The New Normal [Entry Log #5 – Objective]

        It was a cool night. The sky was clear of clouds, but a layer of orange smog coated the night sky. The stars barely peeked through the smog, creating dithered specks of light.
        Bruce sat on a stack of cinder blocks he had set up right outside the lab’s entrance. He puffed on a hand rolled cigarette and blew small clouds of smoke into the air.
        I stepped out of the lab’s airlock and looked up at the night sky.
        “Are you sure it’s ok for you to be out here?” Bruce asked.
        “Yeah,” I said, “I did an analysis of the air, and the radiation levels are harmless at this point. The only thing that will kill me out here is your second-hand smoke.”
        Bruce chuckled, and scooted to one side of his makeshift seat.
        I sat down next to him, and let out a deep breathe.
        “Where’s Mitsy?” Bruce asked.
        “She’s still stuffing her face,” I replied, “she’ll probably be in a food coma soon. For a hundred pound girl, she can really eat.”
        Bruce laughed and took another puff. We stared up at the orange sky for a while.
        “What do you think is happening out there?” Bruce asked.
        “I don’t know,” I said, “but it’s probably not good.”
        “What makes you think that?”
        “If everyone got abilities then there’s a lot of bad people out there with a lot of power.”
        “Yeah,” Bruce said, “but there is also a lot of good people out there who are hopefully keeping the bad people in check.”
        “That means it’s a war out there,” I said, “and I still consider that not good.”
        Bruce sighed. “Good point.” He flicked his cigarette to the ground and stamped it with his foot.
        “Am I the only normal person left?” I pondered.
        “You were never normal,” Bruce said, with a smirk on his face.
        “Officially, I’m still not,” I said, “if everyone has powers than that is the new normal, and I’m still an outlier.”
        “You’ve always been way smarter than everyone around you,” Bruce said, “so you’ve always had a superpower.”
        “I guess that’s how I contribute to this new status quo, studying the phenomenon and documenting the new normal.”
        Bruce put his hand on my shoulder. “And I’ll back you up.”
        Mitsy poked her head out of the lab door. She was chewing on a mouthful of food, but managed to say, “You guys are out of ketchup.”

The New Normal [Entry Log #4 – Case Study: Mitsy]

