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Empath: Into the Shadow, Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Artwork by Alex Grey

September 13th, 2016

Will lay there awake with her in his arms. They fit together perfectly like a puzzle piece of a yin yang. His white skin against her dark was in perfect contrast. He rolled on his side and she stirred in his arms. He looked at her beautiful skin and frame running his fingers over her navel and down her thigh. He watched as the corners of her mouth turned up in a twist, her perfect lips were two shades of chocolate sweetness. She was awake but didn’t open her eyes. He kissed her neck and whispered in her ear, “Time to get up.” She opened her eyes to his and reached her hand, playing her fingers in his beard and brought his lips to hers. “Let’s just lay here awhile.” She nestled her head in the nape of his shoulder and neck, her short nappy hair tickling him. They both closed their eyes to sweet darkness.

There was a beeping, distant at first then louder almost next to his ear. He rolled over and she wasn’t there. The sheets were cold where she once laid; she hadn’t warmed them for years. A dream…no, a memory. Will rolled over and turned off his alarm. Tears formed in his eyes, he wiped them away absently. His mind wandered to the cheap bottle of whiskey under his bed but he decided not to because he had a twelve-hour shift at the factory and was already hung over. Why do I dream about her? He wondered and it felt like fragments of molten steel burned in the center of his chest. Heartburn. He got up and went to bathroom and took his acid reflux medication. Why do I always get heartburn when I dream about her? Will showered and brushed his teeth, then dressed and left for work. He got in his car played the music loud and tried to forget the dream of her but instead found himself wondering about her like always. Where she was, if she was happy. Tia my love, Sugar Lips, how I miss you… He tried not to think about how the pieces fell apart and lighted up a cigarette.

It smoldered in his hand as he drove, ash dusting his jeans. Will was trying to quit; the doctor said it would help with the acid reflux. He had smoked a pack a day for the last two or three years and probably tried to quit a dozen times cold turkey but this time he was going to cut back first. A week ago he smoked six cigarettes on his way to work, now he smoked two maybe three at the max. He got to the factory five minutes early and got in line to punch in at the time clock. Will worked at a Dixie cup factory for Georgia Pacific. He hated the job. He had the night shift, 7pm to 7am and his circadian rhythm was out of whack. He was only getting about four hours of good sleep a day. He had always had insomnia so night shift didn’t bother him but the hours he was putting in were putting a toll on his body.

“You look like how I feel,” Someone from the plastic side of the factory said to him. Will thought his name was Stephen but wasn’t sure, he didn’t have many friends at his place of employment and tended to stay to himself. Will just nodded in reply, hoping no one smelled the whiskey on his breath from the day before. They all punched in and went to their designated areas. Will worked on the paper side of the factory and his boss, Bob, hated him for some reason. Bob had several times gotten in Will’s face yelling and cursing about his poor work quality. Will knew he wasn’t the best at his job but didn’t deserve to be treated that way. He wanted to quit but it was good money and a union job. Will had often thought about going to the union rep to complain but knew that would go nowhere since him and Bob were buddies.

Will went through the day silently working his machine, reading a book on his breaks and eating from the vending machine when he got hungry. When he had a craving for a cigarette he popped an Atomic Fireball in his mouth. He had never tried them before since his brief stay in the hospital a few months earlier. The doctor had diagnosed him bipolar and stated that he was in a manic state of mind and suffering from delusions. The Fireball wasn’t even hot to him it was sweet; he rubbed the jawbreaker between the roof and his mouth and tongue to feel a little burn on his taste buds. He wondered if his love of spicy foods caused his acid reflux more or the cigarettes but in truth it was something more. It wasn’t an ulcer like he sometimes thought but physical pain he felt manifested by his emotional pain. Will was suffering from a broken heart.

It had been years since he had seen Tia. At the time they both worked together loading trucks at Fedex Ground before Will got fired. They used to go to Waffle House after work and talk for hours over breakfast as their shift ended around eight in the morning. Will remembered the first time he saw Tia. He had never been attracted to a black girl before but when he saw her his heart danced in his chest. She had worked across the conveyor belt from him and told him latter she noticed the way Will looked at her, like Tia was the only one in the room. She had talked to him first and commented on his t-shirts saying they were stylish. Will collected t-shirts, he knew a good one when he saw one. On that day he had worn his Resident Evil t-shirt, Will had bought it for five bucks on clearance.

