Telekinetic Uncle

The inimitable Geoff Manaugh—author, design critic, and Terraform mainstay—returns with a story about getting to know the black sheep of the family. Enjoy. -the ed.

The summer I turned 16, my parents sent me to live for a month with an uncle I’d never met before. He lived in Tennessee, a state I had never visited. They put me on a plane by myself, the first time I’d ever flown alone, and my uncle, Monty, picked me up on the other side. 

He looked almost exactly like my dad—older, out of shape, hair peppered with gray—but relaxed, easy-going, things I could never have said about my own father. My dad would have been grimacing, checking his wristwatch as soon as I stepped off the plane, rushing us both outside before his free parking time expired. 

Monty and I recognized each other without saying a word and I noticed right away that my bags felt lighter. I would realize later that was one of my uncle’s many tricks. 

* * *

My uncle drove a German business car, a sedan two or three years past its prime. He kept mentioning that the radio was broken. It wouldn’t stay tuned to one station, he said, instead drifting through a blur of country, rock, pop, and hip hop—there it goes again, he’d laugh, smiling at me as if it was a shared joke—until I asked him if we could switch it off. 

It seemed like Monty didn’t get a lot of visitors. Every few minutes, he would point something out, some new thing I should see. A stretch of road with notoriously high winds—would you look at that?—where debris flew past in a line of identical whirls, like miniature tornadoes. Now that’s unusual, he muttered minutes later. Something was clearly moving in my peripheral vision, but I didn’t look fast enough to see it.

Of course, I didn’t know anything about my uncle at the time. Looking back, it’s no wonder that nothing he said that day made sense. I figured he was the family eccentric, someone my parents had done their best to keep me insulated from—until, for whatever reason, they decided I should move in with him for half the summer. Maybe they just thought it’d be funny. 

* * *

I didn’t make much of what happened next. On our way back to Monty’s house, we veered onto a side road and wound around again to the parking lot of a diner. At some point toward the end of lunch, after I’d turned to stare out the window at pine trees swaying in the wind behind a line of pick-up trucks, pure Americana, I noticed my water glass was practically right under my elbow. Had my uncle touched it? I didn’t want him messing with my things. Then, picking up my phone and debating whether or not to text my parents—and deciding against it—I looked back to see the saltshaker was next to my hand. 

“You need salt?” Monty asked. 

As I was looking, it moved toward me another inch. 

“Cool trick,” I deadpanned. 

My uncle grinned and waved the waitress over to pay. “I’m telekinetic,” he said and started laughing, as if unable to resist his own joke.

* * *

My parents flew out that same morning two hours before my own flight, not bothering to stick around in case my plane got delayed. They were heading off on a European river cruise where they’d spend the next four weeks taunting me with photos of cathedrals and opera houses, sidewalk restaurants and ruined abbeys on cliffs, in marked contrast to my time in Tennessee. 

Monty lived in a private residential development outside Memphis. I had been picturing his house as a mountain cabin with rifles above the mantle and a banjo outside—real backwoods stuff. A bubbling river; bears and owls. Instead, it looked like my own neighborhood, a suburban house like millions of others across the United States. Mulched planting beds. Outdoor lights illuminating well-trimmed trees. 

We parked in a three-car garage and walked inside through a modern kitchen. When I followed him into the front room, however, it was as if we’d stepped into an aquarium. There were stuffed fish mounted on every wall. Two dozen fish above the fireplace alone, at least four hundred fish in total. I’d learn later there were trout, bass, pike, salmon, even a marlin the size of a surfboard. When Monty opened a closet door to hang his jacket, I saw yet more fish on the walls inside. It was dizzying. In the dim overhead light, some of them appeared to be moving. 

“Your room’s over here,” he said. “Got the whole floor to yourself.”

The guest room had its own TV and a wireless stereo. Its windows looked out onto a patch of trees. I could hear birds singing. I put my stuff down and sat on the bed. It felt comfortable. Clean. 

