Nothing Special

Conrad unlocked the door to his apartment. As he gripped the doorknob, the door exploded, showering his living room in a storm of splinters. His furniture tumbled gymnastically and slammed against the far wall, which burst into pieces, sending hundreds of pounds of plaster, wood, masonry, and glass careening to the ground several floors below.

Conrad stood, unharmed, motionless, and still grasping the knob to his once intact door. Several tenants rushed out of their apartments into the hallway, glanced around at the damage and at Conrad. They mumbled and whispered to each other, unsure about whether to approach him or not. He remained still. Karen, his next door neighbor, rushed over to him, and looked behind him at Mrs. Greeley’s apartment which was across the hall from Conrad’s. The apartment was pulverized in the same manner but the opposite direction. The external wall had caved into Mrs. Greeley’s apartment and her door lay in splinters in the hall. Fortunately, Mrs. Greely wasn’t in.

Karen looked over at Conrad. What had been read by his lizard brain as “danger” had finally reached his conscious mind: something had rocketed through the building, demolishing everything in its narrow path, just missing him. He started shaking, then dropped the knob, grasped the sides of his face, and screamed.

Karen looked inside Conrad’s apartment. She grinned. She clasped her hands together.
“Wow! Cool! Was it Mighty Man?”

Conrad continued to scream. The curious onlookers decided to flee the building.

“I bet it was,” Karen continued. “I bet he was fighting Captain Dread. Wait!”

Karen rushed through the doorway, over the debris, and to the edge of the floor where there was once a wall. Leaning over the edge, she saw two muscle-bound figures grappling in mid-air: one blond in orange and yellow, the other wearing a black death’s-head mask in black and blue. She only saw them for a moment before they flew out of sight.

“Wow, wow, wow. It was them: Mighty Man and Captain Dread. They were just outside our building. Oh my God, they were just inside the building. They were just inside your apartment. Oh my God. Isn’t this exciting?”

Conrad had just finishing up his screaming, quit looking like the Edward Munch painting, and brought his hands to his sides. Now he was wheezing, trying to catch his breath. Karen hopped with excitement. Conrad stepped into the apartment, surveying the damage, sighing like a walrus.

“Oh my God, aren’t you excited? This is great. I mean, it isn’t every day a superhero smashes through your apartment building.” Karen kept hopping, her arms out in from of her, palms up, entreating Conrad to be excited. Her whole body spasmed with energy as if the floor were electrified.

Conrad’s brow furrowed as he looked around. His whole face crinkled. He clutched his forehead and let out a low moan.

“Oh my God, Mighty Man, the greatest of the greatest superheroes in the world,” Karen raved on, “and he was right here. Oh my God!”

Conrad, still looking at the floor, mumbled, “I’m not insured for anything like this.”

Karen grabbed him by the arms. “Get a grip. Mighty Man was just here. ‘The Most Amazing Man Ever Born with Strength from Beyond the Stars!’”

“Oh grow up,” Conrad said, finally looking up.

Karen released him and walked around the rubble, ranting. “I can’t believe you’re not awestruck by this brush with the Greatest Mortal Alive.”

“Karen.” He paused, trying to figure out the best way to explain his lack of enthusiasm, and then gestured towards the rubble that was once an apartment. “Look.”

“Look at what?” she said, looking around the apartment.

Conrad gripped his face to keep from screaming again. He then flung his arms around wildly and yelled, “My home is destroyed. Everything I own is wrecked and you want me to be grateful?”

“Don’t be hysterical. You’re not making sense. You’re not seeing the bigger picture. I’d be proud and excited to meet Mighty Man no matter what the circumstance. I’d be honored to have my place destroyed in the name of justice. Can’t you imagine the power, the thrill, the wonder of such a man? Have you ever met a man with such honor, integrity, and prestige? A man like – “

“You mean Steve Pfeiffer?”


“Steve Pfeiffer. That’s his real name. I went to high school with him. He was class president and prom king and all that. He was a snob and a bully. The only time he’d interact with one of his lesser classmates was to punch then in the arm continuously until it left a bruise that would last for days. He was a real asshole.”

Karen’s jaw dropped open like it had lost its hinge. “I can’t believe you just used that word to describe Mighty Man.”

“Well, Steve Pfeiffer was an asshole. And wrecking my place with such arrogant indifference proves to me he hasn’t changed. I’m not going to start worshipping him just because now he wears yellow tights. Sure he has superpowers but he only got that way because of a freak exposure to experimental psychoplasmic energy. It’s not like he worked to become a superhero. Me, I went to college. I actually did something with myself. And I’m working as a grocery-store clerk. Where’s the justice there?”

“Oh, I see. You’re jealous.”

“Jealous? No. I’m pissed because I’m now homeless. I now have nothing to my name. That’s not jealously. That’s vagrancy. Jealousy implies I envy the jerk. And I don’t. He’s an asshole and assholes are an overpopulated species. He’s nothing special.”

“What? Not special. How many other people in this city do you think have superpowers?”

