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Knarf's Day Away From the Lab | Audio
By Mabel Grimes
Mabel Grimes lives in a hut on the beach with six story-telling elves. They feed her ideas in exchange for waffles and Jameson. She loves the little guys to pieces, and they love her in return.
       The cartoon clown grinned down at Knarf from the picture window as he shoved through the door into Burgerama. Lacey Gacey's twisted smile always gave him the creeps when he saw it on television, but he squared his shoulders and strode past it, just as though he'd encountered the monstrous image in person before.
       The air inside the burger joint felt thick with sweet, savory scents. Knarf's taste buds quivered, and he inhaled greedily. Though he'd been free less than an hour, he understood why his creator had kept him locked in the lab for the whole of his fifteen years. Life on the outside intoxicated him, made him crave more.
       Professor Frank Finch couldn't be far behind, but Knarf didn't care. The man would eventually find him.
       He scratched at the scar behind his ear and grimaced. Because of the tracker implanted in his skull, the professor would never lose his property, his clone. So getting lost was never the goal. Knarf focused on his end, sucking in deep, calming breaths.
       He slid a hand into his pocket and rubbed the gritty surface of the paper money he'd stolen from the professor before his escape, listening to the soft crinkle in his jeans. He'd been sure to grab more than enough. Only his courage could fail him.
       The girl behind the cash register smiled, and Knarf's heart skipped a beat. Heat flooded his face as he shuffled toward her, gazing into her deep brown eyes. He tried to be casual like his favorite television characters, but the roaring chatter of feasting families distracted him. He wondered what she'd think if she knew what he was, and stuttered when he spoke. "Hello, miss. How are you?"
       "Fine," she said, pretty as summer. Golden hair peeked from beneath her visor and Knarf longed to see it exposed, flowing down her back. "May I take your order?" Her melodic voice filled him with wonder, and he savored her every syllable.
       "I have a question first." He spoke as clearly as any real human this time, pleased with his steady voice. "Do you cook the fries in peanut oil?" A sly smile crossed his lips at her response. He'd listened to the professor rave about this food called French fries for years, and could hardly wait to try them. "Perfect. I'll take the biggest order you sell."
       The door crashed open behind Knarf, and he stiffened. He was found.
       "I know you're here! Show yourself!" Professor Frank Finch's voice thundered through the silent eatery, bouncing off the tiles and raining down on him like hellfire.
       The crowd scanned the place, every eye finding its way to Knarf. He cursed his resemblance to the psycho in the stained lab coat. A pit spread through his stomach, and he remained facing the counter, struggling to keep his cool.
       The cashier recovered from her shock and set Knarf's order in front of him. He picked up his mammoth bucket of fries, took a last look at the girl, then turned to face his owner. The man's hair stood out at all angles and perspiration dripped down his wizened face.
       Knarf held the professor's cruel blue eyes with his own, forcing strength into his tone. "Fine. You found me."
       Professor Finch grabbed him by a skinny arm and shook hard. "You're coming with me, you little bastard."
       Knarf fumbled to hold onto his food, resisting the urge to shrink from his creator's rage.
       A man at a nearby table stood up, his family surrounding him in stunned silence. "Now see here, mister. That's no way to treat your boy."
       "He's not my boy," the professor sneered, his eyes trained on his property. "He's a no good, traitorous, runaway clone!" Spittle shot from his mouth, and Knarf winced.
       The interloper raised his hands, red with embarrassment as he sat back down. "Sorry, sir. Didn't mean to tell you your business."
       The stranger's words hit Knarf like a sucker punch to the sternum. He'd hoped for a moment human kindness might save him. It happened all the time in movies. But maybe the concept was a construct created for television.
       Knarf looked at the professor, making his eyes big and his expression pathetic. "Can I at least try French fries before you lock me in the lab again?"
       "Did you ask about peanut contamination?" Professor Finch's lips trembled as he eyeballed the food product, and Knarf rolled his eyes, sure his owner was worried for his clone's organs, rather than the clone himself.
       "Yes. You think I'm looking to go into anaphylactic shock?"
       The professor's mouth set in a firm line. "As I've told you many times, anaphylactic shock would be a treat. We'd be dead before we hit the ground." His eyes grew shiny. A peanut-induced death was the only topic that got any emotional response from the scientist.
       "Well, either way, I checked." Knarf sat in a chair, set his tray down, and bit into a fry, appraising the new taste. Salt tickled his tongue and he smiled. It was delicious. "Oh man, you should have one of these, professor. They're awesome." Knarf grabbed a few more, suppressing his shortness of breath until his creator sat down and chewed a mouthful of his own. Then he let the wheezes escape.
       A look of shock came into Professor Frank's eyes as his face grew red and swollen. He struggled to breathe, his gaze on Knarf as his muscles grew slack. "Why?" The word barely made it past the man's swollen trachea.
       "Rather die. Than live. A clone." Knarf stopped fighting. His body relaxed, and the darkness swallowed him whole.
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