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Igms issue 4, p.13

IGMS Issue 4, page 13


IGMS Issue 4

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  Deb was about to answer when she realized that her mom was talking to the doll. Deborah Jean? Deb thought. It must have been a slip. A stupid slip. "Fine," she muttered as she went upstairs to get ready for bed. "If that's what she wants. Just fine. They can have each other."

  She stomped down the hall to the bathroom. When she finished brushing her teeth, she walked into her room.

  Jean was sitting on her bed. Deb froze in the doorway. Down the hall, she could hear her mom in her own bedroom. "I'll be there in a minute to say goodnight," her mom called.

  Deb sat at the foot of the bed, far from Jean. Her mother came in and said good night to them, looking straight at the doll the whole time. As soon as her mom left, Deb tossed Jean up onto her shelf. Hard. She smiled at the sound of the doll's head smacking against the wall.

  Sleep tight, Deb thought as she crawled under the covers.

  Deb woke in the middle of the night with a headache. She knew, without checking, that Jean was tucked in next to her again. Deb closed her eyes, curled up with her back to the doll, and tried to sleep.

  The next day, after school, Deb had an idea. She'd fix things so Jean didn't look like her any more. Then her mother would snap out of this weirdness. "Shock her right out of it," she said as she went to the kitchen and grabbed a knife.

  "Plastic surgery," she muttered. She was halfway to the couch when her mom's scream locked her in her tracks.

  "What are you doing?" her mom asked, pointing at the knife.

  Deb shrugged and tossed out the first lie that came to mind. "Nothing. I was just going to trim her hair. The bangs are too long."

  "With that? Have you lost her mind." Her mom snatched the doll from the couch and wrapped her arms tightly around it, cradling the doll against her chest. "There, there," she crooned. "It's all right."

  Deb turned away and went back to the kitchen. With each step she took, her chest felt tighter. She was so upset, she could hardly breathe. She put the knife back in the drawer, then sat at the table.

  A while later, she heard steps.

  "Deborah Jean forgives you," her mom said. "She's very understanding. Everyone says she's a perfect doll."

  Deb nodded, but didn't look up at them. She heard her mom put the doll on a chair. Her own breath came more easily now.

  "I don't want her in my room tonight," Deb said.

  "Sure you do," her mother said. "Besides -- it's her room, too."

  "No it isn't!" Deb stood up and faced her mother. "It's my room. She's a doll! She isn't real!"

  Her mom reached out and placed her hands over the doll's ears. "Ssshhhhh. I don't know what's come over you."

  Deb stormed out of the house. She walked aimlessly for blocks, dreaming of how she was going to destroy the doll. The house was dark when she got home. Her mother had gone to bed. She didn't even wait up for me, Deb thought.

  Upstairs, in her room, the doll waited for her. It was on her bed, tucked under the blanket. Deb's favorite bracelet was fastened around the doll's neck. Her mom must have put it there.

  "Enough!" Deb said. She raced across the room and grabbed the doll. She fumbled with the catch on the bracelet, them stopped. She was afraid that she'd break it. There was an easier way to get it off. A much more satisfying way. She twisted the doll's head, eager to rip it right off the body. In her mind, she saw herself throwing the head through her window. In her mind, she saw herself screaming at her mother, telling her how wrong all of this was. In her mind, she saw the world returning to the way it once had been.

  In her neck, she felt a slash of tearing pain that hurt her beyond anything she could imagine.

  The doll dropped from her fingers and fell to the bed. Deb staggered back, grabbing her injured throat. She crashed into the wall, then sank to the floor. A weak gasp came from her lips. She couldn't raise her voice beyond a whisper. The pain and damage was too great. She couldn't even turn her head to the front. On the bed, she saw the doll, it's head twisted at an unnatural angle.

  "Deb!" her mother cried, racing into the room.

  Deb reached out a hand and mouthed the word, "Neck."

  Her mother sped past her. She grabbed the doll and cradled it in her arms. "Yes, your poor neck. How awful. Oh dear. Don't worry, I'll get you taken care of. You'll be fine. You'll be just fine. I promise."

  She rushed from the room, still talking to the doll. "Don't worry. I know someone who can fix you. She lives right across town."

  Deb, struggling to swallow, watched her go. A half hour later, as she sat on the floor in a corner of her room, her neck suddenly felt better. She knew the doll had been repaired.

  Her mom would be back, soon. Her mom and Deborah Jean. Perfect Deborah Jean who never disobeyed. Who never sulked or pouted. Who never grew older. "No," she said aloud. "I'm Deb. She's just a doll. I'm Deb. Not her. Me."

  But even to her own ears, her voice sounded flat and empty. Not human, really. Not very much alive at all.

  Big Otto's Casino

  by David Lubar

  Artwork by Lance Card

  * * *

  "Thanks, Mrs. Zambini," I said as my last customer of the day paid me. Phew. I'd been mowing lawns all week and I was beat. But now for the good part -- spending the money.

