William Sherman, five years old and looking a bit like a wild tabby (as an early viral infection had prevented all of his red-orange hair from fully growing in), sped along the cereal aisle in the Safeway, pushing his Junior Shopper cart. “Lucky Charms!” he screamed. When he spotted them, he began cramming the FAMILY SIZE boxes into his tiny cart. The boy started drooling, driven delirious by sugar cravings. When his dad had him, he let Willy pick any cereal he wanted and he wanted his Lucky Charms. However, a robot voice interrupted his labor, “Beepbop. Beepbop. Human child. Destroy. Destroy.” Willy turned and saw a pixilated face flash across the screen of a large fan propelled by scooter wheels. “Human child. Terminate. Beepbop.” A scream arose from the end of the aisle. The boy stepped back in fright and confusion and then felt the sensation of being lifted into the air.
Earlina Pettijohn rambled down the soup aisle, intent on picking up the chicken noodle that Teddy loved so much. Then she needed to swing by the cereal aisle for some of that tasteless organic nonsense her doctor had told her was the only cereal she was allowed to have, and then only a single serving, unless she wanted to go back on the insulin. “What am I, five?” Earlina had replied, appalled. She was damn near fifty. Then she saw something curious: a little boy in dirty Batman pajamas—no shoes, only frosted jammy footies for protection. She stopped, shocked, watching him slam Lucky Charms into his mini-cart with such force that one box had cracked and the little rainbow-colored shapes were tumbling out. One of those annoying inventory robots rolled towards them, beeping and bopping like a portable and malfunctioning jukebox. Earlina didn’t care for those robots. She knew counting stock was probably a pain in the ass, but it was honest work and those little machines were taking away good, valuable US jobs. The robot said, “Beepbop. Beepbop. Human child. Destroy. Destroy.” Earlina could hardly believe it. She had been waiting for this day—she’d even listened to a podcast about it. This is happening! she thought. The robot apocalypse! The rise of the machines! She shrieked and raced to the child, picking him and his little cart up in one swoop. The boy was so stunned he stopped howling. “Your parents are probably already dead!” Earlina bellowed, racing towards the exit.
Two teenagers, Milo and Otis, sat on their skateboards next to the Safeway dumpster.
“You wanna hack into one of those robots?” Otis asked. He had a laptop open.
Milo said, “Well, there’s no weed left. I don’t feel like getting up to go get some more. Not yet, anyway.”
“Okay, so, I’ll just hack in—it’s so easy. I’ll do a Terminator thing or something. Activate the camera and upload the reactions to YouTube. You never know, could go viral.”
“That would rule,” said Milo.
teaches in the MFA Program at Lindenwood University. His work has appeared in Natural Bridge and Thin Air Magazine.