Author : Ken McGrath

“Herbie, are you okay? I heard a gun.”

“It’s nothing. Get back in the house.”

“But I heard…”

“What did I say?” he roared, face flushed red behind a bushy, brown beard.

Herbert rolled his eyes. He’d have to teach her another lesson now too when he got back inside. Reloading the shotgun he squinted, staring into the trees down at the end of the garden, as if trying to see through them. He was sure that was the direction he’d seen the robot scurry off in.

Slowly, carefully he moved down the lawn, keeping the gun pointed downwards but ready to swing up in a lethal arc if needed. At least the grass was short and dry, they’d had a few sunny days last week and he’d taken the lawnmower to it. He’d grumbled unmercifully at the time but was certainly glad now.

A couple of yards from the evergreens he paused, listening. There to his left, something scurrying away through the shadows.

He raised the gun, focusing his sight down the barrel, trying to make out distinct shapes amongst the thin but plentiful branches hanging only centimetres from the ground. That was another job that needed doing too, trimming those back and the fence needed fixing as well obviously.

There was a click and a tiny pin-prick of red lit up, followed immediately by a mechanical howl as the robot lunged out of the undergrowth. Herbert let off a round almost by instinct and was rewarded with an immediate, satisfying bang as the shot collided with metal and plastic. The robot spun in midair its front left flank pierced and spewing oil. It landed heavily and Herbert was at it before it could compute what had happened, letting the remaining shot loose into its slender head, right through the Apparatus Animals logo.

The dog-like facial features fractured and tore, gears grated and caught, grinding with a painful noise that put his teeth on edge. The heel of his boot brought that to an end as he ground and twisted until the machine stopped moving.

Shouldering the gun he turned back to the house, he’d clear the remains later. Now through there was something that needed doing.

He banged heavily on the door.

“Christine. Open up.”

The latch was slid back and the door opened revealing the terrified face of his sister.

“It’s okay sweetie, I got him,” he said stepping inside and setting the bolt.

She looked at him with those child-like eyes set in an adult face and his heart broke knowing she’d never be able to fully understand what was happening.

“I didn’t mean to shout, but you remember what the man from the factory said? Those robot dogs are dangerous and not for playing with. When you see one you have to come straight inside and let me know. What do you do?”

“Come straight inside and let you know,” she echoed.

“Very good. It’ll only be for a few more days, until they round up the last of the strays that got out.” He let out a deep sigh. It was impossible to gauge how much of that had registered. “I’ll make us some hot chocolate. How does that sound?”

Christine’s face lit up and she wandered happily back to the table and her crayons. Herbert knew she’d be drawing pictures of doggies for the rest of the day and tonight she probably wouldn’t be able to sleep.

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