Chapter 1. Lies.
Up until that day, my life had been overwhelmingly average. Things would sometimes work out in my favor; sometimes they’d let me down. I’d estimate that it was about a fifty-fifty split, right down the middle, as if I had a magic 8-ball for a guardian angel. As it stood, life wasn’t so bad.
On this particular day, the weather was rather mild, and I found myself outside in the breeze beside the steel fence that bordered my high school’s baseball field. I’m not quite sure what I was doing – I had probably missed the school bus home or something and was now loitering around campus, waiting for the public bus to pick me up. In any event, I was staring blankly out into the athletic fields when I was suddenly struck by an odd feeling. One could say it was like a sudden gust of wind, but I felt it inside of me – the same way you feel hunger or love.
When this so-called wind hit, I shivered because my mind alit with the disturbing image of my boyfriend of three months making out with a brunette beside an oak tree. It seemed random enough, yet I could not take my mind off that vivid, mostly still image (the people in it were motionless, but the leaves on the tree rustled with the breeze). I felt my breathing grow more erratic, my heartbeat race – the usual symptoms of jealousy and anger. As my mind focused on just that one singular image, I realized that I recognized that oak – it was standing just behind the main building complex at this school. Convinced that I had simply gone mad, and hoping to throw out any inkling of doubt, I ran up the grassy hill, crossed through the school building, and arrived, panting, on the far side.
There was the oak tree, stoic and neutral as always – enviably so, I must say, given how worked up I was at the time. I breathed a sigh of relief, noting that the oak tree looked quite lonely at the moment. Satisfied, I walked back towards the glass doors to retrace my steps to the bus stop. Just as I placed my hand on the metal handles, though, I heard voices, and I froze in my tracks, sealing my lips and turning only my head.
There, approaching the tree, was my boyfriend with the brunette in tow. A part of me screamed, telling me to interrupt the scene in a desperate attempt to defy whatever entity had instilled that disturbing image within me. And yet, with a sinister smile, I stood there, watching them, soaking in every moment of their pleasure to feed my hatred. I watched their lips dance around and then plunge forth, slobbering profusely as if they were rabid. When it was over, I approached them with feigned innocence.
“Hey, Jeremy!” I called, running forward.
“Ah-oh!” he cried, quickly letting go of the girl and smiling at me cheesily, his teeth gleaming like fool’s gold. “Ah … eh … ummm …,” he stammered.
“Hey, have I met you before?” I asked the girl, extending my hand.
“Um, I don’t think so,” she said. “I’m Valerie, and you are?”
“Oh! I’m Jeremy’s girlfriend!” I said excitedly, watching a wave of fear course over her as she cringed. Her hand was literally shaking as she returned my gesture.
“Um, my pleasure,” she replied. “But you won’t be Jeremy’s girlfriend for long!”
“Huh, what did you just say?” I asked, shocked that she’d have the gall to say something like that outright.
“I said ‘my pleasure,’” Valerie confirmed, a genuinely puzzled look on her face. “I swear I didn’t say anything else out loud! Or did I?” she asked … without moving her mouth.
“A-are you a ventriloquist or something?!” I shouted. This wasn’t a game anymore … or if it were, the tables had certainly turned.
“Becky, what’s going on?” asked Jeremy. “Valerie really didn’t say anything. She said ‘um’ beforehand, but that’s it!”
“Shh, shh!” I hissed.
“My God, that girl is nuts. No wonder Jeremy needed a break from her,” said Valerie.
I stared at her, wide-eyed.
“I didn’t even say anything … girl, chill for a moment, okay? I can try to help you but not if you’re going hysterical like this,” Valerie stated.
“Why should I help you, though? You’re the one I need to get rid of!” spat Valerie spitefully.
I squeezed my eyes shut and covered my ears. “Ignore it, ignore it,” I said to myself. “None of this is real; you’re imagining it all, it’s just in your head!”
I felt Jeremy’s warm touch as I stood there, crouched over in utter confusion.
“You bitch, taking him away from me like that! I bet you’re a sucky-ass kisser, too, wasting him on your sorry self! Say, Becky, just take a deep breath, okay? I’ll go get you a cup of cold water,” said Valerie, her oxymoronic sentences falling on confused ears.
“No, wait,” I said, opening my eyes. “I’m fine. I … just need to sort some things out.”
“Oh God, does she know about that? How much did she see?!”
The three of us sat down at a picnic table. I breathed audibly, pulling down my jacket sleeves.
“Listen, guys …,” I began.
what does she know? What does she
“Jeremy, stop worrying, okay? Whatever you did with Valerie is the least of my worries right now,” I said, rolling my eyes. There was no way I’d be able to explain anything with him mumbling like that.
Ignore it, ignore it, I told myself. “Valerie, please tell me what the first thing Jeremy said to you today was. I need to check something, that’s all.”
“ ‘Valerie, do you really love me?’ Why is it any business of yours what he said to me?!”
I started to snicker, trying to stifle my laugh but failing miserably.
“ ‘Valerie, do you really love me?!’ Oh my God, you guys are a riot!” I cried.
“Holy. Fuck. How the hell …,” cried Jeremy and Valerie, nearly in unison.
The next thing I knew, I was crying, tears splattering all over the table.
“Go. Make love in the same bed I did for all I care. Just leave me alone,” I said. “And don’t say anything because I apparently can hear all your fucking thoughts now, you liars. Everything that comes out of your mouth is a lie!” The last statement was clearly aimed at my once-boyfriend.
“I’m not lying … just because I don’t say everything I think doesn’t mean I’m lying!” retorted Jeremy. “A lie is only if you don’t mean what you say.”
