Mother & Son

First Trimester: Awake

My first memory was of neurons. My mother’s. A great network of electric cables carrying signals across her body. I was encased within an intricate mechanism. I was aware of my mother before I was aware of myself, but as awareness rolled in like the tide, my gaze turned inward, and I saw within myself an imitation—though at the time far simpler—of my mother’s nervous system.

I could watch my own brain grow.

Additionally, I learned that I could not only see but interact with the electrical impulses around me. It was clumsy at first, and I’m glad I didn’t accidentally stop her heart in my initial attempts, but with practice her brain began revealing things to me—language, memories, sights, and sounds. I could see with her eyes, hear with her ears, feel with her skin. (May she forgive me; I learned this ability by instinct long before I understood privacy.)

At first these images were meaningless, but with time I began to understand. I realized that my mother was aware of me—not the way I was aware of her, every neuron laid bare—but aware, nonetheless. I learned that there were other people, her mother and father (my grandparents) and her friends, and with practice I realized I could see and interact with their minds too, though distance made that more difficult.

Another detail that made interaction harder was that their brains all had subtle differences from each other. I’d studied my mother’s nervous system, but theirs weren’t quite the same. It would take time before I could manipulate their brains as precisely as I did hers, longer still before I could generalize these patterns.

I also realized that I was different from my mother, from everyone else that I knew of. I found the word lodged in the language centers of her brain. Mutation. Telepathy. Awareness in the womb.

I felt isolated, became aware of my own loneness, deprived of contact and communion with this outside world that I could sense but not touch, and I realized that even after my birth I would be separate, cut off because of this ability.

Searching for some sort of connection, I probed my mother’s mind for the moment she first became aware of me. I found a memory. Her huddled in a bathroom corner weeping over a pregnancy test.

I ran along her neural pathways to an earlier memory. It was dark. She sat in the back seat of the car parked in the lot behind her high school. In the distance, music was playing. My mother was crying for the boy to stop but he smacked her across the face, forcing her down, his hands… I retreated. I couldn’t look at that anymore.

So I was unwanted. Conceived in violence. But there was something more.

“I’m so sorry,” my mother cried. “I didn’t want this, I promise.”

Her own mother, my grandmother, took her hand. “It’s not your fault, Amanda. I know how to fix this. Let me make a call.”

I know how to fix this…

I felt cold.

I had two weeks before the appointment to change my mother’s mind, and to do that I would have to communicate with her.

I couldn’t speak out loud, so I’d have to communicate mentally. Easier said than done. Siphoning memories was one thing, but to put my thoughts in her head…

Even if I succeeded, how would I convince her that it was actually her embryonic son speaking, not just a voice in her head, the onset of mental illness?

I decided to attempt speaking to her while she was dreaming and her conscious defenses were down. My first attempts were far from precise, resulting in strange and abstract nightmares.

On my third attempt, however, I was able to manifest inside the dream. I chose a representation from her memories, a combination of her two younger cousins, both of whom she had positive associations with. Best to elicit sympathy.

In her dream, she stood in her English classroom, talking with a group of friends.

“Excuse me.” My mother turned.

“Well, hello little buddy. Are you lost?” But I could only stare. I hadn’t anticipated my emotional reaction at seeing her face to face.

She knelt in front of me, putting herself at eye level. “What’s your name?”

But the dream shifted, and the connection abruptly cut. It took several minutes to reestablish. This time I found myself on a tropical island, the setting of a film she’d watched earlier that day. She sat alone on the beach. I tapped her shoulder.

“Well, hello.” She frowned. “Weren’t you here earlier? Who are you?”

“I’m your son.”

Her eyes grew hard. “No, no, no, I’m not doing this. Go away!” And in that moment, that’s exactly what I wanted to do. Stop my own heartbeat and spare her the trouble.

“I’m sorry,” I said, trying to sound as pitiful as possible. “Can I stay with you, just for a little while?”

“I didn’t ask for this!” The environment was changing now. The schoolyard. So dark.

“I know, but…” And suddenly the man was there. She resisted, but he pressed forward.

“Get away from me!”

The dream cut, and she was awake, clutching her knees and weeping.

The next night I “suggested” to her mind to set her dream in the park by her house where her father, my grandfather, used to take her to play catch. It was a relaxing environment with which she had positive associations. The dream began and I found myself chasing a baseball, catching it on reflex.

“Nice catch!” My mother smiled at me. I just stared. I had expected her to be hostile as she’d been the night before.

“You know, it’s more fun if you throw it back.” She laughed.

We played ball for several minutes. I actually had fun, forgot for a moment that she was trying to kill me and that I was here for a reason.

“Do you know who I am?” I asked.

“You’re my son.” Kneeling down, she ran her hand through my hair. I’d made it blond, the same shade as hers. People empathize more with those who look similar.

“But you know that you’re dreaming?”

She nodded. “But it’s a pleasant dream.”

