“Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”
Stephen King

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Notes from the author:

I participated in Codex's Weekend Warrior contest in January 2012. Each weekend, we had five prompts to choose from; each weekend, we submitted a flash fiction contest entry proceeding from one of those prompts. Meff and the toaster showed up in response to the prompt, "Write a story where a human and a machine have a strange rivalry."

I didn't end up using the material. It was clear there was a lot more to Mephisto, Charles, and the toaster than would comfortably fit in under 750 words. And so there is. Eventually, I'll find out what it is. For now, the rewrite makes a dandy International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day 2012 presentation.

My alarm clock didn't wake me up that morning, but the smell of bacon did. Sadly, bacon is not a perfect substitute for an alarm clock. I was fifteen minutes late and losing time by the second. I bounded out of bed, threw on my grease-stained work pants and my bright red corporate polo, and hurried into the kitchen in hopes of snagging a few slices on my way out the door.

It didn't occur to me that this was an unusually early hour for Meff to be up and moving. It didn't occur to me that anything was unusual about Meff that morning. Unusually annoying, yes, as you'll see, but that's it. Yes, I was distracted, yes I could have paid more attention -- but you have to understand, we're talking about Meff here.

Meff was already at the table, six slices of bacon and a heap of white rice on his plate. "Help yourself," he said, his mouth full. "More rice in the pot there."

I noted the remaining four slices on their lard-absorbing paper towel. "I'll pass on the rice," I said. "Bread's more portable."

My roommate made an urgent "Mmmf!" noise, swallowed his current mouthful rapidly, and said, "Ix-nay on the ed-bray, bro. The toaster's gone evil on us."

I didn't stop, precisely, but I slowed down on my way to the refrigerator. "What scale of evil are we talking about? Existential malignity, a la Time Bandits, or just day-to-day vexation as in Eddie Izzard's kitchen appliances schtick?"

"Hard to say thus far. But just as a precaution, I got rid of the bread."

"You what?" I reached on top the fridge anyway. As promised, no loaf of multigrain met my fingertips. "You didn't!"

Meff shrugged. "Can't be too careful."

I got mad, and that's saying something. I mean, I'm one of Meff's oldest friends mainly because I can put up with his shit better than anyone. I know how to play along, and I know not to take it seriously or personally. He does it all on purpose, see. I am mysterious and unpredictable! Show me an expectation and I will defy it! Like that. I was there when that one stoned guy at that one party called him Mephisto, a nickname that stuck only because Meff himself applied a metric crap-ton of metaphorical superglue. The best way to deal with Meff is to treat anything he does like it's no big deal.

But this was really the last straw. I hadn't had time to refresh my supplies of tolerance and patience since Meff's thing with the house plants yesterday, that was part of it. But mostly it's that you cross a line when you throw out food that I, personally, have bought and that I, personally, was relying on eating.

Meff must have seen me start to heat up, because before I could say a word he was reassuring me that "Hey, it's not like I wasted it. I took it down to the community kitchen. The bagels, too. Lead us not into temptation and all. And let me tell you, when I walked past the toaster with all those bread things in my arms, the temptation was pretty strong. I could feel it calling to me, Meff, just one slice of toast before you go, just one... Hardest thing I've ever done, Charles, I'm not gonna lie."

Throughout that speech, my mouth opened and closed several times, but in the end all I did was take a deep breath and let it out again. "I don't have time for this," I told him. "All I'm going to say is, next time you get it into your head to get rid of perfectly good food, consider actually buying some of the groceries for once." I grabbed a fresh paper towel to transport my portion of breakfast. "Thanks for cooking the bacon, anyway."

Meff saw me getting ready to go, and he panicked. Visibly. The superior look on his face just melted away to raw pleading. "Don't leave, Charles," he said. "It wants something -- I don't think I'm safe here with it."

I blinked. "The toaster?"

"Yes, the toaster!" He got up and followed me over to the sofa where I sat to put on my shoes. "Haven't you understood a word I've said?"

"Frankly, no. You've been talking High Gibber and you know I'm not fluent. Seriously, Meff, I have to get to work, I can't spend the day babysitting you until you move on to your next role-playing game."

"Then take it with you!" His face brightened with sudden hope. An instant later he jumped up and ran over to the kitchen counter. "Here -- I'll come along. Keep it outnumbered. The dump's on your way, it won't make you any more late--"

"No." I stood, grabbed my jacket from the back of the sofa. "The bread was bad enough. I'm not helping you throw out our toaster just because you're having a bad trip or something. Have a good day, bro."

Meff's wail followed me out the door. "Charles! Please!" But I've had a lot of practice ignoring Meff's theatrics. Besides, I was really late for work.

Still, it has to be said that when I got home that afternoon, both Mephisto and the toaster were gone. And I never saw either one of them again.