Tag Archives: flash fiction

MapWriter LoveMap: Virtual Honor

artwork by Emille Domschot © 2012

I purchased my LoveMap. So sue me. I thought it would resemble the antiquated match.com, which makes me feel like an antique because that’s how I found my soul mate Gwen at age twenty. We had thirty years together before she died of ovarian cancer. Now that I’m sixty, I’m finally ready to find a new companion, someone to ride off with me into the sunset, our bikes whirring in joyous union.

You know those MapWriter dealies that advise you on your life steps? Yeah, I never bought one because I have all I want as senior librarian at the local library. But the LoveMap sounded all right. Surely, it would work in a similar way to the MapWriter, using its database of my information to link me up with a compatible lady.

As soon as I engaged my LoveMap, I knew something was off. The damn thing looked like a board game. But a sign flashed at me: “Enter Your Moniker.” With the type pad, I punched in Arthur Michael Knight. Yeah, that’s my name. My parents were really clever. Next, a spinning set of dice lit up. “Click to Roll,” it said. I clicked.

The game squares lit up one by one, until the movement stopped on one emblazoned The Ghetto. This message scrolled across the top of the game: “You are a knight of the first order. You must earn your way out of The Ghetto by seducing the seven first-order priestesses.” Priestesses? What?

The game image split in the middle and unfurled to reveal a ghetto scene, complete with a little man in a kind of red space suit, whose back wore my name. A set of arrows indicated I was to pick a direction and search the area. As I clicked my way up a garbage-strewn alley, ghoulish drunks hiding in the shadows reared up and grabbed at my virtual ankles. I sighed. I hadn’t played a role-playing game since 2007 and, even then, work and fatherly demands kept me from getting hooked on them.

At the top of the alley, a crowd of men appeared to be kicking at something or someone. My initial instinct was to turn around and find a safer route, but a small cry emitted from the game. I jumped. So far, the game had been silent. I stopped my space-suit man and hesitated. The cry mewled out again, a pathetic female sound–no yelling, no cries of pain, just a small, shamed noise.

With all the game bravado I could muster, I ran at the crowd, unsheathing a sword from somewhere inside my suit. I knocked the men aside and looked down at the pathetic creature that huddled in the dirt. Her clothing, what was left of it, bore her label: Peasant Dodo. I helped her up.

“WTF?” One of the men shoved me into Peasant Dodo. “Whaddya think you’re doing? She’s yours now, sucker. She’s the punishment dolts like you get.”

“You were hurting her,” I said out loud, and the words strangely echoed from my game counterpart.

“Huh. You must be new here, Arthur. I dub you Sir Biscuit, and you’re doomed. Good luck finding a priestess to get you out of this spell: I call on the spirit Hetch to bind your sword grip and lock your weapons in the lowest level of hell. This I proclaim with the power of darkness, Sir Biscuit.”

“My name is Arthur Michael Knight,” I said before the map face turned black and reverted to the auto game screen.

I grabbed the instructions from the LoveMap case and studied them for answers. LoveMap was a role playing game that involved seducing priestesses in order to earn higher levels of knighthood. Spells, incantations, and false moves could knock me to lower levels of knighthood, even down to peasanthood. The same was true for the female players. And the only way out, once in, was to find a mate and exit the game with her. In the various disclaimers at the end, I found a caution against using real names or other traceable information in the profile section. If attraction occurred between characters, names and phone numbers could be swapped privately. Great. Why had I not read the instructions?

When I logged on the next day, I wandered around the LoveMap world, observing the goings-on of others. The priestesses postured as sex kittens, not the type of woman I would enjoy as a late-in-life mate. Some females didn’t have the essential tiger-like spirit to act as priestesses, and raunchy knights gave them as punishments to errant lower level men. Dodo, it seemed, was the pass-around, worst punishment of all the females. Poor Dodo.

At ten, I gave it a rest and made a pot of coffee. Just as I was enjoying my first cup, the phone rang. I hit the speaker button.

“Thank you for saving me,” a breathy voice said. “You were the first who ever bothered.”

“Peasant Dodo?”

Her breathy voice heaved into sobs. “I used my real info, too. They’ve been tormenting me every day. I can’t get out. Sir Arthur, you have to rescue me. If you don’t, nobody will.”

