Swallowing couldn’t relieve the ache in my throat. “And since it is, I guess maybe that’ll make this easier.”

I guess that explains why you don’t love me.

Without another word I turned and walked away. Somehow I had a pinprick of hope that she would call me back, say she was sorry, that she really did love me.

The door slammed shut behind me and that killed the hope.

I made my way home at a slow trudge. Shouldn’t have gone to see her. So what if I was adopted? It hardly mattered anymore.

When I got home I wiped my eyes and said nothing of the visit with my mother.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

We began the search for my brother with researching the foster home the old man told me about. The place no longer existed, and he had already followed all the leads we could think of, so instead we took a different approach. The girlfriend had a family member at the local FBI office, and after a large amount of pleading, we convinced him to run a search on my brother’s name, and to run my DNA to see if he could find a family match in their database.

The name search turned up eleven matches in the country with the same birth date. Still waiting for DNA results, I took the list of possible brothers home and started calling them.

The first guy answered the phone with a raspy voice and slurred consonants. I could almost smell the alcohol. But not really because phones hadn’t yet gained smell transmitting technology.

“Ey, whosit?”

I coughed.

“Whut?”

“I just have a quick question for you, sir, if you don’t mind.”

“Go ahead’n ax me.” The sound of a beard being scratched filled my ear.

“Did you grow up in foster homes? I’m looking for my brother, didn’t even know he existed until recently so I’m calling everyone with the same name and birth date that I can find.”

“I growed up with ma and pa on ther farm.”

“Okay thanks sorry to bother you goodbye.”

I hung up and stared at my shaking hands. “Stupid phones,” I muttered. Almost as bad as talking to my mother. But I took a deep breath and continued, and it got easier.

The next half hour was a string of fruitless phone calls—although there was a pleasant conversation about vegetables with one young man from the west coast who tried to ask me out for some fine hipster dining. I declined.

At the end of it I only had two people left on my list who hadn’t answered my calls. The girlfriend came home from work and brought me chocolate, so I kissed her and it turned into an all-out facebattle that raged right into the bedroom and that was the end of investigations for the day.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I awoke to sunshine and a stupid bird flying into the window repeatedly. I think it died or at least figured out what was going on because it stopped after one last terrific thud.

The girlfriend rolled over and moaned.

“Good morning,” I said.

“I had an awful dream,” she mumbled. “You died and…it was far too vivid.”

“I’m sorry.”

She brushed a tangled lock of hair out of her face. Her cheeks had some red lines thanks to her habit of rolling up in her quilt like a sexy burrito and sleeping on her face. I never understood how she could breathe like that.

“I’ll survive for you,” I said.

“I know you will.”

But she couldn’t really know that. I didn’t need my coffee powers to see what was going through her mind. How helpless she felt. It’s one thing to kick a real attacker in the nuts. A simple problem with a straightforward solution. Rogue psychic powers don’t have testicles to smash. Things get so much more complicated when your own mind is imploding on itself.

My phone blasted a tinny rendition of my favorite song and I snatched it from the nightstand. It showed me a number I vaguely recognized.

“Hello?”

The voice on the other end sounded weary. An older woman with a long backstory. “You called yesterday,” she said.

“Yes. That was me.”

“The man you called about died last month. I was just going through his belongings and found his phone.”

“Oh.”

We exchanged a brief silence during which I got a questioning eyebrow quirk from the girlfriend. I shook my head. She shrugged. I frowned.

“He was a good friend of ours,” the woman said.

“I’m so sorry, ma’am. Would you be able to tell me what you know of his past?”

“He never shared much. Came into town broke and quiet a few years ago, and he left it just as quietly but he didn’t die alone. Did you know him? I didn’t quite get what you were asking about in the message.”

“I’m trying to find my brother. Would you…do you maybe have anything that could provide a DNA sample?”

She sighed and I hated having to ask the question.

“I’m sorry.”

“No, I understand,” she said. “He’s been cremated but I came across his comb. There are a few strands of hair on it. Give me your address and I’ll mail them to you.”

“Thank you, so much.”

“It’s all right, dear. I hope you find your brother.”

After giving her my information, I hung up and plunked the phone back on the nightstand.

“What is it, love?”

“If that guy was my brother, he’s dead. Some lady called back and she’s sending hair from his comb for DNA testing.”

“That’s nice of her.”

I crawled into bed and cuddled up to the girlfriend. “This is exhausting. Being a superhero, then suddenly the stress of dying, and trying to find my long-lost brother before I die. It sounds like I’m living in a comic book.”

“I had a thought,” she said in her quiet voice.

I perked up because the quiet-voice thoughts were often the best things in the world.

“You’re a psychic, your brother is a psychic. You’re twins. Even non-psychic twins have a level of mental connection…what if you could find your brother with your mind?”

I sat upright and flung the blanket away. “That’s brilliant. Why didn’t I think of it? I love you.”

We thundered downstairs, startling our bearded landlord as he enjoyed his famously delicious pancakes.

“Hey,” he said, deadpan as ever. “Feel like consuming some breakfast before you finish demolishing the house?”

“I just need coffee,” I blurted, as I snatched the carafe from beside him.

“Help yourself.”

I poured a mug and tested the temperature. Wasn’t too hot, so I guzzled it.

The effects hit me hard and I wasn’t quite prepared for it, still a bit sleepy. I lost control and images of the near future spun around me, the others’ thoughts rushed in, and I doubled over feeling sick. In all the confusion, my mind latched onto one terrifying thought. I’m dying.

The girlfriend supported me and took me to the couch. Her spoken words sounded distant, but her thoughts shouted in my mind. What’s wrong? This hasn’t happened before. Are you okay? Should I call a doctor?

I forced the clairvoyant images away, and focused on her. I’m fine, just too tired to handle all of this right now. Should’ve waited.

She held me, and slowly I regained control. I sighed and sat up, closing my eyes and focusing on my own mind.

Calm down. Breathe. You aren’t dying just yet.

“I’m okay.”

“Didn’t look like it. Looked like you were in shock.”

I leaned against the girlfriend and slipped into her mind. We sat quietly for a moment, and then she reminded me of the mission.

“Right. Find my brother. I’m not sure how to begin.”

“Don’t ask me, I’m making wild guesses based on fictional stories.”

“So I should reach out and try to feel his presence.”

“Sounds appropriately fictional.”

“Here I go then…”

I expanded what I called my “listening range”, the radius outside of which I couldn’t hear people’s thoughts. This was the first time I’d actually tried to make it bigger, rather than limiting it. I’d always been concerned with making it smaller so my brain didn’t explode.

I felt the presence of everyone in my neighborhood, and tried to block out their thoughts. My reach expanded to cover the entire city and the cacophony of thoughts pushed against my walls.

Still I reached farther, and the exhilaration of it gave me a rush of energy. I imagined watching from above as my power reached out, and I felt the distance to every mind I touched. My heart pounded as I drew a map of consciousness across the country.

The farther I went, the harder it was to feel connected to myself. My mind wasn’t just inside my body anymore. I felt a twinge of fear and several voices broke through.

One of them was the girlfriend’s. Hey, can you hear me? This is worrying. You seem to have passed out.

I shot her a quick reply. I’m okay, can’t chat now.

Somehow I reached the coastlines. The silence beyond felt like the freedom beyond a cage. Between those bars, the entire population of the country laughed and cried and slept and shouted. And my body was nowhere to be found.

A jolt of fear rippled through the people. My own fear, infecting them like a virus. Some panicked and their own emotions trickled back into me, some stood firm and fought.

I didn’t know what would happen if I lost control. Would I pass out and wake up in my own body again? Would I get lost out here? In the vastness of the multitude I’d lost my own body, but I felt that it wasn’t important.

What if I could put my mind into another body?

Maybe death was no longer a concern.

Or maybe I was losing touch with reality and my consciousness was still firmly attached to my physical body.

The fear passed and I calmed myself. I calmed everyone. Now how would I find my brother? One person in three hundred million…surely another psychic mind would recognize my influence.

Unless he hadn’t had caffeine recently. Of course. We wouldn’t be able to make that connection without both being psychic.

