26 January 2012 in 20 Minute Stories

*  Note, this story took slighly longer than 20 minutes, and was broken up into two writing sessions.  Not necessarily homework for my writing class, but along the same lines.  Enjoy!

Henry stared intently at her lips as she spoke.  “Not quite sure about the shade of lipstick she’s wearing, but it isn’t terrible” he thought to himself.  He found generally if he focused on the movement of people’s mouths, it helped him to focus on what people were saying out loud to him.  Now if only he could drown out the voices of what they WEREN’T saying, his life could go back to the “normal” he had before his office building burned down.  He’d managed to track everything back to that one day five years earlier.  A fantastically bizarre assembly of circumstances that left him with the ability-turned-curse of being able to hear what everyone was thinking as if they were saying the words out loud.

That damned building fire.  Henry cursed it at least once a day.  The chain reaction of events set in motion by some disgruntled employee two floors down from his own office and ended up with him standing outside with an open afternoon and the ultimate decision – spend an afternoon trying out something new at “Uncle Ronnie’s Hot Yoga and Massage Studio” or spend the afternoon trying something he typically tried on thursdays – all you can eat afternoon buffet at “Fried China!”  He gazed into the window of Uncle Ronnie’s and was met by the blank, empty stare of the employees.  Everyone that worked there had the same expression.  In one way it was devoid of emotion and thought, but at the same time longing for an escape from the mental prison.  They almost never spoke unless it was to tell you of availabilities or prices, or so he’d heard.  The office was full of gossip.  “I wish i could hear what you all are thinking” he mumbled to himself, lost in the same blank, empty stare.  He was quickly jolted out of this trance as an old lady with far too many grocery bags for a person her age to be holding bumped into him from behind.

“Chinese food buffet it is,” Henry decided to himself.  He wasn’t quite ready to validate or debunk the rumoured oddities that Uncle Ronnie may or may not have to offer in his studio.  A healthy dose of Pineapple Chicken Balls was the perfect addition to a day that had already been comprised of two conference calls and an office fire.

The staff seemed particularly mouthy that afternoon, and the slightly below average sized crowd seemed excessively loud.  It sounded as though there were twice as many people yammering on about completely incoherent things.  It wasn’t until he heard the waitress’s snide remark of “Oh great, this guy tips worse than my grandmother” while the waitress’s mouth was saying “Here is your change sir” that he realized something strange was afoot.

For the first few weeks Henry got a real kick out of his new found ability.  Cutting off his boss with the great idea his boss was thinking of, telling his clients what they wanted to hear before they could say it… being able to hear what people were thinking seemed fantastic.

As the weeks passed and turned into months, the blessing started to evolve into something less desirable.  He used to think that it would be great to know what people were thinking when he passed them in the street, but those thoughts were not always pleasant ones to hear.  Many of the bad thoughts that entered his mind when he saw people as “undesirable” were just as bad, and often worse, coming from the people he encountered by chance on a daily basis.

Henry found himself growing more self-conscious as each day passed.  Every thought of “oh, i can see his nose hair,” “gross, look at that pimple,” or even “did that guy get his cologne out of a toilet at an amusement park?” drove him more and more over the edge.  Showering repeatedly couldn’t get rid of the smell, and no matter how many swipes of the razor, eyebrow hairs plucked, or shirts run through the laundry, he couldn’t escape the criticism that practically screamed from people’s minds.

As time passed, Henry began forcefully drowning out people’s subconscious voices with loud music.  Five long years it took him to live with his “ability,” to accept that it had happened, and to learn to listen to people’s internal and external voices.  There was no way he could drown out the extra voices, but he learned how to listen to the ones that needed to be heard.  To him, it became like focusing on a conversation with a friend in a crowd – not always the easiest thing to do, but certainly tolerable.

Now Henry was here on his first date in years, the first date since that fateful building fire.  He focused intently on her red lipstick and her long auburn hair.  She had intriguing earrings that he was sure could carry on a conversation themselves.  He studied the print on her dress – fashion from the early sixties he was certain.  Slightly odd, but delightfully eccentric.  He loved how the conversations flowed from her lips and poured out of her mind.  Both conversations were so riveting for Henry, it was quite difficult for him to focus on just one.

Now if only she would just think of what her name is…

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26 January 2012 20 Minute Stories