Heating Pad

Flash Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 75

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

The Raven – Edgar Allan Poe

It was the heating pad controller that inspired so many nightmares and haunted thoughts during my three-week self-quarantine.

The heating pad came in two pieces. A combination power cord/control panel and the 24″ x 12″ pad.

When I had COVID-19, it helped with my back pain. Funny how sleeping round the clock for nearly three weeks straight can give one a sore back. Oh mother nature, you devilish trickster you!

The unit automatically shut itself off after two hours, but it also came with an override with that shutoff function. Since my back always hurt and my sleep periods measured much longer than two hours, I always turned the AUTO-OFF feature off. Because the cord plugged into one corner of the pad, however, I was forever tugging it loose during the middle of the night.

I had all the flu-like symptoms for covid. The periods of chills, almost to the point of shivering, followed senselessly by periods of sweating. Still, I preferred having the heat applied to my back, even when the rest of me was sweating.

I regularly would wake to find the heat had shut off. Looking at the control, I would see a blinking ‘E’ on the LCD readout. I had accidentally unplugged the cord from the pad again. That was always tedious. The blinking warning seemed to convey the same gravity of a power plant meltdown. Somewhere in my head, I would hear that damn robot panic and whine, “Danger Will Robinson, danger!”

And you couldn’t simply reinsert the plug. No, when it came detached from the pad, you had to unplug the power cord from the wall, reassemble everything in that fashion. That meant I had to get out of bed. To this day, I still cannot fathom why this is the case. I liked how hot it could get, but the electronics felt over-engineered to the point of being fussy.

The control panel fit nicely in my hand well and had the same basic profile as a smaller TV remote, with a power cord from the wall (inserting at the top end) and the cable to the pad (emerging from the bottom).

It was an oddly elegant layout design for the controls and status indicators. They divided the controller into three approximately sized sections from top to bottom.

The top third of the control was a single squarish LCD labeled HEAT SETTING that displayed a single character.

When you first switched it on, it would display a blinking ‘-‘ as it was doing whatever household chores it deemed needed doing during power-up. See what I mean? How fussy is that? It’s a heating pad, not a computer. Yet, I’m sure embedded somewhere within the lightweight white plastic housing of the control, there is some minor computer. (audible sigh here)

The LCD readout also displayed a static 1 – 6 depending upon which level you’d selected. (Mine lived on level six during the three weeks I self-quarantined.) It would also, as I stated, flash a whiney, pitiful ‘E’ when it came unplugged through my unconscious, feverish movements.

The middle section contained four buttons that floated on a translucent, back-lit bit of plastic.

The power button was in the upper-left corner.

The auto-off override control sat in the lower-left corner.

The two buttons on the right were the temperature select buttons, up & down.

It was this middle section that inspired so many of my nightmares while I was bedridden.

The bottom third of the control was a series of two LEDs stacked vertically, displaying the state of the Auto-Off setting. The top LED was labeled ‘2 Hr’ and was the default. By pressing the Auto-off button, you could toggle the function on and off. The bottom LED was labeled ‘Stay On.’

COVID-19 isn’t like the flu. Don’t believe anyone that wants t tell you otherwise. It had a far broader cognitive component than any bout of influenza I’ve ever experienced.

My thinking and my perceptions were all impaired and working less than optimally. I could marvel at this phenomenon. It had a dualistic quality to it. Night after night, I would gaze at a wooden figurine that sat in the guest room where I stayed as I was visiting my friends. The long sculpture, which I’d never scrutinized before getting sick, would writhe and gyrate in a disquieting erotic fashion. Weird, right? I saw myself perceive these things and was aware that this was outside my established normal realm of perceptions.

A curtain rod ring in the drape became a playfully flirtatious mermaid, and I welcomed her daily visitations.

There was, however, nothing flirtatious or erotic about the heating pad controller.

The middle portion, with its back-lit amber lighting, scared me. I felt if I weren’t careful with how I operated the thing during the middle of the nights, that I might accidentally summon a demon or open a portal to hell, such feverish, crazy dreams and visions I had.

As I handled the controller in the nights, I would fill with dread. I felt like Poe; I’m sure he would have had a hugely explosive, prolific period if he had ever had (and recovered from) COVID.

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