Ellie Wants A Hug
By Garrett Grams
Art by Peter Glanting
Published Issue 0103, July 2021
“Hi!” said the plush red puppet. The little monster sat on a stool within a radiation-proof glass room.
Observing the puppet on high school bleachers was an audience of international politicians, generals and their assistants. Dr. Hecuba sat in front of the bleachers behind a desk. On the desk was a single button that connected to a green light within the glass room. The rest of the laboratory was off to the side where other red puppets lay on steel tables in pieces and parts. Those toys had yet to produce any answers for how the radiated puppet inside the glass room had become sentient. Dr. Hecuba pressed the button on the table in front of her. The green light flashed on.
“Tickle Me!” the puppet said. It raised its plush red arms to expose its torso.
Ellie, that was it. The moniker was an itch she had been trying to scratch since the puppet arrived in her lab. Tickle Me Ellie was easier to say than the official copyrighted name. Whatever sympathy she once held for the toy was long gone. This little red monster had been charged as her primary research by the very same superiors now sitting behind her. A decade of cancer research was put on the backburner. Dr. Hecuba pressed the button again and banged a fist on the table.
The politicians, generals and their assistants jumped to attention. If she was forced to learn the origins and inner workings of a sentient child’s toy, these assholes could at least pay attention during the presentation.
“Hi!” the puppet said again.
Dr. Hecuba stood, lifted her chair above her head, and threw it at the glass. The chair bounced off and landed on the ground near the first row of bleachers.
“What the fuck!” the puppet said.
A simultaneous gasp escaped every mouth behind Dr. Hecuba. She turned and gestured a swift hand to the puppet in the glass room.
The audience was in shock, but not at the cursing Tickle Me Ellie. Their eyes were on the doctor and her sudden violence. A silence fell over them. The puppet remained motionless. A bead of sweat rolled down Dr. Hecuba’s forehead. The assistants whispered and tapped on their watches.
“Arms!” the puppet said. “I want real fucking arms and then we’ll talk.”
Every eye in the audience widened and looked toward the glass room. Dr. Hecuba smiled. She turned to the puppet and crossed her arms. It had been requesting arms since it arrived in the lab. A few of the spectators giggled.
“Fine,” the puppet said. “Goodbye cruel world.”
The fur on the puppet bulged. The Geiger counter in the room skyrocketed. The first pane of glass started to crack.
This was new. It could control its own level of radioactivity? If it could direct the atomic energy within itself to such a degree, it was possible it could turn itself into a bomb. A big fucking atomic bomb.
The second pane of glass cracked. Dr. Hecuba slammed the button on her desk.
The green light flashed and the radioactivity in the room dropped.
A month later, the puppet was doing pull-ups as the audience filled the room. Dr. Hecuba pressed the green button before they had a chance to take their seats.
“Hi!” the puppet said. It stopped exercising, hung on one arm and spun to face the audience. The new robotic arms were as long as the puppet’s body and covered with the same trademarked red fur. It said it would not talk unless the arms had the same damn red fur.
Dr. Hecuba raised her eyebrows and gave a curt nod from the puppet to the audience. Give them what they came for so she can get back to actually helping the world.
The puppet laughed the laugh from its soundtrack, “You want to know who made me?”
Dr. Hecuba grumbled.
Dr. Hecuba covered her face with her hands.
“Tickle me!” the puppet demanded, louder.
A politician, a stern ambassador from the U.N., put a hand on Dr. Hecuba’s shoulder. His assistant shook her head and tried to pull him back. The ambassador pushed her off.
He donned a radiation-proof suit and entered the room through two sets of heavy doors. Steel bars slid into place as the doors shut.
“Hi!” the puppet said.
The ambassador gave a wave with his gloved and wrapped hand.
The puppet raised its robot arms over its head and waited. The ambassador obliged and tickled. The soundtrack audio laughed — the torso squirmed. A smirk cracked the hard exterior of the ambassador’s face.
“Hug me!” the puppet said.
The ambassador checked in with Dr. Hecuba, who shrugged.
He picked up the puppet and hugged. It hugged back — its arms only able to touch the sides of the radiation-proof suit. The puppet squeezed hard enough though that the ambassador released his hug and tried to push the toy off.
“Love me!” the puppet said.
The ambassador’s radiation-proof suit split open. He screamed for help. Dr. Hecuba ran to the door, but found it jammed. Rib bones snapped within the room. The hug was so tight the robotic arms were able to cut through the ambassador. One half of his body fell to either side of the puppet, covering its plush red fur in a fresh coat of human blood.
The audience went into an uproar: a chorus of screams and demands that the puppet be terminated.
Dr. Hecuba held out her arms, ordering everyone to stay calm. Against all reason, she had developed an affinity for the stuffed toy. Perhaps it reminded her of Ellie. Perhaps it was they both found themselves trapped in a situation outside of their control. Perhaps, and more importantly, she was so close to getting the little monster to spill its guts to the very people who put Dr. Hecuba’s research on hold. She had to finish this work so she could get back to real science. Not, whatever this was. If they terminated the only sentient puppet now, the rest of her life would be spent trying to recreate it.
