“I’m going home,” I lied to the old woman who sat next to me at the bus stop as I paused, my backpack trailing from my hand, trying to catch my breath. I was getting all to good at lying from all the lies I had told over the last few days. It made me feel even guiltier, or would have if I had had room with her sympathy and boredom flooding over me. I tried not to shudder visibly and made up more of the story I had been developing over the three months I had been away from home. “My dad got in an accident and they need me back from school. I was away at college. ”
Already the woman’s interest in me was fading. She had spoken to me because the bus was late and she was bored. The woman next to her was reading a newspaper. She leaned over and whispered something about how scandalous everything was in this day and age.
I sat up in a panic, an all too familiar feeling was coming over me. It was time to start running again. He had found me. He was going to kill me. I leapt up and raced away, tightening the straps of my backpack around me as I ran.
The first week I had been on my own I had had trouble running for long. I had stopped often and long. Three months into it I had fooled my body into believing that it had never known anything else.
He had only started following me the day before. I had been wandering around as usual, head down, my jaw clenched against the madness of the people around me as they became irritated, were overjoyed. I hated all of the emotions. At least, I wish that they would leave me alone, just for a few hours.
A wave of pure hatred had turned the rest of the chaos in my head to mere murmurs. It was a wave of almost pure blackness that threatened to overwhelm me and pull me down. It said: I’m going to kill you. I am going to hunt you down and kill you. And I’m going to make it hurt.
Since then He had been following me. It was His kind of power that overwhelmed me completely, made it nearly impossible for me to control my own body. When He was around I saw the world in a film of red.
My sneakers slapped against the sidewalk. I preferred to run barefoot, but could not stop to rip them off. I locked my eyebrows together, tightened my neck, and plowed through the chaos around me.
I had wondered why, of all places, I would find myself in cities, not towns or in the country where I might actually be able to avoid human contact. Instead I had found myself running from city to city, hiding in the crowds and wincing away from the emotions that they hurled my way without realizing what they were turning me into.
I had always been a ‘sensitive’ child. It hadn’t been until my first year at college that I realized what exactly my sensitivity was. My parents hadn’t understood why I cried. They always told me that anything could make me cry. When my little brother stepped on a nail I screamed for an hour and they couldn’t get me to be quiet until Tommy was taken care of. They had scolded me about trying to draw attention to myself.
Through out my early years of school I had wept and begged to stay home. I promised my parents that I would never ask for anything again if they would only let me stay home. When they asked why I couldn’t tell them. I didn’t know myself.
I, likewise, couldn’t explain to my teachers why I flinched away from them and my classmates as I went through middle school. I was the antisocial child, they told my parents. Had I ever been beaten? That was a question I could answer readily. No, I had never been harmed in any way. Not ever.
They sat me in front of a psychiatrist who tried to get me to tell him that there was something wrong with me, that I was abused by my parents, teachers, or classmates. All I could get him to understand is that it was uncomfortable for me to be around people. He said I had a social phobia and that the only cure was exposure.
Through out high school things got worse. My teachers asked more questions, my classmates either tiptoed around me or hated me. My parents looked at me with unhappy expressions and loved me more than they should have been able to.
It was only when I saw the guy in my Math class that all of a sudden I understood what no one else had ever dreamt.
I had drifted through class for almost a semester when a boy tripped over my backpack in the aisle. He was dressed all in black, with spikes on his combat boots and spiked dog collars and chains all over him. Half of his head was shaved and the other half was dyed a purple so deep it was black. He was the sort of person other people tended to shy away from.
Instead I knew, or rather, felt that he was afraid. I felt his fear of the world grip me, very real, and very sudden.
It took me another semester to realize what I had discovered about myself. Even then I didn’t believe it. I started watching people and testing myself. I shivered when I sat down next to a woman full of pain and asked her if she was all right. She burst into tears and, before I could even think, I was crying too.
She said, “It must be great to have that sort of empathy. ”
No! I felt like screaming. Don’t use that word. Don’t say that! I’m frightened of what’s happening. I’m afraid. Everyday it’s getting stronger, it’s taking over. In a year will I still even be me or will I be a reflection of everything surrounding me?
What was even more frightening than this signal I was receiving from everyone around me was the fact that I realized I was many times projecting the emotions that were strongest in the air. I’ve seen people shiver and step aside on the sidewalk, not even knowing why they did it or glancing up to see me pass. I’ve seen people suddenly laugh out loud and be unable to explain why they were suddenly so happy.
I didn’t tell my parents why I was leaving. I didn’t even tell them that I was leaving. I wrote a simple note. I told them that I loved them and that I never wanted to hurt them, so I had to go. I didn’t expect them to understand. I wrote the note and dropped it on the table. I pulled my backpack on and crept around the house.
Tommy was asleep. I could tell from his even breathing. Now fifteen, hardly the little boy that had stepped on a nail, he projected confusion and anger more than the simple understanding that I had sensed in my mother. “I’m doing this for you, Tommy,” I whispered. “If anyone were to ever find out our family would turn to nothing. I don’t want you to watch me turn into a different person. A different person that changes with the people that surrounds them. It wouldn’t be fair. At least this way you’ll remember me as I was. ”
It was only then that I realized that I wasn’t planning on coming back.
My parents were sleeping deeply, sleep without dreams. I wished they were awake so I could tell them how much I loved them, how much I admired them, but I couldn’t. Even if I had had the rest of my lifetime I wouldn’t have been able to explain to them why I had to go.
I kissed my cat, told him to take care of my family, sent love towards all my family that had already left home, and stepped out of the door without an idea of where I could go.
I ducked into a supermarket and dashed out through the back, trying to escape Him. I had managed it before. In those times I had been able to catch an hour or so of sleep before I felt His rock hard hatred rattling in my skull again. When He was around I didn’t even have a chance to wonder why He hated me with such a passion. I think I understood, deep down inside, that He knew what I was and that I had to be destroyed for it.
I came to a halt in front of a church and felt an ache of my own. I had been raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, known in laymen terms as ‘Mormon’, and loved everything about it. I had found peace in the church buildings that I had never been able to find anywhere else. I glanced down at my clothing, jeans, and a T-shirt. It was Sunday. I could feel more than hear the voices of the members singing. I wanted to be in there more than I wanted to be anywhere. I decided that I wouldn’t let my clothing get in the way. When I had been eight three sister had come to my class dressed as I was now dressed. We had stared, but soon they had blended in with the rest of us.
I opened the church door and let myself in, marveling as always at the similarities of all the buildings. I tiptoed into the back and listened to the speaker. As I expected I felt flashes of curiosity as people caught sight of me. I felt a wave of compassion from a woman with a pair of beautiful blue eyes that reminded me of my mother’s. My head started to throb with the impact of being in a room with so many people. Before the speaker could finish I had to run from the room, weeping as I had promised myself I wouldn’t weep when I first left home.
As I left the building I could hear them singing a song I had always loved, but only now did I understand it. It echoed through my head for the rest of the day, but just the first two lines.
Where can I turn for peace?
Where is my solace?
He was nowhere around. I was relieved between waves of emotion from the people that passed me on the streets.
My visit to Church had been too much. It had reminded me of my home. I was deeply homesick, but I would never go back, not if it meant putting my family through what I faced each day. Surviving wasn’t that hard if I didn’t have to think.
Feet are very good at keeping rhythm whether or not the head above them is connected or not. I often pictured my brain as a radio that picked up everything but the right station, the station that would let me feel myself, instead of feeling what everything around me was feeling.
