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Burnout

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The sun’s slowly setting over the apartment kingdom, casting the window in a dazzling array of purple-orange, fading out around the silhouette of Lamp’s reflection. His own bulbs are dim and quiet, his cord wrapped around his stem—he knows better than to draw attention to himself, and he also can’t bring himself to ruin the glow of the oncoming stars. He looks out across the world and wonders, if he’d been delivered to a simpler place, a village of less secrets, how different would his life truly be.

A part of him can’t help but think it would be the same, one way or another. He’s as part of the problem as any of the others. Maybe the darkness lives inside him, and he’d carry it wherever he went. Maybe he’s the one that deserves to flicker out with the sun, his bulbs shattering into a thousand pieces, unable to hurt another living creature.

Something rustles behind him. His switch tenses. A part of him expects Refrigerator, always expects Refrigerator—atonement is inevitable. But the gait behind him is softer than Refrigerator’s heavy shuffle. When Lamp turns, he’s greeted with the gorgeous sight of fading sunlight glittering along TV’s powered-down screen.

He came. Lamp is grateful for that. But it also makes things so much harder—it would’ve been easier if TV had just stayed away.

In the few moments it takes for TV to approach the window, Lamp agonizes within himself. He longs to tell TV the truth, to take him into the fold, inaugurate him with the same horror all the core villagers share. He can trust TV, he knows that—he trusts TV more than anyone. But TV is new and shiny and unhindered by their terrible burden, and it wouldn’t be right to tarnish him with that weight. Still, Lamp knows what he must do.

TV reaches him and rumbles in his deep, soothing voice, “Good evening, Lamp-san.”

“TV-san.” If only it could end there.

There are a million other things Lamp could say. Could ask. How was TV’s day. Has he spoken to Bed recently. How have his classes gone. But the longer Lamp waits, the harder it will ultimately be, and besides, it’s dangerous. Every time Refrigerator sees them together, the target on TV’s backside grows a little larger. One day Refrigerator will learn the truth, and on that day, Lamp couldn’t bear to bring TV down with him.

It’s heartbreaking. But Lamp steels his cheap plastic over and exhales the simple words: “TV-san, I can’t see you anymore.”

“Of course,” TV quips, so easily. “You have no eyes.”

Lamp bitterly laughs. TV’s always been sharp-witted, more clever than the rest of them, and that makes it all the more important that he be pushed further from the truth. Lamp forces himself to say, “You know what I mean.”

“Why?” So simple, but suddenly serious. TV’s always kept a cool head.

The worst part is that Lamp can’t even give him the courtesy of an answer.

“Lamp-san... you are my best friend in this village. You know that.”

“TV-san...”

“Just yesterday you saved me from that awkward conversation with Tomoko-chan, and before that—”

“Tomoko-chan is a good woman, TV-san. You...” Lamp pauses to hide the tremour in his voice. His advice comes out whisper-low, but poignant. “You should be with her instead.”

He can almost see the temperature drain from TV’s circuits. That isn’t what TV wants, and they both know it. But it’d be better for both of them. It takes a few conspicuous seconds for TV to stiffly answer, “Tomoko-chan isn’t the kind of furniture I want.”

Lamp weakly jests, “Of course. She’s not even furniture.”

TV doesn’t laugh. Just confirms, “Exactly.”

The sun’s sunk beyond the windowpane. TV’s become darker in that haze, suddenly wide-screen and imposing, blocking the path that Lamp half wants to run down. Lamp’s never been one to run away from his problems, but he’s never had to face anything this difficult. TV slides closer and becomes all that Lamp sees. Lamp can see his reflection in the screen, sharper and clearer than the window. But nothing’s ever truly clear in their village.

“Don’t do this, Lamp-san. Don’t.

Lamp trembles. It’s as though he’s lost a screw and his main pole’s no longer properly attached to his base. He circles around it, like a marble spiraling ever closer to the whirlpool center of a basin. Once he’s sucked under, he won’t be able to claw his way back.

He doesn’t deserve to.

He whispers without meaning to, “If I tell you... there won’t be any coming back.”

He doesn’t have to explain. He can see in TV’s glinting screen that TV’s always known there was something they weren’t telling him. A secret too appalling to imagine. Yet TV still assures him, “Tell me, Lamp-san. You can tell me anything.

Lamp’s still going to turn away. Then TV’s cord slithers over his, and Lamp has no choice. If it’s true that pieces of furniture have hearts, TV holds at least half of his.

Shaking, Lamp betrays everything. “It all started five years ago, with the older chair...”