Authors: G. S. Wright
A Novel by G.S.
This is a work of
fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this
novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2013 G.S.
Published by G.S.
All rights reserved.
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Josh Norton seemed just like all the other boys, he enjoyed
playing sports and video games, playing with toy guns and swords, watching
cartoons, and even had a small collection of vintage action figures. His
parents had also bought him a new bike that put all of his friends’ old broken
things to shame. In every regard he was as normal a boy as money could buy.
None of that made him special. All of his interests, right
down to his personality, were individually chosen at time of purchase. A
complex set of algorithms took those details and made it almost impossible to
tell him from a real boy, a perfect kid designed to his owners’ specifications.
His generation was highly sought after by would-be parents, thanks to the nearly
infinite combination of personality traits, and they were available from infant
There hadn’t been a real child born for twenty years, the
price the world paid for near immortality, so few knew what to compare a kid to
anyway. Their own childhood memories were faint and lost to their hubris, and
with it, their empathy for nurturing.
Josh Norton’s life, as he knew it, had to end.
Lance Stalling liked to break things.
In his dirty, cherry-red Ford truck, he’d done his share of damage.
He and his truck had a special relationship, on the weekends they would go out
together and run things over. It brought him a small measure of joy like
nothing else. He especially enjoyed breaking other peoples’ kids. He’d grown
tired of his job and jaded toward his girlfriend. His doctor said he suffered
from desensitization and gave him more pills. He didn’t tell his doctor about
the kids. Something so cathartic couldn’t be that bad.
Fifteen days ago, he’d celebrated his fifty-seventh birthday
alone. Nobody remembered his birthday anymore, but it’d been a good excuse to
drink until sunup and sleep for two days with a hangover that wouldn’t quit.
Though his body looked as that of a thirty-something man, it sure didn’t
respond like one. He didn’t remember his brain ever feeling like it’d been
pickled by whiskey before.
His father had retired at seventy, but Lance didn’t possess
any hope for himself. He’d be a draftsman until the day he died, a job he once
loved, designing machinery for a big engineering firm, but now each day filled
him with despair. Day after day of the same thing slowly crushed his soul. They
even had the nerve to tell him that his attitude needed improvement. What the
hell did that mean, anyway? There wasn’t any fresh blood entering the job
market, only a bunch of old dogs already secure in their jobs. Sure a few
people jumped careers, but you didn’t see much of it, no matter what the bosses
threatened. If they weren’t careful, he’d switch companies too. It worked both
It felt as if lately everything in his life was spiraling
out of control. Gloria had been on his case more often than ever. She’d started
talking about marriage. Every time she brought it up he’d feel an onset of
heartburn. His father used to say that it’s not what you’re eating, it’s what’s
eating you. Well pop, it’s Gloria, she’s eating my spirit. He’d been seeing her
on and off for five years. His first two marriages hadn’t lasted that long
combined, and logic told him that the common denominator of failure involved a
license from a court house.
Besides, who could stay with the same person forever? Maybe,
if he had the fear of death hanging over him like his parents had, he’d have a
need for that whole ‘until death do us part’ nonsense. He had great health insurance
though. They covered all of his prescriptions. No death for him, hooray for the
modern world. Eternity didn’t sound so good when you were a wage slave, and no
company would provide retirement benefits anymore. Hell, he’d heard that they
had removed the word ‘retirement’ from the dictionary.
He really needed to break something to help him loosen up.
So few people bought kids anymore, and yet they still just turned them loose.
Imagine paying that kind of money for a toy. Like all machines, they were
really only good for a few years, despite what the manufacturers advertised. If
you didn’t break them, they broke themselves. At his job, he knew that better
than just about anyone. Engineers could build a better machine, but that hurt
future sales. And people liked new things anyway, it was what kept them happy
and allowed them to survive in this stagnant world.
He’d run over his first kid entirely on accident. The thing
had darted out in front of him after a soccer ball and he couldn’t stop in
time. What had it been, fifteen years ago? Now
kids, they exploded
in gears, circuit boards, and hydraulic fluid, all cleverly masquerading in the
form of a child. He’d pulled over, but knowing what it would cost him to
replace somebody’s kid made him drive away before somebody noticed. He’d been
angry… angry about the damage to his old truck and angry about the guilt he
felt. He’d lost sleep over it for a few nights but it passed. He did it a
second time just to see if the kid exploded just like the first.
Fools and their money are soon parted
, he told
himself, chuckling at the thought. He’d never hit a real child, after all,
there hadn’t been a real one born in twenty years. Everyone knew about Timothy
Alexander, the last real child, the miracle baby. Last he’d heard, Tim was
being groomed for politics.
He used to worry. What if’s played through his head just
before he hit one for the first few years. And, oh man, the technology these
days just blew his mind. They were so real! No longer did they explode, but
they bled now, if you hit one right it would smear for a good twenty feet at
least. If he had the money he’d consider buying one, just for the fun of it
But why spend the cash when you could just take them for
free? Just grab one off of the street and you could play rough with it for
days. If only he had more time this weekend, he would go out and catch one.
