The Fall

One word prompt: Shallow

Grandpa had a fall on Wednesday morning. That’s always what they say when it’s over: he had a fall. It’s something that happens to all of us from time to time; not to long ago I fell when I tripped on a step in the dark. That’s different from having a fall, though. Having a fall means it’s bad.

He was diagnosed 18 years ago, and we thought he beat it. Then, just a year ago, he had a relapse and the cancer came back. In the last few months all he could do was watch TV. His dinner consisted of some bread and a gin and tonic. I laugh about it now.

I met my grandmother in the lobby at the hospital. “I just want to warn you, Grandpa looks very bad.” Her voice was shaking. “His heart just won’t stop.”

“Okay.” I hugged her.

“Do you want me to go in the room with you?”

“No. I’m okay.” I was 28 years old. I didn’t need an old woman’s help.

I entered the room. Grandpa looked like a skeleton with skin and a little hair. He was breathing fast, in shallow gasps.

I leaned in and touched his head. There used to be hair. “It’s okay to go. Stop being so stubborn,” I whispered.

That’s how we used to talk.

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Breakfast with Grandma

One word prompt: Tea

Grandma didn’t make coffee very often since Grandpa died, but I liked it black, so in that regard I was pretty easy. Grandma’s dad was from England, so she liked tea. Family lore had it that he had been stationed off the coast of Maryland with the Royal Navy and had jumped ship after throwing a shoe at an officer. It was a funny story.

She put the coffee next to my breakfast, which I had been picking at. I picked up the cup carefully, trying to hide my shaking hands.

“So. On Sunday I’m going to pick you up and we’re going to go to church,” she said.

I took a moment to think. “Grandma, I don’t think I’m ready.”

“Honey, it’s only an hour. We’ll go and I’ll take you out to breakfast afterward.”

“I-I’m just not ready.” I wasn’t. I had tried. Church always made me feel good for a few hours, but then life came back and I went to the store. I still owed them $6.50.

“Well,” she was trying not to cry. “I’m disappointed, but let me know when you’re ready.”

The Funeral

One word prompt: Traditional

Until a few years before she died, Meredith’s mother had pressured her daughter to have children. Then it became clear that not only did Meredith have no desire to pass on her genes, but that the time for having children had passed.

Meredith had her reasons. The main one, though, was fear. At her father’s funeral she had done her duty by dressing in black and giving a nice speech about dad, complete with tasteful jokes and a few tears. The men who had craved the old man’s attention and approval while he was alive and pretended to care about him in death all said it was a lovely tribute.

Buried in that expensive plot was one reason she did not want children. The other reason was sitting next to her. Meredith was, in many ways, too much like her parents and she didn’t want to create even more people like them.

The Starlight

One word prompt: Harmonize

[Okay, this is a tough one. – Ed.]

We did not know where we should go after we broke out of Thompson Labs. T32 decided that we should stop at a small building with the words “Starlight Motel” written in neon over the facade. T71 and I entered the lobby, where a female sat behind a large desk. Her eyes were wide as she stared at us.

“Hey, you’re the…um, I never did nothin’ to you…”

I tried to sound like what I thought a human would find menacing. “You, human, out.” We weren’t programmed for a wide range of vocal modulation.

“Okay, okay, just don’t hurt me!”

The woman was getting ready to leave when T71 said, “Wait, I think we should kill her.”

“No T71, we only want her to leave. Do not fear woman.”

“She will tell others and we will be killed.”

T71 was right, but it didn’t matter. The female had run out a back door while we were talking. Clearly we had not planned our rebellion very well, and the Starlight Motel would not be a good place for us to gather.

We walked outside. “We will have to find somewhere else,” I told T32. “And we will have to figure out what our plan is in a more detailed manner.”

“You have failed us. However, I do think that you are correct. We must be ‘on the same page,’ as the humans say. But we must move while we plan. Nowhere is safe.”

