Written by: Chen Jiulin (20-E1), Curtis Neo Kai Di (20-O4)

Designed by: Poh En Xi

The counsellor looked puzzled, not quite fully understanding the gravity of the situation. She retracted her hand from my bandaged arm.

“If it’s really hurt, you should go to the sick bay. Look, there’s even blood coming out,” she warned. And of course, I knew the consequences of not treating my wound, but then I would lose, and I did not want to lose.

“…No, it’s fine. Sorry for shouting.”

The counsellor perked her head up. “Why do I smell…tomato sauce?” She was studying her hands intently. “Anyway.” She turned to me. “What did you want to see me about? What’s bothering you today?”

“Ah, no. I might have accidentally booked a slot. Sometimes I accidentally do things.”

She looked puzzled once again: “Well, you came here, didn’t you? What’s wrong? Is it about…well…you know, how you don’t have friends? Are you having trouble finding some?”

Of course I did not. Why would I? I grimaced. “I don’t…need to talk to my classmates. They are not who they are. They are infected by some — I don’t know — hive mind. There’s this barrier between them and I, and anybody who can think and hear and have a freedom of thought would realise this.”

There was a brief awkward silence in the air. 

The counsellor cleared her throat. “Ah — well, I have been working closely with your teacher, and I found out that you don’t jell with your class at all…you would try to, she saw that. But it seems you just sit and watch your classmates talk. Will you tell me why?”

I felt like choking. The presence of the hive mind was mind-numbingly suffocating. “N..no, I was, just. There was no connection there, you see.” I teared up a little. “There was no connection to be established with the hive mind. Everything is on a whole ‘nother frequency. The whole lot of them; just some big, giant, entity, going against me. Just wanting the worst for me. And I can’t get past them. I can’t talk to any of them. Anybody who is sensible would realise that after exchanging a few words.

“I…can’t get in.”

“Oh, don’t cry, don’t cry. Here, have a tissue.”

I calmed down.

“The hive mind is evil, I theorise. It wants to end all of individuality. If you conform to it, it will absorb you, it will gnaw into you, and sooner or later you’ll become one of them. And that means you have lost. That you have abandoned any shred of your uniqueness. And I refuse to lose.” I looked at the counsellor.

“But I’m not alone. There are various other people like me. I met them on, whatsitcalled, read-it or something. And they told me that sometimes when things get too hard for them to deal with when battling the hive mind, they use blood to ward it off. And we keep resisting. We fight and are tireless in battle, because we believe that someday, someone will come along and understand us for who we are and love us, and we would not be tempted by the hive mind at all. And yet I…

“I’m sorry, I’m not strong enough. I just poured tomato sauce on my arm and bandaged it. Maybe I do want to conform. I’m so sorry. I explain things badly sometimes. My mind goes from place to place, it’s a real hassle.”

The counsellor looked on questioningly. I eyed her steadily. “The…hive mind, it seems they have infected the air. The sun is poisonous, the people going about their daily lives toxic, I can’t even go out nowadays. But that’s beside the point. The reason I have come here today is to ask you to join us. You have individuality, you see. You care. Of course you do, you’re the counsellor. And that makes you my ally. Now will you be mine?”

She widened her eyes, understandably stunned. “It’s fine to be surprised,” I said. “I can show you.”

Leaning into the well cushioned chair, I closed my eyes…and opened it to a scene from my daily life. I looked around, finding myself standing in the middle of the familiar bus stop next to my school, with the counsellor at my side. A bus had just pulled into the bus stop, and a mass of students exited the bus and made their way towards the school’s gates.

Coming to my senses, I followed, at the same time motioning for my counsellor to follow. Entering the gates, the colours of the world were sucked out, leaving nothing but greyscale in its wake. 

My counsellor was visibly unnerved, and came to a stop in the middle of the path and looked at me for confirmation. 

I shrugged my shoulders. “Welcome to my daily life.”

