This is a story of unknown and mysterious provenance, both author and prompter choosing to remain swaddled in the cloak of anonymity. Number 47 focuses on “grey goo.” I know we’ve taken to obfuscating the content of the prompts for the stories, but since it’s mentioned in the first sentence I don’t think it really constitutes a spoiler. The author’s take of grey goo as shampoo is a nifty idea that I really liked.
STORY NUMBER: 47
PROMPT PROVIDER: Anonymous
Altruistic Grey Goo. What a dumb name for a shampoo. Yet he grabbed it with him from the shelf, checking the empty bathroom for any other souvenirs. It’s not like Fred would miss it.
From the state of the fruit in the fridge, he had been gone for at least a fortnight. A good ten days longer than what they had estimated at the lab, when they had contacted his ex-roommate and co-owner of the flat, William. William Kabillion, inventor of the CatTube, currently wandering around the deserted three-bed, stepping carefully around a dark, damp spot on the wall-to-wall carpet, keeping his eye peeled for the cat that he was fairly certain should still be around (it had only been four months since he had moved out, after a row over some nonsense). He still held the key, of course.
The place was empty, apart from the contents of the fridge and an empty styrofoam container with some masking tape in the waste paper basket. Tapping idly the blue transparent tubing circling the walls (the CatTube prototype) he called Fred’s workplace and told them that no, there was no sign of him, and no, nothing out of the ordinary seemed to have happened. He had probably just taken a flight to Italy on an impulse, or the Yucatan, or perhaps Tibet, following some pretty backpacker again. He had done that before, three years ago he had just vanished, until a postcard arrived from a fish distillery in Alaska.
Fred “Nanoman” Namara, scientist, vegetarian, and a scatterbrained idiot. He had baked William a cake, to celebrate the overnight success of his contraption on the Advertele, but had hid it in a cupboard and forgotten all about it until the smell seeped through the plastic doors; he had drank a cup of rabbit piss in the laboratory thinking it was stale Orangeade; he had once stapled himself to a chair absentmindedly while thinking, and had to be rescued after a weekend spent stuck upstairs, because the chair “didn’t stair well”. William sort of missed him, but not really. He had a new roommate now, a much better one. Himself. Less hassle, more space.
Peppermint. And something else. Rhubarb? Grapefruit? A sour yet refreshing scent. William lathered the grey shampoo into his hair. Very masculine. When they had still shared a bathroom, Fred had been one for the eco-friendly solid shampoo bars that smelled herby and crumbled into bits when William tried to use them. This one felt so invigorating that it positively tingled on his scalp. Tingled. William quickly scrubbed the grey viscous gloop from his hair, but the tingling continued. A mild allergic reaction? Or had Fred finally bought some newfangled anti-hairloss formula for his sparse buzzcut?
Still rubbing his head, Wiliam stumbled out of the bathroom to answer the ringing phone on the kitchen counter. The lab people had not liked his earlier account, and had obtained a spare key from an aunt somewhere and entered the flat. Why had William not told them about the damp carpet? And the container in the bin, that was crucial too. And probably the moldy fruit bore some weighty importance as well, but William had by then stopped listening and was staring at his reflection on the chrome kitchenware. He looked radiant. Glowing. Thermodynamic. He looked like the version of himself he always had in his mind when he closed his eyes: less like a weasel, more like… a wolverine.
He left the small angry voice in the phone behind and went to have a look at himself in the full-length mirror in the bedroom. The tingling on his scalp had subsided to a mild feeling of warmth that was slowly but pleasantly spreading down his neck and his now much broader and surprisingly toned back. Flexing and turning, and turning again, from every angle godlike and proud, William made the connection in his mind between the torn packaging in Fred’s bin and the lone bottle of shampoo. His parting words had encouraged Fred to make something of himself, to improve himself. Well, maybe not encouraged as such. But perhaps he had taken it to heart. Only one bottle of this exists, he thought, scratching at the lean perfection of his thigh. And that is why the lab people want it back. It is worth a… a Kabillion! He laughed at his reflection, scratching himself with both hands now. Should perhaps market it with a moisturiser.
The itch was beginning to burn. Frowning, William leaned closer to the mirror. He could see movement on his eyeballs, like tiny insects. A seething mass of pixels. Fred had always said he was on the cutting edge of the razor of nanotechnology. Like a slug, William had always added, and they had both laughed. Or Fred hadn’t, but then, he rarely ever did.
William was scratching deep, bloody grooves into his skin now, but the skin was no longer the tight, supple, evenly tanned miracle it had been just a minute ago. It was sagging on his bones like a pale slab of tripe, honey-combed by tiny sink-holes and bubbling beneath the surface. He tried to scream, collapsing on the floor as his legs sank through his pelvis, but what came out was a wet gurgle, ending in a wheeze. After another minute or so, nothing remained of William Kabillion but a wet spot on the laminate flooring. The phone in the kitchen had gone silent.
Steps outside the front door, echoing in the stairs; a postcard falls through the post slot. In it, the words: I never did like that cat. x. and it is signed F.
PROMPT: Altruistic grey goo