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A short story
There is nothing more tempting than a locked door. This is why I keep Algernon in a doorless pantry, high up on the shelf behind a great jar of pickled eggs. Algernon sleeps the days away in this cool, quiet, restful habitat, safely sealed inside another, smaller jar.
No thief, government agent, or family member would ever look there. Nor do I fear anyone in this house would dare to eat a pickled egg, for I have made the family watch Cool Hand Luke to stamp out their curiosity.
The jar of eggs will never be removed. It was in my mother’s pantry when she died, and is dear to me. Or so I tell my wife, each and every spring, when she pleads with me again to throw them out.
But in truth, the pickled eggs merely give Algernon privacy — particularly from my wife, who would react badly to his presence.
After checking over my shoulder to be sure none of my children were watching, I pushed aside the eggs this very morning. Algernon, I said. Or thought, rather — I have found telepathy a surprisingly easy trick to learn.
Algernon did not stir — he is resentful, often ‘acting out’ by feigning death. Were I permanently sealed in a jar of faintly luminescent blue goo, my reaction to the irregular visits of an inferior being might be the same.
Annoyed, I put my hand on the jar lid and imagined shaking it just hard enough to send the three-pound fetus bumping against the glass. His nostril-slits opened in reflex, and his great black eyes opened, bringing his thoughts in a tired whisper: What is it this time?
My keys, I thought. I’ve lost them.
Again? What a shock, Algernon thought, adding a strong dose of sarcasm. Misery loves company, they say. I have found this especially true for jar-bound telepaths.
Unwilling to join his foul mood, I imagined shaking the jar again, thinking: I have to go to the store for bread and milk. The kids want French toast. I need those keys, right now.
He closed his eyes again, but in concentration. The sensation of his mind searching through mine is always disconcerting, but usually short-lived. They’re on the dresser, Algernon thought, not bothering to hide his contempt. Under that stack of bills you were going to pay yesterday. His eyes squeezed tight as he turned away in a swirl of electric blue.
Thank you, Algernon, I thought. Go back to sleep now. And then, as always, I thought: You never know what you’ll find at a government surplus auction. Open a sealed crate and you may just strike gold.
Before I pushed the pickled eggs back into place, Algernon recalled his own view of that day: the sudden, harsh light, and then my human face, made even more alien and hideous to him by the distortion of the glass. His thought came with more despair than scorn: You never know what you will wind up belonging to.
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