Ross Howard – Psychic

Ross

Ross Howard was a psychic. A real-life, bonafide, honest-to-goodness psychic. And he’d been a psychic for, oh, let’s see now…six hours. Ever since he’d been banged on the head by a hammer that morning on his way to work. He wasn’t sure how that had happened; probably just a random head banging but, when it was over, Ross was a psychic.

He could read minds. Predict the future. Lift heavy objects through the power of thought. He hadn’t tried the last one yet, but he could predict the future and he’d predicted that he would soon be lifting heavy objects just by thinking it.

In the meantime, he was having one hell of a time reading peoples’ minds, delving into their most inner secrets, peeking into the stuff of their lives, prying away the illusory boards shuttering the windows into their pasts.

Only problem was…people kept lying to him. In their thoughts. And he had ample proof of this. For instance, he read the thoughts of a woman in the coffee shop line-up just a few hours ago. She was thinking about buying a regular coffee with lite cream but, when she opened her mouth to order, she said, “I’ll have a double caramel latte.”

Liar.

And he could have sworn he’d seen the hint of a malicious smile as she placed her order.

An hour before that, a man driving an SUV in front of Ross was thinking about turning right but almost as soon as Ross read the man’s thoughts he suddenly turned left without any warning and cut across traffic at a busy intersection, almost crashing into a Ford pickup, a convertible Punch Buggy and a woman on a mountain bike.

Crazy liar.

And had Ross seen the man laughing into his rear view mirror?

So he figured he’d try a little reverse psychology. A woman sitting at a restaurant counter bounced her choice between the lemon meringue and apple pie before deciding on the lemon meringue. But Ross knew she was lying and knew that she would pick the apple. When the waitress came over to her, she said, “Could I have a slice of that lemon meringue pie, please.”

These people couldn’t even tell the truth when they were lying. And again, he could have sworn he’d seen a nasty grin on the woman’s face as she ordered her lemon meringue pie.

It was mid-afternoon in suburbia and the sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, but there was just the slightest of breezes to keep everything warm but comfortable. It was a beautiful day to be a psychic…if he could just figure a way to get people to think the truth. The woman at the restaurant kept with her decision to the lemon meringue pie, but she’d led him to believe that she would get the apple pie by deciding not to get the apple pie.

Had she done that deliberately, just to mess with his head? Or…were mysterious forces at work? With the gift of his new powers, maybe he’d opened some sort of portal into states of being beyond the ordinary. Had he disturbed things that were better left alone? He thought about this for a few minutes and decided it was time to lift heavy objects with his mind.

He focused on a garbage truck parked by the side of the road about thirty feet away. He thought deeply. Very deeply. He visualized the truck lifting gently upwards from the pavement. He closed his eyes and imagined all weight and substance drifting out of the truck so that it would rise, rise, rise from the pavement. He opened his eyes and the truck was still grounded. So he commanded out loud that the truck rise. He lifted his hands, palms upwards, as though he were lifting the truck with his arms, and said, “I command you to rise! I command you to rise!” The truck stubbornly stayed where it was.

Ross decided that he’d probably seen a little further into the future than he’d guessed when he predicted he could lift heavy objects with his mind.

Back to mind reading.

He saw the mini mall a few blocks ahead with the bright blue sign announcing his favorite cyberbar, The Lively Laptop Cyberbar and Grill. Beer and a laptop. That’s what he needed. He passed a yard surrounded by a metal fence and looked into the future, predicting that a dog would bark at him. As the walked by the fence, sure enough, a vicious Dachshund barked indolently at him as it lay on its side in the cool grass. His ability to look into the future was starting to develop.

He walked through the tinted glass doors of The Lively Laptop Cyberbar and Grill into a large LED lighted room with a bar running the length of one wall, booths attached to the other wall, and coffee tables surrounded by easy chairs filling the floors. The glow of monitor screens lit the faces of about a dozen people hunched fervently over laptops. No one was talking. He’d never paid much attention to the other customers in the past, but today he would be paying much attention.