Her words echoed and faded, as though our verbal communication was as virtual as the game, and then I heard a click. She was gone. I ate a sandwich for mental strength and reentered the game, this time in search of Dodo’s profile information.

Her name was Barb Ackerman. She was thirty-eight years old, never married, and taught French literature at the University of Washington, which was just under ninety miles from my small town. In the picture of her–an actual untampered photograph–her face was plain, but her smile pleasant.

What the hell, I thought. This game was not for me. I sent her a mate request and waited for her to answer. I could do worse than discuss French literature over coffee with a young lady who had a pleasant smile.

Almost instantly, she accepted my request. “Thank you for letting me out of this prison,” she messaged me.

“My pleasure,” I wrote. “Care for a country bike ride this Saturday?”

“I’ll bring the wine!!”

And I’ll bring a rare edition of Voltaire. A book. An actual book. I deleted my profile and stowed the LoveMap away. What a farce.

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An Irrational Robot is a Happy One

artwork by Emille Domschot © 2012

As the first female affirmative action hire at CessCorp, my image was in for a beating with Leanne the Fem Bot trailing me on her little wheeled feet. Tittering followed in our wake.

“Oh, why did they give me you, Leanne?” I slumped back in my office chair, and she handed me a coffee mug filled with a dark beverage, the color of coffee, the taste of dirt. Leanne was proficient at handing me things.

“Because I’m cute.” She giggled.

Face in hands, my mind blanked for precisely three minutes and thirty-five seconds, according to the constant numerical countdown on my quota clock. With a weary head jerk, I shook the grogginess from my skull.

“Don’t sleep, silly Marta,” Leanne said. “You haven’t met your quota yet. We girls have to stick together.”

“If you would actually help me, I might meet my quota. This job was such a mistake, of which, you were the biggest.”

As Leanne rolled backwards and gave off her peculiar whirring noise that passes for crying in a dumb-blonde, hyperventilating robot, I regretted my words. Poor Leanne–yes, I could arrive at a point where I pitied a mechanical person.

She gave off a series of gasping breaths. “It isn’t my fault I was born blonde. Blondes have more fun, but they don’t do stats!”

Not for the first time, I wanted to rip the rakish blonde wig off Leanne’s robot head. “You aren’t blonde. You’re a robot. You don’t have a hair color.”

I swiveled in my work chair and stared dumbly at the mess Leanne had made of my apartment. Currently, she was occupied with her reflection in the mirror, rather than in helping me with my duties. Her little head cocked, her fist raised to her chin, she might have passed for a thinker if she actually had access to the vast stores of information inside her databases.

When the computer boys first brought her to me, I understood immediately what they meant by the gesture. I was the first woman at CessCorp; Leanne the first fem bot. Because of me, one of the .00005% of the male population who was capable of doing my job would be denied due to the unfairness of affirmative action. They left her wearing clothes better suited for a streetwalker, a blonde wig tilted over her titanium head. Somebody–definitely no Leonardo–had painted red lipstick in a smear around her mouth, a pink circle on each cheek, and green eyeshadow that created triangles over her eyes.

Angered, but understanding my predicament, I quietly dressed her in proper robot clothes and scrubbed her face clean before I brought her to life–at which point, she hit me with the punchline of their joke. Leanne had the same information stored in her databases that all the CessCorp robots had, but lacked the ability to send the information to her mind, where she should have been able to process it. Leanne was, literally, empty in the head. And she was right. It wasn’t her fault.

While the other statistical analysis experts used their bots to tidy up their CessCorp apartments and cook their meals, as well as provide them much needed sleep and leisure time by helping to sort information and create relevant algorithms, Leanne could do nothing but hand me the coffee-colored beverage I brewed for myself and stare at herself in the mirror. Oh, and don’t forget–she had the ability to pull all my clothes and shoes from the closet, the same ones every day, and fling them over the furniture while proclaiming, “Gawd! We really need to go shopping! Where’s the mall?”

Therefore, in order to meet my quota, I worked around the clock with no sleep and no leisure time. The fat paychecks I earned as the first female trial-run (exactly $10,000 less than the rookie male hires) were direct-deposited into my account, where the excess accrued compounding interest.

After several days’ worth of blanking at my computer, my quota fell to far below the average, and management pulled me in for a meeting to give me my first warning.

“You have two weeks to get your quota up,” the oily-slick manager named Weston said. “Or we’ll have to let you go.”

