"Yes, but can he do anything?"
The official-looking man sat back in his official-looking chair behind his official-looking desk and clasped his hands in front of his chest, resting his chin on his raised pointer fingers. Across the desk sat Gavin, along with his mother and father. Gavin glanced down at the "M. Filligan - Ability Analysis Manager" placard announcing the name and job function of the official-looking man currently studying him. M. Filligan was a scrawny, bookish man with thick glasses and very few strands of hair on his head. He gazed at Gavin - his eyes turned to massive globes when seen through his glasses - and frowned, as if he was looking at a particularly-rancid fungus growing on the bottom of his shoe.
Gavin shivered at the thought.
"What do you mean?" asked Gavin's father. "Of course he can do things! He's got a squishy face! Show him again, Gavin!"
Gavin was in no mood to squish his face yet again. Since that first wanna-be beating from Badger, he'd been letting people squish his face on an almost-constant basis and he was getting sick of it. He'd squished his face for his teacher, Ms. Rosetta. He'd squished his face for Assistant Principal McCarthy. He'd squished his face for Principal Nimby. He'd squished his face again for Principal Nimby because she hadn't been wearing her glasses.
Then it was the call home, the squishing his face for various kids while waiting to be picked up. Squishing his face for his mother, who had gasped and almost fainted. Later, when his father had rushed home from work, he'd had to squish his face yet again. This had brought a call to the Superpower Registry Board, followed by a quick drive to the local SRB Chapter, whereupon he'd been forced to squish his face repeatedly for a whole bunch of different people who, for some reason, weren't able to get into the same room at the same time to allow Gavin to only squish his face a single time.
Frankly, Gavin's face was sore.
He still wasn't sure how he felt about his newfound ability. On the one hand, there was no mistaking this for anything other than a superpower. On the other hand, he didn't see how useful his talent would prove to be. Unless he wanted to start boxing or something.
The one thing he did know was that, as a child with a bonafide superpower, he was entitled to switch schools. This was his one-way ticket to Lord Thumbledown's School of Heroics. He could hardly wait.
After convincing everyone at the local Chapter, more calls had been made and Gavin's parents had whisked him off to the State Superpower Registry Headquarters. Now here he was, seated before M. Filligan, waiting for his ticket to the good life to get punched.
He just wished his ticket could get punched without his face being punched.
"I'd rather not, Dad," he stated.
"Oh, come on, Gavin! Mr. Filligan wants to see you squish your-"
M. Filligan raised a hand. "Your son need not demonstrate, Mr. Mallard," he said. "I have seen the reports of his remarkable ability to squish his face like a sponge. My question is, simply, so what?"
The Mallards blinked, not sure they understood what he meant.
"So what?" asked Mr. Mallard. "So what? So it's a superpower! Register him, already!"
"Oh, I've no doubt that the talent your son displays is otherworldly and beyond normal human behavior," agreed M. FIlligan. "I simply don't see how it's a superpower. An ability, certainly, but a superpower?" He shook his head.
"What do you mean it's not a superpower?" asked Gavin, suddenly feeling his dreams of attending the School of Heroics slipping away.
"Our son is special," argued Gavin's mother.
"True, true," agreed M. Filligan. "The question is, just how special is he? So tell me, Gavin. What else can you do?"
"I can..." Gavin paused. What COULD he do? How was having a squishy head in any way helpful? Special, maybe. Unique, certainly. But helpful? Useful? He found himself staring at M. Filligan's placard, not wanting to make eye contact with anyone. "Nothing."
"Look, what does it matter?" asked his father quickly, as if trying to grab the official man's attention before he heard Gavin's confession. "Just register his ability and sign his transfer to the Future school and give us the government-mandated stipend we're owned as a family with a future superhero and we'll be on our way."
"And just how, pray tell, will young Gavin's ability allow him to become a superhero?" asked M. Filligan. "I mean no disrespect, Gavin. I know you must be going through a thousand different emotions. You are quite old to suddenly manifest an ability, as you know, and I would love nothing more than to do as your father asks. However, I don't see the point."