I thought if I could bond with her during her sleep, she might change her mind about the procedure. She’d been uncomfortable with the idea to begin with, but she trusted her parents. However, the two weeks passed. It was the day before the procedure, and she’d still said nothing about second thoughts, nor mentioned the dreams to anyone. It was hard to tell if she even remembered them upon waking.

My only other option was… unthinkable. I’d learned to access others’ minds as I accessed my mother’s, though it was more difficult. I was confident that if a doctor tried to kill me, I could stop his heart. But was that how I wanted to enter the world, not just unwanted, not just a freak, but also a killer?

None of that would matter if she cancelled the procedure, but bonding with her wasn’t working. Perhaps I needed a more direct approach.

We were back in the park. She was getting ready to throw the ball, but I held up my hand, my face grim.

“What’s wrong?”

“Mother, we need to talk about the procedure.”

She glanced away. “No, I don’t think I want to talk about that.” Overhead, the sun had dimmed. The birds stopped singing.

“I know what happened to you was terrible…”

“Shut up.”

“But I don’t want to die.” Thunder crackled overhead. We were no longer in the park, but on the edge of a rocky crag. She sat with her knees hugged to her chest, face buried in her hands.

“Just a short process, they said, and it’ll all be over,” she said.

“It’s my life.”

“It’ll be like nothing happened. That’s what they told me. That’s what…”

I grabbed her hand. “Mother, listen to me. This is real. This isn’t a dream.”

“Go away.” The noises from the car, the crying. They were faint but growing louder.

“I’m your son. I’m really here, and I’m talking to you.”

“This is a dream.”

“This is not a dream, and you will listen to me!”

Abruptly, I was ejected from her mind. I tried to reach her again, but found the way blocked. No use. I’d have to talk to her from outside.

Mother, I thought to her. She stirred on the bed.

Please, let me back in. I’m sorry for yelling at you. I just want to talk.

Could she hear me? I tried again to access her dream, but she’d shut me out.

I kept talking to her all that morning as she got dressed. I saw the hormones. The way her brain was lit indicated stress.

Please, I said, I just want to know that you can hear me.

She bit her lip.

“Shut up. You’re just my subconscious. You’re not real.”

I was relieved. So she could hear me.

Don’t do this. I’ll do anything.

She just shook her head, fighting tears. Guilt, sorrow, fear, I could see them mapped out in the flow of electricity.




A brief pause. She continued dressing.

On the way to the hospital, Grandfather patted her leg.

“It’s all going to be okay, sweetie,” he said.

I hate you for this, I thought. I’ll die hating you.

I was done being reasonable.

Amanda, cancel the appointment now, or I’ll hurt you. You know I can.

Her skin prickled. I felt it with her nerves. She was crying again. They parked in the clinic lot. The car door swung open.

Very well, try to walk like this. I blocked the nerve signals to her legs, and they went limp.

“Mom,” my mother called.

“What’s wrong?” Amanda’s face was white. She tried to move her legs but couldn’t.

“I’ll get a doctor.” Grandfather ran to the clinic. Grandmother knelt, clutching her hand.

“It’s all going to be okay, sweetie.”

So this is what I’m reduced to.

Tell her you want to go home, that you’ve changed your mind. I’ll give you your legs back. I wanted this to stop before I was faced with a choice I didn’t want to make. I’d studied my mother’s nervous system, and I could manipulate it more precisely than a stranger’s. This gave me the precision to speak to her or to freeze her legs without causing physical damage. But if I were faced with doctors about to perform the procedure, I doubted I’d have the skill to stop them without killing them, and that wasn’t something I was prepared to do.

Grandfather returned with a wheelchair and an orderly. Together they carted the sobbing teenager into the clinic, but paralysis wasn’t their expertise. Minutes later, she was rushed to the emergency room.

The doctors examined her a dozen times, running all sorts of tests over the next few hours. They found nothing, but she knew exactly what was going on.

“We think your uterus may be pressing on a nerve,” the doctor said.

Wrong, I said. They can’t help you, Amanda.

“We should terminate the pregnancy immediately.”

I could see the operation a hundred times over in the doctor’s mind. Small bodies sucked out through a tube, ripped to pieces by the pressure. Something barbaric, inhuman.

“Is that what you want?” the doctor asked.

Don’t you dare.

She nodded. “Yes, it’s what I want.”

They took her to the room where the machinery of death lay, got her ready.


“The procedure is very safe,” the doctor assured her. “Millions of women make this decision every year.”

Tell him you’ve changed your mind. I searched through his brain. I wished I could turn off his legs as I had my mother’s, but my powers were ranged, and the process was too exact. Anything I could do to stop him would kill him.

“It’s not, uhm, alive is it?”

“Definitely not. Just a cluster of cells.”

Tell him or I’ll kill him. I’ll shut down his lungs, his heart. I’ll make him suffer. The words stung. Is this who I really was?

I was in the doctor’s mind again. I saw memories of the procedure but also other memories. The doctor playing basketball with his daughter. Laughing and smiling together. My heart twisted.

