Dan Rezak had found sanctuary in his basement, an otherwise soulless place that was willing to grant him full immunity. A standard footprint of cement floor and cinderblock wall, the basement sat waiting to be finished, but over the years, all Dan managed to do was rescue a workbench built by a previous owner from the crapfest of broken exercise equipment, random holiday decorations and bric-a-brac overflow that Vanessa fed into the maw of available storage.
Above him rested 1,800 square feet of reasonably priced luxury. More than he needed, obviously, as here he was in the basement. But Vanessa loved the house and attended to its every need. What Vanessa didn't always attend to was Vanessa, covering up her lack of discipline with his oversized flannel shirt and her old college sweatpants, taking up the whole couch to watch TV, although she never called it "watching TV," preferring to say she was catching up on some shows she'd recorded as if the act of discretion made her any more interesting. The shows she liked best were about people who were dwarves or morbidly obese or born without arms, and how they yearned to lead lives as ordinary as hers. These shows were on The Learning Channel and apparently constituted her continuing education. He hated these programs and if he'd known the name of another show he'd rather watch he would have fought for it. But he didn't, so he went into the basement.
The wooden workbench had come with an antique soldering iron, neatly ending Dan's search for a hobby. From there he added his own personal touches. On the wall behind the workbench he taped up the artwork—posters, calendars, images torn from magazines—that Vanessa would allow nowhere else. He'd also found a home for his old boom box and the dozens of cassette mix tapes Vanessa had pretended to like when they were dating. They provided the soundtrack for his new life as a crafter of tiny sculptures made out of metal objects he'd scavenged. Not that he'd quit his day job, but having been told as a boy that he had no imagination Dan had impressed himself with his ability to forge artistic creations out of pieces of trash. There were a lot of spiders and meta-arachnids, a small army of helmeted warriors informed by the works of George Lucas, a few cars, aircraft and other custom designed vehicles. Some of his stuff was more abstract. According to an unspoken plan, once he amassed enough of these tiny sculptures he would get a booth on the summer art & wine festival circuit.
Also on the bench was a box of tissues and in the top drawer a jar of petroleum jelly. The workbench looked straight up at the basement door and for that reason Dan sometimes locked it in the event Vanessa might pop her head in and catch him masturbating. Not that Dan especially minded if Vanessa knew he jacked off in the basement. It was just a conversation he'd rather not have.
Tonight he had sacrificed a set of perfectly good hex wrenches to create the exhaust pipes for a tiny urban assault vehicle that he was designing as he went along. He blew on the solder, watched it cool as it fused to a 3/4" washer, wondered how much someone would pay for it and if that amount would be more than a new set of hex wrenches. Pink Floyd came up on his mix tape and Dan's mind drifted away with the synthesizer while his right hand wandered off with the ancient soldering iron. He only had a second to recognize the smell of melting insulation before the hot iron came to rest against the boom box's power cord and by then the metal had hit live wire. Even though what happened next happened at the speed of electricity, it slowed down enough for Dan to watch his hand clench around the iron with sickly self-possession as the current worked its way up his arm and into his brain sending him off the stool and onto the cement floor, unconscious.
Dan woke up in his comfortable upstairs bed alone. He could hear Vanessa in the bathroom, saw the light through the curtains and knew it was morning. He had no idea how he'd gotten there, no memory of pulling himself off the basement floor, no sense of whether Vanessa had helped him or even if she knew what had happened. For a moment he wasn't sure anything had happened. But climbing out of bed he immediately felt a tingle still pulsing in his arm and radiating through his body. It was mildly disconcerting, though hugely offset by his still being alive and actually feeling pretty good.
