I wasn’t in the best of moods when the phone rang. I had just come into the house, stomping my feet free of the dead leaves that had attached to my shoes from the short walk from the backyard where the truck was parked to the mudroom.
I was mad at my cousin for ruining yet another opportunity to get out somewhere together and have a meaningful day. It had started out ok; I’d picked her up in town. At that time, the sun was out, and, although the late fall weather was brisk, the sky was clear with no sign of the clouds which may harbor either rain or snow this time of year.
For once, she’d been on time and was waiting for me at the curb in front of her apartment building. She climbed into the truck and gave me a brief air kiss before settling into the seat and latching her seat belt. We drove off in the direction of the interstate which would eventually lead us, approximately two hours later, to a somewhat run down amusement park. This wasn’t my idea of a fantastic time; driving several hours to some seedy place to ride a rickety old wooden roller coaster, but, hey, I was doing my best to get along with her, and hitting amusement parks was one of her favorite things to do.
When I’m in the car by myself, I almost always listen to a book on CD. It passes the time, plus, I’ve found I tend to read books in the car that I otherwise never would. Today, however, I’d decided that if my cousin chose to enter into a conversation with me, I’d forego the book and be happy with a chat. If not, I’d just pop the CD in.
After fifteen minutes or so of a somewhat stilted going nowhere conversation, I did just that. My cousin immediately turned to me and said, “You KNOW I can’t stand reading in the car, it makes me car sick!” I rolled my eyes at her. “Come on. You’re not actually reading, you’re listening. How can this be any different than tuning in to a radio station? Besides, this is a really good book. I’ll tell you what”, I added as I leaned over and switched off the CD. “I’m not that far into it. I’ll fill you in on what’s going on and we can take it from there. Ok?” I glanced over at her. Her face was set in an expression that I knew all too well. Crap.
“I really, really don’t want to listen to a book”, she huffed. “Fine”, I said. “But at least let’s talk or something, we still have almost two hours before we reach the park”.
I snapped. Without saying another word, I turned the car around and drove her ass back to her apartment building. She got out, flipped me the bird, and flounced up the stairs to the door.
I gave her a finger flutter of my own and thought, “Fine by me. Fine by me.”
So, walking into my door twenty or so minutes after that and hearing the annoying ringing of the phone just irritated the heck out of me. I threw my purse, gloves, coat, truck keys; the whole shebang, on the floor in a fit of pique and marched over to the phone. Snatching it up, I turned a quarter-circle and saw myself in the hallway mirror. My mouth was set in an ugly line which didn’t do much for my appearance. Softening my expression somewhat, I said briskly rather than brusquely, “Hello?”
There was quite a bit of static on the other end and I couldn’t tell if there was someone on the line or not. “Hello? Hello?” I repeated several times before I finally heard a voice, made scratchy from either the static or years of heavy smoking, reply “Mrs. Henderson?”
“No, no, there’s no Mrs. Henderson here, you’ve got the wrong number” I made to hang the phone up without waiting for a response when a loud burst of static, followed by a shout by the scratchy voice stilled my hand. “DON’T hang up!”, the voice warned. “Don’t!”
There was something odd about that voice. It wasn’t merely scratchy, I thought to myself, it was somewhat tinny sounding; like the person was talking from inside some tightly enclosed space or from very far away. For some reason, I thought of Cole Porter.
“What is it you want?” I said. “I already told you, you’ve got the wrong number”.
“Mrs. Henderson”, it replied. “We’re calling to let you know that there is an escaped inmate that’s been spotted near your house”.
“We’re?” I repeated. There was more noise from the other end of the phone. I wasn’t sure, but, I thought I heard laughter in the background.
“Ok, fine, I get it, this is some prank call. Well, ha-ha funny-funny, but let me tell you, I’m not in the best mood right now so---”
“No, let us tell you, Mrs. Henderson”, the voice interrupted. “You’re not in the best PLACE right now”.
I looked outside the front picture window and could see that it was now pitch dark outside. As I stood there holding the phone watching the night, I saw movement near the big oak tree. My stomach roiled and I tasted vinegar in my mouth. In a moment, irritation bled to fear and I decided it was time to hang up.
I crashed the receiver down into the cradle and headed back towards the mudroom , stopping to frantically kneel down and dig around in the pile stuff I’d thrown on the ground for the keys to the truck. Finding them, I raced on, passing through the kitchen and almost tripping on the cat.
It was the cat that stopped me as he was just lying there, as he always did this time of night, waiting for his supper. Aren’t animals supposed to pick up on danger? He certainly didn’t seem perturbed, and, he hated loud noises. Shouldn’t the phone ringing have sent him scurrying under the bed?
Phone. Phone. Phone.
I turned and looked back at the hallway table.
There was no phone. The only phone I had was a cell phone.
And it was in the truck.