Isidro’s furnace demanded FBI agents, but he only fed it limestone and coke, sometimes Rice Crispies if it was good. In return, it fed his insanity. Neither got exactly what they wanted, but it was a happy enough arrangement for the both of them.
“FBI agents!” it would roar down the phone at Isidro, who often held a towel to his other ear to keep the noise in. “Out there, in the lawn, take your blunderbuss to the cheeky lot of them!”
Isidro would look out at the lawn, see only squirrels. “They look more like squirrels,” he would say, but that would only provoke the furnace’s wrath.
“They’re in disguise!” the furnace would roar. “Blunderbuss those sneaky squirrel-costume-wearing FBI agents!”
Image from here.
So come nightfall Isidro would pop out into the garden tentatively, brandishing his grandfather’s old 45 rammed full of 6-inch studding nails, and address the inquisitive squirrels. “Hey guys,” he’d say. “Do me a favor, buzz off will you?”
“I’m hungry!” the furnace would roar from behind.
“All right, all right,” Isidro would say, turn back to the squirrels. “Don’t make me use this blunderbuss, huh? I don’t wanna spread your cute little faces two millimeters deep across the pavement.”
“Put them in my stomach!” the furnace would roar.
Isidro would shrug, wave the blunderbuss in a convincing manner, and the squirrels would eventually leave.
“They got away,” he’d tell the furnace.
“Hot dang!” the furnace would say. “Well hot dang!” It liked to say hot dang. Perhaps because it was very hot itself, being a furnace.
Generally speaking, things were OK.
Events really came to a head when the FBI tried to plug up his chimneystack. The furnace blew a real stink about it. Isidro mentioned a few times that he thought they might just be sparrows, you know, roosting, but the furnace would have none of it.
“Don’t you see their beady black eyes?” it cried. “Don’t you see their little card cases and perfect white teeth? They’re in disguise, I tell you!”
“Aren’t FBI agents quite a bit bigger than sparrows?” asked Isidro. “How would they fit into those tiny little costumes?”
“Don’t ask very stupid questions, Isidro,” raged the furnace, “they breed tiny FBI agents for this very purpose these days. Besides, they’re very fat sparrows, and that’s the problem, I can’t breathe with their fat little booties blocking my chimney stack!”
“Is that a problem then?” asked Isidro.
“50 FBI sitting on your face, I’d say it was a problem there young Isidro, wouldn’t you?”
“Well, what do you want me to do about it?”
“Blunderbuss!” cried the furnace. “Blunderbuss them right in the fat little booties!”
“Right,” said Isidro, and promptly tried two other ideas first.
First he tried the telephone. He placed several telephone calls to the FBI (using a number he found in the yellow pages) commending their initiative, but asking them to pull back their agents. He never got beyond the first round of hold music.
Second he tried yelling up the chimney stack, but the FBI sparrows didn’t listen one bit, much like the squirrels, and they didn’t care about the blunderbuss, whose trumpet-like nose cone would not fit up the chimney. He could only lean over the furnace and yell up at them: “I’ve got a blunderbuss, clear out you lot!”
The furnace egged him on in this, invariably saying things like “Yeah, we’ve got them on the run now,” but in reality, the FBI sparrows only shifted when they felt like it anyway.
“They know you’re faking it,” said the furnace eventually. “You’re just going to have to show them who’s boss.”
“I can’t, it’s too dark to see at night and I shouldn’t go out in the day with the blunderbuss. The neighbors might see.”
“Hmm,” said the furnace, and pondered this cracklingly. “That’s true. Well, I’ve got it. Take a flashlight with you.”
“They still might see. And the flashlight might not work.”
“Ah, good point,” said the furnace. “Well, you’ll have to get closer then. You’ve got a ladder don’t you?”
“Yes I do,” said Isidro proudly.
“There you go then.”
So, that night he climbed up the outside of the house. He had to use his nail-gun to fasten the stepladder at the base and into the ground. At the second story windows he peeked in and heard the furnace suddenly shrieking from below.
“In your bedroom, in your bedroom, they’re coming for me now!”
“What?” said Isidro. “Where?”
“In the corner, shoot, shoot!”
Isidro looked and saw only his own street-lamp shadow. “That’s just my shadow,” he said.
“No, it’s the FBI in disguise!” wailed the furnace. “Shoot them in the fat little booties.”
“All right,” said Isidro, getting a little tired of all this yelling. In point of fact he actually quite wanted to fire the blunderbuss anyway, especially when it wasn’t actually pointing at something he might kill. So he leveled it at the plate glass window, took aim, and blasted the shadows inside into play-dough. He was sent recoiling from the ladder and landed in the garden ash tree, which sent a sharp twig into his rear-end and made him yelp with pain.
