There are some things one grows up knowing implicitly, the social mores of civilised society. Such as do not steal, do not kill, and do not pick your nose and proceed to wipe your hand upon your hostess’s sleeve. Likewise, there are certain customs one abides by when raised in a world which has long integrated magic into its culture, its conventions, and its laws, written or otherwise.
Such as: magicians are the crème de la crème of society, as feted, admired, and envied by mere ordinary humans as any member of a royal family would be. Magicians determine the pecking order of the social classes, which follows as such: they, of course, reside at the top. Psychics were, at best, tolerated socially, though much in demand in the security industry, and most of them ended up working for the International Paranormal Agency, or InterPara, as it was colloquially known, that policing body of all things supernatural. Part-demons, vampires, and shapeshifters, on the other hand, were considered third-class citizens for the most; their domain lay, more often than not, within the hierarchies of organised and disorganised crime.
But worse than vampires, worse than shapeshifters, worse even than the demons, were the Wild Ones. No one knew exactly what they were, or where they came from. Born of human but not human, they were an enigma, possessed of a swirling, restless energy called the Wildness, a strange preternatural power unlike that of the magicians and even the demons, a potentially deadly energy which had but two triggers: one, coercion of any kind; and two, magic.
Needless to say, the magicians didn’t like this. A power stronger than theirs which they could not control, not even with magic? It was the stuff of their worst nightmares. And what the magicians didn’t like, public opinion also fell short of. Not that public opinion needed much swaying. Wild Ones were a mystery, something inexplicable, and it was only natural that humans did not like what they could not understand nor control.
Meredith watched the tide wash in to shore and out again, the moonlight illuminating the tops of the waves. She hugged her knees to her chest and fought to keep the tears from her eyes.
The psychic sat beside her. For thirty minutes, they sat in silence on the cliff overlooking the ocean. The psychic was patient.
“Who’s out there now?” Meredith whispered.
The psychic moved. “What do you mean?”
Meredith dug her hand into the ground and pulled up a chunk of grass. “You’re psychic. You know what I mean. They’re not just going to let me walk away with you. There must be people out there. Watching.” She scanned the surrounding cliff side.
The psychic said, “There are nine InterPara detectives watching us, including two psychics and three snipers. No magicians, though. I made that clear when we left. I said it would be – dangerous.”
Meredith nodded. So this was what it felt like to have three sniper rifles pointed at your head. She didn’t feel afraid, though. It felt unreal, as if it were impossible that three men and women were hidden somewhere in the darkness, their weapons trained on her.
“Why did you do it?” the psychic asked. “And before you say it, I can’t read you. Psychics can’t read Wild Ones very well. Though you probably know that too.”
“I haven’t had much contact with psychics,” Meredith said. Make that zero contact. And less still with magicians – except for one Tyler Berhansen.
The psychic shifted again. “My colleagues have gone through your things in the boarding house and found your identity card. They say you’re registered as a human.”
Meredith sighed. Thanks to the Vienna Identification Treaty of 1843, all of society was registered according to their status; it was the first thing anyone looked at on the ubiquitous identity card which everyone carried on their person. It was the first thing anyone looked at if you were, say, applying for a job, enrolling at a school, crossing borders or entering nightclubs – a cursory check to see if you were human, magician, shapeshifter, part-demon, whatever. Only faeries were not registered, because they did not live among humans, and anyway, they would have screamed with laughter and ridden roughshod over you with their giant horses and stags and elks at the idea. To be kept and labelled by humans. What a laugh.
Wild Ones were once thought to be faeries, changelings left by the Wild Folk in exchange of stolen babies. But to everyone’s surprise, the faeries reacted fiercely to the notion and made it clear that the Wild Ones were nothing to do with them. Despite this, Wild Ones are among the few non-faerie creatures who rode with the Fey Host, probably because their restlessness and strange powers were so alike to the unpredictable whimsies and chaotic magic of the Host.
