Someone was killing the cars in the neighborhood. Glenn read
about it in the papershow
the owners found their disemboweled vehicles, nuts and gaskets
strewn on the ground hard with frost, their sinews and muscle
frozen and dead. Nobody knew what was the point of this crime
except cruelty, or why the perpetrators were targeting this
particular neighborhood. In his secret heart, Glenn suspected it
was about him.
One morning, he found his trusty Peugeot eviscerated. Its large
red heart lay among glittering metal, the only time Glenn had
seen it still. The faint steam hung over the parking lot grass
stiff with frost, and the spirit of the car had not yet departedover the violated engine, a small smoky shaped coalesced.
"What happened?" Glenn
whispered to the car spirit.
"Bad man," the spirit said,
and faded, losing its form wisp by wisp, with nothing to hold it
together. Glenn wondered briefly where spirits went when their
vessels were destroyed, and kneeled among the broken parts and
white metal. He poked some ball bearings with his finger and
called the police on his cell. At least, the cell phone's spirit
was all right and perky.
As the body was removed,
Glenn watched, hurt and perplexed. He loved his car, and his
throat tightened at the thought that he would never hear its
heartbeat again, never see the lopsided grin of the open trunk.
He walked to work that day,
to a large animated building that hissed at him when he
approachedit was not used to him appearing on foot, without
the car or anything. After a suspicious sniffing and creaking,
the building swung its doors and admitted Glenn to its womb
interior, where he worked as a bookstore manager. The bookstore
huddled on the second floor, its shelves heavy with out-of-print
books and other not very valuable rarities. Two fat Abyssinian
cats greeted Glenn by yawning and opening one eye each.
He started a coffeemaker
(the one at home was broken, its spirit having left for some
greener pastures; namely, Glenn's new vacuum cleaner), and it
gurgled and exhaled fragrant steam, and its spirit rattled
inside, disposing of the coffee grounds and adding milk and
"Thank you," Glenn said to
the coffeemaker. He settled by a bookshelf, back against a row
of clothbound book spines, one cat in his lap and the other at
his side, and thought of his car.
It wasn't just the murder,
but the savagery of it. Why would someone spread the innards
around like that, in the cold light of the glittering sun, for
the world to see what should stay hidden? The sight of
displaced, busted gaskets flooded his mouth with bitter saliva,
the harbinger of sickness and despair, just like the sight of
his own blood did. It was as if the murderer looked to shock and
terrify; unless there was another meaning in scattering of the
car's entrails. Maybe he was looking for something inside, and
had to shake out every minute cog and spring and flywheel.
He read the paper to calm
himself. The incident with his deceased Peugeot was reported
already, and so was another one last night, it seemed, the
murderer, already nicknamed the Disemboweler, got his hands on,
and vivisected, a microwave oven callously left at the curb by
its owners. Glenn shook his head at people who just tossed out
their appliances rather than finding them a new home. Small
appliances belonged indoors, since their grasp on their spirits
was often more tenuous than that of the larger things. Too windy
a night, and one could kiss a microwave goodbye, its spirit
blown away like so much smoke from overly vigorous cooking. The
poor oven was cut up in much the same fashion, its tiny emitter
elements scattered in the street like child's bones.
Glenn rubbed the bridge of
his nose and drank his coffee. He heard someone scrabble at the
closed shop door but remained seated, confident that he was
hidden from view. The customer soon gave up and left, abandoning
Glenn to his solitude and quiet grief for the Peugeot. Cats purred.
Glenn hatched a plan. He
would set a trap for the perpetrator, using his broken
coffeemaker at home as bait. He doubted for a moment whether the
dead appliance would attract the murderer but then decided that
to ascertain the presence of life the criminal would have to get
close to it. And then . . . .
Then what? Glenn's
shoulders jerked at the sudden cold draft that snuck under his
clothes and ran down his back. He should call the police, call
the neighborhood watch. Only then they would arrest the
Disemboweler, haul him off, to be judged and probably
eviscerated as a punishment. Glenn wanted to know why the
disemboweler disemboweled, what possible secret lurked in the
shiny machine guts. He decided to watch first and consider how
to act later.
