Bewildering Stories

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Sherry Smith Gray

The rhythm of the train is soothing and I relax my vigilance. I dare not sleep, of course, and risk transmitting to mundanes surrounding me. I did that only once, and with disastrous results. I barely escaped, and my wife did not make it. They zeroed in too fast. I'll never forget the wild chase, nor the look in Nadine's eyes as the bullets drilled out through her chest. I could not stop, not even to hold her as her life leaked onto the tarmac and the light faded from her flashing eyes. Instead, I pushed a blinding headache at the pursuing soldiers, dove down an embankment to the roadway below, and hopped on a truck slowed for a curve. By the time the soldiers recovered, I was well away, clinging like a flea to the laddered back of the tanker.

Since then, I haven't closed my eyes without my specially designed helmet firmly strapped in place. I must work, however, as everyone must, and my work requires extensive travel. Sleep is not an option here. The sleeper cars have been commandeered by the military, leaving no privacy for ordinary citizens. Dreams could cost my life, and the helmet is far too conspicuous. The solid bulk of my falsified papers weighs as heavy in my pocket as the danger of my mission weighs on my mind.

The rhythm lulls me into a memory of another time, a time less dangerous for my kind. Nadine and I holding hands like children, drinking champagne in our private sleeper, making love to the wild rollicking rhythm through a dark countryside. Falling asleep content and naked, only to wake when the train screeches into a station, her buttocks greeting dozens of people waiting to board. We howled with laughter as we sampled the thoughts of those waiting, the morally outraged, the patently lustful, the innocent curiosity, and then one scary dark fantasy of impending rape. I had closed in on that one and sent a sizzling bolt to his mind, freezing the dark heart of it, leaving him standing endlessly harmless, drooling vacantly on the platform as the train pulled away. In retrospect, I should have left him alone with his darkness, I suppose.

But he lusted after a young woman he brushed surreptitiously against in line to board. His mind was filled with images of how he would lure the woman, and what he would do to her in a private place on the train. The locations changed as he considered a private berth, the rest room, the baggage car, each fantasy more disgusting than the last. He deserved to be damaged, I could have argued in court, but to no avail. How could I prove what he was planning? Luckily, there were no sensitives around to witness my crime. In those days, trained sensitives were rare. The mundanes had yet imagine the danger, or to conjure up the wild scenarios of mental domination.

We had yet to draw the attention of the true evil.

I remember the first time I saw him, an unprepossessing little figure with an unlikely mustache and a bad haircut, gesticulating wildly on our tiny black and white Zenith. How ridiculous that such a strange little man could figure so prominently in the course of history. At first, we were not alarmed, but as more and more people began to listen, began to turn towards his utopian preachings of visionary perfection, we decided we had no choice but to choose sides. A meeting was called, plans were made, and the private war was on. For the first time, our tiny segment of society took a stand outside our community.

Hundreds of years ago, our ancestors drifted to a hallowed ground, a little corner of the earth that held irresistible attraction to my kind. Those early settlers knew not what drew them to congregate in that particular spot, but the village of Voraussicht was established, and over the years the colonists inbred stronger and more focused abilities. Until that fateful meeting, we led lives of quiet solitude, rarely venturing out among neighboring mundanes. I was an anomaly, even among my own kind, powerful enough to shield myself and pass for mundane. Nadine had been unusually powerful as well. Water seeks its own level. We two were chosen to leave our ancestral sanctuary -- to contact the Allied Forces, to sample the minds of the people and root out possible allies among our countrymen--in effect, to engage the battle.

Posing as a married couple, we soon fell in love. Reality replaced pretense as we were married by a sleepy vicar in the dead of the night, in a train car similar to this one, upholstered in plush burgundy, its brass fittings festooned with toilet tissue bows and ribbons. As the dark countryside rolled by unwatched, we took our vows, to love, honor and obey, until death did us part. I never envisioned that death would be so imminent, nor its effects so profound.

The evil one (I cannot bring myself to speak his name) found us out all too soon and launched a devastating pre-emptive strike, rounding up those of my village unable to escape for a trip to the camps. He was crafty, I'll give him that, establishing secret camps within a mountain, where layers of rock would provide a natural shielding to the agonies of our tortured emissions. Only the strongest among the remaining few still free could feel them. Only Nadine and me.

