boy touching tech screen

Teddy was searching his room for his favorite toy. It was messy already and getting messier by the minute as he tore it apart looking for Billy Bear. “Mom!” he cried out. “I can’t find Billy anywhere. Have you seen him?” She was down stairs.

Teddy continued searching his room until the sound of children playing outside caught his attention. He went to the window and saw a couple of boys chasing after each other playing tag. They made him sad.

His mother stood at his door and saw her sad little boy. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

He looked up at her with sad eyes, “I don’t feel sick anymore. Why can’t I go outside?”

She went to his side and put a comforting arm around him. “Teddy,” she said, “I wish you could. But, just because you don’t feel sick, doesn’t mean that you are well. All it takes is for one little thing to send you back to the hospital.”

“I don’t like the hospital,” Teddy said. Remembering why he had called her, he said, “Oh yah! Where’s Billy Bear? I can’t find him anywhere.”

“We had to throw him out,” she said.

“What? Why?” his heart breaking and tears forming in his eyes. “Couldn’t you fix him?”

“We tried, but you’ve had him a long time,” she said. “He was broken.”

“You and dad gave him to me when I got home from the hospital,” Teddy reminded her.

“I know, but his matrix was starting to decompile,” she explained as if it would mean anything to Teddy.

From downstairs, a voice called up to them. “I’m home.” It was Teddy’s dad.

“Go down and say hello to your father,” she said. “He’s supposed to have a surprise for you.”

Teddy nodded, got up from his bed, and walked over to the door. “But it won’t be the same,” he pouted.

Following him out, she said, “You don’t know that. It might be better. Now, go see what your father has for you.”

Teddy half-heartedly tackled the stairs – one step at a time – with his mother right behind him. At the bottom of the stairs, Teddy’s mom joined his dad, who was standing in front of the kitchen’s counter with something behind his back.

“I’ve got somebody that wants to meet you, Teddy,” his father said, pulling a new bear out from behind his back. “This is Buddy Bear.”

Buddy Bear was billed as Billy Bear’s cousin and the latest generation of tactile holographic technology to hit toy store shelves.  Buddy could do everything Billy could and more. He could walk and talk, sing and dance, tell stories, play games, and just about everything a child could want in a virtual friend. Teddy was able to recite the advertisement for Buddy Bear word for word.

Dad set Buddy Bear on the ground. “Go on,” he said. “Try him out.”

Teddy was excited at the prospect of having his very own Buddy Bear. But, somehow, it didn’t feel right to abandon Billy Bear so quickly. He shuffled his feet as he approached it.

“Hi there,” the holographic bear said. “I’m Buddy. What’s your name?”

Teddy just stared at it. “I’m Teddy,” he finally said.

“Can we be friends?” Buddy asked reaching his bear paw toward Teddy.

“I guess,” Teddy replied.

“What’s wrong Teddy?” Buddy asked. “You can tell me.”

Teddy’s dad said, “Why don’t you and Buddy go up to your room and get acquainted, while I help your mother with dinner.”

“I guess,” Teddy said, reaching for Buddy’s paw. “I’ll show you my room. Come on.” When his hand passed through Buddy’s paw, Teddy knew something wasn’t right. “Hey! I think he’s broken.”

Concern crept into his parent’s faces. They glanced at each other as Teddy swung both arms at Buddy as if to hug it. This time not only did Teddy’s arms pass through the holographic bear, but he also saw them flicker and disappear as they pass through Buddy’s mid-section. He screamed in surprise and tried to comprehend what had happened. He should have been able to pick it up. “What is wrong with me? Why did my arms go away?”

Maggie looked to her husband with concern clearly written on her face. “Alvin?”

Teddy’s dad scooped Buddy into his arms. “He must be broken,” he said, shoving the bear onto the counter behind him.

Teddy had seen what the bear had done to him. It wasn’t the bear, it was him. He stared at his arms in disbelief. “Am I sick again?” he said, backing away from his parents. “I don’t want to go back to the hospital.”

“Sweetheart,” his mom said taking a step towards him. “You heard your father. It’s clearly broken.”

Teddy couldn’t accept it. “No way. Dad was able to pick him up. Why can’t I?” He took another step back. “What’s wrong with me?” Teddy screamed.

“Nothing is wrong with you,” she said reaching for him. “You are perfect, honey.”

He stepped out of her reach, shaking his head. “You’re lying.”

“Teddy …” she said.

Alvin’s hand rested on her shoulder. She looked up into the face of her husband. “It’s too late,” he said. “We need to tell him.”

“We can’t,” Maggie said, her heart breaking all over again.

“We have to,” Alvin said, helping her to her feet; so he can look into her eyes.

“No!” Maggie screamed at her husband. “We can’t do that to him. You can’t do this to me!” her voice getting louder as she spoke. “I won’t do it.”

“Tell me!” Teddy screamed. “What is wrong with me?”

