“Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”
– Thomas Gray
Frank’s power of telepathic perception was no longer in his control. Initially, he needed to be close to someone; however, the radius of his ability to read other people’s minds had grown exponentially, and he was bombarded with overlapping fragments of thoughts coming from neighbors. Emotions now come inexorably linked to each outside thought. Anger, pain, loss, happiness; it fluctuated, and Frank latched on crying or laughing involuntarily.
The sonic vibration left him a spastic mess careening around his apartment. To the outsider, it would appear he was the disciple of some Pentecostal preacher speaking in tongues and writhing around as an embodiment of “Himself.” All that was missing were the venomous snakes and strychnine.
Frank awoke at four in the morning covered in a foul sheen of body fluids, a carcass of used thoughts and emotions.
He decided he needed help to battle his condition.
Curtis always imagined the song Deterioration, by Noothgrush.
“Worthless, lifeless being, beaten beneath the strain.”
The ominous first few words entered Frank’s mind and resonated within his auditory canals. It was as if the song was a product of his own synaptic firing. The tempo increased as Curtis made his way closer to the door. The intensity filled Frank’s head.
There had been other examples, but historically these manifestations of telepathy had been diagnosed as symptoms of previously existing ailments. The afflicted people had been locked away and studied by covert paramilitary organizations, executed during religious persecution, or worse.
Curtis had been a friend, but any benevolence he may have had had long since vanished. Over time, he had been able to shield his thoughts and manipulate Frank through commands.
The previous night, Curtis made Frank do an interpretive dance by merely imagining it. Imposing his will, he flung Frank around the room. “Nijinsky in Captivity,” he called it. Two nights before, he had Frank re-enact the Russian roulette scene from The Deer Hunter. Frank’s anguished cries and pleading were his own, not fabricated by Curtis’ ruminations.
Now, however, Frank’s usefulness had come to an end.
As a child, Frank thought it would be euphoric; the ability to read people’s minds, know all of the answers; see the truth. He discovered, quickly, the horrors of knowing the truth.
Half-asleep, exhausted, Frank stirred. Mental and physical faculties were operating at a single percentage, he barely processed the new information. A few houses down, from where he was stored in Curtis’ basement, Frank sensed the thoughts of Mr. Smith, recently back from an excursion to Africa.
Trouble differentiating reality anymore, in his weakened state, Frank suddenly felt the satisfaction which accompanied Mr. Smith’s nicotine buzz at the intake of his Marb Red, the co-opted sensations register in Frank’s cortex. More importantly, within milliseconds, he was able to draw upon Mr. Smith’s other abilities: small arms, edged weapons, hand to hand combat, tactics. Mr. Smith, practically a manual for an efficient soldier. Frank felt a sense of renewed vigor.
Memories of atrocities perpetrated in Rwanda, Kosovo, Columbia, were so clear Frank could have been the protagonist of those envoys. Executing Mozambique drills, laying suppressive fire, compromising for wind resistance; all now seared into the subconscious.
“Worthless, lifeless being, beaten beneath the strain.”
The tumblers fell into place, and the door opened. Curtis turned on the light, and his smile disappeared. Frank’s newfound confidence, his Metamorphoses, is not lost on Curtis who though he can’t tell for sure the details sees the change.
Curtis attempted to enforce his will. Frank felt enveloped in quicksand and burst blood vessels in his face maintaining the connection with Mr. Smith. Like a mime fighting against a strong wind, Frank slowly made headway toward Curtis.
Initially annoyed, now fearful, Curtis realized Frank’s will was intact. He lost some of his grip and allowed Frank to gain ground. Curtis attempted to flee, but his legs were swept out from under him. He landed on the floor with an audible thud and cried out in pain. He fully relinquished his grasp. Frank felt Smith walk away, so he grabbed Curtis’ leg and dragged him down the hall in the same direction.
Curtis looked up at Frank and begged for mercy.
For a moment, Frank imagined granting clemency.
The thrashing which followed continued for a full minute even after Curtis was dead and Smith long gone from the vicinity.
Frank cleaned himself up. It took a Herculean effort to maintain focus. The symptoms have nearly rendered him in a vegetative state. Thoughts bombarded him from every direction an orchestration of pure sound. On more than one occasion, he dropped to his knees and clutched at his head; blood flowed freely from every orifice. Out the front door, energized by the cold air he trudged forth into the night.
Eventually, the circle will grow big enough to the point where he will not be able to escape his ability. Freed from his captivity, for now, he knows he’s living on borrowed time, and the victory against Curtis was of the Pyrrhic variety.
Stopping on a street corner, unsure of his direction, he finally spotted salvation.
It will be quick; Frank does not know if it will be painless, but at this point he just desired peace. His footsteps slowed as he got closer to the building. Random thoughts entered his mind crashing like ocean waves. He stumbled. The pain was unbearable. With one last effort, Frank the telepath climbed the steps leading to the front door of the building.
He readied himself for death and opened the door to the public library.
Andrew Davie received an MFA in creative writing from Adelphi University. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant. He’s also taught in New York, Virginia, and Hong Kong. In June of 2018, he survived a ruptured aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. His work can be found on his website: asdavie.wordpress.com