“You look hungry. ”
The voice came so suddenly I jumped. I looked up into a kind face and felt the skin over my body quiver. I had been running too long. He saw me jump and was filled with sadness. He didn’t know who I was, but he knew that I was in some sort of trouble. He reminded me of my dad, the way he was dressed up in a suit and tie.
“Let me buy you a sandwich or something,” he was saying.
I waved my head, not sure if I could speak.
“Think of it as allowing me to earn a few kudos in this life,” The man said in his confident voice. “If you don’t let me you’ll be denying me my role as a descent human being. ”
I cracked what felt like a smile. He was in earnest. I could feel that he was the sort of man that would be hurt by me refusing. I nodded and managed a rusty whisper. “Thank you. ”
He looked pleased, and was filled with true joy at the idea that he could actually help a person. He was hurt when, by habit, I shied away from him and the other people around me. He waved as I rolled up the sandwich he had bought me and started running again. I sent him, or tried to, all the good feeling that he had sent me. My last sight of him was of him standing with his arms folded around himself with a look of contentment on his face.
I hate you, He said. Welcome back. I knew I would find you.
I whirled around, knowing that I would never spot Him in the jam of people around me. I ducked down and sprinted forward with all my might.
When I was young I believed in fairy tales. Not the sort where a beautiful princess is tormented by the powers of evil and rescued by a devastatingly intelligent and glamorous prince who, afterwards, went on to live happily boring lives. The fairy tales I believed in were always people becoming who they really were. I remember writing a story of a princess whose only dream was to live the simple life of a peasant. I had never really believed in the great forces of evil that showed up in stories all the time. Sure, I had a concept that there was evil, but to me it had no form. I lived in that happy, naive belief until He appeared in my life.
Running is like breathing. It becomes second nature after you’ve done it for a while. I expect a baby has to concentrate on breathing for the first while. By the time they’re a few hours old they don’t have to think about it anymore. I’ve been running so long that I don’t even think about it anymore.
Sometimes I feel the surprise or sense that someone is wondering why I’m running. I know that I don’t look like a casual runner or jogger. When I run I sprint, flat out, like a thoroughbred horse. Sometimes I trot along like a wolf, eyes down in front of me, concentrating on nothing but moving along swiftly and steadily. I sometimes wonder if I seem like an animal to the people who pass me in the streets.
In a small town people stop and wonder. They send pity, sympathy, and wonder after me. But, strangely enough, in a bigger city, minds close against noticing things like me. I don’t exist to the big city world and to me that is just fine. It is easier to lose yourself in a big city than anywhere else. There are so many people that I can come to believe that I am nothing more than a shadow, a memory, or a dream of some poet from a time long ago.
He was following me closer. His black mind reached towards mine and I tried to flinch away, clenching my jaw and trying to shut my mind, unable to do it. Part of me wondered why I didn’t just quit, but the animal instinct that was what was letting me survive wouldn’t let me give up. It wanted to survive even if emotionally and physically I didn’t want to.
My legs sent a signal to my brain that they couldn’t move much longer, that I had to stop. My lungs and heart joined them against me and rioted against every step I took. I managed to duck into a hotel where I was renting a small, dirty suite with the money that I had earned after years of baby-sitting. As yet He hadn’t found his way to my little haven. As I rented by the day no one would care much if I had to leave in a hurry. I was always ready, carrying everything I owned with me. I already knew that I couldn’t stay in this place for long. He had been able to get too close this time. He was beginning to know my patterns and Him knowing was dangerous.
I couldn’t wait for the elevator, I ran up the stairs, telling my body that it would have to keep moving at least that long. My hand shook, rattling the key in the lock. I had just enough time to shut and lock the door behind me before I collapsed on the floor.
The cold linoleum felt like Heaven on my hot face. I counted my breaths and felt the people in the other rooms moving around. The couple upstairs was arguing again. Their familiar squabbling and brand of fond anger was strangely reassuring where the fact that I could feel them so strongly was not. I stifled a whimper. My range couldn’t still be expanding could it?
I couldn’t get up. My whole body was telling me that. I could hear the pounding of my heart even over the emotions that were fogging my head up. I would just have to stay like this forever. I would never get up. I would just let Him find me like this and be able to sleep forever.
Somewhere I found the animal courage that helped me drag myself to my knees. I literally crawled to the bathroom and pulled myself hand over hand until I was standing enough to stick my head in the sink and let fountains of cold water flow over my hot face.
I raised my eyes and flinched away from my own reflection. I could see in my own eyes the shock that I had come so far that even my own face was terrifying to me. I saw myself as the people on the street must have seen me, large, wild, staring eyes, more fitting in the face of a deer cornered by a hunter then in the face of a young girl. In the months that I had been away from home my face had become more angular, sharper, taut. My hair, always thick and unmanageable, was standing up wildly around my face, matted and streaked with dust and sweat.
I raised a hand and, in disbelief, felt the new hollows in my cheeks. I tried to remember when it was that I had last looked at myself and couldn’t remember. I doubted that my family, if they were to see me like this, would even recognize me. It seemed unlikely. I couldn’t even recognize me.
The couple upstairs had stopped arguing and I tried to block them out as they made up with each other. I splashed a handful of water across the mirror to destroy my reflection. I remembered, with a tightening of my belly, the sandwich that the kind man had gotten for me and managed to walk that far to scoop it off the floor. It was smooshed and soggy, but it was the first thing that I had taken the time to eat in days.
After two bites my stomach seemed to wake up. It wasn’t until then that I actually felt hunger. It was almost a relief to feel it instead of feeling the false emotions that floated everywhere.
I’ve heard that fear is the basest and most primitive emotion that there is, but it seems to dictate a human’s whole existence. Like in the people that would rather be locked in their homes for a year than to drive. The world is full of people who are stifled by their fears and only know that they ‘can’t’ do something. They can’t express why anymore than I could explain to my doctor why I cringed away from the world.
I’ve always feared this ‘sensitivity’ of mine. People tend to fear the things that cause them pain.
After a few more bites my whole body rebelled. I doubled over in agony, vomiting it all up and weeping weakly as I tried to brush the filthy taste out of my mouth. I crawled into a corner and leaned my head weakly on my knees. It would happen. I would die and I would never have experienced life for myself. I would have lived my life only feeling what other people felt. No one would know who I was. I would be buried anonymously in some old graveyard without a tombstone.
My head jerked up, my neck and skin crawled. Someone was at my door and I could not feel them! All the same I knew they were there. It’s like my mind reached out to them and touched stone, instead of receiving a signal. I could picture the person in my mind, a hand raised to knock on the door.
“I can’t,” I whispered helplessly. “I can’t. I can’t run. I’m too tired. . . I just can’t go on. ” My animal instinct tried to tell me otherwise. I teetered to my feet and grabbed up the backpack of my belongings.
“There’s only one door,” I realized. “I’m trapped. ” My mind wouldn’t accept that as an answer. I swung towards the window. There was a drop, but not so far that it would kill me. It would hurt though, especially as tired and weak as I already was. I had barely time to realize that before I swung one leg and then the other out the windowsill and let myself fall.
I landed on my feet and fell forward onto my hands. I scrambled for a second like that and found enough footing to run. Not as fast as usual. But I made it around the corner, wishing, in some inner part of my heart, that I had been able to keep that sandwich down.
Two people were following me. He I, at least, could recognize. Hate is, after all, preferable to blankness, or not knowing. I have actually forgotten what it’s like to be a normal person and not know what another person feels about you as natural and painful as breathing with broken ribs.
