Here’s an excerpt from a short story I’m working on, Cellphone Girl. It’s about a nobody girl who wakes up one day and can receive phone calls to her cell phone in her head. Once her story goes viral, she becomes a sensation.
Feedback’s welcome. I’m planning to publish it soon, as a pair with another short story, on Amazon, as a Kindle Single. We’ll see.
Anna’s cellphone woke her up. A little mechanized version of a currently popular song – one that received no airplay on commercial radio stations but had become a massive viral hit on the web – droned on incessantly inside her head. She was lying on her back on her bed, and the four walls of her small bedroom seemed a bit smaller, seemed to hover over her. Outside, the rain was falling steadily, pelting her single window.
Her head hurt, payback for last night’s cocktails, and the music was making it worse. She tried to roll over, but like a beetle on its back, it was just impossible. She opened her eyes, looked around her spinning bedroom. For a moment, her eyes got caught on a picture on her wall, something she’d cut out of a magazine, an image of a society woman in a fur hat and boa. The phone wasn’t by the picture, or on her nightstand. It wasn’t on her dresser. She wasn’t sure, in fact, where it was.
“Oh, God,” she groaned. She rolled over and pulled a pillow over her head. “Where’s the phone?” The synthesized ringtone stopped playing.
“Anna?” Anna heard a voice say. She recognized the voice.
“Hey, what’s up? How you feeling? You talk to Ben yet?” Anna bolted up, looked around. A wave of pain washed over her head. She winced, look around again. Jen wasn’t in the room. Nobody was. Yet, she could hear Jen. It could be a dream, but she didn’t feel like she was dreaming. She felt like she was hung over. She blinked. She rubbed her eyes. No Jen.
“Jen, where are you?”
“In my kitchen. Why?” Anna was fairly sure she wasn’t sleeping, and she was completely sure she wasn’t in Jen’s kitchen.
“How are you talking to me?” Anna asked, looking up toward the ceiling, as if Jen could possibly be hanging above her. I must be dreaming, she thought.
“The phone. Ever hear of it? Jesus, how drunk were you?”
“Must be,” Anna mumbled incoherently.
“Well, call me back when you wake up. I wanna hear about Ben.” The disembodied voice of her friend disappeared. The pain in Anna’s head grew sharper; her eyes burned. The events of last night materialized in her mind: the club, the pink lady’s, Ben and his inscrutable immaturity, the pink lady’s. How many had she had? Many, judging by the pounding inside her skull.
“Getting up early,” she mumbled. “Makes you stupid.”
Coffee, aspirin were requirements. She’d go out later and get a burger at the coffee shop. She trudged into the other room, a tiny living room/dining room/kitchen, the last little more than an alcove with cabinets. She pulled out a filter, put it in the coffee maker. The coffee was in a mason jar on the counter. She blindly scooped out enough for several strong cups, added water, and turned on the machine. She felt feverish, and wondered briefly if she had a virus. She was already forgetting about the odd conversation with Jen.
She was pretty, with long, straight black hair, sharp brown eyes and olive skin, one of the completely anonymous, attractive people filling the world, people who didn’t have modeling contracts or TV shows, who weren’t gossiped about in the press merely because they were attractive. She was just some girl.
Her cellphone rang. Again.
At first, she thought, the phone’s ringing again. But it was a dream before, in her bedroom. The phone ringing now, in her living room/dining room/kitchen, meant it had to have been a dream earlier. But again, where was the phone? She looked around, but didn’t see it.
“Where’s the damn phone?” she said aloud.
“Anna?” Ben’s voice called out her name.
“Ben?” She spun around, then around again, then again, like a dervish. Ben wasn’t there; nobody was.
“Hey, babe, how you feeling?”
“Ben,” Anna said slowly, carefully, “where are you?” Confusion was giving way to panic. She could hear him, clear as a bell. She could hear him in her head. His voice filled her head. But he wasn’t anywhere in sight.
“I’m at my place. Wanna go get breakfast?”
“Ben, I have to go,” she said. Now she really was freaking out. Where the hell was her cellphone? Why could she hear Ben? And Jen before that? That wasn’t a dream? What the hell’s going on?
“Is it about last night? Please, Anna, let’s talk this over. Just, please, let’s meet, let’s talk,” he said, hopeful.
“Ben, please hang up.”
“I don’t want to hang up, baby. I don’t want to.”
“Hang up the fucking phone, Ben!”
“Okay, okay. Please, call me later. We can work this out.”
“Fine. Bye,” Ben said, hanging on the line, waiting for her to say something. She didn’t say anything. “I love you.” He waited, hoping to hear a similar sentiment from Anna. “Fine,” he said again, and hung up. Anna stood in the middle of her living room/dining room/kitchen, frozen. She stood there for a full minute, thinking. She was awake, she was sure of that now. She had had two full-on conversations with people who called her cellphone, and in neither case did she make use of her cellphone. She could not explain that last fact. Like lightning, a thought flashed into her head that filled her with dread.
She had to find her phone before the next call.
Anna exploded into motion, rifling through her small apartment. The hangover was an afterthought. She looked on the coffee table, on the end table. She overturned magazines, she overturned cushions. She looked in the kitchen. She looked in her closet. She opened the drawer on her nightstand. She flipped the sheets in a blur. They flew up in the air, filling the space above the bed, and silently, slowly floated back down. She couldn’t find it, and she couldn’t think straight to reason out where it was. Back in the living room/dining room/kitchen, she held her head in her hands. The headache was getting worse, she desperately wanted a cup of coffee. Where in God’s name was the Goddamned phone? She saw her purse resting on a table by the front door. She bolted for it, grabbed it, turned it over and dumped the contents on the table. Her purse, pens, a change purse, lipstick, compact, loose change, an earring all spilled out and clattered onto the table and floor. The cellphone wasn’t among the flotsam and jetsam.
She threw open the closet door next to the front door, grabbed the coat she’d worn last night. There, in the side pocket, she found her cellphone and the earpiece she wore so often. The phone was on, as it usually was. She and Jen smiled up at her, a picture of them in a bar in Sao Paulo filling the phone’s main screen. She turned it over. Nothing at all seemed out of place. The music started up again, da, da-da, da, dum, dum, de, da da, da, dum dum. The screen flashed the words “Mom.”
She held her breath. She couldn’t talk to her mother, not right now. This was all too weird. The music kept rattling on, driving her up a wall. Oh please, oh please go away, she thought, terrified that even a thought could trigger the phone. Pressure built up in her lungs; she’d never been good at the holding your breath game. She let out a long breath, slowly, a little huff escaping her throat. The music stopped. She heard nothing for one second. Two seconds.
“Hello? Anna?” her mother’s voice called out in her head. White-hot panic seized her. She didn’t dare utter a word. She stood there, holding the cellphone in her hand, terrified of it as if it was venomous.
“Anna?” her mother said again. Please hang up, please hang up, Anna thought. Please please please. Finally, she heard a muffled click, a disconnection. She couldn’t even breathe now? That would trigger it? She stared at the phone, what was she suddenly realized just an inert collection of wires in a little black plastic box. How could this be happening? Christ almighty, she thought.
“Call Jen,” she whispered. The phone blinked to life, Jen’s number popped up on a screen. She heard the rapid-fire notes, each number being called up and triggered in sequence.
She heard all this in her head.