The Empowered

Josh was late for work, his car wouldn’t start, and he missed the closest bus by like five minutes.  Now Josh was impersonating an Olympic speed walker, strutting down the street trying to get to the next bus stop before he missed that one too.  If he did, he was doomed to walk the five miles to work and even worse, walk the I’m late, sweaty, and tired walk past the boss man.  Josh didn’t want to even contemplate the lasting impression that would make.  Josh preferred to stay out of the limelight, especially if it would be negative, considering how the day was going so far.

As Josh turned the corner onto Main Street and checked his iPhone.  He was going to make it with a couple minutes to spare.  Josh decided to check his email and drop his speed a notch.  Maybe he could answer the first few emails of the day on his way.  That would give him a bit more leeway when he got to office.  His email updated just as he ran into someone.  His phone dropped to the pavement and he could hear that distinctive snap of the screen breaking.  “Damn it all!” exclaimed Josh.

“Excuse me?” asked a rich alto voice in a not to friendly tone.

Josh looked from his broken phone to the woman he had collided with.  He immediately wished he hadn’t.  She was at least six foot four, her afro sticking out at odd angles.  She was carrying various plastic grocery bags in both hands.  She was dressed in a ridiculously large muscle shirt and very baggy shorts showing off as much skin as twelve supermodels in bikinis.  Her skin hung in folds, and the folds had folds.  It reminded Josh of his friend Arnold, who had lost a hundred pounds, but the skin flap around his belly was still there.  This woman must have had the extra weight all over.  She must have been a sphere at one time she had so much extra skin.  Now if she weighed a hundred twenty pounds she would have been lucky.  While Josh was almost overwhelmed by her physical presence, he found himself drawn to her eyes.  The large brown eyes burned with a fire that almost mesmerized him.

“Are you going to apologize?” she asked.

“Apologize?” Josh asked.  He was still trying to figure out the figure in front of him.

“You just ran into me,” she said.

Josh reached down to retrieve his phone.  His couple of minutes were evaporating quickly.  “You ran into me too,” he said.  He tried to move around her to continue, but the woman moved back into his path.

“Are you kidding me?” she asked.  “I should knock some sense into that head of yours.”  She rattled her plastic bags for emphasis.

Josh threw his hand into the air. “Really?  Look, I’m late for work already.  If you want me to say I’m sorry to get you to move, fine.  I’m sorry,” he said.  Yep, those extra few minutes were almost gone.

The woman dropped her bags to the ground.  Josh wondered if a strong wind blew at this moment would she fly away in all that skin.  It made him smirk a bit.  “You think this is funny?” she asked.  “That’s it.  I’m going to rough you up.”

Josh took a couple of steps back and held up his hands in surrender.  He didn’t want to have to hurt this woman if they got into it.  He had to be twenty years younger and outweighed her by a hundred pounds of muscle.  The blessings of being on the track and field team through college.  ”Look, I’m sorry,” he said in a tone that showed he meant it this time.

The woman seemed less ticked.  “You better be,” she said.  “I’d hate to open a can of whoop-ass on you.”

“Is that what you carry in those bags?” Josh asked before his brain had processed what the sarcasm generator had created.  Josh winced as he waited for her response.

The woman let out a surprising musical laugh.  “That’s a good one,” she said.  “You have a pretty quick wit there.”

Josh joined her in a smile.  That smile crashed and burned as he saw the bus pull up to the bus stop.  Josh was way too far away to make it.

The woman noticed him staring and turned to witness the bus doors open.  “If you hurry you can still make it,” she said.

“No way,” he said.  “Those doors will be closing any second now.”

The woman looked at him with those intense eyes again.  “You can make it.  You have something special inside of you.  I can see it.  If you want to know more come find me.  I’m always around these parts.”  She then bent down to get her bags.

Josh decided to see if he could get at least get close enough to wave the bus driver down.  If the driver was nice they would let him on.  Josh began to run, reaching deep.  He felt his feet move faster, almost on their own.  He hadn’t dug this far down since the last race he had run where he had come from behind to win his only cross country event in his whole running career.  Each step brought him closer and closer until he was at the bus stop and the doors were still open.  Josh was surprised the driver hadn’t pulled away yet.

“Thanks for waiting, man,” he told the driver as he swiped his payment card.  The driver just stared at him, surprise on his face.

Josh didn’t give it a second thought.  He just sat down in an empty seat and smiled.  That run had felt good, really good.  Josh tried to figure out why he had stopped running.  He always loved it when he was younger.  He knew he had a second gear that was fun to kick it up to, but in competitions he just couldn’t find it.  Heck, when he was running with someone he couldn’t find it.  It was only when he was on his own, running to his own tune when the speed just seemed to come out of nowhere.  Josh was happy it had come out today.

“Close the doors already,” called out a woman on the bus somewhere behind Josh.  Josh looked up and the door was still open.  The bus driver was just staring at Josh in the rear view mirror.  Josh sheepishly smiled and waved at the driver.  That seemed to snap the man out of it.  The driver closed the door and pulled away from the curb.