Time to read some minds and find out who was downloading porno. He bought a Corona from a young woman wearing thick glasses who dragged herself reluctantly from her laptop behind the bar. He read her mind. She was irritated with him. She frowned when she passed the beer over the counter to him. Ah, he thought, someone’s finally thinking the truth. He paid for his beer and walked slowly, so as not to attract attention, to one of the tables against the wall. He opened a dated laptop sitting in the center of the table and pressed the ON button. While the laptop booted up, he looked around the room. Who’s mind would he read?

His eyes settled on a middle aged man in a two piece suit with his tie and shirt collar loosened around his neck. He focused on the man’s head, looking deep into his brain, opening his own mind to whatever thoughts would flow from the man’s cranium. Almost immediately, he knew the man’s name—Bob. Bob something. He knew the man was writing an email to a business associate. He knew that man was writing, “I’m sure Hanson will go along with the plan, but we’ll have to watch Mercer carefully.”

Good.

That was a successful mind read. He thought about approaching the man and asking his name and what he was doing, but the thought crossed his mind that the man might suspect that his mind had just been read. That was something he’d have to think about. Secrecy. If other people found out about his powers he could find himself in a bit of a pickle. How would they react to his ability to peer into their deepest secrets? Would there be those who would want to hire him for his psychic talents? Would there be those who would fear his talents and want him dead? Would they see him as a precursor to a new race of superior human beings and fear for the extinction of the human race as it is? Would he be seen as a threat to national security? Would they send teams of men in black suits and black SUVs in the wee hours of the night to wisk him off to some secret laboratory where he would spend the rest of his life under observation, poked with cold steel instruments, interrogated endlessly, hooked to wires and electrodes, subjected to psychological testing at all hours of the day and night?

No…he would have keep his new powers secret. At least, for the time being. In the meantime, he would work on them, develop them, get a grip on his full potential. And right now, he would read someone else’s mind. Let’s see. The woman in the corner with the glasses that seemed to cover most of her oval face. Her eyes were the size of silver dollars as they stared into the laptop monitor, her face illuminated eerily, like a phantom object shining out of the darkness of the corner. He stared intently at her high forehead, stared into her forehead where the gray matter was, where her thoughts were. Her name was Sara. She was thinking, “…mmm, ffttt. Mmmm…rrrrgggg; mmm…fftt…”

No way could that be a lie. So her name had to be Sara. His powers were in top form. He was reading minds like a pro. He was on the cusp of great things. No one could stop him now. If they came for him in the wee hours of the night, he would know. He would know before they knew. He would lift them into the skies with his ability to lift heavy objects just by thinking about it and let them hover over their fate until they screamed for their mommies.

He took a long celebratory drink of beer, then watched as his laptop screen finally displayed Firefox. He cursored to the Google search box and entered: mind reading for beginners. 556,000,000 results. He decided to do some research later. In the meantime, he would just learn by doing. He turned the laptop off and chugged the rest of his beer.

Outside, the sky was beginning to cloud over. Ross predicted rain.

He spotted a small plane in the sky and decided to try his hand at long distance mind reading. He projected his thought reading power into the sky and centered on the plane, penetrating the fuselage, directly into the mind of the pilot, whose name was Bob. Bob was thinking about his approach to the airport, which seemed strange. Ross thought that the airport was in the opposite direction. But he wasn’t sure. So he wouldn’t accuse Bob of lying. As he thought this, he noticed that the plane dipped its wing. Wasn’t that how pilots saluted and acknowledged someone on the ground? Well, he wished Bob a happy landing.

Yes, his powers were getting stronger by the moment. He was reading people’s minds like reading comic books. He was the master of transparency. He started thinking about how best to use his powers and the answer came into his mind immediately: time to get rich.

He headed straight for the Tenth Street Casino. It was time for some poker, and it didn’t matter how straight faced the other players were. But he would let them win some small amounts, at first. Let them get over confident, ready for some big bets. He would know exactly when to lose and win. He would play them from within their own minds.

An hour later, he walked out of the Tenth Street Casino broke, his wallet cleaned out, his savings cleaned out, his wrist minus a watch.