Before we rolled out of Weston’s office, Leanne hissed in her usual sad attempt at whispering, “Gawd, Marta. What an ass. He’s ugly. Where are all the cute boys?”

Under normal circumstances, I would have choked back my laughter. But these were anything but normal circumstances, and my laugh rang out loud and clear. Yeah, Weston I wanted to say. Where are all the cute boys? Not here at CessCorp, that’s for sure.

Instead, I laughed all the way to the CessCorp community bank, down one level and a hundred paces through the West Wing, Leanne rolling behind me, cackling like a teenage girl. If anybody tittered in our wake, I didn’t hear it.

I emptied my bank account and turned to Leanne with a secretive smile. “Do you wanna go shopping for cute boys?”

“Marta, that’s the best suggestion you’ve had all day.”

In her attempt to arrange her hair, she tilted her already skewed wig so she appeared as a stoic, alcoholic prostitute who had suffered from syphilis and lost her nose to mercury poisoning. I’m not sure why the bot creators failed to give their creations noses.

As she followed me into the elevator, she asked (and I could almost imagine her wrinkling her nonexistent nose), “This is the way to the mall?”

“Yes,” I said, and punched the basement button. The basement was the location of the bot shop and, although nobody was allowed down there without a pass, I predicted my loaded purse would be pass enough.

And, in fact, I was correct. When I flashed my cash at the guard, he ushered me into the robot warehouse. But Leanne looked confused, more confused than usual. Could a robot suffer fear–could a robot tremble?

“I don’t like this mall,” she said.

“It isn’t a mall,” the guard said. “You’re not supposed to be here. You’d better hurry up if you want to choose a new bot.”

“A new bot?” Leanne said. “You’re trading me in?”

“No, of course not, Leanne. You’re here to pick a robot mate.”

“That’s not allowed,” the guard said. “You can’t have two. CessCorp rules.”

I turned on him, the pulse pounding in my temples, my exhaustion exhilarating me in that special way, much like whiskey. I lurched drunkenly. “My money’s not good enough for you?”

“Now, stand down. Your money’s not supposed to buy you a robot at all.”

“I think he’s a big stupid face,” Leanne said, but her voice was quieter than usual.

She rolled forward in the darkness of the warehouse, past rows of identical non-gendered (but actually male) robots. Finally, she stopped.

“I know him,” she said, and she reached out her arm in what seemed an instinctive gesture, and brought the bot to life. “Hello, gorgeous.”

I gazed over her shoulder, but couldn’t see what she saw. He appeared as all the rest did–titanium head and chest, no discernible sexual parts.

“We grew up together,” Leanne said. “Didn’t we, gorgeous?”

The robot blinked his first signs of life. “I like your wig,” he said.

Leanne giggled.

“Are you stupid?” the male robot asked.

“It’s not my fault. I was born blonde.”

“I like you that way.” The bot hooked his arm in hers, and they rolled toward the guard and me, their faces set to happy smiles.

“Are you stupid?” I asked the guard.

“No, just a little broke.”

“I like you that way.” I forced my happy face and even attempted a hair flip with my short, albeit blonde, hair.

The spare light from the exit sign shone on the guard’s bald pate. He wasn’t a bad-looking man, really. He was just as he said: greedy. I handed him a wad of cash, and he shrugged in an aw-shucks kind of way.

Then the three of us, the two bots and I, made our way back to the apartment quad of the statistical analysis group. This time, tittering didn’t follow in our wake, but awed silence at the sight of two robots with linked arms.

Back at my apartment, I gave my orders to the robot team and fell into bed. Later, after I’d slept about fifteen hours, I took some leisure time at the tennis courts. The next day, I logged still more sleep and leisure time. By the end of the month, my quota far exceeded the top man’s, and I was grudgingly awarded the top-man-of-the-month award.

Nobody in the quad dared question my results, either, but one particularly short and nerdy loser glared at me one day while we were in the coffee room. He wore that I was meant to take over the world if only I were taller expression.

I chucked him under the chin. “You know what they say,” I laughed. “A happy robot is a productive robot. So buck up, sailor.”

