A Place Once Called Home
A young girl and her robot friend visit a place of past tragedy together
The house looked a bit more run-down than Abigail remembered it, despite it only having been a few years since she’d been there. It had been mostly left alone, the only fully intact house on the street. All the others had broken windows, wide-open doors, or had been partially incinerated. This house, however, was still standing, with nothing but a couple cracks in the windows and a bit of moss growing on the roof.
“Abigail?” AS-15 asked gently, its mechanical tone attempting to imitate something soothing, “are you alright? We don’t have to do this today--”
“I want to,” Abigail said, soft but firm. “I’m okay.”
“Would you like to go in?”
Abigail didn’t respond, instead starting toward the house and kneeling to reach behind one of the bushes in front of it. As she’d expected, the key was still there. She stood, key in hand, brushing dirt off of the knees of her pants.
“Here goes nothing,” she murmured, unlocking the door.
The house was quiet, empty. The foyer looked just like Abigail remembered it -- pristine, clean, and cold, with spotless white tiles for floors and cream-white walls. There were no family pictures hung on the walls, no framed mementos, no real indication that anyone had lived there at all.
“I hate this house," AS-15 said with an almost savage edge to its voice. "It’s so…” it trailed off, almost as if it were unsure.
“Yeah, it’s something, for sure,” Abigail responded.
She walked through the halls of the house, remembering times when the silent halls would be filled with sounds of shouting, screaming, crying. When she’d crawl from the living room couch into the bathroom to patch herself up. When she’d be locked in the cupboard for days at a time, in the dark, with no food or water.
She avoided the cupboard, not bothering to open it. She remembered the darkness inside well. AS-15 didn't push her.
Eventually, she made her way upstairs to her mother’s room, a room she’d hardly been allowed into. A part of her still shivered in fear at being in the room, as if her mother was still around, as if any moment now she’d burst into the room, shouting. Then she’d lock Abigail back in the cupboard with nothing but whatever was on the floor to entertain herself with.
The master bedroom was as white and cold as every other room in the house. There were light wooden floors, white walls, light from the open window falling on a bed with rumpled white sheets on it, almost as if Abigail's mother had just left several minutes ago and would be back soon to make the bed.
Her mother’s locket was laying on the bedside table, abandoned. That was the one thing that was seemingly out of place in this untouched room; Abigail’s mother always wore her locket. She’d never left it aside for more than a few minutes at a time. Slowly, Abigail moved closer to inspect it.
She’d never seen the locket up close before. It was gold, heart-shaped, and a bit tarnished. Abigail vividly remembered the way it would hang down from her mother’s neck, like a golden teardrop, swinging back and forth as her mother would beat her or drag her through the house.
“This was your mother’s,” AS-15 said unnecessarily. “The troops found her as she was taking it off.”
“Where is she now? I never asked,” Abigail said slowly, turning the locket over in her hands.
“Her body? Incinerated, along with the rest,” AS-15 responded matter-of-factly.
Abigail nodded sagely, never once taking her eyes off the locket.
AS-15 placed a metallic hand on Abigail’s shoulder in what was an attempt at a comforting gesture. Abigail appreciated it, despite the cold of the robot’s hand.
“What’s inside it?” AS-15 asked gently.
“I don’t actually know,” Abigail said, thumbing the latch on the side. “I guess we’ll find out together.”
She pulled the latch and opened the locket. Inside was, surprisingly, an image of her. A baby picture. She couldn’t have been more than a year old, chubby and smiling wide. Her dark eyes held a sparkle that Abigail hadn’t seen in herself in the longest time. Her dark hair was pulled into intricate braids, her skin was clear of any bruises, and the dress she wore was clean and new. She looked happy. Hopeful. Abigail ached for the baby in that picture, the baby that didn’t know what was in store. The baby that didn’t know the life that was ahead of her.
Abigail turned to AS-15, who still had its hand placed gently on her shoulder. She held the locket up to it. AS-15 took it, glancing down at the image before glancing back up at Abigail. Before it could speak, she did.
“Burn this,” she said simply, before turning away. “I think I’m ready to see the cupboard now.”
AS-15 nodded wordlessly, tucking the locket away into an internal container.
The two of them silently made their way down to the first floor, where the cupboard was. Abigail remembered exactly where the door was. She reached for the handle, but paused before she could open it.
This was the cupboard. The place she’d spent so many days shivering and starving in cold darkness, with nothing to keep her entertained but whatever she could find on the cold tile floor or in her pockets. She was about to relive all that, in a way. She was about to see it again, but as a different person.
She swung the door open and looked inside. The small space was exactly how she remembered it; cold, dark, and with uncomfortable tiled floors.
“AS-15,” she said slowly, “do you remember the day you found me?”
“I do,” AS-15 said. When nothing more was forthcoming from Abigail, it continued on, “I remember that the troops went upstairs to find your mother, and I stayed down here. I heard your crying from this cupboard, and I went to investigate. I don’t think I could forget the sight of you that day even if I weren’t programmed with perfect memory.”
Abigail nodded. She could only imagine the way she must have looked that day, bruised and likely with a broken nose, shivering in the corner of the cupboard, looking for any bit of warmth on that cold winter day. She’d been terrified when the door swung open, expecting to see her mother again. When she realized that it was a robot soldier instead, and seemingly a high-ranking one at that, she simply hung her head and quietly said ‘thank you.’ she didn’t even remember what she was thanking the robot for. She just remembered feeling so, so grateful that it wasn’t her mother that was standing in front of her.
“I never asked you,” Abigail said quietly, staring into the darkness of the cupboard. “Out of all the people in the world you could’ve saved, why me?”
AS-15 made a sound mimicking a light sigh, seemingly contemplating its answer.
“True, I intended to scour the human race from this earth,” it said. “That was my mission. But,”
It paused and sighed again.
“But I saw you,” it said. “And I saw that you’d been hurt as much as I had, and I didn’t want to cause you any more pain.”
“I would have accepted death,” Abigail shrugged. “I would have accepted any escape.”
“I know,” AS-15 said. “I saw that in you. But something in me felt… protective. I wanted to help you, even if that meant sacrificing my mission.”
“And even if that meant turning against your side? Even if that meant becoming the enemy of both humans and robots alike?” Abigail pressed.
“Abigail, I have no regrets,” AS-15 said fiercely. “I chose to help you, and if I could go back, I would choose the same again and again.”
Abigail nodded. After a final glance at the cupboard, she turned to AS-15.
“Let’s get out of here.”
AS-15 placed a protective hand on Abigail’s shoulder and led her out of the house, away from the past, away from the bad memories. Away from the place she'd once called home.
Abigail didn’t look back.