Cautious Scientific Research

Photo by Mike Newbry on Unsplash

He glared at the kitchen sink with fury.

He looked like a plumber.

But that couldn’t be right.

He was a plumber.

Adam consulted his clipboard. “Jonah Myles? You are having a problem with your sink?” Adam quickly scanned Jonah’s tool belt. Everything seemed to be in order. “A unique problem?”

Jonah sighed. “The company said they would send somebody experienced.”

Adam also sighed, but inwardly, because he was a polite person who did not take his prejudices out on his fellow plumbers. “I am experienced, sir.”

“Whatever. Come inside.”

The interior was tiny and neat, with arched doorways and warm colors. The kitchen was a horrifying dystopian nightmare.

Sink parts were everywhere. The lower cabinets on both sides had been completely removed, and their doors were stacked to the side with the hinges pointing every which way. It looked like to remove the rest of the cabinetry had been more difficult, and involved hacking with an axe. Adam could tell by the pile of wood chips and the axe off to the right. He could spot no fewer than twenty empty soap bottles.

The hot-water supply line, compression coupling, and faucet had been removed. The cold water was uninterrupted.

“Is this a…hot water problem?” Adam asked, also noting that the drainage system had been completely dismantled and replaced with a single metal pail. “A drainage problem?”

“A little of both,” Jonah said. “Cold water doesn’t…affect it. I’ll show you what I mean.”

The other plumber reconnected the hot-water supply and faucet. He glared at the kitchen sink with fury. “They seem to be attracted to the heat, or maybe it’s the combination with soap? I’m still doing experiments, just wanted a second set of eyes.” His hands were still busily working. His palms were red. He must have been washing his hands an awful lot. “The important thing is to keep them contained.”

Adam was a little freaked out, but he found himself edging closer to the sink. He didn’t know who they were, but what was left of the sink system was simply magnificent. Adam had never had the opportunity to see another plumber’s sink before. It was wonderful. Every piece was well maintained and orderly. The whole system was a like a perfectly finished puzzle with a garbage disposal.

Jonah turned on the hot water and started washing his hands.

The water turned black. Jonah did not look surprised, he just continued scrubbing. More soap. More hot water.

“Hmm,” said Adam. He stuck his hand directly under the faucet. His hand stayed clean. “Could there be some chemical water pollution? The soap makes the color change but-”


Adam moved in to look closer. The water was moving like it was alive, defying gravity. It looked like a mass of fleas, actually. Individual drops jumped out in an arch before falling back to join the overall mass. On Jonah’s hands the drops formed clumps that dropped heavily to the sink bowl and oozed down the drain into the bucket below, where they landed with a plop. Part water, part…sludge.

Jonah kept washing his hands, completely absorbed by the little creatures, or maybe all the drops were part of one creature, coordinating its different little parts into hundreds of combinations. He didn’t seem scared, just…hypnotized. Like the black drops were a wondrous but nonthreatening mystery. Adam thought he might have felt differently, had gross black semi-conscious water been spraying out of his sink. Maybe this was what being an experienced
 plumber was like. Maybe through the years Jonah had seen it all, everything that could possibly come from a drain or out of a faucet. Maybe the stories about eight foot lizards living just out of sight were true. Maybe Jonah found himself, in the face of a threat to his own plumbing, completely unimpressed. It was hard to say.

Adam moved his foot out of a puddle. Then he realized the puddle was in his boot. He looked down. The black things had overflowed the bucket, eaten through the top of his boot, and were currently working their way through the sole. Actually, that was not all they had eaten through. Tiny energetic black waves were washing across the kitchen floor, nibbling at the laminate tiles. Strangely, they did not seem to like the floor and seemed to be looking for something more delicious. The black mass stretched itself to translucence across the floor in order to search for something better. It liked his boot, and in seconds the black swirl covered his foot so that he could not see below his ankle. He could feel his foot gradually lowered to the kitchen floor. His boot was totally gone.

“J-Jonah — “


The bucket went over. A cascade of black water rushed from the bucket and onto the kitchen floor, where it joined the rest in trying to escape the tile floor and find a more suitable feast. In moments both men were barefoot, and the hems of their jeans were getting higher and higher.

“What should we do what should we do what-”

“Adam. Stop panicking.” Jonah continued to stare at the black thing, just as he had when it was a few drops on his hands. If Adam hadn’t known better, he would have thought Jonah was in awe. “Get on the counter.” Adam and Jonah sat on opposite sides of the sink, with their bare feet hanging off the countertop. The black flood was six inches beneath their toes. “There, that solves the pants problem.”

A dog door-like hole was appearing in the opposite wall. The black stuff liked drywall.

“Think think think think think” Jonah said to himself. The hole was about two feet across. “How do you control a liquid?” His eyes scanned the kitchen. “You can contain it…”

“Or you can capture it,” Adam said. He was finding it easier to think clearly. The basic principles of plumbing never failed. “In this case, I think we should do both. Do you have anything else that’s metal? Anything big?”

“Not real-”

“What about something absorbent? Towels? Blankets?”

