Dudley stepped out of Miracle Food Mart and saw a skinny black kid putting a coin in the new gum ball machine. Dropping his grocery bags, he watched the kid work the machine. He didn't approve of the kid's earring or shorts-only attire, and he blushed as he felt an unwanted erection rising. As he watched the kid twisting the selection dial his inner conflict eased to a hypocritical frown. He grinned as the lights became starbursts on the machine.
This gumball machine was designed as a robot with a wide, squat plasti-metal body. Its arms and legs were made of big silver rings. Its head was a huge clear plastic bubble full of gumballs and its clouded plastic chest held the prizes. It had a big dial on its belly and it growled as the kid turned it; a series of beeps followed, then it rocked with spacey sound-blast explosions and spun its head of gumballs. It fell silent as a gumball and prize rolled out of the wide slot.
The kid dashed away with his gumball and beeping toy and Dudley jingled a pocket full of coins as he stepped up to the machine. Now this was a machine he approved of - a nice machine and it looked like a real robot, not like one of those lousy super-D video games with screens full of violence.
Popping in his coin, he turned the dial and waited for his gumball. The friendly robot went through its motions, only this time its chest lit up and the words GRAND PRIZE began to flash.
Dudley scooped out his gumball, but the prize didn't show. He tried to shake the machine but it wouldn't budge. The grand prize appeared to be a rip off, then as he was about to walk away, he heard something click in the slot. Like a greedy kid, he quickly snatched it up.
Its size was amazing, about as big as ten gumballs, but it didn't appear to be anything; just a plastic bubble containing golden liquid with something silver at the centre. Turning it over in his hand he looked at its bottom, which was dull silver with some sort of code engraved on it.
Back at the car, he reached in the glove compartment for his magnifier. It turned out that the silver prize was sealed in a grainy sort of opaque plastic and golden liquid. He tried to crack it open and to his surprise, it lit up.
Dudley was more than amazed as he watched a movie scene appear in the bubble. It was like a tiny holograph, with hypnotic effect. Some type of new video technology. He'd seen nothing like it before. In the scene there were two cars; a strange and spacey sort of police cruiser and a small red compact like his own stopped in an alley. The cruiser's door opened and two officers with green faces got out. They appeared more robot than human; their helmets like bubbles. One officer had his gun out and the other had his club at ready. They looked like something from a cartoon and not much of a threat.
With a wave of his hand, the lead officer forced the driver to step out. He showed as a clownish little man holding something behind his back.
Another wave of the cop's hand and the man brought his hands forward. Something was in the guy's right hand and the cop quickly snatched it and pocketed it.
Drugs, maybe a bag of cocaine. Serves him right to be busted, Dudley thought as he adjusted the magnifier for a better look, then he winced as the officer with the club swung it.
An electric charge came with the blow sending the man off his feet. He fell to the pavement and seemed to be looking up into Dudley's eyes. But Dudley couldn't help some guy in a gumball prize and he didn't want to help anyway. He watched with morbid interest as the man was dragged clear of the car and into an alley.
One cop unscrewed the top of his club and removed what looked to be knives and tools of some sort. Seconds later, they were cutting into the little man's body, performing some sort of sick operation. A knowing grin appeared on the bigger cop's face as he took a tool to the man's head. It was some sort of laser and it looked like they were going to open his skull.
“My God, they're maniacs!” Dudley exclaimed. The man's whole body was quivering like death after life after death, but it was alive in some way, though without a brain. The cops had their backs to Dudley and they appeared to be carefully placing the brain in a transparent case. Then they turned and grinned with the bigger cop patting the other robo-cop on the back.
Another stomach-shaking moment passed then the bubble clouded over and became filled with golden liquid. It was only at this point that Dudley realized what he'd been watching and became enraged.
“The rotten sickos!” he exclaimed.
Shaking like a leaf, he sat behind the wheel mumbling, and then he started the engine and drove away. Keeping the prize in his hand, he gave it an occasional knock against the steering wheel.
“They'll pay, the creeps behind these evil robot gum ball machines – trying to turn our neighbourhood kids into sickos with despicable video technology. It's the work of Satan! I'll get the word to my church groups and we'll smash these machines just like we smashed every place that distributed abortion fact sheets and gay marriage information booklets.”
The whole thing was so disturbing Dudley forgot his destination was Jerry's place and a special prayer meeting. He drove on, pursing his lips and ruminating as he thought about the bizarre events. Slowly, his head cleared, and he suddenly noticed that he had another unwanted erection. His face became fire-red with shame and he took his hands off the wheel and covered his crotch.
A telephone pole loomed ahead and he hit the wheel, swerving wildly as he continued down the narrow one-way street. Once he'd regained control, he turned into an alley and stopped partway down for a breather.
But he didn't get a breather; a police cruiser pulled in behind him and parked. A minute passed. In the rearview mirror, he saw the cops watching him and talking on the radio. Shit! Maybe they saw me swerve and it's going to be a reckless driving charge, Dudley thought as a cop with a gun drawn appeared at his window. With a sheepish smile of surrender, he got out.
“What's in your hand?” the cop said.
“Just a prize I got in a gum machine,” Dudley said, holding it up. Then it sank in that this green-faced guy wasn't an ordinary cop.
“He's lying,” the second green cop said as he stepped up. “We've got verification on our query. He's in illegal possession of an intergalactic energy cell. It was passed to him by the robot smuggler we've been chasing.”
Dudley tried to speak, to deny it, but he choked, and before he could get a word out he was struck in the face by a club and sent flying in the air.
As he landed, he heard the boss cop talking. “Protocol in this case is slightly different from the usual. We have to remove and package his brain as it will be put on trial at the nearest outpost. The body must be preserved for return in the case he's found innocent.”
As they dragged him away from the car and into an alley, he looked up at the sky. Then it all went black. When he awoke, he saw the words GRAND PRIZE flashing in two large robot eyes. The eyes of the gum ball robot. He'd escaped trial as his brain had been stolen. Unfortunately he was still on earth without a body; a prize in the robot's chest. And above the sun was like another robot eye watching, then he heard a series of spacey sound-blaster explosions and alien laughter ….
---The End –