I become aware of my surroundings.
I see a strange sight before me. Rows of young people to my front and sides, paying differing attention to the woman in front of a black board.
I try to turn my head, to look behind me and get a better picture of my surroundings. I can't move it. There's no pain, no feeling of my head even existing.
I try to speak, to ask for help but nothing comes out.
I can't move my body and I have no idea where I am. Fuck.
My view changes, rapidly moving from side to side.
"What's causing this?" I wonder.
I feel my body go still, hunching up slightly. It stays that way for a while, then changes into a stance of wary comfort. My hand starts tapping a nervous rhythm on the desk.
The beat gets faster, more erratic, as I think. "I'm in a school of some sort. Mine? Definitely not." Faint images and memories in my minds eye, mixed with emotions too distant to truly comprehend.
My view changes again, moving upwards, my body stands and walks to the front of the classroom.
"Miss," a voice says, low and masculine, "I think I'm going to throw up. Can I go to the bathroom?" The voice is nearby, too close to be another person. The shock hits me. This isn't my body.
"Miss" blanches and gives the body permission to leave. I'm outside the class and in the hallways. I can remember the layout of this place, though I've never set foot here, and I am not heading to the bathroom. The body walks down hallways I remember going through, speaking aloud and thinking in that voice that isn't mine.
"Fuck." I hear the voice say, and I curse in terror when I realise its coming from inside my head.
"Shut up, shut up." They say as they move farther into the school. I don't know where the body is taking me. I can't control, but maybe I can make whoever is in control explain what's happening.
"Where are we going?" I ask. The body stops immediately and leans against a nearby wall, sinking down until its on the floor, hands over its head and palms pressing against the mind.
"Shut up! Alright, shit. Weird voice in my head. Don't know what it wants. Don't know how long its going to be there." The palms move away form my eyes and I can see again.
"Right. Okay, we're calm." The masculine voice thinks. "Go home. Just go home.
I'm not going to be able to focus, so just leave. I'll have mom cover for me. Try to explain this, don't make her think I'm dangerous."
"Dangerous?" I ask.
"Yes dangerous. You know, for an intrusive voice you're a lot slower on the uptake than I thought."
"Shouldn't you be a bit more assertive? "Kill your friends, do it now." That sort of thing."
Their sudden bravado throws me for a loop. They were scared a moment ago, but I can feel the body easing as they make their plan. Taking back what control they can and making the best of their situation, like they've always done.
"Stop that. I can feel you looking back on my memories, its creepy."
"Uhm, sorry. I'm not sure whats happening right now." Compared to their voice, mines higher. Feminine. I'm a girl! and...
"Astrid." I think.
"My name is Astrid and I don't think I'm a delusion of yours."
"You would say that, I'm delusional."
"Well I'm pretty sure I'm a real person."
"Well, I have a body. I can't move it but I can feel it."
"Well yeah because its my body you're feeling." The eyes blinked as he realized what he said. "Don't take that the wrong way."
"I won't. What about this conversation we're having right now? I'm responding to what you're saying, would a voice do that."
"I don't know." They said sullenly. "I'm pretty sure you're supposed to tell me to be doing bad things, to hurt myself or others."
"I won't. I can't make you do anything you don't want to do."
"Maybe those are just stereo types, I haven't done research on this."
"Well do research then. I know I'm a person I just need to prove it to you. Do you have-" I was about to say a word I realized this boy wouldn't understand. I substituted the closest thing from his memories. "-a computer at home."
"Well go home then, and we can work on this together."
"Okay. I was going home anyway."
Yes, but now he's going home because I suggested it, to do what I told him. I felt more in control and comfortable going to this boy's home now I had an idea what would happen.
"Before we go, what's your name?" I asked.
The boy stood up and dusted himself off, "Mac."
Mac's house was nearby. He didn't tell me this, but he was thinking of the route as he collected his bag and made an excuse to leave the school.
He stood in front of the school, contemplating whether or not to ask his parents to come pick him up.
"I don't want them to worry about me." he thought.
"Then you should walk home, its not far." I said.
Mac frowned, furrowing his brow. "Could you stop reading my thoughts? I don't know how this works but I want some privacy." He started walking home anyway.
I sighed internally then said, "I don't think I can do that. We have a shared mind now. Whatever you think I can hear."
"And there's no solution?"
I was about to answer, to tell him no and we would have to get used to it, when I realized something. Mac hadn't been hearing all of my thoughts, or else he would have called me out on a few things, like that I had convinced him into going home. And he couldn't hear me right now.
As I thought this, images started flashing in my mind. Diagrams of the mind, with strange letters which I couldn't read but understood. The words said something about splitting your thoughts, Allowing some to be public, while others were hidden away, like I was doing now.
I didn't remember doing this, or what this memory was, the specifics of it weren't clear. Had I been a scientist, before this?
Questions for later. I hadn't said anything to Mac for a minute, he would be suspicious.
"Sorry." I thought aloud. By focusing, I could make my thoughts public to him.
"For not answering?"
"Yeah, I was..." I trailed off. Did I really want Mac to know about my private sphere? If things turned hostile between us, it would be good to have a way to hide my thoughts, it could prevent him getting more paranoid. Apparently, I slipped back into the private sphere when not making my thoughts public.
"They can probably hide their thoughts." Mac thought.
"What? I asked.
"Ah that got your attention. Can you show me how to hide my thoughts?"
My first instinct was to say no. I could teach him how to do it, the memories had come back and I knew how to do it for him.
But I didn't want him to be able to hide things from me, I was already at enough of a disadvantage, since I couldn't control the body. He didn't need more power over me.
This wasn't entirely logical, from what I had seen he didn't appear vindictive or nasty. But I hadn't even known him an hour. This was an abnormal situation and he was responding appropriately now, but he could act more unpredictable later.
Then again, even if he did start acting dangerous, what could he do to me? I'm in his head, he can't hurt me or kill me, so far. The only way he could get rid of me would be to kill himself, and he didn't seem the type of guy to do that.
But he could be driven to it. If I get too aggressive or this situation causes him to much stress. Plus I didn't know how mentally stable he was. And hearing voices in hsi head is definetely going to make him think he's crazy. The best thing to do would be to make sure he never got that far. So keeping him calm, and building trust so he doesn't feel threatened by me was my best bet.
"...Yes. I'll do that. Close your eyes." I finally told Mac. He'd gotten antsy when I didn't respond again, a little more suspicious. He closed his eyes anyway, he doubted he was risking much.
"Here's how you do it. Imagine your mind as a bubble, filled with all the things that make you yourself. Memories, identity, personality. Its beautiful, but fragile, easy to disrupt and liable to burst."
"What?" Mac's eyes shot open. "Wait is this going to kill me."
"No. Well, its unlikely." I wouldn't be taking this risk if I didn't think it was worth it. Besides, I was willing to die early on the chance it helped me accomplish whatever I was here to do. I was sure you'd would go into a catatonic state then recover."
"Why didn't you say that first?" Mac asked.
"I didn't anticipate you getting so defensive. You said you wanted this yes?" I said.
"Yes, but I don't want to pass out in the middle of the street. I could crack my head open."
A danger I hadn't thought of. Stupid.
"Look, finish your explanation. I won't try it until I get home and I'm on my bed. Oh, if I fail, I could use the coma to explain why I left school early. I felt sick and didn't want to be there.
I mentally signed and said, "I'll just wait til you're home to finish." I could tell Mac wanted to argue, but he let the subject drop.
Mac went home to a small house in a suburb. He entered, no one was home. He went up to his room, and sat on the bed, throwing his bag on the floor, then making himself comfortable.
"Okay, continue." Mac said.
"Alright. Big bubble. Identity, consciousness, thoughts. Imagine a second bubble forming inside that bubble, and focusing on that. By doing so, you make it real and create a place where you can hide your thoughts."
During the process I could still hear Mac's thoughts. He was repeating the words bubble, thought and focus over and over again, to get into the mental space to create his private thought bubble. There wasn't any change in his thoughts, I still heard them, so he was doing something wrong.
Mac closed his eyes and trying to concentrate enough to make it reality.
"Thoughts, bubble, privacy. Toughts, bubble, privacy. Provate, hidden, bubble within bubble. Liek a round one or one on a surface. Fuck! Not important. Bubble within bubble. Within bubble. Hid ethoughts, hide thoughts, this is so stupid, hide thoguths! Bubblebubblebubblebubblebubble-"
"Are you even trying?" There was only so long I could listen to that racket.
"Wouldn't you know?!" Mac responded. Why did he feel the need to respond to my questions in the most annoyed tone of voice?
"What am I doing wrong, Astrid?" Mac asked.
"I don't know. I thought this was a simple thing to do. I don't remember it being hard to do."
"So I'm stupid." Mac said. It wasn't a question, he believed he was an idiot for not being able to do his right.
"No. I'm sure you're intelligent. I was wrogn to say this was simple, its difficult. I guess because I know how to do it, but I don't have any memories of actually doing it, I made it seem easier than it was."
"Yeha, they're all spotty right now. I know I'm a person, despite what's haooening now. I have memories of...somewhere. Of who I might have been. But there are swathes of nothing, blanks taking up the rest of the space. It scares me, to know I'm missing something but not what is missing. The problem is there and I don't have the resources to fix it. I'm not used to it."
"Oh. I didn't knwo you were going through that." Mac said. "Look, I'm sorry if I've been coming off as unhelpful or usympathetic towards you. I don't how to suddenly deal with avoice inside my head, watching what I do."
"I doubt there are many people who do." I said, trying to get a smile out of him. I couldn't tell if he was, and his thoughts were still clouded with a tone of depression.
I heard a low rumbling come from outside the house, Mac immediately sat up. "No one should be home yet." he thought.
"Can't we just ignore them?" I asked.
"Nah, better I tell them now. The school's going to call them at some point and I'd prefer if I could explain what happened. Have my version frsh in their mind y'know? I'll tll them I felt sick."
Mac stood and went downstairs, as someone came through the front door. A frumpy looking woman with an annoyed scowl. She looked around the front room for a second, eyes passing over Mac.
"Where's my..." she snapped back to Mac. "Why are you home?" They asked, moving to another part of the house before Mac could answer. Mac followed them, and the lady didn't complain. Apparently, this was expected behaviour.
"You aren't skipping just for fun are you?" The woman, probably Mac's mother asked.
"No, I came home because I was feeling sick."
His mother scoffed. "That's no excuse."
"Really sick, I felt like I was going to pass out during class. I didn't want to bother anyone so I went home."
The mother scoffed again, rooting through a drawer. "That doesn't mean you should have come home. You should have gone to the bathroom and waited until the sickness was gone. You seem fine now."
"But i didn't feel fine when I was at school. I still feel sick now, I just wanted to explain myself."
"Well you have, and I don't think you're explanation is good enough. Get your bag and go back to school, wait for the day to be over."
What would be the point in that? Mac had already left school, and its not like going back to school while he was meant to be sick and telling him to pretend he wasn't was going to make things better. Even though he was faking, his mother's lack of empathy towards Mac was annoying me. I could feel some of that annoyance from Mac as well, but it was subdued.
Worse, Mac didn't seem like he was going to defend himself. He wasn't saying anyhing, and he was already thinking how to explain to the teacher why he was returning. It would be needlessly embarassing, and the mother didn't seem to care. She was still rooting around in drawers for some stupid shit.
"Why did I think it would be in here? Had to check." They muttered, then moved past Mac and went upstairs. Mac followed.
I didn't want Mac to be anymore stressed then he already was. "Do you want go back to school?" I asked him.
"No. But they're my mom. What can I do?" A rheotorical question but one I was going to answer literally.
"Say this." Mac was quiet as I told him what to to, watching his mother go into what I assumed was her bedroom, and looking in the drawers there. Contemplating if he had the nerve to stand up to his mother right now.
His mother turned. "Stop staring at me, and get your bag." They returned to looking.
In a wave of adolescent rebellion, Mac said, "Nah. DOn't think I will." As I'd instructed.
"That so?" HIs mother didn't even look up.
"Yeah. No point to it. I've already missed whatever classes I liked, and I can juts get the notes tomorrow from my friends, or the teacher."
"Its not about learning there, its about being present. To represent our family and make it clear we have a presence. Besides, you skipping today moght lead to you skipping tomorrow, and the next and the next, and then your reputation and the family's is even further down the drain."
I wasn't sure how to respond to that. Presence and reputation? Probably some dumb familial pride thing. I didn't care for arguments like that.
"There's no point arguing with me." The mother said. "Just do as your told." They continued searching until they realized there was silence where there should be the sound of retreating footsteps.
"Mac." Authority was in her voice.
"I'm not doing what you say." Mac's voice hitched at the end. He would never be this brazen this without my prompting and was incredibly nervous doing so.
"Whats with the sudden disobediance? I ask you to do one thing and you're in rebellion for some reason."
"Im not." Mac said without my permission.
"Stop acting like a child, and stop being ungrateful."
"Ungrateful?" Mac spoke again without my prompting, walking into the trap.
"Ungratful! For not respecting the work the rest of the family has done to get you into the position you are. You're letting us all down by not going to school."
"Say this." I told Mac before he could embarass himself.
Mac listened, "And?" he asked.
"What else? You're going to have to do offer a lot more than that if you want my gratitude. If me going to school is so important to the famly, you'd better make going worth my while."
Mac was equally terrified he was saying this, and exhilaratd. I got the feeling he wasn't used to speaking his mind. While he technically still wasn't, the sheer joy at opposing his parent was a rush.
Mac's mom closed her mouth and shook her head. "Fine, stay home. But we'll see what your father has to say about this when he gets home."
"So you're a coward as well." I had Mac say. "Can't even finish your own battles, so you have to wait for dad to back you up?"
"Where the hell did that come from."
"My mouth. Keep up."
"Argh." His mother groaned. She was fed up with this argument, needing to get back to whatever she had returned for, and her son was preventing that with some annoing argument.
She'd either have to stay and finish this, and risk being late, or let Mac win this and get back on track. I saw her realise this.
"You know what? Fine. You don't want your dad to get in involved? Fine. what happened today stays between me and you. But-"
"Interrupt her." I said.
Mac suddenly leaned forward and gave his mother a hug. "Thanks for being so understanding Mom, love you lots." He gave her a quick kiss on the forward, stepped back from his shocked mother and dashed to his bedroom. He flung himself onto the bed.
"Oh my god. I can't beleieve you made me say all that."
"Well you didn't have to say it word for word. You could have changed it while still carrying the message." If this ended up backfiring I didn't want him to be able to entirely blame me.
"Ah, whatever. It was stil cool."
"Yeah, I bet she'll hesitate before trying to punish you again."
"Probably. You know, she's not a bad person, or even a bad mom. She latches onto ideas and then won't let them go. That's a problem for everyone in the family. I might talk to her later without your help."
"You aren't happy with how this went?"
"I am, but I could have been less harsh like you said. She'll have calmed down as well, be more reasonable. I hope."
Back in her room, I heard Mac's mother go "Ah" Some scraping and she walked past Mac's room. She gave him a quick glare, still obviously mad from the conversation. In her hand...!
"Bye mom." Mac called.
"...Goodbye." She sounded calmer than she looked.
"I think I can convince her to let this slide." Mac said, putting his hands behind his head.
"Yeah. Mac, why did you mom have a gun?"
"She got it from her drawer. She always leaves it around there, so I don't know why she looked downstairs. A habit, maybe."
"Why would she need a gun? Is she goin to kill someone?"
"Um, I don't want to talk about it." Mac's head went into a swirl. Mind flashing with hundreds of images and thoughts he robably didn't want me to know but couldn't help thinking in the circumstane. I couldn't exactly hear or see them, but I got feelings from them. Violence, and family being most prevalent.
Were his family criminals? Was Mac a criminal? What kind of sitiation am I stuck in? Never mind trying to keep Mac from killing himself from stress, I might have to try and stop him from taking a bullet to the head. And I could tell this was something he didn't like to think about, so if I pressed him he'd get aggressive and block me out.
Fuck this situation.
"Thanks for helping me with my mom. I can't handle school right now." Mac said, bringing me out of my panic.
"Huh? You're welcome. I'll help you with anything you need in the future. Kind of have to, since we're stuck together."
"How did that happen? I believe you're a person now. More than I did earlier, at least. You seem too sentient to be a voice in my head. How exactly had that happened?"
"I don't..." A memory of my own came back. The privacy bubble again. It was a mental techique, performed by concentrating intensely. But that wasn't all you needed for the spell.
"Mac, can you try concentrating like you did when trying to create the mind bubble earlier?"
"Why, nothing's changed?"
"Just try." I pleaded.
Mac sighed, but closed his eyes and satrted imagining a mind within his mind. As he concentrated, I thought bout how stupid I was to not have realized this sooner. I know I forgot about my world, but such a stark refusal to see what wasn't there, the changes from this society to my own, was negligent.
The image began to take hold in Mac's mind, I reached inside myself for my mana, and with a mental push, gave form to Mac's image. He could feel the changes immediately. The image in his mind was getting clearer, he could almost feel it. I knew this because I was still reading Mac's thoughts, which were becoming less clear and harder to translate.
Did I really want to do this? I thought again. It was too late to stop now, Mac could feel it, if I stopped he would knwo something was up.
Resigned, I gave a final mental push with my mana, and Mac's presence in my mind disappeared. I couldn't hear him anymore, he was no longer in the shared thought space between us.
The lonliness surprised me. I'd only been hearing his thoughts, as backround noise. But now that I didn't even have that there was only the silence. The knowledge that I was completely alone in a foreign body. Not my own and completely outside of my control. How could I get used to this? Would I be able to stay sane, for how long? What would happen to Mac if he had a mad person stuck in his head?
"Woah." The voice cut through my contemplation, Mac's cheery and awed voice. "It worked. I couldn't hear you at all."
There was silence, then "Hey."
"Yo! Agh, that feels weird. Like when you look at an optical illusion and you have to force your brain to look at it differently. Its neat."
I forced cheer into my mental voice. "I'm so glad for you."
"Thanks. Why did it work this time?"
"Well, when I created my mental space, I used my mental mana to do it."
"Hmm, so you don't know what it means? I thought so"
"Mental mana, what does that mean?"
"It means I have an energy inside me that allows me to affect the world in supernatural ways. It means I cna do magic." It means that not only am I not in my own body, I might not even be in my own world.
I continued. "Mac, you couldn't make your mental spcae because you don't have any mana. I used some of my own to help create yours."
"If you created it, then you listen to my thoughts even inside it?"
"No. To me its just blank space in my mind. I can't influence it at all."
"Um, all right." Beat. "So Magic is real?"
"I believe so. Here, raise your hand. Either one is fine." I needed to test something. If I could use one type of mana...
Mac raised his left hand, probably his dominant one. I imagined what my old hand would have looked like, imagining it overlaying Mac's hand and feeling the mana in it. I focused my mana in the palm of "my" hand, and a small orb of green light lifted from Mac's hand. His body shifted, surprised. With his other hand, Mac reached for his phone. He took a picture of his hand, and the light in the palm of it.
"Oh jeez. That's real. This is real." Of course it was, hadn't he said he believed me earlier. Am I going to have keep remidning him that I'm a real person as well? This was going to be annoying.
Whatever. I needed to find out why I was in this Boy's boyd, and an entirely different world, and I needed to keep Mac safe from his own mind and maybe his won family? I would do whatever I needed to get to the bottom of this, even if I have to maniulate this kid. After all, what other choice do I have?