“I’m telling you man, she’s hiding from me,” said Taylor. He smoothed his hair back with one hand and winked behind him at Jessica James, who a) he wasn’t even talking about and b) didn’t appear to notice.
“What a gift,” grunted Matt, looking sourly forward, “Women flee you.”
The line to get into Northridge High was somehow moving both faster and slower than Matt would have liked. Faster, because the longer it took Matt to get to the start of first period, the longer it took to get to the end of the day, and the longer Matt could indulge his delusion that there was really nothing wrong with him. Slower, because it was still standing in a line waiting for a dull, under‑paid security guard to check your Ident-Card and – looming crisis or no – Matt was not immune to boredom.
“Name and power,” sighed Dyson Brady, the dullest and least-shaven of the Northridge mandatory security force, able to grow claws but apparently not cut his fingernails. He glanced up at Matt from behind a flimsy wooden desk.
“Matt Callaghan, Clairvoyant,” replied Matt. Dyson’s eyes slid sluggishly down his list, and he nodded before pencilling a small tick.
“Next,” he mumbled, looking up at the next student in line and waving Matt absent-mindedly through the sorry excuse for a security check. Taylor stepped forward.
“Taylor McDermott, Copper-Midas,” he enunciated clearly as Matt took a few steps down the hall and then stopped, turning to wait for his friend. What exactly Congress expected these checks to prevent had eluded him since kindergarten. Yes, the guard on duty was supposed to keep an entrant log and report anything suspicious, but Matt personally doubted whether a human porpoise like Dyson Brady would notice if the Black Death himself rocked up wearing a fake moustache and calling himself Stu Dent. He definitely had no problem letting in Aisha Parkes, and she was invisible save for a faintly rainbow outline. But, Matt supposed as he stood waiting, safety bred complacency, and he probably shouldn’t be complaining about any lack of scrutiny, given the circumstances.
Taylor passed through the checkpoint without incident and their conversation resumed unbroken.
“Only because she’s into me.”
“You think everyone’s into you.”
“Only cause it’s true bro. Everybody wants a piece of this.” He grinned as they paused by Matt’s locker, Matt’s fingers already spinning the combination. Taylor watched Matt grab his math textbooks by their beaten spines and slam the locker door closed, then they turned and started to walk together down the crowded hall. All around them, people rushed to and from classes, their conversations and footsteps back-dropped by the sound of a hundred others’.
“If she was into you, wouldn’t she have, I don’t know, said something?” Matt asked over an armful of books.
“Nah man, she’s playing hard to get. You know how girls are.”
“Man, quit doubting me. You’ll see.”
“This isn’t doubt, it’s healthy scepticism.”
“Whatever. You get History done?”
“Yeah, at like 2am. Ending’s a bit crap.”
“It’s History man, who cares? S’all already happened, not like writing about its going to change anything.”
“It’ll change my grade.”
“Oh, I forgot, you’ve got to maintain your illustrious B average.”
“Screw you mister GPA.”
“Get in line baby.” Taylor grinned at him. “Any plans for tomorrow?”
“Kill myself?” Matt suggested, only half-joking.
“Well duh,” Taylor chuckled, not noticing the half, “But after that, you know, any plans? Fiesta? Major moves for my main man’s big day?”
“It’s a Wednesday,” replied Matt, unenthused, “Can’t party on a Wednesday.”
“Not with that attitude.”
Matt shrugged half-heartedly. “I don’t know,” he lied, “I think there’s something planned with the family.”
“Friday then,” insisted Taylor, “Blitzed with the boys.”
“See how we go,” Matt replied, remaining deliberately uncommitted as they rounded a corner. This was his room. They stopped, and he and Taylor bumped fists. “See you.”
“Have fun. Lemme know if you see me getting with Chrissie!” Taylor called as he walked away.
Matt couldn’t help himself. “Sorry bro, all I see in your future is big burly men.”
His friend turned and gave him both middle fingers. Matt chuckled and pushed open the door to Math.
Powers Development, or PD, unfortunately didn’t yield visions of either of them getting with any girls. In reality, it didn’t yield visions of anything. But Matt wasn’t about to let that stop him from predicting the future.
“I’m seeing white,” he told Timmy Lopez, a short Puerto Rican kid from the 7th grade with Nike shoes and a cowlick who was sitting nervously on the edge of his seat hanging onto Matt’s every word. Matt scrunched his face up into a grimace of false concentration. “Does that mean anything to you? A white car maybe, a white house, a white dog?”
“My grandma has a white dog,” Timmy said. He looked at the older boy anxiously. “I don’t really like it.”
“How is your grandma?” asked Matt, pursing his fingers and leaning back. Timmy hesitated.
“She’s… alright, I guess,” he answered, “She lives by herself in Fairfield…” His eyes grew wide. “Is something going to happen to her?”
“It’s difficult to say for sure,” Matt said, leaning forward with a fake sigh. He’d found ‘weary’ to be a convincing emotion. “The vision isn’t clear. But I think you should visit your grandma more.”
“Definitely. Sooner or later, she’s not going to be around. You should try and make time for her. She’ll appreciate it.”
