|“You don’t have a hunchback.”
I flinched as if he struck me. His narrowed eyes and pursed lips indicated the same disappointment that the last mad scientist had expressed during our interview. I pulled back my resume and bit my lower lip. There were only so many job openings for someone with my qualifications. Dr. Nobody was my last chance. It looked like my mother might be right and I would be flipping burgers for the rest of my life instead of realizing my dream of serving an intelligent researcher. I scooted back my chair, ready to abandon my seat.
“Did I say you could go?” Dr. Nobody asked, standing suddenly. The sleeves of his white lab coat, crusted and stained with a myriad of old experiments, fluttered as he gestured for my paperwork.
“N-no,” I stuttered.
“No, what?” he snapped, snatching the resume from my fingertips.
“Um…” I floundered like a fish out of water.
“Master,” he corrected with a roll of his eyes. “It’s no, Master. Didn’t they teach you anything at -” his eyes flickered over my credentials. “The Lackey Academy of Flunkies.” The twin white caterpillars he called eyebrows arched in surprise. “Really? You went to LAF? My great, great uncle’s minion, Igor, attended LAF. Most prestigious, indeed!”
I tried not to blush at the compliment.
“Well, I suppose I’ll have to give you the grand tour,” the doctor said with a sigh.
He swiped a hand through his white hair, causing it to stand on end. “If I wasn’t mad already you would soon drive me to it! Yes, you slow oaf. I’m hiring you, starting immediately.” He balled my resume up and tossed it into the trash can next to his desk. “Walk this way,” he ordered.
I watched as he strode forward, one foot aggressively slapping the ground, the other pulled quickly behind him. I hadn’t realized my new employer had a bum leg. With a shrug, I copied his movements, forcing one leg to stomp the ground and dragging the other behind me. The doctor glanced over his shoulder.
“Very good, Minion. You catch on quickly.”
“Actually, my name is –”
“It doesn’t matter,” Dr. Nobody interrupted. “As my new stooge, you will forever abandon the name your mother bestowed upon you at birth and become my doting servant. You will henceforth be known as and respond to the name Minion. Is that clear?”
I gulped. “Y-yes, Master.”
After a lengthy walk down a stone hallway, complete with spiderwebs and flickering yellow lights that cast gloomy shadows on the walls, we reached a thick metal door.
Dr. Nobody pointed to the keypad to the left of the door. “The combination is my birthday. Very easy to remember.”
I waited as his fingers jabbed at the device. “What is your birthday, Master?” I finally asked.
Dr. Nobody turned and frowned as he yanked at the door’s handle. “Honestly, Minion. I’m disappointed in you. I thought you would know me better than that by now. After all our time together?”
“I’m sorry, Master!” I was ashamed at how quickly I had forgotten such a pertinent detail.
Dr. Nobody’s eyes seemed to soften. He placed a warm hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, Minion. You can make it up to me with devil’s food cake and a new lab coat on my next birthday.”
I nodded, resolved to remember better in the future, as Dr. Nobody flicked a light switch. His lab in all its glimmering and shimmering glory had my jaw dropping in awe.
“Over here, on the north wall, you will find my collection of pig brains, two-headed lambs, and my gallbladder. I had it removed several years ago and just couldn’t part with the thing.” Dr. Nobody lovingly caressed the jar with the captured organ.
I peered into a jar filled with white clumps, hesitated, and tapped the glass. “What’s this one, master?”
Dr. Nobody glanced away from his gallbladder. “Ah, that would be my sauerkraut. Good for gut health, you know. Should be done fermenting in another ten days. Don’t mix it up with the monkey brains.” He frowned and squinted, taking a closer look at the jar. “Hm. Or maybe that’s the monkey brains and the sauerkraut is…” he trailed off and started shuffling through the jars on his shelves.
“It’s no use,” Dr. Nobody sighed. “This is what happens when you go too long without an underling to help label things. You’ll have to taste test all of them, Minion, until we track down the missing sauerkraut.”
My stomach flipped as I caught the dead gazes of the pickled two-headed lamb. “Of c-course, Master.”
“On the east wall are my rodents. Hamsters, rats, mice –”
“Ah, living guinea pigs,” I nodded in understanding, trying to focus my attention on the new subject at hand.
“The guinea pigs all perished in my last attempt to take over the world,” Dr. Nobody said sadly. “And since the pet store refuses to sell me any more, you will have to take their place. The mice and rats and hamsters are just pets, you know. Couldn’t harm a hair on their cute little heads.” He tapped the glass on one of the cages and a white rat the size of a Chihuahua darted over. I jumped back with a yelp.
“It’s...it’s a monster!”
“No, it’s George,” Dr. Nobody corrected. He pulled a corn chip out of the breast pocket of his lab coat and tossed it over the cage to the beast. George snatched the treat up in his giant rat hands and nibbled at the chip, staring me down as his massive teeth gnawed away.
