The robot was a heap of a thing. Its body was half covered by an avalanche of old papers, bits of wire, and solder. Slack-jawed, its lump of a head hung drunkenly forward like it was trying to throw itself off of the flat slab of the thing’s shoulders. In the dead center of the robot’s chest, there was a big red button about the size of a can of tuna.
“Just poke it with your foot, Rich.”
Doug was using his older brother voice. It didn’t matter than both men were well into their thirties.
“Shit, Dad wasn’t smart enough to make anything dangerous. I just don’t want the thing to start throwing sparks and catch the U-Haul on fire,” said Doug.
Rich gave Doug a long-suffering look.
“Don’t give me that look, I pulled that dead raccoon out from under the storage shed a piece at a time; this one’s yours.”
Rich sighed. “It’s just… What is all this junk? I thought Dad was holed up over here watching old game show reruns.”
“Yeah, well, you can ask him at the funeral home tonight, but I don’t think he’ll answer. Anyway, the sooner we get this place cleaned out and on the market, the sooner we’ll be done with it.”
“Couldn’t we just hire somebody to deal with all this?” Rich kicked a box of old electronics manuals off of one of the robots legs.
“You mean dip into the vast fortune dad left us and hire a company to deal with the estate stuff? I guess we might be able to sell off the fleet of limos.”
“Hilarious,” said Rich, kneeling down to take a closer look at the red button. He shrugged with his entire body and shook his head. “Just… why? Why this?”
“Why? Why the fuck did Dad do anything? It’s probably just full of jars of coins or fingernail clippings. Just make sure the damn thing isn’t going to catch fire so we can haul it to the dump.”
Rich suddenly felt like he was twelve years old again, hesitating on the edge of the high dive with Doug tapping his foot behind him.
Rich stood up and prodded the button with the toe of his sneaker.
“There you go. It didn’t even budge. It’s probably just decoration,” said Rich.
“You barely touched it!”
Rich planted the ball of his foot on the button and leaned his weight into the thing. The robot settled back a few inches with the sound of crunching cardboard. It felt dense. Heavy. Surprisingly resistant to Rich’s shove.
Rich turned toward his brother and spread his arms.
Doug leaned in and squinted at the button. “Maybe it turns. Like a dial.”
“I pushed it. You ‘turn it like a dial’ if you want.”
“Three words: Dead. Raccoon. Smell.”
“Jesus Christ,” grumbled Rich, rolling his eyes. He kneeled down and twisted the red cylinder clockwise.
It moved. The button turned almost effortlessly. It had a smooth, deliberate-feeling action, and the weight of quality. There was a strange, ratcheting feel as Rich turned the button, and a faint nearly inaudible hum.
Rich pulled his hand back and stared at the robot. It was silent and still. He looked up at Doug, but his brother’s face showed nothing. He hadn’t felt it. He hadn’t heard anything.
“Nothing,” said Doug. “Try turning it the other way.”
Rich hesitated. “I think that’s enough,” he said. “I pushed it. I turned it. A bump in the road isn’t going to accidently turn this thing on.”
“Hey, Rich, what do you call a grown man who’s afraid of his dead father’s old art project?”
“Oh, shut up.”
“Jesus, fine, I’ll do it.”
Doug pushed past Rich, bent down and grabbed the button. Rich made a wordless noise of protest, but Doug twisted the button to the left without any discussion.
There was a deep, rumbling sound that filled the tiny basement.
Wide-eyed, Rich took hold of his brother and pulled him back from the robot. The sound seemed to be coming from everywhere.
Doug shot his brother a reproachful look, then registered the sincere fear on Rich’s face.
“Good God!” yelled Doug. “Don’t let it taste human blood. Quick! Call the National Guard! Call a priest! Call the FBI!”
Rich’s gaze shot from the robot to Doug. The initial shock still colored his expression.
“Rich…” said Doug slowly. The growling rumble stopped. “That was the sound of the garage door opening. Dad built a robot that opens the garage door.”
“Uh… Oh,” said Rich.
Doug shook his head. “You are hopeless.”
Rich turned and kicked the robot square in the head.
“I wouldn’t do that,” said Doug. “We still haven’t tried pulling on the button. What if it holds a grudge? ”
Rich shut his eyes and ran his fingers though his hair. “I hate you, Doug.”