The Alejandro Ray:
A Children’s Story
by Corey Mesler
Dr. Alejandro was a scientist who had lived in Heuristic, Pennsylvania, all his life. That most of his neighbors knew little about him is not surprising. Dr. Alejandro spent his entire adult life inside his home which he had converted into a laboratory for his experiments. Dr. Alejandro’s experiments were done without any outside help since the good doctor left his university teaching job under a cloud, suspected of advancing theories that did not fit with current scientific teaching.
For instance, he taught that clouds were the outer edges of poems. He taught that electricity could be generated by kissing, enough electricity to run a whole town, he added. He taught that the capybara, the world’s largest rodent, could actually understand English if you spoke to it slowly and with quiet affection. Needless to say, though his students loved him, the administration felt that he was not “instructor material.”
So he took to his home, the house his mother had left him in her will. He cleaned out three adjoining rooms and knocked down the walls between them. It was a space large enough to set up his laboratory. And this he did. And after he did he rarely left his house. He had his groceries sent in. It was a limited life but Dr. Alejandro wasn’t sad. He had his work and he had his latest brainstorm, which is what this story is about. It’s about Dr. Alejandro’s ray.
The idea the good doctor had (and he was a good doctor, if a little bit of a dreamer and a woolgatherer) was a ray that would stop time. The practical uses for such a ray seemed to him endless. But, most importantly, Dr. Alejandro saw his ray as a way of stopping sickness, specifically deadly sicknesses like the one that carried away his beloved mother. He figured one could point the ray at a dying patient and stop his or her personal clock and while the patient lay etherized upon a table, sleeping the sleep of the unaging and de-animated, doctors could work on a cure.
One day, while the doctor was building his ray-gun — for want of a better word — there came a knock on his door. This was not the first knock on the doctor’s door since he went into hibernation, so to speak, but there was something special about this knock. It sounded like the knock a capybara might make who wished to make contact with humans. It sounded small and magical and full of stardust. Or so Dr. Alejandro imagined. Hence, for the first time in years, he went to answer it.
When he opened his front door he was unprepared for what stood there. Of course, he was unprepared no matter what stood there, unused, as he was, to the ways of his fellow man. But, there on his brick porch, a mere yard away, stood two small figures, like Tweedledee and Tweedledum. One was female and one was male. Simply put, there stood two twin children, brother and sister, Emman P. Paraben and Ethyl Paraben.
Emman and Ethyl would be an extraordinary sight even if you hadn’t been locked away for years in a crowded laboratory with your nose in ancient texts and your eye pressed to a microscope’s eyepiece. They were both as blond as isinglass and they both had large blue eyes that did not look human. They looked like angels or some sort of forest sprites. They were beautiful. And they would be called identical twins except, of course, that Emman was a boy and Ethyl a girl.
“Can I help you?” Dr. Alejandro asked rightly. And he couldn’t avoid a smile, rusty as it was, for these apparitions on his stoop.
“We came to help you,” Emman said.
“Yes,” Ethyl added. “Help you.”
Dr. Alejandro looked at them as if they were a thorny problem in calculus.
“Help me with what, children?” he asked.
“Oh, let us introduce ourselves,” Ethyl said. “I am Ethyl Paraben.”
“And I am Emman P. Paraben, her twin brother,” Emman P. Paraben, her twin brother appended.
“Hello,” Dr. Alejandro said.
“We know who you are,” Emman said.
“Oh, indeed,” the doctor grinned.
“Yes. That’s why we’ve come to help you.”
“Again,” Dr. Alejandro said, smiling still. “With what?”
“Whatever,” Emman said.
“We both took blue ribbons in the science fair,” Ethyl said.
As unprecedented as it was Dr. Alejandro invited the children in. He rummaged around in his kitchen and found food he thought appropriate to young ones’ diets. They all sat down around the doctor’s rickety kitchen table with milk and DingDongs.
“So, what are you working on?” Ethyl asked, with a self-assurance that allowed her to seem to be in charge of the proceedings.
“Well,” the doctor hesitated. “It’s a secret.”
“Well, Dr. Alejandro,” Emman said around a half-chewed DingDong, “If we’re going to be working together there obviously can’t be any secrets.”
Dr. Alejandro couldn’t help the foolish grin that seemed painted on his face. These children were something else. Still, he knew he must humor them and then send them on their way so he could get back to his project. He was very close to completing his work on the ray and his nervous energy could be seen in the way he drummed his fingers on the kitchen table.
“Children,” he said, after the stale desert cakes had been consumed. “I must get back to work. Thank you for thinking of me, but really, I work alone.”
The children’s brows furrowed simultaneously as if one brow.
“May we at least see your lab?” Emman asked after an awkward silence.
Against his better judgment Dr. Alejandro showed the children into his laboratory. It was awash in clutter, seemingly pillaged, as if a thief had been through it. But this was how the doctor worked. He knew the spot where every instrument lay, even if buried under a blueprint or splayed book.
The children looked around, assessing the room like miniature CIA agents. Their serious expressions almost made the doctor laugh. The doctor had not laughed since his high school days, some twenty-six years back.
“Well, so okay,” Dr. Alejandro said. “End of tour. I’ve got to get back to work.”
Emman looked into the doctor’s smiling face. Ethyl did, too.
“It stops time, is that it?” Emman said.
Well, you could have knocked Dr. Alejandro over with the proverbial feather. He was without speech. He could only gawk at these strange, tiny creatures, his smiling face now looked foolish, like a fighter who had just taken a good one to the stomach.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” Ethyl said. “Stopping time. That’s what you’re working on?”
“M-maybe,” the doctor stammered. “Well, y-yes.”
“Thought so. These sketches, these blueprints, very nice, very ingenious,” Emman P. Paraben said.
“I think we can help you,” Ethyl said. “Emman has some interesting theories about time.”
And this was how Dr. Alejandro, the former hermit, gained two assistants. After a couple of weeks of having them around, with their serious expressions and their brilliant insights, the doctor forgot he had ever worked alone. Really he thought, how did he ever get along without them? Every day he eagerly awaited their arrival after school. Some days he postponed something he was working on to ask their opinion.
He began to count on them heavily.
And soon the ray was ready for testing.
They scheduled the first test for a Saturday so the twins could be there as early as possible and they could check and recheck their calculations before turning the curious contraption — which looked like a giant weed whacker lying on its side — on. Their plan was to shoot the ray at a mouse and see if it was placed in suspended animation. It should be, if they had figured right.
That morning they were all fidgety. They had a quick breakfast of cinnamon toast and grape juice. They did not talk. They did not look at each other.
When they had finished eating they rose and walked single-file to the lab.
The mouse, named Miles Monroe by Emman, was blithely running around on its little wheel, unaware of the momentous occasion, unaware that he was about to enter the mouse Hall of Fame. He did not even look up when the trio entered the laboratory.
The three scientists spent over an hour going over everything they had already previously calculated. They did not want a failure on their first try. Their confidence was such that they believed they had created something consequential and anything short of stopping the mouse’s biological clock would be a total, and seemingly impossible, flop.
And so the time came. The time for no-time. The time for stop-time.
There was but one switch to throw.
Dr. Alejandro nervously cleaned his glasses over and over. Emman could not help rolling two steel marbles together, keepsakes he normally kept in his pocket. Ethyl was too nervous to move. She stared straight ahead.
“Okay,” Dr. Alejandro said. “The time has arrived, if you’ll forgive the irony.”
“Yep,” Emman said.
Ethyl stared straight ahead.
Dr. Alejandro moved his hand toward the switch. His fingers rested lightly on it and his eyes were glued to Miles Monroe. He wanted to see the exact moment the mouse became frozen in time.
So it was that he did not see Emman bend over nor did he hear the marble hit the floor and roll. Emman went after the loose marble like a dog after a toy. All he could think was that he did not want his clumsiness to interfere with the doctor’s success.
Dr. Alejandro turned on his ray.
Emman stood up with his marble.
The ray caught Emman in the middle of his chest.
And, wonder of wonders, Emman P. Paraben froze there as if he were carved from living rock. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, Emman Paraben was a statue of Emman Paraben.
Neither the doctor nor the sister knew what to say.
Dr. Alejandro may have gasped. Ethyl’s round eyes may have grown two sizes rounder.
Emman moved not.
“It works,” Ethyl managed, in a voice like a hammer pulling out a nail.
“My stars,” the doctor said.
“I guess you can go ahead and reverse it now,” Ethyl said.
“Reverse?” Dr. Alejandro said.
Weeks later, after Emman and Ethyl’s parents had taken the statue of their son home, after Ethyl had kissed the doctor on the cheek and said that maybe some time apart would be good, after they all agreed that this was best kept quiet, Dr. Alejandro sat in his kitchen stirring and stirring a cup of Ovaltine.
He was dressed in a bathrobe and pajamas. He hadn’t shaved since the accident. He did not look well.
Dr. Alejandro was asking himself many questions: how had his life turned out so badly? how can we unfreeze poor Emman? is this the end result of good scientific endeavor, the shortened life of a child?
But through the depression his trained gray cells were also working on the solution. The problem was that he had spent so much energy and materials and time and money on stopping time that he had not calculated how he could start it again. If he ever thought about it he figured when the time came the time would come and he would just know.
It was not to be.
And so, if you visited Heuristic, Pennsylvania, and if you went to the Paraben’s house in the ensuing years, perhaps to see Ethyl’s latest prize-winning science project (her machine which made candy bars from sand, for instance) you saw the statue which used to be Emman and perhaps you laid a gift at his feet. The Parabens appreciated all who did.
You know the rest.
Ethyl went on to become the most celebrated scientist of her day. Dr. Alejandro and his ray went into semi-retirement only to re-emerge during a presidential election when one of the candidates promised that during his term he would present the world with the technology that could stop time. Dr. Alejandro became front page news and his ray was funded by a large corporation.
Ethyl, of course, found the solution to reversing the time-stoppage in her early twenties and she was awarded a Nobel Prize in Science, the youngest person ever to receive such an honor.
Emman awoke from his decade-long sleep, blinked a few times and looked around him.
“Where’s Dr. Alejandro?” he asked. “Where’s Miles Monroe?”
And, after a few moments, “Are there any more DingDongs?”
Copyright © 2006 by Corey Mesler