Tag Archives: short story

Another Page from the Forsaken Disks

5 Nov

            Somewhere in the forgotten folds of my brain, this story has been tickling me for years. About 15 years ago, a dear friend was trying to put out a horror (or macabre) themed magazine. I was very happy about that – not the least because I wanted her to publish my stuff. I was still trying out my writing muscles, and struggling to put together a cohesive tale. Everything was hit-or-miss, and shot straight from the hip.

            I sent this to her, she told me it was grotesque and made her happy. But I don’t think it ever saw any more attention than that. It was saved in some kind of no-longer-supported file format, and the computer was probably recycled or blown up not long after. However, I was smart enough to make backups on the best storage media that was available to me at the time: 3.5 floppy disks. Oh hell yeah.

            This story – and many more like it – were lost, gone, for all time. I can barely believe myself how lucky I am. Just having all this stuff again is like opening a time capsule. I’m going to rewrite this at some point – it seems like it deserves more love and attention than it got. But hey, that’s enough jibba jabba. Here. Here is the thing. I edited it only for spelling and punctuation, but oh man does it need some work. I hope you dig it!

 

<> <> <>

That is some creepy formatting, right there...

That is some creepy formatting, right there…

 

Dear *****,

I have no idea why I felt compelled to write this insane piece of weirdness. It just came to me in the night like a virus or an obsessed ex-lover with a foot-fetish. I dunno.

Anyway, since it might fit the parameters of a horror story or maybe a macabre story, I thought I’d give it to you to look at. I think it’s very rough (it is a rough draft) but could be very good. If you like it and want to use it, or part of it, for R******* please do so. Feel free to edit it to your pleasure. If you’d rather just give me feedback or editorial advice, and have me work on it, that’d be cool too. What-ever.

Patrick

 

THANK YOU MR. BUS DRIVER

It was raining. It seemed like it had been raining forever. Especially while I was waiting for the bus to school. I was the last pick-up stop for the bus, and I had to wait by myself. I used to talk to Rick when he was around, but he moved all of a sudden last year. So I got to stand, by myself, in the rain, every single day.

It wasn’t the rain I hated so much, or the fact that I was alone. If you’ve never had to do it, being the last person on the bus sucks. You never get a good seat. I either ended up sitting by Martin (who spits when he talks), or I got the emergency exit seat – which is so small it hurts your legs. Given the choice, I’d rather walk the ten miles to school, which isn’t much of an option.

The bus finally came, sputtering around the bend. The evil creak of its windshield wipers was louder than it’s diesel engine or the shade of yellow our school district chose. Water splashed up from the gutter as it grunted to a stop in front of me. The doors flapped open and I climbed up the steps. Our bus driver, Burt, glared at me over his huge nose – I tried not to look at him too much – and his big, wrinkled face cracked a smile.

Burt the bus driver was not normal. He seemed to take perverse pleasure in not being attractive. He’d only been our driver for about a year, but he’d already worn out my patience. Every morning, he leered at me and said the same thing.

“Mornin’…Paul.” His fat tongue rolled over his yellow, pointed teeth. “Good to see you.”

“Yeah…mornin’.” I muttered, as I avoided his gaze. I moved my way down the aisle.

As usual, I made my way to the emergency exit seat, and sat alone. Legs cramped, I shook the rain off my coat and looked around. The bus was packed, but everyone looked tired and worn out. So it was pretty quiet as Burt ground the bus’ gears and pulled away down the road. As we left Meadow Village (our housing development), I couldn’t help notice something different in Burt’s behavior. Every few minutes, he’d look up at his big rear-view mirror, and stare at me for a second or two. Then he’d snap his eyes back to the road and cough and wheeze for a bit. Then he’d look at me again. Burt kept this strange process up the entire trip.

When we pulled into the Lakeview High parking lot, the rain had let up a little. We all got up and began to file off the bus. As I passed by Burt, he started to cough and wheeze again. I looked at him (not pleasant under normal conditions), and quickly backed off the bus.

He’s not coughing, The thought hit me, he’s laughing. What kind of freak is he?

The bus doors slapped closed as the last kid stepped off. I pushed the thoughts from my head and started for my locker, but the sound of his laughter kept coming back to me. I shook my head and dismissed it.

I was a fool.

