Promptly Kick-Off Challenge

Welcome writers, one and all. For a call to arms (and an explanation of just what exactly is going on in here), check out the post below. But if you’re ready to write …

Jump into the official Promptly Kick-Off Breaking-Block Challenge. Here’s how we’ll do it: I’ll post a prompt every other day this week, starting with a muse-stirring challenge today for you to grease the wheels. On Monday, July 20, the scribe who wrote the best response and posted it in the comments section of the blog (up to a 500-word vignette, which can be your entire story or an excerpted chunk of it), as selected by myself and another Writer’s Digest editor, will claim some around-the-office writing swag.

So let’s get our pens moving, eh?

Yours in writing,


In 500 words or less, funny, sad or stirring:

The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”
You hang up.
Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”
The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.

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  4. Monica Martin

    (Sorry I’m late to the game!)

    "I didn’t recognize the voice. I had never gotten a prank call before, so I wasn’t sure if that’s what it was. But weren’t prank callers supposed to ask you if your refigerator was running or if you had Prince Albert in a can? Maybe phone prankers had evolved along with their weapon of choice. It certainly wasn’t a friend of mine. I didn’t recognize the number and the caller didn’t identify himself. Maybe it was a wrong number? Is it possible to call a wrong number twice? Perhaps, if you didn’t realize the number was incorrect. Maybe I had someone’s old phone number, and the caller didn’t know that. It’s possible. But if the caller thought he was calling someone he knew, why didn’t he identify himself? Maybe the person answering the phone would have recognized his voice. And I never said anything when I answered the phone. So the caller would have no idea he was calling the wrong number. So… why didn’t he realize that when he began calling me everyday? Twenty, thirty times a day? Why didn’t he realize that when he used my phone number to find my home so that he could start following me? Why didn’t he ever realize I was the wrong person? That’s the point where I run out of answers and only have questions."
    "Maybe he wasn’t calling anyone in particular. Maybe he was just looking for someone to talk to?"
    "And what, to stalk and attack them for hanging up on him, a complete stranger?"
    "I’m just saying, that might have been his M.O."
    "Hasn’t he ever heard of those hotlines you can call when you have no one to talk to?"
    "I have no idea."
    "Choosing victims through prank calls. That’s a new one."
    "I’m sure it is."
    "They’re never going to catch this guy. No way."
    "The police will get his name and address from the phone number that shows up on your phone records."
    "No dice. The news is already reporting that the call came from a pay phone."
    "There may be witnesses…"
    "To a guy making a phone call from a pay phone at a busy downtown intersection on a rainy Friday night? Are you kidding? That’s like half the Metro area! This guy knows what he’s doing."
    "So now what?"
    "You’re the doctor. You tell me. How do I protect myself from a guy who already knows where I live and who has my phone number, and probably already knows how to find me through that? It’s not exactly as if I have details about his appearance to give to police. He wore a ski mask that covered even his mouth. All I saw were his nostrils, and those pale blue eyes. Palest I’ve ever seen. Almost gray. But they were still blue. I finally understand the description of ‘ice blue eyes’ and ‘cold, hard eyes’. It was awful. How do I protect myself from someone like that?"
    "My guess is… you don’t."

  5. Jeff Carnes

    The succulent aroma of braised beef filled the kitchen as I puttered between the sink and the stove. I was hoping that dinner would be ready to serve when my wife, Catheryn, got home from work. Being called in on a Saturday, emergency or not, was the pits.
    I quickly turned the beef with a fork then set out another skillet to warm up for the potatoes. The phone rang. I turned off the flame on the skillet and walked to the other end of the kitchen.
    "I’ve got it." I called to my son who was playing video games in the living room. "Hello?"
    "Why me?" groaned a low female voice.
    Fear trickled down my spine like sweat. I hung the receiver up without saying a word.
    Why would she call me now?
    I let it go, shaking off the fear like a dog who has just run through a sprinkler, hoping she would not call back. I minimized the flame under the beef so it would not dry out and decided against the potatoes. I dumped rice and water into the steamer, set the timer for twenty minutes and went to the living room to check on Alex.
    "How ya doin’ in here, stud?" I said as I walked in.
    "Good, Daddy! Watch this! I just learned a new trick with this car."
    Ah, the exuberance of youth, I thought as I sat down next to my eight year old. "What ya got?"
    "I can make it shoot fireballs!" he said.
    "Ooh, that’s neat! Got time to race me one before I have to finish dinner?"
    "Ok." he said. He turned to me with serious eyes. "But, I get to be the Blue Car."
    I had to laugh. "You can be any car you want, buddy."

    We were just finishing the race when two things happened at once; the alarm went off on the steamer and the phone rang. I hoped it wasn’t Catheryn telling me she had gotten hung up at work again. I put down my controller and kissed my son on the head. "I’ll back in a minute, bud."
    I grabbed the phone off the hook as I crossed the kitchen to stop the yapping steamer.
    "Hello?" I said.
    "You Made A Mistake."
    The repercussion of the other phone being slammed down made me flinch. The over-stretched cord pulled the handset back across the room. It hit the wall before dangling limp; inches from the floor. The dial tone throbbed in my ears along with my hammering pulse.
    Her voice had changed. When she called before it sounded sad; alone. Now her words were shards of ice. I don’t know what she was expecting; we agreed it was only the one time. I raced across the kitchen to hang up the phone. As I turned back, Catheryn walked in.
    "That wasn’t work calling for me again, was it?" she said.

