Tag Archives: Collaborative Short Stories

A Shattered Moon: A Hot Potato Collaborative Short Story

22 Aug


A Shattered Moon


Steve Harris, Michael Schmidt,
Shannon Pardoe,
Sam Grainger, Josh Kremer, Jessica Cooke

Illustrations by Sam Grainger

(written collaboratively March-May 2014, as part of our Hot Potato initiative)

Night fell swiftly, like a bird of prey plunging from on high to claim a squeaking victim. The evening was still warm from another baking hot day. Winston lay on his back on the hard concrete yard, the way he always did when he wanted to gaze up at the heavens.

The fragments of broken moon created a dusty ring around the planet that made it harder to see the stars clearly most nights. Only when the once-whole moon would have been dark, when the Earth was between Sol and what remained of the shattered satellite, could Winston see what he wanted to see: constellations, an iridescent miasma of flickering suns burning themselves up billions of miles from where he lay.

Something waited out there. Something wilder and brighter than he would ever find on the sluggish ball of rock and decay where he’d had the misfortune to be born. He had no idea how to express the certainty that for him life lay beyond the atmosphere of his home. He simply knew. The same way he knew when he was hungry or he needed the bathroom. His mother thought he was an idler.

“Winston, get yourself inside and do some school work before bedtime.”

“Do I have to?”

“Of course you have to. There’s work for educated people and nothing but misery for the dumb and the lazy.”

You would know, he thought to himself as he took one last look at the stars, squinting slightly so that the light from them all blended into a fire, like a signal beacon calling him to rise up from the Earth, to seek adventure and meaning.

“What happened to the Moon?”

“Do your school work.”

He knew she wouldn’t answer. Nobody ever answered that question. At school the teachers avoided it, or pretended they had not heard when it was asked countless times a day. The adults kept forbidden knowledge from their children. Sara, his best, his only friend in the bedraggled neighbourhood, once whispered her theories during a particularly evasive science class.

“Must be something terrible. Something they think will scare us to death. Like a huge war or an experiment that went disastrously wrong. Zombies and mutants and stuff.”
“Do you think we will be allowed to know when we’re adults?” he asked.

“Don’t know,” she admitted. Like Winston himself she felt that at ten years old they were already pretty grown up as it was.

“I’m going to find out.”

She did not argue. He sounded utterly convinced.


Of course no one could have known what would happen next. Sitting on top of a rock outcropping just above the hole in the ground he now called home. Winston looked out on the skyline of a wasted L.A.. He fumbled through this and other memories as the sun didn’t so much as set, but withdrew into a grey night. Sara’s green eyes sometimes appeared when he closed his. But just like all the other faces he used to know– the nuances in her expressions, the exact impression of the freckles that spread across her cheeks and nose, have slowly faded away over time with every night, with every cigarette, with every jar of moonshine.

He remembers nights outside playing with Sara. He remembers sprinting home for supper after the street lights had come on. He also remembers the suspicion he felt after viewing the U.N.-approved orientation video at his town’s drive-in movie theatre. The video briefly explained how the moon had been hit by a meteor and how there was nothing to worry about as only the tides would be slightly affected. He remembers as nations slowly stopped fighting and focused inward on themselves as if bracing for something. He remembers the intangible panic he felt during those last years of unnatural peace. He remembers waking up one night to shrieks of desperation and the roar of space shuttles full of doctors, scientists, and engineers stealing away from earth in the night. He remembers words like Europa, Titan, Mars—and then of course, he remembers standing outside of the same drive-in movie theatre watching a television feed of those same shuttles colliding, one after another, into the blanket of debris which had been left by the destruction of the moon. They must have known it was a suicide mission, but what did they know that would force their hand in such a gamble? What piece of knowledge had they kept from us that made their suicide mission seem like a safer alternative to staying on Earth? He looked up at the night and gritted his yellow teeth at whatever leviathan of antithesis lay lurking between the stars. He never believed in God, but he believed in this.

He remembers the last lines of a poem and falls asleep out on the rocks as the words ring back in forth in his head–what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Earth to be born?–


Winston woke the following morning disgruntled and listless from a poor night of sleep. He watched in silent indignation as a dusty haze swept across the horizon, bringing with it memories of long summer days and burning skies. Ever since the Event these memories had become his constant companion, playing out in his mind like the old movies he used to watch back at the drive-in theatre. Had she known even then?

