Seven A.M. brought sunshine and the usual droning from beside the couple’s bed. A young boy named Alarm sat atop the nightstand, blinking wildly and functioning in the only way he could.
“ALARM—ALARM—ALARM,” he said.
On the bed below lay a thirty-year-old woman and a man passing for her husband. They had worn matching rings for a year now.
“Shut up…” the woman muttered.
She slapped the boy’s elbow and quieted him. For a moment she rested, eyes aching from the sunlight slicing through the vinyl blinds. She dozed, and Alarm started droning again. This time she smacked his knee to shut him up.
Her routine dragged her to the bathroom, where she fretted because she couldn’t find Hairdryer, a disproportioned man with the heartiest lungs on the market. She ran around yelling for Husband to help with the search. He didn’t budge from the sheets.
Husband wandered out of bed around seven-thirty. His own morning routine carried him past Wife twice—once in the bathroom, and again on his way to the living room. He forced a bearded smile for her both times, but she only glared in reply.
In the living room Husband sat at his desk facing a sleeping boy dressed in a silver jumpsuit. The boy’s name was P.C., and he flashed to life after a tap on the knee. Next to him lay Printer, whose inky hands had once again smudged the cherrywood finish. Husband considered wiping it up, but surely there was an appliance built for the job.
Husband had greater needs than clean furniture, anyway. He asked P.C. about the basketball game from last night. P.C. apathetically revealed Boston’s overtime win.
“Hell yeah,” Husband cheered with a hearty double-click. He checked over his shoulder, then whispered to P.C., “While I’m here, you got any porn on you?”
P.C. asked Husband if he was eighteen or older. For an instant, P.C. froze, then handed over some racy photos. Husband flushed as he flipped through them. Poor quality, but still worth a gaze. Husband was undoing his belt when the color drained from P.C’s face.
“What’s wrong? Not another virus.”
P.C. muttered about shutting down.
“Wait—check my stocks first.”
P.C. blinked feverishly, turned blue, and fainted with his legs hanging off the desk. Husband double-clicked. No response. Oh well. Wife could handle this later. He considered notifying her, but instead plopped on the couch opposite of TV, an older man with wires running down his legs. T.V. rambled on about the necessity of acne cream, why one judicial candidate was honest and incorruptible, and how erections lasting longer than four hours might interest your doctor.
Wife groaned as T.V. echoed through the house. She was in the kitchen trying to get Toaster to accept a slice of rye. Toaster slumped against the kitchen curtains and repeatedly handed the bread back. He mentioned how he was uncomfortable burning things. Ever since he blackened a bagel last week, he’d felt like such a safety hazard.
“Toaster, please,” she said, smacking the bread across his face. “Hurry!”
Toaster had kept cool as wet hair, but now he frazzled with apprehension. Next to him Coffeemaker was lighting matches under a steamy pot of Colombian roast.
“C’mon, Toaster. Just one fucking slice before work.”
Work couldn’t come soon enough. Ditch a house full of appliances and go manage GrassGreen gardening store. Everything got easier when you sank back into soil. Sure, she’d have to deal with Lawnmower—the guy had such a battery up his ass these days—but the rest was all shovels and mulch.
Toaster grabbed the bread and produced a lighter. “Golden-brown.”
With Toaster busy, she moved on to Fridge and Freezer. One hoarded bags of ice while the other pressed fresh fruit against the cold cubes. Wife pulled Fridge’s arm aside and rummaged through everything he cradled: yogurt, grapes, beer, sliced ham, but no—
“Fridge, where’s that cantaloupe I cut up?”
“YOU cut up?” Husband said with a humorless laugh. “You mean the cantaloupe that Fruit Slicer cut up. Lady, give these guys the credit they deserve.”
Her face burned golden-brown. “Fruit Slicer can’t even function unless I hold everything in place for him.”
“Don’t insult the appliances like that. T.V.’s listening to all this.”
“T.V. never listens.”
“Whoa, now.” Husband hopped off the couch. “T.V. doesn’t always listen, but he understands. Guy knows when to change the subject. One minute it’s weather or goofy charity fundraisers, then—bam!—on to gunfights or reality show loons. T.V. gets it, lady. You don’t.”
“T.V. this, T.V. that. He’s all you ever talk about.” She hurried to Toaster. Her bread was soft and white aside from a lone dark spot. She narrowed her eyes and yelled to Husband. “Unplug Toaster once he cools down. Then leave him at the end of the driveway.”
Not long after wheeling in a pallet of mulch, Wife heard Telephone cry, “Ring-Ring!” In the backroom Phone stared solemnly ahead, gripping a wall hook with both hands. She tilted Phone’s chin and spoke into his ear.
“This is GrassGreen.”
“Hello?” said a scraggly voice. In the background Alarm was wailing his name. “Mrs. Price?”
“That’s me.” She felt an urge to drop her married name.
“Ma’am, this is Fireman Walton.” Walton’s voice wavered. “We just arrived at your house. The fire’s out—”
“Yeah. A fellow named Toaster set your kitchen curtains ablaze. Possible arson case, we’re looking into it. Unfortunately, we’ve got some bodies here.”
A lump clogged her throat. “C-Could you describe them?”
“Well, the flames overtook your living room. I’m looking at—hold on—two guys. One’s covered in black ink and burns. The other’s dressed in charred silver, got some porno photos in his pocket, some basketball scores—”
“No! P.C. and Printer. They cost a fortune.”
“Hope you had them insured,” the fireman said. “And there was a body not far from Mr. P.C., dressed in black with wires running down—”
“T.V., goddammit. I still owe six payments on him.”
“Shame. Then one last guy. Bearded guy. Burned up real bad. His pants were down around his ankles when we found him, and some of Mr. P.C.’s photos were crumpled up nearby. Forensics says he tried running from the fire, but stumbled and hit his head.”
She exhaled her words, gentle as air conditioning. “That’s Husband. Shouldn’t be hard finding a replacement.”
The fireman paused a moment. “Least that Alarm kid is okay.”
Food for Thought
– Technology performs many jobs we either cannot do or don’t want to do. What do we lose when we hand the reins over to machines?
– As technology garners importance in our society, how does it affect the importance of human beings? Should we be worried that technology (especially TVs and computers) often satisfies us more than the people around us?
– Some people mourn a broken computer or totaled car like a lost loved one. Is this simply a case of materialism, or something more?
About the Author
Brandon McNulty writes from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in Digital Horror Fiction, Disturbed Digest, and Acidic Fiction. He is a graduate of Taos Toolbox and a Writers of the Future semi-finalist. Follow him @McNultyFiction.
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