It wasn't quiet anymore.
While he could not remember what it was like before, he knew that all the various noises surrounding him, pressuring him, startling him were new. Whereas before there was nothing, now there was everything. Sounds and sights, smells and taste, touch. It was a constant assault of stimuli, and he wasn't sure if he could handle the chaos. He did know that he didn't like it.
"Oh, the poor dear!"
Again, more noise – a higher toned sound rising and falling as the jumbled racket seemed to come together to express... something. What the thing was saying, he wasn't sure, yet. Of all the confusing things battering against his mind, this one posed less of a risk to his safety, his sanity, he believed. Rather, at unpredictable intervals there was a steady, ominous ticking sound which would signify a rapid redirection of the metal cage he found himself trapped inside. And then there were also the routine but thankfully only temporary blindings for him to worry about as well. Every time his metal cage passed another, he was prevented from accessing his surroundings for a short moment, and sometimes those passing metal cages came so close to him that he felt their vibrations ricocheting through his form. It was disconcerting, and he knew unfamiliar. He wasn't supposed to be here. His existence wasn't like this, but, at the same time, it was the only thing he now knew.
"Phillip, look at him," that same noise smacked his ears once more.
"I'm driving here, Diane,." a deeper tone returned. Why couldn't these things communicate silently... in their minds, especially if they were going to insist upon making noises he didn't understand and didn't particularly enjoy listening to. "If I look at him, I'll more than likely wreck the car, and then where will the boy be."
Boy. Male. Him.
Their disturbance was about him.
"I know, honey, but I just..." Suddenly, the noise rose in volume. "It just makes me so mad. Here we are, desperately trying to have a child together, and someone can just... throw away such a beautiful, innocent little boy. And he's obviously been traumatized, Phillip. Who knows how long he's been wandering out in the desert, he's as thin as a rail, and..." Thankfully, the racket lessened quite considerably. "... I think he's mute." He hoped that would be the end of the back and forth sounds, but then the thing continued, "you don't think he's been... abused, do you?"
"We won't know anything until we get him to the sheriff's office. There, we'll start looking through all the local missing children, and social services will send someone to look over him medically. Diane, it'll be alright. We'll help the boy."
"That's the last thing he needs – a cold, impersonal environment, more strangers, to be poked and prodded. Why can't we just take him home with us?"
The larger thing expelled breath harshly. "Diane, you know as well as I do that there are proper channels that things like this must go through."
"Was it proper for someone to just... dump their child off in the middle of nowhere?!"
At that point, it all became too much. Between all the audible noise; the intermittent lights; the occasional vibrations; the acrid sting of scents bypassing his nose for the first time; the touch of his body against the solid surface beneath him, around him, behind him; and the cacophony of emotions swirling dangerously inside of him – some of his own and some being transmitted by the things before him and then absorbed into his own form, he simply couldn't maintain his control any longer. So, he did the only thing he could do: he allowed some of the stimuli to leak out of his form, their wet release leaving a trail down from his eyes to his face, dripping off his chin, and then continuing to roll their way down his nude body.
They made him shiver.
And still the sounds, and the sights, and the smells, and the tastes, and touches continued. There was no relief. The pressure continued to grow – choking him.
He wanted to go back. He missed the nothingness that is there in his mind from before, but, without understanding why he was aware of such a truth, he knew he would never be able to return to what and where he was before, and it would never be quiet again.
Max Evans was aware of what his fellow classmates thought of him.
The Next Unabomber.
They had been calling him such names since he had started attending public school eight years prior. Though the old expression his mother had taught him when he was in third grade was true – sticks and stones and all that, Max was still uncomfortable with their scrutiny, and no one liked being completely ostracized... even someone as different as he was.
