Chapter Five

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Relief, confusion, fear, and hope all fill my mind as I go to my next class. I don't want to go to class, I want to go back in there and make him tell me everything. Locke just rushed me out the door after blowing my mind for a second time today and I feel it won't be the last time today. The last two years of my life are about to be explained to me by someone I don't even know well. I'm still scared, but I think I can hold on until seven.

The last two classes of the day fly by, and 3:15 arrives with the ring of a bell and a flood of teenagers released out into the weekend. I see Penni sitting on the trunk of my car smoking and talking on her cell phone as I walk through the parking lot. Fredo has a basket ball game today, so it's just going to be Penni and me this afternoon. She hangs up and tries to smile at me just as I walk up. "Hey Tommy, you feeling ok? I heard you just about puked all over Locke when he handed you your test back. You must have even gotten your name wrong to do so badly on one of his tests."

"Oh, that was nothing. I actually aced the test; I think it was just that the coleslaw was bad at lunch, that's all. I'm fine now. How about you? Have you heard from Suzy?"

She frowns at this, snubs out her cigarette, and lights two more, passing one to me. "Yea, she left a message on my voice mail. She has to work at the hospital until eight. I apparently left my keys at the apartment, so I'm locked out 'till she gets home. You could just drop me off at the cafe and I'll get a ride from there."

"Nonsense. You can come over to my house, get a real shower, and we'll hang out either at my place or go over to the coffee shop. I have to meet someone there at seven, anyhow."

She jumps up and gives me a hug. "Tommy, I don't know what I'd do without you. You're great! Now let's get out of this place, the traffic has died down a little. I don't even want to think of school again until Monday."

I unlock her door and open it for her, bowing just a little. "Your chariot awaits, ma'am." She giggles and climbs in, reaching over to unlock my door. I get in and start up the car, flipping through my cds while the car warms up. Type O Negative jumps out at me, and I slip in Bloody Kisses. I crank up Christian Woman as we pull out of the parking lot.

After we get away from the school, the traffic thins out and we make it to my house by 3:30. I pull into the garage and see that Dad is still gone. I shut off the car and go unlock the door. When we go in the kitchen, I see there is an envelope on the counter with my name on it. Penni asks where the bathroom is and I show her. I go back in the kitchen and open the envelope. It's a note from Dad telling me he had to fly to Miami for the weekend on business. There's 200 dollars in the envelope to see me through any emergences and to give me some spending money. I pocket half of it and go put the rest in my room. Penni gets out of the bathroom as I'm returning to check on her.

"Wow. You have a great house. Show me your room." I take her in and show her my book collection and computer. "Hey, can I check my email? It's been ages since I have had the chance to." I boot it up, log on, and leave her to her mail to go make some sandwiches.

When I return with our food, Penni is going through my movie selection. She picks out Cruel Intentions and we watch it while we eat. I've seen it before, so I grab some clothes and go take a shower after I finish my food and watch my favorite part. The movie is over by the time I get out of the shower and get dressed. Penni is reading one of my favorite books. I get some clothes I think will fit her, and toss them to her, telling her to go shower and change.

It's six when Penni comes back freshly showered. I throw her clothes in the washer while she gathers the rest of her things. I toss her the keys and tell her to warm up the car while I lock up the house and turn off the lights. When I get back to the car, I can hear she's found my Sondheim cds. I get in behind the wheel, and we take off to the tune of Another National Anthem.

It's almost 6:30 when we get to The Grind. There is a van with Erotic Nose Picking sprayed on the side double parked in front with people unloading band equipment from it. I park the car down the block, and we walk to the door. It's fairly busy tonight; there are about 75 people milling about. Penni finds a group of friends to hang out with and I tell her I'll meet her at the counter at about 8 or 8:30, then I go off to find Locke.

Locke is up on the balcony, chatting about Douglas Adams with a few college students when I find him. He motions me over when he sees me and wraps up the conversation. "Well, there you are. I'm glad you came. Come on, we'll go up to my apartment where we can talk more privately. The band is about to start and then we'd have to shout to be heard down here." He gathers his book and cigarettes and I follow him out the back to the stairs up to the apartments.

When we get up to the fourth floor, Locke lets us in and shows me around. It's a nice two-bedroom setup. There are beautiful yet strange sculptures all over and pictures of him and his wife. "Beth has a show up in Chicago this weekend. The sculptures are all her work. She teaches over at the college too. You'll get to meet her when she gets back." Loud music is coming from one of the bedrooms and Locke just shakes his head. "Emma's room is back there. Yes, she stays with Beth and me. Her tale is a rather sad one too, but it's hers to tell, not mine. Let's just say that there's a reason behind her harsh demeanor, and leave it at that. Well, let's have a seat and get down to business, shall we? Do you want a beer or anything?" I ask for a coke and he goes and gets one, bringing back three beers also. "Two for me, one for you. Believe me, you'll need it."

I sit on the couch and he sits in the armchair across from me. He puts a ashtray between us and lights up one of his cloves. "I'm really sorry about the way I've handled things today. I didn't realize what you were going through, but now that I know, I'm going to try my damnedest to explain everything to you. I thought you had something to do with what happened in the coffee shop this morning and I had wanted to talk to you about it, but after I checked on Emma to see if she was ok, you had already left. Then in class, I could tell there was something seriously bothering you and I made the connection. I didn't mean to startle you with my comment; I was just trying to gauge how much you knew. When you reacted so violently, I had to make sure you were ok, so I sent you to the nurse's office. Halfway through class, I excused myself and stopped by to see if you were all right. You were asleep, so I peeked in on your dream and found out how lost and alone you are. But not anymore." He opens one of the beers and takes a large swig. "Drink up, it makes it easier to discuss tough matters with a cold bottle in your hand."

