fiction by Jason Edwards
Chemistry 1-A at Dunmaru High is buzzing with the usual student chatter. Jenni Olmack’s wearing that jacket everyone saw at Oldsen’s, the one that cost like a gajillion dollars. Greg Tarkley and Michel Inbay are punching each other in the shoulder. Everyone’s ignoring Lisa Besson because everyone always ignores Lisa Besson.
Mr. Kilsome walks into the room, chanting “All right, all right, quiet down.” Jenni glances over in time to see Greg mouthing exactly the same words, a big smile on his face. Nevertheless, the room quiets down. A few chairs squeak as students sit on their stools at their lab stations. Pots of powders, Bunsen burners, sinks, tongs, flasks and beakers. A school in a county that pays its taxes.
“All right everyone, here’s what we’re going to do today,” Mr. Kilsome says “We’re going to synthesize a very strange chemical, one of the least understood chemicals in the world. For this one, though, you’re going to need the heavy aprons.” Mr. Kilsome takes off his coat and reaches for his own heavy leather apron. Half the students file to the closets in the back—they’d learned chem-lab protocol on day one, so no need for everyone to clump up around the closets.
Lisa brings back an apron for Jenni, who takes it but otherwise ignores her. Greg brings one and throws it in Michael’s face. It’s heavy enough to smack him in the head. But Michael plays football, so there’s no way an apron, of all things, is going to injure him. He puts on the apron, and remains standing—the thing’s too heavy to allow for sitting on the lab stools at all.
“Goggles, everyone,” Mr, Kilsome says. The class obliges. “Gloves…” and everyone in the class pulls gloves from cubby holes at the lab tables. These are stiff, thick, heavy gloves. Soon the class, with the heavy gloves, thick aprons, and goggles, look like something from one of those weird 1950s German medical-horror movies.
“Alright. We’ll start with mystery pot one. Open that, and measure out 35 ccs of the white powder into a flask. Be very very careful—try not to inhale too close to the flask when you pour it in.
A few students glance around, a bit nervous. Greg and Michael fight for a second over who holds the flask and who holds the measuring spoons. Jenni stands back, arms folded awkwardly in the gloves, while Lisa does all the work.
“Good, excellent. Now, close mystery pot one—tightly! And open number two. Measure out 15 ccs into the flask. And whatever you do, do NOT shake the flask. Please, class, be careful.”
Lisa proceeds, hands shaking slightly. Murmurs from some in the classroom, but not as many as usual, a nervous silence. Greg and Michael, big stupid grins on their faces, are nevertheless a little more exacting in their measurements and cooperation.
Everyone sets their flasks down, and stand absolutely still, looking at Mr. Kilsome.
“Okay. Now, pour some water into a beaker, and make sure it’s cold, you’ll want exactly 25 ccs…”
“How do we know it’s cold with these gloves on?” Michael says, his voice cracking slightly.
“Use a thermometer, Mr. Inbay. The taps should run less than 68 degrees… if we’re lucky.” His face is grave as he glares at Michael.
Michael swallows, reaches for a thermometer. Greg turns on the taps. Lisa is still doing all of the work, but Jenni’s taken a few steps back, not realizing she’s now just that much closer to the students—and flasks—behind her.
“Once you’ve gotten 25 ccs of cold water, gently, and I do mean gently, pour that into the flask.” The students begin to pour. “Mr. Inbay! Gently!” Michael’s eye go wide and he stops pouring. “And you, Gregory, don’t hover over the top like that.” Greg steps back.
“By now your flask should have the powder mixture on the bottom, with the water on top.” He pauses for effect, and says in a lower tone, “uh, does anyone, uh have debris… floating in their water?”
“Oh my god,” Jenni says, backing up and pointing. “Hers does! Hers does!”
“Okay everyone. Start to stir the mixture, vigorously.”
“But you said not to agitate it!” says Gregory, a large frown distorting his face. Agitate is probably the biggest word he’s ever said.
“That was before you had the dihydrogen monoxide. Now stir! Stir!”
The students begin to stir. Lisa is holding her flask at arm’s length, head twisted to the side. Other students are following suit. Everyone’s eyes are huge behind their goggles.
“Once you have a uniform texture and consistency, set the flask down.” There are few thumps as students, eager to the get the flask out of their hands, set them down quickly.” Gently!” Mr. Kilsome shouts.
Greg and Michael set theirs down, jaws agape, staring. Lisa sets her down, eyes shifting back and forth from Mr. Kilsome to the flask.
The room is utterly still.
In a quiet voice, Mr. Kilsome says. “Now I will reveal to you the nature of this truly remarkable chemical. Are you ready?”
“Peel back the label on pot number one.”
Arms out stiff to keep from approaching the lab tables too close, the students pick up pot number one, the sound of labels peeling off like whispers in the silence.
Greg says, out loud, “Flour baking powder salt.”
“Yes.” Mr. Kilsome says, an evil grin on his face. “And now pot number 2.”
The students peel off the sticker on pot #2. “Powdered milk powdered eggs sugar”, Michael reads.
Mr. Kilsome says “The chemical we’ve just created… is fear.”
No one moves.
“We’re making pancakes?” Lisa suddenly shouts, and starts laughing. Other students follow her and start laughing as well. It’s the happiest day of her life.
Mr. Kilmore is laughing too. “And now we’ve created another fine chemical—relief!” The students laugh louder. “Go ahead and turn on your Bunsen burners. You should find wire frames, small frying pans and spatulas in the cabinets below your lab tables.”
The students continue to laugh and shout as they turn on the burners and pull out their pans. That Mr. Kilsome… what a crazy teacher. Greg socks Michael in the arm for being such a fraidy cat. Jenni steps close enough that Lisa can smell her shampoo, and they make eye contact for the first time, ever.
Mr. Kilsome smiles, and picks up another pot, making sure the false label on it hides the words “rat poison. “I’ve got the powdered sugar!” he shouts.