I have been working on Parity again the last few days. Now that I have an accountability partner, I’m hoping I can finish this one.
New Orleans surrounded me with her boisterous song of life and death, and the souls that existed somewhere in between. The stench of her streets, a mix of fish and garbage, carried in the wind and greeted me like an old friend. Along sidewalks, cracked and buckled, I walked for hours. Head down, hands shoved into my pockets, eyes half open, without watching the gnarled roots I passed over. I knew each of them as though they were part of me. My feet moved around and over with no cause to pay attention to where I stepped.
No other place in the world existed to me. Bourbon Street, Esplanade, Saint Charles Avenue, they wrapped their arms around me in a warm hug of grit and shame. I loved it…hated it. Even with her filth and stink, New Orleans charmed everyone who came to meet her. Her grand display of Spanish architecture kissing the backs of French Double Gallery homes, the Mississippi River in all its graceful bends flowing like a shimmering brown snake slithering in the relentless heat of the sun, the open hearts and minds of its residents—no one could deny her diversity or flare.
I turned a corner and lifted my head. Crowds moved through Bourbon Street, a vibrant river of the old and young, living and surviving. They laughed and shouted. Applause rose for the saxophone musician and his mangy dog. His bucket clanked as they tossed quarters and dimes. Dollars lay strewn beneath their feet, threatening to flee from a hot, humid breeze.
Louder than the sounds of the French Quarter were the foreign thoughts crowding my mind. They invaded, unaware of their effect, oblivious to the fact that I heard them at all. I frowned, pressed my eyebrows inward. The headache of my cursed gift pinged in my temples, throbbing with the rhythm of crashing waves.
I crossed the summer-heated asphalt, steam rising up after an evening rain, and pushed past a gang of red-faced and sweating tourists to Harley’s. I stepped inside, felt the sweat on my brow freeze, and shivered.
“You’re late, Aamon.” Harley stared at me from across the empty lounge with her big brown eyes. For forty-five, she was a beautiful woman. She prided herself on keeping her perfect waistline toned and her thighs well-sculpted. She had painted almost every inch of her body in intricate tattoos. The idea of allowing them to stretch and warp with age and time forced her to watch every calorie she ingested and cover herself in age-defying lotion. Her scent, coconut butter and aloe, gave away her presence in an instant.
My feet tapped against black and white tiles. One patron sat at the bar, back slouched, shoulders hunched forward as though he meant to protect whatever liquid filled the glass before him. I noted his long, gray trench coat, and my eyes lingered over him.
Harley’s thoughts agreed with my own, though she ignored her suspicions more easily than I. As usual, she had more interest in the money he intended to spend than his bizarre manner of dressing for summer.
I gave her my best smirk, the one she liked the most with one side of my lips turned up and an eyebrow arched. “I apologize, Harley. What shall my punishment be?” I winked and set my guitar case down beside me.
“Perhaps we will agree on something later.” She relaxed her stern expression, and returned my wink.
The stranger continued to trouble me as I started to set up my equipment. He was a void that begged to be explored, yet all my prodding mind could find was a locked gate and flashes of anger and half-focused thoughts of violence. They exuded from him like a stink that wafts through stagnant air and forces a shiver to roll across your skin. I wanted him to leave.
I stared at him as I unpacked my guitar and set up my equipment. You need to be somewhere else. My head swam. That thought reflected back and a sudden urge overcame me. As though my body was not my own, it stood and moved toward the door. I stopped just as I reached the handle and turned around to find the man still hunched over his drink.
My mouth hung open as if I meant to speak but couldn’t find the words. Had he in fact reflected my suggestion and forced me to accept it? My hands tingled, fingers begging to scratch my palms until they bleed. I willed my feet forward and approached the man, eager to know who or what he was.
My hand had just landed on his shoulder when he spun around to face me. He grinned, eyes shining despite the lackluster lighting in the room. Something in his maniacal manner held me hostage in a rigid stare.
Hello, Aamon. He had not spoken my name.
I frowned. My heart began pounding a rapid tempo. “Who are you?”
He shook his head, eyes rolling. Honestly, Aamon, if you’re going to possess the gift of telepathy, you might as well use it.
I clenched my teeth hard, so hard that I might have buried them deeper into my gums. What do you want?