Liars !

He couldn’t believe it. It was as though they all knew that their minds were being read and deliberately did the opposite of what they were thinking. Even when they were about to do the opposite of what they were thinking, they suddenly did the opposite of that.

Cheating liars!

He was stunned. Heading towards him down the sidewalk was a woman pushing a stroller with something bundled up so tightly it was impossible to tell if it was a baby or a dog. He read the woman’s mind as she was about to pass him. It was a baby boy. His name was Bob. Finally, another successful mind reading.

The woman stopped and looked at him quizzically. Uh-oh. Was his secret out? Did she, through some form of mother’s intuition, sense that he’d been reading her mind? Would they be coming for him in the wee hours of the night?

“Traci,” said the woman.

Ross stared at her. What the hell was she talking about?

“My baby is a girl. Her name is Traci, not Bob. And that’s a nasty bump you have on your head.”

(Note: This is one of the many fine stories in the Twisted Tails VIII anthology. You can order a copy of it and read many fine stories better than the one you just read by clicking HERE.)

TT VIII

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The War Bug

(Excerpt from my third novel, The War Bug. You can buy it at Amazon. Just do a search for crazy stupid book. BTW, there’s no giant ant in the book. The War Bug is a computer virus that causes a war between online city states…but turns out to be kinda nice when it helps the lead character get his virtual family back. I wrote a short story in which the cover artist get his for putting an ant on the cover. The publisher who published the book with the ant on the cover also published the story in which the cover artist gets his. Go figure.)

thewarbug510

The Great Nano Canyon

“Cold murdering bitch. Damn, just one night with her, one hour!” muttered Jeemo, as he wiped drool from his chin and took off the white robe. The orange spikes on his head stood straight up like sharp erections.

Jeemo Roosenvelt would gladly have taken the sexclone’s place if he could have fallen to his death with his brain fresh full of sex with Bella and the smell of her cruelty seeping into his gray flesh.

He stared at his naked body in the wall length mirror. “Perfection!”

Vast folds of flesh rolled over thick layers of fat. Seven feet, seven hundred pounds. Jeemo loved the symmetry of the numbers. Somewhere under that mass his penis twitched crazily. He could feel it. “Yes. Throb my hidden toy, throb for the goddess Bella, psycho lust kitten of the emerald palace.”

He turned sideways, looking up and down the bulk of his body, at the gray face bulging out of his shoulders, and the fan of orange hair spikes forming a line from one ear to the other. His hands and feet were small and delicate; his movement as he turned before the mirror, fluid and graceful. He loved to watch himself move. He loved to watch himself standing still. He loved to watch himself eat, sit, lying down. Every wall of every room in his mansion, except one, was a mirror. Through the mirrors he could watch his enormous girth stretch into an infinity of reflected images.

A tuxedoed serverclone—one of the lower orders of clones, bred without legs, but equipped with anti-gravity boots so that their footsteps would not irritate their owners—floated to his side with a glass of red wine on a silver tray. It was reflected thousands of times over in the walls. “Dinner will be ready in ten minutes, Mr. Roosenvelt.”

Jeemo whisked the wine glass to his lips with a single motion and the serverclone floated away. Sipping wine, Jeemo bounced lightly, mounds of skin shaking like sickly jelly, to an arched window. The glass in the window could withstand the force of an F7 tornado—and it had.

Outside, the moon spilled over a Mid-west gutted like a war zone, spreading into the darkness, deep into the New Tornado Alley leading right up to the edge of the Great Nano Canyon. In the distance, strange light played in the air over sections of the canyon, dancing in bursts of blue and orange. This was normal.

The canyon wasn’t.

***

Less than a hundred years into the new millennium, the human race came close to becoming cheese soup. It started with the world’s smallest computer, a computer so small, it could only be seen with an electron microscope. It was the first assembler nanobot, a concoction of seven atoms that had been circuited, programmed and instructed to build—though what the nanobot was supposed to build was never known. In the process of building, it killed ten million people, including the people who had programmed it, and the last communication with them had been from the project’s lead Nano-applications Specialist, Milton Nadd.

