I awoke to see our seven-year-old daughter holding a steak knife to my wife’s throat. Before I could make sense of what I was seeing, the steak knife infomercial wafted through my mind. The pitch-man held a looped garden hose in one hand. Slicing through the hose, he exclaimed:
Nothing will stand in its way!
My wife was whimpering. Her eyes were wild and full of tears. Our little girl held her mother’s long hair tightly in her left hand and pressed the point of the knife to Wendy’s neck. Blood was trickling from the point. I sat up slowly, starting to tremble. My hands reached out to both of them.
“Amanda,” I whispered. “Give Daddy the knife.”
She clenched her mother’s hair tighter. Wendy shrieked. I pissed myself.
“Baby,” I cried. “Please, sweetie, please. Give Daddy the knife. Please!” I didn’t recognize my own voice.
Amanda’s eyes were nearly empty of emotion. Nearly. The only thing I could see in them was a deep, burning fury. Our beautiful girl was gone. Utterly gone. There was only a hollow maniacal need. She opened her mouth to speak.
And with that, the last six months raced through my mind at the speed of light.
“What do you want for Christmas, kiddo?” It had been a beautiful day. Warm. Eerily warm for the first week of December, but still beautiful. Amanda and I were in the car, driving to the mall to shop for my wife’s birthday. Most of the birthdays in my life were clustered around Christmas. I found myself walking aimlessly around malls and floating helplessly on websites between Halloween and Valentine’s Day. Our son, Charlie, was easy to shop for. He was five and wanted to own every piece of plastic crap in the galaxy. My wife was a little tougher. I came within ninety percent of getting something she liked about nineteen percent of the time. Essentially I purchased objects that, once returned, functioned as gift cards.
Amanda was impossible to shop for, and I adored her even more because of it. She liked to read and draw and talk about what she read and drew. She loved exploring her epic imagination, and tactile things tended to get in the way. Or if she was engeged with some material things, she would make the objects into what she wanted. She would make a castle out of a laundry basket and pretend a luxury car was a pile of dinosaur poop. I was stunned when she answered immediately.
“I want a DewHickee,” she said. I expected, I dunno, Daddy.
“A DewHickee, Daddy. I want a DewHickee.”
“Any old gizmo, or is there a particular thingamabob I can find to fill your doodad needs?”
“No,” she giggled. “It’s a toy. It’s called a DewHickee. It’s about this big and it’s kind of shaped like this and it has these lights like this and it makes sounds like ‘beep doo boop de beep’ and you can use it with other DewHickees. Caitlin and Melissa are getting them.”
“Well, then,” I said, “we can’t have your friends going ‘beep a deep a boop a doop’ without you. Or I can get you a baseball glove and you can go ‘shoo be doo be’ with your mouth while they use their whatchamacallems.”
Amanda laughed her beautiful little laugh. “I want one too, Daddy.”
“I’ll talk to Santa. See what he has to say.”
“Mom already said it was ok.”
The DewHickee was pretty much how Amanda described it. About that big, kind of shaped like that, with these lights like that and with those sounds. It was made by a company called Gokuaku Hidona, Inc. which is wholly owned by the Little Rock Chicken Company. It is something in between a puzzle, a game and a toy. The light sequences and sounds become interactive. The internal memory gets to know the owner as the owner learns to use it. It could sync with learning software to make games out of science and math. DewHickee specific programming- broadcast and online- was en route for the new year. Some people were calling it the biggest leap in education since the printing press. I assumed those people were being paid by a certain Arkansas poultry concern. The online infomercial convinced me it was almost worth five hundred bucks.
That Christmas seemed like the best ever. The kids woke up to a light snowfall and cinnamon crumble muffins. They slept until six, for which I considered thanking the Almighty. Charlie tore through the presents like a Dervish on meth. Amanda coyly opened each gift with simmering anticipation. I thought about putting the roughly-zucchini-sized DewHickee in a giant box filled with foam peanuts. Wendy vetoed that despite my promise to personally clean up the peanuts and whatever Charlie did with/to them. Instead, I tucked the thing right up against the trunk of the Christmas tree, about halfway up. When Amanda started to look despondent, I asked her to look deep within the branches of the tree.
