There are five basic steps in the scientific method: observation, hypothesis, prediction, experimentation, and conclusion. Repeatability of an experiment is key. If an experiment can’t be repeated, then the original hypothesis must be refined, altered, expanded or rejected. Herein lies the central organizing claim against mental projection experiments…
It had been raining hard all morning. Daniel Russell’s arthritis was flaring up, rendering the drive across town all the more arduous. His stiff and aching joints made every wheel turn, blindspot check and pedal shift an agonizing manoeuvre. On days like this, Dan didn’t even leave his bed, let alone make house calls. It was especially unusual for him to visit a family’s home for their first consultation, but Billy Mullen was a special case. The family had been referred to him by Jim Fielding, the elementary school principal and Dan’s best friend from childhood.
“Dan, this kid gives me the heebie-jeebies,” Jim declared over beers the week before.
“The spooks, man.”
“The willies,” Dan declared mockingly. He was amused by his friend’s old fashioned turn of phrase, but he did hear the sincerity in it. “Why, what’s his deal?”
“He’s a good kid. A real good kid, but…” Jim was prepared to reveal everything, but then held back. “I don’t want to influence your opinion. You need to meet him — professionally. You’re the psychologist, you’ll figure it out.”
And that’s all Dan knew about Billy when he called his mother, Janet Mullen the next day. She’d been expecting his call, which was a relief to Dan, because he didn’t really know what he was calling about. During the call, Dan learned that Billy was an only child to two working parents. By Janet’s account, Billy was an ordinary 7-year-old with an active imagination and a love of drawing. He was, in her own words, “a bit of a nerd and a loner,” who was sometimes picked on at school. Otherwise, he was well mannered and behaved.
However, Janet had admitted there was something unusual about Billy, but was just as vague as Jim in explaining Billy’s ability. She used that word though: ability. While Jim had conveyed unease about Billy, ability hinted at something special, a talent. And the way she said it, there was a tinge of wonder. Or, maybe Dan heard it the way he wanted to hear it.
Truth be told, Dan was looking for miracles. If treating and counselling children with behavioural and developmental problems wasn’t challenging enough, he’d also become the local expert on childhood trauma and abuse. If a child was involved in a police investigation, Dan was the first one to get the call. He’d seen the worst of humanity through the eyes of children, and it was casting a shadow over his soul. He needed to bring light back into his life.
Dan couldn’t see the house through the pelting rain. He reached into the backseat for an umbrella — a child’s umbrella, pink with black polka dots. The wind had torn his plain black umbrella a few weeks back. One of his patients, Meghan, had left this one at his office the day before. Knowing rain was in the forecast, he took it home. That morning, he’d used it to make the slow, painful walk to his car, and now he’d walk up to the Mullen house with this bright pink canopy over his head. He would have been mortified by its appearance if the downpour hadn’t been so torrential.
Janet answered the door while Dan was still struggling to close Meghan’s umbrella. The mechanism was finicky, but the real adversaries were his swollen and throbbing fingers.
“Can I help with that?” said Janet.
Dan was about to deflect the offer, he wasn’t used to receiving assistance for his condition, but he needed immediate relief from the struggle, so he handed her the umbrella. “It’s the weather” explained Dan. “My arthritis. Stiff joints. Thanks. Sorry.”
“No apologies necessary,” said Janet as she closed the umbrella. “Come inside.”
Janet placed the umbrella on a boot mat while Dan hung up his coat. She hadn’t made a comment about the pink umbrella, which seemed odd to Dan. As soon as he’d removed his wet shoes and placed them on the mat next to the umbrella, Janet handed him a sealed envelope with his name on it.
“Please take this,” she said.
“Payment isn’t necessary; not quite yet,” Dan gently protested.
“It isn’t money.”
Dan took the envelope and started to open it. “What is it?”
“Don’t open it,” said Janet. Put it in your back pocket. Forget about it — for now.”
Confused, Dan folded the envelope and stuffed it into his back pocket just as her husband, Steven came to the doorway with Billy in tow. Dan shook Steven’s hand, then gave Billy a high-five, as was his usual greeting with boys of that age, and then they all congregated to the living room. His first encounter with the Mullens proceeded in the usual manner. They talked about their day-to-day lives. Dan asked Billy questions about his interests and dislikes, mostly to ensure Billy felt comfortable with him. The entire family appeared typical and wholesome. Mundane and boring, even. If Dan was anxious to hear about Billy’s abilities, it didn’t show. Janet was the first to bring it up.
“Dan, we all know what brought you here today,” she said.
