Mind Meld is lonely. He’s been lonely a long time, but a chance meeting with a would-be criminal might be the very thing he needs…
He’d been here so many times before, the view was becoming boring. Not that he could tell anyone, of course. Him saying the view of London from a mile up was boring was like some rich Hollywood actor complaining about how tough their life was. He’d tried it, though, a while ago.
She’d been nice and not seemed bothered by who he was. She could, or so she said, look past the perfect muscle tone and chiselled jaw to the man beneath. That was when he said being able to fly wasn’t all that. He’d explained about the loneliness and the isolation, the feeling of separation that he could never quite escape.
The moment her lip curled, he knew she wasn’t looking past anything. She’d laughed and told him to get over himself. By the end of the night, they’d got all over one another, but he knew from the way she moaned she was only there for the perfect muscle tone and chiselled jawline.
So he kept his mouth shut now and did his patrol, same as always. England was quiet today. It was never ‘quiet’ quiet, not how most people thought. He could hear the thoughts of millions of people but they were, for the most part, dull and soft, focused on food and cars and women and children and jobs and all the other things he craved up here, where the air was skinnier than a supermodel and his loneliness was at its worst.
But there were few thoughts of wrong doing. He caught a glimpse of a man preparing to knock over a shop. He had no weapons and had convinced himself that just threatening to attack the man behind the counter would guarantee him the money in the till. It was so old-fashioned and quaint, Mind Meld was tempted to go and get involved.
He took a deep breath and did one last sweep of the country. Nothing more serious was occurring. It was a typical Tuesday morning, dull and empty. So he kicked his feet up to space and plummeted back to Earth, leaving behind the barren skies. He broke the sound barrier on the way down, but slowed before he got too near the ground.
They’d told him off for that, back just after the second world war. Apparently, it sounded like bombs and all the poor bastards who’d suffered the blitz freaked out every time he boomed over London. The war had been good for him. Plenty of people to talk to, people who did look past the obvious and found the real him. Of course, as soon as the bombs stopped dropping, they sent him off to help with the work in Germany and by the time he returned, no one wanted to speak to him any more.
No change, really, from the rest of his life. He could feel his mouth twisting into a sneer and caught it. His publicist had told him in no uncertain terms that he absolutely could not be seen sneering. People struggled enough with a superhero who could read minds. There was, apparently, nothing creepier. He’d tried to explain, on live TV no less, that he didn’t get the fine detail. He’d tried to point out that there were sixty five million people in Britain alone and he couldn’t turn them off or change the channel, so the idea of eavesdropping on one particular person was ludicrous.
Apparently, they hadn’t believed him. Apparently, that was what they were expecting him to say.
He carefully rearranged his features as he touched down on the street. He was in north London, one of the pretty places up on a hill, Harrow or Muswell Hill, somewhere like that. The corner shop sat before him and, hovering outside like an expectant father with a wasp in his pants, was the suspect.
Mind Meld, demonstrating an impressive level of self-deception, tuned into the perp, picking his thoughts out of the mass that threatened to send him mad on a daily basis.
…do it, ain’t got no choice, what about mom, what if I get caught, don’t matter, not like there’s anything out here, what about mom, screw mom, she ain’t there for me, I ain’t doing comedown, I ain’t doing comedown, I ain’t doing comedow…
Mind Meld tuned back out, groaning and rubbing his head. This was the truth of it. Why would he ever choose to eavesdrop when people’s thoughts were so mundane and so depressing? There was nothing cheerful about this man at all. He was a drug addict in desperate need of his next fix. He was stupid enough to be attempting a robbery with absolutely no leverage and, as was the case with most druggies, he looked terrible, like he couldn’t box his way out of a paper bag.
Mind Meld cleared his throat, making the perp leap about ten feet in the air. When he spun around and saw who was waiting for him, he burst into tears.
‘Oh, you’re kidding me. You’re really gonna try and rob this place?’
‘I… I… I….’ His chest hitched and snot dribbled from both nostrils. Mind Meld, in a rare fit of compassion for the race he was still only nominally part of, put one colossal arm around the would-be thief and led him to a bench beside the road. He sat him down and twisted to face him. The bench creaked.
‘I’m not here to arrest you. Now tell me, what’s wrong?’ He knew what was wrong, of course, but sometimes it helped to talk these things out. That’s what his councilor had said. It hadn’t helped him. He was just as lonely as he’d ever been and the annoying man behind the wooden desk had gone and sold his story to a publishing company then retired on the profits. He’d found some small satisfaction at the bastard’s screams when dangled upside down across the entire Atlantic, but it was far too late by then.
