A New Friend - Short Story

A New Friend - Short Story
A New Friend - Short Story


It all started last month. I regret outsourcing even story telling to technology, but Jenny and I, having such busy work lives, are left with no choice. We are guiltily aware of the loneliness felt by Anne. It's not like our neighborhood is bereft of kids, there are in fact plenty of them. But Anne has always been a loner kid, she had trouble mingling with other kids easily. She took forever to become friends with anyone, which often led her to getting bullied. We were glad when she talked a lot about her new friend, Ben. We couldn't believe that she has quickly made her own friend out of nowhere, without our intervening . I always had that nagging feeling to get Anne some help, but now, I thought, I don't have to. Many kids are shy for many years and then they acquire these new friends and with them, a new personality.

Anne spoke about how good and helpful Ben is to her, every single day. From what she talked about, Ben seemed like a smart kid, who knew how to do almost everything and was helping out Anne with everything, including her homework. It was surprising that Anne's progress report suddenly turned so positive in a month.

The Millers had their big Halloween party where everyone in the street seemed to be invited. Even for such big house, it seemed crowded. There were just too many kids, adults and old people everywhere. It was a good chaos. Jenny and I planned to precision, to not miss this party, because we really wanted to meet and interact with all the kids and their parents, who could be Anne's potential friends. We kept looking out for Ben, but we didn't meet any kid who's name turned out to be Ben. We then started asking around if anyone knew a Ben and no one seemed to know. We thought Anne would be excited to go to this party where she can meet Ben and just play around, after all , she seemed inseparable with him. But she threw tantrums to not attend this party and was cranky all through the party.

Ben won't come here! - she screamed, when we tried to engage her with other kids, persuading her that Ben will be here any minute and they were all his friends too.

We had to leave early, as Anne became agitated to the point of crying and screaming. We let the matter rest for that night and I myself read her a story to let her fall asleep.

The next day, Anne didn't speak a word to us. We understood that she was still upset with us. This continued for couple more days, she wouldn't meet our eyes, she wouldn't talk to us, she just went to school and came home with the same downcast look on her face. We checked everywhere, including her school to find this Ben, but there was no Ben. We were worried that Anne had developed her own imaginary friend to combat her loneliness. The school confirmed that she often spoke about Ben and they wondered if he is some boy from the neighborhood. I researched on this for long hours and found that it's common for many kids to develop their own imaginary friends. But nevertheless, it scared me, Jenny was beyond consolable, with the guilt of neglect killing her.

We decided to engage more with Anne and we both made arrangements at work describing the situation our daughter was going through, to focus more on personal front. But how much ever we tried, Anne refused to speak to us. We finally decided that we are at a loss and we need professional help to get through this. The child psychiatrist we met, Fred Ericsson, seemed the best help we could ever ask for, he seemed to be an expert in his domain. In fact, Anne started talking to him and she would even answer us sometimes in one word. As per him, Anne started talking about Ben again and apparently, she insisted that she is still meeting and playing with Ben. Ericsson took it slow, he didn't want to rush Anne and end up getting her shut down again.

Last week, the usually calm, Ericsson, seemed quite troubled. We had never seen him like that.
Who tells Anne her bedtime stories? - He asked with knitted forehead and wild eyes.
Jenny and I looked at each other, worried.  - It's just Alexa stories, there are many such story telling skills on it, we try to find what could be interesting to her and schedule the stories for an entire week. Why? What's wrong?
He seemed puzzled - So, it's just a machine reading out text?
Well, yes, that's pretty much that, though it tries to sound as human as possible. - Jenny and I knew that Ericsson was bad with technology.
Could it be hacked?
I thought that Ericsson is now being paranoid about the unknown and misunderstood technology.
Any technology can be hacked, but I don't think this one is, why do you ask? Is anything wrong with the stories she hears? Is this from here she picked up her imaginary friend?
Anne says that Ben reads her stories.
Jenny and I looked at each other, surprised.  - Is she thinking that the story narrator is a person?
I don't know, Anne is sure that it's his little friend who tells her stories every night. Is this a little boy's voice playing on the machine?
No, it's generally a lady's voice, but sometimes it's a guy's. May be, sometimes they must be using a child's voice to play out the dialogues.
Ericsson didn't seem convinced, but he nodded.

After this session, Ericsson only grew more and more paranoid about Alexa, that we heeded to his advice and disconnected it. I read out the stories to Anne and she went from bring upset to being furious with every passing day.

Last week, I woke up around midnight to go to the bathroom and then I went up to the kitchen to get some water. I noticed that Anne's room had light on, from underneath the closed door. I thought that she must have woken up for water or bathroom like me and forgot to switch off the light. I stepped towards her room and the hair on my neck stood as I heard a boy's voice, very distinct from Anne's. I wondered if her imagination grew so wild, that she is able to imitate other voices. They were talking in whispers. I could hear Anne's voice too. I clicked opened the door as sneakily as I could and was both horrified and relieved to see Anne talking to Alexa. The boy's voice was clearly coming from it. She didn't notice me until I asked her - Anne, honey, what are you doing, sweetie?

She jumped in surprise and I noticed Alexa going red immediately. The usual robotic lady's voice announced that it's disconnected from the internet. I couldn't help but wonder immediately about Ericsson's words about Alexa being hacked.

I contacted customer support for Alexa, I literally fought with everyone, I was furious about what my child has gone through and what we went through. I was scared about the thought that a pedophile could be behind this. I fought for several months with them. But they could find nothing and there was no proof to show them what I heard on that day. There was no trace of that boy's voice anywhere. They called me delirious, even Jenny had her doubts. But I know what I heard. 

Only Anne and I know that Ben exists. 


For more stories, please see Short Stories


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