We got her a rocking horse for her fourth birthday. She screamed with joy and hugged it for five minutes before trying to ride it. She demanded to sleep with it in her bed and ride it in the bathtub. She was furious that neither of those things were permitted. Its name was Leonard and it ate with us at every meal for six months, usually interrupting conversations with his catchphrase. Clippety-cloppers.
The DewHickee left that stupid horse in the dust.
“That is very expensive, honey,” Wendy cautioned her as the little girl tore through the box. I went through it the night before to remove the security features off the packaging. Took half an hour. “You need to be very careful.” The thing claimed to be shatterproof and water-resistant. We were familiar with such claims. She pulled it free from its cardboard shell and held it gently, like a newborn chick.
Amanda instinctively found the button to activate it. It began to hum and light up in deliberate sequences. Spiraling around the countless light diodes were keys- some flush with the surface and others raised like those on a saxophone or a clarinet. She pressed one of them.
“Neeeeow,” said the DewHickee in an electric voice. She pressed more keys. “Jip. Weedle. Pweeeeeeet. Gooop.” Each sound sent a fresh twirl of lights around the device. Amanda giggled and looked up at us with the blinding glare of pure joy in her eyes.
“Merry Christmas, baby girl,” I said. Wendy rubbed my back, the way she does when we are both feeling like we stuck the landing as parents. “Remember what your mother said. Take care of it.”
“I will! I promise!” She tapped at the keys, instigating more noises and flashes. I asked her if the volume could be turned down. “Sure,” she said and did it immediately. Wendy and I looked at each other, stunned at how quickly she was figuring it out. Charlie walked on his knees toward his sister. He was sporting his brand new Goblin Lorde helmet.
“Can I use it now?” he asked, used to getting his way with his doting big sister.
“When I’m done with it,” Amanda said softly, her eyes never leaving the DewHickee.
“Can I use it now?” he asked again, as though the first exchange never happened.
“When I am done with it,” she said. This time her voice was stern. Almost adult. Her eyes stayed glued to her toy.
“Sweetheart,” Wendy said. “Remember that we share things as a family. Let Charlie have a turn in a little bit.” We looked at each other, again surprised. Amanda never said no to her brother. Ever.
“I will,” Amanda said, still not looking up. “I promise.”
In mid-February, amid the death-throes of my shopping sprees, Wendy called me. I was spending my lunch break at the mall, trying to find something for Valentine’s. Amanda’s teacher wanted to speak to us. Her progress report was in. Her tests were perfect. Absolutely perfect.
“I don’t understand why that’s a problem,” I said. "Isn’t that cause for celebration? I’ll get pizza on the way home."
“She isn’t engaging in the classroom. Mrs. Welch thinks she might be cheating.”
“First, that’s crap. Second, even if she was, isn’t that a genius move? Evil genius, sure, but still genius.”
“I know it’s crap, but we need to sort this out,” she said. “We have a meeting Friday before school. Can you make it?”
I had never imagined a meeting with any of Amanda’s teachers that didn’t revolve around how awesome our daughter was. How bright. She had been a little withdrawn of late, but I figured that was the winter. It was brutal. So cold. So much snow. Her mother and I both had a bit of seasonal affective disorder. I was starting to think maybe we had handed that off to her. Funny how parenthood can make you feel guilty for things that are completely out of your control.
I didn’t like Mrs. Welch the first time I met her. I liked her less when she suggested my kid could be a cheat. She had no evidence. Just her hunch. We assured her that Amanda was doing all her work. Mrs. Welch told us that she could hear our daughter whispering during her quizzes.
“Who is she whispering to?”
“I can’t tell. I can recognize Amanda’s voice, but I don’t recognize the other voice.”
Sometimes I can feel the muscles around my skull strain under the force of the rolling of my eyes.
“Have any other kids been getting exceptional grades?” my wife asked.
“Some. I think they are using those things to talk to one another.” The old bag made a strange gesture to indicate a DewHickee. “I’m going to ask you and the other parents to keep them out of my classroom.”
We left the meeting feeling a bit stirred up. Mrs. Witch had no cause to suspect Amanda was cheating. Other than a failure to appreciate a child’s inherent intelligence. I suppose when crazy people listen to their craziness they can suspect all kinds of things. Wendy seemed more unsettled than I felt.
“Can they talk to each other with them?”
“I’ll check into it,” I said. “I don’t think so.”
“I’ve caught her talking to it.”
The winter was rough. Spring didn’t want to show its face. We had to limit the time Amanda could spend with her gadget. I felt hypocritical. I spent the best years of my life parked in front of a television with a remote or a game controller in my hand. Amanda loved playing with that thing. I didn’t get it, but my folks never understood my games. They constantly told me I was wasting my time when I could be out flying a kite. Here I had thought flying a kite was what you told someone to do when you were watching your language.
The DewHickee scared Wendy. She didn’t know what to make of it. She thought it was taking her daughter away from her. I know what she meant. Sometimes I felt like my wife wanted to stop the kids from growing up. Pickle them or freeze them in carbonite. I loved them so very much, but I was comfortable watching them become their own people. I guess I kept expecting Amanda to get tired of it and find something new. Maybe I felt responsible. After all, I was the one that gave it to her.
When we told her we needed to curb the time she played with her DewHickee, Amanda burst into inconsolable sobs and hid in her closet. Amanda never cried. Her brother was a crier. Charlie would turn on the waterworks if there was a brown spot on his banana. Seeing her cry made me feel guilty about buying the toy. It made me resent my wife for making such a big deal about how much she fiddled with it. Our girl came around and accepted our decision. One hour on school nights, two and a half on the weekends. Those were here restrictions. We felt a bit smug in our parenting abilities for a week or so. Then things got weird.
Me and Wendy started hearing sounds at night. Scratching and rustling. Whispering. I thought we had mice at first. Then, one night, it sounded like the house was inside of a beehive. It was an unnerving hum, like those old metal bridges. Wendy thought it was some drone or model plane. I was sure it was coming from the walls. Charlie started whimpering and came into our bed. I checked on Amanda. She was sound asleep. Just to be sure, I checked the DewHickee. It was sitting in the charging station on the kitchen counter. Next to the butcher block. One light blinking away. Same as always. As I reached out to touch it, the humming stopped.
“What are you doing?”
I jumped and saw my daughter looking blankly at me.
“Jesus, honey, you scared me!” She said nothing, and stared through me. “I was trying to figure out what that hum was. I thought it might have been your thingy.”
“It doesn’t hum.” Her voice was off. Like a radio signal starting to slip out of reach.
“I didn’t know that. You should go back to bed, sweetie.” She gazed at it for a moment, then turned and headed back to her room.
Our cars wouldn’t start the next morning. Stone dead batteries. Both less than a year old.
Amanda was getting hard to live with. She seemed phony. Like a prisoner trying overly hard to impress the jailors with oh-so-good behavior. Yet, now and again, her guard would slip. Then the cold stare would pour out. It had been months since I heard her laugh. Really laugh. It is so easy to spot a fake laugh.
A pipe in our basement froze and burst. The temperature that night never dropped below forty. Plumber never saw anything like it.
Our daughter was getting perfect grades. Perfect. We made sure she was doing her homework. We made sure that there was no internet nearby when she was working. Her teacher made her take three different tests alone with a monitor. She aced them all. I emailed Mrs. Welch to see if an apology was en route. Perhaps one is. Who knows? I haven’t heard back yet. Amanda wasn’t engaging other people much, though. Especially her brother. She used to spend so much time with him. That didn’t happen anymore.
Every night I would dream that a witch was sitting on my chest getting ready to suck my soul out of my mouth and drag it to hell. Every night I woke up shivering and terrified.
As school was winding down, we held out hopes that the summer would break the hold that the DewHickee had on our baby girl. Wendy kept talking about it. It became like an incantation. My wife had started making us go to church again. I missed my Sunday mornings.
