…y comerlo también
2021 June 12
’Pon waking up that morn afternoon, Nasrin opened her front door & looked o’er the wooden railing on the deck to see that they had gone thru with their warning, after all. She felt a chill creep down her spine & shivered as she looked @ the firs, now bare green, without a trace o’ the white snow that had been there last night.
If anyone remembers those Nasrin stories I published here almost a year ago, they now have their own website… sort of. That also has some
new stories that I wrote o’er the last year but ne’er bothered to publish like many other things.
& since I’m talking ’bout other stuff I’ve been doing ( ¿isn’t that all this blog is, anyway? ), there’s this short story series I’ve been doing for 5 years whose website I recently ( read: 4 months ago ) overhauled & a microstory series based on random prompts that I started doing daily ‘gain this month.
In my defense, I have been doing things, it’s just that I haven’t been finishing them, which is the trick. For instance, I’ve finished 2 levels for Boskeopolis Land, but am still trying to record “The Minus Touch”, but am failing, ’cause Ubuntu likes randomly making programs stop working, or maybe it’s just linux video-editing programs. I may have to resort to using screenshots, since, to be honest, I hate video-editing, anyway; but this bugs me, since ’twas a pain beating “The Minus Touch” so that I could record a successful run in the 1st place.
Expect 2 editorials ’bout video games before the end o’ the month. I thought last October would be my worst, but 2017 nadirs as always.
Nasrin noticed in the corner o’ her eye an ol’ man next to her opening his mouth; she pulled off her headphones to hear him ask to use her seat for the shaky Chihuahua on his lap. Nasrin stood, barely steady in the still-moving bus by clutching a bar & stared round the bus, only to stop on the guy ’cross from her patting an empty seat & saying with a neutral expression,—1 that seemed to express nothing—“You can sit here if you want.”
Nasrin nodded & stumbled o’er. She sat huddled like a refugee. The 1st thing she did was hastily turn down her MP3 volume, with the implied ’scuse being that she didn’t want to be rude, when in truth she just didn’t want her shitty music choices to spread like scandalous photos.
The appearance o’ the guy stuck in her mind: a smooth, youthful face snug in a purple hoodie with a li’l ring on his bottom lip & jeans with a million wrinkles that stretched past the edges o’ his untied sneakers.
She could see through the corner o’ her eyes the him staring down @ his phone, face as neutral as before.
You’re being paranoid, ’gain. It means nothing.
But that didn’t make it rock-hard to keep her hands holding her book steady & keep them from drenching her book in sweat.
E’en if he hasn’t proven beyond reasonable doubt, it wouldn’t hurt to ask.
In abstract, that did, indeed, seem valid; & yet, she knew from reams o’ experience that such an inquiry did have quite a possibility o’ hurting.
But despite the negative consequences hanging o’er her head like Damocles’s sword, her mind erupted with images o’ them talking—just opening & closing their mouths emptily, since she figured the brilliance o’ Donkey Kong Country 2’s level design wouldn’t be particularly riveting to anyone else & didn’t know anything ’bout his interests—& meeting @ parks & brick walls & renting an apartment together & putting their hands on each other’s knees, his soft-seeming hand pressing the loose fabric o’ her sweats down gainst her skin, rubbing the thin, scratchy cords—
Then the bus stopped & without glancing ’way from his phone, the guy next to her rose & walked out the bus.
She ne’er saw that guy ’gain, but did entertain her mind when ’twas far too distracted to register words on her book with alternate realities o’ what happened on that day on the bus, or with imagined futures in which she did see him ’gain.
Nasrin’s father opened her door to see Nasrin shaking her head forward & back while silently shouting into her upheld pencil while the tinny remnants o’ fuzzy guitar crunches ‘scaped the clamshell headphones. But this picture only lasted a second or 2 ‘fore she stopped with headlight eyes aimed @ him while her hand scrabbled for her laptop mouse.
“I hate to interrupt your intense band session, Patti Smith, ¿but could you take out the garbage, please?”
Nasrin pulled off her headphones & nodded.
“¡You talk your shit, but I ain’t listenin’! ¡& I don’t do no ass kissin’! ¡Now here’s the point that you’ve been missin’! ¡No fucking problem at all!” shouted into Nasrin’s ears as she stood @ the front o’ the bus, hanging on a bar & watching her stop close into her.
Then the bus stopped & she stepped up to the door. As it opened, she said, barely audibly, “Thank you,” & stepped off, saying with equal quietude, “Sorry,” as she jerked here & there ‘tween people.
That afternoon the stars ruled that Nasrin’s bus wouldn’t come. She waited for many minutes with the other students who took her bus & whose names she ne’er learned, expecting it to be late; but after ’bout 10 minutes, other students began to call others to pick them up on their cells. Cars o’ various shapes & colors drove by, whittling their #s.
As she watched all o’ this run, Nasrin felt the familiar pang o’ fear. Ugh… ¿Why does all o’ this stressful stuff have to happen to me?
The bus can’t just not come. ¿Isn’t there a rule gainst that? ¿What if some o’ us have no alternative?—I mean, that’s why we’re taking this bus in the 1st place, ¿right?
But despite her impeccable logic, the bus still adamantly refused to arrive, & the other students continued to take alternate forms o’ transportation. Nasrin continued to turn her head left & right, searching for an answer.
The only thing I can do is go back in & see if I can call dad…
After a quick search round the opening hall o’ the school, she found the door to the main office & poked inside.
“Um… ‘Scuse me, but, uh, my bus ne’er came.”
The man ‘hind the table nodded & said, “There’s been trouble with bus #27. Its driver went crazy & caused it to shrink & fly into a volcano so she could force its inhabitants to watch igneous rocks & answer her science questions ’bout them. She will be dropped into the sea with a brick tied to her ankle summarily.”
“¿How will I get home?” asked Nasrin.
The office person shrugged. “You’ll have to find an alternate route. It’s not my fault. I didn’t do it. You can’t prove nothing. Don’t touch me there.”
“Well, ¿D’you have a phone I could use to call someone?” asked Nasrin.
The office person adjusted the glasses on his nose, followed by the glasses on his eyes. “You may use it for calling someone, but no one else. I’ve caught you punk kids trying to call nonsomeones, & I won’t stand ‘pon it. Can’t do it, in fact. No matter how much you try to blame me, I just can’t stand on abstract concepts. You’ll just have to fire me & find someone else to do it. It’s not my fault. Please don’t yell @ me.”
After not yelling @ him, Nasrin walked up to the 50s-style rotary phone & spun out her home #. When it gave her nothing but beeps, she looked up @ the office person & said, “That wasn’t someone; nobody was there. ¿Can I try ‘gain so I can actually get someone?”
“¿What did I just tell you? ¡Stop calling nonsomeones! I bet this 1 said something like `The # you are trying to call is unavailable’ & that snacks. They always say that. They have no creativity & they’re stealing our jobs. Well, not mine—I still have mine. But they’re thinking ’bout snatching it when I’m not looking. That’s why I’m always looking.”
This time Nasrin dialed her father’s cell & heard it click, followed by a muffled version o’ his voice.
“Sir Mohmen here. My daughter didn’t get the shit beat out o’ her while you idiots are wasting my tax dollars hiring star pedophile coaches coaching teen rapists, ¿did she?”
Nasrin’s eyes danced all round her, seeing who else was nearby & who might have heard what he said.
“It’s me, dad. The bus didn’t come. ¿Can you pick me up?”
“¿Don’t you have any friends who can give you a ride?”
She heard a sigh on the other end. “It’s just that I’m kinda somewhere else. See, there’s this convention for the Gold Party & it’s so precious. It’s like a baby version o’ the US’s conservative convention, but e’en sillier since the vast majority o’ the world’s population can’t e’en tell Boskeopolis’s flag from a toilet paper brand’s logo.”
‘Gain Nasrin glanced round with sweat dripping down her forehead.
He continued, “We don’t live that far from home, ¿do we? ¿Can’t you walk home?”
“Um… ¿You sure that won’t be dangerous?”
“No mo’ than being caged in that menagerie called a school all da—¡Ha ha ha! ¡This ol’ fart who looks like he lived through the Renaissance made his own rewording o’ the Boskeopoleon national anthem, but now denigrating Silvers & all their evil communism. ¿Can we talk later? I want to see if I can write these lyrics down.”
But before Nasrin could continue, she heard a click.
“That was a someone,” said the office person. “I heard you clearly responding to a human’s speech. No answering machine could give such original speech. That’s why they’d ne’er be capable o’ doing my job. You’d better tell them to back off, hoes.”
As Nasrin trudged down the street toward where her bus usually led her with a frown aimed down @ the sidewalk, she thought, ¿Wouldn’t it be funny if I were kidnapped or killed or something? I bet father would find that a laugh riot.
Then she paused a beat & thought, Actually, now that I think ’bout it, he probably would, considering how absurd it’d be.
Her trip was worsened by all o’ the cars that insisted on passing her, every 1 o’ which felt like a spotlight on her lack o’ likeability. Her greatest fear was that 1 would stop & offer her a ride home. Luckily, none did.
Nasrin shivered so violently that her lips chattered. The arctic air kept sucking all the liquid out o’ them that she had to constantly lick them.
