“This one fits nicely into its shoebox sized recharger, and during the day’s charging cycle makes absolutely no noise at all.” The salesman’s belief was electric. “With the device able to exit from the charger from all sides, you can wedge the apparatus just about anywhere, and as long as one face has clear access, the robot can get in and out cleanly.” The efficiency of it seemed to have just struck him. His eyes did a bit of a side shimmy and refocused on the carefully listening customer. “Stacked in with shoes and shoeboxes and sweaters and belts and toys on the floor, no one would think it might be anything that wasn’t supposed to be there.” The salesman leaned one hand on the wall, practicing his hard won practicality, just as he had seen in his two most recent sales training holograms.
“Well, it is very nice.” Mr. Tittles, John Tittles, bent a bit at the knees to look the offered model straight on. It was not an imposing device. Just like a shoebox. The size and look and geometry of it he could understand; the insides, those were another matter. Hopefully, a curative family matter.
“Good lines and easy access. Quiet. Only you know it is there.” Price was going to be the problem. Price is always the problem. How much? Oh, do not ask that until you are sold.
“You don’t think it is a little small?” John Tittles was still bending, staring into the perfectly featureless short face of the box that acted both as cover and recharger for the barely twelve by four inch automaton. His hair settled uncared for across his forehead, and a brief wisp of discomfort stitched across his back, his body being angled just a few millimeters out of its usual lines.
“It’s not the size that matters. This unit has the best adaptable, self programming module available.” As though this customer might know whether it was top-of-the-line in these features or not. “It has a wireless connection that will download any advances in the science and incorporate them into that very night’s program. It feeds off of each encounter’s outcome and rethreads its approach, ensuring both safety and stimulation.” It learns just what quivers the skin and puts starch in the toes. “You can get fancier, you can pay more, but you can’t get better. This will do all that you want it to do.” The salesman was leaning slightly over, beside John Tittles, staring into the same blank face of the recharger, wondering what John Tittles was seeing, what there was to be seen for John Tittles in this faceless slick of metal housing. Perhaps, from the dark behind the charging case door, the robot was staring back.
“What’s the boys’ name?” Not that the salesman cared, but it redirects the sales approach. It takes the conversation away from models and features and back to why the concerned father came in to this store in the first place.
“John, Jr.” Junior. The practice was coming back, but usually with a more uncommon name. Being a junior with a name like John would put the boy two steps back to start with. His mother would probably call him John Junior, and the boy would begin to wrap around that name like bunting in a bicycle’s spokes by the time he was ten.
“Well, Mr. Tittles, you’ve seen how children have turned out for the last few years. Unimaginative. Captive to the 3-D video. Apolitical, or uncompromisingly radical. It has been a sad state. Listless citizens. Many of them can’t hold a job. I wonder myself if I can ever retire: no one to replace me. With all these kids coming of working age and simply stumbling out of the academies with no freshness of thought, no evolution of how to use the information they have collected – no spark of imagination – those of us left from the last generation might have to stay on the job forever. It’s sad, sad, sad.” Well, not so sad if the commissions stay high, or they start augmenting sales with a base salary.
“I know. I don’t want my boy to end up like that.” No. John Tittles could not abide the idea. A boy with maybe an advanced degree in genetics unable to come up with two original thoughts to mate together; no initiative, living at home with a mom and a dad that themselves end up working ten years into what should have been retirement just to keep a roof over his head – and he with no thought that things could be different. Existence. Eat, sleep, find the restroom. Eat. Sleep. Exist. Eat. Sleep. Why.
“If you start young enough, maybe you can spark some deep questioning, some adaptive reasoning, get him thinking outside of the easy and available.” Maybe the boy would begin to think his life worthy of his own involvement. “Perhaps you can grow the magical.” That is a line that brings them back to their usually unfounded belief that anything could fix their lackluster child.
The salesman stood up, knowing this would be the sign to Mr. Tittles that Mr. Tittles, John Senior, should stand up too — and that he should come to a conclusion. After all, Mr. Tittles would not be the only customer of the day. What other sales opportunities might be missed if too much of a salesman’s slick and sly grappling-hooks were wasted on one customer? The time to close the deal had come.
“I guess you are right. And this model would fit nicely in the back of his closet.”
“I think you will see that you are doing the right thing. You won’t regret it, and, years from now, John Junior will thank you for it.” If this small episode does not get lost in all of the other grander, louder, more dangerous episodes that are to come. “You can’t give a boy anything better than a healthy imagination.” The poor man, wrapped around being a better father, imagining his son made new into a Titan amongst his thick-headed mates, did not know that he could haggle price, that the posted price was only a starting point. The salesman’s commission would go up for getting full list out of the gullible customer. So few customers show any imagination, show any initiative; but usually, on price, the basic greed and value instincts kick in. Not here. John Tittles was a man on a mission.
The salesman walked the satisfied new purchaser to the counter, where the paperwork was already laid out. The concerned father passed his credit card over the reader, inspected the amount, and signed the release of liability required in the sale of any automated closet monster. He did not read it; no one does. Finally, John Tittles took the already assembled model under his arm and turned to hurry to the omnitrack train, to make sure he could get home and install the tapping, wheezing, calling beast-in-the-dark at the back of John Junior’s closet before the boy and his mother got home from their cybernetics-design exercise class.
That very night, the boy, hovering at the border of sleep, would be innocently discovering the monster in the closet. The boy’s thin and underfed imagination would perk up at the rapping in the dark, the barely believable breathing, and the name almost called at the edge of hearing. His mind would race – John Tittles, Senior was hoping – right out of its drab habits and be off like a rabbit trying to outrun the memory of wolves. Nothing can spark an imagination like the fear for one’s soul that a nameless closet monster puts into you. Tittles, Senior, thought: my son, the engineer; my son, the physicist. That boy needs the smug scared out of him. That boy needs something unfound to ponder. That boy needs.
One closet monster it will be.
Ken Poyner‘s latest book of bizarre microfictions, “Constant Animals”, is available from Amazon and http://www.kpoyner.com. His book of themed speculative poetry, “The Book of Robot”, is expected from Dark Renaissance Press in early 2016. Recently, he has been in “Analog”, “Asimov’s”, “Mobius”, “Corium” and many elsewheres, including DM.