The Unknown Object
The phone was ringing when Tim got to the front door, but it had stopped by the time he entered the house. He summoned both his mother and sister, still under the influence of the mind control gun, to the living room, and had them sit on the sofa. He sat across from them with the cardboard box resting on the coffee table.
The two women had vacant expressions on their faces, their arms hanging limply at their sides. Mom was wearing a loose-fitting blouse and a pair of jeans, no shoes or socks. Her brown hair was unkempt and loose around her shoulders. Heather was wearing one of Tim’s old Transformers t-shirts, and a pair of shorts, her beautiful, slender legs on full view. Her brown hair, so similar to her mother’s, was tied back with a simple hairband. Her brown eyes gazed off into the distance.
Tim’s mouth suddenly went dry.
In front of him was what he hoped was the answer to all his problems. The guide to complete obedience.
He had no idea what the ultimate result of using the guide would be. Ms. Sommer had said that those who received the commands within the guide’s pages would still be themselves, but that they would view Tim as their master, and be unable to act against him.
Before using it on his mother and sister, maybe he should try using it on someone else first, as a sort of guinea pig? But who?
Tim gently touched the still-painful swelling on his forehead. He remembered his sister running off, the panic he’d felt. If he hadn’t found her, he would have been in serious trouble—jail, or worse.
He couldn’t allow something like that to happen again.
There was another option.
Tim could still turn back things to the way they were. He could erase Mom and Heather’s memories and undo the commands he’d given them.
But what would that mean?
Mom would go back to pestering and reprimanding him all the time, taking away his phone and video game privileges whenever he didn’t do his homework. The most physical affection he’d get from her would be a hug if he ever got an ‘A’ on one of his exams.
Heather would go back to treating him like a loser, like a waste of space. She wouldn’t share anything about her private life with him anymore. She’d probably go back to dating Eddie—he’d already seen how he was the first person she’d turned to when she realized Tim had done something to her.
Tim couldn’t bear the thought of that.
The words of Ms. Sommer came back to the forefront of his mind, as though to taunt him—“They are your slaves, and you are their master.” Was that really the fate he wanted for his mother and sister?
Whatever he decided to do, he had to do it soon. He couldn’t just keep his mother and sister as mind-controlled zombies in perpetuity. When he’d gone upstairs, he’d glanced as his sister’s smartphone and had seen she’d already received a dozen messages asking how she was doing and if she was going to be able to go back to track practice tomorrow.
The clock was ticking.
What should he do? Should he proceed on the path he’d taken, or was there another road available to him?
He was still pondering those questions when the telephone suddenly rang again.
Tim stood up and went to the disconnect the phone. The last thing he wanted was to have it ringing again when he was in the middle of giving commands. Ms. Sommer had mentioned how important it was for the commands to be given in their exact order, with no interruptions.
His blood went cold when he realized who the call was from.
Lansdale High School.
Three missed calls from the same number.
Tim let it ring until the answering machine picked it up. The recording of his mother’s cheerful voice began to play.
“Hello, you’ve reached the West family. We can’t come to the phone right now, but if you leave a message at the tone, we will call you back as soon as we can!”
“Mr. and Mrs. West, this is Hannah Davis from Lansdale High School. I’m sorry to keep calling you, but it’s rather urgent. It has to do with your son Timothy’s absence from school. If I don’t hear from you by the end of today, I’m afraid I’ll have to forward the issue to the dean of discipline. My phone number is…”
Tim gulped. Ms. Davis! Shit! Why would she be calling his house? He’d had Mom give the school an excuse for both him and Heather this morning. Why was her focus on him?
The only explanation as that someone had spotted him when he went out to the library that morning. Maybe that fat fuck librarian—he’d probably overheard the excuse he’d given to Ms. Sommer.
Okay, Tim. Don’t panic. She says she hasn’t contacted the dean of discipline yet. You can just have Mom call her back with some explanation and…
Have Mom call her back.
