Right off, I'm just going to apologise for any mistakes, as I am notoriously lazy when it comes to editing. This story was one of those brain children you let run away with you regardless of plot inconsistencies, and so whilst I probably will go back through and iron out all the creases when I have time, for now it might be a little rough around the edges. I hope you enjoy it regardless!
Nowadays, being classed as a mutant was enough of a problem.
This was made doubly worse by being blind.
If being led by the hand for my entire life wasn't enough to single me out, a faceless person matching me step for step as they guided me through the hubbub of noise and fumbling bodies, then the rumours that spread of my gift were sure to attract double the unwanted attention. Not that I was particularly aware of having any sort of talent to begin with; it was only when I caught snatches of whispered conversations not meant for my ears, felt the press of silence on my back that I had learned meant that people were staring at me. Ironic that, how the only one unable to watch my every action was myself.
I guess it began when I was smaller, younger, less accustomed to the constant cloud of black before my eyes, the endless void that try as I might I would never be able to penetrate. I had to rely on my other senses – sound mostly, and sensation through groping fingertips. I had to adapt, evolve even so as to better make my way through this world. It was strange thinking about people who could see, people who saw in colour, when the most I could ever know of their fortune was the names of such hues. Purple, blue, green, yellow. They were meaningless to me in my world of black. So when I began to feel emotions that weren't my own, I merely assumed that this was normal, that this was surely another sense that my family had neglected to notify me of. Or perhaps it was an effect of my blindness, and the sharpening of the only other senses that remained to me had awoken this new way of feeling the world around me.
It could be unbearable. It was worst when I was outside, and among others; then my head would begin to ache from the intensity of all those feelings, every raw emotion laid bare for me to feel myself as if for the first time. They would whine with a shrill fervour, each one clamouring for my attention, until I could barely think, and leaned once more upon the tangible shadow at my elbow for support.
It was the consistency of such experiences that led me to conclude that I was feeling other people's emotions, somehow tuning in on their innermost workings like their minds were just sound waves, each layered upon one another in a dizzying web of alternate frequencies. And yet the moment I used this exhilarating new skill, I was met by a wall of confusion and suspicion. On asking my mother why she was so sad, she refused to talk to me for two days, my only contact with her being through the pulsing waves of her terror that would follow me no matter what room I was in, never ceasing, not even in sleep so strong was her revulsion. My horror at this sort of reaction was why I never spoke of it again, not even when the constant press of other people's souls upon my own grew too painful for me to bear on my own.
And then that's when the words came.
I would hear them clearly, distinctly, as if spoken only a few feet from my ear. So naturally I would respond as I did when kindly passers-by ventured to offer me a few words, not realising that these were like the emotions that only I seemed able to detect, that they were silent, mind-words, not ear-words. I must have looked like I was mad, talking enthusiastically with thin air, head snapping from side to side when I detected a new voice or a new tone, shifting my attention to this fresh branch of conversation. I unconsciously realised that it was a little strange that when I responded to whatever snippet floated my way, I never once received a parrying answer. But I thought nothing of it. For once in my life I felt busy, included, a fellow fish of the shoal that streamed around me. At school, I was lonely – no one wanted to know the cripple in the corner – but it seemed to me that people were finally taking notice, and going so far as to willingly speak with me. I might even go so far as to say that at this point, I was relatively happy.
Meanwhile, outside of my bubble of ignorance, things only got worse. My family only became more confused and worried for my welfare. I worked my way through a record string of volunteer guides, each one finally cracking after perhaps the third of fourth day from the sheer embarrassment. Some made an attempt to distract me from the 'mind voices' with their own never-ending line of gossip, which worked for a time. One or two even tried to fill in for the owners of these voices, but this was a vain attempt – the voices filtering in from the outside each had their own distinguishable note and feel; some would brush the surface of my mind with the gentle touch of velvet, whilst others would send me reeling with their concrete intensity. Plus, I was now accustomed to not receiving an answer, and merely skimming from one topic to another like a stone across a lake, never stopping, and never settling.
