In 2000 words or less, write about a girl, or boy, with the power to hear everyone's thoughts. How do they utilize such a power...or is it a curse?
The Author: Colleen M. Albert
I never told anyone about the voices in my head. I knew early on that such a statement would get me a fast ticket to the mental health clinic in our small town of Destiny, North Carolina—population 3,332. We used to have 3,333 residents, a nice round number if you ask me, before Esther Moynihan took a spill at the Sip n' Save and never recovered from a broken tailbone. I mean, how embarrassing for poor Esther's family. Who dies of complications from a broken ass? I wish I was joking, but truly, they were all thinking it. I could hear every one of them at the funeral, their voices buzzing inside my head like a swarm of angry bees: "Damn, Aunt Esther, could you be any more embarrassing?" "How much longer can this take? She didn't even have any friends." "I wonder if I'll still get that golden brooch of hers." "Her ass. Really? Who dies of a broken ass?"
I was bored and sad from all of the comments at Miss Esther's funeral. I would've excused myself right then and headed to the shady woods behind the town's only church, had I not heard the last thought, coming from a pretty blonde at the front of the room. She sat hunched over, her shoulders drooping and shaking with a ferocity I was sure even dear old Esther could feel from her casket. The girl's thickly laced southern accent sped through my consciousness, fighting for shelf space with hundreds of others in the room. Though the girl was small in stature, her voice was direct when she thought, "I know you can hear me."
My head jerked up at the sound of her voice, my eyes meeting hers as she turned and gazed from beneath the longest, palest eyelashes I ever saw. My heart slammed into my chest. I clutched the musty, old hymnal that I snatched up just moments before. Surely, I'm headed straight to hell for the lusty images I conjured up when our eyes met. For God's sake, I'm at a funeral!
She laughed and wiggled her fingers at me, ever so slightly so that only I would notice. Had she heard me? Impossible. I'm the only one in town with this freaky ability. I snorted. Curse, is more like it.
The wisp of a girl silently raised two fingers in the air, before dragging them through hair so pale I'd almost call it buttery white—if I was the type of guy who gave two shits about hair color. But I didn't. I couldn't afford to. I rose from the pew, slinking out of the church and into the brilliant glare of sunlight that lay forgotten from within the cocoon of doom I'd just escaped.
"Don't go far, okay? Now that you know my secret, I may have to kill ya," she giggled. I spun around, but she wasn't behind me.
"What the fuck?" This time, I muttered the words aloud. I'm seriously losing it. There isn't a single girl in this town whom I don't know. She must be an out of town relative of Miss Esther's.
"Sort of," she answered. "I can hear you just as clearly as you can hear me. So, can you wait for me, please?"
"Why would I wait if you just threatened to kill me?" I retorted. It occurred to me that I might be getting punked. But then I remembered that the conversation was going on inside my head, so that option was pretty much out. "Seriously, you're freaking me out. I've gotta go." I slammed the heel of my palm into my forehead, not believing that I was now answering the voices inside my head. This is exactly why I don't tell anyone. It's a one way ticket to Mental Health. I dashed off at full speed toward the lake. It wasn't the first time I ran to escape the voices in my head.
I was lying on the soft, tickling blades of grass that lined the river's edge. They were a delicate juxtaposition of something so fine and sharp it could slice through your skin if rubbed the wrong way, but so soft and pliable you wanted to give in and repose against the raw, earthy carpet. Even though my eyes were closed, I knew I wasn't alone. I could hear the girl's vibrations a mile away as she approached me. Then half a mile. Gaining speed, she ran the last quarter mile and stood over me, effectively blocking the sun from further warming my face.
"What do you want?" I asked aloud. I dared to peek from beneath my eyelids that were almost fully closed into long, half-moon slits.
"Why are you pushing me away? Afraid to be the only one with super powers?"
I sat upright and opened my eyes fully now. I grunted. "What do you know about super powers? Where's your belt, Wonder Woman?"
"I don't need a belt when I can do this," she thought back. I couldn't help but gape at this sassy, little pixy of a girl who had no qualms about giving it back to me. She smiled, and I cursed myself for having these thoughts.
Stop it. She can hear you, Rico Suave. I smacked my forehead again. Stupid, stupid.
She burst into a full, hearty laugh this time—her timbre an octave lower and scratchier than I would've imagined, ending with an uncontrolled snort that caused her to clap her hand over her mouth.
