Written by: Lee L. Krecklow, Voiced by: Mallon Khan
“Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.”
Marlow was in the back of the classroom, as she usually was, and Prentice was in the front, as he usually was, and Mrs. Klein stood before everyone, reading passages from Jekyll and Hyde and asking for input.
But Prentice was highly distracted. Continually, he turned around, trying to make eye contact with his friend. But she wasn’t giving it to him. In fact, she’d hardly spoken a word to him in the last week. He knew what she was doing and why. It used to be that he needed to be next to her to feel stable. She made him less sad. She gave him the energy to be around people. She helped him achieve a deeper understanding of himself, a higher emotional intelligence. But she was also his crutch. Now he was learning to do those same things on his own. He was making progress without her.
But to what end? What was his goal in all of this? Just to feel normal? Or was there more? He was losing sight of his objective. And, even more simply, she was his friend and he missed her. While he knew her purpose in avoiding him, he couldn’t help but be hurt by it. Just one look, one smile, one wink, would mean so much. But she withheld everything.
“Nobody has thoughts on that?” Mrs. Klein went on. “Okay, then let’s look at this a different way. Was this really just a book about a person with two personalities? Good and evil? What are some different ways we can look at this?”
He was getting more desperate now. Prentice stopped trying to reach Marlow with his eyes and started to use his emotions. He focused on his sadness. On his loneliness. On his confusion. He was sending her emotional distress signals, hoping she’d come to his rescue.
“Prentice? Any ideas?” Mrs. Klein called him out.
“Umm …” Prentice searched his mind and came up empty. He’d read the book, of course, and submitted an essay on it, but he was too entrenched in his own thoughts to respond. “What was the question again?”
The class giggled and Prentice went red.
“I have an idea.” It was Marlow.
“Yes, Marlow, go ahead.”
“Everyone wants this book to be about good and evil, but does it have to be? What if it’s about any form of duality? Being a different person at home than you are at school? Or at work? Or needing to be different things to accomplish different goals? Sometimes we’re all different people.”
“Good, Marlow. I like those questions. But really those are just questions. Maybe we all need to think a bit more about the answers as they relate to Robert Louis Stevenson? Maybe that’s the topic for our next short essay?”
Collectively, the class groaned and shot looks at Marlow: the fate of anyone who dares to speak up in a classroom.
The clock ticked toward the bell and everyone began to collect their books and papers. Prentice did the same, hoping to cut Marlow off before she got to the door and disappeared.
“Prentice,” said Mrs. Klein. “Stay after class a minute?”
Then the bell rang and everyone jumped from their chairs. Prentice stood and turned to ask Marlow to wait for him, but she was already gone. Of course.
He sat back down and looked to Mrs. Klein. “I’m sorry for not paying attention,” he said. “It won’t happen again.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. And don’t make promises you can’t keep,” she laughed. She sat in the desk next to him. “I just asked you to stay because I want to ask if you’ve ever considered being a writer.”
Prentice never considered being much of anything. “Not really.” He figured he had years to go before he needed to deal with that stuff.
“Well, you’re talented. You read well. You’re an exceptional writer. And I think you should think about it.”
“I’ll do that,” he said. He turned and looked at the door. “Can I go now?”
“Maybe you could write for the school blog?”
Prentice thought for just a moment about having his words out there being read by the whole school. His name and photograph attached to them. It all made stomach turn. “I don’t think so,” he said.
“Why not? No need to be nervous. Nobody reads that thing anyway.” She laughed to herself.
“I need to go, Mrs. Klein.”
“Okay,” she said in resignation. “Go ahead.”
He stood and went to the door, but he felt something as he went. He turned and looked at his teacher, saw the waves over her head and felt her sadness on his skin. What caused it in her? What must her life be like? He felt her emotions, but he was learning he was no mind reader.
“Mrs. Klein?” he said.
“Thank you. You’re a good teacher. And I’ll think about what you said.”
Then he turned and rushed out the door.
Breeze in the treetops.
Let it float away.
A siren in the distance. Jekyll and Hyde.
Let it float away.
Marlow ignoring him. A fly circling, buzzing.
Let it float away.