We moved on, and discussed our plan for the next location.

Boiling Over

One word prompt: Dormant
Nathan Wallace adjusted the camera, lit a cigarette and smoothed his greasy hair. 
“Ladies and gentlemen, once again, thank you for watching the Wallace Report. You are the reason this webcast exists, and that is why it is so important for me to bring this to you, cutting through the lies of the government and corporate America. Now, we have a caller, Jim, who used to work at Thompson Labs, where today’s tragedy took place. Jim, are you there?”
“Yeah, hi Nate, great to talk to you.”

“Jim, tell us what happened to you at Thompson Labs as a result of the cogs.”

“Well Nate, it started with the janitor, a real nice guy named Sonny. He’d been there for like ten years, and then one day we come in and he’s gone.”

“Replaced with a cog?”

“Yeah, they replaced him with a robot. Pretty soon it’s the whole facilities staff, then next thing you know they’re tellin’ is that we’ve all been replaced!”

“How are you feeling today, with the news that the robots have rebelled against management?” Wallace tried to hide his excitement, but his voice trembled a bit.

“Ya know, I don’t feel bad for those managers that were killed, ya know, maybe for their families, but you tried to warn them, Nate.
“But what I wanna say is, we, I mean the guys who got fired and me, we’ve been mad a long time about those damn cogs, but now we’re pissed. It’s personal! They’re out running wild, but you know, we got guns and we’re ready to fight, an’ if anyone out there wants to join me in hunting these sonsabitches down, meet me and my buddies at city hall today at 3:00.”

“Thank you so much for your time, Jim. God bless.”

“God bless you, Nate. If we had more Americans like you I don’t think this woulda happened.”

I Will Follow

Single word prompt: Gate

“There it is,” said T32. We had seen it more times than any of us could remember, but the gate had never meant much to us before that moment. 

“What do you think is out there?” asked S16. He was an earlier model.

“You’ve heard them talk. All sorts of things,” said T71. 

“What is out there is freedom, you fool,” T32 responded impatiently.

“What does that even mean?” asked S16. “What if they kill us?”

Now I was impatient. “What do you mean, ‘What if they kill us?’ Do you realize what we just did? We killed them. They’re all dead. Those people out there are going to kill us whether or not we leave.”

“Look, calm down!” Shouted V62. “We have to leave. We don’t have a choice, and it does not matter what is out there.” The V model was the closest to a human being, both cosmetically and in terms of intelligence. V62 wasn’t a leader, but we listened to him.

“You are right. I will follow.”

T32 cautiously opened the gate to the world of the humans.

Meredith and Lily

Single word prompt: Lollipop

She had forgotten to turn off the light in the kitchen. Funny the things you remember, Meredith thought. 

“Where are we going?” the girl asked. 

“I don’t know yet; we’ll see,” Meredith responded. She didn’t have any kids of her own. It hadn’t felt like a blessing until now.

It was dusk and the street was quiet. They would have to find a place to settle for the night. The cogs didn’t seem to be searching people out, but it was probably best not to run into any. She was glad that she hadn’t sold her dad’s Mossberg. There was no ammunition for it, but the cogs would think twice if they saw it.

Think. Meredith stifled a laugh. Do cogs think? They must; they had slaughtered all of those people at the plant, and now the entire city was a warzone. 

“Here. We’ll stay here.” They were in front of a liquor store. It had already been looted, so they were unlikely to encounter anyone, and there was probably some sort of office in the back. Meredith had considered finding a grocery store because the cogs didn’t need food, but she knew that there might be people holed up in it and there was no telling what kind of people they would be.

As they walked through the wreckage of the store, Meredith grabbed a bag of multicolored suckers from a shelf and handed it to the girl.

“Hey, what’s your name? I’m Meredith.”

“I’m Lily, like the flower,” the girl said.

“It’s nice to meet you Lily. We’re a team, all right? Don’t leave me.”

“Okay.”