Reading Sundays: SHADES OF UNREALITY (Part 9), a short story by Cynthia Sally Haggard

I peered in. There were various things sticking up in a container to one side. Were these weapons? Perhaps they were specially shaped arrows, or knives. Whatever they were, they did not perturb Augustus, who shut the door and pressed a disc marked Power. It played a descending major triad in reply.

“It sings,” I exclaimed, relief making me smile.“How did you know what to do?”

“I pushed the button marked Power.”

“Can folk read?”

“Everyone reads,” sneered Pandora. “Surely you know that.”

“In my time, folk could not read.”

You lived during the Dark Ages.”

I opened my mouth to reply, when Augustus interrupted.

“There are several different kinds of cleaning you can do.” He indicated a row of buttons. “These dishes aren’t really dirty, so I’ll press the button that says Normal Wash.”

As he pressed another silver disc, the silver box sighed, like a reluctant maid rising from her bed of a morning.

“It sighs as it cleans,” I remarked. “Clearly the creature lives.”

“It’s just a machine,” said Pandora. “Look at it, it’s made of metal. If you touch it, it feels cold.”

By way of response, I felt her orange fur. “You have not the warmth of a living being,” I said into those sea-green eyes that stared at me unblinkingly. “By your argument, you’re not alive. Of what substance are you made?”

She thumped her tail, and glowered.

“Pandora and I are just stuffed toys,” said Augustus.

“But you can speak,” I said. “Have you souls?”

“What’s that?” asked Augustus.

“’Tis the living spark that you carry with you after death,” I replied. “’Tis that very part of you that never dies. Your soul is marked by your actions in life, and God judges the state of your soul after death.”

Pandora yawned hugely into my face. “Who cares about that?” she observed. “I believe in living in the here-and-now. If we don’t do something, Roomba and Scooba will go to Parliament and get their rights and we’ll have nothing. We need to go to Whitehall.”

I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to help that irritating cat, not to mention those platter-shaped beings, but my husband Richard had fought hard for the people’s rights in the Land of England all those years ago. Folk called him The People’s Champion. Mayhap, my task now was to help these creatures, these strange non-people beings who could talk and move around rooms as if they were alive and could exercise Free Will. I drew myself up…[Continued next week.]