The Gift


by T. Mack

Alice decided to seek professional help after she almost accidentally kidnapped a small child.

“I was nearly arrested,” Alice exclaimed. Then she broke down in tears, covering her face with her hands and letting her long, blonde hair fall in curtains around her to try and hide her from the world.

Alice sat on a dark grey sofa. Across from her, perched on the edge of a large, sturdy coffee table, sat a woman in long, flowing fabric. Her hair was also long and loose, but her dark eyes held no tears. They did hold sympathy, however. She knew what had brought Alice to her, but she waited patiently to let the other woman tell her own story. After some time, Alice did just that.

* * *

Alice had been on an afternoon shopping trip to the mall. She’d been floating from store to store, searching for a birthday gift for a friend and possibly, a little something for herself as well. She’d been in and out numerous stores. So many that she’d lost count. She’d had no idea she’d picked up a small shadow somewhere along the way.

The girl was very small, less than three years old. Her eyes were big and brown beneath a mop of curly, dark bangs. The rest of her hair was in pigtails and she wore purple overalls. But Alice had noticed none of this. She hadn’t seen the girl at all . Alice hadn’t seen her when she’d spotted Alice across one of the stores and quietly followed her out. Alice hadn’t seen the child trail a little way behind her through the food court and up the escalator. Alice hadn’t seen the girl follow her into the next store and the next and the next. She didn’t see her standing just close enough that passersby assumed the small child gazing up at Alice was indeed with Alice.

As a matter of fact, Alice remained oblivious to all of this until some time after the mall was put on lock-down for the missing child and a description went out to all the stores of the missing girl.

“The little girl they’re looking for sounds a lot like your little one,” said the store’s clerk to Alice, who had been standing nearby perusing clearance items. Alice looked up when the woman started talking, but upon hearing something about a “little one,” assumed the clerk must be talking to someone else. She looked around the small clothing store with its racks of brightly colored clothes to try and determine to whom the woman was actually speaking. But no one else was around.

“I’m sorry,” said Alice. “What are you talking about?”

“The entire mall is on lock-down for a missing little girl. Her description is similar to your daughter.” The clerk pointed to the rack behind Alice, where a very small girl was standing quietly looking up at Alice with something akin to wonder.

Alice shook her head fervently. “She’s not mine. I mean, I don’t have a daughter.” Alice started looking around for the person to whom the girl must actually belong. There was still no one else in the store.

“But she came in with you,” said the clerk, now looking more alert and concerned. “She was right on your heels. She’s been with you the whole time.”

Alice was stunned. She tried to form complete thoughts and words, but failed. All that came out was, “No. I… What? No!”

The woman picked up a phone receiver behind the counter and called mall security. Half an hour later, the girl was reunited with her family and Alice was surrounded by security and police. When the girl’s family arrived, she didn’t cry, or greet them, or hug them, or acknowledge them in any way. She just kept her eyes and attention on Alice. When they took her away, she reached a tiny hand out to Alice as if she didn’t want to go. Everyone looked at Alice with even more suspicion.

After further questioning, the store clerk had been forced to admit that though she made an assumption that the girl was with Alice, she never actually saw Alice acknowledge or interact with the child. Police questioned Alice on the stores she’d visited. They watched camera footage from each location and they, too, were forced to admit that she never seemed to be aware of the child’s presence until the clerk pointed it out to her. She was released after several hours in police custody.

* * *

“It was awful,” Alice said to the woman seated across from her. “I’ve never been so scared or embarrassed or humiliated in my life. This is the last straw. It has to stop!” Alice began sobbing again.

The woman, Miranda, asked, “What has to stop, Alice? Why did you come to me?”

“You’re a Sorceress. You fix people’s problems. I know you do! Even though there isn’t a sign on your door, everyone who walks by knows what you do and how you can help them if they want it.”

“And how can I help you?” Again, Miranda already had the knowledge she was prompting Alice to provide. She, like her Mistress before her, had the gift of Sight. But she’d learned in the years since her Mistress had died that it was usually better to let people tell her what they needed or wanted. This served two goals: 1) It helped people sort out what they really wanted, and 2) It let Miranda know how honest they were willing to be… with themselves and with her.

