How to Crack a Vending Machine

Chance encounters are common, even in the middle of the night, or especially in the middle of the night. The man who taught me and my friend Sebastian how to crack vending machines, though, was anything but common.

The two of us had gone out like usual, on a whim and with no other plan than to get drunk. We left our small hometown behind, took a train to the city and went on a bar crawl, on Thursday evening to bout. Our plan was simple: have some fun, get drunk and take the last train home at one in the morning. As so many times before, things didn’t exactly work out that way. After getting lost for a good hour, we ended up at a small, isolated station and saw we’d missed the last train by about half an hour.

“Isn’t that fucking great!?” Sebastian cursed the moment we arrived.

My eyes wandered to the display, hoping against all hope that another train would arrive shortly. Of course there wouldn’t and we’d have to wait until early morning.

“So, what do we do now?” I asked, turning to him. “You got any money for a taxi?”

“Nah, man, it’s way too far and way too expensive.”

“Great,” I mumbled. “Guess there’s nothing we can do.”

Sebastian’s eyes wandered to the display as well, and when he saw how long we’d have to wait, he groaned. A moment later, however, he sat down on the bench, opened his backpack, and produced an unopened six-pack.

“Where the hell did you get that from?”

He shrugged.

“Late night store while you were taking a leak. You took forever, so I thought I might as well stock up for the ride home.”

I couldn’t help but laugh, sat down next to him and we each opened a bottle of beer.

Half an hour later, and once I was done with my beer, I felt my eyes falling shut. Knowing that we still had a good three hours left, I didn’t even try to stay awake.

I don’t know how much time had passed when strange sounds woke me.

“Dude the hell are you-?” I started, but saw Sebastian wasn’t there.

All that was left was a couple of empty bottles and his backpack, which leaned against the bench next to me.

I listened again, now realizing what I’d heard before were echoing footsteps coming from the stairs that led up towards the station. I opened my mouth to ask Sebastian where the fuck he’d gone, but closed it when I saw a figure that was definitely not Sebastian. No, the person who’d just made their way up the stairs was way too big to be my scrawny best friend.

Fear washed over me and I was wide awake instantly. It was half-past two in the morning, on a weekday to bout. The trains weren’t running for another two hours, so why the fuck would anyone come here?

I told myself it had to be another poor schmuck who’d missed the last train like we had. Yet, the closer the figure got, and the better a look I got at the man, the more unsure I was.

He was huge. At first, I’d thought he was just fat, but below the dim station lights I could see hard, bulging muscles. His face was half-hidden by an unkempt, wild beard and surrounded by strands of long, greasy hair.

I knew right away that this guy wasn’t your average hobo. No, he was probably drunk and probably up to nothing good. Once more, my eyes darted around for Sebastian, but he was still nowhere to be seen. For a second, I wondered if that guy had done something to him and was now coming for me.

I scrambled from the bench, almost tripped over one of Sebastian’s empty bottles, and got a hold of my backpack. When I stared back at the man, our eyes met. Not drunk, I realized. His eyes were wide, sharp, and focused on me and only me.

“Well, what do we have here?” he brought out, his mouth turning into the slightest grin. “Didn’t know someone else was around.”

An almost physical sensation washed over, as if I could feel the lie he’d just told me on my skin. I was damned sure he’d seen me up here and I was damned sure he wasn’t just here for a greeting.

I felt goosebumps all over my arms, felt myself getting sweaty and had to will myself to stop from shaking. In an instant, I threw my backpack over my shoulder and was about to run, only the bump right into Sebastian.

“The hell are you doing? I just went for a leak and you’re-“

He broke off when he, too, saw the imposing figure who was walking towards us.

Yet, the moment the man saw Sebastian, he stopped. One of his hands went upward, and he began scratching his head. For a second, I thought I’d heard him mumble something to himself.

“Who’s that?” Sebastian asked me in a much too loud and much too slurred whisper.

“Let’s just get out of here, all right?” I urged him.

With that, I threw him his backpack and began pulling him after me.

When the man noticed my intentions, he lifted his arms in a defensive gesture and did his best to beam at us.

“Now, now, boys, there’s no need to be worried. I don’t mean any trouble. Just went for a little walk and decided to have a look at them vending machines up here. You know?”

