Stories No. 69 – Wm. Brett Hill

Bocce and Apples Crates
By Wm. Brett Hill

Tabitha stared blankly at the trees heavily laden with fruit ripe for the picking and groaned quietly to herself.

“Nothing,” she muttered, shaking her head.

“Don’t force it,” Mick said. He was sprawled out on the grass as if he didn’t have a care in the world. Mick often acted like that was the case, but Tabitha knew that beneath his indifferent demeanor he was as messed up as she was. It was what had drawn her to him long ago.

“The doctor said things might trigger memories…places, smells, sounds. You have to relax and see if anything comes up.” He casually bit into an apple then looked at it in shock. Half a worm dangled from the bitten area. Mick shrugged, finished chewing, and swallowed, chucking the remainder across the grounds.

Distracted by his foolishness, Tabitha laughed. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She could smell the apples, sickeningly sweet and delicious—the fresh cut grass, mowed earlier that morning.

Her mother is crying, screaming, as the man shoves her into the pile of apple crates. He is angry, and keeps reaching into his pocket, then withdrawing it, his face a cloud of indecision. He doesn’t see the child hiding behind the crates.

“You bastard! You complete bastard! How dare you show your face here!” her mother screams. “I’ll have you arrested! If my husband sees you, you’re dead!”

These words flick some switch in the man. He reaches into his pocket and retrieves his pocket knife. He prowls toward her mother as he clicks it open. His face is cold stone.

Tabitha sobbed and fell to the ground. Mick was next to her instantly, his arm around her, holding her to him.

“What is it? ? What did you remember, Tabs? ? I knew it. I knew coming here would trigger something.”

Tabitha looked up at him, tears spilling freely down her cheeks. “I saw him. God help me, I saw him. I know what he looks like now. I’ve always known.”

———

Mick pulled out a bottle of white wine from the picnic basket and handed her a glass filled more than half-way. “Here, get that down you,” he said.

Tabitha was shaking still, but no longer looked like she wanted to flee. She took the wine and gulped it down like it was water, laying back on the grass and closing her eyes.

“It was so real, Mick. I saw him push her. I saw them yelling. I saw him cut her.”

Mick sat cross-legged next to her, sipping his cider. “Okay, so I get that you had a memory bubble up, but I’m confused about one thing. You’ve told me stories about your mother. Recent stories. How…?”

“I don’t know. I just don’t know. There was so much blood. Who was he? ? Why did he do that? ? What did he do?”

Tabitha was getting frantic again, wringing her hands and staring wildly at the sky.

Mick lay back and winced as he struck his head on something hard. He pulled a white ball from the grass and stared at it, confused. Noticing the rest of the bocce set a few yards over, he threw it to join its companions. The resulting clunk brought a satisfied smile to his face but garnered a completely different reaction from his friend, who sat up swiftly and stared.

People talk in the other room, sometimes so quietly that only the faintest sound can be heard, occasionally with voices rising so she can almost make out words.

A car pulls up outside. More voices. Tabitha is hungry. They have taken her to the house, put her in this room, and given her some yard toys to play with to distract her. She rolls the bocce balls across the floor, trying to get each one closer to the white ball. Each time they bang against each other she lets out a quiet cheer.

Her stomach growls. She decides she‘s been a polite, young lady long enough. If they won’t give her food, she will go to the kitchen and get it herself.

She opens the door to the hallway and sees three people. Her father is talking to a policeman. Her mother’s back is to her. She’s wearing different clothes.

Her mother turns and smiles at her. Her smile seems different.

“I’m hungry,” says Tabitha quietly.

“Of course you are, dearie,” says her mother. Her mother has never called her “dearie” before.

The sobbing returned, and Mick was with her again, rubbing her back as she wept into his shoulder. Tabitha was clutching at him like she never wanted to let go.

“How could I not see it? It was there in front of me the whole time.”

———

“What in the hell are you doing here?” shouted an angry voice from the tree line.

Mick looked up to see a man charging across the lawn toward them.

“Looks like our little bit of trespassing has finally been noticed,” he whispered into Tabitha’s ear.

Tabitha looked up at the approaching man and stared in shock. Mick had never seen her so pale and broken, and he stood to put himself between his friend and the man.

“This property is not open for public use. This is a private facility, and I demand you leave imm…” began the man, pointing his finger at Mick as he stomped forward. His sentence trailed off when he glanced down at Tabitha and saw her staring.

