Story Time: The Human Equation – Part I

This month I’m trying out another one of Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenges. This one is a collaborative type that will find stories in four parts by four different writers. It will be very interesting to see where this goes. Here’s Part I of my contribution to the challenge.

“Dad, I think it would be best for my emotional growth if I moved into my own apartment. You are always pushing me to be more self-sufficient and independent, but I can’t reach my potential if I’m still relying on you for so much. Please, take a moment to think this through. Isn’t this the next logical step?”

The girl gave her best pleading look.

“Absolutely not! What’s to keep you from having drug filled sex orgies and becoming a delinquent? I’m not having my daughter get pregnant at sixteen!”

“Oh. My. God. You are ridiculous.”

“I’m your father! I didn’t raise you to-”

“No, Rory, I mean you’re being ridiculous. My dad would never react like that and you know it.”

“Hey! You’re supposed to stay in character!”

“Rory, I’m not a character! I’m supposed to be myself in this scenario! And you’re supposed to be my dad, not Leave it to Beaver’s dad. Come on… delinquent? Who says that?”

“Well…” Rory started, her large dark eyes glancing around her room sheepishly, “My mom says it all the time. She says if I keep putting up posters of guys on my walls, that I’ll get boy crazy and become a delinquent.”

“Ha! You already are boy crazy! You’ve been boy crazy since you were, like, ten!”

“Shut up, Chloe! I am not! I’m just looking for Mister Right.”

“Again, you are ridiculous. You should be looking for a driver’s permit”

“Whatever. Why are we even practicing this? We both know your dad is going to say yes. You have, like, the coolest dad ever. He lets you do anything you want.”

Chloe rolled her eyes. None of her friends ever seemed to understand when it came to her dad.

“First, he is like the farthest thing from cool. He spent my entire ninth birthday party explaining how the light photons from the candles worked. Everybody got so bored after two hours they left. I didn’t even get a chance to open my presents until the next day.”

“Well, nerdy is kinda cool now.”

“He wears socks with his sandals!”

“Well, he does let you dye your hair any color you want.”

“That’s because he tried to invent a nano-programed shampoo that styles your hair as you wash it.”

“That actually sounds kinda cool.”

“It made all my hair fall out! I spent all of fourth grade getting tons of ‘get well soon’ cards cause everyone thought I had leukemia. Yeah, he lost all rights to say anything about my hair after that.”

Rory grimaced.

“Yeah, that sounds really sucky.”

“Your family at least watches movies and TV together. When I try to hang out with my dad, he won’t shut up about String Theory and Quantum Tunneling.”

“I’ve never heard of those shows.”

“They’re… never mind.” Chloe slumped on the bed and ran her fingers through her green and white hair, feeling suddenly exhausted. She didn’t resent her dad, or at least she didn’t think she did. But the past couple of years had been so difficult. They used to laugh and talk and go on ‘scientific adventures’. Hell, she had paid such rapt attention to him during his diatribe on photons that she hadn’t even noticed that the other guests had left the birthday party. Now, they struggled to say more than a few words to each other.

“I should get going.” She sighed.

“You okay Chloe?” Rory asked, genuine concern showing in her large eyes.

“Yeah. I’m fine.”

“You gonna ask about the apartment?”

“Yeah. Probably tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

As Chloe drove her father’s ’79 Volvo wagon, which weighed more than a Sherman Tank, she couldn’t stop thinking about how much things had changed between her and her father. Deep down, she knew Dad hadn’t really changed. She had been the variable in the equation– she had been the one that changed their relationship simply by growing up. Part of her still wanted to just see him as the hero that knew everything. But a growing part of her was so frustrated at how little he knew about people, especially her. It was like he still saw her as that little girl that drank in his words and not someone nearly a full adult – a near equal.

She parked the Volvo in front of the brick apartment building she called home. Grandpa had left it to them in his will free and clear when he had passed. There were seven living units, but none of the original tenants had stayed more than a year after Dad had become the landlord. He had a habit of neglecting, well, everything. The last straw had been when he converted the basement laundry room into his own personal laboratory. Now it was just the two of them in Unit 1, and if he agreed to her request, she would get her own unit.

Swinging the front door open, she stepped into the main atrium stairwell. The large room was strangely dark, the only light weakly sifting through the glass in the ceiling. Her footsteps echoed loudly. She noticed the sharp smell of something burned wafting through the air.

“Dad?” she asked weakly.

Still no sounds but her own breathing.

The lab. Of course, he would be in the lab.

Walking to the metal door stenciled with the words “laundry”, she opened it and made her way down the concrete steps to the basement. His lab, normally a disastrous mess, looked as though a hurricane had swept through. A single light flickered in the corner, flashing distorted shadows across the room. Something glass shattered on the far side of the room.

“Dad? Is that you?”

She took a tentative step.

A hand gripped her shoulder.


“Jesus H Christ, dad!”

He stood next to her, smiling broadly. There were dark smudges on his face and one of the lenses in his glasses looked cracked.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”

She looked around the room as something metal clanged.

“Dad… what happened?”

“Something great! Well, probably great! Here, I’ll show you. Just…” he held his fingers up and started towards the far end of the room, “just wait there.”

When Jon Urquhart returned to his daughter, her eyes bulged and her mouth went agape. When she didn’t say anything for nearly a minute, he laughed anxiously and ran his hand through his receding hair.

“So…Chloe… What do you think of it?”

Finally, her mouth closed and with effort she planted her eyes on him and not the… other thing.

“Dad… I’m moving upstairs.”


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