The story I'm pretty sure you're looking for is "Strength in Numbers" by Expander. It's an old favorite of mine. I don't know if it's available online anywhere still, but I have it saved. Hopefully he wouldn't mind me reposting it here, but he's not been active, as far as I know, for many years.
I may have made some edits, but they would only be minor grammar or spelling errors that I corrected. I have not changed anything that affected the plot or style.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS - By expander
"What do you mean, 'no'?!"
"What you ask is simply not possible."
Joe slumped down in a chair. "Not possible? You're lying."
"I am not." The demon kicked peevishly at the ring of earth that surrounded the spot where he stood.
"This accursed binding spell doesn't just keep me here," -- he looked around at Joe's living room -- "it forces me to obey your commands. If," he said, emphasizing the word, "it is in my power to do so."
Joe rolled his eyes. "Fat lot of good that does me."
He thought of all the hours he'd wasted researching, the money he'd spent on spell books and the mystical herbs and talismans he needed to summon this demon. I might as well have flushed it down the toilet, he thought bitterly. "You can't even make me stronger. You're useless."
The demon looked his summoner up and down -- Joe was pretty average, a little short of six feet tall, reasonably fit but nothing special.
"Perhaps," said the demon, as if the spell was forcing the words out of him, "perhaps you should try rephrasing your request."
"Huh?" said Joe. "You said you couldn't make me stronger."
The demon simply glared at him, refusing to speak until he had to. Joe paced back and forth, thinking. Visitors from other planes were notoriously picky about following the letter of the language, especially when forcibly brought here as Joe had done.
"Is there, uh, some way you can help me get stronger, without actually doing it yourself?"
The demon rolled his eyes. "So finally the idiot sees. Yes. Yes, you moron, I can do that."
"But how--" The demon raised his hand, and a bolt of white light shot from it, striking Joe and enveloping him in a whitish glow. His eyes widened as he realized he was paralyzed, unable to move or speak.
"Silence, human! Do not interrupt me!" The demon paused. "The strength which you desire must grow from something. I can not simply conjure it out of nothing. I can, however, enable you to take it from others."
He dropped his hand, and Joe was released. Joe stood panting for a second as he absorbed this.
"Take it? How does that work?"
"Name one of those silly exercises you humans do to gain strength."
"Um, bench press."
"You know how much you are capable of?"
Joe nodded. 175 pounds was his max -- he'd been stuck there for months. He just didn't have the genetics to grow huge.
"It is simple. With this power, whenever you touch another human, even with just a fingertip, you can drain him of some of his strength. He becomes weaker, and you stronger."
"So, like, I'd bench ten pounds more, and the other guy ten pounds less?"
"I do not know what this 'ten pounds' is, but if it is some measure of strength, then yes. Your whole body would get proportionately stronger, and his weaker."
"How much could I take? What if I tried to take it all?"
The demon simply smiled. "I find myself uncompelled to answer that. Your binding spell must be weakening, human. If you wish to possess this power, I suggest you move quickly."
Joe didn't need any time to consider it. He swallowed his questions and let the demon get on with it.
* * * * * * *
Joe got to the gym before dawn. He was eager to find a "donor" and try out his new power, but was disappointed when he saw he was alone in the weight room. He thought about going out to the cardio area to find someone, but then the door creaked open and someone came in.
"Bingo," thought Joe. The guy was pretty average-looking, nothing special, but he'd do fine as a donor. The guy was up near the front of the room, stretching. Concentrating hard on taking ten pounds of bench press from him, Joe went up towards the dumbbell rack and innocently bumped into the guy. As Joe's hand brushed the guy's arm he felt a little shock, like static electricity.
"Ooops," said Joe, "'scuse me. My fault." His heart was pounding. Had it worked? He didn't feel any different.
"No problem," replied the guy. He rubbed the spot on his arm where he'd been zapped. "It's been so dry around here lately." If there was a difference, the other guy seemed not to notice.
"Yeah, I know," nodded Joe. "Sorry about that."
His mission accomplished, he went back to test out his bench press. He glanced at himself in the mirror. It might have been his imagination, but he thought his chest looked just a little bit thicker. Hoping it wasn't just his imagination, Joe loaded the bar up with 185 pounds -- ten more than he could do before.
"It's show time!" He muttered, sliding under the bar and lifting it off the stanchions. Taking a deep breath, he lowered it to his chest and -- pressed it right back up!
"Excellent!" he murmured to himself. He finished a whole set. It was hard, but doable. The power had worked like a dream. He sat up to rest while he thought.
As far as Joe could tell, the guy hadn't even noticed the loss of ten pounds of his strength. For Joe to get his bench up to 315 – three full plates on a side -- he'd need another 130 pounds. At ten pounds apiece, that was thirteen guys. Joe frowned. That was a lot of "accidentally" brushing up against people. Too much, really -- he'd get a reputation as some kind of serial groper.
Joe watched the guy, still stretching up at the front of the room. He looked to be about Joe's size -- which meant he'd have at least 130 pounds of bench press left to give. What would happen if Joe simply took all he wanted from one guy?
Last night the demon had disappeared abruptly after conferring the power on Joe, before he could ask any more questions. He just didn't know.
The guy kept glancing at his watch. Was he expecting to meet somebody? If I'm gonna do this, thought Joe, I'd better do it fast. Gritting his teeth, Joe jumped up off the bench and moved toward the front of the room.
"Hey, could you give me a hand?" asked Joe, as he walked up.
The guy turned. "Huh?" he asked. Quick as lightning, Joe grabbed the guy's wrist.
Taking everything the man had all might have caused problems. What would it mean for a man to have zero strength? The guy could just collapse into a heap on the floor. Still using bench press as his yardstick, Joe decided he'd leave the guy with a single pound.
Joe sucked in his breath as the stolen strength flooded into him. He could feel new power flowing into his muscles. It was almost overwhelming, but he held on. The other guy struggled, but with him getting weaker and Joe getting stronger, there wasn't much chance of him breaking Joe's grip. After half a minute or so the torrent slowed to a trickle, then stopped. Joe looked at himself in the mirror.
"Holy shit!" he said, in disbelief. He'd grown huge! He'd thought of it as stealing bench press, but of course he'd taken all the guy's strength in proportion. Joe's legs, chest, and arms had all gotten thicker and more heavily muscled.
Joe laughed as he saw what had happened to his unwilling donor. He hadn't collapsed in a heap. He'd simply gotten smaller -- clothes and everything. He was about six times smaller, leaving him just over a foot tall. He dangled helplessly, his entire tiny arm caught in Joe's massive fist.
"What did you do to me?!" the little guy cried.
"Thanks for the extra muscle, dude," rumbled Joe, flexing a bicep that was now 21 inches around. He could feel the increased strength of his muscles. His voice was deep, confident and powerful, a sharp contrast to the little guy's pathetic squeak. "I'll take good care of it."
He dropped the foot-tall man on the floor, then turned towards the mirror and pulled off his t-shirt. As Joe checked out his newly pumped-up form, his shrunken victim ran for it. The guy made it over to the exit but the door handle was too high for him to reach. Joe laughed as he watched the little man jumping wildly, trying desperately to catch hold of the handle.
"Sorry, little dude," said Joe, his heavy footsteps thudding on the rubber-matted floor as he strode over. "This world's not made for guys your size."
His prey ran for it, trying to take cover behind one of the weight machines, but Joe was too big, too strong, and too fast. He shoved the heavy machine aside with a grunt, leaving the little man cornered and exposed. "Gotcha!" said Joe, grabbing the guy. Grinning, he concentrated once more. As Joe drained the last of his strength, the smaller man simply shrank away to nothingness, without leaving a trace.
Joe did a double-take as this happened, but then he smiled broadly. The additional bit of strength, of course, was practically nothing to him, but it was a quick and clean way to get rid of the evidence. Not a moment too soon, either, for seconds later the door to the weight room burst open.
"Sorry I'm late, Dave, my car-- Oh! Um, hello."
"Hi," said Joe.
"Uh, has anyone else been in here this morning? I'm supposed to meet someone here." The guy was wearing an employee nametag that said "Chris". Joe recognized him as one of the personal trainers. He probably had an appointment with the man Joe had just shrunk out of existence. "I figured he'd be here already."
"Nope, haven't seen anyone," lied Joe smoothly.
Chris looked relieved. "Great, thanks. He's probably just running a little late, too."
Nodding, Joe grabbed a pair of heavy dumbbells and started doing curls, delighting in his new strength. Chris stood there for a minute, looking at his watch, before apparently deciding to get in a little exercise himself while he waited. Joe watched him in the mirror as he went back to the bench press stations and loaded up a bar with 225 pounds.
