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As the night unfolded beneath a dense quilt of snow, its weight palpable in the air, Tom skillfully guided his car through the perilous twists of the mountain road. The tires, grappling with the icy surface, emitted a rhythmic crunch that harmonized with the haunting stillness of the snow-blanketed landscape. Each snowflake, a frigid dagger mercilessly assaulting the windshield, left fleeting imprints like a bunch of ephemeral crystals.

Tom, a world-weary man in his late 40s, confronted the wintry onslaught with his typical, unwavering resolve. His hands, weathered and worn, clamped onto the steering wheel with a ferocious intensity, fingers pressed into the cold leather. Through the storm's fierce assault, he squinted, his eyes etched with determination, navigating the path with a focus that bordered on steely concentration. The luminous glow of the car's headlights fought against the darkness, revealing only the immediate terrain in its feeble attempt to pierce the snow-laden night.

Welcome to the Machine

Here is an image from Dr. Creepen's narration of this story. He reads the story and doesn't use AI generated voices.

Despite the treacherous conditions, Tom laid into his car in typical fashion: ‘‘Come on you piece of shit, don’t let me down now. I never trusted you to get me anywhere. I’m trading you in as soon as I get the chance, you heap of junk.’’

Within the confines of the car, Tom's hand fumbled blindly in the frosty air, seeking the solace of his phone. His fingers, nimble but weathered, danced across the smooth screen with practiced familiarity, a choreography of muscle memory. The dim glow from the phone's display painted fleeting shadows on his strained face as he dialed.

In those heart-stopping moments, it felt as though each second was stretching on endlessly, each fraught with the anticipation of the connection. The rhythmic pulsing of the dial tone echoed in the confined space, amplifying the air of tension. Finally, a triumphant chime resonated through the car's cabin: the call had connected. A sigh of relief escaped Tom's lips, dissipating like a visible breath in the cold, tight confines of the car.

"Frances? Hey, yeah, flight was delayed. I know, I know..."

Just then, his eyes caught sight of a sign looming in the distance: "Rest Stop."

"Listen Frances, I can hardly see anything in this storm. I'm gonna get off the road and wait it out for a bit. With any luck, I should be home around midnight… Frances? Hello?"

He glanced back at his phone, which displayed the unwelcome message "call disconnected."

"Oh Crap… Goddamn phone letting me down again. First this heap of junk on four wheels, now my stupid cellphone… Is everything out to get me tonight?"

The air of frustration was evident in the deep lines etched across Tom's face, painting an image of worried discontent as he forcefully tossed the uncooperative phone onto the passenger seat. Now even the phone was against him. He felt as though his hand were somehow being purposefully forced, something nudging him toward the refuge the rest stop sign had promised. With a deliberate yet cautious turn of the steering wheel, the car responded, its tires engaging with the icy surface, causing the vehicle to elegantly slide towards the beckoning entrance of his temporary salvation.

"At least you managed to get me off the road in one piece, you useless old rust bucket."

The exterior of the rest stop came into view, revealing a narrow lane that wound its way into a desolate, empty parking lot. Beneath the glow of a solitary streetlamp, a modest concrete structure emerged, its details still shrouded by the relentless fall of accumulating snow. The faint outlines of a few picnic tables manifested in the rear, mere silhouettes against the wintry backdrop.

Tom's car glided gracefully into one of the empty parking spaces, coming to a rest in complete tranquility, not even a single other vehicle to be seen. As he emerged from the ‘old rust bucket’, he was greeted by a biting wind that sent shivers throughout his frame. Undeterred, he trudged through the gusts of icy air, each step accompanied by the crunch of snow beneath his boots, then made his way decisively towards the intriguing concrete structure, standing resolute against the wintry landscape.

Tom hastily entered the building, making a beeline for the urinal. Unzipping his fly, he sighed in relief as he emptied two hours' worth of soda. As the relief came, he started to take in his surroundings. Inside the restroom, the scene was one of mundane neglect. Ugly, bland decor adorned the walls, a sheet of rusted metal served as a mirror, and broken tiles hinted at the extended passage of time since this place had seen its heyday, probably 50 years previously.

