For his entire life, Allan considered himself a completely ordinary guy. He did well in school and had good friends, all ordinary. Surely none of them had strange powers, or were top-secret government agents or anything. That would not make sense. Confident of his utter ordinariness, Allan Foucault planned to live out his life in normality and peace. As far as he was concerned, if there were any extraordinary happenings going on in the world, he was not and should not be a part of them. However, in yet another instance of life not going the way a person wants it to go, he would be jolted out of his complacency by a chance encounter, which would make his life quite a bit different than that of the average teenager.
In hindsight, he thought, he should have noticed from the beginning that something was not quite normal. He had always believed that his family was perfectly ordinary, without any characteristics to distinguish it from ordinary families. The Foucaults appeared to be a cliché nuclear family: two parents, a son, and a daughter, but there was one major difference between them and everyone else, though three-fourths of the family were completely unaware. Had Allan paid more attention to his younger sister, his delusions of being normal would have shattered into smithereens long ago.
On that fateful day, the student had no clue that anything odd would happen. He was assigned a book to read in English class and, having nothing better to do, decided to read it on the bus ride home. It was not light reading by any means, for his teacher, Ms. Reid, believed in exposing her students to the wonders of classical literature with a philosophical bent, and so most of her students were distraught at having to read the entirety of Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit, even if they had a week to do so. However, most students were not Allan Foucault. The one thing he admitted separated his family from others is that the members of the Foucault clan were all avid readers. His parents believed the old saying about books taking one on adventures, and so their children were exposed to literature from an early age. Even Allan's eight-year-old sister could read at a twelfth-grade level, and he himself was not bothered by assigned reading.
When he arrived home, he still had not finished the book. He was greeted by his sister, who noticed what he had with him and almost immediately said, "No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre? I haven't read that one, can I have it?"
"No," came the reply, "This is a class assignment."
The third-grader was only slightly disappointed.
"Besides, Emma," Allan continued, noticing the cover of her book, "Most little girls I know don't read Camus. You shouldn't be reading philosophical stuff at your age."
Emma said, more somberly than angrily. "But I'm not a normal kid."
He paid that no attention to that at the time.
A little later, Emma asked, "Can you hear this?"
"You don't hear a thing?"
"It's happening again, isn't it?"
Whenever Emma complained about a noise that no one else could hear, it was a sure sign that a thunderstorm was imminent. Amazingly, this never failed. This had been going on for as long as the girl could remember, and back when she was younger, she would go ballistic any time that an electrical appliance was activated, complaining about the loud noise, even if the appliance were silent, like a toaster or coffee maker. Her family just thought that she had an uncanny sensitivity to electricity, but didn't think much more of it than that. Emma eventually grew out of that behavior, but never acted the way other girls her age did. She kept to herself. Allan still did not think that that made his family abnormal, because his sister's quirks, however strange they may have been, did not concern him. Or so he thought.
During the thunderstorm, Emma quietly sat under the kitchen table holding her hands over her ears.
Things were still relatively normal until nine-o'-clock at night, after the storm had subsided and their parents arrived home, and it was time for Emma to go to bed. Unlike most children her age, she went to bed without a problem when asked. And so, she went to her room, only to see mass destruction. The Foucaults lived in a one-story house, and the storm had knocked a tree into the side containing Emma's room, covering everything in a powder of drywall and making it unfit to sleep in. The child sighed and went to consult her parents, wondering why she had a room right next to a big tree.
"Shouldn't you be in bed?" asked her father.
"The place is a mess," she stated, "I can't sleep there."
Sure enough, the lonesome girl showed her parents what had happened, and her father flipped out over the cost of damage to the room. Hundreds of dollars just went down the drain.
Her mother said, "You'll just have to go stay in your brother's room for now."
Later, Allan was not pleased to see his sister lying in his bed, staring up at the ceiling.
"Hey, what are you doing in my room? Get out."