  6. Padgett Posey

    J. Alvey–if you don’t win the swag for your entry to this prompt ("It is hard, to be honest, to stick a limp phone even into a willing cradle"), I will personally send you either (1) a brand new packet of Post-it notes off my own desk or (2) a case of the adult beverage of your choice. LOVED THIS!

  7. S.E.Ingraham

    The phone rings and a low voice groans – “Why me?”
    You hang up.
    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”
    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.
    Your hand sweeps across the bedside table, fumbles for the smokes, shakes one loose. The glow of the cigarette is reassuring as you lean back against the headboard, replace the receiver carefully, hold your breath, half expecting to hear the phone ring again.
    A mistake?
    You know you don’t make mistakes. Ever.
    The voice was familiar, a man’s, but not one you can easily place.
    The first time he sounded sad or something. No, not sad.
    Puzzled maybe. Yeah, that was it. Like he couldn’t
    figure out what was going on.
    So, who was he, you find yourself wondering idly.
    You don’t really care but you don’t like loose ends.
    And the fact that he called back. That took the cake.
    It was enough that you hung up on him the first time.
    He should have got the message.
    Nobody calls back after you hang up on them. Nobody.
    This guy had to be stupid squared.
    Just thinking about it is making you tired.
    You stub out the cigarette, debate lighting another,
    decide the guy will not be idiotic enough to call back.
    Sighing, you slide down beneath the duvet, settle yourself, and prepare to drift off.
    Your mind has just about shut off when the night is shattered again.
    Your phone is ringing.

  8. Walt Wojtanik

    The phone rang. 3:37 A.M. I was just forty-five minutes into a restless sleep, I wasn’t very pleased.

    “Johnny, who is it?” The demure inquiry came from under the sheets.

    “Go to bed, doll” I instructed as she purred herself to comfortibility.

    I blindly reached for the receiver, knocking over a bottle of antacid, sending it skittering across the hardwood.

    “WHAT?”, snapping gruffly. I heard a low voice groan.

    “Why me?” it said.

    I hung up. About twenty minutes later, it rang again. This night would never come to its natural conclusion. I groped for the phone again.

    “HMMMMFF?” resounded from my groggy throat.

    “You made a mistake.” It was Calzone.

    Silence followed. I didn’t respond, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to piss me off. Finally he broke the barrier.

    “Johnny?” There was a tremor in his voice as he repeated. “You made a mistake!”

    “Where the hell you at, you son-of-a-bitch?” I found myself shouting at the black melamine communication device.

    I tossed the hand piece over the side of the bed. The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp. I gave the bombshell a nudge.

    “I gotta go out again” I began. “Let yourself out in the morning.” I tossed two C-notes on the night stand as I fastened my belt. I headed back out into the misty precipitation.

    I drove like I was shot from hell. How in the world did I manage to put this “thing” into the hands of a complete fucking moron? It had been arranged for two weeks already, but now that it arrived, I was afraid I had been caught with my pants down.

    "C’mon you jackass, drive that thing!" I shouted at the guy behind the wheel of the newspaper delivery van.

    Calzone was predictable. He frequented the strip club on Sunset Boulevard after hours. He had a piece of the action. “THE SUNSET STRIP”. It lacked in originality, but the girls were good.

    A lone flickering street light illuminated the front of the joint. Calzone’s abused Caddie was tucked behind the service entrance. My Florshiem’s reverberated off the blacktop to the back of “THE STRIP”. I gave the door a shove with my right shoulder; my left hand gripped the butt of my .38 caliber “sidekick”.

    “CALZONE?” I called as I stepped into the dimly lit cabaret. Nothing. I called again. “Cal…”

    The blunt strike to the back of my head grabbed the galaxies out of the heavens and brought
    them closer for me to see. I hit the floor like a sack of barley.

    Two sharp slaps and the shout of “Johnny ‘Fountain’” lured me close to consciousness. My eyes butterflied open, coming nose-to-nose with Calzone.

    “You boys should’ve been smarter.” Calzone laughed.

    A glance to my right revealed my compatriot. “Oily” Jimmie Mazola. My trigger man, maybe my only friend.

    “It’s time for you sick fucks to see ‘the doctor’” Calzone said as he neared hysterics.

    Johnny Fonteneaux had been double-crossed.

  9. Wanda Gray

    Just received the link today so here goes.

    The magazine ad pictured a couple deeply in love and declared, “Find your perfect mate today!”

    “So, what’s different about this one,” I thought as I read more of the ad.

    “We use new technology that is guaranteed to match you with your perfect mate. Our Personal Robotic Optimizer Match Partner Technology (patent pending) or P.R.O.M.P.T. will scan your information, including DNA, in minutes. It then compares your results with thousands of others and selects the absolutely perfect partner for you. Call 866-555-5972 TODAY to make an appointment. Remember, your ideal partner is just a phone call away.”

