The Troubles With Modern Telepathy by Spencer Sweeney ’18

A scientist sat.

Her white lab coat was covered with soot and particles of tissue. Her hair and face—splattered. She sat looking at a pile of gooey brain matter and preservative fluids. Her features were tired as she surveyed the remains of a once beautiful specimen. It had blown up. She had blown it up.

She found the problem in her fit of frustration right after it happened; there were wires and cables wrapped around more wires and cables, and she didn’t know which end came from where. Somehow, somewhere along the line, something got plugged into somewhere wrong and the fuse blew. She should have been more careful, but she was eager to begin testing the equipment on actual specimens.

She tried to remember where it had gone wrong, but her memory was foggy. She remembered the glass containers that she kept her specimen in quite clearly, but she saw them every day. It was logical that she would have the best memory of those. She focused specifically on that morning. She had finished the machines early: at 05:42 am. Normally, she never bothered with the constraints of time unless she was faced with administrative deadlines, but she specifically remembered the way the blue light of her computer screen was reflecting off the surface of her clock when she had finally set the soldering tool down next to the finished product. She had drawn the oval-shaped container out that had held the brain suspended in fluid and a tangle of electrodes. She noted the unusual rise and flutter in her chest.

And then it had all gone to hell.


After a few more minutes, she stirred from her trance and fumbled with a button on the desk. The janitors would come, and they would clean the brain matter up. They knew not to touch anything they weren’t supposed to. They knew she would have their jobs if they did.

The Scientist hadn’t been home in over a month; she realized she misplaced her keys weeks ago. It didn’t matter; there were couches in her office and food in the vending machines. She had no reason to go home.

It took precisely 221 steps to get from the 3rd floor to the hospital cafeteria. Thankfully, there were no patients here at this late hour. She bought almost 20 packets of peanuts and stuffed them in her pockets. In the window of the vending machine she earned a glimpse of herself: greasy hair, pale face, glossy eyes, and, of course, covered in brain matter. It was another 137 steps to the bathroom.

It was getting light when she returned to her office; she could see the sun filtering in through the slits in her room-darkening shades. As she’d expected, the mess was cleaned up and the floor shined. She consumed two packets of peanuts and sat down at the desk to begin her new machine. This time, she color coded her wires and double checked to make sure they were plugged in to the corresponding outlets. Red to red. Blue to Blue. White to White.

Light flooded The Scientist’s vision. She opened her eyes searching the blurriness for something. What was it… the moon? Stars? The light flickered at a constant rhythm, and The Scientist automatically counted the seconds between each blink. Slightly less than three.

Her vision began to clear and she pushed herself up on her desk. She had fallen asleep. The blinds were drawn on her windows so that only a small light trickled in through the gaps.

It was her machine. The power button was blinking red light. She must have fallen asleep as she was waiting for the software to configure itself, and now it was telling her it was done.

She made a few adjusted with a Phillips head screwdriver and rechecked the wires. Red to Red. Blue to Blue. Yellow to Yellow.

Finally. It was ready. She could barely contain the fluttering in her chest as she went to the cooling device and took out one of the glass containers. Inside was a brain, floating in liquid, sustained by electrodes. The Scientist snapped on a pair of rubber gloves and shrugged on her lab coat before unsealing the container. She lifted the brain out of the liquid, careful not to detach any of the electrodes, and transplanted it into her machine. It settled into its new liquid slowly and The Scientist sealed the machine again. She pushed the power button without a moment of hesitation. She didn’t need the rev of the motor and the sudden illumination of light to tell her she had gotten it right this time. She sat down at her desk again and began to attach electrodes to her own head. Each end she plugged into the machine. Red to Red. Blue to Blue. White to White.

She wasn’t quite sure what to expect; this had never been done before. She sat back in the chair and closed her eyes. She pressed a yellow button and waited for the electricity and chemicals to reach her brain.

* * * *

Love. That was the first thing; even before there was light, there was love. Deep and throbbing. She opened her eyes and blinked. There was something on her cheek. She sat up, dislodging a claw-like grip that had been clinging to her with a squawk. A bird about the size of her forearm fluttered to the ground, looking disgruntled. It was grey with a bright red tail, pale yellow eyes that bulged from the side of its head, and a beak bigger than its face.