*          *          *

There was one thing on my mind when the school was out, and we got on the bus: Trisha Bower. She was so fine. And she liked me! The thought kept running through my head. We have a date! We’re practically going out! Here I was, a sixteen year-old sophomore, and I had a date with Trisha Bower! Every male with a pulse had a stiffy for her, and she wants to go out with me. I was so wrapped in it, I didn’t say two words on the ride home. I also didn’t pay any attention to Burt.

As the bus wound its way through Meadow Village, kids got off at their stops. But my mind was absorbed in Trisha; her body, hair, voice and smell. It wasn’t until the bus was leaving Meadow Village that I realized I’d missed my stop.

“Hey,” I shifted towards the aisle, “Burt! I needed to get off back there.” His head whipped up, and he looked at me in the mirror.

Burt threw his head back and laughed; an evil, lung-wrenching cackle that echoed through the empty bus. My heart leaped up to my throat, and I got seriously worried.

“Burt,” I said, laughing nervously, “have you, like, totally lost it or something?” Burt’s cackling subsided, but he just kept driving. “Hey… um… Burt? This ain’t funny, okay?”

For a minute he just drove in silence. When he looked up in the mirror again, his face – his eyes – looked grimly insane.

“Don’t you worry, Pauly!” he bellowed gruffly, “I’m gonna get you where you needs to go!” And at that, he let loose another cackle that rolled on as the bus plowed through the rain.

I kinda freaked at this point, but not ‘cause he called me ‘Pauly’. I hoisted my backpack and marched to the front doors. I put a hand on the rail and said, “Look, Burt, you can just let me off here. I’ll walk home.”

Too my surprise, he pulled the wheel to the right, and brought the bus to a quick stop on the shoulder of the road. The windshield wipers creaked their last, and Burt ground the e-brake into place. I thought he was going to open the doors, I couldn’t even fathom that he wouldn’t. But he just sat there for a second, with his huge, meaty hands on the steering wheel and his face studying the windshield becoming covered with rain. And then he spoke, his grumbling, ugly voice low.

“It’s your turn, Pauly.” He didn’t move, but he somehow got bigger. “I don’t wanna do it Pauly. But it’s your turn.”

“Wh-What are you talkin’ about?” I backed down the aisle. “Just… just open the door Burt.” Burt stood up and turned towards me, with his head down and shoulders hunched.

“It’s not like I gotta choice here,” he snapped, “You don’t get it. It’s outta my control.” He was looking at me like I was a piece of bacon at breakfast. His face contorted into a snarling mask of repulsiveness.

I had backed all the way to the middle of the bus, and the thought struck me. Yes, Burt has finally gone bye-bye. He raised up his huge hands as he started to plod towards me.

“Relax,” he growled, “it won’t hurt as much if you don’t fight it.”

Okay, that’s it for me! I thought, as I spun and grabbed at the emergency exit door handle. With both hands, I twisted it down until it clicked, and threw my shoulder against it. AND NOTHING HAPPENED! I slammed it again – and it refused to open! I heard Burt laughing, his raspy, wheezing laugh.

“Pauly,” he chortled, “You sit there every day. You think I wouldn’t lock it?” His laughter stopped, but his cracked smile remained – twisting his big face even further. “It’s time.”

He lunged towards me, and I tried to jump clear, but his fat arms latched around my shoulders and he slammed me into the seat. He twisted me around, my arms pinned to my sides, and brought his face close to mine. The sweaty folds of flesh on his pock-marked face seemed inhuman. His eyes glittered with evil, and his tongue snaked out of his mouth to wet his milky, cracked lips. The smell was indescribable.

This can’t be happening! My mind screamed, I’ve got a date with Trish! I can’t die now! I can’t!

“Burt! Burt,” I stammered, “you don’t want to kill me! You can’t do-”

“Kill you?” he leered, his head tilted, “Why would I wanna kill you? After all, you kept me company at the bus stop every day. Every day since junior high, just you ‘n me waitin’ for the bus.”

My mind scrambled. I sat there at looked at him, and he looked back with that insane smile on his face. Somewhere, deep beneath that grisled, hideous face, I saw the impossible. Ricky. “No! No!” I squirmed in his vice-like grip, “That’s not possible!”

He just held on and said, “It’s your turn Pauly.” He inhaled, a deep slow breath so big I thought he’d pop. My eyes froze. I was paralyzed with terror. And then he…breathed on me.

Waves of odor attacked my senses: pickles and mayonnaise, tuna fish, cigarettes, moldy milk and stale beer, spoiled meat, athlete’s foot, cheese, breath mints and maybe a hint of curry – too many smells, too much sensation for my mind. I screamed, I think, though I know I flailed. Ricky had let go of me, and I spasmed on the seat. The olfactory madness was everything. The smells covered me, sank into my skin, poured into my lungs. I felt myself convulse, but couldn’t vomit – that smell had added to the overall effect too, along with sweat and methane, urine and pork.

Suddenly, I felt my body swell. It started in my feet first, but my head was the worst. My cheeks puffed and expanded, my forehead bulged and lumped at unnatural angles. I clawed at my mouth, with my mitten-like, hairy fingers. My lips curled and cracks formed, with drool and spittle filling them. Inside my mouth, my tongue probed at teeth that crumbled and at new molars that twisted and warped my jaw. Joints popped, my stomach inflated and sagged, my nose bulged and pits formed on my face.

It ended quickly. Shuddering, I sat up. Ricky stood over me. He bent down and hefted me to my feet. I wobbled, mostly upright, with a severe hunch in my left shoulder. My senses had been altered along with my body. The smell of the bus wafted to my disfigured nostrils. And I liked it.

“R-R-Ricky?” my new, scratchy voice intoned. “What…happened?” I glanced at him through my squinty, swollen eyelids. It occurred to me that his blue and brown flannel went well with his green slacks.

“My name’s Burt now,” he rumbled. “You gotta pick a name for yourself too.” After a moment he added, “Well?”

“Uh…I…I dunno, Burt,” My mind began to slow down. “How ‘bout Ernie?”

“Hmmm…I like it.” He turned and sauntered towards the front of the bus. “Well, let’s go Ernie.” I felt like my brain was mush, but I forced myself to want to know.

“Burt. Burt, you gotta tell me what happened,” I pleaded. “What’s goin’ on? What the hell am I?” Burt turned, and put a fleshy hand on my shoulder.

“You’re a creature of darkness now,” I could feel my will slipping away. “Part of a brotherhood, a secret the world will never know.” He paused for effect, but it was wasted – I was losing my ability to reason.

“You are a Bus Driver.” Burt declared, and I knew. I knew it was true.

Moments later, as I eased the bus back onto the road, headed for my initiation, I felt as if a hunger had been satiated. Burt’s words resounded in my mind, “It’s your turn, it’s your turn.”

Yes. My turn to take the wheel.

 

Advertisements

A Treasure Trove of Madness

3 Nov
One point four megs of awesome

One point four megs of awesome

I was cleaning out some junk and odds and ends today, when I came across a stack of old CDs and 3.5 floppy disks. For the most part, these were easy to throw away – you know, stuff like AOL mailers, or drivers for printers that we don’t even own. But some of those 3.5 floppies had very compelling labels on them. Important dates, from 15 years ago on them, or words like ‘Journal’ and ‘S3kr1t Th1ng5!’ Damn. I couldn’t just toss those away. As any writer knows, this kind of stuff could be GOLD, baby.

Fortunately, the PC tower in my living room is old enough to have a 3.5 reader. I plopped myself down with a stack of these square diskettes and got to work. First disk was damaged. Second disk was not formatted. Third disk made a hideous scratching sound. But the next disk had weird, weird stuff on it. It was formatted all wrong, and even with notepad it wouldn’t read correctly. But there were words there. And what I read was from so long ago that it was almost unfamiliar. It was a success! I felt as though I had reached into the past and saved some of my oldest writing from the clutches of complete obsolescence. Damn, I feel lucky.

I am still working through the files. So many pictures, so many words. I am at turns horrified and fascinated. And because I care about you, I will share. At least, I’ll share some of it. Here. Without edit, is an untitled piece of mine from 1999 (at least, I think – it could be 1997!). Enjoy!

<> <> <>

With salamander-like movements, Jack worked his way up the narrow, cobbled street. Even at midnight, the city baked with a stifling heat – transforming shadows to mirages. Pools of humid darkness poured into the gutters ahead of Jack. People milled about, even in this ungodly hour. Jack pulled his trench-coat tighter and tried to avoid the small clusters of people.

Inside his coat, where his right arm should have been, something moved – a squishy, reptilian movement.

“Oh god, oh god”, Jack breathed.

His left arm grabbed his right, as he stopped and stood up straight, eyes closed. “This isn’t happening, this isn’t happening,” ran through his mind like a mantra. The squishy motions stopped abruptly. He opened his eyes.

“Hey man, whatchoo got?” Jack glanced to his left.

A kid – fifteen, sixteen – was swaggering towards him; baseball cap on backwards, cigarette stuck in his teeth and a look of bored violence of his face. Jack tipped his head away, his fedora hiding his face, and coughed.

“Whatchoo got? Inda coat, man?” the teen gestured with his smoke.

“Um.. look, son. I – I…” Jack stammered, his mind racing.

“Too damn hot for coat like dat.” The teen leered at him. “Maybe I take it off your hands, man.”

Jack stepped back then spasmed. “Look, it’s not safe”, he snapped, “get away.”

But he sensed it was too late. The thing where his arm should have been wiggled in gelatinous sort of way. He could feel cool rivulets of ooze seep down his leg. “G-g-get away!”

The youth looked at him confused, his mouth open as if to speak, then his eyes widened with horror.

<> <> <>

And that’s IT. There isn’t any more. What was with the tentacle under his coat, man? What did that youth see that made his eyes go wide with horror? Was it a giant tentacle arm? I don’t even know. I do remember a picture that a good friend drew about that time. It was of a man in a trench coat, limping along a sidewalk, trying to conceal the mass of worms that were where his arm should be. It was a good piece and it inspired this, obviously.

Back when I wrote this, I was just toying with writing. Most of my creative energy was wasted, but I remember struggling to find my voice, or a way to tell my stories. Reading this now, there are a couple of choice bits in there that make me happy. “… a look of bored violence on his face.” “… cold rivulets of ooze…” I was just playing with words, checking out how they fit together.

I’m very glad I found this stuff. I’ll post more, if it doesn’t embarrass me to death.

Horror Horoscope for Halloween

27 Oct
Totally legit.

Totally legit.

ξ

As a special thing for Halloween (or Samhain, or whatever), I am pleased to present this treat. No tricks. In fact, this has been put together by the best psychic I know. It is guaranteed to be at least ten percent more prognostical and prescient than any other horoscope you read this week. For reals. Enjoy!

Aries (The Ram / Fire)

Something you thought was a lie will reveal itself to be true, and take on new meaning. It could be your gentle nudge in the right direction. Or, the stars are laughing again. They’re laughing. They’re laughing at you. At you.

 

Taurus (The Bull / Earth)

Everything you eat goes somewhere, Taurus. But where do the doughnut holes go? You have holes inside you, Taurus. Holes. You can’t prove a negative, my friend, and you cannot poop a hole.

 

Gemini (The Twins / Air)

Your secret heart is in danger of ruination, Gemini. It burns, can’t you feel it burn, all the way down to a blackened cinder. Use that fire, my friend, and do the first thing that comes to mind. Fan those embers into a bonfire of fury. Burn something.

 

Cancer (The Crab / Water)

Why not help a stranger? The pieces will start to fall into place and the world will begin to seem fresh and new – full of possibility and hope. “Today you, tomorrow me” is the innocent phrase that runs through your head. Of course. The Karmic Wheel must turn for the Good Samaritan.

That’s why you flick your turn signal and pull over. Yes, it’s a dark, desolate highway, but the man standing by the station wagon’s open hood seems nice enough. He’s middle aged, with a spare tire around his waist and he’s going bald. Harmless. That’s the word, isn’t it? He reminds you of your cousin – the shy one who never talks at the family reunions.

This doughboy is smiling a big, sheepish grin. He seems nervous and overly grateful you stopped. The chill in the nigh air cuts through your shirt like a knife. You’re still acclimating to the weather. You haven’t even lived here for a whole year yet. Middle aged man points his tiny flashlight at the grimy car engine and shrugs. He doesn’t know what wrong with it, he says. It just sputtered, revved up real high, and died on him.

You shiver at the cold as you sidle up to the engine and lean over. There is something terribly wrong under the hood. The oil – the black, sludgy grime – is crusted and gritty and hot. But there, right behind the radiator, there is no fan. The battery is gone too, and the alternator, and the whatchamacallit. Where there should be nine hundred pounds of Detroit steel and the powerhouse behind a century of American-made car pride is you mother. And she is furious.

How could you have done this to her, Cancer? Is it that you really don’t love her at all – or is this the only way you can show your love? Some perverted, sick, serial killer dream-turned-nightmare, set loose in your subconscious mind. Why are you backing away? Where do you think you’re going? Help her, damn you! Help her.

Oh, it looks like she can move on her own. She’s unfolding her legs and arms – far too many for her to have – and she’s raising her voice. She is using your whole name to call you out. One after another, after another, her greasy legs stretch out of from under the hood. And your breath catches in your throat, your fingers pry at the door handle to your own car. The red glow of your taillights shine on the thing that is your mother. She puts her feet on the ground and lifts herself up, into the freezing cold night. Up and up, all black, grimy arms and sharp fingernails, her massive belly looms higher and higher. And you can’t even breathe, or speak, or open the door of your car.

The balding, round-faced man shrugs and looks down at his feet. He smiles an embarrassed, gap-toothed grin. He and your mom have been seeing each other. It’s pretty serious. They wanted to wait, for the right time. He hopes you and he can become friends.

You spill backwards, but the gravel on the side of the road doesn’t break your fall. You tumble into the icy earth, beyond the reach of the starless night, and the screams of your mother’s voice. Your name, Cancer. She is still screaming your name.

 

Leo (The Lion / Fire)

Don’t look to your community for help. They’ve been against you for years, Leo. Make new plans. Grab a partner and see how far you can make it before the inevitable happens.

 

Virgo (The Maiden / Earth)

You already know what to do. Why seek a confirmation of how awesome you are in these lesser creatures who pretend to be your peers?

 

Libra (The Scales / Air)

Want to make a million dollars in real estate? Sure, go ahead. There is no reason to delay, or study the complicated market. Go on, jump in feet first!

 

Scorpio (The Scorpion / Water)

So, you wanna move on, huh? Do you really think it’s the right time? Can you just throw it all away – everything the two of you meant to each other! – and just run? Go ahead, run. See if you can outrun yourself, damn you.

 

Sagittarius (The Archer / Fire)

The power to do the right thing is in your hands. Or maybe your pants! Hey, I know – it’s probably in the pants of the next attractive stranger you meet. Sure, that deep, ache of longing to connect to another human being might fade for a second or two, but it’s worth it. Right? It’s worth it, just to forget who are you – what you are. Is there anything you won’t do, in pursuit of oblivion, Sagittarius? We all know the answer to that.

 

Capricorn (The Goat / Earth)

Birth control is a terrible idea, if you want to get pregnant. And who doesn’t want to get pregnant? Men, that’s who. Don’t be a man about things. Get knocked up. Feel the wriggling, black, worm jism of some shadowy force make its way inside you. Let it fill you up, germinate within the folds of your soul. Pregnant, Capricorn. Pregnant.

 

Aquarius (The Water-Bearer / Air)

Turn a new page in the book of your life. Once you do, you’ll see there’s more to the big picture that you can possibly see on just one page. Who cares if your book was found in a haunted house, next to pit of discarded corpses?

 

Pisces (The Fish / Water)

Do you want to know what the future holds? Well, you better get used to not getting what you want. Tough titties, friend. Isn’t it enough to know that the hammer is going to fall? Oh yeah, it’ll be soon, but you don’t need to know exactly when. It’s better this way. When it happens it will be a shock, and your face will blanche in terror. Icy pinpricks will crawl up your spine, and the utter, permanent enormity of your fate will show itself. You’ll wish for a moment more – for some brief respite, or a chance to reach out for help, for mercy. But there will be nothing. If only someone would warn you, Pisces. Oh well.

 

Campfire Tales from the Forbidden Zone, Intro

2 Mar
.

.

Introduction

<> <> <>

            The radioactive glow from the burning caribou carcass provides a nice proof against the chilly air. Yellow, orange, and purple flames rise like surreal tentacles into the night sky. Huddled people are packed in the rubble around the fire. One gangly young mutant clears his throat and glances around the crowd of strangers. Thirty-three eyes from fifteen heads turn his way – some with a mixture of curiosity and possibly cannibalistic hunger. Rather than speak, he shrinks away from their gaze. A moment later, their attention shifts to an approaching figure.

            Uncle Billi shuffles towards the yellowy pile of rotting flesh on the pyre. The crouching squat of mutants around it parts before him. He lifts a leg and rests his broad posterior on the blackened metal shell of a robot carapace. The seat is worn smooth from supporting Uncle Billi’s buttocks for so many nights like this. He shifts, gets comfortable, and continues his long tradition of ignoring the assembled masses around the burn pit. From the pocket of his robe he removes a large onion and peels away the brown, flaky layers on the outside.

