An old short story from the early 80s, in an anthology (I remember it was in German, but quite certainly a translation). Maybe 20 pages. It may have been much older, as high-voltage lines were a known factor by the 80s and not known to have exceedingly unusual effects on humans.

The story involves boy who is living in an unhappy household. His father is alcoholic and often beats him up. To escape, he takes refuge under what I imagine are pylons for overland high-voltage lines somewhere nearby in the countryside; his father is unable to get at him there due to a medical condition - the high voltage lines are dangerous to him.

When a storm hits, the boy somehow gets psychic powers that enable him to sense people's emotional state from afar. He sees his drunken father circling in the distance and sees his aura of fear. I don't think there is a real conclusion to the story.

  • 2
    Holy crap. I read this story last week while searching for a different one. Now how can I find it again?
    – DavidW
    Feb 18, 2021 at 1:57
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    search history.
    – Adamant
    Feb 18, 2021 at 2:08
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    I was skimming through the early issues of Asimov's up to 1983 looking for a story, and just happened to stick and read that one through. But 8 years of issues was a lot to review to find it again. :)
    – DavidW
    Feb 18, 2021 at 22:51
  • @DavidW Thanks again. I would never have thought that it is a Nancy Kress short. It seems that Asimov's had six issues per year. Judging by the contents of Isaac Asimovs Science Fiction Magazin 4 Heyne Verlag picked various stories from the original mag and put them into book form. The main impression I got was that these stories were really mysterious and hard to digest. Some I initally thought boring because no space opera action. Not exactly YA material. Feb 18, 2021 at 23:43
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    Fortunately the story came near the beginning - only 15 issues in - so it only took me a couple of hours to find it again. The Martin Gardner columns were definitely a highlight; I was reading them all as I went through it. Read some of them again the second time too. :)
    – DavidW
    Feb 19, 2021 at 1:12

1 Answer 1


This is Nancy Kress' "Against a Crooked Stile" (1979); ISFDb lists a German translation in Isaac Asimovs Science Fiction Magazin 4. Folge (1980).

Jorry Whitfield lives with his drunk, abusive father Clayte, who is afraid of the power lines, but it is not obvious that they actually would harm him.

It doesn't appear that Clayte has a medical condition, but a representative of the power company does warn him about a potential threat to pacemakers:

"Uh...just one more thing, Whitfield. You don't wear a pacemaker, do you? From heart surgery? The company is... uh... advising all residents with the demand-type cardiac pacemakers to remain outside the right of way. Purely as a precautionary measure."

Sometime before the story starts Clayte has broken Jorry's arm while beating him, so Jorry tries to spend as much time away as he can get away with. One day while lazing around under the lines he meets Tom Crowell, who works for an Environmental Study Association that is concerned about the effects of the new 1000kV lines. Tom has 2 sets of mice, one in normal cages and the other in Faraday cages as a control.

Jorry becomes friends with Tom, hangs out with him and does small things to help, like feeding the mice. One day Jerry flees from another confrontation, running to the base of a tower. The tower is struck by lightning and he discovers he can sense fear in the mice as a red halo and a chalky smell. He tests the mouse in the Faraday cage, and it also shows an aura, so Jorry realizes that the change is in him.

The story ends with Jorry seeing his dad in the distance, and his red halo of fear, and heading to a friend's place where Tom is boarding.

The story was first published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, May 1979, and you can read it at the Internet Archive.

  • Ha! I now remember the "chalky smell". Although the title given to the German translation "Im Spannungsfeld" (literally "In the field of (electric) tension") doesn't activate a memory at all. Feb 18, 2021 at 7:49

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