“The little girl–her name was Maggie, by the way–she wasn’t the first person to become… enamored with me. It’s happened before, just not this bad. And it doesn’t happen all the time, just occasionally. But it’s happening more often. My friend Sandy has seen it so I know I’m not imagining it. She says I ‘enchant’ people.”

“What does it look like when you ‘enchant’ them?”

“It’s kind of like they stop in their tracks or freeze and their eyes get wide and they just stare at me. And then they can’t concentrate on anything else but me. I know it sounds so egotistical when I say it out loud but I promise–”

“It’s called the Mesmer. It’s a latent gift. It’s powerful in you. Even though your ability hasn’t been awakened, it’s spilling out and what you’re seeing is the result.”

Alice was surprised, but also a little bit not. She took a few minutes to absorb Miranda’s words. Miranda gave her the time she needed and did not break the silence.

“Am I a witch?” asked Alice.

“No. You have a gift. And as I said, it’s latent. So you are a regular person with an irregular problem. If you wanted to study the Craft and develop talents, you could possibly become a witch. But that’s a completely different issue that has little to do with your immediate problem.”

“Can you remove the gift?”

Miranda paused before answering. “Not without changing who you are in a way that you probably wouldn’t like.”

“Can you teach me to control it?”

“In order for you to be able to control your gift, I would have to fully awaken it. That is asking more of yourself than you realize.”

“So tell me about it. Please.”

“I can tell you some. However, there is much more I cannot tell you. It is the most important part that you will only be able to learn once the deed has been done and there is no going back. I’m afraid that fully awakening this power is not the best choice for you.”

“Why would you say that? I almost kidnapped a child! How could this be worse?”

The Sorceress was quiet for several long moments. Then she spoke again. “The Mesmer is a connection between you and other people. Basically, you are strongly empathetic. Some people have something in them, in their subconscious, that is able to sense in you the ability to give them what they need. That’s why they are drawn to you and mesmerized by you. Awakening the power you need to control the Mesmer means opening doors to temptation for you. You would become aware of your empathic link to the people who connect to you. You would be able to sense their thoughts and feel their feelings. You would have the ability to pull those thoughts and feelings away from them. The desire to do so would be very strong.”

“So? Maybe I could help people. If they felt bad, I could make them feel better. Like a shrink, but quicker.”

Miranda shook her head. “Look at it this way. We are, each one of us, the sum of our thoughts and feelings. They make us who we are. Without them, we become someone else. And while it’s true that both thoughts and feelings evolve constantly to change us, is it really right for someone outside of ourselves to simply snatch those thoughts or feelings away and change us without our knowledge, choice, or participation?”

“I don’t know the answer to that. But how about this… If someone is feeling bad, I’ll just give them good thoughts and feelings instead. That’s okay, right?”

Miranda sighed. “That sounds logical. And it’s a kind offer. The problem is that the system doesn’t work the way you think it does. If you take thoughts or feelings from someone else, it’s not a particularly noble thing to do, but you’ve only taken a little. Mostly. We think. The mind is complex. And hopefully, the change you’ve made to them has been minimal. However, if you give of yourself, you give everything, and it will come from your very essence. Essentially, anything you give is a piece of your life you give away.”

“What? That doesn’t even make sense! And it’s not fair.”

“It’s magic, dear. It doesn’t have to be fair… Just like everything else in life.”

Alice wasn’t happy with the answers she received, but in the end decided to awaken her gift and control the Mesmer. She wanted to know when someone was connected to her. She didn’t want to be caught off guard again. She didn’t want to be the cause of more problems like the one with Maggie. And she wanted to be able to cut off connections when they did happen.

So Miranda mixed a potion. She didn’t tell Alice what was in it and Alice didn’t ask. She simply drank the concoction, which tasted like raspberries and mint. Then she paid Miranda an exorbitant amount of money and left the magic shop through the same unmarked door she’d come in.

Alice didn’t feel any different at first. She went home, looked in the mirror and saw the exact same person she had been before visiting the Sorceress. However, she had faith in the magic and moved on with life confidently. 

