“The Chemistry Test” by Carrie Ryan

She finally got the courage to kill the bastard and wouldn’t you know it happened right after the damn plague started up. Of course, she didn’t know that at the time. She was never really one for newspapers or the twenty-four hour news guys and since it was election season it all just burned together in her head.

Sometimes she let her gaze flick over a headline or two while waiting for her email to launch but she’d been a bit preoccupied over the past few days. She was busy researching poisons and drugs, wondering which would be the way to go.

Tuesday night she fantasized about getting him wasted, undressing and then hitting him with a drano cocktail. She imagined the pain of the liquid searing down his throat. She’d get the good kind — not the generic — and it would be thick and syrupy and it would blast open his windpipe and coagulate until it oozed out his nose.

It would be painful and she would enjoy every minute of it as his eyes bulged and his brain circled around the truth of how she’d finally gotten back at him.

But then on Wednesday he’d been tender with her. Had brought home dinner and remembered she didn’t like tomatoes on her burgers during the off season. She was still resolved to kill him as she lay next to him that night, but she wondered if maybe this time she’d do it slower, softer.

Maybe just crush pills into a pan of brownies. Wasn’t there a book she’d read as a teen where some deranged grandmother tried to kill the kids with cyanide powered donuts? Should she go that route and watch him slowly wither around her until he was such dust all she had to do was blow a puff of air and he’d be gone?

When she finally did it late Thursday night it’d been brutal and rough. She hadn’t properly planned which she should have known would happen. It’s what always happened in her life: it’s how she’d ended up at that stupid college in that stupid class with that stupid professor.

Really, it was the look he gave her after she struck the first blow. She’d overestimated her will — her desire to see him dead and so she’d come at him weakly. An hour after he’d taken the last bite of his dessert she’d confessed about the antidepressants she’d painstakingly crushed and laced through the chocolate. How she’d been saving the pills for weeks and weeks.

He scoffed at her shaking admission if to say, “You failed my tests, you failed my class and now you’ll fail this.” What he’d really said was, “It’s basic chemistry, Clara. My god, I’d have thought if I’d taught you anything it would be this.” As he’d gone into the kitchen for the baking soda.

“Tricyclic antidepressants require an acid environment for proper absorption, Clara.” His voice shifted into the deeper rumble he used in the classroom, the crooning as he coddled a slow student. “The remedy couldn’t be easier.”

He pulled the yellow box from its place in the cabinet, nestled between the carton of kosher salt and the dusty bag of flour. Eyes narrowed in concentration he measured even scoops into a cup of water, white particles drifting down to settle on the bottom.

Her lip had quivered. She knew he noticed and thought it was because she was being contrite. She was always contrite. But that wasn’t it at all. She was quivering because she wasn’t used to being right. Because she was holding her breath so hard that it ached inside her along with all her other losses and crammed together into the fierce desire that this time it had to work.

It was the same feeling she had when she bought a lottery ticket. As she touched the pocket in her purse where she’d hide it all day and at night, after he was in bed, the feeling she’d get taking it out and waiting for the internet page to load.

It was the most ferocious want and need. This savage knowledge that the world owed her this. She was special. She would rise above and everything up to that point had been a test.

He’d been in the middle of explaining to her how the sodium bicarbonate would turn the acidic environment of his stomach basic thus rendering the lethal dose of tricyclic antidepressants incapable of absorption when his throat seized. He’d thrown a hand against the refrigerator as if it was an old chalkboard he was banging to make a point. His eyes were wide, rolling in his head as his legs jerked and his body began to convulse.

When he fell he reached for the counter to support him, bringing down their dirty dinner plates to splinter around him on the floor. The two empty glass dessert bowls rolled to a stop against his hip, smears of chocolate like ribbons in the few remaining dribbles of cheap ice cream.

He was still breathing, just barely, when she went to kneel next to him. She was sad and was crying, her nose filling with snot and her cheeks starting to redden and blotch.

“You assume facts in evidence,” she whispered to him. But she mangled the phrase as she said it, getting the words wrong and she bit down hard on her lip. That had always been his favorite phrase and even now she sees a spark of indignation in his dimming eyes that she can’t even get that right.

