By Alex Binkley
Emily Beattie looked out of the window above her kitchen sink searching for wildlife in the tree-lined ravine that ran behind her apartment building. It was part of her routine as she prepared for work.
On a good morning, she might spot deer or wild turkeys drinking from the pond formed before the ravine flowed into a metal culvert carrying the water under Nixon Road. The animals usually turned around there rather than climbing the embankment to the road, then crossing it into downtown Bethany.
A recent veterinary college graduate, Emily was working in this rural area to gain experience with farm livestock and, when she could, with wild animals.
No large animals were in sight but plenty of birds flitted about. Suddenly a large black shape moving through the trees caught her attention. She studied it closely, then realized it was a black bear. Usually wildlife continually checked the buildings along the ravine for any humans. The bear did not glance about as it strode determinedly forward.
It’s going somewhere in a hurry!
Emily’s training had included companion and farm animals as well as wildlife. She had done a work term at a zoo. She had never seen an animal that moved as purposefully as the bear, except for a horse carrying an experienced rider.
Glancing at her watch, she had about ten minutes before she needed to leave for the vet clinic and another busy day, so she hurried to the living room window for a better view of the bear. Will it go into the village or turn back at the embankment?
The bear disappeared in all the foliage. There were thirteen buildings between hers and Nixon Road so it would take a few minutes for the animal to reach the embankment.
She imagined the excitement if it entered the village. She hoped the clinic would be called on to tranquilize it rather than the police just shooting it. She thought about how big a dose that would take.
Her thoughts were interrupted when the bear reappeared walking as briskly as before. Behind it scampered a man carrying a wooden ladder. She stared until she realized he was the chap who lived alone in the third house from Nixon Road. It looks like he’s jogging to keep up with the bear. She remembered his name was Stan and that the locals were always talking about him.
Well more about the strangers who came in limousines or fancy cars to see him. Others flew in private planes to the nearby airport. Some locals even claimed a few of his guests were accompanied by grim-faced bodyguards. Trucks regularly delivered large packages to his house. While he frequented the local coffee shops and restaurants, he kept mostly to himself checking his laptop or writing copious notes.
When the bear and man were out of sight, Emily finished dressing and preparing for the drive to work. I won’t say anything about what I saw because it’d just become part of the gossip.
However, she took a longer route to work to catch a couple more glimpses of the ravine and trail. At the second opening, she spotted Stan and the bear about to pass out of sight.
As she pulled out her phone and clicked a couple of photos of the scene, a feeling came to her that whatever Stan was up to, he was in no danger.
Waiting for her at the clinic was a couple and their dogs. The receptionist passed her paperwork for both.
“When you’re done,” she said, “there are two farm calls to make. One place has sheep that are off their feed, and the other a cow that has suddenly gone lame.”
One dog had to be put down while the other needed medicine, and the owners were given some education about proper feeding. The sheep had a low-grade virus and the cow’s left rear hoof was badly infected. She gave the cow a needle and told the farmer to come to the clinic for some supplementary medicine.
Her boss was on a holiday, which meant Emily had extra work, but she liked the variety of cases in a rural area and the experience of being on her own. She had yet to decide what field of veterinary medicine she wanted to specialize in.
She treated more dogs and cats at the clinic before heading home. She stopped at the local grocery store for a few items, and to her surprise Stan was there.
It was the first time she had seen him up close. He was at least in his late forties and plainly dressed. Hardly seems like a mystery man.
He approached her when she was alone in the produce section.
“I’d like to explain what happened this morning. It must’ve been a weird sight, but you’re a veterinarian and with your science background you might understand. I think the restaurant down the street is usually quiet on Tuesday evening. Could we could meet there?”
Emily tried not to agree too quickly. An hour later she entered the restaurant and spotted Stan sitting at a corner table.
“How did you know I saw you carrying the ladder, and that I’m a vet?”
He glanced about before responding. “I sense people’s thoughts. Part of it is discovering whoever is paying attention to me. However, in your case I could also sense your curiosity about the bear and knowledge of animals. From that it didn’t take long to learn you’re a vet at the local clinic.”
“Why were you following the bear and what was the ladder for?”
“Glad you asked because that’s the interesting part, and why I want to talk with you. You’ll know a lot more about animal behaviour than I do.”
He waited until she smiled. “About an hour before you saw us, I sensed an animal in great anguish. I guess she was several miles away at the time. It took a lot of effort to comprehend her thoughts but finally I could see her three cubs had fallen into a deep hole and couldn’t climb out. She would’ve crushed them if she jumped down after them.
“Her situation reminded me of a video about some workers backing up a pickup truck carrying a ladder to a metal garbage bin at a big park. The truck scared away a bear long enough for a man to jump out of the cab into the back, and slide the ladder into the bin. By then the bear was on her way back and he quickly returned to the cab, moving the truck far enough away to record what happened. Within a few minutes, three cubs crawled up the ladder and jumped down to their mother. The video didn’t show how they got in there in the first place.”
