Skip to the Good Part

Hugh Behm-Steinberg


“Guess what I found in the little free library?”

You slide the book over. Gold letters on a sky-blue background, very modern font: How to Be a Telepath. I turn the book over to read the blurbs. There are no blurbs: a very bad sign.

“Don’t be so skeptical. It works. I’ve read it myself.”

“Then what am I thinking?” I say.

“Not telling. Read the book.”

“Now?” I say.

“It’s important.”

I turn to the preface. My head throbs just reading the first sentence.

“I can’t read when you’re staring at me like that,” I say.

“I’ll run some errands. But you’d better be through chapter two by the time I get back. No skimming, either.”

Your temples are glowing.

“Just read the book. It’ll explain everything.”




So I read the book, or try to, but the more I try the more my head hurts. The book says it would, in the footnotes to the footnotes on the bottom of page seven in type so microscopic I have to take my glasses off and practically touch the paper with my eyeballs. The book says that’s part of the process: I just have to want it hard enough. The book says I don’t want it hard enough, twice, on pages 17 and 35. Why should I trust a book that claims to know what I’m thinking? I decide to go on Facebook instead.

But all the posts in my newsfeed are boring, one dimensional, and so very, very thoughtless, even the sad ones. No wonder my screen clutters with popups for ketamine: I’m no longer clicking on the ads for stuff I like, like books on how to be a telepath.

Suddenly I’m not so sure that that was actually my thought, and not one of those practice thoughts from the end of the chapter exercises in How to Be a Telepath. I can feel my hair growing, waving slightly as if underwater. I stop staring at the screen, that false idol diverting me from the one true path which is telepathy. From now on I shall read only books, my mind tells me, starting with the one with the gold embossed letters set on a blue background that is somehow both sky and sea.

I determine to force my way through to at least the middle of chapter one. But then I think maybe I really should just skim the whole thing for highlights and only concentrate on the last chapter. That got me through college: why wouldn’t it work here?

The book warns me not to skim, in at least five different places. I figure that’s just what the book wants me to think. Stupid book! Instead, I dwell on how clever you’re going to think I am when you come home and notice how great at telepathy I’ve become.

“You’re such a natural,” you’d think at me, and I’d beam back the sorts of thoughts I never could put into words.

So I skip to the very last chapter.




Let’s just say the very last chapter is very, very disappointing.




But then the front door opens, and your head is on fire. You act like nothing is wrong, unpacking all the groceries, but your head is very much on fire.

I’m trying to act like I’ve read all the way through How to Be a Telepath, not just random bits and the ending, that I’ve fully mastered all there is to know about telepathy, successfully completing all the practice exercises, and that I can use telepathy in a safe and responsible way that would never set anyone’s head on fire.

I don’t need to know telepathy to recognize the look on your face. It is not the look of satisfaction for a job well done, or surprise that I had vacuumed the house without being asked.

“You skimmed, didn’t you?”

The rest of the house begins to burn. I am such a bad person.

“Did you at least read chapter two?”




Just as suddenly, I’m in the ocean, the infinite sea of chapter two. Yellow sergeant fish school around me, spotted eagle rays slowly circle just below. The water is warm, maybe not cool enough to put the fire out, but if I go deeper, perhaps. Down, down, into the cool and dark, past the nurse sharks, towards the reef. Chapter two is easy: think about water, think beautiful thoughts; put out the fire, telepathy. “I can beat this,” I think, as if nobody could read my thoughts.

But then I see the black ink, thickening the water in clots the consistency of spoiled blood, the countless unholy limbs. A tentacle shoots out from the pollution and wraps itself around my waist, dragging me down until I can no longer hide from that awful face, with the all-seeing eyes and mouth the size of a house. It dangles me like some morsel, while a horrible voice in my brain roars, endlessly repeating all the incomprehensible practice phrases from How to Be a Telepath, saying this is the hard way, this is the HARD way, THIS IS THE HARD WAY, THIS IS THE LIGHT, making my skull split open, forcing me to see everything from which I’d been hiding.

I’d never thought I knew what the word gibber meant, but holy god.

Then I hear your voice, or what I imagine must be your voice, saying “there is an easier way [revealed in chapter three].”

Suddenly I’m home, dry and shrieking. Nothing is on fire, not anymore. Mouthless iridescent creatures snuggle around our feet, keening their wordless songs.

When I look at you, really look, there’s so much I want to know, that I had never before even imagined.

You are the sea. At least this time that is what I think.

And your temples

The Good Part


“Guess what I found in the little free library?”

You slide the book over. Gold letters on a sky-blue background, very modern font: How to Be a Telepath. I turn the book over to read the blurbs. There are no blurbs: a very bad sign.

“That’s funny,” I say. “Guess what I found in the little free library?

I slide my book over. Sky-blue letters on a gold background, an even more modern font: How to Be a Telepath, 2nd Edition. You turn the book over to read the blurbs. All the blurbs quote you: “Read This Book. It’s Important,” they say, and “Don’t be so skeptical. It works.”

We take our books to different ends of the house, you upstairs in the attic, me in the basement. An hour lurches by.

“What am I thinking?”

I shouldn’t be able to hear you but because this time I refuse to skim I understand all.

“Not telling!” I yell back.




It doesn’t matter: the basement always floods, the attic always catches fire. No one should know telepathy, which is why books on how to be a telepath so often show up in the little free libraries in front of abandoned houses.




The book says you don’t want it hard enough, twice, on pages 53 and 71. I know this because I’m far enough ahead in my book that I can see what you are reading. In my mind.

But my copy of How to Be a Telepath is written in your voice so I trust it, because all meaningful things run in parallel to each other. I just didn’t understand that before because I hadn’t read enough of either edition of How to Be a Telepath, choosing instead to waste my life on Facebook.

Suddenly I’m not so sure whether I hadn’t already thought that thought before, or if I wasn’t repeating one of those practice thoughts from the end of the chapter exercises. I can feel my hair falling out, like rain on the ocean, because now I’m underwater, and you are on fire.




But then the front door opens, and it’s our children. They act like nothing is wrong, opening up the refrigerator, grabbing sodas, but they know because it’s so clear in their minds. One of us is underwater but not drowning, the other is the sun. Our kids are okay with these changes. We don’t need to know telepathy to recognize the look on their faces.

“You finally got around to reading those books we stashed in the little free library, didn’t you?”

No wonder we never spent much time thinking about our kids.




Later we abandon our house, after putting up a little free library of our own. Someone else is piloting our bodies, doing the work, they are so busy writing brand new books on how to be a telepath, one for every little free library.

We don’t know what our kids are up to. They are so much better at this than we are. I try not to wonder about it.

But in the ocean, I often think of you, up there working with all that fire, all that light, and I brighten, while in the dark and impossibly fertile sea where I now truly live I let my tentacles pour, seeking out new readers as they arrive, thinking they know about telepathy.

That’s when I show them the sun.




Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s prose can be found in X-Ray, Grimoire, Ergot, Heavy Feather Review, Occulum and The Offing. His short story “Taylor Swift” won the Barthelme Prize from Gulf Coast, and his story “Goodwill” was picked as one of the Wigleaf Top Fifty Very Short Fictions. A collection of prose poems and microfiction, Animal Children, was published by Nomadic/Black Lawrence Press. He teaches writing and literature at California College of the Arts.