You may recall, Gentle Reader, that we are now taking submissions for our Sidney Crosby creative writing challenge, “Spooking Sidney”. The first entry in this open-ended series is Part I of Margee’s “Fear Street”-inspired magnum opus. For some backstory to this brilliant and spine-tingling tale, we recommend you revisit (or visit for the first time) her “Chasing Sidney”, which stands as the single greatest thing we’ve ever published on this blog.
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The soft ping of an incoming call broke Cindy Crosby out of his sleep mode. Cindy felt the whirring of his hardware snap to attention as he powered up. Ever since his Colby Armstrong had hooked him up to high-speed internet service, he felt so much more connected to the outside world. He felt like people.
Cindy answered his videophone. In his external monitor, the one his Colby had given him, masked as a wristwatch, he saw the face on the person he had come to accept as his mother. The one who had sung him to sleep mode by phone only hours before. But his mother looked different.
“Mother,” he said. “Mother, is that you?”
Ryan Whitney looked out from Cindy’s wristwatch. Water was snaking from his eyes. Ryan Whitney had taught him that water in the eyes was part of having feelings. Ryan Whitney was shaking.
“Sidney, my boy,” said Ryan Whitney, his voice wobbly. “Sidney, listen to me. You have to do something for me.”
“Of course, mother, of course.”
“You have to warn them, Sidney. I want you to call your new mother…”
“You’re my mother, you are!”
“Of course, I am your mother, my darling, of course I am,” said Ryan Whitney, looking deeply into the monitor, feeling so close that Cindy could practically feel him there, feel his loving embrace. “But when I was traded, I asked Chris Kunitz to care for you in my place. I need you to find him. I need you to warn him.”
“Warn him of what? What, mother?”
“He is in grave danger.”
There was a noise in the background. Ryan Whitney’s face disappeared briefly from Cindy’s wristwatch. When his face came back, there was more water on his face than before.
“Mother, what is happening?”
“Oh, my beautiful boy,” said Ryan Whitney, smiling, even as the water spilled from his eyes. “If anything happens to me, I want you to remember this: you are a real boy. Don’t let anyone make you feel like a robot. You are a real boy. You’re my dear boy.”
“I’m a real boy.”
There was another noise and Ryan Whitney let out a small scream. His face went closer into Cindy’s wristwatch.
“I love you,” he whispered to Cindy. “I love you forever…Son.”
Cindy’s monitor went black.
* * * * *
Chris Kunitz stood against the wall. Sometimes, the Kid seemed so lifelike. So real.
Cindy rocked back and forth on the floor, pausing only to ask Kunitz when the water would stop coming out of his eyes. He was half-human, Kunitz had to remind himself. He was capable of having feelings. He crouched to Cindy, rubbing his back half-heartedly. Kunitz had always known he was never cut out for motherhood. He had suggested to Ryan Whitney that Eric Godard be assigned as Cindy’s new mother. But Ryan Whitney had insisted that Cindy needed a mother that was in no danger of being sent down to the AHL. But Kunitz was no good at this.
“I’m sorry, Kid,” he said, squeezing Cindy’s shoulder like Godard had told him. “Ryan Whitney was a great guy.”
“He was more than a great guy,” said Cindy, studying the tears he that had pooled on the back of his hand. “He was the best mother a boy could ever have.”
“He was, Kid, he was,” Kunitz sighed. “But, I suppose, I could… I could be your new mother.”
Cindy met his eyes. He no longer looked like a boy. He looked like the cold, hard robot Kunitz recognized from Mellon Arena.
“Ryan Whitney is my mother,” he said icily.
Kunitz tried not to feel the sting of his words. He stood up and paced the room.
“Mother had a message for you, Chris Kunitz,” the Kid continued, his beady eyes following Kunitz’s path. “Mother said you were in danger.”
Kunitz stopped moving. The air felt chilly, as if a window had been thrust open somewhere in his soul.
Then suddenly, he felt someone grip his shoulders. A hand clamped itself to his mouth before he could scream and he could smell hot cigar breath in his ear.
“Don’t make a sound,” the voice hissed.
Kunitz’s heartbeat thrummed in his ears. His assailant released him. As he turned, he saw the big, beautiful, bird nose first.
Colby Armstrong stood, holding his arms out to hush Kunitz. Army’s eyes were bleary, rimmed with pink. Haunted. His face was a pallid gray as if he hadn’t slept in weeks. He pressed a clammy, tobacco-stained palm to Kunitz’s mouth.
“You don’t want them to hear you,” Army whispered. He released Kunitz with a jerk.
Army looked as if he wanted to say more, but his bloodshot eyes caught on Cindy, still rocking across the room. Kunitz saw Army’s lower lip tremble briefly, his cheek buckling in a half-smile. He approached the Kid gingerly, an emotional grin overtaking his face.
Cindy looked up miserably from the floor. When his software recognized Army, he scrambled to his feet. It took him his requisite few seconds to figure out that the floor was not made of ice and that he could not skate across it. Army took the Kid’s face in his hands. At first they smiled shyly at one another, before collapsing into each other’s arms.
Kunitz felt like an intruder. However, he still felt the chill of the Kid’s words. Was Chris Kunitz really in danger?
“I came in through one of the secret passages,” said Army, his arms wound tightly around Cindy. “I couldn’t risk being seen.”
Army’s big, beautiful, bird nose nestled affectionately into Cindy’s hair. But his gaze seared into Kunitz.
“You’re in danger, Kunitz.”
Kunitz started to back away towards the door. Suddenly Mario Lemieux’s mansion no longer seemed safe as it had all those Stanley Cup celebrations ago.
“I don’t know if Ryan Whitney told you all of this, but my Cindy’s biological mother was a robot prostitute from Australia.”
Kunitz nodded uncomfortably. Cindy murmured something into Army’s shoulder about Ryan Whitney being his mother.
“I was at her robot brothel, And I just thought I’d check in on her. But when I talked to the robot madame, she told me that there had been an attempt on her robot life. I knew something was up. I called Ryan Whitney. And I came back here to Pittsburgh to check on our boy. We’re meeting at a safehouse. You should come, too. You’ve been his foster mother. You’re involved in this, too.”
“There’s something you should know, Armstrong,” said Kunitz, bracing himself. “Ryan Whitney…is dead.”
Army closed his eyes bitterly, thrust his chin to the sky, and emitted an anguished, eagle-like caw to the heavens. He held Cindy as the boy sobbed his robot tears.
“How did it happen?” said Army, his voice broken.
“He was drowned in a vat of chicken soup.”
Beyond the door to the Kid’s room there were footsteps. Army froze. A look of abject horror crossed his face.
“We have to hide,” he said dashing to the large oil painting of Darryl Sittler that leered out from the wall. Army pulled on it to reveal a false panel. Before his disappeared into the blackness, he again implored Kunitz to hide.
But it was too late. The bedroom door swung open and the glow from the hallway backlit two shadowy figures in the frame. The intruders entered the room, eerily calm as they approached.
“Cindy, it sounded like there was a bird in here,” said Mario Lemieux.
Cindy stood there dully. Kunitz couldn’t figure out if he had gone into standby or if his software was abruptly updating or if he was, in fact, scared.
“But of course there was no bird in here,” said Nathalie Lemieux, clasping her hands together tenderly. “Colby Armstrong was traded more than a season ago.”
Madame Lemieux fixed her eyes on Kunitz, her thick lashes knitting as she squinted at him.
“I didn’t realize that Cindy had company,” she said. “What are you doing in Cindy’s chambers, Chris Kunitz?”
“I—I was just…” Kunitz didn’t know why he was so unsettled. “I heard about Ryan Whitney. I just came over to see if Sidney was okay.”
“We do not use that name in this house,” Madame Lemieux growled. “We do not ever say that name in this house.”
“You should probably head home, Chris,” said Mario, placing a soothing hand on his wife’s trembling shoulders. “We can take it from here.”
“Yes, if anyone can comfort Cynthia it will be us,” Madame Lemieux laced her arm through Cindy’s. “How about I sing you into sleep mode, Cindy?”
Cindy looked from face to face in the room. Kunitz was unsure if the buzz in the air was tension or Cindy defragmenting. But he suddenly felt as if he needed to get out of there.
“Yes, I would like that,” said Cindy.
“That’s my boy,” said Madame Lemieux, leading him protectively away.
Mario gestured sternly for the door. And Kunitz didn’t need to be told twice. He scurried out the door and down the steps. He got lost somewhere between the northwest and north-southeast wings, but jimmied open a window and shimmied down a drainpipe to the grounds. Clouds were gathering overhead. Ominous, billowing clouds. Kunitz felt himself break into a run. In the distance he could see his PT Cruiser, a maroon beacon waiting to take him away from this horrible place. He sprinted towards the car, tasting his escape.
But before he made it, he felt a horrible thud against his temple. As he crumpled to the ground he looked up, catching sight of the baby pink curtains in the window of Cindy’s chamber. He reached out to his foster son as he envisioned him, reaching out from the window.
And then everything went black.