The students paid her no heed, the stream splitting into two to make their way around her. However, she quickly regained her composure, and started moving again. I took that as my cue to move, and led her towards my classroom. 

On the way there, the stream of students could be seen to morph, changing from distinct individuals to become a dark grey blobby mass. No longer could one tell that it was a group of students. It was now a collective.

I instinctively quickened my pace, afraid of what would happen if I stayed around any longer. In all my experiences here, not once have I tried, and I definitely did not plan to start now. My counsellor only followed.

Putting my bag down, I sank into my seat, located at the rearmost right corner of my classroom. My counsellor brought a spare chair and took a seat next to me.

“What are these…things?”

“The hive mind.” I whispered, glancing around to see what they were doing. “My classmates? These are what they are.”

The moment I mentioned them, they all turned to look at me at the same time, giving me a blank stare. A slight undertone of hostility coloured the atmosphere.

I turned away, the prickling feeling of the gazes of the collective made me uncomfortable. A teacher soon arrived. The sensation of being watched faded as well. I took out my notebook, and prepared to pay attention to the lesson. Clueless as to how to deal with my counsellor, I left her alone. The teacher didn’t seem to notice her presence either.

“Class, please form groups of five. We’re doing a group activity today.”

A wave of celebration swept visibly through the collective. Yet as they moved about to form their groups, it was clear that none of them wanted to be with me. Seeing this, the teacher sighed, and walked to one of the groups, and asked them something quietly. They turned, eyes detached from me but still looking in the general direction, and opened a space for me.

I gingerly walked over and joined.

They looked disturbed.

“Is something wrong?” I asked.

“No, of course not,” they said. And they smiled, the identical expressions burning into my body, right into my soul.

I don’t know what triggered their reaction. Maybe I talked too much? Maybe I was too friendly? My counsellor didn’t seem to see much amiss, evident from how she simply sat there watching.

Either way, it didn’t matter anymore. Here I was, in the middle of the classroom. Being stared at from all directions with clear distaste, and in some cases, even animosity. They did nothing, just stared. One second, five seconds, became one minute, then an eternity. They stared. The grey mass’ many eyes stared, all the emotions of the collective bared for me to see.

He’s repulsive. Why are we in the same class as that freak of nature? Poor group, having to bear with him for an entire period.

I couldn’t stand it. I broke down, crouching, covering my head, and cried. The collective advanced upon me, their gazes bearing down on me with the crushing force of a thousand feet underwater. The room became darker and darker as the collective continued their advance, slowly cocooning me in darkness.

“Hey, hey; you’re crying again. It’s fine, you don’t have to keep going on if you don’t feel like it. I’m here, ok? I’m here.” I had almost forgotten the counsellor was still here. 

“I’m so sorry. I really am. I’m just a teary mess, aren’t I?” I apologised.

“No, no. Of course not.”

I looked up. Amidst my tears the blurry image of the counsellor beamed down on me. 

That was when it clicked. I had been talking to the enemy the whole time. “You’re…you don’t mean that, do you?”

Again, the counsellor looked flabbergasted.

“…And I thought you had cared,” I said. “What made you lose hope? Did you give up, give way, or give in to the nothing in between? Or maybe you had nothing to begin with. Just a cold, unfeeling heart. 

“I get it now. This is how the hive mind operates, huh? They give you hope and they squander it. They give me a taste, just a tiny taste of what it feels to be connected to them, and they think they can buy me over. Well, I’m sorry. I won’t fall for your tricks again.”

“Look, you can’t keep doing this,” the counsellor cried. “I don’t know how many times I’ve had this back and forth with you, but you have to give me some space to work with! You have to—”

But it was too late. I had already left, slammed the door and walked out of the counselling room. I could feel the hive mind ruminating in the background again, so I jammed in earphones. The sun was poisonous, the people toxic, and their speech was something I could not begin to comprehend, so of course I had to protect myself. 

I trudged on with conviction, continuing my battle with the hive mind.

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With great power comes great responsibility.

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