The Science Project

This is a short story I wrote in 1998.  It’s written from an omniscient point of view—head hopping and all that.  Maybe one day I’ll clean it up and do something with it. Is the plot irrelevant in the new millennium? I like to think my writing has vastly improved in the 20 years since then.

Mr. Dalton looked at the 2 girls lying on the floor with their legs straight up against the side of the bed. “So ladies,” he said, “what’re you two up to this afternoon?”
“We’re practising yoga, Mr. Dalton,” Michelle whispered without opening her eyes.
“And why are you whispering?”
“Actually, Dad,” Sarah answered, “we weren’t even talking before you came in. We are hoping yoga will cure my acne and help Michelle lose weight.”
“Oh, I see.” Mr. Dalton said quietly. “I’ll leave you to your studies. Carry on.”
Neither girl moved as Sarah’s father backed slowly out of the room. They’d been lying in the same position for almost 45 minutes…only 15 minutes to go. It had become somewhat uncomfortable; and though neither girl would admit it, they had both begun to doze off.
“This has got to be the longest hour of my life. “Sarah said. “I can’t believe we might have to do this almost all summer!”
“It’s not that bad,” Michelle said. She pulled her knees toward her chest, then extended her legs back to their previous position. “It’s not all summer, it’s only for a few days once a month; and if it works this time, we won’t have to do this again anyway.”
“Yeah, right…” Sarah was irritated. This was the third time she had begun this process, and it was the third time she found herself lying next to Michelle with her legs in the air. After the first time, Jason refused to stick around for this part, so she had to endure Michelle’ endless questions about life, the universe, and everything. She finally came up with this yoga idea. It answered parent’s questions and kept Michelle quiet.
Michelle stole a peek at her ‘best friend’. She had learned to say very little when Sarah was grumpy. She looked around the room for the umpteenth time. She still couldn’t believe she was lying on the floor in Sarah Dalton’s room. Sarah was the prettiest and most popular girl in the seventh grade, and now, going to eighth grade, she would also be the most powerful girl in the whole school. And through the miracle of modern science, Sarah and Michelle would soon be sisters…or in-laws…or something like that.
Sarah tried to ignore the girl lying beside her. She could tell Michelle was thinking ‘happy thoughts’ again. She almost regretted involving ‘the dumpster’ in her brilliant science project, but Michelle Mason was the smartest girl in class, even if she was the size of a dump truck. And Jason was no help. She knew why everyone in school was afraid of him: he was weird. He didn’t talk much, and he hung out with bugs and other disgusting creatures. But he was the closest thing to a scientist she could find; and since the second place in the science fair to a maze running rat didn’t really bother him, it took some serious talking to get him to agree to team up with her for next year’s fair. It was his idea to get Michelle involved.
They’d tried to get specimens other ways: clinics, research labs, and the like; but no one would even talk to them. The witch at the clinic threatened to call the police. So Jason proposed the idea of creating their own specimens. It sounded stupid at first, and it’s always hard to tell if Jason is joking. He didn’t even look at her when he made the suggestion. He just kept watching his ants creeping over their sugar cubes. “You could make the specimens, ” he’d said matter-of-factly. “We’d have to start now to get 2, but unless you’re defective, it should be pretty easy.” He never stopped feeding the ants.
“Are you serious?” Sarah asked.
“Yes.” he answered. He added a sugar cube to the water tray inside the ant farm. An ant crawled from the cube onto his finger. Jason turned his hand as the ant crawled between his fingers. “You aren’t defective, are you?”
“Of course not!”
Jason looked at her for several seconds before returning his attention to his ants. “Never mind,” he said calmly. “It won’t work.
“Sarah quickly looked down at her clothes, hoping to see something that could possibly be a problem. Of course, knowing him, Jason was probably talking about his ants or something. “What won’t work?” she asked impatiently. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re too skinny,” he said, without looking at her again. “We might be able to get the first one, but the second one won’t work. You’re too skinny. We’ll need somebody else to supply the second one.”
