I stepped cautiously through the lab crowded with expensive instruments and scientists just arriving for work.
“Coming through!” one of the wizened geniuses yelled as he rushed past with a beaker full of bubbling liquid. I jumped to the side to avoid a collision, only to bump into the last person I wanted to deal with.
“Watch where you’re going, boy!”
I bit back a retort and instead replied, “Forgive me, Mr. Lagabey. I didn’t see you there.”
Lagabey’s salt and pepper hair was oily and slicked back, as usual; his pasty face was flushed red, “That was made quite clear when you barreled into me,” he growled and stormed into his lab. A shiver ran through the wall when he slammed the door.
“Wonder what’s bothering him?” I grumbled to myself, but I knew the answer. Everything. Everything bothered him.
“Good morning, David,” said a cheerful voice.
I couldn’t help but smile as I turned to face Miriam, who stood, hunched over with the weight of the pile of books cradled in her arms. Her pretty black hair fell in thick wisps around her face, despite the hastily made ponytail.
“Here, let me help you with those,” I offered.
“Thanks,” Miriam shifted the books so I could grab some without sending the rest tumbling to the floor, “Lagabey sure seems to be in a bad mood.”
“Yeah,” I sighed, “he’s always in a bad mood. I am beginning
to think that he likes to make people hate him. Where would you like me to put these?”
“Oh, just over there,” Miriam nodded to her desk that sat under a grouping of whiteboards that covered the entire back wall.
I cast a glance at the door to Lagabey’s lab before walking across the room, “That man makes me uneasy. He keeps himself holed up in that personal lab of his, and he never says more than two words to anyone, and only when he has to.”
“I know, he is strange,” Miriam said quietly, but she perked up as she continued, “Thanks for helping me with the books.”
“No problem,” the books made a satisfying thump as I set them on her solid wood desk, “Would you like help with anything else?”
“No, thanks. That was the last of it.”
I made my way back to the front of the large room and sat down at my workstation. Beakers and vials full of bubbling liquids and gasses covered the majority of my workspace. Only just enough space remained for me to write.
I glanced across the room at Miriam. She finished arranging her books on her tidy desk, then shoved the whole thing over to the only board with a blank space. When I say blank space, I mean only one-third of a ginormous board in a set of five other boards, which were completely covered in a single problem written in cramped writing.
She dragged her chair to the base of the board, grabbed her marker, and hopped up on the chair, which was her only means of reaching the top. I had to grin. I liked to tease her about her height, or should I say ‘lack thereof’.
I turned my attention back to my work. Reaching into one of the storage shelves under the countertop, I pulled out a jar of transparent liquid. After adding a few drops to the first beaker in the long unit, I watched as the heat from the Bunsen burner turned it into a gas and caused it to float through the connecting tubes and into the other vials. Once the gas contacted the liquid in the final beaker, the concoction began to hiss and pop. I dove under the table just in time to avoid a mini-explosion that sent glass and liquid flying. I snatched a pencil and began to record what happened.
Mentally, I added: Note to self, don’t mix those substances.
My observations came to a halt as a loud thumping rattled the building. This time, it wasn’t an exploding beaker.
“Do you hear that?” Miriam asked, “Sounds like Pete finally made it.”
The sound was akin to a herd of charging elephants, but the hasty steps were cut short by a startling crack. The wall muffled a string of grumbled words, then the clomping commenced, but at a slower pace. The door flew open to reveal a disgruntled Pete.
“Look who finally decided to come to work,” I said through a grin.
“Yeah, yeah,” Pete grumbled as he glanced around the room at the elderly scientists we were privileged to call co-workers, many of whom were chuckling and, dare I say, all on time for work, “Miriam, you should really have your grandfather look at those stairs, I just put my foot through one of the steps!”
“So that was the loud noise. I was afraid that that was your head as you fell down the stairs,” I couldn’t help but poke fun.
Pete stopped shaking off the heavy snow that covered his clothes just long enough to glare at me, but the corners of his lips twitched.
Miriam’s stifled giggles erupted into laughter, I followed suit, and Pete could no longer help but to laugh as well.
“Well, what can you expect from a hundred-year-old farmhouse,” Miriam asked after the laughter died down, “Just about everything needs fixing.”
The house was run down, but Miriam’s grandfather, Dr. Norman, had done an excellent job of making the two-story farmhouse a comfortable home and a functioning workspace. Plus, it was my home, and to me, it was perfect. Dr. Norman, or Doc as we all lovingly called him, was the closest thing I had to a father. He took me in when I was a little boy, rescuing me from a cramped foster home. He not only gave me a real home, but he gave me a love of science, and it was his love of science that gave this farmhouse life. He had started his own research in the hopes of finding cures for many incurable diseases. Some others had joined him, and he soon had his own research team, but his current home at the time could not fit a large enough lab. So, he finally took up residence in the abandoned farmhouse that had been in his family for years. He made the downstairs into a charming living space, but he redid the upstairs into a fully functioning lab.
