Wednesday, August 10, 2011


The Apparatus

I am floating, above an orange sea, unfinished, unborn, free. There is a hole inside me, but I am tethered to myself. I float above myself, above my hot and narrow bed. I see myself twisting unconscious in damp sweaty sheets. I see my own flesh my, own twisted body. There is a grinding screech, then, a violent pull.
Long metal nails against an old-fashioned sign, the teacher is demanding attention, but the class room is outside, in the dusty abandoned parking lot of an old drive-in. All the desks are empty. There are no students. I am seated in the center of the row, in the center of the bank of empty desks. The teacher with the long metal nails drags them across the sign. What does she want? What answer is she looking for? She wears a beehive and a tight dress. She has no eyeballs. Blood streams like tears from where her eyeballs should be.
I wake, but the sound, the horrible sound, of metal against metal comes again.
It is the apparatus. It is in need of secrecy oil. I climb out of bed and walk to the window. I lean out shading my eyes with my hand and eyeball the suffering metal components of the machine.
My upstairs neighbor flings open a window and shouts down at me, “Oil your apparatus I am trying to take a nap.”
I yell back at the neighbor, “I am out of oil. Could you give me a ride into a town?”
“No, I will not give you a ride into town, I hate you! I hate your irresponsibility, your sloth and laziness, and most of all I hate your reckless treatment of your apparatus. Some of us don’t have an apparatus. How could you! How could you allow yours to run out of oil! Why, didn’t you buy extra secrecy oil? You must have known it was low on oil, yet you did not prepare for the future. If I had an apparatus, you can be certain it would never, ever run out of oil.”
With that, the upstairs neighbor slammed the window shut, retreating behind a musty red curtain, possibly forever.


I had to get secrecy oil for my apparatus. With no other alternative, I set out walking. The journey proved insurmountable in the unrelenting heat. When momentary lapses in traffic occurred, I could see pools of water that did not exist. The longer I walked, the harder it became. The breaks in traffic came more often, and the hallucinations of the road grew more detailed, more menacing.
First, the mirages consisted only of small pools of water, but as I walked, the hallucination became more elaborate. The pools widened and took on depth. Palm trees bristled on the road. Camels dotted the immediate horizon. Mermaids appeared. They caressed their sleek cold bodies with white and perfect hands, tempting the camels.
I became discouraged. I stopped in order to assess where I was. To my dismay, I discovered that I had traveled only a block and a half from my apartment. I checked my watch and saw that a mere fifteen minutes had passed. It was the heat, of course. It was so hot outside that time had melted.
These walks had a tendency to rend my sanity. I gave up. The walk home was a gentle slope. The dry wind was at my back. I was bothered no more by visions of bestiality-laden oases.
As I approached the apartment complex, I caught site of the apparatus. It labored and twitched in the brittle grass of the side yard. It groaned horribly. I ran towards it and watched as it sputtered and spat, its lubricated springs straining with the effort of production. What my neighbor had shouted at me was true. I had known the apparatus would soon be out of oil, but had done nothing. I had failed the machine. Still, it struggled on my behalf.
As I watched, it began to turn itself in a slow circle, cutting an agonizing swathe in the half-dead grass. Its springs came loose. Sparks flew. The dry grass caught fire. It spread, consuming the apartment building. The neighbors’ window flew open, and they called down to me, but the roar of the flames swallowed their voices. They fell to earth with vapid, accusing eyes, pitifully grasping empty air with empty hands. I did not move, I did not cry out. I was glad to burn.

© Callan 2011

Callan left Orange County, Ca. in 2007 and moved to the country to focus full time on her writing. Her work is featured at Six Sentences and her blog: theworksofjanecallan


  1. vivid almost sci-fi-like story.. it sucks you in, and i really relate to the hopeless desolation of life in a burning hot apartment complex. ugh. a gratifying ending! this could develop into a great novel though- i would love to read more.

  2. I loved it! The squeaky apparatus could be applied to so many other things in life.

  3. There's so much about this piece that is terrific. First of all, I love that you never told us exactly what the machine was doing. It was enough that it existed. Second, there's the originality of your language. "Secrecy oil" made me perk right up the first instant I read those words. COOL, I thought. Loved that you had mermaids tempting camels. I don't think I've ever seen that combo anywhere before. Good job to you and good job, Michael, as her editor.

  4. You use physicality to convey an existential anguish that you capture superbly, anchoring it to the pain of everyday life. Surreal, visceral, other, alien.

  5. Procrastination, the mother of all fuck-ups.
    I enjoyed getting lost in the visualization, both my jazz hands are going-Good job.

  6. I can't read you lightly because your constructions take my literary visions beyond anything I can imagine. The fusion of present and future, of noire and human realities are well expressed and frost the edges of my insecurity here (and often). And that's a mighty good thing.

  7. I'm reading in a metaphor about this country and maybe the planet in general- the haves and have nots abusing and taking for granted what they have- thought provoking Callan

  8. I did not try to read anything into this whatsoever. It is a vivid and mysterious story that uses engaging language and is very enjoyable to read. Fine job.

  9. I love how the story blends the otherworldly with the mundane, as with your other pieces, my mind's eye relished the imagery, bravo!


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