Aphelion Issue 244, Volume 23
October 2019
 
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Moldable

by Blake Datch


"What the hell is it?" Edward snorted. He poked the object and wrinkled his nose as it jiggled in response.

Mr. Jenkins smiled. "It's a Transficube," he replied proudly. "My therapist told me they were popular and that you might like -- "

"It's not a Transficube," the teenager said carelessly. He slapped the gray featureless cube. It wobbled violently. "It's a freaking block of Jell-O."

Jenkins' smile twisted as his face contorted rigidly, but he restrained his anger. He reached over his son and steadied the gelatinous block as he slowed his breathing. "Why do you say that, Edward?" he asked quietly as he placed his hands on his son's shoulders.

"'Cause," he answered casually, shaking off his father's hands. "I've seen it on TV, and Terrance has one, and I gotta tell you, Pop, none of them looked like a fugly piece of tofu." He slapped the cube again.

"Stop that!" Jenkins snatched the boy's hands away from the kitchen table and forced their eyes to meet. He opened his mouth, set to scold his son, but stopped short when he noticed the surprise in the boy's eyes. Guilt gripped his heart, swiftly robbing him of his ability to maintain eye contact. Finding his son's smooth hands clasped in his own knotted ones, Jenkins released his grip, folded his hands into his pockets, and looked away. His heart fluttered hopefully as he glimpsed a small notebook-like handheld on the kitchen counter. He seized the device excitedly and brought it to his son.

"You're just used to seeing the Transficube in a completed form," Jenkins stuttered as he forced the handheld into Edward's limp hands. "You have to draw your pet first. You can even scan a picture if you don't want to draw it. Here, let me show you."

He ripped the handheld from his son's hands and fumbled open his wallet. He flipped through the fading pictures of him and his son until he came upon a worn photo of his late mastiff, Bullet. Trembling, he slipped the picture away from the rest and scanned it on the handheld. Tentatively, he pressed a few buttons.

Purring softly as its inner structures shifted, the cube began to ripple and glow.

"You ready for this, Ed?" Jenkins whispered excitedly as he placed the handheld in the boy's lap. Edward denied his father his gaze but did not look away as the cube jiggled and changed form.

The object's movements quickly became more uniform. Jenkins could almost discern the structure of a dog, but before he could see any exact detail, the object's glow became too intense. He brought his hands to his eyes and tried to peer through the cracks between his fingers, but the thin slits of light still bled through too powerfully.

"Look away, Edward," Jenkins called out as he turned away, but he could sense his son wasn't listening. Before he could speak again, the Transficube released an immense burst of light, engulfing the entire kitchen in white and blinding him.

The light faded almost instantly, having lasted no longer than a camera's flash. Still blinded, Jenkins stood trembling, his back to the Transficube. He could not hear, smell, or even sense it, but he did not want to see it yet either. He knew its transformation was guaranteed, but he could not yet bring himself to believe it. How could something change so --

"Damn," Edward chuckled. "It worked."

Jenkins forced himself to turn around. He gasped.

It had worked. Standing right on the table was a dog. Jenkins' old dog. There were no faults, not even on the side unseen in the picture. From its rough, tan fur to its flabby paunch, the Transficube had mimicked its model perfectly. Its eyes even had the same knowing aura his dog's eyes once held.

And that's what puzzled Jenkins. The thing appeared animate, but it didn't behave accordingly. It didn't move, didn't even breathe.

"Is this thing broken?" Edward asked impatiently as he poked the dog, noticing the same as his father. "Terrance's pet actually moved, you know."

"I know," Jenkins replied, breaking gradually from his thoughts. "We just need to input his intelligence. Here, let me do it real quick."

"Hey, hey, hey," Edwards shouted as his father tried to grab the handheld from him. "I got this. I don't want a dog anyway."

Jenkins snapped his hand back. "What did you have in mind instead?" he mumbled as he checked his temper again. He forced a smile. He had to let the boy be, just as his therapist had said.

"Close your eyes," his son instructed giddily. "I'm going to make what you always wanted."

Jenkins chuckled heartily at this and shut his eyes. For all his hormones and pranks, it was these moments when Edward proved he was a good kid, and still, to Edward's credit, his mischievous behavior was just natural for his age and situation. This pet would help him in those hard times -- his therapist had assured him -- especially since he could control it. After so much conflict and tension, Edward deserved some aid.

A bright light blinded Jenkins through his eyelids.

Edward giggled. "Okay, Pop, you can look now."

Jenkins beamed and opened his eyes. The smile died instantaneously. Before him was no pet, not even a creature of some sort. Lying on the table -- the table where they ate most of their meals -- was an obscenity, common but disgusting -- a male organ in its entirety, impossibly large. About the same size and weight as a mastiff...