He spent the next week trying to talk to her but because it was always busy, Will never got the chance so he waited outside for her. As he worked at his cup machine now, Will remembered how sweaty his palms were and how he kept wiping them on his jeans, loitering outside against the brick wall. He asked Tia if she wanted to get breakfast but she declined twice on the third day he asked again but this time he also asked if he could get her number. Tia smiled and gave it to him. The next few days they texted each other and learned they had almost nothing in common accept their love of poetry. Tia admitted Will was much better than her when it came to loading a truck and poetry.

Finally one day Will was driving home from Fedex and got a text from Tia asking if he wanted to join her at Waffle House before she went to class. He made a quick U-turn and broke the speed limit to get there on time. They sat and ate and talked for hours. Will watched Tia’s lips dreaming of a kiss. They were full and vibrant like her personality, two different shades, the lower lighter then the other. She had high cheekbones and small cute ears, tight curly hair cut short. While Will’s hair was long blonde and straight, parted at the middle. He was sporting a goatee and mustache at the time and is face was more round. Tia ordered grits with her eggs and mixed in sugar. Will remembered laughing because he had never seen it before. The next time he tried it and she said, “That’s not enough!” and added more mixing it for him. They made it a regular routine to go to Waffle House after work and always sat in the same booth. Will remembered how Tia would get juice while he would drink coffee. Their conversations spiraled to untold heights. They talked about everything and sometimes wonder how they got on the topic of something like shaving when they started talking about food or something completely unrelated. It would make them laugh and they became known as regulars to the Waffle House staff that would smile when the young couple would walk through the door. They did this for months before Will and Tia even kissed. Tia was afraid of intimacy but that was starting to change because she let this shy boy into her world. Will was quite the gentleman and was willing to take it slow, Will was four years older and was once engaged to his high school sweetheart, Faith, but it wasn’t love that had kept Faith and Will together for five long years it was lust. But when he was with Tia it wasn’t about something physical it was an emotional connection he had never experienced before and because they had very little in common they always had something to talk about.

Will’s hair was buzzed short now under his hardhat and his beard had grown thick. He smiled reminiscing about the better days. Then he stopped himself. Damn it Will, you’re torturing yourself. He had to stop before the bad memories came back. The rest of his shift Will tried to keep his mind preoccupied on other things but after a long day the memories were still there haunting him just as much as in his dreams. Will just wanted to drink, he was an alcoholic for sure but there were some days he didn’t drink just to keep a clear head. When thoughts of Tia flooded his mind, Will just wanted to drown in whiskey. He concentrated on the Fireball in his mouth chewing it when it was small enough and popping the last one in his mouth. By the time the fireball was gone it was time for his last break.

Will went to the cafeteria without getting his book from his locker. He went to the vending machine and got a bag of potato chips. Will noticed Sharon and older woman in her forties with prematurely grey hair crying at a table in the corner. Sharon had been nice to him when Will had first started, showing him the fundamentals of the machinery and helping him out when he got overwhelmed. Will felt heartburn as he got close to Sharon and the overwhelming urge to cry as well, he asked if he could sit with her and she wiped away the tears and nodded.

“What’s wrong Sharon?” Will asked as Sharon wiped her nose on her sleeve and stared at the table.

“It’s my son, he’s addicted to heroin and won’t go into a rehab. He’s been missing for two days, I don’t know if I should call the police. He’s a grown man and has a lot of friends he could be staying with one of them but my husband says not to worry and that he doesn’t want him back since they got in a fight the night before he left. I’m so worried I don’t know what to do….” She began to cry.

Will fought back tears; he could feel her fear and the deep sadness plaguing her mind. Instead of reasoning with her and consoling Sharon, Will took her hand in his. As soon as he did the tears that welled up in his eyes started to pour down his cheeks. He felt the sadness spread in waves up his arm into the rest of his body like electricity. They sat there holding hands crying, no one else seemed to notice but the room started to get quitter. There was energy in the room that spread over all the workers. There were about twenty people in the cafeteria, most eating and talking. They stopped eating and their conversations began to trail off. Within seconds everyone in the room felt the same emotion. They all felt a wave of sadness creeping into their hearts. Their minds swam about loved ones that had pasted on, some thought about dead pets, and others thought nothing at all and simply started to cry. It was like a sad music that played in their souls. Several people stood up and left the room abruptly covering their faces to hide the tears but many just sat there and wept uncontrollably for no reason. A minute passed then two and no one moved other than to blow their nose or wipe tears from their faces.

