Sunday, June 17, 2007

Burning down the house

It is with great regret that I have to announce the end of the Cumbernauld Institute of Parasitology. My heart is heavy, and the tears are welling up as I type. I never thought I would see the end of a place I have called home in such a dramatic and unnerving way. What happened can only be described as a tragedy, both in terms of bringing an end to a great Institute, and the loss of Timothy Hedgehog. He has not been seen since the events of a few days ago, and is presumed to have lost his life in the inferno.

Yes, dear reader. The Cumbernauld Institute of Parasitology has been burned to the ground. The picture above shows a fireman trying to douse the flames, but it was to no avail. Within three hours, the place was nothing but a carbonised shell of its former self. Only the Art Institute escaped the flames - it now stands as probably the loneliest portacabin in the world.

You must be keen to now how such a bastion of scientific integrity was brought down. I can tell you that it was no accident. I feel not a small amount of guilt, but I was in no way responsible for the actual events that took place. The responsibility for the fire that destroyed my Institute instead rests with two parties with whom I have differing degrees of association.

It is a sad day when a father has to implicate his own sons in a tragedy of this nature. But I must adhere to my principles of honesty and integrity, even if it means sacrificing the reputations of my nearest and dearest. You see, it was the twins who produced the experimental protocol that involved bunsen burners heating a bath of water containing a baby. They denied they would ever actually put their protocol into practice. The irony is that they didn't need to - someone else tried it on their behalf.

I first knew something was wrong when the smoke alarm sounded. We were all asleep. I got up and followed the sound. It was coming from Laboratory 1. Peering through the glass part of the door I first saw only the red light of the beeping smoke alarm. Intrigued, I peered closer into the gloom. What caught my attention was a row of bunsen burners arranged on top of one of the lab benches. On top of the burners was a barbecue grill covered in charcoal, and on top of the charcoal was a steel bowl, contents hidden from view. The smoke from the charcoal had obviously triggered the alarm.

It took me a couple of seconds to work out what was going on. Please remember that I had been awoken from a deep slumber, and the arrangement was so unfamiliar that at first I couldn't quite place things in my mind. When the realisation eventually hit, I was almost frozen to the spot with fear. My mind raced back to the moment I saw the twins' drawing of their planned experiment on the baby. Here, right in front of me, was the physical manifestation of that repulsive idea. The absolute horror and confusion of the situation made me feel physically sick. My son, in that bath! Why was it happening now? Who was responsible?

I pushed on the door, expecting it to open. But someone had locked it. I shouted for Ravel and Dolores to come quickly, before using my shoulder in a futile attempt to get past the fire-doors (new ones, installed not 2 weeks ago with re-inforced glass). A few seconds later Ravel was by my side, battering away at the glass with a boxing-gloved hand. It was hopeless. I started to hyperventilate, smacking at the glass, crying my son's name as if it would force him to awake. There was no response - just the regular beeping of the smoke alarm to drive me into a twisted state of blind panic.

'What's going on?', asked Dolores. Her voice was calm, reasonable, utterly inappropriate.

'What do you mean?' I shouted hysterically, tears in my eyes, my words barely forming in the maelstrom of my disordered mind. 'Our son is being cooked alive in there! Twins! bunsen burners! Phone the fire brigade! Ravel, smash down that door! Now!'

'Look, right in front of you Joseph. What is this?'

'No time!' I shouted, running past her to fetch the nearest fire extinguisher, figuring that, if I could just smash the glass in the door, I could jump through the gap and save my boy.

Dolores was in my way as I approached the lab door, extinguisher in hand.'Out of my way!' I shouted, raising the extinguisher in readiness.

'Joseph!', she shouted.

'Boss..!', shouted Ravel.

'Waaaaa!', wailed No.3.

Am I hearing things? I briefly wondered, as I brought the extinguisher down on the glass door. It hit the strengthened glass and bounced off, forcing me to lose balance. I tripped over, falling half backwards, half sideways, the extinguisher still in my hand. The fall winded me, leaving me helpless on the floor for just long enough to draw my companions' attention away from trying to bash down the door. Ravel peered down at me, his face expressing nothing more than mild concern. My wife, clad in dressing gown and carrying something in a blanket, looked at me with nothing more than slight scorn. 'You alright?', she asked pointedly.

'Don't just stand there!', I yelled whilst grabbing Ravels outstretched arm. Back on my feet I was about to swing the extinguisher once again when I heard the distinctive cry of my son. Oddly, like the last time, the sound appeared to be coming from behind. I had become inflicted, I thought, by some bizarre form of tinnitus.


'I'm coming son!', I shouted, my arm poised for what I knew had to be the definitive strike. 'Stand back everyone!'

'JOSEPH! HE IS RIGHT HERE, IN MY ARMS! Will you please calm down and look!' My wife's urgent voice cut through my panicked brain like a laser through jelly. Such was the force in her words that I was interrupted in mid-lunge, and my eyes reflexively obeyed her command. They turned towards the blanket in her arms, where, to their surprise, they happened upon the screwed up face of none other than No.3, my new born son, who, just moments before, had been boiling alive in a tin can on top of a row of bunsen burners.

'He's alive!', I cried, as if that was the last thing I expected.

'Of course,' replied my wife. 'He's been here the whole time. Your red mist was so thick you just couldn't see him. He was never in any danger. Honestly, Joseph. Sometimes you really should try and keep a grip.'

'Son!', I cried, the tears streaming down my face as I realised my error and approached my wife. 'I thought you...oh dear...I'm sorry, I just...'.

'Er, Boss,' said Ravel, as I stroked the infants face and hugged my wife.

'Not now Ravel', I said quietly, as I felt the welcoming wave of calm and relief sweeping through my recently tortured mind. And with the tears of relief came an absolute mandate. This was the last time. Never again would I panic unnecessarily. No longer would the name of McCrumble be syonymous with misplaced hysteria. If this episode had taught me just one thing, it was that I should never lose sight of the facts.

'Boss, I think you should stop making hugs and look at this', said Ravel, his voice slightly more urgent.

'Can you please deal with it Ravel. I'm trying to mend something here', I countered, still embracing my wife and child, my tears of joy dripping onto the infant's angry face. Let him be angry, I thought. He could be the angriest baby in the world and I would still love him.

'I can, but you won't be happy if I do it my way.' It was Ravel again, persistent as ever.

'Alright Ravel, what is it?' I sighed, my attention still firmly on wife and child.

'There is someone in the lab boss. I see them just now.'

I'm sure you will agree, dear reader, that such a revelation would cause many people to experience a loosening of their grip on the situation. But not I, Dr Joseph McCrumble, scientist, guardian of my family, leader of men. Something approaching an epiphany had just occurred, and nothing was going to upset my karma. Not even if I was facing the biggest ever threat to my life and livelihood. A typically melodramatic sentiment to some, perhaps, but this time entirely appropriate. For as I peered into the gloom beyond the still-intact firedoors, I saw first the body and then the face of the man who was trying to destroy my Institute...

**********TO BE CONTINUED!!!!***********


Lily said...

Oh my God! What a nightmare! At least everyone is safe.

Anonymous said...

Not Quite so. the ransom money demanded for the release of Timothy the hedgehog went beyond the deadline. He has been sold to a Russian Spy network. He is now known as Hediski.

Kim Ayres said...

C'mon Joe. 2 weeks is far too long to be leaving us waiting for the next installment