Edward laughed again. "I don't know what to do for his personality, but I think Richard will make a great -- "

"Edward!" Jenkins barked. He was losing it, and it wasn't coming back today.

"What, Dad?" the boy replied sadistically. "Isn't it what you have always wanted?"

Jenkins bit harshly on his lower lip. Not today. No therapy would work today. Perhaps he could deal with it tomorrow but not today.

Before his son could put in another word, he stormed out of the room leaving his son and his organ to whatever mischief decided.

####

Jenkins surfaced from his sleep prematurely with a mood as foul as his breath. His alarm clock burned a green "2:04" on its face, informing him he was awake four hours earlier than usual. He grumbled and shut his eyes, but the din that had stirred him earlier barred him from returning to sleep.

Exhausted but resigned, he focused on the noise. It emanated from the hallway…more precisely from his son's room. It sounded painfully familiar, almost overly common. He strained harder. The noise was steady and high-pitched, almost like squeaking…like the springs of a bed. Jenkins cursed.

Suddenly roused, he thrust himself from his bed and tossed on his robe. He moved rapidly to his son's room but stepped lightly. He halted outside the closed door and gingerly placed an ear on its surface. It was undeniable; he was right.

Jenkins gripped the door handle, flung the door open, and flipped on the light. Unlike the time before, he did not react with surprise. Edward, conversely, responded to his father's presence spastically. Seeing that the nude woman was still on top of him, he threw her off viciously and covered himself with his blankets. Propped on her elbows, the woman remained where she had fallen on the floor, oblivious and exposed. Unknowing of the situation, she glanced wonderingly from Edward to Jenkins. With a growl of disgust, Jenkins realized she looked unnaturally similar to a model in one of his personals.

"I-I-It's mine!" Edward cried indignantly, and then, changing his mind, "It's from your magazine!"

Jenkins gnashed his teeth and crushed the insides of his robe's pockets together. He yearned to roar until his throat was torn, but two niggling voices held him. One was his therapist's. The other was logic: He had given his teenage son a transformable pet with free rein to change it. It was only natural he made it his sex pet.

The thoughts didn't help, only serving to cage his verbal anger. He could only breathe heavily, growing more imposing with each inhalation. Edward watched breathlessly, frightened yet prepared to fight. The woman continued to moderate stupidly.

The tension broke as Jenkins exhaled all that had collected in him. He could not do it tonight; he could not face it or deal with it.

"I'm not doing your laundry anymore," was his only attempt at parenting before he left the room.

####

A scream shot Jenkins out of bed. As he stumbled at the edge of his mattress, the scream came again, more urgent than before. Instinct moved Jenkins before comprehension did, propelling him toward the source of the noise. He glanced in his son's room as he passed and increased his pace when he saw it empty.

The next cry was muffled but nearer. He tumbled down the stairs and nearly threw the basement's door from its hinges as he slammed it open. He recoiled in horror.

A gray creature writhed on the floor. It had a womanly figure but bore none of the features. No eyes, no ears, no nose, no hair. It had no visible mouth either, but a thin sheath of skin in the mouth's place stretched tightly as the creature released another muted shriek.

The screams were driven by pain; the pain was self-induced. The thing's arms bent inward at the elbow, and fused at the ends of the arms were scythe-like prongs that impaled the creature's stomach. As it seized on the ground, it wrenched the prongs back and forth through its body in a desperate attempt to free them, but its elbows would lock before the scythes could be released. It did not bleed nor did it saw itself open; it only screamed and writhed.

Edward stood a safe distance from the creature, the handheld in his grasp. When he and Jenkins met each other's eyes, the look the son gave his father was cold, prepared for his father's rage.

"Sorry about the noise," the boy mumbled, scowling. "I forgot it still had a mouth."

"What? What are you doing? What the hell is this?" roared Jenkins, clenching the door frame for support. "Is this how you treat a pet? You torture it?"

"It deserves it!" Edward roared back. "It almost bit off my…it nearly cut…it…" He blushed and scribbled something on the handheld in the absence of a reply. The creature's screams rose an octave.

Jenkins was across the room before Edward could retreat. He snatched his son's hand and ripped the handheld from it. While his grip tightened on the boy's hand, Jenkins pounded a few buttons on the controller. The screams stopped abruptly and in their source's place lay a gray cube.

Jenkins' heavy breathing -- rasping with mucous and spit -- filled the silence. The anger each exhalation carried did nothing to satiate Jenkins' temper. His temples beat painfully, only escalating the vehemence of his rage. He closed his hand on his son's hand harder. He heard a faint gasp.

Finally, Jenkins twisted his head to look at his son. Unable to express his fury, he instead inquired through grated teeth, "Do I need to take you to the hospital for your injury?"