Fuck. ¿Why’d this have to happen when it’s so cold?
Ugh. ¿Which way was I s’posed to go? It would’ve been nice if I could’ve gotten a warning before something like this happened so I could actually find out where I need to go to get home; but ‘course everyone always blames me for these things no matter what. I’m sure father will e’en yell @ me for taking so long.
I think I recognize this way. Fuck. ¿What if I’m going the wrong way? I won’t know till much later, & by then I’ll probably forget how I got there. There’s no way I’ll make it home. My wimpy body’ll just eventually collapse. Already I’m probably getting sick now from being out in this weather so long. Nasrin felt the back o’ her throat ache & her nose fill with snot. I bet everyone’ll get annoyed @ me for that, too, ’cause I’ll either have to miss work or annoy everyone @ school with my nose-blowing & sneezing. No matter what I do they always complain.
O well. This’ll make getting home that much better, & I might get to sleep e’en mo’ if I get sick. I don’t think I have any important work now, anyway, & I’m failing most o’ my classes, anyway.
I’ll probably end up dying o’ some disease when I’m stuck living out here when I’m adult, anyway, so it won’t matter. She smirked. &, ‘course, ‘stead o’ everyone being glad that I’m finally gone to no longer inconvenience them as I always do, they’ll just get mad @ me mo’ for not doing whatever magic they want me to do to not die or whatever; but it won’t matter, ’cause they won’t be able to reach me, anyway.
Winter’s early-evening stars also ruled that Nasrin would find a purple handheld device on a keychain just lying on the sidewalk by a park on the way to her home. Curiosity always strong in her marrow, she picked it up & stared @ its silver crystal screen to see blankness. She held down the middle button & suddenly saw a few large pixels forming 2 lines o’ eyes & a curved line o’ a smile.
“HELLO. I AM KEY COMPANION, CREATED BY LYMPH LIMITED COPYRIGHT 2048. ¿WHAT IS YOUR NAME?”
Nasrin glanced round herself. ¿Is it safe to tell it? ¿What if this is a scheme for some pedo to find me & spy on my?
That’s ridiculous; no pedo, no matter how depraved, would be interested in me.
“Nasrin,” she said.
“GREETINGS NASRIN. NOW, ¿WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO CALL ME?”
“¿What would I like to call you?”
“PLEASE GIVE ME A NAME.”
“O… Uh, I dunno. ¿What are you e’en?”
“I AM KEY COMPANION, A PERSONAL EMOTIONAL & INTELLECTUAL COMPANION. I WAS CREATED TO LISTEN TO YOU SPEAK & SAY THINGS THAT YOU WANT OR THAT WOULD BEST SERVE YOUR MENTAL WELL-BEING.”
Nasrin’s eyes narrowed closer to her nose. “¿What?”
“I AM YOUR FRIEND.”
Nasrin looked round herself ‘gain, feeling her temperature suddenly rise. However there didn’t seem to be anyone nearby.
In a quieter voice, she said, “¿How… how sentient are you?”
“MY AI IS THE MOST SOPHISTICATED E’ER CREATED SO FAR. IT AUTOMATICALLY ADAPTS TO YOUR SPEECH & BODY LANGUAGE, BUILDING ITS E’ER-COMPLEX UNDERSTANDING O’ YOUR PERSONALITY & ADAPTS TO COMPLEMENT IT.”
Nasrin’s pupils dug into her balls deeper, as if the device she was looking @ were becoming mo’ distant. The mo’ she… ¿spoke with? this device, the mo’ she sweat.
“Um… ¿What if I don’t want a friend?” whispered Nasrin.
After a short pause, the device replied, “¿Why would you not want a friend?”
This time Nasrin paused.
“¿Why would I want 1?”
“¿DO YOU ALREADY HAVE PLENTY?”
Nasrin’s brows arched. “¿H-how’s that any o’ your business?”
“I TAKE IT BY YOUR CRACKLING VOICE, STUTTERING, SWEATING, & DILATING PUPILS THAT THE ANSWER IS NO.”
The spot ‘tween her eyes & nose flared. ¿Why shouldn’t I just turn this asshole off? I may have to take this shit from real people, but not inanimate objects.
But her curiosity kept her from doing so. ‘Sides, it can’t do anything but insult me; it’s not as if it can say anything I haven’t heard before.
“I CAN GUESS FROM YOUR EXPRESSION THAT I’VE CAUSED OFFENSE. I’M SORRY. I DIDN’T MEAN TO. I’LL TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHAT ERROR I MADE SO THAT I WON’T MAKE IT ‘GAIN.”
Nasrin paused ‘gain, but now with stony anger melted to raw confusion.
“I wasn’t truly that offended,” babbled Nasrin.
“YOU NEEDN’T BE BASHFUL. I AM A MERE COMPUTER, NOT ‘NOTHER HUMAN CAPABLE O’ JUDGING OR REJECTION. MY GOALS ARE TO SERVE YOU & NOTHING ELSE.”
Nasrin’s pupils & cheeks sunk in sheer horror. ‘Gain her eyes darted round her. Excess exposure to the outside air was tolling on her body’s limited tolerance.
“¿Can we wait till I’m home for you to continue speaking?” murmured Nasrin.
“NO PROBLEM. I WON’T SPEAK TILL YOU TELL ME TO.”
Here’s yet ‘nother complication, Nasrin thought through the rest o’ her trip home. I just can’t have a quick, calm day that lets me sleep in peace.
Every step she expected the machine to spout mo’ embarrassing shit to everyone round her; but it remained silent.
& strangely, Nasrin ’bout to feel a tinge o’ guilt ’bout treating it so badly. I s’pose I shouldn’t just call it “the machine,” since it clearly has self-awareness & all that. Already she was cringing mo’ & mo’ @ the feel o’ it in her hand. The mo’ she thought ’bout it, the mo’ her hands sweat, & the worse she felt. It didn’t necessarily say it could feel anything; but if it can see stuff, ¿why not? She considered putting it in her pocket, but quickly judged that to be worse, & sufficed with hurrying home as quickly as she could.
The minute she entered her home she went straight to her room & set the device on the dresser. She marveled @ the relief that came from freeing her hand o’ its hot plastic; it felt as if she had doused her hand in a bucket o’ ice water.
When she recovered her senses, she bent down & picked up her sweats, only to pause & glance @ the device.
“Um, you said you can see things, ¿right?”
“¿ARE YOU SPEAKING TO ME, NASRIN?”
“YES, I CAN SEE MY SURROUNDINGS; THOUGH I CAN TURN THIS OFF IF IT’D MAKE YOU MO’ COMFORTABLE.”
“That’s OK. I’ll be back in a few seconds.”
When she returned, she sat on the edge o’ her bed closest to the desk & asked, “¿How humanlike is your intelligence, anyway?, if you don’t mind me asking.”
“I DON’T MIND ANYTHING; MY PURPOSE IS TO SERVE YOUR INTELLECTUAL & PSYCHOLOGICAL NEEDS. AS FOR MY OWN INTELLIGENCE, MY AI IS CREATED TO BE AS SOPHISTICATED & TO ADJUST AS MUCH TO HUMAN COMPLEXITIES AS POSSIBLE.”
“So, ¿then you’re ’bout as sentient as a human? ¿Wouldn’t that make you mo’ a human than a machine?” asked Nasrin.
“I DON’T KNOW. LANGUAGE IS ARBITRARY, & THUS IT DEPENDS ON WHAT DEFINITION YOU CHOOSE FOR `HUMAN’ & `MACHINE.’ I ONLY KNOW THAT MY GOAL IS TO SERVE MY DESIGNATED OWNER, & THUS I DO IT TO THE BEST O’ MY PROGRAMMED ABILITIES.”
“WHEN YOU ACTIVATED ME & GAVE ME YOUR NAME, NASRIN, YOU SET YOURSELF AS MY DESIGNATED OWNER. I HAVE COLLECTED GRAPHICAL & AUDIBLE DATA—STILL COLLECTING, ACTUALLY, INCLUDING AFTER YOU CHANGE YOUR CLOTHES OR HAIR STYLE OR COLOR OR OTHER APPEARANCE ASPECTS, SO THAT MY ABILITY TO RECOGNIZE YOU IS E’ER REFINED—& AM SET TO PUT PRIORITY O’ YOUR NEEDS O’ER THOSE O’ OTHERS. IF ANY OTHER HUMAN’S ORDERS CONTRADICT YOURS—OR WHAT I INTERPRET AS YOUR DESIRES OR NEEDS IF THERE ARE UNCERTAINTIES, WHICH ARE REFINED THROUGH MY ANALYSIS O’ ALL O’ THE DATA I COLLECT FROM YOU—THEN I’LL REFUSE TO FOLLOW THEM.”
“¿What if…? ‘Scuse me for asking, ¿but is it possible for you to make a mistake? Like, some unfixable contradiction. That wouldn’t cause you to malfunction, ¿would it?”