    Since my previous marriage was anything but ideal, I found it hard to accept that any partner could be perfect. My ex was a real piece of work. He couldn’t even wait until we were married before he cheated on me. About a year after we were married I found out he slept with my maid of honor the night before our wedding. Then he confessed that he was keeping a mistress and wanted a divorce so he could marry her. Believe me, I threw him out right then and there. He’s lucky I didn’t kill him.”

    A few days later I picked up the magazine again and it was still turned to the ad. “What the heck! I haven’t found any man worth a second date in the three years I’ve been divorced,” I said to myself. So, I called the number and made an appointment.

    I arrived a few minutes early and settled in the lobby. The office building was new and in a high-rent district. When they called me into the interview room, they explained the process and told me the cost was $1500.00. It seemed kind of expensive but I wrote a check. They took all kinds of information and asked what seemed like hundreds of questions then took a DNA swab. I went back to the lobby and waited. It was only ten or fifteen minutes before the receptionist called my name, “Ms Chibodeaux, your results are back. Please go to room 6 to meet your perfect mate.”

    As I opened the door, I had all kinds of images of what my perfect mate would look like. He would be tall with light brown hair and dark brown eyes. He would have the body of an athlete and the mind of an Einstein.

    “Ms Chibodeaux, please have a seat. Your perfect mate is on his way from the lobby now.”

    The door opened. I screamed and fainted. My perfect mate was my short, bald, stupid ex-husband. So much for their P.R.O.M.P.T. My lawsuit goes to court next week since they didn’t refund my money.

    A few days later the phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”
    You hang up.
    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”
    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.
    I could swear it was the idiot that matched me with my ex.

  10. Marlicia Fernandez

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”
    You hang up.
    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”
    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.

    Somebody out there hates me. That has to be it. Why else would I be stuck in here, making calls I don’t want to make to people who don’t want to receive them?

    Flickering lantern light casts fanciful shadows against blank walls—that sometimes become grotesque. And when I say blank walls, I mean blank. Not a window or door, or even a picture breaks the monotony. No, that would be asking too much.

    My straight back chair wedges me tight against my desk, making it difficult to breathe. But why would I need to breathe? All I have to do is speak, right?

    “So get on with it then.”

    I shudder and pick up the old fashioned rotating dial phone. I’ve never seen the boss but his voice is enough to instill fear in the bravest, and even the most foolhardy of men. I pride myself on being neither.

    The phone rings in my ear, once, twice, three times. Just when I think I’ll have to try another number, someone picks up.

    “Do you know what time it is?” a low voice demands.

    “Time is relative,” I reply. “But I’ve got an offer for you that you can’t refuse.”

    “Not interested.”

    “Not interested?” I twist the cord around my finger and imagine myself reeling in the biggest snapper of my life. “How can you know that if you haven’t heard what I have to say?”

    “Look man, nothing interests me at …wait a minute, let me check my clock…two-fifteen in the morning.” He paused. “It’s two-fifteen in the morning. Are you out of your mind?”

    His room, his furnishings flash up on the blank walls, like a movie. The image zooms in on the man. He has a nice face, and from what I can see, a good body. He’s young. Perfect. If I can just keep him on the line a little longer. “Don’t hang up,” I plead. “You’ll never forgive yourself.”

    “I’ll never forgive myself if I don’t.”

    Just a few more seconds. That’s all it will take. “There are others who’d give anything for a chance like this.”

    “Oh, for crying out loud,” he grumbled. “Then why don’t you find one of them?”

    “Because you’re the right one.”

    The image grows even clearer. I feel like I’m in the room. He looks up, almost as if he can see me. “Why me? How did I get so lucky?”

    In my hand, the handset throbs and a dial tone signals my success. I let the phone hang limp over the side of the desk. My chair pushes back of its own accord and my body tingles. I glimpse the arrival of a new man in my chair before I find myself in a well appointed, familiar bedroom. His bedroom. Correction. My bedroom. My life. I slide under the sheets and fall asleep.

    The phone rings.

    I pick it up.

    “You made a mistake,” a voice says.

    I drop the phone and cower beneath the covers. It’s him.

    Marlicia Fernandez

  11. J. Alvey

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”

    I hang up.

    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”

    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.

    I am having problems. I admit that. Until now, a limp phone has not been among them. A limp cord, that I can handle. A limp phone is something out of Dali. This is the first time my phone has gone limp.

    There is a first for everything, I guess.

    I put the phone back into its cradle, as well as can be expected when it is virtually melting in its limpness. Do they make Viagra for phones, I wonder in passing. The phone eventually settles into place, as well as it can. It is hard, to be honest, to stick a limp phone even into a willing cradle.

    I’m just saying.

    "Time to get up," I say to the beautiful woman lying next to me and snoring like a bear. This is my wife. I normally would not put up with snoring from a woman, at least not in the old days, when I was young and single and enjoying the accoutrements of being young and single: snore and we’re done. These days, though, while the snoring is a problem (not the same kind of problem as a limp phone, but a problem just the same) I am in love, continue to be in love, with this woman with her rather large breasts and athletic legs.

    I’m just saying.

    Sometimes you ignore the small things are go to another room after the problem falls asleep, take a pillow and a blanket and a book, read yourself back to sleep, and deal with the consequences in the morning, when the bear, I mean problem, I mean wife, laments your absence when she woke in the morning.

    I should not be boring you with these details, but they have some consequence. Well, the boring and the large breasts and athletic legs really don’t, except to explain why I stay where I am, despite the snoring.

    I stay where I am and am rather happy with this arrangement. Despite the persistent and annoying late night/early morning phone calls from a boyfriend she dropped 20 years ago, back when she was not snoring and lured me into love.

    She wakes, but we do not make love. That is for movies. She seems to blow a gasket, frankly, and then meekly says, "Sorry," as she trudges off to the shower. This is my cue to leave the room immediately, before the Hazardous Waste Disposal gents show up.

    They do not show up.

    Which leaves me with the kids in the kitchen. All three of them screaming for three different brands of cereal, none of which we are likely to have. While my wife believes in health, my kids believe in joy. I tend to side with the kids. I stash cereal for them on occasion, but work has been slow, and we are therefore resigned to mom’s idea of breakfast.

    Mom arrives, showered and sweet (we could make love now, frankly, on the kitchen table even, like in the old days, if we didn’t have the kids. Just saying.)

    She feeds them, packs their lunches, sends them off to school. Me, I am off to work as well.

    That boyfriend is a problem.

    Once a punk, a nerd, he now controls a large part of the illegal software distribution in the city, perhaps even the entire state. Today he will be mine. There will be no mistake.

    I give my wife a kiss on the way out and she farts again. I am going to have to recommend a gastroenterologist to her in the near future. I make a note of that in my mind as I go upstairs to change.

    Eventually I make it, through tears that took longer to stop than normal, to the hotel where my prey is lurking. I get his room number from the attractive guy at the desk (I’m not gay, but he is well-dressed and reminds me of some actor whose name escapes me. I’m just saying.).

    I open the door, the lights go out in the drapery-shrouded room, and there is complete silence. I reach into my shoulder harness for my 9 millimeter Glock. I pull out a banana.

    The wife and I will have to work a bit harder, I realilze instantly, on morning preparation issues.

  12. Diamond

    I glanced down at my planner as I shoved another bite of toaster waffle into my mouth, careful not to let any sticky syrup drip onto my freshly pressed and starched button up.

    “Hunny, did you say you could pick up Rachel from practice?” …no response…

    I stomped up the stairs in my heels and pencil skirt, balancing my briefcase under my arm, gripping my coffee mug and lip liner in one hand and dragging the dog by the collar with the other. “Nathaniel James Briggens, I swear that if I have to take your dog outside one more time in the morning, I’m getting rid of him” I said in passing to my sleepy-eyed, mussy-headed 12 year-old, thrusting the dog at him on my way to the bathroom.

    “Zed?” I shouted, bursting into the bathroom. He jumped back, startled, and his flailing arms knocked into my coffee mug, painting a streak of coffee on my shirt. I put my hand up to my forehead in defeat and sighed.

    “Rachel gets done at 6:00,” I said through stiff lips, outlining my mouth. “Are you gonna be able to get her? I have a meeting until 5:45 or later.”

    “Ya, I was planning on it,” he said, looking at his watch. “Babe you gotta go. You’re late already.”

    “As if I didn’t know that,” I grumbled, rushing to the room to toss on another shirt. “Everybody in the car by the time I come out of this room or you’re gonna wish you had Britney Spears for a mom!” I shouted to my kids as I shut the bedroom door. I ripped off my soiled top in haste and threw on another button up and suit jacket and snatched the keys and cell phone off the end table, thrust them into my briefcase and rushed down the stairs and out to the car.

    “Nathan, turn your music down. We already have a stereo system in here. Rachel, please make sure Louis is buckled,” I said as I strapped my belt on and put the car in reverse. The phone rang in my briefcase just as I had reached back to snatch a sucker out of Louis’ chubby fingers. “You’ll be all sticky by the time I drop you off at school,” I said as I flipped open the phone to by greeted by an accusing, raspy voice—“Why me?” I quickly hung up, disturbed by the call, realizing that I must have picked up Zed’s phone off the end table on accident.

    No sooner had I dropped off the kids at school when it rang again. Shaking and wondering what Zed had gotten into, I opened it, saying nothing. “You made a mistake,” the voice accused me before it hung up. Suddenly, I felt myself being snatched out of the car by strong hands, struggling and kicking, grabbing for the phone that hung limp from its cord on the car charger where I had plugged it in only minutes before.