Unbidden, a mental image of Ms. Davis came to the forefront of Tim’s thoughts. She was easily the most attractive female teacher in school, a woman in her mid-thirties, with icy-blue eyes and pale, blonde hair in a short bob haircut. Not that she went out of her way to flaunt her looks—on the contrary, she always dressed modestly, as though she were aware of the fact that she had dozens of hormonal teenage boys constantly staring at her. Pencil skirts that went just below the knee, modest blouses and sweaters that hid what Tim and his compatriots assumed was a beautiful, buxom chest. She even wore sensible flats rather than any type of heel. The most skin Tim had ever seen her show off was when she wore short sleeves in the summer.
And yet, regardless of the modest and unassuming way she dressed, Tim knew she was the object of many a teenager’s masturbatory fantasies, including his own. Whenever she walked pasts rows of desks, students would furtively stare at her lower back, staring at the panty line digging into the skin of her buttocks. When she bent down to look at students’ writing, the boys would discreetly peer down her blouse in the desperate hopes that they could see some cleavage. Even something as innocuous as Ms. Davis’ bare calves could serve as potential fap material.
The conscience that had, up to this point, been prodding him regarding his own mother and sister had gone silent.
Tim’s mouth went dry. Suddenly, he knew what to do. What seemed to be an insurmountable problem could actually be an incredible, unexpected opportunity.
A chance to test out the guide to obedience, and see how it worked on a guinea pig before trying it out on his family.
And, if that worked, he’d be able to do more, much more.
He played back the last message, and copied Ms. Davis’ personal number on a piece of paper. Then, he turned to his mother.
“Okay, Mom, I want you to listen and obey the following commands exactly…”
Hannah Davis used her index finger to adjust her reading glasses to the bridge of her nose as she read through the short essays her students had written that morning. Terrible—they were uniformly terrible. Most of them just awkwardly summarized the past week’s lessons, with no attempt at historical analysis.
She brushed her flaxen hair out of the way and skimmed through a few more entries. Not a single decent piece of writing among them, she grumbled to herself.
She had just started to review the rubric, to see if there was any way she could justify not failing half the class, when she felt her phone vibrate.
Strange, she thought. Who’d be calling me at this hour? Everyone knows I’m at work—maybe Ryan needs something?
She opened her desk drawer and took out the phone. It was a new number, but one she recognized immediately.
After all, she’d called that number four times that day.
She steeled herself for the conversation ahead—some parents were reasonable, but others could be…well…hard to deal with was putting it mildly.
“Hello? This is Hannah Davis speaking.”
It was a woman’s voice that answered.
“Ah, Mrs. Davis? This is Kathleen Biggs-West. I received your phone calls this morning.”
“Oh, Mrs. Biggs-West, thank you for calling me. It’s Ms. Davis, actually. I am so glad that you were able to return my call. You see, I received a call this morning from the—“
“Yes, from the library! I know, and I’m sorry to have caused you so much trouble.”
“Well, uh, it’s really no trouble at all, but, you see, the problem is—“
“I can imagine that you must have been worried sick. You know, Timothy always tells me how much he loves your class. He really admires and respects you as an educator. And of course, Heather raves about you too.”
Somehow, Hannah doubted that was true, but a lot of parents liked to butter her up—and then start making excuses for their child’s behavior.
“Well, that’s lovely to hear, Mrs. Biggs-West—“
“Oh, please, call me Kathleen.”
“Well, Kathleen, the issue here is—“
“You know, it’s awfully awkward to talk about this over the phone. Do you think there’s any chance we could meet in person?”
“In person? Uh, I really would like to resolve this as soon as possible, but—I suppose at school tomorrow afternoon would be the earliest time I’d be available, but it would have to be…” Shit. She had a dinner date with Ryan tomorrow, and he’d made a really big deal about how great it was going to be. Was she going to have to postpone?
“Oh, but tomorrow is Friday. I’m sure you don’t want to stay late at school when the weekend’s about to start. How about today?”
“Well, that would be best. Can you come to the school on such short notice?”
“Actually, that’s the thing. I do a lot of jogging, you see, and I sprained my ankle. It’s hard to walk, let alone drive. And my husband is away on a business trip. I know it’s a lot to ask, but do you think you could drop by our home? We live just a few minutes away from the school.”
“I’m…I’m afraid home visits are very irregular.”
Hannah wondered for a second whether this was some sort of psychological maneuver. Maybe the woman was trying to have the meeting on her home turf?