Joe's lips curled upwards into a thin smile. Chris was a big, muscular guy. At 6'4", he was a few inches taller than Joe. Joe was probably a bit stronger now that he possessed the combined power of two men, but Chris was close. He'd clearly been working out for years. Joe watched as he progressed up to 300 pounds on the bar.
"Hey, you want a spot?" called Joe, heading towards the back. "That looks pretty intense."
"Nah, I think I got it," replied Chris, pressing out reps. "Might need one on the next set, though." Joe, still shirtless, walked up and stood at the head of the bench, making ready to grab the bar.
"Haven't seen you around here before," remarked Chris. "Are you a new member?" Steel plates clanked as he finished the last rep and lowered the bar back onto the pins.
"Not really," said Joe, "but you could say I'm a new man!" As Chris let go of the bar, Joe seized his bare wrist.
Even though Joe was prepared for it this time, the sensation of power slamming into him was intense. Chris was a much bigger guy than Joe's first victim had been, and Joe was taking nearly everything. He could feel his limbs growing thicker and heavier. Just for kicks, he left Chris with exactly one ounce of bench-press strength in him. As it turned out, that made him only about five inches tall. Terrified and disoriented, the unfortunate personal trainer babbled incoherently as Joe dropped him onto the padded bench. Then Joe turned for a good look at himself in the mirror.
"Fuck, yeah!" he cried, running a hand across his broad, thick, slab like pec muscles and down hard, chiseled abs. He was definitely taller now. He looked to be a good 6'2", at least. Joe flexed for the mirror, barreling out his massive chest and pumping his mountain-sized biceps. "Awesome!" He grinned at the sight of legs that looked capable of kicking through a brick wall.
Turning back to his victim, Joe swung one massive leg over the bench and sat down heavily. Tiny Chris was just inches from his crotch, caught in the v of his Joe's brawny thighs. Joe grinned as he looked down at the helpless little man. Chris had calmed down enough to figure out that he had shrunk, though of course not why or how. He gaped upwards at Joe's rock-muscled torso, towering like a building over him. He was opening his mouth to say something when Joe suddenly reached down and seized him.
Chris's breath was squeezed out of him, as fingers like steel girders closed around his torso. Only his head stuck out of the huge fist, letting him see Joe's massive sinewy forearm with its granite-crushing strength. Joe could easily have extracted the last ounce of Chris's strength, but he wasn't going to bother. He wanted to try something new. The grin was gone; now Joe's expression was deadly serious.
There was a steely glint in Joe's eye as he squeezed, feeling Chris's fragile little bones break in his fist. He felt a slight warmth seeping between his fingers as the miniaturized man was crushed to pulp in his viselike grip.
"Cool," he purred, opening his hand to reveal the mangled remains of his victim. Only the head was intact. With a tiny cracking sound, Joe crushed the skull between his thumb and forefinger so that nothing was recognizable. "Wasted him with his own strength," he laughed softly, finding that amusing. Then he went to the locker room and flushed the whole mess down the toilet.
As he washed off his hands, he looked at himself in the mirror. His body was awe-inspiring. There was a scale in the locker room. Joe stepped on it and found he was now 310 pounds. He thumped his chest -- it was solid muscle. His bench would be well over six hundred; his squat was probably pushing half a ton. He was probably in world-record territory, strength-wise. And all it had cost was the lives of two men. Joe decided that was a pretty good deal.
He went back to the weight room. His t-shirt was still laying across a bench where he'd left it. "Shit," he chuckled, holding it up. His other clothes had grown with him as his body expanded, but he hadn't been wearing the shirt when he absorbed Chris. It hadn't grown with him the second time. His shorts still fit fine but the shirt was clearly now too small. With a cocky grin, he started to pull it on anyway.
He felt the fabric rip up the back as he tugged it down across his broad, cannonball-sized shoulders. It felt tight as a drum across his chest. Joe took a deep breath and slowly expanded his massive pecs, causing the side seams of the shirt to split wide open. He stuffed his gargantuan arms into the sleeves, blowing each one open with a quick flex. By the time he was done, the shirt wasn't much more than a rag. Huge bulging muscles peeked out through numerous rips and tears. Even the collar had split, unable to contain his thick neck and towering traps. Joe couldn't help laughing as he checked himself out.
"Definitely gotta get some bigger clothes," he chuckled.
The door opened. "Another victim," was Joe's first thought. But the guy that came in was immediately followed by a couple of women. Joe glanced at the clock. It was just after six am. More people were coming in for early workouts; there'd be too many around now. Joe sighed, but it was just as well. Two mysterious disappearances from the same gym were probably enough for one day. It was time to see what this body could do.
Joe spent the next couple of hours in the weight room, having the workout of his life. He wasn't even trying hard; he was just messing around, showing off. Chris had been one of the biggest guys that worked out here, and now Joe possessed more than twice his strength.
He loved sitting down next to some scrawny guy using a 25-lb dumbbell, and casually doing the same exercise with a 100-lb dumbbell like it was nothing special. His powerful, bulging muscles were clearly visible through the gaping holes in his shredded t-shirt. He got open stares of desire from the women and jealousy from the guys, and Joe simply lapped it up.
After the gym Joe headed to the mall. He needed some new clothes --what was left of his t-shirt had disintegrated during his workout; after showering he'd tossed the remaining scraps of cotton into the trash. "Shirt and shoes required," said the sign at the entrance, but Joe strode past it without slowing. A security guard took a couple of steps toward him, but then took another look at the half-naked man's monstrous biceps and fearsome scowl and apparently thought better of it. "Smart move," thought Joe, cracking his knuckles. He wondered what it would feel like to punch someone with this body.
He tried Abercrombie first. The girl at the counter stared openly as Joe, clad only in shorts, picked a short-sleeved shirt off the rack and headed into a dressing room. It was the largest size they had but still Joe could barely get it buttoned over his massive chest. He got it closed, but as soon he took a breath the top button popped off, leaving his pecs half-exposed. "Not bad," he grinned, looking in the mirror, but it was uncomfortably tight.
Joe left the shirt in the dressing room, but he did manage to find some jeans that fit his keg-sized thighs. At the sporting goods store further down the mall he picked up a 4XL t-shirt that was snug but comfortable. His last purchase was a new pair of motorcycle boots. He'd left his old ones at the gym after he'd been unable to pull them on. His feet and calves had grown. It had felt silly riding to the mall in his gym shoes, but they'd grown with him and they were the only shoes that still fit. Now he was properly dressed, though. He looked at himself in the mirror, grinning at the sight of his powerfully- muscled arms hanging out of the form-fitting t-shirt. This was a body he could get used to.
* * * * * * *
By ten o'clock the downtown streets were relatively quiet. Most of the workers had gone home; nighttime traffic was centered in the restaurant district further north. The low rumble of Joe's motorcycle echoed off the empty skyscrapers as he rode around, searching.
The day had been incredible. Joe indulged every exhibitionist fantasy he'd ever had. He'd hit the beach, drawing gasps from onlookers as he stripped down to his boxers to catch a little sun. He'd gone to a couple more gyms, to show off his huge muscles and silently sneer at the puny men all around him. And he'd just cruised around on his bike, occasionally flashing a smile at the women gaping at his incredible body.
As the sun went down, though, Joe began to feel unsatisfied by all the attention. For one thing, lots of guys were still taller than him. 6'2" was an improvement, but it wasn't enough. Joe wanted to simply tower over people. Also, he wasn't definitely the strongest guy on the planet. He was up there, sure, but he wanted to be certain he was number one. Absorbing just one or two more guys would solve both problems, and so Joe began searching for likely victims.
Joe drove slowly down a deserted street, his attention drawn by the two bouncers standing out in front of a nightclub. They were both big, beefy guys, built like power lifters, strong muscles concealed under layers of fat. Joe grinned. Absorbing one of them would have been a good score. If he could get both, that'd be like winning the lottery.
He glanced up and down the street. The club was right at the edge of downtown, a semi-industrial area where office buildings gave way to warehouses. There were quite a few cars parked on the street, but no people in sight. Joe could hear the throbbing bass of the music playing inside the club, but no one was going in or out, no one was waiting to get in. A velvet rope hung across the door. The two security guys looked bored. The black guy was pacing back and forth, smoking a cigarette. The other one was sitting on a stool, slouched against the brick wall. It was hard to tell in the poor light, but Joe could see copper skin and black hair. "Must be a Navajo or somethin'," muttered Joe to himself.
Joe wondered how strong they were. He was bigger than either of them, but he figured the two of them together could take him down. He'd have to be quick. He turned the corner and parked his motorcycle at the curb, then dismounted and walked back towards the club. He cracked his knuckles, grinning with anticipation.
The two guys noticed Joe as he crossed the street heading right towards them. The Indian got up off his stool; the black guy flicked his cigarette to the pavement. The two of them stood shoulder to shoulder, blocking the way to the club's front door.
