New Flash Fiction Piece: Caller ID

Posted: 10/28/2011 in Fiction, Horror, Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

What better way to celebrate the Flash Fiction Friday before Halloween than with a line from the Grateful Dead: “what a long strange trip it’s been.”  I took a brief leave of absence for a recent week-long trip for a training (mad props for Dialogue Education, an exemplary model for trainers and facilitators) in Chicago and have since had trouble finding the on switch for my writing.  It seems that the horror reactor powered itself down.  During this trip, my cell phone died and the motherboard on my laptop went out.  This theme, of technology turning on us, was in my mind as I wrote this story, Caller ID, in my battered writer’s journal on the train home from Chicago to Indy, gazing out into the depths of the inky Midwest darkness.  Enjoy!

His cell phone rang.  Ray McNamara glanced down at the phone number displayed on the screen, grimaced, and muted the ringer as he had done every time she’d called for the last six months.  He considered trying to turn the phone off, but stuffed it in his pocket instead without breaking stride.  Dry leaves crackled beneath his boots, and a reverent autumn hush had settled over the Appalachian Trail.  He relished the solitude and silence.

He’d tried, unsuccessfully, to block the calls.

He’d changed his number.  Twice. 

He’d cancelled his cell phone service, but the calls had simply been forwarded to his landline at home and at work, or to the phones of his family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors if he was not carrying one. 

At first he’d tried to manage the situation by turning the phone off, but it powered itself on again with each incoming call from her, charged or uncharged.  He’d flung his phone out of the window of his car during rush hour on the New Jersey Turnpike.  It had returned to him in the mail, fully functional, one day later.  The calls had become so disruptive professionally that his supervisor had asked for his resignation a week ago.  His number was private, unlisted, and yet the calls continued to ring through, every 17 minutes.  At night, the frequency of calls increased between midnight and 3:00 a.m.  Ray had maxed out his dosage of over-the-counter sleep aids and melatonin until he was able to get a prescription for Ambien.  He could still hear the phone ring in his dreams, although REM sleep for him had become a rarity.

The first time the phone rang and displayed her number, Ray had answered, thinking it was nothing more than a prank call or a sick joke.  He’d been assaulted with a blast of static and the sound of her voice, assailing him with her usual nasal litany of complaints and accusations.  He’d hung up the phone in a panic, white knuckles clenched around the cheap plastic case, stomach knotted, his breakfast mixed with thick bile in his throat.  The next call had come 17 minutes later.  The third time she’d called, he had expected it.

He had taken care to make his ex-wife’s death look like an accident.  It had been easier than he had anticipated.  A visit to her home with two bottles of wine, promises of increased child support, extended alimony, and an enthusiastic shove down her staircase had rid him of the shrew more completely than their divorce.  Ray didn’t regret killing her; he regretted allowing her to be buried with her cell phone. 

A white oak tree had fallen over the path.  Ray climbed over it, a thin branch tangling and tugging in the lace of his left boot.  He yanked his foot free and continued to hike, savoring the weight of the pack and the feel of sunlight on his face as he trudged further outside the service area of his phone.  His path wound along a deep, dry gorge.  He kicked a rock over the edge, and watched it bounce and tumble sixty feet to the bottom.  As his phone rang, Ray tugged it out of his pocket and hurled it into the gorge.  The black plastic casing shattered on the sharp rocks below. 

He decided to step off the trail and make camp.  It was as good a place as any.  The key would be to stay out of range of the transmitters.

I’m shut of her, he thought, a grin stretching across his pale and drawn face.  I’m finally free of that woman. 

Ray leaned back against a pine tree, his too-thin body sinking into a soft loam of leaves as he searched through his pack for his water bottle and something to eat.  He’d provisioned himself well for this trip, unsure of when – or if – he’d return home.  He half listened to sporadic birdsong, closed his eyes, and enjoyed the first sense of freedom he’d had in half a year.

Some distance back on the trail, he could hear the soft murmur of voices and footfalls making their way in his direction. 

Hikers, he thought.  Wanderers like me. 

“Not all those who wander are lost,” Ray quoted, and chuckled.  Behind him, a phone rang.  The laughter caught in his throat. 

“Really,” said a voice, incredulous.  “Raymond, huh?  Okay, I’ll find him.”

Ray moaned low in his throat, and clambered to his feet.  He crossed the trail and gazed into the gorge.  He thought about the phone he’d thrown into it, 17 minutes before.  He wondered what it would feel like to step into the abyss.  He thought he might find out.

###

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Comments
  1. Dave Farmer says:

    Superb flash fiction. A totally compelling read every step of the way. I loved how she was still able to find him through nearby hikers. Hell hath no fury eh!

    • blackalchemy says:

      Dave, I have not laughed so hard in at least a week – that should be the tagline “Hell hath no fury…” Thank you, and I am glad you enjoyed this, you made my day!

  2. […] Caller ID – Hope Sullivan McMickle […]

    • blackalchemy says:

      Thanks, Charles! I always enjoyed those ghostly revenge tales from shows like Night Gallery and the Twilight Zone when I was a kid, and this story probably drew on that a bit. I loved your story, A Soft Knocking, that was featured on Writer’s Bloc! The language is rich and delicious, and the story itself is outstanding. Nicely done!

