t was accidental, the discovery he could walk through walls like they didn’t even exist in the first place. It was an ability that came unannounced to him; something that didn’t trumpet its oncoming in the same way that an adolescent discovers he or she might be coming of age at the discovery of a moustache fuzz or bloody underwear. What was truly particular about this newfound talent was that he didn’t find out about it in his crib or at school – a time when such a “talent” might lead him or, God forbid, his parents to believe he was a superhero. No. He discovered this uncanny ability somewhere in his 20s, which meant that at least a good quarter to third of his life had probably just up and passed him by before he actually noticed this particular knack of walking through walls like a ghost. (Don’t ask him to be precise when it comes to the actual age he discovered this talent. He doesn’t really remember, but not out of forgetfulness. He, himself, has simply stopped caring about such moot details.)
Our hero – let’s call him Melvin, a lame name if there was one – found out that he could walk through walls in an office building, of all places. What day did it happen? It was never recorded. What time of day did it happen? It might have been morning or afternoon. What season did it occur? Nobody remembers, least of all him, and probably very few would even care, anyway. Besides, people have a strange habit of not noticing the exceptional in other people, and if they do they take it as a threat to themselves, their or their family’s wellbeing, their ability to pay the mortgage, that kind of thing.
Anyway, the job he was performing that fateful day was not important, either, as nobody in his office really took much notice of him. Melvin was mediocre enough to not be a threat, he didn’t play office politics, and he tended to ignore the banal office cooler chat of his colleagues. The only detail really recorded in his memory, and thus important to this story, is that he was walking along near his desk and, quite accidentally, tripped over one of the laces of his dress shoes, a pair now long disposed of. (Don’t ask him about the brand name. It, like most of the other pathetic details of his life, is now long forgotten.) His shoulder should have collided with a section of the soft monolithic gray wall, probably some kind of particleboard, but he doesn’t quite recall.
What he does remember is that it didn’t hurt. It didn’t hurt at all. In fact, it was quite pleasant and tingly. His body suddenly felt electric. And then, the sensation was suddenly yanked from him when he heard someone – a female – scream somewhere nearby.
“Oh my God! Melvin is trapped in the wall!” He flinched at this sound, and immediately turned around – thus tearing his shoulder and upper arm out of the wall. He meant to face the woman – was it a new admin assistant? A temp worker? Who knows? – but found that he could not. This was not because he lacked the motivation or courage to stand up for himself, no. Rather, it seemed that the lady couldn’t stand up to him. She’d fainted, sprawled out like a body at a crime scene. At this point, he decided he should slink away before he got blamed for this unfortunate event – he was the only one nearby and already he could hear the approaching shuffle of feet – so he ducked into an intersecting corridor and made his retreat to the nearest stairwell. He ran up a floor, then down a floor using another staircase. It was easy to avoid detection as hardly anyone used the stairs. If you use the stairs, you, too, can be an anti-social ghost in your workplace.
Anyhow, he soon found himself back at his desk, trying hard to concentrate on his tasks that, to this very day, nobody remembers with much fondness. After all, nobody remembers how one pays the rent once you’re dead and gone, anyway. Melvin found, however, that he couldn’t get back into the swing of his work. Not because of the commotion caused by the fainted lady, oh no. It was because he felt the urge to plunge his arm into the soft woolen mesh of the cubicle wall, to see if what he’d experienced was a lark. After carefully checking to see if anyone was peeking into his cubicle or “prairie dogging” as the idiot sunshine-y girl with a boyfriend next to him was prone to do – God, what was her name again? – all he could bring himself to do was stick a few fingers through the wall. Much to his delight and utter surprise, his fingers simply went through the wall without making the slightest tear in the fabric. His digits vanished, disappeared. The thing that struck him, once again, was how pleasurable the feeling was, how the tingling sensation once again made him feel. It was like someone running a feather duster over the point where he made contact with the wall. As quickly as he realized this, he withdrew his fingers, and starting to feel another, more overwhelming sensation overtake him. Namely, that, if he continued, he would be caught or discovered by sneaky coworkers. His discovery was something he did not want to share. It was one thing to be seen as being special as a child and lovingly doted on by “authority” (though being labeled as special could also invite ostracism among one’s peers at a young age, too, he supposed); however, as an adult, he found that other people tended to be in revulsion or fear, not awe, of those with bizarre talents. Hell, just getting work done to deadline was almost enough to get his coworkers in a tizzy: he’d already suffered the slings and arrows of being told to “slow down, for Heaven’s sake!”
