A steady calm pervaded Matt when he awoke on Monday morning, and carried on throughout his walk to school and morning classes. A cynical man might have called it the calm before the storm, but Matt had always thought that saying was pessimistic and trivialised the calm’s value.
Come lunchtime, Jane was not sitting at their usual table. Matt wasn’t sure what to make of this – it could mean that the empath was avoiding him. Or she was being questioned by the police. Or, he reprimanded himself, it could mean absolutely nothing. People did stuff for a bunch of reasons. Still he wondered at the very least where Jane was eating. Matt couldn’t see her anywhere in the cafeteria. Maybe she had detention. Maybe she was sick.
Maybe stop speculating, he snapped at himself.
Fifth period came and went, with no sign of the empath anywhere. By the time he had set up and sat down in his empty little classroom for PD, Matt was almost beginning to think he wasn’t going to see the girl at all – an absence which in itself was slightly ominous.
He was wrong.
Two minutes before sixth, the classroom door creaked open, and Jane’s auburn hair, grey jumper and track pants entered through the gap. She glanced back at the small scattering of future seekers she’d cut in front of, then closed the door and spun the lock.
A braver man than Matt would have gulped.
“Figured we should talk,” Jane announced. She strode across the room, grabbed one of the plastic chairs with one hand, spun it around and sat down with the chair-back facing him, her arms resting on the cusp. Matt took note of her expression which was… not aggressive. Hard, maybe, her blue eyes piercing into him and her brow resolute – but not necessarily unfriendly. Maybe. With her it was hard to tell.
“And you thought this would be more private than the cafeteria,” Matt nodded, “Smart.”
“Actually, I had detention for not handing in a history assignment,” Jane replied.
“Oh.” He paused. “Sorry?”
“Don’t be. I hate history.” She paused. “I’ve been thinking.” Matt said nothing, but simply watched as she watched him, her expression drawn and cautious. “I have questions.”
“Oh great,” Matt replied. Jane ignored his sarcasm.
“How everything. How long have you been like this? How’d you lose your power?”
“Jesus, I- shhh!” Matt shushed. He rummaged hurriedly around in his pockets for his iPod and he set it on the table, earbuds facing up. His fingers maxed out the volume, and the da-ba-dee sound of ‘Blue’ began rasping jankily out.
“I didn’t lose anything,” Matt hissed, trying to keep his voice low beneath the noise. He hesitated a moment, then sighed. It was no use. The cat wasn’t going back in the bag. “I don’t have a power. I’ve never had a power. I am not a clairvoyant.”
It was funny; in a way, that actually felt good to say.
Jane blinked and Matt groaned.
“Look, can we not talk about this? Someone might overhear.”
“Then can we at least talk quietly?”
“Fine,” the empath scowled and dropped her voice to a murmur beneath the music, “What do you mean you’re not a clairvoyant?”
Matt squinted at her.
“What do you mean what do I mean? I am not a clairvoyant. I cannot see the future. At all.” Now that he actually uttered it, it seemed pretty self-evident, like saying ‘I am not green’ or ‘I am not eating a cheeseburger.’ But Jane was unconvinced.
“Ok… then why does everyone think you are?”
“Because I tell them I am.”
“But you’re not?”
“Then what are you? Or were you, or whatever.”
“Nothing! I’m nothing! I never had a power! No tengo power-ino! What do you need me to write it down?!”
Jane slowly shook her head.
“Is it like, embarrassing, or...”
“It can’t be embarrassing,” Matt replied, exasperated, “It doesn’t exist.”
"Is this about me threatening to rat you out to the DPR?” Jane asked, folding her arms, “Because I wasn’t actually going to.” She pointed to her cheek. “We’re not friends.”
You don’t have to keep pointing, thought Matt irritably. “I’m telling the truth.”
Janes rolled her eyes.
“Alright, so what does it say on your Identity Card?”
Matt took his wallet from his pocket and pulled out the small plastic rectangle. He handed it to her to read.
“Matthew Callaghan. Clairvoyant.” Jane gestured at him with an upturned, expectant palm.
“I know what it says,” sighed Matt, “But I still don’t have a power.”
