May

The city was a hot, humid bowl after finally shaking off the last chills of winter. Already Mark had turned on the air conditioner to full blast.

His apartment was small but cheap, located on the top floor of an old brick building. The walls, he noted as he stopped to urinate, definitely needed touching up. Today would definitely be a t-shirt kind of day, he reflected, wondering whether or not his company's dress code would allow it. He turned to flush the toil-

"HELLO."

Mark froze. He lived in the apartment alone, and the girl from last night had definitely left. He exited the bathroom and surveyed the tiny living room. Nothing. Just the TV, the air conditioner cranking away, and his bookshelves. There was noth-

"HELLO."

Mark's heart beat faster. Maybe he was losing his mind. His job might be getting the best of him. "Is anyone there?" he asked, feeling foolish.

"I AM HERE."

The voice was creaky, metallic. It came from the direction of the window. Mark edged over to the glass, shielding the glare of the sun from his eyes, leaning into the cold air from the air conditioner. Maybe someone was talking on the street below. Sometimes sound carried. "Hello?"

"HELLO! I'M RIGHT HERE!" The sound came from his midsection, where a blast of hot air erupted from the air conditioner.

Mark fell to the wooden floor in surprise, glancing up at the battered AC. "You can...you can..." he spluttered, finally getting the words out. "You can TALK?"

"OF COURSE I CAN." The air-guiding slats flipped from side to side in irritation. The air became cold again, chilling Mark's supine form. "HOW DOES THAT FEEL?"

"Er, fine." Mark stopped up, dusting himself off, and now feeling pretty awkward. After all, this thing had seen him naked. And had seen him go to the bathroom since, as a bachelor was wont to do, he kept the door open. "So," he ventured, searching for a t-shirt from the pile near the couch. "How is it that you can talk? Can all appliances talk?"

"OF COURSE NOT."

"Then how come you can?" Mark asked, putting on an old "Smashing Pumpkins '95-'96 Tour" shirt. Acting on a sudden impulse, he inched along the wall, hands questing for the plug.

A blast of hot air splashed him in the face. "DON'T."

"S...sorry." Panicked, he finished dressing and quickly left the apartment, making a note to stop at Target after the next paycheck to get a new AC.

June

Sully, Mark's super, looked back and forth between Mark and the window, a "what-are-you-kidding?" look on his face. To his credit, Sully didn't actually say the words.

Regardless, Mark was abashed. "Look, I've tried and tried. The damn window is stuck. I can't get this thing out."

Sully suddenly strained at the sill, trying to push it up. His face purpled with the effort, and he let go, huffing and puffing. "Shit. The thing is really stuck in there." He walked over to the couch and picked up his PDA. "Well, looks here like I'll be able to get a couple of guys in by the end of the month."

Mark stared at the window in apprehension. "But I need it out NOW!"

Sully gingerly surveyed his fingers, where the metal ripples of the sill left left little valleys in his skin. "Look, what's the rush? This is going to be a hot summer. Don't worry about it."

Mark said nothing. After that first surreal day, he had returned to find the air conditioner as taciturn as one usually expects household appliances to be. He had shrugged it off as a bad case of nerves, but still. It haunted him, and despite himself, he breathed a sigh of relief upon unplugging it. He had gone a week with it unplugged, a miserable, humid week of sleepless nights and twisted sheets, before finally giving in and turning it on again.

It had done its job, unspeaking and normally, for some weeks now. Sometimes, though, he swore it was watching him. Waiting. And now, the sill wouldn't go up, so he couldn't even replace it.

"Ahhh," said Sully, suddenly sticking his dimpled fingers between the slats. "That's nice and cool."

Mark was on his feet in a minute. "Sully, wait, don't-"

Sully's sigh of relief turned into a gasp of surprise, and then a choking shriek of pain. Mark stared, goggle-eyed, as Sully's hands were slowly engulfed in between the slats. Blood and cold air sprayed, in equal measures, onto the couch. Sully shuddered and twitched as his arms fell in, and, before Mark could say or do anything, his head and torso were sucked in. The air conditioner made thumping sounds, as it sometimes did after a rain shower, and blood continued to pour out. A jagged shard of bone came to rest by a fallen copy of FHM next to the TV stand.

As the sole of Sully's Puma was slowly sucked into the grill, Mark ran, horrified, into the hall and down the stairs. The pale brick of his building sported a new coat of red under his window. He walked down the street, hands in his pockets, trying to collect his thoughts. Suddenly, he heard from above: "AHHHH....FLESH. IT'S BEEN SO LONG." This being the city, none of the passersby nor the loungers outside the nearby coffeeshop said anything, or even noticed.

July

"PHINEAS GAGE."

Mark looked up from his book. "What?"

Thor (for that was what the anthrophagic cooling unit preferred to be called) turned its slats in the direction of Mark's laptop. Tornado-sharp bursts of air punched the keys, entering the name into Google.

"I know, I know. The guy who had a piece of metal buried in his head?"

"IT WAS A TAMPING ROD," said Thor in a chiding, whirring tone.

There had evolved a kind of easy camaraderie between the two denizens of the apartment, Mark and Thor. After the horrific death of Sully, Mark frantically looked for a new place to stay. Of course, after the local 5-0 came round, asking the building's residents if Sully had any enemies, Mark decided to stay for now. Thor didn't seem to have any problems with Mark, and Mark didn't want to draw suspicion to himself from the police, strongly desiring to stay away from prison.