Tom caught his reflection in the mirror; it offered him a too perfect perspective on his current situation: "Ahhh, sweet baby Jesus."

The biting chill of the night air clung to him as he hastily zipped up his fly, returning from the restroom to the comparative grandeur of the exterior of this barren rest stop. In the dim glow, a distant flickering light beckoned him toward a secluded alcove at the far end of the building.

In the shadows of the alcove loomed a battered old vending machine, a relic of riveted steel that seemed to have just barely weathered the passage of countless years. Bolted firmly to the concrete floor, its two light bulbs, one broken and flickering, scarcely illuminated the interior. A rusty coin slot emitted a pulsating blue light that seemed almost too inviting. Tom surveyed its offerings, trays filled with nondescript soda cans and candy bars, each wrapped in no-frills packaging. A haunting logo adorned each snack: a creepy clown face with hypnotic eyes concealed by an oversized top hat.

Below were the name and slogan, "Which one’s pink candy company… we told you what to dream!"

Suddenly, a metallic clank echoed through the empty parking lot as the wind whimsically tossed an empty soda can beneath Tom's car. Strange that it would happen at precisely that moment. He also thought he heard the engine of his car rumble in response to the soda can, but that was just plain impossible, he mused, so he gave it no more thought. Tom then quickly turned his attention back to the vending machine, producing a handful of change from his pocket and feeding three quarters into the coin slot. With a few button presses, the machine roared to life.

The thick metal spiral coil inside began its grinding motion, pushing a bag of Madcap Jellybeans gradually toward the eagerly expectant Tom. As he watched with gathering anticipation, the coil creaked to an abrupt halt, leaving the candy precariously dangling on the edge.

‘‘Oh, come on... don’t say you hate me too!’’

His frustration now palpable, Tom thumped the side of the machine, slapped the glass front, and resorted to a swift kick to the bottom. Truth be known, he had always hated people who did this, seeing as it mostly happened when they were trying to get something without paying. He’d secretly hoped that the vending machine Gods were looking down on such assholes, waiting for the opportunity to exact their revenge. On this occasion, though, and in these circumstances, he felt justified: he had put the money in the slot after all. The spiral coil reluctantly resumed its rotation.


The candy leisurely inched its way forward, only for him to be thwarted once more. The blue light around the coin slot pulsated as if it were mocking him. Tom's gaze then fell upon a small white sign taped to the side of the machine. Flipping it over, he read the crude words scrawled in black pen: "USE AT OWN RISK!"

‘‘aah… just wonderful.’’ he thought.

Remembering his sense of unease at being all alone in the rest stop, he cautiously surveyed his surroundings for any prying eyes. Satisfied that he was indeed isolated from the rest of civilization, he embarked on his covert mission. Slyly, he slid his hand into the vending machine's collection slot, the clandestine maneuver aimed at securing his elusive snack. Kneeling on the unforgiving cold ground, he extended his arm with determination, the chill of the snow seeping through his pants as his fingers delved into the machine's intricate inner workings. The struggle unfolded like a silent dance, the movement of Tom's arm navigating the labyrinthine coils and trays within the machine.

Amidst this delicate operation, his hand brushed against an unexpected sharp edge, prompting an involuntary wince of discomfort. A sharp cry, merging frustration with a tinge of pain, escaped Tom's lips as he swiftly withdrew his hand, fingers instinctively clutching at the affected spot. Undeterred, Tom gritted his teeth and rubbed the small cut with the thumb of his other hand. He brought the injured appendage to his lips, sucking on it in a resolute refusal to let the momentary setback conquer his strength of purpose.

With a steely determination, he readied himself for another attempt, placing his arm once again into the vending machine. This time, his movements were more cautious, and he adjusted his angle of entry, determined to overcome the vending machine's mysterious defenses. His hand reached upward, fingers stretched to their physical limits, nearly grasping the prize. Tom's face reflected a blend of pain and concentration, his willpower urging the coveted snack into his possession.

‘‘Yes, come to Daddy, that's it, you got it. Almost... there...’’