The second person that followed me was like hitting a brick wall. I didn’t realize until the moment I dropped out the window that other people weren’t broadcasting their feelings, but that my mind was reaching out and pulling it from them. When it tried to reach back to this new person it snapped back, like a migraine, leaving me dizzy behind the eyes, and out of focus. At the same time my sub-conscious rejoiced. If there was one person I couldn’t read, maybe there was hope for me. Maybe there were thousands of people like this one that would deflect me as easily as they’d deflect a fly from their potato salad.
I found myself running sideways, my head over my shoulder, trying to spot this person. For once an emotion of my own overwhelmed those around me. I wanted to know who this person was. At the same time I feared them. It was understandable, after all He was following me, why not another like Him? I wasn’t going to stop running just to be the victim of a talented killer.
This new follower, pursuer, I’ll say is more accurate, followed more closely than He did. He was less blinded by emotion (my guess) and at times I thought that he might actually know who I was and what I looked like. That idea frightened me. I had given up my identity when I had left home, to protect the ones I loved. Sometimes, as I glanced back, I thought I saw a face that I had seen before, only to lose it as a person dodged me with a flash of irritation or anger.
I am a gerbil in a cage. I run around on the wheel in endless circles, trying to escape from something I can’t understand and, if I ever succeeded, I would be lost. When I think I’m OK is when I finally fall apart. As long as I don’t let myself feel, keep busy, I’m OK. I surprise myself. I can be broken in two, crying my eyes out, and yet I always go on, and I never let anyone else see how torn I am.
It’s the little things that get me. The little girl I passed on the road that smiled at me. I couldn’t take her kindness. I could have taken her hurling a rock in my direction much easier. I don’t really want somebody else to talk to me, but I feel so alone. I want to push them away and pull them close without knowing why. If I ever crumple I will die.
When I was younger I always thought that I would die young. I didn’t know why, but I knew that I would. I felt like I didn’t belong here at all, and I wanted to hurry home as fast as I could. Death. I’ve never been afraid to die. Dying, yes, being dead, no.
Oh, I’ve never been the suicidal type. I’ve always looked as death as a step along the path to the next thing. I think, right now, death would come as a friend.
This is all a dream. I will wake up in the morning and be scarcely able to remember this. I will write it in my messy handwriting in my journal and laugh about it. No, I will never laugh. And I don’t think I will ever forget.
Is life anymore real than a dream in the first place? When we die will we look back at it as brief nightmare in an existence of peace? I wonder if any of us will recover from this dream we call life.
And I am weeping for myself. Somebody stepped up between me and the darkness of the mind that I know as Him. He saved me.
Am I worth saving?
I ran. I always run, but He was closer than I could take. I knew that I was a goner. I ducked through an alleyway to try to escape Him, climbed over some rubble and broken stones, even a small wall. All I could feel was His hate pulsing in my head. And then there was no place to go. I was trapped, clawing at a wall I could never climb. Reaching for something that was tantalizingly close. I fell to my knees, His hatred striking me between the eyes with a force I couldn’t bear.
Then it was gone. I found myself lying on the filthy ground, curled up in a ball, but He was gone. The other person following me was standing above me. I had seen him before. I recognized something in his face. He reached down a hand. “Are you OK?”
I scrambled to my feet and pressed against the wall, away from his touch. If you don’t trust anyone no one will ever be able to hurt you. And this was a person that I couldn’t read at all. His mind was solid, hard as stone.
“Tess,” He said in a soft voice. I jumped and he must have seen the shock in my face. I moved away from him, not wanting to hear the name that I had left behind with my old life.
“Tess,” He said again, almost pleadingly. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Bursting into tears I turned away and ran as fast as I could.
I could hear him call after me, but I ducked away from it and returned to the chaos of the voices around me. Those, at least, couldn’t hurt me.
Hearing my name had shaken me more than my close encounter. I was trembling from head to foot. I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins. It gave me speed and energy that I needed to get out of there, fast. I shook my head, trying to erase the expression of concern that the person following me had been wearing on his face.
Questions were racing through my mind. How had he known who I was? How had he known where to find me? These added to all the ones I had had before added only to the chaos around me. I locked my eyebrows together, pushed back my hair, and tried to keep my feet from whirling around and fleeing back to the only person who knew who I had been that I had seen in three months.
I ran until I had run myself off and lay gasping, on the sidewalk. I shook my head enough to get a look around. Only a faint buzz of emotion told me that there was anyone near. The streets were deserted, quiet, peaceful, almost. I thought, in the peace, with regret of the sandwich that I had been unable to keep down.
I dug into my bag for some spare change and bought a hot dog from a vendor who didn’t even look at me. I ate it slowly, consciously keeping every bite of it down. In my old life I had hated hot dogs. This one tasted like Manna sent directly from Heaven. I tried to concentrate solely on eating. If I thought hard enough about chewing and swallowing then I wouldn’t be thinking about the one person who knew who I was. If he knew where I was perhaps my family did too.
I erased that thought from my mind, but not before the tiniest flicker of hope swept through me. I had left on my own accord, to protect them, but I wanted to see them, now, more than anything in the world. I shook my head to clear it, moving into stride even as I swallowed the last bite of hot dog. I could never go back. I had changed too much. The person I had been three months ago was dead. I had just started coming to terms with that when he had recognized me, awakened the sleeping part of me.
Tess. . . There must be more in a name than anyone gives credit. Just hearing mine had shaken me so badly that I knew I would never be able to completely recover. Anonymity is a blessing when you are running. It allows a person to forget who they are. Without a name you can do anything. You’re not quite real, not quite part of the waking world. With a name, the world is a completely different place. It means that I really am alive. And I have to realize, once again, that I don’t want to be.
I can feel nothing but death. Death, fear, and destruction are in this room. It’s smothering me. I cannot foresee anything but fear and, no matter how hard I push I cannot find one crack of light to give me hope.
It hit suddenly, like the finding of my life in my name had been sudden. I knew that nothing but trouble could come of this new birth. In my head I knew that something wasn’t right, but there was no one I could ask. No one I could turn to, even as my soul threatened to rip in tortured halves.
I know that He will find me again, and I know that Mark, somehow I know that that is his name, Mark will not be able to stop him this time. And I am running from Mark as much as I am running from Him, and from myself. The self I had been and the self that I was afraid to become.
Living means caring again. Living means realizing that your body is telling you things every second. It means that you can’t ignore the pain around you, and you can’t hide your own pain. Living means coping and I’m not sure that I am strong enough to. Living, above all, means that I still own my soul, something that I had believed was lost with my new gifts. I could not feel so much and still own myself, in my thoughts. My soul was hungry, having been ignored so long. I hungered for contact with someone, to be able to have a conversation. To feel my father’s hands upon my head as he gave me a blessing, like he had when I was young and I was very ill. I hungered for the voice of my mother, telling me that things were going to be okay, that I was going to survive. I hungered for the peaceful feelings that filled me when I was at church and partaking of the sacrament. I tried to remember when I had last been in church. Oh, yes, that once, so long ago, it seemed, the day that the kind man had given me a sandwich. I wanted so much to be able to go into that building and bare my soul to my bishop. To tell one human being what I was becoming, that I wasn’t even sure if I was a person anymore. I wanted to hear the clear voices of the men and women in my ward singing praises, their little ones adding their trilling, off-key, perfect voices.
My body had been on the brink of starvation, but my soul had died and my new soul wouldn’t allow me to destroy it as I had the first. Even as it pulled me towards the building I had seen in my running I was afraid. It struck me straight through the heart to even consider being in a room with so many people, especially so many people feeling strong emotions and the power of the Spirit. I wasn’t sure that I could handle it. I wasn’t sure that I would ever be able to stop running now. I had become a different Tess, a Tess whose feet flew over the pavement. I trusted my road-worn feet more than any being on the planet, or anywhere.
