Found on the steps of an orphanage on the vernal equinox, the young Asian boy was different than most foundlings dropped off in the middle of the night. Asian's were not common in the area, so how he got to the orphanage was a topic of speculation during many long evening conversations both inside and outside the orphanage. A note in Chinese was pinned on his shirt but no one knew what it said. There were no Chinese people around to ask, and he was too young to know. He was old enough to speak but didn't.
They named him Equinox, as was their way of naming their foundlings after the day they arrived. He accepted the name with a nod and responded correctly when called. He did as he was instructed so he knew their language quite well.
After a short period, the headmistress noticed something extraordinary about the boy. He could avoid injury or clumsily nudge someone out of the way, so they weren't injured sometimes by just a few inches. Still he did not speak. He would nod or shake his head, but he never asked for anything. Yet, he knew when the baking was done to get a treat first or when the laundry needed to be hung out. He seemed to enjoy helping the housekeeper with the task. The housekeeper had a bad back and his assistance was greatly appreciated. He seemed to appear like magic wherever he was needed. The headmistress decided it was too many times for it to be a coincidence.
The elderly Orphanage headmistress Miss Gallagher thought, he is a puzzle wrapped in a mystery inside a paradox. So, she eventually gave him the last name of Paradox. She thought it a fitting name for a boy who should not be where he was or do what he could do.
The local doctors couldn't explain his inability to talk. He was healthy, and he did make noises, so his vocal cords worked. One doctor thought it may be trauma that took his voice, while another thought he just didn't need to talk because he was so clever that he got everything he needed. Miss Gallagher thought that the later was the likeliest of all the opinions.
Equinox always knew he was different, as far back as he could remember he knew things that others didn't, heard voices without people moving their mouths. At first, he was confused by their lack of response to the things he could sense but quickly learned they didn't see or hear the same things he did. He didn't talk at first because he thought they could hear what he was thinking, just as he did. Soon enough he knew it wasn't true, they couldn't hear him thinking. Which eventually made sense to him, because if everyone could hear what the others were thinking there would be fights all over the orphanage. Plus, he finally reasoned if everyone could hear what everyone thought why were there spoken words. His feelings were hurt many times by what he heard but more often than not people liked him, in both spoken words and thoughts. Still he saw no reason to talk, it only muddled things up since most people said things they knew weren't true.
He stayed close to those whose thoughts and actions were the most similar. Those who told the truth even if it hurt someone feelings. It made him feel better being around people like that.
As he grew older he found that his need to speak was growing. There were ideas he wanted to discuss and conversations he wanted to join in on, but he had no practice speaking to anyone. He knew the words, but he had no idea how they would sound coming out of his own mouth. One thing he didn't want to do was embarrass himself or those he cared about. After lunch one day he walked out the back door of the orphanage and down past the swings to where the woods encroached on the property. There was a fallen tree just under the dark canopy. He had noticed it from the yard before and that is where he sat down.
"So, you've decided to talk have you," a voice came from behind him. It was warm and soft, slightly feminine but low like a man's voice. Equinox knew it wasn't a person, but he also wasn't afraid of the thing speaking to him. He didn't turn because he didn't know if he would even be able to see it. Besides, if it wanted him to see it, it would stand in front of him.
"Uh huh," he forced the sound through his throat into his mouth. It was also low and more masculine than Equinox felt at 9 years old.
"Well, that is a start," it laughed. "How about introductions? That sounds like a wonderful way to get the conversation going.
"Hello, my name is Cotton Cooper. You can call me Cotton or Coop, either one is fine by me."
"I…I, I'm," the boy stuttered aloud surprised as he heard his own voice making words for the first time. "I.. my name zzz is Equinox Paradox," he said softly.
"That's quite the name you're saddled with for a little one," Cotton replied with another laugh.
"I didn't have a choice," he replied slowly. "It was given to me."
"Not many of us have a choice of our first given name. I choose to call myself Cotton because my hair is white. Born with it that way and it stayed," she said.
Equinox was then flooded with Cotton's memories. Memories of things the boy knew from his history lessons were from the not too distant past, but the memories included nothing from the recent past or present. Strangely, there were no memories of what Cotton looked like, or what she had been or done. Just pictures of the city streets, interiors of houses and public transportation.
"What did you do while you were alive?" Equinox asked hoping for more of her interesting memories.
