Content Warning: Portrayals of sex.
The airport buzzes soft and grating in your ear; the security line inches along. It’s not a crowded day, mind you, but there are fewer security agents than usual herding people through metal detectors; some stomach bug going around among the staff that you’ll never know about because you’re not on the inside. So you scroll through your phone, and every 30 seconds, you grasp the handle of your rolling luggage and glide it two feet down the line, on a floor that’s always a little sticky. The handle crackles against the tips of your fingers. You sigh.
It’s your turn now. A big man, a TSA agent, in a bright blue short-sleeved button-down and wrinkly black pants, points to you with two big gloved fingers and gestures to the bins. “Empty your pockets into the bins!” says he to anyone who will listen. So you lift your bag onto the conveyor belt, toss your jacket, your left shoe, your right shoe, your wallet, your belt into a big gray plastic pan, and then, from your pants pocket, produce a square-shaped laminated card from 20 years ago. It’s been signed by your former pediatrician. You try to hand the card to the big TSA agent who gestured your way, but he shakes his head. “Empty your pockets into the bins!” he repeats, so you look for other people to give your card, but everyone else with authority is on the other side of the metal detector.
You pass through the great plastic arc, and it beeps shrill and long. Your heart sinks; a TSA agent on the other side, a short woman, approaches you as the agent at the metal detector’s console gazes, perplexed, at the screen. She speaks to you urgently:
“Sir,” says she, “you need to empty all electronics into the bins.”
“You don’t understand,” you say, handing her your laminated card. “I am the electronic.”
Electro-Genesis Syndrome. At least, that’s what your pediatrician called it; it didn’t really have a name at the time, and it wouldn’t for at least 40-50 years. Your mother had been worried that every time she touched you, a little stream of static electricity would fly from you to her. It felt negligible. Perhaps just a little unlucky. But when there’s something odd about your firstborn, it’s a mother’s job to worry.
Dr. Knight, a hamburger-shaped man who was going through a Peter Gabriel kick at the time, assured your mother that it was nothing terrible. “His nervous system,” said Dr. Knight, “is just producing electrical signals ten to a hundred times stronger than that of a normal person.” Noting the aghast expression plastered across your mother’s face, he continued, “It won’t affect his day-to-day life. He’ll just always have an electrical charge to him. It’s more of a nuisance than anything else.” He side-eyed baby you cooing in your bassinet. “Nothing wrong with him,” he lied. “Just a little different.”
They would never call the number on the little laminated card; the big man, Jerry, had come over to pat you down, though. It was a nice middle ground. In five minutes, you’re rolling your carry-on through the terminal. You glance down at your ticket; boarding starts in two hours. So you buy some kettle corn from a duty-free shop at three times markup, find an empty metal chair, and watch the people around you jump a little bit when you set yourself down on it. You decided to stop apologizing years ago; what they don’t know won’t hurt them.
You slide your phone out of your pocket. It’s always at 100%, charges slowly whenever you hold it. You slide open your DMs, tell your mother you made it through airport security. It’s 7:30 in the morning, though, and she won’t be awake for a while longer; you come from a family of late risers. You text Alyson the same thing. It’s 4:30 right now in Portland. She texts back 15 minutes later.
“Sorry,” she writes you. “Just got back from a jog.” You roll your eyes.
“Let me know when you land!”
“Probably around noon. No delays.”
“Gate B? I’ll be there. Look for the girl with the frizzy hair.”
Your mother insisted on getting Dr. Knight to sign a card, so you wouldn’t have to explain your condition to every single teacher you came across. And they would always do the same few things; make puns about it, compliment you on your electric personality, refer to your every behavior as “shocking.” You never minded; you liked it. At the third-grade lunch table, you were everyone’s favorite little freak, right next to the double-jointed girl and the boy who could shoot milk out of his eye. You were in your prime then, you realize. Some kid you barely knew would scream, “Zap me! Zap me!” and then you did, and he’d giggle and run off and yell, “The Electric Boy zapped me!”