Since the moon’s destruction things had fallen into chaos, the seasons had become erratic and with no anchor the raging seas had calmed to a gentle ripple. For those, like himself, who stood in defiance of whatever darkness lay beyond the planet the world had become a dangerous place, far worse than anyone imagined. The floating debris offered little protection from the asteroids that fell from space, crashing into the planet and leaving craters and burning cities in their wake.

But it wasn’t the destruction he feared the most. It was the silence, the emptiness left behind from those who had fled, they had run from the unknown and into the arms of death.

Like Sara and the rest of them he has stayed, too afraid to take the plunge into darkness opting instead to face whatever evil lurked between the stars. Even as a child, before grasping the enormity of what was happening, he had sensed that something was watching them, waiting. There was no way of knowing when it would happen but part of him knew it wouldn’t be long ‘til he found out. Until then he had only one task, one goal that would tip the scale in Earth’s favour – Sara. As shards of light drifted across the remains of his old home he could hear her voice.

“Winston, do you remember the promise we made to each other when the shuttles left Earth?”

Of course, how could he forget.

“You promised that no matter what we would stay together.”

He sighed, even here on the rocky outcrop he called home, far above the desolate streets of L.A she had found him. It was because of her that he had made it this far, the pixie like voice driving him onward, but she was only a voice. Even though he could no longer remember her face something deep inside his chest told him that somehow she was still alive, waiting for him to find her. The last words she had spoken haunted his every moment. He had to do it, he had to go on.

One sleepless night everything changed: he had found Sara’s telephone number, hidden under bags of waste in a dumpster. He had waited for morning to follow up on what he’d found. It’d be safer then. Terrors moved through the streets at night; terrors even he couldn’t face. He rolled the soggy piece of paper around in his mouth. Nothing would take it from him. Nothing. He’d swallow it if he had to, if it came to that.

Images of Sara kept his eyes light through the night, and his thoughts had a constant pulse. It had to be her. It had to be. She was alive. He knew she was. She was the solution. She was his absolution. She was the only hope left.

He’d begun to fear the worst after years of searching. But, in her old abandoned house he’d found it. It caught his eye in a most unlikely place.

The toilet bowl was dry and stained with murky lines. Unknown to him, just out of view, a piece of paper clung to the side of the basin. A small corner came loose from the trickle of his urine and curiosity had made him peel it away. It read:

New – 207 948 9882


Eventually, the morning came and brought a twist in his gut. He climbed out from the dumpster and made his way to a bar at the end of the street. It was a risk that had to be taken.

The bar held a mist of smoke. The low-lifes vegetated; cigarettes hanging from their bottom lips, drinks resting between their fingers. Empty eyes rolled over him as he entered, and remained fixed. The bartender glanced up in tired recognition.

‘I need to use your phone,’ Winston said.

‘Look, I’ve told you alrea- ’

‘I need to use your phone.’

The bartender nodded towards the end of the bar. ‘You’ve got two minutes – no funny business.’

Winston took the sodden ball of paper from his mouth, smoothed it out and dialled the number; a Maine area code. Why Maine? There was nothing left on the east coast; just wastelands. What was she doing in Maine? His bones vibrated painfully as he held the receiver.

It picked up.

‘Good afternoon, Sara’s Boutique Florists, how may I be of service today?’

It was her. That voice. It was Sara. The relief tasted of melted sugar in his throat. He broke into pieces and clutched the phone with two hands.

‘Sara? Christ, Sara, you’re alive. Fuck! Sara, it’s me, it’s Winston!’

‘Shit…’ the sound suddenly muffled on the other line, ‘Give me a sec, Jill, I’m sorry, it’s him again.’

‘Sara? Sara? I don’t belie – I don’t believe it. Sara, it’s me! It’s me, Winston. Where did you –. Where are you? I thought you were gone. I thought I’d lost you.’

There was no reply.

‘Sara? SARA?’

‘Winston, please don’t call this number again. I thought I made that clear to you last time. I don’t look after you anymore, Winston, I’m sorry. You’re not my responsibility. Please stop calling me. Goodbye.’

The phone clicked.


‘Hey!’ The bartender had moved to Winston’s side and ripped the phone from him, ‘Get out of my bar you maniac, I said no funny business. GET OUT.’

All Winston knew was he had to see Sara for real, despite her cold words. He had to go to her, find her. The wasteland of coast was not an easy path to follow, but through the midden of fallen sky and obliterated earth Winston carried on. Every step was somehow more treacherous than the last as fragments of stone, moon, and people’s lives crunched under his heavily lined boots.

The moon’s breaking seemed an entire lifetime ago. Its pieces still plummeted to earth on occasion, never letting anyone forget the past and grounding them in some strange future. Winston’s steps were slow and deliberate as he navigated the debris of Maine, each step bringing him closer.

