Hey there. I guess I should start off with a little introduction. My name’s Tyler. Tyler James Brenton. Most people call me Ty or TJ. I’ve gotten a lot of nicknames over the twenty-two years I’ve been on this Earth and some of them I’m not entirely proud of. But I’m guessing you’re not here for that. You want the interesting parts right? The parts that only a very few know about? I’m entrusting you with all of this and I hope I’m making the right decision. So here goes.
Ever since I was young, I’ve had this ability. An ability I had no idea on how to use, nor how to explain to others. But I know one thing, I’m the only one who has it. How do I know this? Well, to put it simply, people shouldn’t be able to hear others thoughts. And that’s just the beginning of it all…
My ability started in short bursts. Usually, when talking to my friends. I’d hear them say something then comment on it, only for them to stare at me and question what I’m talking about. I found out a few weeks after the first incident that I was hearing their thoughts without my wanting to. But it was rare.
Ten years have passed since then and it’s only gotten stronger. The thoughts are crystal clear like real voices and come in almost constantly. But I learned to live with it and never told anybody. Not my friends, family, or anybody. I used to hate it along with the horrid headaches it would bring every time I went into a crowd but about a year or two ago, I learned how to cancel out the thoughts and ignore them. I wanted to celebrate when I finally heard peace and silence. I think I actually had a party about a week later. That headache was easily the worst, but that was mostly due to the side effects of a certain drink. I didn’t think I was underage since I was a few weeks shy of twenty-one, but my parents and a few others thought differently. I still don’t understand how my parents managed to ground me even though I moved out two - almost three - years prior.
Take a minute to think about that, will you? A twenty-year-old man, already moved out, forced to stay in his old room at mommy and daddy’s for a month. Only allowed to leave the house for work and his room for dinner. Easy to say I hated it. But the worst part, was when I started seeing things. It wasn’t bad enough that I heard things I should have been able to hear. No. I apparently needed to see things too! I thought hearing people’s personal thoughts was bad but this? Way worse. I wasn’t one for math or anything like that so seeing numbers and God knows what just floating around my head one day and combining into some odd equations was nothing short of strange and near terrifying.
It’s been a year or so since then and I’m still trying to twist around the numbers and figure them out. Everything I see has become a giant whiteboard of sorts, maybe even a computer screen. You know those movies that have at least one hacker trying to get into a mainframe of some important facility? The scene where you see the computer screen while they’re typing like mad and you see a bunch of random words, letter and numbers in an odd combination before an actual page pops up? That’s what I see on a daily basis. With the exception of the page, that pops up. I’m still trying to figure out what the page is even going to be.
Multiple “pages” have come up over the past year because I was able to figure out an equation which would lead to the next set of figures and my overall annoyance. As soon as my parents said I was able to move back into my apartment, I had bought a whiteboard, a new laptop, and a punching bag. The whiteboard so I could write down any equations that didn’t work and even a few combinations I knew were right. The laptop so I could figure out if this has happened to anybody else and even to study up on codes and hacking. The punching bag… That one should be obvious. I never knew it would be so easy to get so frustrated you end up with anger issues.
Slowly but surely, I’ve become more antisocial over the past year. My focus had been solely on the equations that it got to the point where I’d lost most of my friends, most connections with my parents and even lost three jobs. I was upset at first about my friends and family but slowly got over it. I hated every job I’d ever had so I wasn’t about to complain about losing them. I only worried because that meant I soon wouldn’t have enough money to pay rent.
You would think all of this would be the start of my story but… It isn’t. On a plot diagram, I would claim that entire portion of my life as the beginning of the exposition. Not even on the chart really. It’s that tiny little dot that nobody sees on the edge of the paper. The backstory most people don’t even care to think about or consider. The backstory that doesn’t even matter half the time.
My story starts out a lot different than a sudden burst of power or anything like that. Really, it all started right after I was fired from my third job that year. I don’t know why I didn’t go back to my apartment, but I’m kind of happy I didn’t. Instead of going home, I ended up at the park a few miles away from the complex I called home. I had sat on a random bench and pulled out a small notebook and a pen. I was writing all the codes and symbols floating around my head for about an hour before I finally cracked the code. I wanted to cheer until the next set of codes came rushing at me, causing me to groan. I can’t remember ever being so annoyed as I was at that moment. That was the eighteenth code I had hacked and I still wasn’t done.
I remember thinking to myself ‘will I ever get to the end of this’ before someone sat next to me. I glanced at them through the corner of my eye and realized the person - a man about my age, maybe a little older - was staring at my notebook. I turned it away from their curious green gaze and continued writing. For the next fifteen or so minutes, I would glance up at the man and soon realized he wasn’t even trying to hide the fact he was watching me. He had turned his body towards me and his eyes were solely on my own amber brown ones. I remember feeling nervous to the point that I couldn’t even look at the symbols around me - let alone write them - in fear he would see my eyes roaming around and reading nothing but air. I didn’t feel like explaining my ability to a person I’d never met before in my life.