  13. Daniel Paicopulos

    After a too-hot Palm Springs day, it was finally cool enough for sleep.
    “Bart Metropolous?”
    “I’m Cora Poulos, and I want to know what kind of Greek you are.”
    This must be someone from church calling to try to browbeat him into some dues paying.
    “What kind of Greek would you have me be?”
    “Never mind. Did you write a letter to the Desert Sun?”
    “I’ve written several. Which one?”
    “You know perfectly well which one – today’s.”
    “Haven’t seen it. I only read the Sun online, and today is my computer fasting day. Which one did they publish? What’d I have to say?”
    “Look, don’t get smart with me. You know what I’m talking about. Listen, don’t you support our troops?”
    “Oh, that one. I see. As a matter of fact, yes, I do support our troops, more than just about anyone you’re likely to meet. Why?”
    “That’s highly unlikely. Several of us read what you had to say, and we all think you’re against our military.”
    “Well, maybe you better take another look. And, what do you mean by several of you? Who’s this several you’re talking about?”
    “You know, other Greeks and me.”
    “Let me get this straight. You have people from Greece in town and you have nothing better to do than to read my op-ed comments?”
    “ No, Greeks from Palm Springs.”
    “Oh. You mean Greek-Americans. Not that I care for that hyphenated-American thing, but then, that’s not why you called a complete stranger late at night, while he slept.”
    “No, we just wonder what kind of an American you are.”
    “ So, you want to know what kind of Greek I am, and what kind of an American I am, as well.”
    “Let me guess, you and your friends are all outstanding patriots.”
    “Of course we are. We’re all loyal Americans.”
    “I understand. I’ve met a lot of Americans of Greek descent in my life, and most of them were extremely patriotic. They had a simplistic view of things, but they were patriots nonetheless.”
    “Are you…”
    “Wait a minute. Cora, is it? It’s late, and I don’t know you. And you really don’t know me. If you did, you’d know that I have a yellow ribbon wrapped tightly around my heart and soul for those kids over there, and like I said in my letter, it’s for all of those kids, including the ones who grew up in Basra and Tikrit.”
    “Are you opposed to our president.”

    “That’s another story, not one I want to talk about right now. But, as for his preemptive strike doctrine, I couldn’t be more opposed. And appalled.”
    “You…you’re just un-American.”

    “Why? Because I prefer preemptive education, health care and food to preemptive smart bombs? Listen, I have a little essay in Mature Living. Read what I have to say, and talk it over with your Greek friends. If you still think I’m un-American, give me a call, and we’ll talk about it.”
    “ I don’t think we need to read anymore of your liberal nonsense.”
    “Liberal? Hah! I’m so past liberal on this issue that the radicals are trying to catch up. But, you’re half-right. You don’t think. Trust me lady, that statue coming down will mark a day we’ll all remember, and when the body count hits 10,000, maybe you’ll get it that…hello? Hello?
    Bart was talking to a dial tone.

  14. Adria Moreira

    Three in the morning and Joe is staring at the TV. Nothing special is going on and he is changing channels looking for another show. His surrounds is a mess: a pizza box from two days ago sitting on a pile of newspapers on top of the coffee table, empty beer cans all over the place. Sipping his last warm beer he wonders when he will have peace again. He is tired. It has been days since he could sleep.

    Across the city, Susan arrives at her home. It is raining and she is soaked. As usual she thinks about a new beginning, a new life. Deep inside she knows happiness is not for everybody. And she is not one of these fortunate people. She turns the TV on and starts to take her clothes off to take a shower. She turns the shower on.

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”

    Susan does not have an answer for that question. She feels her body shaking and hopes that situation be over soon.

    She hang up, and runs to the bathroom. She needs to take a shower. She needs to clear up her mind. Susan takes the soap bar and starts to rub it on her body. The water washing the soap foam from her body brings Susan a sensation of relief. She opens the shampoo bottle and pours it on her hand. She massages her scalp slowly, feeling every single touch. She washes off the foam from her hair and body and turn off the shower. Susan looks at the clock. It is three thirty a.m.

    The phone rings again. Those twenty minutes in heaven has gone to the drainers when Susan hears the phone ringing. She hesitates. She does not want feel that bad feeling again. The phone rings one more time. Susan picks it up and say “You made a mistake”.

    On the other side of that phone, Joe feels his heartbeat accelerates. He was not expecting that reaction from her. His mouth is dry and he feels a notch on his throat. His mind runs a black and write movie and he knows what will happen now. He does not have enough time.
    Joe hears his front door slamming when he realizes he still have the receiver on his hands.
    Joe raises his eyes and sees Susan full of rage walking towards him.
    “This is it”, he thinks.

    It is eleven a.m. Joe’s house is full of strangers. Policemen. Detective Kubert is gathering info about the crime scene.
    “Nobody heard noises and you found the phone hanging from its cord, limping. I assume the phone was dead, Lieutenant?”
    “No, Detective. The dial tone was still throbbing.”
    Detective Kubert make further observations and wonder how close they were to catch the murderer this time.

  15. Yoly

    Fun, poignant and interesting work, poets. I’m enjoying the various takes.

    Chrisd- Your piece held me all the way through. Enjoyed the humor.
    Khara: wow. Good storytelling, good details and movement.
    Jason- I was taken with your story. The mystery and misery go hand-in-hand.

  16. Chev Shire

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”
    You hang up.
    Why me indeed.
    Why not you? The bottom of a well is a bleak place. Stay there long enough and you begin to panic. You’re never going to see the light of day.
    So when someone calls and offers you a hand to pull yourself out, sometimes the instinct kicks in to pull them down and use them to stand on. There’s the light. You can see it. Never knew light had a taste until you couldn’t taste it any longer.
    When Seth had called and offered that hand you tried to be gracious. You really did. Seth had been so eager to repay you for that one kindness so many years ago. And it would have worked had he not tried to rub your nose in it.
    He never knew the bottom.
    He did now.

