Slight Of Mind: A Psychological Thriller (Part Two) - Lore Publication

Written by M. Sigurd Hall

Part Two

“Are you OK?” I say. 
“I’m fine. Are you on your way home?” Mom says. 
“You mean to your apartment?” 
“Mine? Don’t you mean our apartment?” What’s she talking about? I haven’t lived with her in years. Is something wrong with her? Did I get a concussion in the accident? I should go see her to make sure she’s okay. 
“Yeah… Sure… I’ll come over. I’ll be there soon.” 
“Good. I’m making dinner. You hungry?” I’m not, but does that matter? Maybe I was wrong. I could see her again. 
“Yeah. I can eat.” 
“Great. See you soon. Love you.” I say those last words by accident. They seem natural but aren’t anymore. 
“Love you too.” She ends the call, and I’m left standing in the lot, still wondering where my car is.  I make it to the back row and see the only car that could be mine: The Firebird that I saved every dollar of my freshman and sophomore years in high school to buy. Even though it was more than ten-years-old, I loved every minute I drove it. If this is my car, then something is wrong. Dexter Hawkins must be doing this. I doubt any other mystiker would care about me enough to target me and if they did, that’s bad. I’m immune. They cannot affect me. Emma proved that years ago. But I stand in this parking lot with the wrong keys and the wrong car. Why else would I be here if not for one of them? I walk to the Pontiac and put the key in the lock and try to twist it. Nothing happens. Something is wrong. 

Maybe I’m just delirious. Could this be mystiker manipulating me? I know why Dexter Hawkins would want to manipulate me. Anyone else, I just, can’t wrap my mind around that, not today. So, I just have to keep my head. I don’t want to lose the sanity I still have.  Don’t I need to jiggle my key for it to work? Lift, then drop, then twist, and everything works. The door opens after I lift the handle. How can this happen? It doesn’t drive, so there’s no way that it can sit in a lot, waiting for me. Maybe it’s my Subaru, and I just think it’s my other car. But as I sit in its leather seat, it feels so real that I don’t care, if only for that moment. 

The drive to the apartment runs a chill up my spine. The city is familiar and yet foreign. It’s been so long since I came back here. I see landmarks that shouldn’t be where they are, but all the roads are the same; convenience stores I remember that closed years ago and the video store and the record stores I shopped are where I remember them. It hurts to see them but I can’t help the smile twisting my lips. This is bad. I’m at my favourite hangout. I drove here by accident. I was still in my twenties when they closed. It’s tempting to stop and grab something. I can’t help my nostalgia, but if I am as broke as when I was younger, I probably can’t afford anything. There’s no reason to check my wallet. Everything is perfect. There’s no reason I would still have my credit cards or cash. If I’m stuck in the past or some mirror of the past, then I need to learn how to survive. I must find Dexter Hawkins and finish him the same way I’ve dealt with so many mystiker. 

I park and climb the stairs to Mom’s old apartment. First came fame, then came money. I moved us out of this shithole. She hated that I paid her way, insisted I take her money. I don’t even know if she realized I deposited it back in her account without a word. I owe her that. After my father left, she took care of me, treated me better than I deserved. The musty hallway reminds me how much I hated this place. We were both sick for years after living here. I’m sure Dexter Hawkins did.  I’m still alive. That means that I will see through this illusion soon. I’ll end this. He will fear me.  

My fingers grip the bannister tight enough that I force myself to let go. He will pay for doing this to me. It doesn’t feel right to just open this door. This is not my home. I don’t live here anymore. What if Mom isn’t here? I put my knuckles to the wood and knock three times. Footsteps approach, then stop. The door opens. 
“Why did you knock on the door, Tony?” Mom says. I have nothing to say. “You live here.” She’s concerned. I can see it. 
“I… I don’t know…” I say. 
“Just get your ass in the door.” 
“Where’s your backpack?” Backpack? 
“In my car, I think.” 
“Did you do your homework already?” she says. This is getting weird. 
“Sure.” I say. 
“Sure, or yes?” I don’t look her in the eyes. It’s hard to look at my Mom at all. She doesn’t look much more than forty, and even though age hasn’t caught up to her, she still looks worn down. 
“I’ll be fine, Mami,” I say. 
“Don’t talk like that,” she says. 

