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NEW FICTION: Unseen (chapter 1)

August 29, 2002

I knew a girl once. I guess that’s not the most poetically or imaginative way to begin a narrative, but it’s honest and direct so permit me to elaborate. Her name was Carol Wilson and we’d been friends a long time, at least since childhood.

Carol lived two houses away from me, on Palm Street in Centerton. We played together a lot, not as much as I’d have liked, but a lot, and that was okay. She was always running off with her mom. I never really knew what they did together, and I never bothered to ask.

My mom and I had been close, but she died of cancer a week after my ninth birthday. Thereafter, dad raised me on his own. I can’t say that he did a poor job, but the loss of his wife (and my mother) had been devastating for us both, though perhaps more so for him. Rather than bringing us closer together it seemed to create in each of us a sort of toughening silence. We coexisted; he was a responsible provider, but it more or less ended there. During that time Carol and I were like sisters, and for a while I became an extension of her biological family.

At age 17, Carol and I enrolled at the Plainsville campus of State University. We lived in separate dorms, but were very much inseparable during our freshman year. Studying was second nature to Carol. As we became acclimated to college life and embraced academia, Carol and I saw each other less and less often, though still quite regularly I suppose. It was during this time that I really began dating; it was also during this time that I began to question my own sexual preferences. I became indifferent to both sexes, feeling little if any sexual desire for another. Mainly, I longed for companionship, for friendship. My physical desires were at their lowest ebb during a time when most adolescents are ravenously active.

I found comfort in existential writers such as Kafka and Camus; in classical compositions by Lizst, Stravinsky, and Strauss; and in stimulating conversation with my fellow students. We met weekly off campus, spending hours gathered at the local coffee beanery (of which there were few in 1983).

By my sophomore year, I rarely saw Carol on campus or at the dorms. For a while I thought perhaps she’d dropped out, but I would occasionally see her passing through the student center; she’d wave and keep walking. I began to realize that as much as college is a time of forming new friendships, it’s also a time when old friendships can end.

One night in November in 1984 I was walking to my dorm room following a poetry reading at the student center. As I passed the door to Carol’s room, I heard hysterical crying from within. I called out to her but she didn’t answer. I pounded on the door until my fists were bruised. Finally, she opened the door, standing silhouetted in the darkened room.
That night changed my life.

“There’s nothing I can do,” she sobbed.
I stared at her in mixed bewilderment for a moment.
“Carol, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“There’s nothing I can do. It’s too late.” Her face was saturated with tears. I stepped toward her to hold her trembling body.
“Don’t!” she shouted, and stepped back.
“What’s wrong with you?” I asked.
“It’s Derek,” she said.
She was referring to Derek Johanson, a junior from the dorm adjoining ours. Derek was string cheese poly-sci major and lead singer in a band called the Candlemen; I’d seen the band at two or three frat parties. They were typical three-chord adolescent pop.
“What about Derek?”
“He’s going—he’s going to die tonight.”
“Carol, why don’t you just explain to me what the hell it is you’re talking about.”
She explained.

I need to clarify this and it needs to make sense, so I’ll explain it as simply and clearly as possible and ask that you read it with a sense of open-minded acceptance, not skepticism. Carol…knew things. She knew things she shouldn’t know—about her family, her friends, her professors…even strangers. She had access to secret knowledge. Dark secrets. forgotten memories, events yet to occur.
She explained it to me that November evening in 1984 as best she could through frenetic tears.
The best way I can describe it, and really, it’s not even my description, is to quote directly from Carol’s new-age publication Mind Walking (Random House, 1992) which, despite the radical concepts it addressed (or perhaps because of them) was savaged by most critics:

“…to walk the mind. To mind walk. This experience is unlike anything known in the physical plane of existence. The mind is a house into which the mind walker enters of his or her own volition. The host is oblivious of the mind walker’s presence. The rooms of the mind are infinite; they contain past, present, and future occurrences. While mind walking I can open the doors of my choice and view and individual’s life—or moments thereof. It is akin to looking at a stranger’s photo album, but having total recall of the persons and events contained within each photograph, and to be able to see photos not yet taken. To mind walk is to experience another’s life as if it were your own” (p. 21).

She didn’t explain it quite as clearly that evening in her dorm room, and would not have explained it at all had I not continued to persist with questions. I was skeptical—I think I had reason to question what I was being told.

“You’re saying…what? That you can read minds?”
“More than that,” she whispered, “much more.”
“How do you do this? How long have you been able to do this?”
“I guess it all started two years ago, during the summer before we entered college.”