For how long had he considered the day the moon was ravaged the changing point in his life? For how long had he been wrong?

All the world had watched, paralyzed, as the moon shattered and ruptured humanity’s trajectory for a bright future—the worst of cataclysms—yet Winston was unchanged by it. He had a strong spirit.

He had changed when he had lost her—and every day since he had blamed the moon, and had felt his heart breaking, healing, and breaking over again. He had become a drifter, floating through whatever came his way, coasting. Drinking.

Maine’s air had a crisp bite as he consulted his pocket map, and carefully measured the last leg towards a facility the world seemed oblivious to. How she had come here, and why, didn’t matter. He had to find her.

He had been lost in his head for so long, he had forgotten she was still alive and not a fragment of the past. He devoted everything to his memory and her face. Her face, piercing, drove him on. It held electrifying beauty.

The scientists had failed. They were meant to be the last, best hope for humanity—and Winston didn’t care. His only hope was Sara, his only vision was of her face. He didn’t register his steps in terms of mileage, but measured them in terms of closing the distance between him and her.

He could at last see an unscorched building, the last structure this part of the world seemed to have, and slipped inside. The door creaked, but no one seemed to hear. A dull hum filled the corridors as he quietly began his search for her. His boots clumped loudly and left scuffs across the floor tiles, so he removed them. He peered in doors only to find empty rooms.

Carefully he continued, turning a corner and—


“Winston, is that you? Where the devil are your shoes?”

To Maine he had gone, for a woman he only remembered as a girl. He had made a promise to her…had she forgotten that she had made one to him as well?

Sara stood facing him at the end of the corridor. He walked towards her, stepping lightly and slowly, as though she was a tiny animal and so much as a breath less delicate than hers could cause her to break away.

Her hair was twisted high on top of her head in work-mode, and she wore a white surgeon’s coat complete with rubber gloves. A tiny badge pinned to her left breast read, “Sara, Florist.” Little spots of color flecked her gloves and coat. She’d been painting.

“I knew you’d hate me having this job,” she said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t in touch. This was just something I had to do. Something… Without you.”

It had been like traveling a hundred years in the dark. Looking in abandoned places for numbers that might not be there, going into bars asking favors from people that didn’t even want to see you. A hundred years in the dark till now but instead of one light, he felt a thousand burning between the place where his bones meet his skin, and under their glare he felt more lost. He wanted to undo the pin that held her hair, letting it all fall across her shoulders and tell her how pretty she looked.

How much he’d missed her. A decade ago, he wouldn’t have thought twice, but right now one more step and he’d feel like he was breaking the law.

“Do you want to see the lab?” she asked him.

He followed her into a crisp, white room where jars holding pickled flowers lined the rooms. He stared. Roses, tulips, lilacs; each jar held one single flower of a different breed to the last.

Real flowers hadn’t existed like this in years, yet here they were, blurring the line between past and present. The long white petals of a daisy unfurled in the dappled liquid, its base gleaming like a yellow eye, its stem curved, suspended in the jelly.

She brought him to a table just in front of them, and opened the lid of a metal box.
There, inside, a miniature blue flower dipped its head towards its stem, curling into itself. Its leaves fanned out like ghosts in the water.

“Prototype, “Sara said, “Bluebell. Wild flowers are harder to recreate, because they weren’t as artificially engineered as the more popular ones. Rose was the first one, obviously.”

“Obviously,” he repeated, dumbfounded.

“I don’t know. You always seemed so obsessed with the moon, with the past. It was like you blamed it for everything. I needed to get out of LA. I mean, we haven’t had weather like the ancestors did since before we were born. So, I never understood why everybody mourned it so much. It was a terrible thing to happen, sure, but don’t you feel like the more we’re mourning one kind of light, we’re missing out on another?”

“Your flowers are beautiful,” he told her, “but fake.”

She looked down, sighing.

“I thought you’d say that. That’s why I didn’t want to tell you what I was doing. Can’t you see the benefits of the work we’ve done here? It’s only one small thing, but it’s a step towards recreation. Towards life.

“Through art.”

He shoved his hands into the pockets of the white coat she’d given him to hide their trembling.

“This isn’t Art. This is synthetic. Like, most of outside, what’s natural, what’s life is not synthetic flowers. I’d rather give my girlfriend a bouquet of moon! Because that’s what’s real. At least when she smelled she’d smell a piece of something that did exist, that was blown up, and that hurt everybody. It wasn’t nice that it happened, but I’m not about to forget that it did happen. This world has been changed, and no amount of chemical flowers is going to make me forget that life doesn’t exist any more.”