“Hello,” it squawked in the voice of an old man. Rocky was his name. She walked to the gold mirror hanging above a delicate glass desk filled with beautifully colored books in the corner of a room and beheld a young child in a nightdress. She had brown hair, neither dark nor light, and her face was lightly freckled. Her eyes were a darker brown and she wore a purple bow in her hair.

“Hello!” Rocky called with more urgency. She looked down as he scratched her leg with his beak. Somehow, she knew his flight feathers had been clipped. She had screamed and cried when they did it, even though the vets told her he wouldn’t be hurt. He had loved to fly. Her chest warmed again and she reached down with an extended finger. Rocky hopped up her arm to her shoulder to begin preening her ear.

It was light and she was hungry. With Rocky on her shoulder, she raced out of the room and bounded down the long run of mahogany, spiral stairs; she didn’t bother with the last couple of steps, but jumped to the bottom. She could smell pancakes on the table and her stomach felt like it was eating itself alive. Her vision was getting blurry but she could just make out two people ahead, a man and a woman. On the table, a pile of pancakes waited for her to devour them.


She couldn’t understand why people kept telling her how sorry they were. Why were they sorry? She’d never met most of these people. She glimpsed her parents once. They were lying in matching beds that looked like boxes. Then someone shooed her away.

A man, who said he was a friend of her parents, took her to an old house. The stairs creaked eerily as she entered. He knew her grandmother, he kept saying. All the while he had been talking she had been clenching the lace of her black dress and wishing that her collar didn’t itch so much.

She had never met her grandmother, and, as the old woman rolled out in her wheelchair, she fought the urge to hide. Her eyes were utterly lifeless.

“Hello!” Rocky called, and, as her grandmother’s dead eyes turned to him on her shoulder, with a look of pure hatred. She wished, for the first time ever, he would just be quiet.

* * * *

        The Scientist woke and blinked. Her mind was bleary as the image of the little girl faded. Her pulse was pounding her skin. This was amazing! It worked. Her invention worked!

        Maybe it was just a dream, her mind told her. She quelled her beating heart with a stern thought. She couldn’t make conclusions without proof. She was a scientist, not some literature snob. Everything she interpreted was fact.

        It took hours to run the tests and monitor the brain waves. The test brain definitely showed signs of dreaming. The patterns she saw were very close to that of someone in REM sleep, which explained why the dreams were so vivid.

She flipped through the graphs until she got to the fMRI. She scanned the splotches of color until she found what she was looking for. The hippocampus was lit up deep within the brain. It was the long-term memory center. The dreams had been memories… or at least in part. Then she flipped to her own brain scans and compared them. Exactly the same. She compared each peak in the waves of electricity to make sure. She allowed herself a brief smile of satisfaction. It had worked. She experienced another person’s memories. She felt her emotions! This was bigger than anything she had ever done. She would like to see them contemplate tearing down her lab after this.

        She yearned to go back in, but she didn’t want to push the brain too far. This type of preservation wasn’t permanent, and she didn’t want to increase the rate of decay. Instead, she took careful notes of the little girl’s memories, and wrote her psychological analysis below. Then she ate two more packs of peanuts and curled up on the couch to get a few hours of sleep. She wanted to be fresh when she attempted another trial.

* * * *

        School. She was going to school. She stood outside of the building for minutes trying to get the courage to enter through the doors. All around her people walked, and talked, and laughed. Teenagers. She looked at herself in the windows and found that she was a teenager too. Her hair was pulled back but frizzy ends still hung in her face. A bag of books was slung across her shoulder. She looked at all of the people around her and saw the way they parted around her, like there was some invisible bubble. She squared her shoulders and refused to let the weight pull her head down.

