At first I thought I was imagining things, on Monday morning. Then I wondered if I had watched the X-men movies too many times.
My mum asked if I was feeling better.
“Yes, Mum. Thanks,” I said.
I had been ill all weekend, not leaving my room the entire time. It’s obvious in hindsight what happened, but at the time I just felt rotten. My parents had tried to make me go to a doctor, but I didn’t want to. Since I wasn’t running a temperature, they put it down to some sort of teen malady and left me alone after making it clear they were there if I wanted them.
“Would you like pancakes for breakfast?” Mum asked.
That was the first time it happened. The idea of pancakes popped into my head just before my mum opened her mouth. At the time, I just thought it was a coincidence.
“Sure,” I said. Pancakes are my favourite breakfast. I normally only get them as a special treat.
While Mum messed around in the kitchen, she started to question me. I wasn’t pleased, but if that was the price for getting pancakes, I was happy to put up with her prying into my private life.
“Did something happen on Friday night, Neil?”
“Nope.” Monosyllabic answers annoy her, so I use them whenever she annoys me.
“You were excited about going out that night, but Saturday morning you were moping around like your best friend had died.”
I shrugged. I didn’t know how to respond to something like that. It wasn’t even a question. Friday night was okay, but nothing special. I remember leaving the party early because I wasn’t enjoying it. I can’t even remember much about the party — they all tend to blur together after a while.
“You’re sure you’re okay?”
I waited a moment before answering in the affirmative. I had felt that she was going to ask that exact question, but I told myself I was imagining it. I didn’t realise what was happening.
“You don’t sound sure.”
“I’m sure,” I said. “Are those pancakes ready?”
I was glad she gave up. She’s a good mum, and tries really hard, but sometimes she doesn’t realise that teenagers don’t need their parents poking their noses into things that are none of their business.
It was a short walk to the school. As I approached, I saw Greg Fallow and his mates Tim Lowe and Matt Brown waiting at the gate. Greg and Tim grinned when they saw me, but Matt looked away after one glance.
Of the three bullies, Greg was the worst. For some reason, he had taken a dislike to me. However, he was the apple in many of the teachers’ eyes, and none of them ever listened when I worked up enough courage to say something. Greg was smart. He was careful to make sure there weren’t any witnesses when he did something. He had been getting more blatant in recent times, though, so I wondered that morning if it was time to try to report him again.
When I slowed to a stroll and the three guys stepped towards me, I suddenly had an image in my mind of what they were going to do. They were going to welcome me like an old friend, and then ‘lead’ me away for some ‘fun’. Fun for them, but not for me.
That was when I really started to think something about me had changed. I’d never had thoughts like that. I was looking at Matt at the time, and it was as if I caught a glimpse of what he was thinking.
Not questioning the providence that gave me a chance to escape, at least not then, I looked around. I smiled when I saw Rebecca Cuthbert approaching from the other direction. I called out to her as I ran past the gate, leaving the bullies to wonder what was going on.
When I caught up with her, she asked if I was okay and then complained that I hadn’t answered any of her calls for two days. She appeared halfway between being concerned and being annoyed. I sensed, without understanding how, that it was more concern than annoyance.
I told her that I didn’t know why, but I had just felt like shit all weekend.
“Is that why those guys took you home early from the party? You could have at least told me you were going. I had to find out by asking around.”
I told her that it must have started on Friday night, and that I really didn’t enjoy the party as much as I thought I would.
“Well, you’re here now.” She slipped her arm through mine and we headed back to the gate. I was sure the three waiting wouldn’t be able to think of a way to separate us, and they wouldn’t do anything in front of Rebecca, as her mother works in the school office.
As we walked past Greg, Tim and Matt, I felt a flash of anger strike me. I stumbled for a moment, and couldn’t resist flashing a glance back.
Greg was sneering. “We had a good time on Friday night, Neil. Did you enjoy it, too?” The other two guys laughed, as if what Greg had said was funny.
I hurried on. I didn’t know what game they were playing, but I didn’t want to be involved. To cover up what was going on in my mind, I turned to ask Rebecca about our English homework.
