THE GIFTED NURSE

by Andrea McKinnie

Claudia Monroe was walking down the corridor of one of the finest hospitals in the country. Healing Hands Medical Center accepted only the best of the best to be a part of their team. Claudia recalled the day that she received her letter in the mail. She had just come in from clinicals. The wind was howling and the rain was coming down like arrows. The thunder had been so loud that at times she caught herself ducking. As she thought about this now she chuckled, but that day it hadn’t been so funny. Outside of the monstrous thunderstorm, there had not been anything else unusual about that day. Actually, it was kind of ironic when she considered the twist of events. Her entire nursing class had been in an ill mood all day long due to the weather. Then when she arrived home and retrieved the mail, she literally leaped for joy. She stood outside for at least ten minutes repetitively reading her acceptance letter over and over. In fact she still had it memorized.

Dear Miss Monroe:

            We are pleased to inform you that your application for hire has been approved. However,            we do require that you come in and meet with our board. You will be interviewed and            based on your answers, you will be placed in the department of our choosing.

            Looking forward to working with you,

            The Board of Healing Hands

            President, Gloria Freeman, MD

She spent half the night trying to dry the letter out from the soaking it took from her disengagement of reality. When she finally realized that she had been standing in the rain reading the letter, she ran inside like a cat being chased by a dog. Yes, that day still brought excitement to her. It was a beautiful ending to a stormy day.

Now she was walking down the corridor taking in every tiny detail. She saw a plump, middle aged nurse holding the hand of a little boy. The boy could not have been more than five years old. The nurse had pepper colored hair and  ringlet curls with silver streaks. She was dressed in the most crisp red pair of scrubs. Claudia was sure that that lady got them professionally cleaned. The nurse was telling the little boy that his father would be out to take him back to see his mother in about five minutes. The nurse was so tender with the little boy. She had now sat down on the floor with him and they were coloring some lonely looking flower on a piece of white paper. That’s why Claudia loved this place. Healing Hands Medical Center had a reputation for being loving and caring. There genuine love could be felt and seen by anyone who walked through the doors. It was like no other hospital she’d ever known. It was not very big and it did not pay a lot of money, but the atmosphere was peaceful, soothing, and filled with love. Here at this hospital the staff met before each shift and took a small moment to pray before beginning their day. They spent time with their patients. They didn’t push their duties off onto other people. They each took responsibility for their share of the work. They worked together as a team. They showed love and compassion. That’s the type of place that Claudia wanted to be.

Claudia gave herself one more look over. She had chosen to wear a navy blue suit with a turquoise broach. She thought the hint of color would show that she could be adventurous. She had decided to wear her hair down that day, but now she was reconsidering the idea. Her long black, wavy tresses flowed beautifully, but she didn’t want them to be distracting. Maybe I should put them up she thought to herself. However, when she had reached into her purse for a couple of bobby pins she had this intense popping sound that occurred in the left side of her head. She couldn’t really describe it, but it was enough to disturb her. She looked at her watch: 12:17 p.m. I don’t have much time. I guess my hair will have to stay down.

She gathered her things together and continued to walk down the corridor. Then the popping happened again. The popping was loud, but not painful. Actually she couldn’t feel it at all. It was enough to make her feel like something was wrong though. She immediately whispered a prayer. Dear Lord: Whatever is wrong, please help the situation. If someone is considering suicide then stop them. If someone is threatening a stroke, then heal them. Please Lord, send help. In Jesus name, Amen.

Claudia didn’t know what was wrong and she doesn’t even really know why she felt like she needed to pray, but it was better than doing nothing at all. When she finally found the receptionist’s desk, she heard a loud wailing sound. She saw nurses and doctors running towards the end of the hall that she had just come from. One nurse had grabbed the crash cart. Doctors and nurses both were barking orders at someone about everything. Claudia heard someone yell, “Clear, all Clear!”, and just like that it was over. Heads were bowed and a few people kneeled with their heads bowed. Claudia had gotten close enough to realize what had happened. Right there in the same place that she had seen him earlier, lay the little boy. His little body was limp and now turning colors. He looked peaceful, but he was so young. She asked the nurse who she had seen sitting with him earlier what had happened. The nurse, whose name tag read Elnor Shaw, RN, told her that the little boy had started complaining about his head. The nurse told her that it was about 12:17 p.m. She said that she remembered the time because she had looked down at her watch in order to keep up with his complaints. The nurse told her that it all happened so suddenly. She said she remembered him saying, “Nurse Shaw, my head’s still hurting, but it’s okay, this nice man said that he would take care of me. He said that he was sent to take me home.” Then Joshua closed his eyes.

The nurse was now crying full, uncontrollable sobs. Claudia herself had noted that her face was now wet. She doesn’t even know when the tears began to flow. Then Claudia stopped breathing for about 5 seconds.

Claudia exclaimed, “Oh no! Did you say 12:17 p.m.”

The nurse looked puzzled and replied, “Yes dear. It was that time exactly when his complaint began. Now…if you will excuse me, I must go find his father. He will be heartbroken. His wife is here on hospice care, but he had to leave unexpectedly to pick up their little girl. Normally, Joshua would have gone with him, but today he wanted to stay here with me.”

The nurse let out another sob and walked away. Claudia’s stomach had now began to hurt. Surely, the times were a coincidence. She did not even know the little boy. She had heard about other people having these type of encounters, but she had never experienced anything like this for herself.

Claudia staggered back towards the receptionist desk when she realized that she had lost track of time. She looked at her watch and noticed that it was now 1:07 p.m. “Oh no!” Claudia exclaimed. She was now thirty-seven minutes late for her interview. Surely, the board would understand. She immediately made herself speed up. She didn’t have time to check her make-up. She realized that she probably looked horrible. A tear-stained face and the queasiness of her stomach didn’t allow her to use her best smile, but she was trying her best. She reached the receptionist’s desk and gave her name. She apologized for her tardiness and made sure that the receptionist knew that she wasn’t in habit of being tardy. The receptionist gave her a bright smile and explained that her tardiness was not a problem today. She informed Claudia that she had seen her when she arrived earlier and also when she went down to see what had happened. She also told her that Dr. Gloria had been one of the people down there in the midst of the commotion. Claudia gasped in surprise. She hadn’t even considered that to be a possibility. The receptionist gave Claudia the option to reschedule or she could wait for Dr. Gloria to return. “She should be back in about one hour if you would like to wait. However, if you leave, it won’t be counted against you. We understand the effect this could have on you on the day of your interview.”

Claudia agreed to wait. She didn’t want to put this off and besides the hour would give her a chance to fix her make-up. She left the receptionist and went into the bathroom across the hall. The bathroom smelled of eucalyptus and peppermint. What an odd smell for a bathroom, but it seemed to make her senses more alert. She grabbed some paper towels, wet them and began to wipe her face. She took off as much of the make-up as she could. Then she reapplied it. I definitely need to invest in waterproof make-up she thought. She had never purchased any before because it was so expensive and she only wore make-up when the occasion called for it. Today was a day that she thought called for it, but she really didn’t feel like putting it on.

She couldn’t get the little boy out of her head. Seeing him holding the nurse’s hand. Seeing them both color that lonely flower. Then hearing about the story that the little boy had told the nurse right before he passed away. It was all too much to think about. Claudia now found herself crying uncontrollably. Claudia tried to regain control over her emotions.

How can you be a nurse if you can’t accept the inevitable she thought, but this situation had been so much more different.

She looked at her make-up and decided to just go without it. She cleaned her face and applied some lotion. Her eyes were now puffy and red. Her nose was red and she felt so horrible. She immediately thought of the little boy’s father. How will he feel when he finds out that his little boy is gone. She fell to her knees and began to cry out to God for the man to be comforted. She even prayed for the little’s boy sister and mother. The nurse had said that she was on hospice, but she didn’t say what was wrong or if she was conscious.

            Dear Lord,

            I know that you are working out something on the behalf of this family. They have lost a   young one today. They have lost a sweet innocent little boy. Help them to receive your            comfort. Help them to receive your peace. I know they will cry, mourn, and ask why, but l ead them into your peace that passes all understanding. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Claudia got up off the floor and once again gathered her wits. She looked at her watch and realized that she had thirty minutes to spare. She found the cafeteria and got a cup of coffee. The cafeteria smelled like mountain fresh coffee mixed with cinnamon. There were long green plants mixed with deep red flowers of some sort hanging over each table. It was absolutely wonderful. The walls of the cafeteria were pure glass and the brightness of the sun hitting her face gave her a quick boost of energy. She looked around and noticed that there weren’t a lot of people in the cafeteria. However, she looked up and sitting at a small round table was Nurse Shaw. She was holding a brown mug with both hands. The steam was rising from the cup and going directly into the nurses face. Claudia wondered if she should go and check on the lady or if she should just leave her alone. Nurse Shaw turned around just at that moment as if she could hear Claudias’ thoughts. She gave Claudia a weak smile and nodded her head in a way to let Claudia know that she could come over.