My hatred and determination grew in proportion to their suffering. I believe that I became unbalanced for a time, spending long hours locked in silent rage, battling my desire to send a wave of vitriolic hatred so intense as to annihilate the mental functions of an entire people, good and bad, innocent and evil. Nadine did her best to soothe me from these rages. Her own reaction was a deep welling sadness, one that caused her periodically to withdraw into the private world of her own mind, uncommunicative and silent for days. I was her only anchor during those stretches. I think we were like shipwreck survivors on a floating beam, each balancing the existence of the other.

After a time, they were all gone, and we were alone, marooned in a vast silence once filled with other minds. Some had escaped the country and fled to the west, our connection lost by distance. Some shielded themselves so thoroughly that even one such as myself could not seek them out, and gone into hiding among the mundanes. Some were reduced to vegetative states by cruel experimentation. Most died in excruciating pain.

My sadness overwhelms me and I bury my head in my hands. I am utterly alone. All I have left now is my mission. Vengeance is the strongest motivator known to man.

A light touch on my mind startles me from my memories. A survivor? How could this be? I can barely contain my joy!

The touch comes again, delicate as butterfly wings. I shoot a look around the car, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. "Where are you?" It has been too long, I have forgotten my strength. People all over the car rub their foreheads, assaulted by sudden headaches. A girl of about 12, curls up in agony. Her. She must have been a baby at the beginning of the war. Curious, I look her over. I do not recognize her from my village. The girl is slight and pale, with limp blonde hair and wide cornflower eyes. The woman in the next seat, patting her solicitously, is squarish and dark, with a hearty mustache budding over thin lips. She mutters comfort in a heavy accent, possibly Polish. A governess, I think, her parents must be dead.

Through the window at the end of the car, I see a soldier coming from several cars away. He must be mildly sensitive, to have been affected at such distance. I motion for the girl to meet me between cars. She acknowledges and follows me shakily to the back. We step out on the connecting corridor and flatten against the car, out of line of the window. Perhaps it will buy us a few minutes, while the soldier scans the rest of the car's occupants.

"You must not use your mind, you will get us killed!" I whisper urgently.

She nods, but touches my mind anyway. Untrained, she does not know how to restrain her powers. I feel her wonder, her curiosity, her overwhelming loneliness. She has never encountered another. Like me, until now, she thought she was the only one left.

"Where are your parents?" I ask.

Her eyes spill over, her lips tremble. "I never knew them. When the soldiers came, My Nana had taken me to market in the next village, where she lived. We returned to an empty house, and a near deserted village. I was still a babe in arms, and never saw my parents again. Nana says they were kind people."

"Maybe I knew them. What were their names?" I seek to offer her a solace, a tenuous connection to her past.

"Alva and Nicholas Guten." Tears roll down her cheeks, but she sets her jaw bravely. She is an admirable slip of a girl, accustomed to the everyday horrors of war.

"I remember." I smile at the memory. "They married about a year before I left home. I did not know they had a child. I attended their wedding."

Excited, she crudely enters my mind to share my memory. I block her and shake my head. "The soldier is looking for us. Shut your mind! Tell me why you are on the move." I must distract her from mental projections. If she is talking, she can't project. That is an acquired skill.

"Nana says that people in my village are getting headaches. Since I...since I became a woman." She blushes with this admission and averts her eyes. "Nana thought we would be safer in a bigger city, harder to find." Unable to stop herself, she projects a vision of bustling streets and shining buildings, a fantasy she must have plucked from her under-educated Nana. A fantasy of safety and anonymity, prosperity and comfort. A far cry from the gritty reality they would find.

The soldier has entered our car at the far end, gun at the ready. I see his head snap around and his eyes narrow. He feels her unfocused mental projections.

I shake her roughly. "You must stop! Control your mind or we are dead!"

Her eyes widen, but she does not know how to break the connection. The soldier wends a deliberate path through the car, eyes fixed on the far end. We have scant seconds before he pinpoints our location.

I put my hand reassuringly on her shoulder and send a wave of focused mental comfort. She smiles up at me, a bright, innocent, trusting smile, and I push her off roughly from the train. She clears the gravel train bed and lands, rolling on the soft grassy slope. I can feel her receding pain and terror, mixed poignantly with betrayal and disbelief, but I cannot respond. Perhaps one day she will understand. If she lives that long. I grab the car's ladder and ascend to lie flat on the roof until the danger passes. The soldier will not find me.

Once again, I am alone with my thoughts.

We draw closer to Berlin. My mission awaits. The bunker is solid. Proximity is the key.

Copyright 2002 by Sherry Smith Gray.