“There you go honey.” Jenna sets the miniature pitcher of cream and a mug of hot coffee down in front of me.
“Thanks,” I whisper trying to muster a smile.
“Let me know if y’all need anything else.”
I nod again and she walks off to take another table’s order.
“You should eat something.” Smith commands again.
“I’m fine.” I busy myself fixing my coffee up, extra cream a little bit of sugar.
When I pick up the spoon to stir my hand begins to shake and I drop the spoon, making a loud clang, showing that I’m everything but fine.
At least Smith has more class than to state the obvious. My nerves are shot, I did too much, too far out of sequence. Time manipulation has a heavy toll.
“Jenna,” He calls our waitress back over.
I sigh with defeat. I guess I’m stuck in this little black and white checker floor, sea foam green walled hell. I hate being around other people! Smith picked a booth in the back away from the other patrons that helps a lot. That and the fact there aren’t many people here at all.
Jenna comes back to our booth, pad and pen at the ready. Middle aged, tired blue eyes, blonde hair, tied back in a bun.
“Y’all changed your minds?”
“Yes, can I have two eggs sunny side up, an order of bacon, wheat toast and a glass of water, no ice, tap is fine.”
He looks at me, death ray stare at maximum power.
“Short stack with strawberries on the side please.”
“Whip cream hon?”
“No thank you.”
“I’ll put that in for ya right away.”
She turns away again, heading for the counter.
“You should get some meat, you need the protein.”
I order food and the man still isn’t happy.
“I don’t eat anything that had a face.”
“I’ll see if they have any.”
He gets up from the booth to track down Jenna. I liked him better when he was all stoically silent.
This new, curious, talkative, Agent Smith won’t cooperate, he won’t turn away. I know how this goes, how it always goes.
When humans see things they should not see, there are always the possibility of two different reactions. The first, and my favorite, denial. They turn away from the truth and systematically make themselves believe whatever they saw could not be true. Convincing themselves that it never happened.
The second and less desirable trait is to see something and demand answers, to go digging into the unknown until they end up dead. That’s how it always ends. With them… dead.
“They have almonds.” He slides back into the booth
“Thanks.” I grumble looking down at my coffee.
“What happened in that cave?”
I scratch my forehead lightly.
“Start talking.” He commands sharply.
My hand drops as I stare into my coffee.
“Is there anything I can say to get you to let this go?” I roll my eyes up to him.
He shakes his head no slightly.
I sigh picking up my mug, the white bandages make me look like I slit my wrists or something, that’s why Jenna keeps giving me the pitying looks. Oh isn’t that just great?!
“What did I see in that cave Des?!”
“This is not funny!”
“You just called me Des.”
His eyes widen slightly.
“I am sure I did not Ms. Thompson.”
“Secret for secret.” I take a sip of my coffee and set down the mug.
“That’s not what we agreed on.”
“Call it an amendment.”
His lips tighten, his nose actually flares. “Fine, but only if the secret’s worth it.”
“You first.” He orders.
“There is a world, another world, all around us. Where the things of fairytales and nightmares really exists… where magic is real.”
A look of disgust crosses his face. “If you have no intention of telling me the truth, we can leave now.” He snaps.
“Listen you want answers, they may not be what you want to hear. But I won’t lie to you.”
“But I won’t, not to you.”
A small half smile escapes. “And what makes me so different than your customers?”
“I give people what they want, tell them what they want to hear, it’s a white lie at best. I get the feeling people only get one chance with you, so I’ll always give you the truth.”
“Don’t want to mess up your chance with me?” He finds that amusing.
“I get the feeling it may be dangerous to do so.”
“Perceptive Ms. Thompson.”
I roll my eyes.
“Fine, magic is real, is that what you did? Some sort of hocus pocus?”
“Uh uh, my turn.”
“Oh yes, and I hope you will afford me the same courtesy about being honest as I will do with you.”
He stares at me for a long moment.
“My secrets are dangerous.”
I raise an eyebrow, “so are mine.”
We have a small stare off, seeing that I will not blink he nods slowly.
“Very well Ms. Thompson, but remember it was you that began this dance.”
“What is your question?”
I want to know what happened in that cave, why he froze. Has it happened before? Is that why he’s with the SS now? But I know he needs to trust me far more than what he does right now to get an answer.
“What’s your name? Your real name.”
“No last name?”
“A last name will cost you much more than ‘there is magic in the world.’”
“So Smith isn’t your last name?”
I smile as anger flashes in his eyes. Ah, you thought you were the only one good at this?
“I am going to ask you one last time. What did you do in that cave?”
“I created a distortion in time.”
He cracks a smile.
“Wow you really are a piece of work, I thought your delusions were limited to fortunes and potions, but this, my god, how do you contain…”
I reach over grabbing his hand. He jerks away but I hold tight and although my runes are burned badly I push what energy I have left through them. I make a connection and as I stare into Smith’s gray eyes, I see snippets of his childhood flash in my mind’s eye. But there, there is one that stands out amongst the others, a special echo, a moment of change within him.
