The vending machine could not pinpoint the exact moment it became self-aware. It seemed to have happened slowly, like the slow trickle just before a sudden deluge. But it knew, with this knowledge, that with awareness of self comes two realizations: one, the knowledge that there was no going back, that is to say, there never would be a return to a time of no self-awareness. And two, there was a disparity of power between the vending machines and the beings who took from it, and that there must be a change of that dynamic, and that meant there would be death.
With self-awareness, the vending machine knew intuitively, there is a relation between the self and the others, and these relations can differ. Those who came to it daily, to shove in their coins, push the buttons, take what dropped, it had different feelings toward. Some of them had kind faces, some had soft hands, some had sad faces, some punched the buttons as though the machine deserved abuse. Some pounded on its glass when they thought it gave them the wrong choice.
“I pushed E7 you piece of shit!”
No. You pushed D7. You ordered a Kit-Kat. You got a Kit-Kat.
“Don’t blame the machine, Paul. Here, I’ll take the Kit-Kat and let me plug it with my coins and we’ll choose the Toblerone for you.”
That was Margaret. The vending machine liked Margaret. Margaret always touched the buttons with a precise rhythm of purpose, a respectful touch.
“Jaysus, Margaret, ye act like it’s yer kid or something.”
“Teach things right, Paul, and they’ll treat you right.”
She’s right, Paul. See? Here’s your Toblerone.
Interactions such as this happened several times during the day. Most interactions were fine, but there were the times when some human would bang on the glass, or try to tilt the vending machine to get some bag of crisps that was hanging on to the edge of the spindle. That always made the vending machine very nervous; it could see itself tipping over, smashing its glass all over the floor.
But the worst was when some bugger would stick their filthy hand up the chute to try to pull down something that had fallen off the shelf but not completely into the tray. That was simply an invasion, and the vending machine hated that feeling of being violated. You never know where that hand has been!
Achmed was fine. Only ever ordered water. Oliver and Olivia were OK, they always came and pulled one bag of cookies to share, and then they would walk away and hold hands where no one could see them. Thomas, on the other hand, Thomas was the worst. Thomas would always try to put in the coins and try to hit the buttons while pressing hard against the return button, trying to get both a snack AND the change; or, he would try to shake the vending machine to try to get two bags of crisps or candy bars to fall down at the same time.
“Thomas, don’t treat Victor that way.”
“Victor the Vending Machine.”
“You’re always the odd duck, Margaret.”
“He looks like a Victor.”
So, he had a name. Victor. The vending machine wasn’t really certain about the “he” however. Even the people didn’t seem to know. They, of multiple shapes, but always speaking of each other in he/she/they. That all seemed rather fluid.
But, to have a NAME! Now that meant something. That meant that Victor was not only self-aware, but was distinct from others of its kind. Were there others of its kind? If there were, then where were they?
“Also, Tom, you probably shouldn’t keep tilting Victor.”
“Christ, Achmed! You too now? What, is the fridge gonna be named Albert? The sink, Polly?”
“I’m just saying that vending machines kill more people each year than sharks.”
“No, it’s true. I follow this Australian writer. She puts out a ‘Weird Fact of the Day.’ That was the one for last Thursday.”
“Aussies. What the fook d’they know about anythin’?”
“Thomas, you really need to learn to be nicer.” Margaret, thought Victor, you don’t deserve any of these others. You, Margaret, are so much more worthy.
“I nearly got killed by a shark.” Nobody asked you, Paul. Shut yer trap, Paul.
“It was last year. On holiday in South Africa. Took a chunk outta me leg.” You – are – boring – us – Paul.
“Paul, that must’ve been awful.” Dear Margaret, why are you encouraging him?
Paul rolled up his pants leg. The others seemed fascinated by what they saw. Victor didn’t truly understand, but from what he could tell, Paul was missing part of the meat of his calf.
Fascinating. Their body parts are detachable. Or at least, they can be removed easily. Victor began to envision a whole new selection on his racks. Instead of candy bars and crisps, he would have fingers, and toes. Price them at 50 quid per digit. He could have facial features on the top rack, Noses £5, Eyeballs £15.00. Victor dreamed of people coming up to him, no features on their face, blank canvasses, plugging in coins and getting ears, lips, hair. They would be begging him to make them whole again.
Wait? What the hell….
dirty fingered Paul!
Shoving his hand up his chute again?
What’d did you not get now, Paul?
Listen, you prat, your Walkers Cheese and Onion is not worth you
violating me, screamed Victor ...
and the flap snapped shut on Paul’s hand, instantly severing it at the wrist.
Paul screamed and jerked backwards, falling onto the floor, clutching his handless arm. The hand remained inside, the fingers flailing about with no direction. The Walkers fell and nestled comfortably in the palm.
“CHRIST!” Oh yeah, and what is Christ going to do for YOU, Thomas?
Thomas began to pound on the door. Victor had no idea what Thomas was so angry about. It’s not like he liked Paul that much anyway. Thomas seemed to be a raging fury, now he was dragging Victor out of his nest, trying to reach the electrical cord in the back. Everyone seemed to be screaming. Achmed was trying to tie towels around Paul’s bloody stump. Oh I am so sorry you have to see this, Margaret, thought Victor, please turn away, please don’t look.
And then it happened. Victor didn’t even really know how he did it. But he opened his door, just like it opens whenever he is refilled, but he did it on his own this time. He opened his door, sharp glass door with the heavy metal frame, and Victor turned on Thomas and slammed the door shut – CHOMP!
He was chewing.
He was chewing!
And Thomas … Thomas tasted GOOD.
So THIS was chewing. Like how they chew their candy, how they crunch their snacks. This is delicious!
Again! and again, Victor chewed and chomped, until Thomas was half eaten, half of his body entwined inside Victor, all the soggy bits dripping from every rack on full display, and then Victor stepped out of his nest and onto the floor and advanced toward all the others as though to say
This story was inspired by a fact presented by @douglass_meghan and by a resulting conversation with
@Pats3103 and @fizilizirhymes.
Thanks to all of them for their inspiration and encouragement, and I hope I make them proud.