By posh teapot
The diner was a wonderful place, where he would go in the morning on Sundays, eat a couple of pancakes, wash it down with syrup, and relish in a world free of paper because every Friday was Discount Day and that meant overwork and overtime.
But the pancakes were delicious. He’d been going for 20 years, and he’d never found the secret. He had peered into the kitchen, glimpsing at that mysterious process unfolding before him, and saw an ordinary cook flipping an ordinary pancake into the air.
Perhaps they added some salt, more sugar? He had tried once, making his pancakes, and spat it out immediately. It tasted like rubber.
A fork. That had happened.
He had been eating pancakes for breakfast, when he held it in his hand, took a bite, and there was a warm rush of feeling through him, and then he felt the fork grow lighter in his hand.
Bob knew about this feeling. It was something they had all been taught in school, but he didn’t remember its name, yet he knew what the process was. Something… Starting with an S….
When he stood up, holding the fork in his right hand, the dishes jumped into the air, one split open, letting loose a sludge of soup onto a man wearing monocles.
“F###! S###-B####-F###!”, said something muffled behind the soup, turning visibly red, because it was radish soup and it was boiling.
Bob tried to find a word to say, but rushed away instead, stepping a bit faster than he was supposed to, and this led to him crashing to the ground, slowly, as his head bounced and nearly shattered against the solid concrete, although he felt no crack, nothing draining out of him, and when there was a crowd of people standing around him, he could still speak and felt no pain at all. But, the people were not looking at him, they were looking at the crater the size of a middle-aged man’s skull crumbling into a series of eclectic pipes.
He backed away, crawling into the forest of shoes and scarves, and then hearing a crack from the iron door, he dropped the fork and felt a rush of pain enter his head and eyes until he fell into whirling darkness.
“HA!”, Bob shouted, “I’m awake, I’m fine, I’m awake! I’m fine!”
He looked around in a dark hospital room and nodded slowly into that space. Then, stopped, feeling ashamed, and quietly bowed his head in silence, as the nervousness faded away. He felt numb, he was cold, and there was nobody in the hospital, except for the faint beeps of the heart-rate monitor.
Beside him, a remote control lay dully against the moonlight. He turned it on, but it was static, as it glared into his eyes, and he turned it off with the repeated smashing of the buttons.
He was hungry… And he had eaten something before… But, he was hungry. He saw a tray of food laying near his bed on a separate table. He dragged it off, and it hit the bed with a soft thunk, bouncing onto his lap. There was a spoon and a fork, and he ate slowly, and then felt a rush of warmth flow through him again, lightness, covering his entire body.
Something starting with an S…
Ah, yes, and those people….
Yes, there was a fork, wasn’t there? He had dropped it, something had happened, and why had he shouted before? What was going on? Oh god! Oh god!
The Strontium Process… That was it…
Rays of warmth, he remembered, and the familiar warnings of what possibly could occur, and then those stupid genes, genetically swimming around and then the random Strontium Process.
He wondered if he would be better than UltraMan, perhaps like SpoonMan, or LawnMower Man, or perhaps Explosion Man. And yet, after all those years, he was one of them. That was fine, that was fine, that was fine, definitely fine, fine, fine. Ha!
A nervous laugh, part excitement, part fear, burst deep from inside him.
Ha? Ha! Ha?…. Eh…
And, as he thought about powers and superheroes, he fell asleep.
“Yes?”, he said, with a little jitter in his legs, “I’m awake, fine, awake and fine.”
“He awake?”, said a voice from outside.
“He is, sir”, said someone else, who he couldn’t see.
The bearded man walked inside.
“Address me as sir, you don’t need to know my name. Hahahahaha, like any other hospital, did you think?”, he said to Bob.
“Ha-. Yes, yessir”, he nodded quickly.
The man paused, and then grabbed his hand and shook it firmly.
“I’m Almost-Captain Gregory Sr.”, he squeezed Bob’s hands, “Part of the Police Database.
“Police Database, Hahahahaha”
“Don’t talk. Here, let me finish”
“Don’t interrupt-”, the bearded man sighed and then nodded, “Okay, let’s cut to the chase, get to the point, Strontium Process, entered into Database, wish you a farewell. Now, I’d like to talk to you about money.”
