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Dying Strength

Dan Jameson opened the door to his apartment, and walked straight into a flurry of invective from Martha, his wife of thirty-seven years. “You rotten bastard, I had your food on the table over two hours ago. Don’t you ever think of me, slaving away to make your favourite dishes. Are you too lazy to use the telephone, or did you forget they existed? Anyway, Mr hobby scientist, it’s probably a congealed glob of goo somewhere in the back of the fridge by now, if you can find it. Oh, and don’t bother to look for your last beer. I drank it!”

Dan watched her back as she stormed off, grabbed the TV remote and ostentatiously ignored him from her favourite chair. He was mildly surprised that she hadn’t chosen his favourite chair instead, just to make an exclamation point. She was undoubtedly in the right. In the last few years teaching at the university, he had fallen in with a crowd who investigated the paranormal. Since he taught psychology there, and the current focus of the group was the mind, it wasn’t too far away from his area of expertise. He told himself that universities existed to push forward the boundaries of knowledge, and his involvement was the sort of thing he should be doing.

His wife didn’t agree. “If someone wants to pour a ton of money down the drain to fund this ridiculous research so you didn’t have to teach as well, it’d be fine.” Her voice had been refined to a burning screech as she warmed up. “That isn’t the case, is it? You four idiots do it all on your own time. No, that’s not right, is it? It’s on my time. The time you should be spending with me.” That was the problem. He knew, deep down, that he was wrong, but the fascination that came with tantalizing glimpses of what might be possible, had him hooked.

His group’s topic of the moment, actually the subject they had been digging into for three years already, was what he thought of as the mental equivalent of hysterical strength. That is the phenomenon where people become capable of unusual feats of strength when their life, or the life of a child, is at risk.

It had all started when the cousin of George, a member of his group, had died. His wife, who was miles away, felt him tell her he was dying. Understandably, she had hysterics, calling all over, looking for him, or news of him. They found his car hours later off a rural road, in a ditch. He had died at the wheel. The big impetus for them had come weeks afterwards, when there was a well publicized story, in a respectable newspaper, about a mother who appeared to have mentally pushed her child out of the path of an oncoming truck.

Once their appetite for these events of mental prowess in extremis had been whetted, they trawled around for similar stories. While they were few and far between, they found enough to keep them titillated, and to make the case that this was a genuine human attribute. The trouble, naturally, was proving it, especially in a way that the scientific establishment would accept. That was the sticking point.

“If that’s all you need to do,” Martha had told him, after he had bored her to death with his lack of progress for the umpteenth time, “why doesn’t one of you get a machine gun, and chase the rest of you around. If things work out, wonderful. If they don’t, three of you will be dead, and this foolishness will end.” He could almost see venom dripping from her eye teeth.

Martha had hit the nail on the head. The only way to prove it was to put someone’s life at risk, and nobody was going to volunteer for that! Dan opened the fridge, hoping his dinner wasn’t too far gone. He didn’t even recognize what it was supposed to be, and didn’t disturb the plastic wrap on top. It was going to be a sandwich. At least, he mused, he was getting good at making them. He found a sharp knife, and cut up some tomato to help out the slices of ham he peeled out of the container. Once he had it as he liked it, he sat at the kitchen table, careful to make sure Martha couldn’t see him, and started to eat.

Half the sandwich later, the commercials came on the television, and Martha got up to fetch herself something, as she was not in any sort of mood to ask his help. When she saw he was eating a sandwich, and not the dinner she had spent so long making, she lost it. “What’s this then? You don’t like my cooking any more?” Her face reddened as her voice rose. “You bastard, you don’t appreciate anything I do for…” She fell back in a heap on the floor, grabbing for a chair, which she knocked over, as her complexion turned a pasty grey.

Dan moved fast, laying her out on the soft linoleum of the kitchen floor. He could see she was trying to say something, so he put his ear to her mouth. The tomato knife flew off the table, and buried itself in his back. A searing pain jolted through him, and burned its way through his chest. The last words he heard came softly from Martha. “You wanted your fucking proof? Now you have it!”

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