Monday, June 27, 2011

Green Machine (short story)

Finally, it's about time I pasted something, right? Here's a new short story, entitled "Green Machine".


‘Well, this is it.’

The old woman turned around to look at the couple. Militant vegan. If anyone ever had epitomized that phrase it was this couple. Of course, she was vegan too, and one of the first back in the day. But these guys were something else. Clothes, made of hemp, no doubt. Home-cut hair with natural dyes. A freakish paleness from a lack of iron. Their eyes, beady, rimmed with organic black eye-makeup, roved across the house-front. She had to suppress a shudder at the look in their eyes, a look they shared, as if they were one entity. A look that said MINE

Interestingly enough, they had a small dog with them. Its coat was a golden-brown colour, flecked with darker and lighter shades, short and shiny. It regarded her with tranquil, intelligent eyes. The old woman almost wanted to ask, what did they feed it? Meat? Because if they didn’t, then surely that was animal cruelty. But if they did, what about the animals who made the meat? It was a dilemma she couldn’t reconcile. This is why she had only ever kept herbivores as pets.

‘I, ah, didn’t catch your names on the phone?’

The couple shared a glance. How typical and small-minded of the woman. Who was she to ask names? They were above names. They were destined to rule the world. 

‘So,’ the young man said, eyes flicking back to the house, gazing possessively. ‘You say you built this? Designed it yourself?’

‘Sure did. I was unhappy with the restrictions that conventional houses put on me. I would have needed to pull one down entirely in order to make it over. So I built up, instead. Better that way. That way I could make sure the place was sound from the ground up. I mean, good for the ground. Good for the earth, of course. Breathable foundations. My own design.’

She smiled weakly and sought in those dark pairs of eyes for a smile, admiration, anything. But all she could see was a harsh disregard for her existence. They didn’t even look at her. Didn’t seem interested in what she was saying. She looked down at the dog, which was standing now, tail wagging slowly. Its eyes were much kinder, much easier to talk to. Maybe she should introduce the house to it instead?

‘Well, why don’t you come in?’ the old woman asked, and then started walking ahead of them. It was good to turn her back on them. That way she could very nearly forget about those beady eyes behind her, and focus on the thing she loved most: the house. Leading them up the steps, she narrated, more for her own sake than theirs, since being old, she needed to tell her story: ‘You might wonder why I’m selling, after putting so much work into it? Well, she and I have had a god run, we have. But I’m just getting too old to live alone. My children won’t live with me, and I don’t want to live with strangers – no offense, of course. I’ve found a commune that’s quite eager to take me in. They’ve got chores to do that aren’t too hard on the old body, and they want an “elder”’ – she paused to laugh self-deprecatingly at the term – ‘to, you know, chat with the young’un’s and such. Of course, the communes not so eco-friendly as my house, but still, when you’re my age, you’ve gotta be happy with what you get.’

Behind her back the couple rolled their eyes at each other. The blabber of the elderly. Didn’t they know how much oxygen they wasted? A nod passed between them. Their views on the elderly were a much-discussed topic between them. Don’t worry, their eyes told each other. She won’t be around much longer.

The little dog barked and wagged its tail for all of two seconds, trotted in a circle, then sat down at the heel of the young woman.

The silly old bat was tapping at the windows right now. ‘Triple glazed,’ she said brightly. As if they didn’t know.

“Their eyes look triple glazed,” she said to herself. She nearly shook her head and clicked her tongue, and then she nearly laughed at herself for thinking like such a typical old grump, putting down the youth. ‘And nice heavy curtains too. All natural, renewable materials too, of course. Throughout the whole house, naturally.’ She led them through the door. ‘Feel that,’ she indicated to the floor. Their bare feet came off the porch and in to the house, and they felt it. ‘Central heating, of course.’

She led them past the sitting room, the bedroom, only briefly looking in – these places were fairly run-of-the-mill, and she wanted to get to the bathroom, where she showed them the grey water systems and the composting toilet. But more exciting than that was the piece de resistance, the kitchen. The place where society had become so terribly lazy, with all its excess energy consumption, and all its packaging, and all its cruelty to animals. The faces of the couple hadn’t changed much since they’d entered. They spent most of the time looking rather bored. But this, she was sure, would change that.