Back in the house, he first dragged the three hunks of shredded FBI meat down to the furnace, which looked more like shredded bookcases to him than the “enemy inveiglers” the furnace had insisted on branding them, and dumped them halfway into the furnace. Then he gathered up his big axe and took to the ash tree with it.
It took most of the night to chop the ash tree down, since the axe was really quite blunt and he was pretty worn out after falling off the ladder in the first place. All the same, come daybreak he’d felled the ash tree and it lay sullenly across the road.
He was tired and left it at that, went for a bit of a nap. Later that day the doorbell was ringing and behind the door stood a man in a suit. Isidro stashed the blunderbuss and gathered up his telephone and pen, pulling both with him to the door. The phone plucked itself free of the wall socket, but Isidro didn’t care, lodging the handset in the crook of his shoulder and ear, pen at the ready. Then he opened the door.
“Hang on a second,” he said to the posse of short dwarfy men with obsidian ties in his front yard. He could see one of them surveying the sawdust and general spread of his ash tree.
“Mr. Hostetter?” asked one of the dwarves, but Isidro held up a hand, shook his head, and scribbled something on the doorframe with his pen. Then he started yelling into the phone.
“SELL SELL SELL!” he cried, then looked around at the dwarves. They seemed impressed. “BUY BUY BUY!” he cried, made some more scribbles, then set the phone back down on its cradle.
“As you can see, I’m a very busy man,” he said.
“Your phone’s unplugged,” said the lead dwarf.
Isidro looked back along the hallway, saw the phones cord trailing him and cutting off in a spray of colored wire at the end.
“It’s wireless,” he said.
“No it isn’t,” said the dwarf, pointing. “There’s the wire, right there.”
Isidro looked again.
“I think I know my own phone, sir,” he said.
“Well,” said the dwarf, sighing, “I’m sure you do.” Then he read from a piece of paper on his clipboard. “There’s also the small matter of your recently felled oak tree spreading across the street, and into your neighbor’s garden, which is currently blocking all traffic passing down the street.”
Isidro shook his head. “That’s not an oak tree,” he said.
“It’s an ash tree.”
The dwarf turned round and stared at the tree, then back to Isidro.
“Listen,” he said. “I don’t care of it’s a bloody magic beanstalk. It’s coming out of your garden, it belongs to you, and it’s breaking the law, so who cares if it’s an oak tree or an ash tree?”
“Well,” said Isidro, “it may not be important to you, but it is to me. I bought this domicile with one ash tree specified in the holdings, and if that tree has since metamorphosed into an oak tree, which seems to be growing across the road in a most unwieldy fashion, then I am as perplexed and mystified as yourself.”
“Eh?” asked the dwarf, “growing? Your neighbors called us up to complain about you, their “crazy neighbor” they call you, banging away at that tree all night until it fell down and blocked the road.”
“What I do with the ash tree on my property, if indeed it really is an ash tree, is entirely my own business, sir,” said Isidro. “Never mind it that it was a revenge attack for my attempts to utterly expel the FBI’s special branch sparrow wing assault.”
The dwarf sighed. “Look,” he said. “Can the crap, this is serious. We’re gonna have to move it now, and since it’s your tree, it’s you that’ll have to pay the cost.”
“I’ll pay for none of your metamorphosing oak trees.”
“Well, still, the bill will arrive.”
“I refer you to the FBI in this matter,” said Isidro boldly. “You may speak to them anon.”
He shut the door in the dwarf’s face. The phone rang in his hand.
“Hello,” he said into the receiver.
“It’s getting pretty urgent down here, buddy,” said the furnace. “I’m in some trouble with these FBI fellas.”
“Coming,” snapped Isidro, and ran down to the aid of the furnace.
Outside the policemen surveyed the toppled ladder, broken second floor window, and spent shell casings on the grass. They started ringing the doorbell again.
Isidro heard it but couldn’t listen, as the furnace was flagging and the basement was filling out with smoke. There were just too many FBI sparrows clogging up the chimney with their fat little booties. Isidro was getting desperate, and the furnace was dying down, so he climbed to the attic of his home and started taking blunderbuss pot shots at the roof.
Soon enough he’d blown a small hole through the slate and wood boarding, and took a mallet to it to extend it. Then he set up a smaller stepladder and poked his head up through the minced roof-mouth.
“Hello, agents,” he said to the sparrows, who regarded him with sleepy interest. “I’m on to you!”
He heard sirens in the distance, and watched flashing lights zooming towards his house. They stopped at the fallen ash tree and opened up. More dwarves emerged, and one with a loudspeaker started to shout up to him.
