I’m at the stage now with my writing where I’m looking at some of my old (unpublished novels) and know that I’m never going to submit them for publication for one reason or another. Usually, it’s because they twist genres a bit and it ends up not being as strongly viable in a commercial sense.
However, I am wondering if there’s interest in getting a cheap (free) read for you folks with the full knowledge that I may not do much more than just the single title I share? [I of course have many other titles that I do plan on putting out, mostly in the SF or Thriller genres, and not to belabor the obvious, but since they’re more recently written, they probably benefit from more experience by yours truly.]
Just so you know, the title that I plan on sharing is called CODE BREAKER. It is a thriller, but it does have some fantasy elements in it, so from a traditional publication point of view, I’ve been shot down completely and utterly.
I did get some very nice comments from some folks, I suppose I can share them:
“Michael Rothman’s THE CODE BREAKER is an engaging, fast-paced thriller with a great premise and very real characters. Will please fans of Dean Koontz and The Da Vinci Code.”
— Kevin J. Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of The Dark Between the Stars.
“Michael Rothman’s THE CODE BREAKER takes the reader on a roller-coaster of a ride, moving from intrigue, to excitement, and beyond that into the realm of profound. This isn’t just a good book, this one is truly epic.”
— David Farland, New York Times Bestselling, Award-winning Author
“Action, mystery and supernatural elements make this novel a grab bag of genres, but a driven narrative and resolute protagonist pull it all together.”
— Kirkus Reviews
If you’re interested, add your name to my mailing list. I won’t be sharing more on this site directly.
For those on the fence, I’ll share a sample below. Again, for those signing up on the mailing list, I will share the entire book, although you might have to bear with me for a bit while I figure out the best logistics to do manage sharing that with only the folks on my mailing list.
To sign up for my mailing list, you should see on the right-hand side of the page “Follow Blog” with a space for your e-mail address. It should hopefully be self-explanatory after that.
For those who are curious, here’s a high-level summary:
As far as twenty-year-old Jeremiah’s concerned, his life vanished five years ago with the fevers that nearly killed him and wiped his memory. But with the illness came a strange new gift–the ability to hear the thoughts of others.
Only when Jeremiah comes home from work to discover a dead KGB agent does he find himself fleeing the only life he knew.
Trying to evade a past he cannot remember, his escape catapults him into a world involving covert military operations, missing Soviet-era explosives and a two-thousand-year-old prophecy that predicted his birth.
And here’s the first chapter.
Starting a New Life
My name is Jeremiah Samuelson and Father Carlos sent me. I repeated this in my mind over and over as if somehow I’d become a total idiot at the last second and forget who I was and why I was sitting in the air-conditioned hallway.
I glanced at the locked entrance to Correo Industries and knew I had two hours before they even opened. Savoring the crisp cool air that smelled faintly of artificial pine, I drew a shuddering breath.
I felt nervous.
More nervous than I remembered ever being, but I knew that if things worked out, I’d be able to change the direction of not only my life, but Mom’s life as well.
Pulling out my trusty old notepad, the same one that I’d found under my bed years ago, I began scribbling in it. It was what I always ended up doing when I felt nervous, and over the years I’d begun to think of the ragged leather-bound notepad as a friend. My brown confidante who always listened to my secrets and never said a word about anything to anyone.
I scribbled a few words on its only page and watched as the blue ink faded into nothingness seconds after I’d written them. I’d never understood how or why the notebook seemed to absorb whatever was written on it, but the blank page stared welcomingly at me, as if to say, “It’s been a while, tell me your troubles.”
Trying to keep my mind off my nerves, I began writing to my bookish partner, the only friend I trusted not to divulge my secrets.
I’m an amnesiac and I can’t remember the first thirteen years of my life. Being twenty, you’d think I’d have gotten over the memory loss by now. Yet, even though it still bothered me, I couldn’t let that become an excuse for not doing what needed to be done. After seven years of struggling with life and relearning so many things that people take for granted, there was one thing that I’d always known was different about me, and it had nothing to do with memory loss.
I could read minds.
