Long John Silver stepped forward on his crutch. “Ah, Jim lad, why so sad?”
“Stop calling me Jim, my name’s Billy.”
“Sorry, Jim lad, but it be your birthday tomorro’. Twelve years old thee’ll be, to the day!”
Billy sat at his desk, looking at his homework on the screen. “Look, d’you think this’ll have enough thrust?”
“Sure to, Jim, it’s a grand rocket motor!”
“But the fuel lines, I don’t know if they’re wide enough.”
“What do the equations say?” asked Harry Potter.
“Oh, they seem OK, but fluid tensors aren’t my strong point, you know that.”
Harry brushed the hair back from his forehead to reveal a lightning-shaped scar. “See this scar, Billy. Voldemort gave me this.”
Billy put his hands over his eyes. “Shut up! You’ve told me that a thousand times.”
“Look, Professor Snape killed Dumbledore. D’you think he’s in league with Voldemort?”
“Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!”
The door opened. It was Dad. “Billy, what’s all the shouting about?”
“I’m fed up, Dad. Fed up of no school, ‘cept online, fed up of this room, fed up of these stupid robots!”
His father came closer and Billy could smell the alcohol on his breath.
“Look, you know we can’t afford to send you. Mebbe next year, if you design good.”
Billy imagined friends, boys, maybe even girls, his own age. Running on grass, perhaps even playing games. Football was one, wasn’t it? Then there’d be woods, trees with leaves on them, green and abundant. And little birds twittering. Their own voices, not electronic.
His dad put an arm around Billy. “Cheer up, scout, it’s your birthday tomorrow. Twelve years old. And there’ll be presents, presents, presents!”
Billy hated the smell of whisky and pulled away. “I don’t want any more presents. I wanna go out, go places, meet people, not just have more and more stuff!”
The door opened again and his mother came in. Billy recoiled at the stench of cheap perfume and the sight of her large white breasts in a low-cut pink tee shirt three sizes too small for her. And why did she always have to wear short skirts and ridiculous fishnet stockings?
Long John Silver lifted his hat and bowed. “Good morning, ma’am, you look most fetching, if I may say so!’
“Good morning, Long John, why that’s mighty kind of you. And you look quite dashing yourself!” She went over and kissed Long John on the cheek.
His face turned red. “Oh, madam!”
You’d gotta hand it to the Japs, they really knew how to design a robot.
His mother came over and examined the rocket motor on the screen, then gave a wine-scented belch. “Oh, pardon me,” she giggled. “Why Billy, that engine looks real good. I’ll bet they’ll have it in production the moment you send it in. It’ll be powerin’ ships to Venus, Mars, all over, by this time next week!” She turned to his father. “Come on, honey, we need to go and dance some more.” She patted Billy on the head, knowing he hated it, but unable to stop herself. “You enjoy your friends and your workstation, and, you never know, maybe there’ll be a new friend for you to play with for your birthday tomorrow!” She winked and tottered to the door on high heels, his father swaying after her.
A robotic head appeared on the screen. “Billy, you’ve done no vectors for thirty minutes. Time to get to work!” A snappy tune played.
Billy turned to Harry Potter. “Hey, Harry, what was it you were saying about your scar?”
Featured in the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories
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4 thoughts on “Birthday Boy”
Hello, as a French-speaking student studying literary translation (second year of a master’s degree) I chose to practice with some of your short stories (in order to prepare myself for my translation exams). I wanted to thank you for these amazing stories: a true visual delight!
Thank you so much, Natacha, that’s very kind of you. This story was something new for me. I was on a creative writing course at the local university and we had to pick a first paragraph from a book and use it as a prompt for the rest of the story.
I chose the first thing I looked at, an old Galaxy science fiction magazine, and the first parapgraph of a story, The Man Who Ate the World by Frederick Pohl. I continued writing, purely from my imagination, and modifying that first paragraph, and this was the result, nothing like TMWATW, as it happened! It turned out the story by FP was the title story of a book, which I subsequently bought!
I hope you were successful with your exams and I’m flattered you chose some of my stories to practice with, thank you!
Another thoroughly engrossing story, Simon, and not just from the entertainment factor. It really gave me something to think about. I’ve seen first hand how COVID has impacted my grandchildren, “tethered” to their computers on a daily basis while in their virtual classrooms. People say kids are resilient and, to a degree, that’s true but they can only take so much before a toll is felt. Isolation from friends and social activities was the order of the day; now the time has come for our kids to be allowed to interact with their friends, regain the mental stimulation, physical activity and camaraderie that was put on hold. The characters in your story came to life before my eyes, your descriptions were that intense. I wonder if our “birthday boy” will wake up in the morning a changed person? Only the author knows for sure but there still remains a burning question about that scar. ⚡️
Thank you, Nancy, and although set in a dystopian future of forced consumerism, the story certainly has parallels with the Covid lockdown most youngsters have been under for months at a time. Looking at a screen, even if there’s a real person on it, with whom you can interact, ultimately isn’t the same as a real live flesh-and-blood person in the room. In the end, for the lonely Billy, having the same conversation yet again with a robot Harry Potter was preferable to looking at a screen.