I never asked the question, because behind her eyes I heard the name Peter Longbottom. I blinked a few times, because I couldn’t understand why I saw her thinking about him. Well, I could understand why she might be thinking about him — most of the girls in our year dream about the poor unfortunate who shares a last name with a story character, while being considerably better looking than the actor in the movies — but I was slowly beginning to wonder if I was reading minds.
I glanced around and noticed Peter up ahead. He was talking to one of his mates.
“Did you hear that Peter broke up with Cecelia over what she did Friday night?” Rebecca asked.
I hadn’t heard that, so I asked her about it. I didn’t need to hear the answer, though, as I read in her mind what had happened. Peter had caught Cecelia fooling around with Greg at the party. It was that simple, but the scene the two of them threw was one that shone in Rebecca’s mind. I looked away, as I really didn’t want to be poking into my friend’s memories.
Turning off my strange new ability was hard to do. I could still feel what was going through Rebecca’s mind, even when I tried not to. She was thinking about how Cecelia had led Greg on for most of the party, but then left in tears after being caught by Peter. Peter’s exit had followed almost immediately, though Rebecca was sure that he headed in the opposite direction to his girlfriend.
Becky asked me if I thought it was too early to ask Peter what he’ll be doing next weekend.
I rolled my eyes and said, “What are you asking me for? I’m not one of his mates.” I thought about trying to read Peter’s mind, but I didn’t know if I could do it from a distance, and with a lot of people in between.
“You’re a guy,” she told me. “If you were in his boots, would you be happy to go out to see a movie with someone else, so soon after you broke up?”
I told her to let me think. I concentrated, but I couldn’t read Peter’s mind — there was too much mental noise for me to pick out one set of thoughts. “I really don’t know, but I think he might be a bit skittish. Why not just say hello without trying to push yourself on him?”
“Good idea!” She took one step away and then flashed a happy smile at me. “Thanks, Neil.”
After that, I had the oddest day I’ve ever had at school. I was picking up stray thoughts all the time, and I wasn’t always sure where they came from. A few people noticed that I was very quiet, even more than usual. I told them I had been sick for most of the weekend and I was still feeling a little off. It was true, even if highly misleading. I still don’t know where the ability came from, but I’m sure that something happened during the weekend to give it to me.
The most challenging part was the period before lunch. We had a chemistry test, and I found myself hearing all the answers. I didn’t know if I was getting them from the teacher or from the students around me, but I was presented with an ethical dilemma. Should I answer based on what I was hearing, or should I try to answer on my own?
The teacher said to me, “Mr. Kennedy, stop looking around and put your eyes back on that test in front of you. Otherwise, I’ll have to move you.”
I told Mr. Clarke I was sorry and then dropped my eyes back to the test. I wondered if being moved would help, but I had already been given more than a third of the answers, even though I didn’t want them. My answers would be tainted.
I decided I had to answer the way I would have if I hadn’t accidentally eavesdropped on the thoughts of others. That meant deliberately getting a few answers wrong, the ones that I wouldn’t have been able to get on my own. Trying to make mistakes when you know the right way to do something isn’t easy.
When the lunch bell rang, I left the room as fast as I could. I had my lunch in my bag, so I headed to the far end of the sports oval. There’s a clump of trees there, and I wanted to try to spend some time alone. That area was used by smokers until the teachers caught on and started checking it regularly. I wouldn’t have minded having a teacher show up while I was there — I just didn’t want too many people around me.
I almost succeed in my plan. I avoided Greg and his gang, which was good, but Rebecca spotted me before I reached the safety of the trees, and she joined me.
“What are you doing over here?”
I heard the question in her mind and decided to answer it honestly. I told her that I was hiding.
She gave me an odd look. I could see in her mind that she didn’t know who I was hiding from.
“Anything I can help with?”
That’s one of the things I’ve always liked about Rebecca. She’s always willing to help.
I gave her a smile and told her I just needed some quiet time. I said that she could stay, but that I needed to think for a bit.
She said, “Just let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to do, or something you want to discuss.”
I considered the offer and decided to take her up on it. I hoped to use the time to try gaining control of this new gift of mine. I wanted to see if I could shut it down or maybe control it better, and some one-on-one time with a person I trusted could be useful.
