March Madness Flash Fiction: SUBJECT TWELVE by Robert McKay
TODAY’S BREW: French Vanilla from a RUNNING HOME mug. Because I’m just self-important enough to have one.
I’m so happy to show you Rob McKay’s work today. This story kept me guessing until the very last line, and its inventiveness is incredible. I need to see a Rob McKay book on my book shelf. Check out Rob’s blog http://t.co/oNs3WtYXHS and find him where I did, on Twitter https://twitter.com/robertmckay. He’s probably the sweetest person ever.
by Robert McKay
I paced back and forth in front of Dr. Naughton’s office and considered bolting back to the lab. It was pointless though, his secretary had already announced that I was waiting to see him. If I left, I would have interrupted him for no reason. Besides, he’d asked to be apprised of any significant changes in behavior. He just always managed to make me feel stupid like nobody but my mother could. I had just as many doctorates as he had; three, if anybody was counting. He was only heading the project because he was a few years older and the program director liked him. God only knew why.
The office door clicked open. His welcome grunt was barely audible. He didn’t even try to hide the way he stared at his secretary’s legs. Her dress covered most of them and the awkward twitch of her perfect, flat nose told me she’d noticed far too many times. “Come in Casey,” he called, waving me past him. It irritated me that he used my first name. If I did the same, he’d glare at me until I corrected myself, the pompous ass.
He walked by me and took a seat behind his desk, looking up expectantly. He didn’t offer me a seat, or even ask me what I was there for. Just waited for me to dance like I was the evening’s entertainment.
“Subject twelve is exhibiting signs of distress,” I said, when the silence had drawn out long enough to be awkward.
“What sort of signs of distress?” asked Dr. Naughton, letting out a small squeal of surprise.
“He’s just sitting in the corner of his cage and staring off into the distance, sir,” I said.
Dr. Naughton let out a long, grunting groan. “You took me away from my important research because subject twelve is doing nothing?”
“Well, sir,” I continued nervously, silently berating myself for letting the man get to me, “George is also sighing loudly and gripping one hand in the other, mimicking the way he used to hold han–”
“That’s enough!” shouted Dr. Naughton, rising to his feet and slamming his hands on the desk. “You sound like an idiot child. These subjects don’t have hands, they have paws. Only people have hands. And as has been highly documented, the subjects only join paws in an effort to appear larger to prey animals in an attempt to scare them away. If you are trying to imply otherwise, I’ll have you summarily dismissed from this project on grounds of mental instability.”
He stared at me as if daring me to contradict him. I didn’t agree with a single thing he’d just said, but a lot of scientists more eminent than I was did and I wasn’t about to lose this assignment over a theory that I hadn’t had a chance to properly test. Still, that didn’t mean he wasn’t an asshole and that I wasn’t right about the distress. “He’s also stopped eating, sir,” I said through clenched teeth.
Dr. Naughton’s shoulders slumped and he sighed. “Why didn’t you lead with that, Casey? It’s probably some sort of gastronomic issue. Put him on a bland diet, force feed him if you have to. I’m sure it will clear up in a few days.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, keeping a tight reign on the words bouncing around in my head.
“Is that all, Casey?”
I nodded, not trusting my tongue further.
“Dismissed.” He waved vaguely toward the door, already rooting around in his desk, probably for something to eat.
I stomped out of his office and shut the door as hard as I thought I could get away with. I was still huffing and puffing when I made it back to the lab.
“I would ask you how it went, but I think that might make your head explode,” said Gayle, trying her best to hide a smirk.
“I went in there expecting to get fired, so in my book, it counts as a win. We’ve fulfilled our duties and reported the behavior. Now we can proceed in the way we think is best.” Her smirk, whether it was at my expense or not, was cute, and it had helped calm me down.
“What did he suggest, anyway?” asked Gayle, reaching over and straightening my ruffled hair.
I pulled her hand away gently and sighed. “Bland diet.” Gayle groaned. “And don’t groom me here, public displays of affection might be enough to get me fired now.”
“Alright, let’s take care of George. I’ll bring in Ursula.”
“I’m still not sure we’re right about their feelings. Ursula doesn’t seem to be bothered like George is.”
“We’re right, and she’s not bothered because she knows she’s right.” Gayle smiled and walked out of the room.
A minute later Ursula stepped into the observation room, her eyes scanning for George. She studied him briefly and then turned away, crossing her arms. He ran over and threw his arm around her, gibbering in higher pitched tones and pressing his mouth against her skin. It was a peculiar habit that seemed at times amorous, and other times, apologetic. Ursula held her ground for a moment, her back stiff, and then relented and slumped into George’s arms. He sniffed her hair, again making me wonder how they smelled anything with down-turned noses.
“See,” said Gayle, stepping up behind Casey and observing the humans through the glass. “He apologized and she forgave him. He knew he was wrong. That’s why he was sad.”
“And maybe he missed her.”
I leaned my head against hers. “We’re going to be laughed out of academia when we publish our paper saying humans are capable of love, you know.”
“No we’re not. We are two of the most respected scientists porcinekind has ever known. We’ll be hailed as revolutionary.”
“Or completely mad,” I said.
“Or completely mad,” she agreed, favoring me with her sweetest smile.