This is the second installment in a short story called “Better Than Fiction” that I’ve decided to serialize. Let me know what you think in the comments! See the first installment here.
“I really thought we’d finally caught a break,” Sean whispered.
I kissed the scruffy cheek of the man I’d married so many years ago. “This is just a bump.”
We climbed into the rusted, old Toyota Tacoma, its doors squeaky with good use. “Who knows,” I beamed, “maybe we discovered a new element. That’d be even better.”
Sean rolled his eyes. “You watch too many sci-fi movies, Phil.”
“It’s only fiction until it becomes true. Then it’s just science.”
Sean laughed, grasping the jar in his hand. “Maybe we should get a second opinion. I mean, we don’t know how oil is supposed to move in a container. Maybe the prospector was just trying to swindle us. Get us to tell him where we found it and take it for himself.”
“I think you’ve watched too many mystery thrillers.” I grabbed his hand as we drove back to our little shack on the countryside.
“But seriously, Phil.” Sean furrowed his brows, concentrating his stare on the black sludge in the jar. “If it’s not oil, then what is it? We hit a pool of it at our drill sight.”
I shook my head, keeping my eyes up ahead. “What if it’s alien? And the government was trying to cover it up.”
Sean let out a snort and squeezed his partner’s hand. “Mixing genres now?”
“Hey, it could happen.”
We pulled into our driveway, laughing at all the ridiculous possibilities of what the black sludge could be. The kids were already waiting for us on the front doorstep and came running as we got out of the car. Emily jumped into Sean’s arms and Dylan embraced me around the waist.
“We missed you.” Dylan’s voice was muffled as his face was buried in my stomach.
“We missed you, too.” I ran a hand through my son’s hair, thinking he needed a cut.
“What’s for dinner?” Sean asked Emily.
“Nana made chicken pot pie. And I helped.” She threw us both a proud smile.
“That sounds great. Can’t wait to eat it.”
We walked back together and found my mother in law prepping the dinner table. “I’m sure you boys are hungry and tired.” To the kids she said, “Go wash up now. Let your papas breathe.”
Sean hugged his mother and kissed her on the cheek. “Thanks for all the help, ma.”
She touched a hand to his face and smiled. “Of course, sweetie. Anything for the family.”
I gave her a hug as well. “Georgia, you’re an angel.”
“Hush now. Sit down and eat.” She gave them each a playful pat on the shoulders and put the meal on the table.
Emily and Dylan came back, hands still moist from the wash. They helped their grandmother by setting out the pitcher of tea and the basket of dinner rolls. We all sat down and joined hands to say grace. Sean led the prayer as he always did.
“Dear Lord, we thank you for this hot meal we are about to receive and the home you have provided. We thank you for the family that keeps our house warm and the love and joy we share with one another each day. We ask that you keep us safe and never wanting for anything. May we be able to pass on your blessings, in your name Lord. Amen.”
The kids, Georgia, and I echoed the, Amen, just before the hot dishes got passed around. Sounds of laughter filled the dining room while Emily and Dylan told us about their days at school the past week we’d missed. They told us of their friends, their homework, their upcoming science fair projects, and the quarrels between cliques.
“Papa, did you find what you were looking for out in Fairmont?” Emily turned her inquisitive face to me.
I looked to Sean for a moment before answering. “No, sweet pea. Not quite.”
“So what did you find?” she persisted.
I chuckled. “What makes you think we found anything?”
Emily smiled wide. “Dad put his bag in the closet right as soon as he got home. And you just said, ‘not quite,’ which means you found something.”
Sean gave a hearty laugh. “C’mon, Phil. You know nothing gets past Em. She’s the smartest in the family.”
I sighed. “Alright, we found something, but we’re not sure what. We thought it might be oil, but the prospector said it wasn’t.”
“Can I see it?” Their daughter’s eyes lit up with curiosity.
Sean put a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “I’m not sure that’s safe, Em. We don’t know if it’s dangerous.”
“Aw, c’mon dad. Let us have a look,” Dylan chipped in now.
Sean and I looked to Georgia who merely shrugged and began cleaning up the dinner table. I glanced at Sean and raised an eyebrow. He put his hands up in surrender.
“Okay, but it stays in the jar. Don’t open it.” The chair gave a low screech as I pushed it back, away from the table, and made my way to the front door closet to retrieve the jar from Sean’s pack.
I removed the jar from the bag and nearly dropped it. In the time since we’d found the liquid and put it in the container, it had solidified. “Uh, Sean?”
He walked over, the kids close behind. “What’s wrong, Phil?” I revealed the jar, filled with a now rock-solid substance.