I asked her, “Have you ever had something happen to you that made you wonder if you’d gone crazy?”
I could hear the ‘What the…?’ in her mind, but then I focused on shutting off my interception of her thoughts.
“There was the time when my sister thought she was pregnant and the whole house went crazy, but I don’t think that’s what you had in mind. What’s happened?”
I just told her that I hadn’t been feeling quite right since Friday night. I wasn’t ready to give her the full truth.
She frowned. I almost smiled as I realised I wasn’t reading her mind and didn’t know what she was about to say.
“Could it be something you ate or drank? You left the party early, and without saying anything to me or to the others I asked.”
I shook my head and said that I didn’t think it was food or drink at the party because it didn’t happen to anyone else.
“How do you know? I haven’t asked everyone who was there if they got sick. Have you?”
It hadn’t occurred to me that someone else might have developed the same powers as mine. I felt a quick flash of jealousy, but then I realised I was being selfish. I like being unique, but it’s going to be an interesting challenge to try to work out who else can read minds.
Rebecca asked what I’d had at the party, and I remembered having some punch and eating a bit of something, and I recalled that after Cecelia and Greg were sprung in that bedroom, the rest of the night was a bit of a blur.
“You disappeared just after that happened. Try to remember.”
I tried, but failed. I’ve never been good at recalling that level of detail.
“Have you thought about seeing a doctor?” she asked.
“I’m not that sick,” I said. I realised I either had to tell her the truth or change the topic. I didn’t want her to think I’m crazy, so I chose the latter option. I asked her how long she thought Cecelia had been sleeping around behind Peter’s back.
She snorted. “Who cares? That piece of filth was never right for him. I’ve always thought that.”
I grinned. “And the only one who’s right for him is…?”
She blushed and looked away.
We settled down and ate our lunch in silence. She was lost in her thoughts and I was lost in both hers and mine. She was dreaming of Peter while I worked at switching my ability on and off. I had achieved some success by the time the afternoon classes started, but it was patchy. Reading her mind was easy enough. It was blocking it out that I couldn’t do reliably.
I had phys ed that afternoon. That’s not one of my favourite classes, since I’m not particularly gifted physically, but it’s mandatory. I don’t normally try too hard, but I found myself wondering if my new powers could be used to help.
Mr. Stewart called us together after we were changed. “Okay, class. We’re going to play cricket. Peter, Greg, you’re the two captains, so pick your teams.”
Greg asked what the girls would be doing.
Mr. Stewart stared down his nose at him. I grinned, because I read the answer in Mr. Stewart’s mind.
Greg objected. “But, they’re girls!”
“And one of them may be on the Australian Women’s Cricket team one year. They’re playing. And just to make sure the teams are balanced, every second pick has to be a girl until they’re all chosen. Since both of you are guys, you can each start by picking one of the girls. Greg, you go first.”
Greg frowned, and then grinned. It wasn’t nice.
“Greg, I told you, you have to pick a girl first.”
Greg gave our teacher an innocent stare. “But I did!”
That’s when I knew there’s a downside to having my new powers: I felt the amusement of most of the class. I looked down as I felt myself going red.
“Be serious, Greg. Now pick, or I’ll let Peter go first.”
The team selection went quickly after that. Peter picked me about halfway through the process, even though there were still a few better players waiting. I knew he felt sorry for me and didn’t want to risk leaving me in Greg’s team.
Mr. Stewart tossed a coin and my team ended up batting first.
I find cricket boring. It doesn’t help that I’m no good at it. I couldn’t work out how to use my mind-reading ability to help me as I watched Greg lead the bowling attack against my team.
Peter wasn’t fazed and handled things well, but Mr. Stewart introduced a rule that meant players had to be retired after a certain number of overs. He said it was to give everyone a chance to bat.
Eventually, it was my turn. I was quite surprised when I managed to get through the first over without getting out. It probably helped that Greg had one of the girls bowling.
“It’s only fair. There’s no way he would stand a chance, otherwise,” Greg said, loud enough for everyone to hear.