I used to think that dreamers were cowards, afraid to face the world around them. Now I know that they are the brave ones. They trust the world enough to let themselves dream, to leave themselves vulnerable. I dare not dream, I dare not sleep, I dare not stop moving for fear that I will lose my self and my mortality is all that I am sure of any more. The body is an amazing thing, after a while it doesn’t even realize that it needs sleep or food. If you tell it often enough that such things don’t exist it believes you and stops asking. I can remember sleeping. I remember it as a drowning man remembers dry land. I can remember dreaming. I am afraid to dream. I know that He will haunt my dreams and that, as I lay dreaming, He would find me and my existence, trivial and small though it might be, would be gone.
And I want to live.
This I have learned through the gaining of my name.
Even in this room I cannot sleep. I am curled up in the church building. It is a weekday and it is nearly silent, only a few, buzzing emotions from the leaders who are locking up after the evening counsels and meetings. A young teen-aged couple plays basketball in the cultural hall. I catch myself thinking of them as young and remember that I am their age. I try to picture being that girl and I can’t. Her face is so young, so carefree, and untouched by worldly cares. I watch them from a perch above the stage, a tiny alcove that seems to have been made just for me. I do not feel safe, but I feel as safe as is possible for me, as safe as I will ever feel.
I wish I could sleep, but something is holding me back. There is death surrounding me and I know that it is not this room. I know it is not this building. I lay on my belly and wonder where the death and the pain and the fear are coming from.
And I realize that it is coming from me. I am the fear and the death and the pain. I am the one that does not belong in this place of peace and beauty. I kneel, blocking out the emotions of the few around me as best as I can. I fold my arms like I did in Primary, bowing my head until I am folded over with grief and still I don’t know what to say.
“My God,” I whisper, jumping at the hiss of my own words. “Why hast thou forsaken me?”
The hair rose on the back of my neck before I realized that anyone was there. I knew immediately that it was Mark. His knees cracked as he knelt down next to me. I shrank away automatically, not able to look at him and face this person who knew who I was.
“Tess,” he whispers. “I thought I might find you here. ”
I look up at him, afraid, but unable to avoid his penetrating gaze. “Who are you?” I whisper. My voice creaks. It has been so long since I have spoken. My own voice startles me. He sees my surprise at hearing my own foreign-sounding voice and reaches out to comfort me, jerking his hand back to his side as I flinch, unable to do anything else.
“I’m Mark,” he says softly. “Mark Hanson. I’ve been looking for you. ”
“Why?” My voice sounds more normal this time. It almost sounds like it used to, when I was among the living still. A normal human being instead of. . . whatever I have become.
Mark sighs and rubs his face with a hand, a very human gesture. “I was hired by the government to find you. ”
I draw away from him, ready to scramble to my feet and away from him. “Never” forms on my lips. My hands are ready to claw and fight for what freedom I have left.
“Wait,” Mark says in a voice I can’t disobey, “hear me out at least. It seems that the psychiatrist that you used to go to went through your file with a fine-toothed comb when you disappeared without a trace. You see a man named Dr. Chandler recently discovered that some people can pick up thoughts and emotions from other people. He was able to prove it scientifically. Unfortunately, the rare person that has this gift usual goes mad in a very real sense. Your doctor realized after reading Dr. Chandler’s papers that you were a special case of this, extremely sensitive, but somehow strong enough not to lose your mind. ”
“Where do you fit into all of this?” I managed to murmur.
“I returned from my mission about the time you disappeared. I’d been working with Dr. Chandler. ” He smiled. “He’s my uncle, actually. Anyway, he was experimenting on everyone at that time, to see if they had the brain patterns he had observed in his patients and realized that I have a ‘mental block’ so to speak. I don’t really understand it all, but he says I naturally block other influences from my mind, meaning that a person can’t read my thought and emotions, or influence me with their own.
“Dr. Chandler told me about you and explained to me about your whole past, what they knew about you. That you were a member of the church, details about your life. I even spent a week with your family to get to know them better so I would get to know you better. ”
I winced. I hadn’t wanted my family to get involved in this in any way. That’s why I had left home in the first place.
“They said that all of this was necessary if I were to be able to find you, preferably before you went mad. Tess,” His voice grew intense. “They can put you in a place where you won’t be able to hear anyone. They think they know how to help you. Of course they’d have to experiment, but running. . . running can’t be the answer. ”
I looked him straight in the eye. “There is no saving me, not anymore. I think, perhaps, that I am mad. I don’t know how to stop running. I. . . I just can’t. I don’t want to be locked up like an animal somewhere, isolated and. . . ” I couldn’t finish my sentence. “I’m surviving. I’ll be OK. Just leave my family alone. ”
I scramble to my feet and Mark grabbed my wrist with an iron grasp. “Tess, there is someone out there who wants to destroy you. You can’t face that alone. ”
“I can’t?” My voice cracks in disbelief. “You don’t understand. I am alone. I have been alone for all this time. If I die it really doesn’t matter. Not to me, not to you, and, as far as I can tell, not to God. ”
“Can’t you see that it’s a beautiful gift He’s given you?”
“It’s a curse,” I spit back. Exhaustion is making me dizzy. I have to leave before I collapse.
“At least sleep. ”
I whirl around. Mark nods. “I promise that I won’t let anyone near you. I’ll watch over you. Just try to sleep before you collapse. ” He paused, his bright blue eyes haunting me. “I’m not going to force you to do anything, Tess. I’m not going to make you come with me. But I was sent to make sure that you didn’t get hurt, and I am going to do that, do you understand?”
I’m too tired to argue. My knees collapse on their own accord. “Thank you,” I managed to tear out of my mouth. I see a strange expression cross his face as it blurs and sleep takes me.
In my dream I see a scorpion on the ground. I can see every detail of his straw-colored frame: the wicked little pinchers, the whip-like tail. I can almost smell the poison surrounding him.
In my dream I see him surrounded by yellow flame, licking and breathing heat at him, taunting him with no escape. The scorpion looks around himself calmly and drives his poisoned sting into his own neck.
I dream that I am running and that HE is following me again. I dream that I stop running and turn around. Flame licks over me and through my soul.
I dreamt the rest of the night in blackness.
I awoke to see Mark gazing steadily at me. I winced away from him automatically. My surviving instinct would allow nothing else. “How long have I slept?”
“Nearly eight hours,” he answers, stretching. “Not nearly enough. You look like you haven’t slept in weeks. ”
I shrug. In truth I can’t remember the last time that I had actually slept. I scramble to my feet. My whole body is stiff and sore. My hours of sleep have reminded it that it is living. The physical pain is soothing, real, something that I can comprehend in the base animal form that I have taken on myself.
“Where will you go?” Mark asks. His intense blue eyes are not on me, but seem to be focused off into a distance.
I hear a bitter laugh stream from my lips on its own accord. “I don’t even know where I am. I go where my feet take me. ”
“You are a long way from home, Tess,” Mark says in a controlled quiet voice. “A very long way. ”
I don’t want to hear it. I can’t bear to stand here and be in the presence of another human being. Impatience and nervous energy course through me so that I can’t stand still. Mark sees it in my face and stands to the side to allow me to pass.
“Let me run with you,” he calls as I stumble down the stairs. “Let me do at least that much. ”
I cannot spare the attention to decide whether his presence would be welcome or hindering. As I open the church doors and step outside the voices flood into me again. My shoulders crumple and I find myself running, my head down and my fists clenching and unclenching of their own accord.
Mark is not far behind me. I feel his presence like the beginning of a headache. His silence makes him stand out like a poppy in a bed of roses. Someone swears as they slam into me. Their surprise, fright, and anger fill me and I can feel nothing else. Another person winces away from me, feeling the tide of the emotions in me. She stares back and me over her shoulder, her brow furrowed and her arms clenched across her chest. Compassion floods her face and I turn away, moving on faster.
I reach up to brush my face and find that I am crying. I cannot take their compassion. I cannot take their kindness. I turn to face Mark. “Why can’t you leave me alone?” I scream, hearing the hysterical note in my voice. “I don’t want your kindness. Give it to someone else-- someone who can take it. Just leave me alone. Let me go. Let me die, for Heaven’s sake. ” I spin around as a sob chokes me. The street is full of shocked people. They part to let me rush through. I hate them, cries the voice inside of me. I hate them all. It’s not fair.
What’s not fair? I ask myself. Is it not fair that they care or is it not fair that their caring only tears you apart?
I didn’t ask for this, my mind sobs. All I wanted was to be happy.
Life isn’t about what you want, I remind myself. It’s about finding a way to be happy being what you are.
How can I be happy knowing what I am?
Not locked away in the room that Mark’s Dr. Chandler has prepared for me. Not the life of a lab-rat.
The tears are blinding me. I trip on the uneven sidewalk and go down hard. A hand reaches down to help me up. My face, hands, and knees are skinned and bleeding. I reach up to accept the hand and blink the tears of fear and pain out of my eyes. Mark helps me to my feet and awkwardly pushes aside my hair to dab at one of my scratches with a handkerchief. It is all too much. I collapse against him, sobbing.
I feel his arms encircle me and I just cry. I cry for the life I could have had. I cry for the creature that I have become. I cry for all the things that I have lost. I cry for the compassion of the people on the street. I cannot stop crying.
Mark cradles me and strokes my hair. He rocks back and forth whispering as my mother did once long ago. “It’s OK. It’s going to be OK. ”
“Help me,” I whisper through the tears. “I need so much help. But how can anyone help me now?”
“Shh, I’m here. ” That’s all Mark says.
It is enough for now.
The two of us are running. I will not give up my freedom, yet Mark will not allow me to run alone. His sanity is at times completely overwhelming. It is he that forces me to rest when there is no one around. It is he that forces me to eat, to sleep, to think of myself. It is a foreign experience to me. He does seem to understand my fear. He fears HE as much as I do. He has seen HE face to face.
Mark talks. He talks constantly. It distracts me from the voices to have his continuous voice beside me. He chatters gaily about anything and everything. He could speak for hours about a single flap of a butterfly’s wings. No one has bothered to talk to me for so long that I find it all fascinating. When the voices grow to loud and I can’t listen he holds me and guides me, and talks to me until I can find the surface again and gaspingly claw to the shore.
It is as if my sanity is a thin thread-- like a spidery web of silk. Mark is weaving it while everything around me seeks to tear it away from me. It is a battle that will sooner or later end. It is a given that the world will win. Mark is only one person. One person can only hold on so long. I tell him this and he looks at me with those intense blue eyes. “Then I can only hold on as long as I can. ”
With his presence my voice has been returned to me. Even when I don’t know what I’m saying I find myself making noise just for the novelty of it. I had never been a big talker, but now I talk constantly. Quick, nervous, jittery language, Mark told me. I didn’t care. It was good to hear my own voice again. It was another proof that I was still in the land of the living instead of lost wandering in some no man’s land.
I was growing stronger. I could feel it in the way my muscles worked, I could feel it in the way I was able to draw a breath of air into my lungs. It was no small wonder with the way Mark was forcing me to rest and to eat. His vigilance offered me moments of respite. Though they were precious few it was still much more than I had had before.
It was Mark who decided that we could afford to stay in a hotel room for one night. He said that we would be safe from HE for that long. He said that it would be easy for us to get lost in one of the bigger hotels. I was disbelieving, but followed dumbly as the voices raged around me. I had somewhere learned to trust him and to trust his judgment. Certainly I had no judgment of my own that was rational enough to trust. He signed up for a room, keeping a hand on my elbow. Had it not been for that firm grasp I would have turned and run.
The hotel was big. It was full of people. A hotel is always a fine cut of highly emotional people. People that are tired from long days, newly wed couples on honey-moon, angry couples bickering over everything from the cost of the hotel room to the way the other wore their hair. It was like being sat in the middle of a beehive full of drones humming and buzzing in high-pitched madness. I clapped my hands over my ears, but the sounds were in my head and no amount of deafening could help me.
“I got us a room as far from the main hotel as possible,” Mark said reassuringly. His voice was steady and even. I wondered how he could be so steady in such a commotion. I turned to ask him, but he was unlocking a door and ushering me in.
“Get cleaned up,” he said firmly. “I’m going to order in some food. You need to get some meat on those bones of yours. ”
I opened my mouth to protest but a familiar stubborn look came across his face that I knew better than to cross.
I found the bathroom somehow. I was still in a half-stupor from the ‘noise’ around me. I closed the door and locked it automatically. It was a roomy bathroom, much more comfortable than I had been used to since I had started running.
My head was aching. I went over to the shower and twisted the knobs. Soon steaming water was sluicing down my back. Somehow the message reached my brain and I felt muscle after muscle relax. I hadn’t been clean in so long. The hot water was doing much good to my soul. I poured half of the bottle of complimentary shampoo onto my head and scrubbed my hair until the bubbles ran down my face and stung my eyes. Great ratty clumps of hair swirled down.
I realized, as I cleared out the drain and threw the hair into the wastebasket, that my hair had been sadly neglected. I used the other half of the bottle until what remained of my hair seemed to be truly determined to remain attached to my head.
I used two bars of soap, one in each hand. I was determined that not one speck of dirt should remain on me. I put conditioner in my hair and even managed to find a razor next to the sink. My skin was red from the scrubbing, but I had not felt so well since leaving home. I turned off the water a good hour after I had turned it on and went past the curtain into the steamy room with something akin to a smile on my face. I wrapped myself up in towels and set to taming my hair with the brush and comb next to the sink. It was a task that I found I could do while my mind was otherwise occupied.
Mark knocked on the door. “I’ve got a bathrobe here for you and some clothes that your mother sent-- just in case I found you. I don’t think you want to get back into those dirty clothes. ”
I agreed, toeing them with disgust. They had become like a second skin to me, but that warranted no fondness on my part. I unlocked the door and took the things that Mark was holding. “Getting clean is a good idea,” he said, laughing at the steam. “Go on into your room and get dressed while I follow your lead and shower. ”
I shrugged and winced as a woman in the room next to us threw a shoe at her husband. I gritted my teeth and tried to smile for Mark. He was staring at me with a perplexed look on his face that made me almost wish that I could read him. I shrugged that off and went into the bedroom to change.
The clean clothes smelled of home. I buried my nose in one sleeve and sighed out a breath of the detergent that my mother had been using since I was an infant. I brushed away a guilty tear that ran down my cheek at the memories of such peace and comfort. I pulled my shirt over my head and came face to face with a mirror.
The girl I saw was more akin to the girl I had seen in my old hotel room than the Tess that I still somehow expected to see. For one thing, she was much too thin. All the bones stood out in her face and her collarbones were startlingly prominent. She was much cleaner than the other girl, though. Her wavy hair hung in damp tendrils around her face and neck. Her eyes gazed steadily into mine. They seemed so sad. So serious, as if they had never smiled before.
