A New Cassandra

“I quit,” Henry said.

“You can’t quit,” Tom said. “You’re the boss.”

“Well I quit web design. Let’s build our own website instead. No more clients constantly complaining or changing their minds over and over,” Henry said. “What do you think, Tracy?”

“I think that we should continue designing websites until your new website’s a sure thing,” Tracy said. “Let’s not get crazy.”

Tom nodded. “I don’t mind a side project. What do you have in mind?”

“Fortune telling,” Henry said. “It shouldn’t be too hard to write some vague, self-fulfilling prophecies. I have a bunch already written.”

“So, just randomly generated fortunes?” Tracey asked. “Like a fortune cookie without the cookie?”

“What if we made a robot fortune teller?” Tom asked.   “The fortune could come out of its mouth.”

Tracy started taking notes. “It could make cute robot sounds, like blurp beep bip beep.”

Henry smiled. “Thanks guys. I think this is going to be really great.”

A few weeks later, the website was ready to test.   Tracy called it The New Cassandra. Henry wasn’t thrilled with the name. “But no one listened to Cassandra,” he said.

“But she was a famous fortune teller,” Tracy said.

“I like it,” Tom said. “Can I go first? I want to see what the fortunes are like.”

“I think I did a pretty good job with them,” Henry said.   “Go ahead.”

Tom answered a few questions and clicked the button to get his fortune. Blurp beep bip beep. “You are starting to feel self-conscious, and rightly so,” he read.

“That’s his fortune?” Tracy asked.

“Pretty good, huh?” Henry said.

“I don’t know what to think,” Tom said. “Tracy, why don’t you try it out?”

Tracy sat down and answered the questions. Blup beep bip beep. “You’ll have a terrible day.”

“Try it again,” Tom said.

Blurp beep bip beep. “Everyone will forget you.”

“Again?” Tom said.

Blurp beep bip beep. “All your friends are imaginary,” Tracy read. She frowned. “Tom, this is terrible. Are all the fortunes like this?”

“Like what?” Henry asked.

“Mean-spirited and depressing,” Tracy said. “No one wants to hear stuff like this.”

“But aren’t fortunes supposed to sound like approaching doom? That’s what Cassandra did, isn’t it?” Henry asked.

“This is the New Cassandra,” Tracy said. “Make it upbeat.”

“But writing new fortunes will take forever,” Henry said.

“I think she’s right,” Tom said. “If people want to be depressed, they’ll watch the news.”

“Fine,” Henry said. “I’ll see what I can do.”

It took a few more weeks, but once again they sat down to test out the new website. “I’ll try it out first again,” Tom said. He answered the questions. Blurp beep bip beep. “You will have a great day.”

“Try it again,” Tracy said.

Blurp beep bip beep. “You have great potential.”

“Again?” Tracy said.

Blurp beep bip beep. “You are loved.”

“That’s much better,” Tracey said.

“I think this could be pretty popular if we advertise it right,” Tom said.

“You think so?” Henry asked.

“Yes,” Tracy said. “But don’t quit your day job.”

The Scientist and the Siren

The siren wasn’t particularly hungry, but there was a human wandering alone on the beach nearby. Surely she’d be hungry later. Perhaps she could keep him in a cage until she was ready to eat him? That could be amusing.

The man kept pausing as he walked up the beach. He would pull a clear glass bottle out of his pocket, scoop up a little sand, and stopper the bottle. Then he’d write on a paper label with a pen and put the bottle into a different pocket. What a strange human.

The siren was a little curious at first, but it was all so boring that she quickly gave up trying to understand the meaning behind the human’s actions.   She pulled herself up onto a nearby rock and arranged herself so that she looked alluring. Then she started to sing.

The man looked up. He smiled and walked towards her. It was always so easy. But he stopped just out of reach and pulled out a paper and pen. It was so unexpected that she almost stopped singing.   She instead tried to sing a little louder and sweeter.

“I assume that you must be a siren,” the man said.

She stopped singing.

The man nodded and wrote something in his little book. “How interesting. I can see the singing has some subsonic components. Could you sing again for a few minutes?” He pulled a little metal device out of his pocket and held it up.

The siren frowned and looked away.