Emily nodded and Stan continued his explanation.
“I kept exploring the bear’s thoughts and somehow she came to understand I was aware of her situation. Then she made it clear she was coming to get my help. I would like to understand how she knew who I am and where I live. When the bear was probably a half mile away, I replayed the video again in mind followed by an image of my ladder. As soon as I saw her coming up the ravine, I sent her an image of me following her back to the cubs carrying the ladder. When she could see me, she nodded her head up and down several times so I grabbed the ladder and off we went. It was like she wanted to see me before she accepted my offer. After we reached the hole, I put the ladder in it and the cubs climbed out right away. The bear grunted and rubbed her head on my arm before they headed off. That must be ‘thank you’ in bear talk.”
“When I saw you following the bear and carrying the ladder,” Emily said, “I thought you must be crazy. But you had the biggest grin on your face. Now I understand why. I hate to think what would’ve happened if anyone else saw you. You do have a reputation as an eccentric around here.”
While his face remained blank, Stan fidgeted with his utensils and the salt and pepper shakers. She had never encountered someone who was as expressionless as him.
“The locals don’t know the half of it, which is just fine by me.”
“How did you… umm… communicate your plan with the bear?”
“You know what extrasensory perception and telepathy are?”
“What some people imagine them to be, yes.”
“Well there are a lot of high-powered and wealthy people who believe my telepathic skills are real, which means governments and corporations want to use my services for insights into the strategies of their competitors as well as public attitudes. They don’t understand how my ability works, and that it doesn’t always produce the results they want. Often I tell them only what they asked for rather than all I’ve learned pursuing their request. By the way, I can turn off my telepathy, which I have done for this conversation.”
“You read my concern this morning.”
“And your intention this afternoon to stop at the grocery store. Your thoughts are a lot more focused than most people around here. My primary concern today was the safety of the bears. It would be a real bonus if this incident leads me to comprehend how I read mother bear’s anguish and whether that would open the door to a wider understanding of wildlife thinking. I wish I could get them to look both ways before crossing a road. I’m always upset by the sight of the ones hit by vehicles.
“Today I’m trying to have a normal conversation with a person who has scientific training to see if I can explain myself in a rational way about something that is generally regarded as a blend of wishful thinking and pseudoscience. If I’m imposing on you too much, please say so.”
“Don’t worry; I’m driven by curiosity. In this case, how you convinced the bear you could save her cubs. As intriguing as that is, I’m even more curious about how she would know you could help her, and accept your idea of using the ladder.”
“I hope you can help me find answers to your questions. I became aware of sensing other people’s thoughts about thirty years ago when I was in high school. At first I could just get vague impressions of what a person was thinking. It helped if the thoughts involved me. When I was in the school cafeteria or anywhere people were gathered, I would try to pick up on what they were thinking. By the time I finished university I was quite adept at it. Telepathy doesn’t have many applications in chemical engineering so I guess it became my hobby.
“I can read a person’s thoughts regardless of their language because I sense the images of what they’re speaking or thinking about. When I realized that, I wondered whether it’d work on animals. It was difficult at first because animals don’t think in terms of reference like humans. I’ve focused on telepathy with humans and hoped someday to become better at it with animals.
“Understanding animal thoughts began in grad school. I was sitting on a park bench one day thinking about a problem I faced with recycling plastic waste into useful products. I found myself surrounded by pigeons and squirrels although I had no food in my hands. That didn’t discourage them. Then I remembered the sandwich and cookies in my backpacks. They must have smelled them. I pulled them out and shared them. While I was doing that, the solution came for my problem and I quickly scattered the rest of the sandwich and the cookies and headed for my lab.
“My solution worked better than expected and what it led to is the main reason I get so many visitors. I have a specialized chemistry lab in the house that I work in when I want. It’s highly automated so I don’t have to be in it all the time, and when I am I don’t have people’s thoughts intruding on mine.”
“If you’re into specialized engineering,” asked Emily, “why are you living in this out-of-the-way village?”
“Here I’m an oddball and mostly ignored so I accomplish a lot. At a major university, I’d be hounded all the time.”
“What would you have done if the cubs couldn’t climb up the ladder?”
“Put branches on it and they could’ve climbed them.”
“It sure would make my job easier if I could communicate with animals. It would’ve been far better for the cow with the infected foot today if she had just lain still while I was treating her.”
“At least you see the potential in what I can do and don’t think I’m a wacko.”
“Well you’d have to prove to me that your telepathy works beyond making educated guesses.”
“Fair enough, although you’ll have to experience it to really understand. I’ll think of a way to demonstrate it that doesn’t intrude on your privacy.” He smiled at her. “Is the food here acceptable to you?”
“I’ve eaten here a couple of times and the fare was always fine.”
“Good. Could we meet here two evenings from now? I hope by then to have figured out a way to demonstrate my telepathy is legitimate.”