“What is the difference? Yes, they’re chemical, yes we made them and we painted them! But they’re here! They’re something! A step towards rebuilding! A step towards finally being happy!”

“It’s not about being happy. It’s about truth. Denial of the truth is the worst thing anyone can do to another person.”

“Is that why you came here? Hoping that I could be your truth, hoping that I’d want to go off with you and wander around, picking up bits of broken moon and imagining what life could have been like? We’re not kids any more, Wints.”

“I just wanted to see you. I had to see you,” he paused, “I still want you, even… even if this is what you want.”

“This is what I want.”

“I know. When I called you I just had to see it for myself.”

“I’m moving to New York,” she said suddenly.


“Tomorrow, they have a new lab opening. They have a project opening; they’re planning to recreate the whole of Central park, but with lots of flowers ahead,” her voice sped up, excited, “We think we can manipulate the roses to grow right out of the bark in the trees, can you imagine how beautiful that would be?”

“When do you leave?”

“In 2 days.”

Winston could see it now. The stuff of dreams. But how real was a dream when it hadn’t come from within? When it had come from someone placing it there, someone constructing it. He would never be able to visit the park without feeling like he was a trespasser in someone else’s garden.

“I should go,” he told her.

She didn’t blink.


A hundred years in the dark, for only a flash of light.

He left the building into the dust swirling street. Charcoal grey shimmied in the thick air around the emaciated branches of a tree. There was something beautiful in its wasteful figure. The way it held itself, proud of its bareness, unashamed.

He bent down, scooping a piece of moon up from the gravel and placed it in his pocket.

What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards the Earth to be born?

Sara could have her garden, they all could. The moon felt coarse and hard in its pocket, its jagged edges scratched his legs through the thin fabric of his pants but he did not remove it. It would remain there all day, every day, a rough beast in his shallow life.

Sara and her friends would create a garden, inventing Nature in a way that no one had intended, and in decades no one would know the difference.

He put his hand in his pocket, holding the piece of moon. A hundred years in the dark with only a reminder of light.

Writers’ Information

Steve Harris:


Michael Schmidt


Shannon Pardoe:


Sam Grainger:


Josh Kremer:


Jessica Cooke:


If you would like to take part in our next Hot Potato short story collaboration do get in touch via the comment box or via the Contact form on the What’s On page. You would be welcome.

‘Robo-girl’- a collaborative short story (Hot Potato 2013)

2 Dec

 This Summer through an initiative called ‘Hot Potato’ run through ArtiPeeps seven great prose writers worked collectively on one short story passing it to each other on a fortnightly basis over a period of 16 weeks . What you’ll find below is the complete story edited together.  It’s amazing, and a credit to the writers, how one section flows into another with very little editing done to shape it into a whole. The fantastic drawings you’ll see illustrating Robo-girl  are by artist Deborah Sheehy especially drawn for this project. Robo-girl has been turned into a interactive pdf and will be the first story in a published collection of ‘Hot Potato’ collaborative stories in the future. Watch this space!



B.A. Cooper, Gail Aldwin, C.J.Sullivan,

A.K. Anderson, Laura Besley,

Gwendolyn Salzman & Natalie Elizabeth Beech

Illustrations by Deborah Sheehy


Robogirl,  Image by Deborah Sheehy


The robo-girl sat on the greyed splintered bones of the pier. Rivulets of rust stained her face ‘n sand had settled in her innards. Something in her stirred, something silently called, urged her forward. Time had sanded away her eyes, but her memory banks held. The carousel horses lay on their sides, but to her they still galloped ‘n happy music circled them. For the robo-girl he had been gone for a nano-second, she could still taste his warm lips, but paths bit into the ancient broad walk from her feet. The sea had faded her color, but her metal ‘n flesh held.

She leaned against the remains of the Ferris wheels where a tree once stood ‘n sang. “Keep it down!” the Raccoon growled from her nest in a seat. “Why do you even bother?” a Squirrel chattered from a rooftop, “She never listens”. The robo-girl wandered away ‘n her holograms painted the sagging walls of the pavilion with life: robo-hallucinations; a hundred years since a human voice heard. The robo-girl could hear him, “Step right up, knock down the bottles ‘n win a prize!” The bottles still stood ‘n he was a skeleton buried. The People of Blood, left long ago to spread the stars when their world held no more amusement for them, the fool stayed. That’s what they called Tom, but he was happy ‘n wasn’t alone, he had his girl ‘n a whole world to call his own. They were happy.