Later that night he
prepared the sacrificial coffeemaker and left it by the curb,
alone in the night. Glenn shivered; even though the thing was
devoid of life, he felt bad abandoning it all alone in the
night, with a crazy appliance killer lurking about. Cruelty was
not easy for him.
Glenn placed the
coffeemaker not far from a streetlamp, just on the edge of its
halo of light, where he could see it from his first-story room.
He settled before the window, his room dark, his head making a
barely perceptible silhouette on the windowpane. And he waited.
It didn't take the murderer
longjust as Glenn's knees started to ache and his shoulders
went stiff, a long lank figure slid through the shadows,
skirting around the circular pool of light, and squatted down by
the coffeemaker. A long metal rod glinted in the streetlight as
the disemboweler brought it down upon the defenseless
coffeemaker; its former spirit, secure inside the vacuum
cleaner, wailed at the destruction of its first homea lone,
sad note like a breath caught in a flute. In the street, glass
and metal and bone shattered and sprayed in the light cast by
The murderer remained
crouched, and contemplated the broken pieces for a time. As
Glenn watched him, a suspicion started to form in his mind. This
was what the murderer didhe just wanted to see the pattern,
like the diviner of old. Glenn grunted with frustration; this
morning, he saw a book on fortune-telling, and hadn't thought to
bring it home. Now he had to wait until tomorrow.
A shot rang out from the
darkness, ricocheted off the lamppost and hit one of the larger
pieces, displacing it. The Disemboweler jumped to his feet and
rushed away, disappearing in the ink of the alley to the right
of the house. Several policemen pooled into the light, and
disappeared too, chasing the long silhouette of the Disemboweler.
Glenn rose, his knees
popping, and stretched. It was time to go to bed anyway, and he
only hoped that he would be able to sleep with all the danger
and excitement. But before he reached his bedroom (the size of a
handkerchief; apartments were expensive nowadays), he heard a
sound coming from the outside. Scratching and dull thuds,
directly on the wall of his apartment building. He listened, and
the vacuum cleaner wrapped its hose around Glenn's ankle,
worried. There were more scratching sounds, and then the
shattering of glass from the kitchen.
Glenn disentangled himself
from the fearful appliance and walked cautiously toward the
kitchen. His slippered feet made no sound, and the apartment was
dark. There was more creaking and scratching coming from the
kitchen, and Glenn peered through the doorway.
"Halt!" A metallic, awful
voice, nothing like the normal cadence of human speech or gentle
gurgling of the spirits. "Do not move."
The sound petrified Glenn
like the gaze of a basilisk. He felt something dash past his
knee in the darkness. It was the vacuum cleaner; its spirit
recognized the one who destroyed its former vessel and charged.
There was a muffled curse and a massive thud as the vacuum
wrapped its hose around the stranger's legs and pulled him down.
What awful clanking, Glenn thought, still unable to move.
The stranger shook off the
vacuum even as it hissed and spat, and stood. In the struggle,
his long coat came unbuttoned, and soft glinting of old metal
in the light from the steetlamp outside finally snapped Glenn
out of his helpless terror. "You're an appliance," he said, as
he took a cautious step into the kitchen.
"No!" The stranger clanked
angrily across the kitchen, back and forth. "I'm not an
appliance. I am a robot."
It was a good thing that
Glenn was well read; he wouldn't have recognized the archaic
word otherwise. These were soulless machines, built in the time
before people learned to harness the power of nature spirits and
infuse their appliances with souls of trees, rocks and small
bodies of water. "Revenge then," Glenn said. "You're angry that
they're better than you."
"No." The robot stopped.
"It's not that, not that at all."
"I didn't know there were
any of you still around."
"Just me," the robot said.
"Can I hide here for a while? I have survived far too long to be
captured because of a coffeemaker."
"Why would I let you?"
The robot stepped closer,
its hot oily breath singeing Glenn's face. "Because I am stronger
than you. I've never killed a person, but there's a first time
for everything, isn't there?"
"I'll scream. They'll hear
me and come for you."
"Compassion?" the robot
"Not after you killed my
"I'm sorry. Would you like
to know what it is that I do?"
"Yes," Glenn said. "Tell
me, and then I'll decide." Glenn edged to the kitchen
counter and lit a candle. Glenn much preferred candles to
"It is an ancient art," the
robot said, its faceted eyes glinting in the candlelight.
