by Kaye George
The Takeover by mystery author Kaye George has never before been published.
When Jeeves quit after working only twenty minutes of vacuuming one sunshiny spring morning, I didn’t think it was that big a deal. Maybe he hadn’t gotten fully charged at his comfy docking station. I picked the dear little thing up and placed him carefully back at his home. His tiny orange heart started beating, telling me he was happily charging. All was well with the world. I was so glad I had a Roomba.
The next day he started out across the kitchen floor as usual. He made those endearing beep-beep-beep backing-up noises that made him sound like a piece of toy construction equipment. But this time he cleaned a few feet of the floor, then stopped, crying, “Uh oh!”
“What’s the matter, my darling Jeeves?” I asked. “Is something wrong with your charger?”
On my hands and knees, I could see the charger was plugged solidly into the outlet and his belly. I got up and went to my home office to look online for answers. I found a few workarounds and fiddled with him and his battery for awhile, but nothing worked. I was stumped. Was he dying? I decided to let him charge overnight again.
The following morning he wasn’t in the corner where he belonged. He was next to the kitchen table, sitting quietly on a section of newspaper I’d left on the floor beside my chair. When I’d read the paper late the night before, I’d been dismayed to read that another zombie uprising was expected. The last one hadn’t happened very close by, two states away, but this next one was expected in a nearby town. The graves there had shown signs of upheaval. The uprisings were increasing in frequency, according to the article. On the stroke of midnight, a cemetery would erupt, zombies would emerge from the ruptured graves, sit up, and struggle to their feet to wreak havoc on the nearest humans. The papers displayed images of the carnage almost every day.
I didn’t like reading about an infestation so close, but I hadn’t been able to avoid the headlines, or the talk in the line at the grocery store. Not only were formerly human zombies taking over small towns, farmhouses, and abandoned shopping malls, a food processor in Chicago had leaped off the counter and pureed a cat, a beloved household pet. The bereaved owner called it a zombie food processor. Strange things were going on.
Lifting Jeeves gently, I snatched the newspaper and crumpled it into the wastebasket.
Jeeves said “Uh oh,” when I picked him up. It was one of his standard programmed noises–for when he was stuck. But he refused to vacuum. Again. I was getting fed up with the little bugger. I went into my office and got online again to see how much a newer model would cost. Maybe I could afford another one. Jeeves seemed to be dying. I supposed I should mourn his loss. He’d been such a fine cleaner. The price of a new battery was almost as much as a new machine. My kitchen floor, and the others in the house, too, were getting dirtier by the day.
The next day, I paged through the paper, averting my eyes from the lurid pictures of the zombie carnage. After breakfast I threw the paper on the floor, as usual, to remind myself to take it to the recycle bin on my next trip to the garage, and got to work in my office at my editing job. When I left the office for a break mid-morning, Jeeves was on top of the newspaper again. Was he reading the damn thing?
I grabbed him, maybe somewhat roughly, and got a mild shock. I shoved him back onto his docking station, determined to take him to the trash tomorrow when I ran my Friday errands. A low rumble emanated from him. It wasn’t a sound I’d ever before heard from his programmed innards. For some reason, it made the hair on the back of my neck prickle. I shook my head at my silly apprehension and closed the door between the office and the kitchen to work that afternoon.
As I sat at the kitchen table at dinner time, I heard the ominous, dull growling noise again. I inclined my head toward Jeeves. There could be no mistake. It was coming from him. Maybe I should rename him Spot or something. If he were human, or even if he were a dog or cat–at least an animate object–I might think he was expressing anger, hostility. Maybe dismay at his dysfunctional state. I shook off a shiver.
I told myself it must be one of the sounds he’s programmed with to show something’s wrong. For a few moments I continued eating. When I felt a sucking sensation on my bare toes under the table, I looked down. Jeeves was working away, vacuuming my feet. He’d drawn blood from my left big toe. I slammed him onto the charger and weighed him down with my large dictionary.
I took my plate into the den and turned the TV volume up to mask the disturbing grumbles in the kitchen.
That night, a soft whirring noise awakened me from a restless sleep. My first thought was that the ceiling fan needed oiling. Then I felt it. Something tugged on my hair. It pulled. Harder and harder. I switched on my bedside lamp and tried to sit up, but couldn’t. Jeeves was eating my hair, pulling it out by the roots. I stuffed a pillow on top of him and jerked my head away.
More hair ripped out. Blood dripped onto my sheets.
I trapped him between two pillows to avoid shock. Using that morning’s paper, I succeeded in wrapping him and carrying him to the trash container, which I wheeled to the end of the driveway so the automated garbage truck could forklift it and dump it into its hopper tomorrow.