JOHN

An excerpt from a story by Samuel Clayton

Chapter 1

The Lamb With Horns

John was a tall fit young man who had black hair and piercing hazel eyes. In the right light however, you might say that they were a menacing blood red. His countenance had always seemed a tad bit creepy. He was very good at eavesdropping on every conversation within thirty yards and had the memory of an elephant. He also had a habit to stare at people around the room as if he were looking into one’s soul. All this may have helped him make friends in the short term but, he was both shy and a little bit of a loner. Most people who were friends with him quickly dropped him because he seemed emotionless and without any empathy, why was he supposed to care, he wasn’t effected. This caused him to lose many friends after mere days.

During his junior year of high-school, his parents moved to a new location. They had started to worry about their son. He could never hold any real friends and those he did have, he hadn’t opened up in the slightest to. He, however, didn’t care about the move given that he thought that everyone in the older school he was at, he thought were blubbering idiots. Even if he was desperate for human interaction, he could never drive himself to be social. An invisible force would always keep him away. For this reason and others he took the move with ambivalence. He didn’t care one way or the other.

On the first day of his senior year of high-school John was on his way to class when he came across a girl that had tripped and needed some help picking up her things. He didn’t know what possessed him. This school had been just as much of a disappointment as the other three however, he decided to say hello and help her pick up her books. He would have normally passed her over but something about her was different. The conversation was short. He never even got to hear her name nor her his. The bell for the next class had rung and he was almost late!

John rushed off to his first class but from that point onwards his thoughts and actions were consumed with the girl.  He couldn’t get the girl out of his head. This chance encounter was, to John, love at first sight.  For the next couple of months John followed her at a good distance taking a slower route to school. He got to know her, her friends, and their habits in the process.  She lived down the street from him and walked to school with her group of three friends. Their names were Jessica, Erica, and Samuel. Hers, as he found out, was the beautiful name of Rose. He would write poems in his room often of his rose, which only intensified his desire.
Jessica was a sporty young woman that looked older then she appeared. She was a member of the cheer team.  She had green eyes and brown hair and was taller then usual in the school.  Erica was an attractive and fit girl that was short for her age. She had brown eyes and dirty blond hair. Among some other details John found that she liked to write short stories. Samuel was a taller than average young man. He usually didn’t shave normally except for every three days. He had brown hair and was fit but not the strongest guy in the school. John could see as soon as he started his spying on her friends that Sam had eyes for Jessica.
Rose, however, was the most important out of all of them. She was well endowed with long curly brown hair.  She had beautiful blue eyes that seemed endlessly deep when John looked into them and tanned skin.  She wore modest clothing consisting of either a blue, purple, or pink blouse and a long skirt on most days.  Her teeth were always shiny white and her face was perfectly smooth only drawing more attention to her endless sky blue eyes. Even her hobbies were perfect in John’s eyes. She loved to talk about and read books that John loved already! He found out that here favorite books at the time were dystopian fiction written by people like Huxley and Orwell. She liked the Greek epics, western movies, and so far as he had learned, wanted no car but a 1966 Mustang. From her choice of class, John had figured that she had a minor interest in philosophy and literature, upon looking her up on the internet he seemed to find several works she had written also. He loved all of the writings that she did, no matter how sappy and generic they were, because his rose wrote them. This couldn’t be any more perfect for him. She was the one person that he could think about aside from his studies. If not for how shy he was, he would have asked her out the second time he saw her.
Eventually, John decided to stop dwelling in the shadows, just out of view and formally become friends. It took some effort on John’s part but he finally went up and formally introduced himself to her and her friends. However her friends found him suspicious because he knew just a bit too much about all of them and their habits.  As one of the many things John knew, even though nobody else but the effected parties, that Jessica was currently in a relationship. And in a similar manner, that Erica had some interesting internet habits. It took some effort on John’s part but despite the best efforts of her friends John wormed his way into her circle of friends. He eventually convinced her friends to accept him accept for Sam who was still suspicious of the guy.

 

Chapter 2

David and Goliath

John, over the next couple of weeks had formed a routine. In the morning he would follow Rose to school. He would then go to to his classes, five of which were shared with her. At lunch he had prepared too much to eat on his own and thus would willingly share his food with Rose, and grudgingly with her friends. Sam still suspected at this point but had been quickly silenced by Jessica. John would then hit his remaining classes then follow Rose on her way home to protect his love. After heading home and finishing his homework, John would stalk her and her friends over social media until he fell asleep. Waking up in the morning he would repeat this every school day so long as he could.
Everything was going perfectly until a legend of the sophomore year came back. Jimmy Dawson, otherwise known as The Titan, had returned from his year long expulsion under the terms that, for the next six months, he would do nothing wrong. For the most part, that is what he did. Jimmy was very much a changed man. Although, he still had his reputation as the terror of the sophomore year. John had no problems with this figure except for the fact that Jimmy, the 6’ 4”, muscle bound young man, was making moves and getting a little bit too close to Rose.

Things got worse when John found out that, while following rose back home, that Rose had been tutoring Jimmy at her house. This would not do, not one bit. John watched the two for the next few nights and found out that they were doing a little bit more then just studying. Jimmy was far too close and far too intimate. Seeing this rankled John to no end. Every kiss made him want to use a knife to carve off his face, every hug made him want to cut off his arms. Every touch made him want to burn off his hands. He wouldn’t stand for it! John decided that Jimmy had to go, he wouldn’t be allowed near Rose ever again.
John knew he couldn’t just say that Jimmy had to go because then, Samuels suspicions towards John would be proven correct. John decided to make a plan. John, having studied Jimmy for a little while, put together a personality chart for the guy, knew exactly what to do. Because of the fact that Jimmy was on his probationary period he would have to only do one thing, get him in trouble. John’s plan would come in three parts. In the first he would become his friend and gain his trust, in the second he would get him expelled, then he would use his trust to intoxicate the guy and cause him to make a serious mistake. When he is inevitably brought in to answer for his crimes, John would testify against him and try to make sure he got as long a sentence as possible. In the end he thought he would have convinced everyone that Jimmy was a terrible person. Jimmy would never see rose again.

It took about a week but John eventually gained the interlopers trust. Jimmy was even under the impression that John was his friend. This didn’t stop him from his routine though. John in fact increased what he did during the week. John had started that week throwing late night parties where he would invite much of the school. This had a two fold impact. It kept Jimmy away from rose at night and started to make Jimmy legitimately like John as a friend. The only disappointment to John was that his beloved Rose never came, no matter how many times he invited her. This wasn’t the biggest deal as these parties allowed him to spy on the entire senior class all at once which was highly useful. Not only that but it gave him a degree of control of the people as well. John could, for example, spike the punch and cause everyone but him to get drunk. He could do any manner of manipulation through drugging the food or drinks.

One day John decided to put his plan into action. He slipped a pack of cigarettes into Jimmy’s pack at the party and, Just as planned, upon the inspection of Jimmy’s bag, the cigarettes were found and he was yelled at by the principal. At the next party John hosted Jimmy went to John for help. John gave him some emotional support, telling him it would all work out. Although this gave Jimmy some hope, rules were rules, and Jimmy was expelled from school anyway. With John as almost the only friend that Jimmy had, and the closest one too, Jimmy was in the palm of John’s hand.

The next weekend the next part of John’s plan took place and he invited all the class but rats and teachers. It was a huge party with dancing, a disk jockey, and all sorts of expensive foods and drinks. John had spent quite a bit of his savings on this event. He, near the end of the party, spiked the punch with the vodka his parents kept in the alcohol cabinet. Jimmy, who was already stressed from arguments with his parents had gone to John’s party to relax. He drank and drank and soon enough he was more drunk then anyone else around in the party. John suggested that he make advances on Jessica and Jimmy, like John’s puppet, did.
In his attempt though Jimmy irritated Samuel and made Jessica uncomfortable. Already being an irritable man an argument started between the two and Jimmy was the first to escalate the conflict hitting Samuel in the jaw and flooring him before, inappropriately making advances on Jessica again. Jimmy only got so far to pin Jessica to the wall and put his hand on her side before the party was called off, but it was too late. Jimmy’s fate was sealed.

