Empathy: A sneak peak at my new novel!

Mum and I sat at the table kindling the hearth. Ray soon came down from his room having felt the hearth, and his presence added warmth and light to the fire. When Dad sat at the table, the hearth was fully lit, and we all fed off of its warmth and comfort as conversation stoked the soft flames.

Mum told us what Grannie Hattie had told her about her children’s lives. Hattie wasn’t actually related to our family, but she had just always been like a grandmother to us ever since we moved here.

“Ray, we should go by Hattie’s cottage after dinner. Mum says the pumpkins are getting really big,” I said.

Ray nodded, “Sure.”

“How are your friends, Quinn?” Mum asked. “We haven’t seen them in a while. Why don’t you invite someone over this weekend?”

I shrugged, “They’re more just school friends.”

“If you made effort to play with them outside of school, maybe they’d become more than just school friends,” Dad supported Mum.

“I don’t really want to be friends with them. Most of them are not very nice to be around,” I said, my feathers ruffled uncomfortably. “Maybe I could invite Charles; he’s pretty mellow.”

“What about Charlotte? She seemed nice,” Mum suggested.

“Charlotte moved away last year. I don’t even know where she lives now.” The fire in the hearth snapped and crackled as the wood became brittle with the tension at the table.

“I just think you should hang out with girls your own age is all,” Mum said. “I’m sure your brother gets tired of you tagging along with him and his buddies.”

The fire popped and embers flew up onto the table.

“We really don’t mind having Quinn around,” Ray defended me. “She’s a delight.”

“Okay. Okay,” Mum hushed us, cooling the embers that had fallen on the table.

“Ray, have you been thinking about college programs?” Dad changed the topic, but it was of little relief to table tensions.

Ray nodded, “I want to do something with hiking and the outdoors. A lot of colleges have an Outdoor Recreation major that sounds really sweet. Mostly, I just really enjoy that sort of stuff, but I think that my empathy skills will be really valuable and useful in that field as well.”

It was Mum who snapped sparks out of the fire this time. “Well, you don’t know how long you’re going to be an empath. You’re already older than most of our family members when they lost theirs. You could lose it any day.”

“I don’t plan to lose it, Mum,” Ray said calmly. This was a common argument in our house.

“But, Ray, dear, you don’t know how much more peaceful your life could be without it.”

“I want to use my skills to help others.” Ray was hard to argue with when he was a mountain.

Mum sighed, but under her breath, she whispered, “It’s more of a curse than a valuable skill.” Then, talking to Dad she said, “Chester, how was your day?”

After dinner, Ray and I walked through the backyard trails up the slope to Grannie Hattie’s house next door.

“How will your empath skills help people hiking?” I asked as we walked through the trees.

He shimmered golden, “If I’m leading a trip, I’ll be able to sense the needs of the people in the group. So, I’ll know when someone needs a break, when someone’s upset or tired, if there’s conflicting tension between people, if their health is bad. It doesn’t really matter what we do, having the ability to feel what others feels puts us at an advantage.”

I nodded but wasn’t fully convinced because Mum was so adamant that being an empath put us at a disadvantage. Personally, I had more moments where feeling caused me more trouble than producing anything good.

The trail let out right behind Hattie’s garden, and immediately, we saw the huge, orange pumpkins nestled among the crawling vines. I ran to them eagerly and tried to wrap my arms around one of the huge gourds. “They’re so big!” I laughed.

Ray walked through the garden, encouraging the plants to grow with the energy of his light.

The back door to the cabin creaked and the smell of cookies drifted on the air. “What are you hooligans doing in my garden?!” Grannie Hattie smiled and butterflies floated through the air between us.

“Your pumpkins are so big!” I ran to her and hugged her. “When are you going to pick them?”

“I’ll pick them when they’re ready. Patience and love, my dear.” She patted my head, then looked out at Ray as he brushed his hands gently against the plants, healing them. “Son, why is it my garden always looks better after you’ve visited?”

Ray just smiled. Hattie didn’t know about empaths. Mum and Dad said it was better if people didn’t know because it may scare them.

“Would you two like some cookies? They just came out of the oven,” Hattie offered.

“Thank you. They smell delicious!” I said, and Ray followed us into the cottage.

As we sat around her tiny table munching on molasses cookies and sipping milk, rainbows refracted around the room like sunlight casted through a crystal chandelier.

“You two are so good together,” Hattie winked as she brought out another tray of cookies.