He looked around quietly and proceeded back to work, never once wondering just why it was that he could somehow break one of the laws of physical reality without much reason or rhyme, or why he didn’t drop to the ground from the chair he was sitting in and fall on his behind. He chose to banish these things from his mind, and continue onward with the daily drudgery.
During the days and weeks that followed, he continued to try to forget about his, for lack of a better term, “talent.” He found, though, that he couldn’t. It was everywhere. Every time that he came close to bashing his face, his hand, his foot into a door or a wall or a rock … there it was, that sensation again. It didn’t matter if it were accidental or not, he could plunge his entire body headlong into a cement barrier and discover that he could penetrate right through it and arrive, completely unscathed, out the other side. The feeling, the sheer sensation of being able to plunge a fist into a wall and experience pure, unadulterated joy instead of pain and hurt started to become addictive to Melvin. If the truth were to be told, in fact, he began – almost subconsciously at first – to think of himself as a Superhero with powers that could somehow change the world, for good or ill. In fact, every day on the bus into work, packed like a sardine in that tin can with dozens of ordinary, stinky and rather uninteresting people with nothing better to do than prove they had cellphones by talking rather loudly into them, he would imagine the ways he could put his powers to use. Perhaps more accurately, he would try to imagine the uses he could put his powers to. He found that there weren’t very many things one could do by simply being able to walk through walls other than haunt people. He couldn’t save babies from burning buildings or anything grandiose like that. Even if he could grab onto, say, a baby in a burning building, there were no guarantees that said infant would be able to come back with him – assuming that a wall offered the only escape route.
All he could think of were the drawbacks to having the power of being able to walk through walls. It was a passive power, one that would only allow him the opportunity to be a voyeur: he could spy on women undressing or, assuming he fell in with the appropriate spy agency, enemies of the state. Stuff like that. What particularly stymied him, however, was the fact that he felt straitjacketed by his powers. What would happen if he actually disclosed his ability to anyone? Would he be locked up in a cell of titanium steel while government lackeys prodded and poked him and ran him through all sorts of embarrassing tests? He had to wonder, and he had plenty of time to do so on the bus. The more that he thought about it, the more that he felt outright paralyzed by his inability to do anything useful with this power of walking through walls.
Coincidentally, he began to discover that his powers were growing and becoming more prominent with the passing of time. It was odd. It started with pens and paper slipping through his butterfingers. Then it gradually got worse and worse. One minute, he would be holding one end of the frying pan while he crossed his kitchen and the next minute, it would clatter to the floor along with his bacon, without any explanation for the slippage. His inability to hold onto physical objects just happened for no reason, and with more and more frequency as the months and years wore on. It was as though he’d suddenly obtained another secret Superhero identity: this time, the Clumsy Buffoon. What’s more, while he had succeeded in keeping his ability to walk through walls a secret, everyone in his workplace almost immediately noticed that he, Melvin, was starting to lose his touch. In fact, the girl beside his cubicle – the one with the boyfriend – suggested one day when he came over to drop off, hands shaking, a series of binders that he go get that checked out.
“That could be an early sign of Parkinson’s or something,” she purred cruelly.
He thanked the girl and continued on in his duties, but secretly wished he had the power to turn himself invisible so nobody would notice all of his foolish gaffes and public humiliations. He often wondered whether or not this was deliberate: the curse to his blessing, the yin to his yang. Whether or not his new ability was a bad thing, at least he was thankful that he lived in a basement apartment. Should his ability suddenly enable him to drop through entire floors, he wouldn’t have very far to go. Nobody would have to bury him; he could disappear entirely from sight. However, if this were to happen at his job, he understood he could drop through entire stories, presumably to his death.
However, such speculation is now pretty much moot as our hero Melvin suddenly, one day, found himself out of a job. It just up and went in precisely the same way his ability to control his motor skills seemed to be leaving him. All it took was some paperwork and a rather sorrowful meeting with his boss, who looked at him like our hero was a lost puppy. The boss spent much of his time asking, “Are you OK?” Melvin just sighed and said that this was probably the best thing that could happen to him, and it was time to move on anyway. Was there a personal reason for this sudden dismissal? Not really, though it could be argued that more socializing among his coworkers might have saved him.