“You!” she said. “It was you!”

The man’s demeanor changed from angry to terrified, and he turned and tried to run back the way he came. He lost his footing running over the gathered bocce balls and fell to the ground with a loud thud. Mick was on him immediately, pulling him up to his feet and dragging him back over to his crying friend.

“I think you have a good bit of explaining to do, pal, and don’t think you’re getting away from us until you do it,” he growled into the man’s ear.

Tabitha stood and approached the pair, staring hard at the man’s face. She slapped him hard, then backed away with her face twisted in confusion and anguish.

“I suppose I deserved that, and much more. And I suppose you deserve answers, Tabitha, even though you won’t like them once you have them,” said the man. He stopped struggling and slumped in resignation. “Come up to the house. I’ll tell you what I can.”

Mick looked at Tabitha for some guidance. She nodded.

“Let’s go then,” said Mick, and he shoved the man roughly toward the house.

———

“First, you need to know that it was an accident,” started the man, who identified himself as Dr. Milton.

“You accidentally stabbed my mother?” spat Tabitha.

Dr. Milton looked at her curiously. “Well, yes, but it only makes sense if you see things from my point of view.” He looked nervous, glancing all around the room and failing to make eye contact with Tabitha. Mick’s large form standing protectively behind her probably didn’t help relax the man.

“Enlighten us,” said Mick.

“Your father and I were working on a hybrid of machine and man, one which would revolutionize the world of robotics, but we needed a prototype that would function without issues.”

Tabitha began to rub her temples. She had an idea of what was coming next but wasn’t sure if she wanted to hear it.

“Your mother was unaware that the prototype was modeled after her. That was your father’s decision, not mine. He knew she would be uncomfortable with it, but he thought if we could fool the people your mother’s associated with, then our project could be deemed a success. But the prototype had issues.”

He looked sadly at his feet, shaking his head as if trying to dislodge something unpleasant.

“I swear to you, Tabitha, that I thought I was protecting you. It would go wild at times, racing off across the grounds, attacking people. I…I thought your mother was out of town. She wasn’t meant to be there at all. The prototype…it attacked me.”

Dr. Milton broke into a fit of sobs that shook his frame, and he buried his head in his hands and allowed himself to weep for a moment before pulling himself together. His guests seemed unimpressed with the display of emotion.

“In the back of the neck, there was a switch that could only be reached by a long tool. That prevented accidental shut-offs. I only meant to turn it off. I was going to turn it off and take it back to the house. Only…”

“Only it was my mother, not this ‘prototype’ that you shoved a knife into,” spat Tabitha.

“I was trying to protect you,” he whimpered.

“What happened next?” Mick said.

“Tabitha’s father found out. He was furious, but then he decided what better way to test out the prototype than a full Real World test…”

———

The shrill chirping of the phone broke the silence, causing the woman to jump. She answered the phone quickly.

“Hello? Oh hello Tabitha, darling. How are you?”

“I know, Mother. I know everything.”

A long pause followed.

“I see,” said her mother finally. “Do you have any further instructions before I deactivate?”

“What?”

“After your father passed, he left it in his will that I should maintain my participation in the project until you became aware, or you followed him into the afterlife. As of this moment, my requirements have met completion. How would you like to proceed?”

Tabitha sobbed into the phone. The Mother waited patiently.

“Can…can you keep being my mother?”

A series of mechanical clicks mixed with organic swooshes emitted from the Mother. After a full minute of adjustment, her straight face lit up with a smile.

“Hello, Dearie. How’s that hunk, Mick? Have you two finally sealed the deal?”

 

 

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Wm. Brett Hill grew up just outside of Athens, Georgia but now makes his home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where he spends time with his wife and daughter, works in IT, writes stories, and takes pictures of old buildings and boats. His short fiction has appeared in Dragon Poet Review, Dime Show Review, and Medusa’s Laugh Press.

 

Featured Artist:

Summer J. Hart received a BFA in printmaking from the Hartford Art School in Connecticut and an MFA in book arts and printmaking from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Influenced by repetitive organic geometries found in nature, landscapes viewed through knotholes, and forgotten territories reclaimed by nature, she uses cut paper to draw objects that are indicative of natural forms such as leaves, feathers, barnacles, and seaweed.