He took on a satisfied expression of acceptance and grasped my arm with fingers digging deep into my skin. I am Cainam, and I want you. His smile was dark, dripping with wicked intentions, his jaw twisting as he grinded his own teeth. Welcome to your future.
Why do you fear me, Aamon?
The room shivered as Cainam spoke to me in thought—blurred and sharpened as though I could not make sense of my surroundings. I don’t fear you.
The large mirror behind Harley’s bar seemed to ripple. My reflection moved while I remained still. I felt it in my chest, a tightening of my muscles, a thrill of adrenaline. What do you want with me?
We will discuss that in time. For now I want you to consider it. Have you ever met another of your kind? I am the first, am I not? You have to admit to yourself that my offer, though frightening, is tempting.
Cainam’s eyes transfixed me in an unbreakable stare—two orbs of light swimming through the twisting pathways of my mind. I could not stop him, and I had to wonder if I wanted to. I swallowed.
Already your resistance is feeble, Aamon. I know you better than you know yourself. Join me, brother.
And what of my life here? This is my home. These people are my family. I started to gesture to Harley, but my hand did not move.
These people will never understand. He tilted his head. Have you ever made love to one of your own kind? No, but you dream of it. You have often wondered what such and experience would feel like. Two telepaths colliding, bodies and minds writhing and melding into one. You want it. I can feel that desire deep within you, Aamon. It burns you from within.
Stop. My hands shook. I tried to back away, wanted to run. Just…stop.
Cainam stood, his nose almost touching mine. In fact there is one you dream of often. You do not even know her name, but you see her every night. She entices you. How beautiful she is, and yet you can never touch her. You want her more than any woman you’ve ever known, and you don’t even know her.
A breathless exhale, my lips parted, I turned and started to run.
Harley shouted something as I made a break for the door. I only heard her voice, strained and filled with confused frustration. Her words, however, were nonsensical in my current state. My feet pounded against the steaming streets and littered sidewalks as I darted through packs of tourists and around lone natives. The rush of adrenaline-infused blood filled my ears with its sickening roar.
The stranger who called himself Cainam continued to follow, though not in the manner one would think. Instead of chasing me over cracked concrete, under rows of twisting trees, and past each open door that offered a cool breeze, he appeared before me and then just a step behind me. How?
I sensed him as he spoke to me in thought. Stop running, Aamon. It’s pointless.
I relented and planted both hands on my knees, arms shaking as they supported my panting torso. Every muscle shivered with exhaustion. I all but collapsed to the scalding pavement that appeared for a moment to swirl beneath me.
Honestly, Aamon, you can do better than this. I know the power you possess.
I spun to face Cainam. Why do you want me?
His steps were slow, deliberate, as though he were approaching a feral cat. He smiled without smiling, making the Mona Lisa seem a failure in her own attempt. I only wish to help you. There is so much more to your power than you know.
I shook my head and stood straight. “I don’t need your help. I am happy here.”
Cainam looked me over, eyes studying my mind as much as my body. For someone who hates liars, you seem to lie to yourself quite often.
I relaxed my shoulders and dropped my gaze to the time-worn ground. I could try to run again, but that seemed as inane as wearing shoes in a swimming pool. Fine, but we talk about this inside.
He tilted his head in agreement with one arched eyebrow and a half-cocked grin then stepped inside the nearest door.
I hesitated for just a moment. Questions arose that served to peck at my sanity for even entertaining this mad stranger. However, one obvious fact remained. He was far more powerful than me, and I had no idea how to fight him. I followed him inside the dark, cool lounge and sputtered. Somehow, we had returned to Harley’s.
Harley glared at me from across the bar. “What the hell is going on, Aamon?”
“I….” My eyes darted around the room, black and white tiles, paintings by local artists, and now a few more patrons enjoying their icy mugs of beer at the bar. It was all the same. “I’m sorry. I thought I forgot something,” I lied. What could I tell her that would make any more sense? I had run out of here faster than lightning and returned with no real explanation.
She shot me a queer glance of disbelief and started to question me, but Cainam, who’d returned to his watered-down drink, stopped her with the wave of his hand.
Harley’s mouth shut before it had made the first syllable and eyes lit up. “You’re late, Aamon,” she said for the second time.
I blinked, unfocused eyes shifting between the stranger and Harley. “I’ll make it up to you….” My voice was distant, caressing uncertainty.