"Amazingly good," he was thinking as Vanessa came out of the bathroom and brushed past him with a mumbled "morning." She clearly didn't know what had happened last night, how he'd nearly electrocuted himself through careless stupidity, and he wasn't about to give her any ammunition. Yet as much as he wanted to avoid Vanessa's eyes, Dan turned and did a double-take at his wife. She had turned to stare at him as well. Dan was taller than Vanessa and their mutual puzzlement was over the fact that until this very moment she had always been taller than him. Ten years and thirty pounds ago when the term statuesque might have been a compliment, Dan didn't mind Vanessa having an inch on him. But now that he was looking ever so slightly down on her, Dan had to admit he liked it.
"Did you...grow?" asked Vanessa with a baffled smile, glancing down to confirm they were both in bare feet.
"How could I possibly grow?" Dan snorted, suddenly uncomfortable. He headed back to the bathroom, stripping down for his shower.
"Dan!" shouted Vanessa.
"What?" said Dan, equally frightened and irritated.
"Look at yourself."
He turned to the mirror, searching for something horrific but finding a well-chiseled body instead. Ten years and thirty pounds ago he wasn't what anyone would call chiseled and he'd done nothing since to change that. Yet here he was, skin pulled taut around clearly defined muscles, looking like the narcissistic gym rats he'd always loathed. The tingly feeling he'd been ignoring came to the fore and he knew the electricity must be behind this, seizing up his muscles and leaving them clenched in heroic pose. This new image of himself could not have been more bizarre and transformative, yet the only thing he could say to Vanessa was another irritated "what?"
She came over and put her hands on his shoulders, his arms, his chest, her curiosity and suspicion giving way to something deeper and simpler. She wanted him like she hadn't wanted him ever. Dan could see that in her eyes. But did she have any idea what she looked like? Was this day three for the flannel shirt and sweat pants? He took her hand and removed it from his chest, worried that her exploring might uncover what had happened, whatever it was.
"I'm running late," he said as he excused himself to the bathroom.
By the time he arrived at the station, Dan had gotten comfortable with his new self. The tingling hadn't gone away and Dan didn't want it to. It served as a constant reminder that life was no longer business as usual, but quite literally charged with possibility. By the time he took his seat the notion struck him as hackneyed. Possibilities? Life had always been full of possibilities. Possibilities are cheap. Possibilities are for losers. This was something bigger. Maybe it was a second chance, maybe it was his first chance, but either way he felt power running through his veins and he wasn't going to waste this gift by asking too many questions.
As the train pulled away he noticed two things: one, he'd forgotten his briefcase, something he'd never done in his life, and he didn't care. Two, people were looking at him. They were mostly stolen glances, admiring, curious and shy glances from strangers who thought he might be somebody they knew and most definitely somebody they'd like to know. Dan was the farthest thing in the world from a celebrity and this would have made no sense 24 hours ago, but now he understood what was happening. Everything he put his mind to was amplified and radiated. People sensed his power. And why not? He was electric.
Dan was looking forward to work for a change. He was even looking forward to hitting Uncommon Grounds where he would get the same coffee drink he ordered every morning from the same ridiculously dour goth girl who was in the unnerving habit of staring past him as she spoke.
"Can I help you?" she asked the spot of air to the left of Dan's ear.
"I don't know. I'm feeling incredibly alert and I really don't need any coffee," said Dan.
Now Gothy was looking him in the eye.
"Do you get a break this morning?" Dan asked. "A fifteen minute break or something?"
She didn't answer. He couldn't quite read her face, which he had always found deceptively lovely. He leaned in a few inches, turned up the wattage.
"How about I come back here later in the morning, when things have quieted down. We can talk. Would you like that?"
Gothy didn't say anything. Among the many things she didn't say was "no." Dan smiled, tipped an imaginary hat and sauntered out of the coffee house.
The beautiful thing about the Compliance Department at Wonderlund-Baine was how it held up quiet anonymity as a virtue and rewarded those employees who'd forsaken ambition by leaving them alone to catalogue clearly defined benchmarks and other generally risk-free tasks. A 9:00 a.m. department meeting was a weekly celebration of compliance complete with orange juice and bear claw. Nothing of import was discussed, no input from Dan was required, and as long as Greg Henke didn't pop in from upstairs these things were usually a pleasant way to kill 45 minutes.