“Then where do you draw the line? Can you think ‘I hate her,’ and say ‘I love you’ to her without it being a lie? Can you believe both things at once?” I asked between sobs.
“Yes,” he said firmly.
“Then it’s over between you and me,” I said. It was easier to say things with that rough and tough sort of voice instead of acknowledging the weight of the situation. I didn’t want to think about everything that I had devoted to him, wasted on him, given to him, my virginity among those precious things that I knew I could never take back. Part of me wished that I had never seen anything, that I had remained down there at the bus stop. But there was no going back now, and there was no talking me out of my stubborn, irrational position. “I’m sure that’s what you wanted, anyway, to end this to be with that slut.”
“Yeah, it was. No! It’s really not what I wanted.”
“Convince yourself of whatever you want to believe,” I said apathetically, wiping my tears with my cold nylon sleeve. The poorly stitched seam rubbed forcefully against my cheekbone. I stood up and left.
“Should I follow her? Maybe I shouldn’t … I can’t lose Valerie, too. But I wonder what Valerie thinks of me now?”
“Was everything you said a lie?” I whispered to myself.
“Did you just say something?”
“No, nothing,” I said. Maybe we all lie all the time, I thought. Had I been too harsh on him? At least he picked someone who seemed rather hot, and, all thoughts barred, acted like a rather nice girl ….
Chapter 2. Invitations.
At home, I rushed through the front door without saying anything to my mom. I just flew down the hallway, ran into my room, and slammed the door savagely. Still crying, I threw myself onto my bed, not caring that my blankets were being soiled by my dirty clothes.
‘Damn it, am I really this weak?’ I asked myself, wrapping my arms around myself as if to reclaim my body and soul. ‘And what’s happening to me, anyway?’
I stood up and looked at myself in the wardrobe mirror, slapping my cheeks a few times to try to awaken from whatever nightmare had overtaken me. But despite the surreal silence and the neverending tears, I could not awaken, and instead, I just collapsed onto the ground.
After thirty minutes, I managed to calm myself down and turn on the lights, trying to sort things out. Premonitions were one thing; reading minds was completely another … or was it? I realized that my education in such areas was rather scarce – limited to perhaps a few popular movies and TV shows.
‘Meh!’ I thought to myself, ‘Of course I’m not well-versed in this mumbo-jumbo! It isn’t real. Only those freaky sci-fi club members talk about these things as if it were their reality. And we all know that they live in their own little world ….’
I sighed, picking up half of a leftover chocolate bar to munch on. ‘I guess I oughtta start on my homework ….’ I reached down to open my backpack, only to realize that it was absent from my room. Frantically, I looked around, spinning my head like a lighthouse out of control, but it was hopeless: I suddenly saw an image in my mind of the backpack sitting there all alone beside the picnic table and realized that I had left it there when I rushed home. It was an ordinary memory to have, save for the fact that the lighting was completely off – there was only the dim glower of a sodium street light, not the afternoon setting sun that was present while I was at the picnic table. This had to be how the backpack looked right now!
I left my room, sliding on my jacket and socks.
“Mom, I need to go back to school to get my backpack. Can I borrow your car?”
“Why did you leave it there?” she asked, as expected. If she weren’t Asian, I would have suspected a possible lineage from the judges in the Spanish Inquisition.
“Because I did!” I replied. “It’s not like I did it on purpose.”
“You shouldn’t be so forgetful. I’m not sure you should be going to school this late by yourself. You’re a girl ….”
‘And so are you!’ I wanted to retort. I hated it when my mom treated me like some five-year-old naively playing with flowers or something.
“I need to do my homework and study. There’s an exam coming up!” The last statement was a bit of a stretch, but I hoped that she’d buy it.
“Okay, okay, but be back before dinner.”
“Yeah, I gotcha,” I said.
The drive to school was uneventful; there were several cars driving the opposite way, but my side of the road was emptier and probably was more populated by squirrels than vehicles. I pulled into the teacher parking lot and hopped out, circling around the building to retrieve my backpack. Idly, I wondered just how dangerous this place could be at night.
The backpack was just where I expected it to be, and I noticed that one of those two-headed aluminum-pole streetlights was indeed positioned a little ways off from the picnic table. Somehow, though, this relieved me rather than disturbing me. I suppose that the first time, you think it’s just a silly coincidence; the second time, you get freaked out by the coincidence; but the third time’s the charm, and you start planning on opening a tarot card shop or something. Perhaps there were others in the same position as me? Surely, they’d pretend to be normal, but they’d just be there at the right place at the right time. ‘Like my mom, every time she wants to bust me!’ I quipped to myself with a small internal laugh. ‘Nah, she hasn’t caught enough things to qualify ….’
I started my stroll back to the parking lot when I thought I heard something behind me. Instinctively, I turned around and looked around, but no one was there. Shrugging, I continued walking, listening more alertly. This time around, I determined that the sound wasn’t that of any human, but rather of some sort of stone object rolling. I stopped still, listening, raising my hands into a defensive stance in case something were to suddenly fly out at me. But instead, there was just a bit more rolling, and I saw the curious offender rolling by and stopping beside the toe of my right sneaker.
It was just a small stone sphere with a few engravings. Cautiously, I picked it up, still scanning the scene for any people. ‘Now’s your chance to run!’ I shouted to myself, fleeing the scene and shutting off any thoughts.
By the time I regained control of myself, I was on the road with the backpack and stone sphere in the passenger’s seat. Like an addict, I kept checking the rear-view mirrors, but indeed there was nothing to be suspicious about. I slipped the stone into my backpack before reentering the house, arriving just in time for dinner.