“Somebody else–like who?!” Jason said nothing for a full minute; he stared at the ant crawling around his hand.
“Michelle Mason.” he said finally.
“‘The Dumpster’?” Sarah was dumbfounded”
“Yes. She’s the smartest girl in class, and she’s the right size.”
Sarah took less than a second to see the logic in his solution. Michelle Mason-a.k.a.-The Dumpster was the obvious choice. There was still only one small problem:–
“Jason…Doctor Mad Scientist…Sir, how are we supposed to create our own specimens? There’s the little matter of…you know…the other stuff…” She made a prompting gesture with her hands.
Jason didn’t even look up. “I’ll supply that part,” he said.
“Oh, really…” Sarah said slowly ” I hope you’re at least taking me to a movie first.”
Now Jason looked at her. “I’m not gonna touch you,” he said. “I’ll just supply the sperm. You can inseminate yourself.”
The project was simple: she, and Michelle would each produce a fetus. She would miscarry at three months, and Michelle at six months. The specimens would be dissected, and the development recorded; first place, and possibly going to the nationals. All she and Michelle had to do was get pregnant. This wasn’t proving to be an easy task. This was their third attempt, and Michelle was becoming the most annoying person in the world. Jason rarely spoke to them, except to take their temperatures and remind them of the best time to get pregnant. He was looking forward to the dissection.
Three weeks later, Michelle showed Jason and Sarah a small plastic stick. The end was bright blue. She was pregnant. “I threw up this morning”, she said proudly. Jason studied the home pregnancy test for several moments.
“You verified these results with a second test?” he asked.
“Yup!” Michelle said.
“I’m gonna throw up, myself”, Sarah thought. “The cow is practically glowing.” “About time”, she said out loud. “I was wondering if his stuff actually worked.”
Jason looked at her. “I believe it is your stuff that’s not working”, he said without expression.
Sarah looked at the pity on Michelle’s face and the blank stare on Jason’s. “I gotta go”, she said. Two months later, at the end of August, Sarah was pregnant also. The ‘ultimate’ science project was finally underway.
As she neared the end of her three months, Sarah watched Michelle with growing concern. Michelle was still glowing. She talked non-stop about whether it was a boy or a girl. Sarah even found a book of baby names in Michelle’s book bag. Jason didn’t appear to be listening to her when she shared her concerns. He held a large ant out to her. It sat perfectly still in his open palm. “This is the queen,” he said. “She’s pregnant. When she lays her eggs, she’ll be the mother of more than the population of some countries.”
“Are you even listening ?” Sarah asked. “Do you know what’s at stake here. We’re taking this one in a few days, and it won’t be a big deal to me, but Michelle is getting too attached. In a month, we’ll probably have to kill her to get that specimen. She’s drinking milk constantly and popping ‘Flintstones’ like candy. I don’t think she’s gonna give it up.”
“We’ll get it”, Jason said as he placed the queen back into her mound. The other ants quickly surrounded her, each carrying a piece of sugar. “Ants like sugar, you know.” He left the ant farm and went to a plant growing near the window. He clipped several leaves and placed them in a small plastic bag.
“What’s this?” Sarah asked as she took the bag from him.
“It’s an herb. Dry the leaves for a few days, then crush them and make some tea. It’ll bring on your period. Drink 3 cups every day till it’s all gone. This is enough for at least a week.” He went back to his ants.
Sarah looked at Jason through the glass of the ant farm. “Why do you like them so much?” she asked.
“Order,” he said. “Perfect, never-changing, order.” He looked at her now. “You could learn a lot from ants.”
Two weeks later, Michelle sat on the floor beside Sarah’s bed with tears streaming down her face. Sarah was racked with cramps. Jason had long since left with the miscarried specimen and was probably dissecting it right now. The thought was tearing Michelle apart. “I don’t think I can do it.” she said to Sarah. “It’s not right.”
“Listen”, Sarah said, angrily, “I didn’t just go through this to have a half finished project. We had a deal. You knew what this was when you got involved. You’re not backing out now!”
