My newest story, “Abandonware,” is part of Lightspeed Magazine’s 100th issue. Family, memory, video games, deer.

The deer came back over and over to places it didn’t understand. The deer hated the lamp at the end of the pier. The deer wanted to die.

• • • •

Some kids do that—they imprint on empty objects, they give them stories and opinions and a will, until they feel half-inhabited even to grownups, who have to pretend that they care how Chrissy’s blanket feels about things for so long that one day when Chrissy’s at school they step on the blanket and apologize.

I did it with anything, when I was young; my toys were always in the middle of some intense plot that nobody outside could understand. It was because nobody felt for them like I did, my mother said, like it was something to be proud of. But understanding and empathy are different. I could do one without the other.

Rhodey the Rhodesian Rhinoceros had been hurt by terrible things Pioneer Barbie had said in fits of anger. I knew how deeply her words cut him, but I had no feelings about it; it was just how things were.

Pioneer Barbie was acutely aware that I had wanted an American Girl doll for my birthday and she was the much cheaper compromise my parents had agreed on without asking me. If they’d had the money she would be Kirsten and not an impostor, and if they’d just asked me which Barbie I liked then she’d be Medieval Barbie, who had a velvet dress and ruled a kingdom and was unconcerned with what the girls at school said about girls who brought Pioneer Barbie in for show and tell instead of a real American Girl.

Rhodey had gotten caught in the tangle of Pioneer Barbie’s low self-esteem, and it wasn’t fair, but nothing is really fair; Pioneer Barbie and I knew that already, and if Rhodey didn’t, then it was time he learned.

Don’t think I hated Rhodey. I never did. I gave him life and feelings, the same as the rest. It’s just that cruelty was something I saw no reason to spare them just because they only had me to turn to.

He outlasted her, though. It’s hard to play with Pioneer Barbie after you learn about what the pioneers did, and one day she had a black evening gown and her hair was brushed out of the little Western ringlets into a ponytail held by a clip that kept popping open, and her name was Kass because that was the name of the girl on East Side High who wore black.

Kass got along better with Rhodey than Pioneer Barbie had. (She was easier to talk to; Kass hadn’t committed any atrocities on her way across the plains.) Rhodey fell in love with her for a while, but she told him he was just distracting her from her career. They had a fight about that, too. Some kids are real suckers for pretending something has life when it doesn’t.

Anyway, the deer.