School of Sight, by Alisha A. Knaff

The thing about being maybe-kind-of-almost-sort-of-perhaps crazy is that…well, you start to get paranoid. At some point in the maybe-kind-of-ness, you start to wonder if everyone around you notices the maybe-kind-of and if maybe-kind-of they don’t think there’s any maybe-kind-of about it. Thinking you’re crazy? Makes you fucking crazy.

I see things. And I don’t mean that in an ‘I’m so hyper-observant I see the things that most people overlook because I’m super deep and can stare into your soul until you can’t help seeing what an incredibly sensitive, deeply caring, perfectly empathetic individual I am and falling madly in love with me because I’m the only one who understands your painful, tragic past, now take me in your scintillating arms and let me show you just how much I feel, Edward’ kind of way.

I just…see things.

For the past two or three years—no, I know exactly how long it’s been. Of course I do. You notice when you start going maybe-kind-of crazy. For the past three years, since I came out here for school, I’ve seen things. The kind of things other people just ignore, sure, but I also see things that other people just don’t. Or if they do, they never talk about them.

Like, there’s this homeless lady that I walk past on my way to the bus stop every morning. And I know other people see her; they give her money or smile or do that thing where you casually look away because you don’t want to be hit up for spare change. So other people definitely see this lady. But I see her.

She’s an artist. Whenever she thinks nobody’s watching, she pulls out this battered notebook—you know, the kind with holographic unicorns and things on it—and starts to sketch. She isn’t drawing what’s around her, not really. She’s drawing what’s in her head. I know that doesn’t sound all that crazy, right? But the thing is, sometimes I see what she’s drawing. Not in her notebook, not on paper, but when I see that she’s drawing, I look around, and I see things I know aren’t there, people who aren’t there and who aren’t…well…people, really. They’re blue or winged or have too many limbs or eyes or heads. Sometimes other things too, trees or buildings that don’t exist or don’t exist anymore. And when I look back, she’s drawing all that.

Or like, there’s this kid at school. Total, hardcore, 90s throwback, Marilyn Manson, goth kid. Pale face, black lipstick, huge black duster. He puts off this massive ‘DO NOT TALK TO ME’ vibe. But I saw him last week feeding bits of his lunch to this stray cat that’s always hanging around campus, and he gave a black-lipsticked smile when the cat brought him a dead mouse. Only, it wasn’t really dead. I mean, it was, right? I knew it was, but then it stopped being a mouse and became this tiny talisman, very much alive in its own way.

And then there’s my Econ professor. She is the dorkiest, dippiest, dweebiest person I have ever met. I mean, if she were a man, she’d have a comb-over and ninety-five different bow ties. As it is, her hair is always frizzy, and I think she has the world’s largest collection of mustard-colored cardigans. Everybody knows this. Everybody sees this. But every day, when she walks into the lecture hall, I have to look away because she is fucking glowing. I’m not even being metaphorical here. She’s not secretly pregnant; she’s literally glowing.

And I figure, if this were a commonly recognized phenomenon, I would have heard about it, right? Someone would have said to me at some point, “Oh, you have Econ with Sternquist? Man, you better bring shades to class. You know she glows, right?” But nobody has ever said this to me in my tenure at this fine establishment of higher learning, so I am pretty damn sure I’m the only one who sees it.

Or I was pretty damn sure.

I’m not sure what gave me away. Maybe I was squinting up at the lectern, or maybe I shaded my eyes or something, but one afternoon in Econ, the guy sitting next to me snorted and whispered, “I know, right? Should have brought my sunglasses.”

That paranoia I was talking about earlier? Yeah, it comes out in times like this. Was it a trap? Was he trying to get me to admit that I was crazy? The things that go through my head in moments like this are bordering on ridiculous. Beyond bordering, really

But he looked completely genuine, and I must have looked completely gobsmacked because he just grinned and turned away, and I was left feeling maybe-kind-of crazy all over again. (It doesn’t go away, this feeling, but sometimes I can ignore it for a while.)

I made it through Econ just fine. I was overly conscious of squinting and shading, but I felt like I’d been pretty normal for the hour and a half it took to ignore the glowing and the cardigan and take copious notes on a subject I had absolutely no interest in. I headed out after class, and it was something of a relief to be back in the cloud-filtered sunlight that Seattle was so good at. I had a little time before my next class, and I thought I’d go grab some coffee and finish my essay for my Personal Writing class. (Let’s not get into what it’s like to write about yourself when you’re worried about your sanity.)

But when I turned toward the coffee shop I liked to write in, I almost ran into sunglasses guy; he was grinning again and very definitely looking to converse, which I’m not normally opposed to but really didn’t want to get into with someone who might blow my ‘no really, I’m totally sane’ cover.

Sunglasses, of course, were not the dominant feature of sunglasses guy. (He hadn’t brought them, after all.) Actually, he didn’t seem to have any particularly dominant features. He was your basic College Guy. Indeterminately sandy-ish hair color, browny-hazely eyes, Seattle U sweatshirt, jeans, sneakers, messenger bag slung oh-so-casually over one shoulder. And that grin.

It wasn’t like the grin made him glow like Dr. Sternquist. It just sort of…brightened him. It made him almost pleasant looking where he otherwise would have been almost painfully average.

“I’m not crazy,” was his opening salvo, and my return shot was, “That’s my line.”

He laughed and pushed the indeterminate hair in its indistinguishable, shaggy cut out of his face. “Okay, then you’re not crazy.”

“That’s what I just said.”

“You wanna get some coffee?”

Five minutes ago I really had, but I had really not wanted company for that. Now, though….

