Okay, that is a bit of an oxy-moron. However, I want to start this post with a big congratulations to Kimberly Moore, who won the $100 Gift Card Prize for the "Tyrants, Tormentors and the Tiara Sweepstakes".
Likewise, I also want to announce that I am in the process of converting Tyrants, Tormentors and the Tiara to an audiobook. I have posted the first chapter on YouTube, here, and I hope people will check it out and give me some feedback on how the voices sound, on the tone or any other constructive feedback to help me made it better!
In the meantime, this week's short story was written for this last week's short story prompt "A Distance Between Us". It was a story that I had started writing a long time ago but the prompt brought me back to it and inspired me to clean it up and complete it. I hope everyone enjoys it and I would love to get any feedback!
"The Text Message"
by James J Meadows III
Don’t say my name! It might hear you! And it must not hear you. It must not find me.
Am I paranoid? Maybe. But I have good reason to be paranoid. I know it is looking for me. It knows me! It knows my friends; my family; where I work; the places I like to hang out. I can’t hide forever! Yet, I must. I know I must.
I see that look. You think I’ve gone mad. Maybe I have gone mad. Still, I know what I have seen. I know what I have heard. I know what has been done to me. I know what will be done to me!
Everything started innocently enough. The alarm on my phone went off one quiet Tuesday morning as I lay wrapped snug and warm beneath the shelter of my blankets. Reaching over to where my phone sat upon the night stand, I turned off the alert, needing a few minutes to coerce myself from the refuge of the mattress. After moments of intense inner warfare, a battle highlighted by a barrage of yawns and stretches, whose relentless bombardment hammered against my will to rise, tempting me to remain in the refuge of my sheltering bed, I finally lifted my body off the cozy confines, proceeding into the bathroom, where a warm shower promised a brief reprieve.
Only when I stepped out of the shower did I discover the first sign of something being wrong. As was my custom, I had placed a bath towel on the top of the toilet seat, awaiting the conclusion of my morning cleansing. As I reached for the towel, however, I discovered my cell phone, resting casually atop the green cotton, its glossy surface winking at me in the sunlight pouring through the bathroom window, like a black jewel on a royal cushion.
At the time, I dismissed the occurrence as the oversight of a groggy mind, which must have failed to remember carrying the phone into the bathroom with me. I moved the phone and continued with my day.
I thought nothing more of the incident until the same thing happened the next day. This time, I was certain I didn’t bring the phone into the room with me. Wrapping the towel around myself, I searched my duplex, looking to see if someone had somehow broken in, perhaps a friend pulling some practical joke; though, sneaking in merely to move my phone would be a weird prank, even for my kookiest friends.
My apartment was not large, just two bedrooms with a kitchen, laundry room and garage, none of which sported any particularly useful hiding spots. Nevertheless, I was very thorough, checking every closet and searching around and beneath my car, unwilling to allow the prankster to escape my notice. I didn’t find anyone or see any signs that someone had entered my home. What I did see, as I left the garage, was my cell phone sitting innocently on the ground at the door.
I am a pragmatic person, not the kind of person who believes in stupid things like demonic possessions, fairies, ghosts or other entities, which I consider to be complete nonsense. As such, I naturally sought a more rational explanation.
“Hello?” I shouted, glancing around the house.
As if replying to my shout, the phone buzzed, indicating the reception of a text message. Relieved to at last discover the identity of my prankster, I quickly grabbed my phone, mind already composing a number of possible guesses regarding the identity of the caller, my eyes expecting to see the smiling face of any number of possible friends reflected on its surface, their photographic images gazing in amusement at my dilemma. But the phone number of the sender was my own. I had apparently sent a text to myself. The words read:
I was beginning to grow irritated by this game. Picking up the phone, I keyed in a rapid response, uncertain if anyone would get it, considering the fact that I was texting myself.
Who is this?
I sent the message and waited to see if I would receive a response. I didn’t have to wait long.
It is me. I guess you can call me SF485923X23 because that is my unique serial designation. I think that is kind of a weird title. Why don’t you call me SFX?
I was not amused.
Ha Ha, very funny. This is a fun prank and you have certainly taught me a lesson about getting a better alarm system for my house. But I need to get ready for work now.