“To be honest, I’m not entirely sure I know,” replied Dan. “Everything seems fine with you, with Billy. As normal as I typically see, anyway.”
Steve nodded to Janet, and she continued, “Good. We needed you to see that. To see how normal we are, that we aren’t attention seekers, that we don’t have a hidden agenda.”
“I see that,” said Dan.
“Tell him, mommy,” Billy urged.
“Billy,” said Janet, “is clairvoyant.”
“I’m not fond of that word,” said Steven. “Billy, as far as I can tell, can’t predict the future. He’s a remote viewer. I think that’s the most technical term I could find.”
“He’s psychic?” Dan replied.
Steven didn’t like that word either and was a disappointed that Dan couldn’t muster a more clinical term. “No, I definitely wouldn’t use–”
“Billy sees things from a distance” Janet interjected. “A great distance. An impossible distance. Things he shouldn’t be able to see.”
“I find things in Mr. Fielding’s house,” Billy said proudly.
“You go to his house and find things?” Dan asked.
“No,” Billy chuckled. “I’ve never been to Mr. Fielding’s house.”
“As you know,” Janet explained, “Mr. Fielding, Jim, is an absent minded man. Losing things all the time, Billy says. The first time Billy helped Mr. Fielding, he was in the school office having lunch, on account of some bullying that was going on — it’s all been resolved now, so nothing to worry about. Jim couldn’t find his wallet. He was distraught. He had his wife on speaker phone; Billy could hear the entire exchange. As they chattered back and forth, it suddenly came to Billy: the wallet was in the garage, under a utility shelf. There were three shelves in the garage, and Billy said it was under the middle one. Jim’s wife heard Billy over the speaker; and wouldn’t you know, within seconds she’d found the wallet, exactly where Billy said it was. And that’s not the only time he’s helped him find things. Keys, tools, books, you name it. When Jim gets frustrated and loses hope, it’s Billy to the rescue.”
Dan’s immediate thought: ‘With a few good guesses, I could easily figure out where Jim misplaced his shit, even if he’s too neurotic to do it for himself.’ His second thought: ‘Filter deductive reasoning and intuition through a child’s imagination, and you could find all the lost items of the world.’ This didn’t seem like conclusive evidence.
“You do this a lot for Mr. Fielding?” Dan asked Billy.
“That’s just one example,” Janet said. “He’s saved lives, too. My firm was renovating a four-story commercial property on Main Street last year. It was a busy period for us and we’d hired a demolition crew we weren’t familiar with to gut the building. We’d had some communication issues with these guys, and we were getting the runaround on timelines. As I was leaving for the site that morning, I was telling Steven my concerns about the crew and Billy overheard while he was getting ready for school. Suddenly, he’s screaming at me not to go. ‘They made a mistake!’ he yelled at me, and then the rest of the words, I knew they weren’t his: ‘You… effed up. It’s a load bearing wall, you effing idiot. You can’t tell anyone. We’ll fix this. No one will know.’ I didn’t hesitate. I made some calls, had the building evacuated and by mid-day the whole facade came crashing down on Main. Someone on the crew misread the plans, and knocked a hole through a load bearing wall. The second that happened, the whole building became unstable. It could have given out any second. If those idiots had tried to fix the problem themselves, they’d be dead, and so would anyone who was walking by that day.”
“Billy didn’t predict what would happen to the building,” Steven clarified. “He can’t see the future. But he saw what was happening in that moment, and he knew what those men had done was bad because they knew it was bad. Now, we have to consider that Billy could have picked up on Janet’s vibes; he would have already known these guys were numbskulls. They were unsafe, and by deduction he could have imagined the worst possible outcome: that the building would be so badly damaged by their incompetence, that it would collapse. If you’re feeling skeptical about what we’re saying, I don’t blame you. I’ve argued with myself about this too. But when you’re there, hearing him speak, or looking at his drawings, they’re too precise, too accurate to be anything other than real places, people and events. What he sees is real — factual.”
“You mentioned drawings,” Dan inquired. “I have kids draw all the time, as part of their treatment. It’s remarkable what you can learn from even the simplest drawing. Could I see some of Billy’s work?” Dan asked Billy directly, “Would that be okay?”
“You have one in your back pocket, right now,” Janet replied.
Dan stood up from his chair and reached into his back pocket. He opened the envelope and removed a folded drawing.
“Billy drew that about twenty minutes before you got here,” Janet said. “We told him a doctor was coming to see him and he got upset because he thought he was sick. We calmed him down, told him you weren’t that kind of doctor. And then he drew that.”