I took a different approach. If I could affect everyone with an emotion, surely I could give them all a thought.

My composure slipped and I blanked out for a moment. What am I doing?

All across the country, people momentarily forgot what they were doing.

I remembered and pulled myself back from them again. An idea took shape. My face, my name, and my address. My brother’s last known name and the words, I need you.

I pulled the idea together and released it. Everyone in the country thought the same thing at the same moment, and everyone in the country responded with confusion, except four. Beardy, the girlfriend, a certain old man, and…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’d never felt darkness so comfortable. It was silent and warm, not the immense cold silence of empty space. What is this place?

The better question, though: Who am I? What other sorts of darkness are there? I can’t even remember.

A pinprick of light flashed into existence and I stared as it grew bigger. Then it hit me, a thought from another mind.

Are you in there?

At first I fought, instinctively. It was a virus, invading my space. But it held on.

Don’t fight, we’re trying to help you.

Who?

The thoughts carried anxiety. I think I’m your brother.

Who am I?

The brother replied with a name that felt both familiar and foreign at the same time. Like déjà vu.

What is déjà vu?

Maybe it’s feeling your own presence without knowing anything about it. Familiarity with something forgotten.

Wake up, please.

So I was asleep?

Another sensation reached me, a stifling pressure and an urgent pull. Breathe.

I had to breathe. With what?

Cool relief rushed in. Air. Lungs.

Sound and touch and sight came with it. I gasped for the air, trying to understand why I needed it.

“She’s awake,” someone said.

A hand grabbed mine. I had hands. In fact I had an entire body.

“Oh love, you just about died.”

I blinked in the burning light. “Who am I?

She cried. Tears dripped on my arm. “You don’t remember?”

A young man stood by my shoulder. He was the déjà vu, the brother, the unfamiliar family.

“You talked to my mind,” I said.

He stooped over me and touched my forehead. “You talked to my mind first.”

“How?”

The girl who held my hand replied. “You used your psychic abilities to find him, a week ago. You’ve been in a coma ever since.”

A doctor walked in at just the right moment to hear “psychic” and he frowned. “Excuse me,” he said. “I need everyone who isn’t a patient to exit the room.”

“We’re all patient,” the brother said.

“Not what I meant.”

The girl kissed me and the brother said he would stay in my mind to help if I needed it. They left the room and the doctor took my pulse.

“How do you feel?”

“Vast and empty and very small. Much bigger on the inside. Also the lights are too bright.”

“At least you can speak,” he muttered, and scribbled something down on a paper. “What do you remember?”

“The most comfortable silent blackness.”

“Interesting. Anything before that?”

“I know things but I don’t remember them. Or maybe it’s the other way around.”

He sat in a chair and leaned close to me. “I need you to try to understand me. There is a growth in your brain—it’s unlike anything I’ve seen. I need to perform surgery to remove it, but it’s very risky.”

“So?”

“You will likely die.”

“Does that mean I will go back to the comfortable blackness?”

He sighed. “No, it means you end.”

“I know what dying is, silly. But what about my mind?”

The doctor scratched his nose and said “huh” and looked at his scribbles.

This doctor doesn’t know how to help you, the brother’s voice says. Your girlfriend told me all about what is happening. We need to leave here and find the one person who can help.

“I’d like to leave.”

“What? No, no, you can’t do that. You just awoke from a week-long coma.”

I tossed the blankets aside and pulled out the IV needle and slid out of the bed on the opposite side from him. He jumped up and blocked my way, tried to grab me to put me back in the bed.

I touched his forehead. “Go to sleep.”

He collapsed on the floor.

The brother and the girl came running. She stared at the doctor and asked, “How did you do that?”

“I don’t know.”

The brother put his long coat around me. “We need to leave now.”

They hurried me out of the building to a car. I stared at my hands, and they tried to talk to me but I just wanted to figure out how I made the doctor go to sleep.

“How do we find this old man?” the brother asked.

“I think the plan was for him to find us when he figured out how to save her,” the girlfriend said.

“But we need him now! Did you see those x-rays? I snuck in and took some of my own head. Hers is ten times worse.”

“It must have been triggered by her effort to find you. I can’t even imagine what she went through to do that.”

I touched the girlfriend’s arm and whispered, “Say I love you.

Her mouth moved with mine and said the words at the same time. She jerked away, her eyes wide. “Stop the car.”

The brother pulled over and she jumped out on the side of the road. She stomped the ground and pulled her hair, and then stopped, staring at me, chest heaving. Then she climbed in the front of the car and we drove on in silence.

We stopped at a house and they took me inside. The girlfriend sat in the farthest chair from me, and the brother paced back and forth.

“We can’t wait,” he muttered, “but we can’t find him. Maybe we could help her remember…”

“I can’t do this,” the girlfriend whispered. She shook her head and walked out of the house.

The brother followed her.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Images filled my mind as I slept. Are these memories? Who is the happy person in the purple trench coat? I feel like I know her.

Then I saw a mirror, and I was her. But how?

“Hey.”

The brother was there, in my dream.

“How’d you get in here?” I asked.

“Same way I talked to your mind. We both have these abilities. You’ve forgotten.”

“I saw a girl with a purple coat, and she was me, but the things she did aren’t in my head.”

“You saw her in here?”

“Yes.”

“Everything in here is inside your head. Those were memories. Why can’t you connect them to yourself and remember?”

I had no answer. The girl was myself, but she wasn’t me.

“Did you see the old man who can help you? Maybe you could remember something to help us find him.”

“Her memories are confused. So far away…”

He sighed. “I want to help, I just don’t know how.”

“You have powers, can’t you find the old man?”

“I could…maybe. It’s worth a try. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“No. Please. Can you stay with me? The darkness isn’t warm anymore. There is fear and pain out there, somewhere. I saw it in the memories.”

“Of course I can stay.” He took my dream-hand and we sat in a gigantic bean-bag chair. I imagined an ocean beach and there it was, with the salty wind and swirls of sand and warm sunshine.

The brother picked up a baby turtle and laid it in my hand.

A flash of purple caught my eye and the girl ran by on a city street. The ocean was gone, peace replaced with chaos.

I hunched on the concrete, shivering in the rain. People walked by with umbrellas and none of them saw me. The purple coat flashed among the crowd across the street and I watched her go into a coffee shop.

“There you are!”

His voice needed more breath and he put his long coat around me. “I’ve been looking for you for hours.”

“Fake hours,” I muttered.

“Come inside.”

He pulled me into tiny New Age shop that smelled of fragrant smoke and organic coffee. A wrinkled old man stood behind the counter and he held me in his gaze.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

I shrugged out of the coat, suddenly warm and entirely dry.

“We are looking for her memories,” the brother said.

“I do believe I am one of them.”

The man held out a hand to me. Not an old man’s hand, but the sturdy, smooth, and leathery hand of someone who worked hard.

“I have a secret for you,” he said, leaning over without a hint of emotion on his face.

Black eyebrows moved a fraction of an inch closer together.

“I’m not part of your dreaming imagination. I’m as real as both of you.”

“You’re the old man,” my brother said. “We need your help!”

“That is why I am here.” He looked at me. “Reach into my mind.”

“How?”

“The same way you made the doctor fall asleep.”

I imagined seeing into his mind, and then in a rush he was inside mine. I tried to release his hand but there were no hands, no bodies. No more city and no incense.

Just an endless expanse of darkness, and then light.

The memories filled me until I thought I couldn’t take any more, and they kept coming. I screamed, but no one answered.

I tried to retreat but every corner was full. Icy cold shame in one, blazing anger in another.

“Stop it,” I whimpered. “Stop.”

A name echoed faintly in the chaos. The name of the girl in the purple coat. My name.

“Wake up,” said a voice.

“Stop. Make it stop.”

“You’re dreaming. You’ll be okay.”

I couldn’t get out.

Then I woke up.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The brother held me and I became aware of a floor, a wall, tears in my eyes.

“What happened?” I choked on the words.

“I don’t know.”

He held me and I rocked back and forth. A hurricane of memories and images and emotions roared through my mind, gradually weakening.

