Story by
Cole Webber

“Well, reptile blood is ‘cold’, so it can’t really keep its temperature on its own.”

“Temperature — that’s like hot or cold, right?”

“Yes absolutely! Very smart.” The man smiled at the child, then the mother, more sneakily. Like a used car salesman. They were charging an arm and a leg for the service. She looked like the type, in her designer shoes and coat, though, that would easily afford it. And she was paying no attention to the prices of all of the add ons.

He wore a blue and white striped apron, and wiped his hands on it. They were a bit slippery, still, from handling his last Creation.

“So if it’s cold blooded, it will need to stay in the sun more to keep warm.”

“Or…” he held the fur samples, on a card like paint chips, up against the boys cheek, “cuddle more.” The man snickered, giggled, like a little kid. It was forced. The boy, though, didn’t seem to notice. “That’s nice,” he giggled. “Yeah, I’d like a cuddly one.”

He looked back. His mother was flipping through her Mobile Slate. He took this as permission — it was his day to make his friend.

The man tugged on the boys tubby arms, leading him – briskly – to the next station. Time is money.

“Now, what kind of eyes?”

The man motioned to the little replicas, each above a plastic cabinet with shining see-through bubbles suspended in them: little vials, that snapped open and shut like pill cases. They held little gel buds, bulbs, like m&ms, tic-tacs. Each was a little misshapen and each was floating in little dew-drops of… something. The were stacked in clean neat rows. They were like a laboratory-mine full of diamonds to the child’s eyes. Rocks or flasks the same…

“Big ones or small? Green, or brown, or red with a yellow centre?” Each of the intricate glass models was above a cabinet of all the same components – colourless liquid in colourless cases. 

“I want mine to spin around like a Chameleon!” The little boy exclaimed. He did a small lap of the station, curved around a plastic countertop – bright childish yellow, with stickers and characters – darting his eyes from case to case to see if they had it. The man directed him to the right cabinet. “Like this?”

He pressed a button, and this glass animated with a servo stuck behind it. The pupil moved, the eyelid enveloped it to mask the rest, anywhere it looked. The light reflected and its focus narrowed.

“Yeah…” the child began to reach up to the cabinet. The man gently tapped his hand away, and opened the drawer of the expensive jewel dew.

“But can we make them blue?” The child added.

The man’s fingers dashed across the grid… C-4 to C-3 to…

“On the outside,” the child corrected.

“And what color for insides?”

“Ummm… red. It’ll be like he’s always wearing 3D glasses.”

“How fun!” The man had already heard this exact comment some fifteen times, five in the past week, but they had to act excited and make the kids feel original, creative and in ultimate control. The mom continued swiping through her Mobile Slate. She gave a brief ‘mmm’ of acknowledgement – though of what, she didn’t know. Or care to.

“And with that we’re just about done!” The man cried with glee.

` “Now what?” The boy said. He held anxiously for an answer and more so for his Friend to be completed.

“We’ll finish him up, and you can come back in,” the man flitted through the specifications on a clipboard he was carrying. It was a quick process of adding it up in total, “Oh, about three hours! This’ll be a fast one to put together.”

“So I can have him today?”

“It looks like it!”

The boy hugged the man at this. His torso backed away, shuddered, instinctively. He did not really like kids. They were unpredictable, uncontrollable – prone to do things like this. He feigned politeness. He patted the kid on the back.

“Ma’am?” He smiled at her, the kid still awkwardly hung off his thigh, “Cash or Credit?”

* * *

The child still had cookie crumbs from a trip to the food court plastered on his tight pink lips, now drawn back in awe at the Machine. He stared at it. He had come back a bit too early, and it was finishing up still. The metal box whirred and rocked slightly, like a washing machine, as the front changed colors. It shifted slowly, like an intentional light effect. It glowed all the colors of a flame – orange, yellow, white, blue. Suddenly it turned to green. The whirring intensified, rocking the box back and forth in a suspension cradle that was there for this purpose. Then, it stopped altogether. The rocking slowed – the box stopping amidst the elastic cables and spring matrix.