“Yes? But what about my powers, don’t you want to?”
“Do you often splurge on your money? How is your bank?”
“Your bank account”, said the nurse, that Bob could now see.
“Yes, yes, he knows”, the man said, nodding.
“Your bank account”, said the nurse again.
“Your money, your moolah, your millions, your bucks”
“No, I don’t… spend much… But I don’t have much… What does this have to do with-?”
“You’re being discharged from the hospital. Your hospital bills mean that you are currently in debt by over two thousand dollars”, said the nurse.
“Forks, I don’t know about money, but Forks”, Bob attempted to smile, but ended up with nothing.
“What do forks have to do with debt?”, said the man
“I can use my powers through forks”
“That’s okay, that’s fine. But we’re going to have to discharge you”
“Don’t you need my information?”
“Well, we’re going to need to contact your credit card provider first.”
“Credit Card Providers?”
“I thought we talked about this Bob…”, the bearded man sighed, losing a deep breath into the world, and walked away, drowsy, unkept, unshaved, like he hadn’t gotten enough sleep because he had been looking at Credit Card Providers for the whole night. Then the man turned around and walked away.
As he walked into the workplace, his boss was personally there to greet him. A name tag read: Part of the Business Associates from Tree Flower(c). It bought and sold paper, and in the place, there were thousands of workers, busily typing away at their keyboards, calling customers, and selling as many dinky packages of paper as they could.
His boss was a shrewd man, who resembled a blind hermit in every way, with lines of flab covering his arm and a strangely shrewd nose. Squat lines of wrinkles traced in strange chalky patches of peeling skin around his face. Perhaps, he was more of a leper.
“Bob”, he stumbled forward in a sludge-like pace, “Where the hell were you?”
“HA! Hahahahahaha”, his boss laughed in his raspy voice, “Hospital, hospital, hospital! Anita, you hear that? Hospital? Hospital! Hahahahahaha!”
“I think I had a concussion”
“Did you hear that too Anita?”Anita was calling someone, sharply glaring at Bob as if blaming him, and then apologizing to the customer multiple times(which was a no-no as Bob knew), “HA! Hahahahahaha- Get back to work Bob. And, never, ever, ever, not call. Why didn’t you call? Call ******! Say you’re sick. You know how many shifts Dave had to cover for you, and thank god he could handle it all! But it’s fine, I’m generous, I’m kind, so get back to work before something…. Something…. happens”
He walked past his boss. Co-workers were all staring at him, through him perhaps, as the cacophony of shrieks and yells blasted holes through his body and left him riddled with unsound bullets, dented, rusty, and they were all staring at the remains, a pile of red sludge, leaking into the freshly installed carpet. Some of them were even acting like it had happened and had tightly pressed their hands against their ears.
“Hey Bob”, Dave said, with red eyes, and a very hoarse voice.
“Hey”, Bob nodded, “So, what sort of-”
But Dave had already fallen asleep, sinking into his marble chair, and slumped against his keyboard.
He visited the art exhibition at night, staring at the interesting paintings. He liked a very good painting, “In search of lost dreams and forgotten hopes”, containing a fantastically cosmic eye that continuously stared into the soul and formed unease in the heart. He stared at it, looking at the same painting again and again like he was trying to remember something, and that this singular eye was the catalyst for the remembrance of forgotten things.
But all he remembered was that he had wanted to be a painter a long time ago. But, as he had run forward, something had gotten tangled into the mix. Now, he sold the paper, not even drawing paper, only copy paper. So he could hear that endless whine of lasers skimming the infinite papers. Sales reports, bar graphs, all scrawled in illegible lettering until his eyes grew red and dim, so he could grope blindly for the next sheet.
There were no pencils at his office, nothing to doodle on, nothing to sketch. Sometimes, when he didn’t work overtime, he went to a gigantic canvas hidden in the basement of his home. A single drop of paint, a single stroke of color, and a figure, hidden deep inside the chaotic rush of color and lines going across the bare canvas in a beautiful image of Everything.
But, dimly as he remembered this and the rest of his crumbling memories, the remembrance of Forks and the Strontium Process kept him alive and motivated. The art gallery was entertainment, but they were the seeds to something greater. His search for meaning, fully developed by a fork. What greatness…
“Come back! Come back!”