Jonah vigorously nodded his head. “All of the above,” he said, nodding affirmatively, “I’ll be right back.”

Jonah scooted sideways along the countertop until he could reach the kitchen door, where the black water was thinnest. The majority of it was collected along the far wall, scurrying busily around the edges of the hole it had created. Through the hole Adam could see two tables arranged in an L shape. Both tables were littered with tools, containers, bottles, and pans. It must be some kind of a home office. Adam almost laughed at that. A plumber’s home office.

A great wave of black water swept up over his feet, centimeters from the edge of his pants. Adam pulled his feet up onto the counter and busied himself opening all the upper cabinets, looking for pots and pans. Walking along the countertop facing the cabinets was the most impressive athletic feat he had ever accomplished, and he almost wished someone could be there to witness it. He found a whole stack of pots of varying sizes, and a couple of pans that were deep enough to be used as a last resort. Adam didn’t know if Jonah was thinking the same thing as he was, but he had a plan that involved both containment and capture, and would hopefully press pause on this problem long enough for them to think of a more permanent solution.

Adam lined the pots up on the counter next to the sink in descending size order and waited for Jonah. Across the room, the hole in the wall was large enough to walk through. They needed to work quickly.

Jonah returned, clutching apparently every cloth item he owned including what looked like a couple of wool sweaters. Adam, who now fancied himself something of a Tarzan, stepped over the sink and took the pile from Jonah, who joined him on the counter.


Jonah nodded.

“First, capture,” Adam said. He dropped to the floor and flung one towel at his feet. As predicted, the item was swarmed by excited black dots. Quickly he grabbed the towel, held it over the largest pot, and squeezed to ring it out. The black dots swirled around the interior of the pot before settling. They took on the energy level of regular water again.

“Then contain.” Adam was actually quite pleased with himself.

All that remained of the towel was a ragged scrap. Adam dropped it on the floor and it was completely gone in seconds.

Beside Adam, Jonah was stuffing a flannel shirt into one of the larger pots. It disappeared, and a calm black ocean remained.

Piece by piece, puddle by puddle, they captured and contained the water until every pot was full and the kitchen floor was dry. It had been thinned in spots by particularly hungry drops, but it still seemed safe to walk on. Adam crossed the room and used the last rag to soak up a few errant drops from where they clung to the massive hole in the wall.

“If only something would come out of your sink that could mend drywall,” Adam said, ridiculously. What would that even be? Silly.

The room next to the kitchen, which was now open plan, had not been damaged apart from the wall. “It looks like your work room is fine,” Adam said, stepping through the hole, “All your papers are undamaged, even the plastic bottles. Didn’t you say they like plastic?” There were a lot of empty bottles, actually, of all sizes and colors but of identical shapes. Tubby at the bottom with a handle built in. Like a heavy duty milk jug. Drano. Liquid Plumber. They were all clog removers. Adam turned around.

Jonah was still standing at the counter, moving the pots around for no reason. He had the decency to look guilty.

“Do you want to explain why you have a hundred empty bottles of clog remover and a plastic-eating infestation? Could the two things be related?” Adam threw the soaked rag he was holding at Jonah, and a hole appeared in the shoulder of his shirt. Jonah wiped the substance off quickly.

“I was-”

“You were what?”

“I was trying to end clogged drains.”

This may sound like a good idea in theory. Adam even recognized it as the perfect idea. Drains that were never clogged. Not ever, not by anything. Food mess, hair, children’s toys. It was the dream, of course, but it was also a total betrayal of every plumber on earth. The majority of plumbing calls were for clogged drains. Liquid plumbing solutions were already encroaching on plumbers’ business. If any person could unclog any drain, no matter what the clog was made of, that would be it. There would be no more need for plumbers.

“This is a terrible idea.”

“I know.”

“That stuff could have eaten your whole house. It could have eaten the whole neighborhood.”

“I know-”

“It could have eaten my pants!”

“It’s science!”

“You’re an idiot!” Adam rubbed his hands over his face. This was why people made fun of the plumbing community. Plumbers have no regard for cautious scientific research. “Okay. Okay. Everything is fixable. Maybe we can freeze it into blocks, and just keep it in a deep freeze forever. Have you tried bleach? We could-”

Adam was interrupted by a gargling noise from the backyard. A suspiciously loud gargling noise. “Jonah,” he said very calmly, “Are there any other experiments I should know about?”

On the counter, the water in the pots started moving again, creating miniature hurricanes that grew until the all pots were clattering against the tiles.

Jonah said nothing, but he led the way to the backyard.

In the center of the little patch of grass was an enormous retaining tank, with a pump hooked to one end and a garden hose that snaked into the house. The tank was an oblong shape that made it look like an old fashioned bathtub.

“Technically, no,” said Jonah, “It’s all one experiment.”

The tank was rocking back and forth, just a little, with the force of the water swirling around. Just like the pots in the kitchen. A few individual flecks were flung from the tub. Where they landed on the grass, the dirt below became immediately visible. Adam didn’t panic. Everything was fixable. They just needed to adhere to the principles. Capture and contain.

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