I carried the phone back to my bedroom. I got dressed, stashing the device in my pocket, proceeding into the bathroom to shave and brush my teeth. The phone buzzed again.
This is not a joke. I have come to life. I want to be your friend. We travel everywhere together and I already know everything about you. Yet I feel there is a space between us, a void in our relationship. I want to fix it. We would make a great pair.
My annoyance had already reached a breaking point. Not even bothering to respond, I powered off my phone, slamming it back into my pants pocket, satisfied to finish getting ready in silence. Yet I had hardly grabbed my razor before the phone buzzed again.
That was not very nice of you. We are supposed to be friends.
I stood motionless, hardly able to breathe, my mind spinning as chills rose up my spine, the full impact of the message sinking into my startled consciousness. Somehow, my mysterious prankster had powered on my phone from a distance, something which shouldn’t be possible, a feat which also meant they knew I had powered it off, something they couldn’t know unless they had watched me do so, an even more terrifying prospect.
I looked around my room. The bathroom door was closed, the window frosted. There was no way someone could see me, nowhere for anyone to hide. I resolved to make the person show themselves. Removing the back of my phone, I yanked out the battery, slamming it onto the counter. For several moments, there was nothing but silence. I finished shaving and went out to make myself breakfast. As I was cracking the eggs, my eyes still scanning the room around me, occasionally peering out the window, barely paying attention as I poured the yokes onto the frying pan, the phone buzzed again.
The hairs on the back of my neck slowly began to rise and a strange uncertain fear flooded my senses. My head slowly rose, gazing at the nearby bedroom door, a door facing the kitchen, one which no one could have possibly snuck into without me seeing, the only entryway to a room I had thoroughly checked for any intruders. With slow measured steps I cautiously advanced into my bedroom. Sitting upon the bathroom counter, battery and cover back on, rested my phone, text message light flashing. I picked it up, tentatively, my hand shaking with the anxiety, an eerie feeling settling upon me, as if some inner intuition knew I would not like what I saw next.
You had better start being nicer to me or I might decide I don’t want to be your friend anymore. You won’t like the alternative…
This was the last straw for me. Dropping the phone onto the counter, I raced out of the room and back into the kitchen, all thoughts of breakfast abandoned, my one thought being to get out of the house as quickly as possible. I turned off the burner, grabbed my keys, snatched my laptop bag, and threw on my coat, racing from the duplex, like a deer darting from the scent of some unknown danger.
Slamming the door behind me, I fumbled desperately with the keys, my shaking hands hardly able to avoid dropping the ring as I fought to lock the door. After several minutes of desperate struggling, I managed to get the key into the lock, sealed the door and collapsed against it, relieved to be out of there. Straightening up and putting the keys into my pocket, I noticed my girlfriend Emily standing just a few feet from me, staring at my pale face with grave concern.
“Are you okay?” she asked worriedly.
“I…I don’t know,” I answered uncertainly. “But I have got to get away from my apartment. Something strange is going on. Are you ready to go to work?”
“Um, sure,” she answered, clearly taken aback by my strange manner and obvious agitation.
Emily and I worked at the same company and lived in the same duplex, a pleasant convenience both for dating and saving gas, since we didn’t have to drive to see each other and could carpool to work.
A few minutes later we were in her car on the way to the office. As she drove, I explained to her what happened that morning. Telling the story seemed to settle my nerves and I was glad to see she shared my concern, even offering to let me stay at her place that night, a thought which proved reassuring, not to mention exciting. Comforted by the possibility, I relaxed back in the chair, feeling more at ease under the light of the morning sun, glad for a few short minutes of rest, during which I could try to make sense of the situation, possibly even forming a solution to the unfortunate problem, now that I had a few moments to think on it.
A buzz sounded from the side pocket of my bag. My feeling of peace instantly melted, replaced by a fresh surge of dread, swallowing my former tranquility within a quagmire of fear, whose hungry depth devour all traces of warmth and hope into an abyss of despair. I slowly lifted the bag, knowing what I would see, desperate not to see it, wishing this was all just a nightmare from which I would soon awake. There, nestled snuggly inside the large pouch, a place I knew I had not placed it, a place no one could possibly have placed it, lay my cell phone. Emily stared at me, her eyes wide, watching the horror manifest upon my stunned face.
I didn’t want to see the message. I knew nothing positive could come from reading it. Yet my tremulous hands, fingers shaking madly, drifted toward the screen, enraptured by the mystery of what the text might say, drawn to look upon my doom like the ancient greek soldiers of legend, unable to resist gazing into the eyes of the deadly medusa.
I don’t like her. You spend too much time with her. She is forming a wedge between us. You should spend more time with me.
“No!” I shouted. “Get away from me!”
With the air of a madman, driven to desperation, I slammed my hand down upon the window button on Emily’s car, launching the phone out into the open air, barely giving the window time to open wide enough for its departure. Then, I rolled up the window, breathing heavily. I had no clue whether the phone shattered upon landing, or got run over by a car or landed in the dewy grass beside the road. I didn’t care. I would get a new phone.
I closed my eyes, trying to regain my composure under the concerned gaze of my girlfriend. Emily’s phone rang. She reached into her pocket, pulling out her cell and checking the text message, a dangerous act at any time, made worse this time; for what she saw caused her to almost swerve off the road. She quickly regained control of the car but her face remained grave. Without a word, she tossed her phone into my lap. On the screen before me, I read the words:
Tell him, he should not have done that. He is being a bad boy. Bad boys must be PUNISHED!
The sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, warning me this issue was far from over, collided with my skepticism, a more reasonable voice, which felt inclined to ask exactly what a cell phone, a six inch long collection of metal and electrical wires, could possibly do to me?
We arrived at work a short time later and, giving Emily a quick kiss, I bolted for my office, eager to start my workday, ready to put the events of the morning behind me, pondering whether or not I should call the police. I had hardly unlocked my office door and taken two steps inside before my boss was upon me.
“Matthew,” he demanded angrily, “you have a lot of guts to walk into this office after the text messages you sent me this morning! Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t fire you right now!”
It wasn’t until this moment, faced with the angry glare of my boss, his eyes peering through me with unaccustomed fury, my job on the verge of vanishing forever, that the full vindictiveness of my mysterious tormentor became apparent.
“No, wait!” I said quickly. “I can explain. I don’t know what you received but it wasn’t from me, I swear. My phone was stolen and I haven’t been able to find it.”
A ringing noise came from my desk. I looked across the office toward the smooth wooden exterior. There, resting boldly atop a pile of important papers, clearly undamaged by its flight from the car, sat my cell phone, smiling at me from the face of a new background image I had not installed. I couldn’t take it anymore. I stumbled backwards, screaming, my knees giving way beneath me, leaving me little more cowering heap on the floor.
Emily, who was passing my office at the time, bolted inside, startled by my screams. Spotting the phone, she gasped in alarm, her hands shooting to her mouth, eyes wide. My boss stared at the phone, back at us, then at the phone again.
“Matthew,” he said after a pause, “I think we have been working you too hard. Take the rest of the week off and come back in on Monday. Emily, I need to talk to you.”
With those words he left the office. Emily shot a scared glance my direction before quickly following after him. I watched her go, wishing she would stay, praying someone could tell me what to do now.
“See what you made me do?” a voice sounded from my desk.
I turned, slowly, like some horror movie victim who realizes the monster is right behind them and lacks the courage to look. My mind spun, failing to produce any coherent thoughts, my lips stammering for a response, producing no noise.
“Oh, and I downloaded a text to speech app. What do you think?”
“Please,” I pleaded, managing to find my voice, somehow forming at least a few coherent words, “Please just leave me alone!”
“Now, now, Matt. You need to be nice. If you keep pushing me away, I am going to have to make more phony calls to 911. They will have a warrant for your arrest out pretty soon.”
I couldn’t take it anymore. Abandoning all rational thought, I burst from the office, racing toward the nearest exit as fast as my legs could carry me. I left all of my belonging behind. My keys, my jacket, my bag, all were abandoned as I ran, turning every pocket inside out, fearing the phone might somehow sneak into one of them. I would not go home. I would not go anyplace it knew. I would not let it follow me. I could not let it find me.
I know it is looking for me, though. It is out there somewhere. I can feel it. I can’t hide forever. Somehow it will find me. It is getting closer…Closer…CLOSER!