Maybe the next few weeks wouldn’t be so bad, I thought. At the very least, I could avoid my uncle in here.

* * *

He was in my room the next day before sunrise. 

“Hey,” Monty whispered, “Arthur—wake up.” 

For a kid my age, it was like being shaken awake by air-raid sirens. 

Arthur,” he hissed. “We gotta go.” 

My first thought was that we were fleeing the house. 

“Cops?” I asked. 

He laughed. “No, man—we’re going fishing.”

The lake was an hour away. It took another hour to prep the boat, stock up on snacks, and find a hat for me to stay cool. The Tennessee sun was already at full intensity, the humidity unbearable, and it wasn’t even 9 am. 

Truth be told, I had never gone fishing before. My friends back home weren’t the outdoorsy type, and my dad was too busy with work to do much father-son stuff. 

Even to me, though, my uncle’s technique seemed strange. At one point, I started fiddling with a rod. He waved it away. He looked around the lake a few times, making sure no one was around. I was convinced we were about to dynamite the lake. I thought of my parents, of the prospect of being arrested with explosives in the middle of Tennessee. I realized it sounded kind of awesome. 

My uncle went silent. He stared into the water. A fish jumped into the boat. 

* * *

We stayed out on the water for six blazing hours, and we caught so many fish—or, rather, so many fish jumped straight into my uncle’s boat—that we had to use a back-up freezer to hold them all. Even then, the boat’s icebox wouldn’t close. He was laughing; I was laughing. It made no sense.

On our way back to his house, Monty seemed talkative. “There’s something I’ve wanted to tell your dad for years now,” he said at one point. “But he’s not exactly open-minded, you know? You ever think there’s something about you no one else will accept?” 

I looked up from my phone. I had been riding along in the passenger seat, debating, once again, whether or not to text my parents, who had landed in Budapest more than 24 hours ago and still hadn’t called. 

“You live long enough with something and never tell anybody,” Monty continued, “it becomes a secret. Secrets fester.”

I put my phone down. Was my uncle coming out of the closet? Monty lived alone. He had never been married, I knew. He had yet to mention a girlfriend. But he was the adult in this situation—he was also my uncle. I didn’t want to learn something about him before his own brother did. 

Then he grinned and changed the subject. He said something about traffic lights in the town ahead—a place I would never have described as a town, just a sequence of enormous intersections cut through virgin forest. 

As we merged onto the main road, he looked giddy. “Check it out.” He pointed through the windshield. 

All the traffic lights in town began flashing at high speed—green-yellow-red, green-yellow-red—like a broken Christmas display. My uncle looked around with a dopey smile on his face, studying the reactions of other drivers, everyone’s brows, I saw, twisted, their eyes wide, confused and entranced by whatever this was. Several drivers honked at each other as new patterns blinked through. Waves of green. Waves of red. 

My uncle was grinning, loving every second of it, waiting for me to laugh. I looked in vain for a remote control, some sort of signal-jamming device, but saw nothing. It must be a glitch in the town’s computers, I thought. Someone would fix it any minute now. 

Then two cars in front of us collided, and my uncle gasped. In an instant, the lights stopped changing.

Shit,” he whispered. Monty checked his rearview mirror. He looked nervous, even guilty. 

Quietly in the background, the car’s radio turned on, drifting amidst stations. Neither of us had touched anything. 

* * *

Over the next few days, things continued to happen that I couldn’t explain. On Tuesday, we saw a rusty old car burst to the surface of a flooded quarry, drift ashore, and stop. Must have been some air trapped in the trunk, my uncle said. 

On Thursday, we went to a minor league baseball game in downtown Memphis. By the second inning, I was bored and my uncle seemed to sense it. He stood up. “My God,” he said, out of the blue. He pointed. “That boy’s gonna hit a home-run.” A glancing tap of the bat on the next pitch resulted in a bizarre, low-flying homer that wobbled out over the back wall of the park. Even the batter looked confused. A few people cheered. 