This was Matt’s PD. For every other kid in school these periods had structure, with lesson plans and syllabuses and competent teachers and the like. The fliers practiced flying and got drilled on altitude sickness and cold-weather gear, the speedsters worked on track times, the pyros learnt the finer points of shaping fire into useful forms. Even the floramancers had a curriculum teaching them about native plants and the best practices for sustainable accelerated crop growth. But there was no pre-approved education plan for clairvoyants, because the Department of Education had never encountered a clairvoyant before and so nobody knew how best to hone their abilities. And so every PD period, while the telekinetics were off bending spoons and the kids who could shoot lightning were off electrocuting each other or whatever, Matt Callaghan sat on a wooden chair behind the teacher’s table in an unused classroom and gave his best advice regarding the future to anybody who wanted it. Or if no one came in, finished his homework and played Bubble Spinner on his phone.
Ironically, Matt didn’t view these periods as a complete waste of time. Well ok, they were a complete waste of time for him – but for the people he saw, he could generally do some good. Even if they didn’t know it, most people came in with pre-determined problems on their mind – a concern or goal which a little probing and open-ended, suggestive questioning could invariably reveal. From there it was less about clairvoyance, and more about counselling; working through problems, identifying issues, and dispensing good common-sense advice. Matt was amazed at how many people really just needed someone to listen to them, to provide an outsider’s perspective or even to just reassure them that they weren’t going to be total failures. For the younger kids especially, telling them they were going to turn out okay often paradoxically gave them the confidence to actually go and live better, happier lives. Some teachers even came in for a “reading” occasionally, their reluctance to discuss their personal lives with a student overcome by the allure of knowing the future. They had nothing to worry about of course. Matt was an excellent secret keeper, and a good clairvoyant never divulged what they saw.
Of course, “saw” was a strong word. Matt the clairvoyant didn’t “see” the future – he only caught glimpses, flashes of this and that, colours or feelings or common household objects. Nothing solid, nothing disprovable. On the contrary, Matt’s “visions” were so broad they were applicable to pretty much anything. He’d “see” a “vision” of a girl in someone’s future – and then how could that not come true? Was the boy he was making the prediction to going to depart human civilisation and never encounter a woman again? Inevitably he’d have a crush on someone or someone would crush on him, or he’d make friends with a girl or work alongside a girl, or engage with a girl in some way – and then the “prophecy” would come true and the blanks deliberately left in Matt’s “prediction” would be filled in by the boy’s own mind. It was the same principle as people seeing star-signs; really, it was just a bunch of random dots, but the human proclivity for spotting patterns meant people saw crabs and lions and all kinds of nonsense.
Matt spent a few more minutes espousing the importance of making time for family to Timmy before the “visions” “fell silent” and he sent the kid out with an enraptured look on his face. He then ushered in his next subject, a red-head girl from the year below named Jenny Deane. Jenny was a regular.
“How’s things Jen?” Matt indicated to the empty chair and sat down opposite the Junior. Jenny looked bummed.
“I don’t think Gavin likes me.”
“Sure he does. He might just not like you like you like him, that’s all.”
“What if I, like, just go for it? Like, I’ll just kiss him, and then there’s no way he can’t know.”
“Well the future’s never certain.” Matt closed his eyes and pretended to envisage Gavin, who for the last year and a half had been asking for predictions about the best time to come out. “But I’m getting a distinct sense of disappointment.”
“Nothin’ but disappointment, I’m telling you.” Taylor held up the broccoli on the end of his fork and rotated it in the cafeteria light. “Seriously. Tuesdays supposed to be god-damn tater tots.”
It was lunchtime – usually one of Matt’s favourite times. Today though, it was only a terrible reminder of how much of the day was gone.
“Loofs life somefing thaf’d grow on yourf balls,” added Marcus, terramancer, through a mouthful of food.
“Damn Mark, you need to see a doctor,” said Carlos, his glinting brown eyes giving no indication of their ability to see through walls. Everyone around the table laughed and Marcus went red.
“I difn’t-” he swallowed, “-I meant it looks like-”
“You know you’re meant to wash down there,” said Brodie, who could secrete superglue and had already finished everything on his tray.
“And not fondle sheep.”
“Or chickens,” added Pat the electromorph, looking up from his assignment.
“Really man, any farm animals, definite no-no.”
“Screw you all,” Marcus scowled.
“Mark, we’re just looking out for you.”
“Yeah bro, show your poor body some respect. And antifungals.”
Marcus drew himself upright and turned to Matt, who up until now hadn’t been saying much, more interested in keeping a lid on his looming feelings of despair. “Matt, they’re bullying me. They’re damaging my mental health.”
“Guys, please,” Matt sighed, looking up and forcing himself to engage in the banter. “We’re hurting his feelings. Mental health matters.”
“Mental health matters,” the other five boys echoed, though semi-sarcastically. Next to Matt, Taylor still hadn’t eaten his broccoli.
“This junk’s harmful to my mental health, swear to God, god-damn rank-ass vegetables.”
“Gotta have a brain before it can be sick,” chuckled Brodie.
“Hey screw you man. Matt you gonna let them talk to me like that? It’s damaging.”
Matt didn’t look up. “Everyone, be nice to Taylor, he’s very delicate.”
“He’s a beautiful sensitive flower who needs constant nourishment and praise.”
“Damn straight. Poet’s soul, right here.”
“We have to hold him when he cries. Love his tender heart.”
Taylor grinned. “You know I love you Matt. You’re my number one girl.”
“The one and the only,” smirked Brodie.
“Hey screw you Brodie, you ain’t ever even smelled a woman.”
“I’ve smelled your mom. She smelled like old cheese.”
Pat snorted with suppressed laughter and milk shot out his nose.
“Godddamnit Pat, gross!”
“Anybody got a napkin or something?”
“Sorry guys, my bad.”
The bell went off.
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).