A day in the life of a vending machine.
It is 7:01am and little Danny Clinderman, eight years old and shaven-headed, arrives before the snack machine in the TimeOut Motel. He stands, looking through the big window at the array of gaudy packages and bulging promises before him. His mind apparently made up, a hand emerges from his pocket, a shiny silver coin gripped between finger and thumb, and moves to hover before the slot. His eyes make another pass over the possibilities.
The choice confirmed, the coin enters halfway into the slot. It pauses, clearly overtaken by doubt, then, with certainty rammed home to tinkle its way down into some metal receptacle deep in the bowels of the machine. Danny presses the buttons of his desire.
A Snickers bar jerks spasmodically and begins to move along its rail, hesitates as it reaches the end, then drops with a clang into the yawning abyss below. The boy pushes at the door below the window, reaches in and emerges again with the chocolate bar imprisoned within his grasp.
Danny turns and walks away away, unwrapping the bar as he goes. The snack machine makes a noise like a spring releasing tension and grows silent. Its interior, hung with the bright jewels of temptation, is starkly lit with invitation to any accidental passer by.
From the dark behind the machine comes the sound of a claw scratching on metal. Time passes uneventfully.
8:45am and Hester van Dorn appears from the nearest door and clacks on spindly heels to the snack vendor. She digs into her purse and produces the necessary key to the portals of plenty. The coin goes into the slot and, with practised finger, she taps in the code.
The packet of Cheez-its selected begins its journey obediently but stops at the edge of the precipice, swinging gently. Without hesitation, Hester bangs with a tightly clenched fist at a spot on the side of the machine. The packet loses its grip and drops down into the gaping hole beneath. Hester stoops, opens the flap and retrieves the Cheez-its.
She turns, hurries with little tapping steps to the nearby maroon Mini, opens its door, throws the packet on to the passenger seat and takes the driving position. The car starts without trouble, reverses and speeds away.
Abandoned again, the machine shivers once and resumes its advertising to an uncaring world. A long, hairless tail waves briefly from behind the vendor, then disappears.
The morning drags on, occupants come and go, the cleaning staff pass by, pushing trolleys and opening doors, and something dark scurries across the pavement to merge with the shadows under the snack machine.
At 1:17pm Pedro Chavez emerges from the office three doors down, stands for a moment rubbing his eyes in the bright sunshine, and strolls over to the machine. Hands in pockets, he surveys the proffered goods. Decision made, he produces a coin and inserts it into the slot.
There is a slight pause before the bag of chips begins its wobbling traverse to the end of its rail. It drops into the space below.
Hugo bends over and extracts it from behind the flap. He turns away, stops, then backheels a kick at the machine, before continuing to the office. One of the cleaning girls shouts something at him from the opposite row of rooms and he throws a word over his shoulder before disappearing into the office.
The vendor makes a whirring sound and a packet of M&Ms moves forward to fall into oblivion. Squeaking sounds come from the dark behind the machine.
The afternoon passes in quiet and heat, the afternoon being too somnolent to encourage anything other than a nap. A few people arrive and others leave but none come near the vending machine. It ticks sometimes in the heat but goes silent when the shadow of the big tree opposite reaches it.
The sun disappears behind clouds rising in the west and the light softens and dims. Dark descends with the advent of evening and traffic increases as people return from their day and go to their rooms. The ice machine around the corner clatters occasionally but no one visits the snack machine.
The night deepens and all traffic ceases as the Motel retires to sleep. There are scuffles and scratching from the dark but the machine remains stolidly silent and unmoved.
Fifteen minutes after midnight, Jay Ruben slips from shadow to shadow from the direction of the highway. He disappears into the dark where the ice machine lives but emerges after a few seconds and makes his way quietly to the vendor. After a quick glance behind him, he gets down to the floor and reaches to push open the machine’s flap. His arm forces its way in and he shifts as close as he can, stretching hard to get his arm around the flap and up to where the snacks beckon.
Jay struggles and wriggles as his arm is pushed ever further into the depths of the machine. Stifling the grunts that accompany his efforts, he forces his shoulder right up to the open flap. Above, in the window, his hand is almost within touching range of the lowest array of treats. Sweating profusely now, Jay forces his arm deeper and now his finger touches the bottom of a packet of Lays chips.
The flap moves down his arm, biting deep into the flesh and then begins to move back, dragging his arm into the machine. Jay feels the pain of the flap scraping at his arm but holds his silence as the Lays comes within his grasp. He pulls the packet from its perch.
The vendor takes another bite at his arm and Jay’s head is pulled into the opening, its edges cutting into his forehead and cheeks. He struggles to get away but the machine is becoming relentless in its determination to draw him further in. His mouth opens to scream but a sudden jerk inwards by the machine cuts it short. Jay’s head disappears into the gap.
In the window above, the light shines on Jay’s arm dropping out of sight, still holding its stolen bag of chips. The machine munches easily now and torso follows the head, with legs taking their turn quickly afterwards. Jay is gone but the machine continues to chew for a while. Then all goes silent and the night resumes its dark vigil.
The rats leave their dark world behind the vendor, somehow sensing the peril of their position.
Word count: 1,083
For SCREAMS!!! April 14 2021.
Prompt: A world hides behind the snack machine.