A POWERFUL GRIP
(A Short Story posted ‘as is’ by Mark Wager)
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A Thought: The ultimate failure of humanity is arrogance.
It was the end of another long, hot day at work. Frank was relieved to finally be making his way out of the factory. He took his usual path out, making his way through the maze of halls and stairwells, past the offices (the “brains” of the operation, as those inside were known to refer to themselves), and toward the huge bay doors that would ultimately find him his way outside, outside to freedom. In almost every regard, it was a day like any other day. That is, until the incident.
The factory was busy that day. The usual order–at least it was thought to be order, or more like orchestrated chaos–the usual order of the factory moving huge wind farm turbine blades by crane, it is almost a ballet. It was a dance like any other day until by mere coincidence the chain reaction was set in motion. No one knows exactly how it got started, but today the rhythm of the cranes as they moved and slung their suspended cargo from here to there, changed. It began with an operator on the 3rd line. An oscillation really, nothing that appeared jarring or abrupt, but a simple over-compensation was made. And it began a slow-moving swinging movement that was to be the end of Frank’s life as he knew it.
Frank was making his way to the 3rd bay door. Large doors, maybe 100ft tall. He could see the light of day, he could almost feel the warmth of the sun on his face. Then as he was about to take his final liberating step out of the large open door he noticed the swinging – it was out of control. Not that Frank could do anything about this, normally. He was, after all a maintenance worker. Powerless in almost every sense of the word. But, today something shifted. As he watched the unraveling begin, he sensed something. He knew something. And in response to this knowing, almost as a reaction like when someone touches a hot stove and pulls his hand away, Frank stretched out his hand to steady the huge objects.
There were a dozen of them or so. Huge blades, finely constructed, delicate and beautiful in their engineering. They were suspended by large cranes who’s operators sit in a small box at the base. The oscillation that had begun almost imperceptibly back on Line-3 had grown to a full-blown swing by the time they had reached the loading platform. If only one crane operator had started it might have been different, but somehow each operator, each thinking they could “fix” the problem, broke protocol and tried to compensate for the swing by making adjustments to their own payload. Each in succession tried to adjust for the motion, and in doing so started the chain reaction, like dominos ready to fall one-by-one. By the end of the loading platform there was nothing that could be done to stop it. This was going to be an epic disaster. Even though it took only minutes, seconds maybe, it seemed inevitable.
Seeing the first blade swing toward him, Frank stretched out his hand and pushed, grabbed really. He didn’t touch the blade, but he grabbed it, as if in mid-air. It was as if he had it physically, but it was not physical. He paused in disbelief. How could this be happening?! This isn’t real, he thought to himself. Like they say about what happens during a car accident when the driver describes how things begin to happen in slow motion, Frank could see all that was going on around him. He could see the operator in his little control cab. He could see the terrified, and then astonished, look on his face. What was happening no one knew, least of all Frank. But, Frank could see it all happening around him. Like a slow syrup pouring from a bottle, he could see each crane and its cargo swinging defiantly against all sense of control. Again, Frank reached out his hand and “grabbed” the next blade just before it had the chance to crash into a large forklift. The forklift driver had already thrown her hands into the air in preparation for the impending collision, but it didn’t come. The blade swayed and shuttered only for a moment, like when someone might grab a long pole, but it steadied and hung still. Frank grabbed the next and the next. Turning around, he caught a glimpse of two specialty blades that were about to crash into each other. In a split second Frank had reached out both hands and grabbed the blades, averting the collision. In a moment it started, and in a moment it ended. The factory was motionless. Dead stopped. And all eyes were on Frank.
One might think there would be an eruption of applause from the bystanders. Frank had, after all, just saved the lives of every person on the production floor, not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars of product. But that is not what happened. They were on him in seconds. Three large men in white jackets, the kind worn by quality assurance workers, but these men were not those workers. They grabbed him, subdued him with force equal only that of what was just seen. And they dragged Frank to a small room in the center of the offices. A man in a very expensive suit appeared in the doorway. This was not an event that would go unnoticed. Mr. Dominque had always been quick to see opportunity, and this was no exception. What he had seen out on the production floor was amazing, yes, astounding even. But Mr. Dominque cared little about the how or the why, he was not concerned with the magic of it all. He knew in an instant that this meant profit, and profit he would.
Sitting alone in the chair, shocked and bewildered by the events of the preceding minutes, Frank stared into the cold eyes of a man he had only seen on posters around the factory. Except this time Mr. Dominque wasn’t wearing the pasted smile and friendly slogans. No, he was wearing the determined look of a cat about to eat a bird. Or maybe the look of a boy who had just found a $20 bill on the street. Maybe both. And Frank was instantly terrified.
This was no longer a normal day for Frank. And as a maintenance worker he certainly wasn’t used to this kind of treatment. It’s not as if he were Jason Borne or James Bond. The action stars that most certainly would be used to these situations. But this wasn’t a movie. And the situation in which Frank found himself was not make-believe, as strange as it was. Why Frank didn’t think to use his newly found powers to free himself from his captors is a mystery. It just never dawned on him. It’s not everyday that someone learns they have a power such as this. And, so Frank sat in the chair.
As Mr. Dominque spoke, the room was a buzz. What they had all just seen was amazing, yes, but how could they harness this for gain? That was, after all, all that mattered. And, in listening to Mr. Dominque brainstorm ways to profit from Frank’s gift, the prospect of wealth and power began to appeal to Frank, too. And given the sudden nature of how the gift came upon him, there was no time to lose to employ its power. There was no way to know if it would last, so time became critical. If they were to use Frank’s powers they must do so immediately. But, how? What were the extent of his new abilities.
