Another excerpt from the memoirs of Dave Cook: My Father, My Friend—a not yet published novel. Presented just because it was fun to write. In the actual sequence this is chapter two.
I know that sounds confusing, but a great deal of what happened between me and my father is probably confusing to anyone who wasn’t there when it happened.
I think I was six when I refused to go to bed for the first time. I mean really refused to go to bed. I wasn’t sleepy (at least I insisted I wasn’t), and I wanted to do what I wanted to do. My father promptly agreed with me, saying, “I don’t blame you, Davy. I wouldn’t want to go to bed if I were you, and I don’t want to have to put you to bed, either.” He continued climbing the steps, with me in his arms, as I tried to understand how I could be going to bed when we both agreed it was not a good idea. It helped a little when he added, “I don’t want to, but it’s time.” He shrugged his shoulders at that, in a “what can you do” gesture.
Somehow, I found myself without anyone to argue with, yet I seemed to have lost the argument. It was only years later that I understood what he had done. If he had insisted I go to bed, I would have insisted, just as strongly, that I didn’t want to, which was an argument I couldn’t possibly win. It was also one that would have left us both angry, and me in bed. By refusing to force me into that situation, he saved wear and tear on our tempers and I was introduced the concept of a higher authority, one to which even he had to demur.
I tried again about a week later, as I sincerely said, “Daddy, I really don’t want to go to bed. I want to stay up and play.”
I looked at him for reaction, but he stared blankly ahead, ignoring me. “Daddy!” I shouted, trying to get his attention. His only response was to slowly turn his head in my direction.
“Daddy?” I was becoming worried.
“I-am-not-your-father,” he informed me in a droning voice, devoid of any emotion. “I-am-your-undressing-robot.”
I think I giggled.
“It-is-time-to-undress-the-David-person,” he informed me in a monotone, headed in my direction with machine-jerky movements.
He came to me then knelt in front of me, saying, “I-must-remove-your-hat-first.”
I tried to tell him that I wasn’t wearing a hat, but he paid no attention, and carefully, but ineptly, removed the non-existent hat from my head, obviously crumpling it in his hand as he did so. “I-will-put-it-in-the-closet,” he said, as he opened an imaginary closet door and threw the hat inside.
“Now-it-is-time-for-your-coat. Stand-over-here.” He pointed to one side of where I was standing, but I made no move to comply. I was too busy laughing at him. My lack of cooperation didn’t make too much of a difference though, as he simply waited a moment, said, “Thank-you,” and began to remove an invisible coat from an equally invisible David. He ignored me when I jumped on his back, shouting, “It’s not me. It’s not me,” over and over. From the looks of his motions, though, he pretty well destroyed the coat he was removing. I was glad I hadn’t been dressed for the outside.
After he finished pretending to hang up what might have been left of the coat, he turned to me once more, saying, “Now-I-will-carry-you-up-the-steps-to-the-bed-place.” So saying, he proceeded to pick me up in such a way that I found myself hanging upside down as he carried me upstairs; all the while talking to my feet as though he was holding me upright.
Somehow, I was undressed, washed, and put to bed, laughing the whole time. My dad returned to his normal self, though, to read me my nightly story, give me my good night hug, and to sit with me. He always sat in the dark with me for a few moments after the light went out, to chase away the nighttime monsters, and get me settled down. He claimed it was peaceful sitting in the dark, and that went a long way toward calming my fears.
Lying there, after my dad was gone, I thought it was really strange that somehow, after deciding that I was not going to bed without a battle, I had cooperated wholeheartedly with the process. Once again I found myself tucked in, on the verge of sleep, and feeling pretty good about the whole affair. I decided that my dad was pretty tricky, but still, I was looking forward to the next night. I did that every night of my life, as long as my dad tucked me in. Even now, getting ready for bed is a friendly and relaxing kind of thing.
The undressing robot put in occasional appearances over the next year or so, but he was eventually displaced by the inept alien space-traveler. That happened one night when I was hoping my father would play the “dead” game. I know that sounds pretty morbid, but it’s not what you might think. My father simply closed his eyes and went totally limp, usually without warning. The idea was for me to, somehow, force him back into the world of the living. That had to be done without hurting him in any way (which made him angry and ended the game), and sometimes involved a good deal of inspiration on my part.
Dad had somehow managed to convince me that he wasn’t ticklish. I didn’t find out until I was nearly fifteen that he had gone through hell, pretending that my attempts to tickle him were unsuccessful. Because of that, I didn’t try, which was just as well, as it would have forced the game to end long before it had.
