Prompt: A man has the power to read minds, but it’s only activated when he drinks alcohol. He wants to be a hero, but he gets derailed once he starts drinking.
Avoiding bars was supposed to be the safe thing to do if you were an alcoholic. He had done that admirably, but this was Lassie’s. Lassie’s was a somewhat casual eatery that might as well have only been open on Fridays, because that’s where ninety percent of their business lived. That was when they sold the honey mustard chicken strips and wings for half-off, which is what convinced him to go with a few friends.
The problem was that Lassie’s also had an extensive cocktail menu. They were discounted on Fridays as well. The two women Ryan was with each ordered something colorful, topped with slices of lime and lemon. He just had to look away, focus on the smell of the breading and sauces instead.
He was looking away for the fiftieth time that night, fidgeting in their booth while his friends got plastered, when he spotted her. She looked like someone who needed his help, the help that he no longer felt qualified to provide.
Ryan was an anomaly. It wasn’t his odd style of dress that always seemed to include a red plaid shirt. It wasn’t his thousand yard stare when anything other than food was discussed. It was his stumblethought. That’s what he called it anyway. He could stumble into the minds of others, crash about in the storage closets of their memory, but the problem was that he needed a catalyst, something to trip him in the first place.
That catalyst was booze. Only once inebriated could his mind forget the boundaries it was supposed to uphold, and stumble. He’d discovered his power the first time he’d gotten drunk, at the age of nineteen, at a friend’s birthday party. He had leaned in to kiss her, a kiss that certainly seemed welcome, when his entire being flopped out of his forehead, invisibly, and landed in her thoughts.
They were lovely: lots of couches and bird cages. The birds could come and go as they pleased though, squeezing between the bars like gelatin. She was there too, her inner image, but she was not happy to see him. She screamed, flailing and pushing him away. Back in his own mind Ryan was suddenly being stared at by the entire party. His friend was crying, running off to the bathroom. He was officially a creep, an image that tailed him like skunk scent until he moved after college.
He risked the same reputation several times, trying to use his power for good. When he was in there, in another’s head, he could toss out whatever items he liked, which included cobwebbed boxes of bad memories. He could make people forget their worst experiences, or he could drive out the barking mad dog that was their fear of someone or something in their life.
There was always a way to screw it up. He was always drunk, and when he tried it he threw away the wrong things. He ruined a life and a half with his efforts to be a hero, smiling in someone’s else head while his psyche drooled and swayed. He gave up on it. He hadn’t touched a drop in more than a year.
Ryan’s desire was at the forefront once again when he saw that woman at Lassie’s, drink in hand, and a black eye on th left side of her face. While his friends laughed and nibbled at their burgers, he just stared, wondering if someone hit her or if she fell trying to protect the drink in her hand.
Perhaps he could help her without stumblethought. A friendly conversation. Something to take her mind off the cocktails she felt obligated to buy while they were so cheap. He excused himself and went over to her, mulling various greetings.
He arrived at the stool next to hers, in the middle of the bar, just in time for her to spin and fall. He grabbed her shoulders to stop her. Then something very strange happened that squeezed all the possible greetings out his ear like the spurt of a corroded fountain. She stumbled into his mind and collapsed on a bin full of embarrassments.
He was so shocked that, in his efforts to avoid her flailing, he tripped and stumbled over into her mind. They’d essentially swapped bodies, and it took them a moment to adjust. Ryan wanted to help her, but he didn’t like that there was a drunken mind in his sober body. It was like he’d failed. The sauce had been squirted right into one of his ears or the corner of his eye.
“Hey, uhh, excuse me!” he called out to her, using the silent speech of stumblethought.
“Ohh, I’m sorry…” she said back. She looked around, dazed. “You… you’re not scared. Most people are freaked out when I fall into them like that. Are you like a weirdo?”
“Yes,” Ryan said plainly. “I have the stumblethoughts, just like you. I don’t drink anymore though.”
“Yes you do,” she said with narrowed eyes. “My name’s Pamela by the way. The house you’re standing in is One Pamela, Pamela Drive.” She snorted and chuckled at her own joke. She tried to take a swig from the cocktail that was no longer in her hand.
“No, I don’t drink,” he argued. She kept looking around, around the edges of his mind’s furniture, so he snapped his fingers to draw her attention back.
“I can see it. You definitely drink.” She was not sober, but she’d had even more practice with the stumblethought than he had. She followed a scent like a bloodhound, dropped to her knees, and pulled out something from under a teal couch. She shook it back and forth in his face, her face. “What’s this? Looks like rum.” She twisted the top off the figurative bottle and drank deeply.
“Those are just thoughts!” Ryan argued. “I’m not an alcoholic anymore.”
“They’re not just thoughts,” Pamela teased with a small belch. “This bottle wasn’t full. You might as well drink with how much you think about it.” Ryan felt the color in his face, but he couldn’t see it in himself across the bar stool. Was she right? Had he been so stupid as to let that stuff build up in the back of his brain?
She finished the bottle and found another in a nightstand drawer. He wasn’t going to just stand there and watch her drain his personality flaws into her gullet. Who knew what harm that might do to her? This was his first time in an otherwise unoccupied mind. He had a chance to do some of the good he’d always soiled before.
If he had booze on the brain, then surely she had it too. He whirled around and looked at the floor. It wasn’t hard to find. Her mind was practically a liquor store. She was just like him, only she hadn’t given up on her power. They both needed help, and they only had each other. No psychiatrist would put up with such claims for more than a week.
Ryan didn’t drink what he found. He tipped them over and poured them out, half expecting it to cause Pamela’s body to drool or spontaneously develop a bloody nose. She looked over, mouth wrapped around a bottle, and then spat it everywhere. He wondered what cleaning that up would be like.
“Hey! That’s mine!” she bawled. Ryan shrugged and kept pouring. She tried to jump back into her body, but he gently shoved her back with his shoulder. Not yet. He was overstepping, but that was what stumblethought was all about. “Fine! Take this!” She responded by dumping every drop she found in his mind out as well. It was good. He wanted it to pour, right out his ears if it had to.
This continued back and forth for minutes, all of Lassie’s other patrons somewhat amused by the two people at the bar staring blankly into each other’s eyes, one holding the other in his lap. When every drop was gone, every thought of their powerful catalyst expunged, they swapped back. Sober minds finally saw each other’s eyes as they were supposed to.
They didn’t have to stumble into people, making excuses and messes. They could just talk the old fashioned way, especially now that they’d seen the bottom of each other’s bottles. Pamela and Ryan smiled. They ordered another round of chicken wings. When they arrived they toasted to each other’s mental health, the saucy wings splattering against each other.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by Absurdister during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!