“But. Your. Card. Says. You. Do.” She articulated each word like he was a six-year old. Or retarded.
“But. I. Don’t.”
Jane clenched her jaw. “This-” she held the license up to the light, tilting it so the holographics flashed, “-is your authentic, government-issued, mandatory identification card. It says you’re a clairvoyant.”
“Well why is it wrong then?” she demanded stubbornly, pointing to the picture, “That’s obviously you. You obviously got registered. Didn’t they ask you what your power was?”
“But don’t they, I don’t know, check?” Jane replied, frustration evident in her voice, “They did for me. I mean a regenerator can’t just walk in and say ‘Hi, my name’s Joe and I heal real fast, can I get a card?’ They’d make him cut himself first.”
“I faked it.”
“You faked predicting the future?”
“Yes. I told them I kept on having visions, but they were confusing and intermittent, and I couldn’t work out what they meant.”
“And they just brought that? Were they six? Or retarded?”
“I haven’t finished. I told them I was getting visions of a white, stern man standing in front of a podium, addressing the world about impending change as threads of blue and red intertwine.”
“So, I held off going to register till half a week before the Presidential election. Four days later and they’re still processing my application when boom, Gore gets elected and everything I said comes true.”
“Ok,” Jane said again, leaning back and folding her arms, “But doesn’t that prove you are clairvoyant? You predicted who the next president was going to be.”
“No,” explained Matt, “See, that’s what’s beautiful. I didn’t say who was going to win. I never even mentioned the presidency at all. All I said was some general nonsense which maybe tangentially by association could mean election stuff. I could have been referring to the other guy. Hell, I could have been referring to anything! But that’s all it takes. Say something vague and mystical sounding, and let other people join the dots to make whatever picture they want to see.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like here, now,” he said, gesturing to the empty classroom, “In PD. I sit here, in this supposedly sound-proof classroom and when people want their future told I say something like, um...” he waved a hand around aimlessly, gathering thoughts, “Like: ‘I’m seeing... there’s a man... somewhere in your life... and he’s... he’s struggling with a problem...’ and then they go ‘Oh, of course, my Dad just got sacked,’ or ‘Oh my little brother keeps getting into trouble,’ or ‘Oh, there’s this cute boy in my class...’”
“That’s stupid,” said Jane.
“Yes,” agreed Matt, “But so are people.”
“But what if they ask for specifics?”
Matt shrugged. “I just say my visions aren’t clear and hard to decipher.”
“So you lie.”
“Well, what choice do I have?”
There was silence.
“Do you believe me?”
“I don’t know. I mean ok, say you’re telling the truth-”
“-well ok, whatever, you managed to pull one over the DPR. Fine. You still haven’t answered my question.”
“What question?” replied Matt, his arms just as folded as hers.
“The obvious question! What are you?!”
“Jane, you felt it yourself. I’ve said it like eight times. I don’t have a power.”
Another, longer pause.
Jane’s expression became strained. “Because... because it just is!” she blurted, struggling to find the words, “Everyone has a power! It’s like... you’ve got a brain, and, you’re human, so, you have a power!”
“It just is? Really? After you spent so long feeling me up on Friday?” Jane had no reply. Matt shook his head.
“Fine then,” he said, holding out his arm, “Go ahead. Copy my power. Go on. I give you express and irrevocable permission. Touch me. Take it.”
Jane’s hand jerked involuntarily to her cheek. “Don’t joke.”
“I’m not joking!” replied Matt, “Take it! Go nuts! I legally permit you! What, you need me to sign something? Swear on a Bible?”
“Do it! Grab me! Do what you gotta do!” When she still didn’t move he waggled his arm around. “Come on, seriously, what kind of useless empath are you? Don’t be a chicken.”
Jane glared at him, but still hesitated. She looked up at his face, then down, as if wrestling with herself – then without warning took his proffered hand in hers and clamped her eyes shut.
Her eyes fluttered open. Now, more than ever, she looked truly shaken.
“Nothing.” A disbelieving whisper.
“I told you,” said Matt, not quite sure why he was sounding so self-satisfied.
“It’s...” She slumped back, almost tipping off the chair.