"Sorry, buddy," said the black guy. "Not open tonight. Private party. Come back tomorrow."
"No problem," smiled Joe, stopping right in front of them. "Just one thing first." His hands came out of nowhere, grabbing for the two bouncers' bare necks.
He caught the black guy. The Indian was a split-second faster, managing to avoid Joe's sudden grab. Unfortunately for him, he blocked the attack by grabbing onto Joe's thick forearm with his bare hands. As soon as skin contacted skin, the contest was as good as over. The guy cried "What the fuck--?" but even as he said it, his voice was noticeably higher-pitched.
"Oh shit," said Joe through clenched teeth as the strength slammed into him like a freight train. Both guys were stronger than he'd guessed. Judging by the feeling he got draining them, they probably benched around 500 pounds apiece. Certainly either one could have wiped the floor with Chris, Joe's second victim from the gym that morning.
Twenty seconds later, all that power belonged to Joe.
The flood quickly slowed to a trickle. When Joe finally broke the connection, the two bouncers were barely four inches tall. The black guy had almost disappeared into Joe's mammoth fist. His legs were all that could be seen of him, kicking frantically at the air. The other guy was clinging helplessly to the hair on Joe's tree-trunk forearm. Joe shook him off, dropping the guy into his waiting palm along with the other tiny bouncer.
Joe had never imagined anything like the strength he felt now. His vast muscles felt like granite wrapped in skin. He pounded a fist into his thick chest, with enough force to kill any ordinary man instantly. The blow was harmless to Joe himself, of course. With a snort, Joe stepped over to the wall of the club and punched it.
The tiny men in his hand watched aghast as the gigantic Joe drove his fist through solid brick. Broken pieces flew everywhere, leaving a ragged hole a foot across. "Excellent," muttered Joe, satisfied.
There was a mischievous grin on Joe's face as he turned to look down at the two tiny men, lying helpless in the palm of his hand.
"You guys must have had to work hard to be so huge," sneered Joe, lifting them up to his chest as he took a deep breath and slowly expanded his warehouse-sized pecs. Immense muscles rippled and bulged through the fabric of his tight T-shirt. "Sure glad I found a shortcut!"
"Now," he said, with an edge in his voice, "it's time to see if you little dudes live up to your name." With that he turned his hand over, dumping the tiny men out of his palm.
From their perspective, the two shrunken men plummeted almost a hundred feet, onto the hard sidewalk. The Indian guy lay still. A trickle of dark blood ran from underneath him, staining the concrete. His partner had landed feet downwards, shattering bones in both legs but surviving, barely. Groaning, he rolled over to look up at Joe, towering over them like a god.
"SHIT," snorted Joe, his voice huge and booming, "YOU GUYS DIDN'T EVEN
BOUNCE ONCE." Massive thigh muscles rippled as he lifted one leg and brought his tall black motorcycle boot down onto the unconscious Indian. The black guy winced at the sickening crunch as Joe crushed his buddy into the concrete like a discarded cigarette. Then the giant turned his cruel gaze to his remaining victim. The guy begged desperately for mercy, but Joe couldn't even hear him. Panic gripped him as he saw the mighty leg start to lift again, and he tried to drag himself across the concrete on his elbows, to escape
from the terrible giant. It was hopeless, of course, and the last thing he heard was Joe's deep laugh as he was plunged into the shadow of a massive boot.
Joe finished grinding the second guy into the pavement, then casually lifted his boot for a good look. "Not bad," he commented. They weren't even identifiable as human -- just stains on the pavement, indistinguishable from countless others.
Joe's attention turned to himself. He was definitely taller now, though it was hard to judge how much. It was only fair: if taking strength from men made them smaller, then Joe himself should be getting bigger. He strode down the street, enjoying the way his unbelievably dense, heavy, powerful arms swung at his sides. He wondered how big he could get.
"Hey buddy, spare a quarter?" A homeless guy stumbled into Joe's path, startling him from his thoughts. Almost automatically Joe's right hand shot out, clamping around the guy's scrawny neck. He wasn't very big, but every little bit helped. Joe figured his bench press was up nearing a ton, now, and this guy might be just what he needed to put him over the top.
The unfortunate bum spluttered as Joe lifted him off the ground like an empty sack. Just as Joe started to drain him, though, he felt a crack in his fist and the guy went limp. "Shit," muttered Joe. Unaccustomed to his own colossal strength, he'd gripped the guy too hard and simply snapped the dude's neck. He tried to drain him anyway, but there was no life there anymore. "Aw, hell," said Joe, disappointed and annoyed. In anger, he squeezed harder, crushing the guy's windpipe and pulverizing a few more vertebrae.
He felt like ripping the weak little fucker limb from limb, but instead Joe carried the body back into an alley and tossed it into a dumpster. He emerged from the alleyway calm and unconcerned, casually dusting off his hands. Oh well, he thought, it wasn't much of a loss. The guy hadn't been that strong to begin with, so he didn't have much for Joe to take. And Joe wasn't at all worried about getting caught. After all, who'd notice one less homeless guy?
Reaching the spot where he'd parked his bike, Joe threw one massive leg over it and kicked it into life. The suspension groaned under his increased weight as he eased himself down onto the seat. Grinning, he roared off down the street.
He'd only gone a few blocks when he heard a siren behind him. "C'mon," he muttered, "it's the middle of the night! That light was barely red!" He pulled over, and the squad car pulled up behind him. The cop sat in his car for a minute, apparently talking on the radio, letting Joe stew. He started to wonder, what if someone had seen him waste that homeless guy after all?
"Step off the motorcycle, sir!" yelled the cop, approaching slowly. Joe got off the bike, standing up to his full, towering height, thrusting out his chest and not-so-subtly tensing the thick gnarled muscles of his bare arms. The cop paused for an instant at the sight of the massive hulking 450lb biker. Seeing this, Joe's lips curled upwards with the barest hint of a grin.
"License and registration, please," said the cop, recovering himself. Joe handed them over.
The cop glanced over the registration, but took more time scrutinizing the license. "This some kinda joke?" he said. "Where'd you get these?"
Joe was confused for just a second before realizing he no longer really resembled the 5'10", 180lb man listed on his driver's license. “Shit,” he thought to himself, “how am I gonna explain this one?”
The cop had stepped back from him, and was now resting his hand on the butt of his holstered gun. "Turn around now, and place your hands on the seat of the bike." Muttering under his breath, Joe complied. He felt the cold touch of handcuffs, which barely fit around his thick wrists.
"You're going to have to come with me down to the station."
Joe nodded, and felt a hand on his arm steering him toward the back seat of the car.
The cop's grip was surprisingly strong -- and for the first time, Joe noticed that the officer was not at all a small man. Not even close to being a superhuman like Joe, of course, but still respectable. Joe's smile returned. Life may have given him a lemon, but he was about to make some lemonade.
"Hey, how tall are you?" asked Joe.
"Six-three," replied the cop, automatically. Then he paused, suspicious. "Why do you want to know?"
"No reason. Just curious." Joe shrugged and grinned. He was at least three inches taller than the officer, which made him at least six and a half feet. Much better, he thought to himself.
Joe squeezed his large frame into the back seat of the cruiser. The officer closed the door and locked it, then got into the driver's seat himself. Joe grinned at the sight of the man's bare neck. Talking on the radio, the officer didn't hear the tiny metallic snap as Joe broke the chain connecting his handcuffs. The first sign of trouble he noticed was Joe's massive right fist smashing through the steel mesh barrier separating the front and back seats.
Draining the cop was easy -- easier than the others had been. It was the first time Joe had been much larger than his victim when he started, and that seemed to make a difference. The whole process took barely five seconds. Joe felt the policeman begin to shrink, felt the man's strength flowing into him, making him even larger and more powerful. It wasn't a lot compared to his already substantial size, but Joe could feel the difference. Joe turned sideways on the back seat and smashed the locked door with his battering-ram legs, blasting it off the car entirely and sending it skittering twenty feet across the pavement.
Climbing out of the back seat, Joe stood up and stretched his newly enlarged muscles. Then he turned back to the car, clamped his viselike hands onto the sill of the open window and ripped the front door off with contemptuous ease.
"Hello there, little man," Joe sneered down at the inch-tall cop he'd left in the front seat. "What do you think you're doing?"
The tiny cop probably didn't notice the extra couple inches of height and fifty pounds of muscle mass he'd unwillingly contributed to Joe. He had, however, figured out by now that he himself had been shrunken. He'd dropped the radio handset on the seat when Joe grabbed him; now the tiny man was desperately trying to call for help. The handset was bigger than he was, though, and he couldn't brace himself well enough to push in the talk button.
"Unit nine-two, unit nine-two, come in!" squawked the radio. "Your transmission was cut off. Repeat!" Joe grinned as he watched the little guy struggle to get some leverage on the cushioned seat.