You might think that mind-reading is a gift, but it’s actually disgusting. I shudder when I think about the oily sick feeling I get when I hear what’s crawling around inside some people’s heads. Anytime I let my mind brush against others, the incongruity of it all is shocking. So many people have angelic faces, and so many of them veil hideous beliefs or perverted fantasies. Almost everyone is tainted with thoughts that they keep hidden away, ashamed of who and what they are.
Even Father Carlos, who I considered to be as close to a saintly man as I’d ever met, struggles with things that force him to run to confession. Hearing people’s thoughts has been my own personal hell.
It’s why several years ago, I learned to partly muffle the minds that constantly bombard me. I can still occasionally sense people’s intentions, but I’ve been able to avoid the worst of what humanity’s turned into.
Yet here I am, sitting in the hallway in front of Correo Industries, fully intending to use that mind-reading to help Mom and me improve our lives. The thought of purposefully using my abilities set my stomach to gurgling, but it was better than the alternative.
I’d spent the last two years after high school working at crappy part-time jobs within walking distance of our apartment. Most of the time my meager pay was late, and since the owner of the bodega paid me under the table, I didn’t have much choice other than to accept his excuses. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get anywhere working as a stock boy, certainly not in South Florida. It wasn’t enough.
It was Father Carlos who’d arranged for me to get this job. I needed the lifeline. It was a way out of the projects. An opportunity for a new life.
I heard the ding of the elevator opening and looked up from my notepad. My attention was drawn to the sound of heavy footsteps just as a hulking man walked into view.
I suspected that he was the man I was supposed to meet, Mister Cross.
I stood, stuffing my notepad in my back pocket, trying hard not to look as disheveled as I felt. The last thing I wanted to do was embarrass Father Carlos or myself.
As Mister Cross approached, he looked at his diamond-encrusted gold watch. “Are you Father Carlos’s boy?”
“You realize it’s only seven in the morning? You didn’t need to get here until nine.”
“I understand, sir. I just didn’t want to be late.”
The owner frowned. “That’s admirable. You do realize that this job doesn’t pay by the hour? It’s a commission-only job. The more you sell, the more you can make.”
I nodded. “Sir, I’d been counting on that. I hope to do as well as possible.”
A smile grew across the owner’s face as he unlocked the office door. “Ambitious … good! There are two classes of people in this world, young man. There are hard workers and there are slackers. I’m thinking you’re probably hungry enough to be a hard worker. The question remains, are you a hard worker with talent?”
When Mister Cross labeled me as a person who was hungry enough to be a hard worker, he couldn’t possibly have understood how right he was. I was twenty and highly motivated, Mom—my only family member—was succumbing to dementia and we were barely surviving on public assistance. Heck, if I didn’t do well at this job I wouldn’t even be able to afford another of the one-month passes for the train to even get here. Come to think on it, I probably wouldn’t have labeled myself hungry; desperate was probably the better term.
I’d kept busy for the last two hours by reading through the telemarketing manuals Mister Cross had given me. For the last thirty minutes or so, people had begun filing through the waiting area to begin their day when suddenly Mister Cross entered the lobby with a dark-haired Hispanic girl by his side.
I immediately sensed that she was going to be my mentor for the day. She didn’t look particularly happy about it. The girl stared at me as if I were a cockroach who’d invaded her clean workplace.
“Oh great, we’re hiring vagabonds off the street now,” her silent thoughts rattled in my head.
I suspected her judgment was largely based on how I dressed. I wasn’t ugly, nor was I delusional enough to think that my shaggy brown hair, green eyes and six-foot-tall frame were out of the ordinary. Most of my clothes had come from Church donations or hand-me-downs that Mrs. Rivera’s grandson had stopped wearing. There wasn’t anything I could do about my clothes, and in fact I felt grateful to have them.
I stared back at the girl. Her employee badge had the name Miranda printed on it. Her expression of disdain was nothing new. I’d seen that look from lots of others. Even though most people judged me by what I looked like, most hid it well. Miranda didn’t.