Dr. Nobody lowered himself into a massive, leather chair in front of a console full of buttons. He pressed his fingertips together, rested his elbows on his knees, and studied my face. “Minion, every great scientist has a goal for his life. Mine is a simple one: to take over the world. I have had many marvelous plans to reach that goal but, alas, have failed every time. Fortunately,” he sat up straight and pointed at a bright red button, “I have the Do-Over Machine of Doom.”
The flashing red button was hard to look away from. I felt drawn to it, as if it was calling my name.
I shook my head to clear the murky call. “Y-yes, Master?”
“Push the Button of Doom.”
I hesitated for a moment before lurching forward. My index finger jabbed the button and it immediately faded from its brilliant red hue to black. “Did I break it, Master?”
Before the doctor could answer, the floor cracked in front of the console and slowly folded down. From the dark depths, something was rising. Smoke swirled around the object and when it finally cleared I found myself staring at…
“A bicycle, Master?”
“Not just any bicycle, Minion,” Dr. Nobody grinned. An unnatural light seemed to flicker in his eyes and he threw back his head and laughed. The evil chuckle bounced off the white lab walls. George scampered back into a corner of his glass cage. The jars of fermented experiments and sauerkraut jiggled dangerously on their shelves.
“This bicycle has the ability to take its rider to the past!”
“Time travel?” I gasped. I had never heard of a scientist that had cracked the code to time travel before. “How does it work?”
“Did your parents never teach you how to ride a bike, Minion?” Dr. Nobody frowned.
“I haven’t been on one in years, Master,” I admitted.
“Just like riding a horse,” the doctor assured. “So hop on and start pedaling. We’ll need 1.21 gigawatts of power to activate the…” his voice trailed off into a mumble. I moved forward, as if in a trance, and slipped my leg over the seat of the bike. Plopping my rear down, I took hold of the handles and placed one foot on the right pedal.
“You want me to travel to the past, Master?” I sat in amazed astonishment. Not thirty minutes before I was an anybody off the streets and now Dr. Nobody had made me a somebody. A somebody that would be able to, potentially, see some of the greatest moments of history.
“Yes, Minion. I need you to navigate through time and space and rescue my childhood cat, Fluffy.”
“Fluffy? Master, I thought I would be invading King Tut’s tomb or killing Hitler…” I trailed off as Dr. Nobody glared at me.
“This is very important, Minion. I will never become the great man I am today if Fluffy dies. You must go back and keep dear Fluffy from becoming a bad doggie’s hors d'oeuvre. I will set the date,” he squinted at the console in front of him and flicked a few switches. “For the year I was seven. Summer. In Alabama. Now pedal, Minion! Pedal like the wind!” He threw back his head and let loose a wicked laugh. I adjusted my feet and obeyed.
“Faster, Minion! Faster!”
My feet whirled ‘round and around. The air around me seemed to thicken and my sight grew hazy. There was a zap of blue light and suddenly I was flung off the bike and into a patch of green grass. My momentum had me rolling over a heap of dirt. When I finally came to a stop I found my body invaded by fire ants.
“You disturbed their nest, genius,” someone called out. I brushed frantically at the bugs, wincing at the stinging bites, and danced farther away from their smashed home. Shaking my pant legs, I glanced toward the sneering voice.
“My name isn’t Genius, it’s –”
“Minion,” he interrupted, stepping out from behind a pink dogwood tree.
My mouth flew open in surprise as I looked into a face that was the mirror image of my own.
“Aw, don’t look so surprised. Did you really think you were the first to travel back in time? Our esteemed Master has sent,” he paused and started counting his fingers, silently mouthing each number. “Six of us to the past to save his stupid cat. You’re lucky number seven.”
As he spoke, six copies of myself came out from random, hidden spots. One of my duplicates, standing in the shade of a regal-looking house, waved. I raised a weak hand and waved back.
“I expect there will be at least two more of ourselves before it's all said and done,” my clone said. Or maybe I was the clone since he had arrived long before I. I felt a headache start to pound behind my right eye.
“Why t-two more?” I asked, rubbing my temple.
“Because the stupid cat has nine lives, of course,” he said with a snort.
I frowned. I had never realized before how much of a jerk I could be. “Look, I don’t know what’s going on here but if you’ll just let me rescue Fluffy, I’ll hop back on the –”
All six of my doppelgangers laughed in unison as I looked for the time-traveling bike.
“It was a one-way trip, Minion,” I heard myself yell from across the yard. My eyes flickered to another copy of myself, who shrugged.
“What else would you expect from a mad scientist? We’re here to stay. There’s no way back. But don’t worry, you’ll love your new employer.” He gestured toward the house and a boy stepped out the front door holding a gray cat and stood, waiting, on the porch.
I swallowed, wiped away the sweat provided by the southern heat, and forced a smile to my lips.
The boy grinned.