The robo-girl walked through the funhouse, through the shards ‘n sand her feet ground the mirrors into. Is she dreaming or is she remembering, the Swift wondered? “Is there a difference?” the Swallow cheeped from the rafters. Back when her memory banks were pristine, she smashed all the mirrors of the funhouse after he said goodbye to her with his last breath. With no updates for her head it was full of glitches ‘n bugs. She had forgotten he had left her ‘n she lost her name long ago. Her creaking limbs echoed through the cave that was the arcade, it once sung with pinball machines ‘n children’s shouting. Now the Rat children giggled at the silly clumsy creature crashing through their home. The Owl hooted them into silence ‘n bowed at the robo-girl.


Robo-girl, Owl detail, Image by Deborah Sheehy
Owl’s memory was long, but Owl Legend was even longer. She was the last half of The Lovers. The robo-girl walked through the beginning patters of rain, through the softening mud. To her it was a fine summer’s day. She picked a non-existent flower ‘n breathed in deeply ‘n smiled. The robo-girl gently swayed to music only she could hear, crashing through bramble up to a windmill to recharge. The Seagull cawed with laughter at the broken toy. The Dove squawked at him to shut it ‘n cooed with regret, she had lost her mate. Full, the robo girl wandered back to her haunt ‘n the birds resumed their discussion of The Wind.

Why doesn’t she leave for another world the Crow child wondered? “The past has blinded her, she can’t see us”, the Crow said to her chick. When the People of Blood left ‘n flared across the universe like a virus, the world they left behind took wing.


Sitting on the beach, the stones lumpy underneath her, Chloe took another lick of ice-cream. The Mr Whippy slid down her throat, cold enough to choke her. Dad pelted pebbles at the empty can. He said the first drink of the day always brought him luck. Clonk, clonk, clonk. Being patient wasn’t in Dad’s nature and Chloe realised she didn’t have long to finish the cornet. Twisting her tongue and swallowing focused her attention. When she was done, she rubbed the sticky remains from her fingers onto her jeans.

“That’s my girl.” Dad flung his arm around Chloe’s shoulders and gave her a shake so that her head flopped from side to side. She giggled, it was his way of being friendly. When the sun peeped around the clouds, Chloe enjoyed the warmth. It wasn’t often that Dad brought her to the beach. Sunday’s usually involved trailing after him as he did the round of pubs to see his mates. She got a packet of crisps at each place and by the end of the day, she’d tasted the whole range of flavours.

“Can we go on the pier?” She hoped to make the most of this good mood.

“If you like. I’ll give you a ride on the dodgems.”

“But I don’t want to go on that pier.” Chloe remembered the last time. Dad had spun the wheel one-handed and driven the wrong way around the track. He’d collided with every other driver and Chloe was so jolted by the end, that her head ached and her legs wouldn’t work properly. “I want to go on the other one.”

“No-one goes there. It’s all broken and it closed down years ago. Look at it, one big wave and the whole thing will go under.”

“That means we should go now. I could find a gap in the fence. It’d be much more fun.”


Chloe and Dad, Image by Deborah Sheehy

“Not likely.” Dad took a second can from the pack and springing back the ring, it hissed. He took a few glugs then turned his face to the sun and he closed his eyes. “Think I’ll have a little nap.” He flopped back onto the stones, and the beer spilt.
Chloe stared at the old pier, hunched above the waves and she listened to the rattle of her Dad’s breathing. It’d be hours before he was ready to move, so Chloe made a plan. Dad wouldn’t mind if she checked out the pier. He might even be pleased if she discovered a secret entrance. He couldn’t complain then. Not that he usually minded jumping over barriers. He did it often enough at the train station to avoid paying the fare. Turning Dad’s wrist, Chloe read the time on his watch. If she came back within the hour, he’d never know she’d been gone.

The stones crunched as she walked towards the promenade and she skipped along the path to the pier’s entrance. Squeezing between the struts of fencing, Chloe wiggled through to the other side.

Chloe travelled the abandoned carnival grounds with tentative steps. With petite feet, she pranced around empty plastic bottles, untouched by time.

She didn’t want to curse herself by making contact with the bottles. It was bad luck. Plastic-making was now forbidden; only reusing existing plastic was allowed. Plastic had been one of the reasons for the Great Exodus.