His pallid face had filled the phone monitor as he whispered, “My god, it’s cheese soup…”

Then the screen had gone blank.

No one will ever know why it was cheese soup, but here’s how the nanobot was supposed to work: it was supposed to visit neighboring atoms and nudge them around until it had built another nanobot exactly like itself. Then the two nanobots were to visit neighboring atoms and nudge them around until they had built two more nanobots exactly like themselves. Then the four nanobots…

It was much like E-bola, only faster. In fact, it was so fast that, by the time Milton Nadd had said “cheese soup”, he was cheese soup. And his videophone was cheese soup. The other researchers and scientists and administrators and computer technicians in the room with Milton Nadd were all cheese soup. Desks, computers, chairs, paper clips, Far Side calendars, pencils and papers and books were all cheese soup. A million dollar electron microscope shook twice then collapsed into a splash of cheese soup that turned most of the floor into

cheese soup. The walls literally flowed into the floor and the ceiling fell and bubbled into the yellow-orange liquid. Within minutes, the entire underground high-security maximum-containment, fool-proof, fail-safe, absolutely accident free and “Senator-Jonz-you-won’t-ever-have-to-worry-about-anything-escaping-from-this-place-or-my-name-isn’t-Doctor-Milton-Nadd” facility was cheese soup, and it was working its way up through the ground, turning layers of red granite, quartz schist and an elevator containing junior research assistant, Jaqui Wright, who, strangely, had always wanted to be cheese soup, into cheese soup.

Now the assemblers were in gear, revved up and ready to rock, rarin’ to chew into the atoms of igneous and metamorphic rock, bite into the neutrons of trees and grass and asphalt and spit out cheese soup. Highways, lakes and towns, swimming pools and rivers, airports and trains, canoes full of frothy cold beer, and entire cities all churned into cheese soup. Hundreds of square miles of North Dakota were cheese soup by the time the news began to spread. Around the world, people panicked and rioted while others prepared quietly to become cheese soup. Jerry Springer was thawed from cryostasis and hosted a special on people who had sex in vats of cheese soup. Leaders of the Unified Global Village pondered and debated over international chat forums and concluded that it was time to try something new, and soup was always OK. Just when the world was ready to accept cheese soupness, the assemblers stopped.

Just stopped.

There was no apparent reason. They just stopped, after having created a mass of cheese soup that stretched from Winnipeg to Fargo and from Williston to Duluth. The whole planet held its breath in unison, as the ocean of cheese soup trembled like gunky jello without advancing a single atom in any direction. It stayed like that for three days. Then the giant mass of cheese soup went “ping”—not a loud ping, but a barely audible “ping”, like two expensive champagne glasses toasted by ladybugs. By the time the “ping” had “inged”, the cheese soup was gone. In its place was a perfectly round bowl in the earth, its walls polished and smooth. Millions of people who had flocked to the edges of the cheese soup

stared quietly, their faces a wall of open-eyed non-expression around the massive hole left by the cheese soup.

Nobody knew why it disappeared. Nobody knew why it stopped. Only the handful of Nanotechnologists Milton Nadd had called just before he became cheese soup knew why or how it had started, and they later restricted all nanoresearch to space stations far from the Earth’s orbit until the research was proved safe. Or at least somewhat reasonably safe.

Of course, there were those who thought a giant empty bowl was a big improvement over the former landscape.

***

For the briefest flicker of time, Jeemo’s mind drew him back to the failure of nano-treatments to change his body, rejecting him like a bad odor. Then the rejection by his parents, as though he were an insult to their DNA, and then his childhood spent with serverclones and software. Other than his parents, he’d never been in the same room as a real human, never touched real flesh other than his own. But that was all he’d needed, to feel himself real and nano-resistant, so perfect even the bots couldn’t improve him. He was the new standard of human perfection, and he loved every cubic inch of space he occupied.

But he’d gladly die for just a brush of Bella’s cold touch.

