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Ghosts in the Machine

Written by:
Cousin Aurora Lenore

Larry Appleton had never felt so miserable or hopeless in his entire life.  He hadn’t slept well in days, he couldn’t seem to do anything right at his job for the Chicago Chronicle, and now, the love of his life, Jennifer Lyons, was leaving for six months!

As he looked at his reflection in the mirror over the bathroom sink, he remembered every heartbreaking detail of Jennifer’s admission that she would be going away.  Both she and Mary Anne Spencer had been chosen to teach a flight attendant class in Ontario, Canada for six months!  Not one month, not three, but six!  Just thinking about it made Larry sick to his stomach.  Grabbing his liquid antacid, he plopped down on the sofa beside his best friend and cousin, Balki Bartokomous.  “My life is over, Balki,” he whined.

Balki threw his arm over the back of the sofa and turned to him.  “Oh, Cousin, don’t worry.  You’ll find one again,” he replied.

Larry looked over at him, dumbfounded.  “You know, Mary Anne is leaving for six months, too!  You don’t feel depressed?”

“Cousin, I’ll miss Mary Anne, but she be back.  It’s not like she’s going to another country or anything.”

Larry did a double take.  “Balki, Canada IS another country!  Canada is not part of the United States.  It’s just a part of North America!”

“Well, I’ll be snookered,” Balki replied before turning his attention back to Larry.  “Cousin, why can’t you just be happy for Jennifer and Mary Anne?  This is a once in a while chance for them.  They get to teach young people how to attend flights!”

“But Balki, you’re missing the point!  Last time Jennifer got an offer to go away, I hesitated telling her how I felt and nearly lost her in the process.  Now the opportunity has arose again and no matter what I’ve said, she still plans on going!  Balki, Canada may not seem that far away, but it’s like a whole other world!  Jennifer could forget all about me and fall in love with some Mountie who loves bobsled racing and eats Canadian bacon.  I mean, what if I write her a letter or call her and she says ‘Larry who?’?”

“Oh, po po, Cousin,” Balki scolded gently.  “If Harriet has said it once, she’s said it twice: you’re acting like a bit of a drag queen again.”

“That’s drama queen and I’ll have you know that you are in just as much jeopardy of losing Mary Anne as I am of losing Jennifer.  Jennifer is smart and beautiful and Mary Anne is … well, she’s beautiful.  Two beautiful women roaming the snow-capped mountains of Ontario.  I guarantee you that the Canadian mountain men will be lining up at the door to date them!”

“But they are our girlfriends.  They would never cheat on us.  Mary Anne is loyal to me and Jennifer is loyal to you.  Now just put that in your pants and smoke it,” Balki pointed out before standing up.  “Now, I’m going to finish getting ready for our dinner with the girls before they leave.  Are you coming with us or are you going to sit and wallow in your own mystery?”

Larry watched Balki go, a wave of guilt washing over him.  He had been so worried about Jennifer falling in love with someone else, when he had been the one who cheated.  Sure, it had just been a dream when he kissed Bianca Pierson, but it still felt as real as it could be.  In fact, ever since the dream, he’d felt incredibly guilty and preoccupied with his thoughts of Bianca and everything that had happened.  It had been a week – seven whole days – since Balki had awakened him from his slumber, but he still worried about the dream being real.  If Bianca had been in danger in his subconscious, perhaps she was in real danger.  He had been so desperate, he had called her grandfather, hoping and praying to get a message to her to be careful, but Larry had heard nothing in response.  He wanted to tell Balki, but he didn’t want to worry him, as well.  Besides, he’d hate to upset Balki if Bianca wasn’t in danger at all, but just Larry’s overactive imagination working overtime.

“Cousin, are you ready?” Balki asked, grabbing his coat from the hanger on the door and handing Larry his.

“Ready to say goodbye to Jennifer?  Never.  Ready to eat?  Most definitely.”


“So, have you started any new side projects lately or are you just sticking to the web design stuff?”

Bianca Pierson sipped her coffee and stared at her friend via video chat.  “Mostly just sticking to the web designing job.  Ever since that art gallery manager Serge from Beverly Hills hired me, I’ve been working non-stop.  And his accent is weirder than yours, if you can believe that, Valeena,” she added with a laugh.  She had known Valeena Tolstoy for fifteen years and her drawl had never changed.  It was a cross between a Brooklyn and a Wisconsin-ite accent.  Considering Valeena had moved around all her life, it was no wonder her enunciations were muddled.

“Sorry, I can’t.  Well, I won’t keep you on here.  I know you just got home from seeing your art dealer friend with the bad accent, but I’ll yak at you later, okay?”

Bianca laughed.  “Okay.  Talk to you soon.  Love you.”

“You too, sweetheart.”

As soon as the video chat was over, her yellow robot Wakamaru rolled to her slowly, speaking in high-pitched Japanese.

“English, Wakamaru; English,” she moaned, wishing she could figure out how to fix his glitch permanently.

“You have two new messages.”

“Play messages,” she said, standing up and walking across the room, Wakamaru following her.

“First message….”

“Hey, Miss Pierson, just wanted to say thank you regarding that error that kept showing up on the website.  I appreciate it.  You were the only one who knew exactly what to do.  Of course, I should’ve known, considering the fantastic job you did for my brother a few months back.  This is Jacob Langley of Langley Confections, by the way,” a male voice came over the speaker on the robot’s head.

“Second message…”

Bianca listened as she heard static at first.  She was just about to order Wakamaru to delete the message, but the voice she finally heard made her snap to attention.

“Bianca … grandfather …. got a call …. Larry Appleton … grave danger …. you should go … ”

“End of messages,” Wakamaru stated after the eerie message.

“No, play second message again,” Bianca ordered, not believing her ears.

Sure enough, in the midst of the static-filled line, there was no mistaking her deceased grandfather’s voice.  Somehow, he knew Larry and Balki were not only friends of hers, but that they needed her help!

“Don’t worry, guys; I’m on my way!” she cried out, running as fast as she could to the garage and to her time machine.  She needed to go back to nineteen-eighty-seven … and fast!


Bianca was growing rather time-travel weary by the time she found the restaurant where Larry and Balki were supposedly having dinner.  She had first traveled to their apartment, only to find no one there, and then tried their place of work at the newspaper.  Thankfully, she ran into the elevator operator, Harriet Winslow, who told her that Larry and Balki had gone to Zhamira’s, a fancy restaurant with their girlfriends.  She hated tailing them, but she had to at least make sure they were safe.  That was what she was supposed to do, according to her grandfather’s cryptic message.  It still stupefied her how her grandfather knew Larry enough to know he was in trouble.  Maybe that was something she would ask later.

As she opened the door to the restaurant, she smiled at the scene.  As far as looks, it seemed like a very nice restaurant.  The tables were covered with fine cloth and one dimly-lit candle in the middle.  The walls were covered with generic masterpieces in faux gold and silver frames.  The servers and waiters, however, were dressed mostly casual, in navy blue and white aprons, pen and paper in hand to take orders.  It was an expensive restaurant for people who couldn’t afford memberships to country clubs but still wanted their dates to dine with class.


Bianca turned around to find a man dressed in an apron glaring at her.  Bianca pointed to herself, unsure who he was really calling to.

“Yes; you!  Get over here!” the man hissed, waving her over with his hand impatiently.  “You’re late!”

“What?  No, I’m sorry, sir; you must be mistaken,” Bianca began, but the guy put up his hand to silence her.

“I don’t wanna hear excuses.  Get an apron and your stuff and go take table thirteen’s order.”

“But I don’t – ”

Now!” he snapped, throwing an apron at her.  “Table thirteen.”

Bianca cleared her throat nervously.  “Where is table thirteen?” she whispered.

“There, with the two couples,” he pointed.

Bianca followed his finger directly to Larry and Balki’s table.  Oh, crap, she thought, slipping on her apron and grabbing a nearby abandoned pair of glasses.

The man shoved a pen and note pad in her hand and waved her off hurriedly.

Well, here I go.  Stopping at their table, she thanked her lucky stars that the four of them were too engrossed in their menus to pay her any attention.

“Hi,” she suddenly said in a fake Southern drawl.  “I’m LouAnn and I’ll be your server.  Now what can I get you fine folks tonight?”

Jennifer was the first to look up and Bianca was taken aback at just how beautiful she was.  “Hi, LouAnn.  What are your specials?”

“Uh,” Bianca stammered.  “We are all out of our specials.  They were just that darned special!  But might I suggest the shrimp scampi?  It’s to die for.”

“Fine, I’ll have that,” Jennifer smiled.  “With water.”

“And I’ll have the chicken salad with the ranch dressing.  And water for me, too,” Mary Anne ordered.

Bianca gulped as Balki looked up at her.  He smiled wide and at first, she thought she was done for.  “Can I have the steak tartare?  I don’t know what that is, but it’s fun to say.  And could I get some of those little crackers that come in cute little packages of two?”

“Sure, Ba – I mean, sir.  And what would you like to drink with that?”

“Water with lemon, please.  I love your accent, by the way.  Very authorentic.”

“Balki,” Jennifer interrupted pleasantly.  “I think you mean authentic.”

“That, too,” Balki replied.

“And for you, sir?” she asked, her body tensing as Larry ran his finger over the menu’s list until he found what he wanted.

Larry looked up from his menu, a look of assertiveness on his face.  “Why thank you; I will have the – oh my Lord!”

“Well, I can see you need more time, then,” she blurted before turning and briskly walking away.  So much for being unnoticed!


“Um, Balki, could you excuse me for just one second?  I need to use the facilities,” Larry asked.

“But, Larry, you haven’t ordered yet.  What if LouAnn comes back and you’re not here?” Jennifer pointed out.

“I’ll have what you’re having,” Larry replied as Balki stood up to let him out of the booth.

As soon as he saw that Balki, Jennifer and Mary Anne weren’t in eye view, he quickly made his way in the opposite direction of the bathroom and towards the kitchen where he saw her trying to hide behind a giant ficus.  “A-ha!” he cried, cornering her.  “You just thought you could fool Larry Appleton!”

Bianca smiled, thankful his tone was light.  “I just came here to eat and they mistook me for an employee!  I had no choice!” she confessed.

Larry hugged her tightly, feeling warm all over.  “I’m so glad you’re alright!”

I’m alright?  I’m just glad you and Balki are alright!  That’s why I came.  I had this feeling that you were in some sort of trouble.”

“So, I take it your grandfather told you?” Larry asked hopefully.

“Well, sort of, yes.  But how do you know my grandfather?”

“It’s a long, long story.  I’m just so glad you’re here!  Now maybe you won’t be in danger from Max.”

Bianca raised an eyebrow at him.  “Max?  Who is Max?”

Larry shook his head.  “Sorry.  Look, I promise to tell you everything later.  Why don’t you go back to our apartment and wait there?  Balki will be so surprised to see you and we can talk more then.”

“Hey!  I don’t pay you to stand around and chat with customers!  The food’s ready,” the man, Bianca assumed now was the manager snarled.

“Sorry.  I’ll go back to your apartment as soon as my uh, shift is over,” she grimaced.

“Thanks.  And I really am glad you’re okay,” Larry repeated, trying to look into her blue eyes without getting lost in them.

“You, too,” she answered, the manager now literally pulling her by the arm.

As soon as Larry sauntered back to the table, he felt better than he had all week.

“Larry, I know you’re upset that Mary Anne and I will be leaving, but we’ll call you every day … ”

So much for feeling better, he thought as he slumped down in his seat, the reality of losing Jennifer punching him in the gut.