* * *

Two weeks later, Alice was walking along a sidewalk and felt something like a tug inside her chest. It made her stop short and look to her right, the direction from where the tug seemed to come. Standing off to the side, leaning against the brick side of a building was a tall, broadly built man. He had a bushy, slightly unkempt beard, but his clothes were immaculate. His jeans fit perfectly and looked like they had been starched and pressed. His button-down shirt was solid navy and completely unwrinkled. Some people might have found him attractive. Alice did not. She found him off-putting. She felt a predatory energy from him that made her want to cross the street or run away. But she’d already stopped. She’d already made eye contact. And he’d connected to her. She knew instinctively that like most predators, he would just become excited by running prey. So she stood her ground and didn’t move.

“Hey, baby.” he said. “You look nice. How about you give me your number and we can go out some time?”

“No, thank you,” said Alice.

“Oh, come on,” said the man, pushing himself off the side of the building and stepping toward Alice. “You seem like a classy lady. I’m a nice guy, I promise. I just want to get to know you over a nice meal.” 

This was a lie. He was not a nice guy. Alice could feel his intention for her, which was to utilize her for her body and if he could manage it, hurt her in some way… emotionally or physically. He enjoyed using, hurting, and discarding women. It was his hobby. It was what he did for fun. It was what he bragged about to his disgusting friends and what he laughed about over beers and what he took pride and pleasure in practicing and perfecting.

This was Alice’s gift, she knew. This was what the Sorceress had awakened in her. But there was more. Because she now knew, without knowing how she knew, exactly what she could do with this new information. She knew just what to say and do to shut down the connection between them and walk away without him following her. She knew how to give a piece of herself to help heal the part of him that was wrong and twisted, though that was not at all a sacrifice she was willing to make for anyone, let alone this man.

However, she somehow also knew how to pull the sadistic thoughts and urges out of him with a single touch. He would be a completely different man, one who would not want to hurt and manipulate people anymore. She didn’t know what he would be like if she did that. Though he would look the same, he wouldn’t know or recognize himself afterward. Neither would anyone who knew him. But also, he wouldn’t be a grade-A asshole.

Alice just looked at the man for a long time, knowing the that the right thing to do was to walk away but wanting desperately to do the wrong thing. Because the wrong thing done for the right reason is still the wrong thing… right?

“I see you mulling it over, baby,” said the man, sauntering closer to Alice. “You’re thinking too hard. It’s no big deal. I tell you what. Let’s just start with a drink and we’ll only do dinner if you’re feeling it. But I promise by the second drink, you’ll be feeling it.” The man reached out a hand and brushed a finger along Alice’s cheek. Suddenly she knew more than just vague tendencies and urges. She knew his exact thoughts. He wanted to put something in her drink. He wanted to have sex with her when she couldn’t say no. He wanted to stalk her and scare her and leave her damaged. It was a game to him. He’d picked her out of the crowd to be his next victim. If she walked away and left him here, he would pick someone else without the power to do something to stop him.

Alice grabbed the hand that had just touched her face before the man could pull it away. She looked the man in the eyes and she pulled a power from somewhere inside. It came from deep within her belly and she realized it had always been there, sleeping. The Sorceress had told her the truth. It had always been a part of her. She drew it up through herself, almost like bile rising up through her chest and into her throat. It wasn’t unpleasant, though. It was powerful. Once it got to her throat, it kept rising. It swept up to her eyes and flooded her brain. She kept eye contact with the man–Connor, his name was Connor–and brought forth in his mind all the terrible thoughts and urges he had.

Alice pulled to the forefront of Connor’s brain all the horrible things he took pleasure in doing to others. She brought up memories that he had of terrible deeds and nasty actions he’d done. She envisioned taking hold of the negative thoughts and urges, ripping them from Connor’s mind, and crushing them in her hand. Then, she pictured picking up the pleasure he felt from all those memories like it was a playing card and flipping it over. On the other side was guilt and shame. She left them there for him in place of the pleasure he’d had before. Then she pulled her mental hand back from Connor’s mind and pushed her power back down to where it had been stored. She let go of the man’s hand and stepped back from him.

Alice looked down at the hand that had held Connor’s and wiped it on her pants. It wasn’t damp or dirty. She just didn’t like the thought of having had physical contact with him. She looked back up at Connor and saw him blinking and shaking his head with a confused look on his face. He also had tears streaming down his face, though he didn’t seem to be aware of it. Alice knew he was damaged… a different damaged than he had been before. But she wasn’t sure she cared. She walked away leaving the stunned man alone on the sidewalk.

