Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.
“National Stress Awareness Day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)
Lisa pressed the start button on the tester. The arm slowly pulled harder and harder on the cylindrical sample, and recorded the resistance of the rod. Lisa watched while holding her breath. This was what she had been working toward for the last six years. This either spelled the ticket out of school to a prominent job and good paycheck or back to god-knows-how-much-more grad school with an advisor that would view her as more of a liability than an asset. It had taken three years full of setbacks to build the casting machine. And three more of broken parts and materials choices and whatnot. If she’d known that she would wait six years for a meaningful result, she would never have gone to grad school.
But she had. And she waited. The machine plotted the relationship. The slow grinding sound filled the room. Scritch, scritch, scritch, and another data point.
Crack! A fracture shot through the sample, spider-webbing as it went. It reached from the top to the bottom of the rod. The machine beeped “I’m done!” and stopped pulling on the rod. The chart of the stress-strain filled the air. Lisa’s eyes shot to the stress axis. How far had it gotten?
“Only that far?” Lisa shouted. “That far?” She stood and threw her chair against the ground.
Six years. Six years down the drain. What would she do now? Find a new project? Give up? Her mind buzzed and reeled. The hallway seemed to lurch as she lumbered down it.
“Lisa!” the undergrad accosted her at a time she was least prepared to coddle him. “Lisa, about your test!”
She snarled and moved past him. She needed to be outside. It pulled at her.
“Lisa, you didn’t just do the stress test, did you?” the undergrad pursued.
She looked over her shoulder and kept moving. He seemed to understand.
“Um, which… which sample did you use?”
“It wasn’t in the blue case, was it?”
“It was.” She should be relieved at this line of questioning. She wasn’t. The tension built in her.
“I might have switched the samples. I dropped several of them and had trouble sorting them back out. It might not be the final sample.”
Their advisor found the undergrad later, with “stress test” written on his face. He had been bludgeoned with a fractured cylindrical rod.
The professor found Lisa with the stress machine, cradling her printout and another fractured cylindrical rod. She smiled serenely and extended the plot to the advisor.
“This is excellent data,” the advisor said. He nodded, turned around, and left the room in a good mood.