Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that John Adams has won our short story contest on the theme of Imagine Your Story with "Something in His "i"s".
John Adams (he/him/his) writes about teenage detectives, pelican-people, robo-butlers, and cursed cowboys. His publication history includes Australian Writers’ Centre, Bowery Gothic, Briefly Write, Dream of Shadows, Fat Cat Magazine, SERIAL Magazine, Siren’s Call, Trembling With Fear, Triangle Writers, and Weird Christmas (forthcoming: Paper Butterfly, peculiar, The Weird and Whatnot). His plays have been produced by Alphabet Soup (Whim Productions) and the 6x10 Play Festival (Barn Players) and selected for readings at the William Inge Theater Festival and the Midwest Dramatists Conference. He performs across the U.S. with That’s No Movie, a multi-genre improv team. Web: https://johnamusesnoone.com/. Twitter: @JohnAmusesNoOne.
Something in His ‘i’s
“Will it hurt him?”
The doctor smiles down like she gets this question every day. From husbands. Wives. Parents biting their lips, terrified at what comes next, terrified at what’s come before. “Not at all, Mr. Gareth,” she says. “It should actually bring your husband comfort. A home for his meandering thoughts. A sanctuary, if you will.”
She leans over Seth’s body, motionless except for his blinking mismatched eyes, and taps the silicone circuitry affixed to his right temple. There is a slight hum, at first from Seth, but then also from behind me.
From that thing she carried in.
I squeeze Seth’s hand and perch on the edge of his bed. This was his makeshift art studio, too small for his work then, now certainly too small for this hospital bed, all the medical equipment, three people.
Well, four people.
No. Three people.
“Shall the connection proceed?” the thing behind me asks. They’ve programmed it with Seth’s voice, his elongated ‘shun’ in ‘connection.’
“Mr. Gareth?” the doctor asks. She surely already knows my answer.
Grasping Seth’s hand, his real hand, harder than ever, I nod and slowly turn.
The Psyrano droid waits, head cocked, between an easel and a stack of half-painted canvases—blues and greens (Seth’s specialty) and swirling dabs of red. The droid’s face reminds me of when I was six and our ancient plasma-screen TV finally broke. Slow rivers of fluid gush around its plastic skin, trickling into familiarity. The boot-shaped chin birthmark. The forehead grooves, carved by laughter. Those perfectly imperfect eyes—one blue, one brown.
“Mr. Gareth?” the doctor says softly. “Seth’s connection is complete.”
It’s not until then I realize I’ve let go of the real Seth’s hand.
I met Seth a few months before my brother’s wedding. Jacob had guilted me into ‘classing up the big day.’ (“I’m not saying you’re good at artsy stuff cuz you’re gay,” Jacob explained. “I’m saying I’m bad at artsy stuff cuz I’m straight.”)
I found Seth’s website two pages into a Googlepedia search, nestled between overpriced holo-invite designers. Carson Calligraphy: Classic Art for Your Modern Event. His address was near the firm, so I set an appointment to discuss 75 hand-written wedding invitations with Mr. Seth Carson that very afternoon.
Jacob and his wife didn’t last.
Seth and I did.
Seth used to joke I won him over with my smile—“quiet but quirky, like that small-town coffee shop only the locals know about.” I’d quip back he won me over with his ‘i’s—curvy and playful, the dots on top flashing hidden strength and care. The afternoon we met, I saw a sample of his invitations and immediately wanted more—‘wedding,’ ‘invited,’ ‘bride.’
Those perfect ‘i’s.
That perfect man.
The Psyrano droid has been operational for two weeks. Two weeks of moody technicians twirling dials and cheerful psychologists asking about Seth’s favorite foods, his funniest memories, his childhood pets. Two weeks of my painful glances at the real Seth, motionless since the bike accident, his bodily needs administered by whichever nurse happens to be on shift. Two weeks of sharing our home with this thing that looks and sounds likes my husband, this thing that is almost lifelike but so far from human.
According to the doctors, ‘it’ (I cannot call it ‘Seth’) is adapting well. The psionic connection is strong, and the real Seth, my Seth, will soon permanently reside within this new shell instead of just stumbling over in fits and starts as he’s done so far.
The Psyrano droid has Seth’s magnificently strange eyes. Seth’s face, Seth’s voice, even Seth’s playful gait, as it slides along our cold kitchen floor in Seth’s smiling-monkey socks. But when I look at it, I think, This is not my husband. My husband is lying comatose in his studio. This is just some ventriloquist’s dummy I’m making him husband entertain me with.
The droid serves me a plate of Seth’s rigatoni Bolognese.
The pasta is overcooked, exactly as expected.
“Jeremy?” the Psyrano asks one night.
Jacob and his girlfriend have just left. We are alone. Alone, except for Seth.
“Hm?” I force a smile.
“I… have something for you.” Its voice holds whimsy, like it’s about to let me in on one of Seth’s horrible and wonderful jokes. It shuffles a hand into the back pocket of my husband’s favorite corduroys and reveals a rectangle of green paper. I cautiously take the note, open it, and crumble onto the couch.
“Jeremy?” it asks, an arm already around me.
I look at the note—hand-lettered with dollops of color. The design is perfect. The words, expertly chosen. Even the paper is exactly Seth’s preferred rugged stock.
But the letters. That ‘i’ in ‘anniversary.’ The mechanics are off—the slope, the careful width—but moreover, the character is off. There is no heart. There is no Seth.
We can teach machines to talk. We can teach machines to move. We can even teach machines to receive our thoughts. But we cannot teach machines to be us.
“You’re not him,” I whisper.
It doesn’t answer immediately. It’s even mastered Seth’s reluctant confessions. “I am not,” it finally says.
“But you’re so close… How…?”
“Psionics remains a nascent technology. I repurpose Seth’s surface thoughts, augmented by your own knowledge.”
The psychologists. The technicians. Asking me about Seth. Question after question. This thing is as much fueled by me as it is by Seth. It’s a fiction. A story. A lie.
“Shall the connection cease?” the droid asks. Again, that elongated ‘shun’ in ‘connection.’
If it were really Seth, it wouldn’t have to ask.
When it is done, when a jumbled heap of circuitry lies on my couch, blue and brown dye draining from its eyes, I quietly enter the tiny room that was once an art studio.
I turn out the light.
Squeezed into a soft, warm spot on Seth’s bed, I find a home for my meandering thoughts.
A sanctuary, if you will.