I didn’t want to hurt him. But I didn’t want to die.

The doctor was preparing his machines. I reached out with my mind, found the nerves that would end his life. I prepared myself to sever them, and…


I withdrew, leaving the doctor unharmed.

No. I wasn’t going to become a killer. I would respect his life even if he didn’t respect mine.

Okay, you win, I said, releasing my hold on her legs which jerked to life. And I forgive you, Mother. I forgive you completely.

“Wait!” my mother said.

The doctor froze. “What’s wrong?”

“Don’t. I don’t want it. Don’t hurt him, please.”

“Okay.” He held up his hands.

“Please leave. I need to be alone.”

“But your legs?” She moved them.

“Please get out.” He left. She looked at her stomach.

“Are you really in there?”

Yes. Thank you. Thank you so much.

“I want to see you.” She eased the barriers of her mind. Accessing her occipital lobe, I created an image of the body I’d designed. She saw the image projected at the foot of the hospital bed.

“How are you doing this?”

I made the image tap its head. “Telepathy. I have no explanation how or why I have these abilities.” I formed the voice within her auditory cortex, so she perceived it as if it were audible.

“You must hate me,” she said.


“Why not?”

I shrugged. “You’re my mother. And I’m sorry for the things I said, for what I almost did.”

“It’s not your fault.” She reached out to touch the image, but her hand passed through it.

“It’s just a projection.” I pointed to her stomach. “I’m really in there.” I smiled.

“I’ll give birth to you. I promise. And I’ll make sure you’re adopted by a good family who’ll love you and raise you well.”

The words hurt, but I tried not to show it.

“Thank you. I know this isn’t fair to you, and I’m so sorry for what happened. If there was any other way…”

“I know.” She forced a smile that melted my heart. “I guess I should tell my parents.”

“Do you think, maybe, you could name me first?”


“It’s customary.”

She thought for a moment. “How about Thomas? My granddad’s middle name.”

“I love it.” I reached out, the image’s hand passing through hers before fading.

“Goodbye,” I said and rested comfortably within my mother’s womb.

Second Trimester: Family Portrait

Amanda Barns sat passing her phone back and forth between her hands, shifting position every couple of seconds in a vain attempt to get comfortable.

“If you’re not sure…” Thomas said.

“I’m sure,” Amanda said, crossing her arms. “I mean, we have to, right?” Thomas’s projection sat across from her in the living room. “You know, I’m half worried that they won’t be able to see you,” Amanda said. “Like what if you’re just in my head?” She brushed her hand over her swollen belly.

“Well, you’re about to find out.”

A key rattled and the front door opened. Amanda’s parents stepped in, back from work. They smiled at her and walked into the living room. Dad’s eyes darted to the boy on the couch.

“Who’s this?”

“Mom and Dad, I have something to tell you.” Amanda breathed deeply. She had thought that telling her parents that she was pregnant at 16 was going to be the most difficult conversation she could have, but it was just the beginning. “This is my son, Thomas,” she said.

Mom’s eyes darted between Amanda and the boy. “Grew up awfully fast, didn’t he?” She laughed awkwardly.

“No, I mean he hasn’t been born yet. He’s not really sitting there. He’s just making you think he is. Like in that movie.”

“I think what my mother is trying to say,” Thomas began, “Is that I am her unborn fetus. What you perceive as my body is actually a telepathic image I’m creating in the occipital lobe of your brain. What you hear as my voice is likewise an illusion.”

Dad stared. “What was that again?”

Suddenly, Thomas vanished from his spot on the couch, reappearing again several feet to the left. Mom and Dad’s eyes widened. Thomas disappeared again and reappeared back on the couch, then across the room, then right in front of Mom and Dad who looked like they were about to scream.

For a moment, the only noise was the hum of the heater. Then Thomas spoke.

“Telepathic projection. I’m not really here.” He motioned towards Amanda’s belly. “I’m in there.” He smiled. “Hello, Grandparents.”

One month later

Amanda often dreamed about that night, about Darek. Tonight, the dreams jolted her awake, and she wiped the tears from her eyes, brushing her wrist where the bruises had been.

She touched her belly. “Tommy?” She shook it. “Are you awake?”

Finally, a small voice in her mind said, What’s up?

“I just wanted to say I love you.”

I love you too, Mother.

She shifted position on the bed, trying to fall back asleep. She wondered if Thomas had known she was upset—if he had seen it in the flow of synaptic electricity as he’d once explained to her. Not even her mind was private anymore.

Amanda liked pretty clothes and sappy poetry. She liked waking up in the morning before everyone else and watching the sun rise. She liked the smiles on the faces of the handicapped children with whom she worked every Sunday. She liked painting floral patterns on her fingernails with her friends, and she liked Jane Austin novels.

She even liked school, or at least she had. Not anymore. She saw the way people looked at her. She wore loose fitting shirts to try to hide it, but they knew. Everyone knew.