Her daddy had told her many times the dangers of harming the world, from injuring trees to killing animals for sport, not to mention creating waste. So much plastic garbage filled the land and oceans now that the growing number of humans had no choice but to escape to the stars. The small camps of people who stayed behind did the best they could to reuse what was there, to fix what had gone so wrong, but there was just so much of it.

As she walked further into the carnival, Chloe’s eyes lit up. She imagined what this magical place might have been like with electricity coursing through it. Often she and her father came upon places that no longer functioned — places like this. Sometimes he would tell her how machinery used to work, and sometimes he would remain silent, almost sorrowful with his eyes so distant. During Daddy’s quiet moments, she didn’t want to make him angry with silly little girl questions. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t still curious.

Passing the round ride with the tent and the horses, she traced the fancy painted word CAROUSEL on the side of it with her fingers. Dust collected on her hands, and she wiped it on her shoe. How did this ride used to work? She imagined the wooden and metal horses, their paint now chipped, had gone around in a circle. Yes, she could see the track just barely now under a film of dirt. How fast had the ride gone? Did the children laugh? Did they have a wonderful time in the Age of Electricity? Were the horses beautiful then, their paint vibrant and fresh?

Then she heard it: a sigh.

She jumped. Covering her mouth so as not to shout, she froze. Her heart pounded in her chest. The noise she’d heard — it had sounded almost human. Almost, but not quite. And it had come from behind the carousel, over there by the small building with the sign that said ARCADE.

All but tip-toeing, she crept toward the building. A movement to her right made her jump again. Another rush of adrenaline coursed down her arms. Be brave, she thought. Be brave!

She took one more step, and an ugly grey rat ran from beneath the carousel. Gross!

Had it been the rat she’d heard before? She was sure it had been something else. Something that sounded like —

She heard it again: a humanoid sigh that carried a feminine tone, but underneath lay something metallic. It was coming from inside of the arcade; she was sure of it now. Carefully, she peered into the little building and gasped.

On the floor beside one of the dusty, defunct games lay what looked like a woman. Only this woman, who was curled in the foetal position, wasn’t a real woman. She had her back to Chloe. Her head was missing a patch of hair. There, instead of a skull made of bone, were wires, stretching across a plate of metal, flashing with spurts of blue light.

She took another step closer and reached out her hand, readying herself to touch this strange robotic girl, to somehow rouse her from her slumber.

“Chloe, wait!” her father cried from behind her.

The Owl saw the child approaching the fence, and wondered what this was about. What new Legend was about to be born?

The Owl dove at the glass box inside the arcade. It held a mannequin. And the mannequin held tiny cards. Just as the mannequin had dropped The Lovers through the crack in her box so many years before, she slid another card to the Owl.

The Owl picked the card up with her beak and rushed to the rafters to contemplate this new portent, and to observe.

Robo-girl’s memories were disturbed by the rush of air and feathers. She realized, sadly, that she was still alone, and sighed.

Was she remembering? She thought she heard human footsteps, that she could sense the heartbeat of a person of blood. Oh, how nice it would be to have a friend again. After her Tom had been gone for fifty years, her loyalty circuits were supposed to reboot. A new human could claim her with a simple touch.

Robo-girl heard more footsteps, tiny, hesitant. She sighed again. She listened to the tiny footsteps, wondering what child 100 years ago had moved so, to give her a memory this vivid.

“Chloe, wait!”

A man’s voice echoed through the arcade. Mice and rats, Swallows and Sparrows, Larks and Finches departed in a feathered cloud. Who was this man to destroy their carnival nest? A man. A human man’s voice.

Robo-girl slowly pushed her torso into a sitting position.

A human man like her Tom. Would he claim her? Would he be kind? Would he want to make love with her on the beach?

Her eyes had long since worn away, the sensors filled with corrosion. She used her other sensors to locate the short, breathing human who was warm, only a few arms lengths away.


Robo-girl, detail, Image by Deborah Sheehy

“Touch my hand,” she said to the child, holding out her arm. Her voice modulator still worked. She had a lovely human face, Tom had told her many times how lovely she was to him. The child would be drawn to her smile.

The small human took a step away from her.

“Daddy?” a girl’s voice said, shaking.

“Chloe, don’t touch her,” the man’s voice said, his footsteps heavy on the planks.

“Just touch my hand, Chloe” she repeated, keeping her voice set on the soft, nurturing tones. She had a lovely human face, Tom had told her many times how lovely she was to him. The child would be drawn to her smile.

When she smiled, she heard the child step away again. What was wrong?

“What is she, daddy?” the child asked as the adult footsteps grew near.

“A discarded toy,” he said, his voice filled with something Robo-girl’s sensors could not register.
“Is she a person?”