        Thud.
        Thud.
        Thud.
        “Could you stop?” I yelled. “I’m trying to think.”
        Bruce was sitting on the floor of the hallway with his back against one wall, and was bouncing a large rubber ball against the opposite wall. Unfortunately, the ball was bouncing off the outside wall of the laboratory and it echoed loudly through the laboratory. I think Bruce did it on purpose to annoy me, since he could’ve easily switched sides and it wouldn’t have been nearly as loud.
        “What are you thinking about?” Bruce yelled back. “There is nothing we can do.”
        Thud.
        “There is always science to be done,” I answered, with my face buried in a microscope and a pencil in hand.
        “Whatever.”
        Thud.
        Bruce snatched the ball out of the air. He inspected it for a moment while he contemplated. “Do you think there is a Chinese restaurant that will deliver right now?”
        Thud.
        “Quiet,” I whispered, now standing in the doorway of the laboratory.
        “Whatever.”
        Bruce fired the ball towards the wall, but this time I grabbed it in the air before it hit the wall. I angrily tossed the ball into Bruce’s chest.
        “Shhhh!” I urged, “Did you hear that?”
        “Yeah,” Bruce mocked, “it was me bouncing a ball off the wall.”
        “Just shut up and listen.”
        We were both silent for a few seconds, in full alert mode.
        “I think there is someone else in here,” I whispered.
        “How?” Bruce said. “This place is a fortress.”
        Thud.
        Bruce looked at me, confused. “That definitely wasn’t me.”
        “The kitchen,” I said, already in full sprint towards the kitchen.
        Bruce hopped up, and was not far behind me.
        We reached the kitchen, but found nobody in sight. We crept around and inspected the nooks and crannies of the room. Behind the refrigerator in the corner we heard a small sneeze. Bruce lifted the refrigerator and set it aside.
        Crammed behind the fridge in the corner was a young woman. She was short and thin with short blond hair, and looked to be in her early twenties. Her clothes were tattered, though I think by choice, and she had an overall rebellious look, but not quite punk.
        “Hi,” she said, in a scared but awkwardly cheerful tone.
        Bruce grabbed her arm, careful not to snap it like a twig, and pulled her out from the corner. We led her down the hall until we reached the conference room. The conference room was meant for small group meetings and presentations, but was now easily converted into an interrogation room.
        We sat her down on one side of the conference table. I sat down on the opposite side of the table, while Bruce stood in the corner with his arms crossed intimidatingly.
        I let out a deep breathe and gathered my thoughts. It’s not like we had rehearsed or planned for this in any way.
        I finally asked, “What’s your name?”
        “People call me Mitsy,” she answered quietly.
        “What are you doing here, Mitsy?”
        “Looking for food.”
        “Why here?” Bruce asked.
        Mitsy gave Bruce a puzzled look. “You guys haven’t been out there? Looting began almost immediately. All of the store shelves are already empty and it’s dangerous running around the city. I decided to try and find bunkers and shelters, where someone might have stockpiled a bunch of food or rations.”
        “How’d you get in here?” I asked.
        Mitsy sighed. “I actually found a few other places first, but they were all traditionally locked down tight. Then I found this place and it had an electronic lock, even though the power is out pretty much everywhere.”
        “We have a generator,” I added.
        Mitsy continued, “Electronic locks are even easy for me normally, but I just used my ability and it popped right open.”
        I leaned forward in my seat. “Your ability?”
        “Yeah,” Mitsy said, “just like everybody else after the burst. I can manipulate electricity and energy with my mind. It’s pretty coo—”
        “So, everyone has abilities?!” I interjected.
        Mitsy chuckled. “You guys really have been cut off down here. Yeah, everyone has abilities, and it’s chaos out there. Hence, why I am in here.”
        Bruce walked over and placed one hand on the back of Mitsy’s chair. He easily lifted the chair with Mitsy still sitting in it and brought her face to face with him. “Who says it’s any safer in here?”
        “That’s awesome!” Mitsy exclaimed, excitedly. Bruce’s fear tactics obviously had no effect. “You got the super strength. Did you get the healing thing too?”
        Bruce turned to me with a confused look on his face, unsure what to do or say next.
        “Healing?” I asked.
        “Yeah,” Mitsy replied, “all the strong people I’ve run into have been able to heal really fast.
        Bruce set down Mitsy’s chair and went back to stand in the corner. He gave up on looking intimidating and casually leaned against the wall.
        “You said you can manipulate electricity?” I asked.
        “Yeah,” Mitsy said enthusiastically, “I was good with computers before but now I don’t even need to use my hands. If I combine my mind and my hands I am probably the best cracker in the world.”
        “How does it work?”
        “I don’t know,” Mitsy replied, “I just feel the energy around me and tell it what to do. I can even feel the energy in human bodies if I’m close enough. I haven’t played around with it that much though, I don’t wanna hurt anyone.”
        “Show me,” I said.
        Mitsy let out a deep breath and closed her eyes.
        The lights started flickering.
        I looked up to the lights on the ceiling. “Interesting.”
        The light started crackling, and the bulb popped then shattered, sending glass in all directions. We all jumped—including Mitsy—and put our hands up to protect our faces from the flying glass.
        “Sorry,” Mitsy said, “I’m still not great at controlling it. I need more practice.”
        I signaled to Bruce to follow me, and we walked into the hallway outside of the conference room to converse in private.
        “What do you think?” I asked.
        “I think she’s telling the truth,” Bruce said, “and I think we want her on our side.”
        I sighed.
        From inside the conference room Mitsy yelled, “I’m still hungry. Do you guys have any food?”

The New Normal [Entry Log #3 – GRB]

        A high-pitched whine of feedback assaulted my ear drums, cutting my nap short.
        “Dude, what the hell? I was trying to sleep.”
        “Sorry,” said Bruce, “I almost got this thing working.”
        Bruce was fixing an old short-wave radio he found in a storage closet. The radio had been gutted a long time ago for spare parts like wires and capacitors, but now Bruce was gutting other equipment to put those parts back in. He was hoping to use it to contact the outside world. Since all of the modern forms of communication were down he figured trying an archaic analog form of communication might be our best hope.
        I sat up from the cot I was laying on. “Do you really expect to hear anything on that?”
        “I expect that it’s worth a shot.”
        I shook my head and leaned back into the cot. I stared up at the ceiling while thinking for a moment. “What if there is nobody out there? What if the world ended, and it’s just us left?”
        “I survived,” Bruce retorted, twisting a screwdriver until it wouldn’t twist anymore.
        A burst of static filled the room. A garbled voice poked through the static, but only every few words were audible.
        I shot up from the cot.
        Bruce began twisting the knobs on the radio, and the static started fluctuating as it changed frequencies. Finally, the voice came through the speaker, still hindered by a low hum of static beneath it, but it was understandable.

        This is an emergency broadcast by the United States Government. The Earth has been hit by what is known as a “Gamma Ray Burst” or “GRB”. All satellites have been disabled; possibly destroyed. Communications are down throughout the world, and casualty numbers are uncertain at this point in time. We are urging all citizens to stay calm and remain indoors until order can be restored. Stay tuned for further updates as they come in, and may god have mercy on us all.

