The Air Conditioner

Todd Zack



For as long as he could remember, Billy Jenkins was only able to fall asleep while the air conditioner was on. It was a strained matter each evening for the air conditioner operated on an internal timer. It moderated itself, blowing cool air into the bedroom for fifteen-minute spells, then resting for a time in silence. On was good, off was bad.

Billy was comforted by the charming sound of the artificially motivated air blowing into the room. He enjoyed the steady sound of its operation, that gentile baritone humming in the walls. He adored and prayed for the cool soothing currents of air that ran so softly over his bed. Billy didn’t like the silence, when it came, and it came many times throughout the night. This silence shattered all peace. The trick was to get to sleep early while the air conditioner still turned, to be fast asleep and therefore not to notice when, periodically, it turned off. Billy must find sleep while the air conditioner was ON.

Yes, he must.

The cool air was blowing now and the soft steady drone of the air conditioner moved behind the walls like a turbine lullaby. ‘Move quickly’ Billy thought. ‘Go to sleep!’ If the air conditioner ended its present spell, Billy would have to wait all over again for the next cycle to begin. The waiting was the hardest part, the scary part. Billy breathed deeply, counting sheep and a retinue of other farm animals as he clenched mentally at the precious gift of unconsciousness, drawing it towards him in the shape of a floating menagerie. Sheep, horses, cows, chickens and pigs all went sailing in slow motion, one after another, over a white picket fence in the center of his mind’s eye. The visualizations were working. At long last Billy Jenkins was close to the edge of dreams.

Suddenly, the air conditioner clicked off. Its tiny engine puttered away like a spillage of tiny marbles dropping off a slanted surface, falling away into a bottomless void.

Silence dropped into Billy’s bedroom like an ominous anchor. There was nothing he could do now. He was still awake. He would have to wait.

The bedroom instantly sweltered with no air conditioner to care for it. Billy turned restlessly in bed. His skin was clammy and warm and his pajamas were sticky against his legs and arms like damp paper towels. How long before another cycle began? How long must he endure the silence now, eyes wide open, lashes shivering in the dark? He turned towards the white plaster wall, threw the bed sheet over his head. The farm animals had run off into the dark and the silence was echoing in his ears.

The window.

He shouldn’t look. He knew he shouldn’t look, but . . . just a peek. He pulled the covers down from his face. Hesitantly he turned towards the bedroom window at the far wall of his room. The window opened to the backyard and the stark empty night outside.

Sometimes the window opened to other things as well, Billy knew.

So he tried not to look. He tried, he tried he tried.

Billy couldn’t help it. He looked.

Through the window, in the yard beyond, there stood the faceless man, watching him. Slowly, mechanically, he approached the window. Reaching the window, filling up the frame, the faceless man placed two large white palms upon the glass. The palms of his hands appeared like giant writhing slugs attaching themselves to the glass, poised to suck the window from the wall. The faceless man sprouted a mouth and smiled.

Billy closed his eyes and waited for the air conditioner.





TODD ZACK is a delivery driver, writer, musician living in southwest Florida. His Gothic-Reggae band, Tape Recorder 3, composes soundtracks for independent films and documentary’s — most recently, the skateboard documentary ‘No Hope Kids’ (2016). His fiction and journalism pieces have been previously published in such venues as Thrasher Magazine, Santa Cruz Sentinel, The Bad Times Newsletter and New Haven Advocate.