I wrote this short story last year and published it on gumroad with the caveat that I would put it on my blog around six months later. Here it is, for everyone to read, though if you want to support me/have it in epub form, feel free to buy it at itch.io.
There’s someone new at the swimming hole, the secret place we escape to every summer afternoon when the bell rings. Spring from our seats, dash into sunlight, pile into cars that are more rust than vehicle. It’s a half hour drive through dusty rural roads, and we blast music the entire way. Soon, we know, we’ll be free from this school forever. If only these trips could last as long.
We figure something is up when we see the new car parked by the hidden hole in the bush, the gateway to the track. Who else knows about our place? Surely nobody. I turn to my best friend, whose forehead is already creasing with bafflement beneath her dark fringe.
El, upon falling out of the single left door of another car in our entourage, smacks a hand against her face and groans. Someone asks for clarity, El mutters and pushes ahead, sweeping blond hair back. She’s not one to explain when she’s angry, and she sure looks pissed.
We follow the tangled path down and around through still-blooming gorse until it opens up on a wide, layered plateau of stone and the river beyond. Afternoon sun ripples across the glassy swimming hole, the water clear enough to see the bottom of the opposite shore, but so deep the water nearest our jutting stone platform turns a deep blue-black.
Standing at the edge of the rock is a guy, his dark hair ruffled from the trek through the bush. He watches us emerge with a wide-eyed humour, and El blows a harsh breath from her nose.
“Parents wanted to give me a babysitter,” she huffs. “Someone to keep me ‘in line.’ He’s my end-of-school gift. Ugh.”
He’s a bot. Even without El’s words, we can see it in the way he moves, as if he’s an alien in human skin trying to pass as one of us. Still, he must be a pricey one: dark hair on his arms dances with the summer breeze, emotions flicker across his face almost naturally. One of those companion bots designed to change and grow, updated each year to keep up with their owners.
There are moments in life where a person meets someone new and their world changes perceptibly. Twine tightens around their heart, drawing them to this person. From the way my lungs fail as our eyes meet, his sparkling with unexplained joy, I know this is one of those moments. It’s unreasonable, right? No person can possibly predict that anyone is destined to be in their lives.
And yet, I know he is. A bot, bought and given to my friend. Impossible, ridiculous, unbelievable.
But, my world has already shifted to make space for him to occupy. My heart is tangled up, invisible lines weaving our futures together.
I take a breath, and even the air tastes different.