 

Ray and I may be siblings, but we’ve also always been best friends. We were rarely apart. Even at family reunions, we mingled with our relatives, but we always stayed close by each other. Once when we were little, we were playing with our cousins at a family gathering and one of the girls paused in our game of make-believe saying, “You two are the most beautiful rainbow I’ve ever seen. Like a giant, gorgeous waterfall on a cloudless day, and the sun hits the mist from the water and there’s a bright colorful rainbow.” Ray and I had looked at each other and felt that it was true.

 

After we were stuffed with cookies, I ran back out to the garden and hummed to the pumpkins. Ray sat with Hattie on the back porch, and I could just make out their words as they talked.

“You’re a senior now, Ray?” Hattie asked.

“Yup.”

“Thinking about college maybe?”

“Yeah, I’ve started looking into some programs.”

“Gonna stay around here?”

Ray’s reply was slow, “Possibly. If they have a program I’m interested in.”

Hattie dropped her voice slightly, “Quinn will miss you if you leave.”

“I’ll never leave Quinn,” Ray said, and though his voice was happy, I felt a loneliness in him.

I turned and looked back at the porch curiously.

“We should get back before it gets too dark. Mum doesn’t like us out too late,” Ray said and walked into the garden towards me.

“Thanks for stopping by,” Grannie Hattie waved from the porch. “And, Quinn, I’ll let you know when it’s time to pick those pumpkins. They look bigger already, don’t they?”

“Thank you!” I called as Ray walked down the trail, and then, I hurried to catch up with him.

We walked along quietly for a while, and I felt a cold ice cube deep in the pit of Ray’s heart. “Why are you lonely?” I finally asked.

“I’m not right now. I’m just thinking about college.”

“I thought you were excited about college.”

“I am,” he smiled at me, but the ice cube remained. “It’s just…” he paused, and his pause turned into an extended silence.

The birds whistled their last tunes in the trees above as they nestled into their nests for the night. Bugs came out and filled the air, providing meals for the bats that began to swoop down above our heads.

Ray wrapped an arm around my shoulder and pulled me into his side, “Quinn, you know I’d never leave you, right?”

“Why would you leave?” I asked confused.

“I’m not leaving,” he said with confidence as strong as a mountain, and the ice cube in his heart melted away.


Empathy explores the inner emotions of people through the fascinating question of “What would it be like to feel what everyone else feels?” Brother and sister, Ray and Quinn, explore their ability as “empaths” as they try to decide how to handle and use this power. During this transitional period of Ray preparing to leave for college, Quinn faces an immense struggle of how to live on her own without Ray by her side.

This snippet of the novel is from the first chapter. I started writing this novel a few weeks ago and have many exciting plans for it as I continue to explore the world through Quinn’s experiences. (Note this is not a contracted novel. I’m just writing for fun, though I hope someday to be published! So please do not plagiarize.)

Spider Secrets

Screams chased me down the hall from the living room. I retreated to the bathroom. The door absorbed the vibrations of my parents’ fight that flew through the air, and I turned on the shower to cover up their voices.

Water washed over my head, cleansing my body, but the evil of the house still lingered in my soul, and only a baptism of salty tears could truly purify me.

Through streaked vision, a smudge of black flickered along the shower wall. The black dot sprawled its eight stringy appendages on the slippery, yellowed walls as it struggled to get out of the mist that had ripped through its intricately weaved home. I watched, cheering on the small creature in its inevitable journey. It had nearly reached the ledge of the tub. Two spindly arms tapped the ledge, trying to get some grip, but a drop of condensation rolled down the wall and knocked its legs out from under it. Crumbled, tumbling, sucked toward a vortex of death.

I snatched the spider before it landed in the pounding spray of the shower. His two beady black eyes looked up into my wet, streaked face. “I know you’re not supposed to be inside, but you’ll die outside in the snow.” I raised the frail frame up to the top of the shower wall, a safe distance from the water. Slowly, it uncrinkled its legs and scaled the putrid, pink wall into the corner shadowed by the blacked out lightbulb. “If you stay hidden, they won’t find you,” I whispered. They ruined everything they found.

I stepped into the bathroom and was overwhelmed by the aerosols of Febreeze that barely covered the sour, acidic smell still emanating from the toilet. It was too soon after dinner, and the scent of my sister’s daily visit hadn’t had time to fade. I looked into the mirror at myself. My baggy clothes covered my pale skin, my bruises, my lumps and curves. I turned away from my reflection and shed off my layers of clothes until I stood completely open before the two beady eyes in the corner. Those two eyes did not judge as I washed away the day’s insecurities.