My father left us when I was in high school. How old am I now? If he isn’t here then I’m at least sixteen. We stopped using Spanish the day he left. My father hates English. Doubt I know anymore than the average student. I don’t need it. Life would be better if I forgot everything my father taught me. I hate him. Antonio was his name too. Tony doesn’t sound like some asshole who throws his weight around. Tony helps people. I told Mom to call me if he comes back. He isn’t so big anymore. That pendejo would regret everything he did. I’m not just some little boy anymore. 

“Sit down,” Mom says. I do as I’m told, and she drops a plate in front of me at the kitchen table. I never loved the wooden chairs with no cushions we sat on but realize how much I miss nights like these with her. 
“What’s for dinner?” I say. 
“They aren’t even Mexican, just something made up so Americans would be able to pretend like they were eating their food. You could have made something from home. You know?” 
“You were born in America, you little jackass. You’re lucky you didn’t get a hamburger.” She gives me a smile before she walks back to the stove, bringing back the meat. The fresh vegetables end up on the table with three kinds of beans and all the different salsas she makes from scratch. I’m overwhelmed just looking at all the food. 
“You going to take a picture or eat something?” she says. 
“Eat.” I say. 
“Then do it.” 
“Okay.” I do as I’m told, putting the food into the flour tortilla and smothering it with salsa before starting in on my food. Mom doesn’t eat anything. That isn’t a good sign. She acts like she has something to say but isn’t quite ready to say it. She’s waiting to attack me, but I don’t know when that will be. Of course, it’s when I’m mid-bite. 
“How was therapy?” 
“Fine.” I have a mouth full of food. 
“Chew and swallow, Antonio.” She slaps my arm. Beans fall half between my plate and the table. 
“Do you feel like it’s helping?” 
“I don’t know,” I say. 
“It costs a lot of money. I want to know if it’s helping. Are you still seeing things?” she says. 
“You mean like when the man jumped through that wall?” I didn’t know it then, but it was the first mystiker I encountered. He stole money from a service station and jumped directly through the brick and mortar wall like it didn’t exist. I was too shocked to know what to do. He ran into me and knocked me down so that when the owner of the store ran out, all I could do was point in the direction he ran. I wasn’t heroic that day.  After that, I will never let anyone make a fool out of me like that again. I hate how horrible it felt to be so helpless, lying there as the man stood over me, staring into my eyes. 

The thing is, I think even then, I knew I could have done something about it. The fear he showed me wasn’t because of the shotgun the owner brandished as he ran away. He feared something inside me. That first mystiker knew there was something different about me.
“Yes,” she says. 
“No, I’m not,” I say. 
“Well, that’s good.” 
“I guess so. I only saw it that once anyways.” 
“It’s anyway. Use proper English.” After the grilling ends, she fills her plate and begins eating. I enjoy myself. Sure, it’s the two of us together, and I’d love to have Paige here with us, but for whatever reason she isn’t. I even try to flip through my contacts to try to find her in them. She isn’t. So, it isn’t like I can call her. I was never good with numbers. Only ones I have memorized are Mom’s and mine. She hasn’t changed hers, and I won’t change mine if I can help it. Is Paige OK? I know Mom seems fine after the accident. So maybe she is too. Then again, all of this might not even be real. It may just be the altered state I’ve been put in by mystiker. Whoever it is, Dexter Hawkins, or someone else, they are still be close. 