I had closed my book, using the pen as a bookmark of sorts, and put it back in my bag. I was about to stand and walk away when the man had lifted his hand, almost as if silently telling me to wait. I was curious and ended up staying seated. I finally turned to him and looked him over. I couldn’t help but move away an inch or more when I realized his body was covered by a black trenchcoat. All you could see was his head really and that was mostly covered by his equally dark hair that was tied in a loose ponytail at the base of his neck and reached to hide in his coat. The only part of him that wasn’t dark was his tanned skin tone and his emerald green eyes.
“What were you writing?” His deep yet smooth voice asked after I finished looking him over. I didn’t want to respond because, frankly, he looked almost dangerous. He would have been plain creepy until I saw the beginnings of a tattoo on his neck that I couldn’t fully make out due to the trenchcoats high collar and another that wrapped around his left eye that appeared almost tribal. Then there were the multiple piercings on his ears, two studs on each with an extra two rings on his left.
“Math work.” I had told him unconsciously. I never intended to speak but for some reason I had and of course, it was some stupid excuse like that. Well, it wasn’t entirely stupid as it could have been possible. For all he knew, I was a college student with a math class.
Deciding to end the conversation before it could go much further, I tried to stand and walk away but was unable. When I tried to move my legs, they wouldn’t respond and I was stuck sitting there, facing the creep. “That didn’t look like normal math work.” He had said almost accusingly. I felt like I should keep the lie going, say it was calculus or something ridiculous like that, but I doubted any math class would go to the levels I was trying to figure out on a daily basis. Maybe if I waited a hundred years after scientists discovered the meaning of life and created a colony on the Sun would I finally be able to call any of this class work.
“You don’t mind if I have a smoke while you come up with an excuse, do you?” The man asked with the same blank face he’d had the entire time. I guess he took my silence as an approval because a second later he had reached into his pocket and pulled out a box of cigarettes. I watched him pull one out and place it between his lips, but before he could light it, I spoke up.
“You know those things can kill you.” He lifted his eyes from his lighter to my own again and I was starting to realize he was one for eye contact, no matter how uncomfortable it was for me. As if to spite me, he flicked open his lighter and lit the cancer stick, taking a deep breath only to blow the smoke in my face. All this with his eyes still on mine.
I coughed a few times and tried fanning the smoke out of my face. “Does it seem like I care?” He had asked with that same blank face though he had turned his head away from me. I watched him exhale another puff of smoke before only his eyes moved to look into mine again.
I wanted to tell him to stop doing that, but I couldn’t find my voice. The direct eye contact was leaving uncomfortable and headed straight to annoying and creepy. As soon as I was able to find my voice, he spoke up again. “Eli” was all he said yet it left me just as confused as anything else he had done so far.
“What?” I had asked, hoping for clarification. He was quiet for a while, long enough for me to think he hadn’t heard me. I was about to ask again, clarifying my own question when he spoke up again. “My name. It’s Eli.” He had said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world and in hindsight, it probably was. Especially to him considering it was his own name.
“Eli…” I had echoed slowly, testing the name and trying to see if it fit the man. In all honesty, I had been expecting something worse. Something more intimidating. I didn’t really expect something simple like Eli but it surprisingly fit. “Tyler.” I had said, figuring we were introducing ourselves.
“I know.” Eli had said before standing. He inhaled the toxic smoke deeply before dropping the cigarette before him and stomping on it. “Tyler James Brenton. Age twenty-two as of yesterday. Lost connections with all friends and even family due to a personal goal.” I stared at him in total shock. It was scary that this complete and total stranger had known this much about me. He turned to face me again with a small yet amused smirk. “We know who you are.”
“We…?” I had stuttered without realizing. The only way I knew it had happened was because Eli’s smirk had become even more amused and I swear I heard him chuckle though it sounded more like a heavy exhale. “Yes, we.” He had said with an actual chuckle, even if it was quiet. I was already getting sick of that know-it-all attitude he seemed to exude.
My mild glare was replaced by a look of curiosity when he suddenly sighed and gave an annoyed look at nothing in particular. “I know…” He had muttered under his breath and I figured I shouldn’t have heard him talking to himself. I was about to call him insane until I realized something. I wanted to say that I was seeing things, but there was no denying the fact that I had just seen the tattoo on his neck move. The high collar had lowered enough to reveal the head and neck of a dragon tattoo and I had sworn I’d seen the mouth of the dragon move. The mouth only stopped when Eli spoke, like he and the tattoo were having a conversation.
Eli sighed again before he looked at me and I could see the dragon smirking slightly. “You’re curious, right?” He had asked with a raised eyebrow and curious eyes before speaking again. “About this” he paused to point at the now frowning dragon on his neck, “and everything else? Even the things you see and hear?” I guess my shock showed through as he was smirking again, even the dragon seemed to smirk with a single fang showing.