She was stunningly beautiful. Roughly my age, she had smoldering dark-brown eyes, full lips and thick shoulder-length black hair. Her makeup had been applied perfectly and I could easily imagine her face on a fashion magazine. Everything about her was perfect, visually. But the more her thoughts rattled around in my head, the more I realized why she looked at me as if I were a bug. I represented everything she wanted to escape. With my hand-me-down clothes that were twenty years out of style, it reminded her of her past. Something she didn’t like to think about.
Mister Cross put his beefy hand on my shoulder and panned his arm toward Miranda. “Jeremiah Samuelson, I want you to meet Miranda Lopez. She’s going to be your mentor today. Take your cues from her, and you’ll do fine.”
“Yes sir.” I nodded to Miranda and smiled. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Miranda’s eyes flashed with anger, and her thoughts betrayed the smile pasted on her face. She felt annoyed that she’d been given a crap assignment. My stomach tightened as I realized that she was the type to try and make me miserable.
She looked up at the owner with a brilliant smile. “Mister Cross, should I put him on the phones right away?”
He waved dismissively as he walked to his office. “Just give him a script and listen to see how he does. Give him some pointers and show him why you’re my best girl.”
Miranda waved for me to follow her into the call center. “Jeremiah, this job is really simple if you pay attention.”
She led me into a giant room filled with the chatter of hundreds of people on the phones, all doing the same thing: selling stuff.
This wasn’t the sexiest job in the world. But Father Carlos had insisted that it was a very large business with an honest church-going owner who was enormously successful. Many church members made a decent living by working for Mister Cross. Knowing that this job was all about connecting with a buyer and convincing them that they needed one of the hundreds of products this company sold, I knew I had some unnatural advantages.
Even though I had no memories of how and when I’d learned to read minds, I’d over the years figured out what my limitations were. I could only hear someone’s thoughts if I was close to them or if we were talking on the phone. Yet, I never got an inkling of what anyone was thinking if I was watching someone on TV or a video.
My chest tightened with anxiety as Miranda pointed at an empty cubicle. “Grab a seat and put the headset on. I want to see what I’m working with.”
I sat, took a deep breath and did as instructed. While I adjusted my headset to fit properly, she handed me a catalog that listed products, prices, and some sample scripts for telemarketers to use.
“Study that when you get a chance. It will help you make sales. Just go to the section that shows the telemarketing scripts.”
I smiled as I flipped through the manual. It was the booklet I’d been studying for the last two hours in the waiting area.
“I can’t believe I’m wasting my time on this guy. He probably can’t even read the thing.”
Miranda’s biting thoughts bounced around in my head. I peered into her mind. It was like sifting through a bowl of spaghetti, each strand having a different thought. The ones on the outside were less important. Surface thoughts. Things that anyone might be able to read on her face. It was the ones at the center, the thoughts that influenced her behavior, that I searched for. Why did she feel so angry at having to train me? I sifted through the streams of her consciousness, burrowing deeper as I pretended to stare at the booklet, and suddenly I knew.
Suspecting that if I could get Miranda to not resent me, she’d at least try to be civil, so I offered, “I know that you probably aren’t being paid to train me, and I’m sorry. I swear that with my first paycheck, I’ll pay what I can to compensate for your trouble.”
Miranda’s eyes widened. For a moment she wasn’t sure what to say. The ice princess warmed a bit, and she shook her head, giving me a wistful smile. “There’s no need. It’s part of my job.”
“He probably won’t make anything on his next paycheck, if ever, anyway.”
She tapped at the computer console on my desk and it showed the first call. “Jeremiah, it’s really simple. People from all over the country are responding to flyers they’ve received. Just read through the script. If someone hangs up–mark it down as such. If there’s a sale, verify the contact and billing information.” She looked me in the eyes and asked, “You ready?”
I nodded and she tapped the “pickup” button on the keyboard.
The screen displayed the person’s contact information and the sound of a phone ringing echoed through my headphones while Miranda listened through her own.
The call transferred to my headset and I read the script from the booklet.