The psychic was waiting for an answer. “It must be nice to be psychic,” Meredith said tonelessly, “and be able to communicate without an earpiece.”
“It must be nice,” the psychic shot back, “to be able to walk through this world without having to answer to anyone.”
“It must be nice to have a place in this world where you belong, to know that if people knew what you really were, they wouldn’t turn on you and hate you, though they’ve been friends with you for ages.”
“It must be nice,” the psychic said, “to be able to hide what you are.”
Meredith said softly, “It is.”
The breeze whistled through the seagrass, bringing with it a clean, salt-scented scent. Not the metallic tanginess of magic that set Meredith’s teeth on edge. This breeze smelt of freedom and horizons unexplored. She inhaled deeply, letting the wind whip her hair up around her face and hide her exposed forehead from the hidden watching snipers. Though she wouldn’t have minded if they opened fire on her right now, tearing her head apart in blood and flesh with their tiny deadly bullets. It would take away the other image which kept flashing over and over again in her mind, causing her to cringe and to shudder. The image of a body lying facedown in a pool of blood in a bright white foyer.
“Are there any unregistered psychics out there?” she asked.
“Probably a few,” the psychic answered. “But on the whole most of us give ourselves away when we are young. As children, we don’t know enough to be able to keep ourselves from blurting out what’s on other people’s minds. And, of course, once they know that we know what they’re thinking, they fear us and loathe us, and because we can read their thoughts, we understand this and they hate us even more for it.
“The ones with active powers, those who can move objects or unlock doors with their minds, are the same. As children, they find it difficult to control their abilities, and that causes others to fear them just as much, labelling them freaks.”
“And yet,” Meredith said, “you are able to function up to a point in society. You still find a place for yourself. And I know you get paid an enormous amount in private and public security.”
“A place in society, yes,” the psychic said. “Though others continue to resent and mistrust us. We do have a place.”
“And we have freedom,” Meredith said, “but even that is a freedom curtailed by our own restrictions.”
“I have never thought of it in that way before.”
“It’s like a bird in a cage longing for freedom. The door’s open, but it can’t fly away, regardless. It’s frustrating, to say the least.”
“Tell me what it’s like,” the psychic said. “Make me understand.”
“Understand?” Meredith pondered the question. “Can anyone understand? That eternal sensation of free-falling, it’s exhilarating and frightening at the same time because you can’t control it. You wonder what peace might be like, perhaps occasionally you might yearn for it. And yet you know that if you lost it, that eternal plunge at breakneck speed, that… that sense of precipitation towards something, some hidden goal just out of your reach, you would miss it terribly because it would feel as if your longing for life were taken away from you. And yet who can live forever in that free-falling state?”
She turned to the psychic. “If you could walk away from being a psychic, would you?”
“Sometimes,” the psychic said, “I think of giving it all up. The job, the high wages, the luxurious living, the stress of it all. But I’m on the records as a psychic, my identity card reads psychic. Who would hire a mind reader for a mundane non-security job? Who would trust her in such a role?”
“And so you do know,” Meredith answered, “why I’ve never corrected my status as a human.”
“Was your control so great as a child?” There was wonder in the psychic’s voice – and, yes, disbelief. Wild Ones were known for their lack of control, not the other way round.
The harshness of Meredith’s voice surprised even herself. “Whatever it was, it was not good enough.”
The psychic understood. Her hand stretched out tentatively – she hesitated – Meredith waited, staring at the ocean – and finally she felt the light touch on her shoulder.
It was the human touch that did it. Meredith broke down, burying her face in her hands and weeping. And all the while she felt the psychic’s steadying hand on her shoulder and she could not explain – she would have been embarrassed if she could have explained – just how much comfort that one touch meant to her.
“What have I done?” she sobbed. “What have I done? What have I done to Tyler? I am a monster.”
