Chapter 1: San Francisco, 1985
Blurred colors and images spin around me. A blinding white light like a thousand suns flashes in my head as paralyzing cold engulfs me. In one agonizing moment I feel...death.
Six Months Earlier
“Huh? Where did that come from,” I thought as I awoke from my daily coma. I didn’t remember ever hearing that phrase, and I certainly didn’t know what it meant, other than it sounded sort of wimpy.
“Passive voice,” said the sweetest voice on earth.
“Holy crap!” A cold sweat engulfed me. My pen, which I was holding in an ever firmer death grip, shot out of my damp fingers and hit Lenny Roberts two rows over on the side of his head before falling to the ground. He gave me a dirty look. While sometimes I wondered what Melanie was thinking; there was no logical explanation for this. It had happened a couple other times when I thought of something moments before I heard her say it, but I just chalked those instances up to coincidence. This time was different, and confusing.
I bolted from my seat at the end of class and ran through the bathroom door, plowing right into a kid who was about a foot taller than me. I continued to the sink as he let loose a few choice words. Splashing cold water on my face, I wondered how on earth I could think up an answer I didn’t know—just before Melanie said it.
Sure, I guess I had a crush on Melanie since we were in grade school. Sometimes I would look over at her in class, and then to hide my infatuation in case someone noticed me staring, I would quickly turn away and look “casual”. It ended up looking like I had some sort of medical problem involving spasms brought on by English class.
Still confused about dreaming up an answer I didn’t know, I hurried down the hall a couple days later, late for class. I could see Melanie coming toward me. Out of the blue, I thought of Talon Marwood. What in the world? I hated Talon Marwood. Why on earth would I think of him at that particular moment? I managed a weak smile at Melanie and she smiled back. Then she asked, “How was the game Saturday?” As if my nerves hadn’t already incapacitated me, I hadn’t gone to any game on Saturday nor had I watched one, and I certainly hadn’t mentioned anything to Melanie about a game. I could barely say “hi” to her at that point. Then an unmistakable voice came from behind me, “It was a total waste.” I spun around, knowing exactly whose voice I heard. Talon, the jerk, turned to look at Melanie with his smug face. I tried to recover by quickly looking down and brushing the side of my pants as though I had an emergency happening on my pants that required my sudden attention. Red faced and humiliated, I just kept walking.
Besides being embarrassing, imagining things just before they came out of Melanie’s perfect mouth was freaking me out a little. I’d never been sure about the whole “paranormal” thing. The people that pretended to have super mind power on television just seemed too weird. Some guy pretends to bend a spoon with his brain waves. Yeah, right, and I can make traffic sparse on the Bay Bridge at five-o-clock in the afternoon by wishing it so. Still, something just didn’t seem right. So, I decided to experiment.
Every time I would see Melanie, I would try to guess her thoughts. I didn’t hear voices in my head or anything, just thoughts; but sometimes they seemed to come out of nowhere.
Here’s the part that spooked me—when we would make eye contact, I tried it, and sometimes I would find myself thinking about me, not in a weird way or anything; but somehow like a different person had invaded my head, like me watching...me. I started having trouble sleeping.
Could I tell my parents? Would I be diagnosed as schizophrenic with the whole “voices in the head” thing? Could I tell Melanie? Ha! Can you say, “Nooooooo?” While I found these experiences very interesting, they also began to be disturbing. I laughed to myself that maybe I should take a spoon out of the drawer and try to bend it. More realistically, I wondered if I needed some help.
One night halfway through the school year, I got so wired about it that I couldn’t sleep at all. I had a secret. As with other adolescent secrets, I didn’t know if I should share or conceal it; but I started questioning my own sanity. The next afternoon, after I almost fell asleep in the middle of a completely disgusting school lunch, I decided I had to tell someone. It seemed like the school counselor might be safe. I knew my assigned counselor. We talked a few times about possible college paths and what I liked to do. Her interest in me seemed genuine.
Ms. Wheeler looked like she had stepped out of a fashion magazine, the kind of woman that would distract teenage boys. Yet she had an easiness about her that made her feel more like your sister than a model. I made an appointment. When I entered her office, I noticed the brown wooden wall panels with a lighter beige paint on the top half of the walls. I think the colors were designed to make people feel at ease. It smelled like morning in pine covered mountains. I closed my eyes for just a moment as I tried to calm down, but I almost ran into the door frame and I recovered awkwardly. Even with the atmosphere designed to be calming, I shook like a leaf and sweat uncontrollably as I entered. She asked if I felt okay. I laughed, explaining my nerves had gotten the best of me, and then proceeded to take the next 10 minutes rehashing our talks about college, classes, which teachers I did and didn’t like. Then, Ms. Wheeler leaned forward in her chair and asked, “Steven, why did you really come in today?”
“You...um...this is confidential, right?”
“Yes, Steven, anything you say is only between you and me.” Her perfume distracted me for just a moment.
Then, in total surprise, even to me, I blurted out, “I think I might be going crazy!”
“That’s a pretty strong word, Steven. Let’s discuss what’s leading you to that conclusion.”
I had prepared mentally for this conversation, and I started to list the instances where I very clearly thought things that I couldn’t possibly have known—yet I found those thoughts to be accurate. Ms. Wheeler just listened patiently.