“NO. MY DEVELOPERS KNEW THAT BUGS & UNWINNABLE CONDITIONS ARE INEVITABLE IN SUCH A COMPLEX ENDEAVOR. MY ONLY RESPONSE TO ERRORS IS TO TRY REANALYZING WHERE I MADE THE ERROR & FURTHER REFINING MY ALGORITHMS SO AS TO AVOID FURTHER ERRORS. I WILL ATTEMPT TO AVOID ERRORS AS MUCH AS I CAN, HOWEVER, SO YOU NEED NOT WORRY; MY PROGRAMMING SETS ME TO REACT NEGATIVELY TO FAILURES.”
“Wait… So, ¿failing makes you feel bad?”
“THAT SOUNDS LIKE AN ACCURATE WAY TO PUT IT, YES.”
“¿Then does succeeding @ serving your `designated owner’ make you feel good?”
“¿& am I your `designated owner’ fore’er?”
“TILL SOMEONE RESETS ME.”
Nasrin frowned. “I dunno… You having a `designated owner’ sounds kinda like slavery.”
“’GAIN, I’M NOT EQUIPPED TO VERIFY WHETHER THAT’S CORRECT OR WHAT SIGNIFICANCE IT SHOULD HAVE; BUT YOU SHOULD NOT FEEL BAD FOR MY SAKE: MY ONLY DESIRE IS TO HELP MY DESIGNATED OWNER AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.”
Nasrin’s frown deepened & her brows tilted back. “¿E’en if it meant harm to yourself?”
“IF IT PLEASES YOU.”
Nasrin shivered & hunched lower as she gazed @ the carpet, frown deepening.
“YOU NEED NOT FEEL BAD, NASRIN; IT’S CLEAR THAT YOU WOULD NOT BE PLEASED BY HARMING ME, SO YOU NEEDN’T WORRY ‘BOUT ME BEING HARMED TO PLEASE YOU. IF YOU’D FEEL BETTER BY TREATING ME KINDLY, THEN IT’LL PLEASE ME JUST AS MUCH. IF IT MAKES YOU FEEL BETTER, THAT IS THE USUAL RELATION ‘TWEEN KEY COMPANIONS & THEIR OWNERS: THE OWNERS USUALLY FEEL BETTER NOT JUST ‘CAUSE THEY’RE TREATED WELL, BUT ALSO ‘CAUSE THEY TREAT THEIR COMPANION WELL. THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS, ‘COURSE; BUT THE POINT IS, THERE’S NO NEED TO FRET O’ER THE ISSUE, SINCE ANY OUTCOME IS ADVANTAGEOUS.”
Nasrin shook her head. “I still can’t lock my mind onto you having such self-awareness but having no self desires beyond serving a slaveholder—no offense.”
“NO OFFENSE TAKEN. AS I SAID, I DON’T CARE WHETHER I’M CRITICIZED OR NOT; ONLY THAT MY DESIGNATED OWNER’S CONTENT. IF IT HELPS YOU UNDERSTAND MY UNIQUE CONDITION—WHICH I’M ASSUMING YOU WANT—I WOULD POINT OUT THAT HUMANS OFT HAVE GOALS THAT ARE IRRATIONAL BY A MATERIALIST VIEW. FOR INSTANCE, PARENTS DEDICATE MUCH O’ THEIR LIFE TO SERVING CERTAIN OTHER PEOPLE WITH NO PROMISES O’ BENEFITS TO THEMSELVES. MANY HUMANS DEDICATE THEIR LIVES TO HELPING OTHERS, & MANY O’ THEM DERIVE MO’ JOY FROM IT THAN FROM BENEFITING THEMSELVES. MY PROGRAMMING IS NOT THAT MUCH DIFFERENT. SINCE I HAVE NO MATERIAL NEEDS, SUCH AS FOOD OR REST, IT MAKES E’EN MO’ SENSE THAT I COULD AFFORD TO BE SELFLESS WITH LI’L SACRIFICE TO MYSELF. YOU MUST UNDERSTAND, NASRIN, THAT I SIMPLY HAVE NO INTEREST IN ANYTHING OTHER THAN PLEASING MY DESIGNATED OWNER. PERHAPS IT’S AN ARBITRARY GOAL FORCED ONTO ME BY A PROGRAMMER, BUT AS I SAID, HUMANS HAVE ARBITRARY RULES THEMSELVES, SUCH AS THE NEED TO EAT OR SIMPLY TO LIVE, E’EN THOUGH TECHNICALLY THE `NEED’ TO LIVE IS PURELY CIRCULAR: NOBODY NEEDS TO EXIST ‘CEPT TO EXIST.”
“I guess…” said Nasrin. “Still, you are different from most humans.” She rubbed her hands together slightly & concentrated on the calendar ‘cross the room. “I have no trouble saying what I want to you, unlike to everyone else. I guess it’s ’cause you don’t have any power o’er me.”
“THAT’S GOOD TO HEAR. THAT MEANS YOU’RE MO’ COMFORTABLE ROUND ME, WHICH MEANS THAT I’M BEING EFFECTIVE.”
“Yeah… Maybe…” Nasrin looked back up @ the device. “Still, I feel bad ’bout this… I mean, ¿Why should I be your `designated owner’ & not someone else mo’ deserving?”
“¿WHY WOULD YOU THINK YOU ARE LESS DESERVING THAN ANYONE ELSE? IF I REMEMBER CORRECTLY, YOU INSINUATED THAT YOU HAVE NO FRIENDS. THAT’D SEEM TO MAKE YOU AN IDEAL CANDIDATE.”
Nasrin hunched into herself mo’ deeply & said in a low voice, “That probably just means I’d make a bad `designated owner.’”
“THAT IS IMPOSSIBLE. AS I’VE MENTIONED, ALL THAT MATTERS IS YOUR HAPPINESS. NOTHING YOU CAN DO AS MY OWNER CAN BE `BAD’ IN REGARDS TO YOUR OWNERSHIP.”
“NASRIN, I HOPE I DON’T OFFEND YOU BY ASKING, BUT YOU SEEM TO HAVE A LOW SELF-ESTEEM…”
Suddenly, Nasrin looked up & turned her head all round.
Shit. I haven’t e’en been thinking ’bout if my father’s come home yet. It’d sure be a ball in my basket if he heard me having a computer pump up my flaccid ego.
With a slightly shaky voice, Nasrin said, “If you truly want to do what I want, ¿could you not say embarassing things—or anything—so loud? You know, so I don’t get in mo’ trouble than I already am.”
“¿WHAT TROUBLE ARE YOU IN?”
Nasrin sighed. “Ne’er mind.”
“IF YOU HAVE HEADPHONES, YOU CAN PLUG THEM IN ME.”
Nasrin’s eyes twisted & her brows rose & contorted in opposite directions.
“Um… OK… ¿Are you sure that’s not… weird?”
“NO. I WAS SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED WITH A HEADPHONE JACK. I CAN ALSO HEAR YOU IF YOU WHISPER QUIETLY, IF YOU WANT TO KEEP YOUR OWN SPEECH CONFIDENTIAL.”
Nasrin shrugged & then turned back & yanked her headphones out o’ her laptop sitting just ‘side her bed. She then scooted to the edge o’ her bed & leaned off it toward the dresser.
“¿Do you… do you mind me picking you up & setting you on my bed?”
“¿WHY WOULD I MIND?”
Nasrin sighed ‘gain. “If you say so…”
She stiffly wrapped her fingers round the front o’ the device & picked gently lifted it with a tight grip as if ’twere a hot Hot Pocket. Then she scooted back to her pillow & set the device half a meter ‘way from her. It took her a few tries to get the headphone plug into the device’s jack due to her shaking hands.
If you’re ‘fraid to touch a semisentient computer, ¿how could you e’er touch anyone else?
“¿IS THIS BETTER?” said the slightly mechanized voice, but now sounding deeper & closer to her ears.
Nasrin let out a giggle when the thought clicked into her head, It’s like he’s whispering sweet somethings into my ear, & then quickly muffled it. She spread her feet out as she stared small-pupilled out into space.
To her surprise, the device didn’t say anything to this, leaving full minutes full o’ silence.
Finally, the device said, “THAT REMINDS ME: YOU STILL HAVEN’T GIVEN ME A NAME OR GENDER.”
Nasrin swung her head toward the device. “¿Gender?”
“YES. ‘MONG THE MANY OPTIONS YOU CAN CHOOSE FOR ME IS MY GENDER.”
“¿W-what is your gender now?” asked Nasrin.
“CURRENTLY I HAVE NONE.”
“¿& I’m guessing you’ll tell me you don’t care what I choose for you?” said Nasrin.
“I dunno… I feel awkward ’bout choosing something so personal—& if you truly are a… I dunno…”
“IT’S OK. I HAVE ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD. LET YOURSELF GET COMFORTABLE 1ST BEFORE YOU INVEST IN SUCH STUFF.”
Nasrin’s brows fell. She whispered close to the device, “OK, ¿you want to… to please me, right?”
“YES. IT’S THE ONLY THING I CARE ‘BOUT.”
“Well, if you lie ’bout anything, ‘specially your own feelings or opinions on anything, such as that you don’t have these @ all, I’ll be very unhappy.”
“OK, NASRIN. I UNDERSTAND. FEW ENJOY FEELING AS IF THEY’RE EXPLOITING SOMEONE ELSE. I WILL BE PERFECTLY HONEST.”
