"Charles Olsen!" the teacher scolded, "That paper was due at the beginning of the week. I've already given you more of an extension than anyone else in the class, and you still don't have it done?" Charlie slumped even lower in his seat, glancing up at Mrs. Alvin in the hopes that somehow he could spontaneously combust. "Well...I...um..." he mumbled. Mrs. Alvin, her face still stern and disapproving, waved her hand dismissively, "NO more excuses. I've been more than fair. I'll see you after school for one hour every day next week."
Charlie groaned to himself and slumped even lower in his seat, but it was more from relief than any real distress at the punishment his teacher had just imposed. At least now everyone would stop staring at him and he could go back to watching the clock tick down the remaining 20 minutes of the school day.
It had been an awful day from the moment he woke up - late, because his alarm hadn't gone off. His mom had yelled at him all through breakfast about "being responsible" and "learning to get his priorities straight". To make matters worse, he'd ripped his new jeans skateboarding the night before and had hidden them at the bottom of the hamper hoping his mom wouldn't find them right away. On his way out the door that morning he'd noticed her throwing clothes down the laundry chute, which meant she'd be headed for the hamper in his room next. That would mean another lecture and probably extra chores as punishment when he got home.
It hadn't gotten better after that either. During lunch he had gotten into an argument with Chelsea, one of his closest friends and his "sort of" girlfriend over something really stupid, and now she wasn't talking to him. Which also meant his weekend was gonna be boring too, because Chelsea was supposed to go with him to the new skate park on Saturday, and unless he could figure out a way to patch things up between them by the end of the day, it wasn't likely that would be happening now.
"BRrrrrinnng!" The school bell went off and Charlie leaped from his seat, cramming his papers into his backpack at lightening speed, his feet already pointed at the classroom door. Moving at a quick jog, he made a beeline for the exit and looked up just in time to see Mrs. Alvin blocking his escape route. "Just a moment Charles, " she said in a tone that told him his already awful day was about to get even worse, "Would you please give this to your parents for me." She handed him a small envelope addressed to his parents and explained in that all-too-familiar, disapproving tone, "I think that its time your parents and I had a talk Charles. You started out the semester as one of my brightest students, and now I just don't think you're working to your potential. I'd really like to find out what's going on with you." And if that wasn't bad enough, she had to give him one of those, "I'm sorry but this is for your own good" looks adults were so good at, as she moved to let him pass.
All the way home he had tried to come up with what he would say to his parents when he gave them the note to convince them it wasn't anywhere near as bad as it looked. As he rounded the corner onto his street, Charlie thought about how bad this day had been, and how, thanks to that note, his weekend wasn't looking much better. He shuffled slowly toward his house and briefly considered tossing the note into the trash can as passed it, but decided that would only postpone the inevitable. He reluctantly opened the front door and braced himself. "Let's just get this over with", he thought. At least then he could go to his room and be left alone.
He walked into the house and could hear his parents' voices coming from the living room, and from their tone and the few words he could make out, it sounded like they were talking about something serious. Hanging up his coat, he headed to the kitchen for a quick snack first. "No reason I should bug them with this right this minute", he reasoned to himself, "Especially since it sounds like they're already busy with something important."
"Chappie...is that you?" his mom called out. "Yeah Mom, it's me - and please don't call me that, " he answered somewhat irritated. His mom had started calling him that when he was little and even though he was almost 14 now, everyone in the family had adopted the nickname for him, and in spite of his protests that it was dumb and he didn't like it, they still used it all the time. He parked himself on a kitchen stool and sat there sulking, occasionally taking a bite of his sandwich or a sip of his juice, still trying to think of ways to avoid giving his parents the note and salvaging at least part of the weekend.
"I'm telling you Judy, the world is going to heck in a hand basket", Charlie's father stated, gesturing with his fork for emphasis, causing a few bits of mashed potatoes to go flying across the table. "First those budget cuts, and now this change in our benefits package", his father added with an irritated grunt, "It makes me wonder why I even bother to go to work every day." Charlie's mother nodded in sympathetic agreement to his father, with a quick glance in his direction, "Chappie, don't slouch like that." Charlie straightened up and absently twirled his fork around on his plate.
At least the worst was over, and if he could just get through supper he could escape to his room and not have to deal with any more nagging or lectures. He had been able to avoid his parents for almost an hour after he got home, mostly because they had already been occupied with some news his dad had gotten at work about benefits or something like that. They had spent most of the afternoon in deep discussion about that, and it hadn't been until his mother had made her way to the kitchen to start supper that they had focused their attention on him. And even before he had given them the note from his teacher, his mother had produced the ripped jeans he had tried to hide, and as he'd guessed, he'd had to sit quietly while his father discussed the value of money and how it "didn't grow on trees".
