The Janitor

by Ian Lahey

Ever heard of the proverbial ‘last straw’? The one that broke the camel’s back? Well, it’s bullshit. A straw can’t break a camel’s back; all the straws break it. They’re equally responsible. All of them.

I see your sorrow for the loss of those you loved and admired. I see your anger. Before you decide my punishment let me explain why I did what I did:

I was thirty when it started, and was looking for a job. The Superhero University had just opened and was recruiting tutors and assistants, so I thought I could use my powers there. I didn’t expect the interview with the director to go the way it did:

“So, what can you do?” Multi asked me. One of his arms, three at the moment, extended to a drawer across the room and pulled out a check-list.

“Er, I think–”

“Agility? Astral projection? Body control, you know, flexibility, extension, number of limbs…” Multi waved his three arms at me and briefly protruded a fourth from his shoulder.

“No, can’t do that, ” I replied, “I think. That’s what I do.”

He looked at me for a few seconds and then checked the list. “Mental powers then. Telepathy? Moving objects? Hypnosis?”

“Sorry, none of that. I’m just very intelligent. I can plan and stuff like that. I’m also exceptional at maths. Try me.”

“Stuff like that…” Multi repeated, ignoring my challenge.

I could tell he wasn’t very impressed, as a matter of fact I could tell a lot more; after looking at him and his office I had deduced his age, food and sex tastes, last dental check and dentist with whom he had an affair, car type and current mood: pissed for a fine he’d got for speeding home to his wife after taking too long with the dentist. I also guessed he would not react positively if I proudly told him all this.

“Are you sure you are a mutant? Did at least one of your parents receive the Gift?” Multi asked.

“Both. They were in the welcome party when the Cygnians came.” I replied. That seemed to impress him a little.

“The moment our history changed forever. What did they tell you about the event?”

“They thought it was kind of funny.”

“Funny? The DNA upgrade the Cygnians brought to us instantly wiped out cancer, Down’s syndrome , all forms of dementia, and every other ailment which afflicted the human race, and your parents thought it was funny?” he asked.

“Well, yes, a little, you see it was a blow to all Hollywood alien invasion movies: No surprise attack, no horrific insectoid predators. When the Cygnians arrived, they made sure their single, beautiful ship was visible by all telescopes, and then politely asked, in perfect English, for permission to land and have a chat.”

“So your parents took the Gift thinking it was funny.” Multi said.

“No, I didn’t say–”

“And because your parents passed the new DNA on to you, you believe to be a mutant.”

“Well, yes, I am. I think–”

“‘Thinking’ does not qualify you as a superhero,” he was on a roll now and my chances of ending any sentences were near zero, “although I’m sure you have upgraded DNA in you, that doesn’t automatically grant superpowers you know. Mutations are more frequent but still, I fear, quite rare. I’m sure you really believe you are special, but believing just isn’t enough. All University staff members must have at least one superhuman trait. Except…” one of his arms was already reaching for a largish bundle of paper, bound by what seemed to be fluorescent plastic, “Doris made this, ” he smiled, “my secretary can synthesize any kind of polymeric adhesive from her skin.”

I nodded, silently noting how excited he seemed to be about a power which was, basically, sweating glue.

“Yes, I was right.” he said, “There is an opening for plain humans. You can be a janitor.”

I grit my teeth, such a closed mind meant insisting would only lead to me telling him how well he qualified for an unintelligent mutant and him kicking me out. I needed money, so I thanked him and accepted, shut my pride in a jar at home and did my job. In fact none of you noticed how well I could do it.

After a few weeks I had timed every single class and optimized my route so as to clean and tidy the most rooms in the least time. I also developed a special detergent to clean up after  classes of slime people like Doris. I was hoping other university staff would have a more open mind, but being a lowly janitor nobody noticed me, and when they did, it usually wasn’t a nice experience.

I had a crush on Touché, the fencing teacher. I saw her training once and was blown away. She could fence blindfolded with an arm tied behind her back. Heck, she could fence with both arms behind her back and hold the sword in her mouth. When I finally gathered enough courage I waited for her to finish class and asked her out for dinner. She laughed all the way to the showers.