“Get the rice, Becky,” ordered my dad.
I carelessly laid down my backpack, producing a rather obvious bang that startled my mother.
“What was that?” she asked.
“Just my books,” I lied.
“Don’t treat your books so roughly,” she chastised.
“Yes, Mom,” I replied, scooping out the rice into bowls.
“You always say ‘Yes, Mom,’ but you never listen!” she grumbled.
“Yes, I do!”
Dinner was boring as ever, and I simply retired to my room wordlessly afterwards, lugging up my backpack. ‘I wonder what this stone is all about … is it cursed or something?’ I wondered to myself. But trying to apply a bit of self-discipline, I left the stone alone and started on my homework. Strangely enough, the dread I had for the stone managed to keep me concentrated, albeit mindlessly, on my assignments, and I finished them all at a quarter past ten.
Slowly, I reached into my backpack all the way to the bottom and drew out the stone, noticing for the first time just how smooth its texture was; it was very nearly slippery, and I had to grasp it tightly in order to prevent it from sliding away like a glass marble. The surface shone in the light, and when I set it down on my desk, bordered by a few small boxes and cases to prevent it from rolling, I saw that it had a few fine engravings in it.
In the center was a large, round eyeball with a circle for an iris and a chipped out hemisphere for a pupil. Although it could easily have been creepy, instead I felt comforted by its petrified gaze, as if it were watching over me like an angel and not like Big Brother. I almost wished to place the stone on display on one of my shelves, although that might attract unwanted attention.
Below the Polyphemian eye was the following inscription: “The Society of Perceivers and Guardians of the Truth.” I was amused to see that the name was so long that the engraver seemed squeeze the letters on the right to preserve a semblance of centered lettering. Of course, even if it had been done completely professionally, I still wouldn’t be able to take such a pretentious and verbose title seriously.
I checked over the globe, looking for any more inscriptions, but there weren’t any. Sighing, I set the ball down and started surfing the web, checking through my usual techie forums. In a particular forum thread, I saw a curious link for a Flash minigame. Deciding that it’d be a good way to wind down for the evening, I clicked the link and saw that it was none other than a graphically-intensive version of “Memory.”
When I was younger, my mom would frequently challenge me to play with her, but it always left me so frustrated and confused because I could never win, even when she gave me hints. It was just one of those things I couldn’t do. With resolution, I decided to beat this game once and for all, to set that demon of my childhood behind me.
With another click of the mouse, the computer dealt the cards. Face up. ‘What’s going on?’ I asked myself, but in keeping with my three’s-the-charm belief, I refused to be flustered and instead worked through the game normally, earning a cel-shaded golden trophy for my reward.
I closed my browser window and looked back over at the stone ball.
“Society of Truth, eh?” I said to myself, thinking about the game of Memory. “Now let’s just suppose that the cards were in fact not dealt face-up. That means that I can see through them, right?”
“Rebecca, did you say something to me?” asked my mother from the hallway.
“Oh no, I’m just talking to myself,” I said.
“Are you done with your homework?” she asked.
“Yeah, I finished.”
“Okay, go to bed soon. You have to wake up early tomorrow to say
bye to your Dad before he goes on his trip.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said. Returning to the stone sphere, I glared at its immobile form. There had to be something else to it! Someone had gone through the trouble of stalking me and then rolling it at my feet. Wetting my lips slightly in psychological preparation, I lifted up the stone again, this time trying to glimpse past it the same way that I saw through the cards.
After a minute of absolute monotony (and arms growing rather sore), I was ready to resign myself to bed. But the stone, at that moment, began to crumble on the surface, the grains of rock and mica turning into a dusty cloud that swept up from the stone in a mild whirlwind that soon enveloped my room in a strange hazy fog. I could hear the glistening of the small crystalline pieces colliding with each other and the whistle of a weak wind that abruptly stopped.
Now, in concentric rings around the sphere, tiny words had appeared. Quickly throwing on my reading glasses, I eagerly soaked in the hidden message.
“Welcome, my dearest, to reality. No doubt, you have awakened by now and seen below the tip of the iceberg that we call the Truth. Do not feel alarmed or lonely; there are others of us all around. You are not a freak, nor a maniac. You are merely enlightened, like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s legendary Transparent Eyeball.
“We cordially invite you to attend the next meeting of the Society of Perceivers and Guardians of the Truth, known as the ‘Transeyes’ for short, to learn more about what you are seeing, imagining, and hearing. You will be notified of when and where this meeting will take place via this stone. Until then, feel free to explore your newfound abilities.
“P.S. You may experience a renewed excitement from looking at celebrity posters.”
When I finished reading, the dust fell out of the air and resurfaced the sphere anew. I gently rolled it beneath my bed and looked up at my wall. My posters of handsome actors and rock stars were hanging there as usual. And then their clothes faded from view.
‘Maybe this isn’t so bad after all,’ I mused as a devious smile crept onto my face.
Chapter 3. Entering the Chrysalis.
The landscape is simple, barren. All around, terra cotta and beige peaks block out the horizon like petals about a lotus flower. I take a few tentative steps in this alien environment, small bundles of clay shattering beneath my sandals.
A sudden tremor in the ground sends me flat onto the ground, my fingers gripping the coarse sand whose grits become entrapped beneath my fingernails. The grating feeling is unpleasant, as is the taste of sand on my tongue, so I push off my palms and reorient myself, brushing off as much dust as I can from my chalk-white gown.
The towering columns of stone have shifted and continue to move; nothing is constant except the piece of Earth I am stepping upon and the cloudless blue sky. I continue to walk, flipping my head from left to right as if watching a ping-pong game, with that level of uncertainty, not knowing if I were truly following to ball or merely an illusion of it within my mind. Nor could any of it ever be resolved, for patterns would develop, lapse briefly, then break altogether.
