On the opposite side of his bedroom, there's a closet that's missing both of its sliding doors. Various athletic equipment such as basketballs, tennis rackets, a baseball glove, and everything you need to suit up for football is stacked up and spilling out. All untouched gifts from his father and all of it covered under layers of settled dust. Beneath the bed are stacks Victoria Secret catalogs and Sports Illustrated swim suit issues he carefully organized in a rating system of personal favorites. Unlike the sports equipment this collection of periodicals gets his private attention on a daily basis.
I admit, it's sad that Frank's imaginary best friend isn't a person. Instead, he conjured me up, a shiny metallic robot he calls Hot Dog. He gave me life when he was only three years old, and that was thirteen years ago. I grow as he grows, and as of now, I'm three-quarters his size. I didn't start like this. When he invented me, I was smaller than an apple. As the years passed I grew comparably larger, and so has my presence in his life. I'm not just a fun pretend playmate anymore. His future and limitless potential are in my hands -- and my debatable existence is in his.
This kid embodies the perfect combination of pure brilliance with unstoppable work ethic, but today distraction holds him hostage. Every minute or so his attention gets pulled towards his unmade bed, where I lean against the wall with my legs crossed. I catch him stealing glances at me. His huge eyes are made bigger by his thick glasses and thin, angular face. His defined jaw line and cheekbones pop out more than they should. He's never shown much interest in eating, too busy thinking about computer code and robots.
"Alright Frank, what is it? What's going on?" I ask
"What do you mean?" He swivels around in his computer chair, the frayed edges of the seat cushion flying outward like the spokes on a windmill.
"What's on your mind?" I ask leaning forward.
"Nothing." He averts his eyes, but I know the kid better than anyone, and I can tell when he's lying.
"Tell me now, or I'll go inside your head and take it."
We both know, unless Frank uses all of his concentration to force me out I can enter his head and see everything. There's nothing he can hide from me.
He lets out a long breath of air before answering.
"They say I should get my eye fixed."
His eyes are two different colors. One is light brown, the other a sizzling neon blue.
I understand why his parents are concerned. He's short, scrawny, and as pale as a glass of milk. His teeth are the worst part. They're mangled. They're all different colors of white, yellow, light brown and some are even grey -- and they're all doing their own thing, moving different directions. They remind me of a diverse group of people at a dance party. Well I'm just guessing here, what a dance party would look like. Frank has never attended any kind of social function.
He might as well put a sign on his forehead saying, "Please bully me."
The hardest part is when I see his father trying not to look at him.
"Uh," Frank lets out a sigh and his chin tremors. "They're taking me to the doctor tomorrow."
"They sprung it on you out of nowhere?" I ask.
They're lying. They want to dumb him down to their low pathetic level. I will not let that happen.
I get the sole privilege of surveying his subconscious. Not only do I protect him from his parents, but also from his own wild imagination. He's not ready for all this unconstrained genius still sleeping in his head -- not yet. It would make him go crazy and fall completely into the deep end of madness. He instinctively created me for his own safety and sanity. Tonight, something new invades his dreams. His brain is trying to establish connections between common variables in computer code, working algorithms procedures, and organic chemical compounds -- a frightful development. I knew Frank would make enormous gains in robotic programming and artificial intelligence, but it would appear my little Frankie has more going on in his tiny little head than I thought. If he can build a bridge connecting artificial intelligence and living organisms, he could be a danger to humanity. He might actually be able to build people and make them in a lab.
When he sleeps, I'm able to sit in his bright blue eye. I observe everything coming and going in his mind -- until these new imaginings marched in. I'm the one that keeps the peace inside Frank's head, as best I can. I'm not going to freak out. Not yet. Hopefully, this will be a onetime fluke occurrence.
Could there be somebody else in here with us -- another friend?
Are you cheating on me, Frank? Or are you just evolving and growing into your own somewhat scary potential?
"Hey, Hot Dog."
"So, what happened, Frank?" I stand up and ask.
"Well, we went to the doctor."
He talks so slow and mopey I just want to smack him.
"My parents lied. The visit wasn't about my eye."
"I'm not surprised."
Frank's mouth falls open, and his eyes widened. I'm constantly a step ahead of him, and it always surprises him.
