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Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc.
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Where the heck did they come from? Scared the living daylights out of me and I’m trying hard not to let it show. Suddenly it’s Wednesday night and the guys are around to drink a few beers, watch some football and shoot a little pool. Dave is backing away from me, his hand out like he just touched my shoulder. Thing is, I don’t remember being asleep. I put it out of my head.

“Hey guys,” I call, “Beer in the usual place, snacks on the bar. Pitch in.”

“Hey Doug,” they call or mutter back, and it kind of feels like something is wrong but I can’t put my finger on what. Seems like a couple of the guys look a little down. We chat, reminisce about the old days, watch the game. The guys wrap it up, start to say goodbye, and Dave reaches out as if to pat me on the shoulder….

 

 

“Don’t let your coffee get cold.”

I have got to get a grip on this daydreaming. I reach for the newspaper, but it is not on the table.

“It’s in the lounge,” my wife says, a snappish edge in her voice that makes me cringe inside. I can already sense what is brewing. “I’m not having you bury your face in that thing today. Not today.”

Today? Crap! What’s today? Birthday? Anniversary? I don’t have a clue, and I think she knows it. If I say the wrong thing, my life will be misery all day. I look around the kitchen (as much as I can, my neck is real stiff today), but there are no clues. No cards, no gifts wrapped anywhere I can see. She is sitting there, watching me and enjoying the look on my face, I guess. I’d love to take a good long sip of the mug of coffee steaming in front of me, but somehow I don’t dare. Must have a cold, too, ‘cause I can’t smell the coffee at all. Don’t see I have any option but to take a guess at it. Or do I just play dumb? She beat’s me to it.

What a surprise,” she snaps a bitchy edge in her voice. “Well, I supposed it shouldn’t be after all these years. Married for 23 years – Twenty. Three. – only two off our silver anniversary and not once have you so much as bought me a card or a bunch of flowers…”

Now that I knew wasn’t true. I know I bought her something the first few years as my Mum kept reminding me. Then again, I wasn’t that reliable with her birthday either. I thought of mentioning it, but then figured it might cause more trouble than it was worth. I try to butt in and cool things down “But, dear…”

“I’m just a drudge to you now.” She had worked her way up to tears by now, although I had always thought that there was a hint of crocodile when she went into one of these acts. “I’m just the hired help. All I ever do is feed you and clean after you. Never a moment for myself. No time for friends. No social life.”

I try again. “But, dear……”

And with an exasperated cry she dashes past me and out of the kitchen. I hear her footsteps across the hall and into another room.

 

 

Where the heck did they come from? Scared the living daylights out of me and I  frantically try not to let it show. It’s Wednesday night and the guys are around for a few beers, watch some football and shoot a little pool. Dave is backing away from me, his hand out like he just touched my shoulder. Thing is, I don’t remember being asleep. I try to put it out of my head.

“Hey guys,” I call, “Beer in the usual place, snacks on the bar. Pitch in.”

“Hey Doug,” they call or mutter back, and it kind of feels like something is wrong but I can’t put my finger on what. Seems like a couple of the guys look a little down. We chat, reminisce about the old days, watch the game. I’m a little annoyed that nobody seems to have passed me a beer, or a glass of nuts. I know the doc said I was to cut down on that kind of stuff, but they could at least ask so as I could feel good about saying no. The football is on, and most of the guys are watching. I give it half an eye, but don’t really care. Somehow the season seems to have gone to hell and I couldn’t really tell you who were on top and who were being ground up. Guys seemed a bit quiet, too, and it didn’t seem that I could be fussed to strike up much of a conversation myself. Some days it went like that, I guess.

The game finished, as did the beers, and the guys wrapped it up. Dave reaches out as if to pat me on the shoulder….

 

 

Guess it must be night. Last thing I recall is Dave reaching out to clap me on the shoulder as he left, but don’t seem to recall much after, nor about going to bed. Guess weird things happen when you’re dreaming. Guess I can just let go and drift back…

 

 

“Don’t let your coffee get cold.”

I have got to get a grip on this daydreaming. I reach for the newspaper, but it is not on the table.

“It’s in the lounge,” my wife says, a snappish edge in her voice that makes me cringe inside. I can already sense what is brewing. “I’m not having you bury your face in that thing today. Not today.”

Today? Crap! What’s today? Birthday, anniversary? I don’t have a clue, and I think she knows it. If I say the wrong thing, my life will be misery all day. I look around the kitchen (as much as I can, my neck is real stiff today), but there are no clues. No cards, no gifts wrapped anywhere I can see. She is sitting there, watching me and enjoying the look on my face, I guess. I’d love to take a good long sip of the mug of coffee steaming in front of me, but somehow I don’t dare. Must have a cold, too, ‘cause I can’t smell the coffee at all. Don’t see I have any option but to take a guess at it. Or do I just play dumb? I get a vague idea we not so long ago had the same damned row about our anniversary.

What a surprise,” she snaps, a bitchy edge in her voice. “Well, I supposed I should be after all these years. Married for 23 years – Twenty. Three. – only two off our silver anniversary and…”

Whoa. What happened there? All I was going to do was take a chance and say ‘Happy Birthday’, but that sure ass hell wasn’t what came out. That sounded more like a kind of croaky version of ‘But, dear’. I tried to clear my throat and start again, but my voice still sounded kind of broken. I settle for saying ‘But, dear,” and it seems to come out right. How weird is that? The wife looks weird, too. Kind of worried. She starts to rant at me and I was right, it was her birthday I missed. Still, her heart doesn’t seem to be in it, and when she finished she sort of walks off, rather than her usual dramatic exit, and I don’t even hear her leave the kitchen.

 

 

Guess it must be night. Can’t get the row at breakfast out of my head. So much so that it is overshadowing everything else that must have happened today. Really is beginning to feel like all we every do is argue over breakfast, and always over really trivial stuff like birthday’s and anniversaries. OK, I am no good at it, but if she can’t accept that by now, then…. Well, then what? No point chewing on an old bone. Especially when it messes up your head so much you really can’t seem to think of anything else. Don’t even remember going to work today. Then again, if life is that messed up, is it really worth worrying about it? Guess I had better just let go and drift back…

 

 

Where the heck did they come from? I’m really getting tired of these guys creeping up on me, but I’m damned if I’m going to let them know that. I know it’s Wednesday night and its traditional – well for the past two or three years – that the guys come around for a few beers, watch some football and shoot a little pool, but it’s starting to get a little samey. And I wish Dave would stop touching me like that every week. Can’t he just call out?

“Hey guys,” I call, “Beer in the usual place, snacks on the bar. Pitch in.”

“Hey Doug,” they mutter, and most don’t even look at me as they settle down in front of the big screen. In fact, seems as though a couple are pissed with Dave.

“Ah, man, did you have to do that?”

“Hey, it’s his place.”

“Yeah, but like it’s been months now, and it’s always the same old thing, the same old conversations”

‘Well, hell,’ I think, ‘If he doesn’t like it why does he come?’

“Shut up, Stu,” says somebody else. “It’s free beer and a better TV than any of the rest of us have.”

Now nobody is talking to me, which is OK as I don’t feel much of a need to say anything myself, but nobody has brought me a beer and why should I have to get up to get one. They all walked straight past the cooler. The whole scene is getting a little stale, and I start thinking maybe we should spread them out a bit more. Maybe once a month. The lack of a beer is really annoying me, though, and I decide I ought to do something about it so I say.

“Hey, will one of you bums pass me a can”

Only what come out is like a croaky screech and everybody seems to jump out of their skins and they stare at me. They look scared. I try again. Better, but still not what I wanted to say. I feel a little scared myself. Perhaps I’m getting sick with something. I’m feeling ornery today, though, so I say it again, and this time it works.

They guys all start talking, almost shouting, amongst themselves but I can’t hear what they are saying. A couple head for the door in a hurry. Dave comes over to me, and he looks like he just saw a ghost.

“Doug?” he says, looking at me weird.

“I just want a beer,” I say.

He reaches out to my shoulder again. I swear if he touches me I’m going to…..

 

 

“Don’t let your coffee get cold.”

This isn’t daydreaming. These are blackouts. Guess I better mention this to the doc when I see him next. As if I didn’t have enough things screwed up already with the tumour. I reach for the newspaper, but it is not on the table.

“It’s not there,” my wife says, a snappish edge in her voice that makes me cringe inside. I can already sense what is brewing. “I’m not having you bury your face in that thing again. Not today”

Today? Crap! What’s today? Birthday, anniversary? I don’t have a clue, and I think she knows it. If I say the wrong thing, my life will be misery all day. I look around the kitchen (as much as I can, my neck is real stiff today), but there are no clues. No cards, no gifts wrapped anywhere I can see. She is sitting there, but she’s not looking at me. And there is something wrong with the way she is talking. It’s that tone she uses when she has been saying the same thing over too long. I’d love to take a good long sip of the mug of coffee steaming in front of me, but somehow I don’t dare. Must have a cold, too, ‘cause I can’t smell the coffee at all, or maybe that’s the tumour. Don’t see I have any option but to take a guess at it. Or do I just play dumb? But didn’t we already do birthday? Recently? And I can’t shake the feeling I got my annual chewing our over anniversary too, and not that long ago. Every year it’s the same, but it seem like recently its all the damned time. I don’t know, but you would think after so many years you would either get used to somebody or move on. Maybe if it wasn’t for this damned tumour, I might just have done that. Still, no sense just putting up with it forever.

“Oh give me a break” I snap, but it comes out all weird, like I have a bad throat. I don’t remember the doc telling me the tumour had spread to my neck, but then my memory was not so good these days. Thing is, though, when I speak the wife makes the funny little scream and now she is looking at me with big eyes and a hand over her mouth.

“Wh…what did you say?” she asks from behind the hand

“I said to give me a break” The words were clearer this time, and she looks even more scared. “Bitch, bitch, all the time bitch. Alright, so I forget….”