Cainam did not move, nor did he drink from the glass before him. I wondered why he’d even ordered it in the first place. I enjoy the scent, he responded in thought. Continue as you would normally. I will wait.
I felt like a hostage with the muzzle of a telepathic gun pressed to my head. Every move I made was mechanical. I reached for my guitar, plugged in the microphone, adjusted my strap. The strain in my tone carried as I sang and strummed rigid strings with my calloused fingers. No matter how much time passed or how many songs I played, my muscles remained tense, ready to run again if I must.
My set lasted two hours, two long hours of missed chords and half-remembered lyrics. I thanked the few patrons who’d remained and removed my guitar. My eyes drifted to Cainam who had not moved. No one seemed to notice him, including Harley who had a habit of talking up her lone barflies. She was more interested in the glassware that she’d already cleaned four times.
Leave her alone, I thought to Cainam. She has nothing to do with what you’re here for.
I heard laughter in my mind, over-amused and disturbed. I have to give her something to do. She keeps wandering back over to me.
I groaned and continued to gather equipment. Send her home then. She has no business with you. Once the latches of my guitar case were snapped closed, I stood and moved to where he sat, taking the stool next to his. For once in my life, I wanted a drink. My throat was dry, and my stomach was twisted into knots so expertly tied that a sailor couldn’t undo them.
Relax, kid. I’m not here to hurt you.
Then why are you here?
Cainam shifted on his stool and turned his gaze to me. I focused on his face for the first time. His eyes, though dark, seemed to shine with no source to reflect in them. They were old, ancient even, set in a youthful face with broad cheeks and a strong jaw.
He waved a hand at Harley and removed his coat, tossing it on the bar beside his now unrecognizable drink. I am here to teach you how to use your abilities to their full potential. You have only grazed the surface of what you are capable of.
I frowned and looked at Harley who’d begun to pour a drink. Why? I asked in thought as I returned to him. What does it matter to you?
“Because you are going to replace me,” he answered, speaking aloud for the first time.
My eyebrows pressed together and lips pursed. I knew I should not ask more, but I felt the urge to know. I’d always said that I wanted to know everything. Whether it was bravery or stupidity, I am not sure, but I pushed him to continue. “Replace you?”
Harley placed a drink before me, the sweet scent of sour and amaretto wafting toward me. “On the house. I’m heading home. Lock up for me, will you?” She tossed her keys on the bar.
I gaped at her. Harley trusted no one to close the bar for her, not even her employees. Just beneath her nose I noticed a trickle of red. I swung my head to face Cainam and glared. You’re hurting her.
He sighed, shaking his head. Some of them are just too damn strong-willed. She’s an especially stubborn one. She will be fine with some rest.
I reached for the drink, enjoying the scent it gave off. I paused before touching the mixture to my lips, watching Harley as she wandered out of her bar and into the street. She didn’t deserve that.
Cainam snickered. I have my work cut out for me, I see. Why do you care so much for these lesser humans?
“What makes them lesser humans?” I lifted the sweet-smelling drink and sipped. Arrogant bastard, I thought.
“Ha! That is true. Nine thousand years will do that to the world’s most powerful telepath.” He grinned. “You have the potential to exceed that.”
“And how would you know?” The smooth drink slid down my throat with ease as I drank from the glass again.
Cainam rolled his eyes. “You are a real piece of work, Aamon. I can’t wait to break you in.”
My stomach twisted at the thought of Cainam breaking me in. What did that entail? Torture? I sipped my drink again and closed my eyes, focusing on images that soothed me. My mother’s smile, the feel of Harley’s smooth, painted skin against mine, the Mississippi River rushing quietly through the brick and cement jungle of New Orleans.
Beautiful, Cainam responded. You have a wondrous mind, Aamon. You only need to trust me.
I shook my head, staring at the mirror behind the bar. My warped image, disheveled hair falling over my eyes. What reason do I have to trust you?
Among many, the fact that I didn’t kill your friend.
I scoffed. You’ll have to do better than that.
My glass empty, I stood and started to walk away.
Very well. For now, I will leave you to ponder my offer. You cannot hide from yourself forever, Aamon.
I lifted my guitar case and turned to face him again, only to find he had vanished from sight.
Copyright © 2015 by Sophie Giroir