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The Refrigerator Problem


by _jadestorm_

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It had been there, stayed, and watched many years go by. It had been kept in the darkness, away from light, slowly succumbing to its suffocation. It was torture - locked in that chamber, futilely coveting the bright of the sun once more.

     It felt old... was old, beyond the dawn of time. Relying on what imagination was left in its weary mind, it contemplated - occupied its time in its dank and lonely cell. The only companion it had was the other prisoners, trapped like it was, and the echo.

     The lonesome echo, creeping through the darkness, reviving the sound of silence.

     What longing it felt for the light it once knew... the yellow element, impossible to reach. Time wasted it away. It longed, longed, but couldn't get there.

     It just stood in the fridge, its contents wasting away.

     Well, what's a rotting milk carton got to do? Become sentient and protest?

     *

     The refrigerator hadn't been cleaned for eons.

     Green algae hung from its walls, and the light was muted by a covering of what looked like mildew and pulverized dead insects. And just the smell...

     The smell was so ghastly that the Jadestorm household simply kept it shut 24/7. Through a vacuum system at the top, groceries were put in, never to be extracted in a lifetime. It was a black hole, really.

     Instead, the owner and the pets feasted on omelettes. Every day, the short human named Jadestorm and her pets would trek to the Giant Omelette, scavenging whatever they could find. And every night, they would return, after a long day of training, learning, and adventure to sit in the dining room, eat the omelette, and glare at the fridge.

     But they didn't go through one day without those cravings. A sip of milk, a spoonful of yoghurt, and worst of all - a scoop of ice cream... they would just glance pitifully at the smelly box and get their paw on the door handle... before turning dolefully away.

     After all, the last time Jadestorm had tried to open it, she couldn't. The door was stuck - illegitimately - to the rest of the fridge.

     *

     "Stripes, it's time to clean out the 'frigerator."

     The call for order came from Jadestorm's chaotic-looking workspace, where Neopian Times rejection letters ran rampant and a perpetual paperstorm ensued. Buried at the centre of the dead heat was the hopeless author, gnawing futilely on the end of her twentieth quill. The late pen was stuck somewhere beneath the chewed-up globs of failed stories.

     "Stripes?"

     The blue Xweetok snorted, and threw a shoe at the fridge.

     "I heard a clunk noise, so I'm going to assume that you're replying. You better clean that fridge."

     "Excuse me," Stripes yelled, "but this is a bit spontaneous!"

     "The last time the thing was cleaned out was when we first bought it, Stripes," his owner retorted, over the whirring noise of a giant fan. "You should do it."

     "It's a biohazard. We may need to call Chia Police."

     "Aw, please, don't be sardonic!"

     "Why not Scourge or Kit or Lucky?"

     "Well, who threw the shoe at Jhudora? Making her so miffed that we had to high-tail it out?"

     "I refuse!"

     "Okay," Jadestorm mouthed slowly. "If you do it, I'll instantaneously buy you a striped paint brush."

     "You can't afford it."

     "Or make you hang out with the Kadoaties."

     "Fat chance. You'll just act merciful in the end again."

     "Oh, Stripey-wittle-pwoo!"

     "Not even intimidation's going to make me do that! The fridge has a mind of its own!"

     "So do you!"

     "You were never the best debater, Jadestorm."

     "Did I actually mean to retort? Oh, Scourge slash Kit slash Lucky, please close the screen door!"

     Stripes turned around, to find a gold Gelert smiling mockingly at him. "Ah, hello, Princess," he muttered sarcastically.

     "Excuse ME, but I would prefer to be known by my second name!"

     Lucky wagged her tail, and licked her paw. "So, what's Jadestorm making you do this time?"

     "Clean out the big white box that's turned lime green," Stripes replied grimly.

     "Aw, you poor baby!"

     "Hey, who's calling who the baby? I'm a long ways off older than you! Besides, ever compared intelligence?"

     "Yup. Jadesy says I learn things a lot faster than you." She flicked an ear. "But really, poor you." Lucky smirked. "I'm just glad it wasn't my shoe that Jhudora decimated."

     "I should be treated like a national hero instead, escaping like that," Stripes grumbled.

     "Well, good luck with cleaning the 'frigerator," Lucky said cheerfully, and stalked away.

     Stripes could almost see Jadestorm upstairs, glaring at him.

     "Aw, for Fyora's sake, I refuse!"

     "Whatever," Jadestorm replied indifferently. "What's a synonym for 'cooperation'?"

     "What's this, another story?"

     "Yep. Now CLEAN THE FRIDGE!"

     But by then, Stripes had high-tailed it out of the Jadestorm household, dashing down the street in search of certain electric Gelerts to play with.