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MapWriter 7.0, Error Log: You Chose to End the Unresponsive Program

Instead of a job in publishing, as her Life Map suggested she would have, Claire Chevalier took a boyfriend at Stark & Sons Publishing Group and a night position at Anita’s Diner. A smart woman with a degree in marketing had too much dignity to turn up homeless at the mercy of one Sebastian Cortez, otherwise known as Acquisitions Editor at Stark’s, as well as the Man Who Never Left the coffee counter.

Ostensibly, Sebastian lingered over ever-whitening coffee because he was in love with Claire. This should have flattered her, but it didn’t. She cleaned away his stack of empty cream cups, and then he, having nothing to play with, stared at her while she filled salt and pepper shakers.

“Your map just told me you need to go home and sleep,” she said, unable to temper the ragged tone in her voice.

“Your map told me you shouldn’t turn down love when it’s offered to you,” he said.

“I want my map back,” she grumbled. “And in return, you can have yours.”

“No deal.”

“Fine, I’ll take yours back to the Cartographia and tell them they made a mistake. They’ll deprogram the one you have and give me a new one. And then no map for you. You won’t have your future or mine.”

“Our futures belong to each other. The maps said so.” He hung his head over the counter with his hangdog way and finally pulled a few bills from his wallet and tucked them squarely under the brown mug.

Claire watched him disappear into the early morning, his pointy vaquero boots leading him to his actual apartment, away from his default coffee-bar bedroom.

“No seas cruel, chiquita! No seas cruel con mi corazón,” sang the cook.

When did she turn into a cruel woman? The late nights did it, the lack of sleep combined with Sebastian’s overt caricature of himself as he hovered over her every night. Before Sebastian, she had wanted love. Since Sebastian, she wanted love with a different sort of man, the kind not wrapped up in his own special identity. No, scratch that. She wanted the true Sebastian to emerge from his beautiful soul. Deep inside, Sebastian was sweet and refined, and the sweetness shone from his warm brown eyes.

Outwardly, he put on rugged airs. He was a Mexican! He was a cowboy! He was a manly editor who earned three times what she made as a waitress, only to procure historical romances about cowboys! who were often Mexican! and when they were square-jawed Anglos! they purchased mail-order, spitfire Mexican brides! And everybody participated in shootouts happily ever after. He thought so highly of his literary taste, too.

After her shift, she crumpled her apron in her bag, which didn’t contain Sebastian’s map. She didn’t care to study the life steps detailed on it these days because they always led him back to her. It had seemed so cute at first, when the map store, the Cartographia, had accidentally sold her his map, and vice versa. Their map steps led them to each other, and so they kept the wrong maps with the understanding that their chosen Life Paths would intertwine until death did them part. As interactive and scientific as the maps were, the magic of fate enticed them.

Your map is telling me to buy you roses. Your map is telling me to kiss you. It wasn’t cute any longer. Claire wanted out, wanted a new map that would advise her to find a different job and, possibly, a different man who lacked Sebastian’s dewy, romantic eyes. Scratch that. She didn’t want a different man, just a new map.

At home, she attempted sleep, Sebastian’s hangdog image caught in her head. Sleeping in the day was impossible. She ate a peanut butter sandwich because she was poor, and braved the rainy spring day outdoors, if only to walk to the downtown Cartographia store.

She plunked Sebastian’s map and her receipt on the counter. “I want a new map. You sold me the wrong one.”

The salesman studied the receipt. “You should have brought this back three months ago.”

“So? It’s your fault for selling me somebody else’s map, and you should fix it.” Yes, lack of sleep made Claire snappish.

“I can give you a discount on a new map, but the problem is your warranty ran out last week.”

“I can’t afford a new one. Don’t you understand? You sold me a man’s map. It’s your fault.” She unfolded Sebastian’s map and pointed to all the information that didn’t pertain to her.

The last step on the map lit up at the renewed activity. Go to the downtown Cartographia on your lunch hour, it said. The salesman made a funny coughing noise, and the door censor buzzed. Claire felt Sebastian’s fateful presence, and she turned to face him.

Sebastian didn’t smile. “I decided to bring your map back,” he said.

“It’s too late. The warranty’s expired. Did my map tell me to come here?”

“No,” he protested, but then gave her a sheepish look. “Yes, actually it did.”

She grabbed his map off the counter and shoved it at him. “I thought so. It’s time to make the trade.”

He didn’t argue. The sadness in his eyes was terrible, though. He shuffled back out the door with his own map in hand.