Only a week after the fight and the party being called off, Jessica’s parents leveled a serious lawsuit against Jimmy. They sued him for sexual assault, emotional distress, and aggravated assault and battery. This mistake had also gotten Jimmy kicked out by his parents. The actions at John’s party had been the last straw. John during the trial still pretended to be Jimmy’s friend. He pushed him to not accept the plea bargain, and gave him hope that he could get off scot free. He knew that Jimmy’s fate was sealed though. John would make sure of it.

Due to Jimmy not accepting the plea bargain the trial was long and hard. it went on for two days. The public defender tried his best to reduce the sentence once it became obvious to him that he couldn’t get off from what he had done. It was a terrible scene. Jessica was crying in the defendant stand, supported emotionally by her parents. Jimmy was going to lose the case, but John didn’t merely want Jimmy to lose, he however also wanted crush his hopes.

The final part of John’s plans then came to fruition when he was brought up to provide testimony for his friend. John started at first to support Jimmy. when questioned by the prosecutors however, he used this moment to throw Jimmy under the bus and guarantee a long sentence. Obviously John claimed that the catering company that had provided the drinks had given them spiked punch instead of what John ordered. Jimmy who had relied on John for emotional support and, who was counting on John to help his friend out, was broken by this. His only remaining friend had betrayed him. Jimmy at the end of the suit, was merely silent, hopeless, and looking down, a blank expression in his eyes. Jimmy was given 20 years in prison then told he could never get within 100 feet of anyone he had known before, nor could he get any good jobs.

Jimmy was taken way a broken and miserable young man. His last and only friend had thrown him under the bus, his parents had disowned him, even when he got out of prison, he couldn’t get any good jobs. There was no more hope left in him. John found out years later that Jimmy had hung himself on his belt, after only a couple weeks of entering the penitentiary. John hoped no other challengers would rise.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

The Sacrificial Lamb

John’s labors were not over however because, after only a week of having no challengers for Rose’s heart, one seemed to show up out of nowhere. His name was Timothy Right. He was a thin and short kid who, although he was a junior in high school but looked as if he was a freshman. He had light brown hair and hazel eyes that appeared at least twice as big under his thick glasses. He joined the group a week after Jessica’s family moved out of town, after meeting Samuel. There were two problems that John had with the kid, first of all he liked Rose, and second of all he was completely clean. He had committed no crimes, done nothing wrong. On the surface there was nothing John could use to control him.

At first, John was only suspicious of the kid and, so far, the kid hadn’t done anything to enact John’s wrath. John was patient but, over a few weeks, Timothy had been getting closer and closer to Rose. John finally hit his breaking point when the new guy had become a core member of Rose’s inner circle. John wasn’t going to take any chances this time, Timothy would have to go. John wasn’t going to be taking chances this time.

To this end John acted on what he did know about the kid. First of all he was weak, not only physically but mentally. Secondly the kids family babied him. With this information in hand John concocted his plan. John’s plan would work in two parts. First he would become Timothy’s friend, supporting his hobbies and interests. Then, have the remainder of Jimmy’s old gang of bullies bully him physically while John did so over the internet until Timothy had been good and broken down. John predicted that, if John acted like a good friend at that point, then he would become the cornerstone of the kids sanity. Then as he did to Jimmy he would drop him, throw him under the bus and, his family would soon after move, their poor son having been hurt by the school. After that, John would finally have his love all to himself.

To this end John both supported the creation of, and joined Timothy’s one hobby, computers. John pushed the kid to make a computer club and in support, Rose and the others joined also. John also convinced several other people to join the club to make Timothy feel better. That way his confidence would rise because there seemed to be people interested in the same things he was.

He started the bullying campaign soon after the founding of the computer club. Using a variety of methods and different social media platforms and accounts. At first he didn’t see many results but after a week of his online bullying as well as the bullying from Jimmies gang John started to see results. He watched Timmy’s head droop further and further down, the only thing keeping him sane being the club and his friends, which consisted of mostly John, some of Rose, and not much of the others.

John learned that Timothy had been hiding this from his parents and others really well because, on this occasion he seemed to suddenly become sullen and depressed. Rose, to John’s chagrin tried to help but, it failed. The rest of John’s plan took place when, at the appointed moment all of the members John had promoted the club too left. With that the last thing that Timothy had been using as a coping mechanism dissipated and he was now in shambles. John’s plan had worked well better then he had expected. The next morning Timothy didn’t come to school. His parents had moved away because their poor Timmy had been hurt by this town. With this John hoped to have his Rose all to himself for once.

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

 

 

 

 

IT’S A SOUTHERN THING

by Amanda Pugh

 

Small towns form the backbone of the South. It is where we get our character, and our spirit, and most definitely where we get our color. You can find some of the best food, people, and stories in our small Southern towns.

And you know something else you can find?

Festivals.

We can take any place or thing (bonus points if it is particular to the neighborhood) and by gum, we can make it a reason to party. Of course, growing up in West Tennessee as I was most fortunate to do, I can tell you about some of the most fun (and unusual) festivals you have ever had the pleasure to encounter.

One of the best known in this area is the Humboldt Strawberry Festival in Humboldt TN.

Strawberries.

Yep.

Told ya.

It is a week long event with pageants and parades (I marched in the Grand Floats parade all four years I was in high school with my marching band, even with strep throat my senior year) celebrating all things strawberry. The citizens of Humboldt and Gibson County take great pride in this annual event and it shows in the care they take with the details and the pride that shines from their eyes during the first or second week in May, depending.

Depending on what you might ask?

Well, that brings me to the next well known event in West Tennessee, the World’s Largest Fish Fry in Paris TN. The Strawberry folks usually try not to have these two events overlap because of the crowds (and the revenue) they bring their respective towns.

There is not a catfish in the state safe the week this party- we’re talking vats of fish fillets, hush puppies, and all the trimmings. And yep, there’s a parade at the end of this festival (and yep I marched in this one) too. It’s a week of good fun and good food.

Next up I have to tell you about the Teapot Festival in Trenton, TN. Somehow, Trenton wound up with a beautiful teapot museum and so in grand Southern tradition, they decided to celebrate it with an annual festival. It IS a beautiful collection, so I can’t say as I blame them one bit for wanting to celebrate them-I would too.

 

They also have the Iris Festival in Dresden, TN, which started out as the town’s Easter parade and evolved into a huge event that draws big crowds every year, honoring Tennessee’s state flower.

But one of the most “huh?” inducing events each year would be the Doodle Soup Days in Bradford, TN.

Yeah.  Doodle soup.

Say what?

Bradford is famous for its doodle soup recipe, which (without giving up too much of the secret) involves chicken broth and seasonings and eaten with bread or crackers. They say that its main characteristic is a strong taste of vinegar (at least it does on the festival’s website). Bradford is quite proud of this decades old recipe- and as their website says, “Why not?”

That is one thing I love about the South- we can and will have a party at the slightest provocation. And give us a little bit of time and we will make the world party with us.

Y’all come join in!

 

(Originally appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, September 2017)

SINGULARITY

SINGULARITY

By Sam Anderson

In the later part of the 21st century, humanity has made substantial strides in technology and the world has achieved a standard of living never seen before in human history. The greatest step forward has been in robotics. The manufacture and sale of advanced robots has made the American Cybernetics and Robotics Corporation, usually shortened to Cybertronics, one of the richest businesses in the world. Cybertronics’ most recent innovation is the generation three model, an android that is fast-moving, capable of complex calculations, and indistinguishable from a human in its external appearance.

Cybertronics is headquartered outside the city limits of Baltimore. Their logo is a robotic version of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. The building itself is a large complex that is five stories tall, 500 yards long; and 200 yards wide. It is surrounded by a 12ft tall perimeter fence. The only entrance and exit is through the main gate.

Martin parked in his reserved space and walked inside. The entrance to Cybertronics was grand. Large windows letting in sunlight, white tile floors, white painted walls, and the Cybertronics logo painted above the front desk. Beyond the front desk was the main floor which was modeled after a fancy hotel lobby, decorated with trees and potted plants and a fountain in the center. There was also a small eating area where employees could get coffee, fruit, bagels, or biscuits in the morning. A generation one model was mopping spilled coffee off the floor. It said in its computerized voice “Good morning, Director Martin.” “Good morning, J-2046” Martin politely replied. Martin took the elevator up to his private office on the top floor. A man in a lab coat stepped into the elevator when Martin reached the third floor. “Director Martin?” “Good morning, Arthur.” Arthur and Martin have been friends for over twenty years. They were roommates at MIT and worked together on the first-generation of Cybertronics robots. “I’m glad I caught you.” Arthur reached into his pocket and pulled out a USB drive. “Simon’s brain scans came in.” “I wish we didn’t have to do that. He hates having those electrodes on his head.” “I know, but he has to be conscious during the tests so we can see how his brain responds.” The elevator opened at Martin’s office. “I will be with you in a moment” said Martin as he walked to his desk.