     *

     That night, Stripes had a dream. Whether it was actually an apparition, or the real thing, he didn't ever find out. He didn't want to. In fact, he was quite glad to be shrouded in ambiguity.

     He was strolling through the house, clambering up and down the banisters in the bright of day, all the while whistling happily. He was having so much fun that he whammed headlong into something a bit like cardboard, which smelled odd.

     "Watchit!"

     Stripes looked up, to find his eyes staring at a milk carton, labelled 2% Kau Dairy Farm Products. It seemed to have become sentient overnight, and had somehow managed to find its way out of the fridge.

     "Cool, personification," Stripes muttered.

     "Wazzat?"

     "I mean... nothing."

     The milk carton shrugged, and walked down the stairs.

     It was then that Stripes noticed the slightly green tinge creeping out from each corner of the box. It looked like a small patch of something furry. He shuddered.

     Out of plain curiosity, he sauntered down, tracking the milk carton tentatively. The living box made its way into the kitchen, and peeked into the fridge.

     From his hiding place, Stripes couldn't see the interior of the white thing, but he expected a pungent smell. Sure enough, one arrived, prompting him to plug his nose in disgust.

     The milk carton was undisturbed. Poking its head (hopefully, that was the head) into the fridge, it seemed to search around. Finally, it re-emerged, pulling out a slab of greenish butter, a hunk of blue cheese, and... a whole blissful box of ice cream.

     The ice cream wasn't sentient, and the milk carton slowly scooped it out, passing it out to the butter and the cheese. It wasn't spoiled at all. Pure, delicious starberry ice cream poured out in generous, celestial scoopfuls, to be enjoyed heartily by the assortment of dairy products.

     From his hiding place, Stripes found his mouth watering, coveting that heavenly wonder... oh, how he missed that icy, stellar taste! Compelled to act, he put one foot forward...

     And then another...

     And then...

     And then the milk carton was upon him, growling fiercely. "No ice cream for you, until you clean out the fridge!"

     But it was Jadestorm's voice. "Clean that 'frigerator, you stupid!"

     "Or no ice cream..."

     The cajoling was too much for him. Stripes woke up, and knew that it was time for drastic measures.

     *

     Stripes flicked on the light, and sleepily walked towards the fridge. It was there, just sitting there, innocently hiding away its finer points. He gulped.

     He put one paw on the handle.

     He jerked it down, and raced to the laundry basket. Wrapping copious layers of towels around his nose and mouth, he struggled back.

     It was still there.

     Like a super spy master, he crept ninja-ish around the maze of walls, before reaching the thing.

     "Fyora, help me in this time of darkness."

     He took a deep breath, thought thoughts of parting, and opened the fridge.

     Or rather, tried. He struggled, wrestling furiously with the door handle, but it wouldn't budge. Stripes dreaded to see what made it behave like that.

     He roared, reared upwards, and jerked, one last time.

     It opened.

     Like Count Von Roo's crypt, it gave way with an eerie creak, which resonated across the house like some dead thing calling. Stripes turned around.

     "Here goes..."

     He slowly pivoted, and found himself facing the refrigerator.

     It was just putrid. A veil of moss hung, half glowing, in front of the shelves. Something at the back was dripping. Dripping. Just dripping, at a steady, mechanical rate, as if it had been doing precisely that for the last century. Stripes wasn't curious enough to find out about that.

     Slowly, with a towel-wrapped paw, he reached in.

     Even through the rough fabric, he could feel the slime, oozing out of something. It felt vaguely like a can. He grimaced, and pulled it out.

     It was a can. It was a can of Achyfi, covered in Slorg drool. Stripes glanced at the garbage.

     It didn't even make a clang as it flew into the iron waste-deposit. It just went "plop", and settled down, the slime slowly spreading out.

     Stripes reached in again. A hunk of what looked like omelette, some jellies; even the vanilla ice cream went into the garbage, slithering like Wadjets. And that was only the first layer.

     "Eleventy hundred left to go," he moaned.

     Slowly, Jadestorm's Christmas shopping list came into view. The turkey, now a decomposing thing; the potatoes (at least, they looked like potatoes) were growing wild; and the cranberries found a place in the garbage. The scene inside became something out of a horror tableau.

     "Huh? What's that smell?"

     Stripes froze. A small, dark shape slowly made her way down the stairs, and into the kitchen.

     Jadestorm yawned. "Stripes, what are you -"

     She saw the green stuff, and then the open refrigerator, and then Stripes, dressed like the local biohazard control people. She stared at him. The Xweetok stared back.

     And then, she was screaming, screaming, screaming for her life. Not bothering to say a parting remark, Jadestorm dashed out of the house, as if on fire, making her way through the streets as fast as she could, not caring what nightmares she would meet...

     Just running... running... until her legs expired... running into the night...

The End

 
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