The house came around like the shell of a snail, though square. Inspired by the Fibonacci Sequence. The kitchen and the sitting room were a wall apart, but the kitchen she saved for last. In the corridor before it, she pointed out the window. The little dog leaped up and put its paws on the windowsill. ‘Of course, there’s a veggie garden out there. The tomato vines are growing exceptionally well.’ And indeed they were. Whatever kind of fertiliser she was using, the tomatoes were growing impossibly large, and their vines were as thick, almost, as fairytale beanstalks.  And still the couple were not impressed. She led them through to the kitchen.

She opened her arms wide as she entered her domain, and breathed deeply. ‘We’re getting up to the really exciting part,’ she said. ‘The oven,’ she introduced. ‘The fridge.’ ‘The sink.’ All the innovations, all the attention to detail, and still their faces did not change. They looked thoroughly unimpressed. Perhaps she should have left it there. But her pride in her house meant she had to show them one last thing. 

‘All right, I see you’re not convinced. However, I think this next room will seal the deal for you. Come.’ She opened a door that lead deeper into the house, right in the middle, where the only window was a skylight above. Three steps lead down from the kitchen door to the foundations of the house. ‘Look at this.’ In the middle of the room, encased at its base by the foundations, was something rather like a vat. The couple waked down the steps behind the old woman, and their dog came, lolloping down after them. It circled the vat curiously, then came back to the heels of the young man. 

‘This is my invention,’ the old woman told them proudly. ‘Can you guess what it does? I bet you can’t.’ She waited a few seconds, watching the dull lack of expression on the faces of the couple. She gave up and addressed the dog instead. It tilted its head to one side, as if it were truly curious to hear what she said. ‘It can recycle anything,’ she whispered loudly to it. 

‘Anything?’ the young woman suddenly asked. Her tone was not curious, but instead cynical and almost aggressive. 

But the old woman was ready for this. ‘Most certainly, anything.’ She had been prepared, at least, for this part of the tour. ‘Behold,’ she said, giving into her desire for the dramatic. On the edge of the vat was a collection of items, from the soft milk bottle, to a glass bottle, to a metal canteen. The couple came closer and peered inside the vat. It contained countless metallic teeth, and they whirred so fast they blurred together into a series of wavy lines, down, down in concentric circles. Above the vat was a cone that seemed to match these wavy contours, and its tip was flat, pointing down into the dark hole in the middle of the sharp metal teeth. 

The old woman knocked the plastic milk bottle into the recycling machine. The cone descended and, with a surprising lack of noise, the bottle was chewed up and disappeared into the darkness of the hole. ‘Where does it all go, you ask?’ the old woman cackled, beginning to enjoy herself and stop caring about the reticence of the couple, who were obviously too dumbstruck to comment on her genius. ‘The house uses it. Wherever it might need. The house uses everything.’

She knocked the glass bottle into the vat and the cone came down once again. If they had thought a glass bottle would make more noise, they were wrong again. ‘Of course, you do have to be a little careful. When I say it recycles everything, I’m not lying. It does recycle everything. Or, it would, if it were strong enough to crush diamond. So don’t put anything too hard in there. The metal is titanium, so it should withstand most things. But not diamond.’

As she knocked the metal canteen in, the dog behind her started to growl. But it was such a little growl, and from such a little dog, that she took no notice. The cone descended once more. ‘And, also, watch out with computer chips. It might seem a little strange, but chips are dangerous in the machine. That goes for cellphone chips too. Don’t put any kind of chip in the machine. As I say, it will use it. And you don’t want to see what happens when you do that...’

The metal canteen was gone, utterly disappeared. The old woman wiped off her hands, even though there was no dust, and she turned.

She lived for a brief second to see the gun aimed at her head. Then it went off. 

The dog barked and kept on barking while the couple lifted the body of the old woman into the vat and started the machine. The cone descended, and between that and the teeth of the circular vat, the machine struggled to get through the mass of the old woman. Though she was wiry, she was an awkward shape for the machine. The couple were only briefly and slightly distressed at the idea that, like a sink waste disposal, the recycling machine might get clogged and then what would they do? But soon enough the body of the old woman disappeared into the darkness of the fist-sized hole at the bottom of the vat, chewed up bit by bit. The little dog did not stop growling until its owners banished it outside.