  3. Great story! And nicely written. One of the things that I’ve noticed in some writing is the difficulty we have portraying a murderer as an ordinary guy in his own eyes. This story did it well. It’s not very often I feel sorry for the murderer. In this case, I not only felt sorry for him, but I figured if anyone deserved to be murdered, it was the caller lol. Thanks, btw, for dropping by my site and enjoying my story.

    • blackalchemy says:

      Thanks, Sandra! I think I was able to portray that character a little more empathetically because I have a love-hate relationship with my own cell phone. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be harangued by it every 17 minutes like that poor guy! You are right, it can be difficult to not portray bad guys as inherently creepy. I might have gotten lucky. I didn’t know he’d killed her at first, I just knew he was being haunted. Your story was awesome; not only is it written well and and very engaging – it had all my favorite monsters in it, with a very unique perspective! I am glad to have found your blog and I’m excited to read more of your work!

      • Heh heh, that is exactly what I wanted to do with these stock monsters…imbue them with something other than what monsters usually do. I was lucky in this instance in that “Once Upon a Mirror Dreary” practically wrote itself. Of course, I’d been thinking about it for a few days prior to the actual writing.

        Although I am not a huge fan of horror, believe it or not, I thoroughly enjoyed your “Caller ID” – it almost made me laugh because my husband has a love-hate relationship with his cell phone and has thrown it out his truck window on a few occasions. If someone phoned him every 17 minutes he would almost go postal, I think. Actually, so would I, and I am cell phone friendly.

        Isn’t writing the funnest way to release your feelings? By the way, if you enjoyed “Mirror,” then you will probably enjoy “Draggin’ Dragon”. Let me know.

      • blackalchemy says:

        I love those stories that practically write themselves – it is as if they are demanding to be told, to be set loose. I love the fact that even though we write in different genres, an interesting, quirky, or engaging story can still bring us together. That is the power, I think, of tales. I’ve never thrown a cell phone out my truck window but have imagined how marvelous that would be vividly – I can so relate to your husband. Writing this story was a bit cathartic, and it is awesome get to do some things we’d never get to do in our real lives, through our characters. I did enjoy Draggin’ Dragon very much. The narrative voice and the dragon’s POV was excellent – he was such a sympathetic charcter, I felt sorry for him and really liked how he recounted the attack by the humans (I love how he loathed their metal armor). If you are ever interested in a genre mashup, you can always sic him on a horde of zombies. 🙂 You have a wonderful About Page on your blog also. Your account of writing for the newspaper editor was great – it is so nice to learn of the paths that bring us together as a community of writers. Can’t wait to read more stories!

      • Glad you enjoyed it, BA. I actually have quite a few more stories on my blog, all of them flash. I only recommended Draggin’ Dragon because it has a few horror characteristics woven into it.

        Here are some others that you can research them in my archives – Phony Express, Southern Princess, Despair (guest writer Eric Esteb), Dark (also by Eric Esteb), She Had Been Warned… Hmm, I guess only three more by me. Eric’s two are sort of horror, but the remaining three of my stories are not…well, the last one is kind of dark fantasy. Anyhow, you might enjoy them.

        Thanks for your kind review of my work to date. I had a lot of fun writing all of my stories. I haven’t given myself permission to have that kind of fun before, to write whatever I wanted in whatever style, in whatever voice. I have been having a blast writing them all, and they are all different. I’m going to write a few more and collect them in a book to publish as an e-book for Kindle. That’s sort of fun too 🙂

        I’m going to take some time during the course of this week, to read a few more of your stories. Your invitation to collaborate sounds interesting. Right now I am close to meltdown with the work I need to do, lol, but I would love to give this a try when my desk is clear. I’ll get back to you on this one when the desired clearness becomes apparent. 🙂 Thanks for the invite!

      • blackalchemy says:

        I write horror, but I will read anything I can get my hands on! 🙂 I will check out your stories for sure – you have some of the most intriguing titles – I especially enjoy tightly written flash and fantasy and dark fantasy is always fun fare. When I was a kid, and there were no more Stephen King, Peter Straub, or Bean Koontz books at the library that I hadn’t already devoured, I delved into the colorful realms of Tolkien and paperback sword and sorcery fantasy. I have never done what you mentioned, that is, experimenting with different styles and voices, but that sounds like fun. It certainly worked for Draggin’ Dragon! I’m totally in favor of self-publishing, I bet you would have a great time putting together a collection of shorts for Kindle. There is certainly an increased market and growing demand for quality ebooks, and it will only get larger. Keep weaving those words and have a good week!

  4. I think I mentioned to you that I periodically catch up on various emails, blog posts, etc, & I’ve had this post saved for some weeks now. Most glad I did.
    Concise, sharp edged story here; I enjoyed it thoroughly 🙂

    • blackalchemy says:

      Thank you, Joseph! It had a darker end than I had originally anticipated, but I had fun writing it. Who knows, technology is probably a perfect vehicle for revenge from beyond! 🙂

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