        The message was repeating over and over.
        “It’s everywhere,” I said, with a blank expression on my face.
        “I wonder how many people survived,” Bruce said.
        “I wonder how many people were affected like you,” I added, “the whole world could now have superpowers.”
        Bruce gave me a displeased look, and decided to change the subject. “Have you ever heard of these GRBs?”
        “I’m no expert, but I’ve heard colleagues of mine theorize and give lectures on them. In simple terms, they are caused by a dying star releasing a huge burst of energy and radiation as it explodes. The scariest part is that many researchers insisted if one was ever to hit the Earth, it would be the end of the world.”
        “Well, at least this one didn’t end the world.”
        I looked Bruce in the eyes and said, “Yet.”

The New Normal [Entry Log #2 – Case Study: Bruce]

        “Dude, you’re The Hulk.”
        Bruce raised an eyebrow and asked, “What does that mean?”
        I was looking at a sample of Bruce’s blood through a microscope. “Your cells are packed full of gamma radiation, your name is Bruce, and you can probably smash a tank. You’re The Hulk.”
        “Nerd,” Bruce said.
        “Hey, you read the same comics as me when we were kids.”
        Bruce and I have been friends since we were in elementary school. It’s the cliche story of me being the nerdy kid getting bullied, and Bruce stepping in to be my protector. Even as a small boy he was built like a truck. We became good friends and spent most of our school years together.
        After highschool Bruce joined the military to become an engineer, and I went to an expensive college to become a physicist. There was an eight year period when we didn’t really talk. We were not mad at eachother or anything, we left on good terms, but we were both so busy with life we didn’t have time for our friendship.
        It was an act of fate when we ran into each other in our hometown years later. He was looking for a job, and I needed an engineer and a bodyguard. Bruce fit both those roles very nicely, and we make a great team. I think of the ideas, he builds them and makes sure nobody breaks it.
        Bruce was staring at the television displaying only a static Emergency Broadcast System image and playing a sustained tone. “What do you think is happening out there?”
        I looked up from the microscope to the television. “I don’t know…but it’s probably not good.”
        “The soldier in me wants to take action, but I don’t know if there’s even anything to fight. It’s driving me crazy not knowing anything.”
        “Well, I got some good news,” I said. “Aside from being chocked full of radiation, you’re otherwise perfectly healthy.”
        “That’s good,” Bruce said. “So what’s next?”
        “I think we move on to the fun part. Let’s see what you can do.”
        “Like what? Lift stuff?” Bruce asked. “Do you have a bench press in here?”
        “No, and I don’t think there’s enough weighted plates in the world to serve our purposes. I do have lots of heavy ass equipment though. Just—”
        “I’ll be careful,” Bruce said.
        I stood up from my chair and walked to one side of the lab. “Here, this MRI machine weighs a couple tons. See how far you can push it.”
        Bruce sighed and walked over to the machine. He straddled the machine like he was giving it a big bear hug. With minimal effort he lifted the machine off the ground and held it in the air. His face showed no strain, like he was lifting an empty cardboard box.
        “The Hulk,” I said.

The New Normal [Entry Log #1 – The Event]

