It was a crisp Friday morning and Max didn’t have to work today. He was going to take advantage of it by meeting up with his friend, Lee, for an early morning run. It would also be a welcome break from thinking about the recent and strange occurrences in his life.
Over the last few days, Max has made no progress towards finding any reasonable cause for his episodes of extraordinary strength. If anything, he was even more perplexed.
Yesterday, while his dad and sister were out, Max went around the house and lifted the refrigerator, the couch, and his own bed all by himself with no effort. He also bended and twisted just about every tool and utensil he could get his hands on and successfully molded each one back into their original shape; as if they were all made out of pliable rubber instead of hard metal.
So that threw the whole “adrenaline theory” out. This was something that he could control and freely use. Had he been exposed to some strange chemical? Had he accidentally ingested something to make him this way? Or is this all just in his head somehow? The logical explanations were running out.
When Max arrived at Blanchard Woods, Lee was already there. Lee Kenton has been one of Max’s closet friends since childhood. Though their personalities were nearly polar opposites, the two men could always count on each other and have developed a strong friendship over the years.
They both took identical paths after high school. Like Max, Lee decided not to go to college. He wanted to become a police officer someday, so he currently worked as a security guard as he waited to meet the minimum age requirements to apply for a police officer position. Currently, Lee’s dream was to join the police force out in Grandeur City.
Since their occupations required them to keep in good physical shape, the two young men often enjoyed meeting up at Blanchard Woods for a good run. As well as a little harmless competition.
Lee grinned at the sight of his best friend.
“Hey Bro! You ready to buy me lunch later?”
Max returned the young man’s broad smile.
“I hope you didn’t spend your last paycheck yet, because I’m pretty sure that I’ll be the one to finish first today!”
“Bring it on, Man!”
They then sprinted off in two different directions into the woods.
Max was keeping up a decent pace so far into his run and thought there was a good chance that Lee would be the one buying lunch later. He decided to pick up his speed a little bit.
That was when the world around him flew by. His feet barely touched the ground. The air changed from a gentle breeze to a powerful gale. He didn’t stop until he reached the finish at a clearing outside of the woods - just a few minutes later. Either a strange time warp just happened, or Max just ran about a mile a minute. Those were the only ways he could have finished that quickly.
Max’s pulse didn’t rise. He wasn’t out of breath. And the only sweat he had, came from the anxious realization that his body just performed yet another impossible and bizarre feat.
He waited twenty minutes for Lee to finish his run. Max could only blankly stare at the ground in heavy silence that whole time.
“Ah damn!”, Lee exclaimed as he came to a stop; breathing heavily.
“Well Max, it looks like you were right. Guess I’m the one buying today. How long ago did you finish, anyway?”
Max looked at his friend and feigned a small smile, “Oh, it was only just a couple minutes ago.”
Later that afternoon, Max was looking after his little sister, Abby, while their father was still at work. They just walked into Beans & Berries which was the local coffee bar and probably the most popular hangout spot in Humbleton. It was also where Alicia Anderson worked.
“Max, can I get a hot chocolate? Please?”, the 9-year old sweetly asked.
“Sure”, Max replied as he handed his sister a few dollar bills.
He watched her happily spring toward the counter, but not without hugging a familiar brown-haired barista on her way there. After letting go of the little girl, Alicia smiled and walked over to Max.
“You have such good timing! I’m just about to take my break”, she said as she hugged her close friend.
Max smiled and felt his burdens temporarily lift as he returned Alicia’s embrace and took in the familiar scent of coffee and vanilla that surrounded her.
She let go of her much taller, broad-shouldered friend and turned to look over at Abby, who was waiting patiently in line.
“They just grow up so fast. Abby’s already ordering her own hot chocolate - she doesn’t need Big Brother Max to do it for her anymore!”, Alicia teased.
Max let out a short chuckle, “Yeah I know! She’s starting third grade next week.”
Alicia turned back to face her old friend.
“Has it really been that long already?”, she asked.
A sober gaze fell on Max’s face.
‘It’s already been nine years…’, he thought to himself.
Alicia seemed to immediately recognize what Max was just thinking about.
“You still really miss her, don’t you?”
Alicia was referring to Max’s mother, Eve. Jackson and Eve Trenton found out early on in their marriage that they were unable to naturally conceive children. They eventually looked into adoption, but the right opportunity never came. Then Max came into their lives and everything just fell into place.
About ten years after they adopted Max, Eve learned that she was pregnant. The family couldn’t have been any happier about this miraculous event that was about to take place. Shortly before the baby was due, Eve experienced a severe placental abruption that was diagnosed too late. Abby was delivered by emergency C-section and was able to be saved.
