FLOW • by KJ Kabza

Everyone has a secret fear, and Rutherford’s is this: for the minute it matters most, he won’t be looking.

Rutherford has a government job. He works on the 19th floor of Building 209. He’s in a special projects division of the Justinian Vern Fluid Mechanics Lab, but to an outsider, the project is anything but fluid.

The project is a disputed material that seven long-dead Nobel laureates could not classify. It is black and far denser than tar, and maybe it flows and maybe it doesn’t. The project is wholly contained in an egg timer, seven inches high, and Rutherford is not allowed to touch it. He, and the two-dozen observational devices of varying types, ages, costs, sizes, descriptions, locations, and conditions, are only permitted to watch.

Rutherford knows that he is the one. His faith burns like the bush in the desert. On his first day, over 30 years ago, he crouched nose-to-nose with the egg timer, and saw the hanging drop: lustrous, pendulous, waiting. The drop gives him hope. It gives him everything.

Each day, Rutherford waits for the drop to complete itself. Each night, Rutherford dreams of the drop, falling. He is afraid of dying without seeing this, but he is more terrified that he will look away from the project, just for a moment, and miss it. The machines would record it, but he does not trust them, and the vindication would not be the same; when Rutherford comes in to work at dawn, he fights with all the paranoia of his soul, eyes locked to the egg timer and burning because he doesn’t want to blink. He tries not to get up, ever, period. Each trip outside the room, however necessary, is frenzied and full of fear.

He sometimes sleeps in the lab, so he’ll miss nothing.

He is not married, and his strengthening dedication has stripped his friends away.

Rutherford suspects he is unhappy. Maybe he is and maybe he isn’t. He thinks that happiness is seeing the drop fall. However, if Rutherford ever took a moment to consider — and he might or might not — he would pray for this timeless waiting over the alternative.

Suppose, one day, even if he is looking, the drop falls.

What happens next?

KJ Kabza, whose work has appeared in Kisses for Kids, Short Stuff Magazine, The Fifth Di…, Happy, and Beyond Centauri, currently lives in Boston. His horror story “Happinex” will appear this fall in the anthology Fried! Fast Food, Slow Deaths from Graveside Tales.

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Every Day Fiction

  • I love this. The atmosphere, the tension, is palpabe and Rutherford is a wonderful character, I felt as though I could see him, feel his yearning over this damn drop! Great story, thank you.

  • Oonah V Joslin

    That happiness is in achieving rather than having achieved is very true.


  • I loved the open ended nature of this. You expect the story to be about what happens when the drop falls and he isn’t there, but this ending makes you think just a little harder about it.

  • Avis Hickman-Gibb

    What indeed? Thought provoking piece. I enjoyed it.

  • Great story! I loved this one. Thought-provoking and creepy at the same time.

  • Anticipation–the meat of life!

  • Lyn

    It’ll drop in the blink of an eye (just for spite) – so he’ll likely miss it anyway. Life is like that. Nice piece.

  • I did like this piece a lot – except for the very last line which I felt was extraneous. “If Rutherford ever took a moment to consider–and he might or might not–he would pray for this timeless waiting over the alternative” insists that we have to consider (more than him) to realise what the alternative is … then we get told.

    It didn’t “ruin” it but in my opinion without that last line and more faith in the reader, this would have been awesome. 🙂

  • jdege

    I thought I was the only person who had dreams about the Pitch Drop Experiment.

  • KJ

    Believe it or not, the pitch drop experiment wasn’t the inspiration for this.

    Arthur Ganson, who has a lot of kinetic sculpture at the MIT Museum, created a work that’s a series of gears connected to a motor; the gears are interconnected in such a way that each gear turns the next more slowly by a factor of 10.

    The final gear is embedded in solid concrete. The sign next to the sculpture said that the final gear turns so slowly that it can “flow” through the solid block without breaking it–and that one rotation of the final gear would take more years than there are atoms in the universe.

    I tried to capture that sort of maddening eternity here.

  • Sofia

    Very different, exceptionally written, makes you think.. It is exactly what I like to read. Thank you KJ!

  • Frozen in a sort of perpetual Schrodinger’s Cat in the Box moment