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by Michael Elmore
Walter called me at 3:30 in the afternoon. I work nights, so I was pretty groggy when I finally answered. I know he spoke for a while, but all I remember is that he wanted me to come over to his house.
He was waiting for me in the backyard shed he'd converted into a shop. A lump of shiny metal, about the size of a fist, occupied the center of the workbench. Walter sat in a folding lawn chair. His face was flushed, and he looked exhausted.
"There it is, Darvis" he said, and pointed to the lump.
Walter is a half-assed inventor. He comes up with a new idea every two to three weeks. I felt severely annoyed that he'd interrupted my sleep to show me his newest crackpot device. I promptly began to unleash a steady stream of curses on him and his family.
Ignoring me, he stood and picked up the lump. I promptly shut up. The metal lump had oozed around Walter's hand, kind of like a thick pudding.
"What is that stuff?" I asked.
"It's a Weapon," he answered.
The absurdity of the situation struck me speechless.
"Watch," he said, as he began manipulating the metal-colored pudding with his hands. After mere seconds of shaping, the pudding took the form of a large revolver.
"Cool, huh?" he asked, smiling stupidly.
Walter walked outside, and I followed. Light reflected brightly from the revolver's chrome surface. Next door, Carl Ramers, Walter's obnoxious neighbor, pulled into his driveway in his SUV.
"Hi, guys!" Carl shouted, as he waved from his gas-guzzling monstrosity. The echo of the slamming car door announced Carl's assault. Walter and I cringed as Carl vaulted the row of bushes separating Walter's property from his. "Let's go inside, Walter," I pleaded.
Carl was halfway across the lawn, maybe ten feet away from us, wearing his usual annoying smile.
"Observe, Darvis" Walter said coolly. He leveled the gun at Carl and fired.
* * *
Karl's clothes fell into a pile on the ground, and his now-empty shoes tumbled to a stop. Gray powder floated in a large cloud, in and around the area where Karl had been walking. I stepped forward, shocked, to investigate.
"Save your energy," Walter said. "It's only dust."
"Dust," he replied. "You know, 'man thou art dust' and 'to dust thou shalt return.'"
"You turned Karl into dust?" I whispered.
"No, Darvis. One of my theories about the Weapon is that it can regress human targets. Thus, he's returned to his original state."
Walter wandered into his kitchen, with me following in his wake, and he fetched two beers from the fridge.
"So how does that thing work?" I asked, still stunned but now beginning to worry -- about a lot of things, not only the police but also my own safety.
Walter considered the question for a few minutes, and then answered slowly. "It causes random, existential changes in its targets. It changes plants from one type to another. A tree into a flower, a blade of grass into a dandelion, and so on. It can even turns birds into rocks."
"And humans into dust," I interrupted, feeling both terrified and awed.
"Sometimes, Darvis" he answered. "Other times, it's either had no effect or has sped the target up. Made them live faster. I think that's what happened to Ms. Dunwoody. She lives across the street, but I don't think I really harmed her."
I'd never met her, and told Walter so. An odd idea began forming in my brain. I asked for the Weapon, which was again in its lump state.
"How do you make it work?" I asked.
"Think of your hand becoming something."
I thought of a short sword, and it became one. Then I thought of a baseball bat, and again, it became one. Finally, I thought of a Beretta nine-millimeter, and placed the barrel against my forehead.
* * *
Darvis put the Weapon to his head. I wasn't surprised. In fact, I'd expected him to do this.
"So, Walter," he spoke casually. "How did you come to make this thingy?"
"I dreamed it, just as I dreamed all of the others," I replied.
He didn't wait for me to inquire about his actions; he started explaining rapidly, in a calm and controlled voice. "I got this theory, Walter. If this Weapon regresses people, or devolves them, then I figure there's a way to make it do the opposite. What I need to know is how you devolved Karl, and how that process is reversed."
"I have another theory, Darvis," I said. "I think you've maybe only completed part of the puzzle. Perhaps the Weapon only evolves people. Good old Karl just wasn't going to amount to anything more than dust."
"You brought me here to test your theory," Darvis said, with a wide, wolfish grin.
"Cool. Well, shake my hand and I'll be off."
We shook, and he pointed the gun at his face and fired. Blinding, white light poured out of the hole that the blast tore in his forehead. Weapon still in hand, Darvis stood, and then bent over double, puking light all over my kitchen floor. Light poured from every orifice in his body. His eyes, ears, mouth, and, I assume, his anus. Even his pores seemed to open up and leak light. His whole being became distorted and insubstantial behind all of the amazingly bright illumination. And then there was an audible pop, and the light ceased. Darvis, and the Weapon, were gone.
I sat alone in my kitchen, drinking beer, and mourning the loss of yet another good invention.
Story copyright 2001 by Michael Elmore firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustration copyright 2001 by Matt Morrow email@example.com
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