The Northville Review
an online literary journal
Plug In

Chris Tarry

I’m in the shower, head down, catching pools of water between my fingers and letting them fall to my toes. I’m calculating the distance and the water’s rate of decent. It’s hot. I think about wanting it cooler. And like that, it starts to cool down. So I think, well, there ya have it. I’ve got special powers.

I start to envision the water cooling. Slowly, like blowing on soup, or stepping into the shock of a cold day. And the temperature of the shower continues to drop. Unbelievable, I think. This day? This is the day I get special powers? What’s so special about this day? I think about ice. Ice on a river. Ice in the fridge. And still, the temperature drops. I get excited. Briefly think about picking up a suit and cape on my way to work. I’m naked and excited, which is weird, because it’s then that I notice that I’m not thinking about cold anymore, and the temperature is still dropping. It’s about this time that it hits me. The boiler must be down. Reality grabs hold of me and I turn off the tap.

I’m standing in front of my mirror with 7:30 AM blinking on the clock behind me. It looks like MA 0E:P from where I’m standing, but I get it right away, because I’m like that.

Good spatial ability. Performs well on tests incorporating 3D models designed to measure cognitive and perceptual abilities. Recommend graduation to next section.

I’m skinny, naked, and dripping. I’ve got a hard-on from the super-power moment and my hair looks like a block of cheese. I start to flex. Just a couple of times because it’s embarrassing, even to me. I scratch my chest in an ape-like way; with both hands, elbows pointing out.

First go the socks. I sit on the edge of my bed and lift one foot at a time. I hear the coffee machine beeping in the kitchen so I walk out and pour myself a cup. I stand in front of my living room window and admire the view. People can probably see me, but in the warmth of my apartment and the confidence of clean socks, I feel invincible. So I stand there a while, looking out at the people in the park. I hold my coffee in one hand and place the other on my waist, like I’m posing for a picture. A big naked coffee-holding, sock-wearing picture. I stop short of flexing.

I put on my jeans, it’s casual Friday. I grab a T-shirt, something ironic and weathered. I find my bag, throw in a copy of Gödel, Escher, Bach and Abbott’s Flatland, because you never know who you’re going to run into on the subway. I high-five my doorman on the way out. His name is Rich, two kids and a girlfriend who wears braces. Teeth that look like a chain-link fence. Nice girl, not my thing.

On the way to the subway I stop at the coffee place. Pull out Gödel, Escher, Bach while I’m standing in line so Pauline, my coffee shop girl, can get a peek. I figure I’m a week from fucking her. Maybe less if I drop a line about Thoreau’s take on Civil Disobedience. She makes a comment about my shirt. “Nice shirt,” she says. “Great book. Saw you on the news last night. Pretty impressive.”


“Yeah, all that stuff about you being the latest, the newest thing. Pretty impressive.”

“Thanks,” I say. Then I point at her and wink like The Fonz. I walk out of the shop, second coffee in hand.

On the subway I pull out Flatland and start mouthing the line about placing a penny on the middle of a table. A guy with a rubber chicken on his head steps in front of me and stares. His head is stuck up the chicken’s ass, the rubber legs removed to make room for his eyes. I tell him to fuck off, that if I wanted to talk to a guy with a chicken on his head I’d be reading a book about chickens. He walks away.

His aversion to civil discourse and the way in which it manifests itself in relation to his daily encounters must be looked at with closer scrutiny. Recommend implementing study groups involving standard question and response scenarios after completions of level five.

A skinny hipster girl standing next to me says, “Fucking chicken guy, see him every morning.”

“Typical of the type of humanity in this city,” I say, and look her over. She’s twentyish, red hair that goes on for weeks. She’s the good kind of hipster girl—the hot kind trying to look ugly, not the ugly kind trying to look hot. I think maybe she recognizes me from the news.

“I see you’re reading Flatland,” she says. “Would you like to hear my favorite quote?”

“Would I,” I say.

She holds my gaze and launches into it. “Place a penny on the middle of one of your tables in Space; and leaning over it, look down upon it. It will appear a circle.”

“Those circles, upper echelon types there,” I say.

“Indeed,” she says.

I surprise her by already having the page marked and bent. She grabs my book as the train pulls into the station, writes down her number using as much space as she can find.


The last four numbers look like they could be from a sex line. Something in their layout on the page speaks to my spatial ability, confirms my excellence with numbers. Basically the same shit they interviewed me about on last nights television program.

He has excellent numeric abilities. Skills highly valued in his line of work, recommend full acceptance upon completion of training level one.

Christine gets off. I pull out Gödel, Escher, Bach to see if I can impress one more before my stop.

Chicken guy comes back, looks at my book, and starts getting in my face. Says something about Hofstadter’s great achievement.