Ahead, in the sand, I see a bulge, an oval embossing. Hoping to investigate it before it vanishes like any other structure around me, I make a quick dive, groping ferally with my fingers and arms. The solid form beneath the soil slides with cold rigidity into my palms and I rip it out of its slumber.
In my hands I hold a copper-framed mirror; the metal is already half-oxidized but not fully green enough to have the grace of the Statue of Liberty. Instead, it just looks abandoned, some of the glass cracked and almost the entire surface hopelessly scratched up. I can hardly see any reflection in it.
Isn’t it sad?
I hold it, clasp it, press it against my chest. I close my eyes briefly as a gust of sand shuttles my way; when I open my eyes again and move my fingers again, I realize that the mirror is absent. In the sand behind me, I see a new bulge. Puzzled, I kneel down, my knees touching down on the ground as the wind lifts my gown away from the sand. With my hands, I pull out the mirror anew, but this time, it is completely renewed and rejuvenated.
In the reincarnated mirror, I see myself in piercing clarity. But it isn’t myself. It is a beautiful girl with an indescribable mystique; she is taller and more slender, with more piercing, narrow eyes and lips that look almost poisonous in their dark sensuality. Who is she? Will I be born again?
Chapter 4. Schoolday Rumble
I awoke with a rather crappy migraine.
“Guh, I dun feel like goin’ to school,” I grumbled to myself as I tossed onto my other side, pulling my fluffy green blanket over my eyes to block out the relentless sunlight.
Deet deet deet deet deet deet.
The abusive alarm clock was all the way on the other side of the room – this was a crisis.
“Shuuut uuup,” I moaned. I picked up the nearest stuffed animal and took aim. It would have to land just right to shut off the switch. Unfortunately, I was aiming without opening my eyes, and the resulting crash and bang confirmed that I had only succeeded in knocking the alarm clock behind the shelf.
Deet deet deet deet deet deet.
Stumbling, I made my way towards the sound, stepping on something sharp.
“Yeow!” I yelped, hopping around in a circle, landing on a stray piece of paper and slipping gracelessly. By reflex, I sent down an arm to strike the ground and break my fall, but even that plan was thwarted as it landed on the stone ball, throwing me into a crumpled heap atop my laundry basket.
“Rebecca, where are you?” called my mother.
“Hurry up or you’ll be late for school!”
“Mmrff, mmrff.” Some article of clothing had found its way into my mouth, I realized.
I stood up to see my mom there in the doorway, a puzzled look on her face. With a deft swipe, I removed the bra from my mouth and hid it behind my back, pretending that nothing had happened.
“Rebecca, why was there a bra in your mouth?”
“What bra?” I asked. I had read somewhere that that was the best way to deny the existence of an offensive object.
“The one behind your back.”
But I was a step ahead of her already. The bra was now behind the bed! In all my clever wit, I had thrown it away when she was not paying attention. I displayed my empty hands with confidence.
“Rebecca, change and go. Stupid daughter.”
‘She definitely said that out loud!’ I said to myself after following the lips carefully.
I changed and hopped down the hallway to eat breakfast. While chewing on some toast, I tried to convince myself that somehow, nothing would change at school, that Jeremy and Valerie would suddenly vanish from existence, that my powers would be latent during the bright hours of day. I even considered leaving the stone at home in hopes of missing the so-called meeting and thus completely avoiding my participation in any strange voodoo.
But in the end, I couldn’t help but stuff the stone in along with the rest of my books. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and shouted good-bye at the doorway, per routine, and boarded the schoolbus, turning on the music from my MP3 player as loud as I could. God knows what sorts of thoughts would be bouncing around on the schoolbus to bother me.
My first few classes passed by without a hitch, but come Fourth Period, a new trouble arose – I had AP Physics with Jeremy, and I sat right behind him. The class rushed in as usual, with one minute to spare before the tardy bell, and we all took our seats. Jeremy turned around, ready to say something, but I unleashed my Glare from Hell on him, and he obediently swept his gaze back to the front of the room.
‘Oh shit, she’s mad,’ he thought.
“Psst, Lan-Lan, what’s up with him an’ you?” asked Persephone from my right.
“I’ll tell you later,” I whispered back as roll call began.
Scant minutes later, she reiterated her question.
“Lan-Lan, I wanna know!”
“Ms. Pantazopoulos, please don’t talk while I’m teaching,” said Mr. Emerson. While the class snickered for the hundredth time at ‘Seph’s last name, I wondered idly if, by some freak chance of heritage, he knew about the Transeyes. But there were probably a million people named Emerson in this country.
“Ask him yourself, ‘Seph,” I grumbled in response.
‘Seph scowled at me, thinking, “Geez, she’s meaner than the rest of the class when they laugh at my name that sounds like ‘pants.’”
I scowled, pulling out a sheet of paper on which I drew two stick figures with their heads forming a Venn diagram. I labeled it accordingly, then drew in myself sadistically throwing a knife into the male figure. Blood spurts were compliments of my newly acquired red gel pen.
“Get it?” I asked.
Persephone nodded, her curly brown hair bobbing up and down innocently, and she was silent for the rest of the period. It wasn’t until lunch that she re-acknowledged my existence, grabbing my wrist forcefully and dragging me outside onto the grassy hill, where she tripped up and sent both of us hurtling onto the ground with a thud. She quickly helped me upright with finicky, half-executed gestures, as if she were picking off crumbs from a hot stove.