That alone was reason enough not to let Gloria move in. He didn’t need her
giving him guilt over his play things. Today he’d do it old school, just drive
over it, quick and easy. Besides, his truck sounded hungry.
He pictured himself and his truck as a single entity, a
tiger on the prowl for fresh meat, stalking through a suburban jungle. It had
been awhile. There just weren’t enough kids around anymore, even with the
summer. There should be children everywhere, riding bikes, throwing balls,
going through their mimicry of life. The world needed something new to get
people buying again. Even ten years ago, investing in cyber-robotic technology
stocks rivaled the pharmaceutical companies. He once had a few thousand dollars
in a local Idaho corporation, Kidsmith. They tanked a few years back, taking
most of his investment with it. He’d heard that they’d moved most of their
business to China after closing down the majority of their production in Boise.
Lance turned off of Filer Avenue, leaving the traffic behind
for quieter neighborhood streets. Kids tended to keep to the side roads anyway.
Two blocks later, sure enough, his gut led him true. A boy, not too big,
probably not even a teenager model, rode a shiny new blue bike. Not only did
parents buy an expensive kid, but they gave the toys
their own expensive
! Some people had more money than sense.
He pulled over, parking a block away from the kid. He had to
be careful, once he’d smashed one right in front of its owners. He’d spent the
entire week sweating as to whether or not they’d identified his truck. He
couldn’t afford to replace one of those things.
The street remained empty of actual people, and the kid had
reached the next block. He looked like a smart one too. He looked both ways,
like he’d been programmed with a survival mechanism, which only enhanced his
illusion of life.
Lance slowly gave the truck gas. He didn’t peel out anymore,
that made people look out their windows. Still, the engine growled in approval,
as though it read his mind. It must have, he’d read that cars nowadays were
nearly as smart as their drivers. He didn’t go for any of those new cars, his
was vintage. He liked to hear what he drove, and not that annoying electronic
buzz. This thing still guzzled gas as though it came from the previous century.
The kid heard him coming. Within the nearly two blocks he
had the speedometer up to forty, and it roared like the tiger he saw it as,
hungry for synthetic blood. The kid didn’t look concerned and pedaled closer to
the curb. With such a nice wide street as this one, he probably felt safe.
Lance couldn’t hold back a high-pitched giggle as he swerved
at the last second. The boy rewarded him with his eyes popping open impossibly
wide in shock as he realized his impending doom. The sheer terror in the
child’s face simply amazed him. Who would program such emotions? The collision
of chrome and kid could be heard over the engine, a sweet, satisfying thump.
Lance deeply appreciated his truck. There wouldn’t even be a dent.
Somehow the bike hooked his front bumper and child and
bicycle rode along with Lance as a figurehead on a ship. He swerved back and
forth, whipping the steering wheel from side to side in an attempt to force the
kid loose. He didn’t always get an effective hit, but if he could just get the
kid to tumble under the tire...
A few more jerks of the steering wheel and the bike came
free, twisting hard to the right. The truck hardly registered the impact as the
bike went under, but the boy tumbled away. He couldn’t see what happened, but
only the results. The boy did not go under the tire.
Lance’s foot came off of the gas pedal and hovered over the
brake. In the rear-view mirror, he watched as the boy bounced and tumbled,
finally coming to rest against the curb. Beyond the boy, parts and pieces of
the bicycle stretched for nearly the entire block. The child, however, remained
in one piece.
He slammed his fist into the dashboard, throwing up a small
cloud of dust and leaving an impression of the ball of his hand behind like a
mutant footprint. His eyes darted back and forth to watch the road and witness
the damage to the kid at the same time. He had to have broken him, he just
couldn’t tell. Kids didn’t have luck. They were fragile, delicate machines.
broke. He ran the options through his head, trying to decide
whether to reverse and run him over again, or maybe circle the block. No, he
had to leave. He couldn’t take the chance of being caught and forced to pay
restitution. He whipped the truck around the next corner, deciding to leave the
boy behind. Dissatisfaction left bile in the back of his throat, and he spat
out the window in disgust.
, he promised,
I’ll find one and break
Josh remembered the truck clearly, trying to hold himself
up, fingers scratching at the hood. The heat of the grill burned his arms. He
couldn’t tell if he hurt from the initial contact or from the heat. He remembered
a weird abstract revulsion of touching the myriad collection of splattered
bugs, though it felt as though he were being added to the collection. Inches
from his face, half of a dragonfly twitched as though alive, animated in death
by the wind drag.
He remembered the bike and the sound it made as it scraped
along the road, emphasized by the snapping of parts as they tore free, the
truck biting off pieces one at a time. He slid lower off of the hood and down
the grill, and knowing that if he were to fall past the bumper he’d instantly
be dragged under. The bike yanked him lower. The frame had caught on his leg.
He was the only thing holding the bike up.
The glare of the sun off of the windshield hid most of the
driver’s face. All he could see was eyes and teeth as though it were being
driven by a formless monster. The glare could not hide the driver’s sadistic