“Lots. They just don’t show off like Pfeiffer.”

“Oh, you’re just being contradictory.”

“C’mon. Steve Pfeiffer’s not the only one who has been involved in a freak accident. They happen every day in this city. And practically every hour there’s a crime that needs to be avenged. How can you say that only one person in this town has had the potential to be a superhero.”

“Ah, there’s the word. That’s the word. The point right there: potential. He’s the only one who’s used that potential and used it for good.”

“Sure, it was easy for him to act on that potential, being a young white male. Imagine a black woman in the ghetto raising five kids trying to be a superhero. She doesn’t have time to chase after felons in spandex. She barely has time to chase after her kids, to make sure they’re fed, to keep them off drugs. And after five kids her body’s shot anyway. Superpowers or not, she won’t be able to fit into the regulation superheroine paste-on metallic bikini. A superheroine with stretch marks just won’t fly past the public.”

“Boy, you have thought about this before, haven’t you?”

“What? What do you mean?”

“I mean all this superhero stuff.”

“I’m just tired of people talking about these adolescent super-jocks as if they’re better than us, as if we’re nothing compared to their power and authority. They don’t have any power or authority we don’t have. They’re nothing special.”

“You think there are lots of people with superpowers?”

“Sure. I even bet there are people with superpowers who don’t know it.”


“Really. Even you could have superpowers.”

“Noo, I don’t have superpowers.”

“Sure, you could, but you’re probably too caught up in a mundane life of reality TV and daytime talk shows to figure it out.”

“I mean, that would be great if I did, but I’ve actually already tried testing for every superpower that I could think of.”


“Yeah,” she shrugged her shoulders and looked at the floor as if embarrassed by the admission. “I’ve jumped off buildings but didn’t fly. I’ve looked at things really hard, but I didn’t see through them. I blew at things but didn’t freeze them. I punched people, but they didn’t crash through windows. They just rubbed their cheek and slapped me real hard; so I’m not invulnerable either. I can’t eat metal. I can’t lift horses. I can’t pacify wolverines or cougars with animal telepathy. I can’t breathe underwater. I can’t secrete pheromones. I can’t stare at people and hypnotize them; I can only stare at them. I can’t spin around real fast and try to create a whirlwind before I get too dizzy. I can’t change my clothes in public places fast enough so people won’t know my secret identity. I have yet to find out what secret powers I might have, but it doesn’t keep me from trying to figure it out.

“Hey.” A gleam came over Karen’s eyes. “You ever think maybe you have a secret power?”


“Have you ever tested yourself for one?”


“Well, you’ve got to try. You start by just observing stuff you do every day that may have superpower potential, like … hey, like avoiding getting smashed to pieces when Mighty Man and Captain Dread crashed through here. Maybe your superpower is to not get hit by stuff. Oh, let me test it out with, uh, this… knife!”

“No! Karen. Put the knife down. Just, just put it down. Put. The knife. Down.”

She glumly placed it on the counter.

“I’m not going to have myself punctured in order to make a point.”

“How about I throw something else at you like concrete or glass?”

“No! I don’t want to risk getting slashed, battered, bruised, or hit by anything to see if I have some silly superpower. Besides, if I did then I’d have to start wearing garish tights and call myself some stupid name: ‘Mr. Elusive’ or something. Who needs it?”

“You are just bitter. First, you’re upset because not everybody can be a superhero, and now you’re upset even thinking you could be one. You, sir, need to adjust your attitude.”

Conrad’s face contorted into a wide-eyed, grinning distortion of Karen’s enthusiasm. “Oh, but why? My bad attitude brought Mighty Man crashing into my life. If I change now, the universe might punish me with furniture and shelter.”

“I don’t think I like you when you’re like this. You’re kind of mean.” And she left.

Conrad was momentarily relieved by her departure. He then looked around at the rubble and became frustrated again. He was already three months behind on rent and was now fairly certain there’d be no return on his damage deposit.

He walked to the kitchen. He saw that a mug he placed on top of the cabinet above the sink had fallen. However, he was surprised to see that its handle had caught on the knob of the cabinet door. It had somehow remained perched there and escaped any damage. He decided to let it stay there. With a little hope but more exasperation, he started to look through the debris for anything else that might have survived. Just as Conrad bent down, the mug fell. It would have crashed solidly on his skull if it hadn’t bounced off his invisible force field before shattering on the ground.

  1. […] this week. Instead of writing I spent my time typing and editing a story I wrote in college called Nothing Special. It was published back in 1998 in the fourth issue of Glyph, a comics and short story anthology […]

  2. I loved this story the first time I read it.

    I still do.

  3. Two things(actually three): I don’t remember reading this the first time but I liked it a lot this time (that was thing three). 1. Why not combine the first two sentences. As he’s doing X, disturbing event Y happens. (Never underestimate the power of a great first sentence). 2. You wrote “intact” but I think you meant “interact”. Also, (bonus thing) is it possible I could see “Modest Revenge” here somewhere in this blog?

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