She had already humiliated herself enough by begging her grandmother to let her go to school. At first the old woman hand refused outright and told her to get out. But that old hag had denied her everything else she had loved since she had come to live with her. She had been schooled excessively by the best private tutors money could buy in everything from English, physics, and history, to gymnastics, archery, horsemanship, language, and fencing. She saw her grandmother once every week or two when they had a conference to discuss her progress. The old woman always had a list from the tutors but she never looked at it. Every week it was the same message. For the normal student, her progress was acceptable but as long as there was room to improve she would never be good enough.

         So, she decided, if she could never meet the crone’s demands, she might as well go to school. She hadn’t had a friend for years. Ever since–ever since…Rocky. She felt her chest tighten, but she wouldn’t cry; she hadn’t even considered the act since her grandmother had slapped her for crying when she found Rocky floating in the toilet. He was just a bird, she said. It’s nothing to cry for. And if he was nothing to cry for, then nothing in this world deserved her tears. Her grandmother may see her as a failure, but she would not see her as weak.

First, she asked, politely, if she could be allowed to attend school. Her grandmother reminded her that she had the best tutors in the world and said she was being stupid. Then she demanded to go to school. Again, she was refused. So, she offered her grandmother a deal. If she didn’t let her go to school, she would rob someone. She would rob someone while she was drunk. She would get arrested. She would do drugs and fail all of her classes. She would get pregnant. She would do everything possible to make her family’s name the most ridiculed at name in the city. She had spat her threats with a ferocity that reverberated through her bones but her grandmother had just smiled a thin, mocking smile.

“Fine,” she had said. And that was it.


Her teachers were nice. Kind even. A little bit too kind actually. She hadn’t given off quite the impression she wanted. She planned to enter the school as a raging phoenix with eyes of light and fire, like one of the characters in her books. Someone who stood up for others and could earn the respect of her enemies. Instead, she was just quiet and remarkably unimpressive. It wasn’t that she was disappointed with school, exactly… it’s just that people were a lot….less than she expected. Everyone was the same. They wore the same clothes and had the same hair. They even talked about the same things, and what they said held no interest for her. Evil wasn’t as evident as it was in her books and she realized that there was very little in high school to burn for. So, she read, and talked to overly kind teachers, and wondered if her blackmailing had been worth it.

* * * *

The Scientist took notes. The word ISOLATION was in all caps, and underlined. The girl was so used to being alone, that she didn’t notice how lonely she was. Although… there was this one student, Amaryllis—known as Lil, who had struck up the first discussion the girl had had with another student in all of the weeks she had been physically attending school. The Scientist scrolled back through the fMRI readings for that day and compared brain waves. There was definitely a marked increase in the social areas of the brain at that moment, but also minor spikes in the reward system. So, it was possible the girl enjoyed the encounter, just not as much as would be normal considering how social the human species was. The Scientist makes note of this.

* * * *

“…And this is my brother, Aaron,” Lil said. “We’re twins, but we don’t look much alike, unfortunately for him.” Aaron rolled his eyes. They looked close enough, both with varying shades of blond hair and shining blue eyes.

“Well, looks can’t get you everywhere,” Aaron said. “Much better to get the brains if you ask me.”

“Too bad you didn’t get either,” muttered their red-headed friend, Susie, with a shrug. It came out of her mouth so naturally that it was barely perceivable as a joke, but Aaron just tossed his head of platinum hair with mock offence.

“You’re new this year, right?” Susie asked.

She nodded, feeling the urge to toy with a piece of her hair.

“Well, what do you think?” Susie asked.

“Um… it’s nice,” She replied, not knowing what else to say. “I’m really enjoying my classes and the people-“

“Are fake?” Neo asked. He looked at her with a head propped on twig like arms and hair curling into his wide, dark eyes. She was so surprised that she just stared back.

“Neo,” Aaron said warningly, shaking his head.

“What? It’s true. And if by chance this is actually how people think…well, I don’t think I like that option any better,” Lil said. “Do you?”

She listened as Aaron feebly tried to defend the entirety of the school’s population from Neo and Lil’s attacks and looked around the lunch room. Her eyes found the guy who accidently pushed her over in the hallway, the girls who were skipping half of class to style their hair in the bathroom, the guys who were discussing their female ‘conquest’. She saw the people who stood in the shadows and sat alone at tables. She saw the people who hadn’t turned an assignment in in their lives and others who hadn’t lived a day in theirs. They weren’t all the same, she realized, as much as they tried to be.