Frank was now a partner in the scheme. He liked the idea of riches. A maintenance worker’s salary, after all, wasn’t much. And with that thought, the ideas began to take shape – and the darker the ideas became. It took no time to find the best use of Frank’s abilities. And to make it even more attractive to those with him, Frank quickly discovered that just being in proximity to him that others could manifest aspects of his powers. Not to the extent or potency of what Frank had, but they could wield powers nonetheless. And perhaps the most surprising aspect of Frank’s powers of proximity was in how it worked. When Frank had grabbed the huge blades and steadied them, he had experienced a slow motion feeling. The more he explored it, the more he became aware of the space in that slow motion time frame. It was, in effect, a sort of time rift. When Frank focused his thought on an object, time would, for lack of a better word, pause. This gave the effect of slow motion to him and to those around him. The thought of it was beyond belief, and it was intoxicating. There was nothing they could not do.
Ordinarily Frank may have been the kind of man who would use his life for good. He always had. He took care of his elderly neighbor’s yard work. He was a second father to his Sister’s children. He took time with people. But, today, in the intoxicating presence of what felt like unmatched power, Frank’s resolve weakened. And in this state he began to entertain the wretched plans suggested by Mr. Dominque. Over the course of three days they had amassed a small fortune. Stashed on shelves and tucked in cubbies throughout Frank’s house were treasures fit for a castle. How odd to see a priceless 14th century teapot thrown into a basket along with some gold rings, a handful of gold coins, and a signed tennis ball from John McEnroe’s last Wimbledon win in 1992. There seemed no end to their ability to plunder.
After three weeks of what seemed like non-stop acquisition, Frank began to consider his actions. It is strange but true the space created by a little riches. Space to consider. Space to pause. When we live in the busyness of normal, everyday life we seldom have time to pause. Or at least, we seldom take time for it. But with a King’s fortune surrounding him, it was time to pause and consider the cost. Strange as it seemed, surrounded by everything he had ever wanted, the one normal thought that pierced through the fog was that he missed his niece. Maybe it was that he hadn’t seen her in three weeks, or maybe it was the last thing she said to him when they last sat together on the swing on her front porch. She had said, “I love you, Uncle Frank. Sitting here on our porch swing, just us and a glass of lemonade. It doesn’t get any better than this.” It wasn’t so much what she said (after all, a 12-year-old couldn’t have imagined what it feels like to have acquired $10 million dollars in various denominations of currency), but it was the simplicity of her statement. Frank missed the simplicity and innocence of it. And the weight of his recent escapades were beginning to wear on him. The bottom line was it was evil, and he knew it. And with this simple thought, prompted by a simple memory, began to give way to the Frank who had always been there inside.
Frank knew it was time to stop. Somehow stopping the catastrophe at the factory seemed easy now, but he wasn’t at all sure how to stop the motion of his own life. As he looked around his house, seeing shelves upon shelves, stacks upon stacks, of items not his own, thrown around like old magazines on a coffee table, he knew something must be done. Mr. Dominque and his little band of “quality assurance workers” had made it a practice to stop by Frank’s home every morning at 8am sharp. This morning was no exception. Frank greeted them with the most peaceful, unburdened smile he had seen upon his face in weeks. It was not a welcome sight by Mr. Dominque. And it was not something they would take lightly.
As if to repeat the actions that started it all, Mr. Dominque’s men grabbed Frank and subdued him to a chair. This time Frank did think to use his powers against the aggressors, but it was no use. Having become quite adept at the power they too had in proximity to Frank, he was over powered. They were intent on never ceasing to mine this new found vein of gold. And as Frank sat in the chair, held down by greed and contempt and the very power itself with which he had been gifted, he started to push. Maybe it was the knock at the door that triggered it. Frank’s niece had finally stopped by for a visit. It caught them all off guard. In that split second of distraction, Frank clenched down and pushed with everything he had. And what happened was nothing short of nuclear. It was like something out of a science fiction movie. The time pause or warp or whatever it should be called, rifted. Something physically shifted and everyone felt it. Almost as if by intention, as if the house and all its stolen possessions were an epicenter of sorts. The house began to close in upon itself. It started from where Frank sat, in the chair. And, now free from the men who held him down, Frank launched himself toward the front door. Jennifer, his niece, had just stepped inside as all this began and Frank landed upon her with so much force it nearly knocked her out. But, thinking more clearly than ever, and strangely not in slow motion, Frank grabbed his niece and headed for the back door. He didn’t look back. Past the gold coins and jewelry, past the priceless artifacts, past the trinkets and cash, he made straight for the door with Jennifer in tow. With a crash they flew through the back door landing on the hard cement of the backyard patio. It seemed strange that he would notice that the water in the pool was completely placid. Not a single ripple appeared in the surface of the water. They jumped up and ran, distance is what they needed now – distance from the stolen property and the evil men and the power that had consumed him. He would not let anything consume him, and more importantly, he would not let anything or anyone consume his neice.
As quickly as it all started, it all ended. As quickly as his power came upon him, his power left. As quickly as his wealth had come, it went. Laying face down on the opposite side of the pool in his backyard, Frank and Jennifer slowly lifted their heads. Where had stood for 22 years a simple ranch-style home was now a gaping hole. Rubble and debris littered the carved out shell of earth. A “Sink hole” as the news would report it. A chance to start again as Frank would later refer to it. And the words that had come to Frank early on that fateful day returned to his mind:
The ultimate failure of humanity is arrogance.