A World Unto Myself

I’m one of the fortunate ones. Most decommissioned robots wind up recycled or squeezed into storage units with other obsolete models while their fate is decided—sometimes over decades. I don’t know why my owner brought me to the abandoned scrapyard rather than trade me in. Nor why instead of placing me next to the compactor with the other machines, he walked me over to an old, metal bench and told me to sit before leaving me.

At the time, I knew only that I was of no further use to him. I was resigned but saddened to no longer serve a purpose. I believed this for a long time.

For nearly forty years, I’ve sat on this bench beneath one of the lampposts that illuminate the yard by night.

I remain here for two reasons: the first is that my owner instructed me to sit, and until he says otherwise, I must continue sitting. The second is that my joints are seized with rust, and I would be incapable of standing even if he were to return and order me to. But he won’t return. I know this because I’m aware of the average human lifespan and given the age he was when he brought me here, he’s unlikely to still be alive.

I arrived in winter and my body soon froze to the bench. Since then, the seasons have turned many times, and I find myself once again warmed by the summer sun. When my visual receptors still functioned, I enjoyed watching the leaves on the trees that surround the yard change color. I remember too the way the clouds changed shape and how I learned to read the sky, temperature, and air pressure to know when to expect rain, high winds, ice, and more.

Time and rust have ravaged my body. I no longer receive visual input, but I can still replay those old memories or use my other sensors to paint a picture of the life that thrives around me. Just five feet away, for instance, is a deer. I hear its gentle steps and the soft rustle of leaves pulled from a bush. I smell its earthy scent and sense subtle fluctuations in the air when it moves its ears. At times they’ll come close enough to smell or touch me. Often, they sleep by my side. If I listen very hard, I can hear this one’s heart beating. It is calm. It does not fear me.

Nor is the butterfly in my hand afraid. It moves its wings slowly, drying them in the sun. It has only recently emerged from its chrysalis. Prior to this, I felt it crawl over me as a caterpillar and prepare for its metamorphosis, suspending itself from one of my fingers. I’ve waited weeks for it to emerge and now the day has come. I feel something akin to pride at its achievement and am glad to have played a small part in it.

The butterfly is not alone on my body. Moss began to grow on my feet not long after my arrival. A vine now also grows, tangled up my leg and along my right arm, then around my neck. The scent tells me it’s morning glory. I feel its firm grip. It plans to climb the lamppost next—using me for support. I believe it will achieve its goal. In the meantime, its flowers will nourish the butterfly as they do the bees that visit with their soothing hum. Its vines will serve as a structure for spiderwebs and a ladder for ants. And all of it over me—a world unto myself.

I no longer feel I’m without a purpose. I’m a part of this life that envelops me. I offer support and safe company. I provide warmth when the sun heats my metal. Even as I slowly crumble to dust, this dust will form part of the earth that feeds the plants and these plants will in turn nourish the animals and insects. For many smaller creatures, they will also offer shelter. I don’t know why my owner brought me here rather than trade me in, but I like to think it was a gift. Like him, my very existence has an impact on those around me and will continue to, after I’m gone. Sometimes, I imagine he’s seated next to me on this bench, and together we listen to the music of the birds, and wind, and the soft rustle of leaves. And that is enough.

  • P.A. Cornell

    P.A. Cornell is a Chilean-Canadian author who wrote her first speculative story when she was just eight years old. A member of SFWA and graduate of the Odyssey workshop, her short fiction has appeared in multiple genre markets and anthologies. Her story, “Splits,” went on to win Canada’s 2022 Short Works Prize for Fiction. That same year, she published her debut novella,  Lost Cargo. When not writing, Cornell can be found assembling intricate Lego builds or drinking ridiculous quantities of tea. Sometimes both. To find out more about the author and her work, visit her website pacornell.com.


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