"So, I'll ask you one last time, whaddya want? You know my secret, so what?" I circled my arms around my knees and glared at her.
"It's not a secret, Drew, we can all do it."
"What do you mean, we? And how do you know my name?"
She glanced at me with one eyebrow cocked, a slight smirk riding one corner of her bold, purple-painted lips. "You really don't know, do you?"
"Know what? That I'm a freak? That I can hear every frigging voice in town whether I want to or not? That I know about the mayor who's cheating on his wife with a bank teller? That I can correctly answer every question on a test just by listening to the smartest kids in class? Or how about the one where I tried to ask a girl out, but she..." I stopped myself. My chest was heaving, adrenaline coursing through me as I lashed out at this poor girl. "Sorry, I'm not usually like this. Who are you and why can you hear me?"
"Let's start with the easy question. I'm Leila, Esther's niece. Do you know she only went by Mrs. Moynihan to ward off suitors?" When I shook my head no, she continued. "Yeah, she was pretty foxy back in her day. But she had this strange gift too. She was afraid to let anyone in too close, so she said she was a widow. Secluded herself inside her small home in the woods, where she was able to escape some of the madness we all inherit from hearing too much, too often, too loudly." She glanced at me for confirmation, but she already knew the answer without it leaving my lips.
"She's a smart lady. Maybe I'll try that when I graduate. Get as far away from Destiny as I can."
"But don't you see? Destiny is just a state of mind. It doesn't matter where you live. It doesn't matter how far you run. Your ability will always be there. The only difference is no one can see your anguish when you're alone in the woods. But who wants to be alone?" She lowered her gaze and drew small circles in the grass with the toe of her gray Chucks.
She knelt in front of me, lifting her orchid-laced eyes to meet mine. Time stopped as I tried to decipher where the purple ended and where the duskiest of the periwinkle began. A jolt of heat shot straight to my belly, causing my cheeks to redden. I cursed again, knowing they would look splotchy, and glanced off into the woods in an effort to look uninterested.
"I'm like you, Drew," she sighed, trying to catch my gaze again. When I refused to look back, she moved her hands in closer to my knees, using them to gesture as she spoke. "I was like you. I was lost. I fought my way through life every day. I slammed books into my head to quiet the voices. I played music too loudly to drown the sounds that threatened my sanity. I never met someone else like me—someone who understood." She glanced down at our hands, which were now lightly touching. Sparks shot through my arms and went straight to my loins this time. I may be a freak who can hear voices, but I'm still a sixteen-year-old boy.
Leila's face flushed as red as mine when she glanced at our fingertips. I thought she'd pull away after the last stupid thought that raced through my mind. Instead, she laced our fingers and helped pull me to a standing position. My heart hammered against my chest when she stepped closer so we were toe-to-toe. Our breathes mingled and our lips parted, but we weren't touching. I'd never been so physically close to a girl before, let alone a girl like Leila. I wanted to lower my head that fraction of an inch until I could feel the heat of her mouth melting into mine.
"Drew," she whispered. I swung my eyes from her dark, smooth lips to the icy kaleidoscope within her eyes. "The reason I can hear your thoughts is because you're like me. We're in limbo." The way she furrowed her brows and squinted her eyes just a fraction, told on me that I wasn't quite tracking. "Limbo, Drew. It's when you've died, but your soul hasn't crossed over yet. You should be dead, but you're not for some reason. I'm in limbo too. We're all given choices here. I made mine when I chose to come to you as your guide. But every choice comes with a payment. So, now, you need to make yours."
I wasn't sure whether to be more scared about her ability to hear my thoughts, or the kooky story she was asking me to buy. "Leila, clearly, I'm not dead. I just saw you at your aunt's funeral.
You can see me now. So clearly..." Oh. Well, that sucks.
I'm in limbo, Drew. We all have choices here. They're hard, but they're worth fighting for. I've been sent to deliver yours. Are you ready?
Am I ready? How does one go from believing himself to be alive to making a life or death decision in the matter of minutes? I ran my hand over my wild crop of dirt-colored curls, only they weren't there. My head was as smooth as the day I was born. "What—"
"You lost them after the accident. They had to shave to get inside your head and relieve the pressure." She frowned. "I know it's a lot to take in, but you don't have a lot of time to decide, Drew. You are balancing on the precipice of consciousness and need to decide which way to lean—toward life or death."
I rolled my eyes at the drama in her voice. "Fine," I said.