The police, they were everywhere, while he was hiding in that alleyway, minding his own business, and they had come. Nearby, there was a nice subway. Full of hot nice food, but nobody would let him in. The police would beat him up if they ever saw him.
He sighed and listened for footsteps, sirens, or tires screaming out onto the street, potshots, or anything, but he was fine, for now, they were getting nets, and more police perhaps.
He could ask Frank to give him some shelter at his place. But he lived in Boulevard CT, in the alleyway, where it was very clean, which was depressing because all those shelter-less people gathered in groups, flocks, just moving around in a circle on the street until someone called the cops, and then he’d never get any sleep.
Wait… what the hell was it?…
No, not him….
There was a siren, approaching soon… Quick… Quick…
George’s place, but that was in a rich neighborhood, where they had tents and families, and that would seem too strange…
As he thought to himself in the miserable rain, a downpour of mist rained upon his ragged cap, and he shrieked as the water hit his skin.
“George, F-”, the shriek of a siren hit his ears and he ran out of the alley.
The valley was a quiet place, full of the occasional deer that nibbled on the soft tufts of fresh grass, trees that grew from the earthen walls of the forest, and vines that curled around the strong stumps. It was an oasis of rotting beauty, and there was nobody. Loggers were all gone. People buried. There were curses here, as they said. Indian chants, but they had all been gunned down by the U.S. Reservation Officers and angry Park Rangers.
So, he sat on the grass, on a homemade bench, in his homemade shed, where he had been living for the past few years. A few logs stacked themselves together in a zigzag pattern until it formed a crumbling pyre. There was a lightbulb at the top, flickering and buzzing, and a cloud of bugs that were fried alive on the touch of the glass.
He held a fork. Three actually, one shoddily carved from wood, one made of metal, and one drawn on a piece of paper. The metal one was cold, rusty, overused, bent in many places. The wooden one had splintered, frayed at the handle, was freshly carved, and could be easily broken. The piece of paper had a burnt mark, a streak, that stretched down it quickly until it dimmed.
He held the metal spoon, and he could feel it enveloping him. He could feel the weight of gravity fade away, a burden fading from his shoulders. And then, he stepped forward, felt the grass bend underneath his worn soles. He crouched down, picked up a pebble, and gently tapped it against his palm. It split open, revealing a mixture of quartz smashed against white limestone chalk. When he tested the wooden spoon, nothing happened, nor did the drawn-on-paper one, so thus, he wrote it down.
Now, what was there to do?
He checked the radio for something from the news. CNN, NPR, Local News Channels, Police Radios. There was quiet all over, static sometimes, and a mixture of calm, soothing voices, talking about politics, fast cars, and more.
No bank robberies, no crime, nothing in the city. It was a quiet place, for quiet people, and quiet things happened in areas like that. Ah yes, there was no crime. What was the use? Not a job, not money, not anything.
God… God… God… He would be stuck there forever…. Forever! Forever!… But, wait, there was a memory… A thought… He remembered something he had been thinking before, with the art exhibition, while at the hospital… What was it? There was a use… No, there was none, he had laughed in excitement at powers, why had he done that?
But there was nothing. There was no use for forks. No use at all. No use at all for powers, nor the Strontium Process. Nothing.
It was time to go to sleep. He could see the sun peaking through the moon. 1:00 PM and tomorrow there was more work.
When he arrived at George’s place, he had been running for 2 hours, in that rain, as cars ran past him, people yelled at him, parent’s looked disapprovingly as he ran in his torn shorts past them, and children, who would curiously reach out to touch him as if he was some sort of strange monster who visited kids and granted them wishes.
“F-Ouch-ing children”, he said, shivering, in the numbness of the cold.
“Oh, hey”, George said.
He held up his rusty tin can, drank from it, and laughed
“Y-y-you sterilize that?”
They both laughed suddenly, languishing in that irony until George suddenly stopped.
“You know”, George said with a serious smile, “They did a raid here a couple of weeks ago. This whole place is a red zone. Took those families and locked em’ up.”
“What? ******”, he shook his head and sighed, “You could’ve told me.”
