This story is also available for download from major ebook retailers.
Ten years after my parents died, my therabot, Bob, informed me that I should seek help elsewhere. I blinked at his suggestion.
“I’ve already tried chemical intervention,” I told his plastic grin. “It didn’t work.” I scowled, but that did nothing to de-brighten his soothing, chipper voice.
“Booze doesn’t count, Charlie.”
“I tried weed, too.”
Bob shook his head. “Nothing therapeutic there, either, I’m afraid.” He sighed and imitated the movements of pushing himself back from his imitation wood desk. “You are experiencing what we like to call complicated grief.”
Complicated grief. As if I hadn’t heard that one before.
Dad had died badly. He’d been on one of the trains that got swallowed by the Sound back on the day we lost Seattle. He’d called me from his cell phone with his last breath, as the water poured in, to let me know he wasn’t really my father.
We lost the signal before he could tell me who he actually was. Naturally, I called Mom. She answered just before the ceiling of the store she was shopping in collapsed.
Both parents in one day. Fuck yes, complicated grief.
And a side helping of unknown paternity.
Bob continued. “Ten years is a long time, Charlie. I want you to call this number and ask for Pete.” His eyes rolled in their sockets as his internal processors accessed his files. My phone chirped when his text came through. He extended a plastic tentacle tipped with a three-fingered white clown’s glove. “I hope you find your way.”
I scowled again and shook his offered hand. “So you’re firing me as a patient?”
“Be well,” he said. His eyes went dead and his hand dropped back to the artificial oak surface of his desk.
* * *
I met Pete in an alley on the back of Valencia, behind an old bookstore that still dealt in paper. I transferred funds to an offshore account that then moved it along, scrubbing the transaction as it passed through its various stops along the way before his phone chirped. When it chirped, he extended a smart-lock plastic bag to me. A small, withered blue thing sloshed about in it. At first, I thought it was a severed finger or something far worse. (Or better, depending upon one’s fetishes.) I held the bag up to the flickering light of the dirty street lamp.
The blue thing looked like an asparagus tip, only it wriggled.
“Find someplace safe and quiet,” Pete said. “Preferably indoors with a lock. Eat it with water.”
“I’m not putting this in my mouth.”
Pete shrugged. He was a scrawny kid, his tattooed face stubbly in the dim light, long red hair cascading over his shoulders. “Doesn’t matter to me. But the wild blue yonder are especially good for your situation. Complicated grief, right?” I nodded because his eyes—one brown and one bright yellow—told me that he probably knew it from experience. “Eat this. Spend a weekend sweating and naked on the floor. You’ll be a new man.”
“Naked and sweating?” I looked at the baggie again, then back to Pete. “And how do you know Bob?” I couldn’t imagine a therabot needing a dealer.
Pete smiled. “We’re colleagues.”
The smile widened even further. “I’m a back-alley grief counselor.”
Slipping my wild blue yonder into my pocket, I left Pete in his alley and turned myself towards home.