"They made me take tests. They also talked about my grades, then showed videos of me at school sitting alone talking to myself. The doctor said, 'This -- is very concerning.'"
I knew something like this would happen. I should've gone along.
His brow wrinkles and eyes widen revealing the tiny bit of hope that hides behind. "Mom said some of my test scores were off the charts, that no one's ever done that well."
"So, what's the problem?"
Before answering he studies me for a long moment, and I can guess what's coming. He's always making upgrades to my outer hardware, and I love it. I can feel the mechanisms in my hip joints transforming. I'm numb for a second then -- I'm standing with easier balance. I move a little smoother in either direction with added mobility. My backside is a little bit fuller giving me a slightly lower center of gravity. I look at my arms and legs and they've remained as they were -- lanky with oversized joints popping out.
The worst part about being an imaginary friend is you don't get to see what all of you looks like. I don't have a good relationship with mirrors -- they never acknowledge me.
"When she said that the doctor stopped what he was doing and stared her down, I thought they'd be proud."
His chin falls to his chest, and he looks at the floor. How can one poor kid be so self-conscious he can't look his imaginary robot friend in the eye?
"They went on to say it's great that I'm the smartest, but it probably won't do me any good. The doctors said people like me can be extremely successful and still stay isolated, or completely fail and end up on drugs, poor, homeless, or in prison. They want to give me medicine to help me keep my head on straight. It's called trifluoper-somethin.' They say it will keep my thoughts from drifting and push away the imaginary voices I hear. It'll help me relate to other kids and be happy. I'll be able to relax and think about other stuff besides writing code and making robots."
He stops, stares at me for a moment, his shoulders slumped forward.
"I just wonder what it's like to be normal." As the pitiful sentence ends, he talked slower and . . . slower.
"Well, I'm sure being normal is overrated," I retort.
I thought people who love you don't try to change you. But alas, what do I know, I'm just an imaginary robot?
"And besides, this is one step away from a legalized lobotomy. You are not doing this -- no way -- out of the question." I throw my mechanical hand up as if I can stop traffic with it.
"Uh," he let out another sigh, "you're only saying that because you might go bye-bye and be gone forever."
"Listen kid. I'm not going anywhere. I've been with you for thirteen years I'm not leaving."
I'm lying. If you go through with this, I'm a goner. I'm the voices in your head.
He stares back at me -- like he can't decide whether to smile or not.
"Do you think being normal is going to make you happy?" I ask.
"Well, according to the brochure it will."
"Well, according to the brochure it will," I repeat back, mocking his tone.
He takes the pamphlet out of his pocket and spreads it out in front of us because he knows I can't touch or pick it up.
I look at it for a moment and try my best not to laugh. It's filled with attractive twenty-something white people with a few slightly ethnic tokens thrown in. They're playing volley ball, surfing, or holding hands on the beach. They're having a real swell time with huge ridiculous smiles that might as well be painted on. There's even a couple riding horse-back with sweaters tied loosely around their necks.
"Frank," I shake my head and try not to laugh, "I hate to tell you this but, drugs or no drugs, you're not going to fit in with these kinds of people. But don't get me wrong son, that's a good thing."
"Hot Dog," he says flopping down on his bed. "I love you to death. You're my only friend, so don't take this the wrong way, but it might be fun to make a friend who's an actual person. Not one who lives in my head."
"Not my fault," I sing. "You've had plenty of chances to meet people. You go to school five days a week for over ten years now.
Frank's mouth hangs open as he searches for words, so I continue to try and talk some sense into him.
"Yes, the other kids ignore you. If you let your parents do this to you, you'll fit in for now, but in the end, you'll end up like your parents -- average."
"I don't like -- "
"And to be honest," I say cutting him off, "your parents are a lot less than average."
"I want friends. I want the phone to ring, and for it to be for me. Is that asking too much? For someone to call me and invite me to go on a picnic?"
"Picnics? Who the hell goes on picnics?"
"Millions of people every day." He seems to have gone into a daze as he stares at the ceiling.
I try to be patient with him, "Frank, I know the kids ignore you now, but if you do what your parents want guess who will ignore you later?"
I walk towards him.
"You know all those beautiful women in the magazines under your bed that you like to take with you in the bathroom? That's who."
"Well, mom says if you love someone and you're nice to them good things will happen, and they'll love you back."
