The Lighter Kind

After waking up from the accident, Calvin felt no different than he had the for first 9 years of his life. His head hurt like hell, and his entire body was wrapped in bandages, but he was still Calvin. Still the kid who, just a year ago, climbed a tree to chase a lizard and fell to the ground, breaking his collarbone. Still the boy who’d hopped into his father’s new Cadillac with his friend Bobby, and promptly reversed straight through the garage door. Growing, sure, but still the same.

He’d heard the doctors tell his mother that the bandages could come off today. The beeping of the life support machines beside his bed counted off the seconds and the minutes and the hours, and he knew it would be happening soon. He was excited to get up, to get out of his lumpy hospital bed and stretch his legs, and it wouldn’t be long now.

The door squeaked like a mouse, and Calvin heard three sets of footsteps enter the room; he smelled his mother’s perfume, like rich velvet in his nostrils. “Is he awake” he heard his mother ask, “Can you hear us my baby boy?” Calvin tried to speak, and found that he could not. His body felt as rigid as a log lying there in the bed, and he heard the rustling of papers before the doctor spoke.

“He can certainly hear us, and he’s very much awake. We thought it would be simpler if we limited his mobility and stimuli for the time being.” The man sounded like his Math teacher, formal and curt although not unkind.

Calvin heard his father’s voice; “What are we waiting for? I think the quicker we pull this band-aid off the better.” He heard his mother sniff.

“We need to talk to our son,” she said.

There was a moment of silence followed by the tapping of computer keys, and the machine beside the bed began to thrum. Calvin felt the way he did when his foot would fall asleep, except this time the feeling was all over. Tingling, like a warm light was washing over his skin.

The doctor spoke again asking, “Can you feel that Calvin? Move your fingers if you feel the tingling.” Calvin attempted to wiggle his fingers, and found that he could. He knew that they’d moved, but he couldn’t feel it. He heard his mother gasp, and the tapping of the computer keys.

“Wavesigns are normal, this is very good. Can you move your toes for me?”

Calvin’s brain told his toes to wiggle, and wiggle they did. He didn’t feel them, but he knew that they’d moved because he heard his mother let out a faint but definite peep. The computer keys clicked away again.

“Fine motor control is normal. I believe Calvin’s ready to open his eyes now.” He heard another flurry of typing, and his eyes felt as though a weight had been lifted. He opened them slowly, and a brilliant light filled his view.

As the brightness faded, Calvin began to see his mother and father standing at his bedside. His mother had on the same dress she’d worn to his 7th grade piano recital. His father wore one of his brown suits, the one with the pocket that Calvin had slipped a frog into during one of the family’s garden parties. To the right he saw the doctor, an older man in green scrubs seated at a computer station, poring over reams of data as they scrolled past on the screen. Calvin looked down and saw that half of his body was hidden by bedsheets, and the exposed bits were wrapped in white gauze.

The computer keys clacked again, and Calvin felt the warm light spread through his chest, out to his arms, out to his legs and up his neck. “Okay Calvin. You can speak whenever you’re ready.”

“Mom? Dad?” Calvin’s voice sounded like it used to when he would talk into the rotating fan, chopped and oscillated. His mother started to cry, and his father smiled.

“Hey Squirt, where’ve you been hiding?”

Calvin sat up and replied, “Not hiding, I’ve just been sleeping! I’m done sleeping though, I wanna get out of here.” He looked down at his hands and said “I can’t wait to…” Calvin trailed off as he caught sight of the gap in the gauze wrapping on his wrist. The skin beneath it was grey.

Before his mother or his father or the doctor could say anything to stop him, Calvin began pulling at the bandages on his arm. Every layer he removed revealed more grey, from his wrist all the way down to his forearm, and all the way up to his hand. His hand was made of metal.

“I don’t… What is this? Dad?” His voice sounded like a panicked air conditioner.

His father’s face stiffened. He looked like he had something to say, but he couldn’t say anything. In the silence, the doctor spoke up.

“After the accident, we had to salvage whatever we could. Everything beyond repair had to be replaced.”

Calvin looked at his hand. “Replaced… like with robot parts?”

The doctor bristled. “The correct term is full-body psychosynthetic prostheses, but yes; if it helps, think of them as robot parts.” Calvin’s mother choked back a sob, his father rubbed his fingers against the side of his head, and Calvin remained seated bolt upright.

“So… I’m a robot now?”

“No no no,” his mother breathed, “you’re still you. Don’t think that you’re not.”

“But I’m kind of not anymore, aren’t I? I’m like at least half robot.” 

All four occupants of the room sat in silence, with only the beeping and thrumming of the bedside machinery filling the void. Calvin looked at his hand for a moment, then at his parents, and back to his hand.

“This is has to be the coolest thing to ever happen to anyone, ever!” Calvin’s voice trilled like a bird in a bathtub. “Bobby broke his knee last summer and all he got was a couple of lousy screws; I get to be a robot!”

When I Turn

She did her best, but she was young. When her father sighed, she kissed his eyes and placed a wet towel on his forehead, felt the heat of his skin as she touched his restraints. He’d told her what to do, before the fever made it so he couldn’t speak; once he was dead, she was to ensure he stayed that way. No physical contact.

The sun sank in the sky, and the light that colored the workshop’s interior began to change. Now the room was white, and the father’s sweat sparkled. Now the room was yellow, and his mouth made soft sucking sounds. Now the room was orange, and his brow coiled like a viper. Now the room was red, his skin dry and loose, and he stopped making noise.

She knew he was dead, and it made her cry. Her hand drifted toward his workbench ghost-like, past the tin-snips and vicegrips, hovering over the little ball-peen hammer. She’d watched him knock the dents out of the old station wagon’s roof with it. Her fingers curled around its thin wooden handle. The redness of the room frightened her.

In the prolonged silence, the sudden sound of movement made her gasp; the hammer slipped and clattered on the poured concrete floor. She gazed at the table where her father lay, saw his still body begin to wriggle. His eyes never shut, never blinked, and his hands pulled at the restraints. They held, but he kept pulling. She edged nearer to the table.

His eyes locked onto her, and his mouth gaped into a dessicated rictus of teeth and tongue. She knelt to pick up the hammer and stood above his face, biting her lip. He tilted back on his head and reached for her with his eyes, with his teeth. She screamed, and brought the hammer down on his forehead as hard as she could like he’d told her to. The sound was an egg cracking inside the carton. Her father’s face was red.

She placed the hammer on the table and wiped a sniffle from her nose. Leaning over him and placing a hand on his cheek, she whispered something sweetly about how he’d be alright now, and how he was with Mom. She stroked the flesh of his face, felt it like sackcloth under her fingers.

The smell of her stimulated him and he gnashed his teeth, catching the skin of her finger and tearing. She screamed and ripped herself from his mouth, but his teeth wanted more. Grabbing the hammer from the table, she brought it down again and again until she didn’t see her father’s face anymore; all she saw was red.

Backing away from the table, she ran to the utility drawer and found the bungee cord she’d seen him use to strap down the generator when there’d still been fuel for the thing. She coiled it around her thumb, just below the knuckle, until the nail turned red. Then she reached for the tin-snips.