I used to like to go out and watch people, imagine what their stories might be. I would try to pick out body language or facial expressions for some clue as to what was going on in their lives. That used to be one of my favorite pastimes. But not anymore.
When it started, it didn’t take me long to figure out what was happening. I was talking with a friend at lunch. The conversation took an odd turn as she reacted strangely to a comment I made. I had, without realizing it, responding to something she had been thinking but hadn’t said aloud.
I thought she was playing a joke, insisting she hadn’t said something she had, just to make me doubt myself. She thought it was some sort of trick, that I had found out about her secret crush on a mutual friend and was trying to get her to believe she had already told me. Neither of us convinced the other, and she left embarrassed.
I wasn’t sure what to think, so I started talking to a man sitting at the next table. I could tell he was thinking of a presentation he was giving later that day, even though he had said nothing about it. More experiments convinced me I could “hear” people’s thoughts.
At first, I had to be in a conversation with someone to use this newfound ability. Over a few days, it became easier and easier to pick up the thoughts without talking to the target. I had fun with it. Lots of the thoughts were pretty mundane, but occasionally someone’s secret would come through. I didn’t do anything with these secrets; it was merely entertainment.
After a few weeks, I was very good at it, and I began to think of ways to exploit it. It was about this time that things started to go wrong.
The first sign was when I accidentally bumped into someone on the street. A thought escaped from him and passed into me. It was something about an affair he was having. I hadn’t been trying to hear his thoughts, and the suddenness of it was unnerving.
It got worse. I began hearing the thoughts of anyone I touched. Then it was anyone nearby. I had to work harder and harder to keep stray thoughts away. What was worse was how horrible so many of them were: thoughts about abuse, molestation, rape, and murder. I couldn’t be sure who was thinking what, or even if these were real events that had happened or merely fantasy.
Soon, I was unable to block thoughts out at all. Trying to hear my own thoughts was akin to having a conversation at a rock concert. I could barely function around other people, and I had trouble looking at them knowing their darkest thoughts.
I used to enjoy watching people. But not anymore. Now I stay home and avoid them as much as possible.