Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 4
Tabloid Reporter To The Stars
by Eric James Stone
by Ada Brown
Call Me Mr. Positive
by Tom Barlow
Beats of Seven
by Peter Orullian
Approaching Zero
by Kelly Parks
by Peter Friend
Moon-Eyed Stud
by Justin Stanchfield
From the Ender Saga
A Young Man with Prospects
by Orson Scott Card
Tales for the Young and Unafraid
Just Like Me
by David Lubar
Big Otto's Casino
by David Lubar
Special Software Bonus
I-Wei's Amazing Clocks
by I-Wei Huang

Just Like Me
    by David Lubar
Just Like Me
Artwork by Lance Card

"Thanks. It's very nice," Deb said as she lifted the skirt from the box. She tried to sound pleased. It wasn't all that bad a skirt, but it was the sort of style she'd stopped wearing several years ago. Maybe she could exchange it for a something she liked.

"You'll look so cute in it," her mom said. She pointed at the pile of empty boxes and smiled. "A present seems to be missing."

"Really?" Deb asked. That was more like it. Each birthday, she got one very special gift from her mom. So far, there'd been no sign of it.

"Stay right here. I've been saving the best for last." Her smile turned into a grin as she dashed out of the living room.

Deb wondered whether her mother had gotten her the DVD player she'd asked for. Or maybe it was her own television for her bedroom. Either would be great. She knew it would be unreasonable to hope for both.

A moment later, her mom returned with a package that was about twice the size of a shoe box. Deb's hopes slowly deflated as she took the present.

"Thanks." She shook it. Something solid clunked against the sides of the box. It didn't feel heavy enough for a DVD player, and it was too small to be a television.

"Careful," her mom said. "You'll hurt her."

Her? Deb removed the paper. Since this was the last present, she didn't want to rush. Once the presents were opened, she felt that the rest of the birthday was pretty much just like any other day.

Beneath the wrapping paper, she found a pink cardboard box. Curly white letters on the lid read, Just Like Me.

Puzzled, Deb removed the lid. Then she pulled aside the pink tissue paper that covered the contents. "Oh my . . ." She found herself staring at her own face -- smaller, hard, and unmoving, but still her own face, right down to the dark brown bangs that covered her forehead and the light brown freckles that dusted her cheeks. Bangs? Not anymore. Deb put a hand to her head. She'd changed her hair style half a year ago.

"Like it?" her mom asked.

Deb nodded, though she wasn't sure how she felt. She was too old for dolls. She'd packed all of hers away the last time she'd cleaned her room. Looking more closely, she realized the doll appeared sort of young.

"There's a man up in Gilford who makes them," her mom said. "He uses a photograph."

"Which picture did you send?" Deb asked.

"That wonderful shot from the summer before last. I think he did a fabulous job. It looks just like you."

"It's great, Mom," Deb said. She picked up the doll, but she didn't hold it too close. She felt strangely uncomfortable when she looked into the small version of her own face. It was like last year, when she'd been in the school play. The first time she'd seen her face in a mirror wearing stage makeup, the site had made her feel weird. Everything was familiar, but also slightly odd.

Her mom smiled. "I knew you'd like it. I couldn't wait to give it to you."

Deb carried the doll up to her room and looked for a place to put it. She couldn't bring herself to give the thing a name. What could she call it? Little Deb? Deb the Second? Young Deb? No. For now, the doll was an it. But she needed a place for it. Deb knew her mom would be hurt if she stuck the doll in a closet. Or in the trash. She settled for putting it on the shelf that ran along the wall above her head board. That way, at least, she wouldn't see the doll when she was lying in bed.

Before she went to sleep, she checked online. The company that made the doll had a web site. To her horror, she discovered the doll cost more than a DVD player and a TV put together. What a waste, she thought as she got in bed.

When Deb woke up the next morning, she felt something hard next to her head. She reached out, her eyes still closed, and felt cold plastic. And wiry hair. Deb sat up fast, letting out a gasp.

The doll was in bed with her. It must have fallen, Deb thought as she scooted away from it. But that wouldn't explain how the doll had ended up tucked under the blanket next to her. Deb didn't want to think about that. She put the doll back on the shelf and went down for breakfast.

"Could you get the paper?" her mom asked when Deb walked into the kitchen.

"Sure." Deb threw on her coat and went out to the front lawn.

When she got back to the kitchen, she nearly dropped the paper. The doll was sitting at the kitchen table, perched in a chair, boosted by a stack of books.

"I thought she should join us," Deb's mom said.

Deb nodded and took a seat. She noticed her mom had set a place for the doll.

"So," her mom asked. "Have you given her a name yet?"

"No," Deb said. "I'm still thinking about it."

"How about Jean?" her mom suggested.

"But . . ." Deb said. Jean was her own middle name. Her dad had come up with Deb. Her mom had come up with Jean. So they'd named her Deborah Jean.

Her mom stroked the doll's hair. "Yes. Jean. I like that. Don't you?"

"Sure, Mom," Deb said. "Jean is a great name." She glanced up at the clock. "I'd better get going." She grabbed her back pack and hurried down the hall toward the front door. As she looked over her shoulder, she saw Jean sitting at the table, staring with eyes that never moved, waiting patiently for someone to pick her up or stroke her hair and tell her what a good girl she was.

When Deb got home from school, she found Jean on the couch. Deb always sat on the left corner of the couch to do her homework. Her mom had put Jean there. Deb moved the doll to the other side of the room, into the large leather chair her dad had loved to lounge in. The chair he'd always sat in before he'd left last year.

