So after an hour or so, here’s what I know. The new power isn’t strength, speed or intelligence. It’s not flight, levitation or balance. It’s not telekinesis or gravity manipulation. If it’s breathing underwater, I don’t know how to activate it, and I’m not willing to take in a couple of lungsful of water to find out if it’ll kick in on its own. I can’t grow, I can’t shrink, I can’t morph my body at all.
In short, I’m starting to wonder if I really got any power at all. I mean, I’m sure I did; that sensation is incredibly distinctive. But I can’t figure out anything that’s reacting at all.
What if it’s something stupid? What if I’ve gotten the power to be super-allergic to clover, or to flash orange in the presence of radon? If so, I’m never going to figure it out. I’ve been basing this on the theory that these are classic superhero powers, things that I can save the day with, but maybe I’ve just been deluding myself. It could be totally random.
But if that’s the case, then it suggests that there’s no controlling intelligence behind this, no reason for it to be happening. And that doesn’t square with what I’ve seen so far regarding the abilities that have kicked in. It’s got to be something reasonable, something I can use to defeat my nemesis when he shows up.
That thought sends a pain shooting through my leg, healed though it is. I’m not ready for another nemesis. The last one, Regina, literally dragged me through broken glass on our final encounter, and all things considered, I came out of that pretty well. I’ve been kind of enjoying being in one piece. I’m not looking forward to someone else trying to carve a chunk out of me. Especially if I can’t even figure out what it is that I can do to fight him.
Maybe I’m going about this all wrong. Last time, my power showed up on its own, manifesting where it was relevant. I didn’t have to do anything to find it except be near magnetic objects. And if somehow I hadn’t managed that before running into Regina, her electricity-based power was a complement to my magnetism-based one, so I could have figured it out from that. It kicked in pretty automatically to save me from her lightning bolts, after all. So if I just wait for the new guy or gal to find me, maybe my power will be evident in the right context.
It’s not an ideal solution, not by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s getting late, and watching training videos all day is surprisingly exhausting. Anyway, for all I know, I’ve gained the power of dream projection, and once I fall asleep I’ll be able to go spy on the world and find my new nemesis.
It’s a pretty flimsy excuse for going to bed early, but I’m pretty wiped out, so flimsy is all I need. Besides which, I remember the many nights I collapsed into bed the last time these powers kicked in. Being a superhero is bad for the sleep schedule; I should get sleep now, while I can.
Thus rationalized, I strip down and flop into bed, where I’m out in mere minutes. Unsurprisingly, I totally fail to dream-project anywhere.
Morning brings with it the muzzy-headed realization that this is my first real day of work in months, and that as such, I should probably heave myself out of bed and prepare to get there in a timely fashion. I reluctantly pair thought with action and mumble my way to the shower, where I let the water wash the sleep from me.
The shower, breakfast, and a walk to work on what turns out to be a surprisingly balmy day have me arriving at Børger with a smile on my face. Matt matches me with a smile of his own as I punch in.
“Morning, Dan! Are you excited for your first shift?”
No one has ever been excited to work in fast food, I think automatically, but then I realize two things: Matt obviously is, and honestly, I kind of am, too. This might be the first time in my life that I haven’t started a job with a sense of dread. And yeah, it’s a stupid, monkey-push-the-button kind of job, but my boss is awesome, my other coworkers seem friendly enough from what I’ve seen, and the customers — well, the customers will probably be terrible. But if that doesn’t get anyone else here down, I can weather it, too.
These days, if you want to look up facts about something, you just pull up a search engine and scan the internet. But you used to have to go to a library, and despite the internet, libraries are still around and people still use them for research. Similarly, if you want to go be a horrible human being to someone, you can just stop by the comments section of any YouTube video or about half of Reddit. But before the internet, if you wanted to go be terrible to a stranger, you went to a fast food restaurant and shouted at the employees. And even though the internet has taken over, you’ll still find these sort of customers waiting angrily in line for their food.