“Lan-Lan, are you okay? Do you need me to spit in his lunch or something for you?” she asked sincerely, her cute wide eyes staring at me with simplicity of emotion.
“No, no,” I said with a smile. “We’re Juniors now. Listen, ‘Seph, your voice is kinda always loud. Sorta.”
“No shit, Lan-Lan. Either that or all my teachers have like … bat hearing. Ooh, do ya think they’re vampys?!”
“You are the spazziest girl on Earth,” I said, pulling out my sandwich and taking a gratuitous bite. “Rrnywrrs,” I began before gulping down the hunk of tastiness, “I think I can help you out, but you have to keep this a secret.”
‘Seph started to giggle. “Lan-Lan, you’re better off entrusting a secret to a talking parrot than to me. ‘Polly want a cracker! I like gay porn!’” she screeched gleefully.
“ ‘Seph, take me seriously for once.”
“Aw, can’tcha take a joke? My mouth may be as wide as the Pacific Ocean, but I’m not gonna backstab my friends,” she said. Persephone was an odd person who on the surface always seemed to be gossiping, yet when you thought back to what she had actually said, she never blabbered at the expense of anyone she knew personally. It was more like she had this capability, this certain charisma to ride the wave of girl-talk without having to do so much as tilt her head and laugh with her curls bouncing everywhere.
So I hugged her and whispered in her ear, “You don’t have to say anything to me out loud in class anymore if you don’t want anyone else to hear. But I’ll still be able to answer you.”
“Woah, you can read lips now?”
“Nope,” I said with a cocky grin.
“Um, you want me to pass notes to you?”
“Hmm!” she said, not showing any impatience at all. I feared that this guessing game could go on forever. “Oh, I know! You can read my mind now!”
I gaped at her in shock.
“Not it?” she said with an adorable pout.
“No, that’s it, but how on Earth …,” I trailed off.
She smiled toothily, declaring, “I read in some book in the library that people could do that.”
“What kinds of books have you been reading ….”
“Oh, this one was really hard to find. It was actually slipped behind one of the cases, so I only found it because I had to help them rearrange some shelves in the library.”
“Since when did you work at the library?”
“Since this summer! I didn’t tell you …?”
I shook my head.
“Oh, okay. Well, now you know.”
‘Do you see that guy over there, ten o’clock? Sizzling hot!’ she thought.
I turned my head to the left and was startled by the sudden influx of finely made male. How could I have not noticed him before?
“Wow, Lan-Lan, single for one day and you’re already drooling over the rest of the guys? Tsk tsk!” she said mockingly, letting her hair tickle my cheek. ‘I dare you to hit on him.’
“No, I’m not going to, no, no,” I said. “He’s not even my type, anyway.”
‘So what? I can give you cues like this. And you can read his mind, too, and say exactly what he wants to hear.’
“Oh, quit it. Not everyone is just looking for someone who’s hot on the outside. And besides, I’m rather plain-looking myself.”
“Don’t say that! It’s not hard to look pretty, really! Look, I’ll take you to the mall this weekend okay okay?” she said out loud. ‘It’ll take your mind off that cheating son of a bitch anyway, Lannie.’
“You think of me as ‘Lannie’ in your head?!” I asked.
“Oops,” she replied, covering her mouth.
“Oh well, whatever. How did you come up with a name like Lan-Lan anyway?”
“I dunno, it just slipped out one day, I think.”
“It’s not how Chinese people form nicknames, you know?”
“Well, you double one of the first names or add ‘Xiao’ or ‘A’ or whatever.”
“Yah, but I can’t pronounce your Chinese name,” she argued.
“Yeah, Yeah,” I said. “Whatever.”
“You should at least buy a new top. I know just the shirt that would look really pretty on you!”
I groaned. “You’re still on that? Give it a rest. Why are you taking this telepathic thing so easily, anyway?”
“I dunno. I guess I’ve always been into mythology even though my parents are strictly Orthodox. My parents brought a lot of our smaller statuettes and busts over here when we moved from Kallithea, and when we were unpacking, well, that was the first time I actually held them and all. And after I started reading that book – you should read it, too – I started realizing that people could easily mistake psychics for prophets, messengers, or even gods.”
“What is this book called, anyway?”
“Ha, actually I dunno. It doesn’t have anything on its cover.”
“That’s a little suspicious, isn’t it?” I said.
‘Come see for yourself. I’ll be working the shift from four til eight tonight, if you wanna meet me. It’s not in any of the card catalogs and I hid it away, so only I can let you in on it. But this has got to be a secret, too,’ she thought with colorful intonation. I realized that she was a very honest person, reflecting every detail of her thoughts into her style of speech. With disgust, I realized that I hardly ever did the same.
Persephone looked away at the sky as if not expecting a response. For just a moment, in her flowing, loose cotton top and skirt, with their gold hems and rippling folds, she looked like a Hellenic goddess, but only for a moment. Her face was far more modern and plebeian, cute but not refined; her movements were unplanned and boyish.
“I guess I can probably get out of the house at five or something. ‘ this the public library downtown?”
“Yup!” she said with a wide smile. The lunch bell rang. “Crap, English class. It’s my second language, you know. They should cut me more slack.”
“It’s my second language as well, and you don’t see me complaining about it,” I said.
“It so isn’t! Knowing how to say ‘hungry want eat pee’ in a language before learning English doesn’t count.”
“Just go!” I said, kicking her rear end lightly.
“Don’t get my skirt dirty!” she cried.
“Like sitting on dirt keeps it clean,” I said, patting myself off as she started down the hill.
“Five o’clock, don’t forget!” she said without turning around, although I could tell that she was smiling.
