I had bought an iPad several months ago prior to a road trip vacation with my family as a means to keep my 5-year-old daughter Samantha- Sammy for short- occupied during the long trip. I preloaded the iPad with her favorite shows and movies as well as some age appropriate apps to play with. The tablet did not disappoint as Sammy, who had a reputation for being a terrible passenger, had been as happy as if she wasn’t stuck in a cramped car seat for five to seven hours at a stretch. The trip had been a success and Jo - my wife - and I were glad that we got the iPad when we did, despite the ridiculous price.
I had just come home one Saturday morning after working the night before. I entered the house through the side door from the garage into the kitchen to the smell of bacon frying. Jo had been in the kitchen, frying the aforementioned bacon as well as eggs. Butter biscuits had been baking and there had been fresh coffee in the pot. I walked up to Jo who had her back to me and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“Smells good, babe,” I said as I wrapped my arms around her. She twisted within my arms and gave me a proper peck on the mouth.
“How was work?” she asked.
“It was work,” I replied. I grabbed a cup and poured some coffee. “I couldn’t wait to get out there.” I took a sip and relished the warmth.
Smiling she asked, “Are you hungry?”
“Yeah,” I said, as I ambled closer to her. “For you!”
She gently pushed me away and said, “After breakfast. Then, we’ll see.” She winked at me and turned around to attend to the food. “Say hi to your daughter. She’s in the living room.”
I kissed her cheek again and made my way to see my little girl. As soon as I came into sight, Sammy came running at me while screaming “Daddy! Daddy!” as she jumped up into my arms, hugging me tightly.
“Good morning, gorgeous!” I said, spinning her around. “Did you sleep well last night?”
“Yes!” she squealed. “I missed you, daddy!”
I hugged her tight. “I missed you too, sweetie.” I kissed her cheek and asked, “Are you hungry?”
“Yes!” she squealed again. As I turned to walk into the kitchen with her in my arms, she said, “Wait! I want you to meet my friend.”
“Sure,” I said. “Who is it?”
“Pierre is his name. He’s a parrot.”
Huh. Did Jo get Sammy a parrot? I almost asked Jo about it when Sammy grabbed my face and turned it towards hers. “No, Daddy,” she said. “It’s not a real bird. It’s in my pad.” She pointed at the iPad sitting on the couch. I put her down and watched as she ran to grab the iPad. I sat down and Sammy climbed on to my lap. She leaned up against me as she turned on the tablet.
Sammy scrolled until she found the app. The app icon was a colorful parrot holding a mike. Pierre the Parrot was written underneath. Sammy tapped the icon.
The load page showed Pierre the Parrot dancing to a song that almost sounded like “Rock Lobster” while holding a mike in one wing. The load bar filled up and the app opened.
Pierre the Parrot was an app that allowed a user to interact with it through the use of the built-in mic of the iPad or through touch. Sammy showed me how the app worked. When she touched the bird’s belly, Pierre would act as if tickled. If you jabbed hard though, Pierre would appear to have had the wind knocked out of it, doubling over and coughing. Touching different parts of Pierre would result in an animation sequence which depended on whether you touched the screen light or heavy.
There were also props around the bird you can touch and they too would produce an animation sequence. There were a set of knives, dishes, a couple of frying pans and a blender. Everything was drawn up to be cartoony. I touched the knife set and knives came flying out towards Pierre who deftly avoided each one. I smiled as Sammy giggled.
Sammy then leaned close and said, “Hello, daddy!” and Pierre uttered her words back in a high breaking falsetto making Sammy laugh some more. Pierre echoed this as well as the subsequent sounds Sammy and I made. “Babe, come check-“ I started to say when Sammy suddenly looked up at me and said, “No, Daddy. I want to show you more.”
“Okay, baby girl,” I said. She then clicked on the frying pan and it flew up and smacked Pierre right on the forehead, stars revolving around his head. There was a thud in the kitchen. As I turned my head towards the sound Sammy started to laugh, distracting me. For a moment the sound of her laughter didn’t sound right but I couldn’t place a finger on it. It almost sounded like there was another sound trying to come out. I couldn’t explain it better than that.
I glanced at the screen and noted that there was a trickle of blood oozing from Pierre’s forehead as he sat on the kitchen floor, leaning against the cabinet beneath the sink. The blood didn’t look cartoony, unlike the rest of the scene. The way the blood trickled appeared somewhat realistic, flowing over the ridges of Pierre’s face and beak, dripping onto the green and yellow plumage of his belly. Sammy’s laughter had softened a bit by then but she was still laughing nonetheless. I subtle change happened to me then. Suddenly, I realized that any amusement I felt had gone away and had been replaced by one of quiet dread. I glanced towards where the kitchen was. From where I was sitting, I couldn’t see the kitchen itself. Was it too quiet?
I had a sudden desire to check on Jo but when Sammy felt my body shifting she turned back towards me and said, “No, Daddy!” I was taken aback by the ferocity in her voice. No, Daddy echoed Pierre. I had never heard this tone of voice from her before. I was shocked. Jo and I made it a point to never talk harshly to each other in front of Sammy. Maybe she heard this way of talking from the TV. Before I could follow that train of thought through she said, “You need to see this.” You need to see this. With one last glance towards the kitchen, I reluctantly I brought my attention back to Sammy and her new friend.
Once Sammy was sure she had my full and undivided attention, she smiled as her finger hovered over the different appliances and utensils found in this make-believe kitchen. As I looked at the tablet’s display, it occurred to me that there were differences in the layout now. While the design still retained its cartoonish imagery, there appeared to be something very familiar about the kitchen’s set up that made me rub my eyes. Had there been curtains on the window above the sink? The curtains were rustling but in a realistic way, completely at odds with the look of the game.
Pierre was still slumped on the floor but the blood had stopped flowing. The chest and belly were now red with blood. The cartoon stars were also no longer there. Pierre’s eyes darted furtively from side to side, uncanny in its almost human movement. His beak opened and closed wordlessly. Pierre looked bewildered. My eyes started to dart across the app realizing that the scene before me resembled the kitchen in our home. When that idea clicked, the details of this supposed make-believe stood out and I was able to pick out items that I knew were only a few steps away from me.
Like the dish detergent sitting on the sink, and the ceramic dish with an image of a lighthouse propped by the window sill.
As unbelievable as it was, the Keurig One-Cup I got for Jo was there was well. The details were rendered realistically.
I started to feel dizzy and felt the urge to vomit when Sammy laughed a short harsh bark and watched as she placed a finger against the dished stacked neatly in the open cabinet and slid it across the screen, dropping them on Pierre’s head. At the same instant, the unmistakable sound of breaking glass and porcelain rang loud to the right and behind me. My heart stopped. My mouth ran dry and made it hard to swallow.
Sammy giggled as she grabbed more dishes from the cabinet, dropping them upon Pierre’s head. New rivulets of blood started to flow from the large realistic gashes that appeared on Pierre’s head and face.
Pierre slumped on the floor amidst the broken dishes. I heard a soft thump from the kitchen, sounding like something heavy sliding slowly. A groan escaped from my throat in a thick bubble.
At some point, Sammy realized I was no longer watching her antics. “Daddy!” she yelled, snapping me back to the here and now. “Look at this. This one is my favorite!” Pierre echoed these words with a voice that had lost its high falsetto into something else. It sounded like what happens when you slowly apply pressure to a tape reel, restricting the reel’s spin but not stopping it, causing a winding down sort of sound.
Sammy brought her finger over the knife set. I knew what she intended to do with them but I couldn’t move. I was in a paralysis, brought on by the sheer speed of how things were going from bad to worse, unable to acclimate and adjust, being thrown from one horror to the next, each one worse than the last. It was like I was a passenger in a demented bumper car ride where the point was to smash into my car and my car alone.