Sadly, Eve could not - she died from complications due to the abruption shortly after Abby was delivered. It was a dark and tragic time for Jackson and Max. But a sweet, bright-eyed baby girl helped to keep them going.
Though time has lessened the pain of such a loss, the two men still missed Eve. Max felt the void of not having a mother, and Jackson never removed his wedding ring even after nine years.
Max looked at Alicia and smiled, “I miss her. But from it all, we still received Abby. And that’s something I’ll always be able to cherish.”
Alicia smiled warmly at his response and then asked, “So, what have you been up to today?”
“Well, the Great Lee Kenton treated me to lunch earlier. But, as usual, the guy’s broke so it wasn’t very good. Chili cheese nachos isn’t exactly what I’d call a real meal”, Max said jokingly.
Alicia laughed, “You two should probably come up with a different system, because Lee never seems to have any money and yet, you often beat him during your little races!
Max laughed in response.
“OK I’m back!”, Abby said brightly as she walked up to the pair and handed Max his change.
Max glanced down at the warm beverage the young girl was holding.
“You want a little hot chocolate to go with that whipped cream, Abby?”, he teased.
“You can’t drink hot chocolate without whipped cream on top!”, she stated matter-of-factly.
Max turned to Alicia and asked, “Do you wanna sit down with us while you finish your break?”
“I’d love to”, she replied.
Max relaxed and allowed himself to live in the moment, as he enjoyed the company of the two most important women currently in his life.
The next morning, Max started a 24-hour shift at the fire station and was more than looking forward to keeping himself busy. So long as he kept his newfound strength in check. No calls came into the station yet, so Max kept busy with any sort of task or chore he could find for himself to do.
He came around a corner and stopped when he saw a certain dark-haired, talkative teenager who managed to wreck her car a few nights ago. Before he had a chance to escape, she quickly turned around and recognized him.
“Oh hey! I was just looking for you!”
Max rose his brow skeptically.
“Really?”, he asked nonchalantly.
“Well OK fine, so I didn’t actually know you were here. I’m bored so I followed my uncle to work today and now I’m just wandering around. But I did want to thank you for...you know. The whole ‘fireman-rescue’ thing you did for me the other night. And to apologize for my lack of pause button. Sometimes when I’m really stressed, I kind of just don’t stop talking!”
‘I hadn’t noticed...’, Max thought sarcastically to himself.
“Well, that’s very kind of you to thank me. And you’re welcome”, he said, “How’s your head?”
Kyra lightly touched the white bandage on her forehead and replied, “Oh you know! It’s not that big of a deal. Just a tiny, little concussion and a few stitches. No biggie! Plus now I have a good conversation starter when I start school next week!”
Something told Max that Kyra probably didn’t need help finding ways to start conversations, but he didn’t admit that out loud.
“Well Miss Hadley, I’m glad you’re going to be all right. I should get back to work now, so you’ll have to excuse me”, he said.
“Yeah, I should probably get back to...well I guess I wasn’t really doing anything. I’ll just go wander around town for a while. There’s got to be something to do around here, right?”
“Well, Humbleton’s not that bad if-”
“Later!”, Kyra said as she turned and started to leave; apparently not hearing anything Max was just saying.
She then stopped and quickly turned around to face Max, “Oh, and don’t call me ‘Miss Hadley’!”
Max got the feeling that this wouldn’t be the last he would see of Kyra Hadley.
Late into the night a call came in about an old, abandoned factory that had caught on fire. Upon arrival, the firefighters immediately went into the building in pairs.
While in the burning building, the firefighters were unaware that the fire had burned through the sprinkler systems in the top compartments of the building, which were now filling up with water and increasingly putting weight on the ceiling over Max and the others. Max heard the loud creaking and looked up.
From that point on, everything happened in slow motion. As he saw the ceiling above hurling down towards him, an immediate fear that he was about to die set in. He ducked his head and put his hands up in an initial reaction; as if to brace himself for the coming impact. He then lifted his head, and for a moment, he could have sworn that his hands had vanished since he could see right through them. That was when the ceiling hit him with full force. But it immediately shattered into little pieces all around him upon impact.
Max slowly put his hands down and looked around him. He remembered feeling the ceiling literally hitting him; but he didn’t recall feeling the full brunt of the force that should have knocked him down and severely injure - or even kill - him. It was as if he were the stronger of the two, and the ceiling shattered on crashing against him instead the ground.
“Max! You okay? We gotta get out of here! The building’s coming down!”, Max’s partner called out.
Before running out of the building, Max took one last glance at the pile of rubble around him. How did he survive this?
‘What am I?’