Will took his hand away from Sharon’s to wipe his face breaking the connection and the shared moment was gone just as quickly as it came. People looked around at each other finally noticing the eerie quiet in the room. Some still cried, the emotion not fully leaving them yet. It was a few awkward seconds before a man to Will’s left cleared his throat and said, “That was weird,” to the person sitting across from him, “I haven’t thought about my aunt Shelia for years.” People began to eat again and continued their conversations where they left off or started new ones. One worker, a musician, across the other side of the cafeteria felt inspired to write a new song and started scribbling notes in his notebook. Several people talked about what the sadness that touched them had reminded them of and no one in the room realized exactly what they just experienced.

Will looked at Sharon, she still had tears in her eyes but she was smiling at him, eyes aglow. “Thank you,” she said to Will, “What ever that was it was because of you. Thank you.” Will knew what she meant but didn’t understand what exactly he had done other then touch her hand.

“I don’t know what I did,” he said confused. Sharon’s break was over and she got up and gave Will a big hug and thanked him again. What the hell was that? Will sat there the next few minutes eating his chips wondering. He wondered through the rest of his shift and all the way home as he smoked. He came into his apartment, mumbled a hello to his roommate Matt in the kitchen and went to the living room where he watched the television. Will decided not to drink tonight and just smoke some weed but he kept replaying the events of earlier over and over again. Will felt as if he was hiding something from himself, something that had always been there but now was starting to manifest in a powerful way.

* * *

I’m late. I’m late like always. Tia scolded herself. She had rushed home from work at Fedex only to just change. She had tried on several outfits before deciding on a multicolored wool sweater and jeans. Tia didn’t want to look too dressed up; she was just going to a hospital anyway. Now she put on makeup that she didn’t really need because it covered up her natural beauty but nerves got the best of her, she was always nervous when she was around her boyfriend’s family. She wanted to look presentable for him. Brad’s gonna kill me. But she knew he wouldn’t mind he was already used to the routine. Tia’s hair was in braids, a weave, pulled back in a ponytail. She decided it looked better down with the outfit and quick got her shoes on before rushing out the door. Her sisters were just leaving for school and her mother called after her. “Tia Marie! Don’t forget! It’s your turn to cook dinner.” Tia didn’t answer as she closed the door behind her.

She got in her car and headed onto Route 33 towards 78 and Allentown. There was traffic on 78 and Tia tapped her fingers on the steering wheel impatiently. Brad had said 9 AM, it was now 9:13 AM and she was still a good twenty minutes away if the traffic wasn’t too backed up. Brad’s sister had had a baby boy the day before and Tia was going to visit. Tia and Brad had been together for just over a year and met several months after she had broken up with Will. Brad was sweet and funny and another white male who was instantly attracted to Tia’s natural beauty and strength. She was a very strong woman, working two jobs and going to college. Tia’s busy schedule meant her relationship sometimes came second or maybe third though, but Brad thought himself lucky to just be in a relationship with her. They both went to Desales University, where they had several classes together. They were both business majors but Tia had already decided months before that she was going to make a career at Fedex. She no longer worked on the line loading trucks but in the office and she was good at what she did.

Tia’s mind rarely wandered to her ex-boyfriend Will, she had moved on very easily unlike him and they still spoke from time to time via text messages and short phone calls. She regretted ever being with him. She didn’t hate him necessarily, Tia would’ve never had even kissed him had she known some things about him like his excessive drinking. She didn’t believe Will was a bad person but he had hurt Tia, stolen her innocence in her opinion. It was true, but she neglected to admit that they had been in love, and that he was human, and that even she too made mistakes and wasn’t perfect. Tia was the type of person who held grudges and didn’t care if people changed while Will was the opposite in every way. What Tia didn’t realize was that she still had feelings for Will but wouldn’t let herself feel them because of the mistake he had made. Her compassion was buried deep along with her muse, she had written very little poetry since she broke up with Will. Tia told herself she either didn’t have the time or had out grown the hobby. In truth nothing moved her. Tia was numb, unfeeling, lacking emotion, while Will was a creature of emotion. The smiles she wore were a mask at times, fake, just for show.

