Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Jun 30, 2023

Burt's Pill Box

My brother Martin was a great storyteller. I was his rapt audience of one. Well, so was Laura, his girlfriend, but I was his younger brother, so I came first. He could share detailed information right off the top of his head with no problem. I could never figure out how Martin knew so much.

He surfed, took a Kenpo Karate class, and worked up the road at the Blears service station. When did he ever have time to develop his depth of knowledge? One day, Martin fell at work, and his boss called my mom. My parents drove to Martin's job and took him to the hospital. He was fine, except he couldn't stand up for some reason. The doctor kept him overnight, and by the time I got home from school the next day, Martin was fast asleep in his bedroom. Laura sat in Martin's chair, reading a book.

"Hi, Burt." she put her book down and smiled. "Your brother's asleep, but you can still say hi to him."

I stood there and stared at him for a bit. "Yeah, his doctor said he forgot to eat for a couple of days; that's why he got sick," Laura shared.

"How come you know so much about Martin? Only my mom is supposed to know that stuff," I asked.

"I'm his girlfriend, and if, for some reason, your brother and I get married, and I become his wife, I have to know stuff about him. Especially the things that make him sick." She made a good point.

"I'll come back later when he's better," I left to change clothes and finish my homework.

But Martin didn't get better. He was still asleep when I came back from school the next day. By 7 pm, my parents took Martin back to the hospital. I wouldn't see him until Sunday, when I would go with my parents during visitation hours. Martin had all kinds of tubes in his arm and below his waist, he was awake, but he was swollen in the face. I waited until Mom and Dad went to the cafeteria to get food before I talked to my brother.

 "I missed you, Martin," I was crying but didn't care.

"Me too," he half-smiled.

"Don't die, okay ?" I begged.

"You ever heard of a robot-human?" He asked.

"Like in the movies?" I answered.

"Yeah," Martin confirmed. "Like that."

I grabbed a small stool next to Martin's bed and moved up to his mattress to stand on it and see him better. Up close, he looked worse. "What about it?"

"You know those bunkers on the mountain where we live at Sea Country?" He asked.

"Yeah," I nodded.

"They used to belong to the Army; now they belong to this place," he gestured in a semi-circle." They're mini-robot-human hospitals," he confirmed. "Why do you think I'm here?"

"Cause Mom and Dad said you're sick," I told him while adjusting myself on his pillow.

"No," he shook his head, frustrated. "You have to keep this to yourself; Mom and Dad can't know that you know, and you can't tell Laura,"

"Why can't Mom and Dad know that I know?" I needed clarification.

"Up until now, only Mom and Dad knew. If they know that, you know, that'll make things harder for them because of the manufacturers," he was exhausted now.

"Man-u.....what?" I didn't get it.

"The manufacturers told Mom and Dad to bring me here first so that no one would suspect," Martin whispered.

"Suspect about what?"  I asked.

"That I'm a robot-human," Martin whispered through his clenched teeth.

"WHAT???" I shouted.

"BE QUIET STUPID!" Martin shouted over me, and it almost took everything out of him. He grabbed my wrist and made me promise. "No one can know, do you understand? Once I leave here, Dad will have to carry me up to the bunker on the mountain above our house. That's where I'll get my new parts."

"That's why you know so much!" I had to stifle my excitement. "Because you're a robot-human!"

Martin lay back on his pillow and nodded, "I have to replace my arm, legs, heart, lung, liver, and kidney. Once I get those robot parts, I'll be brand-new,"

"When is Dad supposed to take you?" I asked.

"Soon as I get outta here and get back home," my parents walked in right then, and Martin gave me a secret wink.

I leaned in closer and asked, "Does that mean I'm a robot-human, too, since you're my brother and all?"

Martin nodded, and the weight of that realization made me dizzy.


Martin never came home after that; the robot-human parts he needed died out, so my brother died too. Of course, my parents waited until I got home from school to tell me that bad news, but I wasn't sad. "Mom, Dad, I know. Martin told me everything," I couldn't stop smiling.

"Told you what?" My dad asked.

"He said you guys weren't supposed to know that I know because of the manufacturers, but it's alright," I assured them.

"Burt, what are you talking about?" My mom pretended she was confused, but I understood.

"The robot-human hospitals in the bunkers up the mountain, above our house!" I pointed. "You guys, it's okay! I know! Dad, Martin said that's where you have to take him to get his robot-human parts! You know, for his legs and his kidneys and liver and stuff. I also know that I'm a robot-human too!"

"Martin told you that?" My dad asked.

It was exasperating to have to play out the charade; I wished they would come out of it already! "Yes, but Martin said we can't tell Laura,"

My parents looked at each other for a while, crying and shaking their heads. Finally, my dad spoke up while Mom got in the car and went to Laura's house to tell her about Martin.

"C'mon, Burt, I have to show you something," my dad said.

"We're gonna get Martin and bring him to the bunker?" I thought my dad would be impressed by that point, but no.

"We'll go up to the bunker," he replied. "Then, we'll see about Martin,"


The climb was easier than I thought; fortunately, it melded into a foot-worn walking path, so the trek to the bunker was not a problem. My dad peeked in first and then turned on his flashlight. "These are called pillboxes, Burt, not bunkers. Come on inside,"


That afternoon up at the pillbox, there was no robot-human hospital. It was just an empty wreck of a structure that smelled of urine and alcohol. My dad marched me out to the other pillboxes, and it was the same thing, a few errant hikers here and there, but no robot-human hospital.

"Your brother was sick for a long time," my dad began. "After you were born, it went into remission, and he was fine. Once it came back and he went to the hospital, he didn't want you to know because he didn't want you to worry. He planned to tell you once he got home, but he never...maybe he thought you'd figure it out once you got older. Then, you'd forgive him."

I remember screaming at my dad, screaming at him to get Martin and bring him up to the pillbox. Yelling at him that once Martin was here, we'd find the robot-human hospital, and they'd take him in and give him his new robot body parts. Then I realized that I was screaming at my father. My father, who beat up a bunch of cops that tried to arrest him once. My father who carried a refrigerator and a whole stove by himself from the delivery truck into the house like it was paper. My father who popped Martin in the head once when he talked back to our mom. I was in big trouble; I just screamed at my father. He was going to beat my ass because of my moment of insane craziness, but he didn't. Instead, his eyes turned red, and he put his head down and cried. I've never seen my father cry for anything or anyone. He was a bull of a man; my mother held the family together, but my dad reinforced whatever my mother wanted. It hit me that what my father was saying was true. Martin was really gone; he was dead. There was never a robot-human hospital.


My father and I eventually made our way down the foot-worn path, and it was dark when we walked home. I saw my mom in the kitchen, ran into her arms, and cried even more. She rocked me back and forth and assured me that everything would be fine and that my brother was only trying to protect me because he didn't want me to be sad. No matter what reason Martin may have for what he did, I wish he would have told me the truth. It took a while to forgive Martin, but eventually, I did. It's years and years later, and I finally worked up the courage to hike the old path up to the pillboxes. It still smells like piss and stale beer with a bit of mustiness. It's still early; no one is up here yet. I climb inside and look around; the vague echoes of my grief in this space from so long ago are now just that. Vague and empty. Maybe Martin told me all those things back then in the hopes that one day, some technology could develop replaceable robot body parts for people who desperately needed them. That's happened, but a replaceable working liver, kidney, and heart? Still waiting. My hands traced over an interesting piece of graffiti artwork. Letters that spelled out immortality. In each letter was a different kind of manga-style robot. What a strange coincidence. I ran my finger over the one drawing that looked like Gigantor. I recognized it from childhood. I must have pressed too hard over the brownish-gray paint because I heard an audible click afterward. The wall swung back to the left, revealing a massive working facility. I couldn't believe what I saw.

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