As I work the register, the Børger corporate-approved greeting already coming to my lips automatically for each customer, I find myself scanning the line, trying to guess who’s going to be the first problem. The guy with his headphones in is predictably distracted, but gives me his order clearly enough and even smiles and says thank you at the end of the transaction. The lady who’s only keeping an eye on two of her four kids is polite, too, and the worst that the kids do is use a couple of the ketchup cups as horns in a matador/bull fight with each other.
After an hour, everyone’s still been nice, and I’m starting to get worried. It’s practically a law of nature that the longer you have to wait for these things, the worse the bad one’ll be. Finally, I think I spot the one. A guy comes in and starts to walk to the shorter line, then sees Matt at the register. He grimaces and switches over to my line, even though it’s several people longer. I immediately peg him as a racist, and steel myself for the unpleasant remarks he’s doubtless going to slip in about Matt when he orders his food.
“Welcome to Børger, sir,” I say, staring him down. He doesn’t seem to notice my gimlet eyes, and places his order, which I dutifully punch into the register. As he’s swiping his credit card to pay for it, he says, “Are you a new hire?”
“Yes, I just started here.”
“Let me give you a piece of advice.”
Here it comes. He’s going to say something offensive, I’m going to refuse to serve him, he’ll end up ranting in the parking lot until we have to call the cops. “Lay it on me.”
“Relax. You look way too tense. Just breathe, and don’t let the job overwhelm you.”
Have you ever been walking up a flight of stairs, and at the top, tried to step up one more time onto a stair that wasn’t there? That jarring sensation of stepping through a solid object is how I feel right now. Oblivious, the man wanders off to the side to wait for his meal, and I shake myself and move on to the next customer in line.
Later in the break room, I tell Matt about the incident, and he laughs. “That guy? He comes in here once or twice a month, and he never stands in my line. It’s not racism, though. He’s got no problem with the other black employees. It’s just me. I have no idea what I did to him, but he’s clearly not going to let it happen again. He’s been coming here for at least a couple of years now, since before I was manager.”
He pauses, then says solemnly, “You shouldn’t assume the worst out of people, Dan. They deserve better than that.”
I don’t believe that at all, but I wish I did. It’s a nice way to look at the world.
As the day goes on, I have to admit that Matt’s attitude seems justified. Six hours into my shift and everyone’s been, if not always pleasant, at least never rude. I’m still tensed up for a punch, but I’m starting to admit to myself that it might not be coming.
I’m in the middle of serving a guy who looks like a cross between an undertaker and a scarecrow, trying to figure out the key code for a Børger Bønanza, when he says to me pleasantly, “I think you’ve got a problem with your fryer.”
He points past me with an arm like two broom handles loosely jointed together, and I turn to see that flames are leaping up from the boiling oil in one of the fryers. Sammy, the guy who’s supposed to be watching them, is nowhere to be seen, so I race over there to deal with the fire.
In the few steps that it takes me to get there, though, fire springs up from the next fryer, too, and the whole thing is burning briskly by the time I arrive. I grab for the fry baskets, but the burning oil dripping from the sides convinces me that this is a bad idea, and I leave them in the fryers as I look desperately around for a solution.
“Grab the fire extinguisher!” shouts Matt, but I wasn’t paying attention during that part of training, and I don’t know where it is. Looking around, I don’t see it, but I do spot a cookie sheet sitting unattended in the sink. I grab it and slam it down over the top of the fryers, and fortunately, it’s big enough to cover them both and smother the flames.
I’m feeling very proud of myself for my quick thinking until it registers that I’m holding a metal sheet to a fire with my bare hands. I whip my hands away, shaking them briskly, but the fingertips are already reddened and it’s a good bet that they’ll blister.
Suddenly, I realize that I’ve found my problem customer and my nemesis all at the same time. I turn around, knowing that the broomstick man is already long gone, and I’ll have to go hunt him down before he burns again — only to see him still standing patiently at the counter, gangly arms hanging at his side.
“I’m going to have to wait a little while for the fries with my Bønanza, aren’t I?” he says with a smile. “That’s all right, I’m not in a rush. I hope you’re okay!”
“Nice work!” says someone farther back in line, and everyone in the restaurant starts to applaud.
Maybe Matt’s right after all. Expecting the worst out of people has usually served me well, but so far today, it’s just making me feel like a jerk.