A long pause, considering. Then:
“Normally-” Jane waved a hand as if shooing away invisible flies, “-normally, when I touch someone… underneath their skin, I can…” she trailed off.
“Yeah, I gathered.”
They sat in silence for a few seconds, Matt watching warily as Jane’s face struggled to process the shock.
“But…” she eventually managed to force out, as if having difficulty forming complete sentences, “When you registered, couldn’t they… I don’t know, didn’t they compare you to others?”
“You know,” she said, waving her hand, “Others. Out there. Other clairvoyants.”
Matt rolled his eyes. “What others?” he asked, “Tell me, honestly, apart from me have you ever actually met a clairvoyant? A real one?” He took the empath’s lack of response as a ‘no’. “I mean, you hear stories all the time, a friend of a friend of my aunt’s cousin’s mother who got advice about her divorce or whatever – but have you ever actually met one?”
“Well, no-” Jane started reluctantly but Matt cut her off.
“Exactly! No one has! Because it’s nonsense! Because they don’t exist!”
The empath’s brow furrowed. Matt could see the gears turning inside her head.
“This is insane,” she muttered finally.
“No, it’s annoying. Everybody else gets to have some kind of kickass power, and I get diddly‑squat.”
Jane ignored him. “Are there others?” she asked, “Other people, you know, without…”
Matt shrugged. “I don’t think so. I mean, possibly? But nobody I’ve ever heard of. There’s not exactly chat rooms.” Jane grunted her understanding. Matt continued. “As far as I know, I’m the first... well... normal... human to be born in forty years.”
A prolonged pause stretched out through the room as the two of them sat there, Matt gazing warily at Jane, Jane staring out the sunlit window. ‘Blue’ ended and Matt’s iPod earphones began scratching out ‘Bye Bye Bye’ by N’Sync.
“Human,” she repeated finally, shaking her head in slow disbelief.
“Can you please not say it out loud?” Matt snapped, perhaps more irritably than was necessary.
“Why not?” Jane shrugged, breaking her gaze off from the outside world and looking back at him, “Why can’t I say it?”
“Because,” Matt replied through gritted teeth, “It’s not exactly something I like to go around just… blurting out.”
Jane tilted her head and looked at him. “Why? Just out of curiosity. I mean, it’s not like it’s bad. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” She paused. “Nobody chooses their power, so it’s the same principle, I guess. You didn’t choose to be like this.” She glanced up at him. “I assume.”
“Because I don’t want to get carted off to some lab somewhere and dissected by scientists trying to figure out what’s wrong with me.”
“You really think that’ll happen?” asked Jane, raising an eyebrow.
“I don’t know,” Matt replied, feeling slightly defensive, “Maybe. But even if I don’t get kidnapped for gene-mapping, maybe I just don’t want my entire life defined by this. Maybe I don’t want to be ‘Matt the Human’, the stunted sideshow who somehow missed out on a superpower. Maybe I don’t want to be a freak. Surely you of all people understand that.”
A shadow fell across Jane’s face and Matt immediately rejected his choice of words. “Sorry, I didn’t mean-”
“Forget it,” Jane said, cutting him off. She lifted her head and looked him square in the eyes. “You’re right. I do understand.”
There was a second or two of uncomfortable silence before Matt continued.
“So, I mean, I guess I just want…”
“…a normal life,” the empath finished. It might have been his imagination, but for a moment Matt thought he caught a glimpse of a deep, unfathomable sadness passing across the girl’s face. But an instant later, it was gone.
“Who else knows?” she continued after a second’s pause.
“No one. Not my mom, my dad, Taylor, anyone. There’re only two people in the whole world who know, and they’re both sitting here in this classroom.”
Jane looked stunned. “Damn,” she said eventually.
Matt rubbed his temples. “Yup.”
There was a pause.
“You probably shouldn’t have touched me.”
“Thanks. I’ve only been telling myself that all weekend.”
Another pause. Jane crossed her arms, though more in a thinking way than an angry one.
“It raises issues though,” she stated, “I mean, if you don’t want people to know. It’s not even a trust thing, I’m not going to go spouting off-” she looked seriously at him, and Matt blinked, unable to say anything before the girl continued, “-but there’re other things to consider. What if I get read? What if-”
“Wait, hold up,” said Matt, his heart racing, hardly daring to believe his ears, “You’re not going to tell anyone?”