            The night is mostly silent. There is a rustling from the dry onion skin, a crackle from the fire, muffled coughs and wheezes from the mutants – and, of course, the omnipresent hum of alien Subspace engines, as they rumble eternally beneath the bleak, ruined landscape.

            Someone in the crowd speaks up, breaks the silence. “Hi! Uh, hi, Uncle Billi!”

            “What do you want?” Uncle Billi narrows his eyes and frowns.

            Another voice calls out, “What’s trending, Uncle Billi?”

            “Yeah,” the first voice says, “what’s, uh, trending? Trending, right?”

            “Ah, not again,” Uncle Billi grumbles. “I don’t have time for that nonsense.” He digs his fingers into the onion skin and peels a large chunk away. He tosses it into the fire.

            “Tell us about the selfies.” More voices join in.

            “Who was Burns Crawford?”

            “What were the Short Term 12?”

            “I wanna know who Ukraine was?”

            A chorus of voices – most of them passable as human – join together and sing out to Uncle Billi. One after another they call out strange terms, unpronounceable names, and bizarre phrases. “Pocahontas”, “Wichita State”, “Ryan Reed” – and on and on. Until Uncle Billi throws his hands in the air and roars out an inarticulate grunt.

            “All right,” Uncle Billi says in mock frustration. “All right. You want a story. You want to hear about the Other Time? Fine.”

            The voices fall silent. Uncle Billi pulls back the hood of his robe and looks up to the sky. Tiny red lights glow about his head where the patches of thin hair do not grow. Chunks of brittle plastic and rusty metal protrude from his skull in uneven rows. Sparks begin to fly into the air above his head and a gray flicker of light passes in front of his face. His lips begin to move.

            Around the radioactive burn pit, the huddled mass of what could almost pass for humanity leans in. They strain to listen carefully to each and every word. The transmission begins.

<> <> <>

::begin transmission::

~ Transmission 01 ~

~ Transmission 02 ~

~ Transmission 03 ~

Unnamed Monkey Tale

5 Apr

The following is part of a series of stories I refer to as my Wonder Tales. They usually involve a younger protagonist, a strange situation, and (I hope) some humor. I wrote this one using the same prompts Patrick used for his Dr. Zero & Mr. X: Codename Monkey story. 

 

One night, while Milo Zephyr was watching a nature show about aardvarks, he turned to his mother on the couch and asked, “Mom, can I get a dog?”

His mother shook her head. “No.”

“Why not?” Milo asked.

“Because they sniff you in embarrassing places.”

“How about a cat?”

His mother wrinkled her nose. “No.”

“Why not?” Milo asked again.

“Have you ever smelled a cat fart? They’re horrible.”

“OK, what about a goldfish?”

His mother shuddered. “No.”

“Why not?” Milo asked, without much hope.

“Because they freak me out, with their bug eyes and breathing underwater and such.”

Milo decided to try one more time.

“Can I have a monkey?”

His mother, who worked for NASA and was the smartest person Milo had ever known, looked at him for a long moment and then simply said, “We’ll see.”

Two weeks later, Milo had all but forgotten about wanting a pet. It was his tenth birthday and all his friends came over for a huge party. They played the Bite My Arm game, knocked down the sneaker-shaped piñata filled with sock-shaped candy, and ate the entire bottom half of his layer cake. But after everyone left, Milo’s mother sat him down at the kitchen table and gave him one more large box, wrapped in comic pages from the newspaper.

Milo opened the present slowly and carefully. Inside, underneath the bubble wrap, was a silver monkey statue. Milo put it on the table so he could see it better and his mother reached out to press a switch in the back of the statue, pushing it up and to the right. The monkey suddenly came to life, cried out in a yowl that sounded a little like gears grinding, and scampered up to Milo’s shoulder, where it sat with its long metal tail wrapped around Milo’s neck.

“Now, there is only one rule for this machine monkey,” his mother said, her face stern. “You must not switch him on unless I’m home. Ever.”

“But why not?” Milo asked, laughing because the monkey was digging in his hair for nits.