I didn’t make any runs, so I was at the bowler’s end when Greg started the next over. The first ball went through to the keeper, and Greg grinned at me as he walked back, ready to bowl again. I think he would have said something to me if Mr. Stewart hadn’t been there as the umpire.
I wasn’t sure what Greg was up to, and I didn’t like his smile. I kept a careful rein on my powers, though, because I had a feeling I wasn’t going to like whatever he was planning, and knowing ahead of time would just make it worse.
My suspicions were confirmed when he started bowling nice slow balls that bounced gently up to the batsman, almost asking to be smashed away. It took three tries, but my team mate finally hit the ball and we took a single. I found myself at the striker’s end, staring down the length of the pitch as Greg prepared for another run with two balls left in the over.
He pulled out all the stops and stormed in. I never even saw the ball as it flew down the pitch, bounced up, and hit me on the leg hard enough that I was sure I’d have a bruise.
Mr. Stewart had a quiet word to Greg. I extended my powers enough to learn that he was telling Greg to take it a bit easier.
I’d like to know what Greg thought ‘easier’ meant, because the next ball was a bouncer, driven into the ground short and rising up to hit my chest. It hurt even more than the one that had hit my leg.
“No more like that, Greg, or you’ll be banned for bowling!”
“Yes, Mr. Stewart,” Greg said, appearing contrite, but I knew he had done it deliberately.
Greg walked down the pitch towards me as the field reset itself for bowling from the other end. Mr. Stewart had stopped when Tim asked him a question. I didn’t like the way Greg was smiling. I suspected he had told Tim to delay Mr. Stewart so he could verbally torment me.
“I’m looking forward to the next time we can get you alone, faggot. You can show us all your cocksucker skills again.” Greg’s low-voiced comment as he walked past confused me.
I ditched my previous resolution and tried to read his mind, but somehow I was blocked. I asked what he was talking about, and I told him I’m not a cocksucker.
Greg stopped and turned. His grin was most unpleasant. “Really? You could’ve fooled me. You may have been bawling like a girl on Friday night, but we all know you enjoyed giving us blowjobs.”
“I’ve never done that!” I yelled. I was certain. I knew there was no way I would have forgotten something like that. I tried again to read his mind, to work out what sort of game he was playing.
“Oh, really?” Greg raised his voice. “Matt! Come over here. Neil’s forgotten about Friday night. Why don’t you tell him what he did after we took him away from the party?”
A few people looked around when Greg called out. I ignored them as I concentrated. It was then I sensed something about Greg, and I realised what was going on.
I couldn’t read his mind because he wasn’t really human! He was some sort of demon in human flesh. I still don’t know if the real Greg was possessed, or if there was never even a real Greg, but I knew at that moment that the creature in front of me wasn’t human.
Greg turned to face Matt as he approached. I could tell that Matt was reluctant to join us, as if he feared the demon.
I took the opportunity that presented itself. I knew I had only one chance to do the right thing and rid this world of the devil’s spawn.
I slammed the bat across the back of Greg’s head as hard as I could.
He went down, but he wasn’t out. I hit him again. My mind-reading powers made me able to know that the others around me didn’t know the truth about Greg, and they were going to try to stop me, so I dropped the bat and grabbed one of the stumps. I pulled it out of the ground and drove the point as hard as I could into Greg’s back. I knew he wasn’t a vampire, but I thought a stake through the heart couldn’t hurt. I managed to do it one more time before the teacher grabbed me and wrestled me to the ground.
“What have you done?” Mr. Stewart was shocked, but I knew that was because he thought he had just seen one student kill another.
I explained, “It’s okay, Mr. Stewart. He wasn’t really human. You have to believe me.”
My powers told me that he didn’t. I had to content myself then, as I do now, with knowing the truth, even if no one else does.
A superhero’s lot is rarely a pleasant one.
— from the medical records of patient 0192835, Sutherland Psychiatric Hospital
Copyright Notice — Copyright © June 2008 by Graeme.
The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form — physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise — without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.
Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.
I would like to thank C James, Ray, Kel and also everyone from The Mail Crew for the advice they have given me on this story.
I would also like to thank Aaron and Rain from The Mail Crew for editing this story for me. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure.