Mr. Gizmo

In a small community, on a tiny island on the edge of a huge ocean, sat a boy. He was not a small boy, nor was he a large boy. He was a medium-sized teenager, fast approaching the beginning of his third decade on Turtle Island but feeling the weight of a thousand years upon his shoulders. In his unremarkable room, he sat on the edge of his unmade bed. Around him was the detritus he had so far acquired in his unmemorable life—a mishmash of outgrown toys, casually read graphic novels, rudely piled clothes—and he held a small .38 snub-nosed revolver firmly in his hand.

The house was empty and quiet. Only the sounds of the island’s animal citizens could occasionally be heard filtering into the room from the world outside. Squeezing the wooden handle, the boy could feel the criss-crossed texture of the gun’s grip. Lying dead centre in his palm, it felt heavy. Heavier than he had expected, but then it was a sizable chunk of forged steel. It should be heavy. Why he had thought it would be less substantial he wasn’t sure. Maybe it was the way it was whipped out and waved about so casually on television and in films that made it seem less formidable. Whatever. Make no mistake, the sheer ominous heft of the six-chambered firearm told him it was an instrument of violent death. He squeezed the handle again, making sure his index finger stayed distant from the trigger. For the moment, anyway.

Seventeen years of walking the planet had landed him here, at this very moment, at this unique juncture of his life. Half of it lived in the big city of Vancouver, the other half a little ways away in this isolated First Nations community bordering the edges of both a continent and an ocean. Today his thoughts ran dark and bleak. You see, the boy was rapidly running out of family to rely on, and as a result, his sense of self-worth was also depleting. His father… dead from what was described as an “incident” in prison. What was it… eleven years ago already? He could barely remember the man who had called him son. The boy was now probably as tall as his father had been when he’d last seen him. But the man whose DNA he shared had become a mere number, one of the thousands of Aboriginal men who disproportionately “enjoyed” the hospitality of Canada’s correctional services. And whether he had been guilty or unfairly caged by the dominant culture’s so-called “justice system,” somewhere in his journey he had become just a memory for the boy and a statistic for some future royal commission.

The boy’s mother had disappeared one night while out in the city. Pleas to the police and the media proved ineffective, and the woman stayed missing and was quite likely dead. Now just another name in a much larger tragedy of murdered and missing women. That was when the boy was sent home, to live with his grandparents. In this house. On this island so far away from everything he knew.

He pulled back the hammer of the gun. “Cocked it” was the term he said silently to himself. The boy was dressed in black, having just come back from his grandmother’s funeral. Another branch broken off his heavily pruned family tree. He’d read somewhere that cocking it reduced the amount of pressure needed to pull the trigger from five pounds per square inch to two pounds per square inch, making it easier to fire. He could feel the satisfying click as the hammer locked into place.

This island had been home for a little more than seven years. It sure wasn’t like Vancouver. And even though he was probably broadly related to everybody in the village, he still somehow felt alone. And his peers let him know it. That he talked with a city accent. That he knew practically nothing about fishing or his people or anything everybody else found interesting. There were girls he liked who didn’t like him. It had been a difficult and lonely seven years. Especially now, with his grandmother buried and his rigorously sober grandfather… now not so sober. The old man had passed out in his room, awash in a rye-and-beer-induced coma. The death of a partner he had shared his life with for more decades than most people live had taken its toll.

So there sat the boy, cradling the gun owned by his grandfather, a gift from an American he had been a fishing guide for a long time ago. Neither he nor his grandfather knew if it had ever been fired.

His grandparents had taught the boy that life was a gift to be treasured. It was now a philosophy the boy had difficulty accepting. In fact, the gun in his hand demonstrated his curiosity about returning that precious gift. He was finishing high school in two months… perhaps a better way of saying it was barely finishing high school, or that high school would be finished with him. What next? University? The thought almost made him laugh. His teachers, though supportive, gave him the impression that would be a waste of time. The fishing industry that abounded in the area? That seemed equally unlikely. It was backbreaking work that required a certain amount of commitment and endurance, neither of which he felt he possessed. Also, embarrassingly, long hours on the open sea made him seasick. Some Kwakwaka’wakw man he was.

All of that added up to a bleak past and an equally bleak future. As the poets would say, it was a shitty life that was seemingly getting shittier. That was the realization that had sent him to the top shelf of his grandfather’s closet a little less than half an hour ago. Now in his room, the revolver sat comfortably in his left hand. Slowly, he transferred it to his right hand.

Impulsively, he lifted the gun, extending his arm and looking down the sights of the short, stubby barrel. Aiming. At everything. First, at the poster of some video game his grandparents couldn’t afford and whose ancient television probably couldn’t process the twenty-first-century technology necessary for him to play it. Still, it was a cool poster. Then, over at the window and the mountain that stood far off in the distance. It was beautiful, dark and distant. Next, on the wall across the room was a mirror with a sullen teenage boy in the middle of its frame. His arm hovered as he looked across the expanse of his room, trying to recognize the person at the other end. The boy was pointing a gun at him, too. Probably as pissed off as he was. Their eyes locked for a moment before both boys slowly lowered their guns.

Finally, on a shelf beside the window, he targeted the centre of his last victim. A toy robot, given to him by his father before he went away. It was an old-fashioned kind of thing, about a foot high, with moving arms and flashing lights. At least, it once had these things. It used to move eagerly across the floor with lights flashing, filling up the world with excited beeps and sirens. Mr. Gizmo—that was what he had once called it. Now it just sat there, gathering dust.

The boy imagined pulling the trigger. The gunpowder igniting, gases instantly expanding. The bullet pushing down the barrel, spiralling slightly, flying across the floor and into the cheap plastic figure. Bits of department store robot parts and made-in-China electronic guts exploding across the room.

“Hey, don’t point that thing at me. What did I do?”

Everything in the room stopped. There had been a voice. Definitely a voice. His hand with the gun fell to his lap as he quickly scanned the room. He was alone, as always. He almost dropped the handgun, but when odd and unexpected things happen, perhaps that’s an even better time to have a weapon. Door was closed. Cellphone turned off. The only thing the boy could hear now was his own heartbeat.

He did the only logical thing he could think of and asked, “Where…? Who said that?”

No answer. Silence, except for the creaking of the bed as he stood up, turning a full 360 in a second attempt to locate who, or what, had spoken.

Eyeing his old friend warily, the boy approached the toy robot slowly. He leaned in toward the familiar object, studying its worn plastic face and body. The boy hadn’t paid this much attention to Mr. Gizmo in a long time. He reached up to his old childhood acquaintance, taking it firmly in his free hand. It wasn’t talking. It wasn’t doing anything. Just staring back at him, if inanimate objects can indeed stare back.

Not knowing what else to do, he knocked the side of the robot’s head with the barrel of the gun—twice. You know, just to be sure.

“You know I can’t feel anything. However, I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t do that again.”

This time, the robot moved. Thanks to a hand opening in surprise and the power of gravity, it plummeted about four feet straight down and then bounced twice on the thick rug. Backing into his dresser, the boy raised his gun, aiming directly at the thing on the floor.

“Who… what the fuck are you?”

There was a very pregnant pause before the boy received an answer.

“If I remember correctly, you used to call me Mr. Gizmo. Never liked that name but also never liked the cheap plastic they made me with. Will you please put that gun down? I know I’m obsolete, but I also know I was not put on Turtle Island to become target practice. I would like my end as a robot to be a little less violent.”

Lying face down on the rug, the robot was still. Even if it was indeed talking, it was not moving. None of this made sense. As if to prove his point, the boy continued to point his gun at the toy. At the moment, he was out of other options.

“You! Why… why are you talking? You never talked before.”

Sluggishly, as if mired in a dream, the white-and-silver toy managed to roll over onto its back. Its eyes—plastic nodules, actually—were now facing upwards, looking toward the boy and glowing faintly.

“I will tell you if you put the damn gun down.”

Although it seemed to the boy that the whole world was spinning around him, he elected not to do as requested.

“Do I look like I’m dangerous? Is this what dangerous looks like to you?”

The boy had to give the robot that. Unless it was one of those Transformer-type things, this toy would have a serious problem overpowering or even hurting him. Almost reluctantly, the boy lowered the gun to his side. But like a jack-in-the-box, it could and would spring forth if needed.

“Now, if you don’t mind, can you pick me up and put me back on the shelf? Lying here on the ground gives me a far better view of your crotch than I would like. I would prefer to look you in the eye. Man to man… or robot to teenager, as the case may be.”

For a few seconds, neither moved. It seemed Mr. Gizmo was waiting patiently, and the boy was assessing the situation. To the best of the boy’s knowledge, things like this didn’t happen after the funeral of most grandparents.

Suddenly, the robot moved again. Left to right, then right to left, as it struggled against both gravity and a discarded T-shirt that was restricting movement on its right side. “You realize you are making this difficult. Even if I can manage to get upright, there’s not a lot I can do from down here.” Mr. Gizmo stopped moving. “Well?”

Taking the gun from his grandfather’s closet had been the boldest and pluckiest of the boy’s limited repertoire of actions. Until now. He could see Mr. Gizmo staring at him, expectantly it seemed. Not knowing what else to do, he grasped his childhood toy in his trembling fingers, ready to drop it, throw it or shoot it if the need arose. But all that was required was to return Mr. Gizmo to his time-honoured location on the shelf. The boy couldn’t help noticing how normal the robot’s body felt. Not unusually hot or even cold. It wasn’t vibrating or tingling. All the boy could conclude was that it felt like any twelve-year-old plastic toy should.

“Thank you. Now, let’s talk.”

It wanted to talk. It wanted to talk more. It wanted to talk more to him. This couldn’t be good. “About… about… what? Talk… about what?”

“Nuclear physics. What do you think? You are standing here, alone in your room, I guess very depressed, with a loaded gun. There aren’t a lot of dots to connect.”

The gun… The boy had forgotten about the gun still in his hand. Under the circumstances, though, that could be expected. Realizing the situation had changed substantially, he could revisit the need for the gun later perhaps. At the moment, there were other things to consider. He gingerly released the gun, and it landed with a slight thud on a shelf about a foot to the left and just below Mr. Gizmo. Pivoting its head slightly, the robot watched the boy release the weapon.

“Excellent. I think that’s progress. Remember that ray gun I used to have? I think you lost that within the first month. Too bad. I always liked that ray gun. But kids, right? They wouldn’t be kids if they didn’t lose things.”


“I’m Mr. Gizmo, remember? From the planet—”

“Mr. Gizmo never talked. At least, not like this. And not for a long time.”

“I’ve never needed to. Communication is very overrated.”

Breathing heavily, his knees dangerously close to buckling, the boy didn’t respond. Reality for him was usually constant. Boringly constant, like waves on a beach. Mosquitos in summer. Trips to the bathroom. The only thing in his community that happened on a regular basis was people leaving his life. Not insane incidents like this.

The boy blurted out the words, almost too quickly to be understood. “Then why now? Why… why… why…?” But his confusion seemed to be of no interest to Mr. Gizmo.

“I didn’t like where things were going.”

Again, the boy tried to coalesce his exploding thoughts. “But how long…? When did…?”

Normally, the boy wasn’t verbose. He would get away with as little conversation as he could. But that wasn’t the reason he was currently struggling to speak. He fought for the right word to explain what he was trying to express. Then it came to him, though without the necessary grammar or sentence structure.


The word had popped into his head, from where he wasn’t sure. It wasn’t the kind of word used frequently in teenage conversations.

Mr. Gizmo had an answer. “I have always been… conscious, as you put it. Just like you are. Just like your grandfather. Just like your bed. Your bike.”

There was so much wrong with that sentence, the boy didn’t know where to begin.

“You can’t be talking. Am I… am I… crazy?”

Mr. Gizmo, somehow, shrugged his little plastic shoulders. “Well, that’s for a toy much more knowledgeable than I am to decide. But enough about me. Let’s talk about you.”