The reality of Mary Anne’s impending departure was starting to close in on Balki as they left the girls’ apartment.  He knew they would see each other again at the airport tomorrow morning, but it didn’t make it any easier.  Larry was right; the thought of his little lamb kabob being away for six months was not something Balki was prepared for.  He already missed her and she hadn’t even left yet.

“Balki, I know you’re upset about Mary Anne leaving, but I’ve got something that might make you feel better,” Larry told him as they walked down the hallway to their apartment.

“What that?” Balki asked.

“I have a surprise for you inside the apartment.”

Suddenly, Balki clapped his hands together and his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree.  “Oh, Cousin, what is it?  Is it bigger than a breadbasket?”

Larry smiled thinly. “Yes.”

“Is it a bikki mooki bing tiki?” Balki asked.

Larry glanced back at him strangely.  “What on Earth is a bikki mooki bing tiki?”

“Well, I would tell you, but you would have to see it to believe it.  I guess that not it, then, hoh?”

“No, I guess not.  Balki, just let me unlock the door and then you can see for yourself.”

Balki was so excited, he could barely stand still as Larry fished his keys from his pocket.

“Ta-da!” Larry cried when he burst open the door, looking back at Balki for his reaction.

Balki walked inside and looked left, then right.  Larry did say it was bigger than a bread basket, but maybe his cousin was fooling him.  “Uh, Cousin?  Did you hide my surprise?  I see nothing here.”

“Wait, what?  I told her to wait here!” Larry brushed past Balki and into the bedrooms frantically.

“Cousin … you mean … Mama’s here?” Balki cried out joyfully.  “Mama!  Mama, where you are?”

“No, Balki, your mama’s not here,” Larry answered sadly.

“Guys, I could hear you all the way down the fire escape,” a voice laughed from the window near the kitchen.

Balki turned to see his surprise climbing through the window with Larry’s assistance.  “Bianca!” he shouted, practically tackling her in a hug.  “Is so good to see you!  How you been?  Look, Cousin; it’s Bianca!”

“I see her,” Larry grinned before turning to Bianca.  “What were you doing on the fire escape?”

“What do you think I was doing?  Hiding, of course!”

“You came all the way from two-thousand-thirteen to see us?  How is R.O.B.?” Balki asked, leading her to the sofa.

“R.O.B. is good.  He sends his hellos to you both.  Actually, I’m here because I got this call from my – ”

“Balki,” Larry suddenly blurted out.  “Why don’t you go into the kitchen and bake up a batch of those chocolate chip cookies we bought at the supermarket yesterday?”

“But Cousin, I want to stay and talk to Bianca,” Balki stated.

“I realize that Balki, but she traveled all this way to see us and I’m sure she would love to eat some nice, warm cookies.  Isn’t that right, Bianca?”

Bianca looked at Larry and then back at Balki.  “You know, Larry has a point.  I haven’t eaten since I got here and I promise as soon as they’re ready, I’ll sit up and talk to you all night about whatever is on your mind.”

Balki stood up and grinned from ear to ear.  “Really?  You would do that for Balki?”

“You bet!”

Balki practically skipped into the kitchen.  He knew that he, Larry and Bianca were going to have so much fun together, just like last time.


“And then Balki woke me up and I realized it was all just a dream,” Larry finished.  He had told everything about the dream to Bianca – well, everything except the kiss – and waited anxiously for her reply.

“That’s quite a dream you had.  Too bad none of it was true,” Bianca finally said after a few seconds of uncomfortable silence.

“Well if none of it is true, then how was I able to call your grandfather and tell him to warn you that you were in danger?” Larry asked pointedly.

“Okay, so you guessed that I was close to my grandfather.  A lot of people are.  And yes, he, too, was an inventive genius.  But he didn’t speak to me; he simply used a device he had invented to tap any phone line.  I’m surprised it even worked, considering the technological advances that have come along since he invented it.  You just got lucky,” Bianca explained, her voice tight.

Larry stared at her, shocked and confused.  He couldn’t believe how flippant she was being.  It was like she was almost angry at him for knowing something about her family whether it be dream or reality.  “Or maybe your grandfather was able to somehow tap into my dreams and he wanted me to warn him to warn you.”

Bianca raised an eyebrow skeptically.  “Did you just hear yourself?  Larry, just drop it.  I won’t tell Balki about the grandfather thing for two reasons: one, because you don’t want him to know and also because I want to talk about something – anything – else.  Okay?”

Larry opened his mouth to argue, but Balki beat him to it.  “Who wants Toll Booth cookies?”

As Balki set the plate on the coffee table, Larry abruptly got up and retreated into his bedroom.  As far as he was concerned, Balki and Bianca could eat the whole batch.  He wasn’t the least bit hungry anymore.


“Please don’t make me do this,” she pleaded with him, hoping to find an ounce of compassion.

“You will do this, and do you know why?” he asked through gritted teeth as he roughly grabbed her arm.  So much for compassion.

“Ow; you’re hurting me!” she cried, struggling to free herself.

“You’re doing this because I said so!” he shouted, suddenly releasing her and laughing as she stumbled backward.

She looked at him tearfully, terrified of what he was capable of.  And as he locked her back in her dungeon of a room, she knew she had no choice but to do what he asked.  It was the only way to ensure her freedom.


Bianca plopped down on the sofa, opened a bag of potato chips and took a drink from her soda.  While Larry and Balki had gone to the airport to say goodbye to Jennifer and Mary Anne, she had promised Balki that she would stay in the apartment until they got home.  Bianca had tried – and failed – to get some rest, considering she and Balki were up until four in the morning talking about everything from R.O.B. to Mypos.  They even had a spirited discussion on just how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop.  Larry, on the other hand, went to bed early and never spoke a word to her otherwise.  He was still angry at her for her behavior, but could he really blame her for being callous about his silly dream?  After all, he knew nothing about her life or her relationship with her grandfather, past or present.  He didn’t even have the time right; he died in nineteen-ninety-six.  Seventeen years ago, not fourteen as Larry claimed she had stated in the dream.  Bianca scoffed as she thought of the ridiculous story of how she and her grandfather had an infinite connection that surpassed all rhyme or reason.  Perhaps it was partially true when he was alive, but there was absolutely no connection or bond after his death.

“Well,” she said aloud to the empty room, “there was until I learned the truth.  The horrible, dysfunctional, mind-blowing truth.”

Suddenly, the anger boiled up inside her and she shot up from the sofa as if someone had lit a fire underneath her.  Grabbing a throw pillow from the corner of the sofa, she threw it as hard as she could at the door, letting out a cry of fury as she did.

“Well, if you didn’t want me to come back, you could have just said, ‘Balki, come back later; I’m re-decorating the living room’.”

Bianca blinked and saw that Balki was standing in the doorway, the throw pillow caught awkwardly in his hands.   “Balki, I’m sorry.  I didn’t see you.  I was – I was watching a soap opera and got caught up in the story,” she lied, rushing over to him.

“That’s okay.  Cousin dropped me off here while he went to drown his sparrows in an ice cream sundae.  I thought maybe you and I could go see a movie or we could go to the Laundromat and watch the clothes spin around in the dryer until we get dizzy.”

Bianca smiled at Balki’s innocence.  “As much fun as that sounds, I’m not really in the mood to go out.  Would you mind if we just stayed here for awhile?”

“Bianca, are you okay?  I noticed you and Cousin Larry are not speaking.  Did he say something wrong to upset you?  I only ask because Mr. Gorpley always say that Cousin is good at sticking his foot up his nose.  I would agree but I don’t think he’s that limber.”

“No, it’s fine.  Larry and I just had a little disagreement, that’s all.  Nothing to worry about.  Besides, he had a lot of things on his mind.  Speaking of which, do you want to talk about Mary Anne?  I’m really sorry she had to leave, but she’ll be back before you know it.”

Balki sat down on the sofa.  “I was sad seeing her go, but it’s a wonderful opportunity and I hear opportunity only tells a knock-knock joke once.”

“I heard something like that, too,” she replied, offering him the potato chip bag.  “You know what?  I think I’m going to lie down for awhile.  Are you sure you don’t mind I sleep in your room until I go home?”

“Well, of course I don’t; don’t be ridiculous!  Now go; catch up on your sleep and I will stay right here and watch your machine,” he told her, pointing to the giant egg in front of the bookcase.

“Thanks, Balki,” she kissed him on the cheek, smiling as he blushed before she went into his bedroom.  Somehow, she knew she’d be able to sleep better knowing Balki and Larry were alright.



Balki opened one eye and saw his cousin standing over him timidly.  “Oh, Cousin; I didn’t hear you come in.  I must have fallen asleep.  Who knew eating pot-at-toh chips could be so exhausting?”

“So I’ve heard.  I take it Bianca is still here?” Larry asked.

“Yes,” Balki replied in a whisper.  “She is in my bedroom, sleeping like a baby sheep.  When she wake up, you should talk to her.  I don’t like that the two of you aren’t on speaking germs.  Promise me that you will sit with her and talk to her about what is bothering you in regards to your dream.”

“I promise I will, Balki.  Right now, though, I just want to go to my room and lie down.  Who knew eating an ice cream sundae and saying goodbye to your girlfriend would be so exhausting?”

Balki watched Larry go into his room and close the door before he stood up and wiped the chip crumbs from his clothes.  He needed to keep himself busy so he wouldn’t fall asleep again.  Talk about a lazy Saturday!

A little while later, Balki had dusted and swept and mopped the entire apartment, not including the bedrooms.  He couldn’t believe how much better he felt afterwards.


“Shh; she’s sleeping,” Balki replied, wiping off the kitchen table.

“Bianca?  Are you there?”

Suddenly, Balki realized the voice did not belong to Cousin Larry and he stood erect, his body tensing up.  “Who said that?” he asked, not daring to move.

“Bianca, help me!”

Slowly, Balki turned around to find a woman standing inside Bianca’s time machine.  She was tall, had long flowing hair and was wearing a dress, but Balki noticed he could see right through her!  “Hello, I am Balki Bartokomous,” he introduced slowly as he shakily took a step towards her.

To his surprise, she never acknowledged his presence, still looking off into the distance.  “Bianca, please help me!”

“I – I’ll go get Bianca,” Balki stuttered, trying to force his feet to move.

“Bianca, please; I – ”

Suddenly, he heard a loud noise, like a bang and the woman let out a blood-curdling scream.

Balki covered her ears as she continued screaming, but seconds later, realized he was screaming, as well.

“Balki!” Bianca and Larry’s voices cried in unison as they both quickly exited their rooms, only to both slip down on the newly waxed floor.

“Balki, what’s wrong?  Why did you scream?” Bianca asked, regaining her composure first before helping Larry to his feet.

Balki just stood, open-mouthed, pointing a shaky finger at the machine.

“Balki, tell us what happened!” Larry urged, concern on his face.

“There was a woman in your machine,” Balki finally spoke, his voice meek and quivering.  “She was standing there calling for Bianca and asking for help…”

“She was calling my name?” Bianca asked.

Balki nodded.  “She was a transvestite, though, because I could see right through her!”

“Balki, I think you mean she was transparent,” Larry corrected.  “Then what happened?”

“I heard a loud noise and she screamed like the girls do in those horrible movies when they see the really scary parts.  Oh, Cousin, it was awful!” Balki cried, embracing Larry for support and burying his face in his cousin’s shoulder.