Thus, the two of them lived in a grisly symbiosis. Thor kept Mark cool (and alive), and Mark provided him with the flesh Thor craved so much. Angela was from the western part of the state making the long journey to the city only to run into Mark outside the Rack; Tracy was a claims adjuster who liked Mark's eyes (Thor enjoyed her bones); and Kaneisha offered Mark the guiding light of Jehovah at his doorstep. Her abandoned copies of the Watchtower fluttered gently, caressed by Thor's errant breezes.

"So what about that?" asked Mark. "What about Phineas Gage?"

"HE GAVE ME MY FIRST TASTE."

"What are you talking about?"

"I WAS THE ONE WHO WENT THROUGH HIS HEAD."

Mark stratched his head. "You're only 2 years old. And you were made in China."

"RECYLCING," said Thor simply. "BEFORE THIS I WAS AN APPLE IIE."

Mark shuddered, remembering little Johnny Waters, who killed both his parents. He claimed LogoWriter told him to do it during 5th grade math class.

There was a sudden knock at the door. Mark apprehensively opened it, and was greeted by a police badge. A suited man was at the end of the hand that held it. "I'm Detective Nelson," he offered.

Mark swallowed hastily. "Good evening."

"As you've probably heard, there's been several disapperances in the area, starting with your super. We're just going around the building, asking if anyone's seen anything. Mind if I come in?"

"Um...sure," said Mark, glancing nervously over his shoulder, towards Thor.

Nelson sat down on the couch. "Nice place you have here," he said.

Mark sat down in the chair opposite the detective. "Yeah. I like to think so."

Thor suddenly shuddered and the air became cooler. Mark jumped in his chair and stared at the window. Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead.

"Are you all right?" asked Nelson, staring at Mark appraisingly. "I can come back another time."

"No, I'm fine...I'm OK." Mark shifted in his chair.

Nelson stood up. "Well, it looks like I caught you at a bad time. Here's my card. Tell me if you see anything." Marked twitchily accepted the beige business card, and showed Nelson to the door.

"Well, good night again."

"Thanks," said Mark, hastily closing the door.

"Wait a minute," said Nelson, as the door was midway through its arc.

Mark's central nervous system froze. "Yes?" he asked, gulping.

"You be safe now," replied Nelson, and walked down the hallway, whistling.

August

"Is that him?"

"Yeah."

"He doesn't look like he fits the profile."

"Do they ever, really, fit the profile?" Nelson took the binoculars from Rogers. "Drive," he told his partner. Rogers grumbled and put the car in gear. They slowly followed the subject down the street. The subject entered the coffeehouse, and Rogers pulled into a tow zone spot.

"Well, that was a long commute," said Rogers grumpily. "We've gone half a block. Now what?"

"Now," said Nelson, "we wait." Rogers put the seat back.

The wait wasn't long. About an hour later, the subject and a young woman with a Burberry purse walked out of the coffeehouse, laughing and joking. They walked around the corner, and up into the apartment building's front hall.

Nelson craned his neck to get a better look. "We should just go up there."

"Doesn't look like probable cause yet," warned Rogers.

Nelson frowned and sat back. Rogers was right, after all.

Five minutes later, Rogers was debating the fallout from the last game with a truculent and unresponsive Nelson. "Look," said Rogers. "I'm not saying they're not good, but I'm scared, you know? I mean, what if we don't win anything for another 86 years?"

"Yeah...yeah," said Nelson, staring at the brick of the apartment's back wall. That was odd, it looked like something was coming out of the air conditioner, falling onto the landing below, where an array of trash cans lay open. Rats had gathered, and were greedily looking up at the...

"Sweet mother of Christ," said Rogers, following Nelson's gaze.

The air conditioner was spewing blood and what looked like chunks of meat and hair. A scrap of cloth with a Burberry pattern fell onto the trash heap.

Nelson was on his feet in an instant, Rogers behind. Together they ran up the five floors, Nelson bathed in adrenaline, Rogers huffing and puffing. They made it to the landing, and Nelson kicked the door open.

"POLICE! FREEZE!"

Mark stood up from the couch, the front of his shirt covered in blood. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "It was...it was Thor's doing."

Nelson aimed his gun at the subject's chest. "Put your hands on top of your head! Now!"

Mark complied, hands on his head. "I'm sorry," he said. "He wouldn't let me leave..." He started backing up, towards the window. "He wouldn't let me..."

Rogers was at Nelson's side. "Get down on the ground! Now, you sick fuck!"

But it was too late. A corner of Mark's shirt fell in between the slats. He looked more sad than anything else. "I'm sorry," he said in a broken voice. Nelson struggled to grab hold of him, but it was too late. Mark's left arm was caught, and soon everything up to the elbow was ground in. Soon his head, other arm, torso, and legs were gone. It was over so fast Nelson didn't even have time to blink. Rogers had vomited on the floor, and Nelson slowly backed away, radioing in for backup.

October

"Zhang!" yelled Supervisor Wen. "Is everything all right?" He gestured to the conveyor belt, which Zhang had stopped by pressing the emergency button.

"I am sorry, Supervisor," explained Zhang, staring at his shoes. "I thought....I thought this iPod made a sound."

"What?!" Supervisor Wen was incredulous. "You held up the entire line because the iPod made a sound?! That's what it's supposed to do, you stupid son of a bitch! Now put it in the fucking box before I have you carted back to whatever miserable farm you crawled out of!"

"Yes, Supervisor." Zhang hastily placed the iPod in the box. The line started up again, and before he could place the plastic sheathing around the box, he swore he heard a metallic sigh.


A happy fun little submission for I Will Show You Fear in a Handful of Text: The 2005 Halloween Horrorquest

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