“Because machine monkeys are still wild animals and can be dangerous,” his mother said, but she was smiling as she said, chuckling at the monkey as it did a little dance on top of Milo’s head, and Milo barely heard her.

The next day, Milo’s mother had to go to work, even though it was a Sunday. Milo watched cartoons, played with the new toys his friends had given him, and danced to really loud music in his pajamas, but by the early afternoon, he was bored. The machine monkey sat on the kitchen table, where he had left it the night before when he’d gone to bed. It seemed to call to him every time he walked by, screeching in its metallic voice in his head. Finally, he gave in. He pressed the switch on the back, pushing it up and to the right.

The machine monkey shook itself, then blinked at him with its artificially beady eyes. It crawled onto his shoulder and Milo took it into the living room. He sat down on the couch and the monkey capered down the cushions, landing ungracefully in a heap beside him. Milo laughed and reached out to put it back on his shoulder, but the monkey was already moving again. Before he knew it, it was on the floor. Then it was across the room. Then it was on top of his mother’s bookcases.

“Come back here!” Milo called out, but the monkey ignored him. It had discovered his mother’s aloe vera plant on the top shelf, and with a vibrating squeal, it dug both metal paws into the dirt and started flinging it around the room.

“Stop that!” Milo yelled, but the monkey wasn’t listening. It slid down the shelf and raced into the bathroom. Milo heard the water turn on and he went after it. The monkey was in the tub, splashing ice cold water all over the small room.

“No! Bad machine monkey!” Milo said, but the monkey was already slipping between his legs into the hallway. Milo turned the water off and ran after it.

In the kitchen, the monkey made a bee line for the stove. Milo came in just as it lit the hand towel on fire and tossed it on the tile floor. Milo stepped forward and stamped it out quickly. Then he lunged for the monkey.

“Stop! I mean it!” The monkey paid no attention, climbing up on top of the cabinets and chittering at Milo. It sounded like a computer laughing, a strange monotone “ha ha ha ha.” Milo reached for the phone.

“Mom? I…you told me not to, but-“

“What? Who is this? I’m in the wind tunnel. I can’t hear-“ The phone roared like a lion and then went dead. Milo hung up, wondering what he should do now. Suddenly, an idea came to him.

“Stay.” He pointed at the machine monkey as he walked backwards out of the kitchen. As soon as the monkey was out of sight, he turned and ran down the hall to his mom’s home laboratory. He was back in the kitchen in a matter of seconds, carrying the long prosthetic arm his mom had built for the space shuttle the year before. It was as long as Milo was tall, with a lever on one end to work the clamp at the other. This was only a working model, of course; the real arm was bigger than a bus. Milo hefted the arm in his arms and started towards the monkey.

“Hold still, machine monkey. I won’t hurt you, I promise…” Milo said as he inched forward, but the monkey didn’t seem to believe him. It glared at him angrily with its artificially beady eyes. It pushed the clamp away with its silver paws. And finally, just when Milo was starting to think this whole plan wasn’t going to work, it screeched like a stripped brake and dove off the cabinets, heading towards the front door.

“Gotcha!” Milo said as the clamp closed on the machine monkey’s waist.

When his mom came home that night, Milo followed her into the laundry room. He had put the prosthetic arm on top of the washing machine, weighing down the lever end with a giant dictionary to counterbalance the monkey, which dangled out in mid air, still in the clamp.

“I tried to turn it off, but the switch is broken or something,” Milo said apologetically. His mom shook her head and stepped towards the monkey. It writhed in the clamp, making angry slurred metallic noises, as if its battery were wearing down.

“Large Mauve Underpants!” his mother said clearly and forcefully, and the monkey went limp. His mother turned to look at Milo reproachfully. He smiled and shrugged.

“Sorry.”

“Uh huh.”

They left the monkey dangling in the laundry room and went into the living room. His mom turned on the TV and sat down on the couch with a sigh. Milo sat down next to her. A nature show was playing, something about the extinct Dodo bird.

After a moment, Milo said, “Mom, can I get a dog now?”

“No.”

Milo was quiet for another moment, then asked, “How about a cat?”

“No.”

When the commercial came on a few minutes later, Milo tried one more time. “What about a goldfish?”

His mother, who also freelanced for the CIA and was still the smartest person Milo had ever known, looked at him for a long moment and then simply said, “We’ll see.”

END

 

In case you’re wondering, the prompts were: monkey, fire starter, machine, prosthetic, artificial.