At this point my mother could no longer take it, and I was sent to a therapist. The 'voices' were never quite as bad when I was alone; I could catch whispers and mutters, tiny fragments of words that echoed with a magnitude that made me feel like I was stood in a room so big that even if I could see the walls and ceiling, it would be beyond my comprehension, but due to their vague quality, I had the feeling that they weren't meant to be heard, and so I wouldn't answer.
For about ten minutes, the therapist was puzzled as to why I'd been sent to him – I could feel that much. I answered his questions politely, and I didn't appear to be communicating with voices of my own creation. But then it all went horribly wrong, and my blissful lack of knowledge was brought to a horrible stop. Perhaps that was the best; it meant I could try to hide, to duck away from the terrible reputation that my abilities burdened me with.
I can vividly remember there was a silence, under which I could hear a faint scribbling. Doubtless the doctor was scribbling down a few notes. By now I could sense a faint tendril of sadness reaching out to me; by tentatively feeling my way along it, I concluded that it was coming from the doctor himself. It was an invisible cord linking the two of us together, a faint path that it seemed only I could tread, and yet here was this unfathomable sadness that I longed to know the cause of. It crushed me, winding around my neck so that I could barely breathe, it refused to let me go no matter how hard I wrestled with it in the dark.
"Why are you sad?"
There was a weighty silence, and then a thud as the pencil and clipboard fell to the floor. The pressure upon my throat lifted a little, but breathing was still an effort, especially considering what I'd said after all those years of silence.
"I... I'm sorry?" There was a slight break in the doctor's voice, but years of practise allowed him to pretend that nothing was wrong.
I pressed my lips together, and said nothing.
Then, distinctly if a little quieter, I heard him speak. My close friend died.
"Oh. I'm sorry."
"What?" The professional veneer of his voice was beginning to crack. I heard him cough, as if trying to regain control. "Is someone talking to you now?"
It was my turn to be confused. "Yes – you are," I said slowly.
A barely concealed sigh. "I mean inside your head. What are they saying?"
"No." I frowned. "You're talking to me. You did just now. You said a close friend had died."
A stunned silence. The tendril had completely withdrawn, and instead I was surrounded by an icy suspicion that made me shiver.
"But you just said it." I was panicking now. What was going on? "You did, I heard you!"
"I didn't say anything." His voice quivered with emotion.
"It was your voice-"
This is freaky. Why does she keep insisting that I said anything? How does she know about Michael?
"Michael's your friend, isn't he?" I replied, desperate to prove it to him. I was right, he was mistaken. After spending my entire life relying on my ears as my lifeline to the world that I wasn't allowed to see, I couldn't let him announce that they'd been wrong this whole time. "The one who died. You told me, I heard you. Why do you keep insisting that I'm lying when I can hear you?" My voice filled my ears, an infantile shriek that was close to tears.
"I've got to, uh, go and check some notes, okay?" Then there was the abrupt slam of a door, and I was let alone, isolated, in the darkness, my only anchor the chair I sat on as the rest of my world collapsed around my feet.
I never visited him again. As far as I could tell he didn't want me in his clinic. Whenever anyone mentioned his name after that, I couldn't help but remember the tug of his sadness, as well as the bitter after-taste of the antipsychotic medicine he put me on, although I quickly stopped taking it as every dose made me violently sick, and left me with a blinding headache. For several hours my own pain would drive the pain of others away, and I could hear nothing for my own internal screaming.
But my problem was made all too clear by that encounter, my ability laid bare for all to see. My own family remained at a wary distance, frightened of what their daughter could do. And I was frightened too. Barely fourteen, and I could trust nothing that I heard. I learned that some words were ear-words and some were mind-words, some everyone heard, and others only I could understand. I had great difficulty telling the difference, however, and gradually I spoke less and less for fear of slipping up. I developed a system of speaking only when tapped on the arm or hand, but preferred to spend hours by myself, interpreting the meaning of Braille letters through my fingertips. Having someone read to me was still a rare pleasure, and one that was safe enough to engage in; I was not required to speak, only to listen, and even then I had the reassurance that these were ear-words, safe words, dictated to me from the solidity of printed pages from which they would never stray.
