Slowing Down

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Slowing Down

I have seen slower people than I am–and more deliberate…and even quieter, and more listless, and lazier people than I am. But they were dead.” –Mark Twain

Geoff looked out the window at the cars zooming by and felt an immense sense of bitterness.  That used to be him.  He used to pass by every person, every car on the street.  No one could match him for speed.  He could do things that no other man could possibly consider.  Once, in what now seemed like an eternity ago, Geoff was the fastest man on the planet.

In the beginning there was the terrifying accident.  Geoff had been making some adjustments on a revolutionary particle accelerator.  It had been theorized that they could simulate microscopic explosions by throwing minute matter at each other at terrific speeds.  However, for the power demands that were required, they had been forced to implement a new kind of system.  The generator wasn’t as stable as the staff would have liked, but they had run low on options, time, and funding.  That was where Geoff came in.  If anyone was going to be able to jury-rig their creation into working better, it was him.

The scientists had taken steps to make the area as safe as possible, including installing blast doors that would shut down the moment the regulators felt compromised.  That precaution ended up trapping Geoff.

He had been replacing the paneling on the generator when a power surge forced the regulators offline.  As the lights blinked back on, the blast doors took the incident as a cue and slammed shut.  The staff in the operations room had been so busy focusing on getting the massive doors open for Geoff that they didn’t notice what was happening inside the room until it was too late.

The resultant effect of the surge on the generator itself was that the machine translated the power as a reset.  It clicked and whirred to life, revving up its internal workings without any keystrokes.  Geoff stopped banging on the doors and shouting when he heard that familiar and eerie thrumming coming from behind him.

In the control room, Geoff’s coworkers managed to open the doors in time to see the machine light up with energy.  They froze in terror.  Geoff pointed to the generator and yelled as he fought the panic away.  Barry, Geoff’s longtime lab partner, saw the gesture and rushed to the shutdown button.  Unfortunately, in his hurry to get to the computer he slipped on the floor and banged his head on the shelf.  As the chaos was ensuing, the accelerator came to life.

Another man went for the emergency stop button; however several moments had already lapsed.  The accelerator was at full power and Geoff was caught in a burst of energy and radiation.  He collapsed from the assault just as the button was pushed and the accelerator ceased.

Miraculously, Geoff had been unharmed.  However, he wasn’t the same.  He was kept under close observation for several days.  By the end of the week, Geoff was discovering some surprising abilities that he kept to himself.  There was the clipboard and pen that he had caught when the doctor bumped them off a shelf with his elbow.  A fly that Geoff had meant to brush from his nose had been swatted into the wall across the room and splattered on the wall from the impact.  Also, two or three days into his visit, Geoff noticed that the second hand on the clock seemed to stand still.  In time, he found it that it was him that was moving faster while time went on as it always had.

The first couple of days had been frightening.  Geoff was afraid to move.  A brisk jog to get to the oven in time had turned into him speeding towards the oven and crashing.  His typing on a computer at home had wrecked the device for good.  And just like in the hospital room, he spent what seemed like hours with his senses sped up.  Those were the worst parts.  He wondered each time how long it would take for the world to resume its normal pace.  Was he always going to be left out of synch with everyone else?

Two things had calmed Geoff down considerably.  The first was that his body started to adjust to the changes it had gone through.  With focus and practice, he was able to control when his body sped up and when he operated like a normal person.  His science background and some trial and error afforded him the help he needed.  When he had gone for his first super-speed jog, he found out that there were side effects.  He stopped when a searing pain took over his skin and his clothes started to smell smoky.  Returning to normal speed, he found that the air friction from the human body moving at such a velocity gave him burns and his clothes caught on fire.  After a few all-nighters in his small lab at home, Geoff developed a suit that covered him from head to toe and constantly cooled off the surface temperature of his body.  Within a few weeks, he had managed to rig the controls so that they would shut on and off automatically depending on how fast he was moving.  The soles of the suit were another matter.  Geoff tried various combinations of Teflon, rubber, and asbestos, but he always ended up with a melted mess on his feet when he surpassed their limits.  In the end, it was the government who provided him with an experimental material they had been testing.  As thanks for his public service in rescuing people, they kept him supplied with small amounts of the materials.