It seemed his childhood toy wanted to have a detailed and comprehensive discussion with him—about him. Once again, this couldn’t be good. His response consisted of a hearty and fearful swallow. Then he managed, “I don’t want to talk about me.”

“Yeah, but we’re going to. Look, I broke protocols to talk to you. At the very least you could be a little more receptive. And grateful. Geez, I bet the Impatient One didn’t give the trees this much grief when they showed him the way through the mountains. Or when that carving introduced itself to the Impatient One, who then turned around and adopted it as a brother. At least that carving wasn’t so snotty.”

Like a drowning man grabbing at a life preserver, the boy suddenly had a frame of reference, albeit one less concrete than he might have preferred. He’d heard that unusual name before, and the references to helpful trees and a carving coming to life tickled the back of his memory. These were stories—fabulous, incredible ones—his grandfather had told him that came from the Kwakwaka’wakw people. His people. What this had to do with a cheap plastic toy named Mr. Gizmo eluded him, though.

“But those are just… just… legends.”

“So were the Trojan War and Vikings hanging out on the East Coast. Doesn’t mean they’re not true. The Impatient One’s carving? Distant cousin of mine. Those trees? I knew a gazebo who knew a stump who used to date one of those trees.”

More of the traditional tales were slowly coming back, surfacing above the sea of confusion swirling around in the boy’s head. He’d listened to them when he was very young, and then again when he was older, relishing their detail and his grandfather’s ability to make them feel real. These were stories of the West Coast that had sprung from the mountains and the sea and were first told way back in the epoch known as Time Immemorial. Starring Raven and a plethora of other amazing characters, who until now the boy had relegated to the same status as Santa Claus and Superman.

“Now look, dude, I’m sorry for interrupting your little depression fest here, but I did not like where your interest in that gun was going, and I figured I had to say something. There’s been a lot of talk among us about this lately, about where you young people have been going these days. Years, actually. Yeah, ever since the People of Pallor—that’s what we call them—arrived, things have been kind of tough for your people. Actually, all First Nations people. Sort of a hangover of the colonized. We call it PCSD—post-contact stress disorder. But, buddy, enough is enough.”

“What… what do you… what do you mean, ‘There’s been a lot of talk’? By who?”

“Us. The things in your life. The things in all Native people’s lives. Am I right, or am I right?”

The light on the boy’s desk clicked on and off. So did the radio. One of his graphic novels opened a page, and the pillow on his bed seemed to be breathing.

The room around him had been his sanctuary. A fortress where he could contemplate his place in the world and feel reasonably secure. All those years of confident refuge now went flying out the window, which had conveniently just opened itself.

Mr. Gizmo still commanded the floor, or in this particular case, the shelf. “This has got to stop. You were going to kill yourself, weren’t you? Or at least you were thinking about it. Come on, admit it. We all saw you.”

The amazement he had been feeling, freshly tinged with a healthy dollop of fear, was now replaced by embarrassed surprise intermingled with a substantial dose of shame.

Shaking his head, he muttered, “No, no. I was…”

“Oh, be quiet. We know you better than you know yourself. You were playing with that gun more than you play with yourself.”

That substantial dose of shame suddenly became a flood. They had indeed been watching him.

Down the hall, face down on the bed, his grandfather snorted twice, enveloped in a deep intoxicated sleep. If only the old man could be in this room right now, thought the boy. Maybe then there would be answers to the multitude of unasked questions currently crowding the boy’s brain. His mother’s father had been a treasure trove of cultural facts. Unfortunately, the boy could only remember bits and pieces of what the old man had taught him over the years. Still, above everything else was the Kwakwaka’wakw belief that all things were alive… Actually, “alive” might not be the correct word. Everything had a spirit… Again, that didn’t sound right. It was something about everything in Creation being animate—having a will, an intelligence, a state of being. Kwakwaka’wakw stories were replete with tales of objects come to life. If there was a need or a reason, or more specifically, if they wanted to.

