“It’s a jar
of dirt.” Dylan sounded disappointed.
dirt,” Emily added. “I’ve seen dirt. That’s not it.”
Sean and I
gave our daughter a questioning look. She shrugged. “I’ve been studying
different things with the microscope you bought me last year. Dirt is mostly
what I’ve studied since that’s all there is around here.”
but held the jar out for the kids to see. “The thing is, sweet pea, this wasn’t
solid when we found it and put it in the jar.”
was liquid. Which is why we thought it was oil.”
“How did it
turn hard so fast?” she asked, reaching out a hand to touch the jar.
I pulled it
out of her reach before she could even graze it with her fingertips. I shot her
a warning look that made her pout. “We don’t know what it is, and now this turn
of events is mysterious.”
It’s just not safe.”
“But it’s in
seems to have changed within the jar. Who knows what could happen if you touch
the container now,” I said.
touching it,” Dylan pointed out.
him the mind-your-tongue look. “We’re grownups.”
if the grownups put a sample under my microscope and let me take a look?” Emily
flashed her sweetest smile.
sweet pea, I don’t think that’s a great idea.”
Dylan and Emily pleaded together, clasping their hands and dancing in place.
I looked to
Sean for backup, but should have known right away that was useless. He merely
gave me the same puppy eyes as our kids.
popped her head in from the kitchen. “Alright, you lot. Have fun with your
science experiments. I’m out.”
We all waved
goodbye to the kids’ grandma and heard the screen door slam behind her as she
left. I listened to her car engine turn on in the driveway and the crackle of
the tires over the pebbles. I’d have no backup from her.
could just put a little piece on a slide.”
the sample ourselves, with gloves and tweezers, slide the glass onto the
microscope, and supervise her as she looks through the lens.”
vigorously and looked at me with wide eyes. Dylan followed suit until finally
even Sean was begging for the experiment.
I let out an
exasperated breath. “Okay, we’ll take a look under the microscope, but no
touching, either of you.” I emphasized the point with a severe finger wagging.
in unison. Sean and I grabbed the materials while the kids went to Emily’s
makeshift lab in the tool shed to prep the microscope.
you sure this is a good idea? What if the stuff is radioactive?”
probably be glowing if it was radioactive.” His sweet smile that had first
enticed me to marry him played across his face.
serious. We don’t know what this stuff is.” I held up the jar and squinted at
the substance. It was still in the new solid form it had taken almost an hour
Phil,” Sean said, “I think it’ll be fine. It might just be some kind of fossil
thing. Like the tar pits, but once we removed it from its environment, it
solidified. Change in temperature and pressure and all that.”
“So you’re a scientist now?”
trying to be practical. Not let our imaginations get the best of us. Besides,
we’re always encouraging the kids to be curious and discover the world.”
“I know, I
know. But telling them to be curious in theory is great. Letting them do
something that could be dangerous is different.”
it’ll be fine. Now let’s get out there before Em starts shrieking for us.” Sean
leaned in and kissed me, pouring in every ounce of reassurance he could offer.
Out in the
tool shed, the kids had cleaned the desk space, sanitized the microscope, and
pulled out fresh glass slides. They both wore gloves and greeted us with big
reached out a hand with a slide. “Here, put a sample on this.”
Sean and I
glanced at one another, having one of those moments that said oil or no oil, we
have all we need right here. I opened the jar and let my partner chisel off a
piece with the tweezers. It came off easier than expected, like it was a clump
the fine powder onto the slide and placed it under the microscope. Emily started
to adjust the slide, but I stopped her with a stern glare. She paused and let
her dad do it for her.
Em, just the microscope and its controls,” Sean cautioned.
Dylan stood nearby and followed his sister’s instructions when she asked for
more or less light and help adjusting the lens.
do you see?” Dylan asked eagerly.
not dirt.” She kept her eye on the microscope lens. “It doesn’t have the same
composition as what’s in our backyard.”
composition does it have?” I asked.
up at us and shrugged. “Not sure. Nothing I’ve seen, but then again, I haven’t
seen much.” She laughed.
his sister to let him take a look. He pressed his eye to the microscope.
doing?” Emily pushed her brother out of the way again to see into the lens.
But even Sean
and I could see what was happening. The sample from the slide radiated a blue
glow. I grabbed my partner’s hand and took a step forward to pull the kids
away, but Sean stopped me.
probably a microbe thing, like the Bioluminescent Bays.”
Dylan peered around the microscope at an angle, trying to get a look at what
his sister was seeing.
composition changed. I still don’t recognize it, but it’s different than
before. Almost like a kaleidoscope.”
stepped back and let Dylan look again. She turned to me with bright eyes almost
the same as the sample’s glow. “Papa, look.” She pointed at the jar we’d left
on the desk.
substance had changed once more to liquid, but this time almost translucent,
and also glowing blue. It didn’t just glow though; it pulsated, like it was
sending out a beacon.
definitely in a sci-fi flick now, Phil. This has gotta be alien.” Sean’s face
was lit by the jar’s blue light, giving him almost a panicked expression.
science project for the night. We’ll find a lab to send this to in the
began to protest, but I put a hand up in silence, indicating the final word.
right, kids. We’ve played enough with this new thing for one day. Let’s get you
both to bed now.” Sean turned to me. “Wanna lock it up in something for now?”
I nodded. While Sean escorted Emily and Dylan back to the house to get them ready for bed, I emptied out an old steel toolbox to put the jar in. With my hands still in gloves, I picked up the sample slide from the microscope and looked around, unsure of what to do with it for a moment. Before I could decide though, it began to squirm and move on its own.
This is a continuation of a short story called “Better Than Fiction” which I serialized for my blog. See the other parts here: Part 1 | Part 2
Let me know what you think in the comments!