“Isidro Hostetter,” he called, “come down from there at once, please.”
Isidro regretted not bringing the phone up with him. Instead he cupped his palms and yelled back down to them.
“BUY BUY BUY, SELL SELL SELL, I’M VERYÂ BUSY!”
The loudspeaker dwarf turned to his buddies and said something, minus the loudspeaker so Isidro couldn’t hear. Meanwhile, Isidro leveled the blunderbuss just above the FBI sparrows sitting on the red brick chimney and fired a warning shot across their bows.
Some of the sparrows were dislodged by the thunderous noise, but most clung on grimly.
“Isidro Hostetter!” cried the loudspeaker man. “Put down the weapon and raise your hands in the air at once!”
“Wait,” cried Isidro, “I have to finish off the FBI!”
“You have FBI up there?”
The clipboard dwarf spoke to the loudspeaker dwarf.
“How many FBI do you have?”
“Looks to be about 6 left, but don’t worry, I’ll flush them out.”
“Are you telling us you have hostages, Mr. Hostetter?”
“Not for much longer,” said Isidro, and raised the blunderbuss. A shot rang out from behind and Isidro felt a whizzing beside him. One of the sparrows was picked clean off the chimney and fell down into the furnace.
“Well that’s rather harsh!” he cried, turning, and a hail of whizzing enveloped him. He turned back and saw all the sparrows dropping down into the chimney. He felt a little bad about that, but figured the job was done, so he dropped back into the attic and found his right arm no longer worked properly. The blunderbuss dropped from his right hand so he swapped it to his left. He had to slide down the stairs to the bottom landing on his rear end because one of his legs was unsteady. There was blood on his fingers, but he had no idea where it sprang from. He heard a thudding at the door, but then the phone started to ring. He grabbed it.
“Hello?” he said.
“Hot dang!” cried the furnace. “You better get down here and help me out. I’m in big trouble. I need some premium grade or I’m gonna die.”
“No,” said Isidro. “You can’t die.”
“I’m sorry buddy, those FBI agents are way too nasty to eat, I guess I never really wanted them that much after all. I can’t eat them and they’re clogging me up worse down here and I’m gonna die if you can’t save me.”
“You’re my only friend,” said Isidro. “You can’t die!”
“I’m sorry,” said the furnace.
The booming at the door continued.
Isidro ran down the steps and into the basement. There was the furnace, flagging, and it made Isidro want to cry.
“They told me my ash tree was an oak tree,” he said.
“It’s OK,” said the furnace.
“And they sent the FBI agents down to you.”
“I’m sure they meant well, but I just can’t eat them.”
There was a booming from above as the front door splintered and burst.
“They’ll take you away and I’ll die,” said the furnace. “It’s OK.”
“No,” cried Isidro, ran, and threw himself on the fire. It felt warm.
“Ah,” said the furnace. “That’s the real FBI.”
“Now everything will be OK,” said Isidro, and saw everything clearly for a moment. The haze fell away. Dead sparrows lay around him in the flames. He could see his flesh running down like tallow and hissing in the coals. He felt no pain. He felt brotherhood.
He watched the police, no longer beetle-browed dwarves but regular humans in police uniforms, storm down the basement stairs and stare in horror at him, lying in the coals. He waved and said “it’s OK.”
They ran toward him but he leveled the blunderbuss, his hand free of the flames.
“Oh god!” said one of the police. “He’s still alive!”
“It’s better this way,” said Isidro, and knew it to be the truth. The madness had crept up so slowly.
“It’s time to go now,” said the furnace, and Isidro nodded.
“No more Rice Crispies for you,” he said, then closed his eyes and let the flames take him away.
The police followed up the tracks on how a madman could have bought ammunition for an antique blunderbuss and still generally escaped notice for so long. The toppled tree out front, which was found to be definitively ash, was removed. One of the policemen wrote an article for the local paper about how brightly Isidro had burned in his furnace. “Like it was midday down in that basement,” he wrote. They scooped out his gritty ash and it was scattered on the wind from his rooftop by a local pastor. In addition, they found his warped blunderbuss and seven miniature FBI badges. On calling the FBI and struggling for a long time with their hold music switchboard, they found no officers missing.
The newspaper that carried the policeman’s article received many letters related to the Isidro furnace story. They all centered around one detail. That detail was this: as Isidro lay in the flames, blunderbuss holding back the police, his skin bubbling and weeping in the fierce heat, he was smiling all the while.
A lot of people didn’t like that. But that’s exactly how it happened.
You can see all MJG’s stories here:[album id=6 template=compact]