“But Sarah, it’s a baby”, Michelle pleaded.
“Not if you do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it.” Sarah sat up and looked at Michelle’s tear-stained face. This was dangerous. What if she decided to tell somebody? Everything would be ruined. She decided this was not the time to push the issue. “Michelle, listen”, Sarah said softly, “this probably isn’t even a good time to talk about this. You just saw something pretty rough. I don’t mean to be mean, but if you back out, I’ll have to find somebody else to do it. You should go home now. Think about it before you make a decision. Call me.” She watched Michelle slowly get up and leave the room. She listened for the sound of the closing front door. She picked up the phone and touched the speed dial. “Jason, we’ve got a problem.”
Michelle and Sarah sat on the floor in Michelle’s bedroom, sipping tea and flipping through catalogues of baby furniture. Michelle was so happy when Sarah showed up with a peace offering of herbal tea, fresh fruit, and the baby catalogues. She hadn’t decided what she would do, but Sarah no longer pushed the issue. She was well into her second cup of tea. It was delicious. “If I keep it, would you be the Godmother?” she asked Sarah.
“Okay,” Sarah answered. She didn’t feel the least bit guilty. She was saving Michelle from ruing her life. Thirteen was too young to be a mother. Jason was psychotic; what kind of father could he be? She watched Michelle drinking her tea. Yes, this was for the best.
“Where’s my other specimen?” Jason asked. Sarah screamed and nearly fell into her locker. She hadn’t heard him come up behind her.
“It should be any day, now”, she whispered. “She’s been guzzling that tea like ‘Kool-Aid’.” She looked down the line of lockers. Michelle was nowhere in sight. “Maybe even today. I haven’t seen her all morning.”
“Have you tried to call her?” Jason asked.
Sarah smiled. It was good to finally see Jason worried. “Don’t worry, Doctor Frankenstein.” she cooed. “You’ll get your corpse to cut up, soon.”
Jason stared at her for a second before walking away. She headed for the nurse’s office to ask to use the phone.
Michelle screamed as another contraction ripped through her body. Sarah held her hand. Jason sat silently at the foot of her bed. Sweat and tears poured down her face. She had tried so hard, but she was losing her baby. What was taking the ambulance so long? Sarah said she called almost ten contractions ago. Now it was too late. Through the pain, she was vaguely aware of her baby being born. A tiny, weak cry reached her ears. She could hear voices: “It’s still alive!” Sarah said. “What do we do now?”
“Kill it”, Jason said emotionlessly. “How else can we finish the project?”
Michelle tried to move, but Sarah was holding her down, and she was too weak to fight. “No…please…” she cried, “…you can’t…it’s a baby…”
“But it’s too small,” Sarah said. “It’s gonna die anyway!” She pressed a pillow over Michelle’s face to quiet her screams. “Now just rest, you’ve had a rough morning.” She pressed the pillow harder.
Michelle felt the pressure of the pillow release as she heard her father calling her name. “Hurry, Mr. Mason!! She’s up here!!” It was Sarah answering. She saw her father turn white as he looked around her bedroom. Jason handed her father the small writhing bundle he’d planned to kill only seconds earlier. “When she didn’t come to school today, we got worried,” Sarah said. “We just got here a few minutes ago. We’re waiting for an ambulance. She didn’t want us to call you, sir.” Michelle didn’t care that Sarah was lying. Her father was here, and her baby was safe.
Sarah and Jason stared intently at the ants crawling up her arm, to the sugar cube laying at the crook of her elbow. “I got another letter from Michelle today,” Sarah said. “I guess she’s okay. Her mother is helping her with the baby. She’s being home-schooled…whatever that means. I still can’t believe she blew our project.” She patted her abdomen. “This one had better work.”
Jason actually smiled at her. “Don’t worry, it will. Now, my queen, this one is for you. You need your nourishment too, remember.”
Sarah opened her mouth wide as Jason placed another sugar cube on her tongue.
The end…?

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