The rest of the bus ride was uneventful.  Josh couldn’t get that woman out of his head.  Of course she must make an impression no matter where she went.  Still, Josh wondered what she meant about seeing something special inside of him.  By the end of the ride, Josh had figured it must have been his great sense of humor.

As Josh got off the bus, the bus driver stared at him again.  “Dude,” Josh said, “take an Instagram, it’ll last longer.”

The driver blushed.  “Just never saw an Empowered up close,” he said.

Josh was about to respond when the driver closed the doors and drove away from the curb.  Empowered?  Last time Josh checked his sarcasm hadn’t counted as a superpower.  Those people were freaky.  Now having a superpower might be cool, but all that responsibility?  No thank you.  It was nice being normal.

Josh waved at his boss on the way to his desk.  The woman looked almost upset that he had made it on time.  Maybe she was the one who had sabotaged his car.  Now that was a funny thought.  He opened his browser and checked the email he couldn’t do on his broken phone.  After seeing nothing important he headed into the break room to get a coffee.  Suzy and Fred were already there, mugs in hand.

“Did you see it Josh?” asked Suzy.  “I heard it was incredible.”

Fred nodded his head so hard Josh thought it might tumble off.  “It was awesome.  At least that’s what I heard.  I wasn’t there, but a friend of a friend tweeted me about it.”

“What are you two talking about?” Josh asked as he poured a large dose of the black stuff into his mug.

“There was a dust up between Shyla and the Dark Hatter this morning,” Suzy said.  “They took out a small part of Broad Street, just a couple blocks away from Main.  Shyla finally clobbered the Dark Hatter, leaving him for the police before disappearing.  She is so amazing.”

Josh took a sip.  Nice and strong, just like he needed it.  It did need a hit of sugar this time, so he put in half a packet.  Much better.  “That explains the bus driver this morning.  He looked like he had seen a ghost when he picked me up on Main,” Josh said.

Fred pulled out his phone.  “You’ve got to see this picture that friend of a friend took.  It is freaking amazing!”

Suzy grabbed ahold of Josh’s arm.  “You saw someone who saw Shyla?  How awesome is that?” she asked.

“He seemed more spooked than awesome,” Josh said, “and I don’t blame him.  The thought of people who can do all the stuff they can just doesn’t seem right.  Who is supposed to keep them in check when one of the Empowered goes rogue?”

“Here it is,” said Fred.  “Check this out.  Shyla is like a solid muscle.”

Josh took the offered phone and glanced at the picture, not really caring.  Then he did a double take.  There in the picture was the skin fold woman, except she was almost busting at the seams with muscle.  Her muscles had muscles.  How could this be?

“Shyla keeps them in line,” Suzy said.  “Her and the rest of the Enforcers.  They believe Empowered should live by the same laws.”

Josh handed the phone back to Fred and returned to drinking his liquid intelligence.  His mind was still trying to reconcile the scarecrow of a woman with the powerhouse in the picture.  “I still love how she just disappears after dealing out justice,” Fred said.  “Must be hard to blend in with all that.”

Josh almost choked on his next swallow.  “Something like that,” Josh said.

Suzy struck a heroic pose.  “I wish I was Empowered.  I would be out of here like a shot,” she said.

Josh thought back to what Shyla had told him.  She had seen something in him.  Then he had run and caught the bus.  That should have been impossible. The bus driver had said he had never been near an Empowered before.  He wasn’t talking about the fight.

Josh put down his mug.  “I’ve got to go,” he said.

The boss entered the room.  “Back to work I hope,” she said.

Josh smiled.  “Nope, I’ve got a bus to catch,” he said, and with that he disappeared.


 

Shyla fumbled for her keys.  She didn’t want to put these stupid bags down.  It would be nice if she could just kick down the door, but she didn’t want to bulk up just to damage her own place.  She tried to place the key into the lock, but it fell from her plastic limited fingers.  “Damn!” she said.  The keys stopped falling and the key magically appeared in the lock.  “So you figured it out,” she said.

“Yeah, it took me a bit,” Josh said.  “How did you know?”

Shyla put the bags on the step and turned around to look Josh in the eyes.  “It’s in the eyes.  That’s why most of the time we Empowered wear glasses of some sort.  Stops us from giving ourselves away.”

Josh stroked his chin.  “But why didn’t you have yours on?” he asked.

“I broke mine while fighting the Dark Hatter,” Shyla said.  She took the broken pair out of one of her bags and showed them to Josh.  “And they were my favorite pair.”

Josh looked like he was having problems figuring out what to say next.  “How do you, I mean we, do what we do?” he finally asked.

“Come inside.  I’ve got a proposition for you,” Shyla said.  Josh looked like he was about to comment when Shyla waved a finger in front of his face.  “Don’t make me kick your ass.  You know I can do it.”

Josh smiled.  “Only if you can catch me,” he said.

Shyla smiled.  “We can discuss that over some food.  Going large always leaves me starving,” she said as she opened the door.  “And keep you mind out of the gutter.”

Josh shook his head.  “I think this might be more fun than I thought,” he said as he followed Shyla inside.

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