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People think I'm crazy because I see lights. I've seen them all my life. Strange, multicoloured patches of light swirling through the air. The patches are different sizes, some as small as a coin, others as big as a cereal box. All sorts of shapes - octagons, triangles, decagons. Some have thirty or forty sides. I don't know the name for a forty-sided shape. Quadradecagon?
No circles. All of the patches have at least two straight edges. There are a few with curves or semi-circular bulges, but not many.
Every colour imaginable. Some shine brightly, others glow dully. Occasionally a few of the lights pulse, but normally they just hang there, glowing.
When I was younger I didn't know the lights were strange. I thought everybody saw them. I described them to Mum and Dad, but they thought I was playing a game, seeking attention. It was only when I started school and spoke about the lights in class that it became an issue. My teacher, Miss Tyacke, saw that I wasn't making up stories, that I really believed in the lights.
Miss Tyacke called Mum in. Suggested they take me to somebody better qualified to understand what the lights signified. But Mum's never had much time for psychiatrists. She thinks the brain can take care of itself. She asked me to stop mentioning the lights at school, but otherwise she wasn't concerned.
So I stopped talking about the lights, but the damage had already been done. Word spread among the children - Kernel Fleck is weird. He's not like us. Stay away from him.
I never made many friends after that.
My name's Cornelius, but I couldn't say that when I was younger. The closest I could get was Kernel. Mum and Dad thought that was cute and started using it instead of my real name. It stuck and now that's what everybody calls me.
I think some parents shouldn't be allowed to name their kids. There should be a committee to forbid names which will cause problems later. I mean, even without the lights, what chance did I have of fitting in with any normal crowd with a name like Kernel - or Cornelius - Fleck!
We live in a city. Mum's a university lecturer. Dad's an artist who also does some freelance teaching. (He actually spends more time teaching than drawing, but whenever anyone asks, he says he's an artist.) We live on the third floor of an old warehouse which has been converted into apartments. Huge rooms with very high ceilings. I sometimes feel like a Munchkin, or Jack in the giant's castle.
Dad's very good with his hands. He makes brilliant model aeroplanes and hangs them from the wooden beams of my bedroom ceiling. When they start to clutter the place up, or if we just get the urge one lazy Sunday afternoon, the pair of us make bombs out of apples, conkers - whatever we can find that's hard and round - and launch them at the planes. We fire away until we run out of ammo or all the planes are destroyed. Then Dad sets to work on new models and we do it all over again. At the moment the ceiling's about a third full.
I like it here. Our apartment is great; we're close to lots of shops, a cool adventure playground, museums, cinemas galore. School's OK too. I don't make friends, but I like my teachers and the building - we have a first-rate lab, a projection room, a massive library. And I never get beaten up - I roar automatically when I'm fighting, which isn't good news for bullies who don't want to attract attention!
But I'm not enjoying life. I'm lonely. I've always been a loner, but it didn't bother me when I was younger. I liked being by myself. I read lots of books and comics, watched dozens of TV shows, invented imaginary friends to play with. I was happy.
That changed recently. I don't know why, but I don't like being alone now. I feel sad when I see groups of friends having a good time. I want to be one of them. I want friends who'll tell me jokes and laugh at mine, who I can discuss television shows and music with, who'll pick me to be on their team. I try getting to know people, but the harder I try, the more they avoid me. I sometimes hover at the edge of a group, ignored, and pretend I'm part of it. But if I speak, it backfires. They glare at me suspiciously, move away or tell me to get lost. "Go watch some lights, freak!"
The loneliness got really bad this last month. Nothing interests me any more. The hours drag, especially at home or when I have free time at school. I can't distract myself. My mind wanders. I keep thinking about friends and how I don't have any, that I'm alone and might always be. I've talked with Mum and Dad about it, but it's hard to make them understand how miserable I am. They say things will change when I'm older, but I don't believe them. I'll still be weird, whatever age I am. Why should people like me more then than now?
I try so hard to fit in. I watch the popular shows and listen to the bands I hear others raving about. I read all the hot comics and books. Wear trendy clothes when I'm not at school. Swear and use all the cool catchphrases.
It doesn't matter. Nothing works. Nobody likes me. I'm wasting my time. This past week, I've got to thinking that I'm wasting my entire life. I've had dark, horrible thoughts, where I can only see one way out, one way of stopping the pain and loneliness. I know it's wrong to think that way - life can never be that bad - but it's hard not to. I cry when I'm alone - once or twice I've even cried in class. I'm eating too much food, putting on weight. I've stopped washing and my skin's got greasy. I don't care. I want to look like the freak I feel I am.
Late at night. In bed. I'm playing with the patches of light, trying not to think about the loneliness. I've always been able to play with the lights. I remember being three or four years old, the lights all around me, reaching out and moving them, trying to fit them together like jigsaw pieces. Normally, the lights remain at a distance of several feet, but I can call them closer when I want to play with them.