“Hot damn! That crazy woman’s going to fuck my brains out and flush me into the ocean.” The throbbing between his huge legs went into hyper drive at the thought of plunging into the ocean with Bella’s acid love fluids burning into his body. All he had to do was get the woman and the girl for her.

He sipped his wine as he stared into the sky over the Great Nano Canyon. The pink hole that was his mouth curved into something like a smile. And there’s the key to it all, he thought, why didn’t I think of that sooner? I’ll move it later. He’ll never find them now.

A sweet aroma curled into his nostrils. Mmm, honey glazed ham. There would be Poinsettia Eggs en Gelee. Potatoes Savonnette and watercress soup. And none of it would taste like chicken. Oh, it might hint of chicken on the aftertaste—chicken was inescapable these days—but the glazed ham would taste like glazed ham on the first few chews.

A Touch of Time

(A romantic scifi story first published in Ginosko Literary Magazine, Spring 2013)

She was much prettier than he’d imagined. Dusty brown bangs floated around her forehead with long waves splashing against the air around her neck. Her lips were two waves of flesh on the crest of a kiss. Her figure fit everyman’s calendar dream—not overly undersized, not overly muscular or plump or buxom or plank-like. He could have sworn that her eyes glowed blue. She was just right. As he knew she would be.

So much for the warnings about Internet dating. He’d just hit the World Wide Jackpot and he wasn’t about to wonder how he’d become this lucky.

Her name was Persephone. He didn’t find it strange at all. His own name was Mordecai. Mordecai Morris. And he hadn’t spoken to his parents in a long time. He couldn’t remember Persephone mentioning her parents in any of their chats. He wondered if they were scholars or teachers or just well-read average Joes who thought they might wrest a name out of time and bounce it off the walls of the modern world. But he liked it. It suited her. She seemed to know a lot about history and the classics, and had described some of her favorite historical events in minute detail, as if she’d been on a movie set, designing the costumes and directing the course of action, much like a technical consultant drawing from personal memory.

He thought it was pretty damn cool that she looked as good as she did. This was just about the best thing that had ever happened to him, or likely ever would.

“You’re Persephone?” he asked, smiling a little mischievously, knowing the answer.

“I don’t think so,” she said with a devilish smile. “What makes you think so?”

God, she was just like in her chats.

“Oh, the fact you’re wearing a black turtleneck, red tartan skirt, black leggings, and you’re sitting at the table I reserved for us.”

“Nice guessing, Morry.” It was what she called him. He loved it. It sounded even better than it read. “Hope you can read Manchurian,” she said.

“This is a Manchurian restaurant?”

“You made the reservations.”

“Oh, yeah.” He pulled his chin lightly between two fingers. “I guess that would explain the name: The Frozen Horde. I thought it had something to do with iced desserts and lots and lots of blueberries or something.”

“Blueberries!” she squealed and grabbed his hand.

They were sitting in a café outdoors, in what looked to be a medieval French city overlooking a cobblestone street busy with men in tight knickers and long white wigs, and women with gowns flowing into the horizon. He thought he’d seen this place in very old prints and paintings. After a bowl of Bluet en Glace, they were sitting in The Frozen Horde relieved the menu had pictures of the meals.

Strange, though, he wasn’t hungry anymore.

 ***

 She was drop dead gorgeous with the kind of lips a man could sink a kiss into and smother in lipstick with the tip of her tongue running along the edge of his soul. Big blue eyes peered through chocolate bangs, and her body could have been whittled from a stone of pure desire. She wore a skintight red gown plunging between spectacular mounds of white flesh. His eyes sizzled, his groin smoldered, his brain nearly snapped in half. She knew how to make an impression on a second date. Or was it their third? Who cared? She was drop dead gorgeous and he was the luckiest man on earth.

“Been waiting long?” he asked.

“And who might you be?” she replied.

He loved this game. “I’m the one who made the reservations for the table you’re sitting at.”

“Oh, him … the one who can’t read Manchurian.”

“We weren’t hungry anyway.”