“Quit denying it. You were going to kill yourself. What an absolute waste of time and energy. And life. You think life is that depressing? Trust me, that kind of death is even more depressing. Add to that the fact you think the best way to deal with all this is to repaint your grandfather’s wall with your brains… Excuse me, but I’m having trouble seeing the logic.”

“You don’t know—”

Before the boy could finish his sentence, the robot interrupted with a rude beep and a flashing light.

I don’t know? Really? You think I don’t know? You forget, my morose little friend, I was not born on the date of manufacture printed on my butt. I have been around since the days when Raven used to crash all the parties. I just live here now and go by the name Mr. Gizmo. So, thanks to the passing millenniums, I know a few things.”

A sudden thought occurred to the boy. He could just leave. Walk out the door. Leave all this behind and return to a place where the rational laws of reality still operated. Many things in the universe were beyond his understanding—he was bright enough to acknowledge this—and this was definitely one of them. Everything happening now, here, was not normal, and he was rapidly discovering he was a big fan of normal. Normal had become a lot more important and appealing than it had been just five minutes ago. But the doorknob refused to turn, and as a result, the door would not open, despite his furious tugging.

“Have you met my friend the door? We have… an arrangement.”

The boy was getting frustrated. He was being thwarted by a cheap, mass-produced toy manufactured in some far-off land.

“You can’t hold me prisoner. I have rights.”

If a quasi-mechanical coughing sound could be called laughter, the robot had just chuckled loudly. Mr. Gizmo’s arm rose, pointing at the boy. “You don’t even know what that means. Besides, you were gonna kill yourself, and to the best of my knowledge, dead bodies don’t have a lot of rights. So given the choice between a locked door and lying on the floor, staining your grandmother’s lovely carpet—which, by the way, is not looking forward to that—I think this is the safest option.”

Trapped. The boy knew it. Someday, far in the future, if he survived this exceedingly bizarre encounter, he would look back on the events of today and… well, he had no idea what he would feel or think. True, it takes a certain amount of time and reflection to figure out the complexities of any given situation. And in this particular case, a little therapy might also be required. Still, there were other avenues for the boy to take in search of deliverance.

“I won’t do it. I promise. I’ll put the gun back.”

He wasn’t lying. He would do that if the talking robot would let him. Anything, including staying alive, had to be better than being held hostage by a children’s toy.

What’s even worse than being held hostage by a children’s toy? Being lectured to by that same toy.

“Did you know suicide doesn’t really solve a heck of a lot? Only those who live forever can really understand that. You might think it’s an end to everything that is bothering you. The pain. The misery. All gone in a final act of desperation. But it just transfers the pain, passes it off to other people.”

This was all becoming too much for the boy. A talking toy robot that claimed to be a Kwakwaka’wakw spirit lecturing him on mental health.

“How the hell do you know that?”

“Your laptop is my best friend, so we talk. Suicide is really just a permanent solution to a temporary problem. One of the benefits and curses of being eternal is witnessing the history of a people pass by. I was here, in a different form, when the first of the Colour Challenged—that’s another thing we call them—landed on these shores. I was here during the epidemics. I was here when the reserves and residential schools were set up. I saw entire generations of your people… shit on. And they survived. And now, you’re shitting on yourselves. And you know, after a few hundred years it’s gotten kind of annoying. A noble, proud, strong people chopping away at their own legs. Until now, it’s been these Pigment Denied People—we also call them that—doing their best to weaken Native people by targeting the youth. Now it seems Native youth are targeting themselves. There comes a time when even toy robots have to stand up and say, ‘This has just got to stop.’”

Everything that could make a sound in the room made a sound. It was a cacophony of agreement from a variety of inanimate objects, though as the boy had found out, “inanimate” was no longer the correct word for things in the Indigenous world.

Once at the top of the food and technology chain, the boy now realized he was definitely at the bottom of the power paradigm that currently existed in his bedroom. In fact, he was finding it difficult to argue his position. How often does a teenager get asked to validate his choice to decrease, however minimally, the Aboriginal population of his community and of Canada? No defence, no rationalization, no justification miraculously sprang to the boy’s lips. So, he said nothing.

