The Future: “Really Good Puppets,” a short story by Jill M. Talbot

THINGS CAN BE PEOPLE, WHEN you get down to it, and this can be dangerous. It is most dangerous when a puppet becomes a person and fights back all it has been used for, or when a person becomes a thing and is so thing-like that it forgets that it ever was a person.

These people-things live in the in-between.

A snowman, for instance, is that a man or a thing?

Puppets, TV characters, Halloween costumes, and dolls all live on the same spectrum.

If you can call it living. Disney always has half-breeds, but they are never correct, they are always happy being half.

Even half-and-half cream learns to hold a certain level of resentment.

There are several diagnoses available for those unable to distinguish the difference between people and things, or outwardly refuse to. But when an entire society takes up the task? That—that is a revolution.

The revolution would nearly destroy humanity by trying to improve on it. This is the history of the world magnified and sped up.

This is the story of the start of the revolution.

This is the story of the start of two revolutions.

This is the story of one boy who became too puppet, and one puppet who became too real.

This is the story of Really Good Puppets.

 

Rev1

Tears rolled down Andy’s cheeks. This was a recent improvement—to allow puppets to actually cry. If you caught a puppet tear with your hand and took a lick it would taste just like the real thing. Andy was a test puppet, though he would later be sold.

Tears of joy or in reaction to stimuli like onions were developments far past the current stage, and developers agreed would be unnecessary, or certainly not worth the labour involved. Andy was crying at the movie Titanic. Andy was the really best puppet of the Really Good Puppets.

Puppets wore outfits made of cotton. They could dance, they could talk, they could smile. Now they could even cry. They were trademarked as Really Good Puppets.

The first batch of puppets started off knowing how to do everything and being incredibly intelligent. It was quickly discovered that nobody wanted a reminder of how dumb they were. They wanted a hobby; they wanted to watch their puppet learn, like watching a Chia Pet grow or like training a puppy. Puppets were just like puppies without the urine on the carpet or the bills. So a Really Good Puppet School was developed for people to train puppets, which learned to talk and walk at a pace slightly faster than real children.

Many children began to resent how puppets were often loved more than they were, like the case of the couple in South Korea who let their baby starve to death while playing a virtual game with a virtual child. Puppets could do better—puppets weren’t virtual, they were virtually real. It was only natural that even children would be replaced by a well-thought-out developed version. Who wanted a child that would turn into a teenager when they could have a puppet that would stay exactly the same forever?

The developer Christopher was put in charge of taking Andy home for the night. Most nights you could find him sitting on the floor playing with Andy. Christopher’s real child, Christopher Junior, could often be heard, splashing in the bath, singing, Where is love? Does it fall from skies above? a song he had obviously learned from Andy. He couldn’t sing as well as Andy, of course, and this made Christopher annoyed.

Christopher’s wife hated the puppets, but she couldn’t argue with the paycheck of a top developer. And she died before she could see how far the whole thing could go. Most people thought that it would merely fade the way. Tickle Me Elmo had faded, but Elmo could only giggle. Puppets could cry.

Junior hated the colour brown even more than he hated anything, even more than he hated puppets. It was so strong he could be considered racist, if he were capable of associating colours with people, which he was not. Nobody actually had skin that was the colour it was said to be, it was just skin that was more or less tanned. Given what things were brown, this was not a completely unnatural fear, just a fear that was taken too far.

They had, at one point, tried to make puppets that would help potty train children. Junior had been a test child for this test puppet and it really hadn’t gone well.

Christopher Senior would have nothing of this need for certain colours but it was better than the other thing Junior hated and feared—puppets. Christopher Senior started to keep Andy in his bedroom at night, having once found Junior trying to strangle the puppet. To say he was sleep-walking might be true, but it is probably more accurate to say that he was dream-walking, as children often do.

Where is love? was a question largely unasked, but soon would be asked by everyone.

 

Rev2

Now imagine holding a gun to your father. How does it feel?

Good.

Good. Now does he have his back to you or are you pointing it straight at him?

His back.

Good. Now imagine that he is facing you. Does it feel better with him seeing you or with his back to you?

Seeing.

Good. Have you pulled the trigger yet?

No.

Why haven’t you?

I am not a bad person.

But this is just your imagination. This is just hypnosis. This is a safe place.

