26 Aug “I Held My Head Near My Microwave for a Month In An Effort to Gain Superpowers, It Didn’t Work”
"I Held My Head Near My Microwave for a Month In An Effort to Gain Superpowers, It Didn’t Work"
Written by Nathaniel Lewis
Kids do dumb shit. Adults do dumb shit too, but generally, you don’t see them trying to radiate their own brains by pressing their skulls against the glass of a 1987 Panasonic microwave while it’s running on high. But that’s what I did, for a month straight.
I was 11 at the time, and Watchmen had just wrapped up its run. Charlie was my best friend, and we’d take turns shelling out our allowance for the latest issue and then trade it back and forth. It was all over our heads, except we knew that Dr. Manhattan was cool as hell and that, like a lot of comic book characters, he’d gotten his superpowers through radiation.
“My mom’s always telling me not to stand too close to the microwave while it’s running or I’ll get radiation,” Charlie remarked one day. “Wonder if that would actually work?”
“My mom says the same thing,” I said. “So it’s probably true.”
“Bet if I held my hand in front of it long enough I could suck up the power and then shoot it out,” said Charlie.
“Bet if I put my head in front of it I could start to read minds,” I said.
And so it began.
* * * * * *
The plan was simple. Every night, I would wait for my mother to go to sleep and then sneak down to the kitchen. Then I’d hold my head against the front of the microwave while it was running for 30 minutes. Then, eventually, I would acquire telepathic abilities.
After the first two weeks, it was starting to look like a bust. I met Charlie after class one day and asked him if anything was happening with him. He wiggled his fingers around, as if trying to coax out a blast of radiated energy, but nothing came.
“Nah,” he said. “Not yet.”
“How long do we have to keep doing it?” I asked. “I’m really tired.”
“Could be a sign that you’re starting to change,” he suggested.
“Yeah,” I said. “Maybe.”
We parted ways and I headed home. I was feeling pretty pessimistic about the whole thing. After dinner, I went up to my room and reread the issues of Watchmen that were currently in my possession.
Dr. Manhattan was so powerful. I, on the other hand, was a wimp. I sucked at all the sports and girls scared me. I wanted just a taste of that power. Just an edge, to make me something more than a barely average kid.
I decided to give the microwave thing another shot. I kept reading until I heard my mom go upstairs and get in bed. I waited a little while longer, then crept down to the kitchen. I dragged a stool over from the island, turned the dial to 30 minutes on high, and pushed start. I pressed my face up against the glass, as usual.
I always kept my eyes open, because I knew if I closed them, I would fall asleep. The dull hum of the radiation being blasted into the oven was sort of soothing, and just a little harsher than those white noise machines that some people use to put themselves to sleep. But the glaring light inside kept me awake. I knew that I had to stay awake or else my mom would find me there in the morning, with my face smushed up against the microwave, and I’d get in big trouble.
I had a lot of time to think. Well, 30 minutes to think. And on that night, I decided that if I didn’t have some hints of telepathic powers by the next day, I’d call the whole stupid thing off and just accept that I was a nerd who would never be popular or successful.
But something did happen that night. About halfway through my session, I started to feel a strange sensation… like I was being pulled out of my own body. That’s the only way I can describe it. But it wasn’t even quite like that. I could still feel my body… could still feel my cheek pressed up against the glass, could still feel my back starting to hurt from being hunched over in such an uncomfortable position, could still hear the drone of the microwave and see the light coming from inside. But I could feel something else too, like a part of me was being pulled out.
And then I started to experience two things at the same time. In one place, I was still in my kitchen, sitting on the stool; in another, I was on my back. I felt naked, and like I was laying on something cold. Up above me were bright lights, and all around me were humming noises. I couldn’t see or hear or feel anything beyond that.
I’m dreaming, I thought. I fell asleep and I’m dreaming. I better wake up or Mom’s gonna kill me.
But I was still there, in the kitchen, awake. Or it felt that way. I tried to peel my face off the glass of the microwave door and look around, but I couldn’t move. And I couldn’t look around in this other place, I now realized, because my head was strapped down in position.
Then everything went dark and I woke up in my bed with my mother calling to me that it was time to get up for school.
* * * * * *
That day, I caught up with Charlie after social studies.
“Anything weird happen to you last night?” I asked.
“Nah,” said Charlie, flexing his hand. “I think this whole microwave thing was a dumb idea. Why? Something happen with you?”
“I… had a weird dream, that’s all.”
“Can you read my mind right now?”
Charlie shrugged. “Yeah, we gotta find something else to do now.”
“Yeah,” I said.
But I didn’t find something else to do. That night, I was back in the kitchen, turning the dial on the microwave. I’d snuck a can of Coke into my room after dinner and chugged it at 9 PM. I had to stay awake so I could know for sure whether the previous night had been a crazy dream or an even crazier reality.