And that was perhaps the worst part of his life – being hated for the wrong reasons. While the students of West Roswell High weren't wrong in their judgements of him, they were wrong in their reasoning as to why he was the way he was. Everyone thought he was shy and socially awkward, the product of whatever his life had been like before he was adopted, but, even after countless hours of thinking, and dreaming, and – as lame as it sounded – soul searching, Max still didn't know who... or what he was before his parents had found him wandering naked in the desert that fated night. In fact, the real reason why he was so closed off was because he was so very desperate to connect with someone. His body actually yearned for companionship. It wanted to know others, and it wanted others to know him, but talk about further alienating himself from society... pun intended.
If Max was to listen to his body's imperatives and actually form a bond with another being, with a human, then he would once and for all truly expose himself. Compared to his fellow students' scrutiny now, if word got out just how very different he was, Max and what were believed to be his eccentricities would no longer be tolerated. His otherness would be revealed, the disdain he was treated with would suddenly become absolute horror and fear, and he would no doubt either be shipped off to some government facility to be tested or, if someone took mercy upon him, terminated. So, while he hated being alone, while it was a struggle to remain aloof and impersonal day after day after day, and while his body punished him religiously for ignoring its demands, Max knew he had no other choice but to keep himself separate from everyone else in his life. That meant no friends, no intimacy, and certainly no eye contact... with anyone, the latter being a lesson he had been forced to learn the hard way.
It was the night his parents had found him. At that point, Max still hadn't been capable of recognizing people for what they were; they were still merely things to him. Words had been noise, lights had equaled pain, smells had burned his nose, and the touch of anything against his bare skin, no matter how soft, irritated and pained him. But those discomforts had been nothing compared to the fear that had assaulted his confused and disoriented form when he had first met the gaze of someone else.
He had been sitting in what he now knew to be the sheriff's station, waiting for social services to arrive and begin processing his case. After their countless attempts to reach him had all been for nought, his parents had given up trying to communicate, and everyone else had seemed intimidated by him for some reason, so he was primarily left alone. But there had been one man – Jim Valenti – who had felt either confident enough or brave enough, still to this day Max wasn't sure, to reach out to him. The up-and-coming law enforcement officer had kneeled down before his then skinny, quaking form. He had lowered his already soft voice to speak to him in what he now had the foresight to recognize as a soothing tone, and he had tried to find ways to relate to Max.
Patiently, the young cop had told Max about his own son, a little boy about his same age. He had told him about a camping experience gone wrong when he had been lost for several hours alone in the desert as a boy, so he knew how how scary it was. And he had assured him that he was there to make things better – to protect him from whatever it was that had Max so scared. But it was the use of the word son which had prompted Max to lift his face from where it was buried in his own neck and regard the strong, dependable man before him. While he couldn't comprehend anything else the stranger was telling him, he had instinctively recognized the familiarity and felt comforted by it. Unfortunately, that small relief was soon replaced by absolute trepidation when his own scared yet curious gaze had connected with the sympathetic, watery blues staring back at him.
Without any prompting, images had assaulted his young mind. Max had seen the then deputy's devastation when his wife left him and their young son, his embarrassment over his crazy, alien-obsessed father, and how the older man's entire self-worth and self-confidence was wrapped up in his ability to do his job. While Max had only looked at the cop for a mere moment, he had seen enough to understand the person kneeling before him, and, even worse, that first and only connection with someone had been powerful enough to leave Jim Valenti gasping in shock and fright. Although Max had never found out what the now sheriff had seen when he looked into Max's eyes, he did know that, to this day, Valenti was leery of Max, suspicious of him. It probably didn't help matters that the sheriff's son was one of the teenagers who harassed Max the most at school – his popularity and athletic success demanding that he pick on those lower than him in the high school pecking order, and Max Evans was the lowest of the low at West Roswell High.
A hard shove catapulted Max out of his own reflective thoughts. "Watch it, psycho," one of Kyle Valenti's friends warned him along with the push. It was either Pauly, or Nicky, or Tony – wannabe mob names for future delinquents all three were on a collision course to become. In their insufferable, intolerant, and mindless drone ways – after all, they were Kyle's flunkies, the three of them were so much alike that Max couldn't tell them apart. No great loss there, though.
