Imagine that your phone rings- just an every day thing, nothing to be afraid of- and you answer it, not to find your mother or your girlfriend wanting to gossip, but a strange voice on the other end of the line. Imagine that, in the very moment that he says “now”, someone has to die.
I want you to imagine that you are walking down the road, minding your own business as the crowd shoves its way by. Rudely, but in a way that you have to be used to if you live in good ol’ NYC. Everything is frozen, even the air in your lungs. Or so it feels in this weather. You’ve tucked your hands deep into your pockets, your neck retreating into the collar of your winter jacket like the withered neck of a tortoise withdrawing into its shell. You puff out little clouds of steam, trying to put a little jump into your walk to warm your feet. And your cell phone rings.
It’s hard to be afraid of a staple in your everyday life.
You dig it out of your pocket, fingers clumsy with numbness. But you manage to steady your hand and snap it open before the ringing stops, sparing time for a thought that maybe you should get a new cell before gasping hurriedly into the receiver, “hello?”
There is a strange moment of silence on the other end. Not a scary one, just a normal one that means someone is usually collecting their distracted thoughts. But this long pause is ended by a voice you did not know. “Keelia?”
If you REALLY want to get creative, you can say this was your name. But that is my name. You can insert whatever title you want in there, it makes no difference to me. But what the unfamiliar voice says next is irreversible.
“Yes?” You ask cautiously, because you are not totally paranoid. Also because you happen to know that one your of girlfriends gave her husband’s cousin your phone number because she is afraid you are going to become a nun. That is absolutely true in my case; Holly was always trying to give me a leg up. There would be no nunnery within our social circle, she insisted. Unless I was a lesbian. But that’s okay, too, she assured us. She just thought it would be awkward to have that revealed after so many years of sleepovers during which Truth Or Dare games usually resulted in the touching of another girl’s boobs.
There is another pregnant pause, and you wonder if the man has been running or something, because your mind is rather innocent on account of your life having been totally and utterly uneventful. Then he says, harshly but quietly, “Look up. There is a man leaning against the mailbox in front of you. When I say now, you have to either run or kill him.”
This, however, is new. Your heart shudders to a stop that is just as icy as your fingers. The air in your lungs is ten times heavier than before, as well as the winter coat hanging off of your shoulders, as you reply breathlessly into the receiver, “what kind of sick joke is this? Who is this?” And you feel a sudden pang of worry that the husband’s cousin is actually a sick, sick man and you are now going to have to change your phone number. At the same time, you look up, half searching for your tormentor and half hoping that there will not be a man leaning against the mailbox you know stands on that very corner.
But there is a man. A tall one, in a long brown overcoat with salt-and-pepper hair, a five o’clock shadow, and a cigar held firmly between his lips. And he is eyeing you. Not intensely and not in a creepy way, but like a curious prospector come to see a racehorse for sale. Not creepy; still weird, and still not a good feeling, is it?
The next thing that strikes you is butterflies as he holds your gaze. The next terror, because somewhere in your being you know that the man on the phone can see you. And he is watching you. And you don’t know him. And you don’t know why.
You then realize that you are still holding the phone to your ear, though now with trembling hands. There has been no response to your previous questions. Your breath quickens and so does the breathing over your cell phone as the man launches himself off of the mailbox and starts making his way across the busy street, right toward you.
You say something to the likes of, “I’m hanging up on you now,” fumbling with the phone as you try to hang up with your frozen fingers. But just as you click that “off” button, you hear the man shout “NOW!” And that word sets off a whole new level of panic. Your stomach is twisting and you can’t breath and your head shoots up and you see the man is walking faster, almost near you, you start to back away, but not fast enough and he is there and his hands are coming out of his pockets and something is glinting in them and before you can react your arms fling out and SHOVE him, and it doesn’t do anything but he is stumbling back a bit, and there is ice on the ground and you watch the horrific scene as it unfolds, the man falling back into the road just as a bus decides to speed up and-
People are panicking, wondering who pushed him. Nobody saw. And you are alone, and wondering if you just killed a man, and someone take his pulse and confirms your fears and instead of racing your heart simply breaks in half and your chest is flooded with a heat that is not nearly as pleasant as the biting, bone-chilling cold. You have no idea what to do, your thoughts are running in circles as if your brain has just broken, like a typewriter that won’t stop printing the letter “t” no matter what key you press. Your stomach is done twisting and, instead, decides to push whatever you ate that morning back at you, and you throw up in the dirty city snow.
As you wipe off your mouth and your breathing begins to settle, your phone rings again. You have to check every pocket before you remember it is in your coat, and you almost drop it in the snow before you manage to open it and press “talk”.
There is a pause. “I warned you,” the man says.