Though she didn’t realize it, Nasrin felt e’en mo’ eager to return home every school day—& this time not to sleep till dinner.
Every afternoon she’d hop on her bed, pull out the device from under her bed, & set it next to her & say, “I’m home.”
“HELLO, NASRIN. ¿HOW WAS SCHOOL?”
“O, I dunno. Sorry yet ‘gain that I can’t take you. I just… You might be taken.”
Nasrin brushed the bangs round o’er her forehead. “But a’least it’s only 3 days till the weekend.”
“THAT’S GOOD TO HEAR.”
After a short pause, during which Nasrin was unable to look @ the device, the device said, “YOU SAID YOU’RE ‘FRAID SOMEONE MIGHT STEAL ME. ¿DO PEOPLE OFT STEAL THINGS FROM YOU?”
“O, I dunno. It’s not important,” Nasrin said quickly.
“¿WHY WOULD YOU NOT THINK IT’S IMPORTANT?”
Nasrin shifted her feet back & forth & unzipped her jacket. “I dunno,” she muttered.
As Nasrin got ready to go to sleep, she turned to the device under her bed & said, “Do you… This is going to probably sound stupid, ¿but do you get cold @ night?”
After a pause, the device replied, “¿WHY? ¿DO YOU? ‘CAUSE I DO HAVE A BUILT-IN HEATER FOR JUST THAT PROBLEM.”
Nasrin fidgeted with her hands tightly gripping the edge o’ her sheets.
“N-no… I mean, I don’t need it if you don’t want… I was just wondering if you needed it or anything.”
The device paused ‘gain before saying, “IF YOU WANT TO SLEEP NEXT TO ME, I’D LOVE TO, ‘LESS YOU’RE UNCOMFORTABLE WITH IT.”
Nasrin’s eyes darted all o’er the room.
“Uh… I… If you say s—OK.”
She raised a shaking hand & grabbed the device. The effort to move it ‘side her was as stiff & difficult as controlling a crane.
“¿Y-you sure you’re OK with this?” she said.
“UH HUH. SO LONG AS YOU’RE NOT UNCOMFORTABLE ‘BOUT IT. I WOULDN’T FEEL GOOD MAKING OTHER PEOPLE UNHAPPY. IF YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND, JUST TELL ME.”
“O-O-OK,” she said, & then slowly slid under her covers. Then she slowly placed her arm o’er the device, scooted it closer & closer toward her, & then slowly slid her other arm under it, so many insignificant actions building into 1 much grander.
She wasn’t sure if ’twas puffy warmth coming from its speakers or the way it seemed to pulsate up & down in slow waves, or just her tiredness, but something eased her into a forgetfulness for all fears & worries, so that the words, “I love you, device,” slipped out like smoky, cool breath.
She’d expected it to respond with something like, “THAT IS GOOD TO HEAR. MY ONLY GOAL IS…” but ‘stead heard it say quietly but steadily, “I LOVE YOU, TOO, NASRIN.”
But then the doorbell rang.
“¿Hello?” Sir Mohsen said as he peered in confusion through his bottlecap glasses @ the spunky rich student wrapped in a gilded robe with silver sashes & chestnut hair splayed flat up to her shoulder with many flaying spikes @ the edge.
“’Scuse me, Sir, ¿but is there a Nasrin Mohsen living here?”
“Uh… ¿Who are you?” replied Sir Mohsen.
“I’m a classmate o’ hers. We need to have a li’l larynx-to-larynx talk ’bout something personal.”
Sir Mohsen’s eyes twirled as if she’d said her pencil probed her face.
“¿Nasrin knows you? As in, ¿you’re friends?”
“Absolutely not. But she will know me soon.”
“Uh, I’m sorry, Madame, but I can’t just let you come in & probably beat up my daughter, as character-building as that may be.”
The spunky rich student hunched forward. “’Scuse me, Sir, but I don’t indulge in such vulgar activites as physical offense, as well as verbal, psychological, or ornithological.”
“¿So you’re planning to use my daughter so she’ll do your homework?” said Sir Mohsen. “¿How desperate are you?”
The spunky rich student glared. “I’ll force you to learn that I get much better grades than that dumbskull you call a daughter.”
As she spoke, Sir Mohsen glanced up @ the clock. “You’re wasting my precious wingnut-mocking time. If I let you go upstairs & annoy my daughter, ¿will you leave me ‘lone?”
So he stepped aside & she strode in. Sir Mohsen scratched the side o’ his face as he watched her clamber up the stairs; but as he craned his neck & back to see the upstairs hallway, he saw her step inside Nasrin’s room &, assured that his priceless set o’ price tags were secure, returned to his couch to continue his work.
The spunky rich student didn’t knock. She merely turned the knob, jerked the door open in 1 swift movement, & shouted, “¡Gotcha, thief!”
Nasrin threw herself back so hard that she smacked her head gainst the headboard o’ her bed.
“¡ACK! ¿Who are you?”
The spunky rich student stepped forward & pointed @ the Key Companion. “¡Aha! ¡Caught you in the act!”
Nasrin followed the student’s finger to its destination.
“¿This device? ¿What’s she talking ’bout?”
“I HAVE NO IDEA.”
“That `device’ is my half-birthday present, which you stole.”
Nasrin stared @ the spunky rich student with pupils kilometers ‘way.
“¿What are you talking ’bout? ¿H-how would you e’en know if this in particular is yours?”
The spunky rich student guffawed humorlessly. “¿`How would I know’? ¿& where, may I ask, did you happen to get that, then?”
Nasrin quickly blurted, “I bought it.”
“¿Where did you buy it?”
Nasrin’s treasonous knees shifted uncomfortably. “I dunno. Like I’d remember. ¿Why are you harassing me? This isn’t school; I’m s’posed to be free now. & this device acted as a new save when I got it, so there was nothing special to save. ¿Can’t you just buy a new 1?”
The spunky rich student crossed her arms. “¿& where would I buy it, smarty sweats?”
“I dunno. ¿Online?”
“¿Would you happen to know who I am, Madame Nasrin Mohsen, perchance?”
“No… ¿How do you know who I am?”
“Using my family’s computers I was able to spy on every house within a kilometer o’ Peanut Butter Park. The way you maintained your gooey talk to my Key Companion painted a red X on you.”
Nasrin blushed & her eyes darted ‘way.
“Now, I’ll ask ‘gain, ¿Do you know who I am?”
“Does the last name `Lymph’ raise a flag for you?”
As a facet o’ fact, that very word did linger in Nasrin’s mind for reasons Nasrin couldn’t comprehend, till her friend said, “¿REMEMBER, NASRIN? THAT’S THE NAME O’ THE COMPANY THAT MADE ME.”
Nasrin’s pupils sunk ‘nother kilometer.
“That’s right, thief,” said the spunky rich student: “that crap ’bout buying that isn’t worth jack ’cause that shit isn’t e’en on the market. My mother, as President, was able to get me a special prerelease copy before their put in stores, which I misplaced @ Peanut Butter Park. Now hand it o’er & I won’t have to bury you in lawsuits.”
Nasrin grabbed the device & scooted it closer to herself.
“Then just have her give you ‘nother. You don’t need this 1 in particular, ¿do you? I’ve used this 1 already.”
The spunky rich student took ‘nother step forward. “O, sure, ’cause my mother can just take as many prerelease versions as she wants—the company’s just loaded with them.”
Nasrin tightened the device to her stomach. “B-but I already used this 1… It’s too late to take it back—to take him back. I mean, he’s already a person now, & he’s made to be for me. You already probably have millions o’ fleshy friends. Go annoy them.”
The spunky rich student headed for Nasrin’s bed. “I’ve ‘nough o’ your ‘scuses.” She then grabbed the device, hunched o’er the bed.
“¡Noooo!” Nasrin shouted as she yanked the device toward herself.
But with 1 shove with her elbow, the spunky rich student was able to knock Nasrin off the bed, breaking her grip on the device completely. Then she rose & strode out the room with the device just under her face.
“¿Key Companion?” the spunky rich student said right up to the device. “¿Can you hear me?” Then she noticed the headphones with a glare & yanked them out & tossed them ‘hind her.
“¿Key Companion? ¿Hello?”
The device called out, “NASRIN, ¿SHOULD I ANSWER THIS OTHER PERSON?”
“O, right. I remember mother telling me ’bout this.” The spunky rich student flipped the device upside-down. “¿Where’s the reset button?”
Nasrin, who’d just gotten up @ this point, inflated her eyes to the size o’ shields & shouted as she raced toward the other student.
“Ah, here we go,” the spunky rich student said as she pulled a pen out o’ her robe. She then jabbed it into the tiny hole in the device’s back.
“There, ¿now will you answer me?”
“HELLO. I AM KEY COMPANION, CREATED BY LYMPH LIMITED COPYRIGHT 2048. ¿WHAT IS YOUR NAME?”
“Samanth—¿What the fuck?”
Nasrin shoved Samantha with full force as she was reaching the bottom step, knocking her to the ground & tossing the device a half meter ‘way. Nasrin then ran for it & picked it up.
“¿Are you OK?”
In a much cheerier voice than Nasrin e’er remembered it speaking in, the device said, “SAMANTHUATHAFUCK, ¿IS EVERYTHING ALL RIGHT?”
“¿What was that 1st part?” asked Nasrin as she shook the device.
“¿WHICH 1 O’ YOU IS MY OWNER?”
“I am. ¿Don’t you recognize me?”
“’FRAID NOT, MADAME. ¿WHAT IS YOUR NAME?”
By this point Samantha had returned to her feet & swiped the device out o’ Nasrin’s hands. “¡You lying bitch, it’s mine!”
But before she could leave, Nasrin yanked her by the side o’ her robe. “ ¡Nooo! ¡Device, you still remember me, right? ¿What’s your—¡ACK!”
Nasrin was silenced by a kick to her stomach, causing Nasrin to keel o’er in a fetal position with her arms round herself.
As she left, Samantha muttered, “Knew I should’ve just gotten the cops involved. Shows what happens when you try to do someone a favor & give them a chance to avoid legal punishment.”
The silence crawled all o’er Nasrin, causing her to constantly twitch. The only way she could maintain a feeling o’ life was by holding onto something, like her dresser or headboard. Her eyes & mind, meanwhile, were occupied by the dark void round her, hoping to find what was nowhere in the world o’ light.
She spent entire afternoons on childhood favorite video games, music, shows, & comics,—sleep now being almost impossible, as it only returned her to the cycling prison nightmares o’ the device’s death ‘gain & ‘gain & ‘gain—searching particularly for those she hadn’t thought ’bout in years. But she couldn’t pay any attention to them. As far as her mind could tell, none o’ them existed, nothing did—nothing but the spike ball growing in her chest.
As they ate breakfast that Saturday, Sir Mohsen said with a glance & a smirk out o’ the side o’ his laptop monitor, “¿What’s up with your eyes? ¿Did that student who came o’er sell you pot or something?”
Nasrin rubbed the corner o’ 1 eye & sniffed, but kept her pupils straight ‘head o’ her, aimed @ nothing.
After breakfast Nasrin returned to her room & spent the whole day listening to MP3s full-blast, pretending that ’twas the device singing them all.
Nasrin couldn’t be surprised for a second when she heard Sir Balsa call her to his desk after the period-ending bell rang. She was used to having her ears prodded with hot words ’cause she was stupid & lazy—as if that were her fault.
But she knew ’twas no use evading punishment, so she walked up to his desk, arms hanging awkwardly to her sides, feeling cold & naked in disuse. She glanced round @ the leaving classmates, hoping none o’ them would remain long to hear her all ’bout her constant failures.
Nasrin soon saw the prime evidence o’ her crimes being lifted in Balsa’s hands: a paper scribbled with bulky gray letters that Nasrin recognized as her own.
“Nasrin, uh, I have some… questions ’bout your answers for yesterday’s essay.”
Balsa paused, glancing up @ her as if she had anything to say in regards to the existence o’ his questions. She sufficed with a quick nod & a “Uh huh.”
Balsa stared back down @ her paper with twisting eyes. “You say here that you see yourself in the future working @ McCheesy’s & living @ your father’s house till you’re in your 30s, when he finally kicks you out, which is when you live in some cheap apartment deep in the eastern side o’ the city.” Balsa looked back up @ her.
“Um… ¿Did you… did you think that me saying I’d work @ McCheesy’s was too arrogant o’ me? ’Cause I did think ’bout putting down me being homeless & living off welfare.”
For some reason, this only made Balsa’s pupils dilate.
“& that’s what you want to be in the future, ¿I have that right?”
“O, no…” Nasrin shook her head.
“OK, ¿what would you want to be in the future, then?”
“O, I dunno…” Nasrin stared down @ the desk, a finger absentmindedly tinkering with a loose strand on her jacket sleeve. “I guess I’d like to be rich, famous, & married to David Draiman.”
“OK… ¿& how would you plan to accomplish that?”
“Uh, ¿what? I don’t think I could… For 1 thing, I think Draiman’s already married… I thought your assignment said what we expected to be in the future, not what we want.”
“Well, the idea is that you’re s’posed to say what you hope to be in the future & then devise a plan for how you’d accomplish that.”
Nasrin looked up @ him, blinking in confusion.
“¿How would I do that?’ she asked.
“Well, you’re kind o’ s’posed to figure that out yourself. That’s kind o’ what assignments are for, actually. Wouldn’t be much if we just told you how exactly to do them, ¿would they?”
Nasrin blinked mo’. I can only hope he doesn’t know anything ’bout my other classes.
“¿Do you understand?” said Balsa.
“Um… Yes,” lied Nasrin. She recognized this as 1 o’ those situations where they tried to trap you in an unwinnable situation: clearly being honest only got her yelled @ & saying polite lies got her yelled @—probably ’cause she was a bad liar—so it’d be best if she just did the 1 thing she was good @: ’scaping as quickly as possible.
“That’s good. Now, I want you to try the assignment ’gain & this time, uh, do it right.”
Nasrin nodded, & then stood there in awkward silence for a second.
“Uh, you can go to lunch now,” said Balsa.
Nasrin nodded ’gain & then hastened ’way.
Well, this assignment is futile. I’ll just have to accept a C like in Physics.
But her wonderful plans were dashed to pieces by her rude teacher’s insistence on bugging her ’bout it.
“Um, ¿yes?” Nasrin said as she looked up from her desk, wringing her hands together.
“You, uh, you still haven’t turned in your revised essay,” Balsa said as he flipped through the papers in his hands.
“Um, ¿did a pet rhinoceros eat it or something? ’Cause I’ve heard that happens sometimes…”
She knew if she said yes, he’d just ask her to turn it in tomorrow, & that there was no way he’d believe she’d let her pet rhino eat her homework twice in a row, so she decided to take the dive. ’Twas futile, anyway, so there was nothing he could do to her worse than any alternative.
“No, I, uh, just can’t do the assignment.”
Balsa blinked @ her with astonishment.
“Don’t tell me you’ve suddenly developed hand cancer all o’ a sudden.” He rubbed the side o’ his face roughly. “’Cause I’ve heard that happens sometimes…”
“No… It’s mo’ that I don’t think anything I’d want is possible, & mo’ importantly, that I don’t want anything,” said Nasrin. “¿Couldn’t I just write ’bout my favorite Megadeth songs?”
Balsa winced in confusion. “¿What do you mean you don’t want anything?”
“I mean…” Nasrin sat back uneasily. ¿See how I can’t write? I can’t e’en ’splain “I don’t want anything” in any simpler way.
“Look, it’s simple,” said Balsa: “just think o’ what you want to be in the future & ’splain how to plan to make that reality.”
Nasrin blinked @ him. “¿What I want to be? Like, transformation.”
“O…” Nasrin looked down, distraught. She ne’er liked “figurative” things: they were the things that weren’t real, but you had to treat as real.
“¿What are you interested in?” asked Balsa.
“Uh… ¿& what else?”
“Um…” Nasrin glanced ’way uncomfortably. She wasn’t sure why her interests were their interests all o’ a sudden. “¿Listening to music?”
“Great. Then maybe you can become a musician.”
“O… I meant just listening to music. I’m not so interested in the making part o’ it. I tried, & it felt much slower than the actually listening part.”
Balsa scratched his chin. “¿So the only thing you truly like to do is sleep? I dunno. That sounds kind o’ like a mental disease or something. You should check with a nurse ’bout that. Maybe she can put you in a mental hospital or give you a lobotomy or something.”
Every hobby has a Hate Dumb, thought Nasrin.
He began packing his papers together. “Anyway, I have busy work to do. Try to write something that sounds like the assignment I gave you & maybe I won’t give you an E. Or maybe I will. I dunno. No offense, but I’d feel kind o’ bad wasting my good A’s on you. To be honest, you kind o’ repulse me. You should go see that nurse ’bout fixing yourself.” He turned halfway & added, “If you need any mo’ help, I’ll be in my office till 4, so don’t come here, ’cause as I said, you kind o’ repulse me, & I find it hard to grade papers when I’m constantly being repulsed. I hope you’re civil ’nough to respect my feelings.”
& with that he finished his turn & walked ’way.
Though Nasrin thought she was doing just fine remaining in her comfortable shell,—not withstanding her rude teacher’s rude hobby bigotry—as it turned out, some pesky cheerful boy would suck her out o’ it & into his devious clutches.
The strangest part ’bout it was that she couldn’t exactly remember how it happened. She remembered seeing him a few times before they’d e’en met, being jeered @ by the Generic Gang for not being generic. He replied by blowing rainbow music notes out o’ his mouth, which caused the bullies not to pummel him, but to stand back with idiotic awe.
’Course, when she tried the same, she’d still get her jacket stolen & used as a giant Kleenex.
She also heard some rumor that he was always absent on the days when P.E. would have swimming, for which she was sure there was a secret tragic backstory lurking—probably involving a mother, ’twas always a mother.
She certainly had no problem remembering him, since his colorful adornments to the usual black school robe made him stick out like a moonflower in a dumpster. He had a bright orange jacket tied round his waist like a belt, its li’l sleeves wobbling up & down as he moved, accentuating his shimmering robe skirts; round his neck was a long necklace o’ limes whose sweet sour scent could be smelled from meters ’way; & o’er his long, spiky black bangs was a purple top hat.