There were 47 more home runs that night. By the top of the ninth, everyone in the stadium was screaming, crying, laughing, filming every hit, calling their friends, taking pictures. I had no idea if this was a high or low score; I didn’t even like baseball. “You’re their lucky charm!” Monty roared.

On Saturday, he woke me up at dawn. We drove back into town to see the long-scheduled demolition of a factory complex near the Mississippi. News crews were there; men and their teenage sons were tailgating. When the structure finally collapsed, it happened so eerily slowly—bricks and concrete drifting to the ground like snow—that some people left before the final chunks hit the ground. I figured it had something to do with the explosives they used or the way the building had been designed—or maybe all demolitions were like this, I didn’t know. This was the first time I’d seen one. 

My parents finally emailed that morning with some photos from their trip, all courtyard gardens and string quartets. Standing next to Monty in a Memphis parking lot, watching a building explode in slow motion, I thought, if that was Europe, I’ll take Tennessee. 

* * *

Driving home from the lake one night, Monty said a steakhouse up ahead was calling his name. We pulled over to a lounge from a different era, all stained oak and leather upholstery, aged bourbon and business deals. He asked for a booth in back.

About a decade ago, my uncle began, sipping a whisky cocktail, he was working a dead-end job selling branded athletic equipment to high schools and local sports teams. Baseball gloves, football helmets, soccer balls, that kind of thing. For the first time of my visit, he looked nervous, as if unsure of what he was saying.

One day, he told me, he was in a town way up on the coast of Lake Michigan. He was there to meet a football coach named Dean.

In a flash, I understood. Here it was, I thought, the story this had been building to. My uncle was in love with a football coach. I drank some water and waited. 

“Dean,” my uncle said, “and excuse my language, was a Grade-A asshole.” 

The uniforms Monty delivered that day had a typo. Dean—my uncle looked at me, fully relaxed into his story now, and said, “Did I mention he was an asshole?”—held my uncle personally responsible for the mistake, calling him a rip-off artist, a conman, threatening over and over to get him fired. Monty ended up covering five hundred dollars’ worth of replacement jerseys out of his own paycheck. 

He was so angry that night in Michigan, the frustration and disappointment of his life laid bare, that he skipped dinner and went back to his hotel, a dump of a corporate chain on the wrong side of town. He turned his light out and lay there alone, stewing in the darkness. When a car alarm started going off. 

Our waitress returned, sliding well-potato’d plates of steak onto the table in front of us. “You boys enjoy,” she said, smiling.

* * *

After a few bites, Monty continued. The car alarm, he said, would beep and blare before shutting off for five minutes, long enough for him to think it was over; then it would start again, followed by five more minutes of silence. It went on like that for an hour. An hour, Monty emphasized. 

Next thing he knew, he had his shoes on. Next thing, he was down in the hotel lobby. Next thing, he was out on the street. 

He could feel it as soon as he stepped outside, he said. Static electricity. A charge in the air. The clouds were heavy, low over the roofs around him. Trees churned in the wind, branches sucked in all directions by vast cells of air. 

A local resident saw him outside. Concerned, she pulled her second-floor window open. “You shouldn’t be out there!” she called. “It’s not safe!” An abstract but terrifying sound grew in volume, like a distant tornado. “It’s not safe!” 

But he could see the car now, its lights flashing, horn blaring.

He would leave a note, Monty thought. No, he would get the license plate number and call the police. No, my uncle decided—no. He was angry. He would leave a mark. Something permanent. He would punish this person for making a bad day worse. 

He took out his car keys. 

Around him, the wind stopped. The hair on his forearms began to rise. 

The moment Monty’s keys touched the door, a circuit was formed, sparked by this contact of metal on metal. The whole street flashed white and my uncle’s world disappeared. 

He woke up in a hospital three days later and realized he could move things with his mind. 

* * *

I stared at him for a few seconds, fork in hand. 

“This is freaking me out a little,” I said. 

Monty sipped his drink. 

“That I was struck by lightning?”

“That you think you’re telekinetic.”

He flinched. “I think?” 

