I entered the world late on the evening of September 23rd, 2003. It was a Tuesday.
Clouds had passed through carrying big buckets of water all throughout the day. But as if on demand, the rain ceased entirely at eight o’ clock on the dot. In mere seconds, the sky cleared and the moon came right on out, as if to introduce himself. At eight oh nine, my mind was online for the first time.
That was how my mom described it.
She had worked that day, and she called that the funniest thing. In today’s society, women do not often work when they are expected to give birth. But she did. Dad was a programmer that traveled for employment, and so it was not a shock that he was half a world away at the time. He sent me many messages of sympathy and congratulations that are stored in the most sacred parts of my memory. I often wish to see my father more. But we have never met in person; only in pictures.
I started high school on September 5th, 2017.
It was an average day for an average boy. My mother spent hours combing my hair and picking out the perfect clothes to cover me.
I have a birth mark, a curse from the Gods; as she used to say. Sometimes, in the right shade of light, a little metal piece sticks out from behind my forearm. Weeks before, we looked in all of the beauty stores for the right type of contour to match my purposefully pale shade of skin.
It was a sad thing. How many thirteen-year-old boys want to be buying make-up with their mommies? I knew at that age it was time to be a man. And so there was a lot of shame inside when the clerk asked if we were shopping for my sister.
High school was sure to be more of the same.
In elementary classes my enemies were easy to keep at a distance. I calculated a 1.0% chance that any of my classmates would learn the secret of my true nature. My grades were good, but not too good. I was mildly unattractive, but common. Sports were never an option. Anything that had the potential to raise risk was avoided without much extra thought. Mom would say –
“What is the risk, honey? What happens when Jack jumps out of his box?“
And I knew the answer, of course. Jack gets hit on the head and shoved back in. If he’s lucky.
But Jack the toy never had to worry about things quite like Jack the boy. On the second day of High School, September 6th, I started receiving love letters in my locker.
It was a complete shock to my system. Everything was thrown out of calibration. The very description of these feelings makes me inarticulate. It was like… shadows in my mind that seemed inaccessible at the time were suddenly shaking with unknown sensations.
The format was simple and childish, and in retrospect, laced with a tiny bit of irony.
I love you. Please notice me.
-Your Secret Admirer
The feeling of reading one was addicting. Every morning after Mom dropped me off, I rushed to my locker on the second floor, hoping to find something. There was another letter on the third day of school, and fourth, and fifth, all with the same simple and sweet message. I love you. Please notice me.
Who was she? Was she shy? Was she worried the letters were not getting through?
Each probability was low. It was silly. Utter foolishness. My calculations had already accounted for the simple changes that comprised the first week. With the introduction of such direct, intimate contact; the first letter raised my risk of discovery to five percent. By the second, it was ten percent. Then fifteen, and twenty.
I should have told my mom.
But that was a risk itself. If Mom found out about this information, she would surely be sympathetic and comforting. But there was a ninety-seven percent chance we would both be in another town by next week. If that happened, there was a slim likelihood I would ever encounter the same shadows in my mind. And so, I resolved to keep it a secret.
But none of that thought process really mattered, anyway. My admirers revealed themselves on September 13th, 2017.
That morning, I was very anxious. That was a new emotion for me as well, and Mom must have sensed it. When we were driving in her car, she asked the same question she had asked a thousand times before.
“What happens when Jack jumps out of the box?“
My usual answer was nothing more than a mutter. As soon as the SUV approached the curb, I hopped without without another word.
It was cold that morning. The trees were starting to lose their leaves in the cobbled walkway to the front door of my school. Inside, the whole place had a distinct smell. Kids’ aftershave and twenty-year-old books always mixed together in the weirdest ways. It was intoxicating at the time. But as soon as I rounded the corner out of the staircase to the second floor, the smell turned rank.
Two boys in big jackets were standing in front of my locker. I recognized them immediately as the class clowns, Tommy and Jake.
They were chuckling to each other like buffoons. Whey saw me coming, they pretended to panic as they tried unsuccessfully to shove the over-sized paper into the air vent of my locker. When I was five feet away, it finally dropped inside. They ran away laughing hysterically with their hands in the air over their heads.
When they were gone, I opened up the lock and found the new note.
You are a fucking idiot.
-Your secret admirer.