Then I came home from work and found my daughter on the couch with her precious toy. It took a moment for me to notice what was different.
“Amanda- is that thing bigger than it used to be?”
“Yes,” she said, distant. “I unleashed it.” The gadget was nearly six inches longer than it was before. It looked like it had slid open, like the handle of an umbrella. More lights and keys were exposed and Amanda was riveted. She lay on her back holding it up in the air, her fingers whirling about it as the light sequences spun around. It was making a hum. Like the beehive. I stepped into the kitchen, so unsure what to do. Wendy was going over Sunday school enrollment papers.
“Hi, babe,” she said. “How was work?”
“Umm,” I said. “Did you see that?”
“What?” She stood and walked to the living room. “Good God!” She ran and snatched it from Amanda’s hands.
“No! Give it back!” Amanda wailed as though she had a compound fracture.
“I have had enough of this thing!” Wendy shrieked. Her voice was as disturbing as Amanda’s.
“Give me back my DewHickee you nasty c---!”
I heard my daughter use a word I never imagined I would hear fall from her lips. Let alone at her mother. The room fell as silent as a church basement. Wendy’s mouth hung open. Amanda stared at her mom with undiluted hatred. Wendy held the gadget out toward me.
“Stash this thing,” she said. “We will figure out what to do with it later.” I took it from her. “You are going to your room, Amanda. I’ll let you know when I’m ready for you to apologize.” Amanda exploded in tears and ran to her room. Charlie looked up from his tablet.
“What’s a c---?”
“Never mind!” my wife snapped.
“C’mon, Charlie,” I said. “Come in the kitchen with me. I need a drink of water.” We left the room as Wendy fell into the couch with her face in her hands. I put the DewHickee in my satchel for the time being. I perched Charlie on a stool at the kitchen island and poked my head into the living room. “Do you need some time to yourself?”
Wendy didn’t take her face out of her hands. She just nodded.
Later we talked. Wendy wanted it gone. Immediately. I argued that we shouldn’t get rid of it right away. That Amanda was obviously vulnerable and that it might be traumatic. Wendy wouldn’t listen. She showed me an article she had found online earlier in the day.
“Ten percent of kids are demonstrating emotional and behavioral problems associated with that thing. And they say it might get worse. There are a lot of parents who aren’t monitoring how much their kids use it. I want it gone.”
I told her I would get rid of it on the way to work. We couldn’t just toss it in the trash. I put it on the top shelf in our bedroom closet in my grandpa’s cigar box. We went to bed in silence.
I stared into Amanda’s vacant eyes.
“Please just give me the knife, baby girl!”
“Now!” screamed Amanda.
“Give it to her!” Wendy rasped.
“Okay! Okay!” I slid from the bed, my legs almost failing me. I staggered to the closet and reached for the cigar box. I was terrified to turn back around. I pictured the knife buried into my wife’s throat. My little girl’s life would be over. Maybe it already was. I reached deep into my gut to find the strength to speak. “Amanda,” I said, as calmly as I could. “I’m going to put the DewHickee on the floor at my feet as soon as you put the knife on the nightstand.”
I turned around slowly, holding it out. Fire rolled through her eyes when she saw it and in an instant she put the knife next to Wendy’s water glass. She strode towards me and yanked her gadget from me before I could keep up my end of the deal. Without a word, she turned it on and walked out of our bedroom with the cacophony of lights and beeps in her hands.
I was frozen to the floor. Freezing. I looked at my wife. Wendy’s eyes were wild. She looked furious. She was panting like a beast and swiping at the spot on her neck where the knife had drawn blood. I barely recognized her.
“She’s the devil!” Wendy rasped. “Did you see? She’s the devil!”
I felt my feet moving. I walked over to the nightstand. I felt like I was swimming in a pressure cooker. In the distance I could hear sirens. I reached out and picked up the knife. My cheeks flushed as I gripped it tightly. Once again, the words floated through my head.
Nothing will stand in its way!
© Copyright 2017 Harris Proctor. All rights reserved.
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