Well, he had just told me I was not crazy when I was pretty sure I maybe-kind-of was, and that was a lead I had to follow up.

“You’re buying,” was my answer when it finally came, but even the really-probably-too-long time it took me to decide on an answer didn’t seem to make him change his mind on his previous statement. He just smiled again and pushed the hair back again and tilted his head toward my coffee shop.

“Fair enough.”

There wasn’t much talking on the way. Awkwardness in social situations is a by-product of paranoia, I think. Just before we got there, though, he said, “I’m not a psych major.”

“…okay.”

“I mean…I’m not trying to use Intro Psych to diagnose you, and I’m not probably actually qualified to say conclusively that you’re not crazy, but I’m pretty sure you’re not crazy for the reasons you think you are, unless you think you are for more reasons than seeing Sternquist’s aura.”

That was a whole lot to process, so I took really-probably-too-long again before my brilliant mind came up with, “Her what?”

“Her aura,” he repeated like this was a thing that people just knew and accepted and talked about casually as they held open coffee shop doors for Econ classmates. “Do you know what you want? They do a kickass Mexican mocha.”

I had heard often about the Mexican mocha and never really been interested in trying it, but honestly? I was still stuck on the aura thing, so I just nodded and said, “Yeah, sure, sounds good.”

“Awesome. Get us a table?” And then he was off ordering coffee, and I was left to look around the room helplessly and try to act normal even while thinking this guy was also maybe-kind-of crazy, and that’s probably why he didn’t think I was. Really, I was just enabling his delusion, and he was enabling mine. Not that it mattered. Being crazy with another crazy person had to be better than doing it on your own, right?

I had to think it would be, at least, so I found a table back in the corner, away from most of the other occupied tables, and in a few minutes he came over with two steaming mugs and set one in front of me. I didn’t quite know how to transition from ‘thank you for the coffee’ to ‘what do you mean I’m not crazy?’ so I just ended up blurting out, “What’s an aura?” and then, because I knew that sounded kind of stupid, “I mean…I know what an aura is, but what did you mean by it?”

“That’s what you see when you look at Sternquist. That glowy thing.” He was casually sipping his coffee and getting foam bubbles on his stupid smile and making no sense at all, but it was better nonsense than I’d been making for the past few years, so I decided to run with it.

“How do you even know about that?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

I wanted to flick mocha in his face because if it were obvious, I wouldn’t be asking. Obviously. But I was trying not to look insane, and I’d had a lot of practice at it lately, so instead I very calmly said, “If it were obvious, I wouldn’t be asking.”

“Right,” he said. “Sorry.” And he did look sorry, so I stopped having mocha-flicking ideas for the moment. “I see it too. It’s not because you’re crazy. It’s really there.”

I decided to go for the obvious question, then, the one that had been nagging me since I sat down in Econ the first day. “So how come nobody else sees it?” I didn’t mean it to come out as a challenge, but I could hear the skepticism in my voice. I tried to mask it by taking a sip of my own drink. (Which was, indeed, kickass. Damn him.)

He shrugged. “They’re not seers.”

Well, that was just…beyond maybe-kind-of. “What?”

“Seers,” he said again, like I just hadn’t heard him the first time. “At least, that’s what my grandma called us. I’ve heard other names. Augur, channeler, prophet, not a big fan of that one…. I kind of like sibyl myself. The group I’m with here says witches, but I think that’s a little broader.”

“So you think I can see the future.” My hopes of being sane after all were rapidly dwindling if this guy was the best the ’you’re not crazy’ front had to offer.

“No, not really. I mean, sometimes? There are some seers who really can. That’s why I don’t like prophet, though. Misleading. You’re just…well, a few centuries ago they would have said you had the Sight.”

“The Sight. Right.” My skepticism was showing again, and I’d started to rhyme, but I didn’t try to stop it this time. “And you think I’m some kind of chosen something or other who can see special things and whatever?”

“Yes!” he said, vindicated, it seemed, and totally missing the Skeptical Eyebrow of Doom I was giving him. “Well, maybe not chosen something or other, but…well, you can see special things, can’t you?”

I thought back to the goth kid and the homeless lady and the glowing dweeb in the Economy department. I really didn’t want this to be true, though. “Maybe,” I offered after a moment. “But it’s not like I get psychic readings on people or anything.”

He laughed again, finally wiping the bit of foam from his upper lip with a distracted thumb. “No, of course not. It’s not Long Island Medium here. ’I’m getting someone whose name starts with J,’ or any of that bullshit.”

It was a bit rich that he was spouting crazy talk while telling me a reality show was bullshit, but I loved that a little.

“Look, I know it’s weird, but that’s what it is. I promise. I’m not crazy and neither are you.”

I sat back and for a moment I just sipped my mocha. He really didn’t seem crazy, despite all the weirdness coming out of his mouth. He definitely didn’t look crazy. Just your average Joe College with a great smile and good taste in coffee. I was not by any means ready to just accept this as truth, but something about it just…felt right.

That’s a lame excuse, I know, but it did. It just felt right. It felt like all the questions I’d been having lately could be easily answered with this one wacko explanation. I’m not one to believe in things like this. I wasn’t even sure I believed in some kind of higher power, really, so when I say that this explanation spoke to my soul, I know exactly what that sounds like, and I know it doesn’t sound like I’m not crazy.

“Okay, smart guy,” I said finally. “If I’m not crazy, how come I don’t see this aura thing with other people?”

I didn’t really think I’d caught him with this question, but I thought maybe, just maybe, it might give him some kind of pause. Either that or it might give him a chance to say the thing that would convince me he was actually telling the truth.

“Well, there aren’t that many vampires around.”

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