“I have this thing I like to do. I guess I have always done it, though time and technology make it much easier than it was when I first started. I explore until I find something that pulls at me, catches my soul in a loose cage that holds me, and captures my attention. I surrender myself to that thing and let it take me, completely. It usually starts with music.”
Eric reached for his coffee and took a sip before going on with his recording. “It doesn’t always start there, but I find music, as the old saying goes, soothes the savage beast in me. It stills him, and allows him to catch the barest glimpse of something larger than himself.
“It can be on the radio, or in a movie, or in some YouTube video that I find in the purest of accidents. Not everything affects me this way,” he laughed. “I am grateful for that, because in my quests for connections and larger understanding I could easily lose myself entirely. I am grateful for that,” he said with more certainty. “Because no matter how far I go, how deep I look, there is some buffer that will push me back into this earthly shell where I belong. Where I need to be…but still there is the sense of more, of a vast something that I not only want to touch, I need to touch. I think we all need to touch it, with our finger tips, just a light acknowledgement that we are aware.
“When I find this thing that cages me, I seek all the connections to it. If the song is in a movie I look at the other songs that have been selected for that soundtrack and try and force my mind into looking at the shapes they form, the images they represent. Then I explore the bands that made those songs, seeking to contain the visions of those artists and to touch them with the same moment of acknowledging grace that I use for the more that I mentioned before.”
A blinding smile of joy split his face as the thought of all the art and artists he had found in this way and how he had swam in their visions, buoyed by their dreams. “I have found some extraordinary things by following the threads granted by the musical direction of those of lay down the background score of movies and TV shows.
“I listen for hours and wonder at the person who opened that door to those things for me. I wonder at the life of the person who became eventually the one who heard that music before me and decided that this, this scene, this story was the place where it belonged.
“I think of the musicians who studied and who bled their lives into those notes and lyrics. Their adventures and their mishaps that formed them into the perfect creature to channel those forces into ethereal notes that could come across time and space to touch me in such an intimate way.
“They are out there now.” He closed his eyes, his voice cracking just a little from all the emotion he was tapping into to make himself be heard. “Those people who by luck, or fate, or sheer stubbornness of will have found themselves in such a place of grace and beauty to open our hearts and minds. Right now, they are sitting beside you in a coffee shop as you listen to these words, they are riding the bus beside you. They are standing behind you in the supermarket checkout line. They are holding the door open for you as you enter when they exit.
“They are moving through their lives, meeting new people, losing friends, making friends, taking all the steps they need to take to be the people they need to be. To be the people we need them to be.
“Then I think of the ones are yet to come. They will be different, a sign of their times, made in generational forges one cannot truly comprehend who stands on the outside of the events that form and shape. I think of the children who will tell our stories, their stories in paintings, in books, in photographs, in movies and in songs. I see them as tiny flickering lights who burn to hold back the darkness, who burn their brightest in the sharing of themselves fearlessly.
“I want, like every one of you out there, to shield them from the wind, to nurture their budding flames and to protect them from the tempest winds that seek to snuff them out before their find their voices and lift them up for us.” He sat back now, his brilliant smile fading a little. “But…that is not always possible.
“The hard truth is simply this…when you look at any piece of art and think of how it came together, there are dark colors in its composition. Which, I guess, is an artsy-fartsy way of saying that as hard as it may be to understand, bad things have to happen. Some lights have to get snuffed out for the ones who make it to shine brighter, to give depth and dimension to their expressions of what it means to be alive.
“There must be variations and experiences and losses as well as joy and wonder to make a sound that we can hear. To make something that can touch us, and reach us, because we are all each wonderfully complex and beautifully made.” He took another drink, cradling the warm mug in his hand, turning it in the desk light, studying it carefully as if it held the secrets he needed to bring this thought home.
“The individual journeys of those people make me feel very small when I think of the circumstances they faced to share their gifts with us. How they touch me, how they reach for us all, how they try with every fiber of their being to show us one simple truth. We are all connected. We are all one.” He sighed.
“You ever walk out of a movie theatre at the end of a great film and for a second as you mingle with the crowd heading to the exit have a thought flit through your mind that you have some connection to those people through the experience that you just shared? The man to left in his long coat, the couple hand in hand in front of you, for just a moment your heart breaks because of those moments in the dark when you laughed together? When you cried together and in those actions some bond that you cannot name was formed between you all?