    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”
    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.
    A single shot rings out, shattering the sliding glass door, hitting you cleanly in the back of the head.
    You made a mistake.

  17. Beth Cato

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”
    You hang up.
    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”
    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.

    Five minutes later, just as my heart began to calm from the last call, it rings again.

    I take in a deep breath and before they can speak, I blurt, “I think you have the wrong number.”

    “I don’t think so.” There is a raspy breath reminiscent of Darth Vader. Hesitation. “This is Margie Hendrix? Margaret Hendrix?”

    “No. Look at the phone book or just Google the number you called. Seriously. My name is Karen Schwartz.”

    “Oh.” I hear that low groan again in the background, and then a soft click. Dial tone.

    I look over my shoulder at the other cubicles, and then tug the cell from my purse. Ducking my head low, I make the call in a whisper. “Agent Avila? It’s… it’s me. They found me. My number.”

    He’s quiet for a moment. “How do you know it’s them?”

    I blot a tear from my eye, black mascara dyeing my finger in a long streak. “Because there was someone else there, someone groaning, and I knew that sound anywhere. It was my dad. He always sounded like that when he was drunk, maybe he found my new identity somehow, maybe that –.”

    “Don’t go home,” Agent Avila says. He hangs up, too.

    I stare at the computer screen and wait, bracing.

    “Hey Karen?” It’s Shirley, one wall over. “You get a start on that Wilson report? Karen?”

    I startle as I remember that’s my name. At least, for one more day.

  18. Penny Henderson

    The phone rang again.
    I was still trembling twenty minutes after the first call. The growly voice had groaned, "Why me?" before I slammed the receiver down.
    It was all wrong. The person that voice belonged to was six months dead. I should know. I killed him. Caller ID didn’t say "unknown caller" like it had before, so I picked it up and listened.
    "You made a mistake," the dead man said. I left the phone dangling on its squiggly wire, slowly unwinding.
    There was no mistake. I plugged all the holes and he was dead, damn it! My brain was sure, but my stomach wanted to throw up and my heart thought I was finishing a marathon.
    I ran, and kept running. I was going to anyway. I had the cash, the ID, stashed in an untraceable car in the long term lot at the airport. I was driving toward the Canadian wilderness. The first stop was a randomly chosen motel three states away.
    The wake up call came a few minutes early.
    "I’m coming," the dead voice said.

    Penny Henderson

  19. Kim Smith

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”

    You hang up.

    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”

    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.

    But deep inside you knew wasn’t a mistake whether Nicole believed it or not.

    You reach down and pick up the receiver and place it in the cradle.

    “No mistake, honey. Life’s like that sometimes,” you mumble.

    You sit at the kitchen table looking at the tiles on the floor. With elbows on knees, your eyes run along the trails of grout, long lines reaching across the floor hitting walls. Perfectly straight lines. Cold, hard, white, beautiful tiles. The room, hell, the whole house is beautiful and the woman you share it with is equally beautiful even if she is dense. Truth be told, you liked them that way. You’ve made many memories in this house with that dimwitted woman and plan to make many more. That can’t happen with a crazed mistress stalking you.

    You thank God for the love of your wife who, even if Nicole tries to tell her, would never believe her husband could have an affair because she is blind with the kind of love you wish you could feel. It’s good to be adored, you think.

    “Why you? Because you couldn’t stick to the rules, that’s why. No begging me to leave my wife. No calls at home. No calls at the office. I call you. No exceptions. Ever.” You sit up, relieved for the first time in a long time. It was over. Maybe one or two more phone calls and that would be it. Nicole was too proud and strong to beg for very long.

    “You must be all about keeping secrets if you’re going to be a mistress. Ask Jenny. She’s good at it. She knows her boundaries. She’s a good little mistress. Does just what I tell her to do. And she’s got a nice little condo on the east side because she’s such a good mistress. Or ask Carol. She gets pretty jewelry because she’s a good mistress. Maybe she’s the best mistress because she’s married,” you smile as you say this knowing there is nothing like the love of a pretty woman unless it’s the love of two or three pretty women.

    You stand and reach for your jacket. Time to head for the office.

    The phone rings again. You ignore it, reaching for your briefcase. Outside, the morning freshness is lifting, giving way to the humid, summer day. You get in the car and look at the house. It is even more gorgeous on the outside.

    “Why you? Because out of all of them, I loved you the most,” you whisper, backing the car into the street. You drive silently, telling yourself that the only women worth getting involved with are the weaker ones.

    Life’s like that sometimes.


    Kim Smith

  20. jared david

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”
    You hang up.
    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”
    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.


    There’s no room for it on my shoulder anymore, not with the weight of our world you’ve abandoned. Why do you ignore me? Why don’t you love me? I ask my empty room because you won’t listen. Is the sound of my voice so repulsive, or is it the mere thought of me?

    You smiled when we were together; real smiles, the kinds that make worries disappear. And you threw that away. And that was your choice. But I have to deal with it while you pretend it never happened. Don’t you believe I wish it were the same for me? It’s not that easy. ‘We’ may have ended when you walked out, but I’m still here and nothing without you. What is left for me?