"Oh ho! You are not afraid of ghosts?" Cotton exclaimed with a laugh.
"No ma'am. I've seen plenty, though you're the first one I've talked to. You're the first person I've ever talked to," the boy said as he got used to his voice. It was soft but firm, masculine and not too childlike.
"Do you want to see me?" she asked cautiously.
"Only if you want me too. I respect your privacy and your reluctance," he answered.
"Oh, such big words from the tiny one!"
"I guess it's from being around adults most of my life, listening to them speak and think. The other children's thoughts are so random, self-centered and uninteresting. I didn't think about tailoring my word use to my age," he answered slowly. "Um, how did you know I came out here to talk?"
"Oooh, I guess I had a bit of what you have, mind reading or something close to that, when I was alive, and it didn't disappear when I died. I didn't take the path to the other side because I like it here. I don't know what is over there, but I do know that now that no one can hurt me, I can do as I please. Besides I'm happy. I'm also happy you chose to come out here, so I could be the first one to hear you speak. I have been around, but I've kept myself hidden. You may have heard me but perhaps thought I was one of the other adults."
"I think I recognize your voice, that could also be why I wasn't afraid when you spoke," he answered.
"Well then, I want you to look at me and tell me what I look like because I don't even know what a ghost looks like," she laughed.
"Here I come," she replied.
A foggy mist moved around from the left of where the boy was sitting, it roiled and twisted, making frilly curlicues and little sparks of light in its midst. Pale pinks and purples flowed through the curlicues and the sparks were blue and yellow. The whole apparition was a little bit taller than the boy sitting down, and about the width from hand to hand if he stretched out his arms.
"You don't look like a person, but you are very pretty," he said watching the ebb and flow of the colorful array. "I may have gotten a glimpse of you though I can't be sure. Ghosts show up as different things when they are happy or if they are angry. I've even seen one that looked almost like a person, but it was scary, and I didn't look at it very long."
"I'm pretty! I'm pretty!" Cotton sang out. "Thank you, Equinox Paradox! I'm finally pretty!" The foggy cloud swirled, and the pinks and purples glowed, the sparks grew brighter and threw even more flares than before.
Equinox smiled at the dancing ghost, at least that's what it looked like she was doing. He also noticed it was getting late and he was going to miss dinner and make Ms. Gallagher upset and worried.
"I have to go now, it was nice meeting you and seeing you, Cotton," he said as he walked toward the orphanage.
Suddenly the view of the orphanage changed as it burst into flames for a moment. He gasped and clenched his fists. He knew what it meant, and he ran as fast as he could. Hoping that he would be in time to save everyone's life.
"What was that," Cotton's voice rang through the night. "What was that that you saw?"
"There is a gas leak or something and the orphanage will explode, I need to get everyone out quickly."
"I can help with that," she said and disappeared
The boy ran through the back door leaving it open, just as he heard the first chime of the fire alarm going off.
"Hurry this way," he yelled as he saw children running in circles even though they had fire drills once a month. The children heard him and ran quickly past him and through the open door. The housekeeper ran up the stairs from the basement, just as the last of them ran through the door.
"There is a gas leak get everyone out," she screamed over the loud ringing of the alarm. "Who set off the alarm?"
"I don't know," the boy answered, though he suspected it was Cotton who had tampered with the alarm.
The housekeeper stared at him like he had grown another head.
"Equinox, you spoke," she stated with surprise.
"Yes ma'am, I did," he replied and smiled.
"Oh, my boy, well let's get everyone out quickly." She smiled brightly.
Equinox closed his eyes and felt for anyone around or above him and he felt nothing. All of the children and the staff were outside, gone through other doors.
"Everyone is out, let's go too," he said and grabbed the housekeeper's hand and lead her out the back door. They ran to the edge of the woods where the children were waiting as they did when a fire drill rang.
"Boy that was fun," Cotton whispered in his ear
Equinox shivered at the chill but smiled and nodded his head just as the building exploded. The children all fell to the ground, not knowing that it was Equinox that had forced them down. Burning wood and debris flew through the evening sky, falling around them like a firestorm. Equinox stood and watched the debris and nudged the dangerous ones just a bit, so they wouldn't fall on anyone.
