Jeepers Creepers

 by Aidee Ladnier

Danner, Ty and Annie crowded around the little robot cat as he pounced on the brightly wrapped package.

Forbes pressed a kiss to Oliver’s temple and squeezed his arm. “I need to go check on a computation I have running on the main terminal.”

Oliver narrowed his eyes. “I thought that finished an hour ago.”

Forbes scratched at his chin. “Ah. Well-”

“Do you need a minute to slip out and get my present?” Oliver’s eyebrow quirked.

Forbes ran a hand down his burning face. “Yeah.”

Oliver chuckled. “Go on, but hurry. Jeepers almost has the box open.”

&&&

Oliver grinned as Forbes ducked out of the living room. He turned back to see the kids scrambling away from the tree and a streak of gray dart under the couch beside him.

Jeepers bounded over and stuck his head under the couch.

“What ARE you?”

The cat’s high sing-song echoed from under the sofa. Annie giggled and Oliver grinned back at the three kids still sprawled on the floor around the Christmas tree.

“It’s a mouse, Jeepers.”

Tyrone knee-walked closer and offered a shy smile to Oliver.

“Yeah, a mouse. We thought you’d like a mouse ’cause you’re a cat.” Danner flopped down on his belly next to the robot cat. Jeepers didn’t move, head still craned under the edge of the furniture.

“Why is it hiding under the couch?”

Annie slid over to the couch too, reaching out to pet Jeepers’s back. The little cat pulled back from under the couch arching into the caress. Annie smiled.

“You’re supposed to chase after it. Like a real cat.”

The whiskers twitched next to Jeepers’s nose. “But I am a robot.”

Danner reached a chubby arm under the couch and pulled out the little gray rodent. Its tail twirled around Danner’s finger.

“Yeah, that’s the brilliant part. Creepers is a robot mouse.”

Danner turned the little mouse upside down to show the wheels where feet should be. He placed the mouse back on the floor and it whirled in a circle and then zipped past Jeepers again.

“Meep, meep.”

The tiny sounds from the robot mouse were a joyous yawp of freedom. It was cut short when Jeepers lunged at the mouse, grabbing it in his teeth before running from the room.

“Wait-Jeepers.”

Oliver stood up. “No. Put him down!”

Danner’s eyes widened, and he sprung up beside Oliver. “He’s not going to hurt him, is he?”

“I don’t-where is he going with him?”

“Race, ya.” Annie’s eyes snapped and Tyrone was on his feet and dashing for the door.

“Wait, guys, I have little legs.” Danner disappeared after the two older kids giggling and laughing as they raced down the hall.

Oliver pressed a button on his wrist comm to alert Forbes.

“Incoming.”

&&&

Oliver’s single word of warning registered a mere second before Jeepers bounded into the room, followed by the munchkins. Tyrone stopped short in the door of the lab, well aware that the room was off-limits. Annie crashed into Tyrone’s back, and then Danner slid into her.

Jeepers spit out the small gray puff of fur slamming a paw on top of it when it stirred. The cat robot watched the mouse spin under his paw for a moment. He turned to Forbes.

“This robot has a voice box that does not work, Forbes. Fix it.”

Forbes shut the cabinet he’d been digging through. “Hey, what’ve you got there?”

Jeepers lifted his paw a fraction of an inch so that Forbes could see the tiny creature revving its motor to free itself.

“It is a mouse.”

Forbes retrieved it from under Jeepers’s paw. Its little pink nose wiggled and the black button eyes darted from side to side.

“It looks like a robot mouse.”

“Meep, beep.”

The mouse shimmied in his hand, motor revving again. So this was the surprise they’d been working on every night. They’d done good work.

The munchkins at the door all exploded into speech.

“We didn’t think you’d mind–”

“Honest, it wasn’t–”

“It’s not–”

Forbes held up a hand.

“Stop, everybody can’t talk at once. Tyrone, what were you saying?”

The kids snapped to silence. He knew they were still wary of him, of the house. Oliver settled in right away but Annie refused to unpack her suitcase. She folded her clothed on laundry day and placed them back inside, eschewing the large empty closet in her room. Tyrone hung out in the kitchen, either studying for school or reading, but he disappeared whenever Mrs. Shiever started cooking.

Danner followed Oliver around like a puppy. When Oliver and the other kids had gone into town without him, leaving him alone with Forbes, the little boy hadn’t said a word, just sat watching Forbes.

Tyrone shuffled through the doorway, eyeing Forbes as he did so.

“We built Creepers. For Jeepers.”

“I programmed it. Oliver showed me how.” Danner stuck his head around the older boy’s side. His hand crushed Tyrone’s t-shirt where he held on.

Forbes smiled, and the kids relaxed a little. “I’m sure you did, Danner.”

“Annie mapped the behaviors.”

At Tyrone’s interjection, Annie scuffed a sneakered foot on the floor.

“Meep, beep.”

The little mouse wiggled again in Forbes’s fingers.

Jeepers reached up a paw to Forbes’s leg, pulling his attention back to the robot cat.

“It does not talk, Forbes. Fix it.”

“So did you build it to talk?” Forbes waited. The kids looked at each other.

“Um… no.” Annie spoke up.

“We didn’t think about that.” Danner scratched his head.

“Mice don’t talk.” Tyrone crossed his arms.

Forbes nodded with a smile to the children. He looked down at the cat waiting on the floor in front of him.

“Jeepers, its function isn’t to talk–”

“Meep, beep, beeeep!” The robot mouse shivered in his hand as it made its little sounds.

“–well, other than a few beeps. It’s a gift to be enjoyed the way it is. Love him just like he is, right guys?”

He looked at the kids, seeing relief relax the frown between Tyrone’s eyes. Danner’s shoulders lowered from around his ears.

“Thanks, Forbes.” Tyrone smiled his shy grin.

“Yeah.” Annie echoed.

“Like us.” Danner came out from behind Tyrone.

Forbes nodded.

“Right, Danner. Like you. I like you just the way you are. And Creepers is fine just the way he is. Let’s put him back on the floor.”

He placed the little gray mouse back on the floor. Its wheels spun, and it zipped out the door of the lab and down the hall.

“Meep, beep!”

Jeepers took off in hot pursuit, followed by the munchkins.

“Ha! He’s chasing him!”

“He likes it!”

“Look at him go. Get him, Jeepers!”

Oliver stepped out of the shadow of the door where he’d been watching. “Nothing you could have bought me would be a better Christmas present than that.”

Forbes chuckled, pulling Oliver into his arms.

 

Copyright 2016. Aidee Ladnier, all rights reserved.