From the author: It takes Marvin Zenski six months and nineteen days to gain an eighth of an inch.
It takes Marvin Zenski six months and nineteen days to gain an eighth of an inch. In his younger years, he could've done this in his sleep. Two days, tops. Now, he has to wait for waxing moons to do the heavy lifting. Like a werewolf, Marvin's power is at its zenith during a full moon.
These days it's the only time he has much strength. Aging sucks. Everyone living in Copper Beach Manor Home agrees, at least those who still can.
Marvin would like to get out of bed to admire his handy work, but he is too exhausted. He'll look in the morning before he shuffles down the hall to the dining room for breakfast. He'd prefer to eat in his room, but the staff say it's good for him to stay mobile. Socializing will keep him young, they say. But he doesn't see them chatting with the residents. Although, he will admit, there are some benefits to talking up the old cows. (They don't put it in the brochures, but a nursing home, assisted living, prison, whatever the hell they want to call it, is a great place to tap some ass.)
Satisfied with his conquest, he drifts into memories. It's the closest he comes to dreaming these days.
When sunlight breaks through Marvin's windows--he has a coveted corner unit, which means double the windows--he puts on his glasses, sticks in his dentures and levers himself out of bed. Marvin loves this room. (He had to drop a chandelier on Joseph Guglimo to free it up. Completely worth it.) He makes his way towards the wall he shares with that damn Dell Holmes and squints at the ceiling tiles, then the baseboard. Above, a thin bright white line marks where ceiling meets wall. Below, a matching strip of linoleum runs the length of the room. Bits of paint and drywall fleck the furniture. Marvin knocks these to the floor. The cleaners are already suspicious. Last Tuesday, one of them crossed herself when she saw him in the hallway. He doesn't need them looking too closely at this side of the room. They might notice how the linoleum's edge doesn't quite meet the baseboard. Last thing he needs is Maintenance in here fixing his improvements.
Marvin smacks his lips and heads out to the dining room. The Conjuring King of Copper Beach Manor is ready for breakfast.
Next door, Dell Holmes picks up his measuring tape. His kids asked: what do you need that for, Pop? Planning one last remodel? He smiled, said he was building his own coffin. It made them uncomfortable enough to bring him the damn thing without any additional questions.
When he first started checking the square footage, he tucked the tape measure edge into a notch in the baseboard. He can't bend that easy anymore so he attaches it to his headboard and stretches it across the room like police tape at a crime scene. Then he picks up a spiral notebook and writes the number down. He compares it with his previous measurements and, sure enough, the length of his room has shrunk by another sixteenth inch. He doesn't know how that sonuvabitch Zenski is doing it, but he's going to stop him. Dell made his living cutting corners (Holmes Residential Construction: We Build Dreams to Last*) and he isn't about to let some second rate magician beat him at a game he invented.
His ticker may be mediocre, but the rest of him has been refurbished to mint condition--corrective eye surgery (left and right), new hip, both knees, one shoulder, two pig vertebrae and a pacemaker. Plus, he still has a full head of hair, unlike that sonuvabitch Zenski, who looks two breaths from death's door. Since Dell moved in, the ladies of Copper Beach have flocked to his side, abandoning 'Marvelous' Marvin Zenski, because good looks top magic tricks at any age. Dell will top Zenski at this game, too.
Dell dresses--crisp white shirt, khaki-colored trousers, paisley socks, and loafers (what he calls his country club-ware) and marches to the dining hall. After breakfast, he'll flood the women's locker room, then go bullshit with the men in Facilities. When they get called to fix the bladder pad-clogged toilets, he'll borrow a few things from their back room.
After a rousing game of volleyball (the residents at Copper Beach play with an inflated beach ball, seated on either side of the net in stiff-backed chairs arranged in two rows of three, except for those who have their own wheelchairs), Marvin heads back to his slightly-expanded domain to watch talk shows and comedy specials. Anything entertaining. Sometimes Marvin mutes the sound--he can barely hear it anyhow--and just watches the antics. That judge lady knows her stuff. He admires good showmanship. He used to have it in boatloads. Now he's happy if he can get a beach ball to tip back on the other side of the net.
