The workday ends much like it began — with a walk home in unseasonably warm weather, and me in an unexpectedly good mood. Despite the fact that I smell strongly of fry grease and I have blister band-aids on the ends of seven of my fingers, I’m feeling pretty great about the Børger job. As I was clocking out, Matt said, “Hey, Dan! Great first day,” and it legitimately lifted my spirits. In the fourteen years that I’ve been working stupid throwaway jobs, that’s the first time that’s ever happened.
I mean, I’ve gotten praise from my bosses before, obviously. I’m not that bad of an employee, no matter what Edgar thought. It just never mattered to me before. I accepted it as my due, maybe also viewed it as a veiled attempt to get me to work harder, and moved on with my life.
This, though, feels like someone returning friendship. It’s unexpected, it’s nice, and goofy as it sounds, it’s put a spring in my step.
This positive attitude is, I’m sorry to admit, very unlike me. I’m much more of a fatalist, or as I usually call myself, a realistic optimist. I believe that people will behave exactly as poorly as they think they can get away with; it’s a lot like being a pessimist, except that I also believe that people could really get away with behaving a lot more poorly than they do. Thus, realistic optimism. Realistic: things are usually pretty bad. Optimism: they could be a lot worse. Weird, maybe, but it works for me.
I’m about halfway home when it occurs to me that this could be my new power. I’ve got infectious positive thinking! Matt, my coworkers, the customers — not everyone was cheery and whistling while they worked, exactly, but everyone was at least a bit nicer and happier than I expected them to be. If this is the case, then beating my nemesis is going to be a snap. I’ll figure out who it is, invite him out to a bar, and we’ll bond over the game or something. No irrational hatred of me means no knock-down drag-out fight, no collateral damage, no problems. I can get behind that sort of resolution.
Of course, this power could be a double-edged sword. It’s possible that I’m just broadcasting emotions in general, and it could just be a coincidence that I’ve been in a good mood lately. If that’s the case, any day that I’m in a bad mood, the whole world could be against me. I mean, probably not literally the whole world, but any part of it that I interact with, which is the whole world as far as I’m concerned. So I’m egocentric. Sue me.
It’s not until I get home that another, less pleasant thought hits me. What if this isn’t my power, but someone else’s? I didn’t come into Børger expecting to like the job. Every step of the way, I was surprised to find how pleasant everything was. My attitude was reluctantly dragged from negative to positive, and the main motive force there was Matt. Matt, with a smile for everyone. Matt, who was employee of the month for half of the last year.
This sends a cold shiver up my spine. If his friendliness really is a power, then he may have had it for a long time, maybe even since before I started getting powers. I remember how my magnetism advanced and strengthened as I worked at it, and that was over only a few weeks. He might have been working at this for months.
And yeah, it’s hard to see how there’s anything dark or sinister about a guy who makes other people feel better about their day. So maybe it’s nothing. Or if it is something, maybe all it means is that I’m not alone, not the only focus of whatever bizarre experiment I’m caught in. Maybe I really should try not to expect the worst of everyone all the time.
Then I remember that Matt’s the one who told me that, and I shiver again.
I wake up the next morning sweating and tangled up in my sheets. Padding over to the thermostat, I turn off the heat; it tells me that this house is at 70, but wherever it’s measuring from, it’s not where I’m standing. I’ll have to get someone in to look at it, but since it’s winter and the problem I have is that my furnace is heating too well, I figure it’s not really an emergency call.
The really annoying thing is that I meant to sleep in. I’ve got nothing on the schedule for today, since Matt says he doesn’t like to “throw new employees straight into the meat grinder,” and therefore has scheduled me for only three days this week. This behavior is deeply hard to reconcile with supervillainy, but the paranoid part of my brain is determined to try, and keeps worrying at the idea in the back of my head.
I flip on the local news briefly so I can pretend to be informed about the world I live in, but it’s the usual morning nonsense. Happy birthday to old people, look at these pets, someone thinks the city should fix some potholes, police would like anyone with information on a recent robbery to contact them. After a few minutes, I switch over to my standard distraction of Netflix.
This proves much better at keeping the negative thought process damped down, and so I lose a few hours to creature feature movies and an extended, couchbound breakfast session. My phone buzzes at a text from Brian reading, “Blood draw now?”, so I send back, “Sure,” and keep watching attractive people make poor choices in the woods.
When Brian arrives, he raises a quizzical eyebrow and says, “This is the sterile environment you want me to draw your blood in? You’re gonna have to lower the temperature a lot more than this to kill off all the germs you’re collecting.”
I look at the carton of milk, box of Cheerios and bowl with spoon sitting in front of the couch and offer the witty rejoinder, “Shut up, I was having breakfast.”
“It’s 2 in the afternoon!”
“What, like you work such normal hours, Graveyard Ghoul?”
“Yeah, but you’re not even working today, man.”
“Whatever. I worked night shift so long, I don’t even have circadian rhythms anymore. I sold them on eBay for extra cash.”
“Who’d buy that?”
“I don’t know, maybe some vampire wanted to be a daywalker. Speaking of which, if you’re here to take my blood, shouldn’t I have had to invite you in? Late shifts, pale skin, taking the blood of others — what is the difference between you and a vampire?”
“It takes a lot more certifications to be an EMT than it does to be a vampire, man.”
I can’t top that one, so I shut up and let Brian swab my arm. As he’s tying off the rubber strap around my upper arm, he says, “Hey, you feeling all right, man? Feels like you’re running a fever.”
I touch my forehead, which feels fine to me. “Nah, I think I’m fine.”
“All right, cool. I guess you were probably just under a blanket or something. Just keep an eye on yourself.”
I watch with morbid fascination as my blood wells up into the vial Brian’s affixed to my arm. “What? No, no blanket. I was just sitting on the couch.”
Brian clamps off the tube and switches to a second vial. “Yeah? I figured you were just layered up against the cold or something, you know?”
“Dude, it’s nice out.”
Brian looks at me strangely. “It’s freezing in here, man.”
I look at him strangely, too. “One of us is very wrong about how temperature works.”
He closes off the second vial, withdraws the needle and puts a bandage over the pinprick. I stand up — nearly stepping into my cereal bowl, which elicits a snort from Brian — and walk over to check the thermostat.
According to that, it’s 59 degrees in the house right now. And in jeans and a t-shirt, I’m still a bit too warm.
“Hey, come outside with me for a second,” I say to Brian, and he follows me out the front door. It’s like a pleasant spring afternoon out here, breezy, temperature maybe in the high 60s. “What’s it feel like out here to you?”
“I don’t know, like 40?” says Brian.
I check the weather app on my phone. Temperature: 41° F. Feels like: 38° F.
Thinking back, no one else seemed to be remarking on the unusually nice weather yesterday, either. And I woke up sweating. And if I’m very, very lucky, then that fire at work was just a coincidence.
I don’t feel all that lucky.
“Hey, when you check the blood,” I say to Brian, “is there any test you can do to see if it’s…fiery?”