A surge of frustration accompanied an ominous tearing sound as the sleeve of Tom's shirt caught on the edge of the spiral coil below his candy, ripping right through it.


In a panic-induced frenzy, Tom yanked his arm back, a sudden desperation etched across his face. Yet, the sleeve of his shirt tenaciously clung to his limb, forming an inescapable shackle that trapped his arm inside. Each frantic tug merely served to inflict futile incremental damage, tearing the fabric of his shirt and embedding the coil even more deeply. Despite vigorous attempts — flapping his arm, pulling from side to side — the entanglement persisted, refusing to yield its grip.

Taking a measured breath amidst the unfolding chaos, Tom's gaze shifted upward toward the coin slot. A moment of considered contemplation ensued as he retrieved a handful of change from his pocket, thumb-sorting the coins with meticulous precision. Three quarters were chosen for the mission, and with a decisive flick, they found their place within the slot, with the remaining coins returned to the sanctuary of his pocket.

Transforming into a contortionist through sheer necessity, Tom adjusted his position with strained fortitude. His arm, now a reluctant participant in this perplexing dance, extended toward the coin slot. The three quarters made their hasty descent, buttons were pressed, and the vending machine responded with a cacophony of rattles as it sprang back to life. The spiral coil, once a formidable adversary, begrudgingly acquiesced, slowly grinding forward to the point of almost liberating the fabric from Tom's beleaguered sleeve.

‘‘Yes!’’ Tom shouted into the cold night air.

His triumph was short-lived, though. The machine shuddered, the coil grinding to a halt before rotating backward. Panic flashed in Tom's eyes.

‘‘No… no!’’

With a malevolent persistence, the spiral coil mercilessly tightened its grip on Tom's sleeve, methodically winding more fabric around it with each ominous turn. A guttural scream of agony then erupted from his throat as his body contorted in tandem with the relentless rotation, until… crack! Pain surged through Tom's entire being as his wrist snapped, a sharp cry escaping his lips. However, the coil, indifferent to his pain and mechanically devoid of empathy, persisted in its rotation. Another excruciating wail followed as his elbow splintered under the merciless pressure.

Oblivious to Tom's anguished ordeal, the coil continued its relentless grind, unyielding in its mission to pull him deeper into the mechanical jaws of the vending machine. Tears streamed down Tom's cheek, his face pressed against the unforgiving glass, a silent witness to his arm's inexorable descent into the metallic abyss.

Finally, with an abrupt cessation, the spiral coil ground to a halt. The vending machine shuddered and vibrated as it surrendered to a powered-down state, and Tom, overwhelmed by the cocktail of pain and exhaustion, succumbed to unconsciousness. In a cruel twist of fate, as if mocking his torment, the bag of Madcap Jellybeans finally emancipated itself from the clutches of the machine and dropped into the collection slot. Tom lay curled on his side, a thin blanket of snow already embracing his form. His arm was twisted within the machine's intricate coils.

A distant phone ring pierced the quiet night, prompting Tom's snow-covered eyelids to flicker open. Shivering, he cast a gaze towards his car. Inside the vehicle, Tom's phone illuminated, revealing a profile picture of Frances and Tom in a tender embrace.

‘‘If that's you, Frances, please report me missing or something.’’

The ringing then ceased, replaced by a notification on the screen: "Hey babe! Can't wait up any longer. Hope you are okay. Be nice to the car and I’m sure it will bring you home safe. Will see you in the morning… Love you."

His body now weak and bitterly cold, Tom turned back to the vending machine, his eyes catching sight of something beneath it: a large glass jar with a piece of paper inside. Tom shifted onto his back; each movement accompanied by searing pain. Using his free arm, he reached under the machine, eventually rolling the bottle towards him with his fingertips. But then, he froze in horror. The machine's power cord lay on the ground, unplugged.

‘‘What the hell?’’

Looking up at the machine with newfound curiosity, Tom muttered to himself: ‘‘That...that's not possible.’’

He retrieved the jar, smashed it, and shook the paper free. On it was written a series of cryptic words: ‘‘Welcome my son: welcome to the machine.’’