He settles into his chair, picks up the remote and presses the power button. His screen crackles with static. He turns the television off, then on. Same thing. He gets up and wiggles the connecting wires. No difference. He calls and complains. They promise to send someone up. It takes three hours for the morons who run this place to manage that feat. First thing the idiot they send does is point the remote at the TV. Marvin wishes his power worked on people. He'd jam this guy's skull up tight, but it doesn't. He can only manipulate the inanimate. It's why his act never made the big-time. That damn Uri Geller ruined it for real psychic-kinetics.
Repairman idiot gets on his knees and removes the switch plate. He shines a flashlight inside the wall and Marvin worries the man might notice something. Not that anyone would believe Marvin moved a wall, but they might relocate him into a new room while they make repairs, declare his room unsafe or something. Marvin's always known the risk involved: walls can topple, but he's stacked the molecules so that they'd fall towards Dell's room--a trick he learned from a lumberjack.
"Here's your problem," the repairman idiot says. "Cable's cut." He draws the black snakelike wire out of the wall until exposed metallic strands twinkle in the overhead light. "Ain't gonna be an easy fix. Funny though, you're the only one who lost TV."
Marvin stares at the wall. He didn't mess up the cable. Someone else did.
Paint cracks. Hairline fissures outline drywall seams. The anger feels howling good. Powerful. Like a full moon come early.
"Whoa." Repairman idiot stands. "Earthquake."
Dell's trying to drive him out? We'll see who goes first, Marvin mutters and shows the idiot to the door.
Over the next few months, strange things happen at the Copper Beach Manor Home.
Dell Holmes trips when the sole of his loafer inexplicably melds with the shuffleboard court. Not even a crowbar can pry it loose.
Lightbulbs explode in Marvin Zenski's room when the circuit is mysteriously overloaded.
A window implodes in the solarium. Mr. Holmes suffers a few minor cuts on his forearms and a bad gash along his upper arm that just missed severing the brachial artery. Mrs. Oppenheimer wasn't as lucky. She bled out. People are surprised that Mr. Zenski took her passing so hard. They comment on his uncharacteristic weeping at her memorial service. Only Mr. Holmes's words were unkind, something about a pansy and a watering can. Everyone else feels sorry for Mr. Zenski when less than a week later he bruises his tailbone. No one working in the hospital has ever heard of a bed collapsing like that. Facilities inspects the bolts on all beds to prevent another accident. The director offers to move Mr. Zenski to another room, but is firmly rebuffed.
She makes a similar offer to Mr. Holmes when his doors fall off their hinges, but receives the same answer. She assumes it's the concussion talking.
Marvin has a spring in his step when he returns from aqua aerobics. He hasn't shuffled in months. In fact, he feels years younger. Last month, he gained a whole square foot of space from damn Dell. Dell's antics are pesky, like a fly at a picnic stealing crumbs, but Marvin's filling his stomach with all the fried chicken and potato salad he can eat. And if the buzzing bothers me, I'll drop a wall on him, Marvin thinks.
He shuts his door and his footsteps falter. Something's off. "Dell," he says. Marvin closes his eyes and explores the molecules that make up his room. He knows every single one of them and if Dell tampered with anything, Marvin will sense it. He hasn't had this type of control since he retired and he revels in its return. He half-suspects that it is the pre-cursor to death--the body's last ditch effort to stave off eternity, but Marvin doesn't care. He's found something he thought lost forever.
Marvin is missing space. Every microinch he stole from the room next door is gone. He rushes to the wall in question and places his hand on it. Shoves it, but it doesn't budge. The baseboard and ceiling tiles butt up against their original marks. Damn Dell has ruined years of hard work.