But Greg Henke did pop in. Still, nothing of import was discussed, no input was expected, the only thing Henke needed was a compliant audience for which to demonstrate that the 12th floor would always be above the 11th floor. Normally, everyone would nod pleasantly, eat the bear claws, and shit on Henke after he'd left. But Dan wasn't feeling normal. He was thinking that Greg Henke didn't understand how literal power could be. He thought about what a disingenuous prick Greg Henke was, amplified that thought in his brain and aimed it at him. Dan had done this very thing in the past, but this time something remarkable happened. The buzzwords froze on Greg's lip. His face flushed. He reached for his head in pain and confusion. Choking up was so unlike Greg Henke that he looked wildly around the room trying to locate the source of his misery until he finally locked eyes with Dan.
Although Dan had said nothing, had never spoken up at any of these meetings, Henke was compelled to ask the employee with the odd smile "did you want to ask me something?"
Everyone turned to Dan as if he were a magnet. Which he was.
"I would never question you, Greg," said Dan. "If I asked you a question you'd be obliged to answer, and frankly, I'd rather plunge hot needles in my ears than listen to you pretend to care. As I recall, you were trying to say something, but your wires seemed to get crossed and you were just standing there sweating and babbling. So let's go ahead and pick it up from there."
Dan could feel his power rising. Henke remained speechless.
"I think it was something about outsourcing, but I wasn't really paying attention," Dan offered helpfully. As the room tingled with charged silence, Dan glanced at his watch. Gothy would probably be going on break soon.
"I gotta scoot," said Dan getting up from the table. "But outsourcing, yeah, I'll be thinking about that. I'll be thinking about outsourcing my balls to your mouth, Greg."
Dan walked out of the room without looking back and without a doubt that he had just become an office legend.
He kept walking to the coffee house where Gothy told him she had 15 minutes. Dan screwed Gothy up against the wall of the women's room, her palms on the wall, his palms on the back of her hands, their pants around their ankles. Dan worked quickly and violently and Gothy bit her lip until it bled. His orgasm was extraordinary. Electric. He wasn't sure how Gothy felt about the whole episode but he was positive she would never look at him the same way.
Now Dan was hungry. As hungry as he'd ever been. Though he'd never loved the food or the ambiance, he went to the same pub where he lunched daily, drawn by a growing sense of destiny that now appeared to be fueling his powers. He sat at the bar, ordered a half-chicken and a single-malt scotch, and started watching the television in the corner, suddenly fascinated by this fellow electronic device and its own powers of attraction. Dan's reverie was interrupted when the two men next to him started getting loud, the big guy ranting about the mainstream media systematically denying our Fifth Amendment rights while his buddy tied it to a conspiracy theory involving the Seven Families. Dan had to smile. These guys were idiots. The kind of idiots who made the world a stupid, brutal place. He'd been ignoring guys like this his whole life, choosing to remain safe in the knowledge that he would always be smarter. But Dan was no longer playing it safe.
"The First Amendment," Dan called over to them.
The big one turned, unsure if the stranger was talking to him. "Excuse me?"
"The Fifth Amendment guarantees due process of law," Dan explained. "The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech. From what I could tell you meant the First Amendment. Not the Fifth."
"I don't remember asking you to listen to our conversation. But thanks."
The big man turned back to his buddy.
"You didn't give me a choice," prodded Dan.
The big man turned back around, sized up Dan and decided to take his chances. "What the fuck do you want?"
"Do you know Bertrand Russell?" asked Dan, as if Bertrand might have been in the bar an hour ago.
Neither man knew Bertrand Russell.
"Well Bertrand Russell once said the trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," said the big man.
"Are you sure?" said Dan.
"He's calling you stupid." the buddy interjected with a grin, anticipating a violent showdown he was sure the big man would win. But the big man shook his head, smiled in disbelief and once again turned his back on Dan. Whoever Dan was, he wasn't worth it.