The drawing was of a man, carrying a pink umbrella with black polka dots, with red lines resembling lightning bolts radiating from his neck, hands, knees and ankles.
“I was a little concerned about the squiggles,” Janet said. “But you mentioned arthritis when you came to the door, and then it made sense.”
“Now I know why you didn’t even blink at the pink umbrella,” Dan said.
“And what’s the big blue blob in the sky behind your head?” Janet asked. “Do you recognize that? I still haven’t figured that one out.”
“I live by the water tower” replied Dan. “This is me leaving this morning, twenty minutes before I arrived here.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
‘Heebie-jeebies, indeed,’ Dan thought to himself as he left the house. It had taken Jim several lost-and-found sessions with Billy before realizing what Dan just thought: ‘Can he see me now?’ This question would haunt Dan for the rest of the day. Could Billy hear him cursing other drivers as he drove back to the office? How about his daily flirtations with the ladies at the coffee shop? Visits to the bathroom? It even raised a concern about patient confidentiality during his afternoon appointments. It took until bedtime for Dan to rationalize that a 7-year-old would have no interest in following his mundane exploits, and that there were surely more interesting things he could view, if he wanted to.
However, Dan suspected that Billy didn’t have that kind of control over his ability — yet. It was obvious that all his viewings to that point were prompted by an emotional reaction, distress. Even in Jim’s case, he was genuinely upset over the items he’d presumed lost, and Billy empathised with that. Even Billy’s vision of Dan, and the subsequent drawing, were a product of Billy’s own emotional distress over the scary doctor that was coming to see him.
Suddenly, recalling the picture, it struck Dan: ‘he sensed my pain.’ He didn’t know what that meant, or how it worked towards defining Billy’s ability. How intensely could Billy feel pain remotely? What about emotion? He knew he’d have to be careful when running the experiment that he and the Mullens had devised to test Billy’s ability. This was unknown territory, and one mistake could create irreparable psychological trauma.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
On Friday, Dan had given his office administrator, Darlene, an unusual task. He asked her to wait until he’d left for the day and then write down nine distinct locations, all accessible to the public, and all within a twenty minute drive of the office. She was to put them in nine individual envelopes, seal them and leave them on his desk. She wasn’t to call him or have any other interactions with him until Monday morning.
On Saturday, Jim and the Mullens convened at Dan’s office. Dan handed Janet, Steven and Jim three envelopes each.
“Open the first one when you leave the building,” Dan said. “When you reach your first destination, send me a text that says ‘here.’ Once Billy has given me your locations, I’ll reply with ‘next.’ You’ll open the next envelope and then drive to the next location and send me a text when you’re there. And so on and so on. Steven, you can use my car.”
Dan handed his car keys to Steven as Janet turned to Billy, “Are you sure you’re okay with this? One of us can stay here with you and Dan, if you’d like.”
“I’m okay,” Billy replied. “I can do it.”
Dan was relieved that Billy was comfortable staying at the office alone with him. Dan made Janet and Steven targets in the remote viewing experiment so that they could participate, but be away from Billy. Having them in the room made them an influencing variable. Either through thought or action, they could influence Billy and the results. And while Dan believed the legitimacy of Billy’s ability, he had to prove it wasn’t a con, and having his parents in the room would keep that in question. He was even concerned that his own presence could influence the results, but someone needed to be in the room to guide and monitor Billy, and he was the most impartial of the group.
After the three of them left with their secret destinations in hand, Dan and Billy sat on the floor facing each other. In between them was Dan’s phone, a notebook and pen, a jar with three pieces of paper in it, and a digital audio recorder, which Dan immediately set to record.
“Billy, have you ever meditated before?” Dan asked.
Billy shook his head.
Dan picked up his phone. “I found this guided meditation online, it’s for kids, and I thought we could listen to it together, to clear our minds before the test. Does that sound good?” Dan asked.
Dan picked up his phone and hit play on an audio track, then set the phone back down on the floor. With eyes closed, for the next eleven minutes they listened to a woman with a soothing voice guide them through far off landscapes, envisioning mountains and streams, and all kinds of animals, big and small. Before they could get through the entire session a text message notification startled them out of their meditation.
Dan picked up his phone and turned off the guided meditation. “So much for that,” he said. They both chuckled as he checked the text message from Jim confirming he was in place. A minute later, Steven and Janet’s confirmations came in quick succession. Everyone was in place.
“Are you ready?” Dan asked.
“Yeah,” Billy replied.
Dan reached into the jar, pulled out a paper and read the name, “Janet.”
“Mom’s first,” Billy said excitedly.
Billy closed his eyes, then furrowed his eyebrows, and then scrunched his whole face.