“No no!” I protested. “Five fifteen. I said I could get out by five, not get there by five.”
“Psh, what’s the difference,” ‘Seph said. “I’ll probably be working circulation, but I can get Jon to cover for me for a bit.”
I stared after her as she disappeared into the twin glass doors, looking down at my watch.
Chapter 5. Reading Up.
I climbed onto the bus, giving my backpack a determined heave. I took the first free booth I could find, near the back of the bus, and some senior guy sat down next to me a few seconds later.
‘Phooie, I was hoping to have this space all to myself today,’ I complained to myself.
“Hi,” he said plainly.
“Yo,” I replied, pulling out a book to read.
On the way back, however, a particularly abrupt turn on the part of the bus driver sent all of us passengers flying to the right of the bus. Normally, I would not have cared about the accidental contact between my neighbor and me. But then the thoughts began to rush in again.
“Oh man, I can feel her hips and legs pressed against me,” the boy thought frantically. I could practically hear the blood pumping quickly through his body. “Ugh! So soft but supple; if only she would slip down those sexy jeans and then I would touch her and ohhhh urg, I should move aside I should move aside!”
He tried to scoot over, but it barely alleviated the squeeze, and his fantasies only grew more vivid as our contact dwindled to the faintest brush.
‘No, I shouldn’t think these things, I shouldn’t think these things. Oh no, what if she sees it?’
I saw “it” alright, and I freaked out, jumping over him at the next stop and bounding out the door without thinking about just how far I was from home. I was sweating and beet red when I stopped to take a breather beside a few birch trees.
‘Calm down, Rebecca!’ I thought to myself. ‘It’s nothing you haven’t seen before. But it’s a complete stranger! That’s different! He wasn’t thinking about love, he was thinking about rape! But did he actually do anything? Could he have stopped those thoughts? He never acted on them ….’
My head was spinning with conflicting thoughts.
‘Dammit, I should have listened to my MP3 player again,’ I thought angrily. Nevertheless, that solution would have been a complete cop-out. The thoughts would have still been there. Would my ignorance of them make the situation any better?
I didn’t want to think; I wanted to block everything out and sweep through the rest of life as a fly would, racing here and there, so focused on the beating of the wings to care about anything else. So, like that fly, I took off running, ignoring the weight of my backpack and just following the road, away from home, away from any people who would know me, who would think about me, who would violate me.
It wasn’t long before I arrived downtown, which was probably only one and a half miles from school. I barely felt exhausted, thanks to my strict jogging schedule, but I still slowed down to prevent myself from drawing unwanted attention. And frankly, any attention would be unwanted attention. I wanted to vanish from the world – watch everyone else with piercing gaze but glide right past them, like a single thread of silk dangling before them, around them, trapping them unbeknownst, but never visible, never brought to trial, never the object of their desire.
Walking through downtown was relaxing and surreal. The autumn sun had already begun to enwrap the taller steeples and the wind was starting to pick up, perhaps in preparation for a storm. I felt so disconnected from the world, only because there were so many people around me. I could hear no thoughts at all, only because too many people were thinking at once.
As if proceeding down a cathedral’s corridor, I walked down the sidewalk, passing shops and trees arranged like mahogany pews and peeks of sunlight that seemed to stream through stained-glass windows. At the end of my walk, I found myself at the library, an hour too early. Quietly, I stepped through the doors and ventured inside.
‘Lan-Lan, is that you?!’ I heard crisply through the otherwise silent foyer, yet there was no echo, so I knew it was never said out loud.
I nodded aimlessly, trying to find where ‘Seph was standing at the moment.
‘Over here, to your right. I’m not at the desk yet because I just got here, too.’
I looked over to a few carts of books and saw her standing, her somewhat petite frame obscured by the tall mounds of books. ‘You’re here really early, you know.’
I nodded again.
‘Okay, wait five minutes and I’ll show you back there. I need to organize these books really quick.’
I walked over to a spotted armchair sofa and sat down, savoring the form-fitting cushions. There was not a single blemish on the chair’s form save for a small rip on the left armrest, but even that was mostly concealed by an intricate lace shawl that was draped over the antique piece of furniture.
I picked up the first book I could find on the black adjacent end table. It was an old, dilapidated copy of The New Yorker. I stared at its colorful cover and noted that it was the April 1974 issue . Before I could begin scanning the contents, though, I saw Persephone out of the top of my eyes, leaning over me eagerly. She had not changed her clothes, yet the sepia-tone shadows in the building made her appear as if she were in some old-fashioned photograph.
‘Let’s go! Isn’t this fun, communicating this way? It’s like being soulmates!’
I glared at her, trying to convey that it was considerably less fun being the one who had to play the mime.
‘Hey, you never know. Maybe I’ll become telepathic one day.’
“Yeah, maybe,” I whispered.
‘Anyway, it’s behind this shelf. Keep a watch out for anyone coming by, will ya? I don’t want to cause a commotion or anything.’
I nodded yet again, sitting down on a stout metal stool that sank half an inch under my weight. I nearly created a commotion of my own, though, when I saw Persephone awkwardly hinged over the bookshelf, her arm flailing about, trying to grasp the book. Her now-airborne feet kicked about, threatening to knock books off the opposite shelf at any moment.
“Need a boost?” I asked.
‘No! No!’ she replied.
She used one hand to tug her body infinitesimally farther over the old black-painted shelf. All of a sudden, she sprung back, off-balance, and landed in my outstretched arms, clutching an old volume to her bosom.
‘Here,’ she thought, handing me the book.
“Thanks,” I said, smiling when I saw all the dust that had accumulated on her shirt. I extended my arm to brush some of it off, but she preempted me conscientiously.
