The large box came in the mail on the morning of Billy’s birthday. It was from a certain wealthy great-uncle whom he had never met. He didn’t wait for the party to rip it open.
“Yes! Everyone at school wants one of these, and I’m the first to get one!” he crowed victoriously to his younger brother Travis.
“Yeah? What is it?” Travis looked perplexed.
Billy didn’t answer. He was looking for some batteries. When he finally managed to install them properly, a look of disappointed rage crossed his face.
“Is that what it’s supposed to do?” asked Travis.
“I don’t know! I told you, I’m the first one to get one of these things.”
The two watched and waited for a few moments for something to happen.
“This is boring. Let’s smash it,” suggested Travis.
The two boys amused themselves by throwing rocks at the toy. Its surface began to boil and bubble with fire and lava. Both boys agreed that this was very exciting, but the novelty soon wore off, and they went back to watching TV.
Billy’s party came and went like a tornado. When it was all over, his parents dutifully cleaned up the aftermath. None of the guests had shown the slightest interest in the new toy, which lay untouched, exactly where Billy had left it in the corner of the room. His parents found a home for it in a closet, and it was soon forgotten.
Travis had been looking for his blaster gun when he came across the old toy, still sitting on the same shelf. The instruction manual sat next to it, still sealed in its plastic wrapper.
“Hey Billy! Remember this thing?” called Travis across the house. Travis paused his video game to go see what was exciting his brother.
“What about it? It sucked, remember?”
“Yeah, but it’s all slimy now. Look!”
Travis knew that Billy found slimy things irresistible. Intrigued, Billy came over to examine the object. Sure enough, its entire surface had been covered in a thick layer of goo.
“Cool… I wonder what else it can do.” As Billy said these words, the unused manual dropped to the floor. He picked it up and sighed. “I guess I’m bored enough to read this,” he mumbled, mostly to himself.
Some time later, Billy came back to Travis with some surprising news. “It turns out we can make it do things,” he informed his brother.
“Like whatever we want! Watch this.” Billy poked at a few buttons on the object’s controller. The two watched as the toy began to squirm and writhe with dark forms. Two boys were not sure what to call these shapes, but they were definitely interesting.
“What if we made them bigger? And meaner, like with giant teeth and claws!” suggested Travis, helpfully. Billy obliged, and soon the things had changed, just as Travis had described. They were now monstrous, horrible, terrifying things.
“Whoa… awesome!” cried the two boys in unison. They watched in rapt fascination while the new creatures fought and died and devoured each other among the swamps and volcanoes. But nothing held Billy’s attention for very long.
“OK, it’s boring again. I’m gonna smash it,” declared Billy. Before Travis could object, Billy had found a very large rock, which he hurled in the toy’s direction. When the smoke had cleared, the monsters were gone.
Travis was angry at Billy for having destroyed the fun, and he punched his brother hard in the arm. But before the two boys had time to settle their differences, their little sister Lizzie wandered haplessly into the room.
“Whacha doing?” inquired Lizzie. The two quickly forgot their dispute, having discovered a common enemy.
“Nothing. Go away, Lizzie,” said Billy.
“Ooo…. I know what this is! My friend Stacey has one. She made it so pretty! It has sparkly crystal mountains and pink unicorns and fairies. Can I play?”
Before the boys had time to react, Lizze had grabbed the controls.
“Come on, Travis, let’s go. Lizzie’s gonna make it all dumb,” said Billy, and the two left Lizzie to struggle with the device. She tried to make it do the things her friend had done, but with little success. She soon gave up in favor of less challenging forms of entertainment.
Lizzie had finally finished watching all eight of her favorite cartoon TV shows. She decided to go check on the toy and saw, to her delight, that the small creatures she had managed to create earlier had changed. They were bigger now, and more interesting.
“Oh, they’re so cute!” she cooed. She watched them and played with them for a while. Eventually, her interest drew the attention of her brothers.
“Oh, come on! What have you done to my toy?” screamed Billy when he saw the mess. There were rainbows and cute fuzzy creatures crawling all over it. This did not please him.
“Gimme that. It’s mine!” Billy grabbed the controller. “What are we going to do with this thing now?” he asked Travis over his sister’s wailing.
“Maybe we can make them less, you know… cute. Here, let me try.” Travis tweaked a few knobs.
“That’s better. They’re kinda ugly now,” said Billy, who was duly impressed with his little brother’s proficiency. “I’ll bet we can make them fight!”
“Oh yeah… that would be awesome! Just give me a minute…”
“Mom!!! They’re breaking my thing!” Lizzie had had enough of watching this.
“It’s mine, I told you!” replied Billy.
All the screaming finally got the attention of the children’s mother, who had been nursing a rather spectacular hangover.
“OK, that’s it! Mama’s trying to sleep over here,” screeched the mother at the cowering children.
Just as she was about to confiscate the source of the disagreement, something happened to it. The four of them marveled as the toy suddenly flashed many radiant colors, with beautiful clouds rising like mushrooms all around it. And then, it was dark.
“There, see? You broke it!” sobbed Lizzie.
“At least that’s over. I’m going back to sleep. Don’t make any more noise!” screamed the mother.
“Yeah, whatever,” shrugged Billy. “It was boring anyway. Come on Travis, let’s go blow something up.”