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Wild Cards

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He wasn't really a caffeine kind of guy, but this was the sort of morning where Nelson needed all the help he could get. His limbs ached, his eyes were bleary, and his head was still heavy with jetlag. He took a careful sip of his coffee and winced. This wasn't the worst Monday of his life. He knew that the tired feeling had come from a job well done, and there was some relief to that.

He made his way through the front doors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and waved politely to the security guard as he passed. He was actually looking forward to a day of filing. He’d suffered enough field work to last him a lifetime. Today would just be him, his nice warm office, and a stack of puzzles to sort through.

He passed a few employees carrying boxes and waved to them as well. It looked like someone was being moved into a different office. A promotion, or maybe a demotion? He passed a few others, sleepily admiring the contents of an open box as it was carried by. It must have been someone else from the puzzle division, because they shared Nelson's taste in themed decor...

It was only when he got to the hallway that he realized something was wrong. There was no way that somebody else in their building had the same Doctor Thinkorium brain model that he did. The pleasant warmth from his coffee had curdled into a twisting, anxious weight in his gut. The cup fell silently from his hand as the man carrying his prized possession walked past him and continued with the other men into the lobby.

He was glued to the spot, torn between the primal urgency to follow the man and get his stuff back, or get his answers at the source. He ran for the elevator and hit the button for his floor.

As the doors shut behind him, he felt a pang of guilt for the janitor that would have to clean up all the coffee that he'd spilled. His life may have been unraveling around him, but he would rather not spoil somebody else's day at the same time.

There were even more movers at the door when the elevator opened. Of course, now that he was wide awake, he could see that these men weren’t normal movers. They were agents. They were near identical; all decked out in black suits, black glasses, with slicked back hair and indiscreet earpieces. A chill shot down Nelson's spine as he sidestepped them into the hallway. They could have been the very same agents that he encountered in Scoggins. He ducked past them and ran for it.

He burst through the open door into his office, and by now it was nearly barren. The agents had torn through it like a swarm of sharply-dressed piranhas. The only people left in the room were himself, his superior, and a straggling agent who was taking down his posters. Nelson yelped as he watched the agent pull one, ripping the corners that were still stuck to the wall.

“Oh, Tethers. Didn't hear you come in,” the director said.

He sounded bored. Nelson wanted to scream. He wrangled his nerves back into some sort of composure.

His voice cracked anyway.

“D-director Jennings! What on earth is going on here?”

“Hm? Didn't you get the memo?” he asked.

“No!” Nelson said, sidestepping the last agent as he exited.

“Oh. Well, hrm. This is awkward,” he said, mustache twitching up into an emotion that Nelson couldn’t pin down.

A moment of excruciating silence hung between them.

Jennings cleared his throat, stating finally: “You’re no longer a puzzle agent.”

Nelson froze. “I- I’m-”

“Fired.”

The word didn't process right away. Nelson's brows knit in confusion. His thoughts slowed, trying to piece together each detail of the morning. The agents, the director, his empty office... He had been warned about this. He crossed a line back in Scoggins, and he had somehow never considered the consequences. He'd committed treason. He felt dizzy.

As he attempted to recollect himself, to say something, the stars aligned in a stroke of perfect, cosmic, comedic timing. The last agent had come back and literally pulled the rug out from under Nelson’s feet, leaving him to fall flat onto his back. All he could do was stare up in shock at the ceiling.

This was not how he wanted his week to start.


He needed to relax. And he had tried, in every way that he knew how. Tea hadn't helped. Soft, pleasant music hadn't helped. Even his favorite jigsaw-patterned pajamas hadn't helped!

Well, maybe a little, actually. They were his favorite, and they were comfortable.

But they couldn't comfort the source of the problem, the things going on below the surface. There was a nervous buzzing in his head and in his heartbeat. He knew what that was about. Unemployment seemed like a decent reason to be anxious.

What he couldn't place, and what worried him far more, was the headache. The steady, low thrum had clung to him for days now. It was there even before he had come back from Minnesota, so the plane flight couldn’t account for it. It had ebbed and flowed, almost invisible by this morning. Now it was back with a vengeance, leading him to turn off lights and draw the curtains around his modest home as he paced, trying to think of what to do next.

He was stressed. He had been stressed for a while. And now he was stressed about being stressed! It was an endless loop of self fulfilling prophecy with no way out.

He needed a break. Maybe being fired was a good thing. Certainly better than jail, he thought.

