When Eric had read about Nannybot in the new Electronics R Us Catalogue, he ordered it at once. He told Priscilla, who was exhausted after spending another sleepless night with their four-month-old baby boy, but she was a little trepidatious. However, after looking at her face in the mirror and realizing she looked like she had washed up on a beach, she decided she was relieved.
Travis was born with a cherubic face, golden as a yellow onion and just as round. Priscilla had fallen for him at once, but the lack of sleep was hard on her. She’d always been so active before having Travis: swimming laps in the neighborhood pool, walking along the local trails, going out with her friends. Now, she was lucky she had the energy to walk through the grocery market during the week. But when she looked over at her boy and he gave her a chuckle, as though just looking at her made his day, she knew it was all worth it. Still, the thought of sleeping at night again was very appealing.
When the tall box finally arrived, Eric offered to set the robot up. His brawny arms wrestled with the lid as Priscilla and Travis watched in the living room. After he managed to open it, they saw a tall robot nestled in amongst packing materials, lifeless and still.
“No need to worry, Nannybot is here in a hurry,” the robot said in a strange whirring voice after Eric figured out how to turn it on. Nannybot had the figure of a woman and a bob of metallic hair; her limbs were padded and supposed to have the appearance of skin. Her eyes and mouth were copper, but her eyes could change colors to amuse Travis. Travis cooed at Nannybot and let it hold him, the robot’s padded arms encircling the baby.
Nannybot took care of Travis’ needs much better than Priscilla had expected. It moved stiffly, but could still change his diapers and bathe him. Priscilla was able to sleep through every night, and had time for swimming again. But Travis was growing too fond of Nannybot. Whenever Priscilla held him, he started squirming as though he were uncomfortable in her soft human arms. Worst of all was the clicking sound.
Whenever Nannybot’s head turned to the side, a mechanical click could be heard. She looked similar to a human, but the clicking sound gave her away, and Priscilla began to hear it everywhere.
One night, after Priscilla had read Travis a few books, she gently laid him down in his crib to sleep. It had been two weeks since Nannybot’s arrival.
“Good night, my dearest,” Priscilla whispered to Travis. Nannybot stood in the corner of the nursery, a still machine. The sight of Nannybot unnerved Priscilla. She reached down to check Travis’ pajamas and saw a flash of light from the corner of her eye. She looked up at Nannybot, who showed no sign of awareness. Her copper eyes were blank as she waited for Priscilla to leave.
Back in her and Eric’s room, Priscilla heard the clicking sound again. Eric was snoring softly at her side and no cries came from Travis’ room. But the clicking sound invaded the sleepy darkness of their house and Priscilla wondered, what on earth was Nannybot up to?
Her pulse began racing. With trembling hands, she put her long blond hair into a ponytail and left the room. The clicking sound reverberated through the hallway and a dim red light emanated from the bottom of the nursery door.
Priscilla quietly walked over and turned the doorknob, her chest tight with anxiety and fear. Moonlight streamed in from the window and she saw the tall figure of Nannybot standing over the crib, head swiveling back and forth as it appeared to be scanning Travis’ sweet little body. It’s eyes glowed with a malevolent red light and for a moment Priscilla was paralyzed with fear.
Nannybot’s hand rose above Travis, hovering. Then, Priscilla remembered that she was a human and the robot merely a machine and forcibly pushed it aside. Nannybot fell in a heap of mechanical limbs onto the floor. Priscilla swiftly found the switch in it’s side and turned it off. She waited for a moment, breathing heavily, wanting to make sure Nannybot’s switch had worked. The robot’s fingers twitched and then were motionless, once more just padded steel.
Priscilla peered down at Travis, her tear-filled eyes searching for any signs of pain or discomfort, but he slept on. His chubby fingers looked like little caterpillars as he flexed his hands in his sleep. Not wanting to wake him, Priscilla placed her hand on his belly, feeling it rise up and down in a soothing rhythm. He was safe now. The clicking noise was gone.
The next day, Nannybot was packed up and Eric drove it to the post office.
“It’s odd though,” Eric said when he came back. They were sitting down to lunch, Travis having an early nap in his crib. “I thought Travis would have been safe with Nannybot. It was just a machine.”
“Well, we don’t know how those things are programmed. It came from a catalogue. Who knows who really made it,” Priscilla answered, sprinkling croutons onto her salad. “It was nice to have some extra sleep, but I’d rather take care of Travis myself anyway.”
Ophelia Leong has been published in Tribe Magazine, Mamalode, Literary Mama, Mothers Always Write, Allegro Poetry, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Saturday Night Reader, Eunoia Review, Beyond Science Fiction, and others. She is also a competitive Irish Dancer. Find her on her blog, on Twitter at @OpheliaLeong, and Instagram @Opysdragon.