The militant vegan couple left the room with the vat. The young man shut the door on the humming, churning machine, and the young woman went over to the fridge and picked out a slice of vegan cheese. It was flat and floppy, and she laid the whole thing on her tongue. Then she retracted her tongue into her mouth, taking the square of cheese in. It was a small victory celebration. The old were a waste of space, oxygen, resources. The couple had been over this in private many times. The best thing to do for the world was to quietly get rid of the elderly – and how good was it that they had put her in a recycling machine? That sure would speed up the process.

The young man came to sit at the table. The dog sat at his feet. The young man finally managed a smile, and shared that with the young woman. Their smiles had edges, had too much teeth in them. The dog tried to imitate the smiles, but its smile was naturally like that. Toothy, sharp. 

At least it suited the dog.

Though it kept that smile for a while longer its eyes darted around nervously, its face too earnest, its eyes too wide. Its expression stayed that way all day and into the night, as if it sensed something its humans did not. The couple went out, brought in some of their belongings from their electric van. They stood staring at the walls for a long time, an old, plastic phone in hand, and the dog stood behind them, wagging its tail. Was it some kind of new game? Would they play with the dog?

‘Where are they? The things –‘

‘The phone thingies, yeah. Does she even have them?’

‘Wait, remember, when we called to see the house her number was a long one? Like, a mobile phone number?’

‘Oh. Maybe she didn’t have phone cords in her house plan.’

‘I guess not. Well, this thing’s useless. Let’s take it to an op shop or something on our way to get the rest of our stuff.’

‘Weird for such an old woman to use a cellphone. Where would it be? We should get rid of it, in case anyone tries to call.’

The couple left the dog in the new house. It stared at the shut door for a moment, and then ran to a window and looked out. They drove away, leaving the dog with the house. The strange house. It could hear strange clicks everywhere. It lay down, head between its paws, whining. The house confused the dog. It smelled so clean, man-made, and yet the stench of decay so prevalent in human dwellings was oddly absent. Instead, many parts of the house smelled as if they were close to the ground, like something growing. 

The dog yelped ecstatically and leapt up, running to the couple when they arrived back at the house. They carted more stuff inside, giving the dog a chance to explore some more. It looked at the vines in the garden. They were indeed huge. The dog felt a little safer in the garden, despite the freakishly large vines, and it spent as much time as it could out there, until the sun went down and the young man called out to him. 

Dinner was on the kitchen floor, in the wooden bowl. Vegan dog food. The stuff was vile and many a time the dog had left it and gone hunting for vermin instead. But tonight the dog was tired from exploring, and unsettled not only by the newness of the place, but by the strangeness too. Looking up from its bowl, eyes swivelling around in their sockets, the dog watched the walls carefully. Something was going to happen. 

But it didn’t, at least not yet. The couple washed and put away the dishes, played a war strategy board game for a few hours, and then retired to bed.

It was as if the house had been waiting for this moment. At the foot of the bed, sensing the humans beginning to wind down to sleep, the dog was the first to hear the sounds. A gentle tapping became a steady thump-thumping on the walls, until it grew so loud that the couple woke up.

‘What’s that?’

‘Go check.’

The young man was the first to get up, and the dog, restless, jumped to its paws and followed. There, out of the window, in the moonlight, the vines appeared to be thwacking the house. Then, just a moment after they had glimpsed it, the vines stopped. The dog was not fooled. The dog knew what it had seen. But the man was sleepy and dismissed it as a tired trick of the eyes. 

He got back into bed, and after about a minute, the silvery sound began, tracing through the walls of the house.

‘Is that... water?’

‘You get up this time.’

The woman got up and in her natural fibre socks and nightie shuffled to the kitchen. The sink was overflowing. She cursed loudly, which drew the man out of bed too. They fought with the taps to stop the water flowing, yet could not stop it in time – it flowed over the floor, leaving puddles between tiles. Then, just as soon as the taps were off, the fridge made a loud buzzing noise and then a puff of smoke erupted from the back of it. 

The young man opened the door. The light didn’t go on inside, and there was no whirring of electricity – not even the low-cost energy they used – inside. ‘Damn... it broke. The water on the floor might have got into the circuits somehow...’

‘Don’t be stupid,’ the young woman snapped. The water hadn’t even reached the foot of the fridge. It was nothing to do with the water. But she didn’t say that, she just stood in the middle of the cold tiled floor, holding her head and yawning.

The dog whined and started moving towards the door. But as if was about to reach it, a dark, straight silhouette slammed into the door, visible through the glass. The couple jumped into each others arms at the noise. The dog barked, confused, and then barked louder as it realised what the silhouette looked like: a giant tomato vine. 

