THE MAN RUNS. His breath falters, his muscles ache. His eyes stream with tears. He stumbles, his balance swept away from him, and he careens into the hard pavement. He hits his head on the ground, momentarily blind. He hears someone talking, someone shouting: a boy sees him, tugs on his mother’s arm. A pair of eyes upon him, and now two, three… People look, and when they look they can’t help but stare.
He is a mess, a disheveled tangle that resembles a man. His face is dirty, his hair dark and greasy, and his eyes glint and shimmer like cold steel. His eyes – the people are staring at his eyes. He feels their caution, is knocked breathless by their fear; the strangers on the street allow him wide berth. He looks crazy, his unshaven face and crumbled clothes.
He staggers to his feet, his equilibrium still failing him; he reels and lurches like a drunken buffoon, but the man is sober – or at least, it not under the influence of any alcohol. He searches for balance, lashes out in frustration, and then tries to steady his feet first, and then his mind. He tries and he fails.
He is hungry; he hasn’t eaten in days. He has money, but he has been losing control, unable to be near another living soul. The pounding has been worse, the headaches and the retching, violent panic and distrust.
As he seizes, the curious gather – a crowd around him, a cluster of prying eyes and inquisitive minds. Someone calls for help – someone suggests a doctor or police officer – and the man is pummeled by anxiety and fear – desperate, overwhelming fear. He wants them to go, he wills the crowd to disperse, to leave him along. He prays that they would forget ever seeing him. Please, he whispers, please make them go away. Just leave. Please leave please leave please leave.
He reaches out with his mind, a flailing tentacle of his conscious, and he touches them. He feels them, each in turn, but he falters and is afraid. He founders through the psychic sea before him, flounders like a drowning man, and wishes he could push their minds from him, push their curiosity to something else, anything else, just leave him alone.
Until he finds that he can.
Something changes; something clicks on and something in his mind relaxes. The throbbing in the back of his head eases for a moment, the intoxicating and disorienting swell diminishes. He feels them disconnect; he removes their interest. They see him, but he is no longer odd; he has disguised himself, sheltered himself, distracted them from him. He looks up, and the crowd is dispersing. He feels their indifference; he feels their apathy and disinterest. They notice him, but the curious, peering eyes no longer shadow him. He crawls away.
He is hungry, and finally able to recognize that specific need. Safe for the moment, and mostly ignored, he drifts like a shadow, heads towards to the light that is a business. He looks around suspiciously, a sinking feeling of dread as he opens the doors, but no one responds, no one reels in disgust. Whatever he broadcast, whatever feelings he transmitted seem to have diminished. He begins to understand; he begins to take control. His shuts down his own emitters, calms the random emotional radiation. He begins to trust himself; he breathes in, slow and deep.
He walks into the restaurant, stiff and uncomfortable, and is pleasantly surprised that no one stares, no one reacts. He orders at the counter and sits down. He makes certain not to touch anyone – no human contact – never let them touch you.
Someone brings him his meal – he barely tastes it. Food, and quiet, seem so foreign. He finishes quickly – he is very hungry – and leaves, keeping his head down, not allowing himself to make eye contact.
He is running – hiding – searching for someplace quiet. And as he leaves the city, heading north into Wyoming and west along the southern-most border, he learns to calm the voice, and as he hitchhikes farther and farther away the feeling of dread leaves him, the suffocating senses slip away. Finally, hundreds of miles from where he was a prisoner, he exits the strange vehicle with a thank you and stares off into the night.
The neon motel sign reads ‘vacancy,’ and so he rents a room – the elderly woman behind the counter pays little mind, and asks no questions as long as he pays in cash – and he settles in, calm and quiet and restful for the first time in years.
For nearly a month Mile stays, paying week by week in the sleepy southern Wyoming town, until one morning he wakes with a start and realizes the voice is back, and the paranoia and fear have crept into his consciousness like cockroaches, scattering in the light. In his dreams he is being followed; someone watches with dark, narrow eyes.
With the last of his money he makes the biggest purchase of his life: a motorcycle named Molly. Miles buys her from a local who swears he was the only owner, and Miles believes him. The bike feels safe; she was well-maintained and Miles knows when he runs his fingers along her chassis that the bike will treat him well.
And in the morning he leaves the city, traveling west, following the instinct more than anything else. The farther he travels, the more the feeling diminish; until he finds himself in a small town in northern Nevada where he feels almost nothing at all.
There Miles begins again; a stranger in a strange land, keeping his head down and warily avoiding any undue attention, but Battle Mountain is a small town, and people in small towns get curious. But Miles is quiet and doesn’t disturb anyone, and becomes a regular face at Doc Brown’s Pub and Eatery, soaking up whiskey like a drowning man sucking in much-needed air. The locals leave him be – they talk behind his back and watch him cautiously – but at least they leave him be.
And there Miles stays, alone and lonely, and wonders when it will all end.