An essay by Mel Dickson, as provided by Pathos
Art by Luke Spooner
I was surprisingly calm the morning before the incident. One would assume that on the eve of assisting in such an insidious plot, one would feel butterflies, but actually I was relatively tranquil. It was almost as if my brain had shut off my adrenal gland as an extreme coping mechanism to save me the anxiety of participating in acts of questionable legality.
The only reason I was even working for Professor Gibbs as a “live-in” was because I was still on probation for cannabis abuse as well as driving under the influence of an inebriating substance. And now that I was eighteen, it was either the streets, a halfway house full of smelly, greasy, unsavory ex-cons, or an arrangement such as this.
I got dressed without even considering using my upstairs shower. Professor Gibbs was obsessed, currently, with creating aerosol sprays or completely vaporizing liquids into gas. Yesterday’s shower had yielded an unexpected encounter with the former, where instead of hot water I was greeted with a putrid mixture of phenol and ethanol, which hissed from the shower head like cyanide from a Nazi gas chamber. The professor informed me that he was testing a solution that would make the process of showering faster and more efficient by combining a germicide with a fast drying sterilizing agent, therefore providing a thorough cleansing and negating the necessity of towels. I had informed him he was full of crap, and he even admitted his own failure to take hair and shampoo into consideration. I didn’t want to see if he’d enhanced the formula to accommodate the oversight.
I always find it funny how human beings are so often contradictions of themselves. Take Anthony Gibbs for example: he had an IQ that was through the roof, but resorted to using it for extremely petty purposes, so immature they even made me blush. Most recently he’d tried to vaporize a strain of Hepatitis B in a high school locker room right before a football game. Fortunately the project had mostly failed. The only consequence was that the teenager accused of setting off the explosion was now doing five to eight years at a juvenile detention facility. While Gibbs claimed he was doing a “sting” to show the media that the Hepatitis B vaccine given to teenagers was ineffective, the true reason, I believe, was his anger at the team’s defense employing an eleven man rush against teams with below average quarterbacks. The pre-game incident had cost them a shot at the state championship, because they had to forfeit the game that they would have needed to win to get there.
Then there was the time Gibbs had lost fifty dollars to a man because the guy completed a course of Frisbee Golf under par throwing the Frisbee overhand, a feat that the professor claimed “defied the laws of classical physics.” Gibbs had paid up, but less than a week later, the man was hospitalized because he had mysteriously contracted anthrax. I include these incidents solely as documentation that what happened at the Faerie Festival was no isolated incident.
The method to enter behind the false wall into the secret underground basement that Gibbs himself had constructed was appropriately absurd. First you had to remove the book, “Quantum Mechanics for Dummies,” from the bookshelf, then press and hold middle C on the nearby grand piano while simultaneously flicking the hall light switch nine times. Then you had to give the round table a quarter turn, adjust the painting of Nolan Bushnell, and return the book to its proper place in the bookshelf. Finally the wall panel would slide out, and it would close automatically upon descending the staircase leading to the basement. The method for re-entering the house was equally elaborate.
As my shoes landed against the concrete stairs that led down a narrow corridor into Gibbs’s scientific hideout, the echoes of my footfalls bouncing through the winding stairwell were soon drowned out by a grandiose symphony presumably emanating from Gibbs’s second grand piano downstairs. The melody banged with urgent fervor, then softened into a delicate whimsy. The professor never missed a note.
He rose from his seat as he perceived my approach. He had a lurking, rigid posture, where his tall, thin frame seemed to stiffen like a telephone pole, often with his hands interlocked behind his back. He looked at me above his reading glasses, which were expertly balanced at the tip of his hawk-like nose. This manner I always considered condescending. It often made me want to break something valuable. He smiled in a very forced, calculated way.
“Good morning, Mel,” he greeted me. “We have a lot of preparations to do, as I am sure you are aware.”
Of course I was aware. Stupid jerk always feigning cordiality.
“By the way, that was a new composition I just was practicing. Mozart. What do you think?”
“Nobody tickles the ivories like you, sir.” I met him with a wide grin.
Our current “plot”–well, according to Gibbs it was an experiment–was to see if sound amplifiers could vaporize a liquid into a gas. Tomorrow was the last day of the Faerie Festival, and Gibbs had chosen the grand finale, a concert by the festival’s marquee band that would be attended by hundreds, as the venue to test his hypothesis. His claim was that he was attempting to make the fairgrounds smell like horseradish with his formula. I had figured out weeks ago that, as usual, there was a more diabolical scheme twisted within the nefarious cortex of the man.
I became suspicious when Professor Gibbs had pitched the idea, because he always had some ulterior motive. My suspicions were validated when I realized that the network of fans and tubes he would have to run through the sound amplifier rendered the amplifier itself pretty much useless in causing his formula to vaporize. In fact, the schematic he drew up almost made it look like we were bypassing the amplifiers completely, relying on more proven methods of ventilating fumes. So then what was the true purpose of making almost an acre of land reek of horseradish?
To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Spring 2014 collection.
Mel Dickson (b. Melchezedik Edwardus Gibbs, Oct. 2, 1994) is currently living with Sheriff Frank Miller in Bend, Oregon. He is a student at a junior college, and is majoring in biologically hazardous waste production and distribution.
Pathos is a shadow. He has had stories previously published in Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine and on yesteryearfiction.com.
Luke Spooner a.k.a. ‘Carrion House’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com.Follow us online: