The entrance to the subway was congested; there were panhandlers blocking the steps. He made his way down the stairs and onto the crowded platform. Columbia students were talking of academic subjects. Three young hippie-looking girls giggled about last night’s trysts with their boyfriends. On a wooden bench in the middle of the platform, a homeless man slept beneath a blanket, his stench mingling with the smell of cheap wine, staining his coat. A police officer nudged him with a nightstick as he passed, and a group of teenage boys in the corner laughed at the spectacle. It was 1969. It was an inspiring time – a time of experimentation, a time of pleasure. It was a time when rules seemed to matter little to a world turned over on its head.
These humans are fascinating! Mark would say to himself as he walked through the subway. He could read their thoughts as well as hear their words, and he drank it all in with delight. Today, the platform bathed Mark in a cacophony of sights, sounds, and feelings. A swirl of human emotions flew through the air in what was to Mark a sinuous torrent, flickering and jumping like sparks from a burning campfire, flying colors, a kaleidoscope of humanity. It baffled him how humans would lie to each other about the silliest things, even to their closest friends, and how they often seemed so mentally distant as they pushed themselves up against each other’s bodies in the subway cars. They remained faceless, isolated in a crowd, and yet they increasingly busied themselves within the networks of their own lives. For all their strange, paradoxical behavior, Mark found humans forever surprising, constantly naively beautiful; every day they fascinated him more.
Playing games and testing his abilities at mental manipulation became a daily pastime on the train, an unending source of pleasure. He would often construct suggestions, implant them into some unsuspecting mind, and watch the ensuing reactions. He might create a deep-seated attraction in a young girl’s mind for a stranger. Then, he would observe her eyes as she pined away, watching her new true love jump on the express train, never to be seen again. Or he would suggest to the mind of a busy businessman that he had left the gas on in his house, and then relish in the anxiety, witnessing the panic, as he would flee to rush home. What silly games! He often thought. But I might as well practice what powers I have. Who knows how I’ll need to use them.
Besides, these minor games paled in significance to the games Mark and Jason had played when they were children. Jason had once gone so far as to induce the preacher’s wife to seduce their school principal in the rear of the church. Jason had practiced his abilities of suggestion from an early age, and he had developed them into an art. Not only was the school principal thirty years older than the preacher’s wife, but he was fat, almost consistently unshaven, and always had bad breath. Mrs. Shulster, on the other hand, was a beauty with blue eyes, a fetching southern accent, and healthy blonde curls that bobbed and bounced in the most affected manner intended to disarm the men she dealt with as the church’s first lady. She was also supervisor of the school, a position she often abused, dispensing a cruelty for which even at a young age the brothers, especially Jason, had no patience.
One day she found herself naked, reclined and sweaty, succumbing to an uncontrollable lust with the principal behind a thin curtain in the rear of the church. The debauchery devised by Jason was cruel even by his standards, and afterward, he allowed her only to recall the event in full during an occasional dream. She would never be sure whether the tryst had been real, but it would always haunt her. Mark eventually admitted he enjoyed watching her squirm in her seat whenever the principal walked into the room, or when his eyes found hers. To this day, the preacher’s wife never understood how it was possible that she had found herself sitting in a pew next to all the prim ladies without any underwear beneath her stiff dress. The principal, for his part, could never quite wash the smell of her off his clothes. The brothers had hated them both, and never had a moment’s remorse. They granted themselves these silly pleasures, thinking of them as learning exercises, for their time living amidst humans passed ever so slowly. Mark had been seeking what these beings were flush with, what they took for granted, this irrational torrent they call emotions. Maybe one day I will even be able to dream. Could I imagine such a thing?