    You know who it is when the phone rings, and you answer—every damn time—and never say a thing. Are you toying with me? When did you start to hate me? Still I call, hoping to hear your voice. I noticed your answering message is now that lifeless, automated lady. Did you do that for me?

    I can’t help it, I gather the swaying phone and dial your number again. It rings a few times before going to your machine. The beep catches me off guard, as it always does.

    “I…uhm…guess I just, just wanted to say goodbye. I can’t…do this anymore. Maybe if—“

    The phone picks up and your empty voice resonates through my earpiece, “Goodbye,” followed by a click and dialtone. You bitch.

  21. Daniel Ari

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”
    You hang up.
    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”
    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.
    It’s annoying, but the steady drone is easier to get along with than the ringing,
    followed by your own dreary recitation of your standard greeting,
    followed by your hope dashed by the same voice.

    Each time it rings could be a new client, a referral,
    a question, or even some coda on a case past, just now coasting in
    to make the scrapbook complete.
    It could be Ross at the P.D. or Teddy at the P.O.
    or U.P.S. or the I.R.S.
    Instead, it’s that voice, and the only surprise–
    mere, near-black glint of surprise–
    is whether it’s going to be a complaint along the lines of "oy vey"
    or a weary threat no more stirring that "nuts to you."

    With the telephone dangling, I could do work.
    If there were work to do.
    But there’s not, so when I’m done with my cigarette, I take a deep breath
    and hang up.
    This time it’s only five minutes before the ring.
    I let it go four times before picking up.

    This time I think I’ll switch up my pitch.
    "Listen here, you miserable, dreary flake.
    If you have something to tell me, I’m at 45 Delancy, room 401.
    Show up so I can bash your whiny face in."

    "Is that how you always answer your phone?"

    This wasn’t the voice. It was a dame’s, surprisingly cool
    considering the malice with which I’d spoken.

    "I’m sorry," I said. "This is Ben Benjamin. How may I help you?"

    "I have your address," she said. "I’ll come in person
    if you promise me a gentlemanly reception."

    "Promised." The word took all the calm I had in me after my about-face. In the pause before I asked her name, she’d quietly disconected the line.

    I sagged into my chair. I should have gone home already.
    Now I had to tidy up for company.

    Five minutes with a broom. Ash-tray stuffed into the desk drawer.
    A pull of whiskey to clean out my throat.
    The phone rang.

    "I’m glad you’re calling back. I didn’t get your name."

    "My life is over."

    "It will be when I get my hands on you…"


  22. Zachary Petit

    Hey everyone,

    Great responses so far. And expect a new prompt tomorrow… hopefully one a little bit outside the prompt box.

    Kathy, thanks for your words about WD. And welcome back to the great, strange, challenging land of writing!

    See you all in a few—

    Zachary Petit

  23. Patricia A. Hawkenson

    When Love Comes Calling

    The phone rings and a low voice groans
    —“Why me?”
    "Because it is you, not me."
    You hang up.

    Twenty minutes later,
    it rings again.
    “You made a mistake.
    Didn’t you get my message?”

    "I didn’t get any emails
    or even your number on caller ID,
    but there’s no mistake here," you reply.
    "I rewound and listened to your message.
    All thirty seconds of it,
    but it wasn’t enough to convince me.
    I know what I’m doing."

    "Don’t be fooled by appearances.
    You know you want me."

    "I don’t like your tone,
    and remember, I’ve told you,
    you have to slim down.
    Face it. You’re just not my type anymore."

    "That’s cold. Looks aren’t everything."

    "I used to think so,
    but things are different now
    and I want adventure.
    You never take me anywhere."

    "What are you talking about?
    I gave you the world!"

    "You have an outdated view of it.
    I need more on my calendar than you could give me."

    "How could you even think that?
    I gave you enough opportunities to fill a book!"

    "I admit that it took a bit of effort to rip up."

    "What? You ripped up the record of my love?
    Have you no respect for all that I have done for you?"

    "Gee, I guess not.
    To be honest, I am looking for something
    more physical in a relationship.
    I need to touch and be touched.
    I need to grab onto life and play with both hands."

    "Is everything a game to you?
    And if you remember correctly,
    I did let you reach out and touch someone!"

    "That line’s lame,
    besides, my new love listens when I speak,
    talks directly to me – even vibrates with a touch."

    "Your new love dies…"

    "I’m not alarmed by your idle threats.
    But I’ve had enough.
    I can’t linger on like this.
    I’m just going to make a clean break.
    It’s over."

    You bang the handset on the corner of the counter
    and the dial tone throbs
    until you finally pull the cord from the wall.
    The old land line receiver hangs from its cord, limp.

    To finally put an end to it all,
    you pull out of your back pocket
    your new slim LG Vu,
    with its 2.0 megapixel camera
    and snap a pic
    of your landline’s dieing carcass
    and post it on your Facebook wall.

    Adding a cheerful MP3 tune
    to harmonize with the demise
    of your ancient relationship
    your short video is posted to Youtube
    as you retweet to infinity:

    Technically, love is sweeter
    the second time around.

