Cara Michaels’ Picture Choice: 2
Title: Don’t Lose My Number
I thrust my sweaty-palmed hands behind my back when the phone rings. This is an all-too familiar game. I don’t know how it began exactly, but if I could go back in time and erase that moment or do it again somehow…
The phone continues to call for me.
I need hands to answer, but mine are busy.
There they are, making bone-creaking finger knots at the base of my spine.
Totally unable to lift the handset of the phone.
I kept the antique phone from Grandmother’s estate, in part for nostalgia, in part for sentiment. I resist the new phones with their caller ID, voice mail, and myriad other bells and whistles. I like my life simple. Uncomplicated.
But the phone keeps ringing, a grating harbinger of dangerous complications.
With no machine or voice-mail to pick up, the person on the other end waits patiently for me to give in and answer. I count the rings, knowing eventually the system will notify the caller to try again later. Ten, fifteen, twenty-five…
The sudden silence doesn’t register right away. In my mind, the ringing keeps on. It doesn’t get to fade before it begins again in truth.
“Damn you,” I whimper. “Leave me alone.”
As long as it rings, I have a sort of safety, but I break on the fifth round, my mind too fragile to endure more. Too scared to unplug and not know when it ends. If it ends.
My hand shakes as I reach out and lift the handset from the cradle.
The tremor in my hand spreads to the rest of my body.
“I was starting to think you might not be home.” Laughter crackles over the line. “Then I realized what a silly thought that was. I mean, you never leave the house these days, do you?”
No. I don’t. The police refuse to believe. My family wonders if I’m crazy. So I stay where it’s safe.
“I love it, really. Knowing you’re always there to take my call.”
Why don’t I just leave? Disappear. Never look back.
“You’re quiet tonight.”
I don’t have any response.
“Doesn’t matter. I can hear your sweet breathing. I know you’re there. Did you get my present?”
My eyes focus, find the long, heavy box the postman delivered earlier.
“Yes.” The word is barely audible to me, but he hears.
I tear into the wrapping and open the lid. I hear a sound like a wounded animal.
“Do you like it?”
The sound is coming from me, but I can’t stop myself. I stare at the monstrosity inside the box. A branding iron? What is this? I study the brand of ten numbers in a very familiar arrangement. Area code, exchange, station number. Not my phone number.
We’re such a part of each other and this way you’ll never lose me.” I hear the zealous fervor in the words, the obsession that’s haunted me for months. “I’ve put your number right above my heart.”
“I can’t—I won’t—”
“I know, I know.” The words seem almost soothing. “I wouldn’t ask you to.”
From the front of the house, I hear the sound of a key in the lock.
“Oh, God,” I whisper.
The phone clatters to the floor, falling from my numb fingers. Months of fear and nightmares coalesce in the doorway.
“Don’t worry.” The voice is fuller in person, another layer added to my terror. “I’ve come to help.”
Cara Michaels is the author of the Gaea’s Chosen sci-fi romance series and host of the #MenageMonday flash fiction challenge.