  I stopped at my friend Mike's house on the way into town. It's even more fun spending money when you bring someone along. We headed for Video Kingdom. They had a great selection of games, and the prices were pretty good.

  "Watcha gonna get?" Mike asked as we walked into the store.

  "I think Destructo III," I said. "I heard it has twice as much blood splatter as Destructo II."


  And that's what I picked from the shelves when we got to the store. It looked fabulous.

  Check this out," Mike said, grabbing a box from the bottom shelf. "Big Otto's Casino. And it's only five bucks."

  I shook my head. "At that price, it has to stink."

  "I don't know," Mike said. "Remember Space Masher? That was only eight bucks"

  "Yeah, and it was pretty good." I held my hand out for the box. "Let me see."

  Mike passed the box to me. I checked the screen shots on the back. The graphics actually looked pretty good. And I had enough money for both games. "Sure," I said. "Why not."

  So I bought both games and took them home. We played Destructo III until Mike got tired of me ripping his arms off -- I was a lot better at it than he was.

  Then I put in Big Otto's Casino. The title screen came up with a picture of Otto. He was a fat, ugly guy with a cigar clamped in his mouth. "Welcome," he said in a raspy voice. "Nice ta meetcha. C'mon in."

  The game started. I led my guy into the casino and played a slot machine. Before I knew it, I'd lost the hundred dollars I started with. But a screen popped up:


  Press START to borrow money

  Press X to quit


  I pressed START and got another hundred dollars. It didn't last much longer than the first. I tried blackjack, which I sort of understood. And craps, which is what they call dice. I got a kick out of the name, but I had no idea what I was doing.

  "Let me try," Mike said as the money screen came up again.

  "In a minute." I wasn't ready to give up. I knew I could win. My luck had to change sooner or later. This time, I lost my money playing roulette and the poker machines.

  "Man," Mike said, shaking his head, "what's the point?"

  "I don't know." Maybe he was right. This did seem kind of pointless.

  "Game over." Mike reached for the power switch.

  "Hold it," I said, grabbing his arm. "I want to try just one more time." I got another hundred dollars. I did a bit better this time. I still lost, but the money lasted longer.

  "This is getting boring," Mike said. "Come on, let's go outside."

  I shook my head. I'd been outside all week mowing lawns. Summer was half over, and that was about all I'd done. I was ready to take a break for the next month and just enjoy myself. I
had enough games to keep me happy for a while. "I'm going to stick with it until I win," I said.

  "Give it up," Mike said.

  I shook my head. "Not yet. I can beat this thing. I know I can. I just need to figure out the right strategy."

  I kept playing. Sometime that evening, I guess Mike left. I really can't remember when. But I was getting better. Really. I lasted a lot longer before I had to borrow more money. One time, I even won a couple hundred from a slot machine. But then I blew it all again, trying to make up for everything I'd lost earlier.

  I fell asleep for a while in front of the game. When I woke up, I played some more. I was really getting good. Even so, I was down to my last five dollars. I bet it at roulette and lost.

  No big deal. I could borrow more and play again.

  But the usual screen didn't come up. Instead, I saw another message in flashing red letters. It just said: CREDIT LIMIT REACHED.

  That couldn't be the end. I hit the X button. The screen didn't change. I hit START. I didn't mind starting over. Nothing happened. I tried all the buttons. Nothing. I guess the game froze.

  As I reached to unplug the machine, the doorbell rang.

  I got up, and nearly fell flat on my face before I could take a step. My legs were stiff from sitting so long. The bell rang again.

  I staggered down the stairs and opened the door.

  It was Big Otto.

  "You owe us money," he said, speaking through the cigar he had clamped in his jaw. It really stunk. He pulled out a notebook. "Here we go. Ethan Spangler -- two thousand dollars."

  I took a step back and shook my head. "I don't owe you anything. It was just a game."

  Otto laughed. "Don't try to back out now. We can make it very unpleasant for people who refuse to pay their debts." He grabbed the doorknob. With a flick of his wrist, he snapped it off. He took a bite out of it and spat the metal onto the porch. Then he grinned.

  "Look -- I'm just a kid," I told him. "I don't have any money."

  Otto kept grinning. "That's okay, kid. You can work off your debt by mowing my lawn."

  "No way." I'd already mowed enough lawns for one summer. "I'm not going to do it."

  "I'll bet you will."

  I started to say something, but I realized this would be a good time to take a break from betting. Besides, one more lawn wouldn't kill me.

  "Might as well get started," Otto said as he dragged me from the house. "I've got a big lawn. A real big lawn. It takes about a month to get the whole thing cut."

  For more from Orson Scott Card's

  InterGalactic Medicine Show visit:

  Copyright © 2007 Hatrack River Enterprises



  IGMS, IGMS Issue 4



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