“They’re not fake––I mean, some of them are, definitely, but not all of them,” she said. “Some of them just don’t know how to be the person they want to be because they’ve never been given the opportunity to discover themselves.” She’d been waiting to say that to someone ever since she entered the doors. Aaron shrugged in an acquiescent manor.

“Yeah, I guess,” Lil said, looking thoughtful.

“I still think they’re fake,” Neo said, stubbornly.

“Right, now that we’ve got that settled, let’s talk about the state of the European Union,” Susie said. “I have to create a logo to represent it and I don’t know where to start.”


It was a movie, a stupid flipping movie that had set her off. Their teacher was gone suddenly and the sub had no notes. So, she had put on a movie: The Never-Ending Story. At first she hadn’t remembered; it was just some old movie with horrible graphics. But then one scene suddenly brought memories crashing back on her shoulders. She was snuggled between her parents on the bed, with Rocky pecking at her hair, watching this exact same scene years ago. The memory fled only to be replaced by sirens and lights. They were terrifying. She hid in the bathroom, crouching on top of the toilet with Rocky clutched to her chest, because the bathroom was the place with the least windows in case the officers came to take her away. But no… they weren’t there for her.

She had run from the room as a staggering degree of pressure built in her chest. She wouldn’t cry, but to hold the tears in she gritted her jaw with enough force to send waves of pain through her temple. Her breaths came in short gasps.

That was how Susie found her, huddled in a corner of the hallway.

“Are you okay?” She asked. “I saw you leave class…”

Even if she had an answer, there was no way she could force words through her lips.

“I’ve never been very good with consoling, so I’m not going to try to say anything,” Susie said, sitting down next to her and crossing her legs. “But I’m not going to leave you here like this.”

She clung onto those words with everything she had and brought her tears to a slow, stuttering halt.

By the time she got home, her grandmother had somehow gotten word of her breakdown.

“You useless girl!” she’d said, slamming a folder down on the desk with tremendous force for an old woman. “You can’t even keep yourself together for eight hours!” The crone leaned in close, blue eyes burning. “If I ever hear of anything like this happening ever again, they’ll be no inheritance for you. I don’t need a pathetic excuse for a girl living under my roof.”


One of the benefits of being quiet was that she heard everything. She was the calm and then, all of a sudden, she was the storm.

She’d heard them talking, in what they must have thought was a quiet whisper. She’s weird. She talks too much. She says weird things. Grunting. Laughter. Did you hear what she said in class the other day? Who does she think she is? And what kind of name is Amaryllis anyway?

“Who are you?” She found herself hissing from behind. The boys didn’t, at first, realize she was talking to them, so she repeated herself. They turned around slowly, with confusion. They were silent for a minute, then one jeered and the rest burst into laughter. An image from a book popped into her mind of a heroine wielding a sword over her head. I will protect them with every breath, every last drop of blood, in my body. She snarled, low, and the boys laughs faltered and fell silent. “Who are you to think you have the right to say such horrible things…to anyone!” For a minute, it wasn’t the boys’ faces in front of her, but her grandmother’s sneering smile.

* * * *

The Scientist woke with a lingering sense that she couldn’t quite identify. It was like a dull, warm ache in her chest. She took a couple of deep breaths and sat but the girl’s eyes wouldn’t leave her head. Shining amber-gold in the sun, they were furious.

She fell asleep staring at squiggly lines on a piece of paper on her office couch.

* * * *

“Ha! You’re funny!” She looked at the boy sitting across from her as he cracked up. She wasn’t quite sure what was funny but…

“Stop laughing, Neo!” Lil said slapping him on the head.

“Ow!” Neo said, rubbing his black wad of hair.

“You deserved it,” said red-haired Susie, without looking up from her computer.

“I’m sorry,” Neo said. “I didn’t mean it that way.”

“It’s fine, I’m just not quite sure what the joke was,” She replied. Neo began to crack up again.

