The square package bulged with promise but of what the woman was yet to decide. She’d won the thing in a competition three weeks earlier.
‘Open it,’ demanded her son.
Elaine eyed Luke and the brown paper parcel with equal irritation. Her hands tested the edges for an easy way in, sighing across the soft surfaces, the slight lumps tickling the tips of her fingers.
‘For goodness sake,’ muttered Luke impatiently.
But Elaine wasn’t about to be hurried. It had sounded too good to be true. A competition where the prize was the ‘promise of whatever your heart desires’.
‘Nonsense,’ was how her husband had described it and it appeared he’d been right.
Elaine slid her fingers beneath the parcel and lifted it off the kitchen bench, weighing it carefully. It certainly didn’t feel like much.
When Luke thrust out a knife, she took it and carefully pushed the tip into one corner and began to cut away the outer wrapping, the sharpened blade slicing through the tired paper with ease. A shape emerged; a flat-screened box with hard plastic borders and four simple dials.
Mother and son stared at the machine nestled within the torn remains of its packaging their faces reflecting disgust and disbelief in equal measure.
Luke reached across and twisted the first dial. A green light blinked once and the LCD screen blazed into life. An emoji began to emerge, a smirking yellow face.
‘That is so lame,’ muttered Luke.
Elaine tried the second dial. Turning it produced a straight yellow line that moved in the direction of her fingers. The third dial allowed the line to bend and curve. After a minute of practising, Elaine had ‘drawn’ a crude axe with a single drop of water trembling from its edge.
‘That’s what your heart desires?’ snorted Luke. ‘No wonder we’re so poor.’
Although she and Luke lived in a six-bedroom house with a backyard pool and brand new pergola, neither were content and both blamed Luke’s father despite the fact he’d done his utmost to make them happy – loving and nurturing them both with little success.
Elaine glared down at the axe and tried the final dial. Nothing happened.
‘What a total joke,’ Luke sniffed. ‘I told you it was rubbish.’
With a series of angry twists, Elaine spiralled out a dozen simple balloons.
Before Elaine could finish the last one, Luke snatched the machine out of her hands and sketched a lollipop followed by a hooded cobra.
If either had being paying attention, they’d have seen the slight twitch of the kitchen curtains as a sinuous body wriggled out of their folds, bumped over a wooden axe and off down the hall. Twelve black balloons heralded the cobra’s progress by nodding sharply as its heavy body nudged their dangling cords.
Elaine grabbed back the machine and twiddled furiously.
Behind them two bananas and a soccer ball popped into existence, the ball bouncing silently across the Westminster carpet to come to rest against the leg of the kitchen table.
‘This is getting boring,’ whined Luke.
Elaine didn’t often agree with her son, but she did agree with that. The machine was boring and tomorrow she’d call the number on the box and complain. She was good at complaining – excellent, in fact. Almost as good as her son.
She was also good at drawing and she sketched their final creation with care and precision. The creature’s legs were thick with just the right amount of muscle, its three large toes ending in claws. She drew the body next, then a slim, stiff, pointed tail and two tiny arms with two fingers on the end of each.
Luke curled up his lip as his mother finished off the huge tyrannosaur’s head, filling its jaws with large, pointed teeth. ‘Looks like a stupid, dumb, fat chicken,’ he said.
He grabbed the machine and added an extra head, spikes on the tail and lasers above the creature’s eyes. ‘Now that’s what I call dangerous,’ he said with a smirk.
A low, grumbling growl sidled out of the living room followed by the sound of balloons popping.
Luke swallowed hard and very slowly turned around.
‘Oh dear,’ said Elaine.
Luke’s father hesitated at the front door. There were some very strange sounds drifting out of the two-story house; roaring, smashing, screaming, tearing sounds that sent shivers up and down his spine. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. ‘Sounds like Elaine finally got the home theatre going. Better go.’ He was talking into a mobile phone. When he pushed open the front door, an extremely fat cobra slid slowly past his legs and down the front steps.
Luke’s father watched it for a while then blinked.
‘Elaine?’ He kept his voice low and nervously took three steps into the hallway. ‘Luke?’
A sharp beam of green light cut through the wall beside him and melted a small bronze statue of a kitten. It looked incredibly like a laser.
Luke’s father stopped and stared open-mouthed. Half the hallway and most of the kitchen seemed to have been utterly destroyed. There was sunlight streaming in through a jagged hole in the roof and on the floor lay an odd rectangular box with four simple dials.
Luke’s father crouched down and lifted it up. On the screen was a very convincing picture of a tyrannosaurus rex with two heads. He shook the box and the picture slowly faded.
‘Elaine?’ he called again.
His wife’s face appeared from beneath the remains of an enormously expensive art deco cabinet. ‘Has it gone?’ she whispered.
Luke’s father glanced around nervously.
‘Are you going to help me up or do I have to do it myself?’ hissed Elaine. There was a deflated black balloon flopped across the top of her head.
Luke’s father dutifully bent to the task of helping up his rather dusty and extremely bad tempered wife.
Luke was next, skidding around the rubble that used to be their dining room. ‘It disappeared,’ he announced loudly. He spotted his father and snapped his fingers. ‘Like that! Just disappeared. Un … believable.’
‘Disappeared?’ repeated Luke’s father faintly. His lips felt fat.
Luke rolled his eyes. ‘That … was … awesome!’
Luke’s father looked down at the machine in his hands and gradually put two and two together. ‘This is the prize,’ he said in a tone of awe. He thought about the snake and the picture of the tyrannosaur. ‘Wow!’
‘That thing almost killed us and all you can say is wow?’ snapped Elaine. ‘That is just so typical—’
‘We’ll have to move out,’ cut in Luke. He waved a hand vaguely towards the disaster that used to be their home. ‘Dad’ll have to book a hotel.’
‘Not before he’s called the insurance company,’ snapped Elaine.
Luke and his mother started to argue loudly, and Luke’s father quietly sidled around the corner and into what was left of the bathroom.
He stared down at the odd rectangular machine in his hands and very carefully began to draw.
A bald head appeared then square shoulders and a slightly overweight body. He added narrow vertical stripes to a baggy suit then sketched a neatly trimmed moustache and a shaggy beard. Glasses and a smart pair of shoes completed the picture.
There was an almost inaudible pop and Luke’s father spun around.
‘Wow,’ he said.
The man staring back at him could have been his identical twin.
Luke’s father gave his doppelganger a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. ‘Do take good care of them, won’t you, dear fellow?’
His twin turned to listen to Luke and Elaine screaming at each other.
Luke’s father winced and smiled. ‘Don’t worry. I won’t be gone for too long.’
He began drawing frantically as the screaming suddenly got louder. ‘A month or two at the most,’ he said. A red sports car popped into existence outside in the street. ‘Maybe three.’
‘Dad!’ bellowed Luke.
‘Four at the absolute max,’ said Luke’s father. A plane ticket to Hawaii popped out of nowhere and drifted into his palm.
Luke’s father leapt over the remains of a broken window just as Luke burst into the bathroom.
‘Why didn’t you answer?’ demanded Luke. ‘We need you in the kitchen.’
The doppelganger obediently followed Luke out into the hallway.
As Luke’s father eased out into the traffic he didn’t need to use the machine to draw a swift smile all the way from one ear to the next.