(c) 2012 Jeff James
When Nate came back as a toaster, panic was his first response. He woke up trapped in a tiny metallic box, tethered to the wall and marooned on a vast off-white surface. He was obviously the victim of some cruel joke. He didn’t calm down until his first two slices. The feeling of freshly toasted bread popping up cleared his mind and he was able to take stock of his surroundings.
He was in a high-ceilinged kitchen flooded with morning sunlight. He had fleeting glimpses of a woman bustling around the room, opening doors and rattling dishes. At first he only saw her from an angle that made her nothing more than a looming chin and flaring nostrils, but then she stared down into his slots and he couldn’t help staring right back. Her eyes were shockingly blue and her gaze was piercing. Her hair was dirty blonde, curled in ringlets carelessly tucked behind her ears. When she looked away it felt like all the air in the room rushed back in.
He watched her and noticed that she pursed her lips in a frown if her breakfast took too long. On rare days, perhaps when the coffee was especially strong, she danced lazily around the kitchen, humming tunelessly to herself, singing the odd chorus or snatch of a verse. Most mornings she just blinked her way through a second cup.
One day while admiring the curve of her neck he burnt a bagel black. She snatched it away and swore at him in frustration, furiously scraping off the top layer with a butter knife. The sudden flash of anger made her strangely beautiful, like some Valkyrie just awakened from deep sleep, hair still tousled.
The morning after the burnt bagel, she came to him, raisin bread in hand, and he mentally prepared himself for the task. He focused all of his attention on keeping the burn even. His coils glowed with gentle heat and he listened carefully to the crackle of the bread until it sounded just right. When he popped it up perfectly toasted just a little bit early, he thought he caught a ghost of a smile on her downturned face.
He soon found he couldn’t help but be conscious of the soft touch of her fingertips as she pressed down his lever. Some nights he counted down the hours until morning, waiting for her arrival. On others he dreamed of her face, and in his dreams her nose was a tiny baguette, her ears hot cross buns. She smiled and her teeth were croutons.
Their shared morning routine was the bright spot of his day. Her breakfast usually included a bagel or some toast, and performing his duties filled him with an incredible sense of purpose. When she opted for cereal or a granola bar he worried that some distance might be coming between them, but when she toasted bread for a sandwich at dinner, he was elated at another chance to do his job. He tried to be reasonable, to keep his emotions in check when she was around, but he couldn’t help being jealous.
Nate longed for some way of communicating with her. When the idea came to him, he kicked himself for missing the obvious. He spent the following night coming up with the perfect words. In the morning he focused all of his concentration on the task, carefully modulating the heat of his coils, picturing the letters in careful rows. When his lever popped up with a click, he waited impatiently for her gasp of recognition, but instead she just layered on jam like always.
A week of messages failed to make the slightest impression. He decided to take a bolder approach. The next day he studied her face, lingering over every feature. He held the image in his mind and shut out all distractions while he worked. The result was a too-dark burn in the center and a frown from his muse. Her face was etched in his mind, but he couldn’t seem to burn it onto a piece of bread. Failure only spurred him on, and he rededicated himself to the task the next morning.
After several loaves full of failures, he secretly hoped she would sleep late and skip breakfast, but it was not to be. When he popped up his latest effort, he was surprised to see her stop and take a second look. His heart leapt, but then he realized she wasn’t looking at the toast.
Sparks and smoke boiled out from deep inside him. He’d overworked himself and something had gone very wrong. When she yanked his cord out of the wall and threw him outside he knew that it was all over. He felt his consciousness ebb and reluctantly gave in to spreading darkness. His mission was unfulfilled and his days as a toaster were done.
Some time later he awoke to a roar. He was alive, but something was clearly different. It felt like his face was being rubbed into carpet. Tiny pieces of dirt rattled down his throat and into his stomach. A curtain of blonde curls fell into view and he recognized her touch as she leaned over to switch off the suction.
This, he thought, was going to be a challenge.
Jeff James lives in Austin, TX with too many cats and writes stories that his friends call “seriously bizarre”. He writes the occasional book review, contributes to a gaming podcast at GamerSushi (gamersushi.com) and wrote several episodes of Web Zeroes for Revision3 (revision3.com/webzeroes). You can follow Jeff on Twitter @unsquare or on his personal site at unsquare.com.