He collapsed face-first into his bed, muffling a despondent moan. Changing altitude from standing to lying down had made his brain hurt. He squirmed his way into a comfortable position on his back and sighed. He crossed his fingers together over his stomach and felt the rise and fall of his own breath.

He wasn't in any state to help himself right now. He would rest as much as he could today, and try again tomorrow. He’d start job hunting.

He painfully opened his eyes, scanning the bedroom. Like his office, it was filled with more puzzle-themed decor; bright colors and neoplasticism patterns. On his wardrobe sat a collection of trophies and medals, from chess matches and sudoku championships he had bested over the years.

He had always surrounded himself with the things that made him happy. He had built his career around it. What was he going to do now?

He shut his eyes, frowning as the headache dug deeper.

As difficult as things had become, he didn’t regret what he’d done to arrive at this point. He had destroyed something dangerous. He had ended a long series of disappearances. He had helped send those... creatures home. And, somewhere out there, he knew that a former astronaut and his wife were together, starting over.

He sighed, expelling the tension that had built up in his body. The headache abated by a fraction. His visit to Scoggins had felt like a lifetime ago, but he could still feel the physical toll. His legs ached from all the running. Maybe... his headache...

He barely had time to consider it before his thoughts drained, becoming muddy, slipping deeper...

But his sleep was dreamless and short. He woke, sitting straight up in his bed. What had startled him? He looked around the room. It had turned dark from the hours that had passed.

Nothing had changed. Nelson began to lay back down when he was violently jolted again by a loud bang. It crashed against the wall, knocking things off of the shelves and splintering through the wallpaper. A low rumble followed, something moving backwards... getting ready to charge again.

Nelson yelled, leapt to his feet, and ran for cover. He pressed himself as close against the wall as he could. He barely had time to brace himself before the second thunderous crash. The wall exploded, showering the room with bits of debris and broken belongings.

He cracked open an eye and gaped at the surreal sight before him.

A tank had smashed into his bedroom. Light poured in through the opening in the wall, casting a blinding halo all around it.

It was like no tank he had ever seen... not that he had seen many. It’s construction was odd, angular, front-heavy, and sported spiked treads. It lacked a turret, and was instead topped with a green, glassy dome. It was filled with glowing liquid and... something else. Nelson squinted against the glare, making out a small floating mass within.

The top of the dome popped open, spilling some of its contents onto the carpet. The tiny mass sprang out and landed triumphantly on his bed. Nelson could only stare at it, brows drawn in confusion.

“What in-”

“SHUT YER MOUTH, SOLDIER, AND LISTEN UP!” screamed the brain. “We got us a war on our hands!”

The brain didn’t have hands. It didn’t have a mouth. But it did have two little legs, and a pair of cartoonish, dot-like eyes.

Nelson drew his mouth into a flat line and continued staring.

“That’s BETTER!”, it barked. “But not good enough! What’re you doin’ in your PJs, private?! Why aren’t you prepared!”

“F-for-?”

“Who told you you could talk!”

“Sorry, I-” Nelson balked. “Permission to speak freely?”

“Hm. Granted!” the brain said. Still terse, but it sounded pleased.

“I’m a little, uhm, confused. What war?” he asked.

“The big one! The one we’ve aaaall been waitin’ for! And what’re you doing!? Lollygagging! Straighten up, soldier! It's time to get a move on!”

Nelson watched the brain stomp around his bed, transfixed. “I’m dreaming.”

“Darn right you are! Now get it together and WAKE UP!”

Nelson sat up, gasping.

He was in bed. The tank was gone. And his headache was back.

He barely had time to wonder about the bizarre dream before he was startled by another noise. Someone was banging on the front door. He groaned, running a hand down his face. It started up again, louder than before.

“I’m coming!” Nelson called, painfully rolling out of bed. He yawned, kicking on a pair of slippers as he made his way.

The banging didn’t stop. “I said I’m coming!” Nelson yelled.

He nearly tripped over the pile of boxes by the entrance. He opened the front door and flinched against the morning sunlight.

“How can I help... you..?” he asked, slowly.

There was nobody there.

“...Down here,” said a gruff voice, barely holding back its frustration.

Nelson looked down and staggered back. There was a very short, stout man standing right in front of him.

He was tan skinned and dressed in a military uniform. He had a long curling mustache, and a scar that traveled from his temple down his cheek, crossing over a glass eye in his right socket. He was striking, hard-featured. And visibly annoyed.

