Author: Joseph Hurtgen

Chaak had bright red hair and always wore a coat and tie, proud of his job at MIT teaching applied physics. He demonstrated the weapon–it almost looked like a toy–aiming at the snow on our front porch from fifteen feet away. “See how fast it melts? And I’ve only get this on 1% power!”

“Where did you get it, Uncle Chaak?” I asked.

“Made it. The government would never let private citizens have these things and for good reason. But this will be standard issue in combat drops in the next few years.”

“That thing scares me,” said Miriam. “Can you just put it away? What if Little Joey got hold of it and turned it on himself?”

Uncle Chaak laughed. “You’ve got knives around the house, haven’t you? He doesn’t run around stabbing himself!”

Miriam gave Chaak a withering look.

He pocketed the little weapon.

Later, we went out for soda and ice cream and a swim at the community pool. I liked to pretend I was a crustacean, scuttling across the pool floor. I got out to pee because it’s the right thing to do. Seconds after leaving the pool my skin was uncomfortably cold. I held my arms tight over my chest and shivered on my way to the men’s room.

A minute later, I found Little Joey standing beside the pool, mouth agape, microwave weapon in hand. The pool water was on a rolling boil. Chaak and Miriam’s bodies laid listlessly on the pool bottom, their skin the red of Chaak’s hair.