Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fumbles: the case of the Terrified Telephone

Phone was afraid of water, having been terrorized by a glass of it when she was small, twice. Every time she saw water, smelled water, or heard water, her Bell would scream out uncontrollably. It was her defense mechanism, her automatic call for help, her way of screaming. And it always worked. Fumbles always came. Just like everyone else, Fumbles knows that you have to answer the phone when it rings.

It was a phobia Phone would never get over, and she clearly remembered how it started.

Years ago, Young Fumbles had been playing a game of Monopoly with his Big Brother in the kitchen and had set his Glass on the counter right beside her. He had then promptly forgotten it was there. His attention was back on the game.

Sooner or later, he’d get thirsty, reach for the glass without looking, and tip it over. It was right there, on that invisible border between them where with one sweep of his arm, or one otherwise clumsy move; he would tip it over and its water would spill out, spread to her, and electrocute her.

It wouldn’t help a bit that at that particular moment she was sitting atop Base Station, who always sat in the kitchen. She was re-charging, and therefore, connected. So if Base Station got wet and fried, so would she.

And it didn’t help that she didn’t know that one of Base Station’s rubber boot fitted feet wasn’t fully insulated; the toe having a hole in it. Nor would it help that Base Station’s umbilical power cord, the one plugged into the live socket on the wall, was resting on the counter, as it normally did; and if there was a hole in the insulation of its cord, like in the boot; and it got wet … well, it wouldn’t matter that the boot had a hole in it. She’d still get fried.

No, none of this would help her a bit. And she knew it.

The glass sat there silently, watching her, gloating over the fear emanating from her re-charge light. Terse minute after terse minute it sat there, taunting her, threatening her, scaring her.

Impending doom stood inches away, and she couldn’t move to get out of its way. Try as she may, she couldn’t. Base Station’s rubber boots gripped the counter too hard, even though that one boot had a hole in it.

And then the moment she feared happened.

With a roll of the dice, Young Fumbles’ elbow swung out and knocked the Glass over.

Young Fumbles didn’t notice.

A soft rippling tinkle pushed its way into her Microphone as the Glass hit the counter; and then that tinkle went echoing around her circuits like a hot spark, etching itself into her memory as it went. If she could have screamed, she would have … one, because that rippling tinkle hurt; two, because she was scared; and three, to warn Young Fumbles. But she couldn’t utter one single ring. All she could do was helplessly sit there and watch that water spill out of the Glass, spread out and out and out; and inexorably creep closer and closer and closer.

She knew all too well what would happen when that great advancing tide reached her feet. Years ago she had seen the same thing happen to her Father. He had died standing in water; in water spilled from a tipped glass, just like this Glass.

It fried him so hard there was no hope of bringing him back to life. The glass that killed him had spilled just an instant before a call came in, and the moment his Bell starting ringing, ssszzzzzzap! He was fried. One ring of his Bell, that’s all it took.

She had nightmares about it.

And it sent shivers through her circuits every time she thought about it. Thank goodness the Writer had stepped in at the last moment to save her.

Over the years, this phobia had shaped Phone’s personality. Now, in her golden age, she no longer rang her Bell only when she saw, smelled or heard water … or when a call came in. She was fussy and spoiled now. She rang her Bell any time she felt like it; any time she felt neglected, bored, or sad, and especially anytime she felt left all alone. She knew someone would always come.

Lately, she’d been using it to punish Fumbles. She thought Fumbles paid her way too little attention. All he had Eyes for these days were those blooming pieces of Paper that cluttered the top of his Desk.

She liked to wait until he was thoroughly engrossed and then startle him with a ring. Sometimes, when she felt particularly spiteful, she’d deliberately wait until he was at the opposite end of the house and then would set her Bell ringing. It was a game she played, like “tag.” Will Fumbles be able to reach the Phone before it stops ringing?

It made her laugh to see him race to pick her up. She would make her Bell ring right up to the very moment that Fumbles stretched out his arm to answer; then she’d turn on her Dial Tone instead. Fumbles always thought there had been a caller who had hung up; and that made her laugh too.

Today she was sitting on the night stand in Fumbles’ bedroom instead of out in the kitchen, atop Base Station. She could still see Fumbles, though. Fumbles had been at his desk all morning long. She knew where he was. She could see him clearly because she had a radio frequency link with Base Station, and Base Station had been beaming over a live camera feed all morning, just like he always did. So, she knew where Fumbles was and what he was doing.

So far, she’d been nice. Not once all morning had she made her Bell ring. Instead, she had waited … patiently waited all those hours, letting Fumbles get his all-important “work” done.

But it was almost time for him to get up from his desk now. It was lunchtime and she knew he’d take a break to go to the kitchen, just like he always did. And he’d get his hand stuck inside the refrigerator while reaching for the half-eaten carton of cottage cheese that was going to be his lunch today, just like it always was. It was her favorite time to ring her Bell. It never failed to make Fumbles hit his head on the fridge door.

So, it was predetermined. Fumbles would soon be getting up and going to the refrigerator.

But there was no more time for thought, because just as she finished that thought, Fumbles did get up and go to the fridge. And of course, he opened the fridge and reached inside; got his hand stuck, and then hit his head when she rang her bell.

He also muttered an unintelligible curse, which cost him another ring of the phone. Now he had precious few rings left in which to race back to the bedroom and pick her up before the Recorder on Base Station picked up instead. Base Station would turn on the Recorder after the sixth ring. It was such a good game. She loved it.

But she was laughing so hard by now that she forgot to watch the live camera feed from Base Station; and she should have.

Three rings, Fumbles headed out of the kitchen.

Four rings, Fumbles headed down the hall toward the bedroom.

Five rings, Fumbles crossed the threshold … and tripped! “And what’s that in his hand,” she cried as her camera feed popped, “an open bottle of water?”

The game was no longer fun. Momentum had hold of the water in Fumbles’ bottle. As Fumbles fell, out it came, flying through the air towards her. Death was imminent.

Just then, the Writer stepped into the picture and held up a cloth to absorb the water. The Writer, you see, had been following the story all along and knew she had to intercede, again. “Phone,” she scolded as she wiped up the last few splatters, “quit playing these games!”

“Yes, Writer,” Phone answered meekly, trembling from head to toe. She was, of course, a very terrified phone.

September 27, 2008


Adam_Y said...

That's brilliant, right from the opening lines. Top stuff.

Rhia Jean said...

Wow, I never thought my phone might have a mind of it's own. I wonder what it thinks of me when I forget it and leave it in the car all night long?