This is another flash fiction challenge. Our assignment: choose something from the “M” section of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, and write up to 1500 words before Friday.
The “M” section is enormous. I started reading the first page and quickly went into overload, so I clicked on a page, closed my eyes, and randomly clicked the mouse to select my phrase. The phrase is at the end, ‘cause if you read the phrase first, there’s no point in telling the story.
*F-BOMB ALERT* – CONTAINS (more) COARSE LANGUAGE (than usual)
“We’re really putting our asses on the line.”
“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” Martin snapped. “It’s worth it. Pass me that pipette.”
“No, really.” Devon handed over the glassware and pushed his glasses up again, peering through the thick lenses. “It was fine as a theoretical exercise, but going ahead with it? There’s a reason why the senior researchers won’t touch this.”
Martin blew out an impatient breath, careful to direct it away from the delicately balanced equipment. “Yeah, there’s a reason. They’re pussies.”
When Devon didn’t reply immediately, Martin spared him a quick glance. “Come on, man, don’t be a douche. The simulations went fine, and our dry run was perfect.” He transferred his attention back to the digital temperature readout. “We’re almost there. Let’s gear up.”
He slipped on the goggles, gloves, and mask, but Devon hung back. “Martin, we shouldn’t be doing this at all without faculty approval, and even if we had approval, we should be doing it in a clean room, not in an open lab. If we get some contaminant in the solution…”
“Jesus, Devon, how many friggin’ sims did we run? Yeah, it’s critical, but we’re not talking nanoparticles here. Unless some big chunk of lint or something falls in, it’ll be okay. Just don’t drop any of your goddamn hairs in it, and we’ll be fine.”
Devon stiffened and glared. “You just have to keep rubbing it in, don’t you, Mr. Perfect-Hair-Chick-Magnet? Just because I’m follicularly challenged…”
“Jeez, dude, chill. Can we please get back to the experiment that’s going to make us household names in the scientific community? The one that’s going to make us a fortune and win us the Nobel Prize? You know, that one?”
“Or the one that’s going to blow up the lab, and us with it. Martin, this isn’t a good idea. Let’s just shut it down for today and run it by the senior researchers on Monday morning.”
“Yeah, so they can take all the credit. I don’t think so.” Martin shot another look at the temperature readout. “Come on, man, set me up here. It’s time.”
Devon shuffled over, reluctance in every line of his body. Martin placed his forearms in the supports that would hold his hands rock-steady and nodded up at Devon’s frown. “Go.”
With the precision Martin had always secretly envied, Devon placed the instruments in Martin’s waiting hands. Devon was by far the better technician. Good thing he was too much of a chickenshit to do this on his own. Martin suppressed a smile. He was the one actually doing the procedure, so he’d get the bulk of the recognition. And the money.
A hair drifted down. “Devon, for fucksake, you’re shedding again! Get your fucking hair out of here!”
“Sorry, sorry!” Devon whisked the loose hair off the workbench and drew back, one hand self-consciously covering the thinning spot where his scalp peeked through.
Martin jerked as his phone vibrated on the table beside him. “Jesus! I thought I’d turned that off.”
Devon turned an ashen face toward him. “Holy… crap! Thank God we hadn’t started the fluid. You’d have blown us up, twitching like that.”
“Yeah, man, turn it off for me, would you?” Martin held his voice steady and took a few deep breaths, feigning calm.
Devon snatched up the still-vibrating phone. “It’s Lisa. Why is she calling you?”
Martin gulped down sudden consternation. “I don’t know, man, just turn it off… Shit!”
Devon had punched the Talk button, his round face glowing with happiness. “Hi, Lisa.”
Martin’s fingers tensed around the instruments, and he concentrated on relaxing his grip to hold them just so. He couldn’t put them down now.
His heart sank at the look on Devon’s face. Shit, shit, shit!
“Lisa, this isn’t Martin, it’s Devon.” Devon’s voice was hollow, and Martin averted his eyes from his friend’s stricken face. Well, probably ex-friend, now. He could hear the urgent chatter at the other end of the line, but Devon interrupted, his voice flat. “I might have believed that, if you hadn’t said his name before you started your little X-rated phone show. Goodbye, Lisa.”
The silence stretched after Devon hung up the phone. Martin studied the temperature readout intently.
“So how long have you been screwing my girlfriend?” Devon’s voice was very quiet.
“Aw, come on, man, it’s not like that.”
“But it is. She started with some very graphic references to last night. Before she went on to say what she had planned for you tonight.”
Martin blew out a breath and tried to ease his tense fingers. “Jesus, it’s not like I’m the only one. She’s a science slut, man. She fucks everybody in the research department at least once, just in case they discover something important somewhere down the road.” He glanced up. “Christ, don’t look so shocked. Did you really think a hot piece like Lisa was doing you for your manly physique and great hair?”
He realized he’d gone too far when Devon turned on his heel and strode away.
“Shit, Devon, I’m sorry, man! I thought you knew… Come back! Shit, man, come on!” He couldn’t turn to see, but the sound of the slamming door told him all he needed to know.
He slumped on the stool, the instruments still balanced in his fingers. Everything ready to go, and nobody to turn the petcock to start the final flow of fluid. All the preparation, all his dreams, all the fame and fortune, shot to hell.
A sudden thought made him straighten, excitement racing through his veins. What if…?
Martin leaned ever so slowly toward the petcock. Yes, it was close enough. And he only had to turn it a few degrees counter-clockwise. He could push it with his nose. His heart pounded.
Devon was gone, wouldn’t be there for the completion of the procedure. All the credit would go to Martin. All the fame, all the money… and Lisa would be all over him. He grinned and shifted carefully to ease the tightening denim at his crotch as he considered what she’d promised if the experiment succeeded.
Careful, careful… He nudged the petcock open, and triumph surged through him at the slow drip of fluid into the open chamber. Temperature perfect, the instruments steady in his hands, all according to plan.
Something moved at the edge of his vision, and cold fingers of fear caressed the back of his neck as he focused on it. A hair. Quivering just above his left eye.
He held very still. Can’t turn back now. The fluid dripped inexorably.
It must still be attached. He never lost hair.
It was moving.
His heart banged in his chest, sledgehammer blows that made him gasp. The hair vibrated with each beat. Slipping.
Martin huffed desperate breaths, his lower lip pushed out in a futile attempt to blow the hair up and away. Shouldn’t have worn the goddamn mask! Shouldn’t have-
The phrase: “For a hair Martin lost his ass”, from the “Martin to Mary Anne Associations” page