Professor Blink, who taught teleportation, looked like a nice guy, the easy-going and friendly type. But every time I tried to have an amiable chat he’d simply poof away.

I was even less lucky with the students themselves. On good days they ignored me, on bad ones they used me to test their powers. I was singed, frozen, slimed and fifty other things, every week, every year.

I finally went back to Multi’s office and told him how badly I was being treated. That’s when I discovered the truth. It had been him telling everybody I was a misfit non-mutant. I tried once more to convince him my intelligence was superhuman, and once more he showed me the list of superpowers, where puny ‘intelligence’ was not contemplated. Then he apologized, saying he’d meant no harm when he informed others about my condition and superhuman delusions, so that they would show pity.

That was, if you will, the last straw.

I left his office, steaming with anger, then I suddenly realized Multi was, unwittingly, perfectly correct when he said thinking was not a superhero thing.

Year after year I had seen it happening under our noses: At first the mutants were just a couple hundred, then they came in thousands, new students came and each wave was stronger, had more powers and was dumber than the one before. The University grew to accommodate all, and I now saw the beauty of the Cygnians’ plan:

Thanks to their gift humanity was evolving into a race of specialized slaves. Weight-lifters, soldiers, gluers… beasts of burden. Mine was the only real, unplanned mutation. Intelligence was not supposed to be included in the superpowers.

Do you see now? Do you understand why I undertook this horrible but necessary task? And why do you think I have succeeded so far?

Because I am the one and only real mutant, superior to all of you, as the Cygnians will be when they come to enslave you. I know how prevent this and save humanity, and thus it was my destiny to become your leader.

But first I had to take out the professors, the ones who were falsely leading you towards slavery. It was easier than I thought.

Take Touché, the fencing teacher. With a sword she could stop bullets, she could dice a living pig in a split second. But all I had to do was catch her unarmed in her home. I shot her, silently noting that this time she didn’t laugh while on her way to the cold, hard floor.

How about Professor Blink? He could teleport himself anywhere as long as he was able to see his destination or he’d been there before. I simply rearranged his office one evening. When he teleported to work the next morning he neatly embedded his brain in the table lamp. I assume it was a relatively painless yet enlightening experience.

One by one every professor was dealt with swiftly. Unsurprisingly, at this point nobody had the brains to realize who the mysterious serial killer was.

Multi almost did. My dear Multi. I had fun with him.

I called him one night, saying I had his daughter and wanted money. We arranged a meeting on the bridge. I had lied of course. I didn’t want money and I didn’t have his daughter. I had all five of his children, and his wife too; a surprisingly intelligent woman, for a plain human, it didn’t take her long to piece her suspicions together when I told her about the dentist.

When he arrived I dropped his loved ones one by one. And one by one he caught them, heroically, extending an arm and holding on to them. I told him I would shoot them if he pulled them back up. Oh how he swore and shouted, and then pleaded and cried. With six arms extended and straining for all that weight his heart was supposed to give up. But somehow he kept on holding on to them. I was annoyed by his tenaciousness which was spoiling an otherwise perfect plan.

Then his wife did the unexpected and turned it into a masterpiece of pathos and drama: she forgave him for being unfaithful.

Oh, a full round of bullets from my gun wouldn’t have stopped his heart more effectively. His red face suddenly went deathly pale, and his head, ever so slowly, bent forward as he toppled over the rail. They all fell together into the cold waters. What a splendid family, I knew I’d done the right thing not to separate them.

So, my dear students, do you see now why I am not guilty? I acted solely for your safety and for the future of this planet. I see you dumbly nod your heads, I thank you and I thank young Hypno here for helping me out with my explanation.

Now all of you please lock yourselves up in your dorms. Make sure you destroy the keys so the evil Cygnians can’t reach you. Don’t worry if you smell kerosene around the buildings, it repels the aliens. I will stay outside and defend you. Off you go.

Pyroman, come with me. I have a little more work for you tonight.




Ian Lahey was born in Milan, Italy, from American father and Italian mother. He teaches English Literature in Udine and has two children. Follow Ian on Facebook.
Check out New Pop Lit’s interview with Ian here.