invisible man

Image: From the 1933 film The Invisible Man

When Charlie Rainier realized he could turn invisible, he was absolutely giddy. From his point of view, nothing had changed. He could still see his reflection in a mirror, he cast a shadow, he didn’t have to take his clothes off like in the old movies, and he could still see. But no one else could see him.

If invisibility worked by causing light to pass directly through a person or to curve around him, he should be blind. To see, light enters the eyes through the pupil. The iris changes the size of the pupil depending on how bright the light is. Then the lens focuses that light onto the retina at the back of the eye. Light has to stop after hitting the retina.

If light curved around the invisible person, it would never reach the eye and the invisible person would be blind. If light went right through him, it wouldn’t stop at the retina but pass right through it, and again the person would be blind.

Fortunately for Charlie, he found a way around that problem.

In the beginning, it was fun just to walk down the street and play pranks on people. He’d knock a man’s hat off, tug at a woman’s handbag, and deliberately bump into other passersby, and then watch their startled reactions.

He walked up behind a teenager at a bus stop and asked for the time. She looked at her cell to check, but when she turned around to answer him, no one was there. She looked so puzzled that Charlie actually laughed out loud. That’s when she screamed.

Charlie didn’t always have to be invisible. He could disappear and reappear at will. Thus he could go to work (he was a junior accountant at a small manufacturing company), wave “hi” to his neighbors, shop for groceries, and do anything any other normal, visible person could do.

Then he got the idea to turn this trick to his advantage.

At first, it was little things. Taking a watch from an unlocked display case at a department store, lifting a pint of expensive scotch from the corner liquor store, that sort of thing. Once he put an object inside his pants or coat pocket (it gets cold in December), it was invisible too, so Charlie didn’t have to contend with people seeing floating objects.

It was difficult to steal cash because people didn’t typically leave it lying around in public places. At a convenience store, Charlie got the idea that when the clerk opened up the cash drawer to make change, he could just knock her over and grab a handful.

That worked pretty well, but he couldn’t control just how much he took in the few seconds he had available, and he also found it awkward to get back from behind the counter without also colliding into a customer or two.

One customer reflexively grabbed Charlie by the arm and the only reason our invisible man got away was that the big bruiser didn’t see Charlie’s fist coming as he struck the fellow in the face.

A week passed and Charlie became more bold.

He still kept his job at Croakney and Finch, but his performance was down, something the senior accountant, Old Man Powell mentioned more than once.

Charlie had always hated Powell. He used to think it was just dislike, because the old man, nearing retirement age but still quite spry, had no sense of humor (thus not laughing at Charlie’s jokes) and always assigned him the most tedious and boring tasks none of the other accounting staff would touch.

Now he knew it was hate. He hated Powell’s smug attitude, his shrill, high-pitched voice, his constantly bragging about his years as an accountant and not having even one single tax audit to his credit.

Charlie wanted to hurt Powell, he wanted to see fear in the old man’s eyes. He wanted to kill him.

It would be quite simple really. Powell was a “workaholic”. He was always the first one in and the last one out of the office Monday through Friday. Sometimes he even went to work on the weekend.

The key cards used to gain entry into the building recorded when a person arrived but not when they left. All Charlie had to do was pretend he was leaving work for the day and then become invisible and wait.

He waited for everyone else to leave for the day. It was a Friday, so no one would discover the body until Monday morning.

Charlie got bored waiting. There was nothing for him to do. He couldn’t turn on his computer and surf the web. He dared not go into the break room and get a snack from the refrigerator lest someone see the door open and close by itself.

So he waited in a corner of the lobby out of the way and unseen.

Finally Alice, the CEO’s personal assistant (quite young and lovely…that curve hugging dress…Charlie thought of another use for his invisibility…perhaps later that night), left for the evening. Only Old Man Powell was left in the building.

Powell was in his office compiling the figures for the past week’s sales for the third time. He was compulsive and maybe just a little obsessive about his work (and everyone else’s, especially Charlie’s).

Even if Charlie were visible, Powell might not have noticed him walk into the room because of his intense concentration on his work.

Charlie had a necktie in his pocket. He planned to use it to strangle Powell.

