The Mind Reader
Disclaimers: The characters in this story belong solely to me and only me (for once). They are not fanfiction characters nor do they belong to anybody else. This is pretty amazing, because this is one of my first actual original stories.
Warnings/Rants: Perhaps this theme has been overused? I never was one for originality.
His roommate called him Elliot, short for Ellery. Ellery couldn't exactly remember why his roommate had such trouble pronouncing his first (actual) name, except for the reason that he didn't like the name Ellery much so he called him Elliot. It was fine with Elllery, he didn't really mind at all. The only person who knew him in this world and bothered to notice him was his roommate, anyhow. In classes, he was just the quite kid who sat in the back, who kept to himself. His roommate was the outgoing type, with hordes of friends waiting for him at clubs and dances and Saturday night parties. Meanwhile, Elliot studied, and when his roommate came back, stoned at four in the morning, he'd dutifully get up and pour him a glass of water, and leave the rest up to him. If he fell off a balcony, it wasn't going to be Elliot's fault. Besides those Saturday night parties where his roommate spent his time, though, he wasn't really that bad of a person. He kept above-average grades and was on the track and swim teams.
It didn't really matter if he had friends or not. He didn't want to be friends with any of the people he'd met. They were all shallow, disgusting, selfish-it was always themselves, themselves, me me me, most of the time. Of course, the people he had met were only human, but that didn't impair his judgment. His mother, from a richer family than his father, always told him to keep high standards, after she divorced her husband and took Elliot to live with her in a huge house, which bordered on being a mansion. Since it was secluded in the countryside, it wasn't as if there were any neighboring boys to play with. The stable boys who took care of the horses returned to their family shacks once the day was over, and the boys from other high-society families were snotty and untouchable. Spoiled brats, all of them.
His childhood, if you could call it that, passed without much happening. Elliot stayed up in his room, reading, playing by himself, and he went to school every day, maintained exceptional grades. His mother praised him, as any mother would, although Elliot looked at his mother as One Of Them, too. She was just as shallow and as pitiful and as petty as the rest of the human population he had met. So he kept away from her, and she, in return, did not bother him too much. When he was accepted to the university, his mother sent him off at the train station without so much as a tear in her eye, and then left the train station with her arm hooked around another man's.
Right now, final exams were three months away, and he had nothing to do. He'd finished reading the chapter for his psychology class, and had already printed out the research for his government paper, which he was going to turn in in four weeks. He could do whatever he wanted to do--and where was he now? He was rotting away in some godforsaken university dorm room, thinking about how miserable the human population was and how boring it was. The bedsprings creaked as he sat down and rubbed his eyes. Elliot wondered what the residents of this room were like, before he came along. Smiling faintly to himself, he placed his hands on the bed and closed his eyes, feeling the strange sensation of water washing over him as his eyes rolled back into his head.
He let himself swim through the myriad of images, picking up the picayune details of which way the bed sheets were folded, left to right, right to left, the way the books were arranged on the floor, and the wrappers of packaged food scattered here and there, crumpled up into makeshift basketballs to toss into the wastebasket (and missing their mark by a mile). The world blurred out at the edges, fuzzy and unintelligible, and he shifted his gaze as he heard something in that dream world, coming from the direction of the door.
A tall sandy-blonde-haired university student walked through the door, stumbling as a girl at his side giggled inanely. He held her up while she continued to laugh for no reason at all, and he peered into the room, as if looking for somebody, and then looked back at her, winking as though he was giving her an 'okay' signal. She fell into his arms, stifling a laugh as he dragged her over to the bed, and proceeded to kiss her face frantically, as if he was a blind man memorizing the contours of her features. Elliot grimaced, forcing the blood out of his face as he watched these two lovebirds continue to do what they were doing. Maybe this was why the bedsprings creaked so much.