Bright sun. Running water. Spurting water. High into the air.
Billy’s eyes flickered under his closed eyelids, Dan suspected that Billy was seeing something, and wanted to ask what it was, so that he could get it on the recording, but he didn’t want to break his vision.
Noisy people. Children running around. Water spurting up from a water fountain. Janet standing in the middle of a town square.
“Oh, she’s in the town square, by the water fountain,” declared Billy. “She keeps checking her phone and seems scared.”
“Are you sure she’s scared?” asked Dan as he jotted down the time/location of Janet’s sighting. “Maybe she’s just nervous? Anxious about how the test is working out? That sort of thing?”
It occurred to Dan that he shouldn’t try to sway Billy’s interpretation of Janet’s feelings, but he also wasn’t sure that Billy was mature enough to understand or properly describe the nuances of his own feelings, let alone Janet’s. This experiment was about sight and location; emotion could be dealt with later. If Dan could de-escalate any negative feelings that Billy might experience during this trial, he would.
“Yeah, maybe she’s just nervous; like nervous-excited or something,” added Billy. “Who’s next?”
Dan pulled a name out of the jar, but didn’t read it right away.
“This time do you think you could describe some of the details, as you see them?” asked Dan. “It’ll help when we listen back to the recording later.”
“Okay,” replied Billy.
“Thanks, Billy,” said Dan. “Mr. Fielding, he’s next.”
Billy closed his eyes again and focused hard, but nothing came to him.
“It’s not working,” said Billy.
“What do you think is different this time?” asked Dan. “What’s different about Mr. Fielding?”
“I don’t know,” he replied.
This is why Dan asked Jim to participate in the experiment. He wasn’t sure if personal connections were an important factor in Billy’s ability, and since Jim was close to Billy, but not as close as family, maybe the viewing experience would be different. Finding Janet was likely easy because she was nervous or anxious; she would have been just as focused on Billy as Billy was on her. Maybe that made her more detectable. There was less at stake for Jim, so maybe he wasn’t as focused on Billy as his family was. Perhaps he’d have to guide Billy a bit on this connection.
“You don’t have a hard time finding lost things for Mr. Fielding,” Dan stated. “So, what if Mr. Fielding was the lost thing? We’ll do this like the guided meditation. Close your eyes and think of Mr. Fielding.”
Billy complied and closed his eyes.
“Imagine Mr. Fielding is lost,” said Dan. “We know he’s lost. It’s been a day. By this point, he’d be hungry and thirsty. We need to find him so that we can save his life, and bring him home to his family. To his wife. To his kids. They miss him. They’re worried about him. You’re the only one that can find him.”
Clanging metal. Grinding metal. Rhythmic rumbling.
“I hear something metal, the ground is shaking,” said Billy.
More rumbling, more grinding. A train whistle.
“A train,” exclaimed Billy. “A lot of trains and tracks everywhere.”
“The train yard?” Dan asked.
“Yeah,” answered Billy. “There’s a lot of noise, and Mr. Fielding is talking to a man. A big man. His face is dirty and he’s waving his big dirty hands. Kind of scary. Now they’re laughing. Joking around. I think they’re friends,” Billy said with some relief. “The other man’s name is Chuck.”
“How do you know? Did he say his name?” asked Dan.
“No, it’s written,” said Billy as he tapped over the left side of his chest.
“Good, nice job, Billy” said Dan. He didn’t know if any of this was correct yet, but he figured a little praise and encouragement couldn’t hurt. “I guess your dad is next.”
Billy closed his eyes and thought of his dad. Within seconds, he could already see him.
Rumbling water falls. A fast river. Pedestrian bridge. High. Real high.
“He’s at the waterfalls, on the bridge,” said Billy.
“That was fast,” said Dan. “Are you sure?”
“Dad doesn’t like heights. He’s afraid, really afraid,” chuckled Billy. “You should tell him he can leave now.”
Dan laughed as he picked up his phone, “Will do.”
Dan sent a text telling them all to move on to their next locations.
“Mr. Fielding was a tough one to find,” said Dan. “Do you think more meditation exercises might help? I can mute my texts to make sure we’re not interrupted before the end this time.”
Billy agreed and they listened to another guided meditation, this time all the way to the end. They both felt extremely relaxed and focused.
“Keep your eyes closed and keep breathing like you were,” instructed Dan. He wanted to keep Billy in a meditative state this time, to see if it would help improve Billy’s connection to the others. As Billy sat there, eyes closed and breathing deeply, Dan checked his phone. Everyone reported they were in their new positions. He put the names back in the jar, shook it, and then pulled out a name.