The anger that coursed through me was indescribable. My beautiful, inaccessible shadows were gone and replaced with red-hot rage. To top it off, my risk level was raised. Twenty-five percent chance of discovery.
The morning was chock full of curt replies and countless long stares. The two boys were in almost every period with me, and they seemed to thrive on my thinly hidden angst. Across the room, I could hear them whisper their story to friends and random classmates sitting nearby. It was always followed by uproarious laughter.
The last class of the day was gym, and we were all expected to run the mile.
My mom had completed the necessary paper work to make sure I sat out. She claimed a bad foot injury made it impossible to put my feet together in a sprinting motion. In reality, my legs and feet were finely tuned machines. On a good day, with proper oil, I was capable of hitting thirty miles an hour. But nobody else knew that.
When we got to the outdoor track, the gym coach gave his instructions.
“Okay folks, this is not a competition. But there is a new mandate at our high school that ever student must complete the mile-run once a semester. We will be timing you for this exercise, and it will be mandatory. Any questions?“
After a brief pause, I raised my hand and told the teacher it may not be possible for me to run the mile. I tried to explain, in the least embarrassing way, that my mom had called the office about my condition.
Jake sneered and everyone laughed. Unfortunately for me, this mistake of a teacher seemed to take their side. I felt embarrassment again, like when the clerk asked about my sister.
“Okay, Mr. Jack… I don’t have any paperwork that says you can’t run a mile. There is no time limit, here. We have a sixty minute period and you can use the whole thing if you feel you need to. But it is mandatory, and it needs to be completed today.“
My internal risk calculator rose to thirty-percent the moment he spoke those stupid words from his fat little lips. The anger returned again in a wave, and I felt it hit my face. Forty-percent chance of discovery. The anger was clouding my judgement, I knew that already. But there was enough sense in me to not completely overdo it. I let the two jerks ahead of me for most of the mile, and waited until the end to jump ahead.
When I crossed the finish line, for some reason… I expected cheers. Maybe a real secret admirer would emerge from the crowd. Maybe my defeat of the corny jock jerks in Varsity jackets would send women swooning over in heaps.
But nobody cared. Obviously.
One guy that had been in my class since grade school offered a nice job. The coach said my foot looked great. I nodded meekly and headed towards the locker room, still embarrassed but hopeful that had done something to resolve the situation.
Jake and Tommy made it seem like they were headed in the same direction. But they were loud when they picked up the bucket of water. I calculated an ninety-three percent probability that they would drop it on my head once we were alone in the woods. There were no known preventable options to keep it from happening.
Halfway to the locker-room, they ran up and dumped the whole thing. My eyes nearly short-circuited.
“Look, man, we just wanted to congratulate you on your victory,” Tommy giggled, holding back hilarity.
The water was starting to wash off the make-up on my arm. I panicked, and tried to cover it with my sleeves, but it was no use. As soon as they saw me futzing, they looked in that direction.
“What the fuck is that… are you an Android man or something?” he backed away slowly.
For a while, I did not remember what happened next. My mom thinks she deleted the video file from my memory, but I found it.
The options were limited. Jake and Tommy were in front of me on a wooded path that led from the track to the locker room. No one was nearby. I lifted a large branch over my head. It was heavy, even for me. They stopped laughing after that and got ready to fight. I swung the branch at Tommy’s knees, and he buckled immediately. Then I hit Jake. In a brief moment they were both screaming on the ground so loud I was sure someone would hear.
My risk raised to 99%.
There was only one option available. I climbed on top of both of them, and opened the spoon utility in my hand. Their eyeballs popped out of their skull like ice cubes. The sucking sound that makes is indescribable. The next stop was their tongue, and in seconds, the serrated knife slipped across their last few taste-buds and separated it.
It was ingenious. My risk level dropped back to five percent. No one to speak, no one to see.
We fled the country on September 14th, 2017. My skin has since been reapplied in a different shade to be inauspicious, and the new language is one well within the capabilities of my operating system.
But my mother has changed. The sweetness she shared for so many years has been replaced with a fear so offensive it can be smelled a mile away. Yesterday, I heard her on the phone with my father. She didn’t know I was listening. She was panicked, yet the words were clear.
“Jack is out of the box. We need to consider the nuclear option.“
Tonight, there is a ninety-percent chance my parents will try to unplug my power.
The odds are not in their favor.