The Scientific Method

Microscope ( Image by felixioncool from Pixabay )

Sean tilted his head.

“It’s a jar of dirt.” Dylan sounded disappointed.

“That’s not 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.”

We laughed, 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.”

“Yeah, it 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.”

“Sorry, Em. It’s just not safe.”

“But it’s in a jar.”

“And it seems to have changed within the jar. Who knows what could happen if you touch the container now,” I said.

“You’re touching it,” Dylan pointed out.

Sean gave him the mind-your-tongue look. “We’re grownups.”

Dylan rolled his eyes.

“Well, what if the grownups put a sample under my microscope and let me take a look?” Emily flashed her sweetest smile.

“Oh, no sweet pea, I don’t think that’s a great idea.”

“Pleeeeeaaase?” 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.

Georgia 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.

“Maybe we could just put a little piece on a slide.”

“Sean—”

“We handle the sample ourselves, with gloves and tweezers, slide the glass onto the microscope, and supervise her as she looks through the lens.”

Emily nodded 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.

They nodded 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.

“Sean, are you sure this is a good idea? What if the stuff is radioactive?”

“It would probably be glowing if it was radioactive.” His sweet smile that had first enticed me to marry him played across his face.

“Sean, I’m 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 before.

“Honestly, 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.”

I smiled. “So you’re a scientist now?”

“I’m just 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.”

“I’m sure 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 grins.

Emily 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 of dirt.

He placed 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.

“Alright, Em, just the microscope and its controls,” Sean cautioned.

She nodded. Dylan stood nearby and followed his sister’s instructions when she asked for more or less light and help adjusting the lens.

“Well, what do you see?” Dylan asked eagerly.

“Definitely not dirt.” She kept her eye on the microscope lens. “It doesn’t have the same composition as what’s in our backyard.”

“What composition does it have?” I asked.

Emily looked up at us and shrugged. “Not sure. Nothing I’ve seen, but then again, I haven’t seen much.” She laughed.

Dylan nudged his sister to let him take a look. He pressed his eye to the microscope. “Whoah, cool.”

“What’s it 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.

“Relax. It’s probably a microbe thing, like the Bioluminescent Bays.”

“Fascinating,” Emily exhaled.

“What is?” Dylan peered around the microscope at an angle, trying to get a look at what his sister was seeing.

“Its composition changed. I still don’t recognize it, but it’s different than before. Almost like a kaleidoscope.”

Emily 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.

The 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.

“That’s…odd.”

“Okay, we’re 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.

“Enough science project for the night. We’ll find a lab to send this to in the morning.”

The kids began to protest, but I put a hand up in silence, indicating the final word.

“Your papa’s 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!

Mixing Genres

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.

Pile of carbon fuel (Image by SeppH from Pixabay)

“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.

A Bump in the Road

Green blue oil film wave (Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay)

At first, we thought the black liquid was oil, that we’d struck it rich and that we’d be able to retire and live in leisure. We actually started writing down all the ways we’d spend the money.

Our first choice was an estate out in the country, with wide open spaces for the kids to run around. We had such grand dreams to finally get Emily the Little Laboratory Kit she always wanted. We reveled in the vision of seeing Dylan’s face when we brought home the Fender Stratocaster he’d looked at with longing every time he passed Moe’s Music Store window.

All those dreams shattered though when the local prospector said, “Sorry, gentlemen. Not oil.”

Sean’s face fell. “What?”

The prospector shook his head. “This isn’t oil.” He tapped the mason jar my partner and I had brought in.

“Well then, what is it?” My heart sank to my stomach.

He shrugged. “Don’t know, but not oil.”

Sean looked at the prospector with suspicion. “How do you know?”

“Been around oil my whole life.” The prospector leaned forward. “This looks like it, but see how it moves when I tilt the jar?”

The prospector tipped the container to the side and showed us the slow, sludgy movement of the black liquid. “Oil don’t do that.”

I grabbed the mason jar back from his hands. “Where can we find out what this is?” I took Sean’s hand and gave it a squeeze. The look I gave my partner said, Don’t give up hope.

The prospector gave another apathetic shrug. “Some lab, I s’pose. I’m no scientist.” I pursed my lips and nodded. “Thank you.” We rose at the same time and walked out to our truck.

This is the first installment in a short story called “Better Than Fiction” that I’ve decided to serialize. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Memory Found

Kerri watched as the bedroom door eased open and a man’s head popped into view.