“Hello Mister Taylor,
My name is Jeremiah with Correo Industries, and I’m here to help you redeem your free night at one of our resorts.”
“Listen to me, Jerry. I don’t need you selling me any of your crap. Just tell me how I get this free night at the hotel, and maybe I’ll go ahead and use it.”
“Yes, sir. All I need to do is confirm your preferred destination, your contact information, and I’ll let you know about a few offerings that might be of interest to you.”
“Didn’t you hear me? I don’t want any of your ‘offerings’, just how do I get the free night at your place in Miami Beach?”
“I understand, but if you are interested in Miami, you might be interested to know that we have some amazing Miami-based offerings—”
The line went dead. Miranda smirked. “Mark that as a hangup.”
I clicked on the “hangup” checkbox, and turned to Miranda. “How would you have handled that differently?”
She glanced at the clock on the wall and looked back at me. “Well, first of all, you stuck exactly to the script. I wouldn’t have done that. If it was a guy, I’d probably be a little flirtatious. Congratulate them on their upcoming vacation stay. Joke with them that I wished I could go on such a trip. If it was a girl, I’d talk about how much fun their family would have. Things like that.”
What she said made sense. She’d have tried to make a personal connection. Especially for a girl, the whole flirting thing could probably work wonders.
However, I doubted that the way Miranda did her job would work for me. I needed to do things my own way.
I pressed the “pickup” key and the information for the next contact popped on screen.
“Hello, Mister Williams…”
As I spoke to the client, I tapped into his thoughts through the phone call. It was almost as if his voice were just one of the tinier streams flowing in a continuous river of information. I sensed that he wanted to go fishing, but his fiancée liked to hike. He was a sportsman, but he hated having to lug all of his gear around. My mind raced through possible things I could offer. I took a deep breath and tried to make a personal connection with the stranger….
By the time I closed the conversation, a warm sense of accomplishment flushed through me.
“Mister Williams, I just wanted to confirm what I’ve got here for you:
- One week at our Rocky Mountain Lodge.
- One week rental of a four-wheel-drive vehicle with the collision insurance.
- Our all-inclusive fishing package on the Colorado River, with boat rental, fishing equipment, bait, and waders for two.
- A guided tour of the backcountry, with the beginner’s rock-climbing option included. All equipment provided.
All of the above is booked on your American Express, and I’ve given you a fifteen-percent discount on the entire package.
Does that sound right, Mister Williams?”
“Yup, I can’t wait to tell Mary. I hadn’t planned on this for our honeymoon, but it’s going to be perfect. I can’t thank you enough for the suggestions, Jeremiah.”
“Well, I’m happy to be of service, and congratulations on the wedding. You’re a lucky guy.”
The phone line went dead and a warm wave of relief flooded through me. I did it! For the first time in my life I felt good about having listened to someone’s private thoughts. I’d actually helped them get something to make them happy.
Miranda stared wide-eyed at the confirmation screen listing the package I’d just booked. Her chaotic thoughts reminded me for a moment of my mother’s.
I turned to her and asked, “How’d I do?”
She had a shocked expression, not unlike one I might have if I expected to fail a test and saw an “A” written on the paper. Miranda tossed me a wistful glance as she stared at the computer screen. “That’s as big as some of my best bookings. It was a miracle that you actually picked up on him wanting to figure out what to do for his honeymoon. Just realize that most of your calls are going to be like that first one. You can’t count on the kind of luck you just had.”
I smiled, knowing that luck had nothing to do with it. My customer had been struggling to figure out what kind of outdoor activities he could do with his soon-to-be wife. Correo Industries had offerings in their catalog that were a perfect match.
Miranda unplugged her headset from the base of my phone. “You’re doing fine. I’ll start on my own customers, and if you need help, just let me know.”
I glanced up at the clock on the wall. It was going to be a long day. I tapped on the “pickup” key and sent my mind through the connection, tapping into the next customer’s thoughts.