“Oh! I-I’m sorry, I-” Nelson fumbled.

The man inhaled sharply through his nose and sighed.

“Don't- worry- about it,” he hissed, strained. This clearly wasn't new to him, and he was quick to move on.

“Are you Nelson Tethers? The ‘puzzle agent’?” he asked.

“I... was. Uh, I mean-! Yes, I'm Nelson Tethers. But I was... Let go, recently.”

A guilty expression crossed the small man for a moment. He bit it back, returning to his grim professionalism. “Yes, about that. I believe we're partially responsible for that, actually.”

“We?” Nelson asked, brows turning upward in confusion. “Who are you with?”

“Er, right-” The man stood up straight, heels together, as though he were addressing a fellow brother in arms.

“Special Agent Morceau Oleander, at your service! I come representing the Psychonauts Headquarters. And... we offer our apologies.”

Nelson blinked. He wasn’t sure that he had totally woken up yet. Oleander took Nelson’s silence as an invitation to continue.

“A few weeks back, we received reports of disappearances and mass hallucinations in the area of Scoggins, Minnesota. Two of our finest agents were sent out to gather intel and find the missing people if possible. They didn’t find them. What they found was you, Tethers.”

“Me?” Nelson asked. He held back a wince as his headache spiked again. Where had he heard of the Psychonauts before...?

“Yeah! Not only were you going after the same information that they were, but you were miles ahead of ‘em! They could barely keep up!” Oleander said, his voice taking a tone of awe. “Literally, in some cases... They said you’d take off running into those forests like you had ‘em memorized!”

“Needless to say, we were impressed! ...But, er, that’s where some of the trouble is. See, we got so busy trying to figure out where you’d even come from that we didn’t notice your friends from the FBI til they were already there! They confiscated our agent’s findings- the same stuff they’d picked up from following your tracks, so... we, uh, have reason to believe that the FBI might’ve thought you were working with us.”

Nelson’s mouth dropped. “They thought I was a spy?”

“Can’t confirm, but seems likely. The Psychonauts and the FBI have a bit of history. And well, cover-ups like this... it doesn’t exactly paint the nicest picture of the US government.”

Nelson looked away, unable to hold back a disappointed frown. No, he thought, no it doesn’t.

“There’s also the fact that you yourself happen to be psychic, so-”

“I-? Sorry, what?”

“Psychic! An unregistered one, to boot! It’s no wonder they thought you were workin’ with us!” Oleander said proudly, placing his hands on his hips.

Nelson shook his head. “No, sorry- I’m not psychic.”

It was Oleander’s turn to be confused. He stared up at Nelson and laughed.

“What’re you talking about? We saw you!”

This was going too far. Nelson rubbed a hand across his temple, trying to smooth away the ache within. This whole situation was too surreal, too dreamlike. In his mind’s eye, he could still picture the hole in his bedroom wall somewhere behind him, leaving him vulnerable.

“Look, I don’t know what your agents told you, but I’m not. I know I'm not,” Nelson said.

“What, you don't b-...? You never knew? No kidding! Well look, kid, I’ve got the proof if you need it-” Oleander said, reaching into his jacket.

Nelson lifted his hand from his head, expression souring. He remembered where he’d heard of the Psychonauts. He’d seen the name on comic books. On grocery store shelves, wedged between sudoku magazines and untrustworthy newspapers. He’d seen it in conspiracy theories, heard it joked about in FBI hallways.

He always thought that he’d been under the radar at work. Had he really made so many enemies? Was he so deserving of such an elaborate prank?

“Sorry, but no thanks. I think I’m done,” Nelson said, reaching for the doorknob.

“But-”

“No! This is crazy!” he yelled, slamming the door shut.

Thunk. It hit something in the doorframe, stopping it short.

“Ah!” Nelson let go and stumbled back. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

His stomach dropped. He hadn’t hit the man’s face, or caught his foot in the door. There was a glowing green hand curled around the door’s edge. It was translucent, paw-like, with long, sharp claws.

The hand pushed the door open once again, revealing one particularly aggravated psychic agent. One of his hands was holding onto what he had reached for, a thin manilla folder with Nelson’s name on the tab. The other was pressed to his right temple, honing his mental focus. As he let it drop back to his side, the phantom hand dissipated.

“Crazy like a lunacy ray, Tethers?”

Oleander took one step forward and Nelson staggered back by five.

“Psychics are real,” he said with a bite, “-whether you like it or not! And there are plenty of people out there who’d want to turn that kind of weapon against us!”

