by SJI Holliday
The problem with the ringing phone wasn’t how loud it was, or that it hadn’t stopped ringing for an hour, but that Tom didn’t have a phone.
It’d been 172 hours since The Man had visited and told him what he needed to do. 167 hours and 47 minutes since Tom had burned all The Technology in the furnace in the basement. The Man had talked for nearly an hour. 55 minutes, to be exact. Once he was done, Tom realised he hadn’t moved a muscle the entire time. He had drool running down the side of his mouth from his slack jawed acceptance of The Man’s speech.
Tom was no different to anyone else, he’d thought. Everyone had The Technology. Years before, Tom remembered vaguely, there had only been landlines. There was no way you could lie about where you were. That was one thing Tom was particularly guilty of, in fact he’d done it just the other day. 185 hours ago when Kimmy had called saying ‘Where are you baby? I thought you were coming to see me.’ Tom had said, ‘I’m just picking us up some beers, then I’ll be on my way, honey. Get yourself warmed up for me, huh?’ He hadn’t been picking up any beers. He’d just finished boning Clara, the hot blonde from across the hall. It wasn’t the first time either. After that he’d just turned off his cell. He hadn’t spoken to Kimmy since. Wasn’t much chance of it now either, since he’d melted the phone in the furnace.
Which is why it was kind of a problem that he could still hear it ringing.
He’d gone back down there, just in case there was any way that the phone might’ve fallen on the floor; maybe someone recognized it as his and stuck it though his mailbox.
He’d struggled a bit with the TV. Damn flat-screens were heavier than they looked. He’d watched it pop and shrivel inside the furnace before he’d shut the door. The stench of the melting plastic had caught at the back of his throat.
It was easier with the other stuff. The laptop was small and light. He tossed it in. He hesitated over the brand new android tablet. He’d only had it a week. Just managed to set it up to be able to record the TV, not to mention converting and transferring all of his music and videos on there. He’d stood at the open door of the furnace, the flames licking the sides of the dark cavern; tablet in hand. When he started to feel the heat scorching his eyebrows, he tossed the tablet inside and slammed the door shut.
That was it. That was all The Technology he had. Wasn’t it?
‘All of it,’ The Man had said. ‘It will only work if you toss all of it.’
‘How long will it take?’ Tom had asked.
The man had cocked his head and stared. He had a face like an inquisitive sparrow. ‘I can’t tell you that,’ The Man said, ‘I still have a lot of people to see.’
After The Man left, Tom sat in the dark and waited for It to happen.
Waited to see The Light.
His stomach cramped. His head spun like a merry-go-round. His mouth felt like an old rug that’d been left in the sun.
Still, the phone rang.
Using a final burst of energy, he’d turned the apartment upside down. He’d looked inside the empty shell in the wall where he’d pulled out the microwave. He crawled into the space near the sink where he’d disconnected the dishwasher. He trawled though the trash. He even checked inside the toilet bowl. Just in case.
If he could just find the damn thing and answer it. He could tell them to stop ringing. Tell them he needed to get rid of the phone. It was holding things up. Stopping It from happening.
He peered into the darkness of the unplugged refrigerator. The smell of the rotting vegetables sucked inside his nostrils. His appetite was long gone.
He folded himself back into the space near the sink. Knees pulled up to his chest. He felt things crawling in his hair; heard The Man whispering stuff inside his head; jittering, crazy noises. Like a jar full of flies.
He pushed his fingers into his ears to drown out the incessant ringing of the phone.
Closed his eyes, and waited.
Waited to see The Light.