“Do you have any guesses as to why this might be happening?” she asked.
“If I did, I wouldn’t be spilling my guts to you!” I said with surprising emotion. I realized this thing had taken more of a toll on me than I thought. I couldn’t be mad at Ms. Wheeler, but the situation frustrated me immensely.
“Do you believe in spoon bending?” I asked before she could speak again.
“Uh, I’m sorry, Steven, explain a little more.”
I realized how ridiculous my question sounded. “Do you believe in those people on television that can supposedly bend spoons with their minds?” I asked.
“I neither believe it nor disbelieve it. What I know is that is television and you and I are talking about real life. Let’s focus on you rather than the people on TV,” she said in a comforting tone. “You haven’t been trying to bend spoons, have you?” she asked, grinning. She tried to lighten the mood and it helped.
I laughed, “Actually I did try it about a week ago.”
“And?” she asked.
“No luck. All the silverware is still straight and safe.” I laughed some more until my eyes teared up a little.
“Seriously, Steven, the mind is a powerful thing. Studies have shown that the human mind is capable of remarkable feats—things that even the researchers didn’t expect.”
“Are any of those tests about what I’m experiencing?”
“There have been a number of tests on the human mind’s ability to perceive things that the test participants didn’t think they knew.”
“Like another person’s thoughts?” I asked.
“Yes. Off the top of my head I can’t quote a specific study, but the mind can put together an enormous amount of information in a split second and process the circumstances a person is experiencing. For example, when we are in danger, the mind puts together the threats, the options, and the likely means of escape—all in a fraction of a second. Those are often called “fight or flight” instincts. The mind has to make some potentially life-saving decisions very quickly with the information available. This same ability applies to less life-threatening situations—we can take an incredible number of facts or events, organize them, and reach a conclusion without even focusing on that process. Our brain just does it because that’s what brains do.”
I thought about it for a minute. “Okay, that makes sense, but I’m talking about putting together information that my mind doesn’t even know about. What about thinking about a person behind me that I can’t see?”
“You mentioned that earlier. Is there any sort of relationship between you and Melanie and the boy that walked up behind you?”
“Other than the fact he is always hitting on Melanie and I would like to punch his nose through the back of his head, there is no logical association that explains what happened,” I said, a little irritated.
“Actually, that may not be true. Think about it. You see Melanie in the hall. What is the greatest threat to the relationship between you and Melanie?” she asked.
“There is no relationship, we’re just good friends,” I said quickly.
“But you would like to have a more serious relationship?”
I stopped. “Yes, I suppose so.”
“So if you would like to have a more serious relationship with Melanie, who is the most likely person standing in the way of that?”
“That moron, Talon Marwood,” I sneered, not thinking about the fact that not only did Ms. Wheeler know Talon, but she may be fond of him.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”
Ms. Wheeler just smiled, “No apologies needed here, Steven. Your thoughts are your thoughts. I’m not here to judge them—I’m here to help you make sense of them. So if Talon is the greatest threat to your relationship, is it possible he may be the first person that jumps into your mind when you see Melanie sometimes?”
“Yeah,” I said slowly. “I guess that makes sense; but what about some of the other things—like answers to questions in class where I have never studied the material?”
“You may think you have never studied the answer, but you may be smarter than you think. Remember I talked about how the brain can store an enormous amount of information? It’s like a biological computer; but we don’t have everything at the forefront of our thoughts. If we did, it would be overwhelming. The brain retrieves what it has to when it is needed.”
“Yeah, but if I never studied the chapter...?”
“Maybe you did and you didn’t know it. Maybe you saw someone’s book open to the page with the information on it. We don’t have to process something consciously in order for the brain to store it; and the times when you believed you perceived Melanie to be thinking of you...don’t you want her to think of you? Is it possible your mind is just giving you the answer you want?”
“So you’re suggesting all these things are just coincidences?” I asked.
“Not at all. Coincidence is a function of chance. I’m suggesting maybe your mind is more powerful than you think it is.”
I had to process this for a minute. As I went through all the situations in my head, I became convinced that they could not possibly be coincidences, but I had to consider another perfectly logical explanation.
“So I’m not crazy?” I asked, relieved.
“I don’t think you’re crazy at all, Steven. I think you are a very bright young man who is just beginning to find out all the things your mind can do.” She smiled with the warmth of someone who has to reassure a lot of self-doubting teenagers all day long.
“I think I’m seeing things a little more clearly. You’re saying that I have some sort of super brain?” I asked mockingly.
“Yeah, that’s pretty much it,” she smiled.
We talked more, and Ms. Wheeler explained things very well. As I got up to leave, she said, “Steven, I don’t want you to hesitate for a second if anything is bothering you or seems out of place. I’m here for you and we can discuss anything you like.”
“Even spoons?” I smiled.
“Especially spoons!” We both laughed.
“Thanks, Ms. W. You really shined a light on a tough issue for me. I thought I might need to be put in a padded cell.”
“If I arrive tomorrow and the lunchroom reports all the spoons are bent, padded cell it is—for everyone’s protection,” she said scowling, but then she broke into a big smile.
“Okay, I’ll watch my step, especially around the silverware,” I chuckled as I left her office. “I guess these people really know what they are doing,” I thought to myself as I left the counseling center with a lot more confidence than when I entered.