Monday, January 18, 2010

The Last Thing You Ever Expected

I hated my job at the phone company. It was eight very long, very boring hours sitting in a cubicle with a very uncomfortable headset wrapped around my head. At least until that day – the one that changed everything.
It started out as days do, alarm goes off at six, I angrily smacked it and grumbled for it to shut the hell up. Husband growls unintelligibly at me and rolls out of bed. A few minutes later the water turns on the bathroom and the tell tale sound of the shower fills the room. Of course now I'm awake, so I too roll out of bed and shuffle to the kitchen to start the coffee pot.
Everything after that is a mad scramble. Kids are rushing for breakfast, dogs barking and husband grabs his cup of coffee and rushes out the door calling a harried goodbye.
The bus comes then and whisks the kids off to school leaving me alone with the dog who is chasing his tail in the doggy version of the potty dance. I go to the back door and let him out. Once clear of the door I shut and lock it and head off for my own day.
I get to work five minutes later and the least bit concerned. Since the telephone company went all robot on us no one really cares about the job anymore.
I sit down at my computer and turn it on, praying that the IT guy gets up here today to diagnose the problem. It’s been loading slower than a family of brontosaurus on the brink of the ice age.
But back to today. The computer finally loaded and the company logo greeted me. No more than five minutes had passed when the phone rang. Naturally, I’d been on my way to get a cup of sludge; oops I mean coffee when it rang. I sat back down and answered the call. “Operator, how can I direct your call?” I said congenially.
There was a frantic breath and the sound of someone running. “Hello?” I said and waited. Three short breaths panted in my ear and a female whimpered. “Hello?” I repeated.
“Help me,” a woman cried. “Oh god help me, he’s trying to kill-“
The call cut out. “Hello?” I said pointlessly.
I was staring quizzically at the phone when Gary peered over the divider. “Another wacko?” he asked in a bored tone.
I shook my head no and gazed up at him. “It was a woman who said someone was trying to kill, well, I’m not sure who was going to be killed, she hung up, or we were disconnected before she said anymore.”
Gary shrugged. “Probably just some kids playing a prank.”
“Yeah,” I said, “kids.” There was an unsettling fear twisting my stomach. Kids called all the time and made rude comments or jokes but this was different, this woman sounded genuinely frightened.
“Want to go across the street for a cup of Joe?” Gary asked.
“Yeah, sure, not like anything exciting is going to happen around here anyway.” I slid the head set off my head and stood, reaching for my purse. My hand closed over the strap as the phone rang again. I glanced down at it then looked at Gary.
“Leave it,” he said indifferently. “It’s probably nothing.”
I shrugged and grabbed my bag. He was probably right; it was probably kids calling to see if our refrigerator was running. Why there weren’t in school escaped me.
We wasted almost an hour on our impromptu coffee run. As I sat down at my cubicle, I wondered if Gary was right, if the woman was just a kid playing a prank. I sipped my latte then set it down, sliding the headset back on. Immediately, the phone rang. I answered it with a brief, “Operator, how can I help you?”
“You have to help me,” the same voice as before said. “Please, he’s going to kill me.”
I looked around frantically. Why was this woman calling me instead of the police? “Where are you?” I asked. “Have you called the police?”
The woman whimpered; the frightened sound sent goose bumps up my spine. “Oh god, oh no, please no,” she shouted. “No please don’t.”
The phone beeped in my ear as the call was disconnected. I hung up and looked around for the shift supervisor. I didn’t want to call the police and it turn out to be a hoax. I wondered if there was a way to trace the call.
The shift supervisor, a man named Terry was in his office sitting behind a small metal desk. I knocked on his door and waited. He ignored me and held the phone between his ear and his shoulder. I turned and went back to my cubicle, pissed.
This company used to be a good company, but since everything was automated it went to hell in a hand basket. I wanted to quit but couldn’t afford to, so I stayed. As I sat Gary leaned back in his chair and asked about the call.
“Did she call again?” he asked.
I nodded fiddling with a stapler. “Yeah, she said he was going to kill her, and then she started begging him not to. After that the call was disconnected.”
Gary grinned, “It’s just a kid Julie, chill out.”