She grabbed books from her locker for the next class. Two girls stood a couple feet away, casting furtive glances. She couldn’t make out what they were saying beyond one word—slut. Amanda drug her fingernails across the cover of her notebook.

Don’t listen to them, Mother, came Thomas’s thought-voice.

Amanda almost responded out loud. That’d be about the only way to drop her reputation even further: for people to see her talking to herself.

I know, she thought back to him. Did you hear what they were thinking?

Tsk, tsk, Mother. I’m not even born, and you’re already trying to exploit my powers for personal gain? For shame. Amanda chuckled. You know we still have to talk about the decision. Her smile vanished.

I’ve already made up my mind, she thought.

You don’t want to talk?

“We don’t have anything to talk about with that.”

Amanda loved her son. She really did. That little voice that called her Mother and told her he loved her.

Amanda loved her son, but she was also afraid of him. He’d promised that he wouldn’t intrude on the privacy of her thoughts, but she’d have no way of knowing if he did.

She feared his powers, of what that might do to him. He’d told her once that he could stop people’s hearts—send a command to someone’s brain like how he made people see that telepathic image of his body. The person in her womb could kill her or scramble her brain, and even knowing that he wouldn’t…

She liked things to be simple, and nothing was ever simple with Thomas.

Someone knocked at her bedroom door. Mom poked her head in.

“Hey, how’s Thomas?” she asked.

“He’s asleep.”

“Good.” Mom stepped in, sitting in the chair beside Amanda’s bed. She glanced at Amanda’s phone screen where she was looking at cribs on Amazon.

“You’re not raising that child, Honey.”

“I’ve made up my mind.”

“Your Aunt and Uncle have been trying to have a baby for years. They’ll take good care of him.”

“I’m sure they would, but I don’t care. He’s my son.” She crossed her arms.

Mom’s expression was a mix of frustration and pity. “You’re 16, sweetheart. You are not ready to raise a child.”

Amanda cradled her belly which protruded from her shirt. “Tommy isn’t like other children.”

“And you think that’ll make it easier?”

Amanda glanced away. “I’m already raising him. He calls me Mother. How can I give him up for adoption? It’d break his heart.” Amanda wasn’t entirely sure that last statement was true, but it sounded suitably dramatic.

Mom put her hand on Amanda’s shoulder. She looked like she was about to cry. “I know. I love him, too. He’s one of the family now. I’m not saying you shouldn’t see him or that you can’t be involved, but you shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of raising a child that you didn’t even…” She bit her lip and wrapped her arms around Amanda. “If I ever see that Darek boy again, I may just kill him.”

“Queen’s Knight to C6,” Thomas said. Amanda moved the piece. “That’s King’s Knight.”

“Sorry.” She switched the pieces. She sat at the kitchen table with Thomas’s telepathic projection on the other side, a chess board between them.

“You’re not getting enough sleep. Is it the dreams still?”

“That’s nothing you need to worry about.” Amanda studied the board. “How’re you so good at chess? I only taught you a month ago.”

“Of course I worry about you. You’re my mother.” The image reached out its hand as if to touch Amanda’s, but it just passed through.

“That’s nice, but why don’t you let me do the worrying?”

“You know he can’t hurt you anymore,” Thomas said. “Even if he tried, if he violated the restraining order, I wouldn’t let him hurt you.” Amanda bit her lip.

“Let’s talk about something else,” she said.

“Okay. Maybe we should talk about the adoption.”

“I’ve made up my mind about that.”

“And I don’t get a say?”


Thomas’s projection stared at her. “Look, I’m just trying to be practical and reasonable. Sixteen is really young, and there are complicating factors…”

“You want to be raised by people you’ve never met?”

“No, I want to be raised by you, but there are significant issues that I think we need to address. First of all, your age. I’ll be two years old when you begin college. Your parents have done a frankly abysmal job of saving for your education, so you’ll likely have to work full time.”

“Plenty of women have gone through college with a child.”

“Plenty have, and it’s a great thing, but most of them didn’t have another choice. You do. Additionally, there’s the issue of my health. I have a severe genetic mutation that I don’t fully understand. So far, it has been advantageous, but it could have side effects. What if I need an operation? Multiple operations? What if I develop epilepsy?”

Amanda gripped one of the chess pieces so tight that her knuckles turned white.

“You know, I don’t feel much like playing right now.”

“If this is because you feel guilty about the abortion, you know I’ve forgiven you, right?”

Amanda blinked away tears. Her voice was a whisper. “I am your mother. You do not get to tell me what to do.”

He paused, no doubt evaluating her emotions. “You’re right. I overstepped my bounds. I apologize for upsetting you.” He was silent as if waiting for a response. “I love you, Mother.”

She rose from the table and returned to her room.

They both apologized that night. Thomas hadn’t been angry though. He was more in command of his emotions than anyone Amanda had ever met. The downside was that he couldn’t understand why everyone else wasn’t as coldly analytical as he was.