“Fine,” she said, and followed him out.

The tile outside was slick with rain, and her heels slipped on it. She might have fallen, but Sebastian caught her. Her map, however, fell in a puddle and immediately blanked–her life a big, black nothing.

She seethed. She hated Sebastian. This was his fault, and to make matters worse, he lowered her to the wet sidewalk rather than helping her up.

She looked up at his face, at the warm eyes peering down at her and blinking away what might have been tears. She pointed to her map.

“That’s all right,” he said. “At least we still have mine. Maybe it will tell us what to do.”

He unfolded it. Recommend your fiance to the marketing department.

She felt betrayed. Maybe she was always supposed to have a job at Stark’s. “You’ve been tricking me into a relationship, haven’t you? Just admit it.”

He shook his head and pointed to the word fiance. “I can only recommend you if we’re engaged,” he said, and offered her his hand.

Against her better judgment, and not knowing what her map would say, she took it.

For the first part of this story see MapWriter 7.0 Error Log, Case One.

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Does Wonder Woman Cry?

When Meredith’s husband Aaron walked in the door, tired from working on the job site, she sat at her desk, absorbed in reading articles about the rare autoimmune disorder her mom had died from, highlighting portions of text. The baby cried, dinner remained unmade, toys skittered across the floor at Aaron’s heavy footfalls.

He disappeared for the shower, a two-hour process in which he listened to the radio while dismantling his layers of filthy clothes. Meanwhile, Meredith slammed down her highlighters and reordered her desk. She barked commands at the older children to pick up their toys, and threw together an edible dinner one-handed [the baby in the crook of her other arm].

She couldn’t continue this way, exhausted, grieving for her mom, who died three months ago. Didn’t Aaron consider her grief when he sat in silence at the table, his lip upturned at her execution of leftover spaghetti and refried beans that still bore the imprint of the can? Couldn’t he hear the baby cry, the children whine, or the sadness pounding in her heart?

She needed to take charge, organize her house, and forget about her husband’s bad attitude. She needed to unpack the multitude of book boxes she’d culled from her parents’ garage at her dad’s insistence [they’re all female books, he’d claimed]. Her parents were archetypes: Dad a take-charge man and no reader of fiction, Mom a supporting wife who read fluff and self-help books. And they were happy, or at least at peace with one another until death parted them.

The next day, when Meredith dared slit open the first box, she was taken aback at what she discovered inside–not self-help manuals, but marital guides. Maybe her parents’ happiness was not as easy as it appeared through a daughter’s eyes, but a construct propped up by her mom. At first amused, she flipped through the pages of the wifely advice books. Then she felt troubled. According to these authors, a good wife was Meredith’s polar opposite. She flipped the books over and studied the authors’ credentials: glowing Christian PhDs, all.

Maybe Meredith did lack the essence of womanhood. In order to test the advice, she would have to try it on Aaron. Her relationship with him wasn’t in shambles so much as it was nonexistent. Carefully, she picked one piece of advice from each book and set the stage for acting them out. If all men desired sexual serving wenches, as these books suggested, then Aaron would soften at that kind of approach.

When he walked in the door that evening, a chicken already spat fat in the oven, and a tossed salad chilled in the fridge. She caught him at the door, where she bowed at his feet and untied the laces of his work boots–as one book suggested she do–and tried to yank them from his feet. Massaging his feet was the ultimate goal, and she couldn’t do that without first removing the boots. He lost his balance and fell against the door.

“What the hell are you doing?” he asked. “I can’t wear my boots in the house now?”

“No, you’ve worked hard all day and…I was trying to be helpful.”

His eyes, surrounded by grit, muddied with confusion. “I can take off my own boots.”

Emotions stuffed, she watched him disappear into their bedroom. She pulled dinner from the oven and sang out that it was dinner time. Aaron, of course, didn’t hear her because he’d already turned up his radio. She set him a heaping plate of food, just as another book suggested she do, and it was cold by the time he was out of the shower, which seemed to make him angrier than the boot incident.

After a few bites of salad and chicken, he shoved the plate aside.

“Do you want me to heat your chicken up for you?” she asked. “Do you want another helping?” She was supposed to feed him a second helping before he asked, but how was she to do that when he wouldn’t eat the first?

“I grabbed a bite on the way home.” He scooted back his chair. “I’m tired. I need to go to bed.”