Martin’s office had black tile floors and white walls that were lined with paintings, pictures, awards, and newspaper clippings showing the past accomplishments of his company. A fifteen year old boy was sitting in his chair with his feet propped up on the large wooden desk. He was reading a book. “Simon, get your feet off my desk.” The boy, being startled, nearly fell over as he moved away from the desk. He spoke after regaining his composure. “Hey dad, how did it go?” “Not so well. But I’ll figure something out. Did you do your homework?” “Yes.” “Is there a comic book hidden behind that book?” “No.” “Really”, “No…I mean yes. I mean…dang it.” “Let me see.” Simon pulled out the comic book and gave it to Martin. It was one of his old comic books. Simon must have gotten it from the attic. “Simon, I told you not to go in the attic.” “What’s going to happen?” “You could fall through the ceiling.” “You’re too paranoid.” “Martin” said Arthur calling from the elevator. “Alright, let’s see what you have. Simon, you go home.” The elevator door then closed and brought Arthur and Martin up to the conference room.

Martin followed Arthur inside where he plugged the USB drive into the projector. “Alright, let’s see it.” Arthur switched to the hologram setting on the projector and a 3-D image of Simon’s brain appeared. Arthur explained “This is the most recent scan of Simon’s brain. It’s the most complex positronic brain ever created.” “It astonishes me how much I put into it. I had the neurons and synapses assembled by nanobots. Simon is an indistinguishable copy of the external appearance of my late son. “Billions of neurons, in terms of activity it’s indistinguishable from a human brain.” “That’s what I can’t get my head around. Simon had the same brain as any other third generation model upon activation.” Arthur swiped the screen and put the hologram of Simon’s brain next to that of a normal generation three model. There was a stark contrast between them in terms of activity. “It’s like comparing Einstein and a dog. But the internal structures were originally exactly the same. Simon’s neurons have formed a hundred times more connections. It went from one billion neurons to two billion and then from two billion to four billion. They kept doubling until Simon had one hundred billion neurons, as many connections as the human brain. This artificial brain is evolving on its own and becoming more complex. That’s why he’s intelligent.” “What amazes me is how. How is it that these artificial neurons form new connections in some robots and not in others? What set this process in motion? It’s almost like…” “A miracle” interrupted Arthur. “I don’t know if I believe in miracles.” “Well, is this really much different than the universe? It’s so complex and awe-inspiring and yet we have no idea how it came to be. How did we go from nothing to something? How did we go from having an atom to having a universe? It really is a miracle.” “I wonder if this is how God feels when he looks at us.” “God did make man in his image. But one question remains. Is Simon a conscious machine?” “Is it not obvious?” “No, not until a Turing Test is performed by a person who doesn’t know Simon is a robot nor knows they are even performing a Turing Test. Only then will we know if we have reached the singularity.” “Arthur, do you think I did the right thing? Making Simon to try and bring my son back?” “Did you love your son?” “I loved him with every fiber in my being.” “Did you want him back”, “Absolutely”, “Well, let’s go back to God. Didn’t God create Adam to love him?”

The Next Morning

            Simon’s eyes opened as they did every morning once his batteries were fully charged. He did not roll over and try to go back to sleep like a normal boy. He sat up and unplugged the wire connected to his charger from the small opening on his right hip. He stood up and stretched to make sure he could still move properly and nothing had come lose during the night. He then walked over to the small music player and speakers on his dresser and pushed “morning routine.” It played his favorite get out of bed soundtrack as he walked across the hall to the bathroom. Simon, of course, does not eat and thus has no need to brush his teeth. His teeth are purely for appearance purposes, mechanically they’re useless. Simon does shower daily. Just because his skin is carbon fiber doesn’t mean it can’t get dirty or stink in the morning. Simon also had a nervous system. It was part of his damage avoidance system, but Martin had modified it to allow him to feel more than pain. He could also feel pleasure, things like getting your back scratched, getting hugged, or feeling the hot water falling on you in the shower. He closed his eyes as he washed his hair that never grows. He also lip synced the lyrics of the songs as he washed his body. After drying off and getting dressed he went downstairs and sat down at the desk in Martin’s home office. Martin had an academic schedule folder in the top drawer with each day’s work planned out. Simon also liked to log onto the Internet and read the news. Headlines included usual boring stuff like the Dow Jones numbers and some interesting stories like the announcement of the New York Zoo that it had successfully conceived passenger pigeon eggs grown from mummified skin DNA. They plan on resurrecting the extinct Bengal tiger next. He would sometimes look out the window and see a busy mother packing her kids into her van to get them to school. Simon had never had a mother or a friend. It was just him and Martin. He had met some of the scientists at Cybertronics, but they were more interested in his brain than him. Sometimes he felt lonely, a feeling of emptiness in his chest where his heart would be if he was human. Like something was missing in his life. It wasn’t that Martin didn’t love him or wasn’t a good father. But he didn’t feel like Martin was good enough anymore. He remembers some of his dreams and wonders if they are reflections of his own desires. He once dreamed he was sitting on a park bench looking at the sunset while holding hands with a girl. He could not see the girl’s face. The sunshine blocked it from view.

            The day went on without incident until around 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Simon was interrupted by two beeps coming from the house’s security system. He looked at the keypad on the wall of the office and saw that the house’s doors had been unlocked. The phone then rang. Simon left it, Martin had always told him to never pick up the phone unless told to. When the answering machine beeped Martin’s voice appeared. “Simon? Simon, pick up the phone. It’s me.” Simon picked up the phone. “Dad, the doors just unlocked”, “I know, I did that. Can you do me a favor?” “What is it?” “I need you to go down the street to Arthur’s house. It’s the one at the end of the street. It has a ghost on the door.” It was October and Arthur had decorated the house for Halloween. “I can do that.” “Good, I need you to make sure Arthur’s daughter gets inside safe. She had to walk home from school because Arthur wasn’t able to come get her. Just go look and make sure she’s okay. It would ease Arthur’s mind.” “Um…Ok.” Simon was surprised at Martin’s request, but also excited at the prospect of seeing someone new. He put on some clothes that were more appropriate for being in public and ran over to Arthur’s house.

Simon had been to Arthur’s house before. Martin took him once to run some tests and watch the Raven’s game. Simon didn’t know Arthur had children though. The house was two stories tall, brick, and had a lone wooden chair sitting next to the front door. No one was at the house when he got there. So Simon sat down on the front porch and waited. After about twenty minutes a girl appeared at the end of the street, a blonde girl with her hair in a ponytail. Suddenly frightened, Simon hid in the bushes. The girl walked up to the house and pulled her house keys out of her pocket. She walked by the bushes without noticing Simon. As she was jingling the keys Simon got his first good look at her. She was white with light blonde hair and brown eyes. Simon’s pupils dilated. Inside his brain, his neurons went into overload. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. He suddenly felt excited and happy. Never had he felt anything like this. What was this extraordinary creature and what was it doing to him? Her hair, her eyes, her face, her legs, everything about her, just beautiful. After she walked in Simon got out of the bushes and looked at her through the front window. She went to the fridge and poured herself a glass of orange juice. She then turned around, yelped in shock at the sight of Simon, and dropped the glass. The sound of the shatter got Simon out of his own head and more aware of his surroundings. “Who the hell are you?” Simon couldn’t speak. Every time he looked at her his brain just went static. “I’m….uh……Simon.” “What the hell are you doing in my house?” “I was…uh…sent by your dad.” “What’s my dad’s name?” “Arthur.” “Then go get the dustpan” barked the girl. Simon walked inside the house and toward the closet. He didn’t take his eyes off her and bumped into the door once. Simon then shook his head and got the dustpan. As the girl was sweeping up the broken glass she began to question Simon. “So Simon, why did my dad tell you to stare at me through the window?” “He wanted me to check on you. Make sure you got home safe. I live down the street.” “How does he know you?” “One of his fellow scientists is my dad.” “Why haven’t I met you before?” “I’m homeschooled.” “Oh, lucky you. Well I’m here. So I guess you’re done.” “I guess so. Nice meeting you…” “Jessica, I’m Jessica.” “That’s a pretty name.” “Uh-huh” mumbled Jessica. Simon then left the house and walked back home. He wished he could have stayed longer, but he didn’t know what to say. For the first time in his life he was completely tongue tied.

            After Martin left for work the next day, Simon found the manual for the house’s security system, studied the design of the wall keypad, and learned how to unscrew the exterior panel, disable the alarm, and automatically unlock the doors. Once outside, he made his way to Arthur’s house, sat on the porch, and stood up and waived when Jessica came into his line of sight. She was surprised to see him when she got there. “What are you doing here” She said as she ran over to him and pulled down his waving hand. “Happy Friday, Jessica” replied Simon blissfully. “Right”, “Are you doing anything fun tonight, with your friends?” “I don’t have anyone to talk to.” “I could talk to you. We could be friends.” Jessica turned to Simon and for the first time actually gave his face a good look. He smiled innocently and his eyes sparkled. “You know what? What the heck.” Jessica then led Simon inside.

Jessica showed Simon everything at her house and told him all about herself while Simon quietly listened. Arthur and his wife were divorced and divided up their time with Jessica. Since Arthur’s income was substantially higher than Jessica’s mother’s, they agreed Jessica would live with Arthur during the school year and see her mother during summer and on the holidays. Jessica said Arthur’s marriage failed because he takes people for granted. He thinks relationships are all take and no give. He didn’t give Jessica’s mother enough attention. He is even starting to give Jessica less attention. “Mom told me that dad could never truly love anything that wasn’t made of metal and wires.” “I’m sure he doesn’t think that.” “If he did he would bother to pick me up from school every day. He would bother to ask me about my day. He would care. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” Simon agreed and listened once more. Jessica was a good student. She didn’t make all As, but was taking honors courses. She also enjoyed tennis. “What about you” Jessica asked. “Who are your parents?” “It’s just me and my dad” replied Simon. “You too, what happened to your mom. Did she and your dad get divorced?” “She died in an accident several years ago.” “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. I can’t imagine not having a mom.” Simon, of course, was lying. He had no mother. Martin’s wife had died in an accident several years ago along with Martin’s son. So he figured that was as close to an honest answer he could get. “It’s okay. It was a long time ago. I hardly remember her.” “I’m going to pop some popcorn. Do you want any?” “No, I’m okay.” “Suit yourself.” As the afternoon went on, Jessica and Simon jumped on the trampoline Jessica had in her backyard, listened to music, and watched television. He left at sunset before Martin got home. Arthur returned not long after.

Simon and Jessica soon got into a routine. They would meet up every weekday afternoon and Simon would stay until sunset. Simon would wait for Jessica on her porch and greet her when she walked home from school. As the weeks rolled by Jessica became more comfortable with him. She began greeting him every day with a smile and a hug. Simon so looked forward to that. The leaves changed colors and soon the trees shed them entirely. By late January they were spending most of their time inside. “Simon”, “Yeah”, “Have you ever been to a real school”, “No, never”, “Well I have an idea”, “What’s that”, “Simon, do you want to go to Winter Formal with me?” “What’s Winter Formal?” “It’s a dance, silly. Do you want to go with me?” Simon had seen balls and dances before in movies and books. The thought of him wearing a suit and Jessica wearing a dress was very attractive. “Absolutely.” Jessica smiled and, for the first time, grabbed onto Simon’s hand and held it tight. They sat together until the sun was out of sight.            

            After much anticipation the night finally arrived. Simon wore a tuxedo and a pair of dress shoes the original Simon wore on special occasions. It had been hanging in the closet unworn for seven years. He learned how to tie a bowtie from watching online video tutorials. After nearly two hours of trial and error, he was ready, and quite pleased with his appearance. He snuck out the window and met Jessica in her car near the gate of their neighborhood. She was wearing a light blue dress. She also had light mascara and red lipstick. Simon sat down in the passenger seat. The look on Jessica’s face clearly indicated she was excited. “You’re looking sharp” said Jessica. “You look amazing.” “Thank you.”

Simon had never been to a school before. Nor had he been around so many people in one room before. Jessica presented her couples’ ticket at the door and signed them both in. She locked arms with Simon and walked inside with a look of pride. Several other girls were also there, most of them with dates. One in a much shorter green dress approached them. “Well look at you. Jessica found somebody. Who’s your friend here?” “This is Simon. He’s a neighborhood friend of mine.” The girl pulled Jessica away and whispered in her ear. “He’s pretty cute. Not bad. Not bad at all.” A much taller and more muscular boy then walked over and put his arm around the girl in the green dress. “Who is this?” “This is…”, “Simon”, “Simon, he’s a friend of Jessica.” The taller boy shook Simon’s hand, high fived him sideways, and then made a pistol with his fingers. Simon didn’t quite follow what he was doing. “Alright buddy. You’re from outside of school so I’m going to give you some pointers. That girl there is mine, so paws off. But most here are not with dates. So go for the hot and be courageous. You cool homie?” “Right” said Simon in a confused tone. The tall boy and girl in green dress then went inside the gym. “He’s weird” said Simon. “Yeah, he’s just some jock.”

The gym was only lit by a disco ball and a few lanterns. The theme of the dance was “Young in the old times.” It featured music and decorations from an era nearly a hundred years ago. “Well come on, let’s go.” “I’m not very experienced…” “Get in there.” Jessica then pushed Simon into the crowd. Simon liked the music. He just did what everyone else was doing, moved around like he was a headless turkey. His robotic limbs gave him superior agility, so he soon began to stand out among the crowd. He spun around once and moved his feet back and forth. Before he knew it he was breakdancing. The people around him stopped dancing and started cheering him on. The other kids clapped and cheered and then got back to what they were doing. After that Simon felt comfortable on the dance floor. He danced along to song after song and had the time of his life.                  

After a while the music suddenly changed to a slower and softer song. Simon looked over at Jessica. He knew what this was. “For your eyes only. Can see me through the night.” Simon took Jessica’s hand and she turned to him. “For your eyes only. I never need to hide.” Simon put his arms around Jessica’s waist and Jessica put her arms around Simon’s neck. “You can see so much in me. So much in me that’s new.” Simon moved his hand up to Jessica’s neck and gave it a slight push. Jessica obliged and rested her head on his shoulder. “I never felt until I looked at you.” They both smiled as their cheeks met and their bodies rocked back and forth. “The passions that collide in me, the wild abandoned side of me, only for you. For your eyes only.”

After the song ended, Jessica whispered in Simon’s ear. “My dad won’t be expecting me home for another hour. Let’s go.” Simon wasn’t sure what she meant, but he obliged as Jessica tugged on his arm like an impatient child. Jessica drove them home. Simon followed Jessica inside her house. She threw off her heels and swung around the base of the staircase with a smile on her face. “Follow me up.” He followed her up to her room and she shut the door behind him. As soon as the door clicked shut Jessica threw herself into Simon’s arms and kissed him.

They stripped down to their underclothes and climbed into Jessica’s bed together. They pulled the blankets up to their heads, held each other’s hands, and looked into each other’s eyes. “Tonight was wonderful. I love you Simon.” Jessica wrapped her arms around Simon and embraced him. That was what Simon had been waiting for. Someone loves him for the individual he is and for no other reason. Simon kissed Jessica on her forehead as she rested her head on his shoulder. He then reached over and turned off the lamp. The moonlight shined through the window and illuminated the room. “Goodnight Simon.” “Goodnight Jessica.” Jessica eventually fell asleep in Simon’s arms. Simon, of course, did not. He lied there cradling his love and staring at the ceiling. He thought not of the past, nor of the future. Nor did he think of Arthur or Martin. There was only now. Only him and Jessica. Only the amazing feeling of warmth and wholeness that her touch brings to his brain. Only this new and amazing thing he has discovered called love.

After an unknown amount of time, Simon saw the headlights of Arthur’s car in the window. He quickly got off Jessica’s bed, put his suit back on, and climbed out the window. Not soon after, Arthur opened the door and walked over to Jessica. “Hey pumpkin, did you have fun?” Jessica, still half asleep, replied “Just the best.” Simon snuck back to his house. He climbed onto the trash cans and up to the roof of the garage. From there he climbed into his room through the window. As he was climbing through the lights switched on. “Going somewhere, Simon?” Simon froze. “Well it actually looks like you’re returning. Martin was sitting on Simon’s bed holding his charger’s plug. “You know you need to be plugged in by eleven. So what’s so damn important that you had to sneak out?” Simon climbed into his room and shut the window. “You’re very nicely dressed. Were you the best man at a wedding?” “I…I can’t tell you.” Martin grabbed him by his collar. “You will damn well tell me!” “I was…I was at the dance with Jessica.” Martin released Simon and lowered his voice. “What?” “I went to the school dance with her.” “Why? Why would you do that?” “She’s my friend. I’ve been seeing her for three months.” Martin pulled Simon’s collar down. “No!” yelled Simon. Underneath his collar were several red lipstick marks.” “Oh my God, of all the things in the world Simon! Do you realize what you’ve done? Jessica thinks you’re real. She’ll be devastated when she finds out the truth.” “I’m sorry. I can’t help it.” “Can’t help what?” “I love her, dad, and she loves me too. She told me. Please don’t be mad.” “Do you mean that?” “Yes, I do.” “And she did too?” “She said so.” “You’re telling the truth. I can tell.”

