I wrote “Circuit Breaker” sometime ago for a call for slipstream writing, my first attempt at this genre. This unique piece never quite found a home, though it remains one of my favorites. In this time of self-isolation for Covid-19 I find the narrator is rather relevant. Read to find out how.
My blessings to share with proper crediting, please do not copy and post anywhere else without my permission.
By Jennie Brass
Some people are touched with uncanny good luck.
I am not one of them.
Ill-luck followed me everywhere. Why wouldn’t it follow when I moved to this old apartment on Washboard Avenue? It never occurred to me that the source of my trouble could be anything other than grade A bad luck. After all, I’d been ejected from my previous residence after my roommate’s cat squeezed out my bedroom window. Apparently Mr. Wordsworth was irreplaceable. I, on the other hand, apparently ‘destroy everything I touch’. I couldn’t even argue that statement. After all, for a self proclaimed techno-wiz it seemed just being in the same room as an electrical device eventually caused an epic failure. Kinda like some cursed shadow tagging along and waiting for the opportune moment to wreak havoc. Maybe it was time for the consequences of my life to be entirely my own.
I wasn’t about to write home about this one-bedroom apartment. The midnight blue walls swallowed any light from the grime crusted windows. Who wanted to look outside anyway? I preferred not to see the drive-by shooter armed with the stray bullet for me. The most I glimpsed of the world outside my window came from my computer screen when I took social media breaks from listening to irate people scream at me through my Bluetooth to fix their malfunctioning tech. Don’t get me wrong. I liked my job. I just don’t enjoy the ear-splitting denials after I asked, “Is your computer even plugged in?”
On my third cup of coffee for the evening, I snicked my cell phone setting to off duty and slumped in my desk chair. I would have loved a piece of toast, but that appliance became an industrial paperweight earlier this morning with a puff of blue smoke. The curse of the techno-wiz strikes again. On the computer screen, images paraded in my idle scrolling, reinforcing the idea that my tiny corner of the world was all I needed to be perfectly miserable.
I narrowed my eyes. The reflection of the battered torchiere winked out on my screen.
“Again? Really? That’s the third light bulb this month.” I sighed and trudged out to the kitchen. The utility cupboard creaked as I opened it to sift through the avalanche of junk. A starving gold-rusher panning in a river of sludge for that one fleck of salvation. “I swear, high efficient means it should function better than a congressman.”
My precious bulb in hand, I abandoned the pool of utilitarian debris on the floor and shuffled through the tangled jungle in my living room. That ottoman had more than once managed to bite my ankles in the dark. The corner brushed threateningly against my leg as I crept by.
I smiled my victory. “Not this time!”
Sometimes it sucked to be short. Replacing a bulb in a torchiere is one of those moments. With the stem in one hand I had to pull it over and balance the top heavy lamp as I groped for the spent bulb. A soft wad of dust drifted into the shadows out of the dish. Warm, like the bulb.
“Ouch! Hot! Hot glass!” I hissed and withdrew my scorched fingers. It was enough to make me abandoned the task, if I wasn’t so stubborn. I pulled my hand into the protection of my sleeve and braved the radiating heat. In a series of rapid squeaks, I extracted the thing and discarded it on the floor. Soon enough the newly seated bulb sprang to life and flooded the room.
“Good, now I can—what the … ?” Movement caught the corner of my eye. The room stilled before I could be certain. I tiptoed to the corner and leaned close to the floorboards.
Dust lay in a thick, swirled blanket. No prints of any kind.
I rubbed my eyes and laughed. “Mr. Wordsworth, if your spirit is haunting me, there is milk in the fridge. Help yourself, you ungrateful little homewrecker!”
When nothing else moved, I flopped down in front of my computer and resumed my ritual of re-affirmation.
Yes. I was content to be alone in my private little den. The world outside bore no significance.
Hrm, except perhaps to provide a new lamp. I didn’t want to buy stock in light bulbs.
I opened a search for new torchieres. If this one was dying, I wanted to replace it sooner rather than later. A few options presented themselves. Functional pieces without a lot of hangy things. This was an apartment. Not a brothel.
I turned the power on to my printer. It would be easier to run out with a list of possible places than to wing it. The machine hummed and sucked in a page. Inch by inch it crawled out onto the tray.
I stared with my open palm over the machine poised to strike. But there was no point. The blue power light flicker-faded, arresting the process and creating yet another paperweight for my ever-growing collection. My head flopped onto my hands. Printer joined toaster, hair dryer, clothing iron, TV, and not one—but two previous coffee pots.
I wanted to scream, but what was the point? No one who cared would hear me. I took a deep breath instead and turned back to the computer. Perhaps I could find a replacement printer.
I touched the mouse. Pixels flashed on the screen in an erratic flicker of color.
Click click fiiiizzzzzttt!
Then, bright blue, to—black.
The mouse hung suspended, nestled in the curve of my hand. All I could do was stare at the dead screen. Minutes passed before I could summon the coordination to tap the screen.
“Come back … come back to life … please?”
Cold. Dead. Not even a pulse.