‘I…’ he took a deep breath and snorted the snot back into his nostrils. Mind Meld swallowed and longed for the emptiness above. ‘I need a fix, man.’
‘What are you on?’
‘Crack. Man, I don’t wanna be, it just happened.’
‘Right. What do you think’s gonna happen if you go in there and ask for the money?’
‘He’s gotta give it to me, he’s gotta, man, I need it.’
‘I understand that, but he could eat you for breakfast. Have you even been inside that shop? The guy behind the counter’s about 6’2” and built like a fridge. He’d knock you over. If you want to be successful with this sort of thing, you need leverage.’
‘Like a weapon. Or these days, some kind of social media blackmail. Or maybe kidnap his daughter, that works sometimes.’
‘Well, sometimes I get there in time and sort it out, but the world’s a big place and some daughters deserve to be kidnapped.’ Mind Meld blinked and blushed, hearing the words only as they left his mouth. He was being far too honest. This was something else his publicist had warned him about. He was ‘full disclosure’ all the time, apparently, which wasn’t a good thing.
The perp was staring at him, forehead furrowed. ‘Are you telling me how to commit a crime?’
‘Nope, absolutely not. I’m just explaining to you why this one won’t work.’
‘You’re Mind Meld, right?’
The perp nodded, frown still well in place. ‘I read your book.’
‘You know, the one by that shrink.’
‘Oh. That’s not my book. I had nothing to do with that.’
‘But it’s true, right?’
‘Some of it.’
‘How can you be lonely? I mean, you must get all the chicks, right.’
‘Having chicks doesn’t stop you being lonely.’
‘You know why I started doing crack?’
Mind Meld sighed inwardly and shook his head. Why had he come here?
‘My girl.’ Fresh tears sprung up and crept their guilty way down his cheeks. Mind Meld sat on his hands to stop himself from slapping him round the face and telling him to get a grip. ‘She was my girl. We were so good together. Now…’
He started bawling, covering his face. Mind Meld bit his lip. His scorn hovered just below the surface, but something else was trying to burrow its way through and before he could stop it, the words burst free of his lips.
‘What’s it like?’
The perp’s shoulders slowed their shaking until he raised his head and fixed Mind Meld with red eyes. ‘What’s what like?’
‘You know, having someone who really cares about you?’
The perp’s face changed like someone flipping a switch. It took Mind Meld a few seconds to recognise sympathy. It wasn’t something he saw often, not in the mirror or anywhere else.
‘Oh man, really?’ the perp asked. ‘Surely you’ve had someone?’
Mind Meld bit his lip again and shook his head. There had been this girl back in the 19th Century, but she’d died of consumption before they got further than holding hands. And, although he’d done everything he could to leave her mind alone, he was still fairly confident she was there for the chiselled jaw as much as anything else. Not that he had any proof, but he thought she was.
‘It’s amazing, man, like nothing else. Like, you wake up in the morning and, if you’re really lucky, you forget she’s there. Then you roll over and there she is and you get that buzz all over again. It’s like, you’re properly safe, you know, all of you is safe.’
‘I’m never safe.’
‘I can imagine, man, jeez. It would be doubly amazing for you, cos, like, she’d keep you safe.’
Mind Meld shook his head. This guy clearly had no idea what being a superhero was like. The perp chuckled. ‘I’m not dumb, man, I don’t mean like that. I mean your heart. She’d keep your heart safe.’
A lump formed in Mind Meld’s throat and he looked away, staring at the floor. Did he even have a heart still? He wondered, some days, as he soared through the clouds. The loneliness ate into him at those times, making his heart feel hollow and dead. But someone to keep it safe?…
He felt the tear sneak from his eye and run down one, perfectly taut cheek. He felt an arm go round his shoulder and allowed the perp to pull him closer as the tears came streaming down.
It didn’t take long to get himself under control. Once he had, he scrubbed his face dry and sat up. The perp cleared his throat. ‘Well, look, I gotta go.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘I gotta call Lucinda, man. I gotta stop all this and get her back.’
Mind Meld smiled. It felt good, like flying never did. ‘That’s good, really, that’s great.’
The perp nodded and patted him on the back. ‘Yeah, man, thanks, like.’
There was a long awkward silence during which Mind Meld waited for the man to walk away and the man just stared at him. Finally, he cleared his throat. ‘Look, I know it’s weird, but if you wanna go for a pint some time, just give me a shout, right?’
Mind Meld gripped the bench tight and bit the inside of his mouth. ‘That would be nice.’
‘Alright. Well, then.’ The perp nodded and strolled away. Mind Meld watched him go, rubbing his chest where his heart threatened to swell and burst through his ribcage. As it slowed, he grinned again, put his feet flat on the floor, and shot into the sky.