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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.”
“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?
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?”
“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.
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.”
“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.
“Oh my gosh.”
“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.”
“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.”