The second thing that had helped Geoff fit into his new life was Laura.  Laura was a doctor in the hospital who had a long case history of helping burn victims and those caught in industrial accidents.  She was not only used to keeping busy and moving quickly, she also knew how to get a person up and running again.  Not surprisingly, she was exactly what Geoff had needed.

Geoff’s last checkup appointment had been three months after his accident.  He knew that time wasn’t on his side.  He had needed to move fast.  After this appointment, he wouldn’t have an excuse to drop in on the lovely doctor anymore.  The laughs, the soft gestures; Geoff couldn’t imagine doing without.  She had wished him well and headed for the door.  Without thinking, Geoff sped up and rushed to partially block the door.  His gust of speed caught the objects in the room and tossed them about.  Laura’s hair had also been swept up and now it lay disheveled on her head.  She was so stunning like that, Geoff hadn’t been able to resist.  He asked if he could be assigned a different doctor for his one-year appointment so that he might take the current one out for dinner.  After that, Geoff was never examined by Laura again.  Well, at least not professionally.

That had been five years ago.  For five years Geoff had been doing his best to use his gift.  There were times when he ran around purely for fun.  He liked watching the world whoosh by in a long, blurred line of colors.  He never used his car except when he was riding around with Laura.  Even then, he got restless at not being able to leave the world behind.  Being with his wife was the only part that made car rides enjoyable.

He and Laura agreed that he needed to help others.  Geoff had set several records for sandbagging rivers.  Floods, fires, earthquakes; all were cause for Geoff to run out and grab rescue victims.  Once he learned about grids and GPS, he became a one-man search and rescue team.  Lost hikers and skiers sang his praise and marveled as the snow melted under his feet.  Geoff only wished that he could do more.  He was superfast, but he was only as strong as he had been before the accident.  He couldn’t lift more than two people at a time.  The trouble was that in order to go fast enough that their weight wouldn’t burden him, he would have to speed up to the degree that the friction burns might set in.  It was a delicate balance that Geoff worked hard to master.  Then, on that day three months ago, Geoff’s fun had slowed to a halt.

For a few weeks he had felt like he was slowing down, but he assumed his brain was just playing tricks on him.  The world still moved at a blur.  He was still as fast as he had ever been.  Wasn’t he?

The questioned gnawed at him.  Then, on that Wednesday morning, he had tried to outrun a car that was barreling towards a crosswalk.  The woman behind the SUV screamed that her brakes were out.  Most people ran from the intersection, but an older man couldn’t go any faster.

Geoff set out to do what he did best.  He didn’t have his suit, but he still poured on the speed.  He ran as fast as he could.  He pushed himself to the limit.  And as he moved to pull the man out of the way, he got him clear.  Geoff himself hadn’t escaped so cleanly.

The woman driving the SUV managed to run into fences on the side of the road to slow her vehicle to a stop, but not before running over Geoff’s foot.  Many of the bones in Geoff’s leg shattered and snapped.  Along with his foot, Geoff’s gift seemed wrecked as well.  He hadn’t been able to outrun a simple car.

That had been the day that Geoff had given up on being a speedster.  He knew that whatever energy had changed his body had almost worn off.  He might have some speed in him, but not enough to be reliable.  He still helped people where he could, but now his joyous jaunts of jogging turned into painting kitchen walls or carrying a couch to the truck.  Geoff had a normal job in a lab.  Geoff was in shape.  Geoff took long walks.  Geoff’s life was, in all ways, average.  It drove him crazy.