In spite of being invisible and in spite of wanting to see the fear in Powell’s eyes as he was strangled, Charlie was actually a complete coward. He found he had to step up behind Powell in order to commit murder.

The floor creaked when Charlie took a step as he rounded Powell’s chair but the old accountant took no notice and kept tapping away at his computer’s keyboard.

Charlie slowly took the tie out of his pants pocket being aware of all the little noises he was making and hoping Powell didn’t hear and turn around.

He didn’t.

Then, quick as a flash, Charlie whipped the tie about Powell’s neck, wound it and pulled as hard as he could.

Powell was shocked, stunned, and horrified. He tried to grab at the nothing that was choking him, felt the necktie, but couldn’t loosen it at all.

“Now you bastard. Now you die, you son of a bitch.”

Powell’s bulging eyes looked at the reflection on his computer monitor. He could see himself but there was no one behind him (Charlie on the other hand, could have seen his reflection perfectly well if he hadn’t been so intent on killing Powell).

“Yes, it’s me. It’s Charlie Rainier. I’ve found a way to become invisible. I’ve hated you for years Powell. Hated you. Now I’m going to kill you and I’ll get away with it, too.”

He knew what Powell must be going through, at least a little. Charlie had almost drowned in a swimming pool when he was eight years old. He recalled the ghastly feeling of not being able to breathe. It had only been for a few seconds, but as he remembered it, it seemed like hours.

Powell was stronger than he looked, and it took all of Charlie’s might to continue choking his adversary as old man bucked and struggled to gain his freedom.

It seemed to take nearly forever for old Powell to die, but finally, finally he stopped struggling, stopped moving altogether. Still Charlie squeezed and squeezed for another minute, for two minutes, just to be sure.

When Charlie let go of the tie, pulling it free and returning it to his pocket, Powell slumped back into his chair. Charlie put his ear to the old man’s chest. No sound of a heart beat. He was dead. At last Powell was dead.

Charlie broke out into a chorus of “Ding, dong, the witch is dead” laughing and doing a bit of a dance.

He had enough of his wits about him not to touch anything. Even invisible, he’d still leave fingerprints, although as an employee of Powell’s and a frequent visitor to his office, there was probably some evidence of his having been here, along with dozens of other people.

Charlie remained invisible (to everyone but himself) as he buttoned his coat and then left the building.

He’d parked a few blocks away so no one would notice his car in the parking lot. He ducked down a handy alley and became visible, then returned to the street and got to his car.

Charlie was still chuckling to himself as he pulled into his driveway. He’d gotten out of his car and was walking to the front door of the small house he called home when two men got out of a car parked out front.

As they approached Charlie, they both pulled badges from their jacket pockets.

“Mr. Charles Rainier?”

“Yes?” The police. What could they possibly want to talk with him about? There was no way they could have found out about Powell, not this soon.

“Detective James Luna, Meridian Police. This is Detective Scott Perot. We’d like to have a few words with you.”

Charlie’s heart was beating so fast, he was sure it was about to leap out of his chest.

“What’s this all about, Detective?”

“Could you accompany us downtown, Sir? We’d like to ask you some questions.”

“Questions? About what?” Charlie’s anxiety level was going through the roof. What if somehow they knew about Powell? He wanted to turn invisible, to escape, but if he did it right in front of them, they’d know his secret.

“Sir, I think we’d be more comfortable at the station house. If you’d just accompany us.”

Luna casually indicated the car they had exited, obviously an unmarked police car.

“Am I under arrest?”

“We just need to ask you a few questions. You’ve been implicated in several robberies.”


“Sir, we have surveillance tapes implicating you in a number of robberies of local businesses, Fred Meyer’s, the State Liquor Store on Fairview…”

“Tapes?” But he was invisible. How could he have been caught on tape?

Without meaning to and in blind terror, Charlie became invisible right in front of Luna and Perot.

Unfortunately for Charlie, Luna had the reflexes of a cheetah and leapt forward, knocking the now unseen man onto the ground, then landing on top of Charlie’s chest with a thud.