Part of the fun was when I forced open his eyelids with my fingers. My dad was able to roll his eyeballs back into his head, so that when I looked, there was nothing but blank whiteness, and a voice that said, “Nobody’s home.” The words were my father’s way assuring me that he was only playing. He would even argue the point with me, as I insisted that someone must be home because he was talking to me, but he wouldn’t to talk about anything else. Sometimes, when I peeled back the lids, he would be home, so to speak, and his eyes would look directly at me, the pupils fixed and staring. That was far more spooky then when there was nothing but white there. When that happened, I invariably let go of his eyelid and pushed his head away from me, saying, “Yuck!”
I managed to “wake” him in a variety of ways, almost always fun. Sometimes it was a jelly bean or M&M pushed into his mouth; once a marble. Sometimes it was something as simple as a hug, or a kiss. Untying his shoes often worked, but I once managed to unbutton his shirt, remove both his shoes and socks, and was working on his belt before he stopped me.
This time, however, he slowly opened his eyes, looking at me curiously, as though he had never seen me before. Then he looked around the room, equally slowly, while I wondered what new thing was about to happen. Finally, he turned back to me, his movements awkward, and his voice odd. “Is this the center?” he demanded, angrily.
Once more he studied the room, saying, “There has been a terrible mistake, for which many will be destroyed.”
Entranced, I asked, “What kind of mistake?”
He ignored my question, and asked, “What planet is this? What place?”
At last I was on firm ground, and informed him that he was on Earth. I wasn’t totally sure what a planet was, but I knew mine was called Earth.
Frowning, he said, “Earth? What sector is that in? I thought I knew the names of all ten thousand worlds in the Plampillian empire.” Before I could answer that, he suddenly glared at me and then looked wildly around, as though struck by a frightening idea. “Is this an enemy world? Have I been captured by the hated Comex alliance?” He leaned forward. “Have you intercepted the theta wave that was carrying me to Kuto?”
He had asked far to many questions, and I wasn’t sure of the rules of this game yet, so I simply said, “This is the Earth, and we aren’t part of anything.” At least I was pretty sure we weren’t.
That didn’t seem to satisfy him, so I asked him who he was.
His voice was haughty as he informed me, “I am Togar, the master of the ten-thousand worlds. I am the great king of kings; the supreme ruler of the Plampillian empire.” He allowed me to absorb that for a moment, then added, “I am also now the ruler of the Earth, which I claim for the empire.” He waved a casual hand at me and said. “You are honored to be the first to know.”
I knew it was a game, but my father was good at that sort of thing, and in the back of my mind, there was the thought that maybe he wasn’t playing, and that somehow, this was real. That was a scary thought.
I decided to sidestep the issue, and asked, “How did you get here?”
That earned me a sour look, but he grudgingly explained. “My mind was being transferred from my palace on Beta Cignis to the body of an id holder at the prime battle center on the planet Kuto. As usual, I was being sent via theta wave transmitter.” He indicated himself with his hand. “I am much too important to have my actual body sent there, that’s waiting back in the palace.”
He frowned in thought for a second, before saying, “I should have arrived in the center at once, but there appears to be an sub-muvian storm, and my titanic intelligence was accidentally placed in the head of this poor excuse for a being, on this obviously backward planet.”
I didn’t understand some of his words, but I got the general idea, and hastened to defend my homeland and my father, who, presumably, was the poor excuse for a being he had referred to.
“This is not a backward planet,” I insisted. “We have a lot of modern things.”
I thought for a moment. “We have television,” I ventured.
“It has pictures that go through the air and get shown on the television screen.”
“A flat screen?” he sneered. “Glass?”
He waved a negligent hand, yawning. “As I said, backward. I don’t suppose you have hypervision, or realvision, or even feelvision on this ugly dirtball.”
I knew it was a game, but he was getting me angry. “If you don’t like it here,” I said, “why don’t you just go back home?”
That earned me another angry glare. “I can’t,” he admitted. “I’m stuck here until they get a message to pull me back, which may never come. I just hope they have enough sense to pull me home when they don’t get a signal telling them I arrived on Kuto safely.”
He looked unhappy for a moment, then seemed to be struck by a sudden inspiration. “Hey, I could build a theta wave transmitter here and send myself home. Do you have any tools?”
I nodded, not sure of what he wanted.
“A double distolated framisizer?” he asked, “and a whatsismaker with a flirp mode enhancer?”
Now I was sure it was a game. Framisizer was what my father called a variety of things when he didn’t want to explain their operation. “No, we don’t” I said, happily. “This is a backward place, remember?”
My father angrily pounded a fist into his other palm. “Damn,” he said. “I just wish…” With that, he collapsed onto the bed. Happily, I bounded onto his stomach and shook him, prepared to peel back his eyelids, but he opened them before I could start.
“Boy, I feel strange,” he said, shaking his head. He glanced over at the clock, then looked puzzled. “That’s funny, I could have sworn that clock said ten after seven just a second ago. Now it says twenty after. I wonder why? Did I fall asleep?”
I tried to explain what happened, but he dismissed the whole thing, complaining that I was being silly. It had all the earmarks of a game that was going to last a long time.
It was nearly a week later when I noticed my father staring at me strangely. We had just finished with the bath game, and I was putting on my pajamas, hurrying to put my head through the neck hole. For some reason, I’ve always hated when my eyes are covered by clothing.
My dad’s next words, and the odd tone he used in saying them, informed me that the alien had returned.
“Oh no, not again!” he moaned. “I gave orders that I was not to be sent here again.” He covered his face with his hands for a moment, then sat up, all business.
“Well,” he began, brightly. “How would you like to be the hero who introduces space travel to your world?”
It sounded fine to me, and I told him so, asking what I had to do.
“That’s simple,” he assured me. “You simply help me build a matter transmitter, and turn it on. After that, we can send the parts through from my empire to build lots more of them. In fact, after we turn on the one we build, the rest will be put together automatically, and send themselves all over this world, so the solders can come through and take over.”
“Solders?” I didn’t like the sound of his last words, but he covered up quickly.
“Solders? Did you think I said solders?” He waved a hand in negation. “No, no, I said Rolgers. That’s what we call the people who run the machines. That’s what I meant by take over.”
“Uh-huh.” My dad had just established one of the finer points of the game. The objective was to conquer the Earth. Playing my role, I asked, “What do you need from me?”
“Well,” he said, in an offhand manner. “Since you don’t have the tools I need, you can take me to the ruler of your country.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know the ruler. I don’t even know who he is. I think he’s called the president, though.
“Okay, the ruler of your city, then.”
I only shook my head, then did it again as he ran through the ruler of the neighborhood, and finally just a policeman. In mock despair, he threw up his hands and said, “Okay, then just drive me around and I’ll find them for myself.”
It was fun to watch him throw a temper tantrum when I told him that I couldn’t drive, and that my mom wasn’t home. I was sorry when the alien suddenly departed.
The alien king game lasted until I was nearly ten years old, and evolved into quite an involved thing before I decided that I was too old to play. Until then he would appear at odd times. We might be driving to the shopping mall, or walking in the woods, when my father would announce his coming with a groan of, “Oh, no. Not again.” Before it ended, though, it got to the point where he was “aware” of the alien, and claimed that he was being forced to do things by him, simply by hearing certain words in his head—a sending from the king. When pressed, he told me the word was u-n-d-e-r-w-a-r-e, carefully spelling it out. It caused him agony when he heard it spoken, he claimed, even silently in his head. Naturally, I let the word drop into the conversation, just to test it out. Sure enough, my father feigned unendurable agony and begged me to stop. Naturally, I agreed, but managed to drop the word into the conversation at least five times before the day ended. My mother, as usual, tried to ignore my father’s bizarre behavior. I think she thought it was some sort of male thing that she would never understand.
The next day, when I worked the conversation around to the forbidden subject, his only response was a disgusted look. When I expressed surprise, he informed me that there was a new word each day. That resulted in a battle for the current word, in which he pleaded that he didn’t trust me because of what had happened the day before. I, of course, swore I would never use the word if he would only trust me once more.
Of course he gave me the word, and of course I used it. His lack of response, then, he claimed, was because he had given me a false word to test me. I countered that I had to use the word once to test him.
Naturally I “convinced” him to trust me, and naturally I betrayed that trust. That was how the game worked, but I thought a lot about trust as a result of that part of the game. I think that was part of the reason I stopped playing it. I no longer enjoyed a game that condoned betrayal.
Much later I developed a love for a game called Diplomacy, which is all about betrayal. Strange, isn’t it? I know I’ve never even thought about betraying a person in real life, though. I already know how easy it would be to hurt them, and how delicate a thing trust is. Still, it was a fun game while it lasted.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
When my own children were young, the things presented in this and other sections of this story were part of the family’s daily life, though I was not nearly so benevolent and wise as Davy’s dad—nor did the events occur in as conveniently dramatic a way. Still, it was great fun, and if, you’ve children of your own, these are some things that might be fun to try.
I suppose it does explain why my children tend to walk into walls and fall down a lot, though.
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