The bass vibrated the cushions in Allie’s truck as she rolled to a stop. House parties. This had to stop. She was twenty-three for Christ’s sake. The booty-shaking nineteen year old freshman was long gone. But Stephanie had insisted she come, said she needed her support while she tried to nail Chad.
Boys. She was too old for that too.
She sighed and put her ‘63 Chevy Pickup in park. The paint was old and faded, but she’d just overhauled the transmission, and the engine was smooth as butter churned with raw horse power. She opened the door and stepped down onto the pavement and smoothed her skirt down, trying to brush out the dog hair. There was a time when she would have been immaculate, dressed to bowl ‘em over. But really, what was important?
She knocked once before remembering that no one could hear anything above the music. She sighed once and looked back at her truck before summoning all of her bravado and pushing the door open wide. Fake it till you make it.
Henry smiled to himself as the flood of thoughts came to him. “Do I look stupid?” “Oh God, Tim is here. I need another drink.” “Katy Perry is fake as shit but I still like this song.”
Prowling had gotten so much easier since he found that tiny book secreted under the floorboards of the room he’d rented as a freshman. It was in an old wooden house that creaked in the wind and was the subject of no less than fifteen ghost stories. It didn’t helpt that the man who lived there had jet black hair and a sharp widows peak and tended to look at you just a little longer than comfortable.
He must have been the only student to rent a room there ever. Certainly the only one to admit it. But he needed a place, and he was paying his own way through college, so he didn’t exactly have the cash for a plush downtown apartment.
The book was titled “Telepathy for the Inspired Mind,” printed in small letters on a hard rough cover in the way of old textbooks from decades ago. It was a guide, like a modern how-to, full of exercises. He’d almost tossed it, but his girlfriend from high school had just that day called him to say she wanted to see other people, and the promise, even the highly unlikely and impossible promise of telepathy was too hard to resist.
He moved through the room, listening to girl’s thoughts, smirking at the guys. Then he heard her. She was across the room, buried in a pack of sweating bodies in the middle of the dance floor, but her thoughts floated through as clear as a the air after rain. He narrowed his focus so he could make out the words. “It just doesn’t convey the intensity of it. I wish I could just paint the emotion right onto the canvas.”
Her hips rolled with the bass as he walked toward her and flashed an easy smile. Just dumped, a pariah in a haunted house, that first semester had been rough. He’d come to these parties dripping with desperation and struck out every time. But the book had changed all that.
He danced next to her until the song ended and then left to chat, waiting until she came out for a break. He held out his hand.
“Nice dancing. My name is Henry.”
“Tiffany.” She said, clasping his hand for just a moment.
“Nice to meet you.” He paused, acting uncomfortable. “This might seem weird, but have you ever seen that painting…” He paused waiting.
Her thoughts betrayed her as painter’s names came to him. “Irena March?”
Her eyes widened and the flow of thoughts stopped. Shock. That precious standstill moment of unexpected connection. Henry relaxed. He was in.
Then his world fell away and he stared into space. Something bigger pushed on the boundaries of his consciousness. Some entity that probed and sought and then suddenly recoiled, leaving behind a slight taste in his mouth. It was the metallic taste of surprise.
Allie felt it as soon as the door opened. It hit her hard in the gut. She grunted and froze, stretching all of her senses, casting her mind out into the house. There was something there beyond the usual jumble of thoughts and emotions that came to her. Something that saw her, that responded to her probing. Something that was aware.
She took a cautious step inside, watching the revelers as they tipped back solo cups, laughing, chatting each other up. She stood in a hallway that opened immediately on the right into a living room, and continued on down into what looked like the kitchen. To her left stairs ascended to the second floor.
A kid came down the stairs at a run, rebounded off the wall at the bottom and crashed into her, beer soaking her arm. She shoved him away, sure that he wasn’t the source of the presence she felt in her mind even as adrenaline surged and her fists balled to defend herself.
You have to calm down. She told herself. She didn’t know if whatever it was would be able to sense her, but there was no point in making it obvious.
She walked down the hall and into kitchen. A doorway opened into the living room. Solo cups littered the counter and liqour bottles sat open and half emptied. A couple was eating each other’s face against the sink.
Good party. She thought.
The presence was still there, just sitting, waiting. Or maybe just as unsure as she was. Her heart was still beating hard, somehow she could hear it above the music.
She turned and stepped into the living room, studying the crowd. People danced with the loose uncoordination of too much alcohol. Maybe the party was actually a little past its peak.
There was Stephanie. She stood next to a table that had once been filled with chips and punch but now looked more like a monkey had run through it. Her talked animatedly, her face lit as she leaned close to the guy next to her. Her eyes settled on him and she knew immediately. This was the source of the presence that she had been feinting with since she entered the house. And his motivation was clear.
Striding purposefully across the room, she threw her arms around Stephanie and have her a big hug, creating a little distance from her predator.
“Stephanie, hi!” She said loudly, faking a big smile.
“Allie! I didn’t think you were coming.” Stephanie said, already turning back to the guy. “This is Henry.” She said, her eyes lingered on his face.
Henry looked at the floor and then brought his eyes up shyly, and as his eyes met her she reeled as he slammed his mind into her like a semi, his eyes piercing deep into her thoughts.
“Nice to meet you.” He said.
It nearly ended there. She wanted to like him. Felt the irresistible magnetism of his attack. She felt herself smile and reach out to take his offered hand. But she knew something was wrong, and that wrongness built until it drowned out the crashing waves of his presence. She shook her head slightly to clear it and looked back at him with a small smile.
“Nice to meet you too. I’m Allie.”
And then it was her turn, his surprise at her resistance breaking his concentration and letting her launch a thousand pointed attacks like freezing rain. His attack had been a full frontal atom bomb. Hers was an ice storm.
His smile froze in place as he fought her off, throwing up shelter as quickly as he could. He was good. Fast, but not quite fast enough. Allie felt him recoil before she saw the slight grimace on his face.
“Where’s Chad?” Allie asked, turning to Stephanie.
“Chad? Oh I don’t know. It’s not important.” She replied, giving her a look.
Henry didn’t have to ask about Chad. Allie knew that he was tracking what Stephanie was thinking, even as he fought off the storm of Allie’s continued salvo.
Then there were lights outside, and a quick siren, and the party erupted into turmoil as people fought to get out the doors and into the night.