This is Part 3 of 5, of Executive Fear, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. For earlier Parts, click on the links below:
Executive Fear (Continued)
The traffic was thinning. The road was narrowing. He was passing the outskirts of Mumblegum and nearing home. The safe haven. The place he could breathe easily at, once again. Out in the uncrowded countryside, and then into his own house.
Up a long driveway he turned. Run the gauntlet of the driveway and make it to the garage, and he’d be home free. Every evening he ran the same gauntlet. Not that the driveway was any more dangerous than any other place. But that it was just so close. If something terrible should happen here, what a let-down it would be.
Closer and closer he came to the garage door. He hit the button above the visor, and the door automatically lifted and rolled open. Slowly, smoothly, and carefully he glided inside, while hitting the button again so the door would close behind him and lock out that hostile world.
At last he was home. At last he felt safe. At last he was no longer in danger.
There was a workbench not far from his parked car, with a heavy steel cauldron on it. His makeshift lab. He took the tin of yellowcake from his briefcase, kissed it, and set it down next to the cauldron.
But first, dinner.
The maid had done some shopping, so the freezer was full. She was a very good, reliable maid. She kept the house clean, but most important, she ran all his errands for him. He never had to leave his house for one thing. All he ever had to do was drive to and from work. And that was dangerous enough. The maid was well worth the money. Almost worth her weight in gold. He chuckled to himself at the thought.
After a quick TV dinner it was back to the garage for some real hard alchemy work.
He had all the necessary ingredients. On the floor near the workbench was a five-gallon bucket of crushed quartz powder he had purchased from a mill, over the internet. Next to it were two tightly sealed buckets of calcium oxide, commonly known as quicklime. And of course, on his workbench next to the heavy steal cauldron was the final needed ingredient. The tin of yellowcake, containing about 10 ounces of the brown uranium powder.
First the quicklime.
He measured out a few ounces of the CaO from one of the buckets. He was very careful to reseal the bucket tightly. Quicklime, when it comes into contact with moisture, gets very hot and explodes. So he remembered to use great care, as the mine president had cautioned, when resealing the lid. That would ensure the remaining calcium oxide would stay safe and dry.
He poured the quicklime onto the bottom of the steel cauldron, forming a thick, three-inch-diameter circle with it. On top of this layer he spread a thicker layer of quartz powder. And on top of the quartz powder, he spread a tiny spoonful of the yellowcake.
He was not sure if he had his proportions correct, but he felt fairly confident he was about right. What he planned to do was to pour a small amount of water over the layers of powder so that it would filter down through the yellowcake and quartz, and contact the quicklime. He would cap the steel cauldron tightly and wait for the water to react with the calcium oxide, causing it to flash and explode.
He hoped that this explosion, for an instant, would create temperatures of volcanic proportions. The same temperatures needed to produce gold.
And if all went according to his theory, the volcanic temperatures would cause the heavy uranium elements in the yellowcake to break down into lighter elements. And as it broke down into lighter elements (such as gold), it would also expand significantly in size. In the meantime, the quartz powder would fuse and surround the yellowcake. The quartz would then keep it at a certain constant temperature for a few precious moments. This temperature would be the exact, ideal temperature needed for the formation of gold.
Otis Felp theorized that since gold was quite often found by miners in veins of quartz rocks, the quartz had something to do with harboring the favorable temperature needed to form gold, within the hot magma beneath the earth’s crust.
Felp rejected the scientific consensus that gold is only formed in the supernovas of stars, and thus can only come from outer space, via falling asteroids pelting the Earth. And this is the trouble when you don’t get out and mix with others. You have no check on your own hair-brained schemes. There’s nobody around to lend their thoughts and lead you to have second thoughts.
Had Otis joined a club for amateur scientists, maybe he wouldn’t have gone to the great length of obtaining yellowcake and pursuing this experiment. This experiment that most scientists would have warned was both dangerous and doomed to failure.
And so, he stuck with his magma theory. His unchecked, blind assumption that hot magma forms gold. And this was what he hoped would happen. He hoped, but only half-believed, would happen. Because he wasn’t completely nuts. Deep down inside lay a sense of reality that helped harbor some doubts.
But all that gold he could make. All that gold. All that power. All that success. All that respect. It led him to ignore his doubts. With the things he could buy with gold maybe he wouldn’t have to live with fear anymore. Maybe he would become famous and be respected by all people, instead of just those at the bank. Maybe his power would be far-reaching. Maybe he could control the entire world and no longer be afraid of it.