My mind is reeling trying to keep up with what he is saying. With shaking hands, I grab one of the forgotten beers on the table, open it, and drain half of it. "Locke, I'm sorry, but all this sounds crazy. What do you mean you 'peeked in' on my dream? Are you trying to tell me that all the shit I've been going through is real? I thought I was just going crazy, but it sounds like you have lost it."

He just smiles and shakes his head. "I know I sound crazy, but explaining the idea of a sphere to a circle sounds crazy to the circle. Just think of two words when you get confused tonight: perspective and perception. They walk hand in hand, defining our reality. You must remember they there is always another way of looking at the world."

"It's always hard to talk about things like this. I never know where to start and where I'll have to finish. It's almost like there is a force out there listening to everything, and when people begin to think and talk outside the normal paradigm, it clouds their thoughts and brings an end to it through confusion. You can't concentrate too long on this path of thinking without going mad. Which is exactly what you think is happening."

"You're hearing voices in your head that you can't control, but unlike most other madmen, you have been able to identify the source of these alien thoughts: the people around you. Thought, emotions, feelings, they all pour over in a flood. You have no control over it. It scares the shit out of you. It first started, what, about two years ago, shortly after your mother's funeral? It also coincided with puberty. That's the way it usually works; preteens with well above average intelligence develop "talents" during puberty. It's not so much a chemical thing as at that point in time; the worldview of the preteen is rapidly expanded, and with it comes a new way to look at the world. It can also be triggered by traumatic events in a person's life. You just happened to get a double helping of triggering events."

"These talents can include telepathy, precognition, postcognition, telekinesis, or other unexplainable abilities. In most instances, only one or two of these are apparent at first, but through vigorous meditation and training, other latent skills may be developed."

I have finished my beer and he nods at me to take the second one on the table. I open it and take a sip, then light a cigarette. "Ok, Locke. I'm still pretty lost, but I'm starting to follow you. You still sound crazy, but if you are, then you're doing a good job of taking me with you. I have some questions, though. Where the hell do these 'powers' come from and how can I control them?"

He smiles one of his smiles. "I haven't been able to figure out why people like us are able to do the things they do. I keep slicing my brain on the question. You've heard that humans use less than ten percent of their brain. Well, the closest I can get to explaining our abilities is that some how, we use more of our brain than others. Mind over matter and all that other shit. It's cliché, but that's the key to controlling it: concentration. By focusing enough, you can enter the minds of others and observe their thoughts, feelings, and personalities."

"You can also keep others out. By devoting a small portion of your mind to creating a static shell or wall around your mind, you can keep your thoughts to yourself. That's what took me by surprise this morning. I always keep a "wall" up. Emma must have forgotten to put her's up. She's really not that good with the mental parts yet. When you accidentally tapped into Emma's side of our "conversation" and I checked on you to see what was going on with you, there was feedback; like when you hold a microphone up to a speaker. I didn't realize exactly what was happening, I just threw Emma out of my mind with the feedback to keep it from getting too strong."

"You need to be careful with things like feedback. I used it to shut off Emma, but that was to help stop the loop. Too much feedback like that can blow the speakers in your mind. You don't want that to happen, unless you like rubber underwear, small rooms, and being fed through a catheter. You will need to learn control. Like all things, it comes with practice and time."

"I'll tell you what; let's try something." He gets up, walks to the window, and opens it. The smoke in the room begins to clear out as a cover of Disintegration from the band downstairs drifts in. "Now, I want you trust me. I won't let you get hurt. I promise. Close your eyes. Listen to the music. Focus on the music. You can feel it. Follow it. There are at least 90 people downstairs listening to this. Feel the energy they are giving off. The anger. The angst. The hurt."

I close my eyes and listen. The music seems to get louder, but instead of getting distorted, it gets sharper, clearer. I focus even more on it and it pulls at me, seeming to draw me down and up at the same time; drawing me down to where is it coming from, and up with the energy of it. The music starts to fade, but this feeling doesn't. It begins to take its true form: raw emotion. I can feel the crowd below breathe and sway, dance and cry, writhe and twist. There is an underlying meanness to it, but in a way that calms your anger by expressing it's own.

Locke closes the window, bringing me back to reality. "That was some rush, wasn't it? Crowds of people all thinking the same thing always have a lot of energy. It gives a new meaning to the phrase 'mob mentality'. Well, would you like to try one more thing?" He sits down next to me on the couch and offers me a clove. I take one and light up.

"Sure. What did you have in mind?"

"Actually, I was thinking you might want to try reading me. If you think you're ready, that is. See if you can hold on to it this time. You don't have to, but I thought it might be a good idea to try it out. Let me go grab another beer while you think about it."

I take a deep breath and sip at my beer again. I check my watch and see that it's 7:45. I should go meet Penni in half an hour, but that's enough time to wrap things up for now. I take another pull at my beer as Locke comes back in and sits down next to me. I look over at him. "Sure, I've come this far, what do I have left to lose? My sanity? I think that's already questionable."

He laughs at this and shakes his head. "Believe it or not, Tommy, you're saner than most other people on this planet. You are sane enough to open your eyes and truly see the world around you. Everyone else is walking around with their eyes tightly shut, claiming in their blindness that this is all there is. You at least see the world the way it is."

"Now, relax. Focus on me. Listen to my voice. Now, listen to my..."

"...inner voice. very good, tommy. there are only a few more things i need to tell you for now. use your powers sparingly on people that don't have these abilities. you don't have the right to pry into people's most private places. among us, it is proper to ask first. most importantly, you must remember that though it is a long, hard journey, you can be at peace, because there are others traveling the same path.

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