"Can't. A tree got struck by lightning and destroyed my room. Mom and Dad said I have to sleep in here. Not that it matters. I can't sleep when other people are in the room, even if they're quiet. I just can't, okay?"
"Why is that?" her brother inquired. Now he was genuinely curious.
Instead of answering the question, Emma said, "I don't dream."
Allan had little time to ponder that. After forcing his sister off of his bed, he lay down and entered dream world himself. It was strange how an eight-year-old stayed up longer than he…
Allan was in an empty area, the ground covered by plumes of billowing fog, or was it smoke? It was hard to tell, but it obscured his view all the same. This was an unusual dream, to be sure. There was nobody else in sight. Suddenly, he heard a voice.
"So, I finally fall asleep, and this is the dream I stumble into. You have a rather empty head, Allan," Emma surmised.
"Hey!" the dreamer yelled.
It was at this point that he realized the implications of what his sister had said.
"Wait…" he pondered, "If this is my dream, then how did you get in here?"
The girl in front of him sighed and said, "I guess I can't keep things secret any longer, can I? The truth is, I have access to people's thoughts, and that includes dreams. The reason I can't fall asleep around others is because I'm kept awake by hearing their thoughts. I must have gotten into your dream because we were in such close proximity."
This was too much for Allan. It made no sense at all. His sister could read minds somehow? He must still be dreaming, for there was no way that that could be real. And so, the sixteen-year-old did the most logical thing in that situation.
"Are you serious?" he asked.
The response was simply, "Have I ever not been serious?"
Come to think of it, the boy could not remember Emma ever being anything other than brutally honest. He supposed that was another of her strange attributes. Even so, telepathy should be impossible. He might as well ask her some questions for as long as the dream lasted.
"You think this is impossible, right?" Emma said, anticipating the response, "I guess I don't blame you. After all, reading minds is impossible, right? Well, as it turns out, I have synesthesia, so my senses are conflated with each other."
"Really? So you see sounds and taste smells and stuff?"
"Not exactly. Did you know that there are some animals that can detect electromagnetic fields? I can't really explain this, but so can I. I instinctively know if a current is on."
"So that's why you dislike electronics?"
This whole thing was simply too weird.
"Yes. And because of synesthesia, not only do I sense the currents, but I hear them too. Thoughts are simply electrical signals, and as a result, I can hear other people's thoughts."
Now, Allan was not going to believe this simply because his sister said so. Like any rational person, he wanted evidence of this anomaly.
"Okay then," he said, "Prove it. I am thinking of a number between one and one hundred. What is it?"
Emma sighed, and answered, "Twenty-two."
The teenager was visibly shaken by this. She had guessed correctly. But that still did not prove anything; his sister just got lucky. And so, the experiment was repeated, and once again, Emma guessed the right number. This was true a third time, as well.
It was too unreal.
"So, you believe me now," said Emma, "However, you are going to wake up any minute now. I cannot stay a visitor in your subconscious much longer. Forget that we ever had this conversation."
Allan was about to object, as now that he knew that mind-reading was possible, he desired to know more about it. Unfortunately, before he could reach out and grab his sister, she was gone. Seconds later, the landscape was flooded with a bright light…
Well, that was a strange dream. Allan scoffed. His sister couldn't read minds. Nobody could. Right? The world was not meant to contain telepaths, after all. Sure enough, Emma was still on the floor in her sleeping bag, seemingly oblivious to the fact that her brother was now awake. He got out of bed, and was in the process of stepping over his sister when she spoke.
As it turns out, she was not asleep after all.
Suddenly, Allan had an idea. There was no way that it would work, but there was a nagging feeling that he should ask the question anyway. Then he could settle this newfound anxiety once and for all.
"Say, sis," he asked, "I am thinking of a number between one and one hundred. What do you think it is?"
Now, this was the moment of truth. If she guessed right, than his dream was based in his reality.
Emma responded, "I can't answer that. You aren't thinking of any number between one and one hundred, are you. In fact, you are specifically envisioning a number outside that range, in order to determine whether or not I can read minds. Well, there you have it."
