The chime of her cell phone, alerting her that she had a text message waiting for her, scared Shortcut out of her numbness. She rushed to find the gadget that is almost always in her possession. This time, it wasn’t. When she came home from the cemetery last night with Marcus, she threw her phone on the bed which, in turn, had bounced between the bed and the wall to snuggle with a teddy bear she had forgotten years ago. She wasn’t exactly sure why she was so anxious to find her phone. Anybody who was anyone to her were now gone. Dice was dead, or alive, she wasn’t certain which. She witnessed some sort of soul arise from his grave. From there, she wasn’t confident what had happened to him. And Marcus was enjoying his gift of flight more than texting to her on a phone. Had she even seen him use his phone to text or make a call the last few times that she saw him? She thought about that for a minute. Her conclusion was a “Nope,” and she stressed the confirmation of her result by saying it aloud.
It took her a minute to find her phone, but she did. She also reminisced about the teddy bear that had laid abandoned all these years along the baseboard under her bed. When she picked up the bear, he blinked at her. His dusty black marble eyes got their sheen back with those few blinks. “Hello there, Tyson,” she softly said to the bear as she held him in both hands. He wasn’t a particularly handsome bear. His fur was a bit nappy from the years of neglect. He was a gift from Dice and Marcus’s Mother on her twelfth birthday. She couldn’t remember why she had named him Tyson until, while holding him, he lunged out to try to bite her arm. “That’s right, you’re a biter. I forgot about that,” she said. And then she remembered why she had named him what she did. She placed Tyson at the foot of her bed and commanded him to, “Sit. Don’t move,” and he complied.
The text she had received earlier was from her bank letting her know her balance in her checking account. It was a daily ritual; she should be used to the periodic invasion by now. The truth is, she ignored it most of the time. Getting the alert from her bank was equivalent to breathing. She never acknowledged it until she didn’t have any money to spend, just like she never really appreciated breathing until there was a lack of oxygen. Then, and only then, did she ever consider its importance. And now, it was Marcus’s turn to be important. She took him for granted. She was with him almost constantly. Now that he had disappeared, she didn’t know how to behave.
Tyson, apparently, didn’t know how to behave either. He was at the bottom of the bed tearing up the backpack she always threw there upon returning home.
“Qef!” she yelled at the animated stuffed animal. In an instant, and in mid-bite, Tyson froze. Bits of string and paper fell out of his open mouth as his animation came to an immediate halt. Shortcut remembered the first time that she had heard the “safe word” to stop the animatronic beings from becoming dangerous.
It was when she was younger; Marcus, Dice and she were playing G.I. Joe vs Barbie and Ken in “Plastic Dominance of The World” in the Amun brother’s living room. Inanimate beings have always become animate in her presence, but usually not in the presence of others. The other party had to “believe” in her special gift before they were given the permission to witness her gift for themselves. It wasn’t until a few years later that Dice and Marcus were able to offer their testimonial of Shortcut’s power to bring life to an inorganic object. No, on this particular day, Barbie and Ken were getting their asses kicked by Dice and Marcus’s G.I. Joe dolls. And, yeah, G.I. Joe may have had the fancy weapons and the tank, but Barbie and Ken had the looks and the mansion and the cool convertible. Barbie and Ken also had Shortcut. Shortcut had to admit, she was getting a little pissed off that there were two battalions of G.I. Joe fellas against her one unit.