She wanted him to know that she wasn’t dumb. She fumbled in the cabinet under the sink, her fingers tangling in the forest of old plastic grocery bags he always insisted on keeping and never used. Behind the water purifier she found the box she’d hidden there this afternoon and she pulled it out.

Thrusting it in his face she read the label, “Rat poison,” she says. “Looks like baking soda.” But he was already gone. She shook him, slapped his face because she needed him to know it. She needed him to know that she’d ultimately been the one to win. She’d been the one to come out on top and best him at his own game.

He just lay there, still and slack.

Her fingers curled into the box and she heaved it across the room. “Damnit!” she screamed as it hit the wall dully. It didn’t even have the decency to break open on impact and spray the room with it’s fine dusty poison. Just a dull thud. Just like her — no drama and no flare.


It wasn’t even three hours later when he joined her in bed. She was laying there, staring at the ceiling and wondering what the hell she was going to do next and lamenting the fact that he was right and that she never planned ahead. She heard him shuffle down the hall but it was so damn familiar, the sound of his feet on that old thread-bare carpet, that she’d forgotten she shouldn’t be hearing it anymore.

His cold hand wrapped around her foot before she remembered: she’d left him in the kitchen. Dead. Legs splayed wide and body half propped against the beige row of cabinets.

“Clara,” his voice was slow and uneven. He began dragging her down the mattress toward him.

“Fuck!” she screamed, kicking out before she could even think. His head snapped back and she scrambled from the bed, thin sheets twisting around her legs, tripping her.

The corner of her bedside table scraped up the side of her cheek, blinding her with an explosion of pain as they both tumbled to the floor. She groped for the lamp, heaving it in the direction of the Professor. He let out a small grunt as she clawed her way to the closet, shoving herself inside and bracing her back against the wall and her feet against the closed door.

He wasn’t far behind, every thump of his fists against the door reverberating up her legs. “Come out!” he bellowed.

Clara closed her eyes, head thrown back and lips forming the word, “Please,” over and over again with no sound. As if words could fix this situation.

Sharp daggers of high heels dug into her thighs and she swiped at them, clearing a place to sit. Fire spread through her chest, heart hammering so hard it skipped beats to catch up. Along her forehead sweat beaded and dripped, snaking down her neck with a tickling touch.

“Get out here, you stupid girl,” the Professor growled, heaving his body against the door.

Her fingers flicked open and closed, movement out of her control. She tried to swallow but couldn’t and the nausea clawed higher and higher until vomit spilled from her lips. “I’m sorry,” she whispered to him.

“You can never do anything right,” he yelled through the splintering door. “You failed to take in all the factors, neglected to examine the elements of your plan under changing circumstances. What have I been trying to teach you, Clara?”

Her mind raced for the correct answer to his question, the student in her wanting to please the one who was always the consummate judge.

“Fuck,” she beat her hand against the floor. Even dead he found a way under her skin. Made her feel stupid.

“Vocabulary, Clara,” the Professor hissed through the door. “Vulgarity shows your lack of imagination and learning.”

“Shut up!” she screamed at him and for a moment there was a blissful sort of silence before he began to laugh.

She hated his laugh. It ate into her brain, intensifying the feeling that her skull was shrinking and soon it would squeeze her brain so hard it would ooze free at any moment. She tried to swallow again and couldn’t, the disorientation and fear too much it caused her throat to convulse. How long could she keep hiding in here? As if anyone would be coming to find her.

The Professor was the only one who kept tabs on her. Who cared if she showed up to class, turned in her assignments, kept the wheel of her own life turning.

She’d killed him and the bastard hadn’t even the decency to stay dead.

And that was what set her over the edge. Sent her grappling for her sharpest heel and screaming as she threw open the closet door and raged out into their dim bedroom.

Her legs were a fire of pinpricks as blood flowed into the uncramped joints, muscles spasming as she brought the dagger point of her shoe down against his head again and again. At first it merely scraped over his scalp, dredging up skin until she shifted the angle of attack turning his eyeball into pulp, the sickly sound of slapping wet echoing through the small apartment.

The shoe spilled from her fingers, muscles unable to hold their grip. Her body trembled, eyes barely able to focus as she pushed to her feet and fell against the wall, one hand leaving a vermillion smear.

She could smell him, the dusky odor of his cologne washed with blood with a hint of vitreous fluid. Bile rose again, sickly sweet, and she puked in the doorway as she stumbled back down the hallway to the front door.