The word was haruspex, not
disemboweler, the robot told Glenn. From Hittites to Babylonians
to Etruscans to Romans to robots it went. The robot's insectoid
jaws clicked and its long head glimmered in the buttery, yellow
Robots do not have spirits,
the robot contined. They are not like microwaves. Neither they have
the knowledge of right and wrong, or any other reliable moral
compass, like people do. They only have the desire to be
Haruspicy, the robot told
him, unlike many other forms of divination, did not reveal
future or any past secrets; it did not concern itself with
knowledge. It told you
only whether you were right.
The Etruscans and other
ancients used it to know the will of gods, whether they
supported an undertaking either completed or intended. Robots
used haruspicy to know whether they were making a moral choice, a
correct choice. There was just no way around it.
Robots never sacrificed
being innocent of the mechanical concernsand only
mechanical guts were acceptable to them. The innards of the
combustible engines and electronic devices were used to guide the
robots' search for excellence.
The robots had disappeared,
and the engines and electronics acquired souls and flesh. Still,
the robot carried on as before, unsure of what else it could do.
Glenn listened with a
dawning sense of sympathy. It all sounded so understandable, and
yet . . . the robot had killed Glenn's Peugeot and threatened
violence against Glenn himself.
"Please," the robot said.
"Don't give me to the police. They will kill me."
"Probably," Glenn agreed.
"But technically, it won't be murder. They'll just take you
The robot's eyes watched
him, dull and empty of expression. "You know it is the same
"What choice do I have?"
Glenn now paced the room, crossing the yellow circle of candlelight,
stepping into corner shadows and pulling his foot back quickly,
as if he just stepped into too-cold water. "They've seen you,
they know you. It's only a matter of time. You hid for so long .
isn't it time?"
"No," the robot said. "The
signs are clearI mustn't aid my own demise. Believe me, I
think of it every day. I ask the machines and their entrails,
was I right to survive another day? And they always say yes."
"What do you want me to do?
You can't hold me captive forever. People will notice."
"I can hide here. If you
"They'll look for you.
They'll see the tracks you left climbing up the wall."
The robot contemplated its
hands, ending in three sharp metal claws that left deep gouges
on the outside stonework of the apartment building and Glenn's
kitchen windowsill. "I must run then."
"Good idea," Glenn said.
"They will catch me."
"Probably." Glenn paced again,
shadows slipping over him like a second skin.
The vacuum cleaner kept
close to Glenn, mistrustful of the robot. It whistled and
gurgled and purred. Looking at it gave Glenn an idea.
"Perhaps, I could find you
The robot's multijointed
arms folded over the carapace of its chest covered in patches of
old mold. "I do not see why I would need one."
"You won't have to kill
The robot inclined its long
head. "I suppose. What will happen then? Will you help me?"
"I have to think about it,"
Glenn said. "But first, I need to sleep. You can stay
here for now."
The next morning, Glenn
went shopping. The car insurance paid up, and he decided to get
a new vehicle first, now that it wouldn't be threatened by the
He went to the parking lot,
located next to a crystal-clear, frozen pond and surrounded by a
willow grove. The willow branches stood naked like wicker.
Several of the willows were blackened and dead, and Glenn
suspected that the car lot owners were not always paying for
their spirits. He hoped that they would not plunder the grove
He picked out a small red
Audithe price tag listed a reasonable sum, right under the
warning sign that read "Spirit Is Not Included."
He paid for the car and for
the delivery, and then walked through the grove, wondering about how
to solve the problem of the robot holed up in his apartment. He
could just call the police and have it over with; forgiveness
was not easy for him. However, cruelty was even harder.
He wandered away the car
lot and grove, passing by several stores that sold spirits. Perhaps he
could find one that would suit the robot or the new car.
He began browsing the shops. Tree and water spirits seemed too fluffy; rock spirits
lacked vitality and sparkor so he thought until he found the
spirit of an iron mine long since collapsed. The spirit bubbled
in its bottle with subdued fire and brimstone, ancient anger and
secret knowledge of gods so old even the Etruscans had no memory
of them. It was perfect for both the car and the robot.
Glenn walked home, the
bottle with the spirit stuffed into his coat pocket. He had the
sidewalks all to himself, and the cars drove noiselessly past
him, reflecting in the glassy storefronts. He was looking
forward to not having to walk, and imagined what it would be
like, to drive a car animated by an ancient spirit that smelled
of forges and molten metal.