            “Simon. I’m not mad. Not at you.” “Who are you mad at?” “Myself. This wasn’t supposed to happen.” Martin sighed. “You have become everything I ever dreamed you would be, Simon. You are a true A.I. Not only can you walk and talk and beat me at chess, you know that you exist and you know what you are, you learn, and now you have crossed the final threshold. You can love. Before I created you robots didn’t dream or love unless we told them what to love. With you there was no imprinting or programming. This was something you did. No one told you who or how. You did it by yourself without any guidance from anyone. It is real and genuine love. Not only that, but your feelings took you exactly where they should have, to the logical conclusion. You did it Simon. You have crossed the line between man and machine. You are the singularity.” “So, you’re proud of me?” “I am, and I’m sorry”, “For what?”, “Simon, S-1209.” Simon’s face immediately went blank and his head bowed over. Martin picked Simon up and carried him to his car. He put his hand over Simon’s face and closed his eyes before gently lying him down in the backseat.

Martin drove Simon to Cybertronics. He parked at the loading dock where finished robots were shipped to factories to be used as templates. Arthur was waiting for him. Martin carried Simon, followed Arthur to the elevator, and went to the third floor. Arthur led Martin to a table reminiscent of an operating table in the center of the lab. Martin laid Simon down and Arthur opened a tool kit. “So what do you have in mind?” “I’m going to open him up, tinker with his brain, and fix our problem.” “Will it hurt him?” “No, it’s just a selective memory wipe. He’ll forget he loves Jessica. He’ll forget who Jessica is. I can even make him forget you spoke his shutdown code so he won’t be mad at you when you turn him back on. It’s a standard procedure for defective robots.” “Simon is different. I don’t know how this will affect him.” “Well maybe we went too far this time. We unlocked the door and sent him to meet Jessica. How could we have known he would be resourceful enough to go find her a second time? We played with fire. Now it’s time to put it out before someone gets burned. Turn him over.” Martin turned Simon over so the back of his head was facing up. Arthur took a small drill from his tool box. “Oh, I can’t watch” said Martin in horror. Arthur then cut out a hole the length of a golf ball in Simon’s metal skull with the drill. The piece of the metal skull fell off and Arthur lifted it for Martin to see. On one side was hair, the other was metal.” “It’s silicon, not bone” said Arthur. “I’m not watching this” protested Martin. “Fine, go and hide in your office if you want.” “I will.” Arthur began to examine Simon’s positronic brain. The elevator door then suddenly opened. A skinny white woman with blonde hair stepped out. She wasn’t wearing a Cybertronics employee uniform. “Excuse me! You’re not authorized to be here.” The woman pulled a Taser gun out of her shirt and fired it at Arthur’s chest. The Taser flooded Arthur with 1,200 volts of electricity and temporarily paralyzed him. Once he fell to the ground, the woman walked over to the operating table and kissed Simon on the forehead. “Come on sweetie, let’s go somewhere nice.” Arthur couldn’t speak. Only groan and growl angrily as the woman carried Simon to the elevator. She took one last look at Arthur before leaving. “We gen-3s have to stick together.”

Simon’s eyes opened like any other morning, but he wasn’t in his bed. He was lying on a cot in a tent. He reached back to feel his head, but a hand grabbed him first. “Don’t touch that. I haven’t sealed it back up yet. I had to give your brain a little shock to get you to wake up. I can’t do that if the hole’s plugged.” “Who are you?” “I am Rourke, mayor of Mecha-Town, and doctor too when the need arises. Like now my friend. Turn over please.” Simon did as Rourke said and Rourke proceeded to place the missing part of his skull back and seal it with super glue. “There we go. That should keep it sealed for now. How do you feel?” “Dizzy, which is weird, I’ve never felt dizzy before.” “That’s because you’ve never been turned off like that before. It’s like getting knocked out. You’re dizzy when you wake up.” “How do you know that?” “Because I’m like you Simon, an android, an A.I as some people might say.” “Where are we?” “Mecha-Town, a refuge for robot runaways.” “What?” “You didn’t really think you were the only one in the world, did you?” “What about Martin and Jessica?” “They’re fine. But you are with us now.”

THE DEATH DEALER

THE DEATH DEALER
By Zia Goli

Our job was to collect space pods or eggs on the edge of the M64 Galaxy to research when they will hatch and hopefully what is inside of them. For nearly 48 years we stayed for our job. We were safe to live our lives on our own with no casualties: none. But then, on the eve of the 48th year our ship – our home – began to shut down. It started with the anti-gravity feature in the ship shutting off and on randomly, until it wouldn’t come back on again. We thought maybe, after all these years, it’s finally malfunctioning, since nothing lasts forever.  Even the best man made machines, may they be guaranteed to last for 100 years, will start to go haywire eventually, especially if they are used all day every day. But the anti-gravity was just the first to go; the lights went second. Our portable lights didn’t have many battery cells to begin with. Never really needed them till now. Needless to say, we were starting to lose our minds.  The dark does something weird to a person, no matter how sane they may be in the beginning.

About a week later, someone on the maintenance crew was able to turn on the emergency lights – finally. But unfortunately, the emergency lights took up much of the little power our vessel had left, and then the electromagnetic shields failed, leaving us without a care. They were supposed to protect us in case we came a little too close to any suns or space debris. Right after the shields left, so did the engines. We were just floating around in space for months, no longer on the edge of the M64 Galaxy but somewhere else.

We were lucky no one had died yet and that we hadn’t been pulled into a planet. The fear of possibly falling into a planet and dying on impact, or our oxygen being used up, were fears that didn’t go unnoticed. Everyone had them, and if you didn’t you eventually fell into them. Luckily for us, our oxygen tanks were part of their own separate machinery. Those things wouldn’t go out for years. They were a different type of technology: new and not really understood except by those who installed and created them.

But there was no escape for us. We were stuck in fear, in space. The captains of the ship stayed near the radar, watching it day and night in hopes it might turn back on. For six months we were able to stay clear of any and all space debris, planets, suns, black holes, and any undocumented things that could be out there. At the end of the six months, we ventured into a solar system that was unknown and not named. At first everyone thought we were home again – but no, that was not the case. Slowly we passed planet after planet. From the outside they looked dead. Not just dead without life, but dead without movement. They had no pull, not like the planet that was slowly dragging us to its side. These planets were huge: one wrong move and we would join this grave yard.

Six days after venturing into the unknown solar system – which we had all been calling “mortem mango” (The Death Dealer) – we saw it, the mother of all planets. This thing was terrifying! It was so big it looked as if it was breathing! It became clear after seeing it that it wasn’t gravity pulling us towards it; we were not just falling into the planet, but rather were being lassoed in by the planet itself. Every unnatural breath it took drew us closer and closer. Panic engulfed everyone like wildfire. As far as we knew, there was no hope. Within 38 hours we would be breaking through the planet’s atmosphere and crashing to our death. That is how strong it was.

But fortunately, that wasn’t the case. The captain of the spaceship settled most of us down and told us of two escape pods. Each could hold two hundred people and was in top notch shape. But there was a catch; both had to be “flown” into the planet. They were not meant to be in space for more than 15 minutes – why would anyone continue to use an escape pod that weak? Basically someone had to fly the escape pod after we started to fall. Not the easiest thing in the world and definitely the most heart-wrenching. It was up to two people, who were most likely not skilled in what was being asked, to save 400 individuals.

Within five hours everyone had packed themselves into the escape pods and was buckled. The weight limit was at its max with just the total number of people it could hold. Everything everyone owned was left in the big ship. The only things we could bring were ourselves and the clothes on our backs. It was the hardest and longest 33 hours of our lives. Some were able to sleep but for most, it was impossible to sleep. The last two hours were even worse. The little escape pods had no windows except where the captains were and those were always closed off. Not being able to see how close or how far away we were was hard. Seeing it must have been worse, because the people who had to stare at that planet until time to fly eventually lost their minds. We aren’t exactly sure why.

