A lesson in desensitizing. Winner of 'SCREAMS!!!
I reach for the phone, yawning and stretching.
5:00 A.M. the clock reads.
“Hello?” I say groggily.
“You’re going to die today,” says a voice that sounds like gravel.
The line goes dead.
I hang up the phone and go back to sleep for an hour, waking to my alarm.
I could swear I dreamt someone called me.
I looked at my caller I.D.; it read, ‘Unknown caller’.
Is someone trying to warn me or mess with me?
I choose the latter and get ready for work, but with a heightened sense of awareness.
As I’m brushing my teeth I see a vague hint of a shadow behind the shower curtain. I swallow my fear, along with a mouthful of toothpaste, and step over to the shower. My hand trembles as I reach out and rip the shower curtain open.
My heart rate slows back to normal as I realize I had left my towel hanging on the showerhead.
Damn! I let some crank caller get inside my head.
I shake myself mentally and try to reset my mind. I go out to my tiny kitchen and put away last night’s dishes, accidentally dropping a fork into the toaster. Without thinking, I grab the fork and am rewarded with a jolt of electricity.
I jump back and glare at the sparking toaster like it's a dog bit me. I yank the plug out of the wall, then carefully pull the fork out.
The rest of my day goes normally, except the ride home.
How long has that big dude been glancing at me over his newspaper? Or is that my imagination?
Either way, I sprint up the staircase two steps at a time before diving into my apartment, slamming the door, and double checking each of my four locks. I lean against the door and catch my breath.
Calm down, you're safe now.
Foolishly believing that, I settle in for the night, eating my TV dinner and watching, ‘Top Shot’.
Maybe I should get a gun.
As I leave my tiny living room, heading for my tiny bedroom, I notice my curtains are open. I’m drawn to them like a moth to a bug zapper. I open my window and stick my head out. Looking up and down the street, I see nothing but rundown buildings just like mine. Hundreds of windows staring at me, making me feel exposed, naked.
He could be anywhere.
He could be watching me right now.
I throw myself back inside in a panic, lock my windows, and shut my curtains.
Breathing hard and sweating, I crawl under my covers and pray for sleep.
Mercifully, it doesn’t take long.
I wake with a start.
Something’s wrong. He’s here. And he’s come to kill me.
The phone rings again.
“Hello?” I mumble.
“You’re going to die today.”
“Again? Who is this? Why are you…?”
I slam the phone down and look at the clock.
Great! I’ll never get back to sleep.
I get up and get ready for work, then sit down on my dilapidated couch to watch the morning news.
An escaped murderer, a serial killer, and a bank robber on the run highlight the first five minutes.
I turn the TV off and curl into the fetal position on the couch.
How do I find the courage to step outside every single day?
Somehow, I do it again.
I close and lock my door, head for the stairs passing other apartments, taking in every detail as my senses go on high alert. At the top step I slip and nearly tumble down the whole flight. Only instinctive reaction saves me as I latch onto the railing to catch myself. I look back and see a small puddle of milky clear liquid.
Oh my God! Five feet from the door? That’s what I call horny.
It’s another boring day at work. I’ve taken to reading on the subway; it keeps me from noticing things.
I walk from the terminal with my head buried in my book, nearly getting hit by a car in the process.
One block away from my apartment, I’m yanked into an alley.
“Gimme your fuckin’ money! Now!”
He’s pointing a gun at me. Something comes over me, instead of cowering and obeying…
“Are you him?” I ask.
“Are you him?” I take a step closer.
“Yeah, I’m him. I’m the ‘him’ that’s gonna splatter your brains all over this wall if you don’t gimme your fuckin’ money!”
“Why are you doing this?” I take another step.
“Whatcha mean? Whatcha doin’ steppin’ to me? I’ll fuckin’ end you, man.”
“Why are you tormenting me?”
He takes his first step backwards.
“What the fuck? I ain’t tormenting you, I just want your money.”
Another backwards step.
“Do it,” I say.
I press my forehead to the barrel of his snub nose revolver.
“Whatcha fuckin’ on, man?”
“Pull the fucking trigger, pussy!”
He steps back and trips over his own feet. He hits the ground, hard. The gun goes flying. He jumps back up and runs away, eyes wide with fear.
I step over, pick up the gun, and vomit all over the alley wall, thinking about what I’ve just done.
My adrenaline crashes.
I’m shaking so bad I barely stumble to my apartment building. My long flight of stairs might as well be the north face of Everest. After a few minutes rest, I’m able to climb the stairs, one at a time, using both hands on the railing like a mountain climber’s rope.
Twenty minutes later I collapse on my couch.
I awake feeling refreshed, look around and somehow my bedroom has turned into my living room.
Oh, yeah, I remember now.
Out of curiosity, I reach into my back pocket and pull out a snub nosed .38.
So that wasn’t a dream.
I have a mental tug of war, deciding whether to keep it or not when a thought crosses my mind.
I don’t know what other crimes have been committed with this gun.
I head to my bedroom to get ready for work when I notice my phone blinking.
‘3:00 A.M. Unknown caller.’
‘3:01 A.M. Unknown caller.’
‘3:02 A.M. Unknown caller.’
I’m glad my voice mail’s full.
I set the gun down on my bed stand to go shower.
After my morning routine, I put the gun in my front pants pocket and leave for work early.
It’s amazing how invincible I feel.
Riding the subway is a fun experience for the first time. It's a tough decision to get off one stop sooner than usual and go to the police station. The sign on the building is a giant badge with the words, ‘Larsan Police Department’ emblazoned on it.
There’s a constant stream of colorful characters flowing into and out of it, with the occasional officer peppered into the throng. I wait my turn in line to talk to the duty sergeant. Forty-five minutes later I step up to a raised desk that has a bored and frustrated looking officer sitting behind it.
“What’s your complaint?” he asks without looking up.
“Umm…I was mugged.”
“Did you see the perpetrator’s face?” he says in monotone.
“Male or female?”
“Was the suspect armed?”
“Well yes, he had this.”
I pull out the snub nose .38 and show him.
“GUN!” he shouts.
An explosion of humanity plays out before my eyes. People scream and duck for cover. I look around for the gun is that the sergeant is yelling about. When I look back three officers are pointing their guns in my face.
“Put that fuckin’ gun down on the desk, right now!”
A warm river runs down my leg as I slowly set the gun down.
The sergeant grabs it and shoves it into his pocket.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” he says.
“I was just showing you the mugger’s gun.”
“So you disarmed him?”
“Did he assault you?”
“Did he take any money?”
“Then get the fuck outta my precinct and quit wasting my time! Next!”
I arrive at work an hour late after stopping to buy new pants and have to listen to my boss lecture me about punctuality. I don’t feel nearly as invincible on the ride home that evening.
My night is quiet and uneventful. I go to bed early and fall into a deep sleep.
I answer the ringing phone.
“You’re going to die today.”
“Dude, you need some new material.”
I go to work, come home, eat, go to bed.
The phone rings. I pick it up and hang up without saying a word.
Standing outside of the apartment, a large man dressed in black hangs up his cell phone and smiles. He pulls out his butcher knife.
Word Count: 1496
Winner of SCREAMS!!! Jan. 8, 2016