But if both Mom and Paige are fine, is fighting worth it? Isn’t that why I’ve fought? To help and save people? I’d love to be sure that they are fine, but how can I be sure? That’s part of the problem with these men and women. They alter perception so well that even when you’re sure that what you see is real, how can you be? I’ve been here before. It’s tempting to give in to the illusion. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in this world? It’s one where things may feel right with just enough wrong that I don’t want to fight it, but the problems aren’t even real, and that is what grounds me to my reality. 
“Let me help you clean up,” I say once we finish our food. 
“You want to help me clean up without twisting your arm?” Mom says. 
“That’s a change.” 
“You do so much for me. you deserve it.” Whether it’s my mom or a ghost of her, I don’t know, but either way, she deserves it. Things were hard enough when I was a kid. She worked to put food on the table as a teacher, and I’m not sure I thanked her enough for all the work she did for me. 

Maybe this is part of my penance or a way that I can make up for all the nights that I left her to clean up on her own, probably holding back tears because the man who I share half my DNA with decided we weren’t worthy to spend his life with. I don’t know if it makes me feel better or worse that Mom never cried in front of me after he left. Sure, I caught her a few times as a kid when he was out, but never after he was gone. 
“What are you planning on studying after you graduate?” Mom asks me. 
“I don’t know,” I say. 
“Better figure that out. It’s coming up fast. Remember that.” 
“I know," I paused, "but I don’t know. Isn’t college when I’m supposed to figure all that out?” 
“Maybe when I was a kid. The world is harder now. It’s like you have to have everything planned out now when you’re eight. You just have a few months left before you’re out of here. Then what?”
“I don’t know. I’m sure I’ll figure it out.” I don’t remember having this conversation with her. Did we, and I’m just misremembering it because a decade has passed? 
“Yeah, you know? I think you will.” She gives me a smile and splashes me with some of the soaking water from the sink, hitting me in the face. 
“Looks like we’re almost done except for a couple pans, eh?” 
“I think so.” 
“I’ll finish up. You go get your backpack and double-check your homework, OK?” 

I’m not going to do it, but I might as well pretend I will. My steps look like I’m going to head to the front door, but I go to my room. Things look even stranger than I remember. My youth must have been even more stunted than I remember. Action figures, comic books, and brightly-colored posters litter my walls. I feel far more exhausted than I should be at nine, so I change out of my clothes and lie down on my bed, shutting my eyes. Before long, I fall asleep. It has been a long day. 

 “Wake up, Antonio. You’re going to be late for school.” I feel a soft hand holding my shoulder and rocking me softly. What time is it, and why do I need to go to school? I’m an adult. Everything I experienced was either an illusion or a dream. There’s no way that I am that young and need to get up for school. But the fingers are long and grip my shoulder tightly enough that I open my eyes, seeing my mom staring back at me. Has she ever looked this young or beautiful? I can’t remember.  
“What? Where am I?” this feels so weird. I can’t help but ask her the questions. Why does my voice sound familiar yet so high?
“You’re in your room. It’s morning. You need to get ready for school.” With bleary eyes, I try to focus on her and don’t do a very good job. 
“Don’t worry, your dad isn’t home. Breakfast is ready when you are. I’ll heat it up for you, and you can eat it in the car, OK?” 
“Okay.” What’s going on? Why is everything so strange? It’s even worse than it was yesterday. When I get out of bed, I realize how small I am compared to the apartment. I want to scream in fear but don’t. I don’t want Mom getting upset by me, so I go to the bathroom to shower. When I go to the drawer to get out the shaving cream and razor, I stop and stare at myself.  

No. This can’t be. I’ve changed again and am far too young. 

What happened to me? Someone did this to me. I just don’t know how or why. I try not to dwell on it much and just go with it. There’s no way mystiker will be able to follow me into the school. Things will rectify themselves somewhere, and when that happens, I will be able to go back to figuring out what is happening to me and why. 

The car ride to school feels weird. Mom turns the radio to my favorite station, and we listen to music. She doesn’t complain once, even singing along to a song or two as we make the trek across town before she drops me off. 
“See you after school,” she says, handing me my backpack through the open door. 
“OK,” I say, immediately wanting to pull out my smartphone and call an Uber. Of course, when I looked for my flip phone, it was gone, and it wasn’t like that would even have an app to do that anyway. 
“Antonio!” a voice behind me says. I turn around and see Danny. My stomach flips. I want to run to the boys’ room. Throwing up sounds amazing right now. 
“Hey, Danny.” I can’t help but roil with rage when I see him. Mystiker doing this must be trying to destroy my mind. Danny has been dead since I was thirteen, hit by a car while crossing the street. 