“I don’t think you want to know,” said Susie, giving her a meaningful look that she didn’t quite know how to decipher.

“Aaagh,” Aaron said, leaning back and running his hands through his hair. “I have three tests tomorrow!”

“That sucks,” She replied. She had spent a long time learning appropriate responses to exclamations like this. She looked at her watch. “Well, I should go….my ride is almost here.” The butler. Her grandmother never liked when she was late coming home.

“Aaron! We should go too. Mom wanted us home by four for that family thing, remember?” Lil said.

“Oh yeah,” Aaron said. “I totally remembered…”

“Hold on, we just need to get our stuff from our homeroom!”

She waited for her friends catch up.

“Oh! And you’re all invited to a party at our house tomorrow night,” Lil said. Her heart warmed. Aaron and Lil’s parties were the best. Eating the heavenly food and sparkling water that their mother––a chef––kept in the fridge. She had only been to their house once before but they had talked all night about things that really mattered. Their conversations were enough to make her heart race with excitement for the future. She stopped a moment as Lil chattered on. A future without them. It was strange but, though her time with them had been brief, it was hard to remember what she did before them. Read a lot, that she knew, but-

“Aaron don’t you-“

Something thudded into her face and she fell from the impact. Melted snow trickled down her shirt. It was damn freezing!

“Oh sorry! Are you ok? I didn’t mean to-“ She waited until he got close before revealing the hidden fist of snow. Aaron staggered back as it hit him dead in the face. Lil giggled.

“Oh,” Aaron said, as he slowly wiped the snow from his eyes. “You’re-“ Another snowball hit him from the side

“Run!” Lil squealed.

She was still running as she got out of the car. She couldn’t keep the smile off of her face as she danced the whole way up the stairs into her grandmother’s house.

Right into her grandmother, who was waiting for her as the door opened. She wheeled and tripped on her own feet in an effort not to fall on the chair-bound woman.

“Well, I see what all of those dancing lessons I paid for got me. Just imagine how clumsy you would have turned out without them,” her sweet, old-lady voice was laced with venom. “Go upstairs, girl, I have to talk to Geoffrey.”

* * * *

The Scientist woke again. Someone was knocking on the door.

“Wake up!” They called as they knocked. The scientist blearily went to the door but when she opened it, whoever was there had abandoned their cause. She groaned and fell on the couch. Her hand scrabbled for peanut packs but there were none left. She debated going down for them but that was 221 steps too many. Her mind went over all of the memories she had gathered: three years’ worth. The trip the girl had taken to the science museum with her friends Neo and Susie for a school project. The time Susie had engineered a proportionally accurate portrait of her on the computer and Aaron had tried to copy it. It had made the poor girl look like a skeleton instead. The memories were so real. The Scientist turned her head to glimpse her machine again. While she was in the memory, she had discovered that, not only did she feel the emotions of the test brain, but she felt the tactile sensations as well. The same regions of pain lit in her brain when Aaron had ‘accidently’ tripped the girl into a locker. It was fascinating. She leaned back with a sigh.

She updated her analysis of the girl: Inability to be open, deep anger, intense attachment to friends, fear of being abandoned.

* * * *

She didn’t know how it happened but at six o’clock sharp the following night, she was dropped off at Aaron and Lil’s house. Her grandmother hadn’t said anything when she had asked her to go, but the car had been ready and waiting as she came down for dinner that night and an outfit was already laid out on the chair for her to wear.

Susie arrived just before her and called her over. There were cars coating the block. She swallowed.

“I had to walk forever. There wasn’t a spot in sight,” Susie said. She had pinned her hair up high on her head and her green satin shirt made her eyes flash. “Was that your father who dropped you off?” Susie asked, as she strained to see through the tinted windows of the car.

“No,” She answered.

The party hit them like a wave and she was immediately overwhelmed. There were people everywhere; she had never even seen that many people.

“Hi!” Lil called as she bounded over to them and gave each a hug. “I’m so glad you could come!”

“Let’s go somewhere more quiet,” Aaron shouted over the din.