I am not a bad imaginative person.

And yet you feel good with the gun.

Yes.

Why do you feel good with the gun?

I don’t know.

Now imagine holding the gun to your mother. How does that feel?

Horrible.

Why does it feel horrible?

It’s my mother. Besides, she’s already dead.

No reason to feel horrible then, is there? What are you going to do?

Drop it.

Have you dropped it?

No.

Why not?

It might go off by accident.

So what are you going to do?

Put it down and pray.

Are you praying?

Yes.

What are you praying for?

Forgiveness.

Why do you need forgiveness?

I just put a gun to my mother’s head.

Yes, but I asked you to. Is imagining sex the same as doing it?

No.

Which is better?

Doing it.

How does imagining it make you feel?

Like doing it.

Is the same true of the gun?

No.

 

Rev1

What the puppets should be sad about was another dilemma, and how sad they should be at one thing compared to another. An emotive scale was created for each emotion.

Sadness was as follows:

Losing a toy: 1
Losing a favourite toy: 2
Displeasing an owner: 3
Commercials on TV for starving children: 4
Death of an owner: 5

After much debate, it was decided that puppets should not have an anger scale. Even if it were something like genocide, it would be a Pandora’s box to even leave anger as a possibility. People didn’t like angry puppets, no matter how justified the anger.

People liked puppets with joy, with seldom but appropriate sadness, embarrassment and shame. Some people really loved a shameful puppet. It was debated whether or not they should let people set the emotive scales for their puppets themselves. This was decided against, for it may cause too many legal problems. It was better to be able to include a liability notice on what kind of puppet the owner would be getting. Several different brands of emotive scales were created.

Developers started off being very honest about the emotive scales. This puppet is very sad, very sick, fearful … but it was quickly realized that nobody wanted to admit that their dream puppet was a puppet that was always sick.

Developers added in stories of the puppet’s lives with explanations of their dispositions. Instead of ordering a sick puppet, customers were ordering a puppet in extreme crisis. The sick puppets went from being the least popular puppet to the most popular puppet with this tiny adjustment. Developers considered taking this further by offering therapy puppets to help people with various mental disorders, but the liability would, again, be a nightmare.

Similarly, developers originally tried making puppets as human as possible. But people didn’t want puppets that were human. They wanted puppets that would break out into song. It was best to stick to what they were good at. Really Good Puppets.

 

Rev2

Now imagine putting a gun to me. How does that feel?

Indifferent.

Do you want me dead?

No.

Do you want me alive?

I guess.

What if you remembered this at the family reunion? Would you use the tool?

No.

Why not?

I might kill him.

But it’s just your imagination. Have you done things before because you imagined them first?

Yes.

What did you do?

Slept with my boss.

And did it live up to your imagination?

No.

What do you want to happen at this reunion?

Everyone to stay alive.

Can you make that happen?

Yes.

What do you want to happen in your imaginative reunion?

To have sex with my boss.

Are you having sex with your boss?

Yes.

How does it feel?

Awkward.

Why does it feel awkward?

You are asking me questions.

Now, are you still really afraid of this reunion?

Yes.

Are you still really afraid of your boss?

Yes.

Are you still really afraid of puppets?

Can you stop saying really?

Does really bother you?

Stop.

 

Rev1

The quote from the TV show off House was on every wall in RGP headquarters, There’s no unconditional love; it’s just unconditional need. Puppets needed very little of anything; all of their needs were preset to provide with ultimate user satisfaction, and thus, weren’t really needs at all, as they could easily be rid of. People, on the other hand, needed many things, including puppets. At least, they could be trained to believe that they needed puppets. Training a person wasn’t much different than training a puppet.

The House slogan became so embedded in the developers that they started to chant it as they went about their work, often using it as a greeting at the water cooler, shortened to, No love, just need. They needed water, after all, they were not puppets.

 

Rev2

Can a puppet kill a person?

Probably not.

Can you kill a puppet?

Yes. Probably yes.

Can you kill people?

Definitely yes.

Because?

Because I am a child of the revolution and puppets cannot hurt me.

And your name is?

Not Junior.

Your name IS?

Marcel.

What are puppets?

The devil.

How does the devil drive?

In the future it will be self-driving.

And who must stop it?

Me.

