Everyone else was already up by the time Matt made it downstairs.
“Toast’s on the table honey!”
“Thanks Mom.” He sat down next to Sarah, who was eating her piece with both hands.
“We’re out of Cheerios though, your father finished them yester- JONAS! No phones at the table!”
Kathryn Callaghan rounded the kitchen bench and snatched the mobile from her youngest son’s hands. Jonas let out a wail and rounded on his mother.
“But Mom I-”
“No buts! No phones at the table! Drink your milk!”
Jonas Callaghan looked like was thinking about replying but gave up at the look on his mother’s face. She was wearing a pantsuit today, which meant she had a meeting, which meant she was in a rush, which meant she had exactly zero time for arguing thank you very much.
“Jonas listen to your mother, no phones please.” Michael Callaghan didn’t even look up from his newspaper. A knife no one was touching spread butter over a piece of toast floating three inches above his plate.
Jonas leaned back into his chair and sulked. “He’s texting a girl,” whispered Sarah. Matt looked at his little sister with an expression of mock horror and she giggled.
Thus were mornings in the Callaghan household. Matt’s mother would rush around the kitchen, putting on toast and making Sarah’s lunch (Matt and Jonas made their own by now) and generally keeping things moving, while Matt’s father sat and read the paper, unless things were particularly late or stressful, in which case he would be up and helping without a word, sending things telekinetically flying into bags and dishwashers and pantries. Habitually organised and perpetually busy, Kathryn Callaghan was a lean, slightly taller than average woman with a head of long brown curls that tumbled over her shoulders like a lion’s mane, the ability to move just as quickly in heels as she could in flats, and a propensity to swear ferociously at traffic jams. By contrast, Michael Callaghan was a soft, good-natured man, with large hands, a head full of hair like otter fur, reading glasses which slipped to the tip of his nose, and an unconditional love for Matt’s mother, though he almost always forgot their anniversaries.
While his father read and his mother rushed, Jonas Callaghan, 14, would sit on his phone, bicker with his siblings and use the small fire he could summon from his fingertips to turn his toast to charcoal (which he insisted he liked, though no one believed him). A regular teenage nuisance, Jonas was probably going to end up taller than his older brother, but for now was the spitting image of a younger Matt, aside from his crop of black ringlets and disdain for deodorant. Sarah Callaghan on the other hand, being only 10, had not hit her annoying teenage years yet and so was content to sit at the table and ask her parents lots of questions or tattle on Jonas for things he may or may not have done. Sarah liked fairies and horses, and despite being slightly small for her age had done well at athletics, which gave her family the inkling that she might turn out to be a speedster once her powers manifested.
“Matt honey, can you pick up Sarah from the bus this afternoon?”
“What’s wrong with Jonas?” Matt asked, teeth sticky through a mouthful of jam.
“What isn’t wrong with Jonas?” his dad joked, shooting a smirk over the top of the paper at his youngest son, who scowled.
“Jonas has soccer til 5, Dad’s going to pick him up.”
“Yeah that’s cool, no problem.” Matt turned to his sister. “I’ll wait on the corner, okay?”
“Can I have a piggyback?”
“No. Well maybe, but only if you piggyback me first.”
“You’re too heavy!” Sarah whined. She turned to her mother. “Can we get ice cream?”
“No. Finish your milk.” Sarah looked downcast. Jonas leaned over.
“Piggybacks are for babies.”
“You’re a baby!”
“Mike it’s almost seven thirty.”
“Yes, right!” Matt’s dad started folding his paper, “Can’t keep Tony waiting.” He stood up and drained the last of his coffee. “You kids have a good day, okay?” There was a general murmuring of consent. He turned to Matt.
“Four,” Matt grunted, not particularly in the mood.
“I’ll buy a lottery ticket,” his father chuckled, the master of inoffensive sarcasm, “Bye honey.” He rounded the bench and kissed his wife on the cheek. “Bye everyone!” Matt’s father waved backwards as he walked out the front door. A few seconds later there was the sound of male voices greeting one another, and not long after that the recognisable pop of a teleporter departing with their ride-alongs.
“Sarah honey, finish your milk,” Matt’s mother commanded, untying her apron, “Bus will be here soon.”
“Do I have to go to school?”
“Yes Jonas you have to go to school. Brush your teeth, both of you, let’s go.” The boy grumbled all the way up the stairs, his sister close behind. Kathryn looked at Matt. “You alright? You seem a bit flat this morning.”
Matt made a face. “Just tired. Up late finishing that History essay.” The lie came naturally, without hesitation or remorse.
“Well whose fault is that? That should’ve been done a week ago.”