Tia pulled into the parking garage of St. Luke’s hospital at exactly 9:35 AM walked quickly inside to the front desk where she asked for the maternity ward. She rounded the corner and saw Brad in the room with his family, they hadn’t noticed her yet, Tia took a second to catch her breath and relax. She brushed herself off, took a quick look in the reflection in the window of the room, and opened the door to smiles and greetings. Brad’s mother and sister gave her a hug and a kiss, while Brad’s father was holding the newborn and simply smiled and said hello, the father of the child was absent.

“I’m so sorry for being late…” Tia started to say but was cut off by Brad.

“I told them you would be. Don’t worry,” He said with a grin.

“Yes, he tells us you’re always late,” Brad’s mother said. Tia felt embarrassed and wanted to scold Brad for it but decided it best to wait till when they were alone.

“Tell us, what will you be doing in the National Guard?” Brad’s father asked.

“I’ll be a financial specialist, we typically serve for state emergencies,” Tia said and sat down in the only empty seat left in the room.

“So you won’t be seeing any action?” Brad’s sister asked, sitting up in the bed.

“Not unless we go to war. I swore my oath in March, and I have a drill in a few weeks. Looking forward to it, I need the exercise,” Tia said and they all laughed.

“Well, I certainly hope we don’t go to war but who knows if Trump takes the White House.” Brad’s father said handing the child over to his wife.

“Let’s not talk politics now dear, some of us don’t enjoy it.” Brad’s mother said and Tia silently agreed, politics bored the young female, but instead of listening to his wife, Brad and his father started their own conversation about the election while the women sat and talked about the newborn.

“Would you like to hold him?” Brad’s mother asked.

“Oh no, it’s alright you can keep him,” The black girl said shaking her head.

“But I insist, you must,” The new grandmother pleaded.

“OK,” Tia said a little nervous. She took the sleeping baby in her lap and the numbness in her soul faded. She felt warmth as she held the baby, the warmth of a true smile. Tia looked down at the child and imagined it was her own for a split second, and the joy of children warmed her to the core. Tia loved children and wanted to have many; she came from a big family and wanted to keep it that way. The happiness was unbridled and the smile beautiful. The baby stirred and she began to hum to him a melody. Everyone in the room was looking at her smile.

Brad instantly knew he had to take a picture, he slid his phone out of his pocket and took it. Tia held the baby for a few minutes before she handed the child back to the new mother and the father of the child walked in. Brad’s father got up, straightened his glasses on his nose and said, “I’m hungry. Let's go eat.” The young couple and the grandparents bid their goodbyes to the new parents and Tia took one last look at the baby, smiling to herself. The warm fuzzy feeling like butterflies in her stomach lasted almost the rest of the day.

* * *

Miles away at the exact moment Tia held the newborn baby, Will sat and flipped through the channels on the television, bored and still wondering about what happened earlier in the cafeteria. He felt warm and fuzzy and couldn’t explain why. It started out in his chest, healing the pain of his scorned heart for the moment, his mind wandered to children. Will began to imagine that he was holding a baby in his arms; he smiled and began to hum the same tune that only seconds before Tia had hummed. The music started to play, reverberating in his head like an echo. A song he had heard before but he couldn’t place where. The happiness filled his mind with sweet sounds of children playing and fantasies of him being a father and taking his kids out to ball games and the movies, telling them stories, and holding them in his arms. Will had so much love in his heart and no one to give it to, the depression he felt was just loneliness, he was the type of person that just needed to be around people and talk. From the pain of his breakup with Tia he had formed a shell around his heart and his mind, isolating, drinking to help him sleep and to pass the time, now that shell was beginning to break and fade. He was emerging from the egg stronger, reborn, like a phoenix from the ashes.

It was odd but Will knew the phone was going to ring before it did, his hand already reaching for it a second before it rang. It was like an automatic reflex, neurons in his brain fired, receiving the stimuli from someplace far away. He didn’t know who was on the other side before he answered but he recognized the voice right away. He put a face and a name to it before the man revealed his identity.

“Hello?”

