‘I heard you’re going to download your mum this weekend,’ said Cain, his hands filled with sloppy wet sand.
Jordan caught some as it slid between Cains knuckles. ‘Saturday, I think.’ He dribbled it onto the head of a large sandy lump. ‘Dad said she should be online by Sunday morning.’
‘What are you making?’ demanded Mandy suspiciously.
The two boys blinked into the sun. Cain’s sister was looming above them, one hand shielding her eyes, the other clutching two chocolate ice creams.
‘An elephant,’ offered Cain. He made it sound like a question.
‘Looks more like a whale,’ said Mandy. She turned to Jordan. ‘How old was she when she died?’ She thrust out a half-melted ice cream.
Jordan took it and let his tongue slide up the sides to catch the syrupy drips. ’51, I think.’ He paused to suck his fingers. ‘Dad’s bought her the updated version of the RoboMum 5000. Mum made him promise before she died.’
Cain was impressed.
Cain’s brother, Henry, who at seven was still too young to understand the intricacies of uploading mothers, screwed his face into a pout. ‘Woss a RoboMum?’
‘It’s what mums turn into when they die,’ said Mandy.
‘If you’re rich enough,’ added Cain.
Henry’s pout became a scowl.
Jordan tried to explain. ‘In the old days they used to bury people under the ground when they died. Now they scan their brains -’
‘While they’re still alive,’ added Cain ghoulishly.
‘- and map all the data until they can upload a 3-dimensional exact copy of the person’s brain onto the Interweb. It’s like a super powerful computer.’
Henry didn’t look convinced. ‘That sounds silly.’
‘It does,’ agreed Jordan. ‘But it works. It means that people don’t have to die anymore -’
‘If they have enough money -’ added Cain.
Jordan glared at him. ‘It means that people can live inside a computer. Or in Mum’s case, the RoboMum 5000.’
‘Cool,’ said Henry with macabre delight. ‘Can we see her?’
Jordan shrugged. ‘Why don’t you all come over sometime next week? I don’t think Mum will mind.’
Cain, Mandy and Henry approached Jordan’s Mum quietly and with great trepidation. She had her back turned so all they could see was the back of a very realistic robot sitting in a complicated, computerised wheelchair come mobility scooter.
The scooter turned abruptly and they simultaneously let out a quick, sharp gasp.
‘Cain. Mandy. Oh, and little Henry. How are you my darlings?’ enthused RoboMum.
Mandy’s bottom lip slowly re-joined her upper lip and she leaned forward to stare.
‘What do you think?’ asked RoboMum, giving a little twirl.
‘You look … just … the same,’ said Mandy, choosing her words carefully.
RoboMum really did look like Mandy remembered her, right down to the thick blond curls and dark mole just above the left eye.
RoboMum beamed with pleasure. ‘I feel fantastic,’ she gushed. ‘And so much younger.’ She lifted her perfect robot fingers and did a complete 360 swivel.
Cain stared at the scooter in open admiration. ‘Great turning circle!’ His eyes were shining. ‘How old do you have to be to get one of those things?’
‘Dead,’ hissed Mandy in a tight whisper, and aimed a kick at his shin.
‘That’s alright,’ laughed RoboMum. ‘I’m not at all offended. And I don’t feel dead in the least. In fact I’ve never felt more alive.’
‘Feel?’ repeated Cain. ‘Can you still feel things?’
‘In a way,’ replied RoboMum. She waggled her fingers. ‘Not quite in the same way as before, of course. I mean, my fingers contain sensors to tell me when I’m touching things, and I can still feel excitement and happiness. But I don’t get hot anymore. Or tired. It’s hard to explain.’
Cain was still staring at the scooter. ‘Do you have to stay in it all the time?’
RoboMum nodded. ‘Until they improve the technology that’s helping me stay alive, then yes.’
‘We’re having a party next Sunday,’ said Jordan into the silence that followed. ‘For Halloween. And to celebrate Mum’s rebirth. Would you like to come?’
‘Are you kidding?’ cried Cain. He turned to Jordan’s mum, excited. ‘Can you make your eyes go red in the dark? Or spin your head in circles?’
Mandy kicked him for a second time.
On the evening of the Halloween party, storm clouds began to gather over the hills behind Jordan’s house.
‘Just as well we’re having it indoors,’ said RoboMum. She touched Jordan’s arm and he wondered at how warm she felt. Artificial of course but comforting. In fact, Jordan was constantly surprised at how little she had really changed.
There was a low rumbling growl and a quick, bright flash.
‘Lighting,’ said Jordan.
RoboMum turned and motorised back inside the house. ‘Best batten down the hatches,’ she laughed. ‘Tonight’s going to be a real humdinger of a Halloween party. Storm and all.’
The first guests oohed at RoboMum in her Robowitch, Halloween outfit complete with wild black hair and long, curving nails.
‘Your mum looks awesome,’ whispered Cain, appearing in a white skeleton suit and carrying a lantern.
A devilish Mandy prodded him hard in the back with a trident. ‘That doesn’t excuse you from asking Dad how much longer he thought he had to live!’
Cain was unrepentant ‘I was only asking. Dad didn’t mind.’
‘Where’s Henry?’ asked Jordan.
‘Mum thinks he’s too young for Halloween parties,’ said Mandy. She took a look around the living room. ‘I love what you’ve done. Really creepy.’
Jordan and his parents had spent hours decorating. There were cobwebs and skeletons hanging from the ceiling, streamers in the shape of tiny bats, and carved out pumpkins with flickering candles concealed inside. In the kitchen they’d laid out a black tablecloth and bowls of eerie treats. Sugary spiders, a chocolate cake formed into the shape of a skull, green jelly containing hidden edible horrors, and baskets of lolly brains.