“Listen, pal,” I say. “You got tits? You got a pussy? Then I’m not interested. I don’t care what you have to say about Hofstadter, or his take on animate beings created by inanimate matter. Everyone knows it’s a book about math, art, and music being similar at their core.”

Chicken guy pulls out a gun, grabs me, turns me around so he can show everyone on the train that he’s about to blow my brains out. I piss myself. It runs down my leg and onto the train floor.

His inability to deal with sudden and stressful stimuli hints at an unresolved insecurity in his training. Recommend further tests upon completion of level three. Propose group scenarios involving hostile situations.

We’re under the East River, three minutes to the next station. This guy couldn’t have planned it better. He pulls the emergency cord. Train stops dead. Electrical train, driverless.

“Who wants to see me shoot him?” Chicken Guy says. “This motherfucker who doesn’t think Tangled Hierarchies are windows into the soul!”

I manage something about math and the perfection of it all, about music and the order of the twelve notes. How it all makes sense. He tells me to shut up.

His inability to look beneath a problem, at the underside of a situation should be cause for concern. He can do the math, but in a job like this, sometimes that’s just not good enough. One needs to look beyond what makes sense. Recommend further testing upon completion of stage six.

A woman in the back speaks up. “Please let him go. Everyone knows who he is, his company will be sure to find you. He isn’t hurting anyone, and he’s expensive!”

I’m not sure what she’s driving at, last night’s TV advertisement clearly listed my abilities and future affordability index statistics. Either way, I’m grateful for the help. Chicken Guy swings me around. Tells me to pick up my feet and start acting like a man.

“But I’m not a man,” I say.

“You sure act like a man,” he says. “Impressing women with your baseline knowledge. When will you realize that your logic has limits!”

I tell him about Abbot’s two dimensions and my inability to see the forest through the trees. He counters with a comment about Zen and Reality that sails over my head.

His need to break the world into categories takes place far below the upper strata of thought. Recommend further teaching upon completion of standardized test 35B.

Chicken Guy seems to reconsider. Pushes me away and dances circles around my face with the tip of the gun. “You need to learn that you’re not as smart as you think. That if you’re ever going to grow, ever really going to fit in, you need to start learning.”

He opens the door of the subway car by using the emergency switch and crawls down onto the floor of the tunnel. He keeps the gun pointed at me as long as he can before disappearing into the darkness.

A few people come to my aid. They tell me to sit down until help arrives. I mention something about needing to get to work. The passengers tell me not to worry, that in my line of work, everyone expects a few hiccups. It takes a few minutes until the train starts moving again.

I answer a few questions and provide an accurate and impressive report to the subway police. A few of them ask me for my autograph, which is typical these days with all the press. When one of the cops makes a comment about seeing what I’m made of, I briefly think about flexing. Afterwards, I continue on to work, my wet pants now dry and forgotten.

His efficiency with reports and the access to pertinent details is remarkable—just as planned. His recent good press virtually guarantees continued mass-market appeal.

The sunlight hits me as I exit the subway station and I take in some oxygen. Swirl it around inside and process. The walk to work continues down Fourteenth Street and I stop in to buy a new book. Birkerts’ The Gutenberg Elegies. The woman at the counter smiles a lengthy smile. She’s just my type. I make a mental note to stop in on my way home.

His inability to remember lessons learned will have great impact on his ability to function in society. Though quick with calculations, his detailed analysis and search to understand and navigate the most basic of human desires; sex, knowledge, motivation, ect., will have a lasting impact on his usefulness. If he is to truly be integrated, then more work needs to be done. Recommend improvement to base-level programming upon completion of phase ten.

I get to work. Sit at my desk, and place my bag at my feet. I look across the aisle and see Jenny typing away, deep in thought.

“What are you working on?” I ask.

“Just another test. They think I need to work on basic grooming. My hair isn’t always perfect.”

“I think you look fine, kind of two dimensional, and that’s my thing.”

“Thank you,” she says. “My hair feels good to me. I’m not sure what the problem is. You should plug in.”

She’s right. I reach under my desk, pull out the cable, and plug it into my skin-like receptacle. The upload begins and I briefly see the vision of a skirmish on the subway, the picture of water pooling in my hand, and myself flexing in the mirror. The images race past as they filter into the mainframe and the new programming moves in to take its place. I can taste the excitement of tomorrow on my tongue.

About the author

Chris Tarry is a Canadian musician and fiction writer living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The G.W. Review, PANK, Cell Stories, Paradigm Journal, Opium Magazine, Northville Review, Drunken Boat, Defenestration, Metazen, and others. He makes his living playing bass in New York City, where he's also hard at work on his first novel, The Wedding King of Vermont. He's a three-time Juno Award winner (Canada's top music prize), and has been nominated for the award nine times. You can find him lurking in his own private corner of the internet here: