Chalk stained Professor Gallide’s pants where he would wipe them absentmindedly. A stick rolled between his fingers now. He poked the board with it.
“What scares us? Come on, it’s not a trick question. What is frightening?”
“Death,” said one student.
“Of course,” Prof. Gallide said, writing DEADLY on the chalkboard. “But let’s get more specific. Think micro, not macro. What scares us because it causes death?”
A voice from the back of the lab said, “Childbirth.”
Bushy eyebrows shot up over Prof. Gallide’s thick glasses. “What a fascinating answer, Genevieve. Yes, childbirth, of course. But just this once, let’s look at a bigger picture, non?” He scribbled MOTHERHOOD under DEADLY. “What else? What are frightening things to beset a mother?”
“Solitude, yes, Marie. Loneliness. Exactement.” Gallide added that to the list. “Survivorship can be truly terrifying. Don’t stop now. This is good. Go, go.”
“An inhospitable environment comes to mind.”
“Ah, Danny, yes. What kind? A desert, perhaps?”
“Yeah,” Danny said. “Like snow.” Several of his classmates turned to eye him. “What? Antarctica is technically a desert, because it’s so cold that there’s no moisture. Look it up.”
Prof. Gallide wrote COLD under DEADLY. “A different direction now. What about a creature? Something frightening, something deadly. Phoebe, you have said nothing. What is an animal that frightens you?”
“S-snakes,” she whispered.
“Ah, wonderful.” SNAKES went up underneath all of this in the biggest letters yet. “Paolo, you have a question?”
“I just don’t understand what any of this has to do with an Applied Genetics lab course.”
Nodding, Prof. Gallide removed his glasses and waved the chalk at Paolo. “Here is the point. You should know that what you do here will scare people. They will think what we create here are monsters. So I thought: why not make monsters?” The class muttered, but it was an electric feeling. One not of the eve of discovery, but creation.
“What can we do to make all these-” he tapped the chalk words “-into a single, terrifying creature?”
A hand shot up. “We could give the snake feathers so it could survive extreme cold?”
A grin overtook Prof. Gallide’s face. “And so we begin.”