Matt walked out of last-period History still not feeling any different, but at least confident he’d achieved a B in his assessment. In retrospect, he probably could have gone into a bit more detail – discussed some of the ramifications of the newly super-powered economy or discussed causes of deaths in the Year of Chaos. Given more examples of technological acceleration or societal re‑structuring, or maybe something about Communism. Mrs Colbert loved Communism. But oh well. That would have meant more work, and Matt was nothing if not efficient.
All around him, the sounds of people rushing to leave school rang out; laughing, slamming doors, starting engines. He threw Taylor a wave as they walked in opposite directions, him heading home and his friend headed to football practice.
The bus home was about three-quarters full. Matt took a seat somewhere towards the back and sat quietly with one arm resting on the windowsill. Two stops after Northridge a man with a row of ivory spines running down his back, poking out from what looked like every vertebra, moved into the seat in front of him. Matt found himself watching the spikes rising and falling in gentle, rhythmic movements in time with their owner’s breathing, lulled away from his thoughts. Around him, children and people his own age laughed and shouted, but Matt didn’t join in – content to just sit and stare at the silent stranger’s supernatural protrusions. Abilities that manifested as physical abnormalities were often a sign of some kind of congenital disorder, but Matt wondered if these spines were reversible, whether this man with his tangled hair could retract them into his body and simply felt cooler leaving them out. If not, he’d spend half his life leaning forward for fear of impaling the furniture. The jacket he was wearing, Matt noted, was custom, with steel-ringed holes sown down the leather, each perfectly aligned to let out one of the stranger’s spikes.
As the bus rolled ever forward, Matt found his head pressing against the dull vibrations of the window, watching super-powered society pass by – the teleporters appearing on their lawns, the technopaths driving hands-free in their cars, a woman holding three brown paper bags of groceries suspended in a bubble-like forcefield. He saw Brad McNamara fly down from the sky and land on his doorstep, briefcase in one hand and a carefully wrapped bunch of daffodils in the other. He and Julie would probably have kids soon. Children who’d one day develop powers and grow up a part of a superhuman world.
It was almost four o’clock. He had eight hours left.
Eight hours, he told himself, before he gave up on a miracle.
“Ice-cream?” were literally the first words out of Sarah’s mouth the moment she got off the school bus.
“No I’m Matt. Your brother? Sarah please, we’ve been over this.”
His little sister made a face. “Noooo, can we get ice cream?”
“I thought Mom said no.”
Despite himself, Matt smirked. “Well alright, maybe we should check with Mr Cohen, see if he’s got anything on special,” he said, knowing full well the outcome of that particular examination.
“Yay!” They linked hands, Matt’s big fingers engulfing Sarah’s little ones, and headed down the road towards the corner store, which was on the way home anyway.
Inside, while Sarah threw her torso into the ice-cream trough, Mr Cohen, the super-strong, wizened old Polish owner, greeted Matt with his usual friendly wave and long, unsolicited conversation, which today centred around his shop’s newly upgraded security. The clacker on the door had been fixed apparently, and thus would be impenetrable to people moving at super-speed – none of which, Matt resisted the urge to point out, had actually tried to rob Mr Cohen at any point. Then there was the new D5, freshly affixed to the roof in the middle of the store, which would similarly stop any teleporters or intangibles attempting to phase through the walls.
“Why do you need a D5 though?” asked Matt, squinting up at the black box, about the size of a grapefruit, “They’re like five grand, what’s wrong with a D2?”
“Pah,” the old man spat, dismissing the notion with a wave of his hand, “Disruptance 2 use more electricity. More noisy. Disruptance 5, quiet as whisper, and make teleporter who try to get in end up on front path throwing up guts.”
“Well what does that achieve?”
“Then teleporter no run away. I come outside and kick him into next suburb.”
“Or her,” Matt added for political correctness.