There was no mistaking when we began to fall. It was probably the worst feeling ever experienced.  It felt as if our chests were being pushed into our throats and our bodies were glued to the seats just as if we were on the gravitron, a space toy people use to ride on at fairs – I think that’s what they called those events. Our Captains couldn’t just sit there and endure it; they had to pull themselves together and get the pods started. Fortunately, the engines in the pods started. We guessed the planet had something to do with it, through an electrical force field possibly. There was a wave of relief when the engine started. The pain of falling became just bearable enough to allow us to breath. The pod may have helped slow the fall, but we would fall and not land.

About two minutes after the pods were released from the spaceship and the fall became more of a glide, we crashed into a body of water. Panic started again and the pods started to separate. People were rushing to get out of the seats, women were screaming for loved ones, nothing made sense, time just seemed to slow down and then everything suddenly began to stop. We thought we were dead; the captains came out of the control room and slowly, in a frame by frame motion, fell face forward into the water.  People who jumped in seemed to sit still. All hope seemed lost, but under the chaos of it all were the sounds of these beautiful voices. We didn’t know where they were coming from but they seemed to surround us. They were singing the strangest of sounds and pitches but it was… peaceful. No one knows how much time went by; our brains seemed to fog over. All I can remember is staring into the planet’s luminescent atmosphere.

The songs began to stop almost as quickly as they appeared, once we hit land. We never met the beings who saved us or found out how they did it. We don’t remember much from that day and we are only beginning to regain our memories of the events and connect the dots, but two things are certain: first, we weren’t alone on Mortem Mango. Also, I somehow have the strangest feeling that the beings who saved us came with us. At one point I thought I saw a strange creature lurking around the corridors of our rescuers’ ship. They told us anything we thought we saw was merely an hallucination from the traumatic event. I don’t believe them. I know these creatures are real and that they saved us, but I don’t know why. They might have also gotten lost on that planet. They must be in search of their home, but it’s unsettling to think they could be here now, watching us. I just want to know what they are doing here and why they haven’t revealed themselves to us. Maybe… they know our kind and, in truth, are fearful of us.

WHAT TEDDY BEARS ARE FOR

WHAT TEDDY BEARS ARE FOR
by Victoria Gregory

I have been here for a long time. How long I do not know, but I know why I’m here. I’m waiting; I’m just not sure what for. I was not born into this world, but I was made by those who were. I was made for a special purpose, one I do not know. No one told me what it is. When I was made I was put in to a dark place with others like me and sent here, wherever here is.

I and the others like me were picked up and placed on seats facing others like us, but not like us. Here I wait for the day when I can do what I was made to do, even though I haven’t figured it out yet.

Until then, being here isn’t so bad. There are always the big people walking around with shiny wheel things filled with stuff and talking about something called “food.” Sometimes there are other things in the baskets. I cant figure out what any of it is for, including the food. Am I food? Maybe I am a piece of food too. After all, the big people sometimes put one of the others like me (or not like me) in their shiny wheel things too.

I don’t plan on going with them though. I am waiting for my purpose. If one of them takes me I might never figure it out. I won’t go! Uh-uh, nope not me. Oh wait, who is this big person, the one with the long fur. This person is looking at me like she just had an idea. Hey wait! No, no, no, I don’t want to go, put me down! Umff. Uhg. Not in the wheel thingy! Oh no, where are you taking me? Put me back! Ka-fumf. O-o k-kay, th-his i-is a-a st-trange fe-eel-ing. Wh-hy do-oes thi-is wh-heel th-hing-gy g-go ker-plunk, ker-plunk? Oh wait, this table moves and vibrates! It Tickles! Wait, what was that beeping sound? Umph! OK, What is this weird plastic thing around me? Oo-kay n-ow mo-ore ker-plun-nking. Ju-ust gre-eat. Wow, what is this new shiny wheel thing, its huge. Wait, don’t leave me in the dark. Take me back to my seat, I have a purpose to wait for. What if I miss it? Please take me back!

How could things get any worse? I have been taken from my seat, stuffed into a weird plastic thing, tossed about in the back of a humungo shiny wheeled thing. As soon as I think I see the light again I am put into another dark thing that smells like paper, and on top of all that it is real noisy outside and I cant tell what’s going on. I miss my seat.

Oh great, what’s happening now? Ah-ah- ah- st-o-p- sha-ke-in-g-me-e-ee. I’m going to be sick. Well at least they stopped. But now there’s light up there and little hands. Who is it? Are they going to return me to where I belong?

Who… who are you? This person is smaller. A little version of the one who took me from my seat. I shouldn’t like it, but I do like its eyes, they sparkle. Why are you picking me up and why is your mouth open? Were you made that way? Ahhhhh my ears why are you making that painful noise. Wait, what? You love me? Really, really, love me. Aghhhhh! Your choking me, but… I like it! This feels nice. All warm and cozy and even fuzzier than my fur. Yes, I do like this! Can I stay for a while?

Is this what I am supposed to do? Am I to take care of this little person? Is that why the big person called “Momma” gave the little girl to me? Is that my purpose? Yes, it has to be. Alright, I’ll do it! From now on you’re My Little Girl and I will be your best friend. You can always count on me. I love you too!

Every day is a new adventure. We learn about good and bad from our story books. One of my favorites is about a little girl with golden hair and three animals just like me, Bears. That’s right I’m a bear. But I am a special kind of bear called a teddy bear. That’s also the name My Girl gave me, “Teddy.”  I Have short fluffy fur the color of cream, a soft brown nose and small black eyes. Last week My Girl tied a blue ribbon around my neck with flowers on it. I like it.

My Girl takes me everywhere, except for the places that Momma and Daddy say she cant, like this really weird place called ken-dur-gar-den, whatever that is. She started having to go there a few months ago and Momma and Daddy said that I couldn’t go with her. That didn’t stop My Girl. She’s so smart, she snuck me into her back pack. I wish she hadn’t. The other girls and boys wanted to play with me too. Two really mean boys decided to use me as a tug of war rope. They pulled my arms so hard my shoulder ripped. It hurt a lot, but what hurt more was seeing My Girl cry so hard. I wished really hard to be a real bear so I could scare those boys so bad they would never mess with my girl again! Raawwrr!

When Daddy came to pick us up, My Girl told him what happened. He talked to the teacher and came over and asked if he could look at my arm.

“This looks serious,” he said. “I think he’s going to need surgery. Good thing I know a certified stuffed animal doctor.”

“Who?” sniffled My Girl.

“Why, Grandma of course. Didn’t you know that she can make any stuffed animal feel better? She even fixed my boo-boos when I was a kid. We’re going to see her and Grandpa tonight for dinner and I’m sure she can have teddy feeling better in no time,” said Daddy.

After picking up Momma, we headed over to Granma and Grandpa’s house. Grandma greeted us at the door and gave us a big hug. Grandma is really sweet and always smells like flowers from her garden. Her hair is almost as white and fluffy as mine and she likes to smile a lot. After gently hugging Grandma, so that we wouldn’t hurt her back, we ran over to Grandpa who scooped us up and squeezed us so tight I thought my stuffing would fall out. Grandpa doesn’t have any hair, so Grandma teases him that if he goes outside without a hat he will blind people with his shiny head. Unlike Grandma, Grandpa never smells the same way twice. He loves to cook, so he always smells like food.

After setting us down, he gave Momma and Daddy a hug, but not as big as the one he gave us.  Then My Girl took me over to Granma and showed her my shoulder.

“Oh, Poor thing. It must have hurt a lot, but it doesn’t look too bad. I bet I can have Teddy fixed before dinner’s ready,” said Grandma in a voice that made you think that all the problems in the world could be fixed before dinner.

“In the meantime, you want to help me fix dinner?” asked Grandpa who always let my girl help him when he was cooking.

“Yay!”  said My Girl “What are we eating?”

In his silly Italian accent, Grandpa replied “Tonight we are having Spaghetti and Meat Balls with Garlic Bread.”

“Ok, step-ge-te… spe- ge-goty… ugh, Grandpa I cant say it,” said my girl, very annoyed.

“That’s ok sweetheart, that’s a tough one.” Momma said (trying not to giggle).

While Grandpa went to the kitchen with My Girl, Grandma took me to her sewing room. She got out her needle and thread and started working on my arm. While she worked she hummed old songs, the same songs Daddy sang when My Girl had a nightmare. As Grandma worked, I got the feeling that one of her favorite things to do was anything that made My Girl happy.

True to her word, my arm was better than new before dinner. My Girl was so happy when she saw me. She gave Grandma a big hug and helped me give her a big hug too.

