Today’s Friday Flash-Fiction challenge by Chuck Wendig. 20 ‘psychic’ powers were listed, random number generator picked me number 14: Aura Reading.
I admit, I went slightly over the 1000 word limit, but it feels like the shortest piece I’ve ever written. It’s a rough excerpt of a fiction novel idea I’ve been throwing around inside my head for the last couple of years (slightly tweaked to fit the Aura Reading requirement). I don’t know why, but this piece makes me feel sorta grey inside. I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know your thoughts.
Langley Brooks followed the police officer through the bustling halls of the precinct. Business was booming today; the whole building was filled with cops escorting people around, some of them cuffed, some of them drunk, some of them sobbing. It hurt Langley’s eyes to see them all. Vibrant auras danced around them, some held close to the bodies like a mother holding a child to her bosom, other auras expanding out to a distance of a foot or more. Each one was a miniature sun of swirling, ever-changing colour, coming from some unknown source within every person. It was enough to make Langley wish he’d brought his protective dark-glasses, and he cast his eyes down at the floor in an attempt to protect his vision from the aural assault.
This floor was no different to any other police station floor. Tiled. Grey and white alternate stone flags. The cleaners did their best, but the brown patches on the white tiles told a thousand stories. Over here, a drunk had bled from a gash on his head taken when he’d fallen over. Over there, a girl—prostitute, probably, high on coke or heroine—had fought against her restraints which had cut into her skin, showering the floor in crimson drops. In the corner two boys had stood slumped against the wall, sullen and defeated as blood dripped from half a dozen shallow cuts—their knife-fight had not been serious enough to warrant a visit to the hospital.
At least, that was how Langley imagined the brown stains had got there. The yellow ones were easier to judge; vomit. Drunks, most of it. Some of the stains fresher than others. Just like every other station.
He was led by the officer to a door, which had ‘observation room 3’ written on in wonky lettering. Only two other officers were inside that room, plus Langley’s guide, which was a blessed relief. Their auras were smaller, held close, but spikey. That was cops all over; the more experienced they got, the better they became at not showing their auras. The spikes were like tree-rings; one for every year of service. One for every year of seeing the worst in humanity. One for every year working with the no-life drunks, the child-abusers, the drug dealers, the gang-members, the prostitutes and their pimps… the list went on.
The man who approached Langley was familiar to him, and he had the smallest aura, and more spikes, than anyone else in the precinct. His age-lined face looked particularly haggard today, but there was a tiny, fervent light in his brown eyes.
“Langley. Glad to see they sent someone I know.”
“Chief Norton,” Langley replied, a small nod of his head to show his respect. “What have you got?”
Norton turned and looked through the large one-way glass panel. A man was sitting cuffed to the chair in the interrogation room. Langley observed the suspect for a moment; clean-shaven. Well-dressed. His shirt buttoned to the top, but no tie; that, of course, would have been taken by the officers upon his arrest. None of this mattered. It wasn’t what Langley had been brought here for. There was only one thing Norton wanted from him.
“Wife-killer,” Norton said. It was only because his aura had twenty or so spikes in it that he was able to say that without emotion. The colour did shift slightly, though; from dark purple to dark red. His anger was understandable; Norton was a family-man. “He denies it, of course. We have enough evidence to lock him up for life.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Langley replied, glancing at the prisoner one last time before turning his attention to the chief. “You were right to call me. Not a single sign of an aura around him. Nothing at all; not a hint of fear, nor a single thought of regret. He’s an Antipath alright.”
“I knew it!” Those three words were filled with righteous vindication. Norton turned to his lieutenant. “Go and fetch me an X26 form, and alert the on-call doctor. Tell him to bring the injection kit, and then inform the coroner. I’m sure he’ll want to remove the brain for study before the body is incinerated.”
The lieutenant left, as eager to see justice dispensed as his superior officer. Silence reigned for several moments inside the observation room, and then Norton turned to Langley.
“How do you think they do it?” the chief asked him. “How do they slip through the net?”