Gavin sank lower in his chair. "The point?" he asked.
"Do not get me wrong. You are an astounding young man. But please explain to me how squishing up your face like a sponge will stop crime or save the world or be anything other than a unique party trick."
"How dare you!" exclaimed Gavin's father. "I've half a mind to report you for this behavior! Our son's ability is more than a party trick! It-"
M. Filligan again raised his hand. "Let the boy speak for himself," he said. "Well, Gavin? What can you do?"
Gavin's face reddened as all eyes waited for him to display something special. Something heroic. Something. Finally, he looked down at his feet and mumbled, "I can get punched in the face."
"Indeed." M. Filligan turned his attention to a pile of papers on his desk and began sorting through them. "I'm afraid, Mr. and Mrs. Mallard, that I am unable to register your son's ability as a superpower. I'm very sorry."
And that was that. Gavin looked at his father to see if there was any fight left in the man, but all he saw was a defeated individual. Turning to his mother, Gavin watched a single tear roll down her cheek. A similar tear came unbidden to his own cheek as he watched his hopes and dreams vanish into thin air.
"So... I'm going back to regular school then?" he asked. He shuddered inwardly at the thought. He could just imagine the bullying he'd get from Badger after manifesting an ability and not being allowed to switch schools. Badger would have a field day. "Back to Brumblefeld High School?"
M. Filligan started, as if shocked. "What? Of course not! Don't be ridiculous." A sudden surge of hope shot through Gavin. Even after all this, he was still going to the School of Heroics? "It may not be a superpower, but it is absolutely a unique ability beyond the normal powers of mankind. No, Gavin. You will not be going back to your old school."
"Does that mean we're getting the stipend?" asked Gavin's father.
"No," answered M. Filligan, crushing the man's hopes. "Stipends are for families of students at Lord Thumbledown's School of Heroics."
Gavin was confused. "But if I'm not going there, and I'm not going back to my old school..."
"You'll be sent to St. Hibbard's Very Special Academy, of course," explained the Ability Analysis Manager. He pulled a pink piece of paper out of a pile and scribbled on it as he spoke. "We can't have you mixing with the non-abilitied. We've learned over time that those who develop abilities that aren't superpowers become targets for bullying when returned to normal schools. However, an education at Lord Thumbledown's School of Heroics is very expensive for the State and we don't take it on lightly. Therefore, a separate school was established to house those who fall somewhere in between. St. Hibbard's Very Special Academy will provide a fine education for your son in an atmosphere free of the mundane and un-abilitied."
He flipped the paper around and slid it across his desk.
"Just sign here."
Gavin watched his father stare at the form, his eyes red and watery. Gavin felt terrible. Not only had he lost his own chance at happiness, his disqualification meant his parents didn't get anything either. He knew they'd never say anything like that, and might not even consciously think it, but deep down, he knew it was the truth.
When his father continued to hesitate, Gavin reached out and put his hand on the man's arm. "It's OK, Dad," he said. "Go ahead."
Mr. Mallard shot a look at his wife, who simply shook her head, not trusting herself to speak. He then turned back to Gavin and patted his son's hand and doing all he could to hide his disappointment. "We're still proud of you, Gavin," he said. "You're still special."
"All of our students at St. Hibbard's Very Special Academy are very special," announced M. Filligan. "It's in the name, after all." He smiled as if he'd told a joke. Nobody smiled back.
"Well, I suppose this is better than nothing, eh Gavin?" said his father, picking up the pen and signing the form.
"Absolutely," answered M. Filligan, even though the question had not been directed to him. "I'll bet you're excited to start at your new school, aren't you, Young Gavin?"
Gavin slowly nodded, because he figured that was what was expected. The truth was, he'd heard about St. Hibbard's Very Special Academy before. But the kids had another name for it.
The School for the Unimpressive.