“I remember,” I whispered.

“What do you remember?”

“Me. Myself. Everything.” I took a sharp breath and held it.

“What’s wrong?”

“Oh my gosh.”

“What?”

“I found you.”

I pushed away from him and stood up. He rose slowly. Faint pre-dawn light illuminated his face and the tree outside the window cast dancing shadows.

I rubbed my eyes and the last few memories fell into place.

“Everyone in the country was in my head. I got scared, and everyone got scared. I forgot what I was doing, and everyone forgot. So I sent an idea as a message for you.”

“I got the message. It felt like a random idea but it was too specific and I knew it must have come from another psychic like me.”

I sat on my bed and ran my fingers through my hair. “Then I lost control. I couldn’t find my way back to my own body and I freaked. All I remember after that was a lot of insane colors and sounds, until I woke up in the hospital.”

The brother sat beside me. “Who is the old man? Your friends told me what they knew but it wasn’t much.”

“I don’t know who he is. He gave us our abilities, and he came to save my life because it’s killing me. He told me about you. But I don’t know anything about him, really. I was too afraid to venture into his mind. There was too much.”

The door creaked and I jumped up as the old man walked into my bedroom.

“I can shed some light on that matter,” he said.

I threw a pillow at him. “Creep!”

“Fully understandable.” He sat in my armchair and put his fingertips together. “I invaded your dream, and now I invade your bedroom. I suppose that makes me a creep.”

“Tell me who you are.”

“I’m a telepath. My name is Athan, and I was born a slave before the Civil War.”

“That’s impossible.”

“Obviously not. I am the son of a very powerful man. There are a handful of people like us…natural telepaths, men with extreme strength, some with telekinetic abilities, and more. I gave you the abilities you have in an effort to create more people like me, because the only other telepath I knew died in the war. I’m not quite like you…I can only connect to the mind of another telepath.”

He cleared his throat. “Can you imagine how lonely that is? For years I shared a bond with someone, and then I lost them. It drove me mad and I spent decades trying to create a replacement. I learned it isn’t possible and I’m trying to make peace with that. So I am here to put right what I did wrong.”

“Can you help us?”

“Yes.” He smiled as he stood up. “I believe I can save your lives. We must hurry with you—the overexertion of finding your brother has progressed your condition so far that you have maybe a couple more days to live. Come with me.”

We followed him to an unassuming sedan outside, but I turned back. “I’ll be a minute,” I said.

The house was quiet and I went from room to room looking for the girlfriend. I found her curled in an armchair in Beardy’s office.

“Hey.” I touched her arm.

She awoke with a start and jumped up. Backed against the wall trembling.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

She rubbed her eyes and shuddered, and mumbled something I couldn’t understand.

“I’m myself again and I remember everything. I’m so sorry for freaking you out.”

She licked her lips. “Really?”

“Honest, I’m back.”

The girlfriend hugged me so tight the air squeaked out of me. “Oh gosh, I was so scared,” she whispered.

“I know. But it’ll be okay. The old man found us. He’s waiting outside with my brother. He’s going to save my life.”

We walked out and I grabbed my purple coat on the way.

“Will you lose your abilities?” the girlfriend asked.

“I hope so.” But I wasn’t sure if I did.

We climbed into the cramped backseat of the car and she put her arm around me.

“Whatever happens,” she said, “I won’t leave you.”

A Queer Condition – Part One

This is my second story about the caffeinated psychic. The first one can be found here.

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Caffeine: A slightly addictive stimulant drug found in some plants, used to temporarily reduce drowsiness. Also known to cause psychic abilities in a certain girl.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I hate being a girl!”

To emphasize my sincerity, I punished my shoes for existing by throwing them across the room.

“Easy on the shoes, dear. They aren’t responsible for your gender.”

I curled up on my bed, and the girlfriend combed my hair with her fingers. “I’m glad you’re a girl,” she said.

I sat up and sniffed. “Everything sucks. Except you and Beardy. And pizza, I still like pizza.”

“I’m sorry about your parents.”

“And I’m sorry I’m a freak.”

She leaned back on her elbows and grinned. “I wouldn’t have you any other way.”

“Why can’t they at least accept that I’m a freak and get over it? I don’t understand why they think it’s so important to fix me. If I wanted to be fixed I’d have a tubectomy. And can you imagine if they knew about the caffeine thing? My mom would become apocalyptic!”

“Apoplectic?”

I groaned. “No, she would literally instigate the apocalypse.”

“Just because you have psychic abilities?”

“Because magic is evil and there’s no such thing as psychics, just witchcraft and demonic power.”

“Wow.”

I huffed. “At least if I was male, my sexual preference wouldn’t be a reason to disown me.”

She stood up and pulled me out of bed. “That’s it, time to quit moping.”

“I don’t want to,” I whined. But she dragged me out of the room and downstairs, and shoved my purple trench coat into my arms.

“Put on your superhero outfit, love.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In my town, people don’t ask ‘who was that masked man?’, or ‘who was that blur of justice?’ It’s more like, ‘who was that nerdy hyperactive girl in the purple coat?’

The answer, of course, is nobody important. I’m not a caped crusader for good. I’m not heroic or selfless or anything like that. I’m just a strange girl with a queer condition.

The girlfriend and I walked into the coffee shop where I first discovered my abilities, and we ordered a matching pair of lattes. After receiving my cup of scalding superhero juice, I parked my butt in a corner booth and she sat across from me, with the sun shining through her short, tousled hair.

One tiny sip of the latte burned my tongue so I took the lid off and blew on it.

“You look so intense when you drink your coffee,” the girlfriend said. “I love it.”

I smiled and tested the liquid again, and found it to be just barely on the verge of scalding. Good enough.

The silent voices of the people whispered louder the more I drank. Initially I’d been overwhelmed by the thoughts of everyone around me, but after months of practice I learned how to let in only what I wanted to hear. When the caffeine fully kicked in, I focused on my companion and heard her thoughts.

Just look at her. The most beautiful person I know. They have no idea what they’re missing.

My cheeks turned warm. I closed my eyes and slipped into the mind of the only person who knew me almost as well as I knew everyone. This was my safe place, where the raucous world faded and her soul enfolded mine.

Her life hummed all around me, flashes of thoughts and memories and emotions. I lost any sense of having a body when I was entirely inside another person’s head; being in her mind was like floating in a quiet hot tub—the closest I ever got to not being hyperactive or buzzing with anxiety.

How do you stay so calm all the time? I asked. I know everything about you and I still can’t figure it out.

Neither can I, it’s just now I am.

I remained in her mind for a while. Hard to tell how long because time passes there like it does in dreams. Then a touch on the arm of my absent body hitched me back to reality, and I gasped as the blinding rush of another mind tore through my own. The calm shattered in flashes of color and angry shouts. I landed on the floor and briefly broke contact with the invader, but in an instant I was grabbed again and lifted into the air.

My vision cleared and I stared at the girlfriend, trying to process everything. Strong arms around my middle, holding me with my feet several inches off the floor. They belonged to the man whose mind I had just downloaded into my own.

The frightened chatter of silent people. Four other men with rifles and pistols and greedy thoughts, keeping the people silent. A panel truck blocking the sun.

And my safe-haven standing with her fists clenched and an angry jaw.

Don’t, I said to her. But of course she didn’t listen.

Her knee came up as she spun around, nailing one of the men in the nuts before he could react. His gun dropped and she took it without pause, hit him in the face with the butt, and used the momentum to continue spinning until she faced me again, aiming the rifle at my captor.

“Hey now, put the weapon down,” he said.

Listen to the scary dude…

“First put the harmless nerd down.” She glanced at the other three men and their weapons, but didn’t flinch.

He laughed and held me up a bit higher, so his breath tickled the back of my neck. “She’s far from harmless, miss.”

“So am I.”

A dizzy spell made my vision flash, and I squinted through the glare. One of the other men took aim with his pistol. He pulled the trigger, blood sprayed, and the girlfriend fell.

“No, stop!” I shrieked.

My captor moved toward the door, and finally the girlfriend set the rifle on our table, spilling her latte. I’m sorry, she thought.

Not your fault.

The man with the pistol relaxed and I shuddered. Thank goodness for clairvoyance.

One of them shoved a rag in my face and said, “Take a whiff of this.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gotta get up for work, the alarm didn’t go off…no wait, I’m dreaming. It’s still night. But why is it so bright?

I woke to a small flashlight shining directly into my eye. A shout caught in my throat and made an undignified squeak instead, and I tried to reach up to shove the light away but my arms were tied down. My coat and shoes and sweater had been taken.

“I hope you didn’t wreck my purple coat,” I mumbled.

The flashlight switched off and I jumped when the sour face of a wrinkled old man filled my vision, large and very dark. Despite his apparent age, the stubble on his chin and the healthy plume of curly hair on his head showed no hint of gray. He wore jeans and a sagging old leather jacket. We had a short staring contest until I blinked.

“Please tell me my girlfriend is okay,” I whispered.

He licked his dry lips. “My men say they hurt no one at the café. Their orders were to cause no damage, and they always follow orders.”

We stared a little longer. The caffeine had worn off, so all I got was a sense the guy was trying to drill into my mind with his own.

“I know who you are,” I said. “In fact I know quite a lot about you and your violent buddies.”

“Do you now?”

I glared. He countered with a terrifying scowl in which his black eyebrows turned into little horns.

“I’m a psychic, duh.” My voice shook.

“I know that,” he said.

“And how do you know? I didn’t go around telling everyone ‘hey, I get psychic when I drink coffee.’ That would be dumb because it causes things like this.” I jerked at the ropes binding my arms to the metal chair I sat in. “I prefer not to be experimented on, thanks.”

“Nobody here will experiment on you.”

“You’re a scientist, this is your lab, what the heck else are you gonna do? Poke me with a test tube?”

Without a word he took a test tube out of his pocket and poked my chest with it.

“Okay man, you’re officially creeping me out. I mean beyond the typical creepiness of being abducted and tied up.”

He rubbed his forehead. “I apologize for the abductive nature of your arrival here.”

“Seriously?”

“Secrecy is paramount. For example, the man whose mind you absorbed had fake memories. I gave them to him in case the acquisition proved unsuccessful—in case you got away after taking in all his memories.” He leaned in so close I could smell a hint of alcohol on his breath.

“Oh my gosh.”

“What?”

“One, I am really freaked out and I think you’re a madman. Two, I’ve gotta pee.”

He scratched his chin and produced a switchblade from the pocket of his jacket. “Yes, I think I am a madman. There’s no getting around that. But I’m the madman you need right now, even though you don’t know it.”

I winced as he stooped over me, but he merely cut the ropes, put away his knife, and took my hand to help me up.

“The restroom is out the door and to the left,” he said, gesturing at the door between two towering pieces of equipment that looked like they came out of an airport control tower. “Don’t try to run, we are far underground and my violent buddies are guarding the stairway.”

I swear I saw a hint of a smile on his severe face. Keeping my eyes on him, I backed away and then darted for the door. It opened to a narrow hallway with concrete walls; to the right, maybe fifty feet away, the man who nearly shot my girlfriend leaned against the wall smoking a cigar. On my left, the hall terminated in a single door with a paper sign that read ‘Humans’. A picture above the word depicted a generic human figure on a toilet.

“Okay,” I whispered to myself. “This can’t get any weirder.”

I did my business on the cold, grimy toilet seat, and then went back and peered into the room where the old man waited for me. He sat in the chair, bouncing his foot and whistling the tune of Dixie. I stepped inside, but left the door ajar and remained near it.

“I want you to explain exactly why you brought me here,” I said.

“Or what?”

“Or I’ll…I don’t know, bite you or something. I’m not helpless without coffee.”

He nodded once. “The story of why you are here now begins when you were barely a year old. Did your parents ever tell you that you are adopted?”

I plopped down on the floor and stared at him. “Mister, I think if I’m gonna believe this story, I’ll need some caffeine.”

The old man shuffled to a refrigerator in the corner and got me a bottled iced coffee, then returned to his seat. I guzzled half of the drink and held my abilities back for a moment. I could just dive into his mind and learn everything at once, but I thought it might be easier to process if I took it a bit at a time.

He grunted. “May I continue?”

“Go for it.”

As he spoke, I let just enough of his thoughts through to be sure that he told the truth. I could sense the rest of his mind, looming behind his words, and it seemed far more massive than a typical person’s. Maybe I’d go insane if I touched him and downloaded all of it.

“I found you and your twin brother in a foster home. I took—”

“Oh my gosh, wait. I have a brother?”

“Do you want to hear the story or ask dumb questions?”

I shut my mouth.

“I took you two for testing. I know, I know—I was a despicable man. Many years have passed and I’m trying to make up for my sins.

“For a very long time I tried to awaken psychic abilities like yours. I had a few near successes but they always failed somehow. At last I made a breakthrough, and the government gave me funding. I made huge advances in my research. But I took shortcuts and they became suspicious. So I acquired this underground facility and started transferring my work. I didn’t get far when I heard I might be losing everything. That was when I found you, two years old and unloved.

“Time was running out for me. My tests were deemed unsafe and even though I’d succeeded in the initial ones on rats, they decided to pull the plug. Said it was too dangerous to move on to human testing. You and your brother were the only chance I had to finally bring my research to fulfillment.

“I took you two and opened your minds and gave you the abilities that you’ve recently discovered. The success made me reckless, and they caught me. I only recently got out of prison.”

He leaned back and closed his eyes, and I just sat and stared.

“You made me,” I whispered. “You made me a freak.”

One bloodshot eye popped open. “No, I tried to give you a gift. I brought you here because there are two flaws in your abilities and one of them is very serious. The first one is, of course, that they are naturally inhibited until the central nervous system is stimulated by a drug, such as caffeine. And…”

He trailed off, staring at the wall.

“And what?”

“After many years, they have a degenerative effect whether you use them or not. If I cannot remove your abilities, they will kill you within a year.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I paced the room, while the old man watched me from the chair in the center. The caffeine wore off and I didn’t really feel like drinking more, after this latest piece of news. I knew he told the truth.

“You’re saying I have a brother,” I said at last, “and that he has the same abilities that I have?”

“If he’s still alive, then yes.”

“But you don’t know where he is.”

“I couldn’t track him down. He went to a different family than you did, and then another, and the trail disappeared.”

“And I’m going to die…”

“Not if I can help you.”

“Well can you?”

“Before I answer, I need to scan your brain and take a blood sample and run some tests. It may take me months to figure out how to save you.”

I turned to face him, fists clenched. “Dangit mister, why? Why’d you even do this in the first place?”

His mouth became a solid horizontal line and he rose to his feet. “I had my reasons,” he muttered. “And you were wise not to venture deeper into my mind than you did. Should I attempt to save your life or not?”

“Yes…yes please. But what about my brother? If he’s still alive, then he’ll die if we don’t find him, right?”

“He is beyond my help.. I tried to find him and I failed, even with my great talents and resources.”

I bit my lip. “Okay, do your brain scan thingy and tests and stuff and then let me go. Tell me everything about your efforts to find him, and I’ll pick up the search. I’ll try to find my brother so you can save him too.”

He leaned in close, staring again, and then gave a slight nod. “I will let you go while I work on the solution, but if you tell anyone about me I will disappear and you will die.”

“Uh, yeah, our special little secret.” I stuck up my little finger. “Promise with my pinky or whatever you do to make it official.”

He turned and headed for the door, waving for me to follow. I did, out the door and a few yards down the hallway to another door that opened into a well-lighted room. An MRI machine stood there, along with more equipment I couldn’t identify.

I swallowed. The old man had told me the truth—he really was trying to help me—and yet somewhere in the dangerous expanse of his consciousness I thought I might find another motive. There was more to this story than he shared with me.

“Lie down on the bed of the scanner,” he said. “Make sure you have no metal on you.”

I looked at the ring on my finger, the only piece of jewelry I ever wore. “Don’t lose this,” I said as I took it off and handed it to him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When I walked through the door, my large hirsute friend was there with a couple police officers, and the girlfriend sat on my favorite armchair with tearstained cheeks. They all looked at me.