Deb sat on the couch and started her homework. A few minutes later, she heard her mom coming down the hall. She realized her mom would want to know why she'd moved Jean. Deb ran over and brought Jean back to the couch, placing her on the middle cushion.

"Oh, don't the two of you look cute," Deb's mom said. She walked over to the couch and gave Deb a hug. Then she reached down and patted Jean. "What an adorable pair." She raised her other hand, which held a brush, and started brushing Jean's hair.

"We're not a pair," Deb muttered. Her own scalp tingled as she spoke. She turned away from the doll and continued working on her homework, trying to ignore the tuneless drone of her mother's humming.

Jean joined the family for dinner that night. Once again, Deb's mom set a plate for the doll. At least she didn't give her any food, Deb thought as she ate her meal.

That evening, after the three of them watched television, Deb's mom stood up and said, "Bed time, Deborah Jean."

Deb was about to answer when she realized that her mom was talking to the doll. Deborah Jean? Deb thought. It must have been a slip. A stupid slip. "Fine," she muttered as she went upstairs to get ready for bed. "If that's what she wants. Just fine. They can have each other."

She stomped down the hall to the bathroom. When she finished brushing her teeth, she walked into her room.

Jean was sitting on her bed. Deb froze in the doorway. Down the hall, she could hear her mom in her own bedroom. "I'll be there in a minute to say goodnight," her mom called.

Deb sat at the foot of the bed, far from Jean. Her mother came in and said good night to them, looking straight at the doll the whole time. As soon as her mom left, Deb tossed Jean up onto her shelf. Hard. She smiled at the sound of the doll's head smacking against the wall.

Sleep tight, Deb thought as she crawled under the covers.

Deb woke in the middle of the night with a headache. She knew, without checking, that Jean was tucked in next to her again. Deb closed her eyes, curled up with her back to the doll, and tried to sleep.

The next day, after school, Deb had an idea. She'd fix things so Jean didn't look like her any more. Then her mother would snap out of this weirdness. "Shock her right out of it," she said as she went to the kitchen and grabbed a knife.

"Plastic surgery," she muttered. She was halfway to the couch when her mom's scream locked her in her tracks.

"What are you doing?" her mom asked, pointing at the knife.

Deb shrugged and tossed out the first lie that came to mind. "Nothing. I was just going to trim her hair. The bangs are too long."

"With that? Have you lost her mind." Her mom snatched the doll from the couch and wrapped her arms tightly around it, cradling the doll against her chest. "There, there," she crooned. "It's all right."

Deb turned away and went back to the kitchen. With each step she took, her chest felt tighter. She was so upset, she could hardly breathe. She put the knife back in the drawer, then sat at the table.

A while later, she heard steps.

"Deborah Jean forgives you," her mom said. "She's very understanding. Everyone says she's a perfect doll."

Deb nodded, but didn't look up at them. She heard her mom put the doll on a chair. Her own breath came more easily now.

"I don't want her in my room tonight," Deb said.

"Sure you do," her mother said. "Besides -- it's her room, too."

"No it isn't!" Deb stood up and faced her mother. "It's my room. She's a doll! She isn't real!"

Her mom reached out and placed her hands over the doll's ears. "Ssshhhhh. I don't know what's come over you."

Deb stormed out of the house. She walked aimlessly for blocks, dreaming of how she was going to destroy the doll. The house was dark when she got home. Her mother had gone to bed. She didn't even wait up for me, Deb thought.

Upstairs, in her room, the doll waited for her. It was on her bed, tucked under the blanket. Deb's favorite bracelet was fastened around the doll's neck. Her mom must have put it there.

"Enough!" Deb said. She raced across the room and grabbed the doll. She fumbled with the catch on the bracelet, them stopped. She was afraid that she'd break it. There was an easier way to get it off. A much more satisfying way. She twisted the doll's head, eager to rip it right off the body. In her mind, she saw herself throwing the head through her window. In her mind, she saw herself screaming at her mother, telling her how wrong all of this was. In her mind, she saw the world returning to the way it once had been.

In her neck, she felt a slash of tearing pain that hurt her beyond anything she could imagine.

The doll dropped from her fingers and fell to the bed. Deb staggered back, grabbing her injured throat. She crashed into the wall, then sank to the floor. A weak gasp came from her lips. She couldn't raise her voice beyond a whisper. The pain and damage was too great. She couldn't even turn her head to the front. On the bed, she saw the doll, it's head twisted at an unnatural angle.

"Deb!" her mother cried, racing into the room.

Deb reached out a hand and mouthed the word, "Neck."

Her mother sped past her. She grabbed the doll and cradled it in her arms. "Yes, your poor neck. How awful. Oh dear. Don't worry, I'll get you taken care of. You'll be fine. You'll be just fine. I promise."

She rushed from the room, still talking to the doll. "Don't worry. I know someone who can fix you. She lives right across town."

Deb, struggling to swallow, watched her go. A half hour later, as she sat on the floor in a corner of her room, her neck suddenly felt better. She knew the doll had been repaired.

Her mom would be back, soon. Her mom and Deborah Jean. Perfect Deborah Jean who never disobeyed. Who never sulked or pouted. Who never grew older. "No," she said aloud. "I'm Deb. She's just a doll. I'm Deb. Not her. Me."

But even to her own ears, her voice sounded flat and empty. Not human, really. Not very much alive at all.

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