Airy Head

A teenage mindreader attempted to decode a new classmate, and received something unexpected.

I sat behind her, so it was easy to infiltrate her mind. It must’ve been what NASA felt like when they sent out probes to outer space, searching for answers, searching for life, searching for something to prove we weren’t alone. I felt the same way every time I tried on someone new. Except unlike NASA, what I did was an invasion, and I wanted no proof. And I was always alone.

I was an army in the body of one person. One person with a gift, personalized for this quiet chaos.

The new girl captured my interest about the same time she captured everyone else’s. The school was small and a “tight-knit community” according to the principle. We rarely got a transfer student, and when we did, it had a ripple effect.

People were talking and rumors were spreading. Waves of curiosity lapped at the edge of my mind. The things they said and the things they thought didn’t match up.

It was understandable.

Her name was Chloe something—her last name didn’t matter. What mattered was: it was taking a while to read her mind.

It should’ve been easier. The class was boring, so there were fewer distractions. Mrs. Kimberly was droning about algebra. There’s not much going on in the old woman’s mind. She thought about her next line and the textbook material in general, and an underlying distaste for the younger generation. She could almost recite the lecture. After all, it was same thing she had taught for the last twelve years.

I was familiar with her mind after an entire semester and a half. Enough so I could listen in and pay 2.7% of my attention, and still get average grades. Better or worse academic performance would make me stand out. There’s nothing that kills a special person faster than standing out.

The students around me were different thinkers. The whispers spoke in the same language as the winds. Some were louder, less afraid to be heard. Others would decide even their favorite color was a secret. Still, I could hear them all. Last night’s football game, the boys they liked, the questionable contents on their computer hard drive. They each had a thought of their own, at least they believed so. Buzzing like bees, buzzing like a hive mind.

It got tiring after a while. I let the background noises fade away, only focusing on her. Her mind had organized defenses, walls around her thoughts. Smart people had those.

I took my metaphorical hammer and attacked them. It happened in another reality. Here, I was sitting behind my desk, playing with my pen in one hand, twirling it between fingers, the other hand propping my head as it got heavier and heavier, eyes downcasted, staring at the notebook paper. The pen spun 360 degrees. I caught it between middle finger and index, clicked at it with the tip of my thought.

The cheerleader next to me gave me a nasty glare.

The walls were down. I suppressed a smirk and strode inside, stepping over the rubble and ruin. There was a galaxy inside everyone. Chloe’s was purple and teal like an aurora. The recent memories were bright and alive, while her childhood was muted and blurry. I brushed through the stars, browsing through like they were photographs.

I investigated each of them. Which one to read first?

The mindscape trembled.

Chloe stopped jotting down notes, her hand frozen in the middle of writing. Her back went rigid.

Then it was too late. Everything shut down. Black. Total darkness. I stood in limbo with infinite space around me, completely alone.

It was bad. I turned tail and ran, pulling away from the darkness. It chased me like a ferocious beast, threatening to swallow me whole.
This darkness was different. A cloud of smoke with a thousand stars as eyes. A large cat, then a wolf. A shapeshifter, the worst kind. It growled, jaws opened wide like a snake’s.

It spoke. “Whoever you are, get out.” The combination of a thousand voices. Men, women, elders, and children.

I stumbled and retreated. My chair cringed as I leaned back, a little too quickly. My chair stood ontwo feet for a brief second. I almost toppled over, creating a loud squeak in the quiet classroom. People turned their heads.

I masked my sudden movement with a stretch, then leaned forward, hovering over my notebook again.

Carefully lifting my eyes, I saw Chloe scanning the classroom with casual calculation. She brushed a tress of dark hair behind her ear. Turning back, she asked a boy for a sheet of paper. He opened his three-ring binder and took one out, flattered by the attention. He clamped the closure shut a bit too loudly.

She glanced across the room while she waited. I smoothed out the notebook papers and began to write. Actual, perfect notes on math.

Her exchange was taking too long. Mrs. Kimberly would notice her not paying attention in class. But it was all forgiven. She was the new student.

I much preferred a library. It was like entering a frozen yogurt shop with a paper cup for unlimited sampling. Delicious thoughts everywhere, and no need to pay.

The community library was close to my high school. Many students walked there after school to study. The elementary school students waited for their parents to pick them up. There were adults typing away on their laptops after work. A nice variety of humans.

All thoughts were flying in the air like birds, neatly and informational, coming and going from home. They danced. I would spend hours on end with my head buried in my arms, breathing the smell of laundry soap and soft fabric. Fake sleeping, and actually watching the beautiful multiverse.

The scrawny guy a few chairs down had his nose in a history book. I listened for a way into his mind, then decided not to bother. I had locked down on the best student in my class, thus I was all set with my exams. Their minds held all the correct answers.

Chloe entered through the automatic door. I didn’t stir. I had known without looking. The popular kids had invited her to hang out after school, already welcoming her to their clique. Chloe wasn’t bad looking and she had an aura of elegance, something this town lacked. They would hate for her to disappear into the background. She politely declined them with “I’m going to the library”.

Very well, then. I planned another attack on my home turf. Her defense would still be weak, but the darkness within her mind was a different beast. I had never encountered such a thing before…and I was ignoring the real problem.

How did she know I was in her mind?

That had spooked me. Most people had minds so dull they couldn’t feel it even when the walls came crumbling down.

Chloe was a wild card, uncharted territory. That made her interesting. I would have to be more careful. Put away the hammer and to take up the surgery knife, cut away the strayed and idle thoughts, go straight for what made her who she was.

I skirted the field, looking for answers. Who was she? Why was she here?

There was a tingling in my own mind. Something was wrong.

Something hadn’t been right since the start. I ceased the effort and stilled.

Slowly I sat up and went to a bookshelf, the closest one. I stared at the rows upon rows of books, holding my breath and letting it go. Blood trickled down my nose. I touched it—crimson red. Then it was seeping into my lips. I tasted the coppery liquid and wiped it away. I cleaned my hand on my blue jeans, trying not to stare at the red.

I hated blood. The sight of it made me want to throw up, but it was part of the consequences. It’s not the blood I hate, it’s the reason for blood.

“Indeed.”

The voice made me jump. I spun around so quick I almost twisted my neck. No one was talking to me. The voice was in my head. A chill went down my spine. The paralyzing fear gripped me. I had left my headspace wide open.

I ran from the library as fast as I could, putting distance between me and the other mind reader. A thousand thoughts flashed through my head. Places I’ve never been, people I’ve never met, thoughts I’ve never had. I began to recognize some of them. I don’t know which were mine.

I ran back home and stayed there. I excused myself from school the next day and the day after, faking sick. I was sick, sick of myself and the things in my head. I compartmentalized, filed them away.

Mine, not mine.

On the fourth day, I got out of bed. Still dizzy but at least I could walk. I went to the library.

There it was, a sign. Printed in bold on a white paper.

It read: “No Mind Reader Allowed in the Library”.

I stood there, my mind blank.

I broke out laughing, because the symbol was a red diagonal line over a stick figure’s brain.

The library prohibited brains.

I projected that image into everyone’s head, reminding them of the sign they saw on their way in. The silent library burst out laughing. Some were giggling behind their books, others snickered into their hands.

Chloe looked at me with her lips pressed together. She was not amused at all.