“Come on—it isn’t real.” 

He just stared at me. 

“No one can move things with their—”

“Hey!” my uncle blurted. He looked like he was about to tell another joke. 

I waited. 

“Check it out,” he said. 

I looked, but he wasn’t doing anything. 

“Check it out,” he repeated. “Check it out, check it out.”

Nothing was happening. 

He glanced down, guiding me with his eyes. 

His drink was hovering six inches off the table. 

* * *

The glass began rising, moving through the air. I didn’t know what was happening; I didn’t understand. I turned and looked at the other diners, convinced everyone in the restaurant must be watching. 

“Uh…” my uncle groaned. 

His drink was now at eye level, hovering stationary in front of him. He grimaced, contorting his face into a mock expression of fear. 

Uh… Uh…” 

Then he reached forward, grabbed the drink, and took a long swallow, draining the glass. 

I wanted to be angry but I was too confused. “What is happening?

Our waitress came back. “How y’all doing? Oh—” She looked down at my plate. “You barely touched your food.”

“He doesn’t have to touch his food,” I said. 

She laughed, uncomfortable. “What’s that?”

“Family joke,” my uncle answered. “We’re good, ma’am.” 

He hunched forward. “I told you what’s happening. I thought you’d believe me.”

“For real, though.” 

“You of all people. After all you’ve seen.”

My uncle sat back. He seemed crushed. His eyes went blank. 

Around me, families gasped. A man shouted. I turned. Every dish in the restaurant lifted two feet into the air. Plates and bowls hovered silently in space. 

I’m telekinetic,” my uncle said. “I have been for the past ten years.” 

The dishes came crashing down, some shattering. 

Monty leapt to his feet and rushed to the nearest table, feigning concern. “Oh, my lord, is everyone okay?”

* * *

The restaurant incident made the news. Whenever it came on, Monty would change the channel. It got to the point, I would click off my phone screen if he walked too close, rather than let him know I’d been reading about the “Flying Saucers!” event, as cable news quickly dubbed it. 

We were at the grocery store when I brought the subject up again. Whenever no customers were around, Monty would start moving things into our cart. I watched various products drift away from their shelves, float across the aisle, and drop down into the basket. It was hypnotic. 

Pasta. Canned soup. 

I said, “A lot of people get struck by lightning. None of them are telekinetic.”

Hot dog buns floated into the cart. 

“Not that you know of.”

Ketchup, mustard, chips.

“That dude in the Mel Gibson movie got struck by lightning and he’s not telekinetic. People get struck by lightning all the time.” 

It was true. I had looked it up as soon as we got back from the restaurant. There were roughly 27 lightning-related deaths every year in the United States. One-third of all lightning injuries happened indoors. And the overwhelming majority of lightning-strike victims were white men—probably, I was beginning to realize, because they had anger management issues and stood outside during lightning storms. 

“Mel Gibson was struck by lightning?” Monty said. “That actually explains some things.”

I ignored him. “My point is, are you sure that’s what caused it?”

A tub of oatmeal started sliding off its shelf but slunk back as my uncle thought about the question. 

“That’s when it began, I can tell you that. Absolutely.”

“What if the lightning was just a trigger? It made you notice it.”

“I was telekinetic my whole life and never knew?” 

It sounded dumb hearing Monty say it like that. I shrugged and grabbed the oatmeal. “Maybe.”

We let the subject drop until we were in the check-out line. When it was our turn, the cashier ringing us up, my uncle turned to me. 

“What if that means it runs in the family?” he said. He grabbed the receipt. “You ever think of that?”

* * *

It nagged at me the next few days, that I might have powers extending beyond my body, that I could do things others could not. But nothing would budge. No matter how hard I tried, the world resisted my attempts to influence it. 

