John O'Brien



Michael Benson. He rolls it around on his tongue and in his mind; tasting the familiarity of it yet it feels foreign at the same time. Sitting in the darkened room that was once the lair to his pack, with the painful ball of fire in the sky burning outside, certain memories begin to integrate with his other thoughts. He feels certain abilities and knowledge come into being; more a knowing of what things are without actually understanding how to use them. New picture images roll around in his head like a fast moving slide show, none settling for any length of time before moving onto the next.

Michael, as he thinks of himself now — more of a complex picture image rather than actual words — feels other packs nestled in their lairs both near and far, resting the day away before heading out for their nightly hunt. It is more of an awareness rather than actual thoughts or images; much like a compass points to a magnetic source. He knows he can send out a call to gather them into a pack but waits wanting to get used to his new awareness. As the slide show of new thoughts flicker through his mind, they integrate with previous memories.

The flashes of light he noticed on previous nightly hunts triggers a feeling that these are not good for him or the packs and should be avoided at all costs. He doesn’t know what they are but feels they don’t bode well. Michael also remembers the loud bangs heard at times throughout the night and the strewn, mutilated bodies of his kind lying on the paved streets when he investigated the noises. Without knowing the how, he knows the bangs were directly associated with the loss of pack members including his own.

He searches ways to avoid these but without knowing how they work, the answer lies hidden yet just on the edge of awareness. Sitting with his back to the cold wall with his knees drawn to his chest, he feels a frustration much like when prey escapes or when he is unable to gain entrance to a two-legged lair. He feels that somehow all of this is associated with the two-legged ones holed up behind the tall walls of their lair just down the road. Yes, he knows the word “road” rather than hard path now just as he knows the flashes of light and associated bangs that accompany his run-ins with the two-legged ones, resulting in the loss of many of his and neighboring pack members, are guns. The danger of the two-legged for him and others of his kind increases his fear. Fear mixes with anger aimed at them for the losses.

He slowly rocks back and forth. His self-awareness continues to grow and he feels pleased. Somehow knowing that his new found knowledge will give him an extra edge in gathering food and combating the two-legged ones, he plans to call to the others when the time is right. For the moment though, he will keep to himself. The gathering will take place only when he is ready but for now, he will scout and become more comfortable with his new self.

One uncomfortable thought arises with his new cognizance. He knows he and the others are limited in their ability to travel distances in search of food; the distance dictated by the hours of the night and the ability to find shelter from the painful, deadly burning light of the day. He also becomes acutely aware of his ability to communicate in more detailed and complex images than others of his kind. They won’t be able to understand so he will have to learn how to convey these advanced thoughts into images the others will be able to comprehend. Michael knows this will require him to micromanage the actions of his pack more while on the hunt but he understands better how to trap prey. New thoughts surface about how to gain entrance to previously inaccessible lairs. These ideas are overwhelming to his senses and for that reason alone, he will hold off the call to the packs. He stretches out his legs and slides along the wall to the floor to rest until the call of the hunt brings him out of his slumber.

His eyes open to the darkness of the small room. He senses other packs also coming out of their rest and readying for the nightly hunt. Rising, he becomes sharply aware of his missing pack members. The hunt will be more difficult without them but he needs to let the overwhelming aspect of his awareness settle before gathering others. He steps from the room, alone for the first time in a long while, and enters the vast main area of the store. Safeway, he thinks, remembering the sign on the building when he first came to following the loud explosion of light and noise. Trotting to the broken glass entry, he carefully steps into the night, painfully aware of what happened the last time.

Members of his pack lie scattered around the entrance; their bodies torn asunder and in pieces. Michael casts his eyes about looking for anything outside of what he knows as normal. Seeing nothing, he steps further onto the paved surface of the parking lot. He lifts his nose into the air gathering what scent the still air of the night holds and glances towards the large lair of the two-legged ones situated a short distance to his left. Standing amidst the mutilated bodies of his former pack members, anger boils to the surface. Another time, he thinks catching a faint odor of prey riding on the night air. Turning to his right, he heads down the darkened streets to track down the smell of food.

Running through the streets, he senses other packs searching the streets and adjacent fields for food. He knows that his new abilities will place him ahead of other pack leaders and he will be like a magnet to them. They will recognize him as an advanced pack leader and be drawn to him. He doesn’t want that to happen as yet, not until he tests his new awareness. Practice makes perfect, the phrase arises out of nowhere yet he knows this is just another past memory surfacing. He shuts out the ability of the others to sense him. He is surprised by his ability to do this and is taken aback momentarily as his sense of the other packs vanishes. His head clears of any thought of and from them. He stops, startled, and then continues his hunt down the darkened streets; his pounding feet echoing off the buildings to either side. When I’m ready, he thinks cornering a small night animal in the back yard of a burned neighborhood. The kill is quick and he settles down to feast.

Story Time: A Tale is Told

“Jack, what the hell is going on?” Lynn finally intrudes on my wish for quiet.

“They’ve cornered a small pack of dogs,” I answer.

“What the hell does that mean?” Lynn asks looking at me with a strange expression on her face.

Her question shakes me out of a reverie-like state. Images continue to flash through my head without actually interfering with other thoughts. Well, as much as is possible. Right now, a squirrel passing by will interfere with my thoughts. The pictures that float through are in a separate part of my mind; cohesive but separate. They are similar to a picture story but as a form of communication. The images themselves actually depict whole thoughts, ideas, and action.

“Jack?” Lynn asks trying to get my attention.

I shake my head and look down at her. “What?” I say leaving my reverie once again.

“What the hell does that mean? Who has cornered a pack of dogs? And what dogs? What the fuck are you talking about?” She asks.

“I honestly don’t know. I have these images in my head and it’s like they’re talking to me. I know and understand what is happening through them,” I answer as another series of images flash through.

These new images are not serene as they flash uninvited into my mind. As I try to figure out what is going on, I realize the images aren’t exactly like pictures or anything coming directly from sight. It’s not like looking through someone else’s eyes. The forming images definitely represent ideas, actions, or thoughts.

“What the hell, Jack? What is it exactly you understand?”

“Night runners,” I answer still stunned by the revelation.

“You can see and understand night runners, Jack? Are you sure you’re feeling okay?” Lynn asks wondering if I’ve finally flipped or am on some trip but definitely concerned.

“I feel fine and I’m not sure what is going on. This is just as crazy to me as well,” I answer.

“So you’re saying you can read the minds of night runners? Can you read my mind, Jack?”

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