* * *

Alice felt good. She was almost elated. Using her power had felt amazing. It was like nothing she’d ever experienced. She’d felt super powerful, but it was more than that. She’d also felt super charged. Pulling up her power had given her a high, a euphoria, and a rush. It was a feeling she liked… a lot. It was a feeling she wanted again.

Alice spent the next week thinking about using her powers and waiting for someone to connect with her. She’d suddenly gone from dreading the phenomenon to wishing for it. She wanted to feel the sensation of connecting to another person’s thoughts and feelings, getting to experience the surge of adrenaline and emotion without having to be weighed down by it. She wanted to feel super-powered again. She wanted to manipulate the abstract. She wanted to be an artist of thoughts and feelings. She’d liked deciding what Connor the predator would lose and keep. She’d liked changing how he would feel about the things he’d done. She liked making those choices and having control. Alice found herself smiling often when she thought of it. She hadn’t realized before how little control she’d felt over most things in her life. She hadn’t realized how much she longed to have more control. She hadn’t realized how addictive control could be.

Alice had to wait nearly a month before she felt the pull inside her chest again. She was inside a fast food restaurant and stepped up to the counter to see a teenage boy with brown skin and a large afro in a hairnet staring at her. She could feel his low self esteem, his self-loathing, and self-pity. Alice had the instinctive urge to step back from the counter and withdraw from all the negative feelings. Instead, she reached out and touched his hand, looking him in the eye. She saw in her peripheral vision a few of the other employees and customers glance at her strangely. She covered this by rambling some improvised lies.

“I’m sorry, you’re going to have to bear with me. I’ve got some medical issues that cause me to lose my focus a bit sometimes. So I get a little bit confused and I ramble and I forget what I’m doing or saying in the middle of things so you might have to help me stay on track once we start this thing, okay?”

While she talked, she called her power up from her center and began pulling the boy’s emotions to the surface. By the time she’d stopped talking, she was reaching into his mind and yanking them away, leaving behind blank space. Part of her knew that in the natural course of healing, those spaces would have been self-confidence, self-love, and self-acceptance. Alice wanted to give him those things, but the price of giving was too high. So she left the empty spaces. Though Alice wasn’t sure what would fill in those empty places now or what would be the result of the boy having them, she was almost certain it was better to have those than the negative feelings he’d had about himself.

She crushed his negative feelings with her mental fist and felt the rush of pleasure through her. She let go of his hand and pushed her power back down.

“Thanks for understanding,” she said. “Not everyone gets it when you have a medical condition like mine. Can I get a number 4, please, with a fruit punch to drink?”

The boy stood, dazed, for several moments. He looked down at the screen in front of him and tried to complete her order but had some trouble. A nearby co-worker saw him and assumed that he had been made uncomfortable by Alice’s speech, so stepped in to assist her instead. The new cashier was incredibly nice and slightly patronizing. But Alice didn’t mind. She was riding high on her recent power surge and left the restaurant in terrific spirits.

Five weeks later Alice pulled post-partum depression from an exhausted mother of three. She didn’t let herself think how the woman’s personality, connection to her children, or mothering might be changed by Alice’s action. She’d gone more than a month without a connection. She wasn’t going to waste this one.

* * *

Over time, Alice became incredibly skilled at her craft. After several months, she’d learned to pull from people with a mere brush of physical contact instead of holding a hand. (Eventually she would learn to do it without touching them at all.)

“Please don’t touch me,” said Jakob. He and Alice had been dating for four months. Jakob was tall and lanky with unruly brown hair that was in need of a haircut. They were in Jakob’s apartment, a low-rent, one-bedroom affair that still had shag carpeting and pale green appliances. They’d joked once that everything in the apartment might be older than them.

Alice had just tried to hug Jakob and he’d stepped away.

“What do you mean don’t touch you?” she asked.

“Just what I said. I don’t enjoy it when you touch me. This is going to sound weird, but it kind of feels like a vampire is trying to suck me dry whenever you touch me. I have the urge to run away. We’re cool as long as you don’t touch me. But that doesn’t really work if we’re trying to be together. So I don’t think we can be together.”