Even though Mister Cross didn’t expect it of me, I’d volunteered for an extended shift on my first day at work. The clock on the wall had ticked over to 8:00 P.M. and the call center ceased operations for the day. I removed my headset and was shutting down my terminal when a woman’s voice broadcast through a wall-mounted speaker. “Miranda Lopez, Jorge Rodriguez and Jeremiah Samuelson, please come to the front office.”
I stood and immediately felt the soreness in my legs after not having moved from my station in hours. I glanced at the sea of people getting ready to go home and wondered, “Why are they calling me?”
Miranda walked past my cubicle and I followed her toward the lobby and into Mister Cross’s smoke-filled office.
I was immediately given the impression that my boss was a huge baseball fan. Shelves decorated practically every inch of the walls, each of them holding some kind of autographed baseball memorabilia. Mister Cross sat behind his desk, puffing on a cigar as he scanned a long printout that spilled from his lap onto the floor.
I stood in front of Mister Cross’s desk with Miranda on my left and with a mere mental nudge, I gleaned that she was preoccupied with an upcoming fashion show she planned to attend this weekend. Entering the office was a middle-aged man, roughly a half-foot shorter than my own six-foot frame. I glanced in his direction and noticed Jorge etched on his nametag as he settled on my right. I didn’t need to look too deeply into his mind to see he was worried about something. He was fidgeting and constantly kneading his hands together as he worried about whether he’d have to go back to stocking produce at the supermarket.
Setting his cigar down on a baseball-shaped ashtray on his desk, Mister Cross cleared his throat and nodded at us. “I’ve run the numbers and we have good news and some not-so-good news.” He shifted his gaze toward the man on my right. “Jorge, you did terribly and I’m afraid that if it continues I’ll have to let you go.”
Jorge nodded solemnly and even though I didn’t know him, I winced, feeling bad for him.
Still kneading his hands with worry, Jorge gazed over the table at Mister Cross and spoke with a very strong Spanish accent, “I will try harder for you, Mister Cross.”
Drumming his fingers on the desk, Mister Cross frowned. “Jorge, I’m afraid part of your problem might be your accent. Talking to someone here in Miami is very different than when you receive a call from elsewhere in the US.”
Jorge looked crestfallen and before he could say a word, Miranda volunteered, “I think I can help.”
Mister Cross shifted his gaze to Miranda and motioned for her to continue.
“Well, there’s probably a dozen people on the floor that I think could use help going over the scripts and pronouncing things more clearly.” She took a deep breath, hesitating for a moment. “I suppose I could probably help them practice speaking so that Joe Sixpack can understand them.”
With an expression of surprise, Jorge glanced in her direction and gave her a tobacco-stained smile.
Mister Cross beamed at Miranda and nodded. “Excellent excellent excellent. I love the idea. You put together the list of people, and I’ll have the doors open on Saturday for these classes.”
Miranda stammered, “B-but….”
I sensed her anxiety as she mentally scrubbed her plans for the weekend’s fashion show.
Mister Cross waved dismissively in Jorge’s direction, “You can go, and Miranda will let you know what time to show up for classes.”
Jorge nodded and scurried from the office.
Mister Cross stood and walked around his desk to put a hand on both Miranda’s and my shoulders. “Miranda, you have a magic touch when it comes to those phones, but I think you have some competition.”
Mister Cross gave my shoulder a brief squeeze and chuckled. “Young Mister Samuelson has managed to set the record for an employee’s first-day total sales. I wanted to congratulate you both. Miranda, you’re number one today in sales, but Jeremiah is just behind you. Great job guys.”
Miranda glanced at me with an expression of surprise and I couldn’t suppress the smile growing on my face.
“Alright, it’s time for both of you to pack up and go home. Tomorrow’s another day.”
Without a word, Miranda brushed past me as she left the office, leaving me to wonder if I’d done something to make her mad.
“Mom, I set a sales record today at work, isn’t that great?”
She looked up from the sofa and stared at me with a confused expression. The Prophet’s time is getting closer.
I approached her and knelt in front of the chair she sat on as her eyes gazed intently at me. “Are you okay?”
Mom stared, unblinking and unresponsive. It was almost like she’d become a statue.