"Here, lemme help you with that," said Joe. Tossing the car door aside, he reached in and closed one monstrous hand around the radio console, easily snapping it off from where it was mounted on the dash. From the cop's perspective the radio was larger than a car, and he watched, terrified, as Joe closed his huge fingers around it and crushed it easily in one hand. His sinews of his massive forearm flexed as plastic shattered and metal crumpled. The handset went silent. Joe let the handful of ruined electronics slip from his hand, crashing onto the floor of the car. Then he looked at the shrunken officer and grinned.
The cop backed away, but there was no evading the giant's grasp. Joe grabbed him easily, snatching him up from the seat. There was a quick nauseating ride upwards as Joe stood back up, then a sudden thump as the cop found himself abruptly deposited on the roof of the car. There was no where he could escape to, nothing but fatal drops from any edge of the roof. There wasn't even anywhere to hide or take cover from the violent giant.
Joe was by far the strongest man on the planet, by now, and he knew it. He stripped off his t-shirt, tucking it casually into the back of his jeans. On a warm summer night like this, he could go without it. He pounded a fist into his naked chest, noting the thud of superhumanly dense and hard muscle with satisfaction. The policeman, watching from his vantage point just below the level Joe's mountain-sized pecs gaped upwards in awe at the show of raw masculine power.
"MAYBE WE SHOULDN'T ATTRACT SO MUCH ATTENTION," boomed Joe, his overpowering voice nearly deafening the smaller man. "HOW DO YOU TUR N OFF THESE LIGHTS?" Joe leaned in, glancing briefly at the rows of switches and buttons on the center console, before straightening back up. "NEVER MIND, I'LL DO IT MY WAY." He raised his clenched fist and smashed it down on the bar of flashing emergency lights that topped the squad car. The blow struck with astonishing force, not only demolishing the light bar but also snapping the support pillars and crushing the car's roof halfway down into the passenger compartment. The cop was bounced a few inches into the air, then tumbled down into the bottom of the valley Joe's forearm had hammered down into the roof.
"DAMN," said Joe, impressed with himself. "DON'T KNOW MY OWN STRENGTH!"
He pumped his gargantuan bicep a couple of times. Then he reached down and plucked the cop from the crumpled roof. "I'LL BETYOU DON'T LAST LONG." With a stern look on his face Joe grabbed the guy by the legs, one in each hand, and ripped the guy apart.
"Split the little runt right in two," observed Joe, flicking the torn and bloody halves into the car. "That'll teach him to pull me over." He walked over and collected both of the doors he'd torn off the car. His arm and chest muscles rippled as he folded them in two and stuffed them into the front seat. Joe bent down, reaching underneath the car to take hold of the chassis and then stood, raising the two driver's-side wheels off the ground. His immense redwood-sized quad muscles powered up the heavy cruiser with ease. Getting the car up any higher was more of a challenge, though. Joe grunted with the effort, striations standing out on his massive arms and shoulders as he inched the side of the car up, slowly muscling it higher and higher. Finally he reached the tipping point, and with a final mighty heave he rolled the car over. It sliced through a guardrail and fell 15 feet, glass and steel crunching as it crashed upside-down onto the concrete below.
"Awesome," said Joe, stepping to the edge of the overpass and looking down at the battered car laying upside-down in the drainage ditch. His huge muscles were still pumped from the effort of flipping the car. He'd done it, he reflected, but it had been difficult. Clearly, he needed to acquire some more strength.
* * * * * * *
The Power Plant was the city's premiere gym for serious bodybuilders. It was open 24 hours, and was never empty. Even this late on a weeknight, more than a dozen guys could be found working out there. Clay was halfway through a set of shoulder presses when suddenly all the lights went out.
The pounding music stopped as well. It seemed to be a power failure. The weight room lacked windows, but a few battery-powered emergency lights cast a dim, flickering light. Clay finished his set in the dark, listening to clanking iron and the babble of voices as slowly activity in the gym came to a halt.
"Hang on, everyone," called out a voice Clay recognized as the manager's. "I'll go check the circuit breakers. It'll just be a minute." Clay sat back on his bench and relaxed, taking a rest as he waited it out.
A minute passed, then two. Clay heard some minor commotion from one end of the room, down by the squat racks. He peered into the gloom but could see only indeterminate shapes. As he watched, though, a figure appeared, walking toward him. He could see only a silhouette, but that was enough to tell it was a big, broad, muscular guy.
"Evan? Justin? That one of you?" he asked. He knew they'd been down in that end of the room when the lights went out.
"Nope, buddy," replied a deep voice he didn't recognize, "the name's Joe." A chuckle. Evan and Justin are, uh, with me, though."
Clay didn't understand that comment, but stood up as Joe came closer. Then Clay gasped, as he realized just how big a guy Joe was. Clay was six feet even, but bare-chested Joe towered over him by at least eighteen inches -- and every inch was bulging with muscle. Joe was the biggest human being Clay had ever seen. "Jesus Christ, dude," said Clay, "how'd you get so huge?"
"Like this," came the reply, as Joe's shovel-sized hand clamped onto Clay's bare shoulder. He tried to pull away but the giant man's iron grip was too strong. Clay's eyes widened at the strange sensation of having the life sucked out of him, at the sight of the whole room growing around him, but he didn't manage to even get out a word before he too shrunk away to nothing.
Joe chuckled, flexing his biceps. "Another one bites the dust," he said quietly. The larger he got the easier it became to absorb the power of other men. He eyed a couple of guys over at a Smith machine.
* * * * * * *
"Oh shit!" Joe's deep voice echoed in the otherwise silent weight room. He stared at his reflection in the mirror, his enormous muscled body lit only by the buzzing emergency lights. "Oh shit," he repeated. He hadn't meant to grow so much. He didn't want to be a freak. He'd only been thinking of getting stronger, and a gym packed with serious weight lifters seemed perfect for that.
He'd smashed in the electrical junction box on the back of the building. The manager who came out to see what had happened was his first victim. Then he stole inside through the open back door, and began absorbing one guy after another as they stood and waited in the darkened gym. None of them had a clue about what was happening until it was too late. Joe moved from man to man, draining each away to nothingness, growing stronger and more powerful with each one.
However, each man he absorbed was making him larger, too. Not until it was over did Joe notice how big he'd become. Absorbing fifteen or so bodybuilders turned Joe into a towering ten-foot juggernaut.
He reached down and seized an empty barbell. The thick steel bar creaked as he gripped the ends in his large hands and folded it easily in two.
Grinning, he tossed the bent bar aside and looked around. To his right it looked like someone had been doing squats. A towel and a water bottle lay on the ground next to the rack; the bar was still loaded up with nearly 600 pounds. With a grin Joe bent down slightly and grabbed the bar, curling it with a single massive arm. His granite-hard bicep was nearly 50 inches around. Joe pumped the weight easily, like it was a little dumbbell. Maybe being a gigantic freak wasn't so bad after all.
Joe twisted off one of the collars, letting the steel plates on one end clatter to the floor. Then he took the other end of the bar and bent it sharply backwards, locking the remaining plates in place. Cables of muscle flexed in his vast forearms as he gripped the empty end, swinging the bar back and forth, getting the feel of his crude improvised bat. He laughed. "BATTER UP!!" he roared, swinging it into the cinder-block wall.
A sizable section of the wall collapsed into dust as Joe bashed it with his 350-lb steel club. "HOME RUN!" he yelled, ripping the weights out of the wall and taking another swing. Before long he'd demolished half the wall, opening up a hole in the building big enough to drive a truck through (and big enough for a ten-foot bruiser to step through easily). Resting the bar on his shoulder, Joe stepped out outside. The cool night breeze felt good after being in the stuffy, dust-choked air of the wrecked gym. Joe's brawny naked torso rippled as he swung the weighted bar over his head and smashed it down onto a parked car, crushing in the roof of the passenger cabin and sending shattered glass flying. "Awww yeah," he growled, massaging his massive bicep as he surveyed the destruction. He looked down at himself, grinning. Any regrets he had over growing to be ten feet tall were long gone.
"Anyone who thinks I'm a freak better keep it to themselves," he muttered, walking down the dark street, "or I'll fuckin' mutilate 'em." Brick crunched loudly as he drove his fist through the nearest wall, as if to demonstrate how easy it was. He grabbed a streetlight and yanked it from the ground, effortlessly snapping the bolts anchoring it to the concrete. He bent the pole in two before hurtling it javelin-style through the plate-glass window of a shop across the street. Joe laughed. He didn't care how much racket he made now.
"No jail on earth's gonna hold me now," he said to himself, chuckling. Even guns were useless against him – his rock-like muscles were harder and denser and tougher than any armor.