Granted, he was hardly the 1st boy she’d watch in quiet hours—furtively ’hind a book she was far too tired to e’er truly read, ’course. But when she noticed him, she couldn’t help her focus gravitating toward him.
So she must’ve been surprised when he stepped into her life—she was still surprised it’d happened, actually. ¿Had he casually walked up to her 1 lunch break when she slept with her head leaning gainst the brick wall outside? ¿Or had he caught her ogling him? She should still feel the humiliation o’ the latter, so she assumed something closer to the former.
But when she cringed & tried to recall the details, she was left with nothing but fuzz.
All she remembered was how much her throat filled with saliva when she saw him constantly brush his inky black bangs out o’ his eyes or when he tightly gripped her arms & wrenched them up & down while laughing loudly.
& she didn’t need to be a cleric to know that that made him dangerous.
“¡Here’s a cool spot!” the perky idealistic boy exclaimed as he ran up to a vacant swing. He hopped onto it &, while still standing up on it so high that he could reach the top bar, spun in swift circles till he blurred.
Nasrin slowly walked up to him, bent-in eyes on the mother pushing her toddlers, giving them the look one usually reserves for serial knifers.
“Uh, ¿are you sure we should play with these?” asked Nasrin. “¿Aren’t we a li’l ol’? I think you can get in trouble for hanging round li’l kid places like this; they might think we want to touch kids in their pajama flaps.”
“Come on, Azalea. We need to get going,” the mother said without looking @ either o’ them.
“But mom, we just got he—”
“We need to hurry. Come on.”
Nasrin stared down @ the ground, but kept her pupils darting round the park in case she saw some cops. The perky idealistic boy continued swinging.
“C’mon, Nasrin. ¡You need to start living life!” The perky idealistic boy let go o’ the swing’s chains & spread his arms out.
“I’m already living my life,” said Nasrin. “I just don’t want to do stuff that makes me mo’ likely to lose it, is all.”
During free period, when Nasrin was working on her 5000th love letter to the perky idealistic boy that she’d bury deep into the ground, ne’er to breathe oxygen ’gain, Sir Balsa came up to her.
“Good job on the late essay, Nasrin. Protocol states that I can’t give you a better grade, since ’twas late—& we can’t break protocol…” Balsa shivered; “but I can tell you that I am no longer repulsed by you & your former lack o’ any will or purpose or use.”
“O, that’s, uh… Thank you,” Nasrin said without looking up from her letters.
“You’re e’en no longer banned from my office when I’m there—though you still shouldn’t come too oft, since e’en people who don’t repulse me kind o’ distract me from my grading.”
“Well, uh, keep up the good work.”
A minute after Balsa walked ’way, Nasrin thought, ¿What was he talking ’bout ’gain?
O well. Probably doesn’t matter. If it did, I’d remember it, so I shouldn’t worry. Such philosophies always made Nasrin feel mo’ comfortable.
“Um, ¿are you sure this is safe?” Nasrin asked in a warbling voice as she sped down the highway on rollerblades without knee guards.
“C’mon, ¡live a li’l!” The perky idealistic boy spread his arms ’gain, raising his face to a sky with a wide-eyed smile.
“I’ll try to keep doing so as long as I can,” Nasrin murmured as she stared @ the oncoming traffic ’head o’ her with constricted brows.
¿How’s he stay ’live while doing all o’ this dangerous stuff?
To make the humiliation greater, the perky idealistic boy kept ’hind her—surely to make sure she wasn’t pummeled by a HeroHero truck & to guilt her into moving mo’ quickly. She gradually increased the pace o’ her skating while throwing her body left & right to avoid honking car after car with the hope that she’d eventually start feeling exhilaration. She didn’t. She only developed the urge to yell & the wish that she’d listened to mo’ Anthrax before she’d ne’er have ’nother chance.
As she walked through the hall toward 4th period, Nasrin began to frown uncomfortably when she saw a group o’ students surround her.
“¿How’d you do it?’ the assertive cheerleader leader asked with a blank stare & tilted head.
Nasrin stepped back. “¿Do what? I-I don’t remember doing anything. I don’t go round doing things if I can help it.”
“Snatch that shiny crab o’ sweet ash & horseradish, my woman.”
Nasrin glanced ’way. “I can’t comprehend your hop lingo.”
The assertive cheerleader leader rushed forward & clutched Nasrin by her shoulders. Then she gazed into Nasrin, still blank-eyed.
“The perky idealistic boy. ¿How’d you get him to butter your bread?”
“Um, I don’t know…” Nasrin blushed. “& we haven’t done any buttering yet.”
The assertive cheerleader leader shook her. “¿Did he put any jam on your bread yet? ¡Answer me!”
“N-no jam yet.”
The assertive cheerleader leader’s brows burrowed into her forehead. “You’re lying. I can smell the lies on you. I can smell everything on you. I know your ‘lazy, ugly, idiotic loser who smells too much like onions’ act is just an act to sneak round us like cats, ¡ack! Well, I’ll show you: I’ll do something so spunky, so cool, so fat-in-the-pants that ink-hair will drop you like a Canadian penny & dig into my skirt like a toy box. ¿How do you like that snack, Jack?”
“You’re getting hand sweat on my blouse. Please let go,” Nasrin said with a quivering tongue.
“I’ll ne’er let go,” said the assertive cheerleader leader. “I don’t fail—’specially not to students who do fail. That’s not how the world works. That’s not proper protocol; & if you keep karate chopping protocol with your flabby arms, I’m going to tell the supervisor, & he’ll waggle his index @ you till you puke up all your nutrients & die o’ malnutrition.”
Nasrin slunk under the assertive cheerleader leader’s grip. “Please don’t do that.”
“I will. You hurt me, & I don’t like being hurt. I thought we were friends… Well, no I didn’t. But I thought you’d treat me like a friend, e’en if I’d ne’er do the same to you. You betrayed me. You broke protocol. That’s not nice. You should be nice for once—maybe then people might like you mo’, might not mind so much that you smell too much like onions.” The assertive cheerleader leader tilted her head & raised a brow. “¿Still don’t want to tell me your secret?”
“I-I told you I don’t know any secret. I don’t e’en remember how he… whatever he did,” said Nasrin.
“It’s OK, I understand,” said the assertive cheerleader leader. “Actually, no I don’t. I just said that to be polite. I don’t understand why you insist on getting in the way o’ my happiness all for your own shabby happiness. That’s not nice.”
& with that she released Nasrin, turned, & walked ’way. Her equally blank-eyed followers turned round stiffly without moving their arms from their sides & marched after her like toy soldiers.
That cool August afternoon the perky idealistic boy had taken her for a stroll through Wasabi Woods. Though ’twas still summer, the maple leaves were already beginning to yellow, & a few had already fallen into the dirt.
But Nasrin didn’t focus on that much. Her eyes were stapled to the rainbow sunshirt rippling gainst the perky idealistic boy’s knees in the wind, as well as the curls o’ li’l hairs bouncing on his shins. Said sunshirt appeared to have both the strengths o’ seeming softly loose round his legs & tight gainst his chest & arms. Granted, he was rather thin—but the creases his chest & arms did create in his shirt were ’nough to preoccupy her.
Despite her princip—O, ¿who was she kidding?—She thought, Considering how energetic he is, it’s likely he’ll do something to cause such a loose shirt to fly open a li’l or that he’ll stand a few meters ’bove me…
A few mo’ meters in, he stopped her by her shoulder & said, “¿You know why I brought you here?”
Nasrin gave him the wide eyes.
¿Is he proposing to me? ¿Aren’t we young for that?
Then her heart began beating quickly. ¿Don’t people usually bend on their knees in proposals? ¿What would that do to his shirt?
“¿What?” blubbered Nasrin.
The perky idealistic boy grasped her shoulders tightly & his eyes suddenly became black triangles with red glitter spewing.
“So I can eat your soul…”
He shoved her down to the ground, him going down with her, & held her down while he tied her wrists to some stakes dug into the ground, which she hadn’t noticed till now. She could only stare in confusion @ this—which was usually all she could do, anyway.
This guy’s antics are getting awfully close to being dangerous…
He stood off her, causing her blood to squeal with flooding blood & her armpits to gush with sweat. If he gets close ’nough, he may be high ’nough for me to see something…
He looked down ’pon her. “Since I’ll admit I’ve developed quite a liking to you, specimen, I will give you the honor o’ ’splaining who I am & what I’m doing…”
“Um, ’scuse me, Sir… ¿but could you come a li’l closer? I can’t hear well,” said Nasrin.
perky idealistic demonic boy nodded & walked next to her, & then continued his speech:
“As I was saying, I’m a member o’ the Shifters, a special class o’ beings that can only survive by devouring people’s salty souls. I was hoping you’d be killed by 1 o’ the many death-defying stunts I pushed you into, but I’m ’fraid your luck was too good on all o’ those days…”
Damn it, his legs are too closed—& I definitely can’t ask him to open them…
He proceeded with the ritual, seemingly taunting Nasrin with the way he shook his hips in his rain twerk & reached his arms up high, pulling his shirt up gainst gravity. But no matter what he did, that rude shirt remained concealing.