His heart beating a little faster, he began to pour the water evenly over the powder. He had to work quickly. He had only a minute before the reaction would take place.
He emptied the beaker, then quickly grabbed the cauldron lid. A fumbling with the snaps, but finally the lid was firmly secured to the top of the cauldron. Then he dashed swiftly through an open door and into his kitchen, where he crouched down behind a counter.
He heard a faint thump and began to laugh. At the worst, he expected the whole roof of his garage to blow off. But just a thump?
When he cautiously peered into the garage, he laughed even louder. For there was the cauldron, just sitting there as harmless as could be, right on the workbench. Right where he had left it. It hadn’t even budged a quarter-inch.
It was pretty hot, so he allowed it cool off. About an hour later he estimated it was safe and cool enough to unsnap the cauldron lid.
He did so without any problems.
With the lid off, he peered inside.
And was surprised by what he saw.
A liquid slurry of watery goo. Gray watery goo, and not a spot of yellow in it.
Otis Felp could tell at just a quick glance that his experiment had been a failure. A giant, stupid, ridiculous failure.
He sat down on the fender of his car and buried his head in his hands. He felt like crying, but forced back the tears. No, no use in crying. After all, this wasn’t his first failure. It was more like his thousandth in a row. He should be used to it by now.
Well, maybe tomorrow he would rethink the formula and maybe try again later.
He looked at his watch. It was late. He’d better get to bed, for tomorrow was another work day. He picked up the cauldron and with a grimace of disgust and anger, dumped the gray slurry into a potted plant near the workbench. His maid hadn’t figured out where to put the plant yet. Well maybe the slurry would kill the damn thing and she wouldn’t have to concern herself with it anymore.
He washed out the cauldron, cleaned up the workbench, and went to bed.
The next day was typical. Typical, as usual. A frightening, paranoic, almost paralyzingly fearful journey to work, a mundane but safe day at the office, followed by another treacherous journey home. Same as always.
Safely back at home, Otis stood at his workbench. He sighed to himself and wondered where he had gone wrong. And a boiling anger began to fulminate internally. An anger that was becoming more and more uncontrollable every second that he continued to ponder his past failures.
Like water hitting the quicklime, Otis’ temper was reaching a flashpoint. That damned, sickly looking slurry! That’s all he had to show for all his efforts! And where had it gone? He raced through his memory. He should have flushed it down the toilet! But no! He had dumped it into the potted plant! So that’s where it was!
He turned swiftly and kicked the plant. Worthless slurry! Worthless plant! That would show all his failures! Kicking the plant! That would show them!
He cursed and kicked a plant that wasn’t even there. No, the plant was gone. And yet he had kicked it. Or he had kicked something. It kind of felt like he had kicked a plant. But the plant wasn’t there. At least, not that Otis could see.
So what the hell had he kicked?
Something seemed wrong.
Something wasn’t there.
But something should be there.
He reached his foot out lightly and carefully felt around for the plant. He was sure he had kicked something. He had even heard a noise.
But there was nothing.
Nothing but thin air.
He felt lower, and his foot came against something. He knelt down and felt it with his hands. Yes it was, indeed, something. Then he looked again and noticed that he couldn’t see his hands. He let go of whatever it was and jumped back. Then he looked at his hands again. They had reappeared. So he felt for the object again. His hands came against it, and once again they disappeared.
This was pretty spooky.
He felt more of the object. The object that appeared to him to be thin air. His hands came against something soft and brushy lying on the floor. Something like leaves.
And that’s when he realized, with a sense of awe and wonderment, that it was the potted plant he was feeling. And the potted plant was completely invisible!
A moment of stunned stillness. His brain went into overdrive. It clicked and clattered inside, trying to make sense of this weird situation.
And then it flashed a thought.
An explanation for Otis Felp to consider.
The slurry had done it.
That could be the only explanation. The plant had absorbed the slurry, and the slurry had somehow made it become invisible! There was something in that gray slurry that caused things to become transparent.
At first he considered this explanation with the even-minded temper of a scientist coolly pondering a hypothesis, utilizing the exacting language of logic. But then the magnitude of this explanation exploded in his mind like a hydrogen bomb. And he began to sweat and tremble with excitement.
It was an accident.
It was unintentional.
But Otis Felp realized he had somehow discovered the secret to invisibility!
End of Part 3. Come on back tomorrow, for Part 4.