All this was said in a rush, tumbling out of Jakob’s mouth quickly, seemingly without him breathing during the entire speech. Alice suspected he’d rehearsed it.

She absorbed what he said. She was only a little hurt. Because she knew what he meant. She had grown inpatient waiting for people to connect to her. She’d begun attempting to pull thoughts and emotions from people who weren’t mesmerized by her. They couldn’t feel it, exactly, but part of them sensed it. It made them uncomfortable. She made them uncomfortable. Apparently, she’d been doing it to Jakob without realizing it. She pondered if she would be able (or willing) to stop doing it.

She nodded her head. “I’ll go,” she said.

Then she did.

* * *

Years passed. Alice grew more powerful in her gift and as a result, more confident. Her confidence led to corporate success and suddenly, she was powerful in other ways. She enjoyed all her power and used it to benefit herself however she wanted. She preferred not to consider how it might affect others, as those types of thoughts would simply weigh her down. And so Alice’s life from her own perspective was a good one.

One day, long after she had been to see the Sorceress, Alice was visiting her doctor. She knew, of course, that her health was perfect. However some insurance formality necessitated that she get her doctor to put it in writing. So she completed her physical and started to make her way out of the small, white, building. Getting out required a walk down a rather long corridor toward a parking deck. On the way, Alice felt the pull. She always enjoyed a nice pick-me-up, so was happy to pause for the young woman coming toward her up the corridor.

However, the woman wasn’t really a woman at all, but a teenage girl of about 18. The girl stopped in front of her but didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to. Alice could feel it all. The pain of the cancer eating away at the girl’s body. The days and weeks and months of enduring pokes and prods and procedures. The bleak diagnosis and all the efforts to extend her life that were making that same life absolute misery. The girl had lost all hope. She was heading into the doctor’s office to deny further treatment and discreetly request help to put an end to all her suffering.

Alice looked at the hopeless girl, her dark hair and her large brown eyes. The girl wasn’t wearing purple overalls and Alice didn’t know whether the math added up, but the girl reminded Alice so much of the tiny girl in pigtails who had followed her around a mall so many years ago. For the first time, Alice also felt mesmerized. And she felt something else. She was pretty sure it was guilt. She’d been telling herself all these years that she’d been helping people, but she admitted to herself in that moment that she’d only been helping herself. Here, though, was a chance to really help someone, to actually do something good.

It had been years since Alice had touched anyone to pull from them, but she took the young woman’s frail hands in hers. She drew on her power, which at this point did not live deep in her belly, but was simply an active part of every bit of who she was. She looked into the girl’s eyes and brought up memories of all the pain and suffering she had endured as well as all her thoughts of self-harm. Then Alice reached out with her mental hand… and she gave.

She gave all her hope. She gave all her joy. She gave all the dreams she’d had for her future when she was young and didn’t know what her future held. She gave all her best memories from her childhood. She gave all the laughter she could remember from her time with her parents. As she gave, she felt the girl grow healthier and stronger under her touch. And she felt herself grow weaker and sicker. When she let go of the girl’s hand, she knew that the girl would have a chance for a long and healthy life and she would not.

Alice wished the girl well and told her to keep hoping for miracles because sometimes they really did happen. Then she left.

Like so many years before, she only had one destination in mind. She went to see the Sorceress.

* * *

When Alice walked through the unmarked door of the magic shop, the Sorceress stood inside waiting for her. She didn’t look much different. Perhaps a few more wrinkles, but the same flowing fabrics and the same mysterious smile. Alice was surprised at how happy she was to see her. She did not have friends. Visiting the Sorceress felt like coming to see one.

“You gave,” said the Sorceress.

“I took more,” said Alice.

The Sorceress nodded. “We all give and take. In the end, you gave. And it was good.”

“I’m tired,” said Alice.

The Sorceress nodded again. “Lay down here and rest.”

Alice went over to different couches than the ones she’d previously sat on. They occupied the same space, but these were pale colored and better cushioned.

“Will you take care of things for me, please?” asked Alice. “There isn’t much. And there isn’t anyone. I took too much from them all and they left.”

“I will take care of it for you,” replied the Sorceress.

Alice laid down and closed her eyes. She didn’t open them again.






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