They’ll be sorry they laughed at me now, thought Dr. Eugene Francis. He wrung the steering wheel in his hands as if he could squeeze the shine right off the plastic, wrung it until his hands were slippery with sweat. The world was wrong about revenge. It was a dish best served piping hot, while the cook could still relish the smell.
He ran the plan through his head once more, even though he had finished the same train of thought just a couple thoughts before and would board it again in a few minutes time. Things would go smoothly right from the start. He no longer had his PharmaMed ID, of course, but this shouldn’t cause any problems. He’d always been close with the security guards, very friendly, offering them pieces of his lunch and asking after their kids, so they certainly wouldn’t object when he told them he’d forgotten some personal effects in his locker when he was ushered out of the company. He’d walk calmly onto the elevator, and then he’d get out on the top floor, nowhere near the labs and his old locker but right into the corporate offices. The big-wigs, the board, those finks, those penny-pinching small-minded plebians, they’d be out at lunch. He’d have plenty of time to get into the conference room before they were back for their board meeting.
Eugene glanced at the five test tubes resting on the passenger seat. Each one contained a number of mosquitoes, all hungry females, and they kept landing on the glass and being shaken off by bumps in the road. Eugene looked back ahead and absentmindedly pat the pocket inside his jacket, just to make sure that it was still empty. Plenty of room for five test tubes.
In the board room of the near-future, the board room of his mind, he uncorked the test tubes one by one. He shook the mosquitoes out over the middle of the table, hoping he wouldn’t get bitten. He was safe from infection, of course – he’d immunized himself before injecting the females – but a female with a sated appetite meant less bites for the board members. Once the mosquitoes were free he hid behind a long curtain, pressed between lush fabric and a commanding view of the city, and he waited.
In his car, he giggled. He began giggling so hard that he had to slow down and wipe his eyes. After they’d made a fool of him, made him feel so small, this would be beyond fitting. It would be beyond perfection.
In the inevitable board room of the future, the members of the board filed in, fat from their expensive lunch. They fanned out graphs and budget reports and earnings diagrams on the table. They discussed their achievements in cornering the market on cancer medications and influenza vaccines. They discussed the senators and representatives they could count on to keep medical care private and profitable. And one by one they slapped pesky mosquitoes, until every member of the board had been bitten.
One of them said, inevitably, “What’s with all these bugs?”
Then, gloriously, Eugene revealed himself from behind the curtain, swept it aside with one fluid motion. “Remember me, gentlemen?” he said.
Even in his fantasy, some of them didn’t remember Eugene. This gave him the opportunity to explain that he was the head researcher in the infectious disease department of PharmaMed until a few weeks prior, when somebody had discovered his extra-curricular activities. They’d forced him to present his research – at least what they found of it – to his superiors.
Now one of the confused board members recognized him. “They shrinking guy?” he said.
“Dr. Eugene Francis,” said Eugene. “And I promise it is a name that you will remember… for what little time you have left.”
“Didn’t you get fired?” asked one of the stupid board members, stupidly.
Yes, he explained, he’d been fired when they discovered he was using company time and resources to pursue his “shrinking serum.” Or maybe it was when they found out that the serum’s effects, at least from his calculations at the time, could not be stopped. Or maybe it was when they found out he was shopping the idea of a “shrinking serum” around to various organizations that some might call “foreign militaries.” No matter. They’d ridiculed his formula, told him it would never work, likened him to a mad scientist and a comic book villain, and cast him out of the scientific community. Yes, he’d been fired, but that just gave him time to perfect the serum.
Eugene had tackled the next phase on his own, and with vigor. He lacked resources and money, but he was unfettered of the constraints of traditional laboratory science. His first test subjects, those brave casualties of scientific progress who had shrunk down to the size of thimbles, then grains of rice, then fleas, then atoms, then who knows?, were not the customary mice but, in fact, drunk homeless guys. They had served their species well. The formula worked, inasmuch as it shrunk things smaller, smaller, irreversibly smaller, until they disappeared. Where the board had seen a small insignificant failure by a small insignificant man, he saw potential writ large.
From the passing lane of the highway Eugene saw the PharmaMed building rise into view. He took the exit and cursed the red light at the bottom of the ramp. More obstacles to scientific greatness! He glanced at the clock. Plenty of time, still plenty of time. The mosquitoes, stirred once more by the ramp, attempted to settle on the glass. The red light turned green and Eugene, his spirits instantly lifted, giggled once again at his rapidly unfolding plan.
In the destined boardroom, Eugene leapt onto the long expensive conference table and paced like a wild animal. At first, he told the board, he’d hoped to control the shrinking, to allow brave researchers to miniaturize themselves and explore the microscopic world firsthand. But for his new purpose, which became clear as soon as he was fired, the shrinking didn’t need to be stopped. It needed to be turned into a virus.