But Dan thought he was worth it.
"Fucking douchebag," he muttered in a loud voice.
The big man was around in a second and the fist came flying fast. But not as fast as Dan's hand which shot up, catching the fist mere inches from his jaw and bringing it to a dead halt. Not only had he stopped this moron from assaulting him, Dan had rendered the big man helpless, first with the conventional pain of what appeared to be an incredibly powerful grip, then, as Dan got the hang of it, with a concentrated dose of electricity that flowed through Dan and into the man, dropping him to the floor without Dan ever leaving his stool.
The big man moaned quietly. The buddy stared at Dan in dumb fear. The bartender arrived with Dan's chicken and scotch. Only then did Dan realize he wasn't hungry for food and that no alcohol on earth would make him feel better than he felt right now. He paid for his untouched lunch, paid for the big man's drinks, threw in a nice tip and walked out.
The air outside was crisp, the world crackled with the thrill of discovery. Dan had to admit that crazy as it sounded, he had powers. Super powers. Tempting as it may be, they would be wasted at Wonderlund-Baine. He decided to go looking for trouble and headed to the Eastside. These were neighborhoods where a man like him wasn't supposed to be seen, much less walking tall and alone, grinning and yes goading someone to notice him, question him, challenge him. Blocks went by and he collected mostly curious gazes and a few amused smiles. "They get it," thought Dan.
He came upon a hooker on a street corner, leaning against a lamppost like a cliché. He hadn't tested his powers of persuasion in awhile and with eyes electric proposed to her a sexual adventure so profound she would pay him for the experience. The hooker laughed in his face. The spell was broken and Dan, who had been dead serious, was forced to laugh at himself. Why would she pay? This was her job. He tipped an imaginary hat, left her on the corner and continued down the shabby streets.
Hours went by and nothing exciting happened. Dan realized he was waiting to stumble upon a crime, at which point he would intervene and save the day with his mysterious powers. But the idea that Dan had somehow turned into a superhero finally struck him as ludicrous. He didn't know what he was or what he was doing here. Just that his foot was getting twitchy and for all the electricity he could summon he was starting to feel cold. And it was late. And he was a long way from home.
It was time to go home, thought Dan.
Nobody was staring at Dan on the train ride back, and he was lost in thought anyway. He wasn't clear on a few things, like whether he had actually quit his job or been fired. Should he walk in tomorrow as if nothing had happened? Or was this the escape he'd always wanted but been too afraid to engineer? He thought about his warm basement. He thought about Vanessa. He was out of sorts when he rejected her advances this morning—and who could blame him?—but now he was in control and the idea of giving Vanessa a ride on Electric Dan was starting to make him tingle again.
He regretted trying to screw the prostitute and was horrified to realize that he had indeed been inside the slutty barista back in what already seemed like a lifetime ago.
From the sidewalk in front of his house Dan watched Vanessa framed in the living room window, standing with the remote control, backlit by the television.
She wasn't 30 pounds overweight. Not even close. She wore his flannel shirt because it made her feel good. She took care of the house because he didn't. And here was Vanessa, turning off the television and calling his name.
Which was strange since he wasn't home yet.
He hurried up the walk and entered the front door. Vanessa didn't hear him. She was standing in front of the basement door where she listened a moment before turning the knob. It was locked.
"Looking for someone?" he asked quietly, hoping not to startle her.
But Vanessa just stared at the basement door sadly before heading upstairs.
"Vanessa!" he shouted, but there was no answer. The house was silent, save for the faint sonic meanderings of a synthesizer in the basement.
Dan's heart started racing. He quickly realized it was his brain that was racing. His heart was barely beating at all.
Summoning all his strength, all his super-powers, Dan hurled himself against the locked basement door. It gave way without a sound and Dan found himself hovering over his body, still laying on the basement floor, soldering iron in hand, foot twitching.
He stayed hovering, listening to the slow erratic heartbeat until it stopped.