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Bewildering Stories

Ken Poyner, The Revenge of the House Hurlers


The Revenge of the House Hurlers
Author: Ken Poyner
Publisher: Barking Moose Press
Date: January 16, 2019
Length: 204 pages
ISBN: 978-0-578-43269-4

Explaining the Injury

I usually do not pay much attention to the neighbors. If a blindingly naked neighbor comes running out of the house with cinema-grade blood trailing onto the public sidewalk — perhaps with some joylessly kindred spirit chasing the dreary unfortunate with an axe — I will call the police. While the size of the yards in this subdivision provides some protection, the houses are not really constructed all that well, and you can practically hear the grass growing through the walls. I couldn’t sleep through an axe murder, especially if they insisted on doing it outside in just the next yard over.

When at first the vending machines moved in, I watched surreptitiously with a little understandable curiosity from behind my living room curtain — but I did not give these new neighbors a lot of thought. There were two squat, fairly featureless machines, which I supposed were the children; one huge snack machine I suspected to be the head of the family; and a slim twelve ounce soda machine that looked as though domestic duty were the soul of its assembly line manufacture. The overbearing snack machine looked positively generic; and I could not tell which brands, common or exotic, the soda machine represented. Companies spend so much time and money on design and eventually it becomes just a wash of color. I bet if you asked the hulking snack machine which vendors he or his wife, the soda machine, represented, even he would have to think a while about it, probably even have to look down to his plastic front panel, before constructing the right answer.

The two shorter ones I would have almost guaranteed were top loading ice cream outlets. Those sorts of machines always want more money than you thought they would need, and invariably the product is so frozen you have to wave it in the air for ten minutes before you can eat it. And they are stocked with whatever is most available in the warehouse, just the opposite of what sells best. The warehouse always has mounds of what doesn’t move with the public and in a twist of capitalism, which has the vendor as customer and the customer as captive, these machines are stuffed with what no one wants. They always look whiney, and like they should be put more often to practical work. I hoped they would not run loose and dripping all over the neighborhood, but I knew better.

I have nothing against vending machines; but I was worried from the start what sort of small-change crowd they would bring to the block. From the time I first saw them, I could imagine mangled mornings as one machine or another came out to pick up the paper: the local school children would slow in their trip to the school pick-up stop to pop in stray quarters and dimes and hopelessly injured dollars, and take a broken bag of crumbled chips or a flat can of cola. The vending machine likely would stand there as long as it took, letting the small hands swap coin for product, unmindful as wearily discarded wrappers fell into the street, or even into my well cut yard. The children’s ogling parents would be afraid to say anything, with these vending machines after all being the new neighbors; and the children would, from the early morning junk food, grow mid-day lethargic and begin to put on pounds. They would gobble down the vended whatnots before the bus would pick them up, and the blowing trash and added sparse napkins would catch in my fence and be waiting to greet me when I came home from work.

You know how children can be. If the ungainly soda machine came out for the paper, the kids would chant for the snack machine; if the snack machine came out, they would chant for the soda machine. And the two little machines, that I thought were perhaps immature ice cream dispensers, would be the most popular kids on the street; more likely, across several streets.

But I was not so sure about those smaller vending machines. You can’t judge a vending machine’s age by its size. Just because it is short does not mean it has a few more years to grow. Some vending machines can reach full maturity and might still stand only three feet high. What, I thought, if this were not your typical vending machine family: a father, a mother, two mechanical kids? What if this were some other, more sinister sort of social foursome? A collective that in the privacy of their new home would be mixing chips and soda and Eskimo pies, creating all sorts of high-sugar perversion behind the safety of middle-class neighborhood walls?

I don’t believe in prying into the affairs of my neighbors. But I do stand for decency. I cringe when I consider what could come out of such a devilish union. One day there might be a sandwich machine to deal with, or a frozen dinner dispenser. One of those humongous contraptions with the spinning slots welded together in a cylinder of licentious choices. You could never know who the responsible party might be: whose job it would be to keep the offspring in check, who pays the mortgage, who maintains the lawn, who does simple repairs, who you deal with when their parties are too loud. Sodium rich hot dogs and orange popsicles could be running loose everywhere, with all manner of unregulated machines charging unreadable prices and half the time no change being returned.

After that idea occurred to me, I started to watch the delivery trucks. The mysterious vending machines had been in their new home less than a week when I noticed not only were there occurrences of replenishing snack and soda deliveries, but late one evening there was a truck with a distinctly European design that slid up and I think it offloaded a crate of those toothbrush and toothpaste sets you can get at the airport, packaged all as one. I had not thought of that, but plain as pocket change, these items were something suspicious, something that might be vended only in special places, in custom locales. This would impart a distinctly exotic air to their residency, and not necessarily a welcomed one.

And then the people who came by to knock on the door! Strangers. Lone, unavoidable men. A woman dressed for a party. Three children accompanied by a grandmotherly woman, though you could never make the assumption she was their grandmother. A couple wrapped about each other like snakes in birth clutch. Each would knock on the door, step full of intent into the house for a moment or two, then step out with their packages. Some would pop a soda can top right there on the front porch; others would walk with their prize in their hands straight back to their often still running cars. A few random patrons seemed to very nearly make a picnic right there: lingering in the front yard, slowly folding back the wrappers, gazing about as they ate or drank, as though the neighborhood were a pleasing backdrop they could casually figure out, a diorama to lull their appetites.

I will admit that it got the best of me. I began to mix curiosity with outrage, with wonder and bother and suspicion. My imagination ran away with me. I began to think I could hear the doleful dropping of change through each vending machine’s internal coin sorters, the electric heart of each sorting and counting coins, even flattening the well won wrinkles of aged dollars. Then one day, with my indignation as bloated as a palette of unsalable rock-hard pastries, with the big seemingly surly snack machine out cutting the backyard, I decided to go over, to introduce myself as one of the long-time residents of this once bucolic neighborhood, to let him know how home owners are expected to act in our humble subdivision — even if those new residents are a flock of feral vending machines, even if they look superficially like a mechanical nuclear family. I intended to ask him just what his intentions for his newly claimed property, seriously located next to mine, might be.

I know now I should not have carried the screwdriver wriggling menacingly with my angry gait in my back pocket.

Copyright © 2020 by Ken Poyner

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