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BEAT-DOWN • by Karl El-Koura

The little robot, a trashcan on wheels, rolled down the street in the late hours of the night. When it found a piece of trash, it squatted over it and sucked it up — reverse-defecation, Patricia’s dad called it.

Adrian watched it from across the street, a slight smile on his face. Patricia didn’t like Adrian in general, but she especially didn’t like him when he smiled; it made him look mean and angry, or at least meaner and angrier than usual. But Jason liked Adrian, and Patricia liked Jason, so here she was, exhausted, sleepy, and frustrated from having spent the last two hours feeling like a complete outsider in a conversation that had Adrian and Jason reminiscing about their adventures and exploits since the day they’d first met in junior high school.

“What’s up?” Patricia said to Adrian.

Jason already knew; of course he already knew. “Beat-down,” he said.

Adrian nodded, the smile growing larger, more leering, more malicious.

“No,” Patricia said. “Don’t.”

But it was too late — Jason and Adrian were already running across the empty street. They descended on the robotic trashcan-on-wheels like hyenas on an unsuspecting cub.

Adrian kicked the robot, tipping it over. Jason punted it like a soccer ball; the little robot rolled down the street, making pathetic /tiwi-tiwi/ beeping sounds, as if in protest.

“Stop it,” Patricia said.

Jason and Adrian ignored her. They kicked the robot, stomped it, hit it, punched it, spun it, threw it. They called it names and spit on it.

“You guys are idiots,” Patricia said. It hadn’t escaped her notice that most of the experiences these two shared and cherished were destructive: egging the house of Adrian’s neighbour, before Adrian had moved away to college; breaking into the corner store to steal beer; even forcing vodka down the throat of a dog at a house party because they thought it was hilarious to watch the little pug stumble around and bump into walls. She knew that Jason had a temper, of course; a temper that made him do and say things he later regretted, but those moments were rare and only came up when Jason was really upset. It was really only when his friend Adrian came back to town to visit for Thanksgiving weekend and they decided to go out for a few drinks to catch up that she realized that Jason had the capacity (around Adrian, at least) for so much mean-spiritedness even when he wasn’t all that angry.

It doesn’t matter, she thought; in a few days, Adrian would drive back to school and she wouldn’t have to see him until Christmas at the earliest. She just hoped that they’d be done soon, so she could go home and sleep. She was exhausted.

When they were finished, forehead-sweat glistening in the streetlight, the robot was in bad shape. Gears and springs lay splattered across the cement street.

Adrian pulled down his zipper and urinated on the robotic trashcan and the plastic and metal guts that were still spilling out of it.

“You guys are idiots,” Patricia said, the frustration that had built up throughout the night spilling out of her in a torrent of words. “It’s a stupid robot… it doesn’t feel.  What’s the point of beating on something that doesn’t feel? It’s just senseless… I really don’t get you guys. You’re such idiots.”

Adrian zippered up and turned to look at Jason.

“This new girlfriend of yours just called me an idiot,” he said. “Three times.”

Jason shrugged. “She’s drunk, what does she know?”

“I’m not drunk,” Patricia said. “You guys are drunk. And you’re idiots.”

“Four times,” Adrian said, still looking at Jason. “Four times now.”

Jason turned to face his girlfriend. “You shouldn’t have made it four,” he said. “Three’s okay but four’s pushing it.”

Patricia took a step back. “Don’t look at me like that,” she said, speaking to Jason. But Adrian was looking at her in the same way.

She took another step back.

Jason and Adrian glanced at one another, smiled, then advanced on Patricia.

“No,” she said. “Don’t.”

But it was too late. On the ground, a piece of the robotic trashcan said /tiwi-tiwi/.


Author of more than sixty published stories and articles, Karl El-Koura lives in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). He holds a second-degree black belt in karate, a yellow belt in jiu jitsu, and works for the Canadian Federal Public Service. For more information about Karl, visit his website at http://www.ootersplace.com.


This story was sponsored by
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Posted on October 20, 2009 in Science Fiction, Stories
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  • http://teenangel.netfirms.com Jim Hartley

    For some reason, it was hard keeping track of who-is-who in this one. I had to go back and re-read some of the early part of the story to keep in sync – it seemed easy to lose track of whose girlfriend Patricia was in places.

    The ending got me. It followed quite nicely from the story, but didn’t give itself away until the last half-dozen or so paragraphs. Dark, definitely dark, but good.

  • Brian Dolton

    Deftly done. I agree with the firt comment, that it seemed to swirl around until we settled into knowing who the POV character was, but once it settled in it did the job very neatly and effectively.

  • http://jfjuzwik.blogspot.com Joyce

    This was good. Great build-up and very descriptive. Like this one. Nice and dark.

  • Margie

    I had trouble keeping up with who was doing and thinking what and when in time the thought was being thought. A disturbing story and definitely not my cup of tea, so I cannot give it a rating that would not be biased. Sorry!

  • Jen

    Not necessarily my thing, but very well written. I felt sorry for both Patricia and the robot.

  • J.C. Towler

    Add another “confused” reader to the growing pile insofar as the beginning of the story is concerned (ditto Jim #1, Brian #2, and Margie #4). It was quite dark, but random violence usually is. As soon as Patricia said “it doesn’t feel” I knew she was in trouble.

    The robot character was an interesting approach. It had me waiting for some other allusions to this being a futuristic setting, but everything else the other characters say and reference felt common or modern day. Still deliberating if this worked or not…if nothing else it served as a kind of red herring to distract the reader from what was coming.

    Best,

    –John

  • Bob

    Yup, the first para is kind of a mess of character introductions, quickly resolved by paragraph four but annoying nonetheless. I thought it was interesting to have an obviously futuristic setting for what turned out to be a story about mundane vandalism and random violence.

    Jason and Adrian’s sudden turn to violence against Patricia felt like something of a cheat on the writer’s part – Patricia didn’t know they were capable of violence? Why does she seem surprised? We haven’t been given enough insight into the characters to know if this is a sudden change in them, or a natural outgrowth that Patricia should have known about, but stupidly overlooked. We don’t know because we’re neither told nor shown, and thus the characters are no more than robots being kicked around by the author.

  • http://bethandwriting.blogspot.com Beth

    The story has a lot of energy, catching my attention from the beginning. I didn’t have any trouble telling the characters apart (no pun intended); Jason and Adrian seemed joined at the hip early on, or in finding Patricia as both main pov and victim. That was the problem for me. Violence has no moral imperative, no lesson or entertainment here. The underlying symbolism that equates a female with a mindless robot is not appealing to me. Dark, I understand, in the mythic sense. The fact the two guys are drunk seems a small excuse. Here, Patricia’s protest against violence is rewarded with violence.

  • Alvin

    Didn’t do it for me, sorry.

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