I couldn’t take the calls any more. I just couldn’t take knowing. There was nothing I could do to stop them from coming through; I had to put an end to it.
It all started this summer, when I was playing with my oldest daughter, Chrissie. My kid absolutely loved toy cars, so I had given her my Matchbox collection, which I’d kept in the attic since my childhood. She was driving some farm animal around on the hood of my most prized possession: a classic fire truck with all its original parts and an unblemished paint job, when she suddenly stopped our caravan halfway to Mount Marshmallow Snowflakes, also known as the white leather sofa in the corner.
“Daddy,” she said, her voice sweet and innocent.
“Yes, honey?” I replied.
“Daddy, don’t answer the phone,” she told me.
Having not heard my phone ringing, I wasn’t sure what she meant by that. She had probably seen the screen on my smartphone lighting up from an incoming call. I had a tendency to forget to un-mute the thing after meetings at the office. I guessed that Chrissie didn’t want our playtime to end, so I assured her daddy wasn’t going anywhere, and left the phone alone. She smiled, and we continued our game. Later, I checked my call history, but discovered that there hadn’t been any incoming calls. I didn’t really give it much thought, to be honest.
A few weeks later, the same thing happened while we were playing doctor and giving Mr. Fuzzy Wuzzy his annual check-up. Chrissie looked up towards the kitchen and dropped her stuffed bear.
“Daddy, don’t answer the phone,” whispered Chrissie, in a frightened tone.
This time, I chose not to heed her warning. I got up to check my Smartphone right away: no incoming calls. Following Chrissie’s gaze, I realized that she was actually looking at the old telephone on the kitchen wall. We had disconnected the landline and unplugged it years ago. My wife had been asking me to take it down since the day I’d cancelled our residential phone services. We had both gotten cellphones and wanted to put the money towards something more useful. The bulky white device was screwed into the wall. I kept forgetting to dismount it whenever I had my tools out, and I was too lazy to get them from the garage for such a menial task. I’m shocked my wife didn’t wind up removing it herself, since it bothered her so much.
“Honey, that’s not a real phone. No one’s calling,” I told Chrissie, ruffling her hair.
It took Chrissie a few moments, but she eventually went back to playing as though nothing had happened. It was probably some kind of new game she had learned in school or something. She was seven, and had a bunch of imaginary friends. Maybe she’d gotten into an argument with Princess Pufflecakes, and she didn’t want to take her call. I didn’t worry about it too much.
It wasn’t until the third imaginary call that I started to get concerned. Chrissie and I were having a Ninja Turtles Tea Party. I was dressed in a pink tutu with Michelangelo’s bandana and a crown on my head – never underestimate what a father would do to put a smile on his kid’s face – and got up to get more juice. Chrissie grabbed me by my frilly skirt, looking absolutely terrified.
“Daddy, don’t answer the phone!” she pleaded.
There was something in her eyes that compelled me to put an end to her weird game. She really looked freaked out: I no longer thought she was playing some kind of reverse-psychology Simon Says. If she was making it up, why did she look genuinely worried?
“It might be important, squirt. Don’t worry. Daddy will tell those evil telemarketers to leave you alone,” I playfully replied as I snuck out of her grasp.
I made my way to the kitchen, where I picked up the receiver, and turned towards my daughter to give her a reassuring thumbs-up. Bringing the receiver to my ear, I fully expected to hear silence. Silence, however, was not what I heard. There was static on the line, which surprised me enough that I pulled the phone away for a moment to look at it in disbelief. When I brought it back to my ear, I heard a voice on the other end.
“232 Jeanne D’Arc Road, fire, 12,” whispered a man tonelessly.
“What the fu-fudgesicles?” I answered, perplexed.
My wife must have been playing a trick on me. She had probably convinced Chrissie to help her out so I’d do my job and get rid of the phone. I immediately yanked the cord, and it came flying towards me, hitting me square in the face. I was stunned: it was far too loose to have been in the jack. When I asked my wife about it, she had no idea what I was talking about.
The next morning, I absent-mindedly checked my emails while the news played in the background. There was a segment about a fire in an apartment complex. At first, I didn’t pay it much attention, but then I heard the address: 232 Jeanne D’Arc Road. Twelve residents had perished in the inferno. I nearly dropped my #1 DAD coffee mug on the floor. I didn’t know what to do. It was too late to call the police and tell them I’d gotten a creepy warning call about the fire. They’d think I was a nutter, or an attention-seeker. I took a moment to calm down and rationalize what had happened. It was just a very weird and very scary coincidence.
Days later, I was playing Sudoku on the couch when Chrissie walked over, wearing a worried expression on her face.
“Daddy, don’t answer the phone,” she whimpered, tears in her eyes.
