"Why does the maintenance guy have to drive to Wisconsin?" Ethel asked.
"For a part," said building management. "I explained that to you yesterday."
"And my hot water's still out. He's gotta drive to Wisconsin because they're the only state with the legal clearance to sell valves? What the hell?"
"Please do not take that tone with me."
"Please fix my hot water! My dishes are stacked to the ceiling and the cats are having competitions to see who can scale Mount Pantserest the fastest."
"It will be fixed after John returns with the part. Now if you'll excuse me, I have other tenants on the line."
Ethel threw the phone down in disgust. Drive to Wisconsin? She'd spent enough time dicking around at work to know bullshit when she smelled it. Meanwhile, she didn't need to have two cats with altitude sickness and dinner plates that were now going through the growing pains of the industrial revolution. If John the maintenance guy had four instead of three beers in Wisconsin she'd have to contend with a populist uprising named The Grunge.
"What could be so hard about it to fix? I helped my dad do all sorts of stuff around the house," she said to herself.
She left the apartment and went outside of the building to find the entrance to the basement. A padlock bound an iron gate across the entrance way. The padlock, large and indifferent, kept on being large and indifferent in the pile of red rust that the gate turned into when she gave it a kick.
The basement door itself wasn't locked and she entered. Other tenants had told her that there used to be livable apartments in the basement. She wondered if the basement tenants had been Morlocks. Water covered the floor and seeped in through finger-thick cracks in the foundation, black lightning bolts in the gloom. A single bulb hung from a frayed wire and an important-looking pipe sagged in the middle and dripped rusty brown water onto the ancient piece of patio furniture that supported it.
Dust on the floor was undisturbed. Drive to Wisconsin for a part, her ass. They hadn't even been out to check it. Anger at the shabby treatment spurred her on.
The previous tenants had left their things. A half-deflated volleyball, covered in paw prints, sat on a child's bed. Ethel couldn't stand to examine a yellowed picture taped to the bare concrete wall. A blanket half-covered a rotten piano. In the folds sat a bug eating another bug, both of whom were of sufficient size to make an audible crunch.
Ethel shivered and hurried along. A massive metal tank, pock marked and pitted, took up the rear half of the basement.
"Now we're getting somewhere."
Pipes as thick as her arm ran out of the colossus. She put her hand to each in turn. One was warm.
"So we have hot water," she said aloud. "Let's check out the heating element."
She couldn't find it. The heater had to be powered by something - she didn't see a natural gas pipe, nor an electric line. There was smaller metal trunk attached to the bottom without any tubes or pipes running to it. She fiddled with an intricate brass latch on the side and a small panel flopped open.
A torrent of small, red creatures with goat hooves and angry red bodies swarmed out and surrounded her. They each carried a flaming pitchfork, which they were waving menacingly.
"You bring us a sacrifice! Or else we don't burn!" one of the creatures said in a squeak. He flared up briefly, then went out and brushed the resulting ash from his scaly skin.
"We are hungry!" said another.
"Quickly, or else we may die! Dead demons means no flames!"
"I found a beast!" one in the corner said. He speared a dead rat with his pitchfork, lifted it in the air, and began to take bites out of the rotting flesh. With each bite he burned brighter and the flames lit the basement. The rest of them crowded around and snatched mouthfuls.
"Get off get off this is Ixmael's beast!" Ixmael the demon said, smashing another demon over the head.
"What, you're hungry? I have chips."
"Cheese is what they need," said a deep man's voice from behind her.
"Cheese!" the demons said in unison, rushing towards the man. Ixmael took one last bite and, while chewing, dropped the rat and rushed with the others.
It was John the maintenance guy, who had indeed driven to Wisconsin and purchased two enormous sacks full of Wisconsin chedder. He tossed the bags to the crowds of demons, who carried them over their heads like they returned from a hunt, hollering and singing squeaky songs of triumph. They pulled the door shut behind them with a clang, and the tank soon began to emit enough heat that Ethel had to take a step back.
"Sorry about the hot water going out. They got sick of regular cheese. They only will eat sharp Wisconsin chedder. That's not something that you can get here," he said.
The Moral: cats hate demons, because they compete for the same food sources of dead rats and cheese.