Now Marquita is facing forward as her hand tightly clutches the armrest. Her body becomes tenser while her mind dances quickly as she begins to question:
“I know she’s not being honest, but what can I do?”
“How dangerous is she? She has heads in a cave.”
“Is that thought real or is she trying to scare me?
“What would she do if I scream on this bus? Would these people be hurt or just me?”
“If I get away, where will I go? She knows my home. She knows my family. She knows where I’ll go.”
“What are mama and dad doing now? Are they looking for my body or planning my funeral?”
“If only someone knew I was alive…. That I was here.”
She scans the features of each person, trying to identify someone familiar. She stares at the back of each head, hoping one will look back and recognize who she is.
An older Chinese woman turns and momentarily locks eyes with her. Marquita can see a flutter in her aura and wonders, “Could she have felt me?” She looks at the woman again and she tries to focus, willing herself to block out the other thoughts and noise. The cacophony of voices fills her ears becoming louder and more incoherent until she is finally interrupted by Mechteld straightening in her seat and announcing, “Okay, let’s practice.”
She looks to Marquita and asks, “Man with the white hair, what’s his name?”
Marquita looks back to the woman, but sees she has turned back and her aura has returned to its previous state. She looks ahead to the man Mechteld has singled out. Eight rows ahead she sees an old man with white hair peeking out from under a Mets cap. She doesn’t attempt to read his mind, but instead responds, “What? I can’t separate his thoughts from everyone else’s.”
In a lecturing voice Mechteld says, “Lesson one, Marquita. You didn’t have to read his mind to know his name. His luggage has a tag. What name was on the tag?”
Marquita gives a small-bemused laugh, “I don’t know. I wasn’t looking.”
There’s a short pause between the two women before Mechteld asks, “Did you not listen to anything I said? I told you to use your eyes and ears.”
Marquita defensively responds, “I was on the verge of a panic attack.”
“That’s no excuse.” She coolly answers.
Marquita raises her voice, attracting side-glances.
“That’s no excuse? That’s a perfect excuse!”
Mechteld pauses as she watches passengers, waiting for them to face forward again. She continues in a low voice, “I gave you three important lessons for being my protégé and so far you’ve failed all three.”
Sinking into her seat, Marquita closes her eyes and breathes out.
“I didn’t ask to be your protégé.”
“That’s right, you didn’t,” Mechteld answers, “but that doesn’t excuse you from not doing it.”
Mechteld can feel her temper rising. She pops her neck and then reaches for the cards on Marquita’s tray table.
She composes herself before asking, “Do you know how to play gin rummy?”
Marquita doesn’t open her eyes. Instead she replies, “Isn’t that a game for old ladies?”
Mechteld gives a small pause at Marquita comment, but continues nonplussed, “It’s a good memory exercise and it requires a lot of strategy.”
Mechteld quickly deals ten cards to herself and Marquita before leaving the rest in a stack on the tray table in front of her. She then explains the rules of the games and tests Marquita’s knowledge several times before beginning. The game is slow at first with Mechteld always winning, but Marquita gradually improves with each round.
A calm begins to develop between the two ladies as the game progresses. Each hand eliminates a small fraction of the animosity and hostility of the past day. Neither one speaks except for the occasional, “knock” and counting of points.
While keeping her eyes on her cards, Mechteld breaks the concentration of the game by saying, “You know, I didn’t ask to be immortal either. Many of us don’t.”
Marquita looks up from her cards, but sees that Mechteld is not meeting her gaze.
“Why did you do it? Why change me?”
“Because you’re special,” Mechteld explains, still never looking up.
Marquita gives her a dismissive huff and says, “A lot of people are special.”
Mechteld takes a deep breath, puts down her cards, and looks at Marquita.
Struggling to remain patient she says, “Not like you. I’ve been around for a while;
there are not a lot of people like us. There are several people with mild psychic ability, but what we do is different.”
Marquita lays her cards down with a hard slap on the tray, “So? That might make me special but does it make me important?”
“You can be, if you let yourself,” raising her voice slightly.
Marquita rolls her eyes, “God, you sound like my school’s guidance counselor.”
But Marquita knows that she is special. She has never met anyone who could do what she can do.
“How many? How many people are there like us?” She asks, trying not to sound too curious.
Mechteld picks up the empty card box, places the discarded cards inside, and closes it. She holds it in her hands in front of her as she begins to speak.
“I’ve met quite a few basic mind readers. They can read the surface of a person’s thoughts, but they can’t probe deeper. They can’t access memories unless the person is thinking of it. They can’t see auras.”
Her scarred fingers lightly glide across the surface of the battered box.
“Then there’s us, powerful psychics. You’re either born with it or not. No amount of practice can make a basic mind reader into a powerful psychic. Believe me, I’ve tried. There are only a few hundred of us and we vary in skill and power. I’m sure you’ve noticed that it can run in families.”
Mechteld opens the box and lays the cards in fan across the tray face up.
“With our ability we can enter a mind, probe memories and thoughts and feel the emotions of an individual.”
Her index finger roams along the deck, pulling cards before dragging them into a prominent display above the rest.
“Most psychics need to train in order to control and enhance their skills. Lifetimes are dedicated to becoming stronger at searching a mind and better at filtering out the constant swirling thoughts around us. A few of us learn to shield ourselves from other psychics. It’s a difficult, but in my opinion a beneficial defense to master. In my experience, only the strongest psychics have been able to break that barrier.”
Mechteld pauses and then turns to Marquita. Her blue eyes take on a deep and serious quality again as she speaks in a sobering voice.
“But, that’s what you did yesterday. You were able to breach my defenses and enter my mind. I had to train to become what I am. I spent decades of intense practice refining my abilities and building my defenses, but you entered my thoughts, my memories, with little effort. It should be impossible. An attempt to crack my mind should have crippled you. That’s why you’re very special and extremely important.“
Marquita didn’t know how to respond. She remembers that being in Mechteld’s mind was the most painful experience of her life, but taking the step in wasn’t difficult. For her, she saw an entry and decided to move forward. The resistance wasn’t great; all she needed was a touch.
Marquita curiously asks, “Has anyone entered your mind before?”
Softly she answers, “When I was weaker.”
“Altogether? Only four, including you.” Mechteld lifts a hand and begins to count on each finger, “The person who made me immortal, the person who taught me how to control and refine my abilities, and the person who is the most powerful and sadistic immortal ever created.”
Mechteld pauses as she remembers. An uneasy expression envelops her face. Her voice becomes pensive as she continues, “He could read my mind without a touch. Despite how hard I tried to hide my thoughts, he found memories I thought I had escaped. He knew how to manipulate me. He used me.”
She looks at Marquita, with a now serious look in her eyes.
“Practice is important. You don’t want to be taken advantage of.”
Mechteld replaces the discard pile, picks up her cards and continues the previously abandoned game with a, “that’s gin“. Marquita recognizes that the memory was painful for Mechteld, possibly even scary. Marquita wonders, “What could be scary to Mechteld? She’s been burned alive and keeps heads in a cave. What could be scarier than that?”