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Monday, May 30, 2011

Shadowboxing (an excerpt)

Zach Davidson is an average seventeen year old -- decent student, athlete, lots of friends. Until the day when he's in the locker room after track practice, and his teammate Andy Traylen tells Zach that he can read Zach's mind.

This event starts Zach and Andy into an increasingly intense and disturbing relationship. Finally Zach realizes that he's losing everything -- his privacy, his friends, his girlfriend, his status in school, and perhaps even his mind. But by the time he decides that he has no option but to sever the connection between his mind and Andy's, it may be too late to stop it.

Shadowboxing is a frightening view into the mind of someone who is not certain he is sane.  It is available as an e-book from Amazon and Barnes&Noble.

In the following excerpt, Zach has realized that there might be a useful side of being in contact with Andy's mind; and he is (for the moment) trying to strengthen their link.


I couldn't sleep that evening.  Part of the problem was the weather; it was the first really hot day we'd had that year, the kind of sweltering, humid, still air we usually don't see in upstate New York until August.  I was lying spreadeagled on my bed, stripped down to boxers, trying not to think about how uncomfortable I was; and my mind kept returning to what Andy had said.

The skeptical part of me figured it wouldn't work in any case.  So far, I hadn't been able to sustain any kind of contact with Andy for more than a few seconds.  Andy had been more successful, I suppose,  but even so, what we'd done seemed pretty far away from the kind of intense communication you'd need to be able to actually communicate information.

But why not? I thought.  You get better at running from practicing.  Why would this be any different?  So I decided to try.  I figured, I'm not sleeping anyway, I'm just lying in bed doing nothing but sweating, so what the hell?  I had done it once, even if it was just for a few seconds.

I was guessing that Andy was also at home.  He didn't seem to have much of a social life.  I closed my eyes, trying to see what he was seeing.

I felt like I was in a tunnel looking for an exit; or in a darkened room looking for a window.  I was padding barefoot around my own brain, feeling here and there, probing, looking for something that wasn't my own thought.  There was nothing there but darkness and my own brain.

I lay there for probably fifteen minutes, encountering nothing but the inside of my own skull, when I had a strange sensation; I distinctly felt fingers slide their way through my hair.

I sat bolt upright, and my eyes snapped open.  And how do I describe this?  The only way I can say it is that my other eyes snapped open, too.  The lights in my room were off, so all I saw was darkness and shadow; but I knew it was two layers of darkness.  I was seeing two things at once.

Then I felt tentative fingers moving in my mind; Andy was aware of me.  I could sense his fear; a tremor rippled through my body, and I knew it was him shuddering.

My eyes narrowed to a slit; I saw light, bright light, even though my room was still dark.  I forced my eyes to open, and saw a sweeping vision of the four walls of a room -- pictures on the walls, a desk, a dark window, a rumpled bed.  I felt like I was on a carnival ride -- the sensation of the world turning without my body moving at all was something like motion sickness.  I lay back down, fighting nausea.

There was no other sound than crickets and the occasional car on our street; my parents were both in bed, my little brother long asleep.  I could still see, as if through a dark fog, the walls of Andy's room.

That's when I heard the voice; a single word.  My name.  I immediately knew it was Andy, calling me,  but there was something so bloodless about the quality of the voice that it didn't sound human.  The voice had no breath, no warmth.  It sounded like someone had struck a bell inside my skull, and the bell had spoken my name.

It spoke again.  Just my name, no more.

I tried to respond, but couldn't.  I mouthed Andy's name; I tried just to say the word "yes," but none of it projected.  I felt like a passive receiver, like a television set capturing the signal from Andy's thoughts and turning it into pictures and sounds.

Another bloodless, breathless voice in my head, a phrase this time:  Turn the lights on.

I got up, sweat streaming down my chest and back, my knees wobbly, and flipped the light switch.  I caught sight of myself in the mirror on my wall; I was pale beneath the beginnings of a summer tan, my eyes wide and frightened.

I could still see, superimposed on the familiar walls of my own room, a ghost room; transparent images of other furniture, other colors and shapes.  I stood, hand still on the light switch, not knowing what to do.  A feeling of horror, that felt like it came from the pit of my belly, rose up in me: Break this connection.  Do it now, before it's too late.  But I was physically frozen to the spot.  All the energy seemed drained from my body.  And I had no idea how to break the link in any case.

The bell sounded in my skull again.  Open a book.  Any book.

Like a sleepwalker, I stumbled over to my desk.  Macbeth lay face down on the desk top, where I had left it after another unsuccessful visit to the Scottish moors.  I turned it over, and my eyes traced their way over the words:

Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep,' the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast...

I felt a hand, that was not my hand, moving, for a moment.  The ghost images seemed to shift and melt.  The connection was breaking up; it felt as if we were linked by an elastic band, and the band was stretched to the verge of snapping.   I looked back down at the page in Macbeth, and the words seemed to shimmer.

I felt the link give, and the ghost images collapsed and vanished.  There was a recoil I felt in the pit of my stomach.  I only just made it to the bathroom before the vomiting began.

The next day, Andy came up to me in the hall.  He looked pale and drawn; I probably didn't look much better.  He slipped off his pack, unzipped it, and reached into the pocket, and drew out a ragged piece of paper.

There, written in pencil in a shaky hand were the words:

Methought I heard a voice cry, 'Sleep no more!'

I closed my eyes for a moment, as the clamor of the school halls rose and fell around me.  I tried to think of something to say to him, but nothing seemed adequate to respond to that scrap of paper in Andy's thin right hand.

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