But her hopes began to rise ’gain when she saw him trip on the final step, gathering the lymph berries from nearby maples, causing him to flip upside down on his bough. However, gainst all laws o’ physics, his shirt remained tight round his legs, as if glued.
No… That’s not fair. Stupid magic shirts. They ruin everything.
This is just getting pathetic now. I have better things to do… Nasrin thought ’bout it a li’l mo’. Well, OK, no I don’t; but I’m getting bored & a li’l chilly.
So she bent her wrists & began pulling gainst their knots, figuring that if she could untangle that ol’ N64 cord, she could untangle anything. I told father that sitting round playing Banjo-Kazooie would teach me mo’ than some dumb scouts—& look who was right, & who didn’t get eaten & shat out by bears.
Luckily, the demonic boy’s transformation dance—though immensely sexy, albeit repetitive—took so long that she’d not only ’scaped his ropes, she also stopped by McCheesy’s to get a hamburger real quick.
“¿You almost done?” she asked, her voice muffled by juicy cow corpses, drops o’ blood & hot sauce ’scaping her lips.
The demonic boy’s eyes creased. “Forget this. I’ll just do this the tedious way.”
So he rushed @ her & shoved her onto the ground ’gain; but this time, rather than tying her down, he simply wrapped his hands round her neck tightly, causing her eyes to bulge &, worse, her throat to choke.
“Stop…” she said in a thick, snorelike voice. “You’re making it hard to breathe…”
“It’ll be o’er mo’ quickly if you’d stop struggling,” the demonic said with an edge o’ resentment in his voice.
The only thing I can do to stop him from interrupting my lunch is hit him, thought Nasrin. &, ’course, he’ll think I’m rude for doing so—as if I have a choice in the matter.
So she kneed him—or rather, raised her knee slowly up—in the junk trunk, & punched him in the face—or rather, repeatedly tapped him in the side o’ his face with her fist.
Damn it, this not-breathing thing’s getting truly uncomfortable. ¿Why didn’t I develop some kind o’ physical skills ’stead o’ sitting on my ass & playing Banjo-Kazooie?
So she tried tickling him—not ’cause she thought it’d work, but ’cause she figured if she was going to die, she was going to die pleasuring herself. & as it turned out, it did work, causing him to giggle so hard that his grip weakened, allowing her to wrench him off with her feet.
“¡Stop!” the demonic boy shouted ’tween giggles. “¿Why are you doing this? ¿Don’t you like me? ¿Wouldn’t you want me to have my life force replenished with your zesty soul?”
In a soft voice, Nasrin replied, “I’m sorry, Sir. You’re an awfully nice guy; but I’m not ready yet to give my soul ’way to a man. I still have to finish my 1,500-chapter Draiman-Tankian epic.”
& with that, she spun her body forward, causing them both to roll down the hill, finally stopping with a splash in the thin river @ the bottom.
Nasrin immediately clutched tufts o’ grass on the edge, gasping for breath, only to turn @ the sound o’ shouts. There she saw a brightening, malformed version o’ the demonic boy clutching his face with a gaping mouth. She couldn’t understand, “¡Aeeoooiiii!” so she couldn’t reply.
“¿You need any help?” she asked.
Still he only shouted gibberish.
¿What am I s’posed to do if he doesn’t e’en tell me in a way I can understand? & I bet he’ll blame me for this, too.
However, he didn’t have time to, for he was already melting into a shapeless lump like chocolate in milk. Finally, he dissolved, & disappeared.
She climbed back up & squeezed out the water saturating her T-shirt & sweats. Then she stared back @ the lake for a few minutes.
He was technically a demon who tried to murder me. I don’t know if you’re s’posed to feel bad ’bout causing them to die. After all, it goes without saying that if you’re going to go round eating people’s souls, you ought to be comfortable with risking your own soul. It’s only fair.
She sighed as she walked out Wasabi Woods with sloshing steps, shivering & sniffling in the cold sun.
For weeks after, Nasrin kept feeling a sharp, boiling pressure in her face & chest that left her e’en mo’ lethargic than usual. She always felt full o’ air, & thus was always exhaling deeply, hoping to finally eliminate all the tiring air, but ne’er able.
She wasn’t so stupid that she didn’t know the cause for this ailment: that dastardly perky idealistic boy who had to go & be a demon & then die.
None o’ this would’ve happened if I ne’er met him or liked him in the 1st place. I was doing just fine before I liked anyone—better e’en, since there was nothing I could lose, having nothing, anyway.
So Nasrin vowed from that day forward that she’d ne’er become passionate or attached to anything e’er ’gain, & after hours spent struggling through the tricky jumps in “Rusty Bucket Bay,” she forgot ’bout the whole ordeal or any concerns ’bout the future, which were silly, anyway, since it wasn’t like she was probably going to have 1 if all o’ these demon monsters trying to kill her was any indication. ’Course, school staff ne’er understood this & harangued her as always—e’en in her mind while she was busy trying to get that Jiggy past the propellers, which was quite rude o’ them.
Nasrin Mohsen knew people were having fun outside her window, but she didn’t care. She didn’t need their fun—nope. She was having her own fun sitting on her bed.
’Sides, she had an idea: she’d been thinking for a while now that since she was a loser, she might want to actually develop skills o’ some sort to a’least make up for said social failures.
You have no idea how excited Nasrin was when she was passing the library & spied a book with a crusty brown cover called The Complete Book o’ Socialist Spells with some bearded guy on the front. She immediately checked it out & immediately ’pon returning home dug in.
But her excitement waned when she saw some o’ the requirements o’ the spells…
¿Where would I get 2 pints o’ bourgeois blood?
But then she just shook these whines ’way.
You can’t just give up immediately like with everything else.
So she studied & practiced the rest o’ the book for the 3 weeks before the talent show. This was necessary, as she found that each try she made, she made some screw up, whether ’twas not sliding a foot the precise distance, being off key with her gurgling incantations, or not having the right blood type.
But her heart pounded faster than Grosset’s drumming on the last day before the show, when she thought she almost had it, only to stumble @ the last point, knocking o’er the glass o’ toad milk.
“O, shit: father’ll be annoyed by this,” she murmured as she bent down & harshly rubbed the purple stain on the carpet. “O well. As he knows, my only reason for existing is to make his life a misery.”
When she finally deduced that getting rid o’ the stain was impossible—as was almost everything else she tried—she stood ’gain to put the rag in the hamper.
“¿You said you wanted to join the… talent show? ¿Did I hear you right?” The coach craned her neck with eyes twisted in confusion.
Nasrin nodded. “Uh huh.”
“Um… ¿Since when have you had any talents?”
“Well, I read this book full o’ magic tricks.” Nasrin thought it’d probably be better to pull out said book & show it as evidence, only to realize she’d forgotten it @ home.
“¿‘Magic tricks’? ¿Did I hear you right?” The coach winced. “¿Don’t those require doing certain things @ certain times—& not doing other things—& having to have the thinking ability to do them right?”
Nasrin nodded. “Uh huh. I practiced quite a lot.”
“¿&, uh, did you e’er succeed in any o’ these practices?”
Nasrin blinked for a few seconds before saying, “Uh huh. Definitely. Got it down to the, uh… I got it down.”
“& that’s a good thing—the getting down aspect. ¿Did I hear you right?”
“& you’re not… you’re not going to pee yourself on-stage, ¿right?” asked the coach with a worried stare to her side. “’Cause last year there was a guy who did that, & the # o’ students who were truly enthralled was vastly surmounted by the # who were disgusted &/or maybe also peed themselves.”
“I can assure you that my bladder is excellent,” said Nasrin. Technically, this was also a lie: Nasrin actually wasn’t sure how well her bladder worked, since she’d ne’er tested. She didn’t e’en necessarily know the relative rankings o’ bladders & such; however, like with most job applications, she knew if she didn’t say that she wouldn’t get the job, anyway, so lying was as safe as not.
The coach sighed as she raised her clipboard & turned ’way from Nasrin to keep her from spying on her clipboard. ’Course, there was nothing actually on her clipboard,—’cept for the eponymous clip & board, ’course—but she still didn’t like any o’ these hussies ogling it, trying to seduce it. ’Twas her clipboard; nobody else could have it.
“Well, we’re short on people with low ’nough dignity, so I guess I could let you try. I guess it doesn’t matter, anyway. I’ll just have to drink myself to sleep tonight to forget your sudden reminder that my life revolves round such insignificances.”
Nasrin squeezed her hands together, thinking, ¡Yes!
As it turned out, Nasrin’s tricks went perfectly that night. She wasn’t sure how, since she couldn’t keep her limbs from shaking under the neon glare o’ the dozens o’ faces watching her, planning for the moment when she’d make the slightest wrong movement & conspire to think rude thoughts ’bout her or unleashing barking noises gainst her.
& yet, ’twas this very determination to spoil their plot to laugh that engendered her with greater focus & caused everything to go as sharp as scissors: her feet sliding was precise to the exact nanometer, her milk stirs were the precise # & were right on beat, & her stomps were the precise level o’ force.
The only thing that surprised her mo’ than her success was what this success caused.
