“Can’t remember when he was here last. Sure, he’s here sometimes. What’s his name? Ah don’t tell me,” the girl at the sports centre reception looks to the ceiling, shrugs.
He’s here already though. I can feel it. His shiny sports shorts and top radiating fabric conditioner and old sweat. Faded black-grey-navy, always a bit baggy; a saggy cloak of invisibility – the bla-grey-vies. He’d sighed as he walked into the crowded gym. No one heard.
“I know exactly who you mean. Uses the exercise bike nearest the window, always the same one, he’ll wait for it if it’s being used,” she continues.
The marathoner on the runner thumps out a rhythm apart from the rock station radio streaming through the speakers. Lads clank and clatter the weights. The pack of teenage-lycra-girls snigger – wafts of confectionary scent giggling around them. Business as usual, it would seem.
All face the same direction. Watching themselves watching everyone else in the mirrored wall. Except him, he avoids the reflections, his gaze flickering over the other gym users instead.
“He’s a bit shifty. He’ll never meet your eye, that one,” the receptionist makes her kohl-lined eyes go wide, her chin dips to one side.
The receptionist and most the other centre users are oblivious to this creature’s powers. I’d heard of him through different channels. I know his kind. He’d discovered his superpower through the quiet raging despair of the overlooked. Just a sip, a toke – a wee contribution. Choice is important, get it wrong and he’d be reeling: alcohol, drugs, failing health. He’s become a connoisseur of stolen energy. He picks them in their prime. Focuses. Sucks. Don’t ask me how it works.
“That’s him on the bike now.” She points, as if the mists have cleared.
He’s started already, I can tell. The sucker-punch slam of energy has hit his muscles, fizzing in his veins, crashing through his heart. His legs pedal faster. His lungs are full and empty, full and empty. Faster yet. No effort. Flying.
I wend my way through the maze of machines towards him. He is in full spate. Energy flares as he turns towards me. I feel the electric shock of his rage hit me in the chest. I back off quickly. He carries, on legs pumping, pedals flying. The marathoner wilts – loses their footing – falls. Everyone carries on, too cool to care.
“Did you speak to him?” the receptionist asks as I stumble out of the gym. Still gasping, I can only shake my head in reply. She half laughs. “Nah, I know what you mean, gives me the heebie-jeebies too.”
F. E. Clark is a writer and painter from North East Scotland. In 2016 she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, a Best of the Net, and had a Sma Buik published by Poems For All. She is currently compiling a collection of her flash-fiction and poetry, and researching her first novel.