Jack was unable to sleep. As quickly as the words appeared, they vanished into the air and the light retreated into his phone. He picked up his phone, frantically trying to duplicate the phenomenon to no avail. He changed settings, he rebooted it, he yelled at it, and in one desperate attempt, he asked it kindly to repeat what the hell it just said to him. Nothing happened.
His head ached and no matter how he positioned himself on his bed or couch or floor, the apartment whirled around him like a nightmarish carousel. He drank water and then immediately threw up the water into the kitchen sink. He tried some more, slowly. He nibbled on some unsalted crackers he couldn’t recall purchasing. They tasted like it must’ve been ages ago. The stale texture stuck in his teeth and he grimaced.
He slunk onto his couch and curled up into a corner, pulling a blanket over his knees. He needed a distraction, something to take his mind off of this massive hangover, his dream, and the fact that his phone started spurting actual words into the physical air.
“Display movie,” he mumbled.
The wall opposite him burst into brilliant flashing lights, and a pillar of sound bored into his skull. He apparently had turned the film off in the middle of a complicated car chase involving two trucks, a helicopter, and a gigantic monster. The beast roared.
He winced, covered his ears, and yelled, “Oh god no, too loud, too loud and too bright, turn it down!”
The room darkened and the sound dissipated. The captions read, “[EXPLOSIONS CONTINUE].”
“Display off!” he yelled and then pushed himself further into the back of the couch, hoping that maybe it would extend its arms around him and swallow him into perfect darkness.
Sunlight crawled through the windows, announcing the arrival of morning.
He rubbed his temples with his thumbs. “Close shades, please,” he sighed. A click and a whir, and the shades slid closed, shielding him in his dark bubble once again. He glared at his phone, picked it up, cleared his throat, and closed his eyes.
“New message,” he said quietly. “To, Jared Avery; subject, Out Sick Today; body, Hi Jared, I’m not feeling well today so I’m going to take the day off to rest and hopefully be back in tomorrow. No urgent deadlines so everything should keep chugging along until I get back. Thanks, Jack. End message. Send message”
The phone purred quietly in his hand. “Would you like to review it before sending?” it asked, it’s voice calm and direct.
“No, no,” Jack said, irritated, “just send the damn thing.”
“Are you sure, Jack?”
“Yes, I’m sure…” he started and then trailed off. The phone didn’t normally call him by name and it certainly didn’t question his commands, but when he opened his eyes the screen warmly lit the room with the words “Message Sent” blinking on the screen in black lettering.
Clearly this was not normal. Maybe it was the after effects of the bourbon he drank, amplifying the lingering eeriness of his strange dream, it’s impossible reality leaking into his otherwise fairly normal life. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, hallucinations breaking through the facade. Maybe it was stress. Maybe he was losing it entirely. He needed to start eliminating possibilities.
“Call HoloTec customer support,” he growled at the phone.
The phone lit up and beeped at him cheerfully. Jack did not like its upbeat tone and was equally displeased when the other end lit up and a voice greeted him with an even more enthusiastic disposition, “Hello Jack and welcome to HoloTec support my name is Channary please scan proper identification.”
Jack shoved his thumb onto the screen. An electric current ran through his finger and up his arm.
“Great! Now, how may I be of service this morning?”
Jack simultaneously groaned and manually turned the volume down. “My phone is possessed,” he finally said.
“Someone stole it?” Channary asked, a genuine tinge of sadness riding in her voice.
“No, it wasn’t possessed,” Jack grumbled. “It is possessed. It’s sending me messages. Talking to me.”
You could practically hear her furrow her brow, “Okay, so, They stole your phone and are sending you messages? I’m sorry but how are you receiving...”
Jack threw up his arms, “No, it is sending me messages. My phone is sending me messages.”
“Oh, uhhh, well, what’s it telling you?” Channery asked, hesitation sweeping over her happy disposition.
“To find it.” Jack stood up and began to pace.
“But, uh, aren’t you using it right now? I’m sorry I’m just not really understanding...” she trailed off.
“No no no,” Jack stammered, “not the phone. The thing, I don’t know, this is weird. The thing in my phone.”
Jack cleared his throat, “I think my phone is haunted.”
“Oh!” Channery brightened, and her voice became very quiet and grave, “Your phone is possessed by an evil spirit?”
“Whoa whoa whoa,” Jack held up his hands toward the phone, “ I didn’t say anything about evil. Do you think it’s evil? What am I supposed to do?!”
“I… I guess I am not an expert on these things,” she responded. “This is new to me, so I only assumed that it must be evil. My apologies. Let me quick reference the warranty policy to see if there’s anything that we can do.”
“That would be great,” Jack said, exasperated. He collapsed into his couch again, listening to a series of Huh’s and Hmm’s arising out from his phone’s speaker.
Channary finally piped up, “Yeah, no, I’m sorry the closest I can find is Act of God, but that’s usually reserved for storms, floods, apocalyptic sorts of nature. I mean, I guess if you you can prove that your phone is literally possessed by God, we might be able to use that angle but otherwise I don’t think I can do much for you.”
“That’s okay. Thanks. I’ll… maybe I’ll just find it and tell it to shut up in person.”
“Professionally, I can’t say anything one way or another about that,” Channary said proudly, and then whispered, “Personally, I don’t recommend it.”
“What?” Jack asked.
“Is there anything else I can do for you today?” Channary continued.
“Uh, no. No, thanks,” Jack sputtered, “You’ve been very helpful.”
“That’s great to hear!” Channary exclaimed. “Now if you’d stay on the line for just a few more minutes, we’d love it if you took this survey. From a scale of 1 to 5…”
Jack swooped up his phone in his hand and glowered. Fuck it, he thought, I don’t care how early it is.
It took three tries but Finn finally answered, panicked and confused why anyone would call him this early. Jack apologized but pleaded that “he just get dressed and come over there’s something really weird going on.” Knowing that Jack rarely asked for anything, least of all help, Finn jolted awake, grabbed an old mug of coffee, and rode over to Jack’s place. Before he could even knock on the door, Jack swung it open.
“Dude,” Finn groaned. “You look terrible. Did you sleep last night? How hungover are you?”
“What the hell are you drinking?” Jack pointed at Finn’s hand.
Finn pushed by him, “Uh, coffee? I must’ve made some for the girls before I passed out."
Jack scoffed, “That is not coffee. You sit and I’ll hook you up.”
Finn sighed and collapsed into the couch. “Fine, here,” he said and handed over his mug.
Coffee was one of the few things that Jack did not leave up to the machines. He crept over to his kitchen and began to pour beans into a mechanical grinder.
“So the girls were really regaled by your dream story last night,” Finn offered up.
Jack seemed taken aback. “Really?” he asked over the sound of cracking beans, “you’re not fucking with me?”
“Would I do that?” Finn beamed. “Actually, I think Fish was a little into you. You should come out more often.”
Jack poured hot water into a funnel shaped contraption. “Fish, huh? She was the dark curly haired one, right?”
Finn nodded and then realized that Jack was obliviously stirring his beverage, so he said, “Yeah, yeah. That’s Fish.”
“You’re not into her, though?” Jack asked, glancing over his shoulder.
“Dude,” Finn retorted. “My name is Finn. Her’s is Fish. It’s impossible.”
“Her name’s not really Fish though, is it?” Jack asked. “I mean I know I’m the last person to suggest that someone’s name is weird, but… still, Fish.” Jack sauntered over with a piping mug and presented it to Finn. “Here. Drink this.”
Finn inhaled deeply and sighed with satisfaction. “Damn Jack, you’re not good at much, but hell, I’d let you make me a cup of coffee any day.” He smirked and took a sip. “Now, what the hell did you call me over here for this early in the goddamn morning?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Finn glared at Jack. “You seriously want me to plug into yours?”
They were standing outside on the sidewalk, the sunrise barely over the horizon. Dew clung to blades of grass and their breath was heavy in the air.
“Just so you can see what I see,” Jack pleaded, “just for a bit. I’ll plug in too, so that if something does show up, no one else will see it. And if you don’t see or hear anything you can call me crazy and we’ll call it good.”
Finn shrugged and plugged in. The world phased red and orange. “Seriously, you use this setting? I find it so, I don’t know,” he gestured toward the world, “abrasive.”
Jack furrowed his brow. “Yeah, I don’t know, I find it… comforting.”
“Sure, sure,” Finn waved him off. “So what’re we doing out here?”
Jack cracked a smile. The sun’s warmth had begun to spread across the atmosphere. His headache was fading; his nausea, completely abated. He surveyed the road and sidewalk before him, the path laid outstretched throughout the city and beyond. He inhaled deeply and felt ridiculously nervous and elated all at once.
He locked eyes with Finn. “Well,” he said, “we’re going to do what it asked. We’re going to find it.”
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)