BEAT-DOWN • by Karl El-Koura

The little robot, a trashcan on wheels, rolled down the street in the late hours of the night. When it found a piece of trash, it squatted over it and sucked it up — reverse-defecation, Patricia’s dad called it.

Adrian watched it from across the street, a slight smile on his face. Patricia didn’t like Adrian in general, but she especially didn’t like him when he smiled; it made him look mean and angry, or at least meaner and angrier than usual. But Jason liked Adrian, and Patricia liked Jason, so here she was, exhausted, sleepy, and frustrated from having spent the last two hours feeling like a complete outsider in a conversation that had Adrian and Jason reminiscing about their adventures and exploits since the day they’d first met in junior high school.

“What’s up?” Patricia said to Adrian.

Jason already knew; of course he already knew. “Beat-down,” he said.

Adrian nodded, the smile growing larger, more leering, more malicious.

“No,” Patricia said. “Don’t.”

But it was too late — Jason and Adrian were already running across the empty street. They descended on the robotic trashcan-on-wheels like hyenas on an unsuspecting cub.

Adrian kicked the robot, tipping it over. Jason punted it like a soccer ball; the little robot rolled down the street, making pathetic /tiwi-tiwi/ beeping sounds, as if in protest.

“Stop it,” Patricia said.

Jason and Adrian ignored her. They kicked the robot, stomped it, hit it, punched it, spun it, threw it. They called it names and spit on it.

“You guys are idiots,” Patricia said. It hadn’t escaped her notice that most of the experiences these two shared and cherished were destructive: egging the house of Adrian’s neighbour, before Adrian had moved away to college; breaking into the corner store to steal beer; even forcing vodka down the throat of a dog at a house party because they thought it was hilarious to watch the little pug stumble around and bump into walls. She knew that Jason had a temper, of course; a temper that made him do and say things he later regretted, but those moments were rare and only came up when Jason was really upset. It was really only when his friend Adrian came back to town to visit for Thanksgiving weekend and they decided to go out for a few drinks to catch up that she realized that Jason had the capacity (around Adrian, at least) for so much mean-spiritedness even when he wasn’t all that angry.

It doesn’t matter, she thought; in a few days, Adrian would drive back to school and she wouldn’t have to see him until Christmas at the earliest. She just hoped that they’d be done soon, so she could go home and sleep. She was exhausted.

When they were finished, forehead-sweat glistening in the streetlight, the robot was in bad shape. Gears and springs lay splattered across the cement street.

Adrian pulled down his zipper and urinated on the robotic trashcan and the plastic and metal guts that were still spilling out of it.

“You guys are idiots,” Patricia said, the frustration that had built up throughout the night spilling out of her in a torrent of words. “It’s a stupid robot… it doesn’t feel.  What’s the point of beating on something that doesn’t feel? It’s just senseless… I really don’t get you guys. You’re such idiots.”

Adrian zippered up and turned to look at Jason.

“This new girlfriend of yours just called me an idiot,” he said. “Three times.”

Jason shrugged. “She’s drunk, what does she know?”

“I’m not drunk,” Patricia said. “You guys are drunk. And you’re idiots.”

“Four times,” Adrian said, still looking at Jason. “Four times now.”

Jason turned to face his girlfriend. “You shouldn’t have made it four,” he said. “Three’s okay but four’s pushing it.”

Patricia took a step back. “Don’t look at me like that,” she said, speaking to Jason. But Adrian was looking at her in the same way.

She took another step back.

Jason and Adrian glanced at one another, smiled, then advanced on Patricia.

“No,” she said. “Don’t.”

But it was too late. On the ground, a piece of the robotic trashcan said /tiwi-tiwi/.

Author of more than sixty published stories and articles, Karl El-Koura lives in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). He holds a second-degree black belt in karate, a yellow belt in jiu jitsu, and works for the Canadian Federal Public Service. For more information about Karl, visit his website at

This story was sponsored by
Rotten Little Animals — An unnatural novella by Kevin Shamel. Animals are people too! And that is messed up. It’s a crazy ride from the backyard to the Big Time. Zombie-cats, car chases, puppet shows, kidnapping! Fear your pets from this day forward…

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