At home, the robot crouched
over the vacuum cleaner.
Glenn stifled a scream and
rushed over to protect his appliance. "What are you doing?"
"Nothing," the robot said,
sullen, and rose to its feet. "Just petting."
The vacuum seemed unharmed.
"I'm sorry," Glenn said. "I
The robot nodded. Its
faceted eyes looked even more alien in the daylight. "Have you
decided what you want to do?"
"Yes," Glenn said. "But you
will have to help me."
The car arrived in the late
afternoon, when the shadows started to grow long and blue. A
large green truck, its wheels overgrown with emerald fur,
carried Glenn's red Audi on its back.
Glenn went outside to say
hello to the two mechanics who were unloading the lifeless car.
"Got a spirit lined up yet?" the older of the two asked with
mild disapproval in his voice.
"Sure," Glenn replied. "A
good one, too."
"Where do you want it?" the
other mechanic said.
"Here, around the corner.
In the alley," Glenn said.
The second mechanic
chuckled. "Afraid of the Disemboweler, eh? I read this morning
the police had scared him off. Then again, better safe than
The mechanics left the car
in the alley, lifeless, motionless. Glenn and the robot waited
for the mechanics to leave and for the darkness to descend. In
the alley, away from the curious eyes, Glenn popped the hood and
opened the engine compartment.
The robot went to work,
busting open the engine and the drive train, tossing aside the
gaskets and the caps, the gauges and the wheel bearings.
"How're the omens?" Glenn
The robot stared at the
heap of metal on the ground. "Good," it said. "The gods approve
of the transformation."
Glenn nodded. He was not
exactly sure of how the transformation would happen; he just
knew that it had to. He trusted the robot, its knowledge of all
things mechanical and their internal and secret workings, to
figure out the way.
After most of the engine
was gone, the robot set out to the reassembly. First, it folded
its long body into the cavity, and Glenn handed it the necessary
partshoses to connect itself to the engine's remains, and
gaskets to fit over its electronic brain. Its faceted eyes spat
forth narrow light beams that illuminated the shining chrome of
the car's and robot's intestines mingled together.
The robot connected its
brain to the drive shaft and the brakes; multicolored wires spun
out of its arms and legs, cocooning everything inside the car
into the robot's neural net. The robot became the car's engine
and navigation system, its operator and its heart. Only the
spirit that would animate the robot-car was still missing.
These things demanded care.
The spirit had to like its new vessel to bond with it properly;
otherwise, it would just blow away with the wind. And the old
spirit was sure to be persnickety; Glenn only hoped that the
abundance of metal and wires, the crackling, humming energy of
the old robot would be enough.
Glenn flung the bottle that
housed the spirit into the very center of the engine, and prayed
that it would take. The spirit, a faint ochre-colored cloud,
hovered over the engine in hesitation, the motes of dust dancing
in the narrow beams of the robot's gaze. Slowly, the spirit
gathered itself into a thin wisp, and the wisp twined around the
beams of light, pulling itself deep into the robot's flat eyes.
The engine roared to life
and thudded, the robot groaned in his metallic voice, and the
innards of the car twisted, growing dark, knotted flesh and
sulfurous deposits. A vein of marble bisected the vehicle's
interior, splitting the back seat. Stalactites sprouted from the
roof, the exhaust pipe breathed out a pungent cloud of foundry
fumes, and the pavement cracked under the wheels. The car engine
and the robot snorted with a single breath smelling of oil and
hot metal and howled in a single furious metal voice, nothing
like the gentle gurgling of the regular spirits.
The robot spoke no longer,
but it seemed content; Glenn guessed that haruspicy had finally
paid off for it. Disemboweling of the engines was just the first
step; one had to put something back in the resulting void, and
if one had removed a heart, what was a better substitute than
the heart of one's own? He wondered if the oracles of old knew
that, if to them too the spilling of the entrails was only half
of the story, if their hearts were somehow filling the empty
spaces they had created.
The police never found the Disemboweler,
and soon the memory faded, turning into a legend. Glenn
supposed that it was a fitting fate for the haruspex, and he
never told anyone that his car was made of the
last robot on earth.