Best Friends Forever

Reading Time: 4 minutes
(Image created by Anais Aguilera using Firefly.)

As Mike ate he stared out at the perimeter fences that sparked and screamed in the night. Distracted, he pushed an arc of bagel around his plate, scooping up jam. “Mom, can we go to the beach today?”

His mother, engrossed in the images scrolling through the air, said, “Maybe tomorrow, sweetheart.”

“Couldn’t Dad take me?”

“You know we don’t disturb him while he’s working.” She gulped coffee and funneled the whirling graphics into her bag. “Why not play with Simon?”

Mike jabbed at the tablecloth with his finger, spearing crumbs. “Simon’s boring. He never wants to do anything.”

“Sweetheart, you couldn’t make a better friend.”

“I suppose.”

Mike’s mother ruffled his hair and headed for the door, calling out, “Dinner at seven, Rosa, just the family.”

“Ma’am.” Rosa winked at Mike as she cleared the table. “You feeling lost? You could walk Henry.”

Recognizing his name, the Labrador nudged a blue rubber ball across the floor. Mike retrieved the ball and ran outside, where sunlight washed tall trees and manicured lawns. Mike threw the ball, grabbed his bike, and was about to ride off when Simon pulled up.

“Hi, Mike. Your mom said we could play.”

Mike started pedaling away. “Yeah, whatever.”

“Wait, what about your helmet?”

Mike sped down the path, his wheels kicking up gravel and dust. The dog ran alongside, quick paws avoiding the wheels. Mike grinned.

Eventually Simon caught up. “Careful! Watch that pothole.”

“I saw it.”

Wheezing, Simon said, “I wish I could come with you to school.”

“Stuck inside a classroom while the sun’s shining? No thanks.”

Simon struggled to keep up. “You . . . need . . . to be careful: Sunburn damages your skin—”

“You worry too much.” Mike laughed and pulled a wheelie.

“Don’t, you’ll fall.”

Mike rode around him in circles. “You’ve got to fall sometimes.”

“Let’s go back. We could go back and play Empire Renegades or Cheech?”

“Aw, kids’ games.” Mike discarded his bike near a tree trunk and looked up. “I know what we could do.”

“What? No.”

But Mike had already grabbed the lower branches.

Simon stood beside the watching dog. “Come down, please.”

“You come up.” Branch by flexing branch, Mike climbed higher. Powdery bark stained his fingers green. At the top, he laughed and drank in the view, from his family’s tiered concrete blockhouse to the river’s patrol boats.

“Come on up here, Sim—” Mike almost fell when a freckled face appeared beside him.

“This is dangerous,” Simon said. “We should go home.”

“But the view . . .”

“Let’s go back, please?”

Mike shook his head. “You go first.”

As Simon descended, the surprisingly agile boy’s footholds were good choices. Mike tried to follow but his foot slipped, throwing him off balance. He clutched at branches. “Simon!”

Too late. Mike’s foot skidded, the branch broke, and he fell.

Before he could scream, strong hands grabbed him. Mike hung above the forest floor and stared into Simon’s face but saw no strain or effort; Simon appeared just the same as he always did, blinking behind thick glasses.

“I told you.” Simon lay with his legs locked around the trunk in an unnatural hold. He hauled Mike up to safety, let go of him, and unlocked his legs from the trunk.

Mike began, “But how did—”

The branch supporting Simon cracked like a gunshot and the boy plummeted down, spinning like a cat trying to land on all fours.

A heavy thud.


Slowly, Mike slid down the trunk and knelt next to him. Simon stared up at the branches and his lips moved. Chubby fingers clawed dirt. Random movements like some broken toy.

Then Mike saw liquid pooling under the body, thick blue fluid. Pulling Simon’s tee-shirt away from the neck, he saw tubes and wires, gleaming metal and dull carbon.

Simon: always around, always watching out for Mike. Guiding him from danger. Looking after him when the adults couldn’t. Simon, who never changed or grew.

On the ground, the movements gradually faded. Another minute passed before Rosa and Tibor, the gardener, rushed up the path. “Mike, no.”

Tibor knelt down. “It’s okay, it’s Simon.”

“Oh, thank the Lord.” Rosa turned to Mike. “Are you all right?”

He still stared at Simon until Rosa blocked his view.

“What were you doing, climbing trees?” She gripped Mike’s shoulders. “You know what your mother would have done to us?”

When he still didn’t answer, Tibor said, “It’s probably shock. Take him back to the house.”

“But what about—”

“I’ll take care of it.”

Back in the house, Mike sat in the kitchen while Rosa bustled around, talking nonstop even though he didn’t reply. The dog sat in its basket, staring at him with its head tilted to one side.

Mike tried to remember seeing the dog eat or drink. Henry didn’t even have a bowl.

When he heard his mother talking with Rosa in the hall, Mike stood up and waited for her. She rushed into the room and toward him. “Sweetheart, are you all right?”

Mike kept the table between them and didn’t reply.

“How did it happen?”

Rosa answered, “They were climbing trees, ma’am.”

“They?” Mike’s mother looked at Rosa. “What about . . .”

“Tibor put it in the garage.”

“How is it?”

Rosa shook her head.

“Well, it’s about time he had some new friends anyway,” his mother said, then smiled. “I bet you could use a hug, son?”

Mike hesitated. He thought about Simon and Henry.

His mother knelt down, her arms outstretched. “It’s all right. Come to Mother.”

Mike took two hesitant steps, then hurled himself into her arms. He buried his face in her clothes.

“There, there.” She stroked his hair. “Don’t you worry about a thing.”

Then, just for a moment, with his head pressed to her body, Mike caught the rush and whine of hydraulics, blue fluid through tubes, and the muted grinding of small, toothed wheels.


Edited by a Fallon Clark and Sophie Gorjance.

Tom Brennan is an Irish-British writer who lives beside Liverpool’s River Mersey with four cats (all related) and who enjoys watching the ships glide past, particularly at night; he also enjoys reading and creating a wide variety of fiction and has stories at the moment in Cossmass Infinities, New Muse and Open All Night anthologies.