Part of a much larger project.
In my mind’s eye I turned to look over my shoulder and saw a long road stretching off into the distance. If I were somehow able to retrace my steps back along that turbulent road I wondered if I might deviate from the path I had taken to get where I am. Unfortunately hindsight is far less useful than the much rarer foresight. There’s a thought; had my talent been precognition how might things have gone differently? For the longest time it had looked so unlikely that I would ever discover a significant talent. My childish optimism had almost been entirely depleted and I had even begun to consider the unclassified life; Tristan, the unremarkable.
Every teacher in school had their own preferred time of day for the mandatory guided meditation exercises. The unclassified teachers generally tended to be less enthusiastic. I always looked forward to meditation until it was time again and anxiety would envelop me. I had never been very good at it. I attended the Intuition club for the entirety of my school career. The few friends I had at the time had dropped off one by one as they gave up on discovering a hidden talent buried within themselves.
It was common opinion that everyone was equally woven into the fabric of the universe but it was common knowledge that not everyone was equally aware of the depth of the world. Talent is funny like that; almost anyone can pick up a paintbrush but precious few can tease a masterpiece onto canvas. I came to understand that I was choosing to isolate myself by pursuing depth. The few with obvious talent banded together and were immediately exclusive while those of lesser ability formed their own little cliques of similarly able students. I enjoyed spending time with my friends but we grew apart as I became obsessed with developing my understanding and strengthening my thoughts. I could have worked no harder toward that end and it almost had been insufficient.
Kindly smiling teachers had furrowed their brows and spoke gently of other paths and I would seethe with rage. I had decided from the beginning that I would be classified when I grew up. It wasn’t until high-school that I began to consider alternative eventualities. Even contemplating life without a talent of depth had depressed me terribly. The Intuition club consisted of students who were able to predict the future and others who could light candles with their fingertips. My peers were not my peers.
I had achieved my sixteenth year before discovering the mere possibility that I might not be an entire failure. Whilst meditating in the circle the teacher had patted my head in a display of sympathy and I had thought her thoughts. Twenty minutes were to pass before anyone could pick words out of my hyperactive babble.
‘You’re a telepath?’ she had asked.
‘Yes!’ my adolescent voice cracked in my excitement but I didn’t have time to be embarrassed as I continued, ‘When you touched me I knew what you were thinking.’
I have never been able to recall that teacher’s name but she frowned thoughtfully and then held out her hand. I remember looking intently at my own reflection in her glasses as I snatched her outstretched hand and concentrated. My mind filled up blue. Vivid blue was all there was and I said so.
‘Yes,’ she had breathed, ‘and now?’
‘A number… four?’ I was less certain this time but was relieved as my energetic smile was suddenly matched by hers. ‘A cat.’ I hadn’t even been thinking about anything when the last came out and her vigorous nodding spurred me on further. I must have spent a solid twenty minutes rattling off a long list of unrelated subjects as I knew them tumble through that woman’s mind.
The following events were to remain a jumble in my memory. All that mattered was that I was suddenly eligible for classification. At sixteen anyone wishing to expand their talent is enrolled at an academy meaning that I was already behind by some months and feared that I would not be accepted. Such fears were unfounded as the only criterion was ability. It was less than a week later that my place was secured and I found myself eager for the lunch break at school. Instead of returning for my usual afternoon classes I would be attending the Spectrum Academy which was a mere ten minutes’ walk from where I was. I practically danced the whole way.
The first few weeks have since become a blurry kaleidoscope of new experiences. The only thing that really stood out was my classification; an underwhelming affair but holding so much significance for me. Classification is determined in two parts: the type of talent is named and the magnitude is quantified. I was assigned the Telepath class which didn’t surprise me. I was disappointed but, again, unsurprised to learn that I was deemed class E in magnitude. That placed me firmly on the bottom rung but I had achieved this much from what had appeared to be a total lack of ability. I remained naively convinced that I would grow in power. I suppose I did in some ways.