After school, Prentice went to the woods. But the goal of his practice, his meditation, was to not be there, or, more accurately, to not think about being there.
Before … well … before he was taken in by the Hidden, the idea of meditation—if he’d had any ideas on it at all—had always been something distant for him, something unattainable or farfetched, like the idea of being an astronaut, or quarterback for Green Bay. Meditation was something that happened in places like Tibet, where monks sat in ice-cold rooms and dried wet towels with their body heat. It was a practice for people with passionate beliefs, who chanted prayers for hours in observance. It was a mental state in which one had no thoughts and found inner calm, neither of which had not been previously possible for him.
But Marlow, back when she was speaking to him, had taught him that it was much simpler than that.
The idea wasn’t to not have thoughts, but to let thoughts go. He needed to see them, acknowledge them, but then allow them to vanish, float away like a breath into the air. The idea wasn’t to pray, but to find a natural rhythm, a mental occupation, using a mantra or even counting. The idea wasn’t to perform tricks like laying on a bed of nails or walking over hot coals, but to be less present in your body, and more present in your own mind.
The idea was to be alone, which was one of the ways Hidden energized.
But suddenly, he wasn’t alone. Coming from just outside the woods, he heard a car door closing.
Let it float away.
Footsteps getting closer.
Let it float away. Let it float away. Let it … he opened his eyes. Coming into the woods were Tasha and Rosita. Had they seen him yet? He wasn’t sure. So he closed his eyes again.
Let it float away.
Conversation and giggling.
Let it float away.
He took a long, slow breath through his nose: one, two, three, four, five. And exhaled through his mouth, deep, from his core: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven.
Then it was quiet. Did he do it? Did they walk right by him? Had he vanished like Marlow does? He opened his eyes.
And they were standing right in front of him. “Hi, Prentice.”
He slammed his fist into the ground.
“Whoa, whoa, what’s the problem?” said Tasha.
“I thought maybe you didn’t see me. I’m trying really hard.”
“Ha!” Tasha laughed.
Rosita was quiet as usual.
“It’s not funny,” Prentice said, standing and brushing dirt from his legs.
“I don’t mean to laugh at you. It’s just that it takes time to be able to hide, and we’re probably the last people you’d be able to hide from.”
“Yeah, well, maybe I’d be better at it if someone was here to teach me.”
“Marlow? She’ll show you when she thinks you’re ready.”
“Can you show me?”
“I’m no expert on hiding. I don’t really need to. I actually like being around people. Just not all the time. But Rosita could maybe.”
Rosita took a deep breath and assessed the situation. Assessed Prentice. “Maybe,” she said at last. “But I need to go right now.” And she turned and went deeper into the woods and vanished.
Tasha said, “What do you want to hide so badly for anyway?”
“There’s something I need to do in a few days. Somewhere I need to be. And I don’t know if I can do it. After the way I passed out … after what happened at the pep-rally … I don’t understand my limitations and abilities anymore.”
“Well, maybe I can still help with that.”
Prentice dressed in his suit, the one his parents bought for him two years ago when they had a family wedding to attend, and which now felt far too small and out of style, but which they insisted he wear tonight.
It was his parents’ twenty-fifth anniversary party, and the house was a frenzy of activity. They’d all spend days cleaning and preparing food and decorating, and now they were all showering and dressing and waiting nervously for dozens of his parents’ friends and extended family to arrive.
Prentice finished tying his tie, then sat on the edge of his bed.
In through his nose: one, two, three, four, five. Out through his mouth: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven.
If he’d been in this very position one month ago, he would have been an anxious, frustrated wreck, and he wouldn’t have been sure why. He would have felt like a freak. It would have been another thing to add to the list.
The list. It had been a while since he thought of the list. He understood himself much more clearly now. It was like the list was part of some former self, a self he didn’t understand. Now he knew that tonight the faces and voices and music would be overwhelming to him, because he processed information with greater sensitivity than everyone else. He knew that this would exhaust him, but he knew how to read his own energy levels and could excuse himself when he needed a break. He understood that he’d be expected to make small talk, the type of banal conversation that nauseated him, but, at Tasha’s suggestion, he’d rehearsed a list of topics and safe talking points in order to get through the most awkward moments. He understood that he needed to charge up for this, so he negotiated with his parents for alone time earlier that afternoon to prepare, time which he spend in the woods alone, building up the confidence and clarity he’d need.