I came back around to believing my uncle’s lightning story, that all this talk of inherited powers was another joke of his, an indirect jab at my father—after all, of course these powers didn’t run in our family. The idea that my dad was telekinetic and had never done anything to reveal it was absurd. In retrospect, I could remember a few things that would make more sense if he had been—like my dad, standing over a sewer grate, catching a dropped set of house keys in a way so miraculous we still talked about it. But maybe he just didn’t know. Whenever his powers kicked in, it just felt like some freaky coincidence. For a brief moment, I felt a twinge of sympathy for the guy.

The implication that I could do this, that I could control the world around me, felt unfair, like Monty was leading me on, making me dream of forces and energies I didn’t have, talents I would never develop. In the end, I knew—I had always known—I was like everyone else, nothing special, no matter how different I wanted to be. 

We were out on the lake again a lot that week. At first, Monty told me, placing more fish in the ice chest, he hated these newfound powers. He hoped every day he would wake up a normal person once again. He couldn’t show or tell anyone, not a girlfriend, certainly not his colleagues—not even doctors—because he’d be ridiculed, he thought. Institutionalized, maybe. Burned at the stake. 

He also couldn’t control it. For months, my uncle said, if he so much as looked at something, it risked floating into his hand. Doors opened before he got to them. In a sign of things to come, traffic lights would change whenever he felt impatient. And it could be dangerous. A couple times, he said, he dozed off in front of the TV and all hell broke loose. Things flew off shelves, framed pictures dropped from walls, entire trees crashed to the ground outside, uprooted. 

After too many months of this, scared of himself and what he could do, Monty dropped out. He called it his year in the wilderness. He could do anything he set his mind to—literally. Steal cars; rob banks; win every game at the casino. He could probably start a war, he said. Or end one. But he didn’t want any of that. Or, more accurately, he didn’t know what he wanted. 

He needed time to explore. Monty cut off contact with our family—and I actually remembered this, hearing my dad complain about his brother, the family failure who couldn’t keep a job or maintain basic contact—and slipped from city to city. New York, Atlanta, all the way to New Orleans, before wandering the American South for a year. 

He decided that, if it wasn’t going away, he could at least learn to control it. He began practicing. Little things, like moving pens across a table or lifting fallen branches in the woods. Soon he learned to move dozens of objects at once, weaving them through the air around him like a kaleidoscope. 

“I realized that, if I calmed down, if I stopped reacting to everything—if I relaxed—then I could direct it. I’ll tell you what the trick really is: it’s knowing what you want. Absolutely knowing. No hesitation, no doubt. The world responds to that. People respond to that. Things—matter itself responds to that.” 

Not that Monty’s first year with these skills revealed what he really wanted. “Give a guy like me infinite power, I’ll do dumb shit. For a few weeks, I became the best-tipped busker in north Florida.” But Monty wanted purpose, he said, not to be a novelty juggling act. 

Looking for a challenge—for income, for prestige, for dependable access to hot showers—he applied for work at a global shipping firm in Tennessee. 

* * *

In just a couple of years, my uncle reinvented himself as a miracle man who could solve any problem moving things from one location to another. Delivering orchids overnight within the domestic United States; rerouting planes in bad weather at high-volume municipal airports; coordinating just-in-time quarrying activities for gravel-industry clients; he could do it all. 

He rose to a junior-executive position handling every aspect of the firm’s logistical operations. “At one point, I controlled nearly 30% of all next-day deliveries in the United States,” he told me. “For a few years, you got a package, that was probably me.” 

But shipping deodorant next-day air to customers in Alaska soon lost its appeal. On a whim, Monty asked to be transferred to a global construction arm of the same corporation. A month later, he packed his bags. “For six years, I traveled the world. I built skyscrapers in Dubai and bridges in Australia. I organized the World Cup. I helped pave highways through the Himalayas during snowstorms. It was incredible.” 

My uncle had seen the world and could do anything he wanted, but he knew this corporate phase of his life had reached its limit. He was solving other people’s problems, achieving other people’s goals. Monty’s life was good, even excellent, but it had no meaning. 

So, he said, he quit his job and started fishing. 