“I know, and I’m very sorry to impose on you. I just thought it would be easier, and quicker, to talk in person that way. Of course, I could always schedule a meeting with the administration for later next week.”
And there it was. If this lady went to the administration, she would almost certainly complain about Hannah’s intransigence, her refusal to meet the mother at home. And the administration would, as it usually did, side with the parent.
Knowing she was beaten, Hannah exhaled, letting out a breath she hadn’t been entirely aware she’d been holding in.
With her next words, Hannah Davis inadvertently sealed her fate.
“Okay, Mrs. Biggs-West—“
“Please, it’s Kathleen.”
‘Uhm, yes, Kathleen. I can meet with you briefly this afternoon, say, around 4:30 PM? Could you give me your address?”
“At around 4:30 PM? That would be great. Oh, thank you! I’m so grateful. Do you have something to write with? Our address is—“
As soon as Mom hung up the phone, Tim could no longer contain himself.
“Yesss! Mom, you did it! That was perfect!” He hugged her tightly, and she, looking somewhat startled, hugged him back.
“I-I’m glad you’re happy, Tim, but I’m not sure I understand—why is it that you want your history teacher to come here? And what’s this about you being at the library? I’m afraid I’m a bit—“
Before she had a chance to finish, Tim took the mind control gun out from his waistband and pressed the button. As he felt the familiar electric tingling, his mother’s hands dropped to her sides, her head drooping slightly.
“Okay, Mom, now I want you to go upstairs, and get some of that athletic tape that you use for jogging, wrap it around your left ankle, as though it were injured or something. Then come back down and I’ll give you further instructions.”
His mother trudged up the stairs, and Tim turned to his sister, who sat on the sofa, still under the control of the ray gun.
“Heather, I want you to go back up to your room. Rest in bed until I call for you again. Under no reason will you leave your room unless I call for you. Do you understand?”
Now his sister stood up and also plodded up to the second floor.
Tim surveyed the living room, and began to clean up.
He had to set the stage for what was to come.
At 4:25 PM, Hannah Davis rang the doorbell to the West home. Mrs. Biggs-West—or rather, Kathleen—had been right. It was only a few minutes by car from the school.
Hannah looked at her watch—hopefully, she could get this over with in twenty minutes or so, and then head home, take a warm bath, and wait for Ryan. He’d promised to drop by with food from his restaurant, Kampai.
If Ryan knew about her visit, he’d remind her that working at that food distributor meant she wouldn’t have to kowtow to crazy parents and their unreasonable demands, like having her come to their homes after work hours.
Part of Hannah thought that the main reason Ryan was trying to get her to quit her job was just to get closer to her. They’d been dating for a year and a half at this point, and they were still living in separate apartments. Ryan had been hinting at moving in together for a while now, though. Maybe she should take him up on his offer.
She was still pondering that when the front door swung open.
A smiling, attractive middle-aged woman stood inside the doorway. If she strained her imagination, Hannah could see hints of Tim’s appearance, but she could instantly see the woman’s resemblance to Heather—the same brown hair, brown eyes, delicate features. Of course, Heather was just a teen, still developing, while this woman was probably in her mid-forties. Still, unless one took a close look at the slightest hint of wrinkles around the eyes and laugh lines around the mouth, she didn’t look all that much older than Hannah herself at first glance. She obviously kept herself in shape. She was dressed in casual jeans and a simple blouse. She wasn’t wearing any shoes, and Hannah noticed that what seemed like a bandage was wrapped around her left foot.
“You must be Ms. Davis. Thank you so much for coming on short notice. Come in, come in.”
The woman flashed that smile again, and ushered Hannah in before she’d had a chance to say anything. Past the doorway, Hannah saw a large living room, and beyond it, a dining room. It was a large, two-story house. She saw some shelves near the entrance filled with trophies—as she recalled, Heather was a track and field athlete, so these must belong to her. She couldn’t imagine Timothy West winning much of anything. He didn’t exactly strike her as the athletic type.
“You have a lovely home,” she said, giving a generic compliment. She didn’t know what else to say. She wondered where Tim and Heather were. Maybe upstairs? She thought of strategy—should she confront Tim today, or just talk to the mother about the incident at the library and ask for an explanation?
