a short story by Jake M
It started as quite an unremarkable summer, as far as summers usually go in the city. It became swelteringly hot within days of spring ending, queuing the opening of windows and turning on of fans across every neighborhood, every room washed in dim night backed by the soundtrack of their industrious whirring. The silent servants functioned as intended, sucking in the cool nighttime air to combat the latent heat of the day, emulating a breeze where there was none, owners grateful for their service as they lay comfortably in their beds, not slick with sweat and sticking to the sheets like they would be without. AC units sat atop apartment buildings and behind houses, rumbling with a similar zeal, forcing the balmy air through labyrinthine coilings of pipes flowing with coolant to achieve a similar effect, albeit more effectively. Either or, these miracles of the modern world made the regularly torrid summers all the more bearable for the inhabitants of the city, until it became hotter than anybody expected.
It didn’t change too noticeably, a scorcher of a day here, a hot one there, but they quickly became routine. Day after day of 100+ degree Fahrenheit temperatures, only the shade and the night providing refuge from the hellish heat. The entire city became wracked in discomfort, some citizens taking to remaining inside, with the braver and busier folks content to just scorch outside as they’d walk. The source of the abnormal heat was a topic of debate and conversation amongst friends, neighbors, and eventually news sources. Regardless of where such a bizarrely warm summer came from, it only continued to heat up from then on. Previously hanging around the hundreds, it quickly shot up to a daily average in the upper 110s by late June. The pavement scorched, plastic trash cans melted, and sidewalks quickly became abandoned at the height of the day. The gentle rumble of box fans and AC units had turned into a constant roar, running 24/7 in an increasingly futile attempt to keep the temperature within people’s homes bearable. Lying shirtless in their beds, sweat-soaked citizens would toss and turn restlessly, cursing their lousy fans, cursing the heat, cursing the fact they couldn't just tear their skin off and free themselves of their sweltering and confining biological layers.
The hottest summer of the century, as people called it, continued it’s rampage into July, where temperatures regularly soared to 120 degrees and above. The wailing of ambulances rushing to the prone and unconscious bodies of those foolish enough to take a stroll at noon became commonplace, with the wiser citizens opting to live in darkened seclusion surrounded by fans or in pools of ice-cold water in their backyards. Every morning the radios and TVs would say the same thing, over and over. “It’s gonna be another hot one!” they rang hollowly. One could hear how tired they were, tired of how the air was becoming almost painful, like sticking one’s entire body into an oven. And one could almost hear the glee in their voices when they finally found something else to talk about one day, even if it was something extremely peculiar.
“Barbara Murray, a 77-year-old resident of the city, made a discovery this morning that was at first alarming, and then confusing,” the anchor read over the staticy crackle of the television. “She found what appeared to be blood dripping from her window AC unit,” he continued over some macabre images of a boxy air conditioner leaking thick, dark red fluid from the slatted part of the fans, dripping down onto the carpet below. An unsettling discovery, as further investigation revealed the blood as having no apparent source, and no evidence of it having been placed into the unit prior. It would’ve been fine, just another strange happening for the books, another bizarre bit of urban legend fuel, had it not continued to happen across the city.
Amidst the frightening heat was an equally as horrific epidemic of bleeding appliances, and as the heat soared, more and more AC units, box fans, and other cooling instruments would weep the peculiar sanguine liquid. The blood stopped pouring once the appliances were cracked open to investigate it’s source, but as with the first reported occurrence with poor Mrs. Murray, there was none. Even more puzzling was the fact that devices that continued to be plugged and working would continue to bleed, even beyond the volume put out by devices that had been torn open for investigation. It was extremely unsettling, but the persistent and frankly dangerous heat left many with no other option than to just learn to live with it. There wasn’t enough ice in the world to keep them cooled off without an AC unit or a box fan or even one of those cheap desk fans, even if it meant their homes and apartments would carry a permanent coppery stench that would make them heave every time they’d walk in, even if the red stains on the walls and carpet kept getting worse, even if it left them constantly distracted by the disconcerting implications of machines that bleed what is apparently indistinguishable from the blood we humans have. They were all things they could live with just to make it through the hottest summer of the century, until the wailing started.
Nobody wanted to admit it, but people swore they could hear, through the restless rumble of their appliances late at night, pained moaning. Difficult to describe, it was akin to a man being slowly crushed by the gears of an enormous machine, wheezy and wracked in agony. It was another stone atop the crushing weight of the trial the residents of the city were being put through, atop the heat and the blood, as if some cruel Old Testament god was making them endure a series of worsening plagues. It was an isolating terror, because it wasn’t as if you could ask your neighbor, “does your air conditioner cry at night too?” without worrying if you were the only one and had lost your mind. The citizens continued to ignore it, ignore how loud it would get, ignore how they would wake up in cold sweats from nightmares of being mangled to death, ignore how human the crying sounded. The moaning turned into sobbing turned into wailing turned into screaming, the cacophony of mechanical roaring and horrific crying echoing throughout the city, bouncing off of skyscrapers and brick buildings alike, amplifying the noise into one terrorizing, mechanized wail.
One morning, August 1st to be exact, people watched from their windows as a man, dressed in nothing but boxers, threw his fan from the window onto the road below, and emerged from his apartment with a sledgehammer. The fan was still leaking blood, still screaming in mechanical agony, when the man brought the sledgehammer down upon it, cracking it in half. He continued to swing the hammer down again and again and again, blood splattering across the warming asphalt, until it was nothing but a pile of red plastic and metal, and the screaming stopped. Everybody on the street followed suit, destroying their cooling appliances in an act of apparent fury, taking baseball bats to their fans, crowbars to their AC units, smashing them until piles of blood-soaked junk littered the streets and sidewalks like so many machine cadavers, reeking like a jar of pennies somebody left in a hot car. By the setting of the sun, the screaming was gone, the city silent for the first time in weeks. Citizens stood amongst the viscera of their appliances, wondering if because they bled and screamed, could they not feel pain? And because they could feel pain, because they could bleed and scream and beg, were they not alive in a sense? Was what they did an act of mercy or murder? They laid their weapons upon the ground next to the carnage and walked inside to sleep, awaking in a puddle of sweat to the radio cheerfully announcing, as if nothing happened, “It’s gonna be another hot one!”
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