Nelson’s heart raced, not only at the display of very real supernatural powers- but at the fact that Oleander seemed to have heard his doubts plain as day. In fact, he even seemed to catch on to Nelson’s fear... Something changed in the way he looked up at him. A new understanding. He stepped back.

“Look. I get that this must be hard to believe, but it's the truth. See for yourself,” he said, tossing the file down at Nelson’s feet.

Nelson bent down to pick it up, not entirely taking his eyes off of Oleander. He took a quick glimpse at what was inside- photographs, reports. It looked legitimate.

“HQ didn’t just send me down here to say sorry, you know. They wanted to offer you a position in the agency,” Oleander said, sizing Nelson up with a glare.

“I...” Nelson said, looking back down at the file in his arms. “I don’t- Can I look this over, first? I need to think about this...”

“‘Course you can. But the way I see it, you’ve only got two ways to go from here. Either you keep it to yourself, forget this whole thing- Or you man up and use those powers to do some good! The world’s full of weapons like that ray you destroyed. We could use somebody with your experience.”

Nelson met his eyes, suddenly feeling self-conscious for how disheveled he looked. He was still in his pajamas and baggy-eyed from restless sleep. There were boxes of his former office resting by his feet, untouched since yesterday morning.

“I’ll think about it,” he repeated with a small nod.

Oleander made an affirmative grunt and turned on his heel to leave. Halfway down the steps, he stopped short and removed a business card from his jacket pocket.

“Call us when you’ve made up your mind,” he said, flicking it back in Nelson’s direction.

The card caught on a gust of wind that carried it directly in front of Nelson’s face. It hovered in the air for a few moments until he reached out and caught it.

It was a very professional card. On its front side was the name of the organization and a phone number, written in a glossy white ink that seemed to glow against the card’s surface. Its backside was emblazoned with a logo, a floating pink brain surrounded by three green crescent shapes covered in strange symbols.

Nelson looked up in time to see Oleander hopping into his jeep. If not for the existential shakeup that he’d just experienced, he may have laughed at the definitely-not-compensating-for-anything monster truck wheels. It drove off with a screech, leaving thick tracks in its wake.

Nelson stood there at the doorstep for some time, until the sounds of the jeep rumbling away in the distance were overtaken by the tranquil quiet of the morning. Normalcy returned to the world around him. Birds were chirping, sprinklers hissed, and someone was mowing their lawn the next street over. He wished that he could feel properly involved with this pleasant suburban peace, but he couldn’t. Not while he was still clutching a file full of papers that were about to reshape his sense of reality.

He took a deep breath and sighed. It would be better to deal with this now rather than later. He gently pushed the door shut with his foot and headed for the kitchen. He needed some tea.


Nelson sat cross-legged on the floor, hands to his lips, as he stared down at the assortment of evidence laid out before him. He’d set everything up on the crossword-patterned rug in his living room, placing each paper and photograph in the lined rows as best as he could fit them.

To his left, he had set out the official Psychonaut documents of the Scoggins mission. In front of him were half-filled forms and registration for him to complete should he accept the Psychonaut’s invitation. And to his right he had placed all of the photographic evidence, captured both from security cameras and candid photos of him taken in the field. (Which was unsettling, to say the least.) Some of the security photos hadn’t developed correctly, either overexposed or muddy and dark. He couldn't figure out why they'd bothered to include them.

Down by his hip, he had set a notepad and a tape recorder. He didn’t need to keep track of anything for the sake of the government anymore, but his tools helped him concentrate. To his far right, just out of arm’s reach, was a mug of peppermint tea. He didn’t want to risk accidentally tipping it over if he reached for something.

He was feeling much better now, having showered and eaten since his nightmarish whirlwind of a morning. The headache was light now, easy to ignore. He was dressed in his usual work uniform: navy blue slacks, a light blue button up shirt, and a tie. No need for the jacket.

He had read everything. Now he just needed to get his thoughts in order. He reached down for the notepad first. He wrote two headers on separate pages: The Psychonauts and Scoggins. Glancing over the layout of papers again, he steadied himself and reached for the recorder.

He cleared his throat, clicked record, and began. “Nelson Tethers, personal log. Today has been... unusual, to say the least. I’ve been offered a job among the ‘Psychonauts’. They seem to think that I’m psychic, like them, but-”

Click. He paused, frowning.

Click.

“Well, I’m not sure. I never had any reason to believe so until now.”