“You don’t know their names and you didn’t see their faces but you felt them all around you, their hearts and minds open with yours as the story fed you all? You are no longer strangers, for just that fleeting moment you are kindred?
“I wish that feeling could last longer and not fade by the time we hit the street outside and turn back into our own lives. I wish we could remember that those people are still and always connected to us through that experience. I wish we could remember that we are their brothers and their sisters and that in times of trouble when all it might take to save a life and nurture a spark to a flame is a small kindness from those around us.
“The next time you hold the door open for someone to enter as you leave a place, look them in the eyes. Look for a bit of yourself in them. Believe that they cry out for the same things that you do, that they need the same things you need and just…smile.”
Eric was holding Sookie’s hand when walked into the bank. They were both smiling, giddy at the feelings that been flowing between them since they completed the bonding the morning before. They had been a little anxious about what might come of that final sharing of blood but so far everything had seemed the same. Well, almost everything. They had been unable to keep their hands off each other.
Their very married hands, he thought as they stepped up to the counter.
“Stop it!” she whispered to him, playfully as she heard him begin to list all the varied ways he could think of to show his new wife his appreciation for her proposal. The returning smile was wiped from his face and replaced by a grimace of pain when the teller’s thoughts blasted through his mind like someone had just turned the knob all the way to 11.
I HAVE GOT TO LEAVE AT 5 TODAY. THAT ASSHOLE MANAGER BETTER NOT MAKE ME WORK OVERTIME.
Sookie heard it herself and then in echo through Eric, creating almost a static feedback. It hit her hard, too but she was used to managing telepathy on a grand scale, it was not as debilitating to her, though she would hardly call it pleasant. Eric doubled over, her catching him before he hit the floor.
Looking around she saw a chair in the far corner of the office, she shuffled him over and sat him down, kneeling in front of him as he struggled to catch his breath. His face was pale and sweat had broken out on his forehead.
She squeezed his hand and blocked her own thoughts from him so there would be one less voice in the din. “The result of the final bonding,” she whispered to him in quiet tones. He nodded and gasped as he tried to organize all the thoughts that were swirling around in his head. Through the bond she could feel his pain and his fear at this new unknown. She sent him calm and reached out build a telepathic buffer to his mind with hers. She took some of his pain into herself, offering him a chance to catch his breath. The only evidence of her suffering a slight frown that marred her forehead.
Eric let out a slow breath of relief. “What did you do?”
“One of the benefits of the bond. I can share your pain.” His hand squeezed hers in thanks as his eyes drifted shut a moment. He took a few deep breaths and was about to ask Sookie to help him back to the car and out of the closed confines of the bank. He needed some air, and he needed some distance from the loud broadcaster behind the counter. He was about to rise when the doors opened behind Sookie. A man entered wearing a mask and brandishing a gun.
“GET DOWN! ON THE FLOOR!” Sookie flipped around growling as two other men entered with masks and rifles.
“You have to be kidding me,” she said ready to move when Eric’s hand clamped down on her shoulder like a vise.
“No,” he told her.
“I can stop them,” she said turning back, knowing they had only moments before the masked men turned and saw them there. She could kill them before even one of those moments was up.
“No,” he told her again. The look on his face was almost peaceful. She checked the bond between them and felt something she had not felt before. Something new rising inside him. “Sometimes, just sometimes, Sookie, death is not the answer.” She opened her mouth to argue, but his lips crashed into hers before she could speak.
I love you, wife, he told her with his tangled mind before he broke the kiss and stood, stepped in front of her to shield her small form behind his and raised his hands in the air. The gunmen spotted them and ordered again, “DOWN ON THE FLOOR!” He nodded and then took a step toward them. Immediately, all three guns were pointed directly at him.
He felt Sookie moving before she could and told her again with his mind, NO.
Up to now his telepathy had only worked with Sookie, but the buffer she had created a moment before allowed him some fashion of control in this new world of a thousand minds. He reached out to the armed gunmen first, with this empathy to feel them, and then with his mind to hear them.