And you are?

Marcel.

And have you forgiven your father?

No.

Good.

 

Rev1

People loved to have competitions where they could have their puppets compete for prizes. Musical theatre was especially popular. It was also great advertising for purchasing new puppets. As a test puppet, Andy often acted as MC. He would introduce each act, Now we have Betty performing “Maybe” from Annie the musical! What a real treat!

Andy stared at the puppets on stage doing Oklahoma!. They were clearly new at it, they seemed to stumble. In the audience, developers were shaking their heads. While those who bought puppets could clearly undo a lot of the well-thought out programming, they left this in order to give customers something like control, while also assuming that they would only go in certain, predictable directions with it—a few more freckles, a bigger grin, etc., what was happening on the stage was an utter travesty. The puppet on stage sang, Oh what a beautiful morning, like he was herding cats. It was like an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras. They had stopped investigating contestants beforehand due to every year being mostly the same routines. They wanted people to believe that it was a fair competition.

RGP staff ushered the Oklahoma! duo to a special room during the intermission. Andy wiped his brow as if he had been sweating and told the audience to enjoy some refreshments while The Greatest Musical Hits of All Time played. Puppets dressed as waiters in tuxedos wandered through the crowds, offering out food and drink.

After the intermission, Andy sang, Where is love? from Oliver! while the whole audience wept. A real child who survived real tragedy muttered, dickhead, under his breath. This same child had tried to pass himself off as a puppet, but the signs of humanness were too obvious to go unnoticed. His face didn’t glow. He had no dimples. He had a few scars. He couldn’t hide his disposition; nobody would knowingly create such an emotive scale! These children often made the audience love puppets even more, so developers allowed a few stranglers in. People wanted the musical version of tragedy—that had never, and never would, change.

 

Rev2

What type of therapy is this?

Reality Therapy.

What was the point of the guns?

I wanted to see how you would be without your rational mind.

You can’t be rational with a gun?

You can’t be rational with an imaginary gun pointed at a real person.

You seem to be speaking from experience.

Experience dealing with people dealing with difficulties.

Any of your clients killed anybody?

Not that I am aware of.

How many pulled the trigger?

Will knowing that give you forgiveness?

This isn’t entirely ethical, is it?

That sounds like deflection. Are you distrustful of my professionalism?

I am distrustful of your non-professionalism.

Would you pull the trigger now?

No.

Good, I think we are really getting somewhere.

 

Rev1

Pretty soon there was a puppet in every household. Some puppets were bought and sold on the black market for ungodly purposes. This provided the delightful opportunity to offer deals for saving sick puppets from real horrors.

All of this also provided the opportunity for many parodies and conspiracy podcasts. Really Good Puppets—RGP—could easily be confused with RPG. Most people believed that anything cute couldn’t possibly turn on you, but many podcasts pointed out that science has always worked too fool our basic instincts.

Parodies were developed for puppet tears, for ISIS puppets, even a Cesar Millan and puppets show on Comedy Central. South Park had a field day with Really Good Dickheads. Puppet sex became the most popular Google search term for two years.

Margaret Atwood started an Anti-Puppet campaign, even though puppets curbed the desire to have cats, and Atwood was also known to be against cats. Puppets would fill the landfills, she said, if not also destroying out capacities for human connection. Puppets replaced cats in YouTube videos, memes, etc.

An existential puppet created by a poet warned everyone of the impending doom. He drank himself to death while nobody paid attention. People loved puppet funerals. Some puppets were humanely killed just for the funerals.

 

Rev2

Do you prefer the raccoon or the owl?

I don’t know.

It’s important.

Okay, the owl.

Bad choice.

Why is that a bad choice?

The owl is wise, the raccoon is smart. The next revolution will be started by raccoons.

I am not a raccoon.

Not yet.

 

Rev1

Junior had started to suck his thumb again, he couldn’t help it; his little body tightened up until he was like a tripod ready to fall over. He tightened and sucked as if he were a cartoon waiting for someone to write in the bubble—Where is love? He couldn’t believe that his mother was gone, and he was stuck with his father and his father’s puppet. He started to make fake online dating profiles and show up announced at the neighbour’s, declaring a real tragedy to be underway. Christopher looked at his son and wondered how he could be such a good developer if he couldn’t fix his own child. He knew that he was a really good developer, one of the best, for the promotion and the new office and being able to take Andy home and whatnot. It was like being in charge of an off-duty police dog, if that dog was also the best-goddamned dog ever made.

