Okay! Here's part three of our four-part story-writing conglomeration! Woah! What a mouthful! But this week, I've taken on 'The Human Equation'! I said I liked part two last week, but didn't use it.... so this week, I thought to take on part three!
And... as usual: enjoy!
“Dad, I think it would be best for my emotional growth if I moved into my own apartment. You are always pushing me to be more self-sufficient and independent, but I can’t reach my potential if I’m still relying on you for so much. Please, take a moment to think this through. Isn’t this the next logical step?”
The girl gave her best pleading look.
“Absolutely not! What’s to keep you from having drug filled sex orgies and becoming a delinquent? I’m not having my daughter get pregnant at sixteen!”
“Oh. My. God. You are ridiculous.”
“I’m your father! I didn’t raise you to-”
“No, Rory, I mean you’re being ridiculous. My dad would never react like that and you know it.”
“Hey! You’re supposed to stay in character!”
“Rory, I’m not a character! I’m supposed to be myself in this scenario! And you’re supposed to be my dad, not Leave it to Beaver’s dad. Come on… delinquent? Who says that?”
“Well…” Rory started, her large dark eyes glancing around her room sheepishly, “My mom says it all the time. She says if I keep putting up posters of guys on my walls, that I’ll get boy crazy and become a delinquent.”
“Ha! You already are boy crazy! You’ve been boy crazy since you were, like, ten!”
“Shut up, Chloe! I am not! I’m just looking for Mister Right.”
“Again, you are ridiculous. You should be looking for a driver’s permit”
“Whatever. Why are we even practicing this? We both know your dad is going to say yes. You have, like, the coolest dad ever. He lets you do anything you want.”
Chloe rolled her eyes. None of her friends ever seemed to understand when it came to her dad.
“First, he is like the farthest thing from cool. He spent my entire ninth birthday party explaining how the light photons from the candles worked. Everybody got so bored after two hours they left. I didn’t even get a chance to open my presents until the next day.”
“Well, nerdy is kinda cool now.”
“He wears socks with his sandals!”
“Well, he does let you dye your hair any color you want.”
“That’s because he tried to invent a nano-programed shampoo that styles your hair as you wash it.”
“That actually sounds kinda cool.”
“It made all my hair fall out! I spent all of fourth grade getting tons of ‘get well soon’ cards cause everyone thought I had leukemia. Yeah, he lost all rights to say anything about my hair after that.”
“Yeah, that sounds really sucky.”
“Your family at least watches movies and TV together. When I try to hang out with my dad, he won’t shut up about String Theory and Quantum Tunneling.”
“I’ve never heard of those shows.”
“They’re… never mind.” Chloe slumped on the bed and ran her fingers through her green and white hair, feeling suddenly exhausted. She didn’t resent her dad, or at least she didn’t think she did. But the past couple of years had been so difficult. They used to laugh and talk and go on ‘scientific adventures’. Hell, she had paid such rapt attention to him during his diatribe on photons that she hadn’t even noticed that the other guests had left the birthday party. Now, they struggled to say more than a few words to each other.
“I should get going.” She sighed.
“You okay Chloe?” Rory asked, genuine concern showing in her large eyes.
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
“You gonna ask about the apartment?”
“Yeah. Probably tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.”
As Chloe drove her father’s ’79 Volvo wagon, which weighed more than a Sherman Tank, she couldn’t stop thinking about how much things had changed between her and her father. Deep down, she knew Dad hadn’t really changed. She had been the variable in the equation– she had been the one that changed their relationship simply by growing up. Part of her still wanted to just see him as the hero that knew everything. But a growing part of her was so frustrated at how little he knew about people, especially her. It was like he still saw her as that little girl that drank in his words and not someone nearly a full adult – a near equal.
She parked the Volvo in front of the brick apartment building she called home. Grandpa had left it to them in his will free and clear when he had passed. There were seven living units, but none of the original tenants had stayed more than a year after Dad had become the landlord. He had a habit of neglecting, well, everything. The last straw had been when he converted the basement laundry room into his own personal laboratory. Now it was just the two of them in Unit 1, and if he agreed to her request, she would get her own unit.
Swinging the front door open, she stepped into the main atrium stairwell. The large room was strangely dark, the only light weakly sifting through the glass in the ceiling. Her footsteps echoed loudly. She noticed the sharp smell of something burned wafting through the air.
“Dad?” she asked weakly.
Still no sounds but her own breathing.
The lab. Of course, he would be in the lab.
Walking to the metal door stenciled with the words “laundry”, she opened it and made her way down the concrete steps to the basement. His lab, normally a disastrous mess, looked as though a hurricane had swept through. A single light flickered in the corner, flashing distorted shadows across the room. Something glass shattered on the far side of the room.
“Dad? Is that you?”
She took a tentative step.
A hand gripped her shoulder.
“Jesus H Christ, dad!”