Edward glared at his father but didn't answer. He jerked his trapped hand away from Jenkins, and Jenkins let it slip away. He turned away before he could see the white marks on his son's hand.

"I'm disappointed with you, Edward," he said firmly to the wall. "I'm going to work now; I expect everything to be fine when I get back."

He left without looking behind him. As he stumbled to his room, he cursed his own behavior. He cursed his son's.

"Why couldn't he just…" Jenkins trailed as he sat on his bed. He couldn't face it now. Work was the better part of an hour away, but he would leave early. He couldn't face his son now. He couldn't. A day away would give him the strength he needed even if he wouldn't see his therapist.

"I can handle it then…then…"

####

Jenkins placed his hand on the doorknob. The day hadn't been easy and he hadn't spoken with his therapist, but he was ready nonetheless. He would talk to Edward and solve all this. He grimaced as he twisted the door handle. He hesitated. Biting his lower lip, he opened the door.

Jenkins discovered he was already at home. He was sitting at the table in the kitchen, staring inquisitively at his double as he came in through the garage door. Jenkins -- although taken aback -- was not surprised. The acids in his stomach roiled, but he forced himself to swallow the anger with the bile. He could still deal with this. His son may have created a copy of him, but that didn't mean he had a new father.

"Dad! I'm so glad you're home!" Edward called overzealously as he trotted into the kitchen. Both men looked at the boy. Edward noted this with a grin. "Well, I meant you, the old Dad."

Jenkins choked up a breathless laugh. "Pretty good copy you made there, Ed. I would say it's lacking some emotion though."

"I know," Edward admitted cheerfully. "I was waiting for you, you know? Get your input on your own personality."

His father caught the subtle message and frowned. "I wanted to talk about that, Edward," he began quietly.

"Actions speak louder than words, Pop," Edward sneered, his cheerful façade disappearing. "Let me demonstrate."

Jenkins noticed the handheld in his son's hands. His heart fluttered. "Edward. Don't."

"Don't what, Dad?" Edward spat. "Show you what you're like? Don't worry; it isn't that bad. I'll only add the basics." He began tapping buttons on the handheld. "Your selfishness, your hatred, your horrible temper…Just the basics, Dad!"

"Stop this." Jenkins growled. As he watched his copy become more enraged and unstable with its new personality, he too began losing control. A voice screamed inside his head to think, but rage choked it before Jenkins could determine if it was his therapist's or his own.

"I will stop this, Dad!" his son growled back, "but I'm not stopping my pet. No, no, no, I'm stopping you. I have a new dad now, a better one!"

"Edward -- "

"Dad. I don't need you anymore."

"Edward, if you don't stop this now -- "

"No! I'm not fucking listening to you anymore!" Edward screamed. He turned to Jenkins' copy. "Kill him! Get up and kill him!" The copy's programmed glare faltered, but it didn't move from its chair. Edward cursed and smashed some buttons. "Damn it; kill him! Are you stupid? Come on! Kill that bastard!" Edward stabbed a finger toward his father. "Get up and do it! Get up, get up, get up! Do it!"

Jenkins caught his son's hand just as it was coming down on the duplicate. "I thought you were smart enough to know it can't attack people," he hissed as he tore the handheld from Edward's fingers. The boy yelped in pain. "I guess I thought too highly of you."

Edward looked at his father as he cradled his hand. "I don't need you."

Jenkins laughed. "And you think I need you? You think you're untouchable? Here, Edward, watch this."

He raised the handheld up to Edward and flicked a small lever. The device emitted a thin bar of red and baptized the boy with the light. While Edward's eyes dilated and strained after the light passed, Jenkins fiddled with the controls and smashed a button. Jenkins' copy suddenly glowed brilliantly, blinding both of them. When the light faded and their eyes had readjusted, it was the son in the seat and not the father.

"See this, Edward? There's you. Everything's copied, even the smallest bit of skin. The only difference here, Edward, is your copy is actually a good kid. Isn't that incredible? Seeing that I have this splendid copy of you and that you hate me so much anyway, why don't I just keep this version and send you off to your mother? How's that sound? Both of us will be happy; you'll get away and I'll finally get a respectable son. Does that work for you?" Jenkins waited, scowling at his son.

"I tried to get through to you, Edward," he snarled after a pause. "I spent half my savings on this God-damn contraption so you could be happy, but it took you just one day to make me regret my decision! One day, Edward! I have seen criminals act better than you! Hell, you tried to kill me! To think I raised you; I raised you. To think I --"

Jenkins choked on his next words. His anger drained from his body and with it his train of thought. He searched frantically for it, but he was struck dumb again. He swallowed.