But her legs were done, the terror of the evening too much and she barely made it to the kitchen before collapsing. Beneath her the stool scraped over the floor, a bruisingly loud sound in the suddenly silent apartment.

Balling her hand tight enough to slice through her palm with synthetic nails she pressed her fist hard against her chest. She could feel the way her heart skittered, skipping around, pausing before plowing forward in ways that made her wheeze for air.

“Fuck,” she whispered, staring at the mess on the floor, the clear space where the Professor’s body had fallen. Scattered to the side sat the two delicate glass bowls edged in gold she’d inherited from her grandmother. Both of them empty except for a few smears of chocolate and the melted dribble of cheap vanilla ice cream.

Clara pressed her tongue against the roof of her mouth, searching the taste of bile for a hint of chocolate. She was supposed to have only taken one bite, maybe two, before setting down her fork and claiming she was too full to possible eat more. It had been her prescription, after all, so she already had a base tolerance.

But she remembered now: the Professor had been berating her about her recent performance in class and she’d stuffed her mouth full to avoid screaming at him.

She’d been so nervous about her plan, so focused on him she’d forgotten about herself.

Clara’s eyes drifted shut, a foam of failure frothing through her. From down the hall she heard the soft murmuring of footsteps dragging over the carpet. Such a familiar sound, the one that greeted her every night before bed. Soon the Professor would join her again.

Their night would morph into what it always was: him quizzing her about his lecture from the afternoon, asking if her work was done, what the results of her recent labs was. Critiquing her answers in every way.

Against her will, her teeth clenched, puncturing and then severing the tender muscle of her tongue as the rest of her body vibrated beyond her control. Blood welled, thick viscous sliding down her throat, and she tried to scream around it but she couldn’t. She tried to reach for the hidden box of baking soda but even if she could manage to find it she knew enough chemistry to realize it was too late to stop the poison.

At least she’d come back like the Professor had, she thought as her body, now fully outside the bounds of her power, jerked from the stool and thudded against the ground. At least she’d finally done something for once instead of just thinking about it. Twice she’d killed the Professor and each time had been sweet and delicious.

And if death were anything like life, maybe she’d have that chance again and again.

pic by jessamyn, via Flickr Creative Commons


Thanks for the story, Carrie!

You can check out Carrie’s scary, romantic, thrilling zombie novels, THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, THE DEAD-TOSSED WAVES, and THE DARK AND HOLLOW PLACES here: www.carrieryan.com

26 thoughts on ““The Chemistry Test” by Carrie Ryan

  1. This was AWESOME. Clara’s pain and frustration definitely rings true and you described it so well!

    Thank you for sharing this! I loved it! πŸ™‚

  2. Well, darn, now I wish I’d at least blown your expectations πŸ™‚ But I admit I do love the bitter twist of finally getting the nerve to kill a guy only to have him not stay dead.

  3. It was, I think, the most chilling character of yours I think I’ve ever read (and that’s saying a lot).

  4. Definitely a nice read over lunch… though I completely stopped eating at one point.

    Loved this She’d killed him and the bastard hadn’t even the decency to stay dead.

  5. Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed the mixture of zombies and murder. I like the quick moving not quite dead way you make your zombies (it makes them scarier).

  6. I loved the story. In fact, I have a reoccurring nightmare where I kill someone and I die with them. She had a very intresting character. And a bad mouth.

    I loved the V C Andrews shout out! This reminds me of her style, except a bit more morbid! A definite improvement!

  7. Great story and I really like the struggle she has with feelings of inferiority. Also, having to kill him twice and then realizing that she had inadvertently killed herself was wonderful.

  8. Thanks! Though I should have noted that this technically isn’t canon in my world — my zombies can’t talk πŸ™‚

  9. Cool, and creepy. Zombies scare me, but I love your books. I ordered The Dark and Hollow Places today.

  10. Loved this! Bleak and despairing, and yet awesome. I was surprised by his ability to speak, too…definitely a departure for you and the zombie world. Thanks for sharing!!

  11. It was extremely interesting for me to read that article. Thank author for it. I like such topics and everything connected to this matter. I definitely want to read a bit more soon.

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  12. I think this is my favorite story I’ve read on this community yet. Wonderful job.

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