By now it was after two in the morning, and the streets were nearly deserted. A single car waited for the light at the next intersection. Savagely ripping the pole from the concrete, Joe sent the traffic light crashing to the pavement in the middle of the intersection. He laughed at the expression on the shocked driver's face as he stepped in front of the car, its headlights illuminating his towering half-naked form. The driver looked stunned as Joe came closer, his muscles flexing ominously. Suddenly his trance was broken and he hit the gas pedal -- but by then it was too late.
The combined strength of the twenty or so strong men he'd absorbed was more than enough to lift the little car. Joe raised the car up to about a 45-degree tilt. The engine screamed as it spun the front wheels uselessly. Grinning broadly, Joe began to do curls with the car, pumping it up and down. His gargantuan biceps pulsed with raw power. He looked in through the windshield, locking stares with the guy inside as he continued to curl the car. The terrified driver jumped out and ran for it.
"Oh goody, a chase," murmured Joe, sounding mildly amused. Shocks crunched and glass cracked as he abruptly dropped the car. It wasn't much of a contest. His massive legs pumping like pistons, Joe chewed up the distance between them with ten-foot strides. Joe caught the guy in less than half a block, clamping a huge hand onto his shoulder and hauling him effortlessly into the air.
"Where're ya goin', bud?" asked the giant, spinning his captive around to face him. He dangled helplessly as Joe clenched his free hand into a fist like a cannonball and punched him in the stomach. "You're not gettin' away that easily," snarled Joe as he carried the injured man back to the car. Joe felt like showing off a little, and for that he needed an audience.
Internal injuries from Joe's brutal gut-busting punch would probably keep him from going anywhere, but Joe wanted to be sure. He grabbed the poor man's leg and broke it one-handed, snapping the guy's thigh bone like a pencil before hurling him to the c concrete. Joe rolled him over with his boot so he faced up. He was moaning with pain but still conscious.
"Now, little dude, watch this!" grinned Joe, bending down toward the car. Hooking one hand underneath the driver's-side door, he lifted two wheels off the ground, in order to grab hold of the exposed frame underneath. His broad, bare back exploded with knots
of hard muscle as he dropped into a squatting position, getting his weight under the car, lifting it off the ground completely and powering it into the air.
Holding the car high above his head, Joe slowly turned around to face the beaten driver.
"Is this awesome or what?" he laughed, dropping the car to his chest and pressing it back up. "Ever see a guy military press a whole fucking car?" He did ten reps with the car -- its 2,000 pound weight no match for his huge, thick pecs. He'd never felt so pumped before. "That's enough of that," he muttered, lowering the car to his chest one last time and heaving it aside with a grunt. The car flew fifteen feet, crashing down onto another parked car and demolishing them both. "Bullseye!" shouted Joe, as the echoes of shattering glass and crunching steel died out.
"What'd you think of that?" asked Joe, bending down over the car's owner and grabbing him by the neck. "Pretty cool, huh?" The man dangled helplessly in Joe's grip, his feet a yard from the ground. "Hey, feel this muscle!" Joe grabbed one of the guy's hands and pressed it into his chest. "It's like fuckin' granite!" said Joe proudly, bouncing his pecs. The man's hand looked pitifully small against the broad, hairy expanse of hard, flexing muscle. "Bet you can't wait to be a part of it!"
The man's expression became even more bewildered as Joe began to drain his strength. Joe could have emptied the guy in a second, but he was doing it slowly, enjoying the sensation of the man shrinking in his hand. Joe stopped when the guy was down to just a few inches tall. Joe's strength was already so vast compared to his victim's that he could hardly feel the increase. "Shit, man, you're hardly worth the trouble," said Joe disgustedly. He didn't even bother with taking the last few ounces; he simply bent down and smashed the tiny man is his hand against the pavement.
He flung the mess aside. Striding over to another parked car, Joe casually punched out the window so he could wipe his hands off on the upholstery. Violence was becoming second nature to Joe. He reflected on his situation. He wasn't going to find anyone even close to his size any more. If he wanted to make big gains – and he did -- he'd have to find more groups of men to drain. The gym had been a good start, but now it was empty. Where could he find a bunch of strong guys? Maybe a construction site, once the sun was up, or a firehouse.
Joe walked slowly down the street, thinking hard. He passed the wreck of the car he'd hurled. "I can't believe how goddamn strong I am," he said, in wonderment. He lifted his arms and flexed his immense guns.
He dropped the pose, chuckling to himself as he continued walking. Then he stopped and looked back at the wrecked cars. "Military press, huh?" he muttered. His smile widened as he resumed walking down the street.
"Gonna need some wheels if I wanna get there soon," he muttered, looking around at the parked cars. Half a block away he spotted a heavy-duty pickup. "That'll do," he said, jogging over to it. "Just needs to be a bit roomier."
Joe shattered the windshield with one blow from his large fist, then grabbed hold of the truck's roof and began to peel it back. The roof pillars buckled and snapped as Joe's terrible strength easily overcame Detroit steel. Tossing the crumpled roof aside, Joe reached in and tore out the front seats. "That's better," he said, climbing in. The truck's shocks sagged a bit under his weight as he sat on what had until recently been the truck's back seat. Joe popped the plastic cover off the steering column and twisted a couple of wires together. The engine roared into life. Joe pulled out, heading for the freeway. The truck felt oddly small to him, like he was driving a kiddie car at the amusement park. But it would do. It would get him where he needed to go.
* * * * * * *
"What was that?"
"I didn't hear anything."
"It sounded like it was coming from the C barracks. Sounded like a crash or something."
Lopez listened closely. "I still don't hear anything."
"I don't hear it any more, either. But I'd swear there was something."
His partner shrugged. "Well, let's check it out. Should be lights out in there. Maybe someone coming back from an unauthorized excursion."
The two men entered through the front door. The barracks was a long, low, narrow brick building. Sgt. Lopez made a pass through the dark bathroom while Sgt. Egan checked out the storage room.
"Nah, no one in here."
"He's probably in the back. Someone probably walked into a footlocker in the dark." Egan nodded -- it would hardly be the first time they'd found some half-drunk soldier trying to sneak back into bed after an unauthorized night on the town.
The two military policemen got out their flashlights as they pushed open the creaking double doors into the main hall. The long room was lined with bunk beds, twenty on each side of the center aisle. Eighty men in all called this room home.
"Awful quiet in here."
"Too quiet. I never seen a barracks where no one snored."
"This bunk's empty." Lopez had moved closer to one of the bunk beds, playing his flashlight over it. On both top and bottom the blankets were rumpled but no one was there. The next one was exactly the same way.
"Shit, are they all empty?" They moved down the row, checking them all. Not one was occupied.
"Never seen a whole company take off like this before. Must be a hell of a party."
"How do 80 men get off the base right under our nose? The colonel's gonna have our asses on a platter." They weren't bothering to whisper anymore.
"Look at that!" They'd reached the back of the room. Where the back door had been there was only a gaping hole. Even the door frame had been torn out, along with a section of wall that extended nearly up to the ceiling.
"It looks like someone drove a truck in though that wall."
"Not in, out. Look." The sergeant pointed at the ground. Shattered masonry had sprayed outwards in all directions, as though the wall had been blown out by on explosion.
"What the fuck could have done that?"
"I don't know, man. We should check to see if anyone's out back." Safeties clicked off as the two soldiers drew their revolvers. Slowly the men crept through the shattered doorway into the alley behind. Neither one was prepared for what they found.
They emerged from the barracks to find themselves face-to-face – or face-to-leg, rather -- with a twenty-foot, seven-ton muscle monster. Joe had heard them coming; he'd obviously been waiting for them. His lips curled upwards in a smile as he slowly uncrossed his massive arms, revealing his colossal muscular chest. The two MPs stood there stunned, their guns dangling all but forgotten at their sides.
A lightning-fast kick from one of Joe's immense boots sent both men flying. Lopez slammed into the wall of an adjacent building and collapsed in a heap, unconscious. Joe bent down and grabbed him, almost encircling his torso with one huge hand. The 6'3" soldier flopped like a rag doll in Joe's grip. "Good, he's still alive," rumbled the huge man. "Wouldn't want to waste a big guy like this." He shrank away to nothing in under a second as Joe drained him of his strength.
Egan, lying sprawled on the ground, watched his buddy simply disappear into the giant's hand. His eyes widened. "Where'd he go? What'd you do to him?" he yelled.
Joe turned toward him, a menacing smirk on his face. "Same thing I'm gonna do to you," he snarled, advanced on the smaller man. He got to his feet but Joe knocked him down again, and then planted a yard-long boot right on his chest. "Or maybe I'll just crush you like a bug." Egan started to scream, but Joe cut him off by pressing down harder, crushing all the air out of his lungs.
