The Molecules That Bind Us

📅 Published on March 19, 2021

“The Molecules That Bind Us”

Written by Christa Carmen
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 19 minutes

Rating: 10.00/10. From 2 votes.
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A layperson might have found it off-putting, but to Dr. Ian Wessner, the sound was comforting, nostalgic.  It was like something from a Star Wars movie; a combination of R2-D2 passing on some critical message and the Millennium Falcon readying for takeoff.  Even a regenerative medicine researcher with more graduate degrees than was prudent could play make-believe, and Ian loved to pretend that the telltale sounds of the custom-designed 3D printer—utilizing a water-based ink to promote the growth of encapsulated cells, and printing in alternating layers with biodegradable plastic micro-channels—were announcing the approach of a futuristic spacecraft.

It was a pleasant, harmless distraction, and one that brought him back to his boyhood days in Erie, Indiana.  Ian would wage epic battles with an impressive collection of timeworn action figures, his father, agreeing with mock reluctance to play Darth Vader before launching a lethal Death Star attack, Ian scrambling to retaliate while intoning the appropriate soundtrack for the battle between the Dark Side and the Force with his own vocal cords.

Not that the business of the bioprinting lab wasn’t sci-fi enough.  At that moment, a wet, hissing sound joined the normal beeps and whirs as the printer nozzle sprayed living cells onto a scaffold.

Clacking away, he typed up a note on the day’s progress, a breakthrough, in Ian’s opinion.  It had been five months since Ian and his partner had implanted small, 3D-printed livers into rats, and the tissue was still thriving inside the rodents’ bodies.  One of the greatest challenges in bioprinting thus far had been getting printed tissue to survive long enough to form blood vessels and nerves, to integrate with the body in which it was implanted.  They were approaching the moment when they could attempt this with a full-sized human liver, the printing of which was almost complete, the culmination of eight weeks’ worth of work.  Ian finished entering the note, checked three times that he had saved it, and logged off the desktop computer.

The clock glowed accusatorily above the desk; he hadn’t meant to work a fifteen-hour day.  Then again, Ian hadn’t meant to work a fifteen-hour day every day for the last three weeks.  His research was as addictive as any drug, not that Ian would know.  He had never smoked a cigarette, and, too leery of the consequences, had been drunk only a handful of times.  He reached for the oversized can of Red Bull—he supposed he couldn’t get away with saying his work was his only addiction after all—and gulped several warm, flat swallows.

The clanking of the can on the metal desk coincided with another sound: the plop of a half-inch thick tissue sample on the bottom of a stainless steel tray.  He approached the second, smaller printer, quiet now as it wound down from its exertions.  He would transfer the specimen to a cooler of dry ice before sealing the Styrofoam and relocating the whole container down the hall to the transplant testing laboratory.  He labeled the cooler with large, legible letters: “Phase 3, Lifecycle 17, Batch 453; Human Bladder, healthy cells.”  Capping the black Sharpie, Ian walked the precious goods to the refrigerator marked: ‘For 3D printed specimens only.  NO FOOD ALLOWED.’

Ian flipped the switch on the overheads.  The laser-like glow from the mouth of the still-running printer was the brightest thing in the room.  Red light shone on the bottom layer of plastic, creating an impressive imitation of a horror-movie monster with a mouthful of bloodstained teeth.  Ian chided himself for his overactive imagination and slipped from the lab, locking the door behind him with a fingerprint-activated keypad.  There was only one other set of fingerprints the keypad would accept.

Ian traversed the long, dimly-lit corridor separating the main printing lab from the second, smaller one—both top secret—in the university basement.  Punching his father’s birthday into a regular numeric keypad allowed him to exit the area marked RESTRICTED, and enter the gowning station.  Ian dropped his lab coat, polypropylene shoe covers, and hair net into a bin of recyclables on his way to the locker room.  The silence was absolute, the weight of it settling over his eardrums with substantial, but not unwelcome, pressure.  Ian turned on the light over an emergency containment alarm pull station.  A flash of green exploded as the lightbulb blew out.