It’s all I can do not to run away. The sound of the lawnmower that refused to stop during his memorial still haunts me. Fresh-cut grass always reminds me of Danny, even though it was only that one day. A couple hours of my life made every spring harder for me. I wish I could blame mystiker on his death, but that wasn’t what happened. Danny’s death was random. Maybe that’s why it hurts so much. The school day is hard. How could it not be? My childhood best friend is back from the grave. He acts the same way he always did, and it hurts to look at him. I can tell that he knows there is a problem, but he doesn’t seem to know what my problem is. I do my best to avoid him through the day, but he grabs me while we are waiting for our rides. 
“What’s wrong with you?” Danny says. 
“What are you talking about?” 
“Quit avoiding me.” 
“I have to.” 
“No, you don’t.” 
“Yes, I do.” 
“I can’t tell you.” 
“Tell me.” 
“Do it.” 
“No.” He grabs me by the shirt and looks me in the face. I can’t look away. 
“Tell me.” What do I have to lose? This isn’t real. 
“You’re going to die soon.” 
“No, I’m not.” 
“Yes, you are.” Why does this hurt to say so much? 
“No, I’m not!” But in his eyes, I see that he knows I’m not lying. He might think I’m crazy, but he knows I believe what I’m saying. And I’m saved, saved by his dad pulling in and opening the door to their car. Danny turns back and looks at me one last time. His heart is broken as he looks at me, the car pulling away. This may not be him, but I know it hurts me more than him to watch him go. It’s almost like watching his small casket being lowered into the ground again. Only now, I can save him. His eyes beg me to reach out and take hold of him and this reality. Hug me. You don’t know how much I want to, Danny. It would be so easy, my pocket buzzes. 

How could it buzz? What is in it? I reach in and feel a flip phone that is a little better than the one I had in high school. I pull it out and answer it. 
“You have an appointment today,” Reiko’s voice says over the phone. 
“I do?” I say. “I…” 
“You do.” 
“It must have slipped my mind.” 
“Are you coming?” 
“I guess so.” 
“It’s going to have to be short. You’re late.” 
“OK. I’ll be there as fast as I can.” 
“Good. See you soon.” I hang up the phone and walk down the street, unsure where I’m going but sure that Mom isn’t going to pick me up from here. I am no longer a child.   

Hello and welcome to Lore Publication; thank you for reading! We want to take a moment to appreciate you for supporting Lore and the writers on our site. Without you at home reading, Lore wouldn't be possible. 

This story was Part Two of the Lore Original Series 'Slight of Mind' penned by the wonderful American writer M. Sigurd Hall, check out his socials!

LinkedIn: /msigurdhall
Facebook: /HallofSigurdBooks
Twitter: /hall_sig

Author Biography: M. Sigurd Hall

M Sigurd Hall was born on July 27th, 1983 to Alan, a first generation Norwegian, and Connie, a Tar Heel reading teacher and grew up on his great grandfather's farm. Sig's first memory is reading the Wizard of Oz before he understood the similarities between writing and Oz, the great and powerful, a person behind the words.

He starting writing as soon as he could spell. Sig drew editorial cartoons at his university's newspaper until he wrote a scathing review for X-Men: the Last Stand and added editorials to his resume. His first two screenplays were optioned but not produced by independent producers, and Sig started his own New York based production company in 2010.

Multiple hospital stays brought Sig back to Seattle in 2015. He won an award for his short story, Faceless, in 2016 and it was published in an anthology in February 2017.

Sig focuses on character driven stories in the thriller/crime and science fiction/fantasy genres. His favourite authors include Elmore Leonard, James Sallis, Sergei Lukyanenko, Dasheill Hammett, Ian Fleming, Mario Puzo, Michael Crichton, and Alexandre Dumas.

He currently lives in Seattle with his wife Kristine.