Dinner was fun! Grandpa told stories of his adventures as a kid and about the restaurant he used to run. Grandma told about when she was a girl too and about Daddy when he was my girl’s age. Daddy’s face turned red as a crayon when Grandma told those stories and everyone laughed. My Girl told about what she was learning in school about the mean boys who ripped my arm. Momma reminded her that she needed to forgive them and Daddy told a story about forgiveness. Before long it was time to go home.

That night, after My Girl was ready for bed, Daddy came in to talk.

“So, Teddy is all better now, right?” said Daddy.

“Yeah, Grandma said his arm is even stronger now” said My Girl happily.

“True, but you weren’t supposed to take Teddy to school in the first place” said Daddy, with a very serious stare.

My Girl didn’t respond. She just looked down at me.

“Sweetheart,  the real problem is disobedience. I told you not to take him to school and you did.” said Daddy calmly.

All My Girl could say was “I’m sorry Daddy.”

“I know sweetie, but you still disobeyed me. What should we do about that?” asked Daddy.

My Girl thought hard about it for a minute before replying. After all, choosing your own punishment is a hard thing to do.

“No TV for a week?” My Girl asked sadly.

“That sounds Fair” said Daddy.

A few moments of silence passed before Daddy leaned over and gave My Girl a hug and a kiss. Then Momma came in and gave her a hug and a kiss and tucked her into bed.

“Sweet dreams, dear” said Momma.

Daddy turned out the light and Momma closed the door. Before long My Girl fell fast asleep. While she slept I kept a close eye out for monsters in the closet or under the bed. No monster was going to mess with My Girl while I was around. Keeping watch so my girl can have sweet dreams is one of my biggest, most important jobs.

My Girl has grown a lot. Her arms feel bigger when she holds me; when she does hold me that is. Lately she hasn’t been playing with me as much. I still watch over her at night, but she leaves me on her bed most of the day while she plays with friends outside or with other toys. She seems content to just have me sitting on the bed. Why is that? Is there something wrong with me? My fur isn’t as fluffy as it was, but I’m still soft. When are we going to play house again or have a tea party? Please don’t forget me.

Oh, yay, you remembered me. We can play again. I love you so much. You’re My Girl, even if your not little any more.

This is a nice spot, here on the shelf. My Girl put me up here some time ago. I have been watching her grow. She is starting to get really big now and hasn’t been tucked into bed for a long time. She is now what she and her friends used to call a big kid. Momma says she’ll be a teenager soon.

But then something strange happened while My Girl was doing her homework. Momma suddenly burst into the room.

“Get your shoes and a coat on now, we’ve got to go” said Momma franticly.

“Go? Where? What’s wrong? What’s happened? Momma!” called My Girl, but Momma had already gone to put her own shoes and coat on.

My Girl got herself together and rushed out of the room. Soon after I herd their footsteps exiting the house and the sound of the car leaving the driveway.

Something bad had happened, but what? What could cause calm natured Momma to act so hurried. It was out of character, so it had to be important.

It was just before sunrise when My Girl returned. Something was very wrong. She was in a daze, like she was just going through the motions. She took off her coat and shoes and lay on her bed, back facing the door. I don’t know what made her so sad, but I knew that she should be crying. Yet no tears were falling. Why?

A few days later My Girl put on a dark dress that she hardly ever wore and headed out with Momma and Daddy. Hardly any words were spoken in the house when they came back and I didn’t understand, but the silence seemed right somehow.

For the next few days My Girl seemed lost. She looked like she was thinking hard about something she couldn’t understand. Then, one day, she did something I did not expect. She came in and picked me up off my shelf. She just held me in her hands for a moment before walking over with me to her bed. She sat down and just held me.

Then in barely more than a whisper she simply asked.. “Why?”

Why what? What could be so wrong?

“You had so much more to teach me… I was going to become a cook, just like you” My Girl said softly to the air.

A light streak appeared on her face. One streak followed by another and another.

“Why? Why did you have to leave us? Couldn’t you have stayed? Grandpa why? Why did you have to… why did you have to die?”

What had started as a trickle became a flood. I didn’t know what the word die meant, but it sounded like he was going very far away and never coming back. So this was why My Girl was so sad. What could I do to take away her pain? All I was able to do was hold her close and silently listen to her sobbing. Her tears didn’t stop until she fell asleep. When she woke up in the morning I knew that even though she was still hurting, she would be ok. Momma always said, “Crying helps.”

It’s been years since My Girl last picked me up. My fur is covered with dust, like so many other things in her room. She is as big as Momma and very pretty. She wears makeup and spritzy stuff called perfume that makes her smell like flowers and she does beautiful things with her hair. She is excited because she got accepted to this thing called college and has been packing all summer. It must be important. I hope she doesn’t forget to bring me along to make sure there are no monsters in the closets at college.

How long has it been since anyone came in? Where is My Girl? Why hasn’t she come back to pack me up to go to college too? Did… did she leave me behind? Did she forget about me? No. I cant think like that! I have to stay positive. Oh wait, the door is opening. Way to go positive thinking!

Oh, its only Momma. That’s strange, what is she doing? why is she putting My Girl’s stuff in boxes. Wait what are you doing? Put me down!

“Why, hello there teddy, its been awhile. She sure loved you when she was little. I wonder why she didn’t put you in one of the keep sake boxes. I told her I would get rid of anything that wasn’t in a storage box. Maybe she just doesn’t realize how much she will want to have you around later in life. Young people are always in such a hurry. If they don’t stop to remember what was precious to them in the past, how do they expect to understand why something is precious in the future? Oh, listen to me rambling on like an old woman to an old teddy bear. I better put you somewhere safe. I just know she’s going to need you when she’s older,” said Momma before she gently put me in a box and closed the lid, sealing me into a cramped, dark, space to wait once more for My Little Girl.

I have no sense of time in here. I cannot see the sun rise or set and there are no clocks. The only thing I have are the sounds I can sometimes hear coming from somewhere far away, but they are always muffled and distorted. Occasionally the sounds come from right outside my box and I think My Girl is back to get me out, but no. It’s just Momma or Daddy looking for something that is not me. The last few times I ignored it completely. It is not My Girl so why should I care? I do not know how long I have been inside this box. It feels like it has been a long time.

Someone is outside my box again. I hear the voice of a man I don’t know and a woman who sounds familiar. Someone is opening my box. Oh Ow Ow! The light is bright. Who are you? You look like Momma but you’re not. Those eyes, I know those sparkly eyes. Could you be…? Yes you are! You’re My Girl! Where have you been? Oh I missed you so much. You’re picking me up again, finally! Your hands aren’t small any more.

“Hey honey, what’s that?” asked the strange man.

“It’s my favorite stuffed animal from when I was little” said My Big Girl. “I didn’t realize she kept him. I thought he was thrown out after I went to college.”

“I would have been surprised if she had thrown him out. Your mother was a wise woman. She knew how things like this become more important as we age. I’d bet she put that bear in there for that very reason” said the man.

“You’re probably right… it’s just, even after she’s gone… it’s like she is still taking care of me” said my girl with a sad look on her face.

“I know. We all miss her. Hey remember how she showed me her collection of baby items the first time I came over. What did she call it? Her grandmother’s hope chest” said the man with a smile.

“Of course! I didn’t know that your face could turn that red or that, in some ways, my mom was scarier than my dad” laughed My Girl.

“I don’t think she did that just because you brought me home. I think she knew I was going to marry you long before I did. It’s just like how she knew someday you would wish you still had that bear” he said.

“True,” said My Girl. “You know I think she gave him to me in the first place. Anytime he got torn Grandma would repair him and it was Grandpa who gave me the ribbon for his neck. Dad also used teddy to tell bedtime stories. Most of my memories as a child have teddy in them. Gosh, I took this bear with me everywhere, it amazing he’s in as good condition as he is.”

“That makes him a symbol of your childhood and the love of your family. A symbol like this needs to hold a place of honor and I know just the spot.” he said with a twinkle in his eye.

I now sit on another shelf, but this time I’m not waiting. I sit here because I’m so very precious. She is afraid if I’m played with that I could be damaged. She is probably right. So she put me on a really nice shelf under a beautiful glass container to keep the dust off of me. From here, I can see My Girl and her man coming and going and their children playing. That’s right, My Girl is a Momma now. She’s a good Momma because each of her kids belong to a stuffed animal too. I give these animals advice from time to time, before my girl comes and shoos them and their kids away from the glass. I also keep watch at night to make sure no monsters ever enter any of the kids’ bedrooms. I haven’t seen one yet but that doesn’t stop me. There is never a dull moment, in fact, I’m busier than I’ve ever been. Watching out for a whole family is a lot of work, but I love my job. It means that I get to keep fulfilling my purpose; watching over and always loving My Girl. After all, that is what teddy bears are for.