But the robot would have none of that. It was talking, and it wanted to be talked to. “So, you gonna say anything or stand there like a bump on a log? Which by the way is a stupid saying ’cause most of the log bumps I know are quite opinionated.”

The boy opened his mouth, then closed it again.

“Come on. Anything this monumental in your life must have taken loads and loads of consideration. Serious and deep thought. Share with us your rationale.”

The whole room seemed to pause, as if waiting for the boy to say something. Anything. His mouth opened, though the brain controlling it wasn’t quite sure what was going to be said. But the boy had faith something wise and logical would come out.

“It’s hard.”

The head on the robot twirled around three times. “‘It’s hard!’ What kind of rationale is—”

“Shut up.” For the first time the boy forcibly interjected, cutting off the robot’s criticism. “You just… you just shut up. You don’t know anything.” The boy had taken control, leaving the animated animatronic silent. The whole room looked on in expectation. “Yeah, so you’ve been around since forever. Big deal. That doesn’t mean you know what it’s like to be me or understand what I’ve gone through. Just because you can talk to laptops and log bumps doesn’t give you the right to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do with my life!”

“Excuse me! Show a little respect here. Do I have to remind you your people worship my people?”

Now the boy had found his rhythm. He’d found his voice, or perhaps his voice had found him. “No they—we—don’t. We respect and honour the spirits. Not worship. Because we’re all equal, not better or worse.”

Just a year ago, the boy had attended a family potlatch and had spent an afternoon listening to one of the village elders talk about this. At the time, the whole topic had seemed kind of silly and he had quickly become bored, not expecting the content of the elder’s stories to eventually become so pertinent.

“Dammit…” muttered Mr. Gizmo. He had hoped the boy wouldn’t know that. It’s a little-known fact that plastic robots hate being one-upped.

“My parents are gone. My grandmother just died. I love my grandfather, but he’s passed out in the other room. I don’t really belong here, and because of that, I don’t have any real friends. I don’t fit in, and I don’t know what to do.” The boy took a breath. “I feel so… alone.”

Nothing in the room responded. You could have heard a pin drop, but none of the pins in the room felt like dropping at that specific moment.

The floodgates had been opened, and the boy unleashed a torrent. “It’s just… Why? That’s all. Why? Why don’t I fit in? Why am I here? Why should I continue to put up with this shit? It’s all so hard. I am not doing anybody any good, especially me. So there. There’s your stupid reason. Happy?!”

Again, the room was silent. Even the old-fashioned clock on the wall seemed reluctant to shatter the quiet with a tick. Finally, the robot’s eyes dimmed briefly, then resumed glowing.

“You realize you are talking about the misery of existence to a cheap plastic robot that you’ve ignored for most of your teenage years. I know about being alone. Look, my left leg has a hairline crack along the back. Two of my lights are burned out. I’ve got dirt and sand inside most of my working parts. This damp weather is hell on my electronics. Your dog peed on me once, and I can’t remember the last time you changed my batteries. Right now, I am operating on sheer willpower.”

“So am I,” retorted the boy.

“Fair enough,” responded the toy. “I don’t argue that things may be difficult at the moment. Everything you are feeling… Well, that is what you feel and who the hell am I to tell you not to feel that way? Remember your Uncle Todd?”

Of course he did. Uncle Todd was a legend. Out hunting three Februarys ago, he had gotten lost in a sudden snowstorm and spent eight days surviving on his own until a search party found him holed up in a desolate hunting cabin about six kilometres from where he’d gone missing.

“I know for a fact he was just as down as you are, maybe more, thinking he was lost, that eventually he was going to freeze to death, or maybe slowly starve, or maybe even be eaten by a grizzly bear. More importantly—and this was what ate away at him—he was embarrassed, even humiliated, that he, a good and knowledgeable Kwakwaka’wakw man, had gotten lost in the woods and that right at that moment, people were searching and worrying about him. Each night, as the darkness grew in that dingy cabin, it grew inside him. He’d look over to where his rifle stood and wonder what was the best course of action.”