But she is up on her feet, halfway around the tab le and then she slaps me. Doesn’t hurt, but it’s hard enough to knock me off my chair and I can’t seem to get my hands out before I hit the floor and….

 

 

I’m back in the kitchen. Guess she helped me back into the chair, but I don’t remember it and I don’t see where she would have got the strength. Then a guy in one of those white doctor coats steps around in front of me, and I guess he must have helped. He still talking, though I don’t remember hearing the start of the conversation. Maybe my wife called him when she knocked me out of the chair. He don’t look like no paramedic, though.

 

 

“…and you say there was an unexpected response?” the ‘doctor’ says, looking at someone behind me.

“Well, yes. He started to argue with me.”

“Interesting”

“And his drinking buddies that come around to see him once a week told me he asked for a drink.”

And I am sat there thinking to myself so what is so wrong with that. Just doesn’t seem a good idea to mention it to the guy in the white coat.

He looks directly at me and starts asking me questions.

“Name?”

“Bud Walker”

“Firmware version?”

I am about to say I don’t know what the hell he is talking about when my mouth starts spouting numbers. This goes on for a couple of minutes, with him asking all kinds of weird stuff I don’t know diddly about, but which my mouth does. Then the questions stop and he looks down at his clipboard. I finally get a change to get a word in edgewise and grind out

“So what the heck is all this, buddy?”

The white coat looks at me with eyebrows that seem to be trying to get around the back of his head via the top, then he reaches out towards me and says

“Looks like you have a problem, fr…”

 

 

#

 

Later, a phone call:

 

“May I speak to Mrs Walker, please.”

“Speaking”

“Mrs Walker, I’m phoning about your husband.”

“Yes?”

“We were wondering what your preferred option was?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Mrs Walker, we need to know if you want your husband back.”

“Oh. Is he better?”

“Not exactly, Mrs Walker.”

A pause, stretching uncomfortably.

“Mrs Walker? Are you still there?”

“What? Sorry, yes.”

“About your husband?”

“Do I have to decide now?”

“I would be best.”

Another pause.

“He was good for nothing before, and he is still good for nothing. Screw him.”

“I’ll take that as a ‘No’ then.”

“That is correct.”

“Thank you, Mrs Walker.”

Click.

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

 

#

 

 

Persona Electrics

12432 East 57th St

Milton

75656

 

September 14th

 

Our Ref: GM/123234/RMA

 

Mrs Walker

Address as Envelope

 

Dear Valued Customer

 

The Grief-matic product range is specifically designed to soften the impact of bereavement with its 3-d holographic bust of the recently departed and the heuristic conversation generators that create the warm and comfortable impression that your recently departed is still with you.

 

We are sorry that you have had an unsatisfactory experience with your Grief-matic 3000. Our Home Response Team representative who examined your unit at your chosen location detected no fault, but did observe anomalous behaviour. Your unit has been returned to our consumer care centre, and has been found to be irreparable.

 

As per our recent conversation with you by phone, you have chosen not to have your husband returned to you in a new unit. If you will agree to sign and being bound by our non-disclosure agreement (enclosed), we can offer you an ex gracia payment of 80% of the purchase price in recognition of your preferred customer status and the unsatisfactory performance of the unit.

 

Please sign and return the attached agreement at your earliest convenience.

 

Yours truly,

 

Persona Electrics Customer Support

 

 

NOTE: Persona Electrics deny and refute any claims that the process of manufacturing Grief-matic equipment, or Embedded Intelligence technology or concepts in general in any way captures or recreates the soul of the recently departed in electronic form. Personal Electrics further refute any claims that Grief-matic equipment contains functioning personalities. Persona Electrics will vigorously pursue any such claims through the courts


Read more stories by this author



2010-01-29 21:30:39
I wouldn't say badly executed, but not well executed. I get why you have the repetition of sequence, but it was a little too much. Also, there was a lot of tense jumping in the piece that had me going back and forth (sort of like the Grief-matic). The idea is great and the story is good. Although, why the wife would want to replay the same argument day in and day out, I don't know. That motivation needed a bit of tweaking. You might consider tweaking the first part, less repetition, a little more Mrs. Walker's reasons for replaying the fight, and then segue into the story from Mrs. Walker's point of view. Have her talk to a girlfriend about the malfunction. The letter at the end, for me, felt cheesy. Maybe she and Doug could talk about it together, since they appeared to be the only two who cared about Mr. Walker. Again, great idea, needs revision to be compelling.

2010-01-08 11:26:39
I disagree with this being badly executed. It was just disconcerting and confusing at first since it began as a first person narrative. It was a little jolting, but I think that added texture to the flow of the piece. Particularly with the disclaimer at the end that states the soul is not recreated. If that were true then how could the begining be first person... hhmmm Pretty interesting.

2010-01-06 09:18:27
from half way had to scroll to the end to find how this qualified as a sci-fi story. Interesting idea badly executed.

2010-01-03 10:51:00
Interesting take on AI stories. I enjoyed the puzzlement and the twist.




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