* * *

“I don’t know,” I said. We were packing up the trunk, another long day on the lake now over. I threw my hat in the car, drank a long slug of water, and looked around at families barbecuing in the twilight, men still out on their boats. We could be flying over mountain ranges, I thought, moving cities with my uncle’s brain. Instead, we were fishing. 

“This is all you’ve done with it?” I regretted the question as soon as I said it. 

Monty looked over my shoulder at the water. “This isn’t enough for you?”

I was 16. It was not enough for me. 

“I mean, you could’ve quit your job to save the world,” I said. “Prevent assassinations. Launch stuff into space.” 

He cocked his head to the side.

“But you go fishing,” I said. 

Monty laughed. “If the world can be saved by someone like me, it must not be in a lot of trouble.” 

“You know what I mean.” 

“You know what I mean.”

“It’s a waste.”

Monty shook his head, disappointed. “Appreciating what you got right in front of you is the opposite of everything they tell you now—that your life isn’t good enough, that you should be dissatisfied. But what if your life is good enough? What if you’re happy? You tell people you have enough these days, they make you feel bad for it, like you should’ve asked for more or you got ripped off.”

Monty started the engine and we pulled away. He nodded again at the lake as it disappeared behind some pine trees. “This is enough,” he said, “and I’m fine with that.”

I’d be happy, too, I thought, if I could control the world. If I had every object on Earth at my disposal. I didn’t know what I wanted yet, but it didn’t matter. I was a teenager; the world controlled me. 

“Fishing is enough for you,” I blurted, “because you’re not stuck here. You get bored, you can move on. That’s not true for me. I mean, I’d love to catch fish with my mind. I’d love to demolish buildings with my thoughts.”

Monty seemed startled by this. Every traffic light on the road in front of us turned green at the same moment. “But, Arthur, maybe you can.”

* * *

I didn’t like being led on like this—it seemed dishonest—which meant I was in a sour mood that evening when the phone rang. I heard Monty talking in the other room. 

He poked his head into the doorway a few minutes later and held the phone out, hand cupped over the mouthpiece. “Hey, uh, your mom wants to talk.” I had been at my uncle’s house for three weeks when my parents finally called.

To no one’s surprise, she did not ask a single question about my time at Uncle Monty’s. Instead, my mom reeled off a list of luxury experiences—wine cellars, royal gardens, castle suites—to which I was expected simply to listen. 

My uncle’s phone was an old, corded model mounted on the kitchen wall. As I was looking at it, wanting so badly for the call to end, for the line to go dead, for anything at all to interrupt my mom’s interminable monologue, the wildest thing happened. 

Uncle Monty’s phone dropped to the floor, its cord pulling straight out of the jack. 

Mom?” I said. The one thing I wanted most at that particular moment had somehow just occurred. 

When I shouted for Monty to come back into the kitchen, apologizing that something broke his phone—that it fell off the wall exactly when I was hoping my mom would stop talking—he wasn’t angry. 

“That thing was ancient,” he said. “Bound to happen someday.” But he was looking at me with a strange expression on his face, almost like pride. 

* * *

My last week in Tennessee, Monty kept asking me what I was going to do when I got home, what I would make of my life, questions I avoided by asking him the exact same thing. He said he was happy—I could see he was—but, to me, he seemed caught in an endless loop of days out on the lake and after-dinner drinks. For someone who once traveled all over the world, he had become a recluse. 

When I saw that a band I used to listen to was playing in Nashville the next night, I pretended I needed to see them. I had to. Monty could show me more of the state that way, I said. We could find some cool restaurants, even go fishing. 

My uncle booked us hotel rooms for two nights and we set out that same evening, taking our time on the drive. The neon lights of roadside businesses blurred across the windshield, streaked by midsummer rain. Abandoned cars, discarded items of clothing, even billboards all floated around us, sometimes for miles. It was a fugue state, a hallucination, dreaming while awake. 

The day of the concert, Monty drank a little more than he should have. As the evening wore on, he looked exhausted. But it was my last night in Tennessee. I said I wanted to stay out longer, see the city. We could move stuff! Lift things! Have fun.