“I don’t know,” Langley said. The testing of children on their fifteenth birthday was the best method of weeding out the Antipaths—known in previous decades as Psychopaths and Sociopaths—but there were always a few who escaped detection, proving that no system was perfect.
“Well, however they do it, we’ll have one less to worry about after today, thanks to you.”
“May I use your bathroom?” Langley asked.
“Sure, my friend. You know the way.”
Langley left, his body moving on autopilot. The brown stains were a blur as his feet carried him down the cold tiled corridor, to the men’s bathroom. He made it just as a sweat broke out across his brow, and he steadied himself against one of the sinks, glad that the bathroom was devoid of people and their auras.
He turned on the tap and splashed cool water on his face, letting it wash away the sweat. Looking up into the mirror he saw his own empty blue eyes looking back. No aura danced around his body, no nimbus of colours which spoke of his mood. He, like the Antipath he had just condemned to death, was devoid of that spark of humanity.
Where would he be now, he wondered, if the tests administered to him on his fifteenth birthday hadn’t picked up his own Antipathic tendencies? If he hadn’t undergone the rigorous years of training to help him develop and hone his latent Seer ability? Would Norton still call him ‘friend’ if he knew that Langley, too, was an Antipath? Would the ‘normals’ turn on those like Langley, if they learnt that every single Seer was merely an Antipath lucky enough to have been found young enough to train, by the tests?
He didn’t know, and he hoped he never would. With a last look in the mirror, he wiped the water from his face and returned to the observation room. He couldn’t protect a murderer, but he could at least watch as justice was administered to the nameless man. It was a debt Langley owed to him; to all of them. If not for the grace of God and the Antipath Testing Bureau, death by lethal injection might have been his own fate.
Excellent work, again.
Many thanks, human female! And apologies for the late reply; spaceman duties have kept me occupied!
Wow, this one really threw me for a loop–in a good way. I enjoyed it, but then I happen to like haunted protagonists. Interesting look at crime and the justice system in a futuristic manner, it somewhat reminded me of Minority Report. Great work!
Thank you! To be honest, I didn’t see the Minority Report link at first, as I was merely using a setting from a work in progress story (different protagonist with different powers, though) so my mind was really stuck on that. Now that you and jreinmiller have mentioned it, I can definitely see the parallels. I’m glad the story seemed to strike a chord with you. Thank you for the feedback!
I feel like I have a bad habit of comparing writing with movies/other writing in a way that makes things sound unoriginal, so I hope it did not come across like that! The story and the concept were definitely unique–especially the “testing” for socio- and psychopaths.
Didn’t come across that way at all, no need to worry. In fact, I’m slightly flattered. Philip K. Dick is one of my favourite authors, and though I haven’t read The Minority Report, the film adaptation is very good. So, thanks! 😀
Glad to hear it! I’m sad to say I didn’t know if was a novel first, I’ve only seen the film. Adding that novel to my list…which gets longer every day.
I can see why this story makes you feel a little bleak inside. It is a depressing life your protagonist leads, used as sort of a excecutioner, killing off people who are like himself. I imagine him rather lonely.
Your story was superbly written of course. I feel transported to your precinct, I see the degraded life very clearly. But most of all I love the way you described the officers and their aura spikes. Amazing.
When I read your stories I kind of wish Chuck would set the limit at 2000 words, I always want more.
Thanks so much for the lovely words; that’s one of the nicest reviews I’ve ever received. I’m glad the precinct was memorable, as I really wanted to make it stand out. Mission accomplished, judging from your positive feedback. 🙂
Very interesting concept. Sort of a Minority Report kind of thing. I can see how this could expand well into a larger work. Based on your comments I’d have to guess the descriptions (well done I thought) sucked up your words. I often have to (regretfully) chop out most of my descriptions to get it under count. I liked it.
Thank you. I suspect you’re right about the descriptions; normally I’d be less verbose with them, but I really wanted to make this Precinct come alive. Plus I have a slight get-out clause, in the fact that Chuck stated “~1000” words. I’m clinging to that little approximation tilde and using it as my life jacket. 😉
Wow, that was quite nasty but good. You know what you are doing, well done.
Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed the story.