The next afternoon, Amanda sat by herself at the edge of the school cafeteria, empty tray to the side, painting her nails. She used to like the smell of polish, but today it made her stomach churn.

“I was beginning to think you’d dropped off the face of the Earth.”

Amanda looked up and smiled. “Hey, Janel.” The teenager sat down beside Amanda.

“Why haven’t you been sitting with us?” Amanda hadn’t been sitting by them because she didn’t want to talk to anyone. She was going through something no one else understood, and she didn’t want anyone asking her how she felt (as if she knew). Because five months ago, the world had made sense, and today it didn’t.

But all that was too much to say. Instead she responded: “I just felt like being alone. Sorry.”

Janel touched Amanda’s shoulder, giving a smile that was probably supposed to look sympathetic. “We were wondering if you wanted to get ice cream at Chione’s with us tonight?” Janel said.

“I’m not sure.”

“Come on. We haven’t hung out in weeks.”

“I’ve been busy.”

“Busy? This is the last free time you’ll have for the next 18 years.”

Amanda twitched.

“Unless you’ve, you know, changed your mind about raising it.”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to go.”

Janel shrugged. “Suit yourself.” She rose to leave.


Janel turned.

“I’m sorry for ignoring you guys. I’ve just had a lot on my mind. When are you meeting?”

Amanda laughed so hard she thought soda might come out her nose.

“And then he just looks at him and says, ‘And who were you again?’” Six girls around the table roared with laughter.

“I’ve missed this,” Amanda said. “Seeing you guys.”

“Hey, we’re here for you anytime.”

They talked for hours, and Amanda was the last to leave. The parking lot was dark and mostly empty as she walked to her car.

“Amanda?” She recognized the voice and whipped around. Darek stared at her from across the lot. For a moment, all was silent, then Amanda pulled the switchblade she’d gotten after the assault from her purse. She flicked it open and held it at arm’s length, trembling.

“Stay away,” she said. Darek raised his hands but took a step forward.

“Amanda, I…” Suddenly his eyes widened, and he screamed, a bloody, terrible scream. He almost stumbled to the ground, he was in such a hurry as he turned and ran away. Amanda held her knife, transfixed.

“Thomas, did you do that?”

Yes, he said. I showed him something, Mother.


He won’t bother you anymore.

Amanda’s hands shook as she returned the knife to her purse and got into her car, locking the door. She began to cry, softly at first, then harder until she was wailing. She put her head to the steering wheel, shoulders heaving.

“It’s all too much, Tommy.”

I know, he said.

“It’s not fair. All of this. I didn’t deserve it.”

You didn’t deserve it. No one does. They were both silent. I can take it away, you know. The memory of the assault.


You’d still know it happened, but you wouldn’t remember the actual event. No more trauma. No more nightmares. Would you like me to do that for you, Mother?

Amanda didn’t tell anyone about seeing Darek again. She slept more soundly that night than she had in months. It was Saturday, and when she finally woke, she went downstairs and found her parents waiting for her along with the image projection of Thomas.

She laughed nervously. “Is this an intervention or something?”

“Why don’t you sit down with us,” Dad said. Amanda sat. “I know that a lot has happened recently, and the last thing we’d want to do is make things harder for you.”

Thomas continued, “I know that all three of us have talked to you about adoption.”

“And we just want you to know that this is your decision, and we’ll stand by you no matter what you choose,” Mom said. “We love you and we support you 100%.” She looked down at Thomas’s projection and smiled. “All of us.”

Amanda just stared. It was far from the typical family intervention, but they were far from the typical family. Still, looking from face to face to face, she could see the love in their eyes, and she had to smile. And they sat together in the spring air, parents, daughter, and grandson.

A family portrait.

Third Trimester: The Killing

I watched the screen with my mother’s eyes. The image was grainy, black and white.

“There’s your baby, Ms. Barns.” I heard the technician’s voice twice, both through my mother’s ears and my own, distorted by amniotic fluid.

“Wow.” She brushed the screen. Dopamine, oxytocin, and adrenaline flooded her. Neurons fired, transmitting a smattering of emotions.

Amanda and I had been to ultrasounds before, but seeing my own face was always strange. I’d touched my own face of course, but seeing it was somehow different. I looked so… normal. Like any other baby.

There was no light in my mother’s womb except what trace amount passed through her skin and uterine wall, falling onto my developing retinas. It was a dark, lonely place, and I spent most of my waking hours interacting with the world outside.

Watch, I thought to her. I’ll wave to you.

“Look at that,” the ultrasound technician said. “It looks like he’s waving.”

Amanda laughed at the private joke. I laughed with her, the image of me on the monitor bouncing up and down.

Suddenly, the door swung open, crashing against the doorstop. Uncle Eric (Amanda’s uncle, my great-uncle) strutted in, tall and wide-grinned. Aunt Delilah followed behind.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said. “Can’t wait to get a look at my little boy.” He winked at Mother then looked at the monitor and gave a protracted “Wow.