Just as he was about to black out, the boot lifted off him and he was able to suck in a huge lungful of air. He tried to get up but the stabbing chest pains from his broken ribs kept him from moving much. The last thing he saw was Joe's immense hand reaching
down towards his neck, and then he was gone.
"Well, that was fun," said Joe, straightening up to his full towering height and barreling out his massive chest. He glanced around; it didn't look like any alarms had been raised yet. With luck, he'd be able to empty out another barracks or two before anyone woke up.
* * * * * * *
The first couple buildings had been easy – quietly squeezing his large frame in through the door, then moving from bunk to bunk absorbing men whole. All it took was Joe's fingertip on a bit of exposed skin -- an outstretched hand, a bare foot -- and the victim disappeared silently. None of them even woke up. As he grew larger, Joe was forced to change his tactics. By the time he reached the last building he was too large to even
fit inside, let alone get through the door. There was no way he'd be able to enter without waking everyone up. "Guess I'll just have to wake everyone up, then," he muttered, grinning.
Finding an unattended jeep, Joe picked it up like a toy and set it down on its side in front of the barracks. With the front door blocked, Joe went around to the back and smashed through the wall with both fists.
"RISE AND SHINE, MEN!" he bellowed.
Chaos reigned as the roomful of men was jerked awake from deep sleep. The room was dark and choked with dust from the demolished brick wall. Joe waded in, grabbing all the men he could get his hands on. His power acted like a giant vacuum cleaner, draining men completely before he could even close his grip on them. As soon as their skin brushed his, they were gone, their strength absorbed into Joe. He advanced down the room on his hands and knees, knocking aside one empty bunk after another, feeding the panic in the dimly lit room. By the time he'd finished off the last man, Joe weighed over 36 tons. He stood up to his full 35-foot height, punching up through the roof like
it was rice paper. Now the alarm had definitely been raised; Joe could hear a few sirens wailing. He turned to one side and bulldozed his way out of the waist-high building.
He stopped to consider. No man on earth could stand up to him now, but artillery was another matter. The eastern horizon was pinkish-yellow; the sun was about to rise. He probably didn't want to be caught on the base in the daylight. It was time to head back to the city.
* * * * * * *
The front wall of the coffee shop exploded as Joe drove his massive wrecking-ball fist in through it. Even down on one knee, he couldn't see into the ground-floor shop, but he could hear the people inside screaming as he rammed his sinewy arm deep inside, sweeping it back and forth, smashing up the interior of the shop. He felt the little droplets of strength flowing into him as one by one the people caught inside brushed up against his huge bare arm and were instantly absorbed.
When he heard no more voices coming from within the shop, Joe bashed through a couple of support pillars and laughed as the three-story building collapsed, the two floors of apartments above the shop breaking apart as they fell. There were probably people in there too, he knew, but it wasn't worth the trouble just to catch one or two more. Brushing the dust from his arms and chest, Joe got back to his feet and continued moving down the street.
Behind him Joe left a broad trail of destruction: collapsed buildings, crushed and overturned cars, small fires from downed electrical lines. By the time he'd gotten back from his visit to the army base – on foot, since nothing short of a semi could carry him now -- it was past nine in the morning. The sun was up. He couldn't hide in the darkness any longer. But that suited Joe just fine. He was too big for the police to stop any more. He was ready to come out and play.
A police car came screaming around the corner, its tires squealing as it stopped. Joe grinned. He finished draining the two people he was holding, kicking their mangled car carelessly aside as he turned to face the cop. Since leaving the army base Joe had grown a few feet, added another 10 tons or so to his colossal brawny frame. He stared down at the doll-sized cop, thrusting out his mountainous chest and flexing his massive arms.
"YOU WANNA TAKE A SHOT AT ME?" he roared, pounding his mighty chest.
"LET'S SEE WHAT YA GOT, BUG."
Crouched down behind the door of his cruiser, the cop opened fire. There was no way to miss a target as big and broad as Joe, but the slugs just bounced off his armored muscles. "HEY, THAT KINDA TICKLES," he sneered. Then his expression darkened. "SERIOUSLY, MAN, THAT LITTLE GUN AIN'T GONNA DO SHIT TO ME." The earth shook ominously as he took a step towards the car, his weight cracking the pavement under his boot. The cop dived back into the car and threw it into reverse just as Joe lifted his boot to crush it.
The cop opened his eyes to find a huge wall of black leather filling his vision. The car had backed up just enough to get the driver out from under Joe's foot, but the front end of the cruiser wasn't so fortunate. Joe's powerful leg muscles and immense weight had pancaked the engine, missing the passenger compartment by mere inches.
Joe was unfazed. "HAVE IT YOUR WAY," he boomed, shrugging his broad shoulders as he reached down to tear open the car's roof and pull the stunned officer out. He didn't even bother absorbing the guy, just snapped him in two. He laughed as he clenched the cop in his fist, feeling more bones break. Then Joe turned and whipped the guy into the front of a building, splattering him all over the bricks.
"Well done," said a familiar voice from behind him as Joe admired his handiwork. Joe spun around to see who was talking. "Turning him into abstract art was a nice touch."
It was the demon who'd given Joe the strength-absorbing power, not even 36 hours ago. He was standing on the roof of a building – about eye-level with Joe -- watching the proceedings with a smile on his face. "And I have to admire your technique for taking on that city bus a couple blocks back."
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?" snarled Joe, kicking an abandoned van out of his way as he crossed the street to face the demon. "Just checking on your progress. I knew that making you absorb strength from other men would be the best way to train you. My master will be so pleased."
"WHAT?" roared Joe, driving his fist into a third-floor apartment in anger. "YOU DIDN'T TRAIN ME TO DO ANYTHING!"
"Oh, but I did, you see. Merely giving you the strength you demanded wouldn't have done anything. I had to teach you to enjoy taking it."
"YOU WHAT?!?" Joe was incensed at finding out he'd been manipulated. He unloaded his rage on a neighboring building, which stood only a couple of his destructive blows before disintegrating.
"Surely you didn't think that childish binding spell forced me to do your bidding?" The demon laughed harshly. "It was a golden opportunity. I exist to produce chaos. Look what a good job I've done." He indicated the demolished buildings, destroyed cars, and fleeing people with a sweep of his arm. "I'll be the employee of the month."
Joe just stood there, seething.
"Cheer up, Joe, what's wrong? We both got what we wanted, didn't we?"
"NOT QUITE," growled Joe.
Joe grabbed the demon, wrapping one huge hand around the man-sized creature. "I COULD STAND TO BE A BIT BIGGER." The demon's sneer turned to a look of horror as he felt strength flowing out of him.
"What are you doing?! Stop that! You can't do that!" But Joe wasn't listening. He was busy growing.
The chaos demon was an ancient and powerful one. Joe closed his eyes, feeling the strength rushing into his body, forcing it to become larger and larger with each passing second. The demon shrieked and struggled but Joe held on. It seemed an eternity before the torrent began to taper off. It became little more than a trickle, and the demon's cries died out. Joe opened his eyes and looked down into his hand. No trace remained of his victim. Then he noticed the ground.
"OH MY GOD," he said.
Joe was over three hundred and fifty feet tall.
He dropped down to a squat, but even so he loomed over the little neighborhood, huge and massive. He reached down and picked up a parked car, staring at it in wonder as he turned the three-inch vehicle over in his fingers. "OH MY GOD," he repeated, but his expression had gone from shock to a smile. He grinned wider as he crushed the little car easily between his thumb and forefinger. "AWESOME," he rumbled, grinning as he rubbed his massive bulging bicep muscle.
He looked down. Buildings on both sides of the street had been bulldozed to rubble by his boots as he'd grown. Joe pulverized a few more that had avoided destruction so far, smashing them to bits with his house-sized fists.
Joe got back to his feet. Everything on this block had been leveled; there was nothing left. He looked around. From his 35th-story vantage point Joe could see for miles. Less than a mile away he could see a cluster of mid-rise office towers. “That looks like fun,” thought
Joe, setting off towards them.
Every step he took spelled destruction and death for the people cowering at his feet. His first step came down in the middle of a crowded street. When he put his boot down, a dozen vehicles crunched instantly under the massive treads. Still more were bounced around, tossed like toys by the shock wave. As Joe shifted his weight forward, his boot sank into a crater, which quickly began to fill with water from the broken main underneath. Joe moved slowly, deliberately choosing his steps so as to inflict maximum damage.
All around him terrified inch-high people were fleeing in every direction. To Joe it seemed like an all-you-can-eat buffet. He stopped, knocking down a few buildings and bulldozing the rubble into the street to block it off. He stepped lightly to the other end of the block, walling it off with his boots. Now he had a few dozen people trapped. Squatting down, he began to corral them with his hands, scooping them up so he could absorb them.
