by Headley Hauser
The highlighter lay near the stove. The stove was energized by electricity and the bottom right element was on - the one nearest the highlighter. Atop the bottom right element was a pot of water, with a teaspoon of slightly rancid corn oil and three sprinkles of salt.
Above the highlighter lay one hundred and eighty-three foot-long strands of raw pasta.
The only animate being in the tableau (now that the bacteria in the formally rancid oil had been boiled to death) was a patch of e-coli that had been growing since dinner preparations the night before.
The stove, while not alive, pulsed with energy like a live thing. Had it volition, it might seek to selectively heat the pot without damaging the highlighter. Having no will due to lack of sentience made it both easier and more difficult for the stove to do its proper work.
The non-living energy flowed into the stove through a cord coming out of the wall.
Though the highlighter lacked volition, it maintained its shape in spite of the growing heat. It might have said, "This would be uncomfortable, and even scary if I were sentient, or even alive."
But it was neither sentient nor alive and so the highlighter made no comment. It inclined neither toward the heat, nor toward the safety of the pasta and e-coli. The e-coli might have called to the highlighter, but it neither cared, nor had the vocal apparatus to accomplish a call if it did.
Indeed, the only things that might have taken offense in this heated situation were the words neither and nor which had been employed three times in as many sentences.
But neither did nor care, nor did neither.
The water and the formally rancid corn oil began making motions within the pot, though this was an effect of heat and not of life. It certainly was not of sentience, for no known sentient lifeforms were sufficiently thermoduric to survive in an environment sufficiently heated to boil water.
The three shakes of salt, though never sentient, nor alive had long since ceased to exist in solid form, and were now fully suspended in the water and oil.
Were the word neither sentient, it might have resented being replaced by never in the last paragraph, allowing nor one extra use. Should there ever be a place where words become both alive and sentient, writers and gossip-mongers would find their existence more complicated. Perhaps in such a world, both writers and gossip-mongers would be nonsentient - like the highlighter.
Some might think that the case in this existence, except the highlighter in addition to being nonsentient, is also non-living.
A non-living writer or gossip-monger is called the random motions of stain and sound over infinite time.
But back to stove. The electrons in the highlighter were now highly agitated by the heat from the proximate burner. The highlighter's apparent solid state, which was actually a rigid gelatinous one, was transforming into a less rigid gelatinous state and the shape of the highlighter was changing on a microscopic level.
An appendage of a sentient lifeform appeared within the tableau. Vivo ex machina. The appendage gathered the pasta and placed it into the boiling water and formally rancid corn oil. Some of the e-coli came with the pasta, part dying a swift death in the water, part attaching itself the sentient lifeform's integument.
The appendage picked up the highlighter. "Damn, it's hot," said a vocal apparatus incorporated within the overall integument that included the appendage. The appendage ejected the highlighter into the sink,accomplishing four tasks in the process. The first task was that as the highlighter's highly energized molecules contacted the sink surface with a velocity uncommon to highlighter behavior. An impression, barely perceptible to the visual acuity of a common earth lifeform formed on the outer surface of the highlighter. The second task was that the heat/energy level of the highlighter began to diminish. The third task was that the liquefied dye within the highlighter escaped its seal creating a passage that would later out the highlighter to leave a neon stain on a pair of cargo pants that were not in the present tableau. The fourth task was that e-coli attached itself to the highlighter, and found the environs of the sink a more practical place for procreation and growth.
In a related event days later, a supposedly sentient lifeform, under care at a local emergency medical facility insisted that its bacterial infection came from eating well-cooked pasta.
Here's something else I don't understand.