“Shit!” Ian drew in a breath.  He retrieved his cell phone from his pocket and swiped down for the flashlight.  There was a switch connected to a generator at the back of the room, if he could only—

At the sight of the pale, slight man sitting on the bench in the dark, Ian would have sworn again, but had yet to drag enough air into his lungs.  Instead, he bent, hands on his knees, and breathed, adrenaline pulsing through his bloodstream to combat the unwelcome surprise.  When he finally stood, he fixed the motionless man on the bench with an exasperated expression.

“What are you doing in here, Dr. Averill?  I thought you were in B Lab.  And why are you in the dark?”

“I’m just…thinking.”  Dr. Graham Averill delivered the reply as if it were the most obvious answer in the world.  Of course, Ian thought with disdain.  What else would a brilliant, troubled research scientist be doing alone in a dark laboratory basement?

Ian checked himself on the inclusion of the word ‘troubled.’  He had no idea why he thought something troubled Graham; he only knew that this was so.  He could not attribute this belief to anything Graham himself had said, or anything Ian had heard from another doctor or professor.  It was just a fact, as indisputable as the boiling point of water or the chemical composition of any one of the human organs Ian had printed with success.

Ian didn’t know if Graham Averill had a husband or a wife.  He didn’t know if he had kids, or where Graham had gone to college.  He didn’t know what type of music his research partner enjoyed, what he did for fun, or what kind of food he liked to eat.  The only thing Ian knew about Graham Averill was the make and model of his car, a Delta 88 Oldsmobile Royale Brougham, more beat-up than classic.

Graham spoke very little and never smiled.  Ian suspected that Graham made attempts to stagger their time spent in the lab, a difficult task considering both men logged innumerable hours.  When the university had first assigned him and Graham to work together post-residency—Ian for his background in surgery and regenerative medicine; Graham’s resume as elusive as anything else—Ian had gone out of his way to get to know him.  He posed friendly questions and invited Graham to lunch.  He shared solutions to the quirks he discovered within their Medicopia computer system and attempted to coauthor early research findings.

It wasn’t long before Ian gave up on trying to win Graham over.  Graham repaid his efforts with one-word-replies at best, and grunts or silence at worst.  Once Ian caught Graham staring into space and made the mistake of placing a well-meaning hand on the doctor’s shoulder.

“Hey, Graham, you ok, buddy?” he’d asked.  Graham made no indication that he had heard Ian, or even sensed his presence in the room.

Locked-in syndrome, he’d thought, rather ridiculously.  There was nothing wrong with Graham Averill’s nervous system; the man wasn’t actually paralyzed, but the idea of Graham trapped in his own head and lacking possession of the key that would release his tongue rattled Ian more than it should have.  It reminded him of something he couldn’t put his finger on.  Reminded him of someone he knew.

Ian hadn’t been able to shake Graham from his reverie that day, had backed out of the room, leaving the doctor alone with whatever film reel played behind those glazed-over eyes.

Graham lacked that locked-in look now; rather, his eyes bore into Ian’s under the beam of the flashlight with glittering intensity.  Graham wore a navy dress shirt, somehow still crisp despite having spent the day beneath the folds of a starchy white lab coat, his keys strewn on the bench by one hand.  A surge of anger rose from Ian’s stomach to the back of his throat.  He swallowed it down with difficulty.

“Thinking about what?” He managed to sound civil, friendly even.  What he wanted to say to Graham was this: ‘Why do you have to be so goddamn creepy all the time?’

“Many things,” came the underwhelming response.

Ian circumnavigated Graham and his vigil of deliberation to the backup light switch, breathing a small sigh of relief as fluorescents chased the shadows from the room.  He went to his locker and spun the combination, keeping one eye on Graham.

“Do you ever think about what drives your work, Dr. Wessner?  Whether it’s sheer academia that motivates you, or a personal passion that pushes you forward day after day?”

Ian tried—and failed—to disguise his shock at this outpouring of words.  He stared into Graham’s severe, sharply-angled face.

“Um, well, I—” Ian stuttered, his tongue trying—and failing—to catch up to the onslaught of questions his brain was churning out.  “Sure, I’ve thought about it.  I imagine most doctors, researchers, anyone in a ‘helping’ profession would be remiss to say they hadn’t.  That’s what you’ve been thinking about, Dr. Averill?  What is it that drives you?”

Graham ignored Ian’s question.

“I was in love with a woman once,” Graham continued, “many years ago, who was in grad school to become a mental health counselor.  She did her internship at a detox center and thought she wanted to work in the substance abuse field.  We were very serious, and I supported her in her career.  But one night, she came home from work—at this point, she’d graduated and gotten a job at a treatment center in the city—and said she couldn’t do it anymore.

“She was not in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction herself,” Graham continued, “and she’d never dealt with a family member or loved one who’d struggled with it either.  She said she just didn’t have the personal connection to the patients and what they were going through in order to have a passion for the work.”  Graham looked at Ian then, his expression grave.

“I left her not long after that.  I thought that any woman who could feel that way was a very cold woman indeed.  We’d suffered a personal tragedy together as well that convinced me there was no future for us.  Do you agree with my decision?  Do you agree that to have a passion for the work, you must connect to it on a gut-wrenchingly intimate level?”

Ian thought before responding.  “I don’t know if I could fault somebody for not being able to dredge up enthusiasm for work they didn’t feel passionate about.  On the other hand, if it is a personal connection that lights your fire, then that fire is going to burn brighter and stronger than if you sat there forcing two sticks together for God knows how long, trying to get a spark.”

“God is not here,” Graham said.  Or at least that’s what Ian thought Graham said.  Graham’s voice was so low, and his words so strange, that Ian couldn’t be sure.

“I’m sorry?”

“I said, ‘that is what I feared.’  You see, Dr. Wessner, I’ve come to the determination that I was wrong to have dispensed with my former lover so unceremoniously.  She was right, had been right all along.  In order to do great work, work that will change the course of humanity, your ego, your psyche, your everything has to be tied up in it.  The passion has to come from a place so raw and so hungry that to fail would be to die.”

Ian noticed that Graham’s eyes were red-rimmed.  Had he been crying?  What he said was, “Have you found that passion?”

Again, Graham dodged him, turning the question on Ian instead.  “What drives you, Dr. Wessner?  Is it money?  Power?  Prestige?  Or is it something you keep much closer to the vest?  Something that perhaps, you’ve never told anyone before?”

Ian felt a flash of defensiveness.  He made a show of checking his watch.  “It’s late, Dr. Averill.  I have to be going now.  It was…nice talking to you.  I’ll see you in the morning.  Well, I guess I’ll see you later this morning,” Ian corrected.  It was after midnight.  “Have a nice stint away from the lab, however short.”

He closed the locker and walked into the relatively fresh air of the hallway.  Foregoing the elevator for the stairs, Ian climbed to the main floor and slipped out into the rainy night, grateful to be away from Dr. Averill’s probing questions.

Forty-five minutes later, Ian watched his garage door rise, fingers drumming on the steering wheel with nervous impatience.  As he walked up the three low stairs to the mudroom of his modest, two-floor home, Ian mouthed a silent prayer.  He opened the door, braced for signs of chaos to assail him.  He did not have to wait long.

The smell of vomit hit first, a sickly-sweet smell of fruit that’s gone bad in its bowl.  Ian dropped his briefcase by the foyer closet and pulled the collar of his shirt over his nose.

The refrigerator door hung open, casting an eerie glow over the kitchen, spotlighting the foodstuffs dismembered on the floor. A cracked jar of mustard seeped onto the tile.  Bags of deli meat rustled in the breeze of a ceiling fan that circled like a bird of prey.  Ian gave the mess a wide berth and made his way to the living room.  The lights were off, but the television had been left on, broadcasting muted static.

The window was open despite the wind and rain.  Ian held the dripping blinds away from the pane and pulled the window shut.  In the damp and empty living room, with the smell of mustard and vomit hanging in the air, Ian called out in a shaky voice, “Dad?”

Ian Wessner Senior did not respond, but then, Ian, Jr. hadn’t expected him to.  He commenced with a quick and uniform search for his sixty-eight-year-old father.  All he found for his troubles was a broken mirror and another pile of vomit.  He retraced his steps to the kitchen, simultaneously panicked and numb.  The basement door was ajar.  How stupid of him not to have checked it earlier.  He placed shaky fingers on the knob.  The lightweight wood crashed into the wall behind the door when he flung it open.  In the wake of the echo, there was nothing but silence from the dark expanse below.

Ian flipped the switch, and for the second time that night, a lightbulb filament met its end in his presence.  He cursed and fished his phone from his pocket.  The bouncing strobe of the flashlight gave Ian’s descent a surreal, jittery feel.  By the time he reached the bottom, his already-frayed nerves were shot.

“Dad?” he called again.  A twinge of anger permeated his fear.  “Dad?  Come on.  Are you down here?”

A black shadow rushed from one corner, the banshee wail warning Ian of the impending attack half a second before the first blow hit his shoulder.  He swung the beam, illuminating a lunatic with rheumy eyes and bared teeth.  He felt breath, hot and rancid, against his neck.

“Dad!  Stop!  It’s Ian!  Dad…Dad!”

Ian encircled his father’s thin frame to keep him from raising the vodka bottle over his head.  Ian, Sr. fought like a man possessed, or a tiger long-confined to a cage and sensing freedom.  A moment later, Ian succeeded in wrenching the bottle from his father’s bony fingers.  He brought him to a prone position on the cold, concrete floor.

Ian, Sr. muttered incomprehensibly; tears streaked his gaunt face, but the intensity of the moment had passed.  Ian felt the adrenaline leaving his body like foaming surf at low tide.  He sunk to the ground next to his father’s twitching form and let out a hopeless sigh.

“Oh, Dad.  What am I going to do with you?”

He picked up the empty bottle and turned it over in his hands.  This impossible bottle, a bottle that should have been down the street, still full, on the shelf of Dick’s World of Wines.  Instead, his father had either stolen or talked someone into buying the cheap grain vodka after Ian had left for work, bringing it back to the home Ian, Jr. had moved him into while he waited on the infinite liver transplant list.

There was no doubt in Ian’s mind that his father would die before getting to the top of that list.  It was why he toiled so determinedly at the Frankensteinian work in the lab.  Ian had long ago given up on solving the issue of his father’s alcoholism.  They’d tried it all over the years: first with Ian’s mother at the helm, then, when Rose passed away at fifty-three, the stress of dealing with her husband’s drinking for twenty-seven years the obvious culprit, Ian had taken over navigating the storm of his father’s disease.

Nothing had worked; not AA meetings or detox, not Antabuse or Vivitrol or Naltrexone, not locking him in the basement, restrained to the arm of a hospital cot Ian had borrowed from the university hospital.  His father had escaped, as he always did, gotten his hands on some cash, and slogged his sweating and tremulous body to Dick’s.  Ian, Sr. had conquered handcuffs, snowstorms, the DTs, malnutrition, and locked institutions, all in the name of the drink.

No, Ian could not conquer his father’s alcoholism, but he could conquer the 3D printing of human organs.  If the telephone never rang with the news that a liver was available, or if the call did come, they proceeded with the transplant, and Ian Sr. drank through the new liver, Ian could come to the rescue with his 3D printer and surgical skills.  Sure, thicker 3D-printed organs like livers were years away from human clinical trials, but Ian would take his chances; it was the only solution he saw. It was the only solution there was.