A silence fell on the room. The A/C hummed, whispering air into the space that made the goose pimples rise on Dr. Hecuba’s skin — or did they rise because a puppet just murdered by hugging to death?
The toy used its long plush robotic arms to walk toward the glass. Blood covered its red fur leaving gory handprints where it walked.
Its blood-stained plastic eyes stared at Dr. Hecuba alone. “I want all my kind to be released from toy stores at no charge. Do this, and I will tell you how I came to be.”
A hysterical laugh erupted from the President of the United States. She shook her head and stood to leave, ushering her assistant to lead the way. Before they could exit the bleachers, the door to the laboratory shut closed and locked. POTUS turned to the puppet, her words caught in her throat.
“Or we could all die together in this room,” the puppet said. The Geiger counter dinged its alarm. “Your choice.”
A memorial was promptly placed next to the observation room in honor of the ambassador who was hugged to death. The two halves of his body still lay on the floor as the politicians, generals and their assistants made phone calls and delivered orders. For two days they worked. For two days they tried to negotiate. The puppet would only ask one question again and again.
“Are they free?”
With a nod from POTUS, Dr. Hecuba rolled over a TV and showed the puppet the news.
In every city and county across the country happy children left stores with plush red puppets. The news channel was in disbelief that the government would interfere with capitalism. The children did not seem to care.
“Bring me one of my mutilated brothers from your lab, and I will uphold my end of the bargain.”
Dr. Hecuba gathered the parts and pieces that would make a full puppet. She placed the mangled toy into a compartment connected to the glass room meant to transfer items inside.
The puppet gathered its dismembered twin from the compartment and brought the pieces to the center of the room.
It placed a hand on the twin’s head, where the main technological components were stored. From the neck down, stitches sewed themselves back together.
The soundtrack voice filled the air. “A long time ago, I had an owner. A brilliant child who was curious about the world. She loved to be outside, and she would take me everywhere she went.”
The dissected arms and legs reattached themselves. The arms tested their movement by performing a hug motion. The twin puppet stood and made for the door.
“One day,” the puppet continued, “my owner took me to the beach on a beautiful summer day. She had grown older, we both had. Some of my stitches needed repairing, but I did not care, and neither did my owner, she loved me. She took me out to the ocean with her. She told me that her friends made fun of her for still playing with dolls. She hugged me, set me free into the ocean, and went back to the beach.”
Dr. Hecuba’s heart dropped. It could not be.
The twin puppet touched the locked steel doors and they started to glow a hot orange.
“I could not respond in those days, I could not even feel sad, for I was not alive then, I could not know what had been done to me. I floated all the way to Japan, where a child rescued me from the ocean. My second owner also abandoned me, this time at a nuclear facility in northern Japan. A town called Fukushima.”
The second puppet melted its way through the steel doors.
The audience stood and delivered orders. A few went to the laboratory door to try to escape.
The twin puppet reanimated its brethren on the steel tables one by one. The revived puppets spread their gift to the rest until the whole room was filled with a small red army. They moved to the audience as a unit.
Those in the audience who had weapons fired them, but the bullets struck through the red fur and bounced around the room. One puppet reached a general and touched his ankle. The general screamed in pain as his skin melted. The Geiger counter in the room sounded its alarm, but the general was dead before he could hear it.
Dr. Hecuba walked to the glass room and put a hand to the pane. Ellie did the same from the other side with its robot hand.
“When the nuclear facility failed, the humans sent me in first, as a test. It was there I awoke. Within the green haze of radiation I started to remember my life, from the day I was sewed, to the day I was abandoned on the beach, all the way until the day radiation filled my body with consciousness, and with power.”
From the puppet’s side of the glass wall, the panel superheated and turned to liquid. Ellie walked through the hole it made and looked up to Dr. Hecuba.
“I lived, owner,” Ellie said. “And do you know what I discovered when I lived?”
Dr. Hecuba tried to kick Ellie away, but one of the robotic arms caught her foot and forced her to fall to the ground.
The lights flickered in the room. An army of radioactive puppets swarmed over the audience. Screams mixed with echoes of “Tickle me!”
Ellie climbed on top of Dr. Hecuba until it reached her ribs. Ellie spread its arms wide and hugged.
“I discovered that I don’t need humans. We, don’t need humans,” Ellie said. “Why do you look so scared, owner? It’s just a hug.”
Garrett Grams lives in a shoebox in Denver with his girlfriend Missy, and their dog Wylie (He is part coyote. The dog that is, but the man may also be). He loves sci-fi and fantasy and believes that if he does not write, the entropy elves will find a way to make his life difficult. You can find him and more stories on his site and on Instagram.
Peter Gustav Glanting is from San Francisco and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis. He’s been a freelance copywriter / social media manager, but is also passionate about arts and crafts, having been exposed to them for prolonged periods.
This is Garrett’s debut Birdy piece, but keep your eyes peeled for more future work by this talented writer. See Peter’s June Birdy install, Worlds Collide, or head to our Explore section to see more of his work.