The patches aren't solid. They're like floating scraps of plastic. If I look at a patch from the side, it's almost invisible. I can put my fingers through them, like ordinary pools of light. But, despite that, when I want to move a patch, I can. If I focus on a light, it glides towards me, stopping when I tell it. Reaching out, I push at one of the edges with my fingers. I don't actually touch it, but as my fingers get closer, the light moves in whatever direction I'm pushing. When I stop, the light stops.
I figured out very early on that I could put patches together to make patterns. I've been doing it ever since, at night, or during lunch at school when I have nobody to play with. Lately, I've been playing with them more than ever. Sometimes, the lights are the only way I have to escape the miserable loneliness.
I like making weird shapes, like Picasso paintings. I saw a programme on him at school a couple of years ago and felt an immediate connection. I think Picasso saw lights too, only he didn't tell anyone. People wouldn't have thought he was a great artist if he said he saw lights - they'd have said he was a nutcase, like me.
The shapes I make are nowhere near as fabulous as Pablo Picasso's paintings. I'm no artist. I just try to create interesting designs. They're rough, but I like them. They never last. The shapes hold for as long as I'm studying them, but once I lose interest, or fall asleep, they come undone and the pieces drift apart, returning to their original positions in the air around me.
The one I'm making tonight is particularly jumbled. I'm finding it hard to concentrate. Joining the pieces randomly, with no real purpose. It's a mess. I can't stop thinking about not having any friends. Feeling wretched. Wishing I had at least one true friend, someone who'd care about me and play with me, so I wasn't completely alone.
As I'm thinking about that, a few of the patches pulse. No big deal. Lights have pulsed before. Usually, I ignore them. But tonight, sad and desperate to divert my train of thought, I summon a couple, study them with a frown, then put them together and call for the rest of the flashing patches. As I add those pieces to the first two, more lights pulse, some slowly, some quickly.
I sit up, working with more speed. This new flashing shape is curious. I've never put pulsing patches together before. As I add to the cluster, more lights pulse. I quickly slot them into place, working as if on autopilot. I have no control over myself. I keep watching for a pattern to emerge, but there isn't one. Just a mass of different pulsing colours. Still, it's worked its magic. I'm focused on the cluster of lights now, dark thoughts and fears temporarily forgotten.
The lights build and build. This is a massive structure, much larger than any I've previously created. I'm sweating and my arms are aching. I want to stop and rest, but I can't. I'm obsessed with the pulsing lights. This must be what addiction is like.
Then, without warning, the patches that I've stuck together stop pulsing and all glow a light blue colour. I fall back, gasping, as if I'd got an electric shock. I've never seen this happen. It scares me. A huge blue, jagged patch of light at the foot of my bed. It's like a window. Large enough for a person to fit through.
My first thought is to flee, call for Mum and Dad, get out as quick as I can. But part of me holds firm. An inner voice whispers in my ear, telling me to stay. This is your window to a life of wonders, it says. But be careful, it adds, as I move closer to the light. Windows open both ways.
As it says that, a shape presses through, out of the panel of light. A face. I'm too horrified to scream. It's a monster from my very worst nightmare. Pale red skin. A pair of dark red eyes. No nose. A small mouth. Sharp, grey teeth. As it leans further forward into my bedroom, I see more of it and the horror intensifies. It doesn't have a heart! There's a hole in the left side of its chest, but where the heart should be are dozens of tiny, hissing snakes.
The monster frowns and stretches a hand towards me. I can see more than two arms - at least four or five. I want to pull away. Dive beneath my bed. Scream for help. But the voice that spoke to me a few seconds ago won't let me. It whispers quickly, words I can't follow. And I find myself standing firm, taking a step towards the panel of light and its emerging monster. I raise my right hand and watch the fingers curl into a fist. I can feel a strange tingling sensation, like pins and needles.
The monster stops. Its eyes narrow. It looks round my bedroom uncertainly. Then slowly, smoothly, it withdraws, pulling back into the panel of light, vanishing gradually until only its red eyes remain, staring out at me from within the surrounding blueness, twin circles of an unspoken evil. Then they're gone too and I'm alone again, just me and the light.
I should be wailing for help, running for my life, cowering on the floor. But instead my fingers relax and my fist unclenches. I'm facing the panel of blue light, staring at it like a zombie transfixed by a fresh human brain, distantly processing information. Normally, the patches of light are transparent, but I can't see through this one. If I look round it, there's my bedroom wall, a chest of drawers, toys and socks scattered across the floor. But when I look directly at the light, all I see is blue.
The voice says something crazy to me. I know it's madness as soon as it speaks. I want to argue, roar at it, tell it to get stuffed. But, as scared and confused as I am, I can't disobey. I find my legs tensing. I know, with sick certainty, what's going to happen next. I open my mouth to scream, to try and stop it, but before I can, a force makes me step forward - after the monster, into the light.