I was still staring into the mirror when Mark came in, hair damp and wearing a new change of clothes. He paused in the doorway, his face showing concern. “You’ve changed a lot?” He asked in a hushed voice.
I nodded wordlessly, my hands touching the prominent cheekbones and the hollow cheeks below them. I could not understand how Mark had known me for Tess when he had found me.
There was a knock on the door announcing that the food had come. Instinctively I dropped to the floor and curled into a ball at the sound. My heart raced in terror. What if it was HE? Mark made a sad sound in his throat, then turned. I could hear him in the other room paying for the food and uncurled as the stranger left us alone again. I climbed to my feet apologetically.
“Don’t worry,” Mark told me. “Give yourself time. ”
Tempting odors were trailing from the covered plates.
“Don’t be so civilized,” Mark said. “Dive in. I want you to stuff yourself until you can’t eat anymore. ”
In spite of his words I found myself eating cautiously. I was still ready to run-- still unsure that our staying in the hotel for even this long was wise. My instinct knew that I would not be able to run my best on a heavy, full stomach. I ate efficiently and lightly. The food was so good. It was like a miracle to have so many rich, powerful tastes after eating what I could scrape up on the streets. When I had eaten what I felt was wise I found that I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
“Sleep,” Mark said, appearing to support me as I rose to my feet. “I’ve spared no expense to make sure that we will not be disturbed. I told management that you were a famous person and that you requested that security be extremely tight. They agreed, so we will be safe for at least this night. I, for one, plan to take advantage of it in sleep. ”
I was in no position to complain. Mark easily lifted me up, as if I weighed no more than a feather. He carried me into the bedroom and tucked me into one side of the bed. He crawled into the other side with a sigh born of weariness. I turned to face him. “Thank you,” I whispered. “For being here. ”
He put his arms around me and I buried my head against his chest, too tired to react to the voices around me. I don’t know which one of us fell asleep first, but I am sure that neither of us remained awake for very long after that.
I awoke to the sounds of my own whimpering. As I sat up terror blinded me. All I could see, all that any of my senses could understand was pure terror. My heart raced and I heard a scream echo from my throat as if it belonged to a stranger instead of myself.
I didn’t realize that Mark was shaking me violently until my teeth snapped against each other painfully. My own physical pain drew me away from the fear within me. “What’s wrong?” He demanded. My head buzzed but I could still make out the words, as if I were drowning in them. “What’s happening?”
I jerked away from him and backed away, curling up to protect myself. “No, Harry,” I whimpered. “Go away. Put the knife down. . . . please! We can talk this over. ” My voice grew to a hysterical pitch.
Mark shook me again, bringing me slowly up out of the waves. “Where?” He demanded. “Where are those feeling coming from? Come on, Tess! You have to do this!”
I managed to point to our left hand neighbor before I sank again into the pit of despair. I drew my knees up to my chin. Only the death-grip of my arms around my knees kept my whole body from quaking. I had never felt so overwhelmed-- so lost inside another person. I was losing the last bit of my sanity. A mix of hatred and terror was pulling me apart inside. Then, sudden, surprise, relief, hysterical tears, and, just as suddenly, release.
I found blackness behind my eyelids and slipped into it peacefully.
I was wandering the dark twisted corridors of some labyrinth from out of a horror movie. I was searching for something. What it was, I didn’t know. I came face to face with a cozy light. I paused, drawn by it and into it.
I was just about to reach out to embrace it when a voice interrupted me and pulled me away from it.
“God, please don’t let this happen,” a deep voice pleaded. “Not now. Bring Tess back. She doesn’t deserve this. Please. ”
“No,” I pleaded with the light. “Don’t send me back. Let me stay here. I reached towards it, but it pulled back, pulsing and twisting until it had formed into something I thought I could recognize.
My head was in Mark’s lap and he was weeping. I could feel the tears slide down my cheek. They were silent tears, as if he were torn between letting me go and keeping me with him.
“Mark,” My voice sounded tired and distant.
“Tess!” His fingers squeezed mine to the point of pain.
I managed to pry my eyelashes apart. His face hovered above mine, concern and something else I couldn’t quite place shining out of his eyes.
They say that, when you die, you see a light at the end of a tunnel. That it draws you in and embraces you. After you die you don’t feel pain or sorrow or grief or loneliness anymore. You don’t have to worry about hunger, or fear that monster under the bed. Death closes the mortal doors, all that mortality is just ceases to be part of you. In that Death is a friend.
I am not afraid to die.
That tiny animal instinct that pulls and drives me on through each new day will someday fade. It, too, will grow weary of a world that lacks understanding, that lacks any hope of peace. Someday it, too, will take a last exhausted breath and will let me fade away into oblivion.
It sounds wonderful.
Mark is asleep, the first time he has allowed himself to relax since he brought me back. My heart and mind and animal instinct are twisted in a conflict of gratitude and regret.
He looks like a little boy when he sleeps. After all, I suppose, in the world, we are very young. It is easy to forget. I cannot remember youth. I feel very very old, much older than Mark.
The hotel is waking up slowly, yet I sit, watching him sleep, my decision made as if for me.
I can’t do this. I’m not strong enough. I can’t struggle on like this. I will either die or lose my mind and right now I wouldn’t care.
Mark sighs restfully in his sleep and I allow myself to touch his face, ever so softly, with the tips of my fingers. He’s so close, yet so out of reach.
I must act quickly, before he wakes. Yet, I find myself lingering over the details of his face, the fall of his mussed-up hair. Without thinking I lean forward and kiss him softly on the forehead. He doesn’t stir, but his lips curve in a slight dream-smile.
I move as silently as a cat, picking up my bag and refusing to look back at the peaceful slumbering figure. I will never have that kind of peace. I heard once that if you look back you will never see that person again. Though that is why I’m leaving I can’t bear to even turn my head. In the doorway I whisper, “Goodbye,” in a voice more familiar because of him, the voice he returned to me.
I hear the door latch behind me and I move quickly out of the hotel. As my feet strike pavement I begin to run. I run as fast as I can away from there, an ache in my chest that has nothing to so with my breathing. In my head I can still hear him calling me, “Tess! Tess! Come back!”
For once I welcome the morning and the emotions pouring wildly through me. I can lose myself in the overwhelming voice of the many.
As I draw near the outskirts of the city the feelings hush to a softer roar and, as I run down country roads, to a simple hiss. I run blindly, with no direction. I can’t do this. I know that I can’t. Why do I even keep trying?
If I were to die today, right now, no one would notice. No one would really care. I have not touched the world in any significant way. I am just one more breathing being treading in the tsunami of life. Of what value is my heartbeat? Of what significance is my breathing? Even as I struggle on, trying to survive, I wonder if it matters, even to me, if I live or I die. What can one moment really do? If I die now or I die in fifty years there is still no real difference. I am small. I am insignificant and I don’t know how long I can keep my head above water.
Sometimes it would be so easy just to throw it all away. I refuse to kill myself, but it would be all too easy to let myself die. I am truly nothing. There is nothing I can really offer to the world and the world offers me nothing but pain and heartache. When I manage to let myself care I get torn apart. How long can a human being live like this?
Perhaps leaving Mark behind was so difficult because he was the only person that seemed to value the me hidden inside of myself. It is so rare that a person actually reaches out to another person. I’ve learned even that much in my short life time. When someone is cast down no one reaches down a hand to lift them up. No, that’s not true. There are a few who do reach down. They are the ones that get hurt. They are the ones that pay for everything. They are the ones that seem to vanish on a wisp of smoke in the mid-day sun. As Robert Frost once said “Nothing Gold Can Stay. ” The good ones tarnish, or disappear.
We think that Chaos is part of the world, but that’s not true. We hold Chaos inside of ourselves. Chaos is something that is in our heads, in our hearts. We think that we’re creatures of peace while the world goes mad around us. In truth the Chaos is inside of us. Life is not fair because we don’t let it be. We are prisoners of our own emotions and our selfish fears. We can’t even open our eyes to the good that is around us.
I live in the fears of the world. I run from them. Fear is what drives the world around and I can’t help but wonder at the wrongness of that. Life can’t be chaos and fear. What would be the point of living if that was all that could be looked forward to? In the end I will have to stop running. Perhaps I’m not ready yet. Perhaps I will find some place where I won’t have to run again. I still believe all that I’ve been taught over the years. I still believe that God is a loving Father—one who wants us to be happy, truly happy. Perhaps it is that deep, true, knowledge that keeps me running, that keeps me living. Perhaps it is that instead of an animal instinct that drives me forward. I still have hope. Without that I would be lost.
I feel raw without Mark with me. With him in the distance the part of me that can still feel for myself feels like it was he who abandoned me, not the other way around. It is a foolish way to feel, but I still feel it. And I bless that I can feel anything at all. I am spinning a web in my life and I don’t know if I am the spider or the thread. I cannot see where I am going, only that I must take another breath and I must take another step. Necessity is something that I understand well. It is fiercer than hunger. The body learns how to ignore hunger, but it cannot ignore the drive and the need of the soul to go on living.
I’ve never had anyone I could truly pour my heart out to. I’ve lived my life in solidarity because I liked it that way, to a point. Sometimes I feel so lonely, though. I’ve substituted far too much… perhaps I’ve never learned to turn and face my fears. Perhaps that is why I must run. I have no choice. My soul goes mad and I have to run. I have to run until I fall, and then I get up again and run until I can run no further, and then I go on. I run because I have to. Perhaps it is well that I can trust no one. If I ever explained my insides to someone they would think I was crazy. I don’t know that I’m not. Do sane people ever feel overwhelmed by other people’s emotions? I don’t even have room for my own!
I desperately need somebody to love me. I know that I do. I don’t want to run forever. I want to find my ultimate HOME. The place I have never seen or found. I know it has to exist. I’ll be there someday. I’ll be a normal person and I’ll have a family. I’ll be able to fulfill all those dreams I’ve had all my life.
The deepest poison we carry is within ourselves.
Am I crazy? Is it crazy to feel too much? Perhaps if I could learn not to feel at all—not to feel other people’s emotions, not even to feel my own, then I would feel safe and guarded, unapproachable.
I am just starting to learn what love is. How many times when I run must I fall and get back on my feet again? How many times will Mark’s face haunt me, until I’m running, looking over my shoulder, trying to spot his face in the crowd, hoping in double that he might be there, somewhere, and that he might never find me.
I’m so lost and alone. What is truth? In the sea of all this chaos, where is the solid basis that is truth? When I stumble and fall on my face, when the tears of another person’s woe pour down my face, where is the honesty and truth in that? What did I ever do to deserve this… gift? Oh, is it a gift at all? It is my curse, my pain, and it drives me forward ‘til I ache with air I cannot draw into my lungs to breathe.
Dear God, help me! I am so lost! I am so tired! Where can I go? Where can I run?
Where is my solace?
I am always alone, yet I am never alone. It is the irony of my running. They invade my mind and fill me with their joys and sorrows, yet they do not know that I exist. I am invisible to them. Perhaps it is better that way. They would not understand. What is there to understand? Let them look at me and see a runaway. I am one, I suppose. Let them never feel what I have felt. Let them never feel the accumulation of their pains and joys. Let them have peace. I cannot have it, so let them. I love them and I hate them, and I do not know which is stronger.
It is killing me, all this running. It is destroying me, one step at a time. I can feel madness wavering not far away. I know that I will fall. I will fall one of these times and never get up again.
I dread it and I yearn for it.
I stop once and throw back my head and let their feelings rip through me. It is agony, ripping my mind and washing me away in a tide. I claw to the surface, trying to catch my breath, but it grows. I cannot breathe. I cannot stop the tide rushing over me. Their emotions pummel me with the strength of a tsunami. Their inner chaos driven into my mind, random, simple, every day, feelings, sorrow, joy, happiness, worry, churning through my mind.
Replaced, suddenly--- with one mind’s dark hate.
HE has found me.
The hatred he feels for me is like a burning brand pressing like pulse against my brain. I want to tear my mind out through my eyes just to make him stop, yet part of my mind cries out in stark astonishment at the steadiness of being part of one feeling instead of many. I spin around and begin to run again, my bare feet hissing against the pavement, yet somewhere in my mind I have not turned away from the hatred following. Part of me has turned and embraced it. In the one last sane part of my mind I know why—don’t I, too, hate what I have become? How can I ever go back to any form of normality, having lived like this? I could not return to my peaceful family if I wanted to—part of me would always be raw. What if I could be cured? What would it avail me? At nineteen I might sink so far into myself and be so isolated from all others who had lived that I would find myself in a restaurant with my brother and his girlfriend absent mindedly sawing on my wrists with a chip, denied anything sharper. At twenty-five I could be married with a baby and still so awash in my loneliness and isolation that I would feel as if I were adrift amongst the whole human race. Do I deserve to be saved? How can one be healed that has seen so much? A person can change and yet, innocence once lost is gone forever. My mind has taken part in their joys and hatreds, in murder and rape, in lust… how can I ever be clean of such things?
HE feasts on such things. His hatred ever flared up within me and, as if he had struck me between the eyes with a jackhammer, I falter, and reach out gasping. As blindly as I do it, it still astonishes me. Who am I reaching for? That one thought, clearly my own, allows me the strength to find my feet and begin to run again, but the tears blind me and I know that someday I will have to stop running.
What then? What life would be left for me?
Or would I stop in hopes of finding release in death?
The pain on Mark’s face haunts me. He did not deserve to be left for offering me the only true love I have ever known. He understood truly what rides me so cruelly, and yet he lent me all of himself to strengthen me. Rejecting it was unfair of me… but was it fair to drag him around with me, to make him suffer as I have? What right have I to inflict my own pain on another human being? I may drown in a sea of woes, but I need not reach out and drag another man down. I can not do it, and I will not. I love him too much.
No! I will not love! What, do I need more pain? How could something like this strike me? I am in no position to feel something for myself. The very thought makes me close my eyes and I could almost allow myself to sink into the hatred that is hunting me down. But, as always, I keep breathing, one step follows another, bare feet feel the kiss of pavement, then lift again, the cool breeze hisses through my air. Everything is rhythm and pattern—echoing the beat of my heart, the rush of blood through my body, and the course of deadly emotion through my mind and down my spine. It is a cycle I am familiar with.
I can survive that.
HE is relentless. My lungs burn in my attempt to escape him and I begin to be aware that I am leaving blood-stained footprints behind me. Ah, I am living after all. No wraith leaves blood in their wake, no matter how wraith-like I may feel. The sky is darkening again. I cannot remember how long I have run with the pounding of hatred against my temples. Some part of me is aware of the passing of time, but I live in a timeless state—eternally running. I wonder if the first runner to Marathon felt like this, as if the gods had lifted him up and placed him in the sky to run in eternal circles across the sky.