‘You still have your backpack,’ Persephone noted. ‘You didn’t go home?’
“Well,” I began, but I never finished my sentence.
‘I guess we can talk about it during my break. I have to go work now before they wonder why I’m MIA, okay?’
“Yeah,” I said, leaving her side and proceeding to the small, circular second floor to begin reading. I settled down beside a rose-themed pewter lamp, opening the book to its first page. The paper was a tad ragged and the text was hand-penned in ink, but the words still stood out in legible relief.
I frowned, realizing that the text had been written by an outsider, someone who could only speculate and not understand. Nevertheless, the oft-redundant and sensational text confirmed the existence of a certain society of persons with unnatural brainpower, seemingly able to read minds, communicate with one another without words, and forecast events in the new future. The text differed only slightly from any other fantasy or comic book description of such characters, and I feel that it was merely the fact that the author seemed so serious and bewildered at the same time that stirred me in this way.
Already an hour passed before I next looked at my watch – time always seemed to fly while I was reading. But it was not time spent in vain; I had already finished all but the last chapter. “Parting Words,” the chapter header read. I sighed, nearly putting the book down. And yet something told me to read on. It could have been mere compulsion, habit – from years of studying. Or maybe it was another premonition, albeit a vague one.
No matter, I read on:
“I have observed these psychics in question for nearly ten years now; surely they have already caught on to me; yet, for some reason, they have left me alone. I do not know if they have simply remained ignorant of the existence of this volume, or perhaps they know if it and do not deem it a hazard to their secrecy. If it is indeed the latter, then this last chapter must be written in secret, far away, and so I have removed myself from any place that may be inhabited by their kind in order to write down these last facts.
“I must beg your pardon in titling this chapter in such a misleading way. These are, in function, parting words, for they are the last of this book, and perhaps the last that I will write, as I am reaching such an age as to care little for writing any longer. But they are, in terms of sheer weight, the majority of this book.
“What I am about to propose is a hypothesis – not being psychic myself, I cannot provide any more substance than that – a hypothesis as to how such powers may be consistent with our knowledge and common sense. I believe that the psychics can see, and possibly even ‘feel’ to a degree, something, or someone, that no one else can see or feel. Through this intimate contact arises their ability. I have chosen not to name this entity, nor speculate any further than that. I am sorry if I have disappointed you, but perhaps some scholar at some later date should finish this book rightfully, and to him I leave the following pages.”
And true to his word, the author left the next ten sheets of paper blank. I read the last paragraph over and over, trying to see deeper than the cautious, imprecise sentences that formed the text. For a moment, I felt that I was descending into another world, but I couldn’t quite open my eyes.
Then a bright blue flash seared through my mind, cutting off any other thoughts. It was a pure, unrestrained blue, unlike any other blue I had ever seen in my life. It had no trace of sadness or serenity, nor childhood bliss or the ocean’s expanse. It was simply the raw hue.
No one else in the library seemed fazed at all, and my stone was gray as ever within my bookbag. I pulled it out, looking at it from every angle, but it betrayed nothing. Before I had to chance to slip it back into the bag, I heard Persephone think, ‘What on Earth is that there?’
Frantically, I stuffed it back into my bag, but to no avail.
‘Lan-Lan, you’re not going to get away with something that obvious.’
“U-umm,” I stammered. “I-it’s a stone? A round stone?”
She took the liberty of snatching the stone out of my bag. ‘No, it’s definitely a square hunk of plastic.’
‘Yup, definitely,’ she thought, turning it round and round.
“Hey, stop diverting my attention! Give it back to me right now.”
‘Not til you tell me what it is, Lan-Lan!’
“It’s a messager. That only I can read.”
I grabbed the stone back out of her hands and began to turn it slowly counterclockwise. “Here, let’s see … ‘Today, we will have a conference about reading the minds of animals. Please be present at ten P.M.’”
“Wow!” she exclaimed out loud.
“ ‘P.S. Persephone Pantazopoulos is a nosy weeeeeeasel.’”
‘You little …!’ she cried internally, giving me a shove so that I fell backwards into the chair.
“Just returning the favor,” I replied smugly after removing my buttocks from the uncomfortable position of being wedged between the cushion and the back support.
‘What does it really say?’
“Actually, nothing at all. It hasn’t done anything since last night,” I said, suddenly realizing that I had blurted out too much.
“No, nothing,” I said. I looked at the sphere again, but this time, it started to feel strangely warm, and then a faint blue glow surrounded it. Text inscribed itself quickly across its surface, “18h EST, Richards Hall, Seat Q16.” The ‘16’ suddenly vanished and was replaced by a ’15.’
I looked up at ‘Seph, who was watching the sphere intently as well.
‘It turned kinda blue for awhile, didn’t it?’
“Y-yeah,” I said.
‘That’s it?’ she asked, seemingly unaware of what I thought was rather large writing. It had been clear and neat, but now that I thought of it, it was certainly hand-written, given the imperfect replications of certain repeated letters, such as the two adjacent l’s in ‘Hall.’
“No, it says I have to go somewhere in thirty minutes,” I said quickly, packing my stuff away and handing the book back to ‘Seph. “Thanks for showing this to me. Bye.”
‘Oh, no prob. But …,’ she started. I was already halfway down the stairs, but I halted and strained my neck to look back to see why she had stopped. ‘Just, stay safe. I don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, and I’m not going to pry anymore. But you have to promise me you won’t be out wandering in the streets late at night with other weirdos.’
“Weirdos?!” I remarked resentfully.
‘Just promise! And keep your cell phone charged. And maybe a hand pistol in your purse?’
