When Jonathan’s young daughters from his failed marriage find a locked box in his Grandmother’s attic, its strange contents lead to a paranoid hermit who still conducts secret research started by his Grandfather. Upon meeting the hermit, Jonathan is terrified to learn how man’s production of oil, coal, dams, and cities has redistributed weight around our planet and is beginning to trigger earthquakes, pushing our world toward environmental catastrophes foretold by Jesus. Sinister forces want to keep the research hidden at any price, even murder. Jonathan’s meeting and falling in love with Cindy could not have come at a worse time. How can he protect his new love and family from the dark murderous forces that want to silence him?
Dante nudged the thermometer downward, restoring line of sight between them, his dark eyes hard and fixed.
“John had a hunch about weight transfer. Moving a lot of weight around might affect earthquakes. So he studied all kinds of technology––mining, oil production, construction––massive amounts of weight each industry moves. Maybe moving so much weight from here to there could reach that certain ‘degree’ that affects balance.” Dante borrowed the thermometer from Jonathan’s hand, and tapped his finger at the end of the red line. “Like this thirty-two degree mark that no one used to know about. Could there be a ‘degree’ to balance…a natural line of departure? One that could change the entire Earth?”
Jonathan felt a smirk tugging at his face. “Really? Like what, the mother-of-all earthquakes? Something like that?”
Dante nodded and placed the thermometer on the table between them.
“But Dante,” Jonathan shook his head and flung his arms out, “the earth is so huge!” He lowered his arms and clenched the edge of the table. This was crazy stuff. “Okay, we have some new high-tech gadgets––but nothing we do would change the whole Earth!” He grabbed the thermometer, turning it over and over then tapped it against his palm, shaking his head. “Too bad Grandpa isn’t around now. He should have seen that NASA photo of Earth. It’s big.”
Dante sighed. “Yes, Jonathan, you could say the Earth is big.” Searching fingers reached into his right shirt pocket. “Think of it this way. You’re a big fellow. Probably weigh 220 pounds. Your bottle of beer there holds 12 ounces of liquid.” Dante’s fingers switched to his left shirt pocket and pulled out a tiny vial of fluid. “And this vial is a lot bigger than just one drop of what’s inside it.”
Dante handed the vial to him. It was about the size of Andrea’s tiny finger. The fluid looked mostly clear, maybe a little amber-colored.
“So, what’s this?”
“Liquid arsenic.” Dante nudged the beer closer. “Put a drop, just one tiny drop of that arsenic in your beer. Swish it a little to dilute the arsenic and take just one tiny sip. Swallow it. Let that little sip of diluted arsenic wander around inside your 200 pound body.” A dagger gleamed in his voice and cut narrow slits through his eyelids. “Let’s just see what happens.”
“Dante, you’re either nuts, or it’s some kind of trick!” He set the vial down in the middle of the table. No way. More crazy stuff. “Wait a minute, Dante. It’s not really arsenic, is it?” More illusions. “So, what is it, really?”
“Arsenic. Sprinkle some on the rabbit pellets I put out to control the mice. Mice eat the rabbit food. He snapped his fingers, picked up the vial and rolled it between his fingers. “Fewer mice.”
“I don’t believe you. Put some in your own beer. Let’s see you do that!”
“All right.” Dante opened the vial and nursed a single drop to fall into his bottle. Closing the vial, he swished the concoction and raised his beer. “Cheers, Jonathan.” He took a long drink. Jonathan lost count of how many swallows. With a small burp, Dante set the bottle back on the table, held his arms out to his sides and gave a slight shrug as if nothing had happened.
“If it’s real, you wouldn’t have done that.” Another trick. Another lie.
“Well,” he burped again, followed with a half smile, “it is real arsenic, Jonathan. But I know the difference between a little poison and a lot of poison. Since you refused my little challenge I’d say you don’t really know what’s ‘big.’ Or what’s ‘small.’ You don’t know which actions have a consequence and which ones don’t.” Dante shook his head. “You’re confusing size with severity. Those are two very different things.”