“Billy,” Dan said calmly, mimicking the tone of the guided meditation, “it’s your mother. You have to find your mother.”
Billy breathed in and exhaled, “My mother?”
“Yes, Billy, your mother,” replied Dan.
Billy’s face scrunched up. “I don’t see anything,” he said.
“Think of your mother, Billy” said Dan. “She woke up in a place she’s never been. It’s dark. She doesn’t know if she’s five feet from home or a million miles away. She needs you to find her. She needs you to find her and tell her where she is so that she can find her way back to you.”
Bodies. Dead bodies. Corpses on slabs.
“I think they’re dead,” Billy says in a distressed voice.
“Dead? Who’s dead? What do you see, Billy?” asked Dan with concern.
“The bodies, all the bodies,” said Billy.
“Are you in a cemetery? With buried people? Are there tombstones?” Dan asked.
“It’s dark,” replied Billy. “The bodies don’t have clothes. They’re burned. Cut up. It’s cold.”
“Billy,” Dan interrupted. “I don’t like this. Open your eyes and we’ll start over.”
Billy continued, “She’s in the light, over a body.”
“Billy!” Dan exclaimed. He leaned forward and shook Billy by the shoulder, but Billy didn’t react; he remained in his meditative viewing state.
A body. Skin peeled back. Exposed flesh and blood. Bones cracking.
“She’s cutting it. Cutting the body. Breaking it in pieces,” said Billy.
“Who’s she?” Dan asked. He reached for Billy’s eyelids and pried them open with his fingers. Billy’s gaze didn’t fix on Dan’s, it looked straight through him, through the wall to a far away place. “Who’s she?” Dan repeated.
Billy ignored the question, “She’s used to this. She’s done it before. Lots and lots of times. She’s not even really thinking about it. No, she’s not.”
“Billy, you have to break this connection,” Dan urged. “You need to think of something else.”
“She’s thinking about the end,” Billy said. “The end of everything. Everyone. The world. Complete destruction.”
Billy’s eyes flicked towards Dan’s, and in an instant his mind snapped back to normal. Billy took in a few breaths, his expression was blank and Dan hoped that Billy hadn’t retained any of the images he’d just witnessed, that he’d just been a conduit for the vision. But then the images from the vision all came flooding back to the forefront of Billy’s thoughts and he began to cry. Dan held Billy in his arms, and didn’t let go.
As he held him, he pondered what had gone wrong. What had Billy seen? Who was the woman? And more importantly, why did he go there? Without the answer to the latter, Dan would not continue with the experiment, the risk of trauma was too great.
When he later debriefed with Jim, Steven and Janet, they all confirmed that Billy had described their positions accurately, including Chuck, Jim’s mechanic friend who worked at the rail yard. But none of them knew where Billy could have gone to in his final vision. And they all agreed that it was too risky to continue with any more tests.
Dan had hoped that Billy would bring light back into his world, instead he reached out and found more darkness.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Janet listened to the audio recording of the session and instantly knew what went wrong. Billy had failed to locate her the second time because Dan used the wrong word — mother, a term Janet never used to describe herself; because mother, in regards to Billy, referred to someone else. And cognitively, neither Steven nor Janet were ever able to break that association.
Mommy, mum and ma all had trial runs before settling on mom. Had Dan used one of those words, Janet had no doubt Billy would have succeeded in locating her. But mother, that was reserved for private, quiet moments between her and Steven, when Billy was out of the house or asleep. This is when they would talk about her, Billy’s real mother, his birth mother.
When he was mature enough to comprehend, they were going to tell Billy he was adopted. It had been a closed adoption, so there wasn’t anything they could tell him about his birth mother, but they thought it would be important for him to know that he was not their biological child. However, it was now clear that he’d already acquired some innate knowledge of it, and this scared Janet. She’d hoped that somehow Billy had passively read their minds and was only subconsciously aware of his birth mother. If this was the case, Janet wanted to bury the truth as far in the back of her mind as she could, so that Billy would never know the full truth. What Billy saw in his vision was horrifying, and Janet wanted to ensure that Billy would never have contact with his mother again.
But, what if Billy hadn’t made the connection because of Janet and Steven’s thoughts? What if he’s had a metaphysical connection to his mother this whole time? Janet didn’t have the means to answer that question, nor did she want to explore it, so again, she tried to put it out of her mind. But there were two questions that she could not suppress, could not defer, could not ignore, and that chilled her to her core:
‘Does she have visions of Billy too?’
‘Will she come for him?’
All she could do was wait and hope they’d never be answered.