I look up as if the sky could embrace me and take me away from this. But the heathen gods are dead and forgotten, except for the whispers of thoughts about them from schools and colleges, where students turn their passionate deadly religions to fact, cold and heartless. Like a re-read eulogy.
I am Tess. I have never lived. I run. Let that be my eulogy. Let me be mourned by a loving mother and father who do not know me. Forgotten by any else who have touched me. The invisible one. If I stopped running and screamed and screamed no one would even hear me. They would go on, towards their mindless drive to work and school, accomplishing little more than one more day of survival. I cannot claim to be any better. What thought of my own do I have but survival?
How can I, who feel their pain so surely, scorn it? Perhaps it is because of HE. I feel everything as it is tainted by his driven hatred of me. What have I ever done to him? Why should he hate me so? Why does he hunt me down? In this I am an animal still, not knowing why a man should feel so driven to destroy what is left of my life… what is left of my existence.
Perhaps death is not so bad. I believe in life after death. But I also believe in earning grace… only when I have done all I can… So I must keep running, because it is all I can do. Somehow it as if my little struggle for existence—the right to survive—takes on the meaning of the whole battle between light and dark, between good and evil. I may struggle, but as long as I am running perhaps the little good that is left in the world will triumph. Evil cannot win as long as I can escape falling into the hot, molten, mind that is HE.
But of what value, really, is my life? If I vanish I will only be one more runaway, one more missing person. My parents will wake up one morning, old, and wonder to themselves ‘oh, yeah, we had a daughter once, too. Whatever happened to her?’ In fifty years they might make my life into a TV special about unsolved mysteries, but most likely, in only a few minutes I would be gone… forgotten, truly invisible. How is that any different than the life I am living now? No one sees me, no one hears me, even as I reach out to them and feel their terrors and the secrets they hide they deny my very existence my turning their eyes away from my running form.
Suddenly I have such sympathy for God. They deny Him too.
I climb into a dumpster. It is recently emptied, but I feel that HE will not find me here. I must rest. My whole body aches and trembles. It thinks wistfully of food. I curse them and I curse Mark for making me aware of things like food. I am not human, I tell my body, I am the undead. I do not need such things as rest and sleep.
But I do. Huddling under a newspaper I let myself fall briefly into the shouting in my head and dip into a half-sleep that haunts me through my mind. Even in sleep I run… I run through endless corridors that have no doors, yet have no endings. My mind does not belong to myself. If I stop running, even in my sleep, I will go mad.
I must not go mad. I am not crazy!
I awake so tired, so bone-weary. I have only slept for a short time, but it is as if the sleep has sapped all the strength and will I had left. Would it be better to deny myself of sleep, altogether? Perhaps, but it might be better for everyone if I could just end this, and I can’t.
HE is close, so close that I can feel his hatred dig under my skin and pull my bones through the flesh one at a time, climbing up my spine and burning through my lungs. Hatred has such power! It is by far the strongest human emotion. I should know this better than anyone. Love is strong, but it sways and falters, and bends before hatred. Hatred has no scruples. Love is kind and gentle and Hatred devours it like a lion devours the cuddly little lamb, tearing it from limb to limb in an ecstatic orgy of pain. I wish I could feel my own. I wish I could turn around and hate HE right back. If I had any fire inside of me I would defend myself, not run endlessly away.
Running never solves anything.
But I don’t have fire inside of me. I have nothing inside of me. I am hollow, empty… I am merely a vessel for others…
If I truly believed that would I run?
Running is cowardice.
If I were truly a coward, wouldn’t I stop running?
If I had courage I would face what I am running from.
I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know!
My God, I wish I did!
What does it matter whether I am a coward or not? It changes nothing. I run. I am empty.
I am… falling.
The fire burns so much!
Please, somebody hear me! Please, somebody help me!
“Tess, come back,” Mark’s voice pleads.
Has it all been a dream? But no, for I am broken and battered. I cannot lift my arms. My body aches endlessly and mindlessly. I try to reach for him and fall again. What happened to me?
Then I remember.
HE caught me.
I shudder from the memory of his eyes, as if they were blazing with flame. In truth they were flat, empty, painful and terrorized. HE reached towards me as one reaches for the knife plunging towards their hearts. Suddenly I truly felt his pain, and his pain was…
He was like me. I felt it with shock, and then found I was not surprised at all. He could feel as I felt, and as I broadcast those feeling around me… they channeled to him. I was destroying him. As he hurt me I had hurt him a thousand full. The only way to stop it was for him to destroy me.
At first I let him.
It was almost a relief to feel his solid hands against my skin, to feel him throw me backwards against the wall, to hear the snapping of ribs and bones under his feet, the agony of physical pain. I succumbed to it as one succumbing to a lover…
His rage filled me and the pain cleared my mind of all but my own voice. How dare he destroy all I had left—my physical frame. In rage I reached towards his mind and let my mind burn and pillage. I opened my mind to him and let his echoes fill mine until they built stronger and stronger from bonfire to forest fire to eternal consuming destruction.
HE screamed and screamed and screamed, and then his mind was empty.
I fell into it.
“Tess,” Mark whispered, his voice shivering with tears. “What have I done?”
What has he done? He is not the one who murdered a man through his mind. I want to shove his loving voice away from me. I could feel the pain HE carried and I used it to destroy him. The last shreds of human decency have left me behind. I am a murderer, a killer… Why couldn’t I have just let him take me as he so desired? I could have bathed myself in the murderous desire, I could have embraced it and rolled in the luxury of physical pain…
I try to sit up, but my body is not my own. There is a line going into my arm. But it is not the line, the drip, or Mark’s voice that makes fear tremble through my body.
I feel nothing.
It’s not the emptiness that consumes me, that I am so familiar with. It’s… silence.
“Mark,” I hear my voice slur. “What have you done?”
“I’m so sorry,” He says. He is holding my little finger. It is not as broken as the rest of me and I can feel his touch without too much pain… at least, physical pain. My mind is awash with emotions of my own, as if to make up for all the time I had ignored my own suffering for the voices in my head.
“I know you didn’t want it to be this way,” he continues. “But I didn’t know where else to find you. When I found you you were on the point of death…”
Why, why, why couldn’t he have let me die?
“I couldn’t let you go to a normal hospital… it would have killed you in that shape… so I brought you here…”
“Where is here?” My voice is so weak I think he hasn’t heard me, but his mouth twists and he sighs and I know he does not want to answer.
“I’m in Dr. Chandler’s clinic, aren’t I?” Tears roll slowly out of my eyes and I am too broken to wipe them away.
I am a prisoner. I will be reduced to some lab animal and they will play with my mind. At the very least I will be stuck here for ever, shielded away from other’s thoughts, but useless, a shell person once more.
Why, oh, why, couldn’t he have let me die? Why did you do this to me, Mark?
I do not speak the words. I can see in his face that he has asked himself those same questions. He knows what kind of life he has condemned me to. I was not alive before, and I certainly wouldn’t be allowed to live now.
I look at him and wish I could read his mind. I cannot see beneath the mask of the expressions he wears. I cannot truly know why he did what he did without reaching into his mind, and when I do I hit a brick wall so hard that my mind is bruised. He sees the expression on my face and he, used to not being able to hear my mind, understands what it says as I cannot understand.
“They didn’t dare sedate you as they were working on you,” he says suddenly. “You kept calling out… you asked for me…” He cleared his throat. “When I found you in the alley, you were dying, but you looked up at me and said my name… I couldn’t let you die…”
“That’s the third time you’ve saved my life,” I say. “What makes you think that it’s worth saving?”
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