Hearing Things

A light breeze is making the tall grass hiss and sway, and a few birds are making their opinions of us human intruders known. We’re in the middle of the Living Prairie Museum, Winnipeg’s tacit reminder of what happens if you don’t mow your lawn. Madison, my 12-year old neice, is finally starting to calm down.

“Why are we here, Auntie Britt?”

“Is your headache getting better?”

“Yeah, sort of.”

“That’s why.” I used to come here when the headaches got to me; that’s the problem with hearing other people’s thoughts; nobody knows when to mentally shut up.

She looks sidelong at me. “I’m hearing people’s thoughts?” Her eyes pop wide. “I’m hearing people’s thoughts!” She starts mentally babbling as a dozen ideas try to get out at once. I remember that, too, except nobody was there to hear me or teach me about control.

“Maddie!” Her attention instantly focuses on me. “You’ll have time to think through the implications later. We only have an hour or so before I told your Dad I’d have you back.” And there’s so much she needs to learn.

“Like what, Auntie?”

“Like how to tune the noise out, and how to tell whether you’re hearing somebody’s voice or somebody’s mind.” So your teen years don’t get screwed up like mine were.


And that’s it; Maddie’s suddenly all business. I love the way her mind can focus like that; it took me years to learn. And she’s a natural at imagining a tune to generate mental white noise. I’m not sure about her taste in music, but I don’t think she’s too keen on mine, either.

Distinguishing between voices and thoughts is harder, because most people think in their speaking voice. I can only give her a few pointers, like watching for moving lips and pretending not to hear the offhand comments without evidence that they were actually said.


When we get back Maddie's father pulls me aside. He doesn’t need to ask the question.

“Yes Justin, Madison has the gift.”

The things that pass through his mind make me want to slap him. What comes out his mouth is just as bad. “Can you do anything to stop it?”

“No! Even if I could I wouldn’t; she’s got this talent, it’s better for her to learn to control it, not suppress it.”

“You can say that after it screwed up your life?”

“Yes I can. Maddie’s got an advantage I didn’t have: a mentor. Someone to show her the ropes before she does something stupid.”

I realize there’s something else bothering him.

“Okay, out with it Justin. I can hear you trying not to tell me something. Give it up now before you give it up by accident.”

He sighs. “Are you the only person with this power?” I can hear the suspicion in his voice.

“No. Cousin Rachel has it, and she’s heard rumours of others. Why?”

“There’s been a security breach. It was something bad, bad enough that the Mounties are involved. They sent out a memo to all the Deputy Ministers demanding an inquiry; most people are treating it like some kind of joke, but I’m scared. I don’t want to report you, but not doing so would be enough to get me thrown in jail.”

“Then report me; I haven’t done anything wrong. Now, are you going to report Maddie?”

I can tell from the look on his face that I’ve just asked the real question.


I spend the evening working with Maddie on blanking things out. It’s only partially successful. Carol, her mom, is getting a full briefing from Justin. She’s hysterical; not only is she just learning about Maddie, she’s just learning about me. Moron-boy never told her.

She’s used the f-word four times in the last two minutes. Each time it stings just as badly as it did when people first used it on me. Freak. Poor Maddie’s getting a condensed lesson in intolerance. All I can do is hold her and try to cover it up with any happy thoughts I can find. There aren’t too many at the moment.

The only saving grace is that Jake and Hannah, the two little ones, are downstairs being entertained by Grandma. They don’t really need to hear their parents arguing, or Auntie and their big sister sobbing together.


Later on Justin and Carol get it worked out. Maddie isn’t a freak, but I am. I’m a useful freak, though, and I’ve got an invite to come over and help Maddie train three times a week. Justin even apologizes for the heated conversation, which he knew I could feel. I guess there’s a first time for everything.


Auntie Britt?

I feel the question in my mind as I’m getting into bed. There’s only one person it can possibly be. “Come in, Maddie.”

She does, quietly closing the door behind her. “I can’t sleep.”

“You’ve been through a lot today.”

“I know this sounds stupid, like I’m a baby, but …”

“Yes, you can sleep with me. But no funny stuff.”

She giggles; it’s a magical sound.

“And there’s one other rule: my room, my music. Okay?”

She pouts. “Okay. What old people’s music are you going to imagine?”

“Nothing; it’s young people’s music, from before Grandma was born.”

“That’s old.”

“I’ll tell her you said that.” But she knows I won’t. And my memory starts singing the song that I used to sing when I wanted to run away from everything bad.

“Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high …”

Maddie cuddles in, and her mind starts playing it too.

[This is a prequel to Medical Device]