In any case that was the beginning for me. I had taken my first step on a long road that I would look back on one troubling day. The next fork in that road wouldn’t be until more than a year later when I would be a little over a month from my eighteenth birthday. I had taken to practicing my mind tricks on animals as they were generally more agreeable than people. I had even persuaded my parents to get me a dog. A border collie whom I named Shinobi and loved like family. Training a dog is surprisingly easy when you can read his mind.
It became normal for Shinobi to sit in my lap as I meditated and petted him even when he grew to full size. One unremarkable evening I found that I was sifting through more than shared thoughts as I heard an echo. It would perhaps be more accurate to state that I heard things twice simultaneously. It’s an absurd concept to put into words and more so to experience first – and second – hand. It jarred me out of my stillness for a moment. As I slipped myself gently back into peace I came to realise that I was hearing alongside Shinobi through our connection. From that moment I achieved far greater personal growth in mere weeks than I had in the previous year of afternoons at the academy. I remained a long way from catching up to the average but I did attain a unique skill. There were many telepaths able to influence the will of others but I became the only person able to completely enter the mind of another. I formed visions in my mind of everyone lavishing praise upon me and congratulating me on my superior talent. At best I received a warm ‘well done’ and no more. I’m not sure why I expected to be revered by a girl who can will a bus into the air. If anything things became more difficult after that. Nobody wished to practice with the boy who might assume control of your mind and body.
I spent the next few weeks teaching myself to wander in a borrowed body. It was an experience that took some getting used to. Luckily Shinobi’s mind was accessible to me in his entirety. I didn’t have to spend too long trying to figure out how to walk on four legs simply because Shinobi had been doing it his whole life and I was able to easily trust him to handle the complexity. I found myself sprinting through the length of the hallway before long and I longed to explore farther afield. Of course Shinobi would draw attention as an unaccompanied dog on the streets and would be taken to the pound. It was around then that I was struck by the memory of feeding the foxes in the garden with my mother. I hadn’t joined her in some time as the novelty had worn off but I knew she still went out in the evenings and I quickly explained the half-formed notion that had stumbled into my mind. My parents were not overly enthusiastic.
‘You want to possess a fox?’ My father asked with a quizzical look.
I nodded in answer.
‘Is it safe?’ My mother looked less quizzical and more concerned. ‘You have to be absolutely sure it’s not dangerous, Tristan.’
‘I’ve been practicing with Shinobi and there’ve been no problems. I can just wake up here whenever I want.’
In the end they were satisfied. It was the summer and I sat out in the garden with a plate of food scraps until a single fox arrived and approached. It looked wary since it was presumably accustomed to finding my mother here but the little guy certainly didn’t seem put off too much as he approached and accepted the offering. I reflexively stilled myself and reached out to touch the fox. I knew immediately that it wouldn’t be as simple as it was with Shinobi. He and I had a dynamic and he had been sharing his thoughts with me since he was only a few months old. The fox pulled away and I felt the stirrings of uncertainty before the contact was broken. That was that for the night though I learned quickly and the next night had greater success.
I spent some time petting the fox who arrived. It was not the same fox as the night prior and I wondered if he had been frightened off when I tried to assert myself in his mind. I didn’t dwell too long on the issue and soon found myself thinking alongside this new visitor as I petted her fondly. She was far less enthusiastic than my faithful dog but so long as it meant food she would allow herself to be petted. It was surprising to find a wild animal to be so tame. Of course these foxes had been finding a meal here for most of their lives and did not feel threatened.
I took a deep breath and slipped into a mind outside of myself. I was quite suddenly a fox and the success was euphoric. Foxes can’t smile but as I looked up at my own entranced self I saw the smile I wasn’t able to bring to the furry face presently under my control. I stumbled a little as I turned but quickly learned to interpret the new anatomy and dashed excitedly into the forest across the road from my garden. In the following years I would immerse myself in experiences so far beyond comprehension that I no longer cared about bearing a lesser classification, though my new ability resulted in a reassessment and I was reclassified as a ‘D’ rated telepath which was encouraging.
I may have been less enthused had I known the troubling attention that my talents would bring upon me but for the time I was overjoyed. My world would not crumble for a short while longer.