Anyhow, what was done was done and nobody really missed him at the office, so these are just superficial details that don’t really add up to very much. (In fact, the guy that they hired to take his job turned out to be much better, anyway, so why cry about it?)
On the bus ride home from his dismissal, Melvin sat alone, clutching whatever belongings he had been able to rescue from his office, and mused to himself that reinvention as a Superhero, despite his initial misgiving, would be, perhaps, a good thing. He, for one, would be given the opportunity to try new things, try something different. He closed his eyes and simply re-imagined himself as being useful, someone who spent all day flying around and saving lives. He imagined himself as someone who would be on the front pages of the newspaper, day after day, like a Spider-Man or Superman – forgetting, of course, that these characters weren’t real. The truth of it, however, is that in spite of his best intensions, Melvin didn’t get very far in this new line of work. Sure, he was able to hire a tailor who could stitch together a cape and skin-hugging tights under the ruse that it was for a costume party he got invited to. It wasn’t anything special: just a skintight black outfit and cape with a brick as its center logo. (He could think up nothing better that would illustrate his uncanny ability to walk through walls.) He was proud of his new suit – one without a tie, he noted wryly to himself – and preened himself in the mirror after he put it on for the very first time, ignoring the obvious swimmer’s sag, “shrinkage,” between his legs.
Yet, once he stepped outside his front door one summer’s evening in this tight, sweaty outfit, reality dealt him a real blow: he was not quite ready for the front page, after all. While running to his first “job” to save a woman from a mugger in a rather dire area of the city he lived in, his feet got all tangled up and he landed with a thud on the cold cement of the street he had been sailing down. He did not disappear into the ground as he might have expected, though, and so the main sensation he received from this outing was one of intense and horrible pain. What went wrong? Who knows? Who cares? It doesn’t matter anyway, much like Melvin.
While walking home from this sad occurrence, bruised and battered, some teenagers on a sidewalk outside a liquor store pointed at him and laughed, then threw empty beer bottles at him. Their accuracy surprised him, as did the sensation of being pelted with glass that shattered all over his body. Now, that had hurt. (In fact, that had hurt a lot.) Anyhow, feeling inadequate and unsuitable for the job, he turned his mind to other jobs that would benefit from his special and unique talent. He brooded and brooded for days in his tiny basement lair, trying to determine what he needed to do to get ahead. He mused what it would take to have another job and have purpose and meaning, or, put another way, an identity of some sort that he could latch onto. He thought he could get into the drug trade. They always needed drug runners in that line of work, and maybe his ability to walk through walls could help him out of any sort of sticky situation? But then he realized that this had the potential of being a really bad idea, one as bad as being a superhero, so he got up, went to the fridge seeking the first of what would likely become a series of endless beers, and g
(Something happened. He doesn’t remember the rest. He got up to the beer, and the next thing he knew …).
et in here?” cried the lady, the naked middle-aged woman he was presumably trying to save from drowning in the shower. He looked down, seeing how pathetic he looked, dressed in his superhero outfit, but wasn’t sure what he was doing. His vision was a bit blurry, but he was pretty sure that was his cock hanging out. He asked himself: What was my short, flabby cock doing hanging out of his suit like that? He then quickly tucked the flaccid weapon away, his face flush with embarrassment and the fear of having done something wrong, of having taken on a villainous role.
Shouldn’t I be trying to save this lady? This was my job, was it not? I’d smashed the barrier of the dull work-world and had struck out on my own as a Superhero, a consultant, no?
He sighed, glanced around, and noticed that his surroundings seemed vaguely familiar and, yet… strange – he’d never been in this room before, but it looked almost identical to the way his bathroom had been laid out in his bachelor pad. The same gray tiles on the floor, the same porcelain claw-footed tub. It was as though someone else had moved into his apartment and replaced all of his belongings with his or her own.
Then it struck him. He never felt more simultaneously scared and stupid than when the truth finally dawned on him: He was in another apartment in the same building. After all, hadn’t he seen this woman on the stairs leading into the building at least once or twice?
“Get away from me!” she cried, hiding behind the shower curtain, throwing bottles of Jergens at him. A bottle of conditioner ponged off of his head. Another plastic bottle plonked off his chest. This hurt and hurt a lot. Who knew that plastic could be so dangerous, so unsafe, so unreassuringly hazardous? This was something Melvin pondered, as he understood what it was that he had to do.