Scrutinizing his hand, Tom observed the vice-like grip it now maintained around a long shard of glass, a fragment revealed to be as sharp as any honed blade. Faced with a stark absence of alternatives, he swiftly found himself compelled to employ this improvised tool. He pressed the glass tip coldly against his shoulder; a makeshift surgical blade poised to breach the fabric that clung to his skin. In the throes of uncontrollable tremors, Tom hesitated, his breath betraying the gravity of the impending decision. Gritting his teeth with a determination that teetered on the brink of surrender, he closed his eyes. The internal struggle played out across the contours of his face as he battled with the unthinkable.

With a tremor in his voice, Tom spoke into the desolate emptiness of his surroundings, his words a poignant plea to forces beyond his comprehension: "Look, I've never been one to put my faith in God, and perhaps, just perhaps, that skepticism has led me to this juncture. But hear me out, please. Release me from this ordeal, and I pledge to embark on a more virtuous path from now on. Frances always told me to be kind to machines as she says there’s more to them than buttons and wires… I never thought too much about it, but it was just so easy to see the bad side and blame my car and my phone and every other gadget when they didn’t make everything alright.

"But you know, in the grand scheme of things, I've always believed there's more to gadgets and the like, as if they really could possess the semblance of a soul. So, here I am, reaching out. Grant me a sign, the smallest indication that you're contemplating a second chance for me. I swear, with every fiber of my being, I won't falter. I won't let you down. You don’t know who I am, or where I’ve been. Let this moment mark a turning point in the narrative of my existence."

And then, with a hint of desperation: "So, whaddya say, huh?"



A profound, suffocating silence enveloped the air, its oppressive weight settling upon the desolate scene. During this hushed stillness, Tom's quiet sobs resonated, a heartrending accompaniment to the solitude that surrounded him. As he lowered his head, the somberness of despair clung to him, casting an impenetrable shadow over his being. The outcome, it seemed, was already irrevocably sealed.

Yet, as if the very fabric of destiny had intervened, the vending machine stirred once more. It awakened with an unsettling shudder and a discordant rattle, the bulbs within morphing into an ominous deep red glow. A mechanical symphony ensued, resonating with the orchestrated movement of gears and pistons, the machine seemingly supercharging before Tom's disbelieving eyes.

Then, the machine spoke: "It's alright, we know where you've been…"

In that moment, fear seized him, his eyes snapping open as the coil once more initiated its malevolent rotation, grinding backward once more. The air resonated with a sickening snap, an audible demonstration of the inexorable surrender of Tom's arm to the machinations of the vending machine.

"Aaagggh, Jesus Christ!"

A horrified shriek escaped him as he was inexorably pulled further into the collection slot, now up to his head, the machine seemingly devouring him alive. The sheet metal around the slot groaned and buckled, bending inward to accommodate Tom's head. Desperately, he kicked his legs, gripped the slot with his free hand, pushing and resisting.

But his feeble efforts were in vain. Weakened and helpless, Tom's head was swallowed by the vending machine in an instant.

Inside the machine, Tom's moans echoed as the coil shuddered to a stop. He caught his breath, only for the top row's coil to start turning, grinding and pushing a can of soda forward. Tom's eyes widened even further as the soda can tumbled over the edge, landing squarely on the bridge of his nose with a sickening crunch. Blood sprayed from Tom's nostrils, splattering over a tray of Interstellar Moon Pies.

A bulb exploded, showering fragmented glass onto Tom's face. His screams were drowned out by a hissing sound emanating from the machine's depths. Frantically, his eyes searched for the source. A hose had broken free, spraying pneumatic fluid everywhere; on the walls, the snacks, and directly into Tom's eyes and face. It burned him instantly, and Tom screamed as his face vanished beneath an acidic haze.

The machine spoke once more: ‘‘Welcome my son: welcome to the machine.’’

Outside, blood splattered from the collection slot, staining the pristine snow red. It rattled like a giant meat grinder, the noise almost joyous. The only sounds that lingered were Tom's muffled screams as his body was slowly but surely consumed by the furious appetite of the all-consuming machine.

Written by DariusMcCorkindale
Content is available under CC BY-SA