“Why the hell would I tell anyone?”
“I don’t know,” Matt replied, a bit taken aback, “Why wouldn’t you?”
“I don’t know.” The girl shrugged and shifted in her seat, seemingly uncomfortable for some reason. “I guess… it seems kind of wrong? You really don’t want people to know, so…”
Matt blinked. “Um… thanks? I guess?”
Jane waved a hand dismissively, like it was an afterthought. “But seriously. What if I get read? I can keep my mouth shut, but my thoughts are going to be a bit harder.”
“Just don’t think about it.”
Jane rolled her eyes. “Have you ever tried not thinking about something? It’s impossible. Don’t think about purple elephants.”
Matt resolutely did not think about purple elephants. “It’s not impossible, it just takes practice.”
There was an uncomfortable silence while the empath considered his reply with an expression that made it clear she found his answer very unsatisfactory. Matt still couldn’t believe his luck.
“You seriously won’t tell anyone?” he asked after a few seconds.
Jane shrugged. “Who the hell am I going to tell? The DPR? My dead-beat Dad? All of my many, many friends?”
“Right.” They lapsed into silence, gazes awkwardly averted. After a few seconds they both looked up, made accidental eye contact, and quickly looked away. Matt rubbed the back of his head.
“Well… thanks, I guess,” he said, “For not telling anyone. In advance.”
The girl shifted on her chair. “You’re welcome… I guess. In advance.”
A long silence stretched out between them.
“So you can’t actually see my future?”
“Ha-ha. Screw you.”
“No, I’m serious, I’m disappointed. I was kind of interested to find out.”
“You will achieve all your dreams. You will ascend the halls of greatness. You’ll fall in love, have three beautiful children and be a highly-anticipated guest on the Tonight Show.”
They fell silent again.
“What did you want to know, specifically?” Matt asked, half out of curiosity and half just to make conversation. He expected Jane to shrug and give some non-answer, but instead, the empath looked quietly at him for a few seconds, her head tilted slightly, appraising. Eventually, she spoke, her voice soft but resolute.
“If I get into the Legion of Heroes.”
A bubble of laughter burst out of Matt’s chest so hard he almost fell backwards off his chair. The sound of his laugher filled the empty classroom; he expected Jane to join in, but after a few seconds, when she didn’t, he caught himself, his cackling trailing off into weak chuckles as he saw the unwaveringly blank expression on her face.
“Wait. Sorry. Uh, you’re, I mean you’re serious?”
“Absolutely,” Jane replied coolly.
Matt ran a hand through his hair. “Wow. Ok sorry, I shouldn’t laugh. It’s just-”
He stared at her. “You realise you’re insane right?”
The girl remained mute. Matt didn’t think she was getting the point.
“Seriously, they’ll accept me before they accept you.”
“Well I don’t know what your PD rank is,” she said stiffly.
“Jane…” Matt said, feeling a little flustered, “Look, I don’t mean to dump all over your dreams but come on. You’re an empath. You figure the Legion might be harbouring… geez, I don’t know, a little resentment?”
“Times change,” Jane replied coolly.
“Not that much,” countered Matt, thoroughly unconvinced. He paused, considering the impossibility. “I mean, even if you weren’t… you know… the Legion’s not exactly community college. You can’t just waltz in, you need a rank of-”
“Eleven,” answered Jane, looking straight ahead, “11.0 before they even consider granting admission.”
“Exactly,” said Matt, “And, I mean, I don’t know anyone above 10…” he trailed off, suddenly looking at the girl in a whole new light. “Do you?” he asked, suddenly excited, “Are you in the 11’s?!”
The girl shook her head. Matt pursed his lips, confused. “But then how do you think they’ll even-”
“My rank’s not in the 11’s,” interrupted Jane.
“Yeah exactly, then why-”
Matt felt like he’d been slapped. “Well there you go,” he eventually managed.
The two of them sat there in half-stunned silence.
“It’s still a crazy dream,” Matt said finally.
“Only kind worth having,” replied Jane.
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).