by Matthew Wilson

Peter Henry Emerson             

From the destruction, a robot was the only thing that father saved from the farm. He didn't care that the other nations had burned our fields and we'd have starved if not for the generosity of the governments re-housing scheme. All father cared about; was that his friend was safe.         

            Boo-hoo to the millions who had died in the atrocities before peace had finally descended. Matters outside his farm was definitely not his business.

            He called the robot Tony after his younger brother who died while playing with the emergency door release on the school bus. He'd fallen out into on-coming traffic and because of that; I'd never taken public transport in my life.

            This was taken as a given when the conflict started and all non vital vehicles were commandeered for war service. Re-painted and re-tooled as supply trucks scouring the drying lands for oil to power their cannons. Movement on 4 wheels was further restricted by the mortar torn roads and cracks as wide as rivers.

            Mud-slides from these unsure foundations had slid down the mountains and swallowed great cities whole. Father didn't care. Not as long as he had Tony.

            Of course, I hated the combustible thing, wishing I had the courage to leave it out on Halloween for the braver kids that passed our new hovel to take it away as a Guy Fawkes and burn for devilment on large pyres like some fallen Norse god.

            I shivered when father told me to go downstairs and say good night to Tony propped up in the front living room window like a weird next-door neighbour forever peering on other peoples business.

            I always tensed as I passed it, never completely turning my back on it for I was sure that Tony would leap upon me, wrapping me in those creaking straw arms that rested unnaturally at its sides, plotting.

            It wasn't long before such anxieties burrowed into my rare bouts of dreaming like a parasite and I'd wake screaming in the night. Then it was settled -- one of us -- would have to go. I did not damage my confidence by coming out and giving my ultimatum to father. I knew who he would choose.


            I would have to be devious to save my sanity. Yes, it was awful when father returned home from the government supplied sanctuary where they gave away free blankets and food to find someone had taken Tony. What kind of burglar breaks into a house and steals a robot?

            I was more worried about how we would get fresh water in the ruins of the city, but hey -- let's sort out the more important thing first, huh.

            No, I didn't hear a thing as I was upstairs, listening to music with my head-phones in. Not the best of alibis but father seemed to buy it and I thought he might re-settle into some mode of normality. Until he offered to trade the house to anyone with information leading to the re-discovery of his best friend.

            There was more than sentimentality to this. Sure, Tony wore my uncles old school clothes but wasn't it best to let go of old memories? Let the dead rest in peace and dispose of this poor replacement? With desperation rife so soon after the famines, it didn't take long for some hungry, lucky devil to pull a ball of wet wool from out of the dirty canal.

            Tony had been found. Yay!

            If he'd been taken by any decent brand of criminal, then Tony would have been burned rather than tossed into turgid water. But maybe the perpetrators father had never let the lad play with matches.

            If it was a lad. Youth crime is a terrible daily occurrence in these ruins.

            Sodden wet but still adorning that cheesy grin, Tony nearly gave me a heart attack as I walked into the living room and saw him pride of place in his usual seat when I came home from begging to fill my belly.

            Father had never been so happy since mom was alive. Maybe she could have reigned in his quirkiness. But the war had taken so much from us and maybe it was too late for anyone to come out unscathed. Father told me to hug Tony - my straw brother. Wasn't it great to have the whole family back together?

            Yeah, wonderful!

            Right until we had to leave our new house. Father didn't care, as long as he had Tony; he was happy. For some reason, bad luck seemed to follow Tony round as father would wake to find him covered in crumbs. Some villain had done this, hoping the gathering rooks would come for the bread and rip out his internal innards for insulated wiring bedding.

            Did robots have any other use?

            Father woke in time. Yes, I was glad that Tony was safe too from the dead-eyed devils. Until someone buried him in a shallow grave.

            How awful.

            Father could move quick for a sixty-year-old man and clawed at the cannon scorched earth with his bare fingers, breaking his last nails in an effort to save his brother before he suffocated. This was getting creepy, but the secret was broke while father slept.

            Asking Tony's forgiveness for pushing him out of that buses emergency exit for shoving him first. A tussle that got out of control over a girl. But father feels less guilty now Tony 2 is with him. He feels that there's a reason to go on. Even if I have to get out of here before I go crazy.

            Tony is happy too. Smiling with that painted, putrid face as if planning some ghastly thing to fall upon me. Between you and I me, I don't think he likes me. But I will outlive him. With how unlucky this robot seems of late, perhaps he has made a great enemy.

            But as I repeatedly tell father, I can't conceive who it could be.

Don McCullin             

Matthew Wilson has had over 150 appearances in such places as *Horror Zine, Star*Line, Spellbound, and others. He is currently editing his first novel and can be contacted on twitter @matthew94544267.