“I see. Very well. I notice that you are wearing clothing that is unaffected by the salt water you were swimming in. Are there mer-sheep? Are there plant-based fibers you use for clothing manufacture?”

The siren smiled and tossed her hair back over her shoulder. “We use our hair. It grows very fast.   Come a little closer and I’ll give you a sample.”

“Hmmmm,” the man said. He wrote down some notes. “Is the texture rough or smooth? Do you use your own hair, or are there lower classes that you harvest hair from?”

The siren twirled a lock of hair around her finger. “Oh, my hair is very soft. Come and see.”

The man nodded and wrote something down. “I see. So, are there mer-chickens?   Or do you use fish eggs to make cakes?”

The siren frowned and folded her arms. “We’re sirens. We don’t eat cakes.” Then she raised an eyebrow and smiled. “If you come a little closer, I’ll whisper in your ear what we do like to eat. It will be our secret.”

“No cakes,” the man said as he wrote. “All right. How do you celebrate birthdays, then?”

The siren laughed. “We are timeless. We don’t have birthdays.   I’d be happy to help you celebrate your birthday. Come sit next to me, and we can plan a lovely party.”

The man narrowed his eyes. “If you don’t age, have you always had those wrinkles?”

The siren clapped her hands to her face and began to feel around her eyes.   “I don’t have wrinkles. Sirens don’t get wrinkles.” She dropped her hands and laughed. “Silly man, you’re standing too far away to see any details.   If you took a few steps closer, you’d see that my face is flawless.”

The scientist nodded and wrote some notes.

“What is that supposed to mean? What are you writing?” The siren asked.

“Hmmm?” the man asked. “Oh, nothing.” He wrote something down.

“Look,” the siren said. “I’m tying a few of my hairs around this pebble. I’ll toss it to you if you tell me what you wrote.”

The man raised an eyebrow. The siren sighed and tossed the pebble. The man picked it up and put it in his pocket. “Oh, very well,” the man said. “I wrote that you are near-sighted and delusional.”

“I am not,” the siren said.

“Hmmmmm,” the man said, and wrote something down.

The siren lunged at him. The man stepped back quickly. The siren screeched and jumped into the water and swam away.

The man wrote something down and then closed his book with a snap. “If you could see a little better, you would have realized you were talking to a robot,” he called out over the water. A screech echoed back. The man nodded and walked back across the beach, collecting samples of sand.

 

Adopting a Grandparent

Mrs. Jenkins’ mother had passed away a week ago, and now the Jenkins children had no grandparents at all.   “We’re both orphans now,” Mrs. Jenkins whispered to her husband at the funeral.   He nodded and they both cried.

Three weeks later, the Jenkins family poked around an antique shop half-heartedly. They’d planned this vacation hoping that it would cheer everyone up after the funeral.   Instead, they all seemed to be performing the motions of playing tourist while lacking any interest at all in what they were seeing.

“Well, I don’t see anything,” Mr. Jenkins said.   “Who wants to go back to the beach?”

“Not me,” Cameron said. “It’s too sunny and sandy and windy and loud.”

“Why did we come here anyway?” Daniel asked. “We aren’t having any fun.”

“Hush,” Mr. Jenkins said. “Of course we are.”

“I’m not,” Cameron said. “I want to go home.”

Mr. Jenkins opened his mouth to reply, but he didn’t know what to say. He wanted to go home, too. Not just to their snug little home in a little town at the edge of a big city.   He wanted to go back to his childhood home. It felt like everything should be in its place, just as it existed in his memory, but he knew that it was all gone. He sighed.

“Hey, everybody, come look at what I found,” Mrs. Jenkins said just then. The boys followed their father to the back of the store where Mrs. Jenkins was waiting.

“What is it?” Cameron asked.

Mrs. Jenkins was standing in front of what looked like a dusty metal statue. She smiled.   “It’s a robot. The really old kind like my parents had when I was little.”

“That’s a robot?” Daniel asked. “It’s so big and weird looking. Does it even work?”

“The tag says that it doesn’t function well. It needs a good home,” Mrs. Jenkins said.   “What do you think?’

“Well, it probably won’t take up much space,” Mr. Jenkins said. “What do you think boys?   Should we add him to our family?”

“It’s a him?” Cameron asked. He looked up at the robot. “I guess it does look like it has a funny mustache. Grandpa had a mustache. I remember.”