‘Great party,’ yelled Cain as a clap of thunder flickered the already dim lights.
‘Party,’ echoed RoboMum, gliding silently past. ‘Party, party, party.’
Jordan stared after her.
‘That was weird,’ mouthed Cain.
RoboMum turned and came back. She was carrying a bowl of custard filled with chocolate frogs some of which was dribbling over the edge and down her legs.
‘Are you OK?’ asked Jordan.
‘Party,’ said RoboMum cheerfully then tipped the bowl of custard until the contents slid out and over an expensive Persian rug.
Cain glanced at Jordan. ‘Is she supposed to do that?’ he whispered.
Jordan went in search of Dad. He was in the kitchen doing a very embarrassing imitation of a dancing vampire.
‘I think there’s something wrong with Mum,’ he whispered.
Cain nodded emphatically.
His father let out a vampirish laugh. ‘Don’t be daft. RoboMum has a one hundred year guarantee. Your Mum’s never been healthier.’
RoboMum hurtled into the kitchen trailing a long length of streamers and singing “Happy Birthday” at the top of her voice, or rather in the electronically generated voice of Bart Simpson.
‘Oh,’ said Dad. He followed his wife out into the laundry. ‘Darling are you alright?’
RoboMum beamed back at him. ‘Isn’t this party just wonderful?’ she cried. She up-ended a bowl of breadstick fingers over the tiled floor.
‘Does she come with an instruction manual?’ whispered Jordan.
‘Not that I know of,’ said Dad.
Cain ducked as RoboMum returned to the kitchen and began tossing out gummy eyeballs. ‘Can you reset her?’ he suggested. ‘It works with my computer. I just turn it off then on again.’
‘Impossible,’ said Dad. ‘She has total control of all her functions.’
Mandy’s head peeped around the kitchen door. ‘What’s up with RoboMum?’ she asked.
‘Not sure,’ replied Jordan.
There was an ear shattering clap of thunder and RoboMum began spinning in dizzying circles, her arms outstretched. Chairs flew, jugs of cordial toppled and smashed, paintings were scattered, and lollies rocketed in all directions like tiny sugary bullets.
‘Do something!’ howled Jordan.
‘I don’t know what,’ yelled back Dad.
‘Isn’t this fun!’ hollered RoboMum.
‘Why does she sound like Bart Simpson?’ asked Cain.
‘I don’t know,’ yelled Jordan and his father in unison.
‘Maybe we should call the police,’ said Mandy as a large glass bowl whizzed past to explode against the fridge. ‘Before she hurts someone.’
‘You are not calling the police on my mother,’ snapped Jordan angrily.
‘We could lock her in the playroom,’ suggested Cain. ‘It has a bolt on the outside, doesn’t it?’
‘Brilliant!’ cried Dad.
By this time, the noise had attracted the rest of the guests who were staring in open-mouthed wonder at the mess that was the kitchen.
‘Come on, Mum,’ called Jordan in his most soothing tones. ‘Let’s go into the playroom to see the lanterns.’
‘No!’ declared RoboMum cheerfully. She switched her voice to that of a cartoon duck. ‘I want to dance, dance, dance.’ She hurtled into the living room scattering guests in all directions. People leapt onto tables, climbed on top of cupboards and hid beneath chairs. One small child even managed to scale the curtains.
‘Do something,’ yelled the adults to the tune of thriller by Michael Jackson, which was playing over the speakers.
RoboMum began dancing like a madwoman, taking out a tall standard lamp, and knocking it sideways into an even taller fern which wobbled then crashed to the ground spilling soil all over the floor. Everyone began screaming.
‘We’re doomed,’ cried Cain melodramatically. ‘And I’m not even a teenager.’
There was another deafening boom and the lights flickered then died, plunging them into a terrifying darkness.
Jordan’s heart was beating so fast he was seeing tiny sparkly stars.
‘What’s happening?’ whimpered the child clinging to the curtains.
‘The power’s gone out,’ said Dad, from somewhere to Jordan’s right.
‘Probably the storm,’ said someone else.
There was a minute of silence as everyone let their eyes adjust to the dim candlelight.
‘What’s happened to RoboMum?’ asked Mandy.
RoboMum had frozen in mid dance, both arms raised above her head.
Jordan’s dad let out a long breath. ‘Of course. The storm must have short-circuited some of her controls. No wonder she’s been acting so erratically.’
‘Is she alright?’ asked Jordan, feeling a little scared.
His father very carefully approached RoboMum and touched something on the back of her chair. His mother gradually returned to life.
Her eyes took in the shadowy room, toppled furniture, broken dishes, smears, stains, and piles of food on the floor. Eventually, she spotted the child hanging form the curtains. ‘What on Earth is going on?’ she asked. She sounded torn between anger, disbelief and amusement.
‘Don’t you remember?’ replied Cain in a mischievous tone. ‘The Halloween party?’
All around him the guests dissolved into helpless, but rather nervous laughter.
‘Is she alright?’ asked Mandy, during assembly the next day.
Jordan nodded. ‘Fine. Turns out that Dad forgot to activate the safety switch to stop Mum’s circuits being damaged during a lighting storm. And he forgot to initiate her backup generator. Mum’s furious. She’s making him clear up the mess in the kitchen as punishment.’
‘Maybe we can switch off her safety thingy again next Halloween,’ said Cain, appearing from nowhere and scaring them both half to death.
‘No!’ yelled Jordan and Mandy together.
Cain just grinned. ‘Oh come on,’ he laughed. ‘You have to admit it. That really was the best Halloween party ever.’
This time he was ready for Mandy’s kick and dodged it easily, his laughter echoing down the corridor and out into the schoolyard.
‘Ever!’ he repeated loudly, and even Jordan had to smile.