Yippee! I made Round 3 of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest!
My assignment for this round was:
Location: A Laboratory
Object: A Toy Train
Without further ado, then…
My Round 3 Entry for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition
It began on a Tuesday evening, three weeks before the Christmas of 1926. Bertha Brindle was mopping the floor of the Langtree-Howe Theoretical Sciences Laboratory and wishing that the huge crystal in the corner of the lab would stop buzzing. Like a hive of bees, it was. Made it so you didn’t know whether you were coming or going. And the headaches it gave a body! Dreadful, they were.
And then Mrs. Brindle noticed that there was a new door along the lab’s south wall. “Well,” she said to herself, “there’s a funny thing!” And her hand went out towards the handle.
Her hand went out- and stopped. There may have been a noise on the other side of the door, or a cessation of noise- Mrs. Brindle was not sure. But she had the impression that someone on the other side of the door had become aware of her, that something was suddenly and sharply focused on her. Mrs. Brindle remembered how her dog Tyke had looked when someone was about to knock on the front door of her childhood home. Expectant, he’d looked. Well, she got the idea that something on the other side of this door was expectant now. And, for some reason, Mrs. Brindle didn’t like that. So she just finished up her cleaning and went home.
The next evening, several of the scientific gentlemen were underfoot while Mrs. Brindle did her cleaning. This was not unusual: Mrs. Brindle had noticed that Science did not keep regular hours. But one thing did seem funny to her. That new door had obviously been a rush job. One evening it wasn’t there; the next evening, there it was. It must, Mrs. Brindle reasoned, have been urgently required. And yet the scientists weren’t using it. They hadn’t so much as glanced at it. That struck Mrs. Brindle as odd.
And on the Thursday, there were two new doors. That is, there was the old new door and another, newer one. Mrs. Brindle stared dully at this second evidence of expansion, which, given its placement, must open onto the hallway. And there was already a perfectly good door for that. So why would anyone want two doors to one hall?
The buzzing of the crystal was very loud tonight, so loud that Mrs. Brindle wondered if something had gone wrong with it. And it seemed to get in the way of her thoughts. She wanted to think about the second new door, which she vaguely felt was an urgent thing to think about. She covered her ears and hummed, and with relief thought of Fire Safety Regulations. The lab was quite a big space, and presumably this new door brought it up to code.
But that night at home Mrs. Brindle felt sure that she should be worried. The problem was that she couldn’t quite remember what she should be worried about. It slipped away from her whenever she tried to pin it down.
On the Friday, the scientists were coming and going all through the evening. Mrs. Brindle gathered vaguely that they were getting results that they could not make sense of. Device after device was applied to the crystal, but, it seemed, the numbers were still not right. Neither their comings nor their goings, though, were through either of the new doors.
And there was another funny thing. Mrs. Brindle was almost sure that the hallway had always had five doors opening off of it. And there were still only five doors. There was no new door to correspond to the one inside the lab. But she supposed she must be wrong.
As she was on her way out that night, she met Dr. Langtree on his way in.
“Ah, Mrs. Brindle,” he said cordially, “I hoped I’d catch you. Wanted to give you your Christmas bonus. Here,” and he handed her an envelope with a promising crackle to it. “Merry Christmas!”
And when Mrs. Brindle opened the envelope, she saw that her faith in Dr. Langtree had not been misplaced. It was a truly generous bonus. Why, she realized, she had enough now to get her Alfie that Lionel train set he wanted for Christmas. She went home with a lighter heart.
And Mrs. Brindle got Alfie his train the very next day, on her way in to work. Then she hurried to the lab, put the train in the closet, froze for a moment in stark incomprehension, shook it off, and started on her cleaning. The lab was lonely and deserted tonight. And-
“Oh, blast that crystal!” Mrs. Brindle said aloud. The noise of it was really almost more than a body could bear.
She must have spoken louder than she’d intended, for someone chuckled, distinctly and unpleasantly. She looked around, but she was alone in the lab. It must have been someone passing in the hall.
Mrs. Brindle shivered. The lab was full of the red light of sunset. And that was funny, for the sun had set hours ago, and the street outside was dark. Well, she was done cleaning now. Mrs. Brindle went to the closet to get Alfie’s train.
But not the right closet.
In fact, quite a new closet.
She’d put Alfie’s train in a closet that shouldn’t have been there.
She stared at the third new door, trying to understand, failing. All she knew was that she’d opened it, and that she should not have opened it.
“Oh my Lord what have I gone and done?” She cried into the terrible silence.
A shadow moved, and grew, and the red light was swallowed up in black.
There was a step behind her.
Mrs. Brindle turned.