“Ixnay on the pistol, ‘Seph. Maybe a throwing knife or something. I’m particularly skilled at darts, you know.”
Persephone smiled sincerely, waving goodbye to me before turning around to reshelve some books.
Chapter 6 – Introductions and Handshakes in Seat Q15.
I was already out on the sidewalk before I realized I had no clue where Richards Hall actually was located. But there had to be some kind of instinct within me, right? Something that would lead to me to place without ever having been there before?
I started walking without thinking, hoping that it would somehow land me at Richards Hall. But after realizing that I had just walked in a full circle around a couple of blocks, I stopped heaved a sigh of defeat.
“Are you looking for some place?” an elderly passerby asked, probably noticing the way I was looking left and right like a lost tourist.
“Yeah, Richards Hall,” I said.
“Ah, I see. That would be in the Planetarium, Miss.”
“Oh, I never noticed it before,” I admitted.
“That’s because it’s in the basement,” he said with a sagacious, if not mystical, smile.
“Thank you, Sir,” I said, walking towards the Planetarium, which was only a couple of traffic lights down from where I stood. That man had certainly been odd – a little too comfortable and convenient for me – but he was well on his merry way, far from me, so it was of little consequence.
I arrived at the Planetarium at quarter til six, opening the front door. There were a few people inside, including a box office operator and a few people perusing the items in the glass pane-enclosed gift shop. I slipped down the first stairwell I could see, which slowly degraded in quality as I approached the bottom, until finally it was covered in chipping white paint, the wooden planks creaking eerily as I stepped on them. For a moment, I wanted to retreat, but I saw a silhouette of a figure at the top of the stairs coming after me, and I realized that I had no choice but to continue if I wished to avoid confrontation. The brightness of the lights streaming into the top of the stairwell prevented me from seeing who it was, and I couldn’t event tell whether it was a man or a woman from the blurriness of the outline.
I started running down the steps, tripping up on the last two and landing harshly on the side of my foot at the bottom, twisting my ankle awkwardly but not to the point where I couldn’t walk. ‘Damn it, I have to keep my cool,’ I thought to myself, taking deep breaths. The basement hallway was ill-lit by a couple of flickering fluorescent rods; water and heating pipes ran along the ceiling. At the end of the hallway, on the left, was a door marked ‘Richard Hall’ in wooden cutout letters painting in faded regal burgundy. The ‘s’ had presumably fallen off at some point, and all that was left was a stained outline of the letter in the wooden backing of the sign.
Again, I hesitated, but again, I sensed the presence of my pursuant, the footsteps echoing through the narrow corridor. I pulled open the door to reveal an old but rather decently sized auditorium … that was completely empty. I swallowed nervously, walking down the aisle, cringing as I heard each step I took resonate through the room. The aisle was easy enough to see due to a large chandelier dangling down awkwardly in the center of the room, a little too close to the ground and with half its three or four dozen bulbs burnt out. Afraid that my mind would wander and go crazy, I focused instead only on the small gold plates that indicated the row letter. At Q, I made a quarter turn and started down the row.
Q20 … Q19 … Q18. The suspense was unbearable, so I cheated and looked ahead, spotting a strange knob on the ground three seats away. I knelt down when I reached the knob, first trying to pull it directly out, which failed to do anything, and then moving it horizontally. The knob spun around in a clockwise circle and I heard a latch unlock. With ease, I pulled on the handle, revealing a hatch in the ground.
The ground looked rather close, so I simply hopped down, ignoring the ladder on the side of the wall. The cover restored itself above me, giving a startling slam. When I turned around, I saw a glorious chamber like none other I had ever seen before. It felt acultural, even inhuman. There was simply a complete ring of chairs around a vast space that contained vertical lampposts of varying heights, emitting strange neon colors that almost clashed. About half of the chairs were occupied by people who looked rather disinterested or even completely asleep.
It was quiet, even more silent than Richards Hall proper, if that were possible. I immediately realized that I could not hear a single thought. ‘Is this the place? I hope I look alright … my panties aren’t showing or anything, are they?’
I heard the hatch open behind me, and the figure descended. I held my breath, then realized that it was only a young man about my age, with very dark skin and contrasting brightly colored clothes.
Suddenly, laughter filled the room, and the people stood up in unison. One man in particular, with extensive stubble and narrow, shifty eyes, approached me and the other newcomer.
“Please pardon our laughter. We merely found your thoughts to be cute, and it’s been awhile since a person has stepped in here without masking his or her thoughts, so we had forgotten the way thoughts echo in this room. I welcome you two to our humble meetingplace.
“I will make introductions soon, but first let me explain. What you are seeing is not reality, per se, but rather the product of rather ingenious technology that allows us to meet in person without moving across the country, which would be rather inconvenient.
“Instead, you are actually in a small region into which we are projecting a strong stream of information, like wireless internet. Your physical bodies are in fact sitting in Richards Hall at this very moment, but do not worry; no one will disturb you there, and if there is an emergency, we will end the meeting immediately and allow you to attend to your needs. Just think of this as a … collective dream.”
The man smiled, putting one hand on each of our shoulders, proving his immense armspan that seemed so unreal.
“Now, come to the center and I shall introduce you to the group.”
The two of us walked cautiously to the center of the room.
“My name is Monitor Jenkins, and I am the newest volunteer mentor among the Transeyes. I have been vested with the responsibility of answering all of your questions regarding the Society and your newfound abilities. Without further ado, fellow Transeyes, I introduce to you Rebecca Lan and Akinade Kiarostani, both from just outside Bellevue, Washington.”
The audience clapped enthusiastically.