“Not a glitch. It can’t be a glitch!”
I could not give up on my closest friend. My only friend! The screws flew out of the back of the case as swiftly as I could withdraw them. I ripped off the side panel—and froze.
Two beady eyes stared at me from within a wad of midnight blue fuzz, hardly larger than a mouse. A muzzle, like that of a dog, opened to reveal sharp fangs. Light blue spikes poked out from its back as it reared onto its tiny back paws. Sparks leapt from one spike to another. Between its front paws I glimpsed the wires to my power supply pierced twice. The diminutive creature dropped the cable and hissed at me. The sparking intensified.
“You little—” I reached for him. On contact the electricity from the pest shot up my arm. I recoiled, shaking my hand in the air. The creature darted between my feet and made a beeline for the kitchen.
“Get back here you … you … glitch!”
Well, this certainly explained a lot. Had this unannounced roommate been here from the start? I suspected so. Of course, as I massaged life back into my fingers I cursed. Glitch hunts were the worst. The dang things get into everything and wreak havoc. Locating them proved hard enough. Eradicating them, even harder!
My hand still stung as I dashed toward the kitchen. The ceiling light flickered off with a zzzzzaaap!
Only the flashing time of the microwave clock and my functioning coffee pot light broke the shadows. But not for long. I stood glaring up at the fixture at tiny sparks dancing in the frosted globe.
“Greedy pest, aren’t you, glitch. You know, you keep this up and you’ll eat yourself out of a home.”
The chittering from inside the globe reminded me of a circuit crackling. The sparks gleamed brighter, snapping at the glass confinement.
Was it trapped? Could it even get out of there? I dragged a chair across the dark room tripping over the foothills of debris on the floor. Balanced on the chair, I inched my hand toward the globe. The moment I made contact the sparks arced toward my fingers, insulated by the layer of glass. This dang glitch had made a Van der Graaf generator out of my ceiling light!
Tiny paws shuffled around in circles of impossibly bright blue.
“How did you get in there?”
The paws tapped all around, up every side of the globe. The strobing lights lost their intensity. The chitters dwindled as the little glitch slid to the bottom of the light fixture. Its face pressed against the frosted glass, two beady eyes pleaded with me.
Some people wondered how flies got stuck in their ceiling lights. I longed to be them.
“I’ll make a deal with you. If I open this up and let you out, no more wrecking my stuff. Kay?”
“Eeeep!” I heard a hard drive make that squeal once, right before it died.
“Relax. I know we all gotta eat. But there has to be some other way, you know, you trash my toaster I can’t eat toast. That makes me cranky!” I carefully loosened the globe and freed it from the base. Inside, the glitch huddled in a quivering mass of limp blue spikes. Its forepaws clasped in front, the brush tail curled around itself. “Let me lift you out. And don’t zap me. If I drop you, it might hurt.”
The glitch weighed substantially less than the trouble it was worth. The spiky, warm body remained quivering in my hand, radiating bolts of micro-lightning. They only brushed my skin with a static tingle. It watched me, eyes stealing a quick glance to the ground and back up. If it darted, the fall would be nasty for such a tiny creature.
It stayed in my palm as I climbed down from the chair. “You’ve made a pest of yourself.” Too late I realized I conversed with a mindless thing.
The glitch lowered its face and buried its muzzle in both paws.
“You … you understand me?”
“Hrm. Well then, I have a lecture for you! You killed my computer. That wasn’t funny. I need that machine.”
The glitch shuffled in my palm, pointing its nose toward the living room. I waded through the cast off tech books and tangles of wires across my floor to sit down at my computer desk. With a clumsy leap, the blue furball jumped onto the desk. It slipped into the open case and latched its teeth into the cord. A bright blue aura flowed over it from tail to snout. Furiously at first, but it faded in less than a minute.
Unbidden, my computer sprang to life! The loading icon a brilliant smile from my old friend. I almost hugged the screen.
But the limp glitch ceased my celebration. The body now a solid midnight blue, no sign of the spark. I snatched it from the machine and raced out into the dim kitchen.
Somewhere in this mess on the floor I hoped I still had it. My hand brushed against the dented case and I cried with joy. My old electrical circuit kit.
Back in the living room, beneath the light of the torchiere, I tossed together a quick sequence and cranked up the hand generator. The LED pulsed. I nudged the muzzle of the beast toward the bare wire. A spark arced toward its nose. Stronger, brighter. Until the spikes themselves began to pop with the bolts.
The glitch opened its eyes and latched onto the machine.
A tiny blue tongue flicked out. But its ears drooped to the fading LED.
“Hold on. I can fix this.” I grinned, rebuilt the circuit and charged it to the giddy-pawed dance of my unexpected roommate. That was the nice thing about the old school kit. This was designed to fail and be rebuilt without sustaining lasting damage. The glitch drained the toy again and again until its body shown bright enough to light my room. “Hey pal, now can you fix my toaster?”
The glitch flashed its fangs at me. Apparently, I had two best friends now.
This apartment is all I need of this world. A roof over two functioning glitches.