“Kerri, honey, are you alright?” He inched in slowly, as if afraid he might startle her, like she was a rabid animal.

She breathed deep and nodded her head. She couldn’t bring herself to speak, because she could not recall his name or his face for that matter. Where was she? Who was he?

The man nodded and flipped a lamp on in the bedroom and turned the hall light off. “Sorry you didn’t find me when you woke. I just wanted to get my things ready for tomorrow.”

Kerri tilted her head in confusion.

“For my trip? Remember, I’m leaving for a conference?”

Still, she couldn’t remember what he spoke of.

He let out a sigh. “Maybe this was a mistake. You’re not ready for this yet.” He turned to leave the bedroom again. “I’ll just call and cancel, tell them I can’t make it.”

“No, wait.” Kerri reached out a hand. “It’s okay. I’m fine. Just had a nightmare.”

He looked back at her, as if unsure if she spoke the truth.

She swallowed hard and smiled. “Really, I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me.” She still hadn’t responded with his name. Though she had no clue who he was and where he was going, she felt they must have had a close enough relationship that her vague reassurances would be enough to ease his mind.

He settled back into the bed beside her and nodded. He leaned over and kissed her forehead, and the gesture made her smile. Whatever memories were missing, the sensation of familiar intimacy hadn’t gone.

“Get some sleep,” he whispered in her ear as they lay back down.

Kerri watched as this man that gave her a feeling of warmth at the very center of her chest closed his eyes and fell into a restful sleep. She couldn’t help but watch as he breathed evenly, the tension from before slowly fading from his face. After a few minutes his breathing turned into a soft snoring, and the sound made her giggle.

Without thinking, Kerri reached a hand out and ran it through his hair, a gesture that felt so familiar and practiced, and yet in that moment seemed alien to her. She worried at her lower lip as she struggled to find his name and face in her memory.

The energy of worrying finally got to her. Kerri drifted into sleep, her hand still on the man’s head in a gentle caress. As the world around her turned black once more, a single word popped into her head: Tom.

She tried to jerk awake at the revelation, but instead of finding herself in the bedroom, she found herself in the topsy turvy dreamland once more. This time though, she remembered what she needed to know. Tom awaited her whenever she returned to the real world.

For more of Kerri’s adventures, see part 1 and part 2.

Memory Missing

Kerri furiously tore through the sheets and pillows, seeking him out. Why couldn’t she recall his name? And who was he to her?

Her mind, still fuzzy from the dizzying dream that felt all too real, searched frantically for the memory of whoever he was, something to cling on to. As her hands worked through the bedding, now tearing the fabric apart with inhuman strength, she wracked her brains, but nothing came.

The desperation left her breathless, and she began to gasp for air. Her fingers tangled into the sheets, tightly winding the fabric around and around, cutting off circulation until finally she simply ripped it apart into tiny threads. Kerri looked down in dismay at the ruined sheets, dropping them suddenly from her hand like a hot pan. How did she do that?

Before she could get a hold of herself, the sensation of not knowing turned into a panic attack. She took long inhalations, but to no avail. She rocked back and forth in the bed, her lungs burning for air they couldn’t get. It seemed as if the room were shrinking around her, and she hunched lower and lower into the bed, trying to maintain space between her body and the walls. The harder she tried to breathe the less air flowed through her lungs.

Tears streamed down her face as she felt she might pass out again. A terrified scream escaped her mouth, and the sound triggered a light in the hallway to turn on. Kerri saw the flicker of shine come through the crack in the bedroom door. The realization that she was not alone was what finally settled her racing heart and eased her breath. Someone was here with her.

This is a continuation of another story. See part one here.

In the End — Sharing

Another great piece on the Drabble. How can someone be so riveting in so little words?!

By Donna L. Greenwood “When they drop the bomb, there’ll be nothing left worth surviving for,” he said. And then they dropped the bomb. I couldn’t bring myself to gobble up the pills or drink the vodka he had provided. He had no such trouble. Halfway through the vodka, he told me a joke about […]

via In the End —

Sharing from the Drabble

By Richard Helmling As the ash piled up on the sixth day, they finally decided to head south. “Por favor,” they made their son practice as they drove. They avoided El Paso because the last radio broadcasts they had received said it was impossible to cross there. So they found a seemingly desolate stretch of […]

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A short piece but it packs a punch.