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I read this English-language short story in the 1960s — can't remember just where. The main character is a middle-aged man, who, if I remember correctly, walks with either a cane or a crutch. He is a telepath who has been almost driven insane by the flood of other people's thoughts and emotions but eventually, with great difficulty, he learned to stand it. (I think he believes himself to be the only telepath in the world.) He comes across a young man whose telepathic ability has just manifested itself; convinced the young man won't be able to stand it, the main character kills him with the cane (or crutch).

Thanks in advance for any help you can give me.

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  • What do you remember about the setting? Present or future? Urban? American?
    – user14111
    Jan 9 at 4:19
  • This sounds a bit like Two Heads Are Better Than None by Spider Robinson, but also somewhat different. The two telepaths are half brothers. The older onevis driven insane by other people's thoughts. He learns how to block them out, but only after his father dies and he kills his step mother. He blocks everyone out and goes catatonic. The story is told by the younger brother whose telepathic abilities are growing and wants to contact his brother before he to goes insane. At one point, one of the other characters promises to kill (continued)
    – JRE
    Jan 9 at 8:57
  • the younger brother if the telepathic contact with his older brother goes bad.
    – JRE
    Jan 9 at 8:58
  • @JRE Do you mean Spider Robinson's 1975 yarn "Two Heads Are Better than One"? ("Two heads are better than none" is a 4e Ackerman punch line but I don't know if it's a story title.) If so you should ask the OP how sure he is that he read it in the 1960s.
    – user14111
    Jan 9 at 11:58
  • 1
    To all: I appreciate your input! First, the setting was contemporary American. Second: I may be off as to when I read this, and Spider Robinson's story does share some plot elements. Third: On the other hand, the story I recall seemed much less complicated and I am pretty sure the two telepaths were strangers when they met. Fourth: two heads are better than none. Jan 9 at 14:58
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Could this be Suite Mentale by Randall Garrett, published in Future Science Fiction issue 30 in 1956? The story is drafted as for the movements of a piece of classical music (overture, nocturne etc.)

This story opens with a neurosurgeon operating on a man who has been shot through the head, effectively lobotomizing him, his condition is discussed with a few men "in suits and hats" (i.e. FBI men) who are interested in the case because the shot man is a well known scientist (Paul Wendell) working on the problem of "psionics".

The story eventuates switching between external narrative of the effects of the shot with the (USA) president involved and an internal narrative from/about Wendell, showing that inside his brain he is still active, even if externally he is completely handicapped with no brain activity beyond that which keeps him alive. It turns out at the instant of the shot, they found Wendell (near death) and 8 insane men:

"That's right," said the big FBI man. "We went into his apartment an instant too late. We found eight madmen and a near-corpse. We're not sure what happened, and we're not sure we want to know. Anything that can drive eight reasonably stable men off the deep end in less than an hour is nothing to meddle around with."

"I wonder what went wrong?" asked the Secretary of no one in particular.

Wendell himself becomes insane thinking about what went wrong:

When he suddenly realized, with crashing finality, where he was and what had happened to him, Paul Wendell went violently insane. Or he would have, if he could have become violent.

He then recovers and knows what went wrong:

And finally, at long last, he knew with certainty where his calculations had gone astray. He knew positively why eight men had gone insane.

Then he went again in search of other minds, and this time he knew he would not bounce.

The ending is quite good so I won't reveal it here, though foreshadowed, suffice to say the other 8 recover and are improved.

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  • Sorry for the delay in answering. This sounds like and interesting story, but it is not the one I am looking for. That story was very short and to the point and basically contained only two characters. Oct 7 at 16:43
  • @LeeEckhardt Thanks. I thought it was a bit of a long shot.
    – bob1
    Oct 7 at 17:54

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