“Thank you so much! Here, let’s take a seat in the living room,” she said, limping slightly on her left foot as she walked towards a sofa and a set of easy chairs. Hannah followed behind. She could see some framed family pictures hanging on a nearby wall—a childhood photo of Timothy and Heather, dressed as Mickey and Minnie Mouse for some Halloween long ago, with a man (their father, most likely) dressed as Goofy. Another photo of Tim, with an awkward expression on his face, from his junior high school graduation. Next to him was a similar photo of his sister at her own junior high graduation—unlike Tim, she looked radiant, confident. The two pictures inadvertently revealed more about their subjects than the photographers had probably intended.
“Please, sit here, Ms. Davis,” Mrs. Biggs-West (Kathleen!) said obligingly, pointing towards an easy chair.
“Thank you, Mrs.—Kathleen. I was hoping we could get right down to brass tacks and—“
“Absolutely, absolutely. Oh! I left some tea brewing. Would you like some?”
Hannah shook her head. This wasn’t a social call, and she didn’t want to get distracted by tea and the inevitable small talk.
“No, I appreciate it, though. I really just want to get started and—“
“All right, but at least let me go turn off the electric kettle. I’ll be back in just a second.”
Without so much as another word, Kathleen took off and walked past the living room and into what Hannah assumed was the kitchen.
How odd, she thought. That limp doesn’t really look all that bad. Can she really not drive? Besides, it’s her left ankle, can’t she just use her right foot for the brake?
Hannah was starting to feel a little uncomfortable, like she’d been tricked into coming here. She wondered what wheedling excuses Kathleen had prepared on behalf of poor little Timmy. For that matter, she wondered whether Heather was sick, too, and if the father really was on a business trip.
She’d just taken out her phone and started typing a message to Ryan explaining her situation when she heard a short, sharp crackle coming from the kitchen, as though there’d been a short circuit somewhere.
“Mrs. Biggs- uh, Kathleen, is everything all right in there?” she asked, somewhat concerned. When there was no reply, she stood up and walked pat the dining room and towards the kitchen.
Suddenly, a familiar face stepped out of the kitchen door.
“Well, if it isn’t the man of the hour—Mr. West. Your mother and I were just about to have a serious conversation about you,” Hannah said, going almost immediately into what Ryan jokingly called ‘teacher mode.’
“Hi, Ms. Davis,” Timothy said, smiling, as though he had no idea the amount of trouble he was in. He was fidgeting slightly and had one of his arms behind him, as though he were scratching his back. “It’s actually great that you’re here. Do you remember that thing I wanted to talk to you about last week?”
“Please don’t change the subject, young man. Do you know I got a call from the town library this morning? You’re lucky it went to me instead of to the dean of discipline—now, go fetch your mother so the three of us can talk about this.”
“O-okay, but this is really important,” Tim said, his expression suddenly becoming serious. She could tell he was breathing heavily, as though he were nervous. “The reason I wanted to talk to you last week is because I found this weird thing in the woods next to the softball field.”
“You’re not even supposed to be in that area, Mr. West, there’s construction going on there—you could be hurt. You realize that’s another infraction I’ll have to report to the administration.” It was as though the kid were trying to dig a deeper hole for himself.
Instead of replying or apologizing, though, Timothy took what he’d been hiding behind his back and showed it to her. It was some sort of scuffed, old-looking toy gun, the sort that you’d probably have seen in toy stores in the mid-1950s. Was this what he’d wanted to show her?
“Mr. West, I’m a history teacher, not an expert in vintage toys. What am I supposed to do with that?”
“W-well, Ms. Davis, this actually belonged to Oskar Müller, and—“
That name again.
“I have no idea who that is, and frankly, I don’t really—“
“Oh, that’s a shame. Well, anyway, let me just show you how it works.”
“That’s not necessary. Now, can you get your mother to come out here?”
“Just a second. So, you see, all you have to do is turn this dial here, and—“
“Mr. West, I really don’t have time for this.”
“—then you just point it at the intended subject and—“
“Mr. West, I’ve had just about enough.”
“—press the button.”
Hannah Davis heard a short, sharp crackling sound, and then the whole world went black.