I pushed the Start button and pressed my head against the microwave. For a long time, nothing happened. Of course it was a dream, I thought. You can’t get superpowers from a microwave, and you can’t be in two places at once.
And then I felt the pull and suddenly I was in two places at once.
I was still in the kitchen, and I was also back there, strapped to a table of some sort, under the glaring lights.
A dream, I thought, and I tried to pull my head away from the microwave like I had the night before. This time, it worked. All at once, I felt myself rushing back into myself and the other reality disappeared. I stood up and went to the sink for a glass of water. I heard the clock ticking away, barely audible over the hum of the microwave.
I hadn’t fallen asleep. I knew that. I’d felt wide awake when I started the microwave experiment that night, and I still felt wide awake. But if I hadn’t fallen asleep, then how could I feel so vividly that I was in two places at once?
I was, as they say nowadays, shook. I felt woozy and scared and wanted to wake Mom up and tell her what was going on, but another part of me said: if you do that, then you’ll always be a loser. It’s time to man up. Which was, without a doubt, an extremely dumb thought.
The microwave was still going, the mechanics inside turning around and around; the light as bright as ever, and the droning hum as persistent as ever. I walked over to it and took a deep breath. Then I reset the dial to 30 minutes, sat back down, and once again pressed my face up to the door.
Then I was back on the table and now there was somebody standing over me. It was my father. He had died two years ago of a heart attack. But there he was, standing over me, looking down.
“Dad?” I heard myself say.
“Don’t be afraid, Dan,” he said, smiling. “It’s me. I never left you, really. I’ve always been here, behind the thinnest of curtains.”
“W… what’s happening? Am I dreaming?”
“You were,” said my father. “Now you’re awake. Or nearly there. You just need to pull the curtain back a little more.”
“Why am I strapped down like this?” I asked.
“You’re not,” he said, snapping his fingers. And then I wasn’t.
I lifted my head and looked around. I was in the middle of a circular room, on a metal table, with a light on a stand above me. All around were people who looked like doctors in white coats writing things down on their clipboards. Then there was my father, right next to me, offering out his hand.
Meanwhile, I saw the plate spinning around and around in the microwave under the bright light and felt my face plastered to the glass door. I heard the same old uninterrupted hum.
I took my father’s hand. “What is this place?” I asked. “How can I be in two places at once? Who are those doctors? What’s happening? I’m so scared.”
My father’s smile grew wider. “We’ll talk later, okay, bud?”
The microwave stopped humming and then I was back in one place. I lifted my head and looked around. I was in my kitchen. I heard the clock ticking, and the refrigerator buzzing.
That wasn’t a dream, I thought. That happened.
I reset the dial on the microwave, pushed ‘Start’, and laid my head against it again… and then woke up the next morning in my bed.
* * * * * *
That day, I was distracted all through school, thinking about what had happened — or hadn’t happened. It had felt so real, like I was really there in this other place with my father… but that was so weird, and unlike anything I’d ever heard of before.
Science was the last class of the day, and after the bell rang, I stayed behind and approached the teacher.
“Mr. Lockwood… I have a question.”
“Good. I like questions. Shoot.”
“Can people be in two places at once?”
Mr. Lockwood smiled. “Well, I’d say that you proved it was possible today, Dan. Your body was here, but your mind was somewhere far off. What’s going on? Where was your mind? That’s the part I want here. Your body’s just a hunk of meat, better off in Phys Ed. The mind is where it’s at.”
“No, I mean, can a person like really be in two places at once?”
“Physically? No. There’s a branch of science that says very small things can, in a sense, exist in two places at once. That’s quantum physics, very advanced stuff. Frankly, it’s above my pay grade, but I’m happy to see you take an interest.”
“Oh,” I said. “Small things but not big things like people. So if someone felt like they were in two places at once, it would just be in their head?”
“That’s right. Has something like this been happening to you?”
Suddenly, I felt very silly. “No! I was just asking because of a comic book. I didn’t think you could do that, be in two places at once like that.”
Mr. Lockwood smiled. “Between you and me, Dan, off the record? Who knows? There’s so much about the universe that we know nothing about. We know how to make balls bounce and why it seems to work. We know how to prevent polio. We know when and where the dinosaurs lived. We know a lot, but we don’t know everything. So my official answer is no, that’s impossible; be a good boy and read your textbook. But off the record? Who knows? Never stop wondering… never stop trying to figure things out.”
I could tell that he was just trying to be nice, but it made me feel better anyway. “Thanks, Mr. Lockwood,” I said, and left the classroom.
I was so tired from staying up late for two weeks in a row. On the bus ride home, everything around me seemed like a fuzzy blur.
I’m going nuts, I thought. I need to sleep more. I decided that I wouldn’t sneak down to the kitchen that night. I’d go to sleep at my appointed bedtime and then wake up the next day refreshed. I’d see clearly how silly the whole thing was; how it had all been in my head.
But it didn’t work out that way.