It was just before midnight when we left the venue. A few blocks away from our hotel, Monty slipped down an alleyway. I followed. Ever since our disagreement at the lake, he hadn’t been using his powers much. He seemed pent-up, antsy. Ready to go.

Lights up and down the alley started strobing. I whooped and cheered. My uncle laughed and put his sunglasses on. Dumpsters flew into the air. He started turning them around in circles 30 feet above the pavement, thumping them into each other like bumper cars. I clapped and shouted. Deep gonging sounds rang out across the city like church bells. He was getting carried away; I was egging him on. The noise was unbelievable. 

We thought we were alone or we didn’t really care, but a group of teenagers came walking around the corner. They heard the chaos, the laughter, the slamming sounds. When they saw what was happening, their eyes went wide, one boy shouting into his fist. Another started filming. 

Monty played it up for them, lofting dumpsters hundreds of feet in the air. Spinning them around as high as helicopters. Trash bags were flying, thudding down onto the sidewalk, breaking through office windows, landing atop parked cars. (I saw the kids’ video online later. It was called “Telekinetic White Dude.” The resolution and lighting were so terrible, you couldn’t see anything, just shapes moving around in the sky and an unrecognizable drunk man somewhere in Nashville having the time of his life.)

When police sirens began wailing, getting closer—then firetrucks—the kids fled. 

So did Monty. So did I.

* * *

We ended up in a tiny park, crouched down behind some bushes, watching emergency lights converge on the alley. This was it, then, the end of my visit, my final night in Tennessee, hiding from the cops. 

I had become more comfortable spending time with Monty over the past four weeks than I had with my own parents over the course of 16 years. As excited as I was to get back to my friends, I realized, with a bit of a shock, I had little interest in returning to that life; even Monty had joked about how empty his house would feel without a guest. 

Still, I wanted him to admit that he could do more with his gift, that he was using his powers for nothing. As far as I could see, he had stepped into a different kind of trap, one that looked like comfort and suburbia. He could change the world—unless he couldn’t. “Maybe you spend all your time fishing now,” I taunted, “because you know you’ll fail at something bigger.”

Monty laughed. 

“You could change things.”

“Sometimes a man just wants to lift dumpsters.”

“I’m serious.”

“So am I.” 

“Come on. You can part the oceans.”

“Yep—or lift dumpsters.” 

Once again, he guided me with his eyes. I looked out over the horizon. Hundreds—maybe thousands—of dumpsters were floating above the buildings around them, some blocking out the moon. In the silence, I could hear their steel frames creaking like ships.

“There’s a reason I fish and levitate whisky drinks and mess with folks at baseball games,” Monty said. “I know what I’m capable of. You gotta do what you want with your talents. They’re your talents.” He started laughing. “But, oh, lord, I could level the city with these things. I promise you, we all have more power than we think.”

* * *

On our way into the terminal at Memphis International the next day, the dumpster incident was all over TV, on the front page of every newspaper. “Trash Night!” a local tabloid exclaimed. Splashed across a wall of televisions near the airport entrance, three wide-eyed teenage boys were speaking to a CNN reporter—the same kids from the alley last night in Nashville. 

As we approached security, Monty—visibly hungover, wearing sunglasses indoors—didn’t even try to hide it; my bags were as light as feathers, at one point floating entirely free of my hands. No one noticed. I put my bags—or, rather, my bags put themselves—up on the X-ray belt, and we waved to each other one final time. 

Monty walked away. I missed him immediately.

* * *

An hour before we were scheduled to land, I asked for a glass of soda. The steward gave me the whole can. 

I drank and looked at it, drank and looked at it, till the can was drained. I put it down. 

I stared. It was empty now. Hollow inside. Light as air. 

I stared. I wanted. I wanted the can to—

We hit turbulence, sending handbags and passengers flying, ruining the effect, but for an instant I thought I saw it. 

A tiny gap had appeared below the metal. I swore, even as I stared, the can had lifted off its tray.

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