The first sign that Ian, Sr. was gathering his wits about him was a soft, bird-like twitter at the back of his throat.  Ian prepared for a second bout of truculence, and his father did sit up, but the vodka had coursed too long in his bloodstream to have any bite.  Ian, Sr. leaned against his son’s shoulder and sobbed.  At this sign of surrender, Ian climbed to his feet and helped his father to his.

With effortful, lurching steps, he hoisted his father up the basement stairs, across the first floor, and into the bedroom at the back of the house.  Ian had converted this room with the express purpose of keeping his father off the stairs when he’d had too much to drink.  He hadn’t expected the basement would draw Ian, Sr. like a moth to a flame.

It was the place Ian’s mother had passed, had keeled over in front of the washing machine, dead of a heart attack before she’d hit the floor.  Ian, Sr. would drink, descend into the dark, and cry in despair for his dead wife.  Ian had loved his mother.  He loved his father with a tolerance and perpetuity he’d known for no other.  Still, he couldn’t help the thought that it was guilt, not grief, which drove his father into the basement every few months.

Ian knew guilt when he saw it.  It was the emotion that hit him like a train when he didn’t latch the basement door before leaving for work, or left the key in a place from which his bloodhound of a father could sniff it out.  His father was all he had left; there were neither siblings nor a significant other.  He was the reason Ian went to work every day.

But wasn’t there a twinge of resentment that manifested each night when Ian lay his head upon his pillow?  A trickle of anger, an outflow of self-loathing for having become a slave to his father’s drinking and failing liver as much as his father had?  A tendril of worry that when he did work up the courage to bring home the man-made liver, it would be the undoing of his medical degree and standing within the university?

Ian helped his father onto the bed.  It was after three now, and Ian had wanted to be back at the lab by six.  It had taken well over an hour to get his father bathed and into fresh clothes.  Ian was in that over-caffeinated, over-tired state in which he spent most of his waking hours, and as he drew the covers up under his father’s chin, double-checking to make sure an Excedrin and bottle of water were on the nightstand, he doubted he’d be able to sleep at all.  His father stared up at the ceiling with eyes that said he was seeing something from which he could not escape, and Ian realized what it was about Graham Averill’s vacant expression that bothered him so much.

After his father fell asleep, he lingered at the bedroom door, watching the concave chest rise and fall beneath the blanket, imagining, as if with x-ray vision, the diseased liver under the deceptively healthy-looking flesh, biding its time until the moment when it would cease to perform its obligatory functions.

Ian shook his head, dispelling the noxious thought, and padded toward the kitchen to make a cup of tea.  If he fell asleep, wonderful.  If not, the chamomile would keep him company during the loneliest part of night, when dawn seemed as unlikely as the prospect of farming 3D-generated organs once had.

* * * * * *

Ian noticed Graham’s Oldsmobile was already in the lot, but Graham was gone from the locker room, and his A Lab workstation was free from its usual chaos.  Graham had been spending more and more time in B Lab, but this didn’t bother Ian.  He puzzled over Graham’s motivations only until he’d gowned up and busied himself with preparations for the day.

Also expelled by the ho-hum of routine was the fight with his father that morning.  Ian had locked the basement door and added the key to his ring under Ian Sr.’s reproachful eye.

“There a reason you’re locking that door?  Can’t see why my own son would try to control me like that.”  And they’d been off, tearing into each other, their words so saturated with venom it was enough for Ian’s coffee to curdle in his stomach.  His father’s heated exposition had culminated in a coughing fit; Ian pretended not to see the shock of red against the white of the handkerchief he brought to his mouth.

Several days out of a month, be it a full moon, a change in mood, or a failure to come up with the funds, Ian would come home to find his father sober; Ian knew that today would not be one of those days.

Concentrate, he chided himself.  There’ll be plenty of time later to deal with whatever mess he creates.

And so the morning passed, lunchtime went by unnoticed, and afternoon turned into evening.  Ian was contemplating an atypical but vaguely familiar beeping coming from the largest 3D printer—the one that’d been employed with printing a human liver over the last eight weeks—when he realized Graham had never even popped in.  His work in B Lab was obviously all-consuming; Ian wondered what it could be.

He walked over to the printer and inspected its output.  He almost fell over at what he saw.  There was a reason he hadn’t recognized the beep right away; it was the sound of the printer announcing the liver’s completion. An earlier end time by two days, and Graham wasn’t around; if he acted now, he could take the organ home completely unobserved.  He would simply implement his plan of leaving the lab door unlocked for just one night. He would tell Graham the printing was a failure, and if the university ever noticed cellular material and organ output didn’t add up for April—which they weren’t likely to do—there’d be one night in question when a custodian, student, professor, or another researcher could have accessed the lab.

Ian went to the cage in the corner of the room.  The largest rat was up on hind legs, drinking from the water bottle’s metal straw.  All the rats were bright-eyed and energetic.  Ian thought of the blood in his father’s handkerchief again.

He went back to the printer and laid a hand on the mass of plastic, a two-hundred thousand dollar machine worth so much more than the sum of its parts.  This machine had created something that would save his father’s life, something that would save Ian, Sr. from himself.  It was as incredible and fantastical as the plot of the Star Wars movies that he and the father of his childhood so loved.

Ian pulled at the latex of his gloves and paced the room, staring at the newborn organ and hardly believing what he was about to do.  Before he lost his nerve, and subsequently, this opportunity, he placed the liver onto a bed of dry ice, then into a Styrofoam cooler.  He shut down the computer but left the lab in its usual disarray.  Nothing to divert from his routine.

Forcing himself not to sprint down the hall, Ian held the cooler in front of him with purpose.  There were no cameras in the basement corridors, thus the reason for his and Graham’s full-on security clearance.  Through the anteroom and past his locker, Ian did not stop to collect his coat.  Without looking behind him, without running into Graham, Ian took his prize and left the building.

* * * * * *

Now that he held his father’s salvation in his possession, he had a week or so to act.  It was this decrease in pressure, this feeling of having a window, however small, that allowed Ian to relax enough to realize he’d activated the keypad when leaving the lab.  He knew there was a chance of getting caught regardless of the measures he took; did going back to unlock the door really matter?  Twelve years of dedication to pursuing numerous medical degrees Ian was loath to lose told him that of course it did.  He brought the Impala to a screeching halt, swung a wide U-turn, and sped back toward Miskatonic University.

The first thing he noticed was that Graham’s Oldsmobile was still in the lot.  Avoiding him a second time in one night would be no easy task.  Ian disregarded the gowning station and was about to turn left toward A Lab when he was stopped short by the sound.

It came from the right side of the basement, the site of the second, smaller lab, and Ian wondered how he hadn’t noticed it earlier.  It was the same beeps and whirs of a large 3D printer.

One tasked with a job far larger than a tissue sample.

Ian and Graham had both worked on the formations of cells that were the basis of the organ now hidden in Ian’s trunk.  But never had one of the men taken it upon themselves to instigate a large-scale organ job without the other’s knowledge.  Ian broke into a sweat.  One instance of cellular material and organ output not adding up for April could be a mistake, an erroneous loading of matter into the feed.  But two superfluous jobs in a single month might draw the attention of Miskatonic’s higher-ups.  Ian could get fired, or worse, investigated.  Panic flew in and took hold.  He started jogging, then sprinting, toward the other end of the basement, intent on turning the printer off.

He was inside the B Lab anteroom, three feet from the door, when Dr. Graham Averill stepped out from behind a supply closet, blocking Ian’s path.

“Jesus!” Ian exclaimed.  Bile rose like a tidal wave while his heart took a nosedive.  “Graham!  You scared the shit out of me!”

Dr. Averill stared, his mouth pressed into a thin, hard line.  “I could ask you the same.  Hadn’t you gone home for the day?”

“I, well, yes, I had, but…I forgot something,” Ian finished.  The excuse was hollow, even to his ears.

“Tell me,” Graham replied, “for I am quite interested.  Have you thought about our conversation yesterday?  About where your passion lies?  It is not in research papers; of that, I am sure.  You gave up quite quickly on requests for me to coauthor work. Is it a sick wife at home?  Or perhaps a child?  Whose suffering spurs you forward like a whip to a horse?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ian whispered.

“Of course you do.  Let’s not play games.  Who is the liver for?”

Ian closed his eyes, and struggled not to sink to the floor.  He felt as if he’d plunged his hands into a cooler of dry ice.  “How did you know?  I was alone.  I worked fast.  How could you have known?”

“I told you that those who harbor the greatest passion are driven by a personal motive.  One passionate, desperate man recognizes his mirror image in another.”

Ian could only stare.

“You’ve been in pain for quite some time,” Graham said.  “I know something troubles you because something troubles me.  It eats away at me, every second of every day.  And God is no witness to my plight.” Graham’s eyes traveled upward, and though they stopped on the emergency sprinkler system, Ian could tell that wasn’t what they were seeing.

While Graham spoke, the molecules of Ian’s brain rearranged themselves to accommodate this new information.  Like a foolish boy with his head in a science fiction novel, it had never occurred to him that Graham saw through his veneer.  The printer chuffed from behind the door, startling him from these thoughts.  It was a noise he had never heard before.

Graham was still studying Ian.  “Was I correct in my hypothesis?  Is the liver for your son or daughter?”

“My father,” Ian choked out.  “He’s an alcoholic.  He doesn’t have much time.”

“I see,” Graham said.  His tone was not ironic, but conveyed utter comprehension.  “And by mastering the 3D printing of a liver, in conjunction with your background as a surgeon, you’ll always have the solution to a drinking problem that may never end.  How remarkable.”  Graham stepped back and turned the latch of the supply closet door.  The task was maddening in its ordinariness.

Inside the lab, the printer rocked like the mechanical bull in the bar that was his father’s favorite, erratic, forceful, relentless.  Ian squinted, but could see only the shadow of the printer from his angle beside the doorframe.  Graham put a hand on his shoulder, and Ian jumped.

“Don’t worry, Dr. Wessner.  Your secret is safe with me. Go home and do not concern yourself with covering your tracks.”

Graham picked up a pair of gloves and a medical device that Ian knew, but in his disorientation, couldn’t place.  Forceps?  Graham placed one hand on the door frame and the other on the knob, his body language clear.  He was ready for Ian to leave him so he could get to work.

When Ian made no move to go, Graham turned back to him and said, “I mean it, Ian.  Get home to your father.” He smiled.

Like a monkey in a lab imitating the facial expressions of its handler, Ian smiled back.  He was about to ask why Graham was doing this for him when understanding struck, as intense as what his father must have experienced when he made his way into the basement, and realized all over again that his wife was dead.  “What are you making in there?” Ian asked.  His voice was shrill.  Then, rather wildly, “What passion drives your printing, Doctor?”

Graham’s smile turned wistful.  Another chuff from the printer tray behind him.  He made a half turn as if to go to it, but spun back and held Ian’s grey irises with his green ones.

“The woman who couldn’t find compassionate for her substance abuse patients?” he said.  “She and I lost a child.  She got over it—I told you she was cold—but I never could.”  He turned with purpose now, toward the miracle-working 3D printer.  “Now, I won’t have to try.”

Graham went to retrieve his creation.  The door swung on airy hinges.  It traveled past its frame, and in the interlude before reversing its trajectory, Ian heard something further.

The sound betrayed its origin, though it was far from a perfect replication.

The sound paid homage to both human and machine.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 2 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Christa Carmen
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Christa Carmen


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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The Face of Fear & Other Stories
Simeon

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