I kissed her cheek and wished her goodnight. I knew that when she was like this, her thoughts were largely nonsensical.
I startled awake and gripped the mattress beneath me, slowly realizing that the falling sensation I’d felt must have been a dream. My heart raced and I glanced at the windup clock on my nightstand, breathing a sigh of relief.
It was the middle of the night.
Leaning back in my bed, I thought about the previous day’s success at work and hoped I could repeat it. As I relaxed, my thoughts drifted slowly back through yesterday’s events and then even further back. For what must have been the thousandth time, I wished I could remember what my life had been like when I was younger.
I was thirteen when I’d suffered through a debilitating fever, and only when its heat finally receded did it become obvious that, just like the data on a crashed computer hard drive, the memories of my preteen years were gone. Birthdays, friends, family—even the death of my father—total blanks.
The morning after my fever broke, I awoke feeling there was something wrong.
I heard voices.
Mom stared at me, her lips pursed through a worried expression, yet I could hear her voice. For a moment, I thought she’d somehow become a ventriloquist.
It didn’t take long before I understood my mistake and realized that I’d somehow learned to pluck a person’s thoughts right out of their head. Just as I’d woken from my fever understanding English, being able to tie my shoes and knowing how to walk, the ability to hear thoughts was something I just knew how to do.
I had no explanation for it, but I instinctively understood that it wasn’t normal. For that reason alone, I never told a single soul about my ability.
That moment of self-discovery seemed like a lifetime ago, yet not much had really changed since that first morning, seven years ago. I slept in the same bed, Mom and I lived in the same cramped apartment and she still tried to keep me from harm, whether real or imagined.
I glanced around my small room and the movie poster of “The Lord of the Rings” grabbed my attention. I’d rescued it from the local movie theater’s trash and loved the way it looked.
It had strange wispy writing forming a circle, and in my mind, the letters seemed to almost flutter with life. I enjoyed staring at the cryptic symbols, knowing that most people probably couldn’t see those letters the way I did.
Because I saw things differently than anyone else, it caused me all sorts of difficulty at school. For me, I associated colors, textures and tastes with the objects I saw every day. My mind would translate things that normal people would look at and instead of seeing the phrase “stop sign” I’d sense a pattern of colors that ended up meaning the same thing to me. A few years ago I actually searched the web from the school library and learned that I had something called synesthesia.
Staring at the wispy characters on the poster, they seemed to almost wiggle as they begged to have their meaning discovered. That’s when my synesthesia kicked in.
Gazing at the circle of strange letters on the poster, instead of a bunch of gibberish, I felt an odd pattern of prickly sensations. Each of the prickles exploded with meaning that my mind immediately understood. I whispered to nobody in particular the mind-blowing prose created by Tolkien long before I was born. “One Ring to rule them all, One ring to find them; One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”
Having synesthesia was one of those things that was almost impossible to describe without having people think you’re a freak, so I kept it to myself. If nothing else, I’d learned at school that anyone who was different would get made fun of, and that was definitely something I didn’t want to deal with. I had enough issues.
My eyelids drooped and I let out a yawn as I stretched underneath my covers.
Jeremiah! Where is he?
As I rested my head on the pillow, Mom’s silent thoughts drifted in from the living room.
She must have wakened.
Like she often did, I could sense Mom standing outside my bedroom like a sentinel … watching. Her single-minded focus on me left no room for any other thoughts, and I slowly drifted into a dreamless sleep.
I felt pretty good about my first day’s accomplishments, but as I sat in my cubicle the next day, my head ached like a muscle that had been overworked. The headache got worse as the day progressed and I peered into more of my customer’s thoughts.
At times, the pain became so bad that I found myself unable to reach across the phone and tap into my client’s needs. The results were pathetic. My sales over the next couple days peaked and dipped like a roller-coaster and I couldn’t help but be concerned.
Worry gnawed at my insides as I thought about money. I’d been told that some of my commissions would be delayed or never show up because a customer might call back and cancel what had previously been ordered. I needed this job to put more food on the table, but I also knew that if I didn’t have enough sales, I might not even be able to afford another month-long pass for the train.