I took a breath and forced myself to stop looking at the living tattoo. “How do you know about that?” I found myself locking my eyes on Eli’s and could see the amusement in his gaze along with my own seriousness reflected back to me. “I have my ways” was his answer that only seemed to frustrate me further.
“Now, do you want to know how I know so much about you? Or do you want to stay clueless and figure it out on your own?” Eli had asked. I wanted to punch him and knock that stupid, all knowing smirk off of him. But at the same time, I wanted answers. I didn’t even have to nod, let alone speak before his smirk turned into a grin. “Good. Follow me.” With that said, he started to walk away.
I remember groaning and begging for the millionth time in my life that I could have been born normal before I finally started after him. We walked in silence for a while, the only acknowledgments Eli gave me were a few glances to check if I hadn’t gotten lost. I’d lived in this city long enough to know every twist and turn but where he was taking me was a part I’d never seen before. We’d actually walked out of the city before it turned into a sprint through a field that led to an old abandoned town.
The old town was actually the original start of the city until the people living there decided to abandon their homes and start over only a few miles away. At least, that’s what everyone’s been told. I never really believed it, but I guessed it was possible, especially since it had happened multiple times throughout history. What made me curious about it, though, was the rumors that came with the ghost town that forced you to stay away. The rumors of murder and sickness had caused many to avoid the old town. Over the decades, the rumors had only become more comical to the point that I had to stop myself from laughing at them. According to rumors nowadays, the old town would be the perfect cheesy horror movie that people ended up laughing at instead of jumping or screaming like they were meant to.
Toward the end of the field, Eli had slowed down to a walk again and I couldn’t have been more grateful. You see, I wasn’t the most active at that time or any time prior. I was that one kid that just barely, and I mean barely, passed gym class in high school and the most exercise I ever did was walking home after school. Easy to say, having to run for a few miles when I could barely manage to walk that without getting tired had caused me to feel like my lungs were on fire and my legs would give out on me any second. Eli only laughed before making some remark about how I was still so thin when I was so lazy. My only solace was when he said we were almost at our destination and I’d be allowed to sit and be given water soon.
When I had regained most of my breath and had calmed my burning lungs, we continued walking. The walk was mostly silent which led me to look around at my surroundings. The area was mostly clear and had a nice breeze which caused a few strands of my brown hair to fall in my face. I glared at the hairs before huffing and watching the pieces fly up before falling back where they were. I reached up and tucked the strands behind my ear only to pause halfway through the action. My hand blocked the sun perfectly and actually allowed me to see a little farther ahead.
From what I could tell, there was an arch, almost like an entrance, directly ahead of us. When we got close enough to read the name on the arch, I was too busy staring at the ghost town it led into. It didn’t look like anything he rumors and stories had said. I always imagined a crater or destroyed houses, but it was nothing like that. The houses, after so many decades which reached into centuries, were still perfectly intact. I couldn’t stop my curiosity as it led my body to one of the closest homes. The door opened with no real effort and with a high pitched squeak that would have been fixed with a few drops of oil on the hinges.
The building was small with a living room immediately connected to a small kitchen and two separate doors which lead to the bedroom and a bathroom. Looking around, it was obvious the owners were in a rush to leave. There was a pot on the stove in the kitchen which had been cleaned mostly by the hungry rats and insects. The sheets in the bedroom were a mess as if someone had just woken up and didn’t have the time to make the bed. In the kitchen was a small dining table with two seats and empty bowls sitting in front of the pushed out chairs.
I couldn’t stop myself from speaking the obvious question of what happened. “Panic” was the sole word which caused me to jump and turn to the entrance of the house. Eli was leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed as he quickly glanced around the room, his lips parted ever so slightly to prove he had been the one to speak. As if it could have been anyone else.
I tried to question him further, hoping to get more than just a single word, but he was already turning away from me and making his way down the abandoned streets. I followed soon after, checking a few houses either through windows or by opening the doors. Almost every building had been in the same state as the first, some in a messier state while others were cleaner. There was one door that I instantly regretted opening, however. It made my heart clench and proved just how real this all was.
Behind a door was a skeleton with a well-sized hole in its skull and a few bones broken in half. The bones were still small, showing to be a child and by the tattered remains of clothing that had somehow lasted this long, it was obvious it was the corpse of a little girl. I had closed the door slowly and had refused to look inside any other houses. I had seen mass panic, hysteria, and riots on television, but they never showed the real effects. They never showed the people who died by simply being trampled by other people. The corpse was easily a few hundred years old, but the town didn’t have that old feel. It gave a feeling that it had been alive and thriving just yesterday.
That was probably the creepiest part about everything. The feeling that one day everything is perfect and normal then the next, you’re either dead or out of your house and home.