I thought the first voice message was a wrong number when I heard it. Some young-sounding woman said she was going to meet “me” at the pub in three hours. Then a few hours later, a more angry voice message from her saying that “I” stood her up, but that “I” probably was attending some medical emergency. The thing that made me concerned was that my phone hadn’t registered any missed calls, nor had I gotten any SMS notifications from my telco either. Weird.
And really, me responding to a medical emergency? As if! I had a shitty job working at a warehouse where OSHA was a laughing stock “because of their sissy rules” and where pay was an even bigger joke. But I made do, it wasn’t a bad life considering how hard I’d had to fight to get there. Dad hadn’t always been able to make ends meet after mom walked out on him when I was six. Not that I remember mom that much, but still. I’d always harbor hate for her for doing that. He’d never been alright after that. The few times we’d been out and had a few too many, he’d sometimes confess that he still loved her. I remember asking him angrily how he could love someone that would just walk out on her family, his response was that I’d understand once I fell in love myself one day. He quit drinking after that one.
Yeah right, as if that’d ever happen when I was basically living paycheck to paycheck and never had the time to do anything but work and sleep most of the day. Sometimes I’d have a free weekend where I’d meet up with either dad or some friends at the pub. I just didn’t have the time for something as complicated as a relationship.
The phone buzzed and I picked it up, ah, missed call from dad. Shit, that’s what I get for spazzing out. I called him back and he wanted me to help him out with his new smart TV. I sighed theatrically and asked him if he’d tried the manual. After a few minutes of him complaining, I told him I’d be over after work the day after and that he’d better have some of his famous Coq Au Vin ready to make up for it. My heart warmed as I could hear him agree to it with a smile in his voice. We hung up and I realized that it was almost time for bed. Man, what a day!
When I woke up the next day, as I was going through my morning rituals, the weird messages from the other day had begun to fade in my mind. On a whim I called up my voice mail only to hear another one from the young woman, now thanking “me” for the thoughtful gift and that she was SO ON for going on a trip with “me”.
Enough was enough, I wasn’t about to hear about some romance crap like this, I phoned my telecom provider and talked to their support for a while. They promised to investigate the issue and get back to me with an update at a later time. Yeah whatever. As I hung up I considered that I was paying really well for my plan and that maybe just switching to a new number at a different telco would fix it. Ugh, what a pain in the ass that would be. Meh, I resolved to check prices later when I got home after visiting dad.
The rest of the day was mostly a blur, a big shipment of fresh groceries had come in and we were working our asses off packaging them and putting them on pallets while truck after truck came in to haul them off. By the time the bell rang for our shift, my arms were feeling like playdough. I headed out to my car and hauled up my phone to see a missed call from dad. Oh fucking great. .. I’d forgotten all about that. What a damn pain to go there when all I wanted to do is go home and just pass out. As I heard dad on the voice mail reminding me that we had a dinner planned, I briefly considered giving him a call with the excuse that I wasn’t feeling too well.
But all those thoughts evaporated like smoke when the automated voice said “one more message received on ” and then read a timestamp of a few hours earlier. It was the young woman again… gushing about how she had all these plans for the trip, asking a million questions about what “I’d” want or what we should do. I hung up when she lowered her voice suggesting more intimate stuff.
I was in a sour mood when I arrived at Dad’s. Hearing about someones perfect life really wasn’t my idea of fun. Not being able to even block this perpetual wrong number was even more aggravating. When he saw me standing there in the doorway, tired and miserable, he just laughed and gave me a hug, and asked me if I’d had a tough day. I nodded and while we were figuring out the TV, I shared the weird story with him about the mysterious woman calling me.
During dinner, he made up this elaborate fantasy about her being a ghost woman who was mistakenly haunting the wrong guy, forever bound to call me about things that had happened in the past. I shook my head and gave him a sharp look and told him that was oddly specific. Dad blushed and tried to play it off as a joke, but I could tell he was somewhat bothered by it.
After I’d stuffed myself with both chicken and red wine, I told dad that I was about to pass out. Since we’d already fixed the TV (of course it was easy once you read the manual!), he offered to drive me home since I’d had a bit too much wine. I graciously accepted and thought about how good it was that dad never really was too interested in alcohol that way. Having some of it in food, sure? But if he had wine or beer or anything, he made sure it was always alcohol-free.
When he dropped me off and handed me the car keys to my own car, I thanked him again and offered him cab fare home, as always he declined saying that if he ever stopped taking the subway “I’d become a stuck-up rich person like my successful son!” We shared a laugh and I made him promise to call me when he was home again. About an hour or so later, he called me and we wished each other a good night. I passed out immediately after that on the sofa and woke up to the alarm a few hours later, hating the fact that mornings… were in fact mornings.
The day after was calmer and in the lull in the afternoon, I got a call from the teleco support guy who told me that they hadn’t been able to find anything wrong with my voice mail. When I asked him if he could at least give me the number of the person that had called me, he said that the only recent calls had come in from one specific number, which turned out to be dads.
After we hung up, I sat down on a nearby stack of pallets in a state of disbelief. Was this some kind of joke? No, there’s no way anyone would construct something that elaborate just to mess with me right? The telco couldn’t be in on it too, that’d be paranoid. I called up the voice mail and pushed the buttons to start reading up past messages and the only messages present were those from my dad and my friends. As I hung up again, I broke out into a cold sweat. This… this couldn’t be happening could it? It had to be some kind of prank .. or hack .. or something!
I gritted my teeth and looked down at my aging smartphone, yeah, someone had probably gotten into this thing and installed some kinda prank software, it had to be. Well, the jokes were gonna be on them, because I knew a guy that specialized in fixing phones. I resolved to take it to him as soon as I could.
On Friday I went over to my old buddy Pike, who heard my story and laughed at my dad’s theory of the whole thing. He nodded when I described the call with support, their inability to find any data, my own inability to find any previously saved messages. So while I played some half-decent FPS game on his console, he got to work and checked out the phone’s software. A few rounds later of me constantly dying over and over and he came into the living room and shook his head.
He couldn’t find anything wrong with the phone, nothing at all. He’d even pulled the internal hardware cache logs that showed the interactions between the phone and the telecom equipment and nothing was out of the ordinary there. At this point, I could tell he was hooked as he practically begged me to let him borrow the phone for a day or two while he’d give me one of his other smartphones to borrow in the meantime. I shrugged my shoulders and told him that as long as I didn’t have to fiddle around with that hideously small SIM card, it was all good.
A few hours later, I was home when the phone rang. It was dad again, wanting to know if I was free the following weekend. I told him as usual that I had nothing planned, but that I couldn’t really guarantee anything because of work. Dad chuckled and cracked a joke that I didn’t have to pretend to be single anymore, because of my “new” girlfriend. I told him to get bent with a laugh and then we hung up.
But that had reminded me either way, I decided to call the voice line again in a fit of curiosity and sure enough, there was a saved voice mail from a few hours ago. Damn, changing phones hadn’t helped, so whatever this prank was, it must be someone from the telco that was in on it! All of my thoughts about digging into it stopped though when the woman started describing that she was lost, where was “I”? Why hadn’t “I” met her at the prearranged place? I could hear her walking around outside as she complained that it was getting dark and that being in a forest by herself really wasn’t her idea of fun. Then the call cut out mid-sentence and I realized that she’d reached the maximum length of the voice message. The automated voice stated that there was another message saved, this one from a minute ago, which meant that it’d come in while I’d been listening to her previous voice mail. I pressed the key to listen, with fingers that felt cold.
Her voice crying now, begging, pleading, saying she wanted me there, that she needed me there. That I was cruel to put her through this and then a sharp banging sound as the call cut out again.
My hands now felt like ice as I put down the phone on the table and stared at it. What the hell was this? What kind of a sick person would play this kind of prank on someone?
Then the phone rang unexpectedly, the display read “unknown caller”. With hands that were shaking, I pushed the answer button and said “Hello?” with a voice that I barely kept steady.
There was the sound of the outside, with some animals in the background, and then the sharp slamming sound of a door closing. I heard footsteps on wood and the creaking of a chair as the caller sat down.
“Oh my beloved son, I had to do it for your sake. She really wasn’t worthy of you at all.”
The voice was old and wizened, but I somehow managed to reply to it, “Who.. who is this?”
The reply came with a happy tone of voice “Oh dear, don’t you recognize the voice of your mother? I know it’s been a while since we saw each other, but I promise you, we’ll reunite soon enough. Just don’t invite your dad to the party.” and then a sharp click as the line went dead.
I looked at the phone in terror, what’d happened here? I almost dropped the phone when it buzzed in my hand, the screen lit up with an SMS from an unknown number.
As I opened it, my stomach churned when I saw the numbers in front of me.