When they'd finished with him on the subject of the jeans he had produced the note and it had started all over again. Both of his parents had really been angry, and weren't in the best of moods to begin with, so the punishment he'd received seemed really harsh and unfair to him. They had taken away his skateboard and banned him from going to the new skate park until he had, "improved his grades AND his attitude." To top it off, his parents had decided to double his chores for the next week and suspend his allowance for two weeks until he paid off the new jeans he had ripped.
By the time they had sat down at the dinner table, Charlie was convinced that this had been the worse day in his whole life, and all he wanted to do was go to his room and have everyone and the world just LEAVE HIM ALONE!
Taking a last, half-hearted bite of his pork chop, Charlie pushed his plate back and asked, "May I be excused please?" His mother and father, who had now moved on to discussing politics and their general unhappiness with state of things in the world in general, both stopped in mid conversation to stare at him. His father was still frowning, obviously not over his irritation at the jeans incident and his poor performance report from school, and his mother's expression wasn't much better. Charlie crossed his fingers under the table and waited, hoping that they would just let him go to his room and not start yelling all over again.
His mother finally nodded, adding, "After you clean up your plate and put in the dishwasher." Charlie got up from the table and did as he was told, and by the time he had rinsed his plate and glass and loaded them up, his parents were already back to discussing boring subjects like politics, taxes and crime rates. As he headed down the hall to his room, he heard his father state loudly, in a very annoyed tone, "WHAT A WORLD we live in!" His mother echoed the statement almost as loudly, and Charlie decided, given the way his day had gone, that he agreed with them both. "WHAT A WORLD!"
Once safely in his room, Charlie glanced around trying to decide what do. He looked first at his books and the half-finished report for English that he still needed to do scattered across his bed, and then over at his computer. It didn't take him long to decide that the report could wait and he plunked himself down in front of the monitor and switched it on, hoping that a few hours of "Tanker's Turmoil" would take his mind off his troubles and his bad mood.
It wasn't too long before he had quit the game and loaded up his web browser, his mood still not much improved. He searched for some new hint and cheat sites for his game with half-hearted interest, unable to distract himself enough to get his mind off his awful day or the upcoming weeks of punishment and extra chores he was facing.
"MAN!", he muttered to himself exasperatedly, "My parents are right - WHAT A WORLD this is." In one day, I've managed to get yelled at 3 times, stuck with extra chores, no allowance, lost my skateboard and Chelsea is still not speaking to me. He kicked angrily at the leg of his desk, stubbing his toe in the process. "Ouch! Darnit!" For some reason he just couldn't get that phrase and thought out of his head, "What a world..." He said it aloud to himself a few more times, and then suddenly began to laugh as heard the phrase change from "What a world..." to something that sounded rather goofy - "Whuddle world..." "Now there's a funny thought" he chuckled to himself.
Still bummed about his day he yawned and decided he'd hit the hay early. He reached up to turn off the computer and get ready for bed when the strangest thing happened. He rubbed his eyes and looked at the monitor again to make sure it hadn't been some trick of the light or some weird glitch - but nope, it was still there. Standing in the middle of his browser window was this strange little pixel critter. It had brown hair, big, green eyes, was kinda chubby, had a face that looked like a combination of bear and monkey and a long, swishing tail. But even weirder was the fact that it was wearing jeans and a t-shirt that looked suspiciously like the one's he was wearing. He peered closely at the little graphic and wondered to himself, "but I didn't open any new web pages - how did that thing get there?" Shrugging his shoulders and chalking it up to his mood and being overtired, Charlie went to click the 'X' on the browser window when the little graphic waved at him.
Charlie blinked again, "What the heck..." And then, startling him even more, the little character began to speak, "Hi Charlie...I'm Charlie", it said. Charlie thought to himself, "Whoa, if this is some new AI computer program - it's pretty awesome!" The little creature smiled up at him, "I'll bet you want to know where I came from, huh?", it asked. Charlie nodded slowly, still trying to figure out if maybe one of his buddies had rigged his computer to play some kind of joke on him or something. "Well," it went on, "I'm called a Whuddle...and I come from a place called WhuddleWorld."
"Hey!", Charlie answered, "I just made up that word a few minutes ago...Whuddle world...how can you come from a place that is just some goofy word I came up with?" Charlie scratched his head in confusion. "This is just too unbelievable", he thought. The little pixel Charlie giggled, "Well, that's just it - we Whuddles (there are many of us) actually exist in the imaginations of you humans. We've always been there, it's just that we can't be seen until you begin to use your imaginations and think about us." "Whoa!", Charlie whispered again.
The pixel Charlie sat down crossed legged in the browser window, still smiling out at him and asked, "Would you like to hear a bit of a story? It might help clear things up?" More than a little freaked, Charlie nodded slowly, staring intently at the little character talking to him from inside his computer screen.
"You see...", the creature began, "Whuddles are sort of like what you humans call computer avatars - except we refer to them as Whuddletars. We're made up of pixels and bits of data that came into existence a long time ago, when a bunch of humans were using their imaginations a lot. I guess you could say we're sort of a data transfer glitch - when a little of your imagination gets mingled in the data stream to your computer."
"So are you like an AI chat or something?", Charlie asked. The pixel Charlie nodded. "Yes, a little I suppose - though we're much more than that. Once the data glitch happens, we're sort of here to stay. We have our own personalities and have even begun to create our own little pixel world to live in." "You mean WhuddleWorld?", Charlie responded. "Right!", pixel Charlie answered.
For the third time, Charlie uttered the word, "WHOA!" The little Whuddle on the screen chuckled and asked, "Shall I continue?" And again, Charlie nodded, though his initial shock was wearing off and he was becoming genuinely interested in hearing more about this strange little computer phenomenon that was playing out right in front of him.
"Well, most of us are left, once the glitch happens, to wander around data transfer streams aimlessly, traveling from one computer to the next, trying to find places to hang out and inhabit. As more and more of us came into being, we began to organize ourselves and decided that the Internet would become our home. We began collecting stray pixels and bits of data that no one would miss, and started to use them as the building blocks for our new home - WhuddleWorld." The little Whuddle paused for a moment and made a motion to the right side of the browser window, and suddenly another Whuddle popped into view. The new Whuddle, a female, waved up at Charlie and smiled, "Hello Charlie - I'm called Vac. Nice to meet you."
Whuddle Charlie indicated Vac and continued, "Vac is one of the oldest Whuddles in existence. She sits on the WhuddleWorld council and is one of the original founders of WhuddleWorld itself. Vac smiled at the reference. Whuddle Charlie continued, "We've come a long way since those early days and have now figured out a way to organize those stray pixels and data bits into more than just our world; we've learned a way to create those Whuddletars I mentioned earlier."
Charlie blinked at the screen again, his confused look returning, "I'm not sure I understand the difference between a Whuddle and Whuddletar." Whuddle Charlie nodded and turned to Vac, "Care to take over from here?". Vac nodded at her pixel counterpart and turned to glance up from the browser window at big Charlie. "You see Charlie", she said, "Our original existence was a bit chaotic and random. While we were delighted that you humans were using your creativity and imaginations enough to cause more of us to come into existence, we had very little control over where and when we ended up. So we began to take those stray pixels and data bits Whuddle Charlie has mentioned several times already, and form not only our world and our homes, but also Whuddletars. Whuddletars are essentially empty shells, if you will. They are fashioned in the general shape and form of a Whuddle, but it is up to you humans to actually bring them to life. This way, we can control where a new Whuddle comes into being. So instead of random wanderings, a container is created and when a human uses his or her imagination to cause "the glitch", we can now focus that data stream into a Whuddletar.
A look of new understanding crossed over Charlie's features as he began to comprehend what Vac was explaining. "I get it!" he exclaimed. "So the reason Whuddle Charlie looks like me is because it was my imagination that was directed into the Whuddletar that brought him to life?" Both little Whuddles clapped and beamed up at Charlie. "Exactly!" they chimed up at him in unison.
Charlie spent the rest of the evening talking with Whuddle Charlie and Vac, learning more about Whuddles and WhuddleWorld. They explained to him how WhuddleWorld was still being worked on, but nearing completion. He learned that Whuddles loved to play games, write stories and do crafts. He also learned that Whuddles loved to eat (especially any kind of sweets and the favorite sweet of most Whuddles was chocolate), invent things and loved everything about nature - animals, flowers, plants and trees.
There was so much more that he wanted to learn, but they had talked long into the night and Charlie was beginning to nod off at his keyboard. With parting farewells and promises that Charlie could visit them and WhuddleWorld anytime he liked via the portal at www.whuddleworld.com, he drifted off to sleep. His thoughts were filled with excitement about the weekend and the prospect of learning more about the Whuddles and being able to explore and play around in WhuddleWorld. What had started out as one of the worst days he had ever had ended up turning into one of the most fun and exciting days instead.