Daniel squinted. “I don’t remember Grandpa. He had a mustache?”

“I want it,” Cameron said. “We can call him Grandpa.”

“Yeah, let’s get it,” Daniel said.

The Jenkins family left the antique shop with an old robot and smiles on their faces. It didn’t take long for the robot to become one of the family. Everyday he slowly shuffled from one room to the next performing small tasks. Everyone smiled and patted his arm when they saw him. “Hi, Grandpa,” they’d say. “How are you today?”

The robot hummed and coughed in response and they would nod and smile. Sometimes he came to a halt in front of the back window and just sat and stared.   Mrs. Jenkins left a blanket on the chair by the window, and whoever was closest would put it over his shoulders.

Cameron made a birdfeeder at school that he hung outside the window so that the robot could watch the birds when he was at the window. He and Daniel loved to share all of their art projects with the robot. The robot would always accept them and hang them on the walls like treasures.

They also liked to practice their instruments when the robot was around. He often recorded their performance to play back later at a random time. “Grandpa loves us,” Daniel said once. “That’s why he likes to remember what we play for him.”

“I think he must,” Mrs. Jenkins said. “And we love him, too.”

“Of course we do,” Daniel said. “He’s Grandpa.”

House Call

The washing machine was making a terrible noise. It screeched and thumped and screeched some more.   “Should we call for someone to come fix it?” Mom asked. She looked worried.

“I’ll look online and see if there is a quick fix,” Dad said.

“I’ll look too,” Mom said.

But, in the end, they couldn’t find anything. The washing machine continued to screech, no matter how full it was or how carefully they tried to balance the load.

“We have to call someone,” Mom said. “Let’s look online for reviews.”

Mom and Dad wrote emails for estimates and finally, a week later, they decided on Motor Care Services.

“I’m tired of washing things in the sink,” Mom said. “I hope they can fix it quickly.”

Jeremy, who had to help wash things in the sink, agreed. It wasn’t nearly as fun as it sounded. Honestly, it didn’t even sound fun. When the doorbell rang, he hurried to be the one to answer it.

There was a little man made of metal at the door. He was holding an old-fashioned doctor’s bag. “Hello, young human,’ he said. “Are your parents here?”

“Mom! Dad!” Jeremy yelled. “The repair person is here!”

Dad came in the room. “Really? Already? That’s wonderful.”

He paused when he saw the metal man. “Are you here from Motor Care Services?”

The metal man held out a hand and dad shook it. “Mr. Frank?”

“That’s me,” Dad said. “And you are…?”

“Call me Andy,” the metal man said. “Could you show me to my patient?”

Dad led Andy to the laundry room. Jeremy followed behind him, and Mom joined him, both of them hovering by the door and watching. Dad waved a hand toward the washing machine. “It keeps making a terrible screeching sound no matter what we do. Is there anything you need?”

Andy inspected the washing machine. “You’ll need to plug her in so that I can talk to her,” he said.

“Yes, of course,” Dad said. He picked up the plug where it was resting on the back panel of the machine and leaned over until he could plug it in.

“It’s a she?” Mom asked. “Does she have a name?”

Andy turned. “Yes, Mrs. Frank. I’ll ask.” He started to root through his bag and pulled out a pad of paper and a pen. Then he started to make quiet clicking and whirring sounds.   Even though they hadn’t started a wash cycle, the washing machine started to screech. It paused and Andy began to click and whir some more.

After several minutes, Andy stopped writing. “Her name is Lauren. She has a sock stuck under her drum and it’s unbalancing the loads.” He clicked and tutted. Lauren screeched. Andy scribbled something and put his pen down. “I can fix it, but she’d like to be unplugged for the procedure.”

“Oh, yeah, of course,” Dad said. He leaned over and pulled the plug and draped it back over the back panel.

Meanwhile, Andy pulled a long, thin tool out of his bag and bent it into a u-shape. Then his eyes grew brighter, like flashlights. “I’ll need you all to leave the room for a moment,” he said. “I’ll call you back in when I’m done.”

They all left and waited outside the door. In a few moments, Andy called them back in. Andy handed Jeremy his long-lost blue and white striped sock.   “I believe this is yours.”