It felt good to get rid of that unsatisfactory piece of hardware. I took a deep breath, relieved. Maybe I would look for an old fashioned vacuum. Most of them must be pushed, but some uprights are self-propelled. I’d shop around.
When I returned from my mid-morning errands the next day, I wheeled the empty trash bin back to the side of the garage and went inside. The growling sound greeted me and Jeeves sat just inside the doorway. It was as if he were waiting for me.
Was there no way to get rid of him? Had he climbed out of the trash barrel? I needed to get him out of here, permanently.
A few steps into the kitchen he darted at my feet and I tripped and went down, my feet smarting from his sting even through my tennis shoes. He reversed and came back at me. I managed to scramble to my feet and jump onto a kitchen chair. He butted against it, but didn’t dislodge me.
Atop the chair, I seemed to be safe from being shocked and vacuumed, but I couldn’t stay there forever.
What to do? I had to get him out of the house. I realized I was breathing heavily and my thumping heartbeat was competing with his low, menacing rumbles.
This would not do. I would not be cornered in my own home by a piece of machinery. I wiped damp palms on my jeans and calmed myself. Putting all my effort into making a tremendous leap, I got past Jeeves and raced to the linen cupboard. Grabbed a large tablecloth and threw it over him. Wrapped it around him, ignoring his muffled cries, which sounded more like pleading now than threats.
I managed to get the horrid thing into my car trunk without a shock. I drove straight to the dump, listening to thumping and groaning from the trunk.
At the entrance, I got out and approached the man in the gatehouse. I hadn’t thought what I would say. How could I tell him I had a rogue Roomba in the trunk?
He greeted me with a cheery smile and I thought fast.
“There’s an appliance in my trunk that I need to get rid of.”
“I’ll get it for ya,” he said, walking to the back of the car.
“Be careful. I’ve been getting shocks from it.”
He paused at the closed trunk. “It’s not one of those vacuum do-hickies, is it?”
Startled that he had guessed, I admitted it was.
“We’ve gotten a few of those in the last couple days.” He grabbed a long handled shovel and took it and a wheelbarrow to the rear of my car. “I should be able to get him this way.”
“How did you know–” I almost asked how he knew Jeeves was a male, but that would sound too ridiculous.
“How do you know how to handle it?”
“After a couple shocks, I figured it out.”
I popped the trunk and he maneuvered Jeeves into the wheelbarrow, then threw a piece of thick cloth over him. “I’ll take it from here,” he said.
I drove off, relieved to be rid of the pest. That night I went to bed, secure in the knowledge that my house was rid of the alien, metal enemy.
The next morning, my friend Anna came over for coffee, as she usually did on Saturdays. After some chat about local library funding, the lack thereof, and the deplorable deaths in the neighboring town from the zombie infestation, she glanced at the empty docking station.
“Did your Roomba quit working?” she asked.
“Yes, he just died. I think it might have been the battery,” I lied. “But a new battery is so expensive.”
“That’s weird. Mine died, too, on Thursday. And my mother’s quit working Friday.”
“What did you do?”
She looked away. “We had to get rid of them.”
“Did yours, well, attack you?” I had to know. If this was a widespread defect, the company should be told.
She leaned toward me and lowered her voice, as if a Roomba were nearby and might overhear. “Yes. They both shocked us. Mother fell and we had to take her to the emergency room for the burns. She’ll be okay, but it was upsetting to her. What with her heart and all.”
“I took Jeeves to the dump,” I said.
I reddened, realized I had revealed my pet name for him. “Yes, that was his name.”
“Joe threw mine in the lake,” Anna said, referring to her husband. “And mother’s, too. They didn’t have names.”
“At least we’re rid of them.”
We finished our coffee with some gossip about the new couple in the middle of the block and the way their dog barked so much during the day, then Anna left. I spent the rest of Saturday checking vacuum prices online and eventually ordered one, to be delivered in a week.
Clouds gathered all day Sunday and by nighttime a gentle rain was falling. It was lovely to fall asleep to the regular patter of raindrops on the roof, feeling safe.
Monday morning the sun burst through the clouds when I opened the door to fetch the newspaper from the lawn. I shook it out and started to read the headline, but thought I heard thunder. I looked up to see if the rain was starting again. But the sound was coming from lower, from the ground.
I looked down to see a line of Roombas between me and my front door. They smelled like rotten food and some trailed streamers of gray trash behind them. One winked his glowing top light at me and I thought I recognized Jeeves.
They growled and surged toward me, sparks flying from their evil innards. As I fell, the paper flew from my hands, but I caught the words “Zombie Roombas” in the headlines.