On Thursday, the world changed.
Harvey Baxter slouched in a La-Z-Boy that had been old when his father died ten years ago. A warm beer stood as a forgotten sentinel on an end table beside him, while Harvey stared in the general direction of his trash-picked television. He considered how he was going to explain to Freida why he once again did not have her child support. It was October, tomorrow, but Summer had stuck around like a party guest that just won’t leave, just droning on and on about nothing that anyone cared about. The heat made it hard to think. Harvey was staring at the late afternoon sun slithering past the autumn leaves to drip down the house across the street when the laugh track on the Golden Girls rerun abruptly cut short.
“Breaking News,” clung to the front of the television screen with the word “Breaking” snapping in two and reforming. The overzealous graphics artist’s work reluctantly gave way to a voluminous tweed blazer draped carefully over the narrow shoulders of an otherwise painfully handsome dark-haired twenty-something. He stared into the camera with impossibly blue eyes and swallowed twice before opening his mouth. First time, huh, kid?
“This just in,” he stammered. He blinked a few times, swallowed yet again. He squinted. “The…there’s…there are…” He coasted to a possible halt and then fumbled through the dark recesses of the blazer before heaving a pair of glasses onto the bridge of his nose. Bluish pinpricks replaced impossibly blue eyes, but that sad trade at least seemed to allow the teleprompter to be more than a vague promise.
“Theologians across the world,” he continue confidently, “are at a loss to stop reading, Mark, we’re resetting the fee—” Mark coughed, and the healthy red flush that painted his face and ears somehow managed to deepen. “Um. I mean, yeah. That is, I mean to say: Super-powered human beings are suddenly being sighted all over the world.” Mark’s blushing blue pinpricks were replaced by a shaking handheld video. “In this cell phone video, a twenty-eight year old African American woman, identified as one Salisa Gordan, can be clearly seen picking up passenger vehicles and, uh, throwing them.”
“That’s right!” Salisa screamed to the people watching her, “Look at me! No more bleeping traffic jams! Ha! Bleep! The bleep? What the bleep? Bleep! Bleep! Bleeeeeep!” Salisa had gone from exultation over pioneering Honda-tossing as a pasttime to becoming overwrought at the fact that she was literally saying the word “bleep” each time she apparently intended to scream an expletive. Harvey noticed that there was a middle aged Hispanic woman, at the edge of the video looking at Salisa and smirking.
Was this a prank? Shaky cell phone video made it easier to fake things; use special effects, maybe.
“These are not special effects,” Mark promised viewers, making Harvey frown for a moment before Mark continued. “We have a correspondent live on the scene with a Toronto man. Jill?”
“Samantha,” the camera showed an attractive young woman with wide eyes and a rictus of politeness riveted over her lower face.
“Right. Uh, over to you, Sam.”
“Samantha Kovsky, here,” Samantha squeezed through her practiced smile, “with Karl Maxwell, who has discovered that he has a most unusual ability.” The camera panned back to show Samantha and a nondescript slightly overweight man somewhere in his thirties with disheveled curly brown hair and a far more genuine half-smile on his own face.
“Hiya, Sam,” said Karl cheerfully and laughed shortly.
“It’s Samantha. So, Karl, can you tell us what it is that you discovered that you could do today?”
Karl barked that laugh again. “Sure, yes, sure. Well, I was walking my dog Maxwell, ha-ha, through the park over on Seventh Avenue by where those cherry trees are. Not that they blossom this time of year, ha-ha. Well, Maxwell, my dog, was sniffing all over one of the cherry trees, you know, just sniffing and sniffing, and I was on my phone catching up on texts from my friend Paul, ha-ha. So anyway, Paul sends me this really funny text, and I started just laughing right out loud, you know? Ha-ha.”
“Paul. I mean Karl! Karl,” said Samantha, the forced smile starting to decompose into something more sinister. “Karl, what did you discover that you could do?”
“Oh! Yeah, ha-ha! I guess I do kind of go on, sometimes. Ha-ha! I was just explaining why I startled Maxwell, my dog, when I laughed. So after reading that text message from Paul and laughing, I startled my dog, Maxwell.” The knuckles on Samantha’s hand were bone white, and the microphone was shaking.
“And then what happened, Karl?” Samantha’s clipped words sounded like she was strangling.
“Ha-ha! Well, you won’t believe this, but then Maxwell, my dog, was so startled that he tried to take off running. Well, what I mean is, that he did take off running, ha-ha! Well, you know, I wasn’t expecting him to run like that, so I was just standing there, and I had my phone in one hand, and I was holding my dog Maxwell’s leash in the other hand—”
“For the love of God, Karl! What happened?!” The microphone was beginning to look more like a club in Samantha’s hands.
“Myarmpoppedoff,” Karl mumbled, looking down.
Samantha visibly composed herself and asked a voice that oozed honey and sweetness, “Can you show us what you can do, Karl?”
“Oh, sure, ha-ha!” And with that, Karl grabbed his right wrist with his left hand and…yanked. His right arm pulled apart at the elbow. Karl waved his dismembered forearm in the air for a moment, then slid it back up his sleeve. When he took away his left hand, he held up his right and wiggled his fingers. “Goes right back on, too! Ha-ha!”
“Mr. Maxwell, that is simply amaz—”
“Wait, you’re not going to believe this! Ha-ha! A minute ago, I figured out something else I could do. Ha-ha! Watch, this is so cool. OK, hold out your hand, Sam…antha.”
Samantha’s mouth hung half open, and her brows had a thinking furrow snuggled up between them, but she slowly raised her left hand to Karl, palm up. “What do—?”
Karl held her hand in one of his own and yanked.
Samantha screamed as her left arm came off at the shoulder.
“No, no, it’s OK. Ha-ha! Watch, it still works!” With this, Karl pulled up his shirt and attached Samantha’s arm beneath his own left arm and then it started waving around. “See?”
Samantha had stopped screaming, but her eyes were wide enough to annex new areas around her face. She wasn’t moving, except for breath that came loudly and rapidly through her mouth, hanging open.
“See? Ha-ha! Look,” said Karl, smiling like a ten year old boy presenting a live frog to his mother. Karl clapped using his new third arm, then he laced his own fingers behind his head and rested his chin on the third hand. “Pretty cool, right?”
As Karl started to pick his nose with Samantha’s perfectly manicured nails, she screeched, “Karl! Please don’t do that! Can I please have my arm back, now! Please?”
“Ha-ha! Of course, Sam, here. Oh, wait, I have an idea!”
“No! No more ideas!”
“No, this’ll be cool, ha-ha!”
“No more cool! I mean, no thank you. Just, my arm?”
“Of course, ha-ha! But just let me try something,” and as he was speaking, Karl yanked off his own left arm.
“No, Karl, no. Just my— No, wait, don’t—”
“Ta-daaa! Ha-ha! Would ya lookit that! Ha-ha!”
Samantha stared down at the hair arm and manly left hand that she now held up in front of her face. Samantha started screaming and beating Karl with his own arm. Karl had pulled Samantha’s arm from his body and was trying to reattach it to her while she continued to beat him around the head and shoulders, screaming at him all the while.
Mark’s mouth was hanging wide open, and the pinpricks behind his glasses were noticeably larger. “Oh! Hi, there! We’re back, I guess. So, um, yeah. Uh, theologians across the world are coming forth with bold statements…”
Harvey opened a new beer and sipped from it thoughtfully. Questions spun through his head. How many people had these new powers? Could he be one? How could he find out? Was there any ice cream left, or had he eaten it all last night? None of these questions could be answered from his La-Z-Boy, but he’d already gotten up for this beer, and he’d just gotten comfortable.
Harvey picked up the empty can from which he’d just slurped the last of the warm dregs. Well, what if he was super strong? He could probably figure that out right here. “Rah!” he yelled thoughtfully as he crushed the can with ease.
He’d always been able to crush the thin aluminum cans with ease. Not only did he know no more than he did a moment ago, now he was spattered with the sub-dregs of beer that had been secreted into the nooks and crannies of the smooth cylinder interior, just awaiting a super-heroically strong man to crush the can and open cracks along the sides. Harvey sighed down at the beer spots on his sweatpants and T-shirt. Maybe he had super-powered aim?
The can joined a half-dozen of its brethren very close to the trash can that served as Harvey’s recycling can (and trash can). Telekinesis? Harvey held out his hand to the leftover pizza slice that lay recently forgotten on the kitchen counter. He concentrated and squinted his eyes, but could not pull a Luke Skywalker on his pizza slice.
Sighing, Harvey grunted as he rose to retrieve the pizza the hard way: walking into the kitchen. He took a bite from it as he ambled back to his La-Z-Boy and dropped into it with a sloosh.
Harvey leapt up, swearing, as the beer he had just opened was now soaked into his sweatpants and his underwear, reminding him just how cold a fresh beer can be.
In an instant, Harvey was dry. His beer was in his hand, and it was full. Chewing slowly and thoughtfully on his pizza, he looked down at his La-Z-Boy. Its outlines just sort of…fuzzed. Harvey’s tongue appeared between his lips as he bit it in concentration. A few moments later, Harvey Baxter dropped down into a brand new-looking—and feeling—La-Z-Boy. He washed down the leftover pizza with a swallow of beer and thought about what he would do next.