“No. Stop calling it ‘she’, it is not a woman. It has never been a person.” The adult took a step away. “Come on, Chloe, let’s get out of here. Leave that thing where it is.”

The Owl tilted its head and watched as the father and daughter left the fairground.

Robo-girl tilted her head as she listened to their steps and the scrape of their clothes against the gap in the fence.

Long after they had gone, robo-girl stood. She shambled to the windmill and recharged her power. Long after the sun stopped powering her solar relays, she followed her newest data, and slipped through the gap in the fence.

The Owl pecked at the card from the arcade machine. She wondered what it meant as it fluttered to the wooden floor onto the place where robo-girl had lain.

The smiling face of the Star peered up into the night sky.

But it was too late. As the echoes of her father’s cries rang out around the abandoned carousel hall, Chloe had already touched the strange robotic girl, with sparks of blue light flashing intermittently out of her open head.

“No,” her father whispered.

Chloe turned to face her father and looked pleadingly into his eyes, as she had done many times as a child. Am I in trouble? her eyes asked.

Her father took a step towards her and as he did the robo-girl moved her arm, which clanged into the dilapidated fence with a thud, sending a ripple around them.

Chloe turned away from her father and faced the robo-girl. “Hello?” she asked quietly.

“Are you okay?”

“Chloe, let’s go,” her father said. “Now.”

“But Dad, we can’t just leave her.”

“We can.”

“How can you be so mean?”

“Chloe, you’ve never seen one of these robots before. They were all destroyed before you were born. You’ll need to trust me. We have to go.”

Chloe took one last look as the robo-girl stood up, swaying gently on her thick metal legs, and stared straight past Chloe. She turned to see what the machine was looking at: it was her father.

“Jeff,” the robo-girl said, in a voice higher and more human than Chloe could ever have imagined.

“No,” her father said gently, one hand outstretched as if to ward her off. “My name is Pete. Peter David.”

“Darling Jeff,” the robot said. “I’ve missed you.”

“I’m Peter, not Jeff.”

The robo-girl started walking towards him, tentatively at first and then more sure on her feet.

Chloe looked at her father in confusion.

“Run!” he shouted, grabbing Chloe’s hand. They ran through the rusty ruins of the carousel and out into the fresh September air. ‘We need to get to safety and phone it in,” he yelled, between gasps of breath. “They’re all supposed to be dead.”

They could hear the heavy footsteps of robo-girl behind them. Ever louder, ever closer.

Suddenly she was on top of Peter, forcing him to the ground. Her weight was more than Peter could stand and he was struggling to breath. A flash from robo-girl’s head flew out and killed him immediately.

“Dad?” Chloe said. She shook him, but his body was limp.

The robo-girl stayed on top of him so close his ribs bent under her weight. Chloe shook his shoulder again. The robo-girl was the only one who reacted. She turned her head slowly the movement a clean pivot on a metallic spine. She blinked at Chloe.

“Get off him!” Chloe shouted, and shoved the robo-girl, hard.

The robo-girl moved a second later than the push, following the force of will rather than the force of movement.

Her father’s face was red and black, and bleeding. Burned from jaw to hair, and swelling while Chloe watched. She shook him again. She wasn’t sure that skin and blood could do that after you were dead, but he didn’t move. He didn’t yell at her to stop her whining, or to stop her shaking, or to stop her stupid little repetitions of his name.

“Dad?” she tried one more time.

“What happened?” the robo-girl asked.

Chloe didn’t answer.

“I killed him?” the robo-girl said. Chloe had never heard a sentence so even. Maybe because it should have been broken. Maybe because it was set in contrast to her own voice.

“No,” Chloe pleaded.

The robo-girl was turning her head again, another clean rotation as she leaned toward her father. She touched him with one finger, drawing a long line down the side of his face. If she noticed the blood on her finger, she didn’t care. She drew the line again with two fingers. It was so clearly a caress, Chloe wanted to slap her hand away. Then robo-girl laid her palm flat against his cheek.

A jolt shook her father’s whole body, snapped at Chloe’s hands where she was holding his shoulder. She felt backward after the jolt ended, hands burning, heart pounding.

Her father’s body shook again. A third time. A fourth.

“Stop it!” Chloe said.

The robo-girl didn’t look at her, didn’t stop. Chloe thought she saw her father’s eyes flash open, then clamp shut the way he did when he was four beers in and one thought too heavy.