“Balki, it was just your imagination.  There are no such things as ghosts and she’s not here anymore.  It was just a bad dream,” Larry reasoned, gently pushing Balki away.

“No, Cousin; this was no bad dream.  This was as real as the toes in front of my face.”

“Balki, why don’t you go sit down on the sofa and I’ll make some tea to calm your nerves, okay?” Larry asked.

“Okay, Cousin,” Balki replied, still slightly trembling as he made his way to the couch.

“You see, Bianca?  Now he’s having dreams!  Are you going to tell him that he’s being foolish, as well?  That seeing the ghost of a woman he’s never met calling for you and screaming doesn’t mean anything?” Larry provoked haughtily.

“Cousin, you said that you would – ” Balki turned around in his seat to face Larry, who was at the bar, opening the tea bags.

“Larry, I said to drop the subject of the dream and I meant it!  This is your fault for filling his head so much with your own dream!  That’s probably why he’s having nightmares; all because you can’t stop obsessing over your own!” Bianca cried, interrupting Balki.

“Now, Bianca; surely you don’t mean–”

“I have done no such thing!  Forgive me for trying to possibly save your life and help you!” Larry shot back.

“Cousin, this is no way to – ” Balki tried for a third time.

“You wanna know how you can ‘help’ me, Larry?  Take my machine and go check on R.O.B.; that’s how you can help me.  And I swear if I hear one more word about your stupid dream – ”

Larry stormed out of the kitchen and walked towards the machine.  “Fine!  I’ll check on your precious R.O.B.!  But if and when something happens that proves my stupid dream wasn’t so stupid after all, don’t come crawling back to me!”

Balki stood up and started towards him, but Larry had already slammed the door to the machine and disappeared.  He then looked over at Bianca and did the only thing he could do: mumble curses to himself in Myposian before going to the kitchen and finishing the tea.

“He just needs to cool off,” Bianca finally said softly.

“He was sweating because he was upset, Bianca.  I am sure that when he goes to check on R.O.B., he will feel better.  But why did you have to yell at him?  He just worries about you and so do I.  Why you make him feel bad for being concerned about his dream?”

Bianca rubbed her hands over her face in frustration.  “I don’t know, Balki.  I just think he’s making a big deal out of nothing, that’s all.  I’m fine, you’re fine; we’re all fine.”

Balki grabbed two cups from the cupboard and poured the tea.  As he handed her tea to her, however, he noticed her hands were shaking as much as his hands had been after seeing the ghost.  If Larry was making a big deal out of nothing, then why were both he and Bianca so on edge?


“Doesn’t want to me to talk about the ‘stupid dream’, huh?  Well, fine!  I won’t talk about the dream ever again because I won’t talk to her ever again,” Larry was still muttering to himself when the time machine settled in the middle of Bianca’s living room.

Of course, Larry didn’t mean a word of it and he knew it.  He cared about Bianca in a way that comforted yet terrified him.  Dream or not, he knew there was more to it than Bianca was admitting.  He saw the way she tensed up when he told her about the conversation in the dream about her grandfather.  He needed to know more, but he had to find out without Bianca knowing.

Suddenly, his eyes lit up.  He had a plan!  “R.O.B.?  Are you here?”

“Intruder alert!  Intruder alert!” R.O.B. repeated, coming in from the kitchen, his blue LED eyes replaced with red flashing ones.  It was just how he had envisioned it in his subconscious.  Now how about that for just a stupid dream?

“No, no, no; R.O.B.; it’s Larry Appleton.  Bianca’s friend from nineteen-eighty-seven, remember?” he prompted nervously.

“Mr. Cousin Larry.  Hello!” the robot greeted, the blue returning to his face.

“Hello, R.O.B.. Bianca wanted me to check in and see if you needed anything.  Not that I would know what robots need … maybe some oil, perhaps?  A lug nut or two?”

“All that is required of me is to be powered up and powered down occasionally.  As of now, I am fully charged and ready to assist.”

“Glad to hear that, R.O.B., because I need your help.  What can you tell me about Bianca’s relationship to her grandfather?”

“I am sorry, Mr. Cousin Larry, but that information is classified,” R.O.B. replied.

“You’re kidding me, right?  You know the truth and you won’t tell me, either?” Larry groaned in frustration.  “Okay, fine.  Just tell me how to move this machine from here and into the garage.  Or is that ‘classified’, as well?”

“No need to get snippy, Mr. Cousin Larry.  The machine will have to remain here.  There is no longer room in the garage for two machines.”

Larry nodded his head.  “Oh, okay.  She must have a small – wait; what did you say?” he suddenly asked, his eyes sparkling as he thought up another ‘plan’.

“Miss Bianca has built another time machine,” R.O.B. confirmed.

“And does this time machine work?”

“Why yes.  What are you proposing?” R.O.B. asked.

“R.O.B.; I need your help, buddy.  You see, Bianca is at our apartment and she’s not doing well at all.  She is missing her grandfather and she mentioned something about wishing I could meet him.  I’d love to do that, of course, but Balki is back home and she is staying with him.  I’m sure she won’t mind if I use her other time machine to go back to when her grandfather was still alive.  Could you possibly help me help Bianca?”

“Mr. Cousin Larry, you mistake me for your Myposian cousin of innocence.  Your lies and ploys will not work with me,” R.O.B. told him.  “However, I could allow you to see for yourself what Bianca’s life was like with her grandfather if that is what you wish.”

“You mean you’ll do it?” Larry asked, open-mouthed.

“Yes.  I will send the time machine back to your apartment in nineteen-eighty-seven and allow you to use the other one to travel back to nineteen-ninety-six.  If you wish to understand Bianca’s relationship with her grandfather, this is the year you will need to travel.”

Larry couldn’t believe his luck!  Now maybe he could finally understand what his dream really meant and figure out Bianca’s annoyance with the mere mention of it.  “I don’t guess robots can lie, if Bianca asks where I’ve gone?”

