A dark tale by Casey Douglass
|Image used freely courtesy of Splitshire|
A thick plume of smoke erupted from the delicate container, the glass emitting a worrying cracking noise as the internal pressures tried to become external as quickly as possible.
Lance shied away behind the thick tome propped open in front of him, hoping for some kind of protection from the possibly imminent explosion. Sweat dripped from the tip of his nose, which he briskly wiped on the back of his hand. He looked down at his hand, wondering if it was sweat glistening on the back of it, or snot, his mind weighing the odds before a particularly loud crack brought him back to the room.
‘Focus Lance focus!’ he muttered to the empty room. The mental image of a photographer fiddling with a lens stole into his mind, words like "aperture", "white balance" and "ISO quality" floating around the periphery. In a movement so swift it somehow surprised even him, his hand shot up and deposited a stinging slap on his right cheek. His glasses flew swiftly from his face and clattered to the floor. He uttered a strangled cry, his face red, his teeth gritted, in a mask of pure irritation. The fumes from the beaker started to reach his nose now, the particles tickling and tugging at his nose hairs. He sniffed and spluttered as he sank to the ground, his hands desperately pawing at the floor. His finger knocked something skittering away, which to his ears sounded like an expensive visit to the opticians if ever he’d heard one. He scurried further along, the thick base of the bench always pressed to his right shoulder. He reached the end and felt a gust of air around his now exposed side.
‘Blast!’ he shouted as he turned about face and headed back the other way. His ears were pricked, listening for the sound of breaking glass and the early signs of a manifestation; the sort that cost you your career and your license to experiment. Not to mention the body count that would likely be involved.
His head bumped against the leg of his chair. Muttering he heaved himself up and sat on it panting. His eyes were blurry, the room indistinct. He had no idea if anything was in there with him, or if he was even in there with himself any more. He could have changed multiverse, he might be a colour in some painting of the room, or the tattoo on a prostitute's back in the early twentieth century. The reaction going on in the container had slowed somewhat now, the crackles and occasional pops coming at less regular intervals. He coughed in his hand, and with unfocussed eyes, attempted to check that there were no spiders, pixies, rats or Djinn. You only got that blasted Fairytale flu once, and it haunted you forever. He sighed away the tension at the sight of his empty palm.
Lance sat for some time, the flask not reacting, the room silent around him save for the slow ticking of the clock behind him. His heart fluttered as he pondered, an involuntary grin on his face.
‘Make you jump? Ha! Too easy! Don't know why I bother any more.’
‘Some people are just bastards I guess.’
Barnham stood behind him now and smacked him hard on his back. ‘Too true too true. What are your glasses doing over there? Been looking for pennies again? Or have you been looking up that Miss. Curmudgen’s skirt again!’
‘Well I never!’ Lance exclaimed, his fists bunching.
‘Stay there. I’ll get them.’
‘Thank you,’ seeped through Lances clenched jaw.
‘So what were you doing?’
‘It was a sequence of mishaps. It isn't important.’
‘I see you have a red hand on your cheek! It was Mrs. Cur-’
‘NO! I was trying to snap myself out of something, a reverie of sorts.’
‘My word, what will the master say! Spying on that poor Miss...’
Lance’s face relaxed and he grinned.
‘What’s so funny?’
‘Well, the master will be promoting me soon, so I don't care what lies you spread about me and the aforementioned lady.’
‘Promoting you? Why in the hell would he do that?’
‘Oh I don't know,’ Lance said in a singsong voice. ‘Perhaps because I did an experiment and nothing happened!’
Barnham’s mouth slipped open so suddenly it made a popping sound.
‘Not a single thing.’
‘No matrix like inversions?’
Barnham grinned, his eyes glistening. He launched himself at Lance, his arms wrapping him in a tight bear hug. ‘At last! At last!’
Lance alternated between tittering and sobbing as he returned the hug.
‘You know what this means?’ Barnham said as he leaned back and looked in Lance’s eyes.
‘If we can apply what you did to everything else, we don't need to live in fear again!’
‘Yes!’ Lance nodded like a cat watching a butterfly.
‘We can make a cup of tea and not be afraid what might fall into the cup! We can run a bath and add some perfume and not need to have two harpoonists on hand in case something surfaces. My dear fellow! What did you do? How?’
Lance pointed at the book behind him. Barnham leaned over and burst out laughing.
‘Of course! Of course! Why didn't anyone else think of it!’
Lance grinned. ‘Good old Tome of Statistical Evaluation, nothing brings outliers under control like probability tables!’
‘What... this isn't the Tome of Statistical evaluation!’
‘No, it’s the combined collection of Harry Potter, the book that got all those kids into reading hundreds of years ago, before they found that magic did indeed exist!’
Lance stood up and swayed a little in a stunned silence, the tuna sandwich he’d subdued and eaten over lunch threatening to make another appearance.
Barnham laughed. ‘Of course! What better way to bring about nothing of interest than applying the techniques in a fictional book. When everything switched after that Large Hadron Collider “unpleasantness,” the sciences became mythical and magic became our reality. Pity we still don't know how to use it, but at least now we might be able to live a normal life without strange creatures manifesting every time we turn a light switch on!’
Barnham slapped him on the back again and rushed from the room shouting, ‘Breakthrough! Breakthrough! Get the Master!’
Lance exhaled for the first time in what felt like at least five minutes, his thoughts chiding and berating him. What a fool, what a fool! He hadn't discovered anything on purpose, it was just dumb luck, that's all it was, dumb luck! How on earth had he managed to mistake the contents of the two books? How? No doubt Barnham would soon be telling everyone that it was he who’d added two and two together, and come out with four, for the first time in decades.
Lance slammed his fist down towards the bench top, missed, and ended up hitting himself in the thigh. His leg buckled as the feeling left it. Falling forwards, he hit his head on the wooden edge in front of him and blacked out. The last sound he heard was the old bell being struck in the distance, cheers swelling around its chimes. And thus, he slept through the dawning of a new age.
Thank you for reading. This story was written some time ago but is only now being published in the hope that it will spur me on to get back into the swing of writing fiction again. It may be a little rough and ready but on the whole, I think it's sound. If you enjoyed this short story, please tell your friends and share a link to it on social media. Getting eyeballs on writing is an ongoing struggle, so every little helps. Thank you :).