She brought her finger down and just when I felt a scream about to escape the knife set disappeared. It was then that I realized that I had been holding my breath. As I exhaled I started to shudder. I closed my eyes and felt a false sense of security. Suddenly Sammy tittered a laugh, a sound that was similar to a discordant wind chime. With plenty of trepidation, I opened my eyes.
In the middle of the screen, was an image of a hand with the index finger pointing out, sliding vertically along an upwards pointed arrow. The words “slide up to throw” pulsed beneath in pale letters. Sammy had been bringing her finger down towards the screen when I uttered a sob. Sammy’s finger stopped hovering over the display.
She then turned towards me and she was no longer Sammy, not the little girl who screamed “Bug!” when a fly looped in the air in front of her. This creature had worn my baby girl’s face like a slip-shod mask, with creases and ridges that belonged to something far older.
Sammy’s features were distended to the point where fissures had appeared in the corners of her mouth and eyes, huge gaping wounds that showed the flesh underneath.
Her eyes were pupil less and diseased. My heart broke at the thought of my little girl being subsumed by this…thing.
This creature licked at what had once been my daughter’s lips with a fat worm-like tongue, gray and coated in pus.
The stench of this creature’s breath was redolent with the rot of things left in the dark. I felt whatever shred of sanity I had snap, and the tenuous hold that I had in believing that this was all a dream vanished. I am now lost to this world as Sammy was lost to me.
Without looking at the tablet in her hand she quickly swiped a finger, a finger still very much Sammy’s, across the screen.
A realistic knife flew from the bottom of the screen towards Pierre, who by now was leaning again against the sink cabinet door.
The knife plunged deep into Pierre’s right shoulder with a meaty thump, quivering as Pierre howled in pain, a sound that made me want to scratch at my skin until I bled. At the same time, I heard a more realistic thump of metal on wood sound coming from the kitchen.
The howl that came right after was very similar to Pierre’s, though tinged with a distinctly female tone. A low crying came soon after followed by a babble that could’ve been words. The creature swiped again, this knife plunging into Pierre’s belly. The shriek from the tablet and the kitchen came simultaneously and it had been hard for me to not just get up and shove this thing off my lap and run. But I couldn’t move, whether it’s from shock or some other reason I did not know. Again and again, the creature swiped the screen, each swipe coming faster and faster. Pierre’s body was starting to look like a pin cushion, his body almost covered in an almost comical amount of knives. Each thud of a knife in Pierre was quickly followed by a similar noise that came from the kitchen. Pierre was groaning, his beak open, allowing a steady stream of blood to pour out and pool on to the floor. Pierre then lifted his head and looked straight at me. “Please,” he said, the effort to speak obviously causing more pain. “Please stop. Why?” With a very slight delay, the very same words floated from the kitchen, creating a sense of vertigo that nearly toppled me over.
I knew. I didn’t really need to get up and walk ten paces to find Jo slumped against the sink cabinet, her face covered in deep gashes and dried blood, her hair matted with more blood and her body peppered by knives. Even if could’ve I wouldn’t have gotten up to do that. I didn’t want the last image of my wife to be that. I didn’t want to see the look on her face; a mixture of fear, incredulity, and confusion. Most of all, I did not want to see the confusion in her eyes, the tears washing some of the blood away from her cheeks. I did not want to look into those eyes that I fell in love with oh so long ago and watch her essence slowly dim and fade like a dying flame until they finally glazed over.
I did not want to see her die because then I would be all alone in this house. But then again…I really wouldn’t be alone. It was still here. It was on my lap.
Besides, there are worst things.
Like when I felt a cold dead hand - small, like Sammy’s had been - grabbing mine.
Like when I felt it as it lifted my hand up and guided it towards the tablet’s surface.
Like when I felt my finger sliding up on its own.
Like when I heard the gurgling sound coming from the other room.
Like the silence that blessedly followed, though it did not come soon enough.
I looked out the window. The sun had hidden behind the clouds. The leaves on the young apple tree rustled in the breeze. I felt its head on my chest, a soft purring I felt more than heard, like a diseased kitten. The small hand was almost gentle when it stroked my cheek.