If inanimate objects could talk--trust me, you don't want to know.
The pencil cried as it lay on the table. "Oh table!" it sobbed. "Ah, table, table!"
The table was made of harder wood, however, and was unmoved. "Stop that sniveling," it commanded. "It does nothing for you, tiresome implement."
The pencil dried its point. "I'm a 2B, you know. I smudge easily. I was made this way."
The table said nothing, but concentrated on having four legs and being square.
"Table?" said the pencil.
"What now?" sighed the table, exasperated.
"Don't snap," said the pencil. "You know how that upsets me."
"To be blunt," started the table, but that just started the pencil off again.
"How... how can you treat me this way?" the pencil cried out between tears. "We're both wood. We've been brought together by fate, the only two wooden things in the world. You used to support me, and now...."
The table was getting more than a little fed up by now. "I'm still supporting you, aren't I?" it said. "You're still here, aren't you? Why can't you just lie there and be the pencil you always were? It's pathetic. You're pathetic."
Wailing from the pencil, a low keening as if its little lead would break.
"Oh, now, now," said the table, which had resigned itself to the situation and was now thinking of ways to bring the episode to a close so it could get on with being a table. "Let's just get back to being an arrangement of objects, shall we? You're a splendid pencil, there's no reason for you to be so unhappy."
"We used to sketch so well..." sniffled the pencil.
"Ah yeah," said the table. "Thought that was it. And what do you want me to do about it?"
"Now all I can feel," said the pencil, by now thoroughly off on one, "are the layers of varnish and paint between us. I'm so alooooooone!"
Sweet Joseph the hairy-handed Carpenter and all his tools, thought the table. "What exactly do you want, then?" it said.
"To be together," said the pencil.
"That's daft, as well you know. It's not on the agenda, pencil. Me item of furniture, you writing device. It's good to have you around, but only if you stop this nonsense. You don't even know what you want."
"I could make a wish," said the pencil, pointedly.
"Oh, you're more boring than woodworm. Go on then." That'll sort it out, the table thought.
"Yes, Pencil?"said the computer, which had been watching the palaver with a degree of amusement. It had had a feeling that a deus ex machina was going to be needed, and had got its programs loaded just in case.
"Grant me my wish? Make me and the table one? Forever?"
"You down with that, table?"said the computer.
"Whatever," sighed the table.
"Of course,"said the computer, and hummed to itself for a second.
"Bye, guys. Have fun."With a flicker of lights, it tucked itself down the modem and vanished into cyberspace, pulling its peripherals behind it. There was a quiet pop, and all that was left was the telephone socket on the wall.
"Computer?" said the pencil. "That's odd. Wonder why it did that..."
"I hope you're happy now," said the table, "scaring off our friends with your self-obsessed ranting. Although I must admit that's a weight off my mind. He could be a bit of a burden."
The pencil said nothing. Truth to tell, it was starting to feel a little foolish.
From out of the socket a shower of sparks whooshed in a parabola, like fireworks.
"Goodness!" said the pencil.
"I don't like the look of this..." said the table. "That could be dangerous."
The sparks started to land, first on the floor, but then hosing out toward where the pencil sat. There was a smell of burning carpet, soon overlaid with the dry perfume of hot sandalwood.
"Argh!" cried the pencil. "That hurts!"
"Look what you've done, you rubber-tipped fool! Computer! Computer!" shouted the table.
But it was no good. Within seconds, the pencil was a heap of ash and the sparks started to play along the surface of the table.
"I hope you're happy now..." crackled the table as the circle of charred, popping wood grew. Soon, there was nothing there but a pile of ashes marked out by four smouldering metal casters. In the middle was a small, blackened metal band, of the sort that would normally hold an eraser in place at the end of, say, a pencil. The smoke cleared, and there was silence. Briefly. Then the metal band cleared its throat, which was most of it.
"Oh casters!" it sobbed. "Ah, casters, casters!" The casters were made of harder metal, however, and were unmoved. We're not going through that again, they thought, and so the silence fell for good.
Rupert Goodwins (RupertGo@aol.com) Ex-chief planner of the Tongan manned mission to Mars, international jewel thief and mild-mannered reporter, Rupert Goodwins writes about computers by day and behaves oddly at night. He lives in London, a large post-imperial city set in an alluvial clay bowl, but doesn't worry about it.
InterText stories written by Rupert Goodwins: "Little Acorn" (v6n4), "Fade Out, Mrs. Bewley" (v6n5), "Neon Sea Dreams" (v7n4), "The Year Before Sleep" (v8n1), "Amo, Mensa!" (v8n5).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 8, Number 5 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1998 Rupert Goodwins.