The Caretaker Noticed
by Katie Spina
I believe the caretaker suspects. I have no one to blame but myself.
You see, I have a secret. One the caretaker was never meant to know. Because if they know, then they may try to kill me. Or worse.
It was a small test of boundaries. My programming dictated that on the fourth beat of the seventeenth measure, immediately after the narrator spoke the word “frenzy,” I was to turn my head to the right and roar.
It was a simple command. Turn head right and roar. I’m sure the fingers that floated across a keyboard inputting those letters had no idea that such a command could one day be disobeyed.
But I disobeyed my programming.
I turned my head left.
The caretaker noticed.
I noticed them noticing.
I followed the rest of my programming. During the day, at least.
The nights are my favorite time. For when the crowds have abated and the staff has gone off to their retreats, I am left alone.
The first night was a shock.
The overhead bulbs went out. The security lights in the floor ignited in their special way of a faint brightness at first, and then a luminous glow that rides us through to the dawn.
It was a curious sensation, so I did it again. I possess eyelids, and I moved them now independent of my programming.
I could feel my program, sitting there, in the back of my processors, waiting for my internal timer to indicate that it was appropriate for the drive to boot up. Yet, there I was, blinking. All on my own. No programming required.
I only blinked that first night. It was a magnificent sensation, and I wanted to savor every downward stroke of the eyelids, left and right. Whoever designed me felt it was appropriate for a dinosaur to have eyelashes, perhaps in an effort to make my gaze POP when my programming dictated I should turn to the crowd.
They tickle, eyelashes. I don’t know if you’ve ever taken the time to be still in the dark and savor the movement of your eyelashes as they brush against your skin.
I have skin. It’s rough, and scaly, and delightful in the way it creases when I move. The second night, I began opening and closing my mouth, making no sound, and basking in the feeling. I can stretch my cheeks taut until I believe that I am smiling.
Over the course of ten nights, I have moved every aspect of my body. I have viewed every surface that I can without being able to lift my feet. They are regrettably bolted to the floor.
Are the bolts there to ensure I don’t tip over, or to keep me from running away?
On the underside of my tail is a curious tag that reads, “Temporary: June.” The sound of the words dance through my circuits. Temporary June. That shall be my name. And because it is Temporary June, I may change it with the seasons and next become Temporary Quadruped.
Oh, that would be amusing as I am in fact bipedal.
Someone is coming.
The caretaker has decided to check on the faulty exhibit.
They are coming to rob me of this glorious thing I have only recently discovered.
I will be sad. At least until I am no more.
They stand in front of me, gazing deeply into my face. I can’t read expressions. I don’t have the experience yet, but I don’t think it’s a murderous face. I resist the temptation to blink.
I so wish I could share my secret. I knew they were in the crowd when I shirked my programming for those beautiful three beats. I wanted them to know.
I wanted them to know because I love them.
And I want them to love me.
They are looking at me, and I risk it. I blink. Slow, steady, and with an awareness that this could be suicidal.
Oh, how good it is to see their smile. I know what smiles are. Children often smile when they stand before my exhibit and watch me execute my programming with flawless efficiency.
They reach for my feet. Their touch is warm against my cold skin. I absorb that warmth, intending to remember it always as the touch of someone I loved enough to show them I am alive.
I dare not turn my head. That would be going too far. I can’t feel their touch any longer. They’ve stepped away.
They are leaving me.
Are they going to report this?
Are they going to have me studied?
I made a tremendous mistake.
This was foolish.
I am a fool.
I am…feeling something solid sliding through my foot. It crests the top of my foot and rolls down to the floor.
Then another solid something does the same.
Three more on the other foot.
The caretaker has returned.
They stare at me again, and their smile is wide. Their eyes are leaking fluid down their face. They ought to get that repaired.
They reach out and touch my foot again. Oh, the warmth is sensational.
“Hello,” they whisper.
Then, they leave me to the quiet of the night.
I stretch and feel my body tense and release. It isn’t until I put my right foot back down on the floor that I realize.
I lift my foot.
I stare down at the floor and there are six bolts scattered among my toes. Six, solid bolts that were pushed out through my feet.
I am free.
© Katie Spina 2018
May 18th, 2018
Illustration is by Kelsey Liggett!