Speaking of Valenti, though... "Hey, don't send him in my direction," the school's star athlete of the month... every month... protested when Max came close to bumping into him after being tossed about. Though he knew he could easily hold his own against any of the four of his harassers, he also knew that any violence between them would be looked upon as his fault, as the local crackpot finally exploding and taking it out on the kids he was supposed to be jealous of. It was ironic that, while the school, its guidance counselor, and its teachers continually tried to coax him from out behind his tree, as they called it, any move on his part to assert enough authority in an effort to be viewed as an equal, and he would immediately be shunned for being not only strange but also dangerous.
"I swear," Kyle Valenti remarked caustically, "they need to make two different sets of halls for this place – one for those of us who can function in society and one for Maxie-boy here and all his special friends."
Eyes firmly riveted to the floor and his hands tightly fisted into his front jeans pockets, Max did everything in his power to ignore the caustic words being flung in his direction. It wasn't so much their insulting meaning which infuriated him but the tones in which they were spoken. Filled with disgust and revulsion, Kyle's otherwise ignorable words – after all, they were nothing that Max had not heard a thousand times before from the jock and his ignorant buddies – were filled with emotions that were being transferred from the star quarterback and into Max. What was more, the four athletes had just come from morning football practice. They smelled like sweat, grass, and dirt – scents that were masked for others but not him by the even more cloying aromas of cologne and deodorant. The more his senses were bombarded, the further Max fell victim to them. Suddenly, he could taste the bleach laden cleaning products the janitor used nightly to disinfect the school's hallways, he could see the individual particles in the stone tiles beneath his feet, and his relatively loose fitting jeans and t-shirt had become much too tight and restrictive, chaffing his over-stimulated skin. And, like always when his body became over-sensitized, an incapacitating migraine rushed forward to further cripple his mind, nearly making Max double over in pain.
And then she was there.
"Kyle Valenti, if your father heard you say something like that..."
The threat went unfinished, but everyone – the six of them now standing there together and all the students pretending to be milling about busily while they were otherwise eavesdropping on just the latest 'let's-mock-Max-Evans-session' – knew exactly what Liz Parker was referring to. After all, Kyle's glass house – his commonly believed to be insane grandfather who lived in the local sanitarium – was very publicly known and gossiped about, especially now that Jim Jr., Kyle's father, had been named sheriff just like his alien-hunting father had been years prior before being stripped of the title due to his rapidly increasing paranoia concerning extraterrestrials. A few students snickered, too, at Liz's comment and Kyle's obvious discomfort over the pointed barb, especially since it seemed as though the town of Roswell was merely holding their breath and waiting for the son to emulate the father and start his own alien witch hunt, a further reason for Max to stay as far away from the Valentis as possible.
Still, despite being stood up to, Kyle couldn't completely back down. His reputation wouldn't allow it, especially not to a mere wisp of a girl. "Trust me, my father is perfectly aware of just how... different Evans is. In fact, he warned me years ago to stay away from Mental Max."
Liz snorted, and Max found himself actually biting back a grin. With every word she spoke in his defense, his senses started to recede. "Yeah, because everyone knows that the Valenti family is never paranoid, right Kyle?" Then, she did the last thing he expected and literally dragged his left hand out of his pocket to clutch with her own tiny, right palm and delicate fingers. "Come on, Max, we need to get to AP Physics, and we wouldn't want the four stooges to be late for remedial science. After all, it's quite the jaunt to the special ed hallway."
True, he didn't have friends, and, yes, it was true that the entire town looked upon him as a freak – maybe not as much as they would if they knew the truth of his origins but, still, he was ostracized, and it was even true that he had to remain aloof and distanced from his parents – perhaps the only two people in the world who loved him, the two people who unknowingly risked so much to bring him into their family, but at least he had his lab partner. He and Liz Parker weren't friends, but they weren't enemies either like every other West Roswell High student treated him. And, for Max, that was as close to a connection as he felt safe in making... for both of their sakes.