by Brat Farrar
“It blinks and it vibrates,” said Jean disgustedly, “But it doesn’t do anything useful.” Useful meaning potentially entertaining.
Ben gingerly poked a finger at it. “Then why is it eating the plate?” His finger never came within six inches of the thing. He tended to be more cautious than his sister, who had dared herself to touch it and then refused to give into peer pressure.
“It’s not eating it, it’s dissolving it,” corrected Bernard. “It must secrete some sort of gastric enzyme. So it might not be a good idea to touch it.” He was staring at it through a magnifying glass, scribbling notes occasionally in his “binder of scientific inquiry”.
“Yeah,” said Jean. “Your finger might melt.” Ben stuck out his tongue at her, and they had a brief poking fight.
“Dissolve,” corrected Bernard superiorly, as he ignored the scuffle happening across the table. He was now drawing a scrupulously accurate diagram of the thing, which had possibilities as a science project.
“Well, anyway, what are we going to do with it?” Jean continued, unfazed. “Mom will have a fit if she sees this!” She got a good dig in, and stuck out her tongue at her brother. Wincing, he surrendered.
“At least it’s one of the regular plates, and not her special china.” Ben looked at it carefully, and bit his lip. “Or is it? I can’t tell anymore.” He absent-mindedly rubbed his ribs where Jean had gotten him, the fight forgotten in the possibility of parental wrath.
“It’s not,” Bernard said distractedly, as he attempted to draw the parts of the plate which had been eaten away. He had set the table. “I wonder where it came from in the first place—I don’t remember seeing anything like it at dinner.”
“Um,” said Jean as she considered the question. “I don’t know. Whose plate was it? It wasn’t mine. I already took it into the kitchen.” Bernard muttered something along the same lines, and Jean turned to stare accusingly at Ben. “I don’t suppose you know anything about it.”
“Ah. . . .” He bit his lip and began paying particular attention to the laces on his right shoe. They had been white once, but were now a dirty grey, with several knots from when they’d broken. The bows could no longer be untied, as the laces had somehow melded together into one confusing lump. The shoe wasn’t in much better condition. “That is–what I mean to say is–” He broke off, swallowed hard, then rushed out, “I thought it was casserole and I was still hungry and it was in the fridge but when I nuked it, it came out looking weird so I left it on the table because I didn’t know what to do with it and—” here he had to pause for breath.
“The fridge, eh?” Jean eyed the thing with renewed interest. “I thought I told you not to eat anything more than four inches back on the shelf.”
“But I didn’t! Eat it, I mean. Obviously.” Jean rolled her eyes at him. “But it was right in front–that’s why I took it. It looked sort of edible and it was in front, so I figured it was safe.” The thing had now disposed of more than half the plate, and looked ready to start on the table at any moment. “I guess I was wrong,” Ben said sadly. Apparently not even the front of the shelf was safe anymore. From now on he was sticking to the freezer and canned food.
Bernard had finished his drawing, and was now gently prodding the thing with a knife to see if it could do anything besides dissolve stuff. It twitched, and both Ben and Jean took a step back. They knew what generally happened once Bernard started experimenting, and it was generally a good idea to keep some space between yourself and the experiment. Bernard started to say something triumphant as the thing wrapped itself around the knife, but didn’t get the chance as it then promptly burst into flames. Within seconds all that was left was a charred knife and the partially-melted remnants of the plate. A small wisp of smoke rapidly dispersed, but a few moments later the smoke detector went off.
“Well, that’s done it,” said Bernard grimly, and all three kids fled the scene before their mother could arrive and start asking questions. “Pity we couldn’t figure out a way to keep it–what a stir that would have made in science class!”
“I dunno. What would you have kept it in? If it can dissolve a plate, it can dissolve just about anything.” Jean was practical as ever, and had already started to work on a plan to escape any blame for the incident.
Ben didn’t say anything. He was still hungry.