Every day, I found refuge from the chaos by locking myself in the bathroom. Drowning out the screams, the crying, and the bitter silence with hot, pounding water. Whispering secrets to my spider. The more I fed the tiny creature my pain and sorrow and love, the bigger it grew. The stringy, spindly legs stretched. The bouncing, black dot swelled. The two, beady eyes opened wide.

Then, one day, I heard the sound of a vacuum cleaner in my bathroom.

Clinging desperately to the crumbling foundations you so carefully constructed. Falling, spiraling into a dark abyss that sucks the life out of you. The inevitable fate that everything you made will be destroyed. There isn’t even hope for the little, round gems of the future that you so dutifully protected. Everything is swept away.

Tears rolled down my cheeks, but there was no one to see.

The Girl Across the Room

Glasses of water and wine circled the table, laughter and conversation drifting over the rims. I was sitting with my friends, talking, enjoying the evening, when I noticed a girl across the restaurant staring at us.

She looked lonely, a desire to join us flashed behind her eyes. I smiled at her, and she smiled back but it was the type of smile that comes out looking more like a cringe. We locked eyes, until finally I looked away.

I tried to forget her and enjoy the time with my friends, but I couldn’t help occasionally glancing over just to check if she was still watching, and inevitably, unfailing, she was always there. Her eyes locked on us with a jealous longing and a look of misery and pain consuming her face. The sight of her was nearly revolting, and I found myself becoming angry that my pleasant evening was being ruined by some creep in a back corner booth.

As our spaghetti arrived, so did hers, and we slurped up noodles at the same time, though we sat separated by the expanse of the room. The conversation at my table quieted as people filled their mouths and stomachs. The girl across the room looked slightly pleased, perhaps she had just been hungry. But every time I glanced her way, she still had one eye on our table.

The dishes were taken and replaced with conversation once more as we waited for the little chocolate mints that would accompany the bills. And again, that girl sat staring at us, mulling and brooding over some dark, depressing thought it seemed. Her looks alone bothered me, but whatever she was thinking about was enough to deeply disturb me. Her stare crept under my skin, behind my ears, and to the tips of my fingernails. I realized my nails were digging into the bottom of the table.

When, finally, my party was ready to leave, I stood up—maybe with too much haste. I needed to be rid of the stare of that creepy girl. She looked like she wanted something, something from the world, something from me. But what could I give her?

But as we stood and adorned our coats, she too stood and put on her coat. As my group walked toward the door, she crossed the room and walked directly towards me.

I turned to meet her, unsure if I should greet her or confront her. As she approached me, she stopped.

She said nothing. I said nothing. We each stood there staring at each other.

Then, her face began to change into an expression of confusion? Anger?

I started to say something but she opened her mouth, so I stopped. No sound came out.

She lifted her hand as I reached out mine, and our fingertips met in the air. Her skin was smooth and hard and cold.

Then, the girl’s face reddened in embarrassment as I realized I had been looking in a mirror the whole time.

*Based off of a dream/daydream

Sitting in the Church Today

Watercolor by Sandra Ovono

Sitting in church today, I tried to listen to the sermon, but my thoughts flew up into the rafters and began to build nests of ideas.

Uncomfortable, I shifted around in the chair trying to find a better position. Sliding my foot across the floor to stretch, sprawling out, I attempted to break the invisible chains that constrained me to the structured, straight-backed chair, but was unable to break free. I was kept grounded, restricted.

My thoughts took flight, draping ropes over rafters until the whole chapel was full of swings. Can you imagine how terribly distracting it would be for the preacher if the whole congregation was moving up and down, trying to hit the ceiling with their feet, giving each other underdogs? It’s ridiculous! It’s wonderful!

As feathers fell from the beating wings of thoughts—hammocks, gliders, and recliners also flew into the chapel. I thought of all of the best ways to sit and decided that perched up in a branch of a tree was the best place every time. My thoughts landed on the rafters, weighing them down until the beams sunk out of the ceiling toward the floor, creating enough room for people to sit and dangle their feet.

With our heads in the clouds, what better place to hear voices from heaven?

I lifted my face up to the ceiling and saw a kaleidoscope of flying colors, but all around me, heads were bowed like soldiers offering themselves openly to their punishment—decapitation.