But then middle school came, and deviation from the norm started being strictly punished by the court of preteen public opinion. Double-jointed girl could stand to be a bit more rigid, and milk boy turned out to be lactose intolerant anyway, but nothing short of a full-body condom could restrain the electricity pulsing through your veins.
Your party tricks became mean pranks. Once, Robert from Science said, “Hey, hold this for a second,” handed you a lightbulb, and then yelled, “HEY, EVERYONE, LOOK AT BULB BOY OVER HERE.” To your horror, the bulb lit up in your hands. You dropped it immediately and ran out of the room; you found shards of glass stuck in the bottom of your shoe not long after. People called you Bulb Boy for four months after that. It wasn’t creative, but it sure did sting.
One time you tried to impress Jenna in English class by saying, “I’m basically an Avenger.” Huge mistake.
Eventually, you would recede into preventative measures. People started calling you Mickey Mouse when you opted to wear white rubber gloves to school all day every day, so instead you just kept your hands buried deep in your pockets. You made sure to leave almost no skin visible. Long-sleeve shirts, long pants, even in the heat of summer. Your mother complains to teachers about how you’re being treated, and teachers scold your tormentors sometimes, but it never really works. There is no justice.
You sit down on the plane before takeoff. You have a window seat, and it looks like no one is next to you, which you appreciate. Last time you flew, you had a middle seat next to a manspreader who fell asleep almost immediately and slumped over, his face inches from your chest the whole time. Eventually you brushed up against him and he shot awake. You are the Human Cattle Prod.
There’s a bit of traffic on the runway. It’s going to be at least another half-hour before you take off. So you scroll through old conversations with Alyson, study everything the two of you have exchanged. Likes, dislikes, favorite movies, favorite foods, allergies, traumas. You laugh to yourself when you read the sentence, “When my grandma got a pacemaker, I had to wear a full-body condom every time I visited her.” You linger on the intimate pictures she’s sent you, of her pert runner’s butt and flat, toned abs running down into playfully crossed thighs. You stare for a moment, wondering if that’s a shadow or hair you see between there, but you become self-aware and scroll quickly past the intimate pictures you’ve sent her, the things you said you’d do with her as soon as your electric meat found hers, and continue to read messages for trivia.
In fifteen minutes, you’ll find where it all started: a DM on Reddit.
“I saw your post,” it read. “It happens to me, too, except my doctor called it Static Shock Syndrome. His son was going through a comic book phase.”
In junior year of high school, you try out for the school musical. Your mother and your therapist both think it would be good for you to get out of your comfort zone, and even though you expect someone to crack a “Why doesn’t he work lights instead?” joke, you audition. You’re not a good singer, but a boy in theatre is enough of a novelty that the director casts you. It’s not a big musical, just some royalty-free thing that no one is entirely passionate about. But you’re the man in the b-couple, and that’s something.
Tina acts opposite you. She’s been in the shows for years, never quite a leading lady, but a character actress with a strong voice nonetheless. She’s a goofball, and you like her, even if she makes puns out of your condition. It’s fine. You let her. You even give her a charitable laugh every time she says she wants “sparks to fly.”
There comes a rehearsal where you finally have to kiss her. The director, an English teacher who saw a movie about directing once, walks through exactly how she wants it to play out. Cup her face in your hand, and then, bam. Let the sparks fly.
“Don’t wear the glove,” she tells you when you pull out the rubber gloves you keep on your person, and you shudder. You shift your weight from left to right on that hardwood stage floor that creaks at the slightest pressure, look into her deep brown eyes, feel the artifice of affection you’re supposed to feel right now melt away into something more, and slowly you bring your palm to her cheek.
Zap. The spellbound look of a high school girl playing in love melts into a repressed, snorting laugh, and you laugh, too, double over for a second, get it out of your system. “Again,” the director says, and the same thing happens again. Zap. Snort. Zap. Snort. Over and over again until finally your lips meet hers, and you pull away to find her face frozen in a grin. “Bravo,” says the director. “From the top.” And you can’t tell if she wears that smile on her face a bit longer than necessary.