“So, where is the old man anyway,” Pete asked.
Miriam answered, “Downstairs. He said he’d be up soon.”
Pete plopped down at his station, carefully brushing away stray shards of glass with a protective glove, “Have you decided which university you want to go to?” he asked.
“I think I’ll go to the one nearby, so I can keep working here,” I replied as I crawled out from under the table and returned to my chair.
“Well, if you want my opinion, I think you should go to the one in Michigan.”
“Why would I move all the way to Michigan?”
“You got a full ride.”
“I got a full ride to the one here in New York.”
Pete shifted his voice to an ominous tone, “One never knows, one never knows,” he leaned over before whispering, “but I think I know why you want to stay, and it has nothing to do with work.”
I knew exactly what he meant.
“She’s dating that Jackson guy,” I said flatly.
“They’re not dating anymore.”
I grunted in response, not at all surprised at their parting. That guy was arrogant and possessed a pride bigger than his mouth, which was saying a lot. I never liked him and had no idea what Miriam saw in him. At least the relationship was short-lived.
Pete continued, “Now’s your chance! I heard her raving about some café with one of her friends. You should have heard them,” Pete cleared his throat before continuing in a high pitch voice, a poor attempt at imitating Miriam, “Ooh, I heard of it, isn’t it that cute little one with, like, all the little chairs and flowers? You know, by the harbor with all those, like, little boats?”
We both broke out laughing, but I felt relieved when Pete left it at that.
I went back to jotting down notes. My hand jerked, leaving a dark line across my page. My hand continued to shake so badly that I could hardly write. I put my pencil down and began to study my hands when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the green liquid in the beaker beside me sloshing around. I looked up, everyone else in the room seemed confused as well, the whole room was shaking. Then, there began a constant high-pitch whistling. The shaking became gradually more and more violent, the whistling grew louder and louder. Beakers fell from the tables and shattered on the floor. Pete scrambled to grab a falling Bunsen Burner. Books crashed off the shelves. Clocks clattered off the walls. I clutched the table to keep from falling over, but after a few seconds, I begrudgingly let go so I could cover my ears to protect them from the painful whistling that continued to grow in volume.
I saw Miriam across the room, she wobbled as she struggled to cover her ears and remain mounted on the chair. I stumbled over to her, getting to her just in time to catch her before she fell off. I eased her to the floor and crouched beside her, shielding her from the falling debris. As the seconds ticked by, it became difficult to even sit upright, and not even the best earplugs could have done much good. Then, it stopped, the shaking, the whistling, it all stopped.
The others were groaning, some were already on their feet gazing wide-eyed at the destruction. Dust coated the floor, mingled with broken glass. The shattered beakers released fluid of varying consistencies. Nauseous gasses filled the room, leaving it in a haze. When my eyes rested on Miriam, her face was pale, and fear was written all over it.
“Grandpa…” she breathed as she jumped to her feet and rushed out the door of the lab.
“Miriam!” I called after her, but she didn’t pause.
I ran after her, down the stairs to the main floor of the old house, but Miriam didn’t stop there.
She flung open the basement door and flew down the stairs. The basement was off-limits, it had been that way for as long as I had lived there, so I hesitated for just a second before racing after her. But Miriam charged on, disappearing around the corner and into the dim room. She let out a strangled gasp. Putting all hesitation aside, I jumped the rest of the stairs and hurried into the room.
My heart missed a beat when I saw what had frightened Miriam. Doc was lying on his back, a trickle of blood running down his forehead. Miriam knelt on the concrete floor beside him, stroking his hand, and calling his name. My hands shook as I grabbed his wrist in search of a heartbeat. I let out a sigh of relief when I felt it throbbing steadily beneath my fingers.
“Miriam,” I said gently, “cradle his head, and keep calling his name.”
I studied the room. A single bulb hung from the middle of the ceiling. Its dim light revealed nothing more than a typical basement. A boiler and furnace sat at the far back along with rows of cluttered ceiling-to-floor shelves. Other than that, nothing else resided in the room.
“He couldn’t have hit his head before he fell, the ceiling is too high and there isn’t a single object near him.”
A pained groan interrupted my thoughts. Dr. Norman’s eyes opened slowly as if they were too heavy. He uttered another groan and raised his hand to his head.
Miriam looked only slightly relieved, “Grandpa?”
“They found it,” Mr. Norman mumbled.
“They found what?” I asked, “What did they find?”
Miriam glanced uneasily at me, then back at her grandfather. Dr. Norman held her questioning gaze.
“Show him,” he directed.
“Show him,” Dr. Norman repeated with more force.
Miriam slowly rose to her feet, casting one more glance at me, and crossed to the far end of the room. She stopped in front of the old shelves and grabbed hold of a large tarp that hung off the top of one of the shelves. With a hard yank, the tarp fell, revealing a floor-to-ceiling machine. She gently placed her fingers against it.
“This,” she said, “They found the time machine.”