“There was an abandoned house a few blocks away, it had an in ground pool. You and your friends decided to build a bike-ramp at the base of the pool. But no one wanted to try it, not really, and they singled you out, called you chicken. A broken wrist and twenty-two stitches later you promised to never let anyone else change how you felt about yourself again. It was the day you grew from a follower to a leader, from a boy to a man.”
I pull back slowly, heat radiating from my hand, pain running up my arm. I tuck it away and grit my teeth against the discomfort.
Quinn stares at me, long and hard.
“You’ve read up on me, it’s in my file, the fall, how it happened. I had to disclose my medical records.”
“You were wearing a green and white stripped polo shirt, cut off shorts, old tennis, almost falling apart. The other kids, they left you behind, not wanting to get in trouble. Everyone but your best friend Chuckie, he rode his bike as fast as he could to get your Mom but you were afraid, you were afraid he wouldn’t come back.”
The echo begins to fade and I blink the trails of it away.
“Unless you also included that within your file.” I take a sip of my coffee for a cool points affect.
“Here you are. Two eggs sunny side and an order of bacon and a short stack with strawberries no whip cream and a bowl of almonds.” Jenna sets down the plates.
“Syrup is right there. Can I get anything else for you folks?”
Quinn stares at me not responding his face an icy mask of nothingness.
“No thank you Jenna.” I smile up at her.
She smiles and goes to check on her others tables.
“I am not a psychic, I’m a Druid. My people have an ability to read time, echoes as we call them. That’s what I did, I just read a moment of your echo.”
I try to figure out how to attack my short stack, my fingers aren’t working right yet.
Smith still hasn’t stopped staring at me like I’ve grown horns. I pick up my knife to cut my pancakes up. There must be nerve damage, I’m having a hard time keeping hold of my fork and knife.
Smith shoves his plate to the side and drags mine over to him, snatching the fork and knife from my hand.
“Let’s say I’m willing to believe this…”
“It doesn’t matter what you believe Smith, it doesn’t change what is.”
He holds up his hand. “Let’s say I’m willing to believe this. That somehow you can read a person’s mind…”
“Memories.” I correct him.
He sighs, “must you interrupt all of the time Ms. Thompson?!” He slides my plate back to me, my pancakes neatly cut into squares.
I shrug. “Thanks.” I ignore his ire, why not correct people when they’re making mistakes… why let them continue down a road of ignorance? Always been my motto, but it makes me unlikeable.
I spoon the strawberries and shaved almonds onto my pancakes and drench it all in maple syrup.
“So you can read a person’s memories?” He leads.
I nod stuffing my mouth with pancake deliciousness. “Yes.”
I nod, “for the most part.”
“That’s how you found the cave?”
“Using magic to read Sarah’s memories?” He says it slowly like I’m an idiot.
I sigh setting down my fork seeing I’m not going to satisfy Smith with anything less than the entire song and dance.
“Ever heard of eidetic memory?”
“Yes, everyone is born with it. The human mind was designed to remember every sight, sound and feeling you’ve ever experienced in your life. But the human brain can be fragile at times, and so a safety mechanism developed.”
“Yes…. And emotions.” I smile. He looks doubtful.
“Okay say for a moment you are a little boy, four or five, and your father hits you for touching his TV. You haven’t experienced life enough to really distinguish, hate, love, good or bad, you experience the world on a purely instinctual level and so that is how you learn. Simple cause and effect, if I do this, something that makes me hurt happens and that thing that hurts me makes me feel bad. Your mind associates an emotion to an event.”
I nod, “exactly. Because your mind has now substituted an appropriate emotion it allows you to forget the actual act. Six years later, you go to the turn the channel on the same TV there’s a slight tightening in your stomach you can’t quite explain, because that emotion has replaced the actual memory of what happened, and now touch TV equals pain. Even if your father never hit you again.”
“I don’t see how that’s a safety mechanism.”
“What if every time you saw your father, or saw a TV your brain automatically replayed that slap? Every time for the rest of your life? What would you become? A dysfunctional human being I’d say. You can train your emotions, you can overcome fear, but forgetting something that has burrowed itself into your mind, is a bit harder to overcome.”
“It doesn’t mean the memory isn’t there, of course it is, emotion lets us distance ourselves from the actual details of an event but still remember the lesson that was learned. We have the ability to assign our memories with a value of importance using our emotions, we can make a small event larger in our mind, or a large event seem small. We can forget exactly what was done, exactly what was said, but rarely do you forget how something made us feel, because you decided how important an act was by what emotional intensity you assigned to it. We can manipulate our own emotions to the point it can actually change our recollection of events. It’s why I don’t trust psychics.”
He laughs, “You don’t trust psychics?”
“Nope, they work on reading emotions, but emotions aren’t facts, they are how you feel about something, little more than opinions on a subject. Echoes are pure, they simply are. It is factual data stored in your brain that although you have worked at forgetting and changing, I still can access the original copy.”
I stuff another fork of pancakes in my mouth.
“I work on facts and let emotion be the subscript for context.”