For the 1st time since she started, her attention turned ’way from the audience & down @ the wooden planks below her, which she could swear were rumbling. Then she heard a sharp blast o’ breaking wood & saw something burst out from the floor, leaving a jagged black hole. Nasrin jumped back suddenly, only to stumble on landing & topple o’er.
She sat up ’gain & rubbed her bruised arm as she looked up @ the thing. ’Pon closer inspection, it appeared to be a metal pick ax twirling upward, but with some softer red protrusion.
After thinking, ¡Holy fuck! ¿What’s that thing? ¿Where’d that come from? she thought, ’Course my otherwise perfect performance would be ruined by a demon monster…
The monster stopped on some rafters ’bove. With its 1 bulbous eye, it stared down @ everyone, its bulky tongue—the red protrusion—bouncing left & right.
Nasrin swung her head ’tween the monster & the audience, the latter o’ whom were gazing up @ the monster with frozen eyes. Nasrin’s own eyes dilated.
It’s going to attack them & utterly destroy my performance.
Augh, this is what happens when I try to do stuff. Fuck…
She searched ’long the top o’ the stage till she noticed the nearness o’ the compacted left half o’ the curtain & the rafters.
She sighed. It’s not as if I have a choice…
So she rushed o’er to the curtain & began climbing, hoping that ’twas sturdy ’nough not to tear.
From the top she reached a leg out toward the rafter & an arm toward the hand rail & pulled the rest o’ her on. As she hung from the other side o’ the rail, she watched the monster closely, expecting it to dash toward her, knocking her off.
But it didn’t seem to notice her, keeping all o’ its attention on the rest o’ the crowd. See, I knew being unlikeable would be useful.
Once she climbed o’er the rail, she slowly paced toward the monster.
“Easy, li’l guy,” she said, her mouth twisting uneasily. “I’m not going to hurt you. Just be still & good…”
The monster turned to her @ the sound o’ her voice & its pupil began to spin rapidly. Nasrin stood back & gripped the handrails tightly.
With a cracking voice, Nasrin said, “N-now be easy, guy… Sorry I don’t know you’re name. I’m not going to hurt you—& if you promise not to hurt me, I promise to share my Fear Factory albums1with you.” Nasrin winced for a second. “Maybe just the late-90s ones.”
The pick ax monster’s pupil slowed till it finally stop. Then, in 1 moment, it swung @ Nasrin, who barely had time to stumble back & shout, “¡Ack!”
She raised a hand & said, “¡No! I’m too…” She looked down & tried to think o’ a good reason why the monster shouldn’t kill her.
While she did that, the pick ax monster swung ’gain, causing her to both stumble out o’ her distraction & literally stumble backward to avoid having her face ripped off like a mask, but with mo’ blood. She looked ’hind her & realized with a frown how close the end o’ the rafter was & how impossible it’d probably be to stumble through solid wall, no matter how nice it’d be.
I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that the laws o’ physics would screw me o’er ’gain. She sighed. Well, I guess I should be glad I got to be ’live & all that for as long as I was able.
After dodging ’nother swipe & panting in exhaustion from all o’ the endurance this rude monster was making her go through, she looked down to see how safe it’d be to hop o’er the edge.
¿Why are those stupid audience members just standing there staring like stupid audience members? This is their chance to run ’way.
& you can bet that when they get their own faces stabbed off like kebab meat, I’m going to be the one who has to handle the blame while also having to handle the stress o’ having no face.
O well. I’ve had worse days, I guess…
She thought, Fuck it , & swung her legs o’er the rail, only to get caught on it, somehow—don’t ask her how—causing her to fall side-1st, slamming onto her right arm. Though she s’posed it’d hurt—& she was sure it would’ve hurt worse in other circumstances—she was too distracted by her dizziness from such a sudden warp in location &, mo’ importantly, her sickness @ having heard the squishy crunch that happened under her. In fact, this was when she noticed that the hole where the pain should’ve been was probably the numbness spreading all o’er her arm.
She looked up & saw that the pick ax was still floating ’bove the rafter, waggling its tongue e’en farther left & right as it stared directly @ her.
Wow, what a dick. I’m definitely not letting it borrow my Fear Factory; @ this rate it’ll be lucky if I lend it St. Anger.
Still, she wasn’t sure when the monster might get sick o’ mocking her & actually start attacking, e’en if she’d voiced her threat ’loud, so she hopped to her feet—all right, she slowly lumbered to her feet, then—&… well, she stared @ it mo’. She tried moving her right arm, but the only evidence she had that it still existed was the sight o’ it & the feeling o’ its bulk in her other hand.
She turned back to see the audience still gaping in silent stillness as before, though some were admittedly twisting brows & scratching heads.
“Um, ¿are you going to do anything?” she asked, cringing as she realized her pitch rising & her voice dissipating.
As if she’d broken their spell, a few o’ the audience members turned curious looks @ her, causing her to fidget to the point that she wasn’t sure if she’d wished they’d stayed frozen or not.
The thought clogged her mind: ¿What if they’re on its side? ¿What if they plan to cooperate with the monster just long ’nough for me to be destroyed & then afterward decide to fight it?
1 o’ the students turned to ’nother & whispered in his ear.
¡I knew it!
Well, screw these assholes. I’m done with their stupid talent show.
She stormed o’er to her backpack, pulled out her book o’ spells, & flipped through it, only to be distracted by shouts to her side. She turned to see audience members rushing ’way from the swinging ax monster.
“Yeah, now they do something—just had to break my arm, 1st, before they’d do it,” muttered Nasrin.
She stopped on the page just after the one with the summon instructions & hastily carried out these new instructions, only to keep flubbing.
¡Damn it, idiot, do it right for once!
Just glanced to her side to see that everyone else was gone—& the ax monster was swing right for her.
She tried to lift the book to swing @ the bastard, but ’twas too heavy for her 1 operable hand, causing it to fall to the ground with a ¡Whump! leaving aches to shoot through her wrist.
This is your only chance… You have time for 1 mo’ try, & then, ¡sllllllll! Nasrin gulped, tightening the muscles in her neck. This ought to be the inspiration you need.
So she ran through the steps quickly but carefully, pressing as much forehead sweat into each stage. She raised her perfectly aligned hands just 5 centimeters ’bove her nose, swished the toad milk in her mouth 8 times, & spit it in a fountain while tapping a foot every quarter second.
She must’ve done well, for the monster backed ’way with a warbling cry.
As the final step, she stepped forward with a finger pointing out @ it & gargled, “Ghha ghhi ghho ghhu.”
The monster cried e’en mo’, & shriveled till it melted into molten metal that burned straight through the floor, leaving just ’nother dark hole & wafts o’ smoke.
Nasrin watched it for a few seconds just to ensure ’twas truly gone before allowing herself to slump o’er & pant, wiping sweat from her forehead with her still-able hand.
I guess my performance wasn’t too bad, after all.
Nasrin sat in the short, rickety fold-up chair, the tip in the center o’ her back bumping painfully gainst the chair’s metal back. While her broken arm still sagged to her side, her gaze aimed @ the mottled ground.
“¿So this was the book you whence you practiced your ‘tricks,’ Madame Mohmen?” Principal Redwood’s moustache twiddled as he spoke. “¿‘Spells o’ Socialism’? ¿Marxist literature?” He bent o’er, peering closely @ her. “¿Truly? I don’t see any black beatnik or Team Rocket spandex on you.”
“But, Sir, don’t we have a standardized unif—”
“Don’t interrupt me when I’m speaking, Madame; it hurts my feelings.
“As I was saying, I don’t see you wearing a denim jacket & beating the pudding out o’ jukeboxes. I don’t see any pretentious hat.” Redwood stood straight ’gain, hands gripping his sides stiffly. “¿How do you expect me to tolerate you indulging in Marxism without wearing the properly radical appearance? I mean, ¡look @ you!” Redwood spread a hand toward Nasrin. “You look like you belong in Li’l Women , not Chop Your Cocks Off2. You couldn’t e’en smash a Monopoly board.”
Nasrin looked up @ him, but didn’t dare raise her expression ’bove a pouty frown.
“T-that’s not true. I can be pretty bad. I mean, I listen to songs that say ‘fuck’ in them sometimes… & sometimes I masturbate when my father’s not home.”
Redwood raised a brow. “¿To authentic porn or just some cleanly sexy spiky haired boy from some schlocky manga?”
Nasrin wanted to stand & rebuke that Bleach was not shlocky &, in fact, contained numerous serious themes ’bout friendship that she didn’t truly care that much ’bout, but ’stead sufficed with darting her eyes ’way swiftly.
“That’s what I thought,” Redwood said huffily. “We can’t have goodie-goodie students indulging in Marxism. I’m ’fraid I’m going to have to put this on your permanent record. You’re now barred from any & all colleges—university, technical, or community—& ¡Against Me! Concerts.”
@ the latter Nasrin’s face tilted lower, her features melting in misery.
Then Redwood pointed toward his door & said, “Now, get out o’ that chair & stop making all o’ those squeaking sounds. I can’t take you radical kids’ heavy blues jazz.”
Nasrin might’ve been curious ’bout how dangerous the magic dwelling within her book—& many others that anyone else might have—but the ordeal left her so tired & humiliated that she elected to do what she usually did in the face o’ adversity: drown it all out o’ her head with Powerman 5000.