"Lay it on me, O' Mighty One."
"This is serious, Drew. You feel our connection, right?"
I stopped smiling, and nodded. I knew the moment I spotted her at the funeral that my soul recognized hers. I felt a deep sense of belonging and acceptance that I have never felt before. Soul mates flashed through my mind before I could think to filter it. I glanced up at Leila who was blushing prettily again.
Yes, Drew...soul mates.
We stood in silence for what seemed like hours, but I knew our fates balanced on our swiftness.
"Tell me what decision I can make that will keep us together, Leila," I begged.
She shook her head, tears brimming against those pale, sweeping lashes. "The decision I've been sent to give you is this: You can live, and go back to earth. You will find great love there. You'll have kids and grandkids, and you'll live well into your golden years..." she paused, choking to get the rest of her words out.
"But?" I asked, afraid to hear her next thought.
"But, it won't be with me. Our souls will be separated forever. Whomever you marry, you'll be tithed to eternally. But the voices and thoughts you can hear now—they'll be gone. You'll never need to worry again about this gift we've been given." She broke down into a full, sloppy cry. I brushed a finger along her cheek and instinctively leaned in to kiss away her pain. The moment our lips met, I knew I would pick option number two no matter what the cost. A heat, unlike any I've ever felt, coursed through my body, sparking every nerve until they ignited as if on fire. In the distance, I could hear a faint beeping sound. Leila pulled away, regret and fear lacing her eyes as she held up two fingers for the second time today.
"You're losing time, Drew, and the ability to choose. After this, He makes the choice for you. Option number two: You die. You leave your life, your family, and Destiny. But I live. I live and you die." She hiccupped, no longer caring about the messy tears streaking her face. "I live in this life without you, and without my ability to hear other people's thoughts. Every life after this one, I'll be curse free, but you'll never be able to escape it. We won't be together in this lifetime, Drew, or likely in any other. Star crossed lovers," she laughed, but it was born from pain and not from humor.
"But why? Why would he make us choose like this?"
"Because any love worth fighting for takes courage, right, Drew?" She shrugged her shoulders and lifted her hands, palms up—marrying her sarcastic tone with her helpless gesture. "We will know the dull ache of love, but our hearts will never be satisfied. We'll go through all of our lifetimes knowing we haven't found the one. We'll never know who we're searching for, but we'll always be chasing our destinies. God, Drew," she said, running a hand through her long, wavy hair. A clip with a white and a pink feather peeked discretely beneath her curls. "This is a shit decision. There's no winning here. Just let me die. You've lived this long without me. You can simply wake and have it all...just with someone else. I won't take that from you."
I glanced down at Leila. Pretty, petite, heated Leila. Freckles ran across the bridge of her nose. They were pale but warm, like the rest of her. The voices in my head were quiet for the first time in my entire life. An inexplicable elation rushed over me. I could have this all of the time. No more voices. No more torment. Just me, and my thoughts. Just me.
I heard the beeping once again, this time more loudly. I looked around, searching, panicked. Leila? Leila! I screamed. I couldn't hear anything and the thought froze me. Had I chosen life? I couldn't hear a single thing. Just golden, painful silence. No! I didn't mean to choose life. I didn't mean it!
A bright light flared over me, riding my body like waves. When I woke, once again, I was at the edge of the riverbank. The rush of water filled my head with a noisy cacophony that left me trembling. How had I gotten here?
A memory of milky blond hair and purplish-blue eyes flashed before me. I looked down at the ground and saw two feathers lying beside each other. I heard her, before I could see her.
"Today's the day. I'm finally going to give myself to him!"
It felt all wrong. I glanced up and saw a leggy brunette walking toward me, flashing crystal white, perfectly straight teeth behind cotton candy glossed lips. Love was the force that arched those lips into a perfect crescent smile, plumping her
high cheeks with rosy pink expectations.
Wait! I can hear her. I can hear her!
I glanced down at the two feathers in my hand—one pink and one white—unsure of their meaning or why they caused a dark cloud of discontent in my heart. The name Leila skipped across my mind before I could stop it. I had no more of a clue who Leila was than the reason for the feathers in my hand. But something deep and primitive told me I would find the answers one day, even if I didn't like them.
No, this brunette Barbie doll headed toward me was not my destiny. For once in my life, I was grateful for the grief and anger I knew I would hear inside my head when I walked away from her, in search of a girl made of light and feathers.
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