He stood next to her, smiling broadly. There were dark smudges on his face and one of the lenses in his glasses looked cracked.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”
She looked around the room as something metal clanged.
“Dad… what happened?”
“Something great! Well, probably great! Here, I’ll show you. Just…” he held his fingers up and started towards the far end of the room, “just wait there.”
When Jon Urquhart returned to his daughter, her eyes bulged and her mouth went agape. When she didn’t say anything for nearly a minute, he laughed anxiously and ran his hand through his receding hair.
“So…Chloe… What do you think of it?”
Finally, her mouth closed and with effort she planted her eyes on him and not the… other thing.
“Dad… I’m moving upstairs.”
"So, he was, like, completely cool with it?" Rory shovelled another spoonful of ice cream into her mouth, kicking her legs happily. The girls sat either side of a tub of chocolate fudge in the nook of the giant steel-barred window that overlooked Chloe’s - yes, all hers, finally - apartment. Great shafts of syrupy afternoon light filtered through a year’s worth of grime and murk, lighting up thousands of busy specks of dust suspended in the musty air of Unit 3.
"Yeah. He didn’t argue or anything, just smiled and nodded. It was almost like he was expecting it." Chloe stared at the wobbly upside-down reflection in her spoon for a moment. It reminded her of all the little ‘experiments’ her dad had helped her carry out when she was tiny, like writing backwards letters and holding them up to a mirror. She still had the paper they’d used, somewhere. "He even helped me move my stuff up."
And it was fun, she thought. For a couple of hours it was like nothing had ever changed between them, and they’d laughed their way up the stairs, balancing boxes and bags and armfuls of clothes. As the last couple of boxes were brought up Dad had grabbed her in a hug, totally out of the blue. He’d grinned, his eyes bright through the lenses of his spare pair of glasses, and promised her he’d fix the fusebox so she’d have power that night.
She’d known better than to put too much faith in that particular pledge (she’d been googling fuseboxes and scribbling frantic notes before the battery on her laptop had died) but as she closed the door on her kind, brilliant, infuriating Dad, Chloe had felt like she was making a huge decision. One she didn’t really understand. She hoped she’d got it right.
"I don’t care what you say, your Dad’s awesome."
"Yeah, you don’t have to live with him."
"Neither do you, now!"
"He’s still downstairs, Rory." Chloe gestured with her spoon towards the floorboards. "When it’s quiet I can hear him trying to break the universe." She scraped up the last of the ice cream.
Rory swung her legs out and dropped down to the floor. “I’m gonna head home before my mom starts freaking out. I’d call and tell her where I am but my battery’s dead and literally nothing works here.”
"I’m working on that. C’mon, I’ll see you out."
As they passed through the atrium on the way out, Chloe slowed gradually to a halt. Something was, well, off. “Wait, Rors.”
Rory turned, halfway down the stairs. She pulled out the earbud she’d just jammed into one ear. “What? Seriously, Chlo, I need to get back.”
"This is going to sound pretty weird, but was it this clean in here before? When you came in earlier?" Chloe ran a finger along the bannister. It came away without the gross layer of tar-like gunk she’d been expecting.
"Yeah, sure." Rory waved an irritable hand. "Why?"
"It’s just - don’t worry about it." Had Dad cleaned up in here? That wasn’t like him at all, Chloe thought. I wonder if he even got around to the fusebox? "It’s nothing. I’ll see you tomorrow."
The apartment block’s front door clattered shut. Chloe took another look around at the spotless stairwell and went to find her dad.
The laundro-lab had looked exactly as it did the night before - a cataclysm of stainless steel and glass - but it was minus one absent-minded scientist. Present, though, was his ‘discovery’ of the previous night. Whatever it was.
Dad had jerry-built a container from a couple of perspex safety screens and hung the thing from a couple of crocodile clip leads used for electrical testing. Stuck to one of the screens was a torn strip of masking tape with the word ‘CASIMIR’ scrawled upon it in Dad’s messy hand.
Chloe forced herself to look at the thing behind the screen. From a distance it looked like a poster-sized sheet of shrink wrap - dull, translucent and inert. If you didn’t know there was anything special about it you’d never give it a second glance.
When you got close enough, though, the air around and behind it seemed to blur and waver, making everything around it seem turbulent, like reflections in troubled water. If you stared too long - and it wasn’t difficult to find yourself doing just that, it was mesmerising - you’d feel dizzy and your eyes would start to run. It reminded Chloe of the comics she used to beg her Dad to buy her when she was a little girl: the ones that came with a pair of 3D glasses that turned the mess on the page into an image that seemed to jump out at you. She made a mental note to see if she had any old pairs of glasses lying around so she could bring them down to try them out.
Guess Dad’s up in our - his - apartment, then. Chloe tore herself away and headed back up to the atrium. Pulling the laundry room door open, she found herself brought up short - standing there, calling up the stairs, was Rory.
"Aurora? What’s up? Thought you’d gone home."