It was touch—physical contact—that enabled her to step into another’s mind. The touch could be as intentional as a handshake, or as inconsequential as the brush of an exposed arm against another in a theatre line. I began to understand why Carol had become so reclusive. During these moments of contact a doorway opened, quickly and abruptly, into the other’s mind. The vastness of the space with the doorway was not definable by means known to man; it was as limitless as the imagination. There was no beginning…no end. And within were doors, endless rows of tall, colorful doors of mahogany and pine, as elegant and decorative as anything crafted in colonial America.
Each door could contain a separate memory, a unique recollection, a moment in time forgotten by the conscious or unconscious mind. A moment buried, hidden, deep inside areas of the mind unattainable by even the greatest known hypnotists. Or it could contain a memory that had yet to occur—a future event. And having opened the door, the moments, memories, and sensations would become Carols. She became an admirer of the lives of others, sharing with them memories long dissipated by time and age, and relating events and occurrences still to come.
It had begun, she explained to me, with her father. She’d seen into him when she was 16, like a casual tourist who ventures into a new town and is quickly lost. How carelessly she’d stumbled through the soft carpet of his mind. There were doors. So many bright, pretty doors from which to choose. How could she have known what she was about to open? How could she in her youth have imagined that such horrors were possible—that such vile acts could be perpetrated—by one of the two persons responsible for her existence?
Carol never told me the exact details of what she’d seen. Suffice to say her relationship with her parents forever changed. The first days of college could not arrive fast enough for Carol, and I then realized why she’d spent the summer months prior to her freshman year working double shifts at the local supermarket, where she was employed as a cashier. She hadn’t done this for the money, but because it afforded her a reason to be away from her father. Carol’s conversations with her parents had numbered fewer and fewer in the weeks prior to September 1983.
“What about me?” I asked. “Have you…been inside my head?”
She didn’t speak for a moment but looked directly into my eyes.
“No; I don’t think I can. That is to say, you seem to be immune from this ability I have to see inside a person. I’m relieved, actually. I guess…I guess maybe it’s because we’ve been friends for so long. I dunno, really. But, I’d rather not try it.”
“And Derek?”
“Oh, Jesus, I…I saw what’s going to happen to him. I told him not to go but he went anyway. I told him and he laughed at me.”
“What did you see? What’s going to happen to Derek?”
She didn’t tell me. I found out the next day; everyone did. He’d been flying to Ann Arbor aboard a four-seat, twin propeller cub. Thirty-two minutes in the air the plane lost power to its engines. It dropped 6,000 feet in 23.4 seconds. There were no survivors.

In our junior year I transferred to State University’s main campus and enrolled in the school of medicine; the decision meant another four years of study, but it’s what I’d wanted to do. Following graduation I returned to Centerton and apprenticed under Agnes Harwood, MD, my physician since birth. When her partner announced several months later that she was moving to Dallas to be with her fiancé, Agnes asked me to join the practice on a full-time basis. I eagerly accepted and signed the official partnership agreement on September 10, 1989.

During her final two years in school Carol and I kept in touch via frequent letters and post cards; I kept them all. She wrote me in April 1985, stating,

“…I realize this is my gift and my curse—to see into the lives of others. To see far distant memories long forgotten by the conscious mind. To see future actions one will take before they are aware of the actions.”

It was a power unique to Carol, despite her (later) published claims to the contrary. In May 1985 she wrote to me again and announced,

“…this ‘power’ is beginning to require nourishment—the more I use it, the more it demands that I use it. I’ve been spending less and less time in class, fewer and fewer are the hours I’m devoting to study. I’ve also begun offering my services to friends and strangers as psychic…a seer. I know. I know how ridiculous that sounds, but I want to help people and…and I’m anxious to walk inside their minds…”

I don’t know that I ever understood the potential of what Carol could and could not do. She described to me the sensations associated with mind walking me several years ago.
Most of it, she said, was horrid. The type of visions one experiences only in the most restless of sleeps on dark and dreary nights when the skies are alive with raging storms.

Unfortunately, hers was not a perfect science. Carol did not know what lay behind each door; she had no way of knowing the memory or future event that awaited her. She soon discovered that for each doorway behind which she’d unearth a memory or sensation of joy, there were ten or more other doors behind which lurked the darkness that had been done—or that would be done. She addressed the experience in a Chapter 2 of the aforementioned Mind Walking:

“…it is a phenomenon I refer to as the Unconscious Skeleton, a term associated with the idea of ‘skeletons in the closet’ or hidden secrets, excepting to add that the ‘skeletons’ that I find are unknown to their owner. That is to say, the individual no longer has conscious awareness of an act perpetuated during an earlier point in his or her lifetime. These memories have been blocked from the person’s waking memory, but appear to me during the mind walk as fresh memories of crystal clarity. In addition, there is the concept of the Unconscious Future Skeleton, similar to the Unconscious Skeleton, excepting these events have not yet occurred. These are future events—not events that will necessarily occur today or next week, but, perhaps, months or years from now…”

The doorways that simultaneously frightened and fascinated Carol the most were those that revealed future events, or the “Unconscious Future Skeleton,” as she so colorfully labeled it. But she wasn’t exaggerating. As though our lives were but predetermined, predestined stories in a book simply waiting to be read, Carol could, upon opening the correct door, foresee that which would occur--not that which might be, but events that were guaranteed to transpire.

Her life became a dichotomy of sorts. In winter 1986 she wrote to me, stating,

“…and although I can describe these future occurrences to the individuals into whose minds I step, I’m becoming increasingly reluctant to do so, particularly when the unlocked doorway reveals the blackness of a fatalistic vision—though I’ve seen nothing as bleak as what I witnessed when I walked through Derek that night in November ‘84. But the hunger and desire to venture into the minds of others compels me. Everyone thinks of it lightly, as if its for ‘amusement purposes’ or something. So I’ve started lying…sometimes. People only want to hear good news anyway. I mean, premeditated assassinations not withstanding, does a person know (or want to know) that he or she will take another person’s life 10 years distant? Would they believe me if I told them so? If I tell an 18-year-old college student she will be an HIV positive heroin addict by age 27 would she believe me? If a respected college professor is told that 4 years hence he will bludgeon to death a colleague during a private dinner party during Hanukah…I mean, they just don’t want to hear it—they don’t want to know.”

But Carol knew. Carol knew all these things and so many more.

UNSEEN concludes next week.

Watch for more new stories coming soon including:

The Man Who Could Not Die
Three Fears
and the return of Silver- and Bronze-age reviews!

Be sure to check out the all-new ALTERCATIONS preview!

ALSO...check out the extensive ALTERCATIONS review/preview at newsarama!

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