“No, Mr. Cousin Larry.  I am not programmed to lie.  Only to say ‘I’m sorry, but that information is classified.’”

Larry couldn’t help but to pump both fists in the air.  “Yes!  R.O.B.; take me back to nineteen-ninety-six!”


“Bianca!  Bianca, come quickly!”

As soon as she heard Balki calling her, she rushed out of his room, laundry basket in her hands.  “Balki, what’s wrong?”

“The machine is back, but Cousin is not inside,” Balki pointed out before stepping inside the machine.  “Cousin?  Cousin, are you hiding?”

Bianca gently tugged on Balki’s arm, pulling him out of the machine.  “Balki, it’s alright.  I’m sure R.O.B. just sent the machine back in case we needed it.  He’ll call for it again when Larry’s ready to apolo – I mean, when Larry’s ready to come back.  Trust me; Larry’s fine.”

“Oh,” Balki exhaled.  “Okay.  I thought at first maybe the ghost lady got to him or something.”

“Balki, about the ghost lady; I – ” Bianca began, but was interrupted by the phone.

“I got it,” Balki told her, walking over to the bar and answering it.

Bianca shrugged, deciding she’d talk to him about it later.  Besides, she had laundry to do.  If she was going to stay for a few days as Balki had made her promise, she had to earn her keep.  She picked up her laundry basket and retreated back into his bedroom to continue folding their clothes.  Besides, Balki was now invested in a lively conversation with someone named Lydia.

“I was cruisin’ in my ship on an interstellar trip, and I’d really had a nasty flight.  So I landed on a planet made of Styrofoam and granite, to see if I could spend the night … ” she sang softly as she folded a pair of Larry’s pajamas.  It was an old silly song from a guy named Phil Baron that she and her grandfather used to sing long ago when she was a child.

Why on Earth am I singing that ridiculous song now? she asked herself, shaking her head as if to clear it from her mind.

Aah!  Bianca!

Dropping the laundry basket, she ran out of the room, wondering what Balki could be upset about this time.  When she saw him, he was cowering at the bar, holding onto it as if his life depended on it.  “Balki?  Are you alright?”

“I – I – I saw her again,” he stammered, barely able to look at me.

“The ghost?  What did she say?” she asked, gently leading him to the sofa to sit.

“The same as before.  She call for your name and start screaming for help.  I open my mouth to call for you, but I hear the noise again and that’s when the sheep hit the fan.  She screamed so loud and so long, I thought my ear drums would bust.  She look as if she had been hurt, but she also look very scared and that scare me.  Well, that and the fact I can see right through her like indivisible tape.”

“Balki, this is the second time you’ve seen her.  Did she say her name or give you any clue as to who she might be?”

Balki shook his head furiously, still clutching Bianca’s arm.  “No.  She only call for you and then she screams after she gets shot.”

Bianca did a double-take.  “Wait; you said she gets shot?”

“Well, the noise sounds like a gun and then she grabs her stomach.  Either she was shot or ate some bad ding ding machmud.”

Bianca raised her eyebrows and turned away.  Perhaps Balki had eaten bad ding ding machmud … or he was missing Mary Anne more than he, Larry or Bianca thought.  Either way, she needed to keep a close eye on him until Larry came back.  Then maybe he could talk some sense into his Myposian cousin.


As soon as Larry opened the door to the time machine, he knew something had to be wrong.  He was at the edge of an old cemetery in the middle of God-only-knew-where, with a funeral procession only a couple of yards away.

Suddenly, the wind picked up and blew one of the funeral pamphlets at his feet.  Bending down to pick it up, he saw a photo of a jovial older man in his fifties, with wire-rimmed glasses, salt and pepper hair and a mischievous grin.  “Henry Aloisius Pierson.  June twelfth, nineteen-forty two to May eighth, nineteen-ninety seven,” he read before looking back toward the funeral.  As people were leaving, he could see that a young girl, possibly around eleven or so, was standing beside the closed casket, a single white rose in her hands.  She was wearing a plain black dress with a black and white bow in her copper hair.  “Bianca,” he whispered, empathy overwhelming him as he slowly walked closer and hid behind a large oak tree.

“Come on, B; time to go to your new home,” a small plump woman walked over to her, grabbing her arm roughly.

“I’m not ready to go with you,” young Bianca whined, shrugging the woman off.

“Fine.  You can have someone else drop you off, then,” the woman snapped before stomping off.

Larry watched as Bianca now stood alone in the cemetery by her grandfather’s coffin.  Tears welled up in his eyes as he watched her cross her arms over the top and lay her head down, sobbing.

Suddenly, he felt something crawl on his hand as he leaned up against the tree.  Looking over, he saw red ants all over the trunk and he jumped back, shaking his hand in hopes to fling any ants off him.  As he did, he stepped on a branch, which cracked under the pressure.

Young Bianca looked up and gasped.  “Who – who’s there?” she sniffed, looking around nervously.  When she spotted Larry, she gasped again.

“I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude, but I sort of put my hand on the trunk of the tree over there and when I did, I – ”

Suddenly the young Bianca slapped his hand so hard, he let out a cry of pain.  “Ow!  What was that for?”

“You had a red ant on your hand,” she said simply with a shrug.  “Did you know my grandfather?”

“Well, not exactly.  I’ve spoken to him once, though.  Very nice man.  Seemed to care about you a lot.”

Young Bianca wiped her eyes on her dress sleeve.  “I’m Bianca, but everyone calls me B.  What’s your name?”

“Oh, me?  I’m Larry.  Larry Appleton.  I, um, I’m really sorry about your grandfather,” Larry told her, rocking back and forth on his heels nervously.

“I used to live with my grandfather but now I have to go live with my aunt.  She hates me, you know.”

“Oh, come on.  I’m sure your aunt doesn’t hate you,” Larry scoffed.

“Wanna bet?” B argued.  “I overheard her say ‘now that the old man is dead, I gotta be in charge of that little brat’.”

Larry’s eyes widened as he wasn’t quite sure what to say to that.  “Well – ”

“If Grandfather were still alive, he’d have slapped her so hard, her ancestors would’ve felt a breeze from their graves,” she stated proudly.

Larry smiled.  Even at a young age, Bianca still had spunk.  “You don’t have anyone else you can go live with?  A grandmother?  Another aunt or uncle?”

“Nope, Grandfather never married after Nana passed away twelve years ago.  Said he didn’t have the time.  My parents died when I was really young.  I think I was four.  State says I have to live with my aunt Liv now, but I don’t want to.”

Larry flicked another ant off his sleeve and kneeled down to her level.  “Well maybe it will just take some adjusting.  I’m sure after time, your aunt will realize what a wonderful young lady you are and that you are smarter than anyone could’ve imagined.”

“How’d you know I was smart?” B asked, smiling broadly.

“I could just tell.”

“Well, my grandfather was an inventor and he said that I had what it took to be one, too!  He taught me everything I know,” she beamed.

Larry stood up again and opened his mouth to say something, but B gasped.  “Uh oh!  I’m gonna be toast!  I gotta get to my aunt’s house before she comes back and kills me!”

“Well, if it’s not too far, I could walk you to your aunt’s house,” Larry offered.  “You shouldn’t be walking around on your own, you know.”

“Okay.  Thanks, Mr. Larry,” she replied with a smile, though tears still shone in her blue eyes.

Suddenly, she slapped his hand again, this time even harder than before.  For an eleven year old, she sure could inflict pain!  “Another red ant?” he guessed.

“Nope.  Spider,” B replied.

Larry’s face wrinkled in a disgusted look and B laughed before taking his hand.  While this wasn’t quite what Larry had in mind, he was hoping to find some answers about Bianca’s past – and soon.


“Where’s Appleton?”

Balki turned around in the basement of the Chicago Chronicle to find Larry’s boss standing beside his desk expectantly.  “Cousin Larry won’t be able to come into work today.  I was told to give you this,” he said, fishing out a note from the inside pocket of his vest.

Mr. Wainwright adjusted his glasses and unfolded the note.  “Dear Mr. Wainwright.  Please excuse Mr. Larry Appleton from all work-related duties due to a back injury.  Signed, Doctor Brianna Westbourne.  Well, very well then.”

“Appleton hurt his back again?”

Balki jumped at the sound of his boss’ voice and let out a small cry.  Ever since he had seen the ghostly woman in the time machine, he had been extremely jumpy.

“What’s the matter, Bartokomous?  Guilty conscience?” Mr. Gorpley taunted.

“No, Mr. Gorpley.  I am fully alert and ready to work,” Balki assured him, thinking he had said conscious.

“Well, see that you do.  Don’t forget to finish the dictionary for me.  I need that on my desk by tomorrow or it’s your neck.”

“Okay, Mr. Gorpley, but I don’t know how my neck is gonna help you spell and look up meanings of words.”

Seconds later, Balki heard a loud bang behind him and he literally yelled and jumped on top of the table where the mail was stacked.

Mr. Gorpley laughed maniacally, picking up a book that had fallen on the floor.  “Oops.”

“Sam, leave him alone unless you want me to publish that letter you ‘anonymously’ sent to my advice column signed ‘Size Doesn’t Matter in Chicago’,” Lydia Markham, the paper’s advice columnist threatened.

“As you were, Bartokomous,” Mr. Gorpley replied nervously before quickly retreating to his office.

“Balki, what’s wrong?  You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Lydia asked, helping Balki from the table.

“You mean you saw her, too?” Balki asked, clutching her arms in fear.

“Saw who, Balki?” Lydia queried slowly, pulling him away.

Balki sighed.  He couldn’t tell her the truth.  Not without telling her about Bianca and her time machine.  But he couldn’t lie to her, either.

“Lydia, there’s something I have to – ”

“There you are!” Harriet’s Winslow’s stern tone echoed throughout the basement.  “Lydia, you owe me thirty dollars and I want that money!”

Lydia walked away from Balki and towards the elevator.  “Harriet, I told you I’d give you the money – ”

“Yeah, I know what you told me, but I … ”

Balki listened as their voices trailed off behind the closed doors of the elevator.  Normally, he loved to work and converse with his co-workers, but it wasn’t the same without knowing where Cousin Larry was.  He hadn’t come home at all last night and it worried him.  Not to mention every time he closed his eyes, he saw the woman screaming and holding her stomach.  At least Bianca said she would meet him for lunch.  Maybe then I can relax and unload all my burros, he thought as he started to sort the mail.


“I don’t know if I can do this,” she sighed, sitting on the floor in the corner of her cell.  “I can’t believe I’m helping to harm someone we care about.”

“I know.  It’s difficult for me, too, but we have to continue.  He has to think he’s gaining the upper hand,” the older man informed her as he paced the room.  “Just keep doing as he tells you to and try not to worry.  I’m working on my end to keep all hell from breaking loose.  I swear, though, if he harms a hair on – ”

“I hear him coming!” the woman suddenly shushed him before whispering,  “If there’s anyone I trust to get us out of this mess, it’s you.”


“Cousin?  Are you – ?” Balki asked as soon as he opened the door to the apartment.

Bianca sighed from her position on the sofa and shook her head.  “Sorry, Balki.  He’s not here.”

“Where is he?  It been over twenty-four hours since he left and I’m about to have a nervous breakdance!” Balki cried.  “Bianca, can we please take your time machine and look for Cousin Larry?”

Bianca stood up and grabbed his hand.  “I was just waiting for you to come home.  Come on.”

A few seconds later, they were in the living room of her home and Bianca saw no signs that Larry was there, either.  “Larry?  Are you here?” she called out.