They were brothers. Their mother was dying of cancer and had been denied medical treatment by their HMO. At their wits end, unable to watch her fade away and unable to do anything they had decided to steal the money they needed for her care.
In seconds he saw their lives unfold. An abusive father who abandoned them as children, a mother who worked three jobs to feed and clothe them. They had all dropped out of school and started work as soon as they could to help but she was sick by then, and now she was dying. They couldn’t get her what she needed from washing dishes and pumping gas.
“I SAID GET DOWN!” Tommy, the oldest brother came closer, his finger tightening on the trigger causing Sookie to gasp behind him. Her terror shot through him, and then her rage that he refused to let her help.
This won’t help your mother, Eric whispered into his mind. He saw the boys eyes go round in the cutout holes of his mask. The robber’s body jerked applying a dangerous amount of pressure on the trigger. Eric could feel the boys burning pain and anger as if it were his own. Then let it be my own. I take it from you, Eric thought, taking a deep breath as he swung the door wide open between them and smiled as he looked the young man in the eye. You are not alone, Eric said in his mind as he removed the pain and guilt from the man child before him.
Both their bodies convulsed from the transfer. The robber relaxing, the gun in his hand falling to the floor even as Eric’s face contorted with emotions that were not his own. In the bond Sookie felt what he was feeling and she instinctively reached out to help him. These emotions were no strangers to her and she had years of practice at managing them. Her fangs came down as they thrummed the strings inside her but she remained still and forced her mind to maintain the connection and ease Eric’s efforts.
He sighed in relief, bringing his focus back to the masked assailant. Go home, son. Take your brothers and go be with your mother while you can. A sob escaped the mask before he turned and commanded the others to follow.
The tension in the building released like a balloon popping when the door closed behind them. Eric wobbled on his feet and then felt Sookie steady him from behind. She helped him sit back down in the chair. His head was pounding and he felt like he needed to throw up.
Dimly he saw her move at blurry speed around the bank taking the memory of what had just happened from everyone present. She had the manger erase the tape that had captured everything on film and used the loud broadcasting teller as the patsy for accidentally bumping against the silent alarm that had the cops burst in a few minutes later.
By the time they had cleared up that nothing was wrong and Sookie had made a withdrawal as they had planned to do when they entered the bank, Eric had recovered enough to walk to the car under his own steam. He stayed in the car while she shopped, resting his pounding head on the cool glass of the window. When she came out pushing a large buggy of groceries he saw that she was on the phone. They each kept burners for emergency situations. Her voice carried to him as she opened the back of the car and started transferring the groceries.
“Yes, that’s right, I want you to set up a trust for Tommy Mickens and then make sure that they and their mother have what they need to either cure her or give her peace as she dies. Tell them a rich relative passed away and that you are to manage the money for them. They won’t know what to do with it all, but see if you can get them back in school and on their way to a better life.” She stopped then, still moving groceries into the car. “Right. Contact me on this number if you have any questions.” She disconnected the call and returned the buggy to the holding area in the parking lot.
He held his hand out to her, palm out when she climbed in behind the wheel. She laid hers on top and then laced her fingers with his. They drove home in silence hands still entwined.
When they got home he collapsed on the sofa, not able to stay awake a second more. At some point in the night she awakened him when she placed a soft kiss on his forehead, calling to mind how she once done that in another life after Lorena had attacked him. It was every bit as effective now as it had been then, the last of his headache fading with the touch of her warm lips. She lay down beside him, her arm and leg reaching across him. His face came down to bury itself in her hair, resting on the top of her head.
“I saw it today,” he whispered to her in the dark.
“What?” she whispered back, not moving.
“How we are all connected. I mean, I knew it, but today, I saw it. Today I felt it. I was able to do that because of you.” He felt her getting ready to protest and cut her off before she could speak. “No, Sookie, it is because of you. Since we bonded it’s like I am awake, fully for the first time. You, my connection to you is, just like I told you, how I can find it in me to love them all.” She didn’t try and argue with him anymore, she could feel how tired he was, the weariness cutting into her even.
“I love you,” she told him, placing a kiss to his chest through his shirt and then snuggling closer to him, letting sleep take them both away. Everything she needed to say could wait until he was healed and ready to hear it.