He immediately opened his eyes, letting the world fall into focus around him, the sun streaming through the windows much too bright for him to look directly at it. Casting his gaze at the door which only moments ago the couple had walked through, he saw his roommate walk in, a towel over his shoulders and a bag of chips in his hand.
"How was the swim meet?" He asked, blinking away the red, blue, and black dots that danced in his vision.
"All right." His roommate answered as he stuck his hand into the bag of chips.
"You shouldn't eat that." Elliot reprimanded softly, without meaning what he said.
"What? This?" His roommate smiled blithely, his mouth full of junk food. "It doesn't matter. I'm taking a break-the season's pretty much over, anyway."
"Don't you have the tournament coming up in two weeks, though?"
"I guess." His roommate shrugged, and flopped down on his own bed. "Coach hasn't posted the list yet-who's going to be participating in the finals."
The phone rang.
"I'll get it." Elliot rose up and walked over to the phone, the dots in his vision finally gone. At least he could walk straight. Usually after those kinds of encounters, Elliot would have to lie in bed for at least ten minutes to re-orient himself. But that vision wasn't as long as some of the other ones were. When he had first moved in, he had been bombarded by a horde of images and noise, of the past memories kept in this place, of all the things that had happened. Back at his home, there was nothing to see because his family was the first one to live in it, to own it. At his school, there was nothing interesting to witness, no such powerful feelings. Here at the university, heartfelt confessions were being made every day, people were plotting things, people were thinking things that weren't conventional. Elliot had to learn to close his mind off to these things, to stop himself from unconsciously reaching out to prod other peoples' minds. It took discipline. And it was still hard to control, sometimes.
"Hello?" The voice from the other line started.
"You've reached the wrong number." Elliot stated, twirling the phone cord around his finger. "Your finger missed the button and pushed eight instead of zero. Elliot speaking."
Silence. Elliot smiled to himself, as his roommate looked at him with a bewildered expression from across the room.
"Have a nice day." Elliot spoke, his mind zooming out across people, across roads and cities and streets, to see this one person at the other end of the line, to make the connection. It was a middle-aged woman, wearing a flower-print dress, quite plain. Her mousy brown hair was greying at the roots, her middle protruding slightly and sagging because she had not lost the weight from childbirth. Her eyes were an ordinary hazel color, her lips thin and stretched with discontent, her nose large and pointed, a small child of about eight or so tugging at her dress, crying, "Mommy, mommy." Sighing, Elliot reached out into her head and found the person who she was trying to call-- a good-looking man, around his early thirties or so, looked like a movie star, his hair slicked back with gel, his business suit pressed as flat as it would go.
Closing his eyes again, he reached out more, mentally touching her mind. Ah, so the family was in financial trouble, he could see that. The good-looking Duan Juan was her lawyer. One with good intentions but with a bad streak now and then, who couldn't help deducting a little more money from the family than he needed every month in when he sent his money. He was putting them into a more desperate situation than they were in. He had taken the woman out for lunches at high-class restaurants to discuss the business they needed to accomplish, and somewhere along the way, the woman had received a notion that he was in love with her, and wanting to escape her miserable hovel, she wanted to divorce her husband and run away with him. And what would happen to her family? She didn't care.
Elliot sighed as he disconnected the mental tie between then and hung up the phone, barely hearing the woman's frantic "who are you?" cries from the other end. He stood there, staring at the phone for a while, resting his mind from the contact. Almost every person he'd met, their minds he'd reached out to, had been something like that. Planning things they shouldn't be planning, thinking things that weren't righteous, unfaithful, distrusting, hateful. And why?
The gift had come to him easily, when he was small. Right after his mother had divorced his father, he had picked up something emanating out from his father-- like waves, almost, and he could feel that his father was miserable, jealous, resentful, disappointed, and angry-- all of those things. The words hadn't been there to describe his father's emotions when he had first sensed them-- but as he grew up, he learned to give names to these emotions that people experienced, and he had trained his ability to see into them. He'd learned that all people gave off an aura of some sort, a chi, as they called it in China. The aura was only a barrier to what really lay within the mind, though. He trained himself, practiced, to extend his reach beyond that and feel the minds. And as he worked, Elliot realized he could see more and more, from the vaguest details down to the most infinite details.