“Speak for yourself,” she said. “Iced blueberries do not a meal make.” Blueberries. Ice. Something rattled at the back of his head, but evaporated into the Lost Regions of his gray matter at the sound of her voice. “So, do you speak Italian?” she asked.

“Everybody speaks Italian,” he said, picking up the menu. “Spaghetti. Lasagna. Linguini …”

She cut him off with the most amazing laugh ever to tickle his eardrums and her voice slid over the table like a spilled bowl of honey stew. “How did you know I love Italian food?”

“Everybody loves Italian food,” he said, and quickly regretted his words. “I mean, not that you have common tastes or anything  . . . I mean  . . .”

His ears buzzed with joy at the sound of her laugh. “It’s OK. You’re right. Everybody loves Italian, but I especially like it  . . . I guess, for its historical content.”

“Historical content?” he asked. “That’s a strange reason to love food, but, if you say so  . . .”

She reached across the table and took his hand and they were sitting across the table from Galileo Galilei as he tore off a chunk of Cabot while just around the corner in the kitchen Miro Sorvino sliced a wedge of Brushchetta and Luigi Pirandello twisted his fork into a mound of Spaghetti alla Bologna and Michelangelo Buonarroti gazed up from his wooden table as he chewed a mouthful of Tortellini di zucca and Frank Zamboni brushed ice from his jacket as his mouth watered thinking of Pizzette e Salatin and Federico Fellini scooped a steaming portion of Cannelloni al Ragu  . . . and he still wasn’t getting it as he dipped a garlic stick into a pool of spaghetti sauce and wondered about the wooden bowl just as it turned to porcelain and Persephone smiled at him and asked if they should order another bottle of wine.

Another bottle? How many had they had? He tried to focus his thoughts but he was caught in the glow from her eyes and that was all that mattered and he said yes, another bottle of wine. Something red and Italian.

 ***

 She was amazing. Life danced in her eyes. She was as fresh as the first time he’d met her and fallen in love on the spot, or had he already been in love after their weeks of sending and receiving over the Internet? He didn’t care. She was timeless and he told her so, “You’re timeless.”

She smiled bouquets and heartbreak and took his hand. “Something like that,” she said as they strolled past a heavily armored Samurai warrior outside a Japanese palace stretching into an ancient Far East sunset.

“But why me?” he asked.

“Why not?” she replied.

“There’s nothing special about me,” he said.

“Need there be?” she asked.

“But you’re so … perfect,” he said. “So out of my league. Why me?”

“I have a different perspective.”

He decided to leave it alone as their walk took them along a pedestrian bridge made of a single giant piece of plastic spanning two magnificent skyscrapers surrounded by flying cars and people streaking through the air in jetpacks.

Their walk finished in front of the coffee shop around the corner from where he lived. He asked if she’d like to go in for a coffee. They walked through the door and he noticed immediately that she was much prettier than he’d imagined with her dusty brown bangs floating around her face, her hair splashing against the air around her neck.

He suddenly had a craving for frozen blueberries.

 ***

 His hand was wrinkled and liver-spotted, his nails cracked and dried. His eyes beamed youthfully, but the pinched gray skin around red-veined whites looked like something from the Bin of Ages. His legs wobbled whether he was standing still or walking. His head shook when he talked as though trying to shake the words out of his mouth.

She sat across from him, young and beautiful as her eyes enveloped him with their blue glow. His voice cracked as he spoke. “We’ve had a wonderful life together.”

She smiled and nodded and said, “Yes, we have.”

“I’ve loved you from the beginning,” he said.

“I know,” she said. “And right to the end.” She took his hand and they were standing in total darkness until, an instant later, the darkness exploded with color and fire rushing light years in every direction, populating the emptiness with stars.

And he was in the Frozen Horde, sitting across from the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. He looked at his watch and smiled. He wasn’t surprised. Not a bit. Just happy for the fraction of a second she’d spent with him.

He looked one last time into the blue glow of her eyes and winked happily as he turned to dust.

(Gratuitous image for this posting…I think it’s in line with the theme.)

Rocks in Winter