Charlie couldn’t catch his breath, and the pain and shock caused him to become visible again. Luna and Perot wrestled with him, got him turned over on the ground, and handcuffed his wrists behind his back. Panting, Luna recited, “Charles Rainier, you are under arrest. You have the right remain silent…”


Charlie turned invisible in the back of the police car, but his handcuffs were still visible. By the time they arrived at the police station, Perot had called for back up, and there were at least six uniformed officers waiting for them.

Luna opened the door and threatened to use a taser on him if he didn’t turn visible. Charlie complied. He didn’t like pain and his fight with the two Detectives had already left several bruises on him and caused a split lower lip.

He was surrounded by officers as he was booked, fingerprinted, and photographed. He was tempted to become invisible while in front of the camera, but he wouldn’t have gotten five feet in any direction before being grabbed.

He turned invisible in his cell only because he couldn’t bear to be seen weeping.


It took months and numerous court ordered medical examinations before Dr. Emily Palmer discovered the probable cause of Charlie’s abilities.

“As you can see Detective Luna, this structure at the base of the brain, right before the emergence of the spinal cord, is highly unusual.”

“I’ll have to take your word for it, Dr. Palmer. I’m no neurologist.”

“Believe me, I’ve never seen anything like it in over fifteen years of clinical practice. I suspect this is the source of Mr. Rainier’s unusual abilities.”

“To become invisible.”

“To apparently become invisible to people. Remember, his image was captured by surveillance cameras at several businesses including those of Mr. Rainier’s former employer.”

“Powell’s murder. Yeah. So what’s it mean, Doctor?”

It means that at no time was the subject invisible in the sense of the H.G. Wells character. The only thing that changed was that he was able to affect the perceptions of people around him so they did not register seeing him. He didn’t control his body, he selectively controlled the minds of everyone around him.”

“How did he get this ability?”

“I have no idea. Nothing in the medical journals even touches upon something like this. Perhaps he was born with this brain structure and only recently, by some accident, learned out to use it.”

“Any chance of turning it off?”

“I’d be afraid to try, Detective. It would certainly involve brain surgery to make any permanent change, and since I don’t know anything about this peculiar part of his brain, I don’t ethically believe it would be advisable to remove it.”

“Well, I appreciate your time, Doctor.”

Detective Luna stood and put on his coat. The doctor also stood and leaned over her desk to shake the officer’s hand.

“Not at all, Detective. I’m glad to help. I’ll be filing my report with the court in a few days.”


Dr. Palmer escorted the Detective to the door of her office. “Have a good day, Detective.”

“You too, Doctor.”

Luna had been Detective for five years and a police officer for over ten. He mostly worked routine crimes in a small city just outside of Boise. Nothing unusual or even too exciting had happened to him in the course of his career. Nothing, that is, until the day he had arrested the Invisible Man.

It was up to the courts to figure out what to do with him.

One of the flaws in just about any invisible man story is explaining how they could see when invisible. There’s plenty of information online, including here describing how the eye works and, by implication, why an invisible person would be blind as long as they depended on light curving around them or passing through them to become invisible.

According to a commentary on Reddit, in the original H.G. Wells novel The Invisible Man, Wells suggested that his invisible character’s eyes were slightly visible, enabling him to see:

I went and stared at nothing in the shaving-glass, at nothing save where an attenuated pigment still remained behind the retina of my eyes, fainter than mist.

My understanding is that if his retinas were slightly visible, he’d probably only be able to see a misty image of the world around him if anything at all.

From 2000 to 2002, the Sci-Fi Channel aired a modern version of The Invisible Man (the first season is available on DVD) starring Vincent Ventresca as Darien Fawkes.

Fawkes, a career thief, is offered a deal by the Federal government to have an artificial gland (invented by Fawkes’s brother) implanted in his brain. The gland secretes a substance called “Quicksilver” that covers his entire body rendering him invisible.

The show explained that Fawkes is able to see using “Quicksilver vision,” light not in the normal visible spectrum. The flaw here is if he can see in that light, then he can be seen by the same light.

I wanted to write an invisible man story, pretty much for the practice, but also because one of my guilty pleasures is invisible man stories, movies, and TV shows, but I needed a way to solve the eyesight problem. I think I’ve succeeded with the ill-fated Charlie Rainier (and yes, his name is a faint echo of Claude Rains, the actor who played in the Invisible Man in the 1933 film).

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