It didn't work very well. Getting the struggling people into his palm wasn't as easy as he'd hoped; half of them got caught between Joe's huge hand and the pavement and were simply ground to pulp. Of the ones he managed to scoop up, most just lay still, their tiny bodies bent and twisted awkwardly. That wasn't a good sign -- he needed them to be alive. Joe was only able to draw the strength of about ten of them -- hardly worth the effort. "GUESS THIS IS ABOUT AS BIG AS I GET," he snorted, disgusted. He stood there for a second, peevishly kicking a few buildings apart, before angrily resuming his rampage.
Joe smashed his way across a few blocks of homes and onto another business-lined street, where another city bus caught his eye. He chuckled. The last one he took on had been nearly as long as he was tall, but this one seemed only about eight inches. He reached down and grabbed it effortlessly with one hand.
There were people inside it. "SHIT, GUYS," he boomed at them, "DIDN'T YOU THINK TO RUN FOR IT? YOU THINK THIS BUS IS GONNA PROTECT YOU?" With a derisive snort Joe lowered the bus to his chest and rammed it -- relatively gently -- into one of his massive hairy pecs. The metal skin of the bus crumpled as it struck the unyielding wall of muscle.
Joe hammered the bus against his anvil-hard chest a few times, laughing at the screams of his helpless victims. Joe stopped, then grabbed hold of the battered bus's roof and tore it off like tinfoil. He looked down at the fearful little people. "OR MAYBE YOU JUST WANNA GET IN ON THE ACTION." He tipped the bus over, dumping out some of its passengers into his waiting hand.
Then something strange happened. Joe had hoped to be able to absorb the people the instant they touched his palm. He watched them fall, screaming, wanting them to land feet-first so they wouldn't snap their necks before he got a chance to drain them. Instead of striking his palm, however, they simply disappeared in midair.
"WHAT THE FUCK?" muttered Joe, pissed that he couldn't absorb more strength from them. He tipped a few more out of the bus, but the same thing happened -- they disappeared before they could touch him. "HEY, WAIT A MINUTE," said Joe, suspicious. Concentrating hard, Joe shook a single man from the bus. The poor man fell towards the giant's waiting hand.
He felt the man's strength being added to his own as the tiny guy disappeared. It was no more than a drop in a swimming pool -- but Joe had definitely felt it. "COOL!" roared the gigantic man. He emptied the bus over his palm, feeling the little surges of power as his victims vanished. He was draining people without touching them! Maybe it was absorbing the demon that had changed the nature of his ability, or maybe it was simply growing so overpoweringly huge. Joe didn't really care about the reason. It seemed he no
longer needed physical contact to someone, he just needed to get close!
Wadding the empty wreck of the bus into a ball, Joe tossed it aside and squatted down. Dozens of people were within arms reach. They screamed as they saw Joe's enormous hand coming down toward them, thinking he was about to strike them. He didn't crush them, though -- instead they were absorbed before the hand got close enough to touch them. Joe methodically swept the street, twenty or thirty feet off the ground, his huge hands working like chalkboard erasers, clearing the street of every last person while leaving everything else intact.
In just seconds Joe had turned the street into an eerie ghost town. He stopped and looked at his hands in wonder. He hadn't absorbed enough people to make much of a difference in his size yet, but it was definitely an interesting development. "EXCELLENT," he murmured, clenching his thick fingers into a fist and watching the sinews of his massive forearm ripple.
He rose back up to his feet. "NOTHIN' LEFT FOR ME HERE," he boomed, looking down at the deserted street. The ghost town was quickly reduced to rubble as Joe started stomping the buildings on either side of the street and crushing abandoned cars like soda cans. When he finished leveling the neighborhood, Joe looked around for where to go next. "SOMEWHERE WITH A LOTTA PEOPLE," he muttered. The office buildings he'd been headed for before caught his eye again. They weren't exactly skyscrapers, but they were the biggest structures out in the suburbs where Joe was. "YEAH," said Joe, not even noticing the house demolished by his boot as he turned around, "I GUESS THOSE'LL DO."
Buildings and vehicles were smashed aside like toys as the determined giant made his way towards his target. It was midmorning on a weekday; the place should have been filled with office workers. Hopefully they hadn't all fled, thought Joe as he reached the first tower. Just in case, he started at the bottom of the chest-high structure. It was about as wide as Joe's waist. He held his hands on either side, grinning as he sucked up the people inside like dust in a vacuum cleaner. He could feel their combined strength flowing into his body. He moved his hands slowly up the sides of the building, leaving one floor after another deserted, with no trace of the occupants.
Inside the building it was chaos. Those on the upper floors had no idea what was going on. They could look out the windows and see the broad, massive chest and abs of the colossus squatting down besides their building. They could see his brawny arms reaching down towards the base of the structure, but couldn't see what he was doing. His thick bicep and forearm muscles looked like they could do heavy damage -- not to the path of destruction Joe had carved through the neighborhoods behind him -- but once he stopped walking the building didn't even shake. The phone lines out were jammed, as were the doorways to the emergency stairwells.
On the lower levels things were different. People were momentarily distracted from the sight of Joe's huge hands outside their windows by the sight of their friends and colleagues shrinking away to nothing before their eyes. Those near the windows – closest to Joe's skin -- disappeared almost instantly. For those closer to the center of the structure it took a little longer, but no one could escape. The power emanating from Joe's hands was inexorable; even the biggest men caught inside shrunk away to oblivion in seconds.
It didn't take Joe long to reach the top, leaving the interior of the 25-story structure completely devoid of people. He had raised his fist, ready to smash the empty building to pieces, when he glanced down and noticed something. People were fleeing the other three office towers. "SHIT," said Joe. He wanted the buildings packed with people. He needed to convince them to stay inside. They couldn't see into the building he'd emptied, couldn't see that all the people had disappeared. As far as they knew, everyone in the first building was still safe.
Setting his pride aside for a moment, Joe decided to preserve that illusion. He raised his fist and hammered it down on the building's roof, making it look as impressive as he could while actually giving the structure no more than a tap. The building's frame shook and a few windows popped out, but it held. "FUCKING HELL," muttered Joe, trying to sound angry and a little embarrassed. He struck the building again -- another carefully staged blow. He glanced down. It seemed to be working -- the outward flow of people had stopped. A few had were even running back inside, but most had simply stopped to stare up at the giant trying and failing to destroy the building.
"THIS OUGHTA DO IT," boomed Joe, wondering if anyone down below was buying it. He drew back his fist and punched the front of the building straight on. He pulled his punch, of course, but it was still an impressive sight as his big hairy knuckles shattered scores of windows, sending broken glass raining to the plaza below. It looked as though the steel skeleton of the building, though now exposed where he broken off the glass exterior, had withstood a direct blow from the giant.
Joe fought to suppress a smile. Out of the corner of his eye he could see little people now crowding around the entrances to the other buildings, fighting to get back in. It looked like his plan was working. Of course it was ridiculous -- anyone with half a brain could see that the steel beams were barely thicker than paper clips to Joe. His massive thighs alone were nearly as thick as the building; it should have been obvious that he could pound the structure to dust without breaking a sweat. But the people were too scared to be rational, so desperate they would grasp at any hope of safety.
Figuring he could get even more people to pack into the three office buildings, Joe put on his best disgusted sour-grapes act. "NO PROBLEM," with a hint of petulance in his thunderous voice, "I CAN STILL FLATTEN EVERYTHING ELSE AROUND HERE."
He stomped away from the four office towers, crushing one smaller building after another beneath his mighty boots. People got the message right away -- nowhere but the big buildings of the office complex were safe. From all around they emerged from the homes and shops, running to safety. Joe stomped around a lot and made a lot of noise and mayhem, but generally did his best not to kill too many – he wanted them alive.
Sometimes when a cluster of people needed encouragement he'd reach down and crush a few with his fingers, just to get the rest moving in the right direction. He bulldozed whole blocks with his feet, closing off streets so as to funnel fleeing people towards the office complex.
After 15 minutes or so of this, the crowds in the streets were starting to thin out. Joe decided it was time to cash in. He strode directly over to the office buildings. He stood there, grinning, wondering just how many people he'd gotten to pack themselves inside.
"HEY, YOU GUYS WANNA SEE SOMETHING REALLY COOL?" he boomed with a sneer.
Joe was standing next to the first building, the one he'd already emptied. The top had been damaged a little by his fake blows, but it was still mostly intact. That is, until Joe shoved his huge super strong fingers in through the roof, easily piercing through one concrete floor after another. Then he closed his hand, turning a large section of the building's top floors into a handful of pulverized rubble.
"MAN, I WISH I COULD SEE THE LOOKS ON YOUR FACES," chuckled Joe, as he ringed the base of each remaining building with rubble, shoving tons of it against each of the entrances to prevent anybody from getting out. Inside the offices disbelief was turning to panic as the refuge the people thought they'd reached was suddenly revealed as a trap.