"There you are! Believe me, I tried. There’s some guy outside trying to get into the building. He grabbed me on my way past and insisted I come find you or your dad."
"What? Who? Where is he now?" Chloe peered through the half-frosted pane of glass in the building’s front door. A small brown blur next to a big red one - was that a guy stood next to a car?
"I made him stay outside, obviously. He’s been hammering all the buzzers but I guess they’re still not working, huh."
"Don’t hold your breath. What is he, some sort of salesman or cop or something?"
"No. He looks pretty desperate. He says he used to live here."
Chloe’s gut cooled. She wondered what the hell was going on; and where was her Dad? Turning back to Aurora, she knew it was up to her to take control of this ‘situation’ her Dad had put her in, “Okay, you go home. Tell the guy that…”
“I tried, he called me by my name, I freaked and came back here.”
“Oh… I see.” She glanced at the door and knew it was time to talk to the guy next to the car, “I’ll talk to him. Stay here.”
“But my Mom…”
“Okay, come with me… I’ll get you past him. But if it turns out to be my Dad, I don’t want you breathing a word of this to anyone! I mean it! Your family works for the Government, they’ll be onto my Dad and I’ll never see him again!”
“You have my word.” She promised.
Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and looked out at man who looked very much like her Dad, but she wasn’t sure if he was. He took a step towards her then stopped as she hesitated, “No way.”
“You see… he wants in here.”
She whispered, “Aurora, do you know who that is?”
She gave her an incredulous look, “I was kidding!”
Without taking my eyes off the man, her kept my voice low, “Yeah? Well, I’m not. Go home… but like I said…”
“Yeah, yeah, not a word.” She cut through the overgrown yard and dodged around the man who took a few steps towards her.
“Hey, you leave her alone.” Chloe called out.
He looked toward me, “But there’s a problem.”
“Come here.” Looking towards her friend’s retreating form with concern on his face, she wondered why he was so worried. But he didn’t move, not until she had turned the corner, “She can’t be alone.”
Taking in a shaking breath, he looked her in the eyes, “Chloe, she can’t be alone. It will take her.”
He nodded, “Yep… what I’ve been working on… it’s been a huge thing, massive. I haven’t been able to get it going, not until I realised it needed to be fed.”
“What did you do?”
“Can you let me in to explain?”
Turning, she opened the door of the building and he walked through. Following him through to the laundry-lab, she wasn’t really paying attention to the man in front of her, only the thing off in the corner which had begun to shimmer and waver more. It was then he grabbed her!
“You are so trusting!”
“You’re my Dad, what do you expect?”
A mocking grin crossed his face as a laugh bubbled from his mouth, “Me? Nah, honey, I just look like your Dad.”
Glancing across the room at that wavering, weird-looking haze, she realised something.
It was horrible.
But Chloe knew with complete certainty that whoever this was standing in front of her was right: Aurora couldn’t be alone.
She had to get out of here – and soon!
“Now, sit down here, and I’ll attach these electrodes to your head.” He shoved her into an old dentist’s chair, strapped her arms down into the Velcro straps – as well as her legs and ankles – then a machine slotted around her cranium, holding her quite solidly in place, “Now, for the fun.”
“Fun?” she stammered, “This doesn’t look like fun.”
With a filthy, long nail, he leaned down and scratched at her temple, swiped her with some stinging, rubbing alcohol, then pushed an electrode onto her, “The first of many…” he started to chuckle as he picked up the next one to apply to her head, and began to scratch away at her scalp, “You shouldn’t have used conditioner on her hair last night, missy, it makes this harder to do… I just have to scratch harder at your head to make these contact better now.”
Aurora was halfway home when she realised she had forgotten her house keys; and her folks weren’t home from work yet. Sighing, she turned around and started walking back to Chloe’s place… then she got a really bad feeling, and started to run back.
The closer she got to her friend’s house, the more panicked she felt!
She had to get back there before something bad happened to her friend; something irreversible.
Chloe could feel her friend’s presence half a block away as he attached the fifth electrode to her head, then he paused, “Who are you thinking about?”
“Nobody.” She lied and hoped he believed her.
Yanking the chair around, he looked at her, “You’re lying to me.”
“I was thinking about how you got my Dad into this chair to do this to him.” She said, “And why he is over there hoping I get out of this.”
He swallowed slowly, “Well, like any great scientist, your Daddy-dearest did what they all did… experimented upon himself first.” The monstrosity leaned in close, whispering, “But the whole thing backfired on him and I took over… what fun.”
She didn’t break eye contact with this monster, “I hate you. I’ll kill you.”
“Aahh, but if you kill me, you’ll kill Daddy.”
“I’m sure he’s willing to die for his experiment to be ended seeing all you want to do is feed.” She replied.
Aurora approached Chloe’s apartment building but found the place locked up tight. She almost called the police; but she had promised not to report her friend’s Dad – not to anyone. So, she went around the back to where there was a cellar door she hoped was unlocked.