“It’s not Gary, it’s more than that. I tried to talk to terry, to see if we could trace the call, but he just sat there yakking away on the phone.”
“You want to trace the call?” he asked.
I nodded. “If someone’s in trouble I have to try to help. It’s the right thing to do.”
“I get that. Let me call someone down in IT and see if they can help you out with that.”
“Thanks Gary.” I looked at the phone hoping she didn’t call again. I’d had about enough excitement for one day. Lame kid jokes I could handle, but pleas to be saved was a totally different ball game.
Forty minutes later a boy carrying a black box walked toward me. “Are you Julie?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I said. “I am. Who are you?”
“Vince from IT. You needed a trace didn’t you?”
I nodded and moved out of his way. Vince folded his lanky body into my chair and hooked his box up to my computer. His long sinewy fingers moved, spiderlike, over the keyboard. Five minutes later he handed me a sheet of feathery paper. “These are all the incoming numbers sent to your phone in the last eight hours. Hope that helps.”
I thanked him and once he’d packed up his machinery, I sank down into my chair, my eyes roaming the list of numbers, mainly concerned with the last number. My eyes scanned all the way down to the bottom of the list.
Confused, I stared at the number, then reached for my purse. That can’t be right, I thought double checking the paper.
I reached into my bag and blindly felt for my cell phone. Maybe I lost it,  I told myself as my fingers blindly closed over my wallet and glasses case. Then I felt the smooth, square plastic and pulled it out. Grasped in my palm was my cell phone. “So how the hell did I call myself?” I wondered aloud.
“What’s wrong?” Gary asked.
“Nothing,” I said absent mindedly. I got up to go to the bathroom. In the stall, I locked the door and tried to call my husband. “We apologize for the inconvenience,” the pleasant voice said, “but the call you are trying to make cannot be completed. Please visit to pay your past due amount.”
Past due amount? I thought, my phone bill isn’t past due, I just paid it the other day. What the hell is going on here?
On the other side of the stall door, the main door slammed and shoes shuffled over the tile floor. I shoved my phone into my pocket and unlocked the door. Gary leered at me from across the room.
I jumped back, clutching my chest. “Jesus Gary, you scared me,” I laughed nervously.
“Julie,” he said menacingly. “Julie, Julie, Julie.”
“Gary,  Are you alright? What’s going on?”
Gary took a step toward me. “What’s going on?” he said manically. “What’s going on? You’re dead, Julie. You’re dead. When are you going to learn to accept that?”
Dead? “I’m not dead,” I told him.
Gary nodded. “Yeah, you are. Actually, we both are. So is Vince the IT guy. I killed you, and Vince. Don’t you remember?”
I stared at him, suddenly scared. “Gary, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’m leaving now.”
Gary punched the mirror. It cracked in a spider web like pattern. “You’re not going anywhere,” he growled.
“Gary, please your scaring me.”
Gary grinned, “I know. I like it. I’m going to kill you again, and I’m going to like it.”
Something was coming back to me. It was like flashes of light in the dark, fragments of a scene unfolding before my eyes. It was dark, late, I was running, there was screaming, begging. Gary, bloody and holding a knife. Vince was lying on the pavement behind him.
“You remember,” Gary declared triumphantly.
“No,” I moaned. “No.”
“Yes,” Gary said as he advanced toward me. “You were having an affair with Vince, remember Julie? And me, well I always loved you, but you said we were just friends, that you loved your husband. Do you remember? Then I saw you leaving the supply closet with Vince. Vince who is ten years younger than you. Did you love your husband when you were fucking him, huh Julie? Did you?”
“Gary please,” I begged.
“Gary please,” he mocked.
I whimpered, a sound that was suddenly familiar. I was the voice on the phone. I was calling myself so I could avoid this. But what did it really matter, I was already dead.
Gary took a step toward me. Dead or not, fear choked me. I took a step toward the door.
Gary laughed cynically. “You can try to run, but you’re not getting out of here in once piece. I am going to cut you into a million little pieces, then I’m going to cut up your little boy toy.”
My breath caught in my throat as a menacing looking silver knife appeared in Gary’s hand. My heart banged erratically against my chest, my vision swam as frightened tears filled my eyes.
“Gary please don’t do this,” I begged.
“Gary please,” he mocked again. “Let me hear you beg bitch.”
And with that everything went black.

Copyright 2010 by Nicole Jensen as Common Law Literary Property

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