“Cousin, where are you?  Come out, come out, wherever you are!  Mohammad Ali Oxen Free!” Balki called out.

Bianca came back a few minutes later.  R.O.B. was charging and still twenty-five minutes away from powering up, so she couldn’t ask him quite yet.

“Bianca, can we go to the police so they can put out a PDA for him?” Balki asked.

“Balki, I don’t think that’s such a – ”

“Please, Bianca; I don’t like just sitting on my legs and not doing anything.”

“I know that, Balki, but let’s just wait – ”

Balki suddenly lowered his head to his chest.  “I want to go to the police!” he wailed.

“Alright, alright, we’ll go to the police,” she gave in.

Balki instantly looked back up and smiled.  “Okay.”

Bianca led him once again to the time machine and within seconds, arrived at the police station.

As soon as they walked in, a burly, balding cop sat at a desk a few feet away.  “Can I help you two?”

“We need to file a missing person’s report,” Bianca stated.

“I need a name and description,” the cop said, turning to his computer.

“His name is Cousin Larry Appleton,” Balki told them.  “He twenty-six years but he don’t look a day over twenty five.”

“Can you describe him for me?” the cop asked, eyebrow raised.

“Yeah, okay.  He’s short, he has brown well-coughed hair, no upper lip at all, erotic personality.  He like the color blue, takes his coffee black with no sugar and enjoys organizing and making mountains out of moles,” Balki explained.

Bianca cleared her throat nervously.  “Let me try.  He’s a white male about five-foot-seven, average weight, brown curly hair, hazel eyes, nervous disposition.  He was last seen wearing a light blue button-down shirt and a dark brown tie with khaki pants and brown loafers.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” the cop nodded before glaring at Balki.  “Let me look in the computer here and – ”

“Oh, no.  He won’t be in the computer.  How would he fit in that tiny screen?” Balki asked.

Bianca shot him a warning look but had to fight laughing out loud.

“Okay, we’ll do all we can,” the policeman stated.

As soon as Balki was out of earshot, Bianca pretended to get a phone call.

“Oh, there you are!  We just went to the station to file a missing person’s report!  Okay, I’ll tell them.  Bye.”

The cop looked up at her expectantly.  “You need me to cancel the report?”

Bianca flashed him a hundred-watt smile.  “If you wouldn’t mind.”

After all, she knew that if the police put out a missing person’s report, they’d find Larry in a heartbeat.  Only Larry would be much older and very confused as to why a much younger Balki filed a police report when the older Balki would have probably had seen him minutes earlier.


Larry knew it was getting late, but he needed to see B again.  He had lingered outside long enough to hear yelling – mostly from her aunt – and knew that the situation wasn’t good.  He looked up at the window where had seen her earlier and assumed it was her bedroom.  The house seemed nice enough on the outside, and he was sure it was equally lovely on the inside, but it was what went on behind closed doors that made Larry shiver.  He looked up again and saw that the lamp in her room had been switched off.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this for a child,” he whispered, picking up a few stray pebbles in his hand before tossing them at her window.  But this wasn’t just any child; this was a young version of Bianca Pierson, the woman who came into his life and turned it upside-down, both in reality and subconsciousness.

A minute later, her lamp came back on and a red and white pajama clad B opened the window and peered out.  “Mr. Larry?  What are you doing here?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

“I came to see if you were okay,” he answered.

“Hang on.  I’m coming down,” she told him, crawling out of her window and stepping onto the lattice attached to the house.

Larry grimaced.  “Be careful,” he warned, preparing himself to catch her if she fell.

He breathed a sigh of relief when she expertly climbed down and landed gracefully on the grass below.

“I hate it here,” B said, her lower lip quivering.  “Aunt Liv is so mean to me.  She yells at me for everything!  She gave me this computer and told me to fix it so I could prove I was good for something.  I could re-wire the whole thing and make it work so good, she’d be amazed, but then she’d just get angrier and hit me or something.”

Larry’s eyes bulged out.  “She hits you?”

“No, but she hurts me.  She grabbed my arms so hard and shook me when I told her I wasn’t hungry.  She said she didn’t care if I starved.  Mr. Larry, what am I supposed to do?  I miss my grandfather so much it hurts.  If he were here now, he’d know what to do.”

“Your grandfather; did he ever tell you that you and he had a special bond and could talk to each other no matter where you were?” Larry asked.

B shrugged and bit her lip.  “Mr. Larry, I really should go back – ”

“I know, but this is very important.  Is it true what your grandfather said?”

“Yes, but you can’t tell anyone, okay?  He says all I have to do is think about how much we love each other and I can hear him as if we’re in the same room.”

“I knew it!” Larry cried triumphantly.  So his dream was correct!  “Then you need to ask your grandfather how to get out of this mess.”

B shrugged and took his hand.  “I – I did.  He said you’d help me.”

Larry’s smile suddenly melted like a cake that had been left out in the rain.  “He said I’d help you?  But how?”

“I don’t know,” B shrugged again.  “Look, I gotta go back inside before Aunt Liv finds out I’m not there and has a hissy fit!  Goodnight, Mr. Larry!”

Larry watched in silence as she climbed back up to her window and returned to her room.  So I’m supposed to help her, huh?  No pressure, Grandfather, he thought sarcastically before trying to come up with a plan of escape.

She doesn’t need to escape, Larry.  What she needs is someone to watch over her.  You want answers?  You need to figure out a way to get closer to her, a strange voice “answered” him.

“Who’s that?  Who’s there?” Larry asked, whipping his head around, only to find no one there.

Larry, you will probably never hear these words told to you again, so listen carefully: you need to come up with a plan.

Feeling confused, panicked and terrified, Larry ran down the street, afraid whomever was speaking to him might decide to suddenly show themselves.


Continue . . . .