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Young Scientists, Dark Secrets

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Handcuffed in Horror
There were five of us, young scientists. In some ways, we were still children: the boys wore shorts, the girl wore a vest.

Imaging: Yuri Levin, Unsplash

Submitted: August 27, 2019

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Submitted: August 27, 2019

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Young Scientists, Dark Secrets

1969:

There were five of us, young scientists. In some ways, we were still children: the boys wore shorts, the girl wore a vest. The other kids used to snigger at me when I crept into Science Club at the end of school, to experiment with chemicals, physicals, and animals.

‘Look, there goes that crawling swot, Dean!’ they gloated.

Those were the days. When summer holidays never seemed to end. It always snowed in winter. and there were five young scientists in our year:

Jim had a frog’s head, bulbous eyeballs, no lids to speak of, thin lips, a crew cut, and sticky-out ears. He loved animals, particularly slimy, squirmy, gooey ones: worms, slugs, eels. Jim was our Biologist. His ambition was to go to medical school, dissect preserved human heads, and become a GP.

One evening, he performed open-heart surgery on a live frog. Mrs Ashtead, who’s habit of blowing the front of her blouse out when the weather was clement caught our attention, walked into the lab as he opened the beating heart, reprimanding naughty Jim. I think the frog died.

Jock was a lovable giant, like Hodo in Game of Thrones. Except that he could speak more than one word. I never worked out why Jock joined Chemistry Club. He had no particular aspiration to be a scientist. Unless you count setting up as a self-employed window cleaning business as Physics?

He played with prisms, though, creating a rainbow by shining a light through a solid glass pyramid. This gave him a certain mystique: Hodo! Anyways, apart from the occasional inspired moment in the Physics lab, he was a dullard, a stand-about, who stuck to Jim in the same way that limpets cling to rocks.

My fan was Brian Vealey, a skinny wimp with curly ginger hair, intensive freckling, and a lisp. The blind admiration, or deference, Brian accorded me as his hero in the classroom, playground and on the mud-hills made him vulnerable to the many accidental explosions Jim and I created.

On one occasion, I was preoccupied with distillation of bromine: a viscous, volatile, pungent, brown liquid: a halide like fluorine, iodine, and chlorine. When Jim offered our friendly Brian a beaker of the liquid to inhale. Veal passed out and had to be revived by Mrs Ashtead and Annette Balham-Bryce, the laboratory technician who unsuccessfully attempted the kiss of life.

On another night, I prepared a mound of green potassium dichromate crystals on an asbestos pad, inserted a strip of magnesium ribbon, and asked Jim to light the ribbon with the flame of a Bunsen burner. Just light it? Enough to ignite the ribbon? In theory, the ribbon would flare! Like a photographer’s flash light! Burn down as far as the green crystals and trigger a reaction where they oxidized and spewed out dark green chromic oxide like a volcano! In theory. Why Jim stood in a trance heating up the asbestos pad I will never know.

Without warning, the pad cracked, and the volcano erupted, exploding in Jock’s face, embedding his round, white, spotty head with hot beads of molten chromium. Three shiny blobs of metal were blasted into his forehead. Ashtead and Balham-Bryce carried him into the prep room with the aid of Fischer, Physics, and Munt, Metalwork, reviving him with smelling salts, and scrubbed out the implants with a stiff wire brush. I hated Metalwork. Dad couldn’t afford to buy me an apron so I skipped class.

Susan had a squashed Pekinese face, straw blonde pigtails, and a port wine stain on one cheek: the least attractive schoolgirl in Byfield. She was a sad-looking girl, dog-faced, unsmiling, but a brilliant Botanist. Susan loved plants. I recall how she brought freshly-picked wild flowers from Byfield Woods to school to give me.

One weekend she took the green train from Byfield to Cassocks in the Downs with her mum and picked a large bunch of wild orchids to show Mrs Ashtead. That was the only time I saw a teacher cry. Susan was middle-class, a supposed bright spark – you wouldn’t think so judging by her erratic behaviour. 

Once, during Chemistry, she drank a beaker of copper sulphate solution because she liked the blue colour, and had to be rushed to hospital to have her stomach pumped. I felt sorry for her with the burgundy port wine stain on her face, and poison in her stomach, but I didn’t like her.

Sue had an old face, a dead-pan ecru face, that reminded me of my mum after she got her head stuck in the window railings at our house, and my sister severed her throat with a serrated kitchen knife.

I haven’t seen Tanith since she was admitted to the secure mental hospital, and never will: she was certified insane. I think that’s why I disliked Susan? Her face reminded me of mum’s, after she had suffocated to death?

*****

2019:

There are two of us left, Jim and me. In some ways, we are still children. The boys wore shorts. The girl wore a vest.

I wonder who we’ll cut up tonight…


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