This was definitely news to the boy. His uncle had always seemed so strong and… well, fearless. That he would even consider something like that… For the second time that day, the teenager was surprised.

“But things got better for him. They usually do. Eternity has taught me that. Yes, yes, I know the argument that the world is so depressing and gloomy, so it would just be better to end it all and revel blissfully in non-existence. But the thing is—and keep in mind this is coming from someone who has seen the mountains rise and fall, and then rise again—that is such a narrow perspective on how the world runs. Nothing ends. Everything goes on, and on and on. Taking your own life because life is painful, that doesn’t end it. More often than not, that spreads the pain. One person, then another, probably another will see what you’ve done. Some might follow. Or it might be just your family, sitting there at your funeral, crying, blaming themselves. Suicide becomes a virus, spreading across the youth of a community. And it spreads sadness to everyone. We’ve all seen it.”

The robot was speaking the truth. As horrible as things were for him, the boy definitely did not want to be responsible for other people following his example.

“Is this a…” Once again, the boy searched for the words. “A suicide intervention?”

“No, it’s a cultural intervention. You and your generation are the elders of tomorrow. The virus starts and stops with you. I—all of us—happen to like the Kwakwaka’wakw nation and would like to see it survive. We’d like all the First Nations of Canada, the world—what the hell, everybody—to survive. Every once in a while, everybody needs help. Think of this as… I guess you could call it ‘spiritual welfare.’ We’re there when you need us.”

The boy was silent. The room was silent. Finally, he asked an important question: “Will things get better?”

The toy’s eyes flickered. “I don’t know. We’re spirits, not fortune tellers. Usually, that’s up to you. Other people can knock you down, but only you can get back up. If you don’t get back up, if you go to sleep and don’t wake up the next morning, they—whoever they are—have won. And everything you and your people believe is important gets a little weaker.”

Down the hall, the boy could hear his grandfather wake up. The bed creaked, and footsteps headed for the bathroom. The living room was littered with beer bottles for the first time the boy could remember. A moment of weakness for the old man, who had always seemed so strong. But now the man who had raised him, the man who had just lost the woman he had loved and lived with for forty-seven years, was walking forward. No doubt sadder than the boy could imagine, but carrying on. He had gotten back up.

“What should I do, then?”

Nothing. The toy robot sat on the shelf, staring off into the distance. No lights, no voice, silent as it had been for years.

“Hello? You still in there?”

He picked up the plastic creation and shook it. Around the room the boy could see the objects that just a few minutes ago had shaken his world. They were all silent. Still grasping the toy, he turned the lamp on and off. Flipped through the pages of his graphic novel. Turned the radio on briefly. All seemed perfectly normal… whatever that meant.

Mr. Gizmo’s red plastic eyes remained blank, as they had been for as long as the boy could remember. He wiped the dust from the shelf and returned the toy to its former position. After a moment of thought, he grabbed the gun. This time it felt ominous and uncomfortable in his hand. He hoped he could get it back to the old man’s closet before his grandfather came out of the bathroom. As he turned toward the door, he felt the gun move slightly. The hammer slowly uncocked and went back to its normal position. And along the side of the revolver, he saw the safety shift to on.

This time, his door opened with no fuss. The boy quickly entered his grandparents’ bedroom, then the closet, hastily replacing the gun. He returned to his room and sat on his bed, trying to fathom the afternoon’s events.

Looking up toward the thing on the shelf, he said, “You’re never going to talk to me again, are you?”

There was no response, not that he was expecting one. Outside his door, he heard his grandfather return to his room.

Nothing had really changed in the boy’s life. Yet so much was different. Tired, that was how he felt. That he could deal with. Getting comfortable on his bed, he hugged his pillow, wondering if there was indeed a spirit inside the fluffy collection of foam. He realized he had to go to the bathroom.

Opening the bathroom door, the first thing the boy saw was the porcelain toilet. As Mr. Gizmo had pointed out, and if thousands of years of Kwakwaka’wakw teaching were true, the toilet had some kind of spirit too. And quite probably it was watching him at this very moment, and all moments.

Suddenly, the boy wasn’t sure he had to go anymore.