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Nimue's Grotto

The SMART Machine

by Ryan Hale

The electric whirring of the conveyor belt motor came to an abrupt halt as it deposited the vending machine, laying on its back, in front of him. Larry felt a buzzing in his pocket and was immediately irritated as he studied the newly deposited machine. His wife never gave him peace. He wasn't even supposed to have his cell on the assembly line but if he didn't find a way to answer her, he'd pay for it when he got home. He looked left and right and then started to fish it out of his pocket as the vending machine's glass face was lowered down by a giant robotic hand that held it in place with pneumatic suction. Larry's job for twenty years had been placing these glass faces into the vending machines.

He hated vending machines, but he had seen them all. Every type ever made. This one, the XJ2505, was the latest in technology, the first of the SMART machines. You could pass your phone in front of it to buy a soda or a candy bar, in addition to cash or charge. Not only that, it would make a suggestion if you stood there too long without choosing something. You could even program it to give customers directions to local stores, or even how to get somewhere, like back on the Interstate.

Larry got his phone in his hand and it slipped as he tried to answer the call, landing inside the machine. Larry looked up at the lowering glass. He had time. He reached in and found it but it slipped further back. He got it again but as he pulled back he realized his shirt sleeve was caught. He looked back up again. His time was up.

The conveyor and arm did their automated job and the machine rolled down the line to Mary in Quality Control. When she looked down at the XJ2505 and saw the mess that had been Larry she passed out. The firefighters woke her up and she left with everyone else as Sal shut down the factory for the day. Only Bobby was made to stay, to clean up the mess.

It was gross but Bobby did it. The Owner, Sal, wasn't a nice man but Bobby wanted to impress him. Yeah he was a Janitor now, but some day he'd make the assembly line. Then one day Shift Lead. Then, Plant Manager. His journey started today.

He cleaned it up with precision but he wasn't done there. He was going to complete the machine, QC it, and package it himself. Sal would realize when he came in the next day that Bobby deserved to be on the line.

Bobby found the instructions for testing the machine and skimmed the first page. When he got to page two he saw some words he didn't quite know so he Googled them on his phone and started the process once he learned them.

"Hello, I'm Victor. You look hungry" it said as he started the process.

He ran it through the paces testing all the functions. It was cool that it had all sorts of lights and talked but disturbing that they had apparently used Larry's voice when they programmed it.

He hit the button on the conveyor line and the machine floated off, dragging it's unplugged electrical cord behind it as it made its way to Packaging.

# # #

Mary unlocked the door to the office and turned on the lights. Immediately the hairs on her neck stood straight up as she saw the new machine in the lobby. She left for one week and they brought in a new machine? She had not approved that. She slammed her purse on her desk and fired up her computer to send an angry email. She always loved torching the office personnel after a vacation. Sometimes she had to get warmed up for it and stoke that angry fire herself. It's why she always came in early after a vacation. Part of her was glad that someone had already soaked their own fate gasoline. That machine would be gone by the end of the day, and so would the person who had approved it.

She crossed the office angrily to inspect it and as she did her stomach growled. She'd forgotten breakfast.

"Hello, I'm Victor. You look hungry."

"You talk? Oh, no. You are not staying in this office."

A moment passed. Her stomach growled again.

"Would you like a Wonderbar? Maybe some chips?" Victor asked.

She looked left and right out of habit before she started to look for a dollar in her pocket. Part of her felt guilty for buying a candy bar because she was hungry and then firing whoever provided that opportunity but that was life. She put in the dollar and hit the number sequence.

"You could have told me the number. I'm a SMART machine." Victor said.

"No, you're a stupid machine. You're not staying. And, I'm this close to having you dragged outside and smashed into a million pieces when the staff get here to teach all of you a lesson. Now give me my Wonderbar, YOU. IDIOTIC. PIECE. OF. JUNK!"

Victor stayed silent as the cork screw turned and the candy bar almost fell out of the holder. Almost.

The rage inside Mary was intense as she angrily berated Victor and kicked him to try to loosen the screw's grasp on her purchase. Infuriated she reached her slender arm up through the drop chute and past the screws to try to grab it with her hand.

"You shouldn't talk to me like that." Victor stated.

"I'm having you smashed."

"No. You aren't." Victor replied, as all the screws started to turn at once, and Mary began to scream.

# # #

Larry's mother cried at the funeral. A parent should never outlive their child. Though she had six boys, all first named Larry with different middles, he was her youngest. Her baby.

Her little Larry Victor.

About the Author

Ryan Hale realized his love for writing in the 8th grade, and the value it had in entertaining his peers while annoying his Reading teacher. He enjoys writing short stories because of the lack of commitment implied right from the start. He has three children, all boys, and has taken upon himself the challenge of ensuring his level of maturity, when appropriate in their company, is right on par with theirs. He loves sarcasm nearly as much as irony and lives in the Northeast but hates the cold and thinks it's a stupid personal failure on his part that he doesn't live in Florida.