Geoff once again felt out of synch with the world, but this time it was his turn to watch everyone speed by.  His mind returned from his happier days and refocused on the window outside.  The vehicles continued to whiz by, but a new sight caught Geoff’s attention.  On the wood ledge outside, a small slug inched its way along in search of shade.  Geoff took note of the effort that the slug put forth and how slowly it moved.  Every small increment of advancement came only from gradual, almost painfully slow deliberate moves.  Geoff shook his head and realized he identified more with this disgusting creature than he did with the motorists hurrying by.

Lost in his sulking, Geoff didn’t notice his wife as she walked up behind him.  She took her long arms and wrapped them around his neck.  She rested her head gently on his shoulder as reached behind and scratched her on the small of her back.

“Having a rough morning, are we?”

“Yeah”, Geoff replied.

“Did you know that there is an African tribe named the Maabans?  They live in an extremely quiet place.  I mean, it’s gotta be like the anti-New York.  Do you know what these guys are known for?”

“Their ability to milk slugs?”

“What?  No.  Milking slugs?”

“Bad joke.  So these Macaws?”

“Mabaans.  Culture, dear.  They have pretty much the best hearing around.  They can hear someone whisper from across a baseball field.  That’s a little science fact to impress your lab friends.”

“I’m sorry Laura, but is there a point to this?  It isn’t really helping.”

“You have a lot of different voices, were you aware of that?  When you’re excited, your voice takes on this almost high-pitch tone of glee.  It’s kind of adorable.  When you want attention, you drop about two octaves.  But there is one tone, one tone that you only ever use in one situation.  And the funny thing is, I’ve only ever heard you say two phrases with that tone.  It makes those two sentences that much more meaningful.”

Geoff turned around; a look of confusion present.  “What are you saying, exactly?  What tone?  Do I talk weird?”

“I suppose you could say that, yeah.  But the thing is; you get really quiet.  You almost whisper, ‘It’s okay.’  There’s this underlying feeling of confidence and calmness in your voice.  From anybody else, it’d be patronizing.  Not when you do it.  You simply, almost inaudibly say, ‘It’s okay’.  And the way you say it makes me believe you entirely.”

“You think I learned that phrase from Africans?”

“No.  But I can always hear you when you use that tone.  The world can be full of millions of distractions, but from across a crowded room, I can hear you when you use that voice.  My ears know it and love it.”

Geoff paused.  A look of consideration was evident as he asked, “What’s the other phrase?”

“’I’m not going anywhere.’  It’s not quite as powerful as the shorter phrase.  You don’t say, ‘I’m not going anywhere’ nearly as much.  They’re both pretty great though.”

“Well, I stole ‘It’s okay’ from Commissioner Gordon in Batman Begins.  So there’s that.”

“I know”, Laura said as she interlaced her fingers in Geoff’s.  “I like the way you say it, though.”

“Well thank you, but I’m still upset.  I mean, you don’t know what it’s like.  Have you ever run on water?  It’s incredible.  You’re traveling at this speed, the wind blowing against you as you go faster and faster.  Then you notice that you’re a reflection.  You look down as you soar over this large lake.  It’s you, your mirror image just underneath you, and nothing else but blue sky and blue water.  You aren’t just walking on water, you’re running on it.  The water isn’t a barrier, it’s a route.  No one else can travel like that.  No one knows how it feels.  Part of you is showing off for yourself, but another part of it feels so natural.  It all clicks.”

“Geoff?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s okay.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.  It’s okay.”

Geoff smiled.  “You’re not sick of me?  You’re okay that I’m around the house more than two hours a day?”

“I mean, don’t get me wrong”, Laura joked.  “It’s been an odd experience.  I think I’m getting used to it though.”

“You sure about that?  I mean, I could become a workaholic.  Maybe I should hang around the lab fourteen hours a day.”

“Nah”, she replied.  “I like you just the way you are.”

“It’s okay?”

Laura smiled back and ruffled his hair.  “It’s okay.”

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About anecdotaltales
He's a simple enough fellow. He likes movies, comics, radio shows from the 40's, and books. He likes to write and wishes his cat wouldn't shed on his laptop.

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