Never answer your own phone number

/ by

I received the first call at seven in the morning. There I was, eyes closed and soundly snoring under the comfort of a heavy blanket when the ascending clangorous jangle of my phone’s ringtone broke the spell of beautiful sleep.
‘Naturally’ I thought to myself curmudgeonly as consciousness was forced upon me.
I let it ring until it stopped. Though I was more than a bit annoyed at being roused from such satisfying slumber, I soon slipped back into the grasp of sweet dreams.
I woke an hour later. I had a coffee, brushed my teeth, hopped in the shower and inspected my reflection in the mirror to make sure I was still passable as mildly attractive.
‘Not going downhill yet Timothy,’ I said to myself, as I did every morning in some sort of ego enforcing ritualistic exercise.
At 8:25, with my ‘monkey suit’ neatly in place, I headed out the door and down four floors via elevator ready to start my day at Crawford, Crawford, and Reynolds. You guessed it, law firm gopher.
My phone began to vibrate in my blazer pocket, as it periodically does when a call is missed and the notification has gone unseen. ‘Maybe I won another Caribbean Cruise,’ I thought sarcastically to myself.
When I flipped it open I saw this:
Missed Call
November 7. 7:00 A.M.
(310) 542-6789.
This was odd because that was my phone number. I puzzled over it briefly when the elevator gave a ding. As the doors slid open I gave a shrug, grunted a quick hmph and was done with the matter.
The rest of the day was mundanely routine. I won’t bore you with the details…suffice to say that despite the suit, my job entailed making a lot of coffee, xeroxing a lot of papers and speaking my office time catchphrase to waiting clientele: Mr. Crawford will see you now.
After work I met my best friend Ben at the Toxic Manhattan, a sort of trendy ‘hipster meets corporate’ bar that I frequented often to unwind or pick up girls. There was more photocopying than usual today and I was a bit fatigued, so trying to get laid was not really in my gameplan.
“So this dipshit who took the bar exam five fucking times was made a god damned associate,” Ben said as we glugged down our mugs of imported Viennese Hefeweizen.
Everyone was a dipshit to Ben, except me of course. But that exception likely only extended to me so long as I was in his company. “And you want to know why? Because his God damned the last name is Seymour and the old man thought that that was ‘quaint.’” Ben was a junior associate for Seymour and Seymour Law and always had an ax to grind about something related to his work.
I was beginning to get bored of his complaints when God granted me a small favor, or at least I thought so. My phone began to ring.
“Hey Ben, I got to head out pal this is a very import-” I looked down at the call screen and saw it again: incoming call (310) 542-6789.
“What the….,” I said, not really to anyone at all.
“What’s up?” Ben asked.
“This is the second time today I’ve gotten a call from my own number.”
Bens face went from mild indifference to child-like interest and before I could do anything he pulled the phone from my hand and flipped it open.
“Yo, this is the Benjamin,” he spoke into the receiver.
“Speak dickhead,” he said after a few seconds of silence. He turned to me when no reply came.
“Your shit is proverbially whacked.”
I snatched the open phone back and pressed it to my ear. “Hello.”
“…Hello.” my own voice repeated after a seconds delay. The beginning bit sounded weird, almost like a backward echo that had been corrected right before the first syllable.
“This is Tim. Who is calling?”
“…Who is calling?…This is Tim.”
I was a bit unnerved. Of course, I had experienced the universal ‘phone echo’ before, as I’m sure most people who have used a telephone have. But this just sounded strange, like my repeating voice was affected by some kind of…reverse reverb. Add to that that this was my own number calling and I’m sure that vague drop I felt in the pit of my stomach was understandable.
I was about to hang up but the voice, my voice, spoke again.
“…You’re not going downhill Timothy…yet.”
I closed the phone, downed my beer, put a crisp twenty on the bar table and made to leave.
“Alright dick,” I heard Timothy in the background. “You don’t have to say goodbye or anything.”
Under normal circumstances, I would’ve shot back the old “Fuck you too Ben.” These weren’t normal circumstances and right then I could give zero fucks about Ben.
If I was stirred getting a call from my own phone, or hearing my own voice repeat back to me in some kind of unnatural reverse echo then I was completely shaken by that last line:
“…You’re not going downhill Timothy…yet.”
The line kept playing in my head as I walked hurriedly down the street.
“You’re not going downhill, Timothy.”
I could still hear it as I got in my car.
I started the engine, reversed like a son-of-a-bitch without any semblance of caution and spend my way home.
When I stepped through my front door I made a b-line for the restroom. I inspected the mirrors, cabinets and every crook and cranny for something to make this make sense. I must have looked like some crank addict searching for that bit of inconspicuously hidden meth. I had it worked in my head that maybe someone had been recording me, though why I couldn’t imagine.
‘Maybe someone connected to one of my boss’s high-status clients’ I thought as I tore up the couch.
‘Or possibly one of the many girls I’ve scorned looking to settle some score.’ I postulated as I emptied all my dresser drawers.
Then a thought hit me.
‘Or maybe Ben is just fucking with me.’
I didn’t really buy it, but the idea eased my nerves and I forced acceptance. Five minutes later I was laughing, cursing Ben under forced chuckles while I made a rush job of cleaning my mess. That night I lay myself to sleep feigning relief but feeling an uneasy knot in my stomach.
I awoke at eight in the morning, drank my coffee, brushed my teeth and gave my reflection a serious studying. But everything seemed to be normal so I laughed and got dressed.