“Here, I think we’re ready,” The man left back behind the machine – mounted inside a kiosk sort of a station – and theatrically reached up his hand as if to press a button. “Just one final step!” He proclaimed, “One wisp of magic.” In actuality, he quickly lent his head down to the eyehole which hung under a plastic visor, facing him. His eyeball strained and peered in. The smoke from the ‘baking’ was just concluding. They told the children, sometimes if they asked, and really pressed them, that it was like a kiln – like the mugs they would make for their mummies and daddies for mothers’ and fathers’ day. It wasn’t. The steam lifting off was a sort of placenta, a thick goo being vacuumed out. The elastic-y cradle that gripped the box also doubled for this purpose. The fluid was quietly sucked out through the hoses and circulated to a biohazard tub which sat in the maze of tunnels and service corridors under the shopping mall. 

He saw a flick of movement. A small inkling of blue. The fog of liquid and gas was not quite clear enough to make it out fully. It shot out at him, moving, rotating, like a mountain amidst clouds. The chameleon characteristic certainly had caught on. He lingered a second longer to make out the rest – or most of it. The eye seemed to be straining a bit hard, and the hands were a bit mal-shapen. They gripped at the air, but without strength or coordination. The man realized quickly the finger digits or claw bones were not properly seated – they hung and grew onto each other, a bag of solids loosely attached in a sack. Close enough, he figured, it didn’t need to hold things. Besides, if the kid found more at fault with it — NO REFUNDS, said their sign clearly hung on the door (albeit in small print). 

The eyehole was there for exactly these times when the kids were there, waiting, when they needed to make sure it had worked in a stealthy way. They were at about half and half at this point. If it hadn’t, he simply pressed a button, and the creature was sent along with the slurry to the tub in the basement.

“Here we go!” The man pressed the button in front of him. The chamber lit up one last time, with a rainbow of colors and sparking of electricity. This was not needed; it was all for show. The only thing the button did do was release the latch securing the front panel on the chamber. It whisked open, the last bits of steam poured out (this was just water vapour pumped in for effect). It cleared and…

“Just what I wanted!” The child cried in delight, and reached for his little concoction. It was about the size of a large mouse, with fur thick like a sheep. It was spun in little bulbs. Its head came out quite a bit, like a seahorse. As its head separated from its body, it got spiny, and finally ended in its two chameleon eyes, red boundaried by blue. Its tongue flicked out of a long snout, similar to a horse. It looked a bit disgusting, the man thought, but who was he to judge? It was certainly not the oddest creature to come from the chamber. The Birthday Parties were the worst – when they had to try to get them out all at once, without mistakes. Invariably they ended up a little bit deformed. They were becoming masters at the art of containing the defects to the fingertips, or better yet, to the insides. And of selling the runts to the kids as runts of the litter, underdogs, ugly ducklings; cute. 

The animal’s eyes darted nervously. His eyes narrowed and strained. He let out a little yelp. He himself seemed startled at what noise he made, could make. His stumpy and mismatched hands shivered. He looked to be in pain. He very well could be, being a fully living creature. The man hoped that the mom wouldn’t notice. 

“I’ll name him… Orso!” The child shouted. The Thing, clutched in his palm, ducked its snout-head at the loud noise. “How cute!” The man was obligated to say. “Would you like a carrying case to take him home?”

The boy left with Orso in a clear plastic case, which was hard, and was shaped almost like a pear with a handle carved in it. It had sleek space age lines, emblazoned with an edgeless and pastel preschooler softness. Orso had retreated to the very back, and was left gripping the plastic as his owner swung the case around, back and forth. As they left the mall, he and his mother passed by a woman who was walking a pug on a leash. It struggled to breath when it moved faster to keep up with her. Neither of them noticed.

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