        My name is Dr. Reed Faustus, and something happened today.
        I was working in my lab when it occurred. The lab is underground and built like a nuclear bunker. The exterior radiation shielding protected the inside, even though it was actually installed to keep extraneous radiation from getting out during my experiments. It is funny how things get flipped on their head sometimes.
        The entire lab shook for more than a minute. We do not get many earthquakes here in Connecticut, and if this was an attack, surely there are more important targets.
        I fell from my chair to the ground and hid under the desk. My equipment rattled and fell from the shelves, smashing on the floor.
        Then it fell silent.
        That’s when I realized Bruce was nowhere to be seen. There was only one reason he would not be in the lab: he snuck out to have a smoke.
        I frantically ran up the stairs to the lab’s entrance and reached the blast doors. There was a small round window on the door, and I peered out to try and grasp what was happening. The sky was a bright pink, and thick grey clouds swirled in the air.
        Right below the window at the base of the door was Bruce lying unconscious on the ground. I could see his chest moving up and down, so I knew he was still breathing and not dead…yet.
        I banged on the door and yelled profusely, trying to wake Bruce up, but there was no response. Now I had to make the choice of whether to go out and help him, possibly exposing myself to radiation or whatever harmful things might be out there, or letting my best friend die.
        I contemplated for a moment, but the choice was easy. I would have rather died than live in a world without him, and have to bear the guilt of letting him die.
        I pressed some numbers on the keypad located next to the door, and it played tones for each press, culminating in a trill that signified I’d entered a correct code. There was a sound of air pressure evening out as the door began sliding open.
        As soon as the crack in the doorway was large enough for me to fit through, I rushed outside and knelt down next to Bruce.
        “Bruce! Wake up,” I said, as I lightly slapped his face.
        There was still no response. I knew I had to get him inside, but he was 250 pounds of muscle, approximately double my size. I could not carry him alone, or even lift him onto a stretcher, which I currently did not have anyways.
        I grabbed his left arm and pulled as hard as I could. His body slid a few inches across the dirt. I continued pulling slowly but surely, knowing it would take a while but having no other options.
        Finally, with one last big tug, his entire body was inside the door. I slapped some buttons on the keypad and the door slid close and re-pressurized. I fell to the floor and sat with my back against the wall, breathing heavily and completely exhausted.
        “What the hell happened?” Bruce asked in a groggy voice like he’d just been woken up from a deep slumber.
        I scoffed and said, “Oh, now you wake up.”
        “My head is pounding,” Bruce said, “and why am I covered in dirt?”
        I chuckled and leaned my head back against the wall, still completely out of breath.
        Bruce grunted as he sat up, then asked, “Honestly though, what happened?”
        “I wish I knew,” I answered, “It shook the whole lab. What do you remember?”
        Bruce stared into the distance for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “I snuck out for a few puffs, then there was a bright white flash, and the next thing I know I’m waking up next to you covered in dirt with my whole body aching.”
        “Well, I’m glad your ok, but I should probably run some tests. We should get back to the lab, and we can check the news to see if anybody knows what that was.”
        “Right,” Bruce said, “let’s go.” He grabbed a handrail attached to the wall to hoist himself up, but the metal rail buckled and crumpled like paper in his grip. Bruce was always strong, but never that strong.
        “Whoa,” I remarked, flabbergasted.
        “Uhh, I barely squeezed.”
        “We need to get to the lab right now,” I said, “but please don’t touch any of the glassware or equipment.”
        We made our way down to the lab very carefully.
        The rest of the night was spent running tests on Bruce. They will take some time to process, but I will report my findings in the next entry.
        All connections to the outside world were down. The internet was completely down, and the T.V. was nothing but a solid tone on every station. It appears the effects of whatever happened was more widespread than I initially thought, and may be worldwide. I began to wonder how many people were exposed and will be affected similarly to Bruce.
        I will continue to document the situation as it develops.

Barstool

        A man walks into a bar, and nothing funny happens.
        The bar is a small hole in the wall, and it’s almost empty. It’s early in the day, sunlight is peeking in stained glass windows. Nobody should be drinking at this hour.
        The bartender is polishing a glass with a dirty rag when he notices the man in black entering.
        “Come on in,” the bartender says, “take a seat.”
        Sitting at the bar are the only two patrons in the establishment, both with a glass of brown liquid in front of them. They stare off into the distance, neither even acknowledging the man in black entering.
        The man in black removes his black guttered hat and sets it on the bar to claim his space. There are obviously many empty stools around the bar, but the man in black chooses to sit in the stool right between the two men. His long black coat, that he chose not to remove before sitting, hangs like drapes around the stool.
        The man in black holds up a finger and says, “Black Label, neat.”
        The bartender grabs a bottle from the shelf. He sets a glass in front of the man in black, and pours exactly two fingers of scotch without even measuring with his own fingers.
        The man in black’s hand is already grasping the glass before the bartender is even finished pouring. He lifts the glass and takes a sip, his lips smack as the alcohol soaks his taste buds. He lets out a hot breathe that now reeks of liquor. He looks back and forth between the two men at the bar on either side of him and asks, “Bad days?”
        The man on his right slightly jumps, having been so deep in thought he hadn’t even noticed the man sat next to him until now. He takes a moment to process the question and answers, “The worst.” He lifts his glass and shoots back the rest of its contents, then lifts a finger to signal the bartender to pour him another.
        The man on his left lets out an obviously fake chuckle through his nose, then takes a sip of his drink. He doesn’t even need to respond to answer the question.
        The man in black asks, “What happened?”
        The man on his right sips his drink. “My wife is leaving me,” he says, “she caught me cheating on her.”
        “That’s rough,” the man in black says.
        “I still love her, it was a stupid mistake.”
        The man on the left scoffs and says, “If you think that’s bad, wait until you hear this. I was seeing this woman, she was perfect. I fell in love with her, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I confessed my love to her and that’s when she decides to tell me she’s married.”
        “Harsh,” the man in black says.
        All three men take a sip of their drinks, and sit in silence for a moment.
        The man on the right asks, “What about you, why are you here?”
        “I’m celebrating,” the man in black says.
        The man on the right snickers and asks, “Yeah? What are you celebrating?”
        “Two assholes fucked my wife.”
        The man on the right tentatively asks, “Why the hell would you celebrate that?”
        Simultaneously, the two men’s phones begin vibrating in their pockets.
        The man in black stands up, picks up his hat from the bar, and places it back on his head. He shoots back the rest of his drink.
        “Because I killed everyone they loved.”
        The man in black slaps a twenty dollar bill on the bar, and walks out.

 

 

end.