Short Story Of the Day, The Call by Bill Chance

“As useless as always. There are so many jerks out there. I had a shoot last night and the photographer made a pass at me. Of course that happens, but this guy was awful. And disgusting.”

—-Bill Chance, The Call

Telephone Pole, Deep Ellum, Texas


I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#7). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

The Call

Jim was not a morning person and suffered from bad hangovers. He had learned to drink a glass of water and take aspirin before he fell dead asleep drunk – he knew hangovers were partially caused by dehydration – but had forgotten. Again.

The ringing phone felt like needles poking him through thick cotton. The phone was tangled in the same mass of sheets and blankets he was. The only way to find it was to trace the cord from the wall through the disorganized confusion until he found the instrument. His last apartment had one of the new style phone system with square jacks in the wall where you could move your phone from one place to another but this one hadn’t been updated and the phone was hard-wired. At least there were two, one in the living room and one by his bed. That was a modern luxury.

Finally, he had the earsplitting thing in his hands. It felt huge and heavy. At least it had buttons. He never missed the rotary phones that had mostly disappeared over the last few years. He would always hesitate, stumble and get wrong numbers with those things. He stared at the phone and considered not answering. He could not think of anyone he wanted to talk to right then. But he knew the phone could keep ringing for a long time so he lifted the receiver, mostly to shut it up.

“Hello?” he said.

“Hello,” said the voice on the other end of the line. Jim tried to figure out who it was. It was female and sounded young – about his age. The voice sounded a little familiar and he felt embarrassed that he couldn’t figure out who it was. He decided to go with it and try and figure out who it was by context.

“How are you?” Jim asked.

“Oh, good, good. I just wanted to check in and see how you were doing.”

“I’m fine, same as always. What’s up?”

“Nothing really. I just wanted to check in and talk.” Her tone was cheerful but flat. No clues. “Did I wake you up?” she asked.

“Oh no, I’ve been up for a while,” Jim lied. “I’ve just been puttering around, making breakfast, that sort of thing. Went for a short run.”

“You run in the mornings?”

“I try to.” Another lie. “You know it gets so hot later in the day.”

“No kidding.”

There was a pause and Jim realized he was no closer to figuring out who the hell this was. He decided to kick it up a notch.

“How’s your family?”

“Great, great, really. My sister is graduating high school later this year and everybody is excited about that. The last one to leave the house.”

“Has she made college plans?”

“Well, she’s never really been college material, as you know, but she is thinking about State. Giving it a shot, I’m proud of her.”

Jim scraped his mind for someone with a little sister that wasn’t too smart. And “State” didn’t help him at all. What State? Which State? He was going to have to dig deeper.

“How’s your love life?” he asked. There was a pause.

“As useless as always. There are so many jerks out there. I had a shoot last night and the photographer made a pass at me. Of course that happens, but this guy was awful. And disgusting.”

So she was a model. Jeez, did he know any models? His poisoned brain cells were not working very well, he couldn’t think of any women he knew that did that. Who was this? Nothing to do but keep on asking questions.

“That’s awful. The world is full of jerks. What was the shoot for?”

“Nothing, really. My portfolio mostly. That makes it worse. I should have known.”

And the conversation went on. Jim really enjoyed talking to this woman. She was funny, thoughtful, and did a lot of interesting things. She was the kind of person he had been looking for his whole life. And he couldn’t figure out who she was. He cursed his foggy mind. He cursed the damn telephone.

They talked for over an hour. They talked about movies they has seen, television shows they watched, and music they liked. They talked about the weather and the politics and even traded the best jokes they had heard lately. Jim’s hangover had disappeared and he was beginning to feel like this was going to be a good day, maybe the best of days.

But suddenly there was a pause on the other end of the line. She was not responding to what he said. He could hear her breathing.

“Are you okay OK?” Jim asked.

Another long pause, then the question, “Frank?”

“Uhhhh,” was all Jim could say. Then a click and a dial tone. “Wait!” he shouted even though he knew it was too late.

Jim had been a wrong number all along.

Suddenly feeling sick, he hung up and stared at the phone. He stared at it for a long time, trying to will it into ringing again. It never did.

He wished that there was some way to find out what number had called. He wished he could call back. Maybe someday, but that would be too late.

Sunday Snippet – A Ring in a Cup of Tea

After a period of time he decided to choose a different coffee shop, one that was not quite as mysterious. He knew he would miss his waitress, but there would be another in the new shop and he didn’t want to get to the point that his harmless crush would seem creepy.

—-Bill Chance, A Ring in a Cup of Tea

Mojo Coffee, Magazine Street, New Orleans, Louisiana
(click to enlarge)

I don’t usually use writing prompts – but I was suffering from a moment of writer’s block and picked one out of a list. It said “A man finds a ring in a cup of tea.” OK

Sunday Snippet

A Ring in a Cup of Tea

There was a ring in his teacup. He looked around the coffee shop. At every table there were people doing what people do in a coffee shop on a Saturday morning. One middle aged man reading a newspaper… a few couples discussing the upcoming day… more than a few people confessing their sins of Friday night. What there didn’t seem to be was anybody that would have slipped a ring into his teacup.

He looked at the waitress. It was the same woman that he had bought tea from many times before. She was young and attractive in a coffee shop waitress sort of way. A world-weary smile that looked like it belonged on someone older than her. Slim, despite being around pastries and calorie-stuffed sugar-loaded specialty coffee drinks all the time. Short hair that bobbed a little when she turned her head. Odd glasses with heavy frames with a line of rhinestones on the side – glasses that have been out of style for fifty years – so out of style they looked cool in a hipster post-modern coffee shop on a Saturday morning.

Could it have been an accident? The waitress had brought the cup empty and he had picked a teabag out of the big wooden box that she presented to him – taking his time as long as he dared in order to enjoy the waitress bending over slightly in front of him. She then unpeeled the bag and said, “Good choice,” like she always did, even though he knew nothing of tea and picked the bag at random. She then had filled the cup with clear hot water, setting down the pot and leaving before the leaves had a chance to turn the water semi-opaque.

If the ring was in the cup she would have seen it. He might have, except he wasn’t looking at the cup.

He picked up the sugar spoon and fished the ring out of the hot tea, setting it on the table for a second to cool. He picked it up, still a little warm and examined the plain gold band. A fan of fantasy fiction he almost expected to see glowing writing in an elvish hand around the circumference – but it was an ordinary , plain, non-magical ring. No special power there.

He held it up to his eye and waved it around a bit – not enough to be obviously nuts – but he hoped that if it belonged to someone, had slipped off a finger into his cup, unseen, they would see him brandishing it and would say something.

“Excuse me, is that my ring?” they would say.

“It must be, it isn’t mine,” he would reply with a bright chuckle, “It must have slipped off your finger and fallen into my tea.”

“Well, then, sorry, let me pay for a fresh cup,” would be their slightly embarrassed reply.

But there was only silence.

He didn’t know whether to drink his tea or not. After looking carefully at the ring, he decided it was clean enough and gold isn’t going to wear off into hot water so he drained his cup anyway. Then he carefully slipped the ring into his pocket and stood up to leave. He looked around, put his coat on, expecting someone to come up to him and explain the joke of them slipping the ring into his tea.

But there was only silence.

At that point he couldn’t think of anything to do except to go home. He thought of leaving the ring in his cup, but that was crazy. At his place he rolled it up in a ball of socks (bright purple ones – a present from an old girlfriend – so ugly that he never wore them – but the woman brought back fond memories so he kept the pair) in his underwear drawer.

The next day, and every day for a week he stopped by the coffee shop and checked the bulletin board carefully – checking for a notice of someone looking for a lost ring.

But he found nothing.

After two weeks he decided to choose a different coffee shop, one that was not quite as mysterious. He knew he would miss his waitress, but there would be another in the new shop and he didn’t want to get to the point that his harmless crush would seem creepy.

He lived for many, many years and when he died his nieces and nephews were given the task of going through his things. He was a man of simple tastes and it wasn’t an overwhelming job. For some reason, though, his favorite niece decided to unroll the balled-up purple socks, so out of place, and found the ring inside.

The family talked for days about this discovery.

“I’ll bet he proposed marriage and she jilted him, wouldn’t even take the ring.”

“No, we would know about that. He probably just loaned some money and the ring was collateral and the loan was never paid back.”

“Maybe it was his mother’s?”

“No, it is too plain for her.”

They speculated over and over again. Every explanation for the ring was offered up and rejected.

Except nobody could possibly even imagine that it simply showed up in a cup of tea.

My Phone is Spying on Me

“There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone‘ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.”
― Philip K. Dick

Oblique Strategy: State the problem in words as clearly as possible

As the Internet Of Things slowly makes its way, flooding our lives, I installed a new smart doorbell last night. The packaging was a thing of beauty, unfortunately I’m not smart enough to open it correctly and ended up having to tear it up to get the stuff out. Things were obviously carefully thought out – they had a lot of stuff in that beautiful little box – including a tiny orange plastic spirit level with a cute little bubble.

I love the postmodern slant on the installation instructions. For example, little plastic anchors are included – in case you need to put the doorbell onto brick or concrete. The instructions say, “If you’re installing on wood or siding, put the anchors in that drawer of stuff you never use and skip this step.”

It was dark and cold outside, but I managed to get the thing installed. I wondered why they were so anal to include the spirit level, but realized that, because the doorbell had a camera in it, if it was installed on a slant, the image would lean. It would look like a Batman Villain was at the door.

The only problem was that the best instructions were on videos which were played on the phone as the process proceeded. And, of course, there was some hooking up to the internet involved. The problem was, to install the thing, I had to throw the breaker to the doorbell transformer (24 volts won’t kill you, but it can make you notice your nervous system). Of course, the cable router is on the same circuit. Luckily, there was an abbreviated set of old-school paper printed instructions.

I only had to wait several time while the internet rebooted to go on to the next step.