This evening meant the world to his parents. The only gift they wanted was for him to talk to their old friends and impress them. They wanted their kids to stand as some physical representation of their twenty-five year marriage. His little brother was young and cute and did that without even trying. His older twin sisters would be naturally great, too. Prentice saw—no, felt on his skin—that they were genuinely excited, excited to meet new people and to be hostesses and to talk all night, but probably also excited to get out of the house when this party ended and so they could get to a huge school party their friends were throwing. The idea of party hopping was crazy to Prentice. He wasn’t sure he could get through one, let alone two. However, he’d been observing his sisters more closely lately, and he was starting to respect that they charged by being around other people the same way that he charged by being alone. Everyone is different.
It was hard for him to not resent his parents for putting him through this, but he didn’t have much of a choice, and if he was being fair, thinking objectively, they probably deserved to have this.
The doorbell rang and his dad called up to him. “Prent, your friend is here.”
Tasha came into his room wearing a long skirt and with her hair teased high. She looked … she looked … it was quite a change from her normal ‘out in the woods’ look. She sat next to him on his bed. She smelled tangy and sweet, like citrus.
“Prent,” his dad called up. “That bedroom door better stay open!”
“We’re fine, Dad!”
Tasha looked at him and smiled. “Look at you… so cute when you’re embarrassed.”
“I’m not embar….” Prentice stopped himself when he realized denying emotion to a Hidden wouldn’t get him far. “Thanks for coming,” he said instead.
“Like I had a choice. You practically begged me.” She elbowed him in the ribs and he smiled.
Prentice stood and pulled at his collar and tried to make his pants sit lower on his hips. “I hate this thing,” he said.
“Let’s not think about that now. Let’s think about how to get you through this night.”
“Okay.” He stopped fidgeting and took a deep breath, let his arms fall to his side, closed his eyes.
“Do you know much about self-monitoring?”
He took time with the question, just as Pacey had taught him. “I guess not?”
“Well the idea for you tonight is to be liked, right? As a favor to your parents. To talk to dozens of people you’ve never met and impress them and seem super happy doing it? We’ll here’s what we’re going to do. And we’re going to do it together.”
Tasha went on to talk about reading the room, looking at the behavior and emotions of others for cues on what to discuss. She talked about laughing hard at the people trying to be funny, and listening seriously to the people trying to be serious. She talked about finding the other introverts and discussing deeper topics, and introducing the extroverts to other extroverts.
Prentice processed her words. “So you want me to be fake? I’m not sure I’m okay with that. I’m getting tired of needing to fake things.”
“Hey, this is your call. You don’t need to do it. Some people feel some moral conflict about it. They don’t want be fake. But I have a different idea of how to look at it. Fact one: you don’t want to be here tonight. I know you don’t. Fact two: you can’t say that to anyone but me. You can’t show that. And you can’t hide either. Fact three: you’ll hurt too many people and make a bad situation worse if you mess this up. So, as far as I see it, the best way to take care of all of this is by faking it. Act like you want to be here. Act like you love it. If you want to make guests happy, and not look like a wooden fool in the process, you best be good at it. The worst thing you can do is not seem sincere.”
“Funny. I thought I was practicing these powers in order to be more myself. Not to act like someone else. Don’t we all get plenty of that already?”
“The difference is you know who you are. And you’re in control of this. It’s time to see how far you can push your boundaries. That’s the self-monitoring. You can’t freak out every time you’re in an uncomfortable situation. You need to control it. And you’re still being true to yourself because you’re using YOUR powers to make this happen. It’ll exhaust you, but you can take more time for yourself when you’re done. Recharge.”
“Yeah, well….” Prentice paused, started pulling at his belt again. “I just hate these pants. God, I feel like an idiot.”
Tasha smiled. “Yeah, that suit isn’t doing you any favors. Here’s a place where I think it’s safe to not listen to your mom.” Tasha stood and opened his closet door. “So what else you got in here?”
