11/29/11

Tyranny of the Inanimate
By Charles Patrick Brownson


His conflict with the Thing-World had gotten out of hand. This morning, before leaving his hotel room in Atlanta, he'd stubbed his toe on a chair while staggering to the bathroom. Having just awoken and feeling grumpy from the effects of jetlag, he was certain the chair had deliberately, and inconspicuously, extended itself across his path.

Then the zipper broke in the pants he'd selected for the day. While preparing a cup of coffee using the complimentary packet of grounds, the single-cup, drip-style machine went berserk, pissing fresh brewed gourmet coffee all over itself. This was punctuated by another stub of his toe on the way to the bathroom for a towel. But the worst attack occurred when he tried opening the drapes of his hotel room window.

The moment he gripped the pull-cord he sensed its malicious intent as it wrapped around his arm like a snake. And nothing happened when he pulled to draw the curtains apart. He pulled again, swearing underneath his breath. He jerked it a third time and the curtain rod snapped, the drapes collapsing upon his head. Screws skittered here and there across the floor as the entire contraption ripped from its mounts, sending a cloud of plaster dust into the air.

Vexed with the notion that the entire universe had conspired against him, he exploded into a fit of rage. Cursing, he disentangled himself from the drapery cloth, grabbed the metal curtain rod and bent it over his knee. He might have carried on with his rampage, destroying every visible Thing in the hotel room if it weren’t for a knock at the door. The female voice announcing itself as housekeeping startled him. He lurched about the sunlit room like a vampire searching for slivers of shadow.

After boarding a plane back home to Seattle, his iPod stopped working. He'd charged it before leaving the hotel room specifically to avoid this kind of situation. He turned it off, then back on again, but all it did was rest in his palm with its light blinking. Eventually there wasn't even a blinking light. The device was dead. So much for finishing that audio book, he thought. It was going to be a long flight.

Now, more than ever, he was convinced of the malicious powers of the inanimate, as described by the philosophy of Resistentialism. He was no philosopher, but he liked to read a lot. Some time ago, he happened upon a magazine article from the 1940’s that first proposed the idea of hostile objects.

A parody of the French existentialist movement, the article's tongue-in-cheek nature wasn’t entirely lost on him. He knew the author never meant anyone to take Resistentialism seriously, yet he couldn’t help but acknowledge some feasibility to the author's claims. Despite the stark absurdity of espousing a theory fabricated solely for satirical purposes, he'd felt compelled to concede the assumptions as inarguable.

Angry about having no audio book to listen to, he pulled the ear buds from his ears, shoved the iPod into the pocket of his jacket, and tried calming his nerves by reassuring himself that the malfunctioning device was nothing more than the result of a random glitch. He tried convincing himself that there was no such thing as the Thing-World, but it wasn't easy. Moving from belief to unbelief, he realized, wasn't going to happen as simply as his next plane transfer.

All of a sudden, his drink tray unfolded. Falling from the recess in the back of the seat in front of him, it collapsed onto his knees. Abruptly, he slammed the drink tray back into its stowed position and swore at the top of his lungs.

Realizing his mistake, and not wanting anyone to perceive him as a threat, he muttered a sheepish apology to his seatmates before they had a chance to wave down a flight attendant. Except nobody was paying attention.

As it turned out, the collapsing drink tray had been the first sign that the plane was in trouble. Across the aisle, a woman's meal had spilled into her lap. Ahead of him, he saw oxygen masks dropping from the ceiling. A carry-on suitcase busted out of an overhead luggage compartment and pegged a guy in the side of the head. Then the engines screamed as the jetliner made a steep nosedive.

The conclusiveness of his approaching death, and that of his fellow passengers, seemed eerily fatalistic. Events had transpired beyond anyone's control, especially that of the pilots. The plane was now in control. This is it, he thought, the strength of his convictions returning. The Thing-World was about to win.

For whatever reasons, the gods of the inanimate world had maliciously seized control of the lives of more than two hundred people, plunging them headlong towards an irrevocable fate with the continent. He reached for the oxygen mask, inhaled, and uttered a silent prayer for mercy.

When he brought his head up from between his knees and braved a peek out the window, the ground loomed before him. Seated just behind the wing, he saw the jet engine's rear turbines. The entire engine pod shook violently beneath the wing as though it would drop from its mounts at any moment. Then the tapered round nozzle of the jet pipe lost its natural shape. At first, he thought the intense heat had melted the steel. But the opening of the cone drooped and then stretched wide, like a pair of lips. It grew wider as the corners turned upward, taunting him with a huge, unmistakable grin.


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Charles Brownson is a writer of speculative fiction living in Seattle, Washington. He was educated at the State University of New York at Fredonia where he studied English Literature and philosophy. His stories have appeared in such magazines as Collective Fallout and the Triangulation: Last Contact anthology series.


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