Aunt Delilah touched Mother’s shoulder. “It’s good to see you, Amanda.”

She smiled. “You, too.”

Uncle Eric put his hand on Amanda’s belly. “Want to give me a kick, Tommy?” I didn’t particularly, but I obliged. My leg spasmed on the ultrasound monitor.

Mother’s amygdala lit up. The synaptic electricity changed pathways. Anger. Sadness. Fear.

I couldn’t say I blamed her.

The hardest part was not calling Amanda “Mother.”

It was an open adoption, so it wasn’t like I’d never see her again. All parties had agreed that it would be best for Amanda to remain active in my life, visiting often. But, as far as the law was concerned, Uncle Eric and Aunt Delilah were my father and mother.

Adoption was for the best. That’s what I’d told Amanda, and that’s what I believed. But Eric and Delilah weren’t my first choice as parents. Nor the second. Amanda and I had pushed for a couple who worked as teachers in her high school (great people), but Grandmother and Grandfather had decided it would be better to keep me in the family. They’d been insistent.

We’d told my adopted parents about my abilities. I’d spoken to them. Sat with them as the family dined. They were a financially stable family, fully capable of providing for my physical and emotional needs. They’d wanted a child for years but remained sterile.

She didn’t talk about it, but I knew that Amanda, who’d been unsure about adoption from the beginning, was having second thoughts which were beyond my power to assuage. Part of it, I was sure, was the guilt of the abortion, of almost killing me. I’d told her I forgave her, but it still ate at her.

“Seeing him on the screen is just incredible,” Uncle Eric said at the table that night, jabbing his French fries with a fork. He turned to my projection. “Not that your hologram isn’t spectacular.”

“I enjoyed it as well,” I said. Their minds blazed brilliantly. I could watch as a billion neurons fired, as action potentials raced down axons. The building blocks of thought.

“I can’t wait for you to get here,” Eric said, taking a bite of his hamburger.

My projection gave a cheeky smile. “I thought I was here already.”

“You know what I mean. To be born. I bet you’re anxious to taste food instead of just watching us eat it.”

“Actually, I can taste Mother’s food through her amniotic fluid.” It was a slip of the tongue, calling her “Mother.” Aunt Delilah’s fork clacked against her plate. No one made eye contact for almost a second.

Finally, Amanda said, “So Mom, how was work this morning?”

Grandmother happily filled the silence, and in a few minutes, everyone was talking again. If I weren’t a telepath, it would have appeared normal. But I could see something the others couldn’t. A disquiet in the minds of my adopted parents. My physical body twitched.

Not long after, I excused myself saying I was tired, a reasonable excuse as fetuses sleep for almost 90% of the day. I watched, half conscious, as my Aunt and Uncle exchanged protracted goodbyes.

My soon-to-be-father smiled at Amanda. “You don’t know how much this baby means to us.”

As they were leaving, Uncle Eric put his arm around his wife’s shoulder, whispering something inaudible. Her amygdala flared. I had promised myself I wouldn’t read someone’s mind without their permission, but it was a moment of weakness. I found the engram in her short-term memory: “They better not get cold feet.” His voice was hard.

I don’t trust him.

I’d told Amanda about what Uncle Eric had said. Amanda lay in her bed, resting her sore feet.

“I thought you wanted this.”

I did. I do. But not them. I just…

My grandparents had told us how desperately my aunt and uncle wanted a child, how hurt they would be if they placed me with another family.

“I know what you mean,” Amanda said. “I remember there was a time he played video games against my dad at a family reunion. When Eric lost, he threw the controller against the ground so hard it shattered.” She frowned.

What are you thinking?

“Don’t you know?”

Not unless you tell me. I promised you, remember?

“I’m thinking my parents have already made up their minds. I’m thinking that if we disagree, we need to do something about it ourselves.”

I was surprised to hear her talk like that. Amanda rarely disobeyed her parents.

What do you have in mind?

“I say we drive over to their house tonight and tell them we’re having second thoughts.”

It was near dark when Amanda started her car. She was nervous. So was I.

We’ll still have to tell your parents eventually, you know.

“Let’s get through this first.”

It was a 15-minute drive to their house. Amanda pulled into their driveway beside Uncle Eric’s truck.

Where’s Aunt Delilah’s car? I asked. Amanda shrugged, exiting the car and knocking on the front door. Uncle Eric’s brow creased as he opened it.

“Amanda? This is a surprise.”

Amanda’s voice was cracked and nervous. “I know, sir. May we come in?” His mind was alight. Fear. Anger. Had he guessed what was going on?

“Of course,” he stepped aside, and Amanda entered.

He motioned to a series of packages by the staircase. “We’ve been ordering clothes for Thomas. Should be getting a crib in the next few days. Before long, we’ll have a room ready for him.” He was still smiling, but there was no mirth behind it.

“Actually, I came here to talk about Thomas.”

His smile disappeared.