The board members felt their mosquito bites begin to itch. They began to feel dizzy. The color drained from their faces.
“As you’ve no doubt realized,” said Eugene from on high, “the mosquitoes that have spent the last five minutes buzzing around your heads are carrying a viral version of my so-called ‘shrinking formula.’ If you somehow avoided a bite, don’t worry – once present in humans the virus is incredibly contagious, through saliva, blood, spit, and even through the air. Every person in this room is quite infected by now.” He paused. “Except for me, of course. I’m the only one with the vaccine.”
“You’re crazy,” said one of the board members. Another board member nudged him, as if anything he said or didn’t say could make their situation any worse.
“Do you feel it, gentlemen?” said Eugene. “Do you feel yourselves getting smaller? It must be nearly imperceptible now, like peeling off layers of paint. Soon you’ll feel how I felt when I was fired – small, and getting smaller. Do you feel it?” There’s still time, gentlemen. One shot of the vaccine – and I have plenty – could stop you shrinking.”
“What do you want?” asked another member of the board.
In the car and the fantasy, Eugene began to drool. “A million dollars, first of all,” he told the boardroom of fifteen or twenty minutes from now. “For my considerable scientific achievements. And I’d like my position back. Or make that a new position, ‘The Head of Experimental and Incredibly Important Research’ at PharmaMed, or something similar. I want the resources to consider my research as I see fit, and access to PharmaMed’s connections in the private sector, the government, and the military. Oh, and an office.” He spread his arms wide and did a turn on the table. “This one looks good. Maybe knock down one of the walls so it isn’t so constrictive.”
The board stared at him, mouths open. Some of them chanced glances at each other, or at the door. “Ah, of course, Dr. Francis,” said one of them. “We’ll see what we can do, but first we’ll have to speak with–”
“No!” said Eugene. He kicked one of the piles of graphs and reports. A year’s worth of figures flew into the air. “You’ll give it all to me now!” Papers floated to the carpet. He took a deep breath and paced steadily. “Unless, of course, you feel as though you need to lose some weight. In an hour’s time you’ll be a few pounds lighter. In two hours you’ll be able to fit back into those jeans from high school. In five hours time you’ll be too short to ride the roller coaster, and in ten hours, well, I haven’t really been able to determine what happens then. You might be crushed by a grain of sand, or maybe you’ll just disappear completely. They won’t be able to see your funeral with an electron microscope.”
At this point the board members all fell to their knees. “Whatever you want, Dr. Eugene Francis,” they intoned. “You are a genius. You deserve whatever it is that you desire. It is yours. We are sorry, Dr. Eugene Francis. Please, we beg you. Don’t make us any smaller.”
Eugene giggled once more, then began to laugh. He laughed so hard that drool sprayed onto his seat belt. He laughed so hard that he cried. He laughed so hard that he didn’t see the squirrel dart out in front of his car until the last second, when he cranked the wheel to one side and drove straight into a tree.
Officer Frank Mallory took a long gulp of coffee and stepped under the police tape. Officer Erik Ladd, traffic division, stood next to the wreck with his own styrofoam cup, directing the ambulance closer to the metal mess.
“Morning, Erik,” said Frank as he approached, stepping as lightly as he could on the broken glass. “What’s the story here?”
Erik stopped guiding the ambulance long enough to shake Frank’s hand and shrugged. “Same old, same old.” He pointed at a mass of wet fur and rubber skids in the road. “Looks like that squirrel there became one with the pavement just in time to make the driver lose control of the car. He hit the tree at full speed and got intimate with his steering wheel. He didn’t last long after that. D.O.A.”
“Any sign of drinking?” asked Frank. “Drugs?”
“Nope,” said Erik. “Couple of broken test tubes in the passenger seat, but no drug residue or anything like that. Bunch of papers covered with numbers and letters and scientific mumbo-jumbo. Probably one of those lab techs from PharmaMed.”
Frank looked at the PharmaMed building at the end of the block, just a few hundred feet away. “Greatest minds of a generation,” he said, shaking his head, “but they can’t avoid a squirrel in the road. How can something so small do so much damage?”
Erik shrugged again and slapped a mosquito on his neck.
Jake Christie is a writer who lives in Portland, Maine. He has a BA in Media Studies and Writing from the University of Southern Maine. His work has been featured online and in print, in such varied venues as Yankee Pot Roast, Word Riot, 365 Tomorrows, Weirdyear, Ramble Underground, Cell Stories, College Humor, Points in Case, and FACE Magazine.