“Certainly, and I’ll read up on the topic. There’s probably lots online about it.”
“Plenty, although the arguments for it aren’t very convincing.”
That evening and the next morning before she headed for the clinic, Emily scanned the internet for information on telepathy and ESP. While she read a lot, the information only made her more skeptical. What will it take to verify Stan’s claims?
She drove through Bethany later in the day and spotted several vehicles outside his house. While they could be discussing chemical engineering issues, she suspected they would be discussing his unusual abilities because their presence would not be noticed here.
Mostly she used her spare time to think about ways to test his claim. How could I do it without letting him read my mind? Her research suggested telepathy only worked if the people involved in the communication willingly participated. Did my curiosity about the bear and why Stan was following her open me to him knowing my thoughts?
Once they placed their orders the next evening, Emily told Stan the only way she could think of checking his claim was for him to tell her what she was thinking about now.
“The horse today. While the cut was deep, cleaning and wrapping it was all that was needed. You wished you could have convinced it that standing still so you could treat and bandage it would be a lot less painful than thrashing about. It obviously upset you a great deal because when I sensed you entering the restaurant, you were still projecting strong feelings about it.”
“What other thoughts can you read?”
“Well you’re curious about my visitors yesterday. It’s interesting that having received your thoughts when you first watched me following the bear, I can tell when you are nearby. You have a unique mental pattern. By the way I checked on the bear today. She and the cubs are fine. I told the township about the hole and they’ll arrange to fill it in. While that news makes you happy, you still want to know about the visitors. Well they actually came to discuss an engineering problem.”
“Nothing about telepathy?” she asked. Stan shook his head. “Guessed wrong there. Nothing I’ve read so far makes a plausible case for telepathy or ESP but its supporters are passionate like the flat-Earthers.”
“Please don’t compare telepathy to the charade of the flat-Earth advocates. My house is cloaked to prevent electronic spying, which also stops my telepathy from working on what’s going on around it. So I only engage it when I’m working on something important in my lab. It’s not on when I have visitors because it interferes with cell phones.”
“So there’s still the matter of convincing me telepathy works. While you correctly noted some of my thoughts, they could just be lucky guesses.”
“Can you think of any instances when you successfully deduced what someone was thinking?”
Emily thought for a spell. “I’m sure there have been occasions but I don’t remember any in detail. I would’ve attributed it to paying attention and thinking a bit.”
“Those are parts of the process for sure. Telepathy doesn’t deliver instant insights. Take the incident with the bear. I was sitting on my back deck enjoying the morning when I felt this anguish. I focused on it and discovered it was coming from the forest not the village. While I wondered if someone was lost, the thoughts coming to me made no sense.
“There are sounds with telepathic thoughts. Finally I realized they were coming from an animal, which I correctly deduced was mother bear. Then I could see the bear’s view of the cubs stuck in this hole. I was puzzling over this when I remembered the garbage box rescue. You know the rest of the story.
“As I was following the bear, I sensed someone was watching. I focused on it and could tell the person was in your apartment and wanted to understand what I was doing. You were curious, not alarmed. And I sensed you a bit later in your vehicle tracking us. By the way, I did some further checking on you. You already have a great reputation around here.”
Emily smiled. “I try to imagine what my patients are thinking, but barks and moos don’t help me much.”
“You should try projecting images of how you want to treat them. That’s what I did over and over with the bear, sending her an image of the ladder going into the hole and the cubs climbing out. I repeated it a lot as we were walking to the hole.”
They parted after dinner with both promising to keep working on understanding telepathy.
The next afternoon the vet clinic received an emergency call. A bull had slashed open its left front leg on a piece of farm machinery. The farmer had coaxed the beast into a pen but it was still bleeding and bellowing in agony.
Emily was on the road and reached the farm in about twenty minutes. The farmer led her to the barn where a couple of workers were watching the animal lying on a pile of straw. “I paid a lot for the bull.” He was still thrashing about.
“Would you fellows please go outside,” Emily said. “I want to try something.” When they were gone, she spoke softly to the bull while she projected an image of her entering the pen and cleaning and wrapping his wound. She repeated it several times and to her surprise the animal quieted.
She opened the door into the pen and stepped in carrying her vet satchel. The bull sniffed a lot so she put her hand in front of its head. The bull reached up to brush her hand with his nose, and then licked her fingers. Then he laid his head back on the straw.
For several minutes, Emily cleaned the wound, and then sprayed it with disinfectant. The bull groaned a couple of times but did not even twitch at her ministrations. Emily finished by wrapping the wound, all the while projecting an image of the bull remaining quiet, the healing occurring, and the bull soon back outside.
With her ministrations complete, she stepped back. The bull struggled slowly to its feet, and then gently moved toward her. He rubbed his head on her arm a couple of times and then stepped back.
She choked back a rush of emotions.
“I believe now Stan.”