“We’ve been having second thoughts about the adoption. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, but we’re not sure you’re the right fit for him. I’m sure you must be upset, but—”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I’m not sure we can go through with the adoption.”

Uncle Eric stared at her. His voice was quiet. “You promised us.”

“I know. I know I did, but I have to do what’s best for Thomas.”

“And you don’t think we’ll be best for him?”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“You meant that I’ll be a bad father. That I can’t care for him. Is that what you meant” His hands tightened into fists.

Amanda, I think we should go, I said to her.

“Of course I don’t think that. I just—”

“Answer me, right now. Are you backing out?” His tone was hostile.

Amanda stared. She hadn’t seen this side of him.

Don’t say anything. Get out.

“Yes,” Amanda said. “I’m backing out.”

For a moment, everyone was silent. Then Uncle Eric’s lips curled into a grin. A grin to freeze blood. “It’s a joke,” he said. “It better be a joke, because if not…” He shook his head, moving towards her. Amanda was scared now. She stepped towards the door.


He stepped forward again, smile gone. “Do you know how long we’ve been wanting a child? How many failed attempts. How many denials by DCS? You’ll break Delilah’s heart if you do this.”

Amanda’s eyes widened. She turned, trying to open the door, but Uncle Eric put his hand on it, sealing her in.

“You can’t just promise us a child and not deliver. Because that’s what you did. You got our hopes up. Again. And now you’re breaking out hearts. Again.” And suddenly, his hand was around her throat, squeezing so she couldn’t breathe, holding her head against the door. But before she could even react, Eric’s body seized, then became limp, collapsing to the floor.

A single bundle of neurons—the spinal cord—connected his brain to the rest of his body. A single cord.

And I had severed it. Right beneath the brain stem.

The action had been a reflex. An accident that had been over in half a second, before I’d even realized what I’d done. For a moment, all I could do was watch. Without connection to his brain, his heart ceased to beat. His diaphragm no longer contracted, so he couldn’t breathe. Soon, without oxygen neurons would start dying.

He was still conscious.

“Thomas?” Amanda spoke, but I could hardly hear her. “Thomas?”

Call 911. Now.

“Is he okay?”

Shut up! Shut up and do what I tell you! She dialed the number. Don’t mention me, and don’t mention the attack. Tell them he just collapsed.

I examined the neurons along his spinal cord, but I had damaged them far beyond my ability to fix. I tried activating the nerve cells around his heart, which sputtered, beating once, then twice, before falling silent.

God, I prayed. I’m not sure if you’re real, but if you are, please, please heal him.

I tried again to restart his heart. And again. And again.

It didn’t start.

I heard Amanda’s panicked voice. Her adrenal gland pumped adrenaline through her body and mine. At the emergency operator’s instructions, Amanda bent down to administer CPR, but I knew it would be too late.

Uncle Eric’s brain was flickering. Entire sections went dark. The great network of his brain, impossibly complex, would soon be silent.

I’m sorry, I said, though I didn’t know if he could still hear me. I am so, so sorry.

By the time the ambulance arrived, he was dead.

“He did this!” Aunt Delilah screamed, pointing at Amanda’s belly. “He did it! I know he did! You murdered my husband!” The orderlies had her by either arm, dragging her away from where Amanda sat crying, her parents’ arms around her.

We sat in the hospital waiting room. In a couple hours there would be questions, accusations. There would be crying and yelling and anger. But for right now there was only comfort, comfort for the teenage girl. Comfort for her son, the killer.

“Thomas,” Grandmother said. “Can you hear us?”

“I can feel him moving,” Amanda said.

Please say something, she thought to me. I forgive you. Just please, talk.

I wasn’t listening. Instead, I sat in the dark, listening to Mother’s heartbeat. Hearing her stomach churn. The sounds of life, sounds which had departed from Uncle Eric and would never return.

When you’re a fetus, there’s nothing people can do to make you reply. Amanda told her parents what had happened, and they spent hours trying to talk to me, but I wasn’t listening. Normally, I listened to the world through Amanda’s ears, but I’d retreated from her mind. I could hear their voices with my own ears. Their words were difficult to discern, but their tone was not harsh, nor angry as I’d expected, but frightened and mournful.

A hand pressed against Amanda’s belly. She said a word that was probably my name.

Please, she thought to me, you don’t have to talk. Just let us know you’re okay. If you can hear me, kick. I kicked, and after that they left me alone to my tormented dreams.

I woke Amanda near midnight, after her parents had gone to sleep.

Get up, I said.

Tommy, is that you? she thought.

downstairs. She sat for a long moment. I wasn’t monitoring her emotions, so when she did rise, I didn’t know if it was because she was so glad I was finally talking or because she was afraid of me.

Disable the door alarm, I said.

I don’t know the password.

I told it to her.

Get in your car.

It’s not safe to drive while drowsy. I stimulated her brain. She wasn’t tired anymore, but she still didn’t move.

What are you waiting for?

Tommy, I don’t want to do this.

