“Floor ‘Z,’ please.” The school elevator was packed, but no one spoke. I noticed several kids glancing at me in the reflection from the brass doors. RING! “Excuse me,” I said, squeezing out into the hall. I was the only one. The doors closed and the elevator resumed its journey. I heard conversation as it sped away. They didn’t trust me. I threw my gym bag up over my shoulder and began down a short hall toward a set of very large double doors. “Whatever. They just don’t know you yet,” I told myself. A shiny plaque on the wall read: Acuity and Physiology. I paused for a second and took a deep breath, mustering strength. “You got this!” I said as I pushed one of the big doors aside and walked nervously to a large desk in a well-lit, modern-looking waiting room. “Hi.”
“Good Morning, Mr. Stone. We’ve been expecting you. Please fill this form out.” A robust woman was sitting at a computer. She was blue and had four arms. She handed me a clipboard.
“Thanks,” I said as I turned and took a survey of the waiting room. My eyes fell instantly upon a great mass. The room was empty save twenty chairs and one person, one very, very, very big boy. He had the face of a young teen, zits and all, but the body of a goliath. He took up four chairs and was sitting there rather awkwardly thumbing through a Sports Illustrated. It looked silly in his great big hands. I sniffed quietly. He was nervous too.
“Hey,” I said, trying to imagine how he fit on the elevator.
“Hi,” he said back as he flicked some shaggy brown hair from in front of his eyes. I expected to hear a deep growly voice, but his was not. It actually sounded pretty average, which was a little freakish coming out of his great big face. “I’m Sam,” he said. I sat down across from him and smiled.
“I know,” he said, smiling back. “Everyone knows.” He looked back down at his magazine.
“Really?” I sat back and looked up at him. The angle was so great it hurt my neck. “How?”
“Dude, you’re Frankenstein.” He grinned. He had big shiny braces on his teeth. They looked like fences.
“No, no, that’s just a nickname the idiot jocks gave me. My name’s Michael, not Frank.”
“What’s your middle name?” he said as he glanced down at the form on my clipboard, still grinning. He raised his eyebrows up high on his greasy forehead and waited for a response.
I didn’t want to answer. I pursed my lips and pulled the form to my chest. “My middle name is…Francis.” Oh come on, I thought. I hadn’t put that little piece in the puzzle yet. I was gonna kill Uncle Ivan.
The giant laughed. “Francis, France…Frank! And Stein means Stone, dude…Francis-Stone…Franken-Stein.” He overly emphasized it to make his point. He was a little obnoxious, but had me and knew it.
“Alright, alright I get it!” I said. “Son of a…” I mumbled. I forced a smile and looked down at the form on my lap as Sam chuckled, quietly repeating it again.
“So, did the townspeople chase you out of France with pitchforks and torches?” The giant giggled. He wasn’t gonna let it go.
I smiled up at him. “And I suppose you fell down the beanstalk,” I replied. He furled his thick eyebrows and then suddenly burst out laughing. He actually thought it was funny.
He put his hand out for a five and barked “Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum, dude.” I smiled and slapped the big catcher’s mitt.
“Alright,” I laughed.
“Sam, Michael, we’re ready for ya.” A middle-aged man in a white lab-coat came into the room through a set of double doors. He had thinning brown hair and a large gray moustache that covered his lips. “Come on. Let’s have some fun. My name is Doctor J. I’m going to need to perform a few tests on you guys today to get some baseline data, something to compare to.” We gave him the clipboards and followed him into a gymnasium. A variety of different machines and apparatuses were set up in stations, around which was an oval track and a couple of b-ball hoops. The room was tall and had some bleachers set up against one of the walls. He described some of the tests we were going to do and gave us a few minutes to get dressed.
Sam was pretty funny. I was glad to have someone else in there with me. I’d have been pretty scared all by myself. We stretched a little and met Dr. J back at the first station, a big steel machine with a computer station and a variety of bars and cables hanging off it. “Okay, let’s start with a strength test. Either of you two weightlifters?” We both shook our heads. I was pretty excited to see what Sam could lift. His arms were about as big around as my entire body. “This machine measures the pressure you put on it, so we don’t need to put weights on a bar. We’ll start with biceps curls. “Sam, go ahead, kneel here and pull the bar up to your chest as hard as you can.” Dr. J demonstrated. Sam smirked at me and took position.
The bar disappeared between his enormous hands. He stuck his bottom lip out, got a serious look on his face and then groaned like a determined bull. “Hrrrrgggg!” he exclaimed, pulling the bar up with all of his might. I imagined a front-end loader yanking up a bucket of dirt. The area instantly filled with the aromatic odor of giant sweat.
