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Unboring Work

“What are you looking at?” Brad dropped his pencil and squinted across the dark lab to the bank of dimly lit cages.

Maybe he wasn’t cut out for this after all. He never imagined this when he dreamed about becoming a researcher all those years growing up — the late nights at the lab, the pencil pushing, the cleaning duty.

And he certainly never imagined the creepy chimps staring him down as he crunched the other scientists’ numbers, collected all through the day and left for the babysitter third shift to chug though.

When would he get to do the real research?

Of course, it was all part of the the learning curve, and of paying his dues as a first year grad student, Brad knew. Still it was wearing on him after nearly a semester there in the eerie lab with no company.

Well, no company except those creepy monkeys. Apes, he corrected himself.

Professor Andrews would kick him out of the program if he even sniffed a mistake like that. Despite it all, Brad didn’t want to fail before he knew exactly what sort of research the professor was conducting.

Still, it was the same routine night after night — gather the charts from the day, compile them into spreadsheets, run some calculations, clean up the lab, and hope for something better tomorrow.

And do it all under the glare of Larry, the oldest male chimpanzee in the group, the one who always seemed to be watching Brad. It felt like the animal was … studying him.

Brad shivered at the thought. His eyes met Larry’s.

“What are you looking at?” Brad repeated. The chimp just watched.

Brad shook his had and went back to his calculations.

It was a Monday night.

Professor Andrews called Brad early Tuesday evening, just before he was set to leave for his shift.

“I’m working late on a project,” Andrews had said. “No need for you to come in until tomorrow night.”

Brad had felt relieved, but also disappointed. It would have been thrilling to work with Andrews himself on the meat of the research, if even for just a few hours.

But the prof’s tone had made it clear he didn’t want Brad there.

So Brad entered the lab on Wednesday evening feeling fresher than he had in weeks, probably since before he started grad school. The night off had done wonders for his psyche, and he was almost looking forward to crunching his numbers.

He set his things down on the desk at the front of the room and grabbed a clipboard. He walked toward the back of the lab but stopped after a couple of steps. The bank of lights that usually cast a soft glow over the chimps’ cages were dark, and Brad couldn’t see the animals at all.

He could hear them moving, though, and it was unsettling.

Brad searched for a switch on the wall and found a few that he flipped up and down. None of them seemed to do anything.

He would have to call maintenance, maybe even Professor Andrews, but first he needed to fully assess the situation.

He took a couple more steps forward and peered into the darkness. After a few seconds of focusing hard, his eyes adjusted to the darkness and he could just make out the shapes of the cages.

Something looked … off.

“What are you looking at?”

Brad’s heart pounded through his chest, shaking his shirt color like a leaf on a tree. The voice had come from the darkness off to his left, and it sound familiar … like a mocking version of his own.

And then, Brad realized what was different about the cages.

The door to Larry’s stood open, and there was nothing inside.

Published inFlash Fiction

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