But Barbara Millicent Roberts and Ken Carson were not about to get their plastic asses handed to them by a bunch of uniformed thugs. Shortcut waited patiently for the right moment when both Dice and Marcus were occupied with the fake Fort Wadsworth they were creating for their brainless plastic men before she let Barbie and Ken spring into action. When the brothers weren’t looking, Barbie and Ken came to life. Barbie looked from her sitting position next to her pink Barbie hammock that was strung between two plastic trees in the side yard of the mansion, and Ken, in what would be the front yard of the Barbie Mansion if it had any grass and actual land, stood there with his hands on his hips wondering where he was and how he had gotten there. The two dolls both looked up to the giant that was Shortcut as she handed Ken the Cadillac Gauge Stoner 63A Assault Rifle and then handed Barbie the yellow machete. Shortcut gave the dolls a nod in the direction of the G.I. Joe dolls that were preoccupied with their own sudden existence. Barbie snuck up the side of her pink Barbie convertible to surprise one of the soldiers before slicing off his head with her machete. Ken, in the meantime, gave a tug on the trigger of his equipped assault rifle to waste the other three soldiers that didn’t see their demise coming so soon after their activation.
While the massacre was taking place, Dice and Marcus’s mother had entered the living room to make her way to the stairs to complete her daily chores in the bedrooms above, when she stopped to notice that Shortcut had brought the dolls to life. Mrs. Amun had been warned by Nicandro that Shortcut may exhibit her gift from time to time, and she shouldn’t be alarmed. Nicandro then had supplied Mrs. Amun with the word “Qef” as the word from the Gemin lexicon to cease all animation. Mrs. Amun didn’t hesitate to say the word when she saw the slaughter going on in her living room.
“Qef!” she yelled in a panic.
All action figures, both dead and alive, froze into their current position while on the two-toned carpeting on the Amun living room floor. Dice and Marcus looked at their mother in confusion. They were concentrating on their feeble attempt to recreate Fort Wadsworth out of an empty shoe box that Dice had retrieved from the hall closet at the foot of the stairs. Then they both looked down at their soldiers, in sync, to find their battalion had been mutilated beyond repair. One of the soldiers laid on the two-toned carpeting with his arms splayed to his sides as if he was Jesus Christ sans the cross. Except this soldier’s head had been cleanly sliced off by the machete Barbie was holding while she stood next to him in an aggressive pose. Barbie’s mouth was wide open as if she would be yelling if she were alive. The other three soldiers – these figures that once were solid molds of plastic – had actual bullet holes in them. Dice lifted one of the soldiers up to peer through the twenty or so holes as the soldier- this plastic man- was grasping his final bullet wound in severe anguish. Marcus looked at the remaining two soldiers, one of them was strewn over the tank. He, too, was riddled with bullet holes. The final soldier was on the carpet with his legs chopped off.
Then they looked at Ken. His teeth had been ground together in a grimace while he held the assault rifle. Bullet casings were strewn about his feet. The only thing missing in this scenario would be smoke wafting from the end of the barrel.
Dice and Marcus looked at Shortcut in amazement.
“I win,” was all that Shortcut said. That’s all she had to say. The air of contention surrounding her was thick. Her smile of triumph lit the room.
Marcus’s jaw had dropped. This was supposed to be a friendly game of war. Now he needed to spend the morning gluing legs and heads back on to his action figures.
“How?” Marcus asked.
Shortcut just shrugged her shoulders as she carefully picked up Barbie and Ken to place them back into the Barbie mansion. She pried the assault rifle from Ken’s hands, and the machete from Barbie’s, to hand them back to Marcus. “Here, these are yours.” she said and then began to hum as she collected the rest of her toys.
The truth was, she didn’t know how she got Barbie and Ken to move into action. She’d never questioned it. And, she figured that if she ever did question it, no one could answer her. Or, at the very least, would consider her a fruit loop to think she could make the inanimate animate. So, she had always kept it to herself. It wasn’t until Mrs. Amun stopped her figures in mid-action that she even knew that she could control them.
Later on that afternoon, Shortcut had gotten a visit from Mrs. Amun. There was a knock at the door, a short pause, and then the doorbell sounded off to advise everyone in the Vargas household they had a visitor awaiting acknowledgement on their front porch. Shortcut traipsed down the stairs from her bedroom hallway down to the first floor to look through the peephole. It was Mrs. Amun. “I wonder what she’s doing here?” Shortcut thought as she clicked the deadbolt to the right and turned the doorknob.
“Hi, Mrs. Amun. Dice and Marcus aren’t here,” Shortcut was polite. Just as her parents had taught her. She mentally gave them a gold star on their right shoulders for their training, and she gave herself a gold star for practicing her manners as previously instructed. There, everyone had a gold star. Shortcut noticed Mrs. Amun wasn’t in as good of a mood as she currently was, she attributed that to everyone getting a mental gold star except for her. Mrs. Amun was holding a yellow gift bag in her right hand as she asked, “Can I come in?”
“Yeah, sure. Come on in,” said Shortcut as she stepped aside to allow Mrs. Amun entry into her home.
“Is there a place we can talk?” asked Mrs. Amun. She wasted no time in asking the question. She wasn’t even finished looking around the foyer absorbing every little detail of Shortcut’s cozy home. It wasn’t as nice, or as big, as the Amun home, but it was nice enough.
“Yes, Ma’am. Here in the living room. My parents are out for a while. We have the house all to ourselves.” said Shortcut politely enough. “If you don’t count the little boy and his dog figurine on the bookshelf waving hello to you,” she quietly thought to herself, “but they wave at everyone.”
The living room was, in fact, pleasant enough. In the middle of the room sat an apothecary coffee table with 4 drawers on each side. Around the table sat a pair of matching tan arm chairs, a darker tan love seat, and a formal couch in a brown, leather shade. The carpet under the furniture to cover the wooden flooring had been recently vacuumed. Mrs. Amun could tell because the fibers of the shag were standing at attention instead of showing signs of being worn under foot. There was no dust on the shelves or the tables. Mrs. Amun was pleased with her surroundings and didn’t feel at all threatened as she thought she would be in a house of Engineers.
Engineers excel at the art of manipulation. Their race could control your perception one way, while striking. They could also actuate the inorganic. They were very dangerous if they didn’t like you or felt at unease with you. It was very important to always remain calm in their presence, and to appease the Engineers any way possible.
“Shortcut, honey,” started Mrs. Amun as she sat down on the formal couch and then proceeded to smooth out the green material of her dress after it flowed gently to drape on her legs, “what you did this morning. You know how you did it? Do you know what it means?”
Shortcut answered the first question promptly. She did know what she had done. She had been doing it since the car accident when she was four. What it means…that was a different story. She had no idea what it meant, except that she had friends that weren’t anyone else’s friend. Sometimes that was a great feeling, but most times it was lonely. Her inorganic objects never talked. They would just listen. At first, that was a good thing. As she grew older, she wanted feedback. Not just smiles and heads nodding. There were times that Shortcut thought the beings that she could bring to life didn’t appreciate what she had done for them at all.
During their conversation, their honesty, and their equal epiphanies, Mrs. Amun reached into the yellow gift bag to pull out a teddy bear. It was a newly purchased bear, Shortcut noticed. The tag with the brand name “Tyson” was still attached to the left ear. It had dark brown fur that, according to the Tyson tag, was 50% acrylic and 50% polyester. The chest was a caramel color, as was the bottoms of the bear’s feet. The eyes were marble and black. They reflected every bit of light around them. The bear had been sitting still in the bag, but once Mrs. Amun pulled him out of the bag, and sat him on the couch next to her, the bear came to life. He tried to stand up on the couch, but his short back legs were wobbly from inactivity. He attempted to walk two steps toward Shortcut before he fell forward. Shortcut had caught him and lifted him up in front of her face. He smiled at her. She smiled back. She noticed his teeth were jagged. Like the teeth of a shark. They looked nothing like the teeth of a real bear. Mrs. Amun hadn’t noticed the teeth when she purchased him because in the store, the mouth had only been a simple brown chord of string that had been sewn to mark where the mouth would normally be. There had never been any indication that the bear would have teeth, until this very moment. Mrs. Amun was, at first, alarmed that she was about to give a bear with jagged teeth that could cause severe injury, to Shortcut; who was still a child. She quickly remembered what Shortcut was capable of, and what she really is. She quietly sighed a breath of relief because if the bear DID cause injury to an Engineer that would simply mean the Engineer wasn’t paying attention. Besides, Engineers are known for their destruction. Mrs. Amun would consider the bear attack as kharma.