Alvin remained calm as he sidestepped his wife. “Nothing is wrong with you. Do you remember—“

“Don’t do it, Alvin,” Maggie said. “I swear if you tell him, I will never forgive you.”

“—when you were in the hospital?” Alvin continued. “You were really sick. We thought you were going to die.”

“NO!” Maggie screamed. She rushed forward and scooped Teddy into her arms and made her way to the stairs.

“You died in the hospital,” Alvin said, letting the words hang in the air.

“Shut up! I won’t have you scare him like this.” Maggie said, stomping up the stairs. She tried to comfort the struggling child.

“I died?” Teddy asked. “I’m not dead.”

“That’s right sweetheart. Daddy is being mean to us,” Maggie said. They were half way to the second story.

“How could you say that to him,” Alvin said, finally getting defensive. He was at the foot of the stairs. He continued talking to Teddy. “We didn’t bring you home from the hospital. I brought you home from my work. You remember what I do at work.”

“You make toys,” Teddy said.

“That’s right,” Alvin said. “I made you, because we loved you so much we couldn’t live another moment without you. I did it for your mom. And, I did it for me,” he said, feeling ashamed of himself.

“Put me down,” Teddy screamed. Maggie set him down on the second floor landing, and sat down on the top step and sobbed into her hands. Teddy ran into his room, slamming the door behind him.

Alvin hurried up the stairs and sat down next to his wife. He put his arm around her to comfort her, but she pulled away. “How could you?” she spat at him. “You’ve ruined everything. You couldn’t leave well enough alone. We were happy, weren’t we?”

Alvin nodded.

“Then why?” Maggie asked him with profound sadness in her eyes. “Why did you do this to us?”

“There’s no way we could have known how his matrix would have interacted with Buddy Bear’s,” Alvin explained. “What are we going to do now?”

Maggie stuttered for a moment.

Alvin continued. “The way I see it, we have three options.”

Maggie studied her husband’s face. She shook her head. “No,” she whispered.

“We’re his parents. We have to decide what is best for him,” Alvin said. He cleared his throat before presenting their choices. “We reset his matrix and go back to the day we brought him home from the hospital.”

“I don’t know if I can go through that again,” Maggie said.

“Or, we try to deal with the situation that we are in and try to move forward.”

“That’s even worse,” Maggie said. “We’ve just told him that he’s not a real boy. No. I can’t do that.”

“Alright,” Alvin began, but found that he had to force the following words in order to get them out. “We turn him off, and finally deal with his death together.”

Maggie stared at him in disbelief at his unthinkable suggestion. Her breathing sped up. She began panicking. “You want to kill him all over again.” Without hesitation, she slapped him. “I won’t let you.”

Alvin grabbed her arms to keep her from hitting him again. “Tell me what do you want me to do?”

Maggie stopped resisting her husband and slumped as she considered her options. Finally, she decided. “Reset him,” she whispered.

“Are you sure that’s what you want?” Alvin asked.

She nodded and began to cry softly again.

“If that’s what you want,” Alvin said, rising to his feet. He stepped onto the next step and the next as he sullenly made his way back downstairs. Before, he could reach the bottom; Maggie had gotten up and followed him down. They reached the mantle of their fireplace at about the same time. They looked at each other and nodded. Alvin grabbed a small, non-descript knickknack from the mantel piece. He twisted the device, revealing a series of buttons behind a hidden panel. He pressed the buttons and reset Teddy. “It’s done,” he said, taking his wife in his arms. They held one another tightly as they both cried.

“Mom!” Teddy called from upstairs. “I can’t find Billy Bear anywhere.”

Maggie sighed heavily. Pulling away from her husband, she said wiping tears from her eyes. “I should go upstairs and tell him about Billy Bear.”

Alvin nodded and tried to hold onto her for as long as he could, but in the end, he was left there alone, holding his son’s holographic projector. He closed the hidden panel and put the small device back in its place on the mantle.

“How many more times do we have to go through this, Maggie?” Alvin whispered to the empty room. “This is the third time, I’ve had to be the bad guy and reset our son. Why can’t we just let him go?” He shook his head and went to check on his family upstairs.

____________________________

Mike Medeiros is a great storyteller. He writes audio stories for himself and his friends. He writes for ‘Gates of Sto’vo’kor,’ ‘Blood of the Neirrh,’ ‘Star Trek: Starfinder’, ‘The Klingons of Long Island, Reality’s Edge,’ and ‘Zygerus.’ He is the co-owner of Busy Little Beaver Productions and co-host on the G & T Show, a podcast dedicated to characters, story, and ‘Star Trek.’

(Editor’s Note: We hope you enjoyed our Short Story Sunday column! Each week we will highlight an original story or book excerpt from authors in the science fiction, horror, or fantasy genre. If you are an author and would like to be featured in our column, contact us with a sample of your work to Janice@ScienceFiction.com.)