Later that evening, Equinox listened to the thoughts of all the city people as they fussed and pampered the orphans because of the close call they had. Many weren't so charitable but helped feed the children in the city school house. They did this because they didn't want the orphans running about aimlessly, as in their opinion they would become thieves and ruin their peaceful town. As he listened to the various thoughts and opinions both good and bad, he learned of a vacation home that was sitting unoccupied at the moment. It happened to belong to a well know philanthropist, a few subtle hints pushed into a few people's minds and the gears turned rapidly to get the children housed in the huge older home.
Late the next day he was called into the parlor where Mrs. Gallagher had set up her office. He politely knocked before entering and stood in front of the desk where she sat.
"Good evening Mrs. Gallagher," he said with a small bow.
"Good evening Equinox," she returned the polite greeting. She looked at him with questions in her eyes and he could hear her questions, her thoughts of his possible answers. Her suspicions of his talents flooding her brain. "Thank you for helping get everyone out of the house in time Equinox. How did you know?"
"I smelled the gas," he lied. He knew that once he'd decided to talk he would be doing a lot of lying. He didn't like doing it, but it only protected him and caused no damage to anyone for that protection. He seriously doubted that Mrs. Gallagher would sell him off to a freak show because of what he could do but it was better to keep his gift a secret.
"Ah, that is good that you knew it meant danger." She replied looking at him intensely. "Why have you decided to talk, now?"
"Now? I don't know. It just seemed like the right time," he answered truthfully and matched her seriousness. "There are things I want to know, and to do that I have to learn and have discussions with people. I needed to talk so I can do that."
"I'm glad you have decided to talk," she said with a smile.
Here it comes Equinox said to himself and hardened his resolve.
"Can you tell me how you can do the things you do?"
"What things?" He didn't have to act confused because he was. She wasn't asking about anything in particular and in her mind there was nothing specific she was curious about.
"You always know when the baking is done."
"That is easy. I hear the bell on the timer chime." That was true, though he was hearing through the cook's ears.
"Ah, so that is how you do it. Well then tell me how do you know when someone is about to have an accident?" she asked thoughtfully.
"I don't know what you mean." Equinox knew this question wasn't an easy one to answer or evade.
"You push people out of the way, so they don't get hurt."
Ah, a way out, she unintentionally gave him a way out.
"Really, I do that? I thought I was just clumsy," Nox claimed, squirming a bit, but that answer was the end of her questions. She realized that they were useless. Equinox felt relief that she was giving up.
Mrs. Gallagher sighed she so wanted to believe in the power of the mind and Equinox had been such a delightful mystery to her. From his early childhood she had wondered how he was able to be right where he was needed. She had hoped, even if it was only for a day, that now he would tell her of his amazing talent. She was sure he had it but not sure if he was hiding it or really had no idea what she was talking about. Either way she was now positive she wasn't going to get answers from him.
"I see," she said with another sigh. "Well, I guess that is enough for today; it has been an exciting couple of days. I am so thankful that the Howell House was available for us to use until other orphanages can be found to house everyone," Mrs. Gallagher replied, as her mind went over the list of orphanages both near and far that had openings. None of them would be able to take them all, and some of the children would be traveling far away.
"We won't be staying together anymore, will we," Equinox stated sadly.
"No, Equinox we will be splitting up and going to different homes. I hope you will like your new one. I hope they appreciate your assistance as we have," she replied with a smile.
"Thank you, I have enjoyed growing up with all of you." Equinox answered, made another small bow and left the room. As he left he heard her deep sadness that she wouldn't get to see 'her children' grow up. He sent her a peaceful healing thought and headed to bed.
Equinox was able to go to the woods to speak to Cotton again but there was no answer to his call. He sat and listened to the sounds around him and found a faint echo of Cotton's last thoughts before she left, No! I don't want to gooooo.
It took several months to settle on which children when where and a few were even adopted during that time.
After three months the last of the children including Equinox were sent to an orphanage located two hundred miles south of their old home. Mrs. Gallagher retired with a large pension for her long tenure as headmistress and an additional big bonus since no child had been injured or lost in the fire. The housekeeper found another job immediately, one without the chore of laundry. She felt blessed that her new job involved only of light house work in a single-story home, which was easier on her back. In addition, she didn't have to share a room with another maid or take care of a house full of children.
Equinox was happy that he could do good things for the two women that had made his young life as enjoyable as it had been.