He stopped the recording and reached forward, grabbing some of the photographs and the Scoggins files. He set them before his crossed legs and flipped to the Psychonauts page on his notebook, nervously tapping his pencil against the first line below the header.

He wrote his first bullet point.

Spies

Click.

“Let’s start from the top... The Psychonauts had been following me. They were tracing my steps during my last visit to Scoggins. They saw everything. Or... at least, I think they saw most of it.”

He rearranged the candid photos before him, setting them in chronological order based on his memory and the clues in the images. They all seemed to be from the same two days... Most of them were grainy and zoomed in, taken from treelines or across the street. Some were even taken through windows. It sent a chill up his spine. Was it better or worse to know that his paranoid feelings of being watched were true?

He switched to the paperwork instead, busying his mind with what they found, rather than how they found it.

“These people clearly had more resources than I did. They were in correspondence with their other agents. They verified information and even ran a couple of background checks. Pretty impressive investigation skills for a group that claims to have “history” with the FBI.”

He paused the recorder again and wrote another bullet:

Enemies of the government?

He would have to look into that later. He tried to withhold any judgment, especially since he was likely under the same classification.

He thumbed through the case file again, scanning the pages quickly. They had more info on the astropsychologist Olav Velhaven, before he had gone off to study (and vanish) in the Sasimy woods. They even found the barest mentions of a failed, unnamed NASA mission that must have been the Hermes II; and a subsequent news story about a “shooting star” that flew low over Scoggins.

There was a background check done on him, but it didn’t turn up much. He had always kept a low profile. The most prominent thing they had found was a newspaper clipping about the reopening of the Scoggins Eraser factory a few weeks ago, and it didn’t even mention his name. He clicked record again.

“Their findings seem to have hit a bit of a dead-end as soon as those other FBI agents showed up. Some of their work got confiscated, I’m sure, but this report also mentions things that I don’t seem to have...”

‘See attached’ where there was none to be seen. If he had to guess, the Psychonauts probably had everything else that wasn’t here... including one detail that had made his heart drop.

“...it also mentions some evidence regarding the missing people. My suspicions were correct, they’re dead.”

Click.

He paused, wanting to say something more, but he couldn’t find the words. He set the recorder aside and rubbed at his eyes. He half-heartedly flipped to the “Scoggins” page and wrote:

missing = dead

Nelson got up from his place on the floor, picking up the mug of tea as he stood. All of the papers were starting to get mixed up on the carpet. He took a long sip and sighed as the warmth flushed through him, pushing his headache back into the dark.

Nearly a dozen people were dead. More than that now, right? God, had he ever bothered to see if Dr. Versteckt had made it back to his campsite? Had the Psychonauts identified his corpse too?

He shuddered, recalling the night that they had gotten lost in the forest. It felt like a nightmare. Every aspect became increasingly surreal as he tried to recall it. Wandering through the woods by the light of a full moon, trying to find the lost home of some ancient forest gnomes. Being separated in an instant, finding the astronauts... Still in their space suits, still by their crash site, untouched by time or space or logic. But worst of all was the mere glimpse of the remains he had seen there, scattered bloody clothes and skiing equipment...

And then he had been... attacked? But...

His eyes widened, simultaneously taking in the jigsaw of papers on his floor and staring straight through them, into nothing.

How had he survived? What had he missed?

He nearly dropped the mug, spilling a few drops on the pages below. He set it far aside and knelt back over the papers, picking up pieces from each stack and rereading them all. Something wasn’t adding up.

He flipped through the security photos again and his heart stopped. What he had mistaken for a blurry, darkened mistake was actually... Himself. It was a photo of him lying unconscious in the snow at night.

This was the closest picture that the agents had taken of him by far. He could even make out the vaguest details of his face, slack and exhausted. All of the other images were so distant, but this was more than close. It was a sudden invasion of personal space. And yet, here in his hands, it also felt like the first tangible proof he had of the agent’s existence.

With shaking hands he reached for his recorder again, never taking his eyes off the image of his prone form. His fingers fumbled to hit record, but the resounding click urged him on.

“I... The Psychonauts saved my life. That night, when I found the crash site in the woods, I... I remembered running into those astronauts, I blacked out... and I woke up in my hotel room. I never had time to think about how I got there. Why didn’t they reach out to me then?”

Well... Of course they couldn’t, he had still been with the FBI at the time. And by that next morning, the other agents had already put a halt to their work. It would have been too risky to make contact then. But the fact that they had stepped in the night before... He couldn’t say that he trusted them, not yet, but he no longer feared them.