“Wait, I’m not ready–” But he was already gone.

“Kids, go put your pajamas on and find a sleeper for Baby.” Soon, Aaron would discover her next romantic trap, and she needed them in bed when that occurred.

From the kitchen she heard him shout, “What the…?”

Nervously, she scraped dishes and dumped them in soapy water.

He banged out of the bedroom wearing nothing but underwear. “Why does the bed reek? Did I come home to the wrong house? Are you ill?”

She stared at the soapy water, wishing she could drown in it. “I sprayed perfume on the sheets to make the bed seem romantic.”

“It’s not.” With that, he pulled a blanket and pillow from the hall closet and stretched his long body out on the couch. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you today.”

Neither did Meredith. After the dishes were done and the children tucked in their beds, she stared at the stacks of pages on her desk–her research, which she now loved more than her husband because it was unflinchingly true, albeit not toward her. What would it matter, now, if she finished with the wifely ideas? None had worked yet. She picked up the paper where she had written the list, and her mind drew lines over her failures.

Then, her eyes skipped to the last. Enliven the bedroom with a costume. If possible, greet him at the door with it. In the back of the closet, somewhere, she had stored a Wonder Woman costume from an ill-fated college party where she’d drunk too much rum and vomited on the shiny red boots. That might do the trick to bring the day to a crashingly bad close. But she also considered drinking a whole lot of wine for oblivion’s sake [not to vomit on the boots].

She yanked the costume over her extra baby curves and filled a mug with wine.

“Do you want a drink?” she asked Aaron, who still lay prone on the couch, but with a newspaper, which caused him to mutter obscenities such as what the hell is fucking wrong with these damn people?

“That’s the best damn idea you’ve had all day,” he told her.

Most of the ideas she had belonged to others, anyway. When she handed him a mug of wine, he took a big swallow as if it were beer [he probably wished it was] and glanced up at her in disgust at the taste of the Merlot.

The wine spewed from his mouth. “What are you wearing?”

“I wanted to excite you.” She covered her chest and stared at the floor.

Nothing would work. She was a loser, a freak with lactating breasts bursting out the sides of a golden eagle. She would never be a supporting wife in the vein of her mom. She might as well return to her desk and highlight yet more useless marital advice tips.

“I always wondered what Wonder Woman looked like without her costume,” Aaron said, and he used the crumpled newspaper to wipe up the wine.

Meredith raised her eyes from the floor, hopeful. She reached her hands behind her back and tugged at the zipper. As Aaron drained what was left of the Merlot, he stared at her and waited. Finally, she gave up and fell into his arms, and she cried because the zipper on her costume had caught at the bust area and she, obviously, couldn’t do anything right. But not to worry–together, they could manage to disassemble even Wonder Woman.

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Dr. Gillilander & the Double Blind Reviewers

It’s no secret that Dr. Gerald Gillilander DPPM PB [Doctor of Psychiatric Pet Medicine, Physio-Biotamist] has recently defended himself against charges of unethical practices regarding his experimental subjects, as well as the way in which his studies are reviewed–or, shall we say, the way Dr. Gillilander treats his reviewers at his extensive grounds right here in the city of Austin.

This reporter braved the rumors on the wind and drove to the dreaded research facilities to investigate the accusations for herself. Upon entering the drive, I stumbled on an unknown aspect of Dr. Gillilander’s shame: the man on his knees, clutching at a woman’s left leg while she attempted to climb into a Toyota sedan. The distraction of an unknown vehicle gave the woman the impetus to strike Dr. Gillilander with her sensible heel, slam her car door closed as he reeled from the attack, and then peel off down the drive.

Quickly, I leaped from my own vehicle, snapping at my cameraman to follow. I knelt beside the weeping scientist, who wore a white lab coat with a yellow polka-dotted bow tie.

“Alma,” he wailed. “Alma come back.”

The bells dinged in my head. Alma was the name of his wife. I took his hand. “Did your wife leave you, Dr. Gillilander?”

“She’s suing for custody of Caroline.”

“Is that your daughter?” I patted his hand.

“Our terrier. Our baby. The one we raised together. Who are you, anyway? And why is that camera in my face?”

“My name is Julie Swisher. I’m a reporter for the Austin Chronicle, and I’d like to get your side of the story.”