“Stop!” Chloe screamed. She threw herself at the robo-girl. Together they toppled to the side. Chloe stared in surprise. She had expected to feel the impact more, like when she’d tried to push the robo-girl off him before, but it had been like knocking over a stack of cans, each part heavy and disconnected from the rest.

The robo-girl blinked up at her. Once. Twice. A third time. A fourth.

“Chloe?” she asked, her voice a note too deep. It was perfectly even, and sounded exactly like her name in her father’s mouth.

“W-What have you done!?” Chloe squeaked, timidly hovering over her father’s body.

“Chloe.” Robo-girl’s voice feminine and nurturing once more “ Jeff was a bad man!”

“My daddy was Peter, HE TOLD YOU HE WAS PETER.”

“Jeff would trade you as scrap just like he traded me. If Tom hadn’t saved me, I would be just like your father, oil leaking into the sand, parts broken.”

“You are just an old unwanted toy!” Chloe bellowed the words from the very pit of her stomach, throwing all the bile and nastiness she could behind the words.

“I’m exactly like your daddy, Jeff made me!”

Chloe, head now spinning, reminded herself of the grandfather of whom her dad had never dared speak; how he had been abandoned and left by the technologically-obsessed father for pastures new…How he would never even speak his name…

“He looked just like Jeff… spoke the same, same nose… same eyebrows same hair… same old beer breath.”

Back when he was a young man, Jeff, had built robo-girls and boys and robo-women and robo-men. He was obsessed with the cables the nuts, the bolts, people called him robo-victor, mish-mashing together parts into his beloved robots.

He also had a family, a wife he was forced to marry, because she stupidly got knocked up when she was 15 and that annoying little brat Peter. Hardly speaking until one day they shared their first beer, from an aluminium can, the old familiar beneath Jeff’s fingers.

“What is it about these… toys? Why do you spend more time with them than with us?” The boy Peter had asked about himself and his mother.

“Well.. for starters they speak when spoken to and don’t ask me annoying questions… They don’t get themselves pregnant at 15 and give me a son I don’t want.”

Peter left, kicking the parts that would become his father’s new obsession to the ground; scattering them… Not stopping to notice the heavy, stray would-be-robo-organ flailing towards his mother’s head, knocking her to the ground.. cold…


“I always knew these robots would be the death of me.” She smiled showing her teeth, her dark wit beaming from eyes…

“No more beer, you hear me… You will get a headache as bad as mine… I love you Peter” With that she was on the ground… cold…. dead.

Peter stared down at his mother’s body. “You see what you did, you see what these things caused… I HATE YOU… I HATE YOU…. I HATE YOU. ”

They would never see or speak to each other again.

Peter ran and he ran long, not stopping until his legs gave out underneath him. He ran, as he would see Chloe run decades later… On that fateful day when they had decided he was her daddy and she was his daughter and they became each others’ family.

“You are just scrap… we should have thrown you into the land years ago… You don’t feel, you don’t bleed, you are nothing like him NOTHING.”

“I have his voice now, we share a father, we both love you. “

“Feel a beat in my chest?” She asked placing Chloe’s hand across her heart-like circuitry “It doesn’t pump blood, but it feels like your father’s felt against your hand doesn’t it? Jeff made sure I was his most perfect model.”

“Nothing.” Chloe defiantly insisted under her breath…

“Well, perhaps not” robo-girl resigned. “But, I am at least like you.”

Grabbing Chloe by her wrist, robo-girl took her finger and ran it along the middle of Chloe’s right arm… Blue sparks flying, cutting her open down to what should have been bone.

“Most perfect until he made you, that is, the beat of your circuits even fooled me.”

Chloe looked down, felt a sinking in what she thought was a human stomach, and uttered one single word-


With that… fell a new card, Wheel of Fortune, Owl Legend was again renewed.


You can find out more about the writers here:

B.A. Cooper


Ben’s Robo-girl section can be found here.

Gail Aldwin


Gail’s Robo-girl section can be found here

C.J. Sullivan


CJ’s Robo-girl section can be found  here.

A.K. Anderson



AK’s Robo-girl section can be found here.

Laura Besley


Laura’s Robo-girl section can be found here.

Gwendolyn Salzman


Gwendolyn’s Robo-girl section can be found here.

Natalie Elizabeth Beech


Natalie’s Robo-girl section can be found here.

Deborah Sheehy



My thanks to all the potatoes concerned in this first collaborative story. Your skill and your talent is apparent.

*If you would like to take part in the next ‘Hot Potato’ in March 2014. Please do get in contact via either the comment box, contact form on the ‘What’s On’ Page, or via @ArtiPeep

%d bloggers like this: