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In a Pickle

by Katherine Sanger

Ever since I was five and I mixed up that knock-out gas to get out of swimming class, I knew my future was in science. It all made sense to me. Laws of science and physics were like the speed limit — meant to be broken. So when the state university offered a $10,000 grant to the person who could come up with a workable solution to the problem of gridlock in any major metropolitan area, I fired up my computer.

I had promised an end to all “out of the box” experiments, until college, anyway, which was a good four years away. My mother hadn’t been pleased with my last attempt to “fix” the cat. The current hiatus was the least I could do for her sanity. But this... $10,000 would cover my much-needed tuition. There was no way my parents could handle the bills, not while they were still paying off the settlement to the Smiths because of that whole dog in the tree thing.

I told them that the dog would find a way to get out of the tree, but no, they had to use that chainsaw. What part of “in the tree” did they not understand? All that blood. And the dog did find his way out the next week. Even the twig for a tail went away. Eventually.

This was for a good cause, too. Besides the money. Dallas needed a serious revamping of its traffic system. Just yesterday, two major crashes, both with multiple casualties, closed highway 635 for hours. It would be for the good of the city, maybe even the good of the state or even the nation, if I could apply my unique talents to it.

Pulling up the map, I could see that there wasn’t much I could do to the road system itself. Urban sprawl had destroyed any hope of rerouting. People never seemed willing to shift their work hours — that was easy enough to discover through research. There was only one hope left. While my original attempt had ended with a dog merged with a tree, this time I was sure that I would get it right.

What I proposed was a means of teleportation, not transportation. What if you could just pop out of one place and into another? No traffic at all! Who needed a way to move a whole person when you could just move the molecules themselves? No more commuting. People could gain two hours a day, especially if the teleport was cheap enough that everyone could have their own. Maybe it would be like floo travel. If Harry Potter could do it, why couldn’t we?

Okay, maybe that wasn’t the best example. But I was so close before that dog...

* * *

When my mother took my baby sister to daycare and went to work the next morning, I got my equipment out of the attic. It only took half an hour to set it back up. The big cardboard box, neatly labeled “test box,” the firing button I had stolen from a model rocket, and the shield I had improvised from my mattress and some wooden slats I had stolen from a neighbor’s garbage pile went into their places.

I re-soldered the connections between the aiming devices (made of recovered satellite dishes I had borrowed when anyone moved out of the neighborhood and left one behind on their roof) and trained them on their respective “homes.” I pulled up the program I had written and spent an hour coding, trying to rework the plans and not get an error message.

The problem, I had decided, was that my goals were too lofty. Moving a whole dog into a spot already occupied by a tree? Not the best idea. I needed to try to move something small across the room first.

I rooted around in my sister’s room and found a baby doll. She hadn’t played with it in what, days? She wouldn’t miss it. Besides, that’s what happens when you go to pre-school and leave things behind.

There was plenty of room to spare in the box. It hadn’t had a problem fitting the Smiths’ black lab, so the baby doll had plenty of space. I got behind my improvised shield and pressed the button. There was a buzzing noise, just like last time, but when I got up, the baby doll was still sitting there. I poked it. It rocked gently. I picked it up. Not hot, not cold. Just a normal, average, everyday baby doll.

I shook my head. So not right. It had worked perfectly well with the dog! Okay, not perfectly, but the dog had gone somewhere, at least.

The Smiths had moved away, and our new neighbors weren’t as careful with their dog, but I had a feeling that if anything bad did happen, I might get in trouble.

So nothing bad could happen.

With a little coaxing, the corgi next door left her yard and came into the house. It didn’t take much effort. She was starved for attention. I led her up the stairs and into my room. I tossed the baby doll out of the box and deposited the dog into it. She yipped once, then turned in a few circles and settled down. I got behind my shield again and pressed the button.

I popped my head around the side, expecting to see the dog sitting in front of me. The baby doll stared at me instead. My shoulders slumped. What was going wrong? I crossed my room to the box. The corgi was still sitting in it. She didn’t look up when I came over.

“Girl?” I put my hand on her. No response. “Girl?”

From across the room, I heard a bark.

I yanked my hand out of the box.

“Girl?” I asked into the room.

The bark sounded again, and this time I could figure out where it was coming from. It was coming from near the doll.

I crossed back to the doll and looked down at it. Nothing different about it. It still looked like a baby doll. Then it barked. Its butt moved, like it was trying to wag a missing tail.

“Girl?” I reached out to the doll and picked it up. Its body shook, like a dog that was excited at being held. Its arm moved, the plastic hands pawing at my arms. I dropped it. The doll whined, then began panting and slowly pushed its arms and legs beneath it. It crawled towards me.

My mind flashed to Chuckie. I needed to fix this. I grabbed the immobile and heavy dog — “dead weight” my brain told me, and I told it to shut up — and plopped it down where the baby doll had been, then picked up the baby doll and put it in the box. I could hear the plastic hands and feet scrabbling at the cardboard as it turned in a circle. I dove behind the mattress and pressed the button.

My fingers were crossed on both hands, and I wished for prehensile toes as I peeked around the corner. The corgi lay on the floor where I had put it. I came out from behind the shield and slinked towards the dog. When I was less than a foot away, its head came up, it looked straight into my eyes, and it barked. It wagged its tail and pushed itself into a sitting position.

“Good girl!” I patted her on the head.

It had worked!

My brain made clicking noises in my head. This kicked teleportation’s butt! This was world-revolutionizing! Golems! Golems were possible! There would be no more carpal tunnel, no more repetitive stress injuries, no more radiation exposure! Just teleport your mind and will, not your body! This so was worth more than a measly $10,000.

I patted the dog’s head and thought, her fur soft and soothing in contrast to my brain that was spiking and whirling out of control. She spun around three times and settled down.

What had I changed between this time and the last? Something big, obviously. I pushed the box out of the way and rifled through the disorganized piles of paper on my desk. The teleportation ones should be near the top — it wasn’t too long after that little incident that I’d been forced to hang up the soldering gun.

There they were! I grabbed them from the stack, toppling some other less fortunate drawings, and backhanded the dog, not realizing that she had crept up behind me. She yipped, I yelped, and we collapsed on the floor together, the drawings scattering on the already messy floor.

“Dog!” I yelled, sweeping the papers back into a pile, knowing that I was probably getting some papers that didn’t belong mixed in. She slunk back off, and I ignored her, tossing things out of my way, making sure that I hadn’t missed any papers. It would be easier to sort out what didn’t belong, rather than what did.

I should have been more careful. I should have paid more attention, made sure that I hadn’t mis-directed the aiming devices, should have, well, done something differently. Instead, I leaned back. And fell into the stupid cardboard box that had been shifted in my frantic digging. At the same time, the corgi, wandering around looking for a good hidey-hole so I wouldn’t hit her again, stepped on the button that I had left unprotected.

* * *

Mandy’s mother and sister came home at five, as usual. Cassie rested on her mother’s hip, bottle of milk in one hand, ratty teddy bear in the other.

“Pickle,” Cassie told her mother. “Pickle, pickle, pickle, pickly, pickly, pickly,” she sang.

“Yes,” her mother said, “you can have a pickle. Let me just put you down.”

She shifted her daughter to the floor, then opened the refrigerator. “Mandy! Mandy, are you home?”

She took out the pickle bottle and, grunting a little at the pressure needed, forced it open. She thought she heard Mandy scream.

“Mandy?” She turned from the refrigerator and got a fork from the drawer. She poked around in the pickles, trying to spear one. Cassie got louder, but she still thought she could hear Mandy above the sound.

“Pickle! Pickle!” There was no more sing-song to her voice. Now it was a whine.

“I’m getting you a pickle. Hold on.” She turned towards the stairs. “Mandy?”

Finally lancing a pickle, she plucked it from the bottle and held it out to Cassie on the fork. “Happy?”

Cassie grabbed it and shoved it into her mouth, sucking and gnawing on it. She said something, but her mother couldn’t make it out for the pickle juice. What was with that girl and her pickles? And where was Mandy?

A dog came running into the kitchen. Mandy’s mother didn’t need to think before she reacted.

“Man-dy!” She left Cassie on the floor with the dog and the pickle and raced up the stairs. “Mandy, why is there a dog in the...” She stopped talking as she entered the room. It looked like a small war had taken place, and no one had won. Mandy was nowhere in sight.

“Mandy?” She took another step in. “Mandy?” She looked into the box and saw the inert form of her daughter, curled into a small ball. “Mandy!”

Downstairs, Cassie chewed away happily at the screaming pickle.

Copyright © 2008 by Katherine Sanger

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