Granted, the idea of psychic, shadowy agents following his footsteps was still completely terrifying, but he could at least understand them now. He would have done the same thing! Maybe that was why they had brought all these photographs along... to show that they had done more than simply follow his investigation. But what else did it prove, aside from their rescue? ...Hadn’t Oleander said that they had “found him”?

His eyes wandered and fell to the registration papers. Once again, a missing piece fit into place. His headache was regaining a foothold.

“Augh, I don’t understand! They think I can help them, but I’m- I’m not psychic!”

Was that really what this was all about? He groaned. Every answer was just piling up more questions.

He dropped everything and reached for the application forms. They read like an unpleasant mixture between government registration and medical paperwork. One sheet even resembled a list that one would fill out in a doctor’s office, but instead of symptoms and illnesses, it was filled with psychic abilities. Pyrokinesis, telepathy, clairvoyance, premonitions... Just reading it made his head spin.

Someone had highlighted different sections of the registration pages. The application was straightforward; showing the places he was supposed to sign or fill out, but the markings on the powers list didn’t make sense. When he had first glanced it over, he thought that it might have been dividing up different kinds of powers, or something like that... but there were only three highlighted, and they were all over the place.

Telekinesis, mental firepower, and... reverse hypnosis?

Was he supposed to check them off? As ridiculous as it sounded, something about it made him feel uneasy.

He picked up the rest of the photos again, scrutinizing each carefully. The agents hadn't given him any mistakes, everything was in here for a reason. He pulled out the most obviously strange one, an image from the security camera outside the Scoggins police station. It was nearly blank from a blinding white glare that had overtaken most of the picture.

He pulled out the other three images that had come from that camera and laid them in order of their timestamps. There was one of him approaching the police station, one of him standing before the heavily locked door, and one of him entering the building, chains and barriers left discarded on the ground. The order seemed right, but where did the glare fit? The light had made the timestamp illegible.

He squinted at the muddy gray shapes at the picture’s edge. He could see his shoes in the middle, where he was standing in front of the door, and he could barely make out the faintest trace of the chains in the corner. He set the photo down between the photos of the door being locked and the door being open.

“... Oh. Ohhhkay. I- Um. ”

Well. That. Explained that. He stared down at the arrangement of photos, jaw falling slack. He had blasted the tangle of chains apart with his mind, apparently.

“What the hell?” he gasped, practically laughing. His brain was spinning with pain and delirium.

The light had come from him. He was looking at a picture of his own mind melting steel in seconds. And he had been standing right there when it happened!

He looked at the list of powers again. His heartbeat was racing, but he was starting to feel strangely disjointed, like he wasn’t really in his body. He just needed to keep going, finish his work on autopilot, and worry about himself after. He needed to solve this.

Mental firepower. That was one off the list, but what about the other two? He flicked through the other pictures, looking for more clues, more missing memories. There were no more strange lights, no mysterious floating objects, so he stopped and went again, slower.

There was another of him at the police station, but it was taken through the window. He was standing in the middle of the darkened office, the photograph barely catching him because of the large furniture that was pushed in the way. He remembered that. He remembered feeling watched, and wanting to cover up the windows, but now he couldn’t remember how he had done it- The couches and file cabinets were bigger than he was!

Ok, telekinesis then. This picture didn’t catch him in the act, but it was the best explanation he could think of.

Reverse hypnosis though, he couldn’t even imagine what that meant- What was the opposite of hypnosis? Telling the truth? There were so many photos of him talking to people.

He came upon another photo taken through a window, into the lodge of the Brotherhood of Scoggins. It looked like he was talking to the leader of the brotherhood, Bjorn. Nelson was shining a penlight into his eyes... And Bjorn... he looked terrified, his eyes glassy and skittish.

He was hearing voices. The whispers. Nelson had snapped him out of it.

Nelson’s body sagged, clarity returning to him now. He felt completely spent, his voice weak and barely audible by the recorder on the floor.

“How on earth- how does somebody go this long without knowing? How did I manage to do these things and not remember them?”

His living room looked like a tornado had blown through it. He picked up the tape recorder and sighed. He would have to go through and cut out all the dead air, he was usually so good about starting and stopping correctly. He cleared his throat and continued.

“I don’t have an answer yet. I think... I think I need to talk to them, at least. Maybe they can help me with these gaps in my memory. And if I can help them too, then... I might.”

Click.