Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Scientist (Short Story)

The Scientist

            It was the night of a long day for David Morgan.  He couldn’t wait to get home to his only son, Alex, the last remnant of his first marriage.
            “You heading home, Dave?”
            Please, God, no.  Not now.
            “Ya hear me, Dave?”
            “Oh, I’m sorry Shannon.  I must’ve zoned out.  Yes, I’m heading home now.”
            “Well, I’m glad I caught you.  Listen, Dave—”
You listen, you fat cow, my name is David. Dave-id.  I’ve been working here five years; get my name right.
“—Ryan Shelby was assigned Saturday detention for this weekend, but Stacey’s sister is getting married—”
Of course.  The most obnoxious little shit in her homeroom, in the entire school, even, is in his third detention and Mrs I-weigh-five-pounds-extra-because-of-my-makeup has a wedding.  I bet she doesn’t even have a sister.
“—And I was wondering if you could come in tomorrow and supervise him?”
“Well, Shannon, I’m actually a bit tied up.  Alex is—”
“Oh, Alex!  How is he?  He’s getting to be pretty big now; what is he now, seven?”
“He’s eight.  And, actually, he’s a bit under the weather.  Did you check with John?”
“Well, Dave, Stacey specifically requested you.  She says Ryan’s favourite class is science and he really seems to respect you.”
“Gee, Shannon, I really love getting that kind of feedback, but Alex is really quite ill and I don’t want to make Giancarlo come in tomorrow.  I’m worried he might have caught whatever Alex has.  Could we reschedule Ryan’s detention to next week?”
“I’m sorry, Dave.  I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Why are you principal?  You should be doing stand-up.
“Besides, Dave, you know the school board’s policy about negative consequences.  They should be assigned as close as possible to the date of the infraction.  And you know how the board feels about deviation from standard operating procedure.”
“Shan, you’re putting me in a really tight spot here.  I’ll have to call Beth, but I hate taking her away from mom.”
“Oh, how is your sister?  And your mother?”
“Beth’s fine.  Mom has Alzheimer’s, though, and Beth has to take care of her.  Look, Shannon, I really have to go now.”
“Oh, sure thing, Dave!  And thank you for agreeing to come in tomorrow!”
David grunted and walked out the heavy door to his decrepit ten-year-old 1986 Ford Taurus.  Every day, it seemed, something new broke, but he had no intention of replacing the car as long as it continued to get him to his destination.  Despite teaching at one of the best private middle schools in Springfield, he made just enough to buy food, pay the bills, and pay Giancarlo, the housekeeper who took care of Alex while David worked.  He couldn’t afford a new car even if he wanted one.

Walking softly down the hallway, David opened the door and peered into Alex’s dimly lit room.  He could faintly make out the Heroes of Science poster next to the Batman poster on the wall behind Alex’s bed.  An old vaporiser of Christina’s whirred softly, though Alex’s snores seemed to suggest it wasn’t quite working.
Watching him breathe rhythmically, though laboriously, David suddenly began to appreciate how much Alex resembled his bitch of a wife, Christina.  David felt extremely fortunate to have won full custody, though he didn’t win much else from his divorce last year.  He would have hated her less if she had just abandoned him.
“Is that you, Daddy?”
“Hey, Alex.  How ya feeling?”
“Well, guess what.  Aunt Beth is coming to see you tomorrow.”
“Why?  Aunt Beth never comes here.”
“I thought you’d be a little more excited.  Aunt Beth always brings you such good presents.”
“Last year she gave me an itchy sweater.  And she always pinches my cheeks, like in cartoons.”
“Well, I have to work tomorrow, so Aunt Beth is going to be taking care of you.”
“Try to be nice.  Good night, Alex.”
“Good night, Daddy.”

David arrived at Gary Oak Preparatory School at 8:30 AM.  This gave him ample time to grade some papers and wait for Ryan Shelby to arrive ten minutes late.
“Mr Shelby, do you understand why you are in detention this morning?”
Ryan mumbled something in response.
“Speak up, please.”
“Because I threw a chair at Tony White’s fat head.”
Oh boy.  This is gonna be real fun.
“Mr Shelby, I shouldn’t have to tell you that that is unacceptable behaviour.  How many detentions have you had this year?”
“And how many weeks have we been in school?”
Removing his glasses, David sighed audibly.  “Ryan, what’s up?  Why are you doing this?  You’ve stabbed another kid with a ballpoint pen, told Ms Ronson to ‘fuck off’, and now this.  Why?”
Ryan took a brief moment to think, before simply stating, “I dunno.”
That is such fucking bullshit.  If this little shit wasn’t eleven, I’d kick his teeth in.
David sighed again.  “Is there something going on at home?  Is another kid bullying you?
“Look, Ryan, I want to help you.  I want nothing more than to see you succeed.  But you’re very close to being expelled from Oak Prep.  I need to know why you’re behaving this way.”
“I told you.  I don’t know.”
David screamed.  It sounded like a long, exasperated sigh, but he was screaming.  He took several moments to compose himself before calmly saying, “I’ll let you think about that while you work on your homework.  You did bring some, right?”
“Did you bring a book?”
Fuck!  How am I going to survive 3 hours of this?
“Alright.  Here’s a pen and some paper.  Number each line one through five-hundred and write ‘I will not throw chairs’ on each one.  Don’t stop without my permission.  Don’t write anything other than ‘I will not throw chairs.’  Begin.”

