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.