Horla Flash Fiction (February 2021)

 

INCOMING CALL

by ROSALIND GOLDSMITH

 

SHE called again this morning. It was the seventh time she’s called in two days.

“Who is this?” I said. I already knew.

“It’s Audrey. I want to speak to Steven.”

“There’s no Steven here. You’ve got the wrong number.”

“No – it’s Audrey. I want Steven to call me. It’s urgent.”

“I told you –”

“Urgent, I tell you. Please give him my number. It’s 456-189-8888”

“That’s my number,” I said, weary. I’ve told her this at least thirty times since she started calling a few months ago. She always says the same thing: “It’s Audrey.” And then she tells me my own phone number, as if it’s her number. I’ve tried to explain, but she won’t listen – just keeps repeating the number – her number – my number.

“It’s Audrey. Please tell Steven to call.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because Steven doesn’t live here. You have the wrong number.”

“I must talk to him.”

“Please don’t call again.” I hung up. It was 7:15 in the morning She called again at 8:00. I lifted the phone and hung up right away. Boiling. I was just – enraged. I threw the phone against the wall. It’s a good thing phones are sturdy instruments.

The calls have been increasing over the past few days. When she started calling, it was only once or twice a day – now it’s eight or nine times. No number shows up, only “Incoming Call”. I decided I had to at least try and trace the call. I phoned my carrier and explained the situation. He did trace it for me and told me – had the nerve to tell me – that the calls were coming from my phone number! My number.

“That’s impossible,” I said. “I live alone and even if –”

“Ma’am,” he said, “you can’t argue with a number. Those are the numbers I’m seeing on my screen.”

I hung up on him. Obviously, he was lying. But how – or why – would a total stranger want to lie about a number? And why would she – Audrey – another total stranger, want to aggravate me like this?

I decided to do the only thing I could do. Next time she called I would speak quietly to her. I would not yell. I’d ask her about Steven – that would keep her talking, and I’d find the truth.

9:30 a.m. “Hello?”

“Yes, hello. It’s Audrey. Is Steven there, please?”   

“He’s out right now. Can I take a message?”

Pause. Long pause. That stopped her in her tracks, the lousy prankster.

“Yes. Please do.”

“Ok. No problem. What’s your message?”

“Steven. Please call me as soon as you can. 456-189 –”

“I know the number.”

“You do?”

“Yes,” I said, as calm as could be.

“Well, just in case he’s forgotten, it’s 456-189-8888.”

“Ok. I’ve got that. And?”

“Call me ASAP. It’s more urgent than you can imagine.”

“What’s so urgent?” I said.

“It’s urgent that – I – I – I don’t know. I don’t know – where I am.”

“Audrey?”

Another silence.

“Audrey?” I said. I began to feel sorry for her – even worried about what she might do. Really, my heart went out to her then. “Audrey,” I said, very quiet. “Listen.”

Who’s Audrey?” she said.

I held the phone away from me for a second and stared at it – like it was a live thing that was going to attack me. “Who is this?” I said.

“Who is this?” she said. “Steven?”

“No, it’s not Steven.”

“I want to speak to Steven.”

“I know you do. He’s not here.”

“I remember his name. I remember his number. He lives at this number.”

“He’s gone out.” I was getting desperate.

“Where?”

“He’s gone to the gym for a spin class.”

“That’s impossible.”

“Why?”

“Steven can’t walk,” she said.

“Nevertheless. He can spin.”

Silence. A long silence. I wanted to hang up. I couldn’t. My hands were sweating. I couldn’t breathe.

“Audrey?” she said. “Listen to me. You’re in serious trouble,” she said. “Here’s my number. Call me. It’s –”

“456-189-8888.”

“That’s right,” she said. “How did you know?”

“Steven told me.”

“That’s impossible,” she said.

“Why?”

“Steven’s not here,” she said.

I kept my mouth tight shut and took a deep breath. What the hell was happening – nothing was any clearer than before. If anything – it was – worse.

“He’s gone, I tell you!” she screamed. “He’s not here anymore. Not anywhere.”

“He’s at a spin class,” I said.

“Audrey,” she said. “Pull yourself together. I’ve been trying everything I can to reach you. I can’t try anymore. You’re in deep trouble here, you understand? He’s gone – he’s not coming back. You have to move on. You understand the danger here? Do you understand what’s happening to you?

I held the phone away from my face.

“Audrey?” I could hear a small, tinny voice screaming at me from far away.

I clicked the phone off. Put it in the top drawer of my dresser.

About an hour later, it rang again. I heard it ringing in there. It rang and rang continually until about twenty minutes ago.

Then it stopped.

If it rings again, I’ll leave. I’ll leave this place. But how. I guess I’ll call a cab. That is – if I can find the address of this place. Steven might know. I’ll ask him when he gets back from his spin class.

 

 

***

Rosalind Goldsmith lives in Toronto, Canada. She has written radio plays for CBC Radio Drama and a play for the Blyth Theatre Festival. She has also translated and adapted short stories by the Uruguayan writer, Felisberto Hernandez, for CBC Radio. Her own short stories have appeared in journals in the UK, the USA and Canada, including Horla (‘Pest’), Burningword Literary Journal, Litro UK, Filling Station, the Blue Nib, Fairlight Books, the Chiron Review, Into the Void and Fiction International. Her fiction has been nominated for this year’s Pushcart and Best Small Fictions. Recent stories have appeared in Bookends and Litro USA.

Title photo credit –  Benjamin Hanimann on Unsplash

Horla standard disclaimer – image has no direct connection with the fiction