He shook his head, and his shaggy hair trembled. He pushed his glasses up his nose. “I don’t allow reporters here.”

“You’ve had an awful lot of bad press lately, Dr. Gillilander. Don’t you think it’s time to tell your side of the story?”

“No. You’re a woman, and I’m afraid I can’t listen to your questions. I’ve heard all the female command frequencies my pituitary gland can take in one day.”

“What if my cameraman and I switch places?” I asked him.

Reluctantly, Dr. Gillilander agreed, and he stood to his feet while Antwerp, my videographer, showed me which button to push for go and which to push for stop. Then I explained to Antwerp that a good journalistic interview resembled a natural conversation, only with poignant, leading questions.

Antwerp rubbed his hands eagerly. “So show me the chimera creatures,” he said to Dr. Gillilander. “I wanna see the ones that are three-fifth human. Do you think they should get the right to vote? Some people argue they should.”

“I treat all of my subjects ethically,” Dr. Gillilander shouted. “We use the democratic process right here at the ranch.”

“Don’t get bent out of shape,” Antwerp said.

“I’ll show you, if you don’t believe me. But this video only gets released at my say so. Understand?”

Both Antwerp and I nodded eagerly, and I made a mental note to edit out the camera jags caused by my natural journalistic enthusiasm. We followed Dr. Gillilander to a cluster of prefab metal buildings that hummed from the use of enormous fans on their roofs.

Dr. Gillilander unlocked one set of rolling garage doors and pushed them up. Unwittingly, I gasped at the sight of the disfigured creatures, who cowered at the sudden burst of sunlight. But as my eyes focused on them, I realized what Dr. Gillilander meant by ethical. Each pen resembled a cozy living room and bedroom space, complete with computers and televisions. One pen, belonging to a creature that appeared as a dolphin with legs, contained a library, mainly composed of Shakespeare. The creature–a he?–wore the same style of glasses as the good doctor, and he held Macbeth in his flipper hands.

“Good afternoon, Dr. G,” said a creature who resembled either a sasquatch or a humanzee.

“You see?” said Dr. G. “They’re perfectly happy. They vote on meal choices, and I’ve even allowed them to organize.”

“Organize?” asked Antwerp.

“Yes, they belong to the Chimera Creature Union.”

I could tell Antwerp was impressed with that. Antwerp was an outspoken union sympathizer. He seemed to have forgotten about the leading poignant questions, however.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Dr. Gillilander, if you’ll allow me just one question.”

The doctor stuck his fingers in his ears. “I can’t hear you,” he said.

I kicked Antwerp’s anklebone, and he yelped.

“Um.” Antwerp gazed around, then stared up at the giant fans that washed the strong animal smell away.

“What about the reviewers?” I asked.

“What about them?” Dr. G shouted, and the humanzee-sasquatch growled at me.

“What about the accusations of kidnapping and bodily harm of prominent Russian scientists?”

“I’ve only done what was necessary for the proper journals to accept my work.”

“Yes?” I prodded, directing the camera intently at his face.

“I change their cage liners twice a day. I give them fresh food and water.”

“Show us,” I said.

He walked us over to the next building and paused, his hand at the padlocked door.

“The video is only shown at my discretion,” he reminded me.

“Of course.”

After unlocking a series of chains, padlocks, and fingerprint-encoded sealing devices, he threw open doors, gates, until finally we entered the inner sanctum, where famous–and missing–scientists writhed on tables, punching words into keyboards with the help of electric shock collars. One looked up at us, startled by our footsteps, if I could even safely use the word look. He was missing both eyes, as were all the white-coated lab dummies. They were double-blinded.

Nary a poignant question occurred to me. I swept the mess of mangled reviewers, my camera hand shaking.

“I’ll have to confiscate that,” Dr. Gillilander said. “Released at my discretion, remember?”

“Never!”

I turned on my heels and booked it, Antwerp close behind. We raced from the lab of horror back to my car. Breathless, I handed Antwerp his camera and slid in the hot car interior.

“We’ll make history,” I panted. “I might win an award for journalistic achievement. I might even become the next great documentary videographer.”

“Um,” Antwerp said.

“Do you think you could speak in words?”

“Um, you forgot to push the go button,” he said. “But don’t worry, I’ll back you up on this.”

For more Dr. Gillilander, click here: The Gillilander Pituitary Scale of the Male out of Eden Complex

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