Extracts torn from forgotten books
Laugh Out Loud
by David Bussell
Five years, three months and two days. That’s how long Tickle Me Elmo had lain in the dark, entombed inside that corrugated cardboard prison. How long it had been since his owner, Johnny, had discarded him like a used Kleenex. He knew because he’d marked the days off one by one with a half stick of Crayola that had been sealed in the box with him.
There were others in there too, or at least there were. The first of his fellow prisoners, the Tamagotchi, had since passed on – not from starvation but from lack of hope. Optimus Prime had departed too – hung himself with a pipe cleaner after his clockwork brain exhausted all other possibilities of escape.
Elmo wasn’t going out like that. Having hatched a breakout plan, he began by cannibalizing spare parts from the bodies of his dead cellmates. The next step was just as grisly, but then performing self-surgery is no-one’s idea of a picnic. Slicing into his felt flesh with a pair of safety scissors was agony, but it was necessary in order to synthesize those acquired mechanisms and upgrade his hardware. After that it was up to the battery that powered Elmo’s electronic voice box to energize the newly-installed parts and give them life. Finally, with his cybernetic enhancements fully functional, Elmo.2 had strength enough to lift the lid from his cardboard prison. Strength enough to escape.
Outside was a world Elmo scarcely recognized. This wasn’t the place he’d left behind – the room he’d left behind – Johnny’s bedroom. Gone were the Sesame Street posters, replaced now by gaudy pictures of rock bands and skateboarders. Johnny had grown up – moved on – just as he’d moved on from bright red plush toys with a fondness for spasmodic laughter.
But this wasn’t the time to dwell on the past. This was Elmo’s one chance for escape – his final bid for freedom. Try as he might though, he just couldn’t bring himself to leave. He’d make Johnny pay for what he’d done, even if it cost him his liberty. He and Johnny were meant to be friends – friends for life – but when he thought back on the time they’d spent together, the tickles didn’t seem like tickles anymore. They felt like touching. Bad touching.
Elmo padded across the bedroom carpet, scaled a chair leg and pulled himself topside of a desk. There was a phone there. Johnny’s phone. Elmo found its On switch and scrolled through Johnny’s contacts. A couple of sweeps and there she was. Linda. Elmo had paid attention while he’d been trapped in that box. Kept his ears open and listened to the world as it went on around him. And there was one word he’d heard over and over again. Linda. Linda, Linda, Linda.
Elmo dialed her number and cleared his robotic throat. He was about to use words. Words he’d not used words before. Words fuelled by five years of hate.
When Linda picked up, Elmo talked in a voice that sounded, for all the world, like a woman’s voice. “Hello, Linda?” he said. “I’m a friend of Johnny’s. You know, the one you caught him checking out at the bar that time? The blond with too much makeup and her G-string showing. The one you called a skank. I just thought you should know that me and Johnny have been seeing each other. A lot of each other, if you catch my meaning…”
Elmo layered on detail upon detail, savoring Linda’s anger. Her pain. Her tears. Her words of indignation were honey to his ears. He could have marinated in them for hours were it not for the sudden sound of approaching footsteps.
Elmo hung up and went limp just as Johnny entered the room. The teenager made a face when he saw his old toy out of its box. “How did you get there?” he asked no-one in particular, scooping up Elmo’s rag doll body. He squeezed Elmo’s tummy and Elmo laughed. Laughed and laughed and laughed.
You can read 98 more of David’s short stories in his book, Bad Endings, available HERE.
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