Instead, the bear took an instant liking to Shortcut. When she placed him back down on the couch, the bear wobbled on its short legs over to her side where it plopped down with authority. She reached for the tag on the bear’s ear to yank it out, but then thought better of it. “That might hurt his tiny ear,” she had thought. Then she got up from the couch to retrieve a pair of scissors to cut the tag off. As she walked out of the living room into her mother’s craft room off the kitchen to grab the scissors, the bear stood up, walked over to the arm of the couch to watch her leave. The moment she was out of sight into the craft room, the bear froze in its standing position. Shortcut had gone out of its sight range, and therefore was no longer animated. When she returned to the living room, the bear became animated, turned to face Mrs. Amun and snarled silently as it launched for the attack.
“Qef,” said Mrs. Amun. She didn’t seem too concerned that she was about to be mauled by a teddy bear.
“There’s that word again,” said Shortcut to Mrs. Amun. The teddy bear had frozen in place, standing on its hind legs, his front paws in attack position, and his jagged teeth exposed in preparation to rip Mrs. Amun to tiny shreds.
Mrs. Amun had spent the next twenty minutes explaining to Shortcut the origin of her powers, and how the word “Qef” was uncovered by a group of people called “The Yerad” in order to fight off an evil queen of The Gemin and those who murdered in her name.
It was all too much for a pre-teen to absorb at the time. But Shortcut still remembered the conversation as if it was yesterday. It was on that day that she had named the gift that Mrs. Amun had given her, accompanied with a lesson she’d need much later in life, Tyson; after the name on the tag on his ear.
That was all almost ten years ago. Tyson had done exactly what Mrs. Amun had intended for the bear to do, help her practice her art of Engineering. Shortcut hadn’t met a Yerad yet. Or, if she did, Tyson didn’t seem to know it, or alert her to the fact that she was in any danger. Tyson only chewed up things, and occasionally bit the girls who would come spend a sleep-over with her. He chewed off one of her friend’s ear one night. But, it was Diana. She was a fake friend anyway, and a Miss-Know-It-All who didn’t know half the things she pretended she did. There was absolutely no love lost there when Diana started spreading false rumors that Shortcut had chewed off her ear while they were comfortably snug in their Power Puff Girls sleeping bags. It never happened. If Diana did know it all like she thinks she does, she would’ve known it was Tyson who was slowing digesting her earlobe and cartilage in his 50% acrylic and 50% polyester filled stomach.
Shortcut watched Tyson as he sat at the foot of the bed in his motionless gnawing of anything he could get his teeth on. She thought of Mrs. Amun, and the lessons she bestowed on a very naïve little girl who felt alone in this world. Little did she know, she wasn’t alone. Apparently, Dice could do special things; like die, get reborn, and then float away in a ball of light as he crawls out of his own grave. And Marcus, he had something black in him that gave him wings. Now, they’re both gone. So is Mrs. Amun, and once again, she felt all alone. Except, this time, her loneliness had a lining of abandonment and sprinkles of desolation.
“Come here, Tyson,” she said out loud to the bear at the foot of the bed. Tyson sprang to life, stood up on his hind legs, and waddled over to her. She picked him up by grabbing him under his arms, and then hugged him. He hugged her back. He placed his head on her shoulder. He couldn’t close his eyes because there were no eyelids to cover his black, marble eyes. But, if he could, he would’ve closed them.
“You’re such a good hugger,” she told him. He couldn’t say anything back. He just hugged tighter. And then he hungrily sniffed her earlobe. “Don’t even think about it, you little fucker,” she softly said to him. He placed his head back down on her shoulder and freely gave her what she’d been wanting all this time…companionship.