A high school principal realises one of the science fair submissions is substantially more unfortunate than he bargained for.
Truth be told, Principal Winters didn’t much care for the annual school science fair; hadn’t in years. The state mandated the high school hold one, cash prize too, but it had become a competition about whose parents were most “involved”, or as he called it, “helicoptering”.
Pacing his office, he thought back to his own school days, back when parents were discouraged firmly from helping. He polished his monocle with his tie, wondering what delights this year would offer. No doubt studies into vegan nutrition, healthfulness of quinoa with no regard for environmental costs, probably studies into excessive screen time, always several baking soda and vinegar volcanos. He was always sorry for those students – parents juggling lives with not enough time or money.
The bell sounded; it was time that he met the other judges and began the long, slow trudge around the school hall and gymnasium. Comfortable shoes required, but alas he’d only brought his squeaky pair.
Winters and the judges walked the first aisle: two volcanoes, one greenhouse gases study, one study on ecological benefits of half the populace going vegan. A study on musically-assisted plant growth. Winters snuck a look at his watch… only an hour had passed and they weren’t even quarter-way yet. The number of parents who had attended to “support” their offspring was, to Winters’s mind, off-putting. Too many stories from the students felt rehearsed – when the parents didn’t just straight-up interrupt… nothing quite like living vicariously through their offspring.
Right at the end of the aisle, on a side table, like some hanger-on was a thin, scrawny kid, his tri-fold barely stood up where not properly opened, sat behind his table in rumpled clothes. Winters and his fellow judges were positive sounding – asking the kid about himself, his work, things he’d learned, but the kid completely avoided eye contact.
Winters reached out and unfolded the cardboard stand and what he saw almost caused him to lose his monocle.
It was a study in horror films. The current fashion, Winters snorted to himself. The days of horror and suspense being subtle and understated long gone.
There were nods and mentions to films that Winters understood were currently fashionable – names he heard the kids talking about in hushed tones, forbidden fruit for tender ages. Films he often wondered how they even passed the ratings boards. Films that if he had his way, would be banned. Nothing good came of them.
Though, he thought, this study remarked in detail – for a tri-fold, at least – about the physics in such. Comparisons of amounts of force really needed to do what was depicted, occasionally with a peculiar note on how the ‘traps’ in these films were impractical and unreliable. Winters was suddenly reminded of the ‘video nasty’ panic in his own youth.
“Son,” he began, “do your parents let you watch these things?”
The kid’s head tilted, but only a vague, “Not exactly, sir.” was forthcoming.
“What’s your name?”
Head down, eyes not meeting the principal’s, he muttered, “Damien Thorne, sir.”
“Damien, do you understand you’re a bit young to be watching these things?”
“No, sir, my parents always have them.” It was a very sullen tone.
“This is… very detailed. Did your parents help you with this?”
The boy seemed to perk up slightly. “Yes, sir. It was kinda their idea – when they weren’t shouting at each other.”
“Did they make notes, take measurements and whatnot?”
“No, sir. They helped with some of the practical experiments.”
Winters read over the notes again. Cramped, untidy handwriting in one section documented ‘a stuck pig’ and how far the blood spray went. Another section observed the force required to crack a skull.
“Son, are your folks… rural? Farmers? Local butcher maybe? Abattoir workers?”
The boy shook his head. “No, sir, we live in a house in the suburbs with a big garden and everything.”
Winters took his monocle out, and started polishing it somewhat absent-mindedly. The boy wasn’t making sense. On one hand it was a grisly study of forensic science compared with movies – for any other movie genre, that would make a nice science project.
Other parents were getting twitchy that the judges were spending so much time on ‘that little unfolded project’ when they could be seeing how wonderful their… progeny’s… projects had turned out. Not to mention that there were looks, whispers and comments about what ‘that weird kid had done this time’.
Winters called an executive decision. Turning to the other judges, he asked them to carry on around the hall, rating the other projects. He and Damien were going to his office to talk in private.
Walking to the principal’s office was solemn, grim. “You’re not in trouble, Damien.” It was a mild ploy to break the otherwise quiet.
Sitting down at his desk, Winters gestured for Damien to sit opposite. “So, how about you tell me about this project from the top. How it was your parents’ idea, how they helped, how you wrote it up.”
“Well, sir,” Damien began, sullenly. “They argue every day, always shouting at each other, shouting to go to hell. Dad said ‘if only he had an axe, he’d shut my momma’s arguin’ trap’. So we re-enacted the scenes. I thought it would make them happier.”
Winters had a sinking feeling.
“Dad laughed, said it’d be my science fair project. We’d do experiments, he said. He asked me my favourite film to recreate it for the fair.”
That wasn’t a sinking feeling. It was a sunk feeling, already.
“I had to put my fingers in my ears. Momma… was noisy.” Damien’s voice went from hushed to deadened.
“Then Dad turned to me and laughed, creepy like. He still had the axe.”
The boy’s entire form seemed to hunch. “I hit him with a shovel. On the head. Then I got my pocket knife and I—”
The principal interrupted Damien, folding up the tri-fold where he’d been reading while listening. “Stay there, Damien. I have a call to make.”