"Oh my God… oh my God," the boy thought.
It was Saturday. This was good, because it meant that the two siblings were able to discuss things, and Emma was able to explain her mind-reading abilities. Everything she said in her brother's dream had been true, but he had not gotten the whole story. Because their parents were out, Emma did not worry about her secret getting out. They were at the kitchen table, and Allan had written meaningless symbols on five pieces of cardboard, and set them face-down.
"I've read about this," he announced, "I have here a set of five Zener cards. On each one are different symbols—a circle, a cross, a wave, a square, and a star. What I will do is randomly pick a card without letting you see it. Then, you will guess which symbol is on the card. We'll do this many times to rule out random chance, and if you guess right most or all of the time, then we can prove that you can indeed read minds. Okay, here we go."
He selected the middle card.
"Okay, what do I have?"
His sister answered, "The card marked with a wave."
"Correct," he said, and showed Emma the card.
He then took all five cards in his hands, hid his hands under the table, and shuffled the cards around, in order to ensure that his sister wasn't merely really good at watching his hand movements. Then, he picked another card.
"What about this one?"
"Correct. And this one?"
"Ooh, three in a row. Things are looking good for you so far."
Emma proceeded to guess circle, star, wave, cross, circle, circle, and got them all right. Now Allan was almost certain that she could read minds, but decided to try one last thing. He picked a card and asked for its identity as usual, but this time, he would not be so straightforward. Though he drew the square card, he deliberately focused his thoughts to think of the star card instead. If Emma got this right, then there was no mistaking it.
Sure enough, she said, "Well, you do seem to be broadcasting 'star' to me… yet you are thinking too hard about it. If it were really the star card in your hands, then you would not need to constantly remind yourself of it. In fact, previously you were thinking, 'This is the square card, but I'm going to lie about it to test her,' – I heard the whole plan. Now don't look so surprised; I'm hearing what you're thinking right now. You can't hide anything from me."
Well, that settled it.
Naturally, Allan was none too pleased to hear that last sentence.
"So you're saying that you've heard everything I've ever thought in front of you?" he asked.
"So you know about all the times I've thought that you're annoying, and what I think of everyone else?"
"You're probably upset by that," he paused, "So why don't you just stop reading people's minds then, if you're aware that not everybody thinks highly of you?"
That was not the best thing to say. Emma sighed, and stood up. She walked around the table until she was next to Allan, and pulled him over to the stove. The little girl ignored his confused thoughts, and turned on the front burner, and then, placed her brother's hand about an inch over the grate, uncomfortably close to the flame.
"You can feel the heat from the stove, even though you are not touching it, right?" she began, "Well, I have just as much of a choice to not hear other people's thoughts as you have of not feeling the heat from this gas burner. It is not something that I can control. The minds of others are an open book which I have no choice but to read, and have for as long as I can remember. I was surprised to find out that I am the only one who can."
With that, she turned the stove off and the two returned to the table. Now that Allan had a better idea of which thoughts his sister heard, he felt a bit sorry for her. He asked some more questions.
"So, how does your telepathy work?"
Emma explained, "We're taught that humans have five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Of course, that's only partly true, as there are other senses besides just those five, such as balance, sense of temperature, the kinesthetic sense, and pain. Everyone has those. Somehow, I don't know exactly how or why, I also have electroreception: the ability to detect electric fields. So I never had to be taught not to stick my finger in an electric socket, because I could perceive the electricity running through it, and knew that that was a bad idea. However, there was an unintended consequence of this. Since thoughts are triggered by electrical impulses in the brain, I naturally detect them. I already went over this in that dream sequence, didn't I? Well, a natural result of that is that I can't turn it off. If I can hear someone's words, then I am in close enough proximity to hear their thoughts as well."
Before all this had occurred, Allan did not view his sister as anyone more than his annoying younger sibling whom he had best avoid. However, now that he knew that she read minds, and his every thought was known to her, he started to feel somewhat sorry for her. She was still very young, and probably did not understand that people may have thoughts they do not approve of. He thought it best to stay near her and try to find out as much as he could for the time being.
He asked what one would find natural to ask at this point, "Do you ever wish that you were normal and could not read minds, Emma?"
He did not expect her reply at all.
Instead of agreeing, she told him, "Why would I? Knowing everybody's true feelings has come in handy. Not only do I instantly know when somebody is lying to me, but I have no delusions about human nature. I haven't come across a single person who isn't shallow and selfish at heart, Allan. Everyone has thought horrible things about everybody else, and when questioned about it, lied to conceal their misdeeds."
"That's not true!" interjected Allan.
"And you have just proved my point," continued Emma, "You can deny it all you like, but the sad fact is that people are selfish, rude, and inconsiderate. To give just one example, did you ever care about me at all? You never spent time with me when I wanted it, and didn't even have a good reason. Before I told you about all this, you just thought I was an annoyance! Right now your guilty thoughts are trying to justify your actions!"
"Now wait a minute here. You just want attention."
"No I don't. You wouldn't understand because you don't hear the thoughts of everyone around you."
Of course, Allan would not be expected to understand his sister's opinion. How was he supposed to know that she could hear everything to come from his mind? All this time he believed that he had mental privacy and the freedom to think whatever he wanted, as long as he knew what to say aloud and what to keep to himself. He rather disliked the knowledge that someone was listening in on his internal monologues. It was disrespectful, and now his eight-year-old sister was a misanthrope because she violated that rule.
Young children should not have such a jaded view of humanity, he thought. After all, he was able to get along just fine without knowing the thoughts of others, and thus, he respected that people's thoughts should be kept to themselves. He had to do something about Emma's attitude.
He said, "Who are you to make value judgments of human nature? I admit everything you said about people having negative thoughts, but that does not justify what you think. So what if people think bad things every so often. Do you honestly think that you and you alone are the only one who doesn't? You have been violating the privacy of everyone you come in contact with. It's implicit in social interaction that everybody has thoughts which they do not want to reveal, yet you don't even give others that option. It's an unfair exchange, because while you can hear the thoughts of others freely, no one else knows what goes on in your head. You have just as much of a negative opinion of the people around you as you accuse everyone else of having."
Emma was upset at hearing this, and replied, "But everyone else is a jerk!"
"You're no saint either. Just like in that Aesop fable, you are blind to your own faults but are hyper-aware of the faults of others. Well, you may think that humans are inherently evil because of what they think, but I come to the opposite conclusion. People can't control whether or not they have certain thoughts; however, most people do not act on their negative desires. Humans are able to control themselves, because they have enough compassion not to subject everyone else to what they really think, most of the time. There is evil in everyone, but there is also much good. You seem to have overlooked that."
His sister did not know what to think of that. Allan was being sincere, but entrenched views don't change overnight. She would need more evidence of the goodness of people to actually believe it.
"Come here," said her brother, who had gotten up and moved to the couch during his rebuttal to her rant. When she sat down next to him, he continued, "Look, I may not have been what you think an older brother should be like, but you didn't tell me that anything was wrong before. Unlike you, most people aren't mind-readers. I'll help you see the good in people, but you've gotta trust me. Can you do that?"
Since she did not detect any insincerity in him, she accepted.
He was much relieved, and gave her a hug.
"You know, you will have to tell mom and dad about all this," he pointed out afterwards.
And so, the matter rested for the next several hours, until both of their parents were home from work. (Emma decided that she should tell both at once.) So that evening, when the Foucault family sat down to eat dinner, the telepathic girl felt that it was the best time to do so.
"Um, mom, dad, I have something I need to tell you. Please hear me out," she began…
Well, her parents did hear her out, and after they learned about the whole thing, said that they would be accepting of their daughter no matter what and would help her get over her troubles. For one of the first times in her life, Emma Jean Foucault was actually happy.