“Yes, Mr. Brown?” Said Justin, the man he had met about six months before.

“Speaking, how may I help you?” Will asked, and Justin cleared his throat and began delicately, pronouncing every word with care.

“Hello Mr. Brown, my name is Justin. I’m a medical student that spoke to you at Muhlenberg Hospital a few months ago. I would like to inform you that there is a paid sleep study for people who are mentally ill and suffer from insomnia at Harvard University. You fit the criteria of the study and I would like to formally invite you. It is a two week program where your dreams and feelings are studied without the use of your medication for the first week, and a new treatment administered the second week.” Justin paused for an answer,

“Um, what makes me fit the criteria? There are plenty of people who are bipolar and have insomnia,” Will said curiously.

“Yes well, it is the specifics of your psychosis that you believe was brought on by your insomnia, the supposed mind reading and hallucinations as well as the vivid dreams when you sleep are all prevalent to the study. We will monitor brain activity while you are asleep and sometimes in your waking hours throughout the two weeks where you will be isolated from television and other participants of the program,” Justin explained and continued on, “We are interested in the way the brain works with people suffering from delusions and hallucinations. There is a theory it is brought on by a dreamlike state in which the mind is still dreaming but you may still be conscious. We wish to observe you in your natural state without medication for scientific reasons and further medical advancement.”

“Well I would have to think about it. I work a full time job; I don’t know if I can afford to take off. I’d have to see. When does the study start?” Will asked.

“It starts the first of October and ends the fifteenth. We need to know before the twenty-fifth of this month if you agree to the study,” Justin said.

“I’ll get back to you and let you know, do you have a number I could reach you at?” Will asked and walked into his room and got his notebook of poetry and a pencil, flipping to the back of the book to the last page which was still empty. Justin gave him the number.

“Ok, I’ll get back to you before the twenty-fifth,” Will said.

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Brown. Hope to hear from you soon,” Justin said and Will hung up the phone. Will felt odd, the warm fuzzy feeling hadn’t left him yet, but he also felt somewhat nervous about the phone call. He got the sense Justin wasn’t telling him something.

* * *

Justin sat at his desk and stared at the pile of folders. There were twenty candidates and William Brown was his top pick. When Justin had seen Will, the twenty-six year old hadn’t slept for almost a week. Will had said he was trying to quit drinking himself to sleep and said sleep aides didn’t work for his insomnia. He had also not had a bowel movement in days. Will had described how he sometimes saw things before they happened in dreams or visions during waking hours, premonitions some might call them. Will had gone on to also describe to Justin how he felt people’s energy, their feelings and emotions. What Will had described as being a psychic or telepath wasn’t necessarily uncommon in people suffering from mental illness, in fact something like eighty percent believed they were experiencing psychic phenomenon, but the way Will described it to Justin made him think. It sounded as if Will had an incredible intuition and unlimited empathy.

“I know you work for the government,” Will said their last meeting. Justin remembered the conversation well; he played it over in his mind sometimes.

“Oh really, which branch, then?” Justin asked, the hair beginning to stand up on the back of his neck.

“The NSA,” Will said with certainty; a chill ran down Justin’s spine. In one smooth motion Justin removed the USB drive from his laptop and closed the computer, deleting the transcript of their conversation he was typing.

“Your secret is safe with me, though, don’t worry. It’s not me you should be worried about, it’s Marcus. He’s dangerous, playing with people’s minds, this is just a game to him,” Will said. The words registered but Justin had nothing to say, he simply nodded. There was a moment of silence as the men stared at each other.

“Is there anything we can do to help you?” Justin asked.

“Just get me out of here,” Will said. Justin gave him a curt nod and rose to shake his hand, Will stood and took Justin’s hand connecting eyes. Justin thought he felt something like fingertips running over the creases of his brain, probing the squiggly lines, he began to sweat. Get out of my head! Justin screamed inwardly but Will showed no reaction, he couldn’t hear thoughts, just feel them. They exited the conference room and Justin called his superior right away giving a verbal report over a secure line. His superior wanted a full report typed by the day after and when Justin asked about what to do with the boy he said, “He’s not our problem, he said not to worry. I highly doubt he’s a threat. Inform his psychiatrist that you believe he is ready to be put back into the general population,” and he hung up the phone.

