An edited and improved version of this story is now available for purchase as part of the ‘Prophecies of the Drowned Oracle’ collection.
Prompt by u/Cuckmandu:
Everyone in the world has the ability read minds, except for you. It is treated as such a normal and inconsequential fact of life that it is rarely if ever brought up. Because of this, you have no knowledge of this world of mind readers.
Dominic gave up lying at a very early age. It never worked. Whatever he tried, his mother could always tell.
“Did you eat the last cookie, Dominic?”
He’d been so careful, he’d made sure not to leave a single crumb on his face or hands. He even left the jar on the table instead of back in the cupboard, to make it look like dad did it. Dad never cleaned the jar up after himself.
“I didn’t,” he said.
Mum frowned. “Don’t lie to me Dominic, I know it was you.”
“It wasn’t me.”
“It’s rude to lie to someone’s face Dominic. Next time you want the last cookie, just ask.”
He gave up with his mother after that. It was tempting sometimes, but he knew there was no point. Things didn’t change when he went to school. He tried it with his teacher, thinking that she wouldn’t be able to tell since she didn’t know him as well as his mother. But he was wrong.
“I finished my work, can I go draw now?”
It should have been perfect. He’d waited to hand in his work until at least two others had completed it as well. No one had seen him look at the answers in the back of the book.
“That’s very fast,” Ms Daisy said. “You even got question 27?” Dominic nodded. Mrs Daisy looked sceptical. “You didn’t cheat?”
Dominic frowned. “I didn’t cheat,” he said, feigned hurt in his voice.
“You shouldn’t lie, Dominic, it’s rude.” Dominic’s eyes widened. How did she figure it out? Did it show on his face? Was he such a bad liar? He couldn’t figure it out. He continued to mull over it back at his desk. Maybe it was just that adults could tell when he was lying. He could never tell when someone else lied, but that was because he was still a kid. It was probably the same for his friends.
The last time he tried was with one of said friends. Rose was showing off her new coat. Dominic didn’t think it was very pretty, but he didn’t want to hurt her feelings. She wasn’t an adult, so it would be fine.
She got angry when he complimented her on the coat. “You’re a terrible liar, Dom. If you don’t like something, just don’t bother saying anything at all.”
He never told a single lie after that day. If it couldn’t benefit him, and it didn’t help to make people feel better, then there was no point. He was tempted to lie often, especially to start out, but he stopped himself every time. No matter how bad the reactions to the truth were, they were always better than the reactions he got when he was caught lying.
By the time he was a teenager, the temptation rarely flared up. Honesty was second nature now, and he realised people admired him for it. His teachers didn’t punish him that harshly for forgetting his homework. They just appreciated he didn’t lie about it. His friends liked that they could come to him for an honest opinion. They trusted his thoughts, they said.
As adults, his friends told him he was refreshing to be around. The fact that they didn’t have to probe for what he was thinking, since he just said it out loud, was something they liked. Dominic once asked how they did that, figuring out when someone was lying, because he was as bad at that as he was at lying himself.
“It’s difficult to tell with people who are very good at hiding it,” Rose said, “But it’s always somewhere in their mind. You can tell there’s something off.” Dominic didn’t understand. Of course it was somewhere in their minds, that didn’t mean he would be able to tell.
“Like, you can hear it in their voice? See it in their face? I don’t get it.”
Rose laughed. “It’s quite obvious you don’t get it,” she said. “People can lie straight to your face and you wouldn’t notice. It’s sweet, it’s like you just trust everyone to tell you the truth.”
He scowled. “I kind of have to trust in people telling the truth since I can’t tell when they’re not.” Rose could be lying to him daily and he wouldn’t know it. “Can’t you try to explain it?”
“I can try.” She was silent for a moment, thinking. “It’s in their emotions. There’s a sort of sour feeling when someone lies.” She saw his uncomprehending stare and tried something else. “Let’s try an example.” Her eyes glanced around for a moment before settling on his coat. “You know what? I really hate that coat.” Her voice was suddenly sharp. Dominic looked down at his coat. “Purple doesn’t suit you at all.” He touched the purple fabric self-consciously. His favourite coat…
“So,” Rose said, voice cheerful again. “How could you tell I was lying?”
Dominic pressed his lips together. He felt a little stupid. “I couldn’t, I didn’t.”
“Wait, you thought I meant that?” Dominic nodded.
“Wow…” she smiled at him. “There’s just no hope for you then.” Dominic laughed. That assessment wasn’t entirely unexpected. “Don’t worry about it too much. Most people wouldn’t lie to you when they realise how honest you are. It makes them feel guilty.”
Dominic grinned. It didn’t matter anyway. He trusted his friends not to lie to him. It would be nice if he could judge the honesty of strangers a little better though… Life would be easier if people could read minds, then no one would be able to lie. He laughed to himself. What a world that would be.