If you are like me, a lonely artisan in the big city who makes crude wooden toys for a living, then all the modern trappings of dating—the break-up, “ghosting,” “benching,” Tindr, etc.—just don’t seem to cut it anymore.

I was just like every other elderly toymaking professional I knew in New York. I had a full bench of friends and lovers, nothing ever too serious, and I know that I was even “riding the pine” on some of their benches. But after all the carefully placed emojis in texts, deleted numbers, and doomed-to-fail happy hour connections, I became so worn out that I withdrew completely to my small toy shop. Sound familiar?

It was in that shop while I was making toys like wooden trains and wooden dolls and maybe even a rocking horse that I thought of something that would change my life for the better—I would summon some type of demon and ask the demon to imbue one of my wooden puppets with a soul of its own so that the puppet could be an accessible and loving (platonic…or otherwise?) social companion. The puppet-become-real would, theoretically, because I was its lord and creator, be subject to my will and would immediately respect and never question my authority. In short, it would show me the type of pure love and adoration that I’d been seeking but never allowing myself to fully enjoy in the modern dating pool. I call it “Gepetto-ing” (based on my name).

Sounds like a perfect scenario, right? Not really. Trust me, there are plenty of pitfalls to Gepetto-ing, some of them are even pretty serious. But in the end, it’s probably worth it for you to use dark magic and create a thrall out of wood and string instead of interacting with real humans.

The craziest thing was how easy it was to fall into this. You would think that breathing life into an inanimate object (a puppet wearing overalls and a hat, in this case) would be extremely difficult. And it’s true, I didn’t even know where to start. I basically just got very frustrated and sad that none of my friends or lovers were perfect slaves to my iron will and I just wished REALLY hard. I’d type a random number into my phone and text a picture of the first puppet I wanted brought to life, we’ll call him Jeremy (not his real name), to that random number and include some text like “I WISH HE WAS A REAL BOY!” I did that so many times!

Most people didn’t respond. It wasn’t until the dead of night that my phone buzzed. A response! It said, “Ok.” I gave that stranger my address and about 30 minutes later the wooden puppet I carved and painted in a crude likeness of a human person was blinking, breathing (?), and talking. I had never before felt like I was more solidly on the road to a healthy, meaningful social life!

Jeremy and I were inseparable for the first few months. He even moved into my shop after I told him he was not allowed to leave. And look, I get that telling him not to leave is wrong. Jeremy was his own person capable of scampering up stools and clattering his wooden body across countertops in an unsettling way and making his own decisions (side note: I’m not sure his brain was actually inside his wooden skull. I didn’t put one there and I’m not sure if the demon carved out a cavity for a biological brain. My best guess is that the creature’s brain was some type of “cloud computing” thing where the brain was some other place and sort of communicated to the body of this ungodly homunculus). But let’s be honest, if any rational person saw this thing moving around on its own outside of my shop they would capture it so that they, and not me, would have a perfect friend forever. Or they might shoot it or destroy it with an axe out of raw, formless fear.

The arrangement was perfect for some time. He would help me build toys and keep the shop tidy. I taught him about soccer, which is a sport I’ve forced myself to like because I like going to bars at 9 a.m. to watch soccer matches while wearing a mysterious jersey that prompts strangers to ask me who I’m supporting. I even bought Jeremy a child’s sized jersey with my favorite player’s name on the back. After I explained to him why his everyday clothes were painted onto his body instead of taken on and off at will like mine, Jeremy dropped the bombshell I had been hoping to avoid. He opened his wooden mouth and said, “Am I a real boy?”

What could I say? How could I answer that? The truth, that he was a demon-animated homunculus made from wood and despair, would bowl him over. Jeremy was never violent but he had an unnatural strength and I was afraid he could kill me for bringing him to this world. So, I lied to Jeremy for the first time. “Yes, you’re a real boy and I love you, Jeremy.” We hugged and shared some ice cream. But as Jeremy choked up the ice cream and it spilled down his maple face because his wooden body rejected it I could tell that things were different between us. Jeremy was different.

That night Jeremy snuck out, probably by contorting his body and squeezing through a crack in a basement window. I didn’t see him for days. He’d randomly text me pictures of him smoking cigars with donkeys and drinking foamy beers at filthy piano halls. He was just trying to make me jealous. I’d text him that he had to come home. Then I’d change my tone and beg him. When that didn’t work, the insults started. I wanted a slave friend for life and what I got was a scoundrel and a liar. So I told him. And I started Gepetto-ing a new best friend.

When Jeremy finally came home almost a month later, I was with Carol and Brendan, the two newest wooden dolls I brought to life to be my prisoners and best friends. Jeremy stunk of booze and cigar and donkey and he was covered in filth. His eyes were crazy, big black pools that gave a glimpse of the dark heart beating at the center of the universe. I told Carol and Brendan to give us some privacy so they both went to the oven, where they slept on a pile of rags. I had never had a worse argument than I did that night with Jeremy. The names he called me hurt, but not as bad as the pool cue he used to crack my skull. He almost overpowered me, somehow, but I wrenched free and shoved Jeremy into the garbage disposal. Before his face disappeared in a shower of wood chips and gurgling noises, he said, “I’m a real boy.”

But the truth is, Jeremy wasn’t a real boy. It was Carol who called the police after she too escaped, having seen the horrific fight between me and Jeremy. When the police arrived they found me, a pretty busted up apartment, and wood chips sprayed all over the place. I answered their questions. They conducted an investigation. They even found Jeremy’s remains. But he wasn’t real. I couldn’t be convicted of murder because Jeremy was an unholy abomination of a best friend who loved me because he had to. Not a real boy.

Carol, always the intelligent one, stayed away. I’d text her here and there, but never got a response. Brendan, whether out of fear or admiration (didn’t matter to me), stayed with me. He even helped me build other friends.

In the end, Gepetto-ing is a bit manipulative. It’s a bit backhanded. It deals strictly in the realm of unknowable dark energies. But it’s something that has helped me build a social life I can be proud of—a life of seclusion where I can fill my need for love by squeezing it forcefully from the wooden bodies of toys who are my friends because they have no other choice.

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