It took her some fifteen minutes to pull herself together. The psychic handed her a handkerchief. A handkerchief, not a tissue. White silk. Meredith dabbed her eyes and blew her nose noisily.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured.
The psychic had withdrawn her hand after the storm of tears. She sat as still as a doll beside Meredith, not saying anything. Meredith dabbed at her eyes again, and waited for her to speak.
The faint roar of a motor engine sounded across the lagoon. Meredith could barely make out the dark shape of the boat coming into the bay.
At last, the psychic said, “The Berhansens are not happy with what you have done tonight.”
The understatement of the century. Meredith nodded.
“They want retribution. Furthermore, it would be difficult to keep things quiet about what has happened. A Wild One harming a Berhansen in front of a party of other magicians of the first water? Yes, it will be exceedingly difficult to keep things under wraps. And yet…” the psychic paused. “And yet I believe it can be done.”
Meredith’s head came up and she stared at the psychic.
“Yes,” the psychic continued, her brown eyes intent on the moonlit ocean, the moonlight filling up her eyes, “it will be very difficult. However, what I intend to propose is this – that you be allowed to leave this island, that the Berhansens drop all charges against you, and that you remain unregistered.”
Meredith was shaking her head in disbelief. Is this some kind of joke? “No one will agree to that.”
“I have a feeling Mrs Berhansen would. And what the Berhansens want, the Berhansens get.”
“But why would she want such a thing, especially after what I – what I’ve done?”
“She will not be amenable at first, but I trust I will be able to bring her round to my point of view.”
Meredith raised her eyebrows. This woman was hell good, even for a psychic. Just who – or what – exactly was she?
“She would wish to set conditions, though. She would want you off this island at once, never to return. And you must agree never to come near her son or any other member of the Berhansen family ever again.”
Meredith dropped her eyes. “She won’t have to worry about that,” she whispered.
Because she had been looking down, she missed the flicker of sympathy across the psychic’s face.
The roar was growing louder, the boat docking at the bay below. All of a sudden, the motor cut off, leaving them in the ensuing silence.
“Very well.” The psychic squared her shoulders. “I will communicate the terms of your agreement to Mrs Berhansen. In the meantime, if you would walk to the far right edge of this cliff, you’ll find stone steps just by those bushes leading to the beach below. Your things are aboard that boat that has just come in. It will take you to the next island where you’ll find a private jet that would take you to Honduras. At the Honduran airport, you’ll find a ticket in your name which will take you home.”
Meredith could hardly believe what she was hearing. Was this some kind of elaborate joke?
The psychic turned and met her gaze. “This is not a joke, Meredith,” she said, and her voice was kind.
Meredith felt tears well up at the corners of her eyes again. “I thought you couldn’t read my mind.”
“That doesn’t mean I can’t empathise with your situation,” the psychic answered, and she smiled kindly.
Meredith nodded and stood. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“You don’t need to thank me for anything. I’m only doing my job.”
If she was doing her job, she’d have Meredith registered and on eternal run from charges which could never be brought to bear because she was a Wild One and you just can’t arrest Wild Ones. Though you could continually harass them. She had done more than her job. She had helped Meredith without being asked for help. She had kept her from being registered.
Meredith turned to go, then stopped and turned back. “Just one thing,” she said tentatively. “Tyler. I – is he all right?”
The psychic hesitated. “More or less.”
Meredith nodded and walked away. The breeze whipped at her hair and her dress, turning her into a gothic figure as she descended the stone steps by the side of the cliff. As promised, her things were aboard the boat, waiting for her. Meredith went straight below deck, pulled her dress off, and yanked on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. She left the dress on a chair in the cabin and took her bags up to the deck where she stood by the rail and watched the endless horizon of the sea the entire length of the trip. She never looked back, not once, and no matter how much her eyes stung, she never cried.
Go on to: Chapter Eleven
Go back to: Chapter Nine
New to A Reason for Being? Start from: Chapter One.