Bewildering Stories

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The Remote Controlled Man

by Christopher Fulbright

Suzy already had the old cordless phone taken apart. Dad hadn’t missed the microphone she took from the entertainment center, and he thought the remote control was just lost beneath the cushions again. She needed to take apart the television panel, the cable box, and the stereo.

Of course, all that disassembly was the easy part for Suzy, who spent a good portion of her summer vacation inside watching the science channel. Daddy left her at home every day during the summer while he went to work, because she was a big girl now — eight years old — so she would just wait until he finished his breakfast, rinsed out his cup of coffee, and gave her a kiss on the forehead. “Be good,” he’d say.

“Do you have to go to work today, Dad?” She’d say with a tear in her eye.

“Yes, honey, I’m sorry. I have to work and make money to pay bills. We can’t afford day care.”


“And you don’t like it anyway. Look, sweetie, you have the whole day to yourself. You can do anything you set your mind to.” He’d smile and pat her head, but not without a little tear in his own eye. “Don’t answer the door for strangers. Goodbye, sweetheart, I’ll see you at five thirty.”

He’d step out the door, and Suzy would sit there for a minute, feeling like crying. Then she’d mope over to the TV and turn on some cartoons. Soon, her sadness would turn to resolve and she would resume her project.

Today was different, though. Today, all of her work would pay off: her invention was almost complete. Dad had scarcely closed and locked the door before she grabbed a screwdriver and a hammer and went to work. It didn’t take long for her to reduce the last of the electronic equipment she needed to shambles. Broken bits of plastic and unnecessary components lay in splinters on the blue rug. She dropped the hammer and the screwdriver into the mess and took the good parts, the parts she needed to finish her project: The Marvelous Remote Control. It said so, more or less, on the plastic casing where she’d painted in pink. Each of the buttons on the face had been painted over and renamed; WALK, STOP, EAT, DRIVE, TALK, MUTE, KISS, HUG, PLAY, and BEDTIME.

Suzy removed the plastic face to add a final component. She touched a wire to the circuit board and soldered. The finishing touch. She let it cool and put away the soldering iron. She snapped the cover on with a smile, and then reached under the bed for the magic wand she had wrapped in a silk handkerchief. It was really magic; the old man at Zeezo’s Magic Palace said so.

“Never reveal its secret,” the bald old man had whispered. He smelled funny and scared Suzy, but he knew magic, magic with cards, and birds, and balls, and bunnies. When Dad bought her the magic wand, the old man had taken her back behind the counter so Dad couldn’t hear.

“The magic word,” he said into her ear, “is Athanatos.”


“Ahh-Than-It-Toes,” he repeated.

She got it right and the old man sent them on their way, Dad thanking the old man with a nod and a wave...

Oooh! Dad, she remembered, would be home at 5:00, and the clock said 4:20.

Suzy took the magic wand from the red silk handkerchief and let it fall to the bed. She waved the magic wand around for a minute, just testing it out. She hadn’t used it for anything before, afraid it might have some kind of charge or something, and she wanted to make sure The Marvelous Remote Control would work.

You can do anything you set your mind to, Dad said in her head.

She was convinced it would work.

Suzy formed the magic word in her mind and waved the wand over her greatest creation.

“Ahh-Than-It-Toes!” Suzy said.

She kept a close eye on the remote control. It sat there, still snapped together. It didn’t glow, or hover, or twirl around, or anything. Suzy looked at the wand, shook it a little bit. Maybe she hadn’t done it right.

She waved the magic wand over her maybe not-so-great creation. “Ahh-Than-It-Toes!” She said again. And again, no remarkable response from the remote control.

“All right,” Suzy said aloud. She poked it with the end of the magic wand. “Maybe third time’s a charm,” she muttered.

This time she went about it just a little bit differently. Suzy held both of her arms up, straight up to the sky. She closed her eyes and closed them tight. She puffed out her chest and held her breath, and in her mind’s eye she saw all the great and wonderful things she and Daddy would do if only this would work.

All at once she let go of her breath and brought down her arms in a sweep, aiming the magic wand and screaming: “Ahh-Than-It-Toes!”

She was dizzy. As soon as she let out her breath and came down on her feet the room spun a little bit and she had to catch herself on the bed. The Marvelous Remote Control bounced to the floor into a pile of electrical components and lay there, face down. She looked at for a minute.

“Okay,” she said to her messy room. “We’ll just have to give it a try.”

Suzy took the Marvelous Remote Control into the living room and waited, kind of wishing she hadn’t broken the TV. Oh well, it was the price she had to pay and, heck, what did she care about TV anymore anyway? This was going to be the best summer ever! Dad would never leave for work again! They could sit around and play games and eat junk food, and do whatever she wanted.

Oh yeah, this was going to be great!

She could hear the rumble of Dad’s truck engine as he pulled into his space at the bottom of the stairs. Suzy hopped up and went into her bedroom to look out the window. He was home! She ran back into the living room as soon as Dad’s footsteps pounded on the lower stairs. She could hear him wipe his big leather work boots on the mat out front, then the jingle of his keys in the lock. The deadbolt slid open and there he was, big and lovable.

He looked at Suzy with surprise.

“Hi honey,” he said. “Come ’ere and gimme a hug.”

Suzy didn’t even have to press a button on the Marvelous Remote Control yet: she always got a hug first thing when Daddy got home.

