Friday, October 29, 2010

The Skeletons in His Closet

Dr. Carlos Santiago searched his lab coat pocket to silence his Blackberry and found two parking stubs, a test tube, a syringe, and the sharp teeth of a lab mouse. With a scowl, he jerked his hand out of the pocket. As always, the mice fouled perfectly good research or in this case his prank to release it during the second of his two committee meetings. If the mouse had behaved, it would have gotten him out of the endless bickering.

A graduate microbial physiology book slammed to the floor, all 1500 pages including folded up notes that slid across the floor. A redhaired first-year shied away from Carlos. The professor bit his tongue to avoid smiling. He'd have to ask one of the philosophy professors over lunch whether his scowl came first or the fear in the student's eyes.

Carlos continued searching for his Blackberry. He rolled his eyes. Its chirps should be a dead giveaway. As any academic study could prove, he found the phone in the last place he checked and acknowledged the reminder about the Ph.D. defense for one of Dr. Lee's students. A smile cracked Carlos's lips. It might not be research, but at least he could make someone squirm.

Carlos entered the classroom and saw the doctoral student hunched over a laptop. He tiptoed forward. "Do you think your research is sufficient?"

The student twisted at the noise and his hand jerked to scatter a folder of journal papers and a couple plastic cylinders to the floor. One of the vials rolled beneath the professor's foot. The student hastily grabbed the fallen papers. "You... you read the dissertation."

"Of course." The student's dissertation, _Methodology and Analysis of Compulsory Ecdysis on Non-Serpentine Physiology_, was unimaginative. The student had discovered a field-shattering method, but he didn't understand how to use it. Mice. Carlos sneered. "What do you think?"

The student retreated to the far side of the table with his laptop. "I spent much time."

"Time does not equate mastery." The words hissed through Carlos' teeth like the forked tongue of a snake. Students these days thought that since the University pushed them to graduate in under six years, they didn't have to innovate.

"Are you terrorizing Pieter?" Dr. Lee stood in the doorway.

"No," said Carlos. "Just a couple of preparatory questions."

Once everyone had arrived, Carlos stretched his feet in front of him, his eyes sliding to a crack. Pieter introduced his findings on a serum that hardened mammalian skin into a scale-like structure and preserved a specimen's inner organs while allowing the central bone system and certain important ligaments to be extracted.

Carlos' eyes sprang open and his laser-like gaze spit Pieter with vehemence. "Removing the skeletons from mice is a waste of time. Have you tried this on any other species?"

The student retreated from his laptop. "Uh... no. But, the mice don't age while they've been extracted from their bodies."

Carlos raised an eyebrow. "You're dissertation doesn't mention anything about re-associating skeleton and flesh."

"She," Pieter pointed at Dr. Lee, "she thought it best that I save that work to publish towards a tenure-track position post-graduation."

Carlos grabbed a syringe from the pocket of his lab coat and the plastic vial that had fallen earlier. He could move fast when he wanted to. He pressed the needle against Pieter's arm. "I suggest we try a new species and add a little excitement to this defense." Carlos released the ecdysis serum into the student's body. The skin became translucent.

"No," shouted Dr. Lee.

Carlos scratched at the student's hairline and the scalp loosed to expose the skull's white bone. He yanked the bones from the body. The skeleton jerked and go fell forward across the table.

"Interesting," said Carlos. He had another skeleton for his closet. And some interesting avenues for research. Perhaps, the morning hadn't been entirely wasted.

A response to my writer's weights exercise, "Humor Challenge". The challenge: write a scene of 1000 words or less that uses one of the above techniques to create humor or one of your own favorite techniques. Theme for this week: skeleton.


  1. I thought this really well told, but I didn't necessarily find it humorous. I thought you were going for Santiago being a human snake or something, with the white mice and fast predatory moves, the way he liked to scare people. Very descriptive!

  2. You know, I thought this was a bit scary rather than funny. Though the tone was glib throughout, and the pun was at the end.

  3. @ganymeder, describing Carlos as a human snake is a good description. Unfortunately, I think the story I chose isn't the most conducive to humor. I also rarely write humor so this is more of a weaker point of mine and one that I thought good to attempt to improve.

    @TS, I see Carlos as scary, and am fortunate my PhD advisors were not like him.

  4. I find myself wondering how he got the other skeletons in his closet... Really liked this story.
    Kari @ The Best Place By The Fire

  5. Kari, Thanks. This is Carlos' first physical skeleton in his closet. He's got plenty of secrets in his past and knows how to manipulate people to keep them from getting out at inopportune times.

  6. So that's how skeletons in the closet come about... ;)

  7. I liked that last line, "he had another skeleton for a closet." Interesting.

  8. @Laura, once Carlos starts selling his serum, everyone will have skeletons for their closet :)

    @Aldersprig, thanks!

  9. This was a creepy story. Carlos is obviously a flawed and self indulgent character with a mean streak. I want to know what his research really is.

  10. @Lara, Yes, you've nailed Carlos. Well, in keeping with his character streak, he's going to be specializing in Mammallian Ecdysis.

  11. Yeah, I don't get the humor but I liked the story. Creepy for sure. Nice job.

  12. @GP, Glad you enjoyed the story.