His son was crying. From under his shut eyelids, great, bulbous tears trickled and slid down his flushed cheeks to the floor. Snot ran from his nose to mix with the tears. His lips parted slightly and stretched across his face, allowing a soft, steady whimper to escape. His shoulders, fallen and hunched inward, trembled.

His son was crying. The tears, the snot, the whimpers, the shakes; damn it, his son was crying. Jenkins couldn't believe it. There was his son, the child within the teenager. There he was.

Edward turned and stumbled out of the room. A door slammed shut.

Jenkins' body went numb. He clutched frantically for a nearby chair to stabilize himself and collapsed onto it. As he burrowed his nails into the table, the man searched desperately for an answer within the crevices of the wood. He looked urgently to the Edward that still sat at the table. The copied creature stared past Jenkins, its expression as inanimate as the wall it watched.

Jenkins stared into its hollow, mechanical eyes. He could put life into those eyes, intelligence in that brain, personality in that soul, kindness in that heart. He could make it so that it would never contain or commit evil. He could mold the perfect son. Within a few minutes, he could do it all.

Jenkins sighed painfully. "No." He pressed a button on the controller. A light flashed; the Transficube had returned to its original form. Jenkins placed his forehead against the wooden surface of the table. He thought.

He was tired and hurt, but he could face it now.

Gingerly, he placed the controller in his shirt pocket. He breathed, slowly pushed himself off the table, and shuffled out of the kitchen and to his son's door. He knocked gently. Edward didn't answer. Exhaling, Jenkins turned the doorknob softly and guided the door open.

Edward was in his bed with his back to the door. The covers hid him from his father, but he shuddered visibly underneath. As Jenkins came and sat on the edge of his bed, the boy tensed. Noticing this, Jenkins' head drooped.

"I'm sorry," he started softly. "I'm sorry, Edward. I didn't mean any of it; I lost myself for a moment, and I regret it now. Please, don't judge me for what I can't control."

Edward curled into himself. It wasn't the right answer. Jenkins grimaced. He couldn't stray now.

"There are a lot of things we need to fix about ourselves," he began shakily. He stopped, thought, frowned, began again, "There are a lot of things I need to fix about myself, and no matter how much I wish it sometimes, I can't change it with a remote. I have to work to fix my problems. I can't…I can't throw them on others."

The man struggled to keep his voice from breaking. His large shoulders trembled as he clasped his hands together. "I know I haven't been the best father. We both may need to work some things out, but I want you to know…you're not a bad kid, Edward…I'm lucky to have you. I may not seem like it at times, but I never regret having you as a son. No robot, however perfect, could ever replace you."

Jenkins hesitated. Those weren't the words either; he needed the right ones.

He turned and looked at his son. His wiped at his eyes with one hand as he placed the other on his son's shoulder. "I love you, Edward, and I will never stop loving you. Never."

Edward didn't look at his father nor did he move, but he didn't shake off his dad's hand. However small the gesture was, Jenkins valued it. He slowly smiled and returned his hand to his lap. As he studied the creases in his worn hands, he thought. This was what he wanted, time with his son. With patience and work, their time would be more pleasant, but for now, he was content.

Edward shifted on the bed. Perhaps he was ready to talk.

Cold, rigid metal tore through the back of Jenkins' shirt and bit shallowly into the flesh of his left shoulder. He gasped and lurched off the bed, dislodging the blade from his back. Terror, anger, and confusion consumed his mind as he staggered forward to the door, culminating into one emotion.

Jenkins sighed. With one hand, he limply grasped the door frame; with the other, the area above his heart.

The blade again pierced through his right shoulder and dug deep into the flesh. Jenkins cried out but gripped more tightly to the door frame and kept balance. He could feel the blood trickle down his back. He could feel his son's breath on his neck and his overbearing presence weigh on him. He sobbed and struggled with the fabric over his heart.

"Quite a show, Pop, quite a show," Edward hissed, slowly pressing the kitchen knife inward and down. Jenkins rasped. "I can't say I was surprised, but you came close to redeeming yourself. It's just…you said some things you can't take back, Pop."

"Edward -- "

"You called me stupid, Dad, but you spoke too soon." The hiss turned to snarl. "You spoke too soon! Now look at us! Tell me, Dad, tell me: who is the dumbass now?"

Jenkins finally held the controller in his trembling hand, pressed against his weakening chest and hidden from his son.

"Tell me!" Edward screamed, his voice no longer holding any familiarity. He wrenched the knife out of his father's back. "Tell me! Who's smarter now, Dad: you or me?"

Jenkins stared forward. He exhaled. "Neither."

The controller shattered against the wall. The knife came down.

THE END


© 2009 Blake Datch

Bio: Blake Datch is 17 and attending writing courses at the college in Greeley, Colorado. He has always enjoyed reading and writing science fiction.

E-mail: Blake Datch

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