Naturally, tongues waggled, despite my mother's attempt to sweep me under the carpet. I was all too painfully aware of her shame, and her correlating fear that the neighbours should get wind of any sort of news at all. I was relieved for any sort of privacy she could afford me, but it was no use. School got worse – instead of being the cripple no one wanted to know, I was the freak that everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of. Roll up, roll up, a pound a go. The teachers were no better, and instead did their best to ignore me. And everywhere I went, eyes followed, I could feel them, I could hear the curiosity and hatred everywhere I turned, day and night, through my window, through the walls. It never stopped, not even within my own home – I think the fear that wafted from my own family was the hardest to swallow.
The news reports began to stream through the following year – a year for me to melt into the background, for things to die down. A year to learn, not that I knew how. Life had settled back to relative normalcy. When you jump into a puddle, you can feel the surface thundering against your boots, and it's possible to picture the chaos that that single step caused. But then you stand still, and the splashing stops. The water settles around your ankles peaceably, even if it still laps at your toes, the skin over the top still wrinkling now and then with every minuscule movement. That was life for me – a little unsteady at times, but manageable.
The reports made it so much worse.
Mutants. That's what they called people like me. At least, that's how I came to see myself. I could do things that no one else could; I'd secretly toyed with the label of 'superhuman'. But it seemed that the press had got there first. And it stuck.
Whenever mutants came up on the news, my mother was quick to change channels, and my father quick to change the subject. Practise and fear had worked quickly on them, on all of us. And yet I'd managed to gather scraps of information together into a raggedy whole, and I wasn't quite sure whether what it told me was entirely reassuring.
I wasn't the only one. There were more like me out there, isolated individuals with fantastic powers that defied the possible. For once, I wasn't alone. No matter how far away they were, we belonged together, and for a while I sustained the belief that I wouldn't be safe unless I found them, even joined them. I quickly ditched the idea when I realised how I wouldn't be able to do a thing without help; for the millionth time I cursed my lack of sight, and how it rendered me as dependent as a child who hadn't yet learned to walk.
Things got worse at school. The other kids seem to relish in the fact that they'd been handed the weapons to hurt me with on a silver plate. People jeered and spat; even now, when my tongue was most guarded, they still somehow found me out and made sure that justice was served. My parents rarely spoke to me, and I found easier to just sit upstairs where I knew no one would come looking. Books were no help, not against the constant gnawing of abuse at the back of my skull.
I don't know how I managed the next two years. Somehow I managed to scrape through whilst outside the storm only swelled and grew, feeding off the fear of those who couldn't understand. As I grew older, my mutation grew with me, and became harder to disguise and control. There were times when I could see straight into another person's head and hear everything – not just the snatches of thought suspended before their eyes, but everything. I could read their stories as easily as reading a book with my fingertips. Not only that, but I seemed to be able to transmit my own thoughts; every now and then when I was especially careless, I would sense someone stiffen as a foreign thought wormed its way inside their head.
Once, and only once, I found myself behind someone's eyes, wearing someone else's skin. I could see.
I finally understood what green and blue and yellow looked like. I saw the beauty of the sun and the unending scale of the sky. I saw the hard pavement beneath my feet, and the strange faces bobbing past my shoulders, the shops, the cars, the movement of the world, the way people's lips moved as they spoke. I even saw myself: a tall girl with tangled black hair and staring eyes clinging awkwardly to the elbow of her mother, my mother. Turned out my favourite shirt was red. Strange how little I knew about some of the most intimate of my possessions.
And my mother. I saw her for the first time in all seventeen years of my life, saw her short black hair and weary brown eyes, the wrinkles that aged her before her time, the way people skirted past her with looks of disgust because of the mutant beside her. And I felt sick. She didn't deserve me. No one did. She deserved so much better, deserved a safe home with friends and happiness and no carpet to have to smuggle secrets beneath, no dark corners within which a monster was concealed.
With a gasp, I was once more in my own body, and the familiar black crawled in once more. I was left with the impression of how achingly blue the sky was.
"Are you alright?" Her voice was so familiar, that for a moment I hated it.
"I'm fine. Just..." I hesitated, knowing how crazy I was about to sound. "I understand why blue is your favourite colour."