“O—kay! Nice pull, Sam. I think…yup, that’s a new student record! Alright!” Dr J nodded his head as he studied a monitor and then recorded a number onto Sam’s chart. “Wasn’t sure how this was gonna go, today.” The doctor looked at me. “Good luck, Mike.”
“I hope this isn’t a competition?” I joked nervously as Sam and I changed positions. The big boy slapped me on the shoulder and grinned.
“No, of course not.” Dr. J glanced from me up to Sam and back. “Just do your best, son.”
I’d never lifted weights before and so grabbed the bar awkwardly. Dr. J had to correct my position. It was wet from Sam’s sweaty hands, but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to embarrass him. I took a deep breath, planted my feet, and pulled up on the bar with everything I had. Suddenly it made a strange noise and then bent at both handgrips.
“WO! What the heck happened there?” Dr. J trotted over and examined the machine. The display was flashing. “Well, I’ll be. Sorry, Michael. I think Sam may have exceeded the max on this thing,” he said as he reefed on the bar. He couldn’t bend it back. “Interesting,” he said, glancing back over at me.
“Oops,” Sam bragged and shrugged his shoulders.
“Wow,” I said. “You must have weakened the steel.” Sam assumed a WWE pose and flexed out like a pro wrestler. I laughed.
“That’s titanium actually. Let’s try bench press,” Doctor J said. “Michael, how ‘bout you go first on this one.” His moustache wiggled excitedly. “Take it nice and slow.” He showed me how to operate it. It was simple. I had only to lie on my back, put both hands on the bar, and push straight up. I glanced over at Sam who smirked. “Here goes,” I said and gave a hard push. Again, the machine groaned just as both ends of the bar bent up at forty-fives. “WOW!” Dr. J exclaimed while punching a few numbers into the keyboard on the machine. He pulled his calculator out and clicked feverishly, occasionally stopping for a second to scratch his head and count out loud.
I sat up and grimaced. Sam scratched his head. “Don’t look at me. I didn’t even touch it!” We both laughed.
“Okay, carry the one, eh…Michael,” Dr. J said, “I’m not 100% sure, but I think you just bench pressed thirty-two hundred pounds.” He said that with a big question mark on his face. “Is that possible?” He was now asking me.
“ I don’t know, Doc. I’ve never lifted weights before. Is that good?”
“That’s awesome!” Sam laughed. “See, I told you that you were fricken’ Frankenstein!”
I was suddenly embarrassed and began scuffing my shoe against the mat. “Michael, you’re not in trouble. That’s fantastic! This is what we’re here for. Wait just a sec. I have an idea,” the doctor said as he ran off like an excited child toward the exit. “I’ll be right back!”
Sam sat down on the ground and pulled a candy bar out of his pocket. “Want half?”
“Sure,” I replied. He pinched a King Sized Baby Ruth in the middle and tossed part of it over. I smiled and squeezed a pulverized bite out of the wrapper. “So you’re a giant, huh?” I said in between chews.
“Cool,” I said. “How bout your family?”
“Yeah, They’re Giants too. So are my grandparents and, heck my whole home town’s full of Giants.”
“Really? Sweet. How do you…hide?” I asked. “I mean from…people.”
“We really don’t. It’s way high up in the mountains. We get hikers that stumble into town every once in a while though.” He laughed.
“What do ya do?”
“Rip their arms and legs off,” he said with a straight face. I stared at him for a few seconds until he cracked a smile. We both laughed. “Actually, we fit in just fine. My parents both work for Gateway. They field a lot of helpline stuff.”
“Wait just a minute! Let me get this straight. So people think they’ve reached India, but their actually talkin’ to Giants in a remote mountain village somewhere?”
“Oh yeah. We’ve got a lot a telemarketers, web designers, that sort of thing,” he said.
I stared at him closely for a few seconds. I wasn’t sure if he was pulling my leg. He didn’t crack. “That’s awesome!” I exclaimed. The image was very funny to me. I thought it was great. I suddenly wanted so bad to see that town. “Hey, I’d love to it some time.”
“Sure, dude. Cool.”
“Michael, I have an idea!” Dr. J shouted from the entrance. He had returned and with him was Coach.
“Hey,” I said.
“Good Morning, Mr. Stone. Dr. Jekyll tells me you’re not just a good basketball player,” he said as he slid his big varsity jacket off and draped it over the bench. He started rolling his sleeves up like he was getting ready for a fight. I looked around nervously, but he was staring right at me.
“What?” I asked putting my hands up in the air.
“Michael, since the machine is broken, I thought we could do this a different way.” In the doctor’s hand was a very thick, knotted rope. “Ever play tug-of-war?” He waved at me as he walked.
I followed him over to an open area on the gym floor. “Here. All you do is pull. Coach Atlas, take the other end please.” He handed opposite ends of the rope to each of us.
I was suddenly nervous. Coach Atlas wasn’t as big as Sam, but he was far scarier…besides, if he was the real mythological Atlas, it meant he was an actual Titan and could hold the weight of the entire world on his shoulders. “I’m not sure about this,” I said through a nervous laugh as the heavy rope went taught. My armpits started to sweat. I bit the inside corner of my lip. “This is crazy,” I said.
“Okay, on GO.” Dr. J’s eyebrows were now dancing with his moustache. He was very excited. I suddenly noticed some background noise. In the hub-hub, I hadn’t seen that some kids and teachers were filing in to see the show. The Doctor told. That’s all I needed…an audience.
My palms were sweaty. I took turns drying them on my pants. I was fully convinced, at that moment that the broken machine had nothing to do with me. It had to have been Sam. I hadn’t noticed that I was super strong. Seems like I would have if it were true. I looked down the rope to the monstrous Titan. His normally squinty eyes were mere slits and his lip was curled up in a snarl revealing several yellowed matchbox-sized teeth. The expression was terrifying. It was his game face. I didn’t have one myself and so grimaced with fear as the countdown began. “Three, Two, One…GO!”
With a mighty heave it happened, exactly what I knew was going to. Coach Atlas yanked me, and not just across the gym but clean out of my high-tops too. I hit the ground with a screech and a thud, and rolled almost all the way to his feet. It was humiliating. The audience burst into laughter all at once. Coach too as he reached down and pulled me up to my feet. I looked up at him. “This wasn’t my idea,” I said.
“I think I jumped the gun. Let’s try that again,” he said.
“No, no, you win,” I conceded, putting my hands in the air.
“One more time, Michael,” he commanded.
I nodded obligingly and walked back over to my shoes. I slipped them back on and tied them extra tight. Again we took up the slack, and Dr. J counted down. “Three, Two, One, GO!” Again I was slow to pull, but this time Coach waited for me, matching my strength as I leaned back and into it. The large room fell silent. You could have heard a pin drop. I was planted like a tree and watched with surprise as the big man started to shake. His game face was gone. The rope became as tight as a guitar string. I breathed slowly and steadily and felt as if I’d somehow shifted gears. I leaned back even farther. I had more strength in me and so pulled even harder, but the titan matched it. From below me came a funny smell. I didn’t look down but could feel heat on my feet. The rubber soles of my Pumas were melting. My toes began to rip through the fronts. Coach adjusted his grip and pulled back even harder, but I matched him. Drops of perspiration glistened on his head. He gritted his teeth as his eyes widened, his mouth turning up in a determined frown. We stayed that way for nearly three entire minutes…an eternity, until suddenly the rope stretched, started to smoke, and then…SNAP! It broke! Both of us stumbled backward. Coach Atlas recovered, but my narrow heels shattered the wooden floor. I stumbled backward, crunching through the planks awkwardly until I fell on my butt.
“HOLY HYDE!” Dr. J erupted. Coach laughed excitedly and slapped his hands together. The audience applauded and cheered. I laughed too, looking down at the smoking black rubber splotches that marked my footprints. “No one has ever matched Atlas in a feat of strength…ever!” Dr. J congratulated me, patting my back.
Sam pulled me up to my feet. “Wow, dude. SWEET! You okay?”
I looked down at the palms of my hands. They were smoking. I hadn’t felt the pain during the competition. I flipped them over and noticed my skin had flushed, but not red…avocado green! I nodded. “It’s okay. That’s normal…I think.”
Coach Atlas walked up and patted my back. “You’re full of surprises, Stone. Maybe instead of Frankenstein we’ll call you Hercules.” He winked and smiled as the kids poured down from the bleachers to congratulate me. I was one of them now, no longer a boy trapped between worlds. It seemed with misfits and monsters, differences were measured as similarities. And I was sure measuring up as different.
Until then I hadn’t thought I needed to belong to anything, but I was wrong. Despite a pair of melted Pumas and a couple third degree burns, nothing had ever felt better. I grinned and reveled in that shining moment, a glimmer of what could be.