Nicholas rocked back and forth, crumpled on the floor. “I feel like my head is going to explode!” he said. “I’m going crazy here. I can’t stand all these voices.”
Randal poured a tumbler of Scotch from a glass decanter. He held it down to Nicholas and said “Here. This will help.”
“Make it stop,” Nicholas said.
Randal rattled the ice cubes around in the glass to get his attention. “My private vintage,” he said.
“Make it stop,” he said again.
“Oh,” Randal said, “you’re too young for Scotch? I didn’t realize.” He nudged Nicholas with his foot, as Nicholas flopped on his back. “Come now, you’re almost twenty. Man up and drink it down.”
Nicholas took the glass, held it on his chest, and kept laying on his back, his eyes closed tight. He smelled the sweetness and acidity of it.
“This glass is worth more than your parents make in a year,” Randal said. “It’ll go down smooth.”
Nicholas sat up. He sniffed the glass and whipped his head away.
“It beats taking a power drill to your temple,” Randal said, invoking an exact image taken from Nicholas’s mind.
He considered the glass for a moment, and then took it down in one forced gulp, choking. Randal laughed.
“Smooth?” Nicholas asked, rasping. Randal nodded. “What’s the rough stuff like?”
Before Randal could answer, Nicholas’s head swooned. It took a moment to right himself, but once he got his bearings, the voices had subsided, fading into the background like a distant crowd.
“Better?” Randal asked, knowing the answer.
Nicholas nodded, and asked “How did you know?” He realized there were more important questions and didn’t wait for the answer. Instead, he asked “How did you find me?”
“I’m just like you,” he said, pointing to his forehead. “If you don’t learn to control it, you won’t last long.”
“Can you teach me?” he asked.
“Follow me,” Randal said, turning and walking away.
Nicholas got up and followed, and couldn’t explain why. “How did I get here?” he asked.
“You’re an addict,” Randal said. “We all are. You went out looking for a fix, and got more than you could handle.”
“I don’t quite follow,” Nicholas said.
“I found you at the mall, drooling on the men’s room floor,” Randal said, leading the way through the house, down a hallway, through a library, into a private study.
Randal pressed on an unremarkable spot on a wall, dislodging a panel and sliding it to the side. Behind the panel was a bare cinder block shaft with an aluminum ladder bolted in place. He reached out to it and climbed down. He motioned for Nicholas to follow, and when Randal beckoned, there was no choice but to obey.
They went underground into a cellar, dark but expansive, the sound of their footfalls taking ages to return to them. Randal turned on the lights. The basement was filled with things, not stored, but set up for use. There was a boxing ring, a firing range, a rubber striking dummy, weights, ropes, and more things than Nicholas’s Scotch-addled mind could keep account of. Every foot of the walls was hidden behind full bookshelves.
“What is this place?” Nicholas asked.
“This,” he said, “is where I’m going to train you.”
Nicholas became aware of a voice returning, cutting through the low roar of the people out in the world. Randal’s voice – if it could be called a voice.
He heard an inarticulate wailing, like a man on his knees, shouting his rage at the sky. He saw Randal’s elaborate plans, to do violence, to murder, to avenge his son. For a moment he was unable to recall if the son was Randal’s or his own.
Nicholas stumbled backward. He panicked and ran over to the firing range. He took a revolver from a pair of hooks on the wall, opened a box of bullets on the bench, and loaded a few into the cylinder.
“I should have given you more to drink,” Randal said.
He pointed the gun at Randal, but Randal could see that he had no immediate plan to fire it, and ignored it.
“Did you make me this way?” Nicholas asked.
“I didn’t make you anything,” Randal said. “This is what you are. All I did is draw it out.”
“Why?” Nicholas asked, and before Randal answered, he realized that he already knew the answer. Randal’s son had been killed. He had been killed for having the same power as his father possessed.
He panicked, and dug deeper, looking for who had been responsible, why Randal’s son had been killed, and if he was now in danger as well.
His thoughts ran wild. He feared that he would never be a part of society again, that this power would set him apart. He saw the life Randal set out for him: leaving his home and his life and beginning a new life of isolation and danger. His perception of the world grew larger, realizing that he and Randal were not unique, that others of their kind were out there. He was a part of a kind, and that there were people who sought to do harm to his kind. He wanted revenge. He wanted his old life back, his old family back.
But then, that’s what Randal wanted, not he. He couldn’t quite tell where his own thoughts ended and Randal’s began. But in all of his digging, he was sure of one thing. The answers he wanted – who would seek to do his kind harm, and why – Randal did not have them. All he had was anger and fear. And experience. And power.
“I understand,” Nicholas said, whispering so softly that Randal could not have heard. But then, words would not be necessary between them anymore.
He heard the regret Randal felt for upsetting his life, and the desperation that led him to do so, and these emotions became his own.
Forgiveness wasn’t necessary. All that mattered was work. Training. Preparation.