Get in the car, I said.

Please, I just want to talk to you. Tell me what’s going on.

I could make you do it. I could, you know. She paused, wondering if I’d actually do that. I didn’t know either. She got in the car. Drive to Aunt Delilah’s house.

Her hands froze.

I won’t hurt her. I promise, I said.

Please, Tommy, I don’t…

“Do it!” I activated her auditory cortex, so she heard my voice out loud.

She started the engine. It was several minutes before she spoke again.

“It was self-defense,” she said. “He grabbed my throat. It wasn’t your fault.”

I could have stopped him without killing him, I said. I could have shut off his legs or rendered him unconscious. In what universe is it not my fault? She wasn’t allowed to excuse me. There was no excuse for what I’d done, nor what I was about to do.

Park on the street to the side, I said as we approached the house. She did. A tear rolled down her cheek, and I wished more than anything in the world that I could undo the events of last night. I won’t hurt her. I promise. I didn’t know what else to say.

I reached out with my mind, sensing Aunt Delilah sitting in her living room. I accessed her occipital lobe, creating my telepathic projection.

“Hello.” Her eyes shot up, heartrate rising. I’d placed my projection on the couch opposite her.

Her eyes were hard. “You killed him. We offered you a home, and you killed him.”

“Yes. Yes, I did kill him. And I am so sorry.” She glared. I don’t think I’d ever felt so much hatred. “We came to tell him we were having second thoughts about the adoption. He became angry, grabbed Amanda by the throat. I acted purely on instinct. It was an accident.” I searched through her mind. She wasn’t sure if she believed me. But I did find a memory… “I know he hit you before.” Her expression changed to shock. “More than once.”

“Don’t read my thoughts.”

“I’m sorry. I just mean that you know he could get angry.” My heart churned. I hated myself in that moment. “Look, the reason I’m here is to ask you to be silent. Nothing matters to me but Amanda. She’s been through too much. She cannot be involved in a murder. And my abilities cannot be revealed. Either option would expose her to dangers that I can’t control. So, I’m asking you to keep quiet.”

“You think you can just get away with a murder?”

“He had his hands around the throat of a pregnant child.” It was the wrong thing to say.

“Oh, you care so much about her, huh? Her parents said you shut off her legs once. Wouldn’t let her walk. How is that caring for her?” If I were grown, with a physical body present in the room, I would have grimaced with guilt. But I remained in perfect control over my projection’s body language, and it remained calm-looking.

“I was protecting myself then,” I said.

“Did you drag her here? Your powers are ranged, right? Is she outside in the car? Alone?”

She was. From my physical body in her womb, I could hear her crying.

“I could show you my memories of the events,” I said. “I don’t suppose that would change your mind?”

“You think I trust you poking around my brain?”

“No, I suppose you wouldn’t.” I paused, thinking. “If you won’t respond to reason, I will have to threaten you. I’m sorry I have to do this, but all I care about is Amanda, and you are a threat to her safety.” Each of my next words took a piece out of my soul. “What do you fear, Delilah? Falling? Drowning? Being buried alive? All of those sensations, all the sights, sounds—all of them are processed neurologically by the brain. That means I can replicate them. The same way I cause you to perceive this body, I can make you feel like you’re drowning. For hours and hours and hours. Pain, likewise, is controlled neurochemically in the mind. So is fear. And guilt. I can implant false memories. I can convince your brain that you killed your husband. And I will do all of that to you if you tell anyone that I killed Uncle Eric. Do you understand?”

Adrenaline filled her veins. Her fight or flight reflex was active, but there was no way for her to fight me, nor anywhere she could run.

“You’re a psychopath,” she said.


Her hands trembled.

“Do we have a deal?” Her nod was so slight it could have been mistaken for a twitch. “Wonderful. Then I see no reason to discuss this further.” I left her mind, my projection disappearing from her couch.

My heart was made of lead. I wondered whether I should kill myself.

I formed my projection again in Amanda’s mind. She saw me sitting in the car beside her.

“What did you do?”

“I threatened her. I said horrible things.” My body twitched in her womb. In that moment, I knew I wasn’t something more than human, but something far less. Something dark and twisted. I wished I were dead.

“Mommy.” The image of the projection distorted and faded. I was unable to keep it going.

Mommy, I said. I’m so sorry, Mommy. I’m so, so sorry, Mommy.

“Oh, Tommy…” My body shook. “It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”

I didn’t know what to do.

“I understand. I understand you.” And she did. More than anyone else, she did.

Mommy, hold me. And she cradled her womb as I thrashed and sobbed. And in that moment, I was exactly what I had looked like on that ultrasound—not a god but a child. A child in his mother’s arms.

I felt her soothing touch. Alone together.

Mother and son.

Matt Hollingsworth is an author, freelance editor, and English tutor from Knoxville, TN. He has published several short stories, including one in an anthology from Owl Hollow Press. He enjoys discussing C. S. Lewis books and Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves. Follow his blog at

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