The M-Toy by John Deaver

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Once upon a time there was a wind-up man. His name was M-Toy. His plastic body took a regular pounding from the pre-schoolers at the day care center, but his tough exterior protected him from everything except the worst of their abuses. The toddlers couldn't really hurt him much, except that sometimes they wound his key too tight. His back would ache for hours afterwards, even after his spring had time to relax.

M-Toy used to run all day on a full crank of the key, but lately he needed someone to wind him up after just a few hours. It seemed that the children in the play enclosure wore him out quicker these days. After whirring around the room a few times and corralling the little ones into their play zone, it was sometimes very inviting for him to wind down and enter sleep mode in a corner somewhere. Of course, then someone had to wind him back up again.

The little children usually found him and turned the key on his back the necessary three and one-third turns to reboot his system. In power-saving mode M-Toy could then function all day long, monitoring the sleeping babies, and, if any of them made excessive alarm noises, alert the nursing staff.

But the kids who wound his key usually wanted him to run around with them and expend great quantities of excess energy. He was soon pooped. Didn't matter. They'd wind him up over and over again until he was dizzy from dancing around in circles.

One day M-Toy spun himself into a cardboard box, out of sight. As usual with three-year olds, that also meant out of mind. M-Toy was grateful for the opportunity to conserve his battery. He did not move again for the rest of the day. All the children went home and the lights were turned out for the night. M-Toy's processor slowed and his system quietly shut off as his spring finally wound down.

* * * * *

It may have been the very next morning, or it may have been many months later, but eventually M-Toy was removed from the box once again. The first noise he heard after Nurse Cutcher had wound him three and one-third cranks was crying. Distress mode! But not the kind of distress that M-Toy usually monitored. It was coming from Nurse Cutcher!

"How can she say those terrible things about us, Betty?" she wailed.

"Oh, you know how that Mrs. Vittimin can get," Betty sympathized, "when she starts going on about her precious little Colby."

"But our day care center isn't unsafe. Nobody's even gotten a scratch around here."

"Mrs. Vittimin complains that we don't watch the children close enough. That's how Colby's fat fist got caught in the chain link fence."

"He stuck his own hand through the fence and it got snagged. So what? Nothing else happened."

"That's not the way Mrs. Vittimin sees it."

"Why the hell did he stick his hand through the fence to begin with? He screamed like we were going to amputate it."

"He was just scared. He didn't mean it."

"Didn't mean it?" Nurse Cutcher sniffled. "Because he didn't mean it, I've lost half of my customers, and the other half think I'm going out of business."

"Why would they think you were going out of business?"

"Mrs.

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