The picture you’re staring at was taken sometime in the 70’s. It’s the only remaining image I have left of my son, and the artificial being known as “ANTRAN”, whom we adopted into our family at the time.
It was a warm summer back in the mid seventies. I was driving home from my logging company after a long shift, when I had to make a stop at the local garbage tip to drop off some old desks my mother had given us. Something caught the corner of my eye as I bent down, and, upon closer inspection was shocked to see what I originally thought was a doll. A plastic outer shell with metal limbs. And more shockingly a humanoid face, with cold, dark eyes. I’ll be honest to say I was curious at the time and incredibly impressed with the workmanship, so I didn’t think twice before placing it carefully along the back seat of my car, and took it home.
My son’s interest was almost as intense as mine, and we bonded over the course of a few days opening it up, looking at its circuitry and seeing if anything had been misplaced or broken. Eventually, to our surprise, the being, or android, seemed to come to life. Its eyes displayed a somewhat sentient tint to them, its limbs turned, its hands gripped and, after a few moments, it managed to stand on its own accord. Needless to say, we were scared, yet fascinated. Who could have created such a wonderful and remarkable piece of work? I thought to myself.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I realised, this wasn’t a toy, or a doll. It showed incredible signs of intelligence and “thinking” ability. It learned to do everyday things, such as taking the trash out, playing with my son’s toys. He even had a favourite; a small, red car that he’d drive alongside the kitchen counters. It learned to mimic our ways; trying to eat from a fork, despite having no digestive system, moving its mouth, despite lacking the ability to speak. I knew this was something else. Perhaps a military piece of hardware, or a private project. I knew I should have handed him in, but when I watched my boy play with it so happily, his face lit up. I couldn’t do it, he’s always been so lonely, this was one of his only friends, what kind of father would I be to deny him the right of happiness? It couldn’t hurt to allow him to keep it for a while.
We named him “ANTRAN”, which was the print in capitals written in small font across his back. A few months passed quickly, and family life seemed to be improving. He was one of us. My lad’s grades improved, his mood improved, everything was getting better. Until one evening in July. I was sitting in my arm chair, with a beer watching television. My boy and ANTRAN had knelt down on the rug, play fighting with one another, as boys do. When suddenly my attention was drawn to a loud gasp. I looked down and saw my child gripping his arm.
“What’s wrong, Adam?” I asked.
He rolled up his sleeve, and on his arm was a large, red mark covering his forearm. “ANTRAN pinched me,” he replied, in a shaky voice.
The mark was indeed red, it would soon bruise into a swollen, purple lump. My fatherly instincts took over me and, like a parent telling off a naughty child, I shouted at the android. Its cold, metallic face, for a moment, seemed to show genuine sadness and sorrow, as though it didn’t know its own strength, as though it was sorry, its lips moved. Whether it was trying to muster up the words to apoligise through language or merely copying what I was doing, we will never know. Later on in the evening I apologised for the shouting, told it everything was okay, and thought nothing of it.
A few weeks later, my child came into my room, it must have been early morning… My slumber was interrupted by the gentle creaking of my bedroom door.
“Dad,” he whispered.
“Yes, son?” I replied.
“It keeps looking at me.”
“What? What does?” I asked him, through tired eyes.
“ANTRAN. He keeps looking at me, at the end of my bed.”
His voice trembled, fearful. I could tell something wasn’t right. I noticed him rubbing his other arm, and immediately called him over. Pulling up his sleeve my heart sank, more bruises. Must have been four, five all the way up his small arms.
“Take off your shirt, Adam,” I asked, trying to keep calm, I could feel a cocktail of emotions rising within me, panic, fear, anger. He took off his shirt, as the waist pulled over his small head my heart sunk further, and my eyes welled up. Before me, my son stood. His small frame coated in bruises, different sizes, different shades of browns and purples. Immediately I got up and stormed to Adam’s room.
I shouted at the top of my lungs for the being, looking under the bed, out the closed bedroom window. Nothing. Suddenly a loud knock from above us, then hard footsteps.
“It’s in the loft,” I whispered, my eyes to the heavens.
As I paced down the corridor, I noticed the walls on either side of me were coated in scratches all the way up to the now swinging piece of string that leads to the small loft door. Slowly, I pulled it open, telling my scared son to stay where he was… The ladder fell down, and I climbed up. Taking a hold of the torch we left on the side of the opening, I turned it on. Only to find the small window we have in there to be smashed, it had escaped. Immediately I considered calling the emergency services, but who’s going to believe me? A sentient metallic being hurting my child? They’ll take one look at the bruises and they’d have locked me up for abuse. I had no choice but to keep quiet.
Weeks, then months passed. Every time we went outside we noticed ever increasing signs of ANTRAN’S presence, the familiar scratch marks alongside the bricking of my home. Plants had been disturbed, patches of mud leading up to the windows. I feared for my son. Taking him to and from school, never letting him out of my sight. What had caused this sudden hostility towards us? Had we done it wrong? Was it my shouting? I found myself speaking out loud in the evenings, apologizing to the walls, to an empty room in the hopes ANTRAN would hear, hoping he would stop the taunting, the endless stalking of my home. But my attempts were in vain, if I had known what would come, I wouldn’t have slept that night.
My sleep was once again disturbed, though this time by a bloodcurdling scream. My eyes darted open, and immediately, almost as a natural instinct I rushed to my son’s room. It was too late, the room had been turned upside down, everything was on the floor, the bed sheets ripped and his window smashed. I burst into tears, screaming at the top of my voice for my son back. I called the police, telling them my son had been kidnapped, they asked if I had seen the culprit, I lied and said I hadn’t, hoping the images of my son would be enough. Like they’d believe that this “doll” was sentient, harmful. For the next few days I cried myself to sleep, sobbing like a child. Life wasn’t worth living anymore, I wish I had never found that… THING… I betrayed my son’s trust in me as a father, to protect him and now I pay the price.
It was a September dawn, sat in my armchair, drinking. When I heard the pantry door creak open.
“Adam?!” I called… Rushing to the kitchen.
Except, there on the kitchen counter, ANTRAN’S favourite, red, toy car.