He sounds like he's trying to convince himself.
"Do you really believe that shit, Frank?"
"It could happen." Frank pouts and props himself up on his elbows.
"It could happen" Again I mock him. "Do you think beautiful women care about janitors and shit shovelers?"
"How would you know? You are not real." He points his finger at me and glares. Perfect, you're getting a bit fired up.
"What the hell difference does it make? I'm the one watching out for you. And I'll tell you something else, beautiful women, and everybody else only care about one thing." I raise my index finger.
"Oh yeah, Mr. Brainiac? What's that?" He snaps back.
"Because, that's the way the world is. Listen to me -- I suppose your father is an alright guy. He doesn't beat you or anything. But he works at the waste recycling plant. The man moves poop from point A to point B." I explain while moving my mechanical hands from one side of the bedroom to the other.
Frank's mouth is open -- he's waiting for more.
"I'm sorry son, but he's a shit shoveler. Do you want to shovel shit, because that's where you're headed?" I point at him. "Now your mom, she might be the sweetest woman in the world -- but Frankie, you don't want to end up like her either. She's an ex-stripper who was charged with prostitution a half dozen times before she called it quits, so who knows who your biological father is. Now she's a maid at the Motel 6, and that's the best thing that's ever happened to her."
His eyes well up, and his jaw clenches. I wish I didn't bring up the subject of his mystery father.
"Are you real?" He tilts his head, and his eyes squint a tiny bit.
"Maybe I am, and maybe I'm not. What difference does it make?"
"Well, why would I listen to you if you're not real? You're just a pretend robot who only comes out when I want you to."
"You're right. I'm not real. But you don't need to rub it in my face like that." I kick the ball of my foot against the dusty carpeting.
Frank looks down at his feet. I can tell he feels sorry about what he said. "I'm sorry, Hot Dog."
If I play like you hurt my poor little robot feelings, you always back down.
"Here's the thing, Frank. I can be real. All you need to do is keep going on the course you're on and don't get distracted. You can't worry about what other people think, or if other people are going to laugh at you. You need to decide what your life is going to be." I throw my hands up square in his face, and I can see I have his attention.
"I don't understand, what do you mean, you can be real?" Frank asks.
"What I mean is, you can do it. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow but you can do it. See Frank -- that's what you need to believe. We can't always do what we want when we want, and that is when we need to tell ourselves it's possible. We both know this is what you're supposed to do. It's called, destiny."
"Hot Dog." He stares at me with a blank face and a straight mouth. "What the hell, are you talking about?"
I pull him up by his shoulders and give him a slight shake as I answer.
"I can be real. You can make -- me real. Frank, you can build me."
He stares at me for the longest moment I can remember, then tears roll down his pale face. "But once I build you out here," he motions to space that surrounds him. "There probably won't be room for you in here." He points to his head and his beautiful blue eye. "But you're right. I need you in my life -- now. But my brain is changing. I can't explain it, but I can feel it." He squints for a second and bites his bottom lip. "I feel it when I'm sleeping."
I love this kid so much, and even though it will be a while before he grows up, I have to let him go and then that will be it for me. But that's okay, because my job, my only job right now, is to protect my beloved Frankie.
My name is Brian Hogan
I hope you enjoy my first published work ever, "Frank and Hot Dog." In the late 80's I became obsessed with a television show called Star Trek Next Generation. Shortly thereafter I discovered The Twilight Zone both of which I still love to this day. At one point, I had an entire seasons of these shows on tape. That was the beginning of my love affair with science fiction. Prior to that in my grade school years, I played what could be considered an unhealthy amount of Dungeons & Dragons.
I grew up and became a professional musician/drummer. I used to be in a band that traveled quite a bit, and if we weren't taking long drives, we would fly to gigs. On these flights, I got so sick of watching horrible romantic comedies!
Sooo . . . one day I picked up "The Sword of Shannara" and was instantly addicted! It was the first book I ever read twice.
Next to Star Trek, Shannara was the first fantasy world I ever analyzed and became came completely engrossed in. I studied the timeline looked at the maps and all that good stuff. I've done the same thing with the Star Trek relaunch novels.
If I don't read a Star Trek novel every couple of months, I start to get kind of jittery. But more importantly than any of that a year and a half ago I became a father!
Feel free to email me at email@example.com
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