Despite my erratic sales performance, I was still catching the occasional attention of my co-workers when I scored a couple of the top daily sales. Some people laughed it off as beginner’s luck, but a few of my co-workers began to wonder what my secret was.
Little did they know that no matter how much they listened to what I said to the customers, they wouldn’t be able to duplicate my results. Everyone tried to offer things to their customers out of the catalog, just like I did. They might get a couple attempts before the customer would get mad and hang up, or demand their free item and only their free item.
With my special skills, I could tell within seconds if something the company had was suitable for the customer. This made my sales experiences very pleasant and effortless. I only offered them things that they wanted or needed—things that they could afford—and so they felt grateful to me. On the other hand, if I sensed that the customer wanted their free item and wouldn’t be sold on anything else—I didn’t waste much time on them. Time was money. Even I knew that.
Just over two weeks after I’d started the job, I stood at the wall of mailboxes in my apartment building’s breezeway. In my hand was the envelope I’d been waiting for. My first paycheck from Correo Industries.
I knew that to buy another one-month pass for the train, I’d need a little bit over a hundred dollars. I was warned that the payments were sometimes slow to arrive, but since I’d done reasonably well–I secretly hoped it would be enough. I braced myself for disappointment, knowing that I’d only be able to keep going to work if I could afford the train.
My hands shook as I gingerly opened the envelope and peered in. Feeling a bit nauseous, I stared at the check and gulped.
With my heart hammering in my chest, I looked at the numbers and figured it had to be a mistake. My chest tightened with anxiety and I had trouble drawing a breath.
The check was for twenty-three hundred and seventy-six dollars.
The drumbeat of my heart echoed loudly in my head and my imagination began to run amok.
I pressed the check against my chest and had visions of the cops arresting me. I knew that the only way a kid in the projects got this kind of money was if they were dealing drugs. And if I knew it, that means almost everyone else knew it too, especially the cops.
I gasped and steeled myself against the fear that I hoped was irrational. I hadn’t done anything wrong.
“Heck, if Correo made a mistake, they’d let me know soon enough, right?” I asked nobody in particular. Just in case, I resigned myself to not spend any of the money unless I absolutely had to.
A couple of teens walked through the apartment’s breezeway, glanced in my direction and made a dismissive “Pfft” sound.
If we rolled him we’d probably get nothing more than a bunch of lint and a cracker.
My hand trembled as I carefully placed the check back in its envelope. I quickly realized that the cops were the least of my worries. Everyone around here knew I didn’t have anything and minded my own business. That had kept me safe.
I slid the envelope into my pocket and knew I had to go to the bank. My mom’s paranoia about strangers must have seeped into me, because I suddenly found myself worrying about having anyone even see me at the bank. I’d have to be careful about who saw me enter and pray that nobody I knew saw me leave.
What would a poor kid from the projects be doing there, unless of course, the poor kid had stumbled into some money?
A chill raced up and down my spine as I realized that, for the first time in my life, I was carrying enough money that people would slice my throat for it.
I groaned with frustration as my neighbor’s nocturnal activities kept me from getting any sleep.
It turned out that they’d just gotten married and their bedroom shared a wall with mine. Shoving my face into the pillow, I wondered, “How can they stay up all night with each other and be sensible in the morning?”
Over the past several weeks, the constant exercise of my mind-reading ability at work had made it grow more powerful, and thankfully, the headaches had mostly gone away. Just like a muscle, the more I used it, the stronger it got. With the improvement in my mind reading, I found myself able to sift through people’s innermost thoughts without even trying.
However, with my enhanced senses amplifying my neighbor’s nightly activities, I couldn’t get any sleep.
It finally got bad enough that I stumbled out of bed and dragged myself into the living room.
Luckily, I’d actually made one of my only major purchases two days earlier. I’d bought Mom a recliner from the used-furniture store. She was thrilled when she’d received it, and as I walked into the living room, I smiled. She slept on the recliner with one of Mrs. Rivera’s knitted blankets covering her, a peaceful expression on her face.
