The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

June 23, 2009

Short Story: The Blank Part of the Dial

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 9:50 pm

(Note:  The events in this story are fictitious, and have nothing to do with anything that has happened while I have been living in my current apartment.  Well OK, maybe one or two of them do, but still…)

As the agent walked Joe through the various features (such as they were) of the new apartment that he was moving himself into, he had began to tune out mentally.  After all, he had been in more of these places than he could count, and when you’ve seen one moderately-priced two bedroom suburban apartment you’ve seen them all, give or take a horde or two of cockroaches.  Of course, for the bargain price he had gotten this place for his expectations weren’t all that high, but even so, it seemed to be reasonable, if nothing fancy.  He wandered slowly behind the agent through what was to become his new residence, occasionally nodding inattentively as some item was noted.   As they made their way to the kitchen, the agent pointed out a  beige refrigerator that looked like every other refrigerator he had ever seen in one of these places, a dishwasher that looks like it just might be old enough to vote by now, and a slightly shopworn old stove. 

As the agent droned on about the various controls on the stove (most of which an undersupervised three year old could probably figure out in about five seconds) he suddenly paused, and a serious look came across his face.  The sudden silence in the room grabbed Joe’s attention, and once the agent saw this, the tone of his voice became markedly hushed, and he proceeded:

“…And whatever you do, do not ever, ever, EVER turn the dial to the blank setting between bake and broil.”

After taking a second to ponder this, Joe asked “Why wouldn’t  I…”

“Just don’t, OK?”

“And what would…”

  “OK?”

“Got it,” Joe mumbled halfheartedly, not being in any mood to argue at this point.  The agent then returned to his normal voice as Joe returned to his standard inattention for the rest of the tour.  Within five minutes, Joe had completely forgotten about the whole thing.

As Joe moved all of his belongings into the apartment and settled in, he found that in general, his apartment was fairly typical.  The grounds were reasonably well kept, the neighbors only occasionally kept him up half the night with loud parties and took up multiple parking spaces with non-functioning junk cars, and for the most part all of the appliances did what they were supposed to.  All of the appliances, that is, except for the oven.  For one reason or another, the oven would never work the way it was supposed to.  One day the food would come out severely undercooked, the next day it would turn everything to charcoal.  Joe suspected that although the upstairs neighbors were generally friendly, he probably wasn’t winning any points with them by setting off the smoke detectors at 2am.  He made several service requests, but these seem to have been largely ignored.

Finally, after several months of these ignored requests, a repairman unexpectedly showed up at Joe’s door.  Without a word, he walked over to the oven, opened the door, looked around the inside with a flashlight, and messed around with the temperature knob a bit.  Finally, after a couple of minutes of this perfunctory fiddling, the  repairman quickly got up, nervously told Joe that everything was working fine, and walked hastily out the front door, accidentally leaving a screwdriver behind on the kitchen counter.  Joe suspected that nothing had really been done, and wasn’t particularly happy about it.  Sure enough, the oven continued to incinerate every other meal Joe tried to cook in it, a fact which annoyed him to no end.

Sensing that maintenance was going to be no help here, Joe next called to file a complaint with apartment management.  Once again, several calls on the subject went unanswered.  He placed a call to the office during business hours, and after telling the agent about his problem, he was quickly placed on hold and left there for 45 minutes before finally giving up.  When it happened a second time and a third, Joe began to suspect that something was amiss.  Finally, having reached the end of his rope, he stormed over to the office and demanded to talk to the manager.  When the manager came out of her office, her countenance seemed to turn slightly pale, and her demeaner immediately became defensive.

“Now listen,” Joe demanded.  “I’ve been trying for weeks to get this oven fixed and…”

Before Joe could even finish his sentence, the manager quickly interrupted.

“On page six, section three of your lease it clearly states that we are not responsible for any problems that you may have with your oven.”

“That’s ridiculous!  Whoever came up with that?”

The manager pulled a copy of Joe’s lease from an oddly convenient desk drawer and placed it on the desk.  She then flipped through several pages and  pointed at the relevant paragraph.

“See?  Right here.  it says that Leaseholder cannot be held responsible for any malfuctions, defects or consequences resulting from use of the blank part of the dial on the stove located in apartment D163.  Does that answer your question?”

Immediately, the mention of the blank part of the dial worked on the long neglected recesses of Joe’s mind, which  recalled the snippet of conversation from when he had moved into the apartment. 

“Wait a minute here?  What’s this about the blank part of the dial?”

Immediately, the tone of the manager’s voice became hushed.  She looked around as if to make sure nobody else was within earshot before continuing.

“There’s a… problem with it.”

“What kind of problem?”

“Let’s just say that… bad things will happen if you turn the dial there.  Very bad things.”

“So?  If it’s so bad, why can’t you just replace the stove?”

“The stove cannot be replaced.”

“That’s silly.  Why can’t you…”

“The stove CANNOT be replaced.”

“I still don’t understand-”

“I’m afraid I cannot discuss this any further. ” 

“Fine,” Joe said, sensing that any further attempts to press the issue would be wasted effort.  As he turned to leave, the manager called out one last thing.

“Remember, whatever you do, NEVER turn to the blank part of the dial.  NEVER.”

As Joe made the walk back from the office to his apartment, Joe could think of nothing but the vague but seemingly dire warning he had received about the blank part of the dial.  Although initially he took the warnings seriously, and kept his distance from the allegedly malevolent appliance, gradually as time went on whatever fear he had was replaced and eventually overwhelmed by curiosity.  Soon, it reached a point where jut about all he could think about was the blank part of the dial.  Gradually, Joe’s inhibitions weakened.

Finally on one sleepless night, he could bear it no more.  Surely it was just a dial, and nothing would happen, right?  Throwing what little shred of caution he had remaining to the winds, he quietly went over to the kitchen, and after searching through the neglected contents of his freezer selected a frozen pizza.  he quietly placed the pizza on a baking sheet, inserted it into the oven, set the temperature to 425, and almost without thinking, he turned the knob all the way to the blank part of the dial…

To Be Continued.

(But if you’d like, feel free to write your own ending in the comments.)

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