“Thanks Captain Hindsight.”
“You need to be more organised.”
“And people in Hell need ice water.” He glanced up at his mother in her grey blazer and business pants. “Meeting or flushing?”
“Meeting then flushing.”
“We keep losing pressure around Seventh Street, Department wants to investigate.”
“Ah the glorious life of an aquamorph.”
“It’s a living.” She bent down and kissed her eldest son on the head. “Make sure to lock up when you leave.”
“I’m almost eighteen Mom, I know to lock the door.”
“I’m just saying.”
“I’ll get into the Legion of Heroes before I leave the house unlocked.”
“Not if you keep leaving your assignments to the last minute. Come on kids!” she shouted up the stairs. Jonas and Sarah came trundling down with their backpacks.
“Mom! Jonas called me a rude word.”
“We’ll talk about it in the car. Bye honey!”
“Bye Mom,” Matt echoed back, as the three of them piled out. The door slammed and the house was suddenly silent, leaving Matt Callaghan alone to contemplatively chew on his toast.
Normally Matt took the bus to Northridge High, but this morning he wasn’t interested in public transport. He wanted to be alone and he wanted to walk, irrationally gripped by the neurotic delusion that if he could delay getting to the next part of the day, he could delay the day’s passage itself. Sure, it was idiotic – but you don’t grasp at straws when you’ve got something better to hold onto.
Matt strode out the front door, hands in his pockets and backpack over his shoulders, not even bothering to put in his earphones. It was stupid really, he thought as he turned onto the footpath – passing the house of their neighbour Mrs Mailer, which was as usual engulfed in inky smoke – though he was loathe to admit it. Time wasn’t the issue – he was.
Still – and he clung desperately to the thought – there was one day left.
One day. A vain, insane sliver of hope.
The world woke as Matt walked. Garages swung open, cars pulled out of driveways, husbands kissed wives and wives kissed back; curtains opened, neighbours greeted neighbours, children ran shrieking or trudged grumbling towards a school bus. The usual clusters of teleporting ride-alongs, generally about five or six but sometimes more, gathered on street corners for the morning jumps, the sound of “Morning Sue!” and “Morning Jack!” as they linked arms punctuated by distinctive pops and the smell of sulphur. Passing the turn-off to Brown Street, Matt waved half‑heartedly to Rufus, Mr Ngyuen’s chocolate Labrador, who was nudging open the mailbox with his nose. The dog didn’t return the wave, obviously, but Matt felt like it recognised him by now. Rufus seemed like a smart dog, and though Mr Ngyuen was technically a faunapath Matt thought after thirteen years of bringing in the mail it probably had the routine down pat. A few minutes later he also waved at Brad McNamara, one of the clerks at the local court, who did wave back before looking up into the clear blue sky and flying off without a moment’s hesitation, the stars and stripes over his doorstep fluttering in his wake.
Inadvertently, Matt knew all the fliers on the walk to school. He’d stopped to talk to all of them at some point – not as part of any grand plan or anything, but because Matt honestly couldn’t help it. The words just seemed to come out. Only friendly conversation, you know, nothing weird; just enough to get a glimpse into their fantastic, magical lives, where with a single thought they could lift up and be soaring amongst the clouds. Matt had always wanted to be a flier, even as a kid; sitting in class, staring out the window at the great blue beyond. What would it be like, he’d wondered – the wind rushing through your hair, the world fading beneath you. That feeling like you could go anywhere, free as a bird. He’d dreamt about it for years.
But Matt hadn’t developed the power to fly. Technically, he hadn’t- but Matt scatted the next thought to the wind as soon as it started to formulate.
Matt also knew every psychic on his school route, though this was precaution, not passion. It might have been illegal to listen in on other people’s thoughts unauthorised, but so was Napster and that’d filled up half his iPod. He knew where the psychics lived and knew what the tiny little tingle in his frontal lobe felt like as their minds, not focused on anything but merely open like an ear to background noise, washed over his. He didn’t recoil, didn’t slam down his walls the moment they made contact – that would draw attention like tripping over draws attention to a crack in the pavement. Most people didn’t feel telepathy like he could – most people couldn’t be bothered practicing, despite the Board of Education mandating annual mental protection training. Most people didn’t worry about psychics and most telepaths didn’t randomly snoop, lest they drown in an ocean of endless thought-noise. Everyone’s powers were dangerous and telepaths no more than others.
Unless you had something you really, really needed to hide.
Bio: Born and raised in Newcastle, Australia, Ben is a lifelong writer currently studying his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney. An avid fan of the weird and wonderful, he has wanted to be a writer since he was five years old (before which he wanted to be a dinosaur).