“Maaaaatttttt, can I get the chocolate?” Sarah chose that moment to call from waist-deep in the freezer chest. After confirming she hadn’t got stuck this time, Matt bought the ice-cream and the two of them walked back out into the fading afternoon.
By the time Matt’s mother got home, dinner was finished and the four remaining Callaghans were already cleaning up. Michael kissed his wife hello and floated out the plate of shepherd’s pie he’d set aside for her. She looped an arm around his waist and laid her head on his shoulder.
“Calcium build-up,” she sighed, “I’ve been telling them for years they need to do something about it. They’re going to have to replace the piping.” She shook her head. “Although Lord knows they don’t want to. They’re having me go back down the pipes on Thursday just to confirm what we already know and waste everybody’s time.”
They sat on the couch and watched TV as a family – mom leaning on dad, Sarah leaning on mom, Jonas and Matt on their own chairs half following, half looking at their phones. The Simpsons, then the news, then Kathryn got up and walked upstairs to put the sleeping Sarah to bed. Michael made Jonas put his phone on silent because the constant bing-ing was “annoying everyone”. Half an hour into his dad’s favourite cop show (he’d seen this episode before, the killer was a replicator who had literally been in two places at once), Matt said goodnight and made his way upstairs. He stripped down, threw his clothes into the laundry basket, brushed his teeth, flossed half-heartedly, and washed his face. Then he drew a long, deep breath, looked into the mirror, and began.
“My name is Matt Callaghan and I am a clairvoyant.”
Matt sat alone in his bedroom. The room was dark, the house quiet – the rest of his family were asleep. They probably thought he was in bed too – but there was no question of sleeping now. Not tonight. Instead Matt simply sat, waiting, leaning on his desk chair, his chin on his hands, staring quietly at the red glow of his bedside clock.
It’d been a fruitless hope, in the end. One, if he was being honest with himself, he’d never really entertained. Matt had known, truthfully, since he was thirteen – since he’d lay in this exact same room almost five years ago the night after Sex Ed, mentally going through the checklist of puberty. It hadn’t made any more sense then than it did now – but the inconvenient thing about the truth was that even if you didn’t understand it, even if it wasn’t fair, it didn’t stop being true. Normally Matt was pretty good at accepting this, but he guessed there was just something about a closing deadline which made you re-examine things you’d long since come to terms with.
For the past five years, he’d focused mainly on the plan, putting the “how” and “why” of why he needed it to the back of his mind. In retrospect, the fact that Matt’s gut reaction had been to adapt to an impossible problem rather than seek help probably should have clued him in that, deep down inside, he knew who he was and who he was always going to be.
But still, heck, maybe stupidly, he’d held out hope. Maybe, just maybe. Stranger things had happened, hadn’t they? People manifesting slowly, developing later in their teens. It wasn’t impossible. But as the months turned to years, Matt’s beacon of hope had faded – until barely a spark remained.
And tonight, that spark finally extinguished.
Is this how a death row inmate feels, Matt wondered. Alone, counting the hours, knowing logically no last-minute reprieve was coming – but still desperately waiting, unable to give up that final scrap of hope that some miracle might occur. It was an odd feeling, this mixture of defiance and resolution, acceptance and despair. No one to bargain with, no way to fight – only the waning, terrible wait and the relentless march of time.
In the quiet dark of his nightstand, the alarm clock gave a single beep. Alone and unseen, Matt leant back, closed his eyes, and let out a long, shuddering sigh. That was it. Time up. His fate was sealed.
It was midnight.
Matt Callaghan was officially eighteen.
And he did not have a superpower.
“Happy birthday,” he muttered to no one in particular. Then without further ado, the only true human in the world climbed unceremoniously into bed.
Unaware that from outside his window, he was being watched.
Bio: Born and raised in Newcastle, Australia, Ben is a lifelong writer currently studying his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney. An avid fan of the weird and wonderful, he has wanted to be a writer since he was five years old (before which he wanted to be a dinosaur).