Fiction: The Loneliest

By Thomas Koperwas

Kip Odell’s piercing brown eyes peered through the throng of people crowding the tessellated hardscape, toward the lone table standing in the center of the large city square. A wistful smile broke out on his handsome symmetrical face when he glimpsed the two figures seated about it busily engaged in conversation. He proceeded across the square through the milling crowd. One by one, the people fell back to let him pass, their eyes filled with dread and fear. Ignoring their perplexed and bewildered faces, Kip strode on till he came to the table in the center of the square. In a flash, the man seated there jumped to his feet and scurried away, leaving his erstwhile companion behind. 
“I am Kadin 6-6,” announced the diminutive empathy robot, rising politely to his feet. Keeping his eyes fixed downward and his smooth hands cupped together, he resembled a humble supplicant dressed in a simple blue garment. “Please call me Kadin.”
“My name is Kip Odell,” replied the tired-looking 40-year-old man. “No one wants to speak to or look at me. I’m in desperate need of some human interaction.”
“I will look at you and talk with you,” said Kadin, as he waited for Kip to sit down in his chair. Up rose a steaming cup of coffee from a hole in the center of the table. Reaching out his hand, Kip took hold of the cup and sipped the hot brew.
Kadin’s bright silvery eyes and olfactory sensors scanned the beleaguered man.
“My function is to listen to and advise the alienated and lonely citizens who inhabit our heavily populated city,” began Kadin.
“I am an incredibly lonely person,” muttered Kip.
“I see,” replied Kadin, raising an artificial eyebrow. “But I also see that you are well-dressed and groomed, unlike the disheveled, unshaven, and unkempt men who often come to see me. And your speech and manners indicate a high level of intelligence, upbringing, and education. Your body language reveals you have a passive nature, and are friendly and gentle. My olfactory sensors also tell me that no adverse smells are emanating from your well-washed and cared-for body. In conclusion, I would say there’s nothing objectionable about your appearance or your behavior. Why, then, are you lonely?”
“Thank you for the kind words,” whispered Kip. “But surely you saw the crowds of people disturbed by my presence, turning away from me in droves as I approached your table?”
“No,” replied Kadin. “I was engrossed in a conversation with another lonely man.”
“Of course. You were busy working,” chuckled Kip. “And you don’t see anything unusual about me now?”
“I do not,” replied Kadin patiently.
“Then I have time to tell you about my past,” mused Kip, leaning back in his chair. “Perhaps you’ll understand my problem then.
“It began years ago. My wife and I had a contract to travel to various remote uninhabited planets, planetoids, etc. to repair, maintain, and update directional beacons, automated research bunkers, emergency survival quarters, and the like. Our maintenance craft lost power as we were landing on a tiny world far off the main space corridors, where we were to repair a beacon and its emergency survival quarters. My wife was killed in the crash, and I buried her next to the quarters, where I was to wait seven years for the arrival of the next maintenance craft. There was plenty of food in the quarters to hold me over. Still, I dreaded the thought of having to live all those years alone. Time passed, and my loneliness deepened. I became so lonely I thought I would burst.”
Kip fell silent and took a drink of coffee.
“To pass the time, I began to explore the planet,” he continued. “One day, I was standing by a tree when I saw what appeared to be a pair of large, green eyes protruding from its trunk, watching me. I just about jumped out of my boots with fear. When I stopped running, I thought hard about my predicament: how the long isolation on the planet was getting to me; how I must have been seeing things. Then a small animal that looked like a deer scurried out of the woods toward me. Sure enough, it had eyes identical to those of the tree. I tried to dismiss it as a coincidence until I saw a rock materialize in the air with the same eyes. That’s when I knew the creature could change its shape at will.”
Kadin uncupped his hands and smiled.
“So you found a companion… or should I say, it found you?” noted the empathy robot.  
“Yes,” whispered Kip. “The creature never left me after that. Perhaps it was friendly or just curious. But it never uttered a sound. Not once. I had gained a companion, and that was a blessing of sorts.”
“A blessing of sorts?” echoed Kadin.
Kip sat up and looked into the robot’s silvery eyes. 
“I can’t tell you how happy I was when the maintenance craft landed,” he continued. “After the ship’s robots unloaded the supplies, I helped repair and update the equipment in the survival quarters. It was wonderful to talk to someone again after all those years, and the members of the crew were great people. My companion disappeared when the ship arrived, so I never mentioned it to them. When the ship finally lifted off for Earth, I was certain I had left all those years of loneliness behind. At least, I thought so...”
“You thought so?” murmured Kadin, his eyes growing brighter.
“Shortly after I landed on Earth I saw a dog,” said Kip, “and you know what? It had the same large green eyes as the companion. Then I saw the same eyes in a forsythia bush and a cloud. Somehow, the creature had managed to return to Earth in the ship. I tried reporting it to the Earth authorities, but they only shook their heads and laughed. They must have thought I’d gone off my rocker living alone on that planet all those years. My employer even gave me a generous pension and a fine home to live in as compensation for my ordeal. Everyone tried to keep me happy and calm.”
Kip picked up the mug and downed the last of the coffee.
“The creature still follows me wherever I go,” he whispered. “and it doesn’t want to share me with anyone. Whenever I stop to talk to a person, it changes into something horrible to terrify them. Maybe it’s lonely and it clings to me. Or maybe it’s just jealous. All I know is that it’s a curse. The years of loneliness never went away. Now I’m the loneliest man in two worlds.
“I still don’t see this creature of yours,” said Kadin. “Are you sure it’s real?”
“See that chair beside you?” replied Kip. “There wasn’t a third chair at the table when I sat down, was there?”
“No,” muttered Kadin, turning his head to see a chair with large green eyes staring at him. Jumping to his feet, his mouth dropped open. The chair was dissolving before his eyes, changing into a hideous rat, standing six feet tall on its hind legs. For a brief moment, the robot’s olfactory sensors detected the smell of sulphur and burnt Twinkies. Then the light went out in its eyes. 
“I’m sorry,” groaned Kip, standing up beside the immobilized robot. “But I just had to talk to someone. I don’t know why the companion didn’t show itself to you right away. I guess it didn’t see you as a threat, at least not initially. Your power will come back after I leave. Thanks for being a good listener.”  
Kip was halfway across the empty square when Kadin’s power returned. The empathy robot groaned and fell into his chair.
“My programmer warned me there would be days like this...” he whispered to himself.

Thomas Koperwas is a retired teacher living in Windsor, Ontario, Canada who writes short stories of horror, crime, fantasy, and science fiction. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming in: Anotherealm; Jakob’s Horror Box; Literally Stories; The Literary Hatchet; Literary Veganism; Bombfire; Pulp Modern Flash; Savage Planets; Dark Fire Fiction; The Sirens Call; Yellow Mama Webzine; 96th of October; Underside Stories; Danse Macabre; A Thin Slice Of Anxiety; Androids and Dragons; The Piker Press; Stupefying Stories Showcase; Blood Moon Rising Magazine; Corner Bar Magazine; Free Bundle Magazine; The Chamber Magazine; Suburban Witchcraft Magazine.


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