“V-vending machines?” I brought out in a confused whisper.

“Yeah, that shiny beauty over there,” he said matter-of-factly, and pointed at the single vending machine that had been placed on the platform.

In a few wide strides, and much faster than I’d expected, he crossed the distance between himself and the machine. A second later, he lifted one of his giant hands and beat against the side of the machine. The loud, reverberating bang made both me and Sebastian jerk.

When the man saw it, he grinned at us.

“You boys want to know a little trick?”

Neither I nor Sebastian said anything, and after a few seconds of painful silence, the man continued on.

“Throughout the years, I’ve learned quite a few little tricks, but you know which is the best of them? It’s how to crack things.”

I couldn’t help but stare at the guy, preparing myself to run at any moment. The hell was wrong with him?

“What are you-?” Sebastian slurred, but the man cut him off.

“Cracking things like this vending machine here. If you know what you’re doing, and you do it just right, it will all work out perfectly well,” he continued to explain.

“You just go for a little twist here, a turn there, and, of course, a little bit of the good, old brute force and eventually, all the little secrets will spill out. Just got to make sure no one else is around. Security, you know? That’s why you always should check up lonely little stations like this one here.”

As he said this, he gave me a little wink that made my skin crawl. Then he turned back toward the machine and put his heavy, muscled arms around it as if to embrace it. I saw his muscles bulge and could almost hear the metal of the machine straining. Then he bumped his wide chest against the machine multiple times with such force, I thought the glass would break. When nothing happened, a curse escaped the man’s mouth, and he began beating the side and top of the machine. Eventually, he bumped it with his chest again. I watched the surreal spectacle in front of me, not understanding what he was trying to do. Yet, after another, well-measured, almost gentle hit against the side of the machine, the sound of dropping coins reached my ear.

“See, boys, took a bit of work, but I cracked it just right, didn’t I?” he said, laughing.

A moment later, he began stuffing one of his pockets with a handful of coins. As he did, though, I saw he’d dropped something n his attempt at breaking the machine. It was a small, dirty piece of clothing, but the man didn’t seem to have noticed it. Instead, he turned and stared back at us.

“You want to try it as well?”

“No, I think we’re-“

“Yeah, sure!” Sebastian cut me off.

As drunk as he was, he hadn’t noticed how wrong this entire situation was and walked up to the guy, undeterred. I was quick to follow him, but I didn’t know what I’d do if things turned bad. Hell, I didn’t know if I could do anything at all against a guy like this.

I was antsy, half expecting him to reach out for or rush Sebastian. Yet, when I stared at the guy now, he acted like an entirely different person. Nothing of the crazy, dangerous hobo I’d seen before remained. Instead, he seemed like a big, but jolly man out to get a bit of change. For a moment, I wondered if I’d just been too drunk and tired before. Those eyes, however…

“So, what do I have to do?” Sebastian asked in a half-slurred, half-excited voice.

“Well, it’s cracked good and well already, so you won’t have to do a whole lot. A bit of force should do the trick, even for someone like you,” he said, laughing.

Sebastian rose his hand and beat against the machine’s side. But, of course, nothing happened. He did it a few more times before he grew frustrated and threw himself against it instead. Once more, I could hear the dropping of coins.

“Holy shit, man, it worked! Dude, you ought to give this a try as well!”

“Nah, man, I’m good.”

“See boys, that’s how it’s done.”

While Sebastian was busy filling his pockets, the guy grinned at me once more. His eyes turned sharp again, wild, even hungry, and instantly all my fears were back. For a moment, a contemplative look washed over his face, but instead of coming for me, he simply turned and left.

“Always got to make sure there’s only one,” he mumbled, but this time more to himself than to me or even Sebastian.

My friend, however, had noticed nothing and was busy milking the machine next to us for another handful of coins.

“Why you got to make sure there’s only one?” Sebastian suddenly asked.

By then, however, the man had already made his way down the stairs and was long gone.

At that moment, I remembered the small piece of clothing he’d dropped before. When I got closer, however, his words came back to my mind, his explanations of how to ‘crack’ things.

‘You just go for a little twist here, a turn there, and, of course, a little bit of the good, old brute force.’

What I saw lying there, on the floor, next to my still oblivious friend, was a small, almost delicate human finger wrapped in a bloodied piece of cloth.

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