This left the relatively comfortable sofa for me.
It was very early in the morning, and as I relaxed on the sofa, I noticed Mom’s eyes darting back and forth under her closed eyelids. She’d begun dreaming.
Mom’s dreams never made sense. For me, the memories I plucked from a person’s mind were something like short film clips or still-photos. Sometimes they were just feelings. However my mother’s dreams were disjointed. The images almost never matched the emotions she felt. I’d see a building and associate something painful with it. An image of a baby was almost always frightening. For as long as I could remember, I’d thought dreams were silent, like films without a soundtrack. After all, I’d never heard a sound coming from my mom’s dreams. Just the silent images and feelings.
Tonight, however, things changed. I closed my eyes and dug deep into her dreams. I caught flashes of memories that looked like younger images of me, from before my fever.
My heart pounded as I concentrated. Following the thread of those memories. They led to a white sterile-looking hallway. A hospital?
Mom was getting some kind of shot.
She was in a lot of pain. Terrible pain. And for the first time, I heard voices in her dreams. Voices I couldn’t understand. Mom was screaming at the doctors in a language that sounded like Russian. The harder I concentrated, the clearer the images in her mind became. I suddenly smelled rubbing alcohol and felt cramps in my stomach. On the wall of the otherwise barren room, I saw what looked like an eye chart. But it was messed up. The letters … they were all wrong.
I gasped. Those had to be Russian letters. My mother had been born and raised in Miami. How could she be screaming in Russian? What was she doing in a Russian doctor’s office?
I listened to her words. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, yet I could almost glean some meaning from them. It was at the edge of my grasp. If only I could synchronize her thoughts and feelings with the words, maybe I could maybe make some sense of her dream.
I strained with the effort of drawing in every sensation she felt. In her dream, she bit her tongue. I tasted the blood in my mouth. I was on the edge of making sense of things when a metallic clanging noise shattered the scene. My mind leaped back to my current surroundings, and I heard my alarm clock in the bedroom clanging its tinny alert.
It was time for work.
Mom snorted and awoke. My connection to her memories of the doctor’s office evaporated as she blinked her eyes open and smiled.
“Mom? Do you speak any languages other than English?”
Mom yawned and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. “What was that you asked?”
“Mom, you don’t by chance speak Russian do you?”
She barked a laugh and shook her head. “I have enough trouble with my own language, thank you very much. If I need to hear funny-sounding accents, I’ll listen to all the Cubans living next door.”
Scanning her thoughts, she really didn’t exhibit any sign of the memories I’d witnessed. How could that be?
My alarm clock continued to clang away and Mom pointed toward my room. “Are you going to get that?”
I nodded as I got off the couch and stretched. “Is there anything you’d like me to get you on the way home?”
She appeared confused for a moment as she thought. Her mind a jumble of unorganized images. “Can you get me one of those Cuban sandwiches? You know, the one with ham, roast pork, cheese and pickles. Those Cubans might talk funny, but they make decent sandwiches.”
I laughed at the unexpected request. “Sure, Mom. I’ll get you a medianoche—”
She snapped her fingers and nodded. “That’s what they call it. When can you bring it?”
I changed into a new set of clothes and yelled through my open bedroom door. “I’m working longer hours now. I won’t be home until nine. The refrigerator is working again, so don’t forget that I left some fruit salad in there for you. I’m also going to get groceries tonight.”
I checked my wallet, noticing I only had five dollars left from the fifty I’d allocated for spending money for the week. I needed to stop at the bank and deposit another paycheck. This one was for almost double what the first one had been. I knew that my ticket out of here was to make and save as much money as I could.
I was getting excited about our prospects, but something about Mom’s dreams left a chill inside me. I suspected her inability to remember speaking another language was somehow related to my missing memory.
As I waved goodbye to Mom, I wondered how long it would be before I heard her have another dream with sounds in it. I needed to know what she’d been yelling about. What had that doctor done to her? And even if I heard it, how would I figure out what was being said?
It was then that an idea came to me.
— That’s it for chapter 1 —
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