By Ann Wilkes
After removing her cheesecake, Francine tapped the cheesecake button on the fridge’s touchpad. The fridge hummed softly, updating the grocery list to include the ingredients from Francine’s recipe. Being Type H, Francine liked to make cheesecake from scratch, in order to control what went into her food.
She brought the cheesecake into the living room where china dessert plates, forks, napkins and serving utensil waited on a whitelist-tagged, lace table runner on the coffee table. “Dana, I can’t believe you had to endure that,” she said to her friend as she joined her on the sofa.
“I’ll never eat there again, I can tell you. Imagine! Non-filtered ice and a sticky tabletop! Ooh, that looks delicious.” Dana’s eyes sparkled and she leaned forward to help herself. “Ouch!” She jerked in her seat, her hand moving to her pocket.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I saved Jimmy’s toy from the vacuum this morning and forgot to put it away.” Dana pulled out an action figure from her front pants’ pocket and set it on the corner of the coffee table — or tried. It bounced off and hit her right on the nose. “Ouch!”
“Oh, no,” said Francine. “Are you ok? Let me have a look. Oh, dear.”
“I forgot about your repeller mat,” she said as if through a tunnel. “You should put a warning sticker on it.” Her nose began to swell. After putting the toy safely on the table runner, she sat back, tilting her head up to stop the throbbing. Francine ran for ice.
After seeing Dana off, Francine admitted to herself that she found the unexpected event exhilarating. When was the last time I was surprised by anything? she wondered. She questioned–not for the first time–her insulated Type H existence. Since high school, she had only associated with her personality type. Henry and she only frequented Type H places of business and only attended Type H parties. In high school, before the segregation, Francine thought, parties were fun, because people were flawed, varied and funny.
The next day, Francine called Stepford Industries to schedule a tune-up of all her SI Neat and Clean Devices. Repelling was one thing. Hurling heavy objects back at people would not do. The company assured her a Type H repairman would be there by the end of the day.
The repairwoman came three hours later, while Francine was gardening. Checking the woman’s ID on the security screen on the back patio, she read “Char Blake”. The letter in the lower left corner was a C! Francine opened her mouth to tell her to leave and send a Type H as agreed, but she realized what this was: a surprise! Instead, she said, “I’m gardening just now. You know where everything is.” She buzzed her in from the garden.
A thrill shot through Francine at the prospect of having a Type C in her home. What would Dana say? Or Henry? It was like a dirty secret. Type Cs didn’t worry about cleanliness, order or germs. They dreamed big, but finish things. They also procrastinated and eschewed promptness.
Char started with the repeller mat. Next, she serviced the laundrybot, the vacuumbot and the spillbot. Once she located it behind a dresser upstairs, she set to work on the bug-eating lizardbot. She would finish in the kitchen with the fridge and smartstove.
As Char bent over the bot’s open housing her nose dripped on the circuit board. She was burning up. She rubbed her runny nose and stood to adjust the thermostat leaving the lizard bot’s green tummy opened, circuits exposed. “Went and caught Clyde’s virus after all,” she muttered to herself. She went downstairs in search of something cold. She couldn’t believe the neatness of the fridge. Did she alphabetize, too, or just sort by food group? She had thought there were too many fussy-bots for a Type C house.
Char heard Francine cross the threshold to the kitchen right before she sneezed into the fridge.
Char shut the door and wavered. She looked at Francine. “Type H?”
Francine nodded, her eyes wide.
Cramps gripped her stomach and she vomited onto the counter, the front of the cupboards and the floor. Now she felt chilled. When she realized the Type H was going to be more concerned about infection than helping, she moaned.
“Call . . . ” she gasped.
Francine couldn’t move her feet. Where was the spillbot? The vidphone rested on the vomit-splattered counter.
The tech moaned again.
Francine willed her feet to move. She could use the vidphone in the den. As she strode by the kitchen, her blouse up over her face to keep from smelling the vomit, the lizardbot launched at her from the stairs. She shrieked and fought it off as it clung to her with its powerful, suction-cupped feet. She stumbled backwards into the kitchen as it darted its tongue out and licked her hair, pulling it out of her head. I must have gotten a bug in it from the garden.
She beat on the bot’s back trying to get to let go. Then she slipped on the vomit. Coming down with a thud, her head landed on the tech’s stomach. This triggered more vomit – right into Francine’s face. She wanted to scream, but dared not open her mouth. Then she passed out.
When Francine’s husband came home two hours later, he found his wife and a strange woman in coveralls on the kitchen floor. Francine’s mouth gaped open. Her red face looked like it’d been scrubbed raw. Her eyes didn’t focus. She didn’t move. Henry smelled spillbot cleaner. He stole himself to touch his wife’s ankle, not daring to come closer. She was stone cold.
The other woman whimpered, her eyes fluttering open.
In a panic, Henry ran out of his house for help. And then he just kept running. And running. And running. He couldn’t take surprises either.
As Ann Wilkes, Ann writes science fiction and fantasy. Her short stories read like Twilight Zone episodes – often tragic, funny or both. Her latest sales have been to Every Day Fiction and a Fantastic Stories anthology edited by Warren Lapine. Under her legal name, Ann Hutchinson, Ann writes memoir, fiction and lyrics. She is also a freelance journalist, copywriter and editor. She is currently co-editing an anthology to benefit the local YWCA as a labor of love. Ann loves dancing with her husband, Kevin, with whom she teaches private lessons. Read more at annwilkes.com, clevercopy.net, scifiodd.com and socodancebeat.com.