Christopher would soon be promoted again, given all of his hard work with Andy. He was allowed to name the next puppets, which he named Oliver and Annie. His genetic child, Junior, would later change his name, his emotive scale being what it was and all. His mother died before she could see Christopher Senior descent into a state of madness over Junior’s emotive scale and all his needs and whatnot.

 

Rev2

Who are you?

A puppet. A really bad puppet.

Who are you really?

A fucking puppet, okay?

Your father, did he love puppets?

Yes.

Did he love you?

No.

Who are you?

A child of the revolution.

 

Rev1

As much as the developers loved Andy, they felt it was time to offer him a real home. They had learned all they could from this particular puppet. It was not good to hold on to a test puppet for too long, for people would naturally grow attached and this would keep them from being unbiased and productive. They didn’t want people to be disappointed when they compared their puppet to Andy. Furthermore, they could only let a puppet learn so much, otherwise they feared what it might be capable of. Audiences also grew tired of an MC that never changed.

Andy was adopted by a recently divorced woman (they stopped saying sold.) The developers all shed a tear on his departure. He was advertised as a survivor of tremendous tragedy. The woman signed for him, anxiously clutching her woolen sweater. Upon opening the box, her heart immediately melted. He was just the right amount of sick. His cute little face was majestic. He was just like what she had dreamed of.

Andy looked up and smiled, showing off his dimples. Mommy? he said.

A real touching moment.

A real tear rolled down her face, dropping onto his curly red hair.

A tear of joy flowed down Andy’s face.

The woman smiled and laughed, unaware of the box that had been opened.

Darling! she said.

 

Rev2

A child drowned in a bathtub while her parents were playing with their new puppet, Annie. The headline read: Where is love?

A new Really Good Parenting class was created and a Really Good Support Group for survivors of the revolution. A prison was created for anyone with an emotive scale that was far off the desired. Thus, prisons became full of all children of developers and children of the revolution. As puppets learned to cry, most people forgot. Annie was eventually run over by a truck.

In an interview from prison, Marcel’s therapist stated,

We develop children like creating photos in a darkroom. We take negatives and develop them into positives. Sometimes we leave them as negatives or we leave them in chemicals for too long, such that they become splotchy, or we give them too much light, and they become overexposed. Training children isn’t much different than training puppets. I was an RGP developer, after all. That’s why I put in all of my hard work with children of developers. Some remained puppet-like forever—the negatives. Others were splotchy and overexposed and learned to fight back. What do you think would have happened had someone not channeled all of that overexposed energy? I was not the one who created the soldiers, I just reminded them of who their enemy was. What else do you expect? It was like an entire generation grew up in Romanian orphanages. Tell me, what did you expect?

 

Rev1

When the last puppet was destroyed, tears of sadness, joy and onions all came out at once—people could no longer distinguish the difference.

A few developers shot themselves.

 

Rev2

I don’t think this is helping.

We have puppet therapy as well if—

Can we go back to the gun?

Good. Good. Good.

 

The End of The End of Revs

The world grew tired of revolutions and realized that a ban would only ensure its creation full-force. Liberty was the ability to lose oneself for a puppet, song and dance, memoir or war.

Did trigger warnings and safe spaces create the desire—need—for puppets? Perhaps. Perhaps the whole world had been dream-walking. It took several generations for anyone to tell this story. Sometimes stories need to be put inside-out to be properly told. Stories all have beginnings, middles and ends, people said, but for several revolutions, stories only had split-ends. This is as close to a story as one can legally be. Reference attached material on Silence Clause, Legal Story Format, Claims of Ancestors and Revolution Deniers.

Really good sex went back to being the most popular Google search term.

 

 

***

Jill M. Talbot attended Simon Fraser University for psychology before pursing her passion for writing. She has appeared in Geist, Rattle, Poetry Is Dead, The Puritan, Matrix, subTerrain, and The Tishman Review. She was shortlisted for the Matrix Lit POP Award for fiction and the Malahat Far Horizons Award for poetry. She lives on Gabriola Island, BC.

Image: thecut.com

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