“Thanks,” Jeremy said. “Um, Mr. Andy, what’s the dryer’s name? Does the toaster have a name? And the stove? And the microwave?”

“That’s a lot of questions, young human, and none of them are my patients,” Andy said. The dryer rumbled. Andy nodded. “He said his name is Harold. He hasn’t met any of the others.”

“Should I plug her back in then?” Dad asked.

“Yes, yes. That would be great,” Andy said. Once Dad plugged the machine in, Andy whirred and tutted. The washing machine hummed. Andy nodded. “She feels much better now. Call me if there are any more problems. I’ll send you my bill,” he said. And then he left.

Cat Problems

Mrs. Jones nearly tripped over the cat again. She clutched at the counter to stop her fall.   “Frank,” she said loudly, “We need to talk about the cat.”

There was a creak from the other room as Frank stood up.   He shuffled into the room. “I thought you loved the cat, Mary?”

Mary Jones huffed and poured a glass of lemonade for her husband. She set it down at his place on the table. “Sit,” she said. “This isn’t about whether or not I like the cat. It has problems. We need to take it in to get it looked at.”

Frank sat. “But it has a lifetime guarantee and we’ve only had it for two months.” He gulped his lemonade.

Mary poured herself some lemonade and sat down in her chair. She stood up, moved the cat, and sat down again. “I love the idea of a lifelike robot cat. I’ve always wanted a cat, but my allergies prevented it. It was a very thoughtful gift.”

Frank smiled. “I’m glad you like it. I knew you would. Can I have some more lemonade?”

Mary rolled her eyes and got up to get him another glass.   She handed it to him and sat down again. “I like the idea of the cat.   The cat itself has problems. It keeps chewing on the bars of soap in the bathroom.”

“So those were bite marks! I thought they were, but they were too small to be your teeth marks,” Frank said. “Your jaw is a little bigger than that.”

“You thought I was eating soap?” Mary asked.   “And you didn’t say anything?”

“Well, I knew it wasn’t me. And I was pretty sure it wasn’t you, jaw size and all, so I thought I was mistaken. I didn’t think about the cat. Pretty funny, right?” Frank laughed.

“Frank, the cat shouldn’t be chewing on the soap at all.   It will mess up its insides,” Mary said.

“You’re probably right. I’ll go look that up in the user manual, and we’ll see if we need to take it in. I’m glad we had this talk,” Frank said. He started to stand up.

“Wait, that’s not all,” Mary said, holding up a hand.   Frank sat down again. “It keeps hiding under the dirty clothes. When I walk past the basket, it jumps out and the laundry goes all over the place.”

Frank laughed again. “That’s great! I need to see this. Where is the cat now?” He looked around. “Here, kitty kitty.”

They waited a moment. Nothing happened. “Is it supposed to come when you call?” Mary asked. “I don’t think that real cats do.”

“Of course they do. I had a cat growing up that would show up whenever we started opening a can, just in case it was something for her to eat,” Frank said.

“That’s not calling her at all,” Mary said.

“Same idea,” Frank said. “Maybe you should unwrap another bar of soap.”

Mary laughed. “Be serious Frank, I bruised my elbow when I jumped back the last time the cat exploded out of the laundry. It’s not safe. Besides, what if it shut down for sleep and I accidentally put it in the washing machine?”

“That would void the warranty,” Frank said. He looked a little worried. “Make sure to check the washing machine before you use it. And the dishwasher too. And maybe the bathtubs and sinks.”

“I think sometimes it’s trying to trip me,” Mary said.   “I know it sounds a little paranoid, but it just happens so often that it appears where I’m not expecting it, just in front of my feet.”

“Maybe it’s lonely and you need to cuddle it more,” Frank said. Just then, the cat ran through the room, dragging a blue silk necktie. “That’s my new tie!” Frank frowned. “Maybe there is something wrong with that cat.”

“It’s been eyeing your baseball card collection,” Mary said. “I’ve had to chase it out of your study and shut the door several times.”

“My baseball cards?” Frank scowled. “That’s it.   I’m taking the cat in tomorrow to get it fixed.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Mary said. “Would you like some more lemonade?” Frank handed her his glass. She got up and nearly tripped over the cat again, catching herself on the table with her elbow. The cat ran off again. Mary sighed.