“Oh, sweetheart - you’re squishin’ me. Are you hungry? Did you make yourself a PBJ?”

“No Dad, I made this!” Suzy held up the Remote Control triumphantly. “Watch!”

And just as Dad reached for the Remote Control Suzy took a step back and pressed the PLAY button.

Dad froze. He was like a ’partment store mannequin for a minute.

Suzy stopped breathing. Her jaw dropped, and the Remote Control almost fell from her hand. She couldn’t believe it!

A dark flash moved across Dad’s eyes then, she was sure of it. When he started moving again, he ruffled her hair and smiled, then went to the closet where they kept Electronic Battleship. “Would you like to play a game, sweetheart?” Dad said.

It worked!

They played Battleship. They played War, and Poker, and Old Maid. They hugged and snuggled on the couch, and Dad kissed her head all night. They made it until about 3:00 in the morning before Dad started mumbling and his head nodded from being so tired. Suzy was pretty tired too. She’d thought she would want to stay up all night and play with Dad, but she just couldn’t make it. Finally, she pressed the BEDTIME button, and Dad wandered off to the bedroom, collapsing into the bed.

Suzy went in after him and propped up his feet and took off his work boots. She pulled up his covers and patted him on the head, ruffling his hair. “I love you, Dad. G’night.”

Suzy went to sleep in her messy room, dreaming of Dad walking around like a mannequin zombie. She woke up once at 5:00, and then again at 6:00, and finally went in to sleep with Dad on his bed at 6:30. She hugged him and slept until 9:00, when the sun was shining in the bedroom window, reflecting off Dad’s picture of a ’69 Corvette, flashing right in her eyes.

She sat up and rubbed sleep out of her eyes. Dad was still sleeping soundly next to her. The Marvelous Remote Control lay on the corner of the bed at her feet. She looked at Dad again, realizing he hadn’t gotten up to get ready for work. Then all the excitement from yesterday evening flooded back into her when she realized what had happened – the Remote Control, the Marvelous Remote Control, had worked! Dad would stay home with her all day today!

She hopped out of bed and went into the kitchen, climbing on the countertop to pull down two bowls. She filled them with cereal and milk, then stuck two spoons into the cereal. She put the bowls on the table, and carried the Remote Control back into the bedroom. Originally she hadn’t planned to go to sleep at all, but that was okay, they could...

Suzy stood next to the bed looking down at the Remote Control. Her mind drew a blank for a minute. She read all of the buttons.


“No,” she said.

Her heart was beating faster, and she looked at Dad, snoring away in bed.

“Dad!” She yelled. “Dad, wake up!”

She started to shake, and although Suzy was by no means a crybaby, tears started to well up in her eyes, and a big sore lump rose in her throat.

“Daddieeee!” She cried. She looked again at the Remote Control, but it was no use... she had forgotten to make a button to wake him up.

Suzy hugged her Dad as he snored, completely unwilling – no matter how hard she shook him – to wake up.

Suzy spent a good part of the morning sobbing and sniffling, and almost called 911 before she had an idea. Maybe, if she took the Marvelous Remote Control apart... or just broke it, maybe then Dad would wake up. Of course, if she broke the Remote Control, she wouldn’t be able to use it... if she just took it apart, then she could repair it, and make a WAKE UP button.

That settled it. Suzy took the Remote Control into her room. She used the screwdrivers that were still sitting there from yesterday to take off the back. She unscrewed the Phillips head screws that held the green electronic card on, with all the buttons on the other side. She popped out the batteries and set them aside, working fast.

Before long, Dad’s snoring in the next room stopped. Suzy stopped working. Her ears perked. She heard the sheets rustling. Dad’s voice, soft and tired: “Suzy?”

Suzy hopped up off the floor and ran into Dad’s bedroom to give him a big hug. “Honey,” he stood up, “Hold on,” and he went quickly into the bathroom where he stayed for a few minutes. Another button she realized she had forgotten.

Suzy went into the living room to wait for Dad. While she sat there, she realized she was probably in trouble. Maybe even big trouble. Dad was late for work. His boss would be angry and they wouldn’t be able to pay bills.

Suzy felt the lump come back to her throat, and just as the toilet flushed and Dad walked into the room, Suzy threw herself on the couch face down, crying. Dad came over to her. She cringed, knowing he would yell...

Instead, he said softly, “Honey,” he touched her hair and lifted her head. She buried herself in him.

“I-I’m sorry, Daddieeee... I-I just wa-wanted you to stay here and pl play with me... sniff... I mu-made a ‘mote control...”

“Remote control...” Dad said, voice trailing off, as if remembering something. “Sweetheart,” he said softly. “What happened?”

“I-I made it so you wouldn’t go...” She sniffled and rubbed huge tears out of her eyes with the backs of her fists. “I’m sorry Daddy... I just didn’t want you to leave me here by myself again... I... miss you.”

“Ohh,” Dad looked at her, and Suzy thought he might cry too. He gave her a big hug, as big as any he’d given her last night when she pushed the button. “God,” he said. Then he was quiet while he held her. “Sweetheart... how ’bout if I take the day off today? You and me can go to the mall and the skating rink and watch the ice skaters, and maybe get some ice cream.”

“Yeah!” Suzy sniffled and smiled. “I’m really sorry, Daddy. I love you.”

“That’s okay,” he said. “I love you, too. But first tell me something, honey... Where’d you put that remote control?”

Copyright © 2003 by Christopher Fulbright

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