And here he was.
"What was that all about?"
Elliot turned around and raked a hand through his hair, not making eye contact with his roommate. "I just said something random."
"But you didn't even wait to hear who it was."
"I didn't need to."
"So you can read minds?" His roommate laughed, falling back against the bed, staring up at the ceiling. "That's hell funny. But you shouldn't have done that. It could have been for me."
"It wasn't." Elliot said, making his way over to the desk, cluttered with papers here and there, and he started straightening them out. "It was an overweight mother making a phone call to her financial lawyer."
"To...?" His roommate gestured for him to go on.
"To call and ask how he was doing." Elliot left the books on their table as they were, and walked over to his own bed and sat down. "Their business-like relationship has turned more than friendly in the past few weeks. It's their cover up. Her alias."
"Great story." The other sighed and covered his eyes with his arm. "Can you read my mind?"
Elliot was silent, and all of a sudden it got so quiet in their small dorm room that the only sound they could hear was the sound of the clock on the wall, ticking. And it was the sort of comfortable silence, although for the life of him, Elliot could not figure out why.
"I don't know." He found himself saying, his mouth dry. "Maybe. I could try."
"Go ahead and try." His roommate sat up and grinned at him, amused. "What am I thinking now?"
Elliot looked down on the floor, and then back up again, then back down. He closed his eyes, shut them tightly, and forced himself to reach out and extend his range of unearthing to the person sitting across from him. And he saw water from the swim meet he'd just been to, and the swirling of a dance hall, the strobe lights that flashed in different colors, the girl he'd slept with only a few nights before, who wasn't attractive at all, the facial care products he hid in the bathroom so people wouldn't find them and think he was gay, how sometimes at night when he got home from parties, completely drunk and out of his mind, how he'd feel like screwing the first thing in sight, even if it happened to be his roommate, Elliot. And who cared if sometimes, he felt like doing that anyway, even without the influence acting on him. And how he felt sorry for Michele, the obese girl with the thick glasses who went to all his classes but he laughed at her anyway-- many different, interesting things, all mediocre. Elliot rubbed his eyes and looked back up.
"Well, your name is Marcel." He started, slowly.
"Of course." His roommate shrugged, still smiling, playing along.
"You slept with the Hamilton girl three days ago." Elliot said. "Woke up at four in the morning wonderful what the hell you were doing."
"I told you about that, didn't I?" Marcel shrugged. "Although I'm impressed you remembered the four-o-clock-in-the-morning detail."
"You didn't like her." Elliot went on, staring at his hands. "You didn't enjoy it, did you?"
Marcel looked at him, turned red, then white, as the color drained from his face. "Of course I did. She's the best whore on campus."
"So you say." Elliot murmured, so that Marcel had to lean in to catch his words.
"You're crazy." Marcel laughed, a tinge of hysteria on his voice for being discovered. "Freak."
It was quiet again, uncomfortable and stagnant. The ticking from the clock on the wall seemed ominous, each second passing by seeming like an hour. Elliot twisted his hands in his lap, wondering why he had said that. He should have just left it, said 'no, I don't know how to read minds, that was just a prank I played on the phone.' But the temptation was too great, wasn't it? To know the person he'd been living with for three years now, to know that next year was the last year they'd ever see each other, before they went their separate ways. And although Elliot would always be able to track him down, find that singular person in the multitude of millions, Marcel could not.
It was lonely, sometimes, being the only person in this world who had this special gift, this cursed talent, that compelled him to rip open peoples' masks and look within them, to realize what people he thought were special were just like everybody else. Human beings were alike, all of them, thought alike, dreamed alike, were almost all exactly the same.
He'd tried to save feeling for the people he wanted to feel for, the people he thought were unique and individual, and resist the pull and enticement of the minds that beckoned to him, waiting for him to see inside, this is what I really am.
It was almost masochistic, Elliot thought, as Marcel rose from the bed, muttering something about getting dressed for the dinner he was taking Elise out to tonight. Did he know who Elise was? No, of course he didn't. Marcel had just met Elise this afternoon at the swim meet. And was Elliot going to be here tonight? Yes? Then he'd have to take her somewhere else in case there was "business" to be taken care of. He hoped Elliot would have a good evening. And it was funny, very funny, that Elliot had thought he hadn't enjoyed his time with the Hamilton girl. Of course he had. They had a date next Friday.
It was almost masochistic, Elliot mused, as he watched Marcel put on a navy blue silk shirt and a pair of black pants and walk into the bathroom, picking up a random comb and raking it through his hair. It was almost masochistic that he'd torture himself like this, thinking his mother loved him when in truth it was only responsibility that held the both of them together-- thinking that his father had loved his mother when it was only her wealth and prestige that had attracted him to her-- thinking that if he somehow, managed to exploit secrets that people kept from the world by diving into their heads, that it would bring him closer to them. It wouldn't. There would always be a barrier between Elliot and the real world, the one where people blissfully ignored one another's faults and loved each other as they did.
And Elliot wondered if, even with his ability, that he was incapable of detecting that reddish aura, mixed with purples and blues-- love, maybe?
It was always there, the strongest one out of the yellows and oranges of happiness, the green of serenity, the black of melancholy, and the blue of sorrow. Love and anger were both red, he had sensed them now and then, but the two were intermingled sometimes, and he couldn't pull them apart. Therefore, he saved himself the trouble and labeled all red as anger, ferocity, even if he knew it wasn't true.
Just to save himself the trouble.
He watched Marcel walk out the door, another engagement waiting for him, another weekend full of busy activities, and looked at the clock. It was seven in the evening, and the sun had not set. It was summer, after all, almost the end of the school year. And then Marcel would leave to visit his family, work long hours during the daytime, and he'd be alone again, without that familiar air of university life, without Marcel and the other mediocre students to divert his attention to when the world deserted him and left him with a mouthful of sand and a mind full of memories of people he barely knew.
The door slammed behind Marcel, and at the same time, the phone rang, once, twice. Elliot stared blindly at it, wondering if he should pick it up or not. Marcel was gone, all his friends would know, because word spread quickly whether the star of the swim team was engaged in some activity or not that weekend, so on, so forth. So it couldn't be a phone call for Marcel.
He tiredly stood up and walked over to the phone, still ringing, and wondered who it would be this time. Perhaps it would be his mother, fulfilling her maternal responsibilities, "how are you, Ellery? How are your classes going? I'm sorry, Ellery, I don't have time to speak with you much-- just called to check up on my Ellery, see how you were doing. I'm busy tonight, no, I don't think I'll be home, but you can try to reach me on my cell-- oh, that's okay, I don't mind. Goodbye, Ellery."
Or maybe it would be his father, who never called, who wanted to see how he was doing. But no, his father never had responsibility like his mother had, he had never even had fidelity, hence, the divorce.
Elliot picked up the phone, and grimaced as an energetic female voice rang into his ear.
"Hello! This is Ronnie with Sprint PCS and we have a great new offer--"
"I'm sorry." Elliot spoke, his voice hard, devoid of emotion. "I'm not interested."
The girl on the other side didn't seem to hear him. "Only twenty-five dollars a month with our new cell phone package--"
It was a recording. His mouth twitched with a half-formed smile, laughing at himself. A recording. A human recording, yes, but he wouldn't be able to track it down this time. The link to the actual person was too far away. He couldn't read minds when he was only given a voice.
Elliot listened to the rest of the recording, staring outside at the fading orange of the sky, and didn't hang up the phone when it was finished.