On my way down to a street level, I caught sight of myself once more on the elevator doors brassy surface. I practiced a winning smile and admired what I saw. I got so carried away that I pretty much leaped in the air when my phone rang.
Incoming call (310) 542-6789.
I let it ring to voicemail as the doors opened and hurriedly made my way to my car. But It kept ringing. It kept fucking ringing. It rang as I started the engine. It rang as I drove down the 405. It rang and rang until I snapped and answered.
“Cut the shit, Benjamin!”
“..Cut the shit Benjamin!” my voice replied back. The echo sounded faster now. The obscene silence that preceded my mirrored words had become an awkward pause. I don’t know why but that terrified me.
I hung up the phone, pulled out the battery and put the pieces in my jacket’s breast pocket. The action did little to comfort me, but I was able to get through most of the workday… that was until the final hour.
I was sitting in front of Mr. Crawford’s desk (the father not the son) taking dictation as he spoke aloud about strategies for pursuing a case he was retained for when my breast pocket started vibrating. My forehead was instantly dripping with a cold sweat.
My fingers kept typing, Crawford kept speaking and my phone…it kept silently buzzing.
‘I took out your battery!’ my mind screamed.
“Timothy are you going to silence that damn vibrating phone of yours!?” Crawford shouted breaking his stream of thought mid-sentence.
I stood up, reached into my pocket and pulled out my intact phone.
“I’m sorry Mr. Crawford I…”
There, outside the office windows, I saw him stroll by. I saw me stroll by!
“…I gotta go”
I ran out of the room leaving my very flustered boss screaming after me. The words “You’re finished” were used but I wasn’t really thinking about job security.
‘Backdoor. Backdoor!’ my mind automatically instructed as I sprinted down the office hall, bumped into one of the reception girls and sent hundreds of papers flying.
‘Get up! Don’t apologize! Backdoor!’
I did just that, but I couldn’t stop myself from stealing a look back towards the front of the office. I saw the doors open. I saw him…I step in. The son of a bitch smiled at me. A big toothy shit-eating grin.
I ran out, jumped in my car and for the second time in two days tore asphalt like a maniac down the Los Angeles road. I wasn’t thinking really, otherwise, I would’ve gone anywhere but where I went to. But home is where we all go when our minds check out in paralyzed horror and we need a figurative safe blanket to hide under.
When I stepped through my doors all I wanted to do was curl up in my bed and blackout. But I knew the second I was inside that confrontation was coming. As if to cement that realization, my phone rang. With trembling hands and a cracking voice, I answered.
“Why are you doing this!”
“Why are you doing this!”
His voice was virtually inseparable from mine now, save a millisecond or two, and together we sounded like a double-tracked recording. I looked out my window, phone in hand and saw him parking his…my car.
“My God..” I said to myself.
“My God..” my doppelganger mirrored into the phone he carried. I watched him make his way to the entrance of the building. He stopped and looked up at me making a sad face and shrugging his shoulders as if to say ‘I’m sorry.’ But the next second he was all smiles again and resumed his walk through the building’s doors.
I dropped the phone and ran to the couch pushing it against the apartment’s door. Then I threw my hutch on top of it. In a panic I started buttressing the door with anything heavy I could drag, dresser, television…the god damned toaster oven.
I was in a complete state of terror, heart racing, mind useless, hands trembling. But when I heard the ding of the elevator doors opening all I felt mere seconds before was dwarfed by the purest paralytic horror.
I could only take in sights and sounds, I could not synthesize them into thoughts.
Footsteps down the hall, closer, growing louder, stopping in front of my door. I felt a wet warmth running down my leg.
The sound of keys jangling, the lock turning. My eyes couldn’t be wider if you pried them open with clamps. The knob turned but the door wouldn’t give.
“You’re going down Timmy,” my…his voice said calmly from outside the door. He pushed himself against the door but my barricade held.
“You are going down,”
I don’t know if I had breathed in over a minute.
“No, no Timmy.” The pushes gave way to slams and the door opened a sliver as my barricade was forcefully pushed back.
“You’re really not listening,”
I could see bits of him now through the narrow opening.
“You are going DOWN!”
His foot was through the opening now but he still could not make it all the way through.
I fell to the floor in a fetal position and looked away. The phone was right beside me. Maybe it was the inspiration for seeing it, or that my fight mechanism finally kicked on in response to my impending…well, whatever he was going to do to me. But I got an idea. It was a stupid idea, perhaps the hail mary of ideas but an idea nonetheless.
My doppelganger pulled his foot back from the opening and I knew from the running steps I heard moving away from the door that his next slam would be the kill shot. I just had one chance. I flipped the phone open and dialed as I heard him begin his charge:
(310) 542-6789
It rang. More importantly, I couldn’t hear my doppelganger outside my door.
“Hello?” I heard myself answer but I wasn’t paying attention. Pulling myself up, I cautiously made my way around the toppled mess and to the door of my apartment. There was no one there.
“Hellloooo… How are you calling me from this number, who is this?”
Tears streamed down my cheeks. Not tears of joy or triumph, but of survival. Traumatic survival. My lips started to move.
“Hey do me…yourself a favor and change your God damned number.” I said into the receiver before hanging up and throwing my cell unto the floor. It broke open. Circuitry flew out…and I was finally smiling.
That was two weeks ago. I am still recovering and probably will be for life. But I write this all now because I need to, to exorcise the shellshock I feel and to warn you. Please, don’t ever answer a call from your own number.

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