Something in the pit of my stomach told me not to go, but I had to know. I made my way to the kitchen and picked up the receiver. This time, a British-sounding woman spoke to me through the disconnected phone.
“15 Vanier Street, fire, 3,” she announced.
Logically, you’d think I’d go to the police or fire station to tell them what was going to happen, but here’s the thing…I’ve watched the shows, so I know how these things pan out. You’ve got an attractive male protagonist who gets a forewarning, which is accurate: I won the “Most Handsome Daddy Of The Year” award, as decided on by my very unbiased daughters on Father’s Day last year (I even have a trophy to prove it). The protagonist then tells the cops about his predictions. Naturally, the cops accuse him of being the perpetrator. They lock him up, but he gets out on some technicality, rushes to the scene of the would-be crime, and saves the day. He becomes a true hero in the eyes of everyone. Close curtains. Yeah, I’m not that guy. I’m not saying I’m a coward, but look…I’ve got two daughters to care for. I can’t go putting myself in dangerous situations where I could realistically wind up dead. I instead bought a disposable phone and used it to call the police.
In the past 10 years, there have been a lot of suspicious fires in our city, leading police to suspect there’s a pyromaniac on the loose. Thus far, he or she has burned down a church, a postal office, an outdoor mall, and a smaller post office inside a mall. I’m going to let you take a wild guess as to what the police officer had to say when I warned him about the potential fire at 15 Vanier Street. If you guessed, “He accused you of being the pyromaniac and asked that you turn yourself in,” then you deserve a cookie, because that’s exactly what happened. I hung up and tossed the phone in a trashcan across town. The next day, I watched as a news crew covered the story. The authorities had sent police officers to investigate what turned out to be an abandoned building. Three officers had gotten locked in the basement. A fire broke out, and none of them made it out. I felt guilty and powerless. If I hadn’t warned them, the cops wouldn’t have been in there, and no one would have died. It was my fault. I couldn’t sleep a wink that night, the horrid feeling in my gut eating away at me.
The process repeated over the course of the next few months. Chrissie would ask me not to answer the phone, I’d pick it up, and I’d hear a different voice speaking. I’d be given an address, method of death, and amount of people killed. 89 Oosgrove Avenue, knife, 1. Mrs. Larkin had been stabbed to death during a home invasion. 60 Star Circle, gas leak, 10. The Campbells were enjoying a family reunion, and failed to notice the smell of rotten eggs. 79 Jean-Jacques Lussier, gun, 3. Maria, Jamie, and Alison were shot dead while walking home in the early hours of the morning, and so on and so forth, until I just couldn’t take it any more. I remember all their names and faces: I saw them on the news reports. I think about them when I go to bed, knowing that there was nothing I could do to save them, but tormented by the fact that I didn’t even try. Depression started to creep over me, and I could barely eat or sleep. My wife started to get worried, but I couldn’t tell her: I was afraid she’d be disappointed in me for my inaction, so I lied. I told her I was stressed out because of work.
A few weeks ago, I had finally had enough. Unable to keep myself from answering these phantom calls, I decided there was no other option. I stormed into my garage, grabbed my tools, and desperately unscrewed the phone from the wall. As I held the device, I felt a wave of anger rush over me. This thing…this damned telephone — it had caused me so much grief. I took it to the driveway, and furiously smashed it into the concrete with a hammer until there was nothing left but dust and debris. When it was over, I cleaned the mess. The sensation of freedom was euphoric. My whole body tingled as my heavy burden lifted from my shoulders. That night, I made our favourite family meal and dessert to celebrate. My wife was relieved that I had gotten over whatever it was that had been bothering me, and overjoyed that the eyesore in the kitchen had finally been removed.
I have a piece of advice for you. If you have a disconnected landline and haven’t gotten around to removing it, please take a lesson from me: get rid of it immediately and, above all else, do NOT pick up the receiver.
My life has returned to normal since I got rid of the wretched phone. As I am typing this, my wife is giving our youngest daughter a bath. I can hear them singing the bubble bath song and giggling. Chrissie is in the living room with me. She’s playing with this silly pink Disney phone. It’s one of those fancy schmancy glittery toys: a pimped out version of the Fisher Price rotary phone I used to have when I was a kid. Every dial projects a message from one of the Disney Princesses. It’s weird, she’s never shown any interest in it before. It’s not a real phone: it doesn’t even have a cord…but…there’s that look in her eyes again. She’s worried…I know what she wants to say. No. It’s just a toy. It’s just a toy. It’s just a toy, but…I’m going to check. I need to know…
Shit. Shit. Shit. I can hear static on the other end.
I-it’s a man’s voice…He’s saying…it’s my address…p-propane explosion…4…
I need to get my girls out of here. Please…please don’t let it be too late.