Different things, huh? Jonathan’s left hand pressed across his lips trying to release the right words. “Look, Dante. There’s smart and dumb, too. I did the smart thing by not doing it. If it’s really arsenic, and it didn’t kill me, it could make me sick, or—”
“Sick? Oh, that’s right. Sickness. That disruption to our health caused by some tiny virus or bacteria in these big huge bodies.” Dante pointed to himself and to Jonathan. “Sick, from all those teeny tiny microscopic aliens we didn’t know we shared Earth with, until just a hundred years ago. Tiny things, huh? Too small to see with the naked eye. But strong enough to kill you. And me. And a million others. That kind of sick?”
Dante slowed. “Think about it, Jonathan. Maybe it is possible for something very small to affect something very big. How about a mosquito? Just this big.” He pinched a bit of air between thumb and forefinger. “One little bite and big guys like you or me get malaria and die! How? Mosquitoes aren’t poisonous. No venom. But mosquitoes are huge compared to those tiny parasites they deliver. Those microscopic single-cell parasites that make a home in your liver for starters.” He leaned back. “Size doesn’t always relate to severity.”
Jonathan could feel his jaw tighten. Size, severity. Okay, but this was still––
Dante started to rub his hands together as if washing them. “How about plain old germs? In the 1930’s, surgeons argued about whether or not they should wash their hands between surgeries. Smart intelligent people. College educated. Well trained. But ignorant of facts yet to be learned. This one surgeon, who did wash his hands, noticed how well his patients did as a result. He tells other surgeons. Did it change their minds? Nope. Other surgeons, who had passed tough medical exams of their day, said washing hands is a just big waste of time. Even smoked during surgery. Here nurse, hold my cigarette and pass me that scalpel.” Dante took a puff on a make-believe cigarette.
Jonathan chuckled. “Yeah, seems pretty dumb these days.”
Dante nodded. “Later on, with enough facts, surgeons stopped arguing about whether or not to wash hands.” He leaned forward. “Did they get smarter? No. They finally learned that size doesn’t always relate to severity. They learned that tiny unseen life forms can damage the health of a big, huge patient.” He leaned back again and rested one hand over the other on the table. “Doctors had practiced healing for thousands of years completely ignorant of one of the most important ways to help their patients heal––until just 50 years ago. Today it’s in the books. Everyone agrees. So now do they know it all? Or do you think there’s more for them to learn?”
Jonathan shrugged. “I was married to a nurse and heard medical people say there’s more to learn. Always more to learn, I guess.” Although Linda always seemed to know it all. “Dante, I’m not going swallow arsenic.”
Dante eyes roamed his, looking for something. “Do a majority of people have to agree for a thing to be true? Or is a thing true, regardless of how many people agree about it?”
Jonathan took his time. Don’t get sucker punched. “Well, if something’s true, it’s true. What people think about it … doesn’t really matter.”
“Hmm,” Dante gave a slight nod, picked up the vial and rolled it between his fingers. “Scientists have studied this natural poison.” Dante gave a quick glance to him. “Arsenic. Odorless. Tasteless. There’s a tiny dose that won’t hurt most people. But combine enough tiny drops and it reaches a degree where it’s lethal. So you see, Jonathan, something small can affect something big.”
Dante offered the vial to him. “Go ahead.”
No way. Jonathan leaned back, away from the poison in Dante’s hand. “Okay, Dante, okay. You made your point.”
Dante hesitated. “Something else to think about, Jonathan. You went out to your car, earlier. Well, you don’t really know…whether or not I already put a drop in your beer, do you?”
A hammer-like thud echoed in Jonathan’s head spinning the room. Dante was a lunatic. Why had he stayed here? He sprung out of his chair to go but a sudden dizziness tried to rock him off his feet. Grabbing the back of his chair to steady himself, he waited for the worst, stealing deep breaths through the thumping parade of heart beats in his chest. Was this just fear? Or arsenic? Would he see his kids again? The room stopped. It was easier to breathe. Dizziness passed.
Dante started to chuckle, soon laughed out loud and pointed. “Son, sit down.” Laughter sprouted between his words. “Please, sit … I’d never poison John’s grandson … I wouldn’t … poison you …” Fingertips fluttered downward, motioning for Jonathan to sit.
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