Ryan was on line 158 when the phone rang at 10:00.  The voice on the other end was shaking and the quality was poor, but David knew who it was.  Ryan could faintly make out the voice of somebody who was crying.
“David?  David, are you there?”
“Beth?  Is that you?”
“David, please—”
“Beth?  The connection’s really bad.”
“Beth, what’s going on?”
The dial tone refused to answer his question.
“Is everything okay, Mr Morgan?”
“Yes, Ryan.  Just keep working.”  David’s voice was shaking and his hands were trembling so terribly he could barely manage to dial 3 numbers.
“911, what is the nature of your emergency?”
The phone beeped.
“Hold on.  I’m getting another call.”
A disguised voice answered, though it was obviously male.  “David Morgan?”
“We have your son.”
“Who is this?
“I… I am a scientist.  That’s all you need to know.  I am a scientist and you are a subject.”
“Well, how do I know you even have my son?”
“Alex, say hello to your father.”
“Daddy, help me!  I don’t know—”
The Scientist took the phone back.  “Satisfied?”
“What do you want?  I don’t have much money.”
“I just want to see what you’ll do.  Right now, I want you to call the emergency services back and tell them everything’s fine.  Your line is tapped.  If you say anything else, I’ll kill your son.”  The phone disconnected.
“Wait!”  David slumped into his chair, then followed his given instructions.
“Are you sure everything’s okay, Mr Morgan?”
“Just keep working!  I don’t want to hear any more from you!”
An hour passed.  A month.  An eternity.  Fifteen minutes.  David’s head jerked up from the sharp knock at the door.  Nobody stood at the other side, but there was a small package at the foot of the door.
Inside were a small revolver and a typewritten note.

This weapon is fully loaded with six .38 calibre hollow point rounds.  There are 18 additional rounds enclosed.
Using the school van, drive to 250 52ND St.  Take Ryan Shelby with you.  Use the revolver should anyone attempt to impede you.  If you wish Alex to live, you will arrive by 11:00 AM.

It was 10:45.  It would take twenty-five minutes to get to 52nd Street, and he didn’t even know what was at address 250.
“Come with me, Ryan.”
Revealing the revolver, David slowly repeated, “Come with me.”

Driving maniacally, David barely managed to arrive two minutes before the deadline.  He appeared to have arrived at some sort of warehouse.  Shaking, he exited the van and, guiding Ryan along, entered the building.
Bright halogen lights suspended from the ceiling revealed that the warehouse was largely abandoned.  The floor was covered with nothing more than a thin layer of dust.
Shit, is this the right place?  Did I read the address wrong?  What if I’m too late?  What if—
From a PA system David hadn’t noticed before, the Scientist’s disguised voice boomed, “So.  You came.”
“Where are you?” David yelled.  “Where is my son?”
“Patience.  All will be revealed shortly.  Do you still have the revolver?”
“Where is Alex?”
“Alex is safe.  So long as you answer my questions, he shall remain that way.”
“Please!  I just want my son.”
“Then tell me.  Did you bring the revolver?”
David produced the gun from his coat pocket.
“Good.  Good.  Now place it at your feet and kick it away from yourself.”
As David did so, the lights went out.  After about five seconds, each row came back on, one by one.  A tall man in a white coat walked slowly toward him, but David could see no door other than the one he had entered from.  The man wore a strange mask, which presumably contained the voice disguiser.  He carried a strange stick in one hand.  Alex followed closely behind him.
Lurching toward his son, David was stopped.  “Stay where you are.”
“You’re the scientist, then?”
“How very astute.  Bring Shelby over here… Now make him kneel.”  The Scientist did the same to Alex.
“Mr Morgan, what’s going to happen?” Ryan asked.
“Silence!” the Scientist yelled.
“Now,” addressing David, “go pick up the gun.”
As he did, he quickly pointed it towards the Scientist, drawing back the hammer.  “Do you know what a dead-man’s trigger is, Mr Morgan?” the Scientist asked.  “If I drop this stick, we all die,” he said, pulling back his coat to reveal a large bomb.  “It’s really in nobody’s best interest for you to shoot me.”
“What exactly do you expect me to do?”
“I expect you to make a decision.”
“What sort of decision?”
“Whose life to save and whose to take.  Will it be your son, the last reminder of your ex-wife?  Will it be your student, a constant drain on your energy?”
“Why are you doing this?  Why me?  Why Ryan?  Did Christina put you up to this?”
“My motivations are simply that of a scientist.  I want to learn.  You’re a scientist too, aren’t you?  Don’t you want to learn?”
“You’re no scientist!  Scientists have rules!  They have ethics!”
“Where would the fun be in that?  Don’t you agree that learning should be fun?”
“You’re just a monster!”
“We’ll see who the monster is, Mr Morgan.  Why don’t you just make your decision?”
“Shouldn’t I have a third choice?”
“My sister.  Where is she?”
“Oh, her.  I’m afraid your sister is no longer… a viable option.”
“You fucker!  I’ll kill you!”
“I’m still not sure you want to do that,” the Scientist said, waving the trigger.  David stopped still.  He was silent for a long time.

