“This is the place?” Steve said, looking up at the small, nondescript building Janet had led him to.
“This is it,” Janet said with a smile. “What were you expecting? A satellite in stationary orbit around the Earth?”
Steve shrugged. “Something more than a community center, anyway.”
“Come on,” Janet said, leading Steve inside. “It’s time you met the others.”
Steve suppressed a sigh. Janet was sure the others could help him. He had his doubts, but he followed her into the building, anyway.
Inside, standing in front of the bulletin board, was one of those signs you saw in places where meetings were held — a black sign with plastic, removable white letters. This one spelled out NORMIES DEC 18 7:00 RM 5. Janet led the way to room five.
She pushed open the door, and Steve saw a room full of orange plastic chairs; several chairs were arranged in a circle, while many others stood against the far wall in stacks of three and four. A small table stood against another wall, and on the table stood a coffee percolator, a collection of styrofoam cups, and two open Dunkin’ Donuts boxes. Four people were seated in the chairs in the circle. All of them except one held a styrofoam cup, while one balanced a glazed donut on a paper napkin on his knee, and one other held a crumpled napkin. They all looked up and smiled at the newcomers.
“Janet, hi!” the one without a cup said, flashing a dazzling smile. She was a young woman with long blonde hair, one of the most beautiful women Steve had ever seen that wasn’t on television. “And this must be Steve.”
“This is Steve,” Janet acknowledged as she closed the door behind them. “Thanks again for welcoming him into the group, Loretta.”
“That’s why I founded Normies, Janet,” Loretta said. “Steve, I guess Loretta has told you about us — what we do here?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess so,” Steve said, a bit nervously. “I mean, the basics, I guess.”
Loretta giggled, a musical tinkling laugh. “Well, we’re all friends here, Steve. Why don’t you have a seat?” Steve and Janet sat down next to each other. Everyone was looking at them, but their faces were warm and friendly. Steve was beginning to feel at ease. “Now, Steve,” Loretta said, “we’re going to do introductions all around. Most support groups ask the new person to go first, but here at Normies, we let you go last. Helps put you at ease, I think. When it’s your turn, I’m going to ask you for a small… demonstration of what makes you eligible for our group. It’s a security precaution, you understand, to keep out the press and curiosity seekers. Naturally, in the interest of fairness, we’ll all be making demonstrations, too. How’s that sound?”
“All right, I guess,” Steve said, fidgeting a little. He hadn’t counted on making a demonstration, but the way Loretta put it, it made perfect sense.
Loretta turned to the man seated on her immediate left, a middle-aged man with thinning brown hair and a slight paunch at the middle. “Len, why don’t you go first?” she asked with a smile.
Len turned around in his chair to face Steve. “Len Carlson,” he said. “I’m a reader for a mid-sized publishing house. And I was born able to do this.” Len spread his hands about a foot apart. An electric spark leaped between his palms, big and bright, like a generator Steve had seen at a science museum as a schoolboy.
The woman seated to Len’s left was next, a redhead in her late twenties, not overly pretty but above-average looking, Steve thought. “Candace Malkiewicz,” she said. “I’m a quality-control inspector for a pharmaceutical firm; you’d probably recognize the name. An accident at the plant left me able to do this.” Candace closed her eyes and concentrated; her skin and hair began to fade away, and in moments she was invisible. Her clothes and jewelry remained, as if suspended in air. She remained invisible for a few seconds, then gradually faded back to visibility.
Janet was seated next to Candace between her and Steve. “You know me, Steve,” she said, “but I’ll take my turn just the same.” As she spoke, she reached into her purse. “I’m Janet Snow, and I’m a legal clerk. One night while I was driving alone on a deserted back road, my car was hit with a weird light beam from the sky. I have no idea what it was or where it came from, but it left me with the power to do this.” Janet withdrew an iron bar, six inches long and an inch thick, from her purse. Taking one end of the bar in each hand, Janet bent it double, then double again.
The man seated on Steve’s other side was the only one left other than Steve himself. He was a big man, broad like a football player, with a thick blond mustache that gave him the appearance of a walrus. “Paul Thelon,” he said with a broad grin, shaking Steve’s hand firmly. “Welcome, Steve. I work at K-Walget, manager of the sporting goods department. Let me show you what I can do.”
Paul got up, walked to the refreshments table, and poured coffee into a styrofoam cup. He walked back and handed the cup to Steve; the coffee was hot and steaming, and Steve felt the warmth through the styrofoam. Grinning, Paul stuck his index finger in the cup. Instantly, the warmth fled from the cup. Paul withdrew his finger, and Steve looked down into the cup; it was full of dark brown ice.
“Nifty, eh?” Paul asked with a grin. “Don’t ask me how I got that power. Got caught in a blizzard on a hunting trip in Canada once, trapped outside in a snowbank, nearly froze to death. Spent a week in a hospital in a coma. When I came to, I could do that.”
“Nice,” Steve agreed.
“And I’m Loretta Grant,” the stunning blonde said. “When I was a teenager, I found an old book of mystic spells. For some reason they worked for me. They still do.” Loretta pointed a perfectly manicured finger at the cup of ice Steve was holding; with a pop of air forced out of its space, a bouquet of red flowers appeared in the cup. Steve started in surprise, then settled back down.
“My turn, I guess,” Steve said. “Well, I’m Steve Zawislak. I work at a small local TV station in the archives department. I met Janet when I had some legal trouble; my ex-wife, actually, fighting for custody of our daughter. As to what I can do, well…” Steve spread his hands in a deprecating gesture. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know I’d be asked to give a demonstration. I–” Janet gently touched his arm, and he stopped to look. With a smile, she withdrew a small portable radio from her purse. Steve grinned nervously.
“Well, I guess I’m on after all,” he said. “Thanks, Janet.” Janet switched on the radio, and loud rock music blared from the tiny speaker. Steve stretched out his hand toward the radio, and the music suddenly died, even though Janet had not touched the controls. Steve then flung his hand in the direction of the refreshments table; there was a loud humming like a gigantic violin string being plucked, and one of the donut boxes exploded.
“Sorry about the mess,” Steve said sheepishly. “I can’t really control the intensity all that well. I only meant to knock the box over.”
“That’s all right,” Loretta said. “So you absorb and release sound waves, or sonic energy?”
“Something like that,” Steve said. “I don’t really understand it myself. I was working in the archives, editing the soundtracks on five different reels at once — deadlines, you know? — when all of a sudden there was this big energy surge. I later learned that Green Lantern was fighting Blackrock outside the building; I guess that caused it. Anyway, I got zapped with a big overload of electricity and sound, and when I woke up, I could do that. And my hair stood on end for about a week.”
“Interesting,” Loretta said, raising a thinly trimmed eyebrow.