“Um, hi,” I said.

The girlfriend launched herself across the room and wrapped me in a bruising hug. “Oh dear, I thought you were gone. I thought they were going to experiment on you.”

I poked her and extracted myself from her long arms. “No, turns out my fears of being studied for the purpose of creating caffeine-powered supersoldiers remain unfounded in reality.”

“Who were they? Why did they take you, and how did you escape?”

I glanced at the police officers, and their pens that hovered over pocket-sized notebooks. “Uh…human traffickers, for the purpose of human trafficking, and…I ran away?”

The girlfriend frowned but I poked her again and she got the idea.

“Miss, if you could come to the station with us, we’d like to get an official statement from you and begin an investigation—”

I shook my head. “No. I’m fine. I didn’t really see anything useful.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. Thanks anyway.”

The police officers gave me confused looks but they shook our hands and left. Once they were gone I flopped onto the couch and groaned.

“What is going on?” Beardy asked.

“Dude, my life is so weird.”

They sat in armchairs and stared at me. Waiting.

“I don’t know how much I should say.”

“Are they threatening you?” the girlfriend asked.

“Not really. Ugh, it’s complicated. Okay, so I met this weird old guy and found out I’m adopted and he’s the scientist who messed with my brain when I was a tiny kid. He gave me the psychic abilities.”

“Are you serious or is this another fake story like the human trafficking one?”

“I’m so serious. And you can’t tell anyone, please please don’t tell anyone because the freaky part is that my abilities are killing me and he’s trying to figure out how to save my life and if he gets spooked, he’ll disappear and I’ll die, and I have a brother who has the same abilities and he’ll die too if I can’t find him.”

I took a deep breath and for a moment there was silence.

“Okay, wow,” our large roommate said. “That’s…I don’t even know.”

“It’s crazy,” I moaned.

The girlfriend moved to the couch and I curled up by her side. “You’re sure the old man told the truth?” she asked.

“Absolutely almost sure. I mean he gave me coffee so I could hear his thoughts and know it was the truth. But his brain is huge. He could have hidden things from me. In fact I know he did.”

“You trust him, though?”

“As far as knowing he is truly trying to save my life, yes. Which, given the situation, is enough for me. I don’t want to die!”

Beardy leaned forward. “In case you were wondering, I don’t want you to die either.”

“Yes, I figured. Will you help me find my brother so he doesn’t die either?”

“Of course. Whatever you need.”

Starshine and the Space Cadet – Chapter One

I always post the first chapter of my novels. I’ve abandoned many of them, but hopefully that won’t happen to this book. Even if it does, at least you get to enjoy the beginning of it.

—————————————————————————–

The cadets lined up facing their instructor, rigid and silent.

“You are here today because you were selected to join the elite Space Cadet program.” Titanium-clad boots tapped the green pebbled ground. “This means that you will be trained intensely, held to the highest standards. Holland!”

“Yes sir!”

“Are you yawning?”

“No sir.”

Chance Holland clenched his jaw and tried to yawn through his nose.

“I know some of you are here because you want to fly spaceships.” The instructor fixed his gaze upon a handsome young man. “You will eventually do so, Jarvis, but that is not your purpose. You must focus on becoming disciplined, not just physically strong and skilled with spacecraft. You will develop sharp minds, quick thinking during stress, and how to think for yourself yet work as a team.”

The instructor continued, going on about the threat from the aliens and the greatness of Drom Academy. He listed the great heroes who the cadets would be expected to measure up to. Men who fought and died for their world.

Holland sighed when the instructor wasn’t looking. He was no hero, and this was not the place for him.

“Remember Victor Holland, who single-handedly held off an entire fleet of the enemy at the Battle of Europa until reinforcements arrived.”

Holland winced at the mention of his uncle. They didn’t mention his father, not surprising since men who died of stupidity during their first week of cadet training were rarely remembered.

The instructor’s speech ended and he dismissed them to free time for the remainder of the day. They scattered in various directions, most toward food and games, but a few more studious ones headed for the dormitories to finish unpacking before the rigorous schedule began wearing them down.

Holland stayed where he was, unsure which group he belonged to. He liked to think he was studious, but since he didn’t even want to be at the academy, he considered becoming a slacker. Perhaps they would kick him out and then Uncle Victor would have to accept that the son of his worthless brother would never become a war hero.

“Hey, you.”

The tall, handsome boy waved at Holland. Jarvis, that was his name.

“Me?”

“Yah, you.” Jarvis extended his hand as he approached, and quirked his mouth into a crooked smile. “Franklin Jarvis.”

“Chance Holland.” It was a mumbled name, unwilling to be heard.

“You look a bit lost. Come with me, I’ll show you around the buildings.”

They set off at a brisk, military-style walk, heading for the cafeteria and game room first.

“Didn’t you just get here?” Holland asked.

“No, I’ve been here a few days, and I’ve visited before. My father is one of the teachers. You’ll love him, he teaches strategy without making anyone feel stupid.”

Oh, a teacher’s kid.

“Here’s the cafeteria.” Jarvis waved his hand at the wide open doorway to the natural cavern. The din of hungry young men echoed from within.

“It’s always open, so let’s come back when it isn’t so noisy. You don’t look to keen on going in there.”

Holland nodded. He’d expected the pretty-boy teacher’s kid to be more of an airhead, not a decent and considerate person.

They toured the rest of the academy—got a glimpse of the flight simulators, the locked classrooms, the gym, and finally ended up in the dormitory.

A couple boys sat in corduroy chairs near a crackling fireplace in the common area, reading textbooks. Jarvis nodded at them. “The smart ones. They’ll be our commanding officers someday. So, what number is your room?”

Holland took out his ID card and looked for the sleeping-quarters designation. “C-42,” he said.

“Perfect, you’re one room over from me.”

They went through a narrow opening into a stone corridor. The rooms were open to the passageway, just big enough for six bunks each, and lit with soft blue lights set under thick glass tiles in the floor.

Jarvis counted off. “C-38…C-40…here we are, C-42. I’m right across from you in C-43.”

They stepped into Holland’s room, and the opening was low enough that Jarvis had to duck. None of the roommates had arrived yet. Holland slung his small pack, containing everything he owned in the universe, under the metal-framed bunk bed, and they sat on the mattress.

“What’s your story? I’m assuming a relation to the great and wonderful Victor.” Jarvis’s voice held just enough sarcasm to make Holland smile.

“He’s my uncle, and the reason I’m here.”

“I got that vibe of reluctance from you the moment we were dismissed.”

“I’m not the right person for this sort of thing. I’m more like my father.”

“What does he do?”

Holland shrugged. “Whatever you do when you’re a corpse. He died when I was really young.”

“Oh man. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. I was barely two years old.”

“So what happened? Did he go out in a blaze of glory?”

“No, he got drunk his first week here at the academy and fell off a cliff.”

Jarvis scratched his nose. “Honestly, you don’t seem like that sort of person. I think maybe you’re not so much like your father.”

Holland felt a sudden weight on his shoulders, an overwhelming desire to be alone. “Thanks for showing me around, but I think I want to fall asleep now.”

“Sure, no problem. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Jarvis left and Holland stretched out on his thin mattress. Why did he agree to this? Just because he wanted to make Uncle Victor happy?

Maybe that was all the reason he needed. Maybe that was his greatest purpose in life.

He’d almost fallen asleep when his five roommates came swaggering in, cracking jokes and laughing. He rolled over and clamped his pillow around his ears and waited for them to fall asleep.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

In the morning the cadets awoke to a soft but forceful two-tone chime, and white light from the floors. They tumbled out of bed, wild-haired and drowsy, and lined up in the hallway.

Holland felt a poke in his ribs as he tried to see through the shifting mass of boys.

“They’re handing out uniforms,” Jarvis said. “We’ll get them in the common area and change in the shower room.”

The line moved quickly and soon they had their dark red jumpsuits. In the shower room, comprised of a dry section and an open shower area with a drain in the floor, naked and half-dressed boys made crude jokes as they showered and slipped into uniforms.

Holland peered inside the garment, noticing the built-in underwear.

“All one piece,” Jarvis noted, “and fitted to your body to minimize distractions when you’re active. Soldiers have died while adjusting their underwear.”

“Makes sense.”

Holland undressed slowly, hoping that maybe the others would hurry on and leave him, but the room only grew more crowded.

“Dude, just strip and get used to it,” Jarvis said as he deftly shed his garments. “People will notice you more if you’re shy.”

Trying to avoid looking at the handsome boy’s six-pack abs—and other parts—Holland finished stripping and grabbed a towel from a stack.

“You got nothing to be ashamed of,” Jarvis said.

“I’m a bit soft.”

“That’ll change pretty quickly. And you’re already good-looking. Gonna be really popular with the ladies once you bulk up.”

Holland caught a wink from Jarvis as he hurried for the showers.

Breakfast was a bit less embarrassing. The biscuits were dry and the gravy was thin, but there was sausage involved and it felt satisfying.

The instructor walked in as they stacked their used dishes, unmistakable with the clink of his boots.

“Good morning cadets. I have an exciting day in store for you. Who would like to jump off a cliff?”

Cleaning Up and Moving Forward

I just deleted 179 old posts off this blog. Lots of outdated information, old stories and poems I’m ashamed to claim as my own, and opinion pieces I no longer agree with. I grew up a lot in the past four years, holy cow. Somehow I still haven’t outgrown the phrase “holy cow”, though. Maybe I should.

There are still 199 posts (counting this one) that remain for your obsessive reading pleasure, if you happen to be one of those new readers who feels the need to read everything. It should be easier now that my blog is down to only a couple hundred thousand words…

Yeah, have fun.

Writing is finally going really well. Since I moved, I have finished a couple short stories, written my first new song in a long time, started a new novel, and more. I’m still planning to release my new book Subliminal in time for Christmas, so stick around for more news on that.

I’ve moved into my new place a mile from work, so I have almost an hour extra each day thanks to a two-minute commute. It went pretty smoothly and I’m enjoying the quiet little town. I still have a ton of stuff I need to get rid of, most notably 446 books. I started with 626, so I’ve already sold more than I expected to. I just lowered my prices to a dollar for most paperbacks and two dollars for most hardcovers, so click the link to see what I have. I’ll probably try to sell them for another month and then give away the rest.

I also have a century-old upright piano with real ivory keys that I need to get rid of. It’s nothing special, painted dark blue, and has a great character. If you’re in the Pacific Northwest and want a cheap piano, or know someone who does, let me know. I can even haul it for you. You can hear what it sounds like–the Box widget in my blog sidebar has over 80 minutes of improvised music I recorded on the piano, and this one is my favorite. Disclaimer: Your results may vary, and the piano doesn’t come with a creek or birds.

Speaking of recording, I found the equipment I want and I can get a pretty awesome setup for less than $500, so I’ll be buying that with my next paycheck. I won’t be doing a Kickstarter fundraiser just yet, but possibly around the beginning of 2015 once I have a few songs completed. There will be a lot more money and time involved with actually assembling and releasing my first album. Also, I need to buy a digital piano, and will be doing a rent-to-own thing, so there’ll be an ongoing cost for that.

A few other things:

-Ebola is not a reason to panic and spread conspiracy theories

-Mason Lynch enters the blogging world with some fantastic content

-I actually published a book earlier this year and not many people know about it

Winter is coming. Enjoy the cold by staying warm, and I’ll be back soon with new things for you to read.

Matt’s Giant Book Sale

I’m moving at the beginning of October, and considering that I have no idea when I could possibly open a bookstore, if I ever do, I thought it would make more sense to sell my excess books now.

Which means you have a shot at some really cheap books. I have 587 books left, and you can browse them on my website.

How did I end up with so many extra books on top of the 400+ that I’m keeping for myself? Back in 2013, a friend who owned a supermassive online bookstore was going out of business (like the death of a humongous star). She had a month to sell as many books as she could of the 500,000 she had in three huge warehouses. So she told me to take as many as I could, to rescue the good books from the fate of recycling.

I made two trips to her warehouses (three hours from my house) and brought home around sixteen boxes of books. They’ve been sitting unread in my basement ever since. Now, with some clever programming and seven hours of work, I’ve cataloged every one of my 1,000+ books, set aside the ones I’m keeping, and now you can buy the rest at the awesome prices of $1.50 for most paperbacks and $3 for most hardcovers.

Shipping is done via USPS Media Mail, which is pretty cheap, around $12 for a sixteen-pound box. There are more details on my website, such as the important three-book limit…I can’t handle shipping 587 books one at a time, that would just be ridiculous. Please, order a lot of books.

The World Might Raise Eye Brow

A while back I received this fantastic junk email. I found it so entertaining that I saved it and have given it the title The World Might Raise Eye Brow. It has inspired me to create new levels of comedy–probably low levels, but a lot of comedy is pretty low. I may be writing my own wacky scam letters in the near future. Not to scam people, of course, but for the fun of it. If you have any ideas for a subject you’d like me to create a scam around, please do leave a comment about it. I await your urgent reply.

————————————————————————————-

Dear Sir/Madam, I saw your profile and I decided to reveal this secret to you, I am Rogers Stuart, personal air pilot to the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Before a revolt pushed him out from power in August 2012, he trusted me and instructed me to purchase ammunition from his Russia business man with some funds, these funds was originally deposited in a secret finance house.

I came to London here in preparation of going to Russia suddenly I saw a breaking news at CNN that he was captured and killed immediately, right now I am the only one who knows about this fund. I have served this man for 6 years; I would have been also dead if it was not that he sent me to go for this mission. Sending me out of Libya to go and purchase ammunition saved my life. I want to transfer the funds to your country and invest it in any business that can generate annual income.

I want you to work with me and receive the funds in your country, I am also very lucky that my dealings with him are top priority secret because no one knows about the funds. You are the only person am revealing this secret to, so you have to keep it between me and you.

As a Canadian I have access to invest this money in my country but since everybody knew I was the personal Pilot to him, the world might raise Eye Brow if should I single handedly withdraw and invest this whole money because it’s too huge for a single individual like me hence my contacting you. I will tell you how much is involved as soon as I get your reply; I need your immediate reply now.

I am waiting for your urgent reply.

Best Regards,

Rogers Stuart.

Caffeinated Psychic

The first time I had coffee, I thought someone had laced it with a hallucinogenic drug. It happened like this…

I walked into the little café with my schoolbooks and a handful of change. After being teased for never having coffee before—not my fault, my parents just never had it around—I decided it was about time to consume some of the famous beverage. So I ordered a twelve-ounce mocha and sat in the corner, sipping it like a teenager with whiskey.

As I neared the bottom of the cup, my knees started bouncing with no instruction to do so, and I felt much like I had when the dentist gassed me with nitrous oxide. I finished the drink with a crooked smile and burped. Plus ten life experience for me.

I stood up and headed for the bathroom with my purse, dodging around an immense dude with long hair, a beard, and a black leather coat. He glanced at me and I heard his voice—but his mouth didn’t move.

“She looks a lot like Ash…”

“Who?” I asked.

The dude frowned. “What?”

“Who looks like Ash?”

He gave me the strangest look, and my hyperactive brain finally registered that his mouth hadn’t moved.

“Oh my gosh,” I said.

“I didn’t say anything about Ash,” he said.

“I know. Hang on, I gotta pee.”

I dashed into the bathroom and took care of the pressing issue, and then I stood at the sink and stared into the mirror. What were the signs of LSD intoxication? I had no idea. Maybe that spot on my cheek…no, just a zit. I applied some zit cream to it and licked my finger and then stared at my reflection, wondering why I’d licked my finger. It didn’t taste good.

I found the huge dude sitting at the table beside mine, playing a word game on his iPhone. I sat down at my table for about 0.85 seconds and then got up again and slid into the chair across from him. He glanced at me.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hi,” he said.

“I think I’m either drugged or going insane.”

“Interesting.”

I bounced in place while he finished making his move in the word game.

Finally he set his phone down, took a long drink of his coffee, and looked at me. “This is strange, somebody is talking to me.”

My mouth dropped open because his hadn’t. “Did you just think something?”

“Uh, yeah…is that surprising?”

“Did you just think this is strange, somebody is talking to me?”

“Yes…”

“Oh my gosh.”

“Do you have to pee again?”

“No, I don’t say that every time I have to pee.”

He smiled.

I leaned forward, probably looking a bit deranged. “The weird thing is that I’m hearing your thoughts.”

Suddenly a flood of voices filled my head and I clamped my hands over my ears. The barista, the couple in the corner, the emo skater kid who just walked in, they were all thinking, and I could hear it.

“Make it stop!” I cried.

A moment later the din of voices quieted a bit and I noticed the huge dude was waving his hand in front of my face. “Hello?” he said.

I uncovered my ears and gave a half smile. “Sorry, I got distracted. The couple in the corner is going to get engaged tonight and the barista has a sick cat at home and that emo kid has an abusive mother.”

“You mean…you can read people’s minds?”

I laughed, a high, slightly maniacal laugh that probably should’ve stayed in my head. “I never have before!”

“Before what?”

“Before I came here and drank the first coffee I’ve ever tasted. I think there was something in my coffee. LSD or crack or whatever it is that makes you psychic.”

“There are no drugs that make you psychic…”

“Oh right.” I chewed on my lip and stared out the window. An elderly man climbed out of his car, shut the door, and shuffled toward the café.

“You okay?”

I jumped and looked back at my large companion. “Oh yeah, I forgot about you. I was watching that old guy.”

He looked out the window. “What old guy?”

I pointed, and looked, and stopped. “Not visual hallucinations too!”

But as I looked, the old man’s car drove up and he climbed out, taking those same small, dragging steps across the parking lot.

“That’s weird.”

“You saw him before he got here?”

“Yeah.”

“So you’re telepathic and clairvoyant. What else?”

I cocked my head and squinted at him. “You’re remarkably calm about this whole thing.”

“So are you.”

“Haha no. My brain feels like a Mexican jumping bean. It’s like all my innards are doing the boogie while my brain sits up there…just…flinging itself violently against the walls of its prison…”

I slumped over the table, overwhelmed with sudden exhaustion. “Ohhhh…why am I so sleepy.” I let out a long moan, and then sat up and blew strands of hair out of my face.

The dude stared at me, stroking his beard. I stared back, probably doing a pretty good impression of a zombie. A blob of drool fell from my lip.

“You hear anything?” he finally asked.

I shook my head slowly.

“I’m thinking things very deliberately in your direction.”

“I got nothing on the brainwave radar, Beardy.”

He took another drink of his coffee, looked at it, and then pushed it across the table to me.

“Ew no thanks.” I grabbed the cup. “On second thought, I’m really sleepy and apparently coffee helps with that.”

I drained the rest of his drink, hiccupped, and blinked twice. The voices came back, quiet at first, but growing in volume until I had to cover my ears again. The lights seemed to flicker and get brighter so I squeezed my eyes shut and rocked back and forth.

A hand touched my bare forearm, searing hot, and the weight of another mind flooded into my own. In an instant I knew everything about him. I jerked away with a gasp and fell out of my chair.

“Sorry,” he said, helping me up. “You were like that for several minutes, and beginning to get strange looks and whispers from the gawkers in the corner booth.”

I sat in my chair, a bit dazed from having his entire consciousness downloaded into mine. All I managed to say was “Uhhhhh…”

“Coffee seems to affect you strongly. Perhaps it would be better if you didn’t drink it.”

“Uhhhhhh…”

He peered at my face. “You okay? Should I call a doctor? Maybe you’re allergic?”

“Uhhhhhhhh…no, I don’t think allergies ever manifest as psychic powers.”

“Did you discover another one? Maybe you can move things by looking at them. That would be cool.”

I looked up at him. “Dude, this is serious. Can you imagine what would happen if anyone found out that coffee makes me psychic?”

“Shhh.”

I glanced around at the other café patrons. “Oh, right. Anyway, can you imagine? The government would take me to one of those top secret labs and run experiments to replicate my ability, so they could create coffee-powered supersoldiers…”

“I think you’re confusing reality with conspiracy thriller movies.”

“Um yes, dude, a lot of confusion going on here, with the telepathy and all that. This shouldn’t be happening. I wonder if this is why my parents never had coffee in the house and never let me get any. Maybe they knew! Oh my gosh I need to go home.”

I jumped up from my chair, tripped over it, and stumbled against the wall. After grabbing my books I ran for the door, and out onto the sidewalk, and then I stopped. The bus that was supposed to take me home wouldn’t be running the route for another hour. Dangit.

My new friend came out and stood beside me, hands in his jacket pockets. He flapped the corners of his unzipped coat while standing there quietly.

“The bus won’t be here for another hour,” I said.

“I could drive you.”

I looked at him, the gentle giant whose shoulder was almost as high as the top of my head. Why not? I knew everything about him, after all. It was like riding with a brother…who I’d met for the first time ten minutes ago despite knowing all his life. Weird.

“So I should tell you…” I said while climbing into his car, but I didn’t go on because I wasn’t sure how to say it.

“Yeah?”

“Well obviously I trust you because I’m getting in your car and those people in the café are giving us really worried looks, probably because you’re so big and hairy and I’m a girl and…hahaha…”

“And you trust me because of the telepathy?”

“Sort of. Is it telepathy when someone touches you and suddenly their brain gets squashed into yours, so you know everything about them?”

He didn’t say anything. My psychic powers had worn off by then so I couldn’t read his mind anymore, which proved a surprising lack of foresight, for a clairvoyant. What if he suddenly turned evil and kidnapped me—

“Well,” he said. “That’s awkward.”

“What is?”

“You knowing everything about me.”

“Oh yeah. Sorry. Couldn’t help it. You touched me and it triggered this mind-meld sort of thing.”

He sighed.

“If it’s any consolation, I understand. It’s hard being the weird one who doesn’t fit in. I didn’t fit in at college because I’d never had coffee before, so that’s why I came here and had some today.”

I thought about that for a moment.

“Wow that sounded really petty. I’m weird because I never had coffee so I can totally understand being an outcast all your life! Sorry.”

He grinned. “It’s fine.”

“But really, I’ve got your brain downloaded into mine so I don’t just know what happened to you, I also know how it felt. That makes a big difference.”

I gave him directions for a few minutes, and then my mind started wandering through his memories. At first I felt really awkward and bad about it, like you do when you open someone else’s mail or use their toothbrush on accident. But it was fascinating to explore a totally new mind.

I glanced at my silent chauffer. “You know when you discover something new and it’s really cool but at the same time it’s terrifying? Oh hey, turn here. I almost forgot I live here.”

The dude hit the brakes and swung around the corner onto the neighborhood street. “Which house?” he asked.

“The one with fake ducks in the yard. I think we’re the only people in the city with fake ducks. When people ask where I live I can just tell them the house with fake ducks and about ninety percent of the time, they know exactly where that is.”

We stopped in front of my house and I jumped out of the car and ran to the door. I burst into the living room yelling “Moooooom!”

She came rushing out of her office with a pen in one hand and a clipboard in the other. “What? Are you okay? Why are you home so early?”

“I had coffee.”

“Oh dear…”

“Is there a specific reason you and Dad never let me have coffee?”

“Uh…no? We just don’t think it’s very healthy.”

“Oh. Okay. I wanted to try it so I did, but it made me feel really weird.”

“Are you all right?”

I bounced up and down, nodding vigorously. “Yep yep. Just fine. Hey, you should meet this nice hairy dude I found at the coffee shop. He drove me home.”

On second thought I probably shouldn’t have introduced my new friend like that. Mom was super suspicious of him so I stretched the account of how I got to know him by saying that he helped me out during some really tough times and I knew him really well ‘cause he was such a nice guy.

So then Mom felt better and invited him to stay for dinner but he said he had to leave because of stuff, so he said goodbye and left.

I lay awake for a long time that night, pondering my newfound abilities and the ramifications of them. Of course, the main thing that had me preoccupied was how in the world it happened. Did I have a rare genetic mutation that caused my cells to react with caffeine and develop superpowers? Would I be growing blades between my knuckles or shooting spiderweb from my wrists a few days later?

Whatever the case, I knew I had to keep it a secret. I dreaded the thought of being experimented on by the government. Which meant I needed a superhero name for my alter ego…but Coffee Woman was the only thing my tired brain could think of.

I fell asleep dreaming about a giant hairy guy going back to his lonely little house.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“So I was thinking, if I carry around one of those weird backpacks with the bladder thing full of water, only I fill it up with super strong coffee, then whenever I’m in a situation that could benefit from the use of my psychic powers I could take a sip and do my little brain-Hulk thing.”

My large friend leaned back and the entire deck creaked. On the other side of the yard, my Dad had a burnt sacrifice going on his grill. It smelled marvelous but if I tried to eat steak, I would bloat up like a dead pig in the sun and have gas for a week, so I had to be content with just smelling the barbecue.

“Are you sure you want to keep triggering it? The side effects look pretty intense.”

I grinned. “It’s kind of fun, though.”

“Exactly my point. Addiction could be a problem.”

“Psh, I’m psychic, who cares about addiction? Think of all the people I could help. I can just see it now…I’m walking home along the street, sipping coffee to keep my clairvoyance alert for possible threats—and also the extra bonus of making me walk about ten times faster than normal. Then I see a white van drive up and a couple men grab a kid who’s playing in front of his house. Only it hasn’t happened yet, so when I see the kid I run up to him and tell him to go inside, and the white van just drives by and I get the license number and call the police—”

“Hang on. You’re not a superhero.”

“Yes I am! I mean, the only other options are being a supervillain, or living in pointless apathy. Wouldn’t I be a bad person if I didn’t use my gifts for good?”

“Well…you have to be sure it’s actually a gift.”

“Look where you are.”

He looked around. “I’m in the backyard of a white middle-class American household.”

“You’re in my backyard, silly.”

“Oh, that detail.”

“You’re a good friend, Beardy.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Then the day came when I realized the problem with being a caffeinated psychic. I could figure out everyone else, but they couldn’t figure me out nearly as well. After that first mind-meld, I avoided touching anyone, because I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough storage space for several more complete minds in my head. But I could still read thoughts when I was high on coffee, and I gained much, much deeper insights about the mysterious complexities of people.

I had secrets, though, and I didn’t think about how the keeping of those secrets might affect someone who didn’t know me nearly as intimately as I knew them.

My giant friend met me at the café one day, and he seemed more nervous than usual. I had a smoothie—no caffeine because he’d been worried that I would turn into Roadrunner or some sort of perpetually hyperactive cartoon character.

We sat down at the usual table and I pulled out my schoolbooks and started working through math. He was a math genius, so my grades rocketed after I absorbed his mind. My teachers suspected cheating but I wasn’t sure if using my psychic abilities to instantly learn math counted as cheating or not.

“So hey,” he said. “I’ve been thinking.”

“I’ve noticed.”

He laughed. “I really enjoy hanging out with you.”

“Likewise, my large hirsute friend.”

“I was wondering if you’d like to be anything more than friends.”

I stared at him and slurped my smoothie. “You mean the type of more than friends involving fancy restaurants and face-battling under the stars and other gross stuff?”

He laughed. “Well, sort of. No need to stick to the stereotypes though.”

What he was saying struck me then, like a brain freeze from drinking a smoothie too fast. “Oh.”

“Is something wrong?”

“Oh.”

“I’m not a mind-reader…”

I shook my head and slurped up the rest of my smoothie. “I’m sorry, I have to go.”

I grabbed my books and fled the café. He didn’t follow, and I thought for a moment how bad he must have felt, but I couldn’t turn back. Why didn’t I tell him right away? Why, with all my telepathy and clairvoyance and mind-melding, did I never see this coming?

I spent most of that afternoon sitting on a park bench and staring at a tree. There was no profound wisdom in the tree; I just stared at it because it was there. Eventually I caught the bus home and hid in my room with my journal and wrote a lot of words that didn’t make much sense.

Night fell and I sat by my window, with my chin on the sill, staring up at the stars. The rest of the house went silent as my parents and little sister went to bed.

Then I spotted movement in the yard and got up on my knees, smiling. I opened the window, while the figure climbed on the fence, to the roof, and then up the slope to my window.

The head and tank-topped shoulders of my lanky classmate leaned in and she kissed me before tumbling through the window and closing it behind her. She stood up straight and ran her fingers through her short hair.

“I have a problem,” I said.

“What sort, love?”

“A boy. I mean, he’s a great, great friend.”

“Ah. They always go for that more than friends thing, don’t they?”

I sat on the bed and she plopped down beside me and started twisting my hair into a braid.

“I’m living a triple life,” I blurted out.

“What?” She laughed. “Like a double life, but with another secret layer?”

“Yeah. I’ve got you. I’ve got the nice proper life I’m supposed to have, with my parents and college and all the normal stuff. And I’ve got this condition where drinking coffee makes me psychic.”

She gently slapped my shoulder. “You’re hilarious.”

“No really. I can prove it to you.”

So I proved it to her; I got out my stash of super-concentrated coffee and drank some and repeated her thoughts. She ended up sitting in a chair in the corner of my room, staring at me while I fidgeted on the bed.

“Well?” I asked.

“Wow,” she said.

“I know. It’s crazy. I thought maybe my parents had never given me coffee because they knew, like maybe it ran in the family, but they have no idea.”

“Wow.”

“Are you afraid of me? Are you going to turn me in to the government so they can experiment on me and make supersoldiers?”

She laughed and sat beside me again. “No, dear. Not at all. I’m just stunned. This is incredible.” She laid her hand on my arm.

My vision flashed white and her mind roared into mine. I pulled away and curled up, moaning.

“Hey, I’m sorry, did I do something?”

“No, no…”

I rolled onto the floor and lay flat on my back, gasping. After a minute I relaxed and looked up at her worried frown. “It’s okay,” I said.

“What happened?”

“A mind-meld. If your bare skin touches mine while I’m high on coffee, your mind gets, er, downloaded into mine.”

“And that means…my whole mind? Everything?”

“All your memories, with thoughts and feelings included. It’s really quite freaky.”

“Oh my goodness.”

I got up and crawled into bed. “Actually I think I like having you in my head.”

She leaned over and kissed me again, and at that moment someone rapped on my door while simultaneously opening it. I squealed and yanked a blanket over me. My classmate jumped up but it was too late. I burrowed deeper into the bedding.

Mom said, “What?”

My girlfriend said, “Hi.”

I just stayed under the sheets.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The rough wooden door made a dull thunk when I knocked, and it felt like it dented my knuckles. A minute of fidgeting later, the door opened and my big hairy dude stood there. He looked at me, at my companion, and back at me.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hey, I’m sorry, I kind of freaked out back there at the café.”

“It’s not a problem. I understand.”

He means it, even though he really doesn’t know what’s up.

“I wasn’t sure you did, so that’s why I’m here. Well there’s other reasons too. One thing at a time. As explanation for my hasty retreat yesterday…this is my girlfriend.”

“Hi,” the girlfriend said.

He nodded at her. And then he understood. “Ah…”

“Yeah, well, that’s the other thing. Mom barged in last night and to make a long screaming match very short, I don’t have a place to live anymore.”

He stepped back and opened the door wide. “Sure you do. I’ve got an extra room upstairs, complete with a private bathroom.”

“Oh my gosh really?”

“Rent free, too.”

I hugged him. “Thank you. A lot. So much thanks. Of course when I get a job I’ll help with rent.”

He chuckled. “No problem. And what happened at the café isn’t a big deal. I totally understand.”

We went in and sat on his nice poofy couches and I listened to his thoughts and he really was okay. Such relief.

I leaned back and laughed with my hairy dude and the girlfriend, and we talked and ate pizza and brainstormed wild schemes to make good use of my caffeinated psychic abilities.