Mark Garrett walked under a colonnade of trees arching over Tierra Avenue. Lawns flush with moonlight shared territory with the darkness in patchwork intervals. A cat creeping through the Millers’ rose garden turned to look at Mark in mild surprise, then disappeared around the corner of the house. Mark sensed a field mouse, its heart beating wildly, watching the cat pass by. Like most domesticated pets, this cat was a lazy hunter.

On most days, Mark didn’t leave home until 10 p.m. or so. He did everything he could to steer clear of large groups of people, or even intermittent streams of human traffic in public places. He had even taken a pay cut to work an online tech job that allowed him to earn a living from his study room twenty-four hours a day. He had no choice. From his earliest remembrances, he could hear people’s thoughts, but not in words—in moods, colors, shapes, symbols, and resonances that blended into ever-shifting concepts that took on meaning beyond what passed for conscious articulation. These thoughts were not what one might expect. They were harrowing and shook Mark to his core. When he was snared in group emotion, he felt terrible misery. Everyone was crying inside because they had death at the center of their being.

The inner world was an endless web of dark stories, to include terrified visions from those with outwardly sunny dispositions. Unfortunately for Mark, his peculiar gift left him stripped naked in the face of others, devoid of the layers of protection that kept those around him from acknowledging their essence. Mark imagined that if people were able to fully enter into everyone else’s heads at the same time, the world would go insane.

As Mark neared an intersection, five large raccoons appeared from separate directions, converged in the yard next to him, and began wrestling, scaling trees, and rolling in the grass. Each of them glanced at Mark intermittently, their energy warm, unguarded, and intentional. Then they scurried off as quickly as they had arrived. Mark smiled, kneeled down, retied a loose shoelace, and strolled further into the night.