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Funny Science Fiction

How do you program attitude in a computer chip? 

I live amongst an array of electronics in an apartment constructed with the future in mind. I miss the “old things” I once used, but it is what it is, and I must adapt. Progress deems what is necessary and I will acquiesce; surrender; accept. However, I do have my limits.

One of the futuristic amenities, the Super Toaster, a puzzle of circuits and chips, takes the simple act of making toast out of my hands, selecting a slice of bread from a loaf stored deep within its arcane bowels and in a matter of minutes spits out the perfect toasted slice with the precise amount of butter and enough jam to enjoy without falling into sugar shock. Nice. Not able to observe the internal process concerns me, but—that’s okay. I can live with it. 

Today, though, at this moment in time, stray electrons or mendacious ions sent Super Toaster to bit heaven, the big adios in the netherworld of electronic shit. I never liked these wonders of the modern age anyway. Give me my simple two-slot plugin toaster.

Damn it! I really wanted toast with my coffee, which, by the way, is in one of the under-counter bins as I await the telltale ding or hum or whistle to beckon me. 

Meanwhile, back to the aforementioned toast. I rooted around in the back of the pantry for my old friend, a Bella Chrome two-slice, and found it buried in the back corner of a bottom shelf. I hugged it and then plugged it into the nearest wall socket. Old reliable! I located a butter knife—still have those, batteries not included—some butter and jam, and a partial loaf that had survived in the talking fridge. The labels on the butter and jam cartons, refills for Super Toaster, assured that unknown black magic wasn’t required to render the toppings palatable. Piece of cake. 

Stuck a slice into one of the slots and pushed the lever down. The little blue light came on and voila! The slice vaulted from the slot.

“What the f—?” A perfect shot. Smacked me right on the end of the nose. “Hmmm? Maybe some electrons have changed. Stray voltage . . . or something.” A “whatever” grimace on my face, I shrugged it off.

The dog inhaled the errant slice, so I took another and inserted the bread into the slot . . . poor thing is old . . . and lowered the lever with a gentle touch, then ducked as the toaster hopped once and ejected the bread over my head. Once again, the dog absconded with the slice and disappeared under the couch. I cast a wary glance at the toaster. The blue light blinked three times and the lever rattled in its guide.

“What the hell? You’re twenty-eight years old! The flashlight goose you?”

I took a step toward the toaster and drew up short when the lever rattled louder, and the light’s intensity grew. My fingertips tingled and the hair stood up on my arms.

“WTF! A freakin’ toaster is going to stop me from making toast? Whose the intelligent being here?” I grabbed two more slices, shaking them at the traitor, and sneered. “You’re nothing but a bundle of wires inside a metal case.” Cramming them into the designated slots and lowering the lever with a disapproving slam, I prostrated myself on the floor as two ballistic bread slices whizzed past my ears and pasted themselves against the wall. They stuck for several seconds before slipping toward the floor with a greasy whine. The toaster’s cord snapped from the wall socket and whipped back and forth in a malevolent arc before my eyes. Sparks from the toaster showered the floor around me, and its feet performed a menacing tap dance against the granite countertop.

With a cautious squint toward the counter, I combat-crawled backward, hunkered on my elbows and knees like a frightened Corgi. I glanced at the steady blue light peering over the counter’s edge.

“Feeling neglected?” I panted with a half-smile.

From the corner of my eye, I observed the two tortured slices against the baseboard near the fridge, bent in half in abject surrender. The dog was nowhere in sight. The toaster glared, all four indicator lights bright and impenitent.

“Shit.” 

The toasters feet tapped; the lever rattled; sparks burst from the bread slots; all four indicator lights flashed in rapid succession. 

I surveilled the room, a watchful eye on the bewitched antique, sat back on my heels, scratched my head, and offered a meek smile to the possessed device. 

“What did I do? I just want toast. Is that so difficult? That slick-ass time-saver toaster went tits up on me.” I’m reasoning with a toaster? Yes, nit wit, you are, and I think it has the upper hand. 

Above my right shoulder, if I stretched my neck, I could see the napkin holder. In a slow hand motion and a smile exposing as many teeth as I could, I reached for a napkin and proceeded to wave it above my head.

“Can we try this again?” The toaster’s lights dimmed. “I’m really sorry—” two of the lights extinguished “—really sorry.” Only one light remained illuminated. The power cord leaped up to the countertop, snaked its way across the granite, and jumped into the wall socket. My saliva became a wad of string around my uvula. I drew my lips into my mouth, squeezing them between my teeth. I had a sudden urge to wet my pants. 

. . . and the lights were on without it being plugged in? All this for toast?

Waving the napkin above my head and climbing to my feet, I sidestepped toward the toaster, taking another slice from the open loaf and holding it out like an offering of frankincense. No reaction. I slid one foot forward, then the other until I stood before the mechanical devil’s seed. Stillness. I dangled the slice above one of the slots. Quiet. Lowering it into the slot, I pushed the lever down with the tip of my index finger, then quickly removed it. I crouched with my hands on my knees and squinted at it in anticipation.

“Good.”

I backed up a step and shoved my hands deep into my pockets. Rocking from heel to toe, I whistled. Dry, puckered lips, the air leaked out in short wisping bursts. A sudden click and I ducked, shielding my eyes with my forearm. Peeking over my wrist, I could see the freshly toasted bread poking out of the slot. 

My eyes glued to the metallic fiend and holding my breath, I snatched the toast and wrapped an arm around the butter and jam, dragging them to the far end of the counter. The air puffed from my pursed lips as I began to spread the butter and jam—lots of butter and jam. In gleeful anticipation, I raised the toast, smiled menacingly, and inserted half of it into my mouth.

I couldn’t breathe; my tongue swelled to twice its size; fire climbed the back of my throat and spilled out my nose; my eyes blurred with tears. I leaned over the sink and spit and scooped the tainted bread from my mouth, then gulped several glasses of water.

The carton I assumed to be jam, contained my recipe of “6-Alarm” salsa, an immediate warning flashing red and yellow in my thoughts. “To avoid total immolation of my mouth, avoid using no more than a quarter teaspoonful.” I had stored the explosive mixture in a used jam carton but failed to label it and annotate the potential for bodily harm. 

The roof of my mouth seared. Taste buds destroyed. A thousand needles, each a painful poke, scored my tongue. I anticipated severe bleeding with each rinse of cold water. My tongue didn’t recognize my lips. Peeking around my shoulder, simmering fluid leaking from the corner of my mouth, my brows pitched up as my eyes bulged in their sockets. The counter was alive with activity.

Super Toaster had returned from the dead, its lights circling and spinning like a Christmas display synced to “Wizards of Winter”. The bread slot jutted in and out, resembling loose dentures. The devil toaster danced and tapped, the cord popping whiplike above it, the lights flashing in rapid vertical bursts, and the lever jumping in wild gyrations. A drawer burst open and coffee sprayed the air.

My arms resting on the edge of the sink, hands clasped, and my forehead pressed against the cool granite, I swallowed the last embers of salsa. Inhaling slow, lugubrious breaths and staring at the floor, I thought, what devious mind programs computer chips with a sense of humor? I turned my head and glared at the diabolical trio. Squinting at their electronic glee, I muttered, “Two can play this game.”

February 27, 2021 04:54

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