In four weeks, the show is over, but you and Tina still spend an awful lot of time together, going on walks, going out for ice cream. She visits you sometimes at your weekend job at the Home Depot, applauds when you turn light fixtures on just by touching them, tells you that she “knows something else you can turn on,” winks at you, leaves you wondering what on Earth she was talking about.
One night you’re out past curfew, as your senior year winds to an end, on a walking trail past her house. She’s in jeans, a tight black tank top, a loose unbuttoned flannel she borrowed from you when she got chilly a month ago and never gave back. There’s a hill overlooking the freeway; she lays a blanket down, and you sit next to each other, her leaning into you, melting away into the gentle crackle of her skin against yours. You watch fireflies dance in the Appalachian air and cars dart up and down the highway on the horizon, and the nearest human being besides you two feels planets away. She pulls away.
“There’s something I want to show you,” she tells you, looking into your eyes with hers that seem colorless in the harsh full moon. Her hands trace her chest, lock around the collar of her low-cut spaghetti strap tank top. She pulls it down, slowly at first, lets her breasts fall out over her shirt. You don’t know how to describe them, only that they’re perfect, that her curly dark hair—full and thick like storm clouds in an oil painting—falls perfectly beside them, that her wide eyes and parted lips and everything else about this moment are better than you could have ever imagined.
“Do you want to touch them?” she whispers. You nod, and she reaches out, grabs your wrist, guides your fingertip to her bare skin, covered in goosebumps in the mid-May chill. A blue arc of static electricity jumps from your finger to her nipple; she gasps, and you pull back, but she shakes her head and guides your hand back to her chest. She runs it along her left breast, and then holds it firmly to her sternum. You can feel her heart racing beneath your palm. “You feel that?” she says. “You do that. No one else. Just you.”
She removes her flannel, lifts her tank top over her head, unbuttons your flannel so she can trace her fingers along your chest. Her right hand falls to your thigh.
“So, um–” she chokes out. “Is it, you know–” Her fingers fiddle with the fly of your jeans. “Is it all electric?”
You have no idea what to say.
“No, it’s a hybrid.”
You have no idea why you said that, but Tina grins, laughs into a kiss.
“Can I see it?” she asks. You nod breathlessly.
In an eternity in minutes, her hand running up and down your shaft and sparking blue streaks of lightning in between her fingers, she breathes, heavily, “I want to feel you.”
“I don’t have a condom,” you say instinctively, remembering sophomore health class. “Maybe I can fashion something out of the gloves, but–”
“No,” she says, laying back, splaying her legs in front of you. “I want to feel you.” And so she does, and you feel her, enraptured within each other, like a screwdriver in an electrical outlet. In seconds you’ll trace your lips along her neck, along her cheek, feel her moan into your mouth, tremble at every bright streak of euphoric lightning that illuminates your bodies to the cars speeding along the horizon.
In eight minutes, a stream of white will shoot across Tina’s stomach and chest, the first of many for years to come. You’ll be high school sweethearts turned college sweethearts, but the fortune of young love runs out sometime. Goals will change, Tina will move, or you will, and all you’ll have will be those ephemeral memories, flashing across your mind whenever you see a stranger’s eyes almost as deep as hers. You’ll hear in a few years she’s engaged, stare at that notification for a few minutes before hiding it forever. You wonder if she ever misses the electricity of your touch against her skin.
The air in Portland is humid; you feel it soon as you step off the plane. No four walls could shield you from that. You walk down sterile glass hallways, carry-on in tow. At the end of a long corridor, you finally find yourself in Arrivals. Alyson, short hair akimbo, stands among families and chauffeurs. holds a broad cardboard sign that just reads “Bulb Boy” in thick black Sharpie. You smile, point to her knowingly, drop your suitcase, break into a sprint. She does the same.
Thunder rumbles in the distance. When you two collide, she throws her hands around your shoulders, and you throw yours around her waist. But her arms loosen within seconds, and yours do the same.
You stare into her hazel eyes a moment and wonder why the sparks just aren’t flying.
About the Creator
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions