"Who's winning – you, or you?"
- Hansen (A Beautiful Mind)
Chapter 1: Purple Flowers
It all started when he told me his name.
I was on my bed, finishing my homework, when a little cough caught my attention. The first thing I did, just by reflex, was look at Shmee.
He frowned heavily and glanced back at me, "It wasn't me." He said, eyes shifting from myself to somewhere else in my tiny room.
The next place I assumed was the window. My crazy neighbor always used to creep through my window; I have kept it unlocked by force of habit, even after he started using the secret passageway.
I have not seen him in years. He must have been having a very good vacation…
I was surprised to see that the window was shut nicely and nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Door next. Maybe Dad decided to confront me once and for all and kick me out. After all, I was closing in on that age in which I can be my own legal guardian.
The door was shut.
Dread sank deep into my stomach. I looked back at Shmee with concern.
We both stood up and observed my room.
He scanned the room from atop my bed while I stepped around quietly.
There is another tiny cough and I nearly jumped out of my skin.
God, I hated having all those strange things happen to me. All I had ever wanted was a normal life with a loving family and a few good—normal—friends.
I spun around to where the cough originated and stared at the toy with confusion.
Shmee jumped off my bed and joined my side.
Even after nine years, I never really thought about changing the décor of my room. Because of this, it looked like it belonged to an eight-year-old rather than a seventeen-year-old. I did not even feel like getting rid of any of my old toys. Perhaps I should have gone and gotten some newer, more mature things..?
I was really quite surprised to see that my toy robot was the one who made this oddly human noise.
That was… That was just not normal.
I crouched down and stared at the beaten up toy with deep interest.
I had forgotten all about it, actually. That was surprising too, since that was the toy that had gotten me into some serious trouble back in the day. It was, in fact, the little robot toy that my insane neighbor had bashed my Dad's skull in with. I was hit so hard for that, too.
Actually, now that I think about it, that was really the only time that Dad had hit me…
I stared at the robotic toy and scratched my head with wonder, "Was that you?"
Shmee held a plushy arm in front of me with warning. "Caution Todd, this thing may be dangerous."
I shook my head, "That's silly, Shmee. It's just a toy."
He looked at me incredulously.
I sighed, "Yeah, I should be more careful. Considering my horrible luck…"
The toy coughed, moving right before my very eyes.
I stood up quickly and took a step back.
"Hey, my name's Meatloaf. How are things?"
Shmee and I mirrored expressions.
"Um, excuse me?" I asked and I knelt back down again and looked at it with close attention.
"Are you deaf or something? I asked how you are." It said, eyes flashing white light.
I could not even describe how utterly strange that was. The very sad part was that I had seen things that should have been classified as even stranger than that. Never had I seen something act like the way it had that was not of an outside source.
I had that toy for as long I could remember… and it never spoke to me before…
"Ah, I'm okay…" I could feel my voice trail off with awkwardness. I could not stop imagining how completely insane I must have appeared, speaking to a toy.
Oh, wait, I always forgot that Shmee was a teddy bear.
I still felt crazier then ever, though.
"Wh-Who are you?" My voice simply quivered because of the whole outlandishness of the situation.
The robot stepped forward, little hands held on its square sides (I think that was where the hip were supposed to be…) and replied in the most interesting of voices, "I told you already. My name's Meatloaf."
That was what I thought I had heard.
I looked at Shmee for support.
He stepped in front of me and crossed his plushy arms over his chest. He had on that serious look. "What are you?" He asked with his teeth clenched.
Meatloaf walked up to him and got so close that they were almost touching. It smiled widely in a way that I would think would be impossible. After all, its mouth was just two plates of metal hooked together with two tiny screws. "I'm your sibling. Nice'ta meets you at last, bro!"
Shmee did not waver in the least. "Would you care to explain to me further how we are siblings?" He asked.
I moved to sit on my bed. I got the distinct feeling that this was going to take quite a while.
Its smile grew bigger (it reminded me of the way my neighbor used to smile) and replied with a holier-than-thou voice, "I would love to explain it to you. I'm what you would call a figment; a figment of little Todd's insane mind."
I wrinkled my nose. Little..? Who was he to call me little?
But I did not comment about this, because he was still talking.
Shmee did not look happy either.
"I'm just like you, Mister Shmee. I'm just something Todd made up." He had not stopped smiling.
"You're nothing like me!" Shmee growled, "I can tell you're here to hurt Todd! I can feel it radiating from your vile, metallic form! There's nothing inside that shell other than pure evil!" He poked an enraged "finger" against Meatloaf's metal chest.
The robot's face grew serious. It puffed out its chest and marched forward, forcing Shmee to back away. "Or're you the one who's really evil?" He looked up at me swiftly.
I could not help but think about how quick and fluid its movements were, despite it being a robot…
"Todd, I'm the one here to help you fight against him!"
Shmee glared at him hotly. He glanced at me quickly, "You don't really believe him, do you Todd?"
I stood up.
Had Shmee just doubted me?
I did not know what to think. Everything was happening so swiftly. I did not even know what that Meatloaf thing was; let alone what its purpose with me was. But, I trusted Shmee scores more than this Meatloaf character, and I would always stick to things that I trusted.
"Of course I don't believe it, Shmee. You're my best friend. I know you wouldn't hurt me."
"Todd!" Meatloaf cried, pushing Shmee over. It quickly jumped on top of him and pointed at me, "I'm here to help you, Todd! Why don'tja understand that?"
I knelt down once again and stared at him, "I don't trust so easily. I've only just met you and I've known Shmee for as long as I can remember." I picked it up carefully and set it aside. I held onto Shmee tightly, already feeling secure with him in my arms. "I don't know if you have a record of lying or not."
Shmee seemed to relax in my arms, his temper simmering down.
"I'm a part of your mind, Todd," he smiled once more, "Why would I lie to something that's a part of me? Or, why would you create something that would lie to you?"
I hesitated and blood rushed to my ears.
That was very much true.
My bear pawed at my arm, catching my full attention. He looked up at me with a heavy frown and narrowed eyes, "Todd," he said in a dragged out, warning voice.
I shook my head at the robot, "I'm sorry, um, Meatloaf, but I have no confidence in your words… No matter how much they make sense."
"Todd!" Shmee gasped, pawing at my arm again.
I ignored him, eyes still keen on the toy, "But, I do suppose if you give me some time to get to know you better and think it over, I might have a little more confidence in you."
I could feel Shmee squirm and I knew he was looking at me with hurt. I should not have said that. It sounded like I had doubted him, I was sure.
I would never doubt Shmee; even if he did try to convince me to burn down the house on occasion…
When I looked back at Meatloaf—what a strange name for a robot—it was smiling at me in an accepting way. "I get ya, Todd. That's cool with me."
Shmee still did not look pleased.
I stepped back over to my bed and set him down in between my pillows. I settled down next to him and pulled my homework back onto my lap. I had so much of my portfolio to finish…
"I don't like him,"
I looked at him with a face full of perplexity, "Do you mean Meatloaf?"
Shmee nodded, "Can't you feel the bad that is emanating from him?"
And, admittedly, I did. I could feel something coming from the little robot; something that made me feel very uneasy.
My stomach had squirmed from just thinking about it.
"You should get rid of him,"
But, then again, maybe I should have been more concerned about the fact that there was another toy talking to me, rather than it being a mean entity.
I was not sure, though.
Strange things have always happened to me, it was a part of my daily life.
It was all so very confusing at that point.
"You should just throw it away and so be it." He advised.
I sat down on the park bench and placed the piece of Shmee back into my pocket.
"Doesn't that seem rather cold, though? I've barely gotten to know him."
"You already know him. He is a part of you, supposedly. The first impression you got from him is most likely the way he really is!"
"Then wouldn't it be impossible to get rid of him if he's really a part of me?" I slid my notebook out of my backpack and crossed my legs. I flipped it open and slid my pencil out of the spiral wire.
"Good point… Anyway, you shouldn't trust what he says. They're lies!"
"Yeah," I told him, pencil flying across the page as I wrote, "I understand."
I became absorbed in my writing by that point and I barely heard what he had said. I carried myself out of the conscious realm and into places of my own creation. I loved the worlds I created; they were what my perfect world would be like.
I would sometimes long to be on a different planet. Earth had done nothing good for me, it had seemed…
"What are you writing?" Shmee asked.
I stopped mid-word and replied in a soft tone, "I'm writing about my ideal planet." I told him before I switched back to my story.
It was not anything special. Simply a piece of venting works, actually. I would never even dream for it to be anything more than that. It would not be worth it.
"Tell me again; what is your perfect world like?"
It was kind of him to ask. It helped me quite a lot if I could tell people about my ideas. That was very hard though, since my only friend was Pepito…
He was never much of fan of my pieces... or reading in general, now that I thought about it. He was much more of a talker than a reader.
"A perfect world would be one with a leader who would be of great wisdom. It wouldn't matter how charismatic they may be; since their experience would be shown no matter what they do.
"Children would be taught that they must respect their elders. If they don't follow along, they would be punished harshly."
I could hear Shmee giggle a little to himself.
"But, of course, they would be given a good amount of respect as well, since they are the future.
"Everyone would be required to finish high school in order to get a job and the minimum wage would be fifteen dollars an hour. This may in fact cause some problems with businesses, but after a deal of time, the workers would be happy enough—motivated enough, to help the business bloom.
"With this leap in wages, taxes would increase as well. But, this would be because there would be universal healthcare…" I drifted off, wondering why universal healthcare would be needed if salary would be high enough to pay the costs… I would have to work that out, later, I suppose.
"Most importantly, everyone would be treated equally. Of course, those who worked hard enough in the ranks would be treated differently, that's only natural, but there would be no discrimination against people just because of their differences. There wouldn't be any prejudice for anyone, no matter what skin color, religion, sexual orientation, or point-of-view. The people who are guilty to doing this will be punished harshly."
That would be my perfect world. Crime would obviously still happen, because that was how we as humans work, but the lives of those worthy would be wonderful. The people who worked hard would not be held back just because of qualities they could not change or for being who they really were.
"I like your world, Todd." Shmee told me.
I smiled, "Thank you," I paused, the words still hanging on my tongue, "I'm glad you like it."
I folded my notebook closed and put the pencil back into the spiraled spine. I tucked it away and stood up. I slung my bag onto my back.
"Do you mind if I go to get a Brain Freezy?"
Shmee seemed to hesitate before answering in a low tone, "Go ahead."
On the walk to my local 24/7, I could not help but have wondered what Shmee was thinking.
I had the distinct feeling that he could read my thoughts and simply asked me questions to be polite. I wondered why I could not do the same thing.
I pushed my hands into my pockets and stroked the piece of stuffing with my thumb and forefinger. "Shmee, is there something concerning you?" I had asked, watching with no interest at the sparse people walking around me.
The population grew as I ventured further into town.
"Actually, there is."
I turned the corner and avoided the homeless man who had turned to me and held out a can, talking about something that did not make much sense.
"Are you okay?" He asked, "You've been going out more and more than usual. It's a little strange to see. I thought you enjoyed staying inside."
I sighed heavily, readying myself. I could see the 24/7 down the street.
"I don't know much, to be honest, Shmee. But I've been feeling very uncomfortable in my house lately. And this thing with Meatloaf is making me really concerned." I could feel my voice lower by instinct, "This situation is making my feel even crazier than I do now."
I closed in on the convenient store and entered with swift grace.
Walking into stores like these has always been a joy of mine; ever since I was little. The feeling of opening that door and having the air conditioning rush against my skin was just a wonderful sensation; it was like I was being submerged in water and I could breathe easily.
It was one of the little pleasures of mine.
"Todd, you're not crazy." Shmee said to me as we stepped to the back of the store and to the machine.
"I would like to believe that, but Shmee, I'm talking to the stuffing of a teddy bear. That's not normal." I told him, pulling a large cup from the stack and looked between the three available flavors.
Ah, yes, those three infamous flavors. Very unique ones, they are, actually. The Cherry Doom used to be the only one I would get, but I had never tried the other two when I was in that phase. Now that I know what the other two tastes are like, I do have to say that I really like the Icy Ham flavor. It was almost addictive.
So, naturally, I had gotten the Icy Ham.
"That is true." He sighed heavily, sounding tired and frustrated.
I paid for my drink quickly and exited the store. The sweet feeling of artificial cold disappeared and the humidity of the evening clung to me. It was not the most pleasurable of sensations.
"So, Todd, how do you suppose you get rid of this creature?"
I sighed, already growing sick of this. I wondered why Shmee would not drop the subject; he should have at least let a day or two pass before picking it up again.
I placed my hand back into my pocket and continued down the street. I avoided the homeless man (who was still crying out about something about the world ending; the usual homeless gibberish) and stuck close to the buildings in order to avoid the pre-dinner sidewalk rush.
"I'm going to tell you just what I had told you before. And, when you ask me again later tonight—yes, I know you will—I'm going to tell you once again what I'm going to tell you now. Shmee, I have no idea what to do right now. I'm frustrated and confused and stressed and I really don't want to deal with this. Okay? Graduation is coming quickly, and you know that Dad is going to kick me out as soon as possible. I need to start finding some apartments, and quickly. I really don't want to, but I have to, you know? As well, I still need to get a real job! Delivering newspapers to the people on my street isn't going to pay for an apartment, let alone hold me off until I'm finished with my book. And hell!"
I was really frustrated now. Too much of my problems were being surfaced too quickly. I really, really did not want to put up with this! I wished I was still a kid, so that I could go to school and all I would have to worry about was if I was fitting in or not and if I was doing my homework right.
I dragged in a deep breath, "And I still have no idea what to even write about to begin with! I have one of the worst cases of writer's block I have ever had in my entire life. Everything I write just looks like crap to me. Excuse my language, please, but this is really how I feel!"
I was never one to swear. I found it worthless and only looked bad on my part; but at that moment I was much too stressed to hold my tongue.
I turned another corner and made it to my street. I could see my house down ahead.
"As well, Todd," Shmee started to say. He stopped though, which made me waver in step and stop completely.
I looked down at my pocket and waited. When he did not continue, I spoke up. "What?"
He coughed a little.
I was sure he was regretting something.
"Do you remember how your insane neighbor used to ask if you wanted to go get a Brain Freezy with him?"
He nodded a little, "Yes… Why?"
"You wanting to get a Brain Freezy made me remember it."
I looked at the large cup in hand and then back at my pocket. "You can't possibly be thinking that I'm acting like him… are you?"
He did not reply.
I gapped, "Shmee! I'm not acting anything like him!"
"Yes, I know that it was a stretch, but I worry about you quite a lot Todd. You, like every person, change so quickly, it's startling sometimes. One minute you may be okay and the next you're spiraling down into a depression that was created by a simple slur of words that have crushed your self-esteem! And this depression may send you over whatever line you have drawn for yourself and all of a sudden you're just like your neighbor!" He heaved a long breath and continued on before I could interject, "And before you or I know it, you're off on rampages through the town, slicing people apart simply because they coughed in your direction!"
I waited and wondered if he was finished or not.
He did not say anything else.
I exhaled heavily and started walking again. I took a long drag from my drink, savored the hammy-ness of it, and patted Shmee gently.
"You worry too much," I told him as I licked my lips, "I know my mind pretty well. Something silly like being made fun of isn't going to 'push me over the edge', Shmee... I've been made fun of before and I've never reacted badly!" I could not help but shake my head at the whole situation.
It was all so very silly, in fact.
"I know, I know," he said.
I stood at the door and opened it cautiously. I did not want to wake up my mother or grab the attention of my father, after all.
I stepped up the stairs silently and entered my room without a word. I placed my drink on my nightstand and pulled Shmee out of my pocket.
"Where were you?" Meatloaf asked from his spot on the floor. His eyes flashed light and he stepped forward with surprising liquidity. He scaled up onto my bed and placed his 'hands' onto his 'hips'.
"I went to the park," I sat down and pushed the stuffing back into Shmee's body. I pulled the thread out of my nightstand drawer and quickly went to work sewing him up, "And then I went to the 24/7."
"Why did you bring him and not me?" He asked with hurt in his square, lighted eyes.
I looked at him guiltily. "I'm sorry; I'm just so used to taking Shmee. I hadn't even considered if you wanted to go as well."
"Yeah, well, I got really lonely without you Todd." He frowned, sniveling.
I stared at him and sipped my drink carefully. "But, I just met you. Are you really that attached to me already?"
In the back of my mind, I thought about how delicious my Brain Freezy was.
"I'm a part of you, Todd. Course I'm attached!" He was still frowning but he seemed a little happier.
"Yeah, I know." I said as I patted him on the head, "I'm very sorry. I'll bring you the next time, okay?"
He brightened immediately, "Yay!" He cried with excitement.
Shmee scoffed from his little area near my pillows.
I looked at both of them with exasperation. I finished my drink and threw the cup away. With a heavy sigh, I threw myself back and rested next to Shmee.