There are lots of movies and TV shows about Joe Everyman discovering he has some secret supernatural ability. Shockingly, this has actually happened several times in real life. Here are six regular people who went to bed and woke up the next day with unbelievable sci-fi abilities.
The Woman Who Couldn't Fear
Referred to by researchers only as "SM," this unusual patient remembers having a normal childhood. Then a genetic condition damaged her amygdala, the part of the brain that makes one feel all wobbly-kneed in life-threatening situations.
Since that day, SM has been unable to feel fear. Scientists and journalists made a kind of circus about the deal, placing her in ridiculously scary situations. But she wasn't scared by any of it: touching the tongues of live snakes, going through a haunted house or the usual Pavlovian "trying to make her scared of a blue square by honking a horn" deal. According to research, the woman scores well on tests of intelligence and function, so the damage is generally limited to the concept of fear.
This superpower could best be used by an individual whose job puts them in constant danger: a firefighter who is unafraid to run into a burning house, a police officer who shows no fear when confronted with a pack of surly teenagers, the guy who has to clean the toilets at Burger King, etc. Even the average life could be improved, with the general fears that come with it no longer serving as obstacles to one's dreams. An awkward teenage boy could become "Date Man," asking out literally every woman in the universe.
L.A. Native Forgets How to Forget
U.C. Irvine researchers have been studying Jill Price for several years. Ever since she stepped forward with the claim that she could remember every day of her life since she was 14 years old. Having never heard of such a thing, scientists were skeptical. But after thorough testing, they now realize that Price is the first diagnosed case of hyperthymesia.
Jill's amazing brain can recall events, both personal and historical, from any day in the past 30 years. This memory is automatic, and has been tested under rigorous scientific standards. She is not able to memorize vast quantities of information, but anything that happens to her sticks in her mind like cooked spaghetti sticks to a wall. After extensive studying of Price's brain, scientists have concluded that a large part of it has characteristics associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
This superpower could have several potential uses. One could become "The Interrogator," able to suss out a bad guy's alibi simply by asking him to describe the weather on the date in question. Or "The Historian," who seeks to scrub out people who misrepresent the past. Because there are six known people with this super disorder, there's plenty of room for multiple superheroes with the same exact power.
Famous Neurologist Gets Super Smell
Oliver Sacks long became one of the most popular brain doctors when he published The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Surprisingly, this isn't about Charlie Sheen ruining his marriage with drugs, but is instead a series of essays on unique brain conditions and behavior.
One particular anecdote involved a doctor called "Stephen D." who woke up with a unique ability after passing out under the influence of cocaine, PCP and uppers. Sacks would admit that he, himself, is Stephen D. in the book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. So if you're going in for brain surgery with an "extremely gifted" doctor, make sure they're not just wasted on drugs.
Sacks showed up for work the next day, proving that he was aces at holding his cocaine, his PCP, frankly, his everything. There, he discovered he had developed an unusually sharp sense of smell. By "unusually sharp" we mean that Sacks began identifying people by smelling them dozens of feet away. Just like a normal person can do at a hippie commune.
The power lasted three weeks before disappearing as suddenly as it had arrived. This didn't afford Oliver Sacks enough time to track down wayward criminals with his nose, eventually becoming a legend among the police force. Though he was never sure what caused this heightened sense, Sacks speculates it may have been caused by a seizure in his temporal lobe. We suspect lycanthropy.
Guy Can Shoot Electricity
China resident Ma Xiangang was fooling around with a live wire, trying to fix his television. Xiangang then realize the wire was exposed, and he should have received a powerful shock and a reminder not to screw with Chinese electronics. But Xiangang felt nothing, and soon discovered there was even more to this mystical force within him.
Xiangang can store medium-sized jolts of electricity and then release them. He has a condition that causes extremely dry skin, allowing him to hold electricity in his body for brief periods of time. Skin moisturizers are probably like his own personal Kryptonite.
Unlike the previous superpowered people, Ma Xiangang actually utilizes his powers. However, instead of, say, defending power plants from evil gangs of vandals, Ma Xiangang uses his jolting ability to give massage. He calls it "electrotherapy," but we're pretty sure it has no therapeutic value other than "doesn't it feel cool that I'm shocking you?" Also, it would be impossible for him to lose in a fight against Aquaman, although that's true for a lot of people.
Elderly Construction Worker Becomes Human Magnet
After a lifetime of hard labor, 63-year-old Liew Thow Lin suddenly found that metal objects would stick to his body. We can't imagine how brutal it must have been to discover this ... he wakes up and the alarm clock hits him in the head, followed by the lamp, then the TV. Liew Thow Lin went on tour, and scientists began to study his skin.
Researchers were initially baffled at the discovery that Lin's body didn't exhibit any kind of abnormal magnetic field. Extensive studying found that Lin's skin itself has high friction levels. High enough that Lin can stick 36 kg of stuff to his body and even pull a car. His grandchildren have the same skin condition. Since they weigh less, we imagine little kids scaling buildings with their bare feet and hands.
Lin raises money for charity by sticking stuff to his skin, which is in itself a noble endeavor. However, if he wanted to start fighting crime, he could become the "Human Handcuff," able to arrest criminals simply by sticking them to his body.
The Man Who Never Sleeps
In 1973, rural Chinese farmer Ngoc Thai developed a fever. Since that day, he has not slept. Thai has had to while the time away for over 12,500 long nights. He probably holds the record for watching infomercials.
Lots of people have claimed prolonged bouts of insomnia, but most are either tricksters trying to put on a show or else people who don't quite realize that they have been sleeping. What makes Thai different is that he neither profits from this nor lies in bed, spending most of his days and nights maintaining his farm. Perhaps that fever also gave him a super-heightened sense of duty.
To be frank, Thai's career actually seems to be a good fit for his superpower. If you can't sleep at night, running a farm is probably the way to go (or playing Farmville). In fact, there's a race that could learn a lot from Ngoc Thai's hard-working attitude. We're talking about the elvish race, of course. Elves live 700 years and only sleep a few hours a night, yet manage to get almost nothing done except making toys and cookies. The laziest elves should be sent to Thai's farm for a reality show called "elf boot camp."
It's exciting to know that superpowers aren't just a thing of fiction. You could wake up tomorrow with some sort of supernatural ability. If you do, a powerful decision is in your hands: Will you use the power for good? Will you use it for evil? Either way, we don't care, just as long as you don't squander it away on the talk show circuit.