* * * * * *
That night, I did try to go to sleep at my bedtime. But I couldn’t. I felt wired, like I had just come out of a good movie after drinking a shit load of Coke and eating a ton of candy. I couldn’t shut my brain off.
The worst thing about it all had been feeling like my father was really there. It had taken me long enough to accept that he was really gone, and just when I had, there he was, reaching his hand out to me. I felt like crying, but I told myself that it was all a trick of my head due to lack of sleep.
I heard my mother come up and settle into her room down the hall. Still, I couldn’t sleep. But I resolved not to go downstairs no matter what. I resolved to put the whole thing behind me.
Then I heard my father’s voice, crystal clear, inside my head:
Dan, come on down to the microwave. I miss you so much. We were making such progress.
“Dad?” I whispered. “Is it really you?”
Yes, but we can’t talk here. Come down to the microwave and we can talk there.
It was so real. I couldn’t resist it. I couldn’t turn my back on my father. I needed him. I loved him so much.
I got out of bed and crept down the stairs and into the kitchen. I pulled up my stool, started the microwave, and pressed my face against it.
My father was standing there then. He looked different. Older, and sick. So did all of the people sitting around the room with their clipboards.
“Dad?! Are you okay?”
My father smiled. “I am now, Dan. But listen, please don’t leave me here again like that. When you do, it hurts me. If you stay away for too long, I’ll shrivel up and die.”
“I won’t leave you again, dad. I promise. I’ll be here every night.”
“That’s good, Dan. That’s very good. Now I want you to lie back down on this table here and let the good doctors look you over, okay?”
“O… okay,” I said.
I put my head against the cold metal table and looked up at the light. Then there was a “doctor” standing over me and then I was waking up back in my bed as my mother called for me to get up and get dressed for school.
* * * * * *
I hardly remember anything about the next week and a half. Only in jagged flashes.
During the day, I started to fall apart. I couldn’t focus on anything, and I refused to eat. I stopped talking to people. My mother pulled me out of school and shuffled me from doctor to doctor. It wasn’t until I was admitted overnight at a hospital, and could no longer press my head up against the microwave, that this all finally stopped.
Before that happened, I visited The Other Place every night. I don’t remember much, but I remember that the “doctors” poked me with a lot of needles and hooked me up to a lot of strange-looking devices. They were always writing on their clipboards. I got a look at what they were writing once, and it was in a strange language, full of weird symbols.
My father – and the doctors – started to change over time. They looked less and less like people. Their features melted away into an incoherent fleshy mess, and then stopped looking like flesh altogether. They started to look like crackling balls of electric energy… like spheres where millions of lightning storms were constantly going off.
I was so terrified, but I couldn’t tell anybody what was happening, and I couldn’t stop going there. I don’t know why. I just felt less and less attached to this world, and more and more a part of the other. I felt like if I stopped going there, I would vanish.
Finally, like I said, my mother admitted me to a hospital overnight. She sat by my side the whole night, as did my friend Charlie. I don’t remember what happened, but he told me about it later.
Around midnight, I woke Charlie up with my screams. I was yelling about how everything burned. About how I needed to get back to my microwave. About how I was “killing them.”
A nurse came rushing in, and Charlie heard them talking about giving me some kind of drug before he and my mother were ushered out of the room. My mom gave them hell and kept demanding to go back in, but they wouldn’t let her. Charlie could hear my screams from down the hall. Whatever drug they gave me, it didn’t work.
I screamed for hours, and finally, Charlie couldn’t take it anymore. He was a mess, and his parents had to come get him. My mom refused to leave the waiting room for a second.
* * * * * *
And then… I was awake, in the hospital bed, hooked up to all kinds of machines. For a second, I panicked, thinking that I was back in The Other Place. But there was no electric light above me, and as I blinked my eyes open, I saw sunlight pouring into the room. Then I saw my mother, her face ravished by staying up all night worrying and crying.
“Mom?” I said. It was the first word I’d said in a week, and it was painful coming out of my dry throat. But the sound of my own voice, real, in this world, felt magical, like the opening notes of a symphony… or, back in those days, the Legend of Zelda theme music.
And my mother… she was so beautiful, despite the worry on her face.
“Dan?!” she said, jumping up and putting her hand on my head. She leaned down and kissed me on the cheek. “How do you feel, honey?”
“Hungry,” I said.
She smiled and called the nurse in and demanded some food. I was on my way to recovery.
* * * * * *
Nobody ever had a satisfactory explanation of what had happened. I didn’t show any signs of radiation sickness, of course, because microwaves can’t really do that, despite what moms across the world believe. In the end, they settled on sleep deprivation, but that’s absolute bullshit. I always felt tired, sure, but I was still getting hours of sleep every night.
I don’t know what happened either, but I know that it happened. Some kind of combination of waves coming together and showing me another place that’s just on the other side of this one. Perhaps the beings there were trying to use me to cross over to this side. I don’t know. All that I know is that it happened.
And that I do all of my cooking with propane now.