“I was in there too man, that’s why you haven’t heard at all.”
“Hell, all those families… Well, free stuff, am I right?”
“They burned the tents, and they raided the neighborhood I hidin’ in..”
“You still got the food though, right?”
“Yeah, I do”, George sighed, “But that’s not the point. I need a new place to live.”
“Hmmm…. Peter’s got a place to live”
“I saw him doing community service”
“The old squatters’ place?”
“Gone forever, burned his hut down”
“I’ve got my hut on the South End”
“Heard they’re going there next.”
“Where the hell are we am I going to live?”
“‘WE’, not I, ‘WE’”
“‘WE’, yeah, but what the hell are we going to do?”
“I’m thinking…”, he said, and crouched down and sighed.
“The hell are we-”
“I’m thinking…”, He screamed, suddenly, as something filled his mind, like thousands of carved clay spikes stabbing through his skull.
Then, it stopped, quickly as it came, and he could see small fires, blazing lively inside everything. When he reached out his hands, he could manipulate each of them, slowly increasing the flame of a broken can.
As he continued, he began to see it slowly levitate. George shook his head, in sudden disbelief, as the rusty can split apart.
“I think I’ve figured it out, George.”
“You’re late again”, his boss nodded, “Look, I’m sorry for yesterday’s outburst. I was angry, alright. But this is just unacceptable. Take a warning and stick with it.”
“Today, your working extra shifts. And, there is something I’d like you to see”
He pushed a lightly stamped envelope toward him.
“You’re going somewhere else today. Come, follow me, and take your things too.”
His boss opened the door, strode to Bob’s desk, took out his things, and put them in a squashed, tight, box. A lamp fell to the floor and fell apart, with the plastic cover shattering into two.
“Ignore that”, he said, and they strolled around it, into the deeper crevasses of the office, with lightly-dusted mustaches, cobwebs, and the oldest salespeople on the team. He walked through the musty place, and into the lower floors, past that, into the basement, where there was a singular desk in the ocean of dark grey.
“This”, releasing the box upon the desk, “Is your new place, enjoy it while you can. Here is your letter containing information.”
He squinted, turned it over, looked at the cover, and saw, labeled in fine gold letters, there were the words, “Demoted for Various Reasons”.
“Put the ski masks on”
“I can’t breathe through this frickin’ thing”
“Just put it on, you’re the driver. C’mon, C’mon, put on the mask…”
“Alright, frick, f-ouch-k. God, I don’t think I can see.”
“That’s it”, he said, “I’m going in with or without a mask. Start the engine for me.”
George revved up the stolen car, they had juiced it up with some Etherimine and waited in the rumbling front seat as He walked into the bank. It was an old bank, one of those things that gathered like pus under the skin until it became a rubbery boil, where fat things feasted and police gathered in large operations to protect the government’s investment. But, there was no police now, only people, and money.
“Put on a good show!”, George shouted and reclined the seat in the car.
He grumbled and then lifted up a trash can through his ‘mind powers’. Some people were cheering, when, unfortunately, he threw it the bank window. There was glass, some screams, and then it was over.
“Hey, what’s the big idea?”, it was a security guard, holding a taser and a gun.
He lifted up the guard and threw him against the bank wall. There was the crack of bones, and then he was gone. He looked around.
“Money! Money! Get all the money in the bank!”, They were all running away now.
Some began to shoot at him, with their limp tasers, but he blasted them away. Then, he stomped past them, into the bank doors, where people milled about, and a limp man, wearing glasses, and a disheveled suit, was being revived.
“Get all the money from the bank! C’mon, Chop-chop!”
But, they continued about, watching that dying man. Distracted by that chance of death. An old man had stopped his wheelchair, a child was watching from a shrouded stroller, and a mother was covering her child’s eyes from the sight.
“C’mon, get me the money!”, he stormed into the vaults, smashed the security guard’s faces against the wall, until he could hear that familiar crack. Then, he manipulated the security locks until the main vault opened up, and the three doors flipped open.
Behind him, some people were scrambling away, and two were carrying the limp man away. He stared for a moment, at that jagged hole in his mid-section, sighed, turned his head again, but then turned around, shaking his head.
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