How the hell did he do that?
"I'm taking back what's mine," Marvin yells and bangs his fist on the wall.
Dell is exhausted, but it's a good exhausted. Years of focusing on profit margins had dulled the exhilaration of a job well done. This renovation is his best work and he didn't get paid one goddamn penny for it. He can't wait to see that sonuvabitch Zenski's face.
But first he needs a nap. Burning the midnight oil has worn him out and he wants to look fresh as a daisy when he sees Zenski at dinner. Bet he pops an aneurysm, Dell thinks as he closes his eyes and dreams of flying buttresses.
Dell feels like he is flying--a peaceful, weightless feeling followed by the sensation of sinking. Wait, he is sinking into his mattress. It is swallowing him. He flails his arms, ordering himself to wake up, wake up!
Screams intrude. Is he screaming? No, he is gagged by mattress fluff. Something snaps--a floor joist--he knows that sound, calculates (out of habit) how much it'll cost to replace. Dell realizes he is awake, he's falling, and his mattress is suffocating him. He rolls onto his stomach and tilts his neck to keep his face from being smothered. He's created an air pocket. He snorts and spits out fluff, inhales oxygen into his starved lungs.
Sonuvabitch! he thinks as he crashes into the room below his. Then laughs, because this is the cushiest fall of his life, usually it's off a roof/scaffold/ladder onto a cement slab/rose bush/pile of studs. Course, he'd been a lot younger last time he took a tumble. Thank God for flying mattresses.
Marvin pushes, one last mental shove to send damn Dell plummeting and immediately knows he overextended. His power has limits and he's reached them. His shove goes wild, misses its intended mark and takes out a support beam. For a moment, Marvin feels the integrity of the structure balance on a point. Molecules seesaw. Stressed materials snap.
He should let the structure find its own center, but he can't stop himself. A light touch could steady the rocking. He reaches out, muscles and organs shaking with the effort.
Gravity holds everything in suspension. Marvin lets out his breath. Disaster mitigated. Laughter echoes, the sound vibrates, and the balance tips. Molecules avalanche. Walls sheer off. The Zenski-Holmes Barricade collapses. Marvin runs for the relative safety of the bathroom.
Copper Beach Manor Home topples like a child's make-believe palace of blocks.
One hundred ninety-two people die in the nursing home collapse--187 residents, five staff. Search and rescue efforts continue for three days. Reporters talk of the unexplained tragedy in terms of "devastation" and "horror" and "loss." But also of "heroic actions" and "unexpected miracles." Like the grandfather buried under a ton of rubble, wrapped inside a mattress, "like a hot dog in a bun," which surely saved his life.
This story is shunted to the side when, on day three, a rescue worker trips over a cable wire snaking through the rubble. He pulls on it and it pulls back. Eight hours later they uncover a perfectly curved pocket in the debris. Inside this make-shift womb is a seventy-eight-year-old man. "As if the building itself shielded him from harm," one reporter says.
Marvin watches the fluids in his IV snake into his veins. He misses his corner unit, his four windows. This room only has two and they overlook the dumpsters. Marvin tries to slam one of the lids closed, but can't. Perhaps if he focused on something smaller, something closer. But no. He's used up.
When the nurse comes in, all bright and cheery, he asks when he'll be released.
"Oh, probably not for a few days yet, but you'll have to ask the doctor. You're lucky to be alive, you know." She takes his blood pressure and makes a note.
"How many dead?"
"Now, you focus on getting well. You'll be back to your usual self in no time at all. When you're up for it, you can visit your friend next door."
"Friend?" Marvin asks.
"Da--Dell is right next door?" Marvin says. His blood seethes. He wonders if Nurse Chipper will pick up on that.
She smiles. "See, I knew that would perk you up. Nothing like a friend to make the bad times better, I always say."
"Which wall?" Marvin asks, feeling stronger already.
This story originally appeared in Buzzymag.