“What’s it going to be, Mr Morgan?  Or will it just be all of us?”
“I just realised something.”
“It’s almost noon.  Ryan’s parents will be coming to pick him up soon.  Perhaps they’ll notice a note.  A note with an address on it.”
“Perhaps they will.  In that case, you’d better decide quickly.  At least one of us isn’t leaving alive.”
David emptied the revolver of all but one bullet.  He began to spin the action, as though playing Russian roulette.
“You’ve got to make a choice, Mr Morgan.  The son who always loved you or the student who secretly respects you?  Maybe Christina did put me up to it.  You can’t let her get away with stealing your only child.  Punish her.
“Or perhaps it’s simply fate.  I promise you, no one will know you did it.  No one will know that you killed one of your students.  He’ll be gone from your class.  He’ll stop wasting your time.  And you can always say I made you do it.  All you have to do is decide.”

Opening up the revolver again, David reinserted the five bullets he had taken out.  Drawing back the hammer, he could hear the sharp inhale from both boys.
Slowly, he walked toward Ryan Shelby.  Stroking his hair, he whispered, “I’m so sorry.”  Ryan was crying, then he fell backwards, finished.
“Your own family over a child you are paid to take care of?” the Scientist asked.  “Intriguing.”

Gathering the five rounds he had removed, David slowly pushed them back into the revolver, one by one.  Spinning the action again, he watched the two boys, tears streaming down Ryan’s face, Alex shaking uncontrollably.
He had to comfort him.  Embracing his son, he lied to himself, “It’s going to be okay.  It’s going to be okay.  It’s going to be okay.”  He couldn’t stop himself.  He was no longer in control and he was about to act against his own will.  Why wasn’t he stopping?  Why couldn’t he stop?  Why was he letting this happen?
The Scientist applauded.  “Very interesting decision, Mr Morgan.”

Spinning the revolver’s action, David contemplated his decision.  He was shaking and he could see his son was too.  Ryan’s tears formed stains on his shirt collar.  All were terrified, all except the Scientist, who stood patiently and curiously watching David.  His eyes widened.  Alex and Ryan gasped.
David had chambered the single round and, drawing back the hammer, placed the gun is his own mouth and fired.  The Scientist grabbed both boys and ran outside towards the school van, dropping the decoy dead-man’s trigger as he went.

The police and the news could not determine what would cause a man to wander to an abandoned warehouse and commit suicide.  After security footage showed David Morgan pointing the same weapon at a student, the state-wide search for Ryan Shelby was intensified.
His body was later discovered alongside that of another boy, evidently the son of the late David Morgan.  Autopsy reports revealed significant damage, possibly the result of dangerous medical experiments.
Over the next several years, more children turned up dead, all with unusual injuries.  All were evidently kidnapped by somebody close to them, also usually found dead.  Phone records revealed an anonymous call shortly before the kidnapping.
After five years of children disappearing and reappearing with curious wounds across the nation, the FBI staged a sort of sting operation to catch the criminal nicknamed The Mad Scientist by the media.  Eventually, they confronted a suicide bomber believed to be working in conjunction with The Mad Scientist.
After the incident, the killings slowed to a halt, save for the occasional copycat killer.  It would seem The Mad Scientist’s five-year reign of terror had finally ended, with a grand total of nearly eighty deaths.

Click.  Bang.  Boom.  David Morgan himself barely had time to comprehend his action, let alone Alex and Ryan.  The Scientist stumbled backward, dropping the dead-man’s trigger.  The floor cracked from the explosion, leaving a small crater at 250 52nd Street.  The fire sprinklers triggered and nearby residents called 911.
It was the end of a long day for David Morgan.

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