“Just don’t leave me or I’ll never be able to find you again,” she said only half-jokingly. Lil grabbed her arm to guide her through the crowd and they all tumbled into her room. It was covered in pink and lace.

They struck up a conversation as they waited for dinner and she listened to Aaron and Lil bickering amiably, butting in every couple of seconds to add her thoughts. Soon Neo joined them and whatever was left of the conversation diverged into laughing and giggles.

Then, Lil’s stomach growled. “I think dinner’s probably ready by now.” She said jumping up. She led them out of the room and the girl clung to her shirt to not get separated.

The food was magnificent, with everything one could dream of to eat. She filled up her plate with salmon, lobster, and steak. Green beans, salad, bread with butter. And cake! Cookies and last, but not least, chocolate. She took a bite of a piece of sour candy and turned to show off her green teeth-

And her friends weren’t there. She spun around twice, searching the people around her, making sure she wasn’t missing them but no, they weren’t there. Then she raked her eyes over the crowd until she found them, laughing at one of Neo’s jokes on the couch across the room. Not one of them was looking for her. Not one of her had noticed she was missing. All of them had left her. She put her plate down, suddenly feeling nauseous. She watched them for a couple minutes and not one looked up. Then she darted through the crowd and came to stand in front of them. Neo looked up, still smiling from something or another.

“Oh,” he said looking around. “Where did you go? I didn’t even see you leave.”

“I didn’t leave. You left,” She said quietly.

“What?” Lil asked with genuine confusion.

Something ripped open inside of her.

“I have to go,” She said and turned away. She didn’t want to see their smiling faces. She ran into the cold and dialed the phone number. Their butler, Geoffrey, answered. He would be there in 20 minutes. She waited outside for 25, thinking every second that someone would come out. Lil or Aaron. Susie or Neo. Someone. They wouldn’t leave her out here in the cold. They had to have seen how upset she was. They had to care. Every second that they didn’t come out the gaping hole in her chest ripped open further. Somehow, in a crowd full of people, they managed to leave her utterly and completely alone. And she had told them, she thought as the world fell on her, she told them not to leave her alone. She told them.

Her grandmother only had to take one look at her face before sneering. “I didn’t think it would last,” She said. “You feel things too much, girl. Love is useless and you—you’re just dramatic.” Every word was a pin to her already gaping heart and now there was so much pain in her chest that she could barely breath. Love? She had sworn that off when Rocky disappeared. She cursed herself for falling for it again. She cursed them, but the worst part was, even in her pain, she knew it wasn’t their fault. They couldn’t have known. They hadn’t meant to leave her; they had forgotten she was there. She could blame no one but herself and her naivety. She laid in bed and tried to sleep through the pain. Finally, late at night, after begging her body to seal off her emotions—for good, if necessary––she fell asleep.


She woke and, for one blissful moment, remembered nothing before the pain hit her again in a wave that took her breath away. There’s nothing wrong with me, she told herself. There’s nothing physically wrong with me. And yet, the pain wouldn’t go away. She got in the car without bothering to say a word to anyone. She was alone. She had absolutely no one, so there was no reason to speak. She had had no one before once, and that had been fine. She was fine being alone. But to have thought she had someone, even if it was just fake–but no. She was on her own. She just needed to forge-

Brakes screeched and something hit her. She felt the whiplash in slow motion and then… blissfully…the pain was gone, along with everything else.


The Scientist awoke to hear beeping. There was white all around her; white ceiling, white curtains, white blankets, a white tray. She tried to remember; there had been a red light pulsing constantly, rhythmically and…others that had come back in waves. Red, Blue and White. Red, Blue, and White. She remembered screeching tires and whiplash. There must have been an accident.

She picked up the metal bowl that was sitting on the tray by her table and looked at herself in the reflection. She was older. Her face was gaunt and her skin sagged off of her bones, probably making her look older than she was. Time had passed, though she couldn’t tell how much. She set the bowl down and leaned back on her pillow. She remembered a party. She remembered crushing pain, but now it was just a dull ache in her chest. Slowly, she turned her head towards the window of the hospital room to see if anyone had waited for her.