He leapt through the woman – So this is what having breasts feels like, he thought lazily – past her into the wall of the shower, and on into the next room. This time, however, he did not feel the pleasurable sensation that normally accompanied his
(Again, this part he doesn’t remember. Perhaps it just wasn’t worth recording.)
eviction notice had been slid under the door. Millions of green beer bottles were scattered around apartment as though they were kryptonite. Melvin sat on the bed, took off his suit and wondered where on earth he’d been. Try and try as he might, he simply could not remember a thing about his whereabouts during the last few days. It was like there were gaps, breakages in the film of his memory. Which was strange, he didn’t really recall ever experiencing any sort of memory loss prior to the strange events of this tale. He put his head in his hands and wondered: Why me? What have I done? What is going on here? Nothing is making any sense at
(Another gap in his memory. God, he was getting pretty useless now, wasn’t he?)
“And don’t come back you
pounded fists into
(Yet another hole in his memory.)
utterly frustrated and
was published in maybe 1974 or ’76, and was about these kids who discover an egg in the forest one day. A boy and a girl. It was glowing. Its own source of energy, a source of power. And together, using the power of the magic egg, the duo had all sorts of adventures, saving the world from people who were wasting energy. It was an educational comic, published by one of the government departments. Melvin wasn’t sure why he remembered this pathetic little comic, especially now, locked up in the clink, but he recalled the irony: the boy and girl used up all of their power in their quest to rid the world of waste. By trying to educate other people, they wound up setting
(It’s happened again.)
(And yet again.)
a bad example
(What happened next? Does anyone remember? Does anyone care?)
after the jail experience, and, in the street, he discovered a wall. A concrete wall. Melvin put his hands on it to feel its coldness. He wondered why there wasn’t a word to describe something cold that emanated its coldness – sort of the opposite of warmth. He quickly banished the thought. He felt he had no use for superficial thoughts since the incident in the prison shower when he bent over to reach the soap. Which, in and of itself, was a thought he tried not to think about much. Not anymore. Instead he put his focus on the wall.
It seemed to offer freedom, in a very backhanded way. This was ironic, how something so cold and uninviting – a self-made prison – could seem to offer protection. A wall seemed so suddenly maternal to him. An escape from the drudgery, sameness and agony offered up by daily life. He thought of the old office. And home. The old office. And home. Both of which he no longer had. Both of which he had escaped from. Could that have been his best Superhero trick? Now, he knew the answer. Now he could know no harm. Not to himself, or others. And so he began to merge with the wall, meld with it.
It was as easy as walking into it and pretending like it just wasn’t there. And that was that. He was frozen, trapped in the wall like Walt Disney in a block of ice. Waiting to be reborn. Waiting for the possibility of being “cured” of his peculiar talent later on in life. And that was that. He was out like a light. Living a life in limbo, waiting for something to happen. Being dead-alive.
The last significant thing he remembered hearing upon taking up his new life in the wall just so happened to be the first thing he heard, thus making it the only thing worth recording or noting. It was the voice of some young kid, a boy probably not much older than eight or so. The words. He remembers them like bricks scattering, dropping off a wall. Or bricks still remaining in a game of Breakout on the old Atari system:
“Hey, that guy there,
And the reply from another voice, a bum – someone without a history worth noting, shilling for change on the street, who somehow felt he had to add his two cents:
Look what they did to Han Solo, trying to be a hero and everything.”
* * * * *
Zachary Houle lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, where he works for the federal government as a Project Officer and is also an Associate Music Reviews editor for PopMatters.com, a pop culture webzine that reaches 1.2 million unique visitors a month. He also contributes regular book and music reviews to PopMatters. Houle has been awarded a $4,000 emerging artist grant from the City of Ottawa to write fiction, and was a Pushcart Prize nominee for a novella that appeared in Midnight Mind. His fiction or poetry has also appeared in places such as Broken Pencil, Word Riot, Pindeldyboz, Kiss Machine, The Danforth Review, Girls with Insurance, Thieves Jargon, Friction magazine, Megaera, and many others. His poem “Ode to the Long Lost Mini-Pops Album” was published in the book anthology In Our Own Words, Vol. 7 (MW Enterprises, 2007).
This is his first contribution to Snake-Oil Cure.