Justin flipped through the other files, some of the other candidates were diagnosed schizophrenic or schizoaffective as well as bipolar, but all had the same symptoms and type of psychosis. He didn’t believe they were telepaths as none had definite proof of reading someone’s mind; the only person who came close was William Brown. Justin had learned a new term for these apparent psychics, one that was just beginning to be recognized as science fact rather than science fiction: empath. Every human being has the ability to feel the emotions of another, which is called empathy. If pure thought was born from emotions then one could read minds in a sense from simple gestures and facial expressions, but these people described actually feeling the emotion, like it was some sort of energy. But isn’t that what emotions and thoughts are? Energy, Justin surmised. The brain sends and receives electrical impulses to and from the body; the mind interprets these things and makes it reality. Who is to say where the mind begins and where consciousness ends?

Justin’s research dabbled in metaphysics. He thought of the comedian Bill Hicks’ joke about the positives of drugs: “Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the Weather.” Hicks was more a philosopher than a comedian, but he was funny and maybe right, Justin thought. He remembered how philosophers were once compared to standup comedians in Mel Brook’s History of the World: Part One; it couldn’t be truer in that regard to Bill Hicks. The psychological theories Justin had come to believe were of Jungian variety and not Freudian. Jung’s theory of forty-six and two plagued Justin’s mind. Maybe empaths were the next step in human evolution, Jung’s forty-six and two, and his theory was more philosophical and metaphysical than any other in the psychology field. Maybe these people are experiencing what it’s like to delve into one’s own shadow? Maybe they are in touch with their anima/animus or even the collective unconsciousness?

There is a term for someone who has no empathy; they are called sociopaths, they feel no remorse, and the pleasure center of their brain reacts to violence like someone going through an orgasm. Empaths are the exact opposite in comparison and have an enormous amount of empathy, unlimited, and tend to be misdiagnosed as having a mental illness. They are more in touch with their selves and their own fears, and are offset by violence or pain done unto another. They are not normal as some might say and tend to take on roles such as witch doctors or healers in tribal communities where there are no doctors trained in the ways of science. But then again chemistry was born from alchemy, science itself is just logical thought combined with mathematical components. A scientist can have a hunch, which is just a feeling or observation and turns it into a hypothesis, then tests the hypothesis through an experiment using the scientific method. Psychology, Justin’s field, wasn’t an exact science; it was more of a guessing game. No one knew what actually happened in the brain, it was still mostly a mystery. Justin hoped his research into empaths would shed some light on the subject but determining who was an empath and who wasn’t is very difficult. First off the people involved were not supposed to know it was an experiment, they were just led to believe it was a study of the affects of insomnia and isolation of the mind. It was true they were studying that too but empaths tended to sleep less due to an over activity of the mind or commonly known as racing thoughts. This could lead to delusions and hallucinations, such as hearing voices or believing they were someone famous reincarnated, lack of sleep may cause these things as the brain needs sleep, your brain needs to dream.

One third of your life is spent dreaming, but many of us don’t remember these dreams. Freud said dreams only come from a conflict but he was wrong. We dream each night and Buddhists believe when you wake from sleep you are simply entering another dream state, that reality is one long shared dream. So, in fact, it could be that psychosis itself is like dreaming while awake as the inconsistencies of a dream consciousness manifest themselves in the personality of the person afflicted with mental illness. Justin studied the physical symptoms of empaths; insomnia, constipation, acid reflux, frequent headaches, nausea, anxiety. All the participants suffered from these things or more. They also seemed to slip into mania at times, feeling happy for no reason and talking in rapid succession, another sign that could point to being bipolar or schizophrenic. Justin himself had come to believe that most people who were bipolar were on some level empaths. He took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes; the next on his list was a man named Ezekiel Hanes who happened to live in the Allentown area as well and was the roommate of Will in the hospital. It was another personal pick by Justin for the study. Ezekiel preferred to go by the name Bravo, as Justin remembered, and was brought in by the police after he was found running down the street completely naked. Bravo had a bad reaction to K-2 or synthetic marijuana but again the similarities between his psychosis and Will’s were almost identical other than some of the physical ailments. Ezekiel didn’t have insomnia and tended to sleep a lot, actually. The rest of the eighteen participants Justin had never met and were selected by other members of his team. Justin picked up the phone and dialed.

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