The party was going as Tasha said it could. And she never left his side. For as much as Prentice needed to be alone, for as much as he was learning how calming and energizing solitude was, he was also now recognizing the value of just a few very strong relationships. He felt the security of being next to someone who knew him deeply, and who could respond to him and support him. They were invested in each other. These new relationships were a power, too, and one he was so grateful to have.
Add those to the list. The new list of ways in which he was powerful.
Tash was funny and charming. He could see the effort and strategy she put into it because he knew her, but others did not, and they loved her seemingly effortless wit. It wasn’t long before he was picking up on her cues, seeing how she adapted to people’s emotions and made adjustments in her own.
“Is this your girlfriend?” a woman asked him.
“She wishes,” Prentice said, smiling and rolling his eyes.
Tash elbowed him and laughed along, and the woman did, too, her waves softening, telling Prentice he had her attention. He turned the conversation toward her, asking how she knew his parents, which was one of his go-to conversation topics for the night. If that didn’t work, he went to movies and tried to say nice things about other people’s favorite films, and if they looked bored on that topic, he went to the age old, “So what do you do for a living?”
Some people reciprocated and asked him what he wanted to do for a living. He didn’t want to admit he didn’t know. So he said, “I want to be a writer.” Which seemed to impress people. So he talked about that more. Talked about books and analysis. At times he even enjoyed the conversations.
Fact four: He was doing it. He was getting through it. And he wasn’t always faking it.
But no doubt, it was exhausting work.
Later in the night, his sisters offered a toast. They stood on chairs and clinked their glasses with silverware to get attention. Of course they were sweet and fast and gregarious and everyone practically swooned. How easy for them to get a room in their hands. When they were done he felt like he, too, should stand and speak, but that was outside of his comfort zone. That’s not who he was, and he was willing to hold that ground. Self-monitoring.
He decided it was time for a break, and from what he could read in Tash, she was ready for one, too. He nudged her and nodded his head toward the back door and she held out her hand, as if to say, “Lead the way.”
“This must be one of the reasons people still smoke,” he said once they were outside in the back yard.
“It’s a built in excuse to walk out of a crowd and be alone.”
“You don’t need an excuse. See? You can just do it.”
“Well, being out here with you makes it less socially awkward.”
“Yeah, everyone just thinks we’re back here to make out.”
Prentice laughed. She did too for a moment, then stopped. She was looking past Prentice and her face went long.
“What are you doing here?” she said.
Prentice turned around and saw Pacey.
“Hey,” he said, out of breath.
Prentice felt tension, fear, worry, anxiety …
“I was at the party. There was a fight. The police came.”
“Oh my god,” Tash said. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Just … it was awful. I saw a lot of blood.”
Prentice felt sick. It was that feeling again, the one he felt at the pep-rally. He sat and tried to breathe through it.
Tash said, “Why? How did it start?”
“Look at Twitter. I’m not sure how it started. Tons of people were there. It was okay until some people from North Central came.”
Again with North Central. Prentice didn’t understand.
“People started taking pics of other people. Other groups of people. Defacing them and writing things on them and sending them out. One thing lead to another and it all exploded. I’m not sure who called the cops.”
Prentice took out his phone and scrolled through. Some of the pics had landed in his feed.
It was awful.
There were racial slurs. There were people’s faces cut and pasted onto animals’ bodies and onto porn pictures. And it wasn’t just between schools. It was among everyone. There were things said about people’s weight and their families and their clothes and their acne and their poverty. There were threats. He came to a pic of a guy he knew, a quiet kid he knew was teased a lot. Someone had drawn a trench coat on him and put a gun in his hand. Above it were the words, “Prepare for a lockdown.”
“This is awful,” was all he could say. “People are awful to each other.”
“It’s getting worse each year,” Pacey said after a pause. That’s just what made it online. You should have been there. It was an ugly place to be.
“I feel so helpless,” Tash said. “What can anybody do about it?”
Prentice scrolled through more pics in his feed, saw more horrible things said about others. He felt their hurt fall on his skin like fire. It made his mind race and his thoughts burn. Tash’s words echoed in his head, What can anybody do about it? What can anybody do about it?
That was the last thing that went through is mind before he lost consciousness.
Read the final episode here!