The Nothing Machine Chapter 4

Short Story by: meriddle


The chronicled events of a mid-life crisis.


Submitted: August 17, 2012

A A A | A A A


Submitted: August 17, 2012



Chapter 4

The flight back to the states proved just as uneventful as the ride over. Looking to the horizon Johnas caught a glimpse of Qurayyah in the distance, columns of industrial smoke rising into the rarified blue sky of Saudi Arabia. He thought of Sip and what he must be doing at this very moment. He thought of his wife which he quickly dismissed.

Mario and Hermes didn’t talk much. Amir remained aloof. Johnas sensed Mario was still angry at him for being a ‘no-show’ the entire six weeks of the trip.

Twenty two hours later he touched down in Bakersfield and was met by Betty and Frank. They hugged for what seemed like minutes. Betty handed him an envelope and explained his house sold in a week. Opening the envelope Johnas was mildly pleased at the triple digits for the amount of the sale.

“Thank you, you guys.”

They embraced again.

“What’s next, Johnas?” Betty asked, tearfully holding his shoulders.

“Back to work, Betty.”

Frank remained standing in place, beaming at the sight of a son he’d whished he had.

They drove him to a hotel near the office and before leaving the three stood in place in the parking lot, his suitcase by his side.

“Call us Johnas. Let’s keep in touch,” Betty offered.

Another tearful hug. All three stood in place in the middle of the parking lot embracing. Johnas was the first to break away.

“I love you two,” he said, causing another group hug.

The three parted and Johnas watched them drive away.

A feeling of loneliness overwhelmed him. He checked into his room, anxious of what tomorrow would bring.


Monday morning. Johnas had an aversion to Monday mornings. No coffee yet and already some person named ‘Duane’ left a message on his cell phone.

“Nick, who’s this guy named Duane?” Johnas called out to Nick who was working nearby.

“Runs the fabrication shop in the construction staging area. Probably has a question,” Nick answered without looking up from the drawings.

Johnas had been re-assigned to the pipeway project he had left before leaving for Saudi. This time Nick was in charge and Johnas didn’t mind. He was actually thankful for less responsibility. Because of past events he was now running on autopilot and didn’t want to think too much. He had also moved in with Nick to a trailer park on the outskirts of Coalinga to be closer to the project. After a week this seemed to be working well.

“Yea Johnas, my name is Duane Pfister, I run the fab shop. I got some questions on the gas manifold,” the man stated matter-of-factly.

“Be right there,” replied Johnas.

After getting location instructions from Nick, Johnas pulled up and parked at the only trailer in a large, fenced in area filled with partially completed piping systems, a-frame hoists and other sundry equipment used in piping fabrication.

“You Johnas? I’m Duane Pfister, fab shop foreman,” the overweight, cigar chomping older man said shuffling up to greet him. “Follow me,” he said and turned to the trailer.

Johnas followed the man and inside the trailer was another world. It was a combination of a living room of sorts complete with refrigerator, stove, couch, television set and drill presses, metal lathes and table saws scattered about like so many pieces of furniture. He noticed everything was covered in a sixteenth inch layer of crud. The entire room smelled of mushrooms and axle grease.

The drawings, now covered with greasy fingerprints, were laid-out on a large metal workbench in the middle of the room. Johnas and Duane discussed the problem, Johnas answered questions and Duane became aware of him occasionally looking about the room at the posters of semi-nude overweight women.

“Pretty cool,” Duane commented.

“Yea, pretty cool,” Johnas answered, lying.

To his amazement Johnas noticed an oversized, oval rug under the metal workbench, the kind one would expect in grandmas living room. It was so filthy it almost blended into the dark, greasy floor.


It almost became a daily occurrence for Johnas to visit Duane to explain certain parts of the design he was fabricating.

“Heey, Joey,” was Duane’s new greeting each time Johnas entered the trailer for yet another consultation.

“Duane, what’s a company called ‘Nuclear Technologies’ doing in the parking lot,” Johnas asked during one particular a moment of free time.

Duane joined Johnas in looking out the grimy window.

“Oh, those guys. Their the ones delivering the cesium 125 pills for the pipe x-rays,” he answered.

(Pipe welds are often x-rayed to determine the quality of the weld in certain critical situatations where the material in the pipe is extremely dangerous and the possibility for weld failure is not an option. Cesium 125 is an isotope used in the x-ray machine).

Johnas’ mind began to wander. He began toying with the idea of getting hold of some of this stuff and making something outrageous out of it. Because of his wife’s recent suicide, as of late Johnas’ psyche had changed. He was different now. He had become more callous. He had become hollow and non-caring. The idea of stealing cesium 125 for use in some perverted act was quickly dismissed and he and Duane continued discussing the design problem at hand.


Living with Nick in Coalinga at the trailer park proved to be very therapeutic to Johnas. There was hot food every night, plenty of banter and chess games and beer. Johnas began a habit of wandering around the empty fields surrounding the trailer park at dusk exploring, poking around the many half-buried rusting remains of old pick-up trucks, farm equipment and miscellaneous discarded car parts.

One night he stumbled upon the cylinder of a dirt bike half-buried in the sand complete with the cylinder head and piston inside with the rod attached. Looking around he kicked up another, yet another and then one more. Holding one up the thought flashed inside his mind remembering the cesium 125.

“An atom bomb!” he said aloud, immediately envisioning the design for a make shift nuclear explosive device, an atomic pipe bomb if you will.

He brought the cylinders back to the trailer and placed them neatly together underneath the trailer in an area Nick would not notice. The next day he brought them to work and was given permission by Duane to keep them in the trailer explaining this was a project of his to resurrect a dirt bike he had found, something of a hobby. Duane agreed and allowed Johnas to work on them in his spare time in the shop. Being a biker his entire life Duane was more than happy to allow Johnas this endeavor and was looking forward in offering his assistance.

Johnas spent one idyllic Sunday afternoon at his laptop on the front porch designing his ‘gadget’, a nickname he bestowed on his project after the first device successfully tested at Alamogordo by Oppenheimer and his group of scientists. Due to secrecy, the ‘gadget’ was the innocent nickname bestowed by technicians working on the project who had no idea of the profound consequences of this device during the moments before the dawn of nuclear fission.

He was mildly impressed on how fluid his mind was working. By late afternoon he had drawn up the basic design and by evening had completed in elaborating more detail into the design without any major changes to the original concept.


© Copyright 2017 meriddle. All rights reserved.

The Nothing Machine Chapter 4 The Nothing Machine Chapter 4

Status: Finished

Genre: Thrillers



Status: Finished

Genre: Thrillers



The chronicled events of a mid-life crisis.
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