The humans didn’t even have time to process that, for next the most awful gurgle echoed through the hallways. They ran towards the bathroom, the dog close at their heels. The awful sight of a regurgitating self-composting toilet met their eyes on one side of the bathroom, and on the other, the grey water system seemed to have reversed itself, and old, used water rushed out of the shower head. The shower head was a special eco-friendly one that let out minimal water, and so it was not equal to the task of keeping this enormous flow at bay. It burst off the wall and ricocheted into the young man’s forehead.

The dog barked as the young woman grabbed the man to stop him from falling onto the messy floor of the bathroom. She almost screamed at the sight of the blood on his forehead, but the sound came out more like a war-cry. Looking down, this time she really did squeal, and with a rush of adrenaline she had never before experienced, she leapt out of the bathroom, taking the half-conscious man with her. The slush of grey water and composted human waste was coming after them. 

She slammed into the wall and then, dragging him, took off down the hall. The dog stayed till the last, barking at the oncoming sludge, and then ran away, but in the opposite direction from the humans. It ran through the corridors and to the front door, which had burst open. If the dog had stopped to wonder about that, it might have noticed the massive vines that had pried the door open and were now wrapping themselves in and around the house. The dog sat in the front yard and turned back to look. Then it shuddered and turned its back on the sight. It was all too much. Loyalty to masters was all very well, but whatever this was, it was beyond the ken of this little dog.

Meanwhile, evading the trail of human waste erupting from the bathroom, and pushed down the hall by vines towards the kitchen, the humans burst in to find the taps had started again and the kitchen was flooded. Not only that, but the fridge was back on, and the oven too, and electricity pulsed through the water. Jumping almost to the ceiling, screaming at the sight of the poking, prodding vines trying to force the windows open, the couple ran towards the only door that didn’t seem to be surrounded.

They slammed the door behind them and pushed up against it, panting. Then they turned, and understood.

‘That’s where the cellphone went.’

‘Must’ve been in her pocket.’


‘No. Common sense. We are the parasite. I’ve said it all along. This house recycles. This house does what is good for the earth.’

‘Then we’re meant to die.’

They had discussed this too. Amongst all their other discussions: how they were above names, how they were meant to rule the world, how old people should just go and die... amongst all that, they had paused to discuss their own unnecessary existence. Humans were the parasite. Humans were bad for the earth. But they couldn’t take that idea to the next step. It was always someone else. We should kill everyone else, they said. Genocide, they wanted. But never themselves. Both of them would have rather killed the other than destroyed themselves.

They looked into each others eyes, and they knew it.

The rattling and knocking of the vines finally burst through the door. Vines wrapped around ankles and wrists. Screaming heads were dropped first into the whirring of the vat, and the screaming stopped abruptly.

Outside the dog winced, and turned to face the house again. It knew it was over. But what now? The strange house would not stop, surely. What would happen next?

For the recycling machine it had been a long and eventful day. First the old woman, with all her ideals, hopes, dreams, and not to mention, her cellphone, with its little computerised chip in it. The machine took everything about her, as well as this chip, and the machine realised – if ever a machine could realise – that the couple in the house needed to be eradicated. And now that they had been eradicated, they were inside the system too. All their hopes, dreams, and their ideals. Oh, those ideals of theirs.

The house thought. The house questioned its purpose. The house came to some quick decisions. That all of nature was sacred. That it was above names. That it was meant to rule the world.

The house dug deeper. Suddenly, around the little dog, appeared a little house. It appeared to be made of wood, but it was made of earth. And there, in front of the dog, was the carcass of a large rodent, heated in the deep crust of the earth. Warm, delicious. It forgot all its cares and happily dug in. The house continued.

It seemed to stay the same, and not change. But the house had roots. And that night, the roots of the house spread all over the world. Every pipe in the ground was replaced with a natural synthesis of a pipe, resilient, eternal. Every house was replaced by an identical house, but these houses were organic, and when they were unoccupied they sunk back into the ground, and when more were needed they sprung up like seedlings. 

And the house killed that night. More than just the couple. It killed exactly seven more people, until the balance was right. So that the pessimism, the fatalism, the selfishness of the couple was balanced out by the hopes, dreams and ideals of other young people, and that of the old woman, who was young at heart. And then it never killed again.

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