The ground trembled and the towers swayed as Joe stepped up to the first one. "DON'T WORRY," he said, holding his hands up next to the top floor, "THIS'LL ONLY TAKE A SECOND."
This time, with no chance of his victims escaping, he started at the top and worked his way down. He was expecting the lower floors to be more packed with all the people who'd fled from the smaller buildings all around, and he wanted to save that part for last.
He wasn't disappointed. At about the tenth floor the amount of strength he was drawing began to multiply. He had to slow down a bit to get it all as he moved his hands slowly downwards. "OH JESUS," he muttered through clenched teeth, feeling the power flowing into his muscles like electric current, energizing and enlarging his whole body. He could almost see the structure shrink before his eyes. And that was just the first of three.
The third and fourth buildings went just the same way. When it was all over, Joe stood up slowly. He wasn't sure just how gigantic he'd become. He knew he was bigger, but he still wasn't prepared for the experience of being five hundred and fifty feet tall.
There was a broad grin on his face as Joe looked down at his titanically muscled body, towering huge and strong over the fragile little structures of the city. He looked down at the office complex he'd just entered -- the buildings that seconds ago had come up to his chest now barely reached his waist. One of the four buildings exploded in a cloud of flying debris as Joe stepped forward and rammed one mighty leg into it. The basement levels were instantly pan-caked as Joe's massive boot came down on the foundations.
Taking a deep breath, Joe blew away the cloud of dust, leaving a landscape covered in jagged concrete and twisted steel beams. "AWESOME," he rumbled, bending down to drive the next two towers into the ground with a colossal one-two punch combination. The final building he destroyed by simply kicking the first few floors out from underneath it, grinning as the suddenly unsupported upper stories fell to one side, smashing themselves apart on the ground.
The destruction of the office complex, essentially the last things standing in this whole suburban neighborhood, was complete. Joe chuckled to himself as he brushed some of the dust from his vast sinewy forearms. "OKAY," he rumbled, his expression suddenly serious, "ENOUGH SCREWIN' AROUND. NOW IT'S TIME TO GET *REALLY* BIG!" And with that he set off toward the center of the city.
Small businesses and homes crunched under Joe's boots as he plowed arrogantly though one block after another. A couple of times he tried using his power as he walked -- just having his foot swing overhead was enough to absorb the people in the houses below. Joe could feel the miniscule droplets of strength he got from this technique, but it wasn't enough to make much of a difference. Absorbing them a few at a time wasn't very effective; he grow more quickly when he absorbed a whole crowd at once. But people were scattered too thinly out here for that, so Joe stopped bothering. He turned off the power, preferring instead to simply waste the people in the buildings he stepped on. It amused him to imagine their terror as his boot came crashing down through their ceiling, blowing out the walls a split-second before a hundred and fifty thousand tons of muscle and bone crushed them and everything around them into the ground.
Joe's huge strides carried him quickly towards the glass and steel skyscrapers of downtown. He was eager to get there and grow some more, but then something else caught his eye, a freight train, crawling slowly along some tracks just ahead of him. He probably wouldn't have noticed it at all but for the fact that it was almost exactly HO scale, just like the electric trains he'd had as a kid.
Grinning, Joe reached down and seized the lead locomotive, halting its forward motion instantly. Though it had seemed slow to Joe, the train had actually been moving at a fair clip, and the momentum of the cars carried them forward, causing them to jackknife and derail. Joe watched with amusement as the boxcars piled up, ending up scattered like straw pointing every which way all along the track. The diesel engine he grabbed was about ten inches long. He twisted it free of its coupling and brought it up for a closer look. The thing weighed only a few ounces, and felt flimsy in his mighty hands. "JUST LIKE I REMEMBER," laughed Joe, turning it over to look at the bottom. When he was finished examining it, Joe snapped it in two and squeezed the two halves together in his fist, feeling the big diesel crunch like an empty beer can.
He moved down the tracks, mashing the cars into the ground with his boots. The violence of his stomping was enough to collapse nearby buildings. When he was done, Joe stood and surveyed the damage. It was impressive, to say the least. "AWESOME," he declared. No doubt it would be even better when he was bigger. Tossing the destroyed locomotive away, Joe resumed his trek towards downtown.
Joe thought he might have to put on another show for the little people, convincing them that he wasn't strong enough to take on the city's largest buildings. As it turned out, that wasn't necessary. As he approached Joe could see throngs of desperate people all trying to make it into the dozen or so buildings that were taller than the gigantic man. Those at least seemed safer than the smaller calf- and thigh-high structures that Joe was nonchalantly bulldozing his way through, his feet and legs knocking them aside like sand castles at the beach. Joe made a slow loop around the center of town, plowing through one city block after another. Then he stopped and turned to face the skyscrapers, hooking his thumbs through the belt loops of his jeans and barreling out his chest. The wide grin on his face as he flexed his massive pecs made the people in even the largest building doubt whether they were safe. But it was too late for anyone to change their mind -- the streets below were impassable, every route out blocked by rubble and abandoned vehicles.
The tallest building was about twice Joe's height. The shortest one came up to about his forehead. This was the one he approached first. It wasn't as packed as the others -- most people had sought refuge in the largest structures -- but Joe could see plenty of victims inside. They hastily backed away from the windows as Joe walked up. He stopped just inches from the front of the building, his mountainous pecs almost brushing the outside surface. He wasn't going to drain this one floor-by-floor like he had before. He knew
that for some reason he grew faster the more people he absorbed at once. He planned to take the whole damn building in one shot.
He positioned himself carefully, trying to get as much of the building as possible close to his body. He planted his feet on either side of it, bending his knees slightly to sandwich the lower half of the building between his awesome legs. He wrapped his muscled arms around the upper half, as if he was about to give the whole tower a hug. He took a deep breath, and began to draw.
The feeling of all that strength entering his body at once was not unlike being struck on the head with a hammer. Every muscle in his body tensed, causing Joe to involuntarily crush the whole structure against his torso. The building disintegrated, but by then it was empty. He'd done it -- drained all the people in it at once. Joe staggered a couple of steps back, narrowly missing another skyscraper as he came down off the incredible high.
After catching his breath, Joe looked down at himself, then at some of the nearby skyscrapers. In just seconds he'd grown by over 50 feet, passing the 600-foot mark. "EXCELLENT!" he roared. He strutted arrogantly over to the next shortest building. A minute ago, it'd been taller than Joe, but now they were about even. He lifted his gigantic arms and flexed, showing off for the tiny people trapped inside.
"FEEL LIKE TAKING ON ON THESE BAD BOYS?" he boomed, pumping his guns. The building trembled and swayed as Joe bumped up against it, embracing it just like he had the last one. "YOU GUYS READY?" he asked, his thunderous voice drowning out the tiny screams from inside. Joe didn't wait for a response before activating his power.
The feeling was just as intense, but this time Joe was at least a little prepared. He managed to avoid crushing the building, though he did accidentally knock a few chunks out of it. The now-empty building was heavily damaged but still standing. That didn't last long, though, as the now 650-foot Joe demolished it easily with a couple of punches and kicks.
Inside the city's tallest building, the atmosphere was turning to panic as people watched the muscle bound giant get bigger and bigger, growing in 50- and 75- foot leaps. They didn't know how he was doing it, of course, they just saw him grab a building, grow larger, and then obliterate the building without mercy. As he moved from tower to tower, he would occasionally glance in their direction, a mischievous grin on his face that said, "Your turn is coming." With nowhere to run to, there was nothing to do but wait and pray for a miracle.
With three buildings still to go, Joe was already even with the tallest. The next two were doozies. Each one added nearly a hundred feet to his height, making him a mind-blowing 1300 feet tall. He walked up to the final building. He had to move carefully – with nearly two million tons of mass, his every step unleashed an earthquake. He stopped next to the building, looking down at the roof with a grin. The slender glass and steel tower -- barely as big around as his arm -- looked fragile next to his broad-shouldered muscular bulk. The tiny people cowering on the top floor looked out at his colossal hairy chest, which seemed to fill the sky. Joe didn't even need to wrap his arms around the building. At his size, just being next to it was enough to draw the strength of every single person inside.
As the thousands inside simultaneously shrank away to nothing, Joe grew even larger. When it was all over, he stood over 1400 feet tall, 2.4 million tons of bone-crushing mass. He hammered his mighty fist down through the skyscraper's roof, shattering the top third of the building instantly and letting the rest collapse on its own. In the streets far below, Joe could see a few ant-sized people attempting to flee, clambering awkwardly over piles of rubble. It only took a second for Joe to lift one gargantuan boot over their heads and smash it down. It amused him to crush them. He was a god now; the puny mortals at his feet were there to serve him. They would be the fuel for his growth and the fodder for his destruction. Those were the things that mattered to Joe now. And he was just getting started with both.