  24. Carol Neumann

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”
    You hang up.

    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”

    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.

    Still lying on your bed, you give up any attempt to sleep. You think about cradling the receiver.

    No, he’ll call again!

    You sit up and wiggle you toes into the green flip-flops beside the bed. You cross your arms, hugging yourself and shiver, your eyes panning the room. They catch sight of the quick flash of a silhouette passing across the shade on your bedroom window.

    You push yourself to a stand, your arthritic knees rebelling against the first effort of the day. You grab the blue terrycloth robe from the solitary chair in the small room and lumber toward the window.

    No! He might be out there!

    You comb your tousled hair with your fingers and trudge toward the door that goes into the living room and pull it open.

    The aftermath of last night’s binge adorn the coffee table, the bright green shag carpet, and the faux-leather sectional. You pick up a Johnnie Walker bottle and an overflowing ashtray on the way to the kitchen and throw it in the trash. The sound of the breaking glass echoes through your aching head.

    Then it hits you. Kyle was on the couch the last time you saw it.

    Oh, no! You were beginning to love that guy. Now he was gone with all the rest ‘cause the only man you ever really loved was Johnnie.

    Yawning, you open the back door and pick up the bottle the milkman just left on your porch before he passed your bedroom window.

  25. Jason Dougherty

    The phone rang and Trace snatched it up.

    A low voice groaned on the other end of the void: “Why me?”

    Trace threw the phone down, knowing exactly who it was–but it was impossible. Heart racing, he stared at the receiver, wondering if perhaps too much cognac had distorted his views of reality. Maybe the phone hadn’t really rung. He needed to sit down.

    The funeral had only been three days ago. Trace had put down at least six days worth of cognac since then. It didn’t help him forget what happened. He should be so lucky.

    “I’m sorry, Logan,” he slurred. Trace sat slouched in a worn Havana fabric recliner. In spite of the tearing seams and beer-stained arm rests, he couldn’t bring himself to get rid of it. If only he’d had those same reservations about human life a week ago.

    “I’m sorry,” he said again. His voice was absorbed only by the velvet French pleated curtains, a lift-top wood coffee table, and red Bolivian-style laminate wood flooring.

    Trace allowed himself to slump even further until his eyes grew heavy. He didn’t like what he found behind his eyelids. Flashes of his own betrayal haunted him.

    Twenty minutes passed and the phone rang again. Twice. Three times. His heart shook with each ring, as if the rotary hammer, slamming against the bell, were also in his chest, exciting his blood pressure and causing him to quiver with dread.

    Five rings. Six. The answering machine did not engage. After ten rings, Trace assured himself that it was not in his mind. He rose from the lounger and staggered his way to the desk at the back of the living room. Shuffling a few papers out of his way, he put his hand on the receiver and took a deep breath.

    The LED display on the desk clock said it was 3:46 in the morning. Slowly letting the air from his lungs, he picked up the phone and cleared his throat.

    “Hello?” He swallowed. The silence on the other end was deeper than death–no clicks, no feint high-pitched ring, no breathing. “Who is this?” Trace asked, a quiver in his voice.

    “You made a mistake.”

    Trace dropped the receiver as if it had burned his palm. The Doppler effect ensued as the dial tone throbbed with the bouncing of the cord hanging over the edge of the desk. Trace backed away, keeping his eyes on the cord. He fell back into the desk chair and fumbled for the half-empty bottle of cognac from his periphery.

    Finally, the cord hung limp and still.

  26. Linda

    Swatting at the alarm clock, I rolled over, one eye barely able to open and focus on the flashing numbers. Brilliant red stabbed at me. 3:30am? Groaning in disgust, I fumbled with the swithch to turn it off, but the noise continued to pierce through my brain.

    Shit, the phone. Stumbling out of bed, I tangled up in sheets in my haste to silence the ongoing jangling. I shivered in dread. A call at three-thirty in the morning could only mean one thing.

    “’llo.” I couldn’t manage a full word.

    A low voice met my ears, the groan grating against sleep deprived nerves. “Why me,” it asked. Through my sleep haze, I didn’t recognize the caller.

    “Who’s this?” A dial tone answered my question. I stared at the handset for a moment before hanging up.

    My fingers knew by rote the numbers to punch in. Rubbing the sleep out of face, I waited for someone at the nurses’ station to answer my call, to tell me what I didn’t want to know.

    “Everything is okay, Parker. Amanda i sleeping peacefully and her breathing is much easier,” a nurse said.

    Sighing in relief, I stumbled back to bed. At least it hadn’t been the call I feared the most, the one that would change my whole life.

    "She’s okay", I thought as fitful sleep claimed me. But nightmare thoughts chased me down a path of the day’s events. The oxygen tent, placed over her still form. Holding her hand as she shuddered for breath. "You shouldn’t be sleeping", my subconscious screamed at me. "Get up, go sit with her".

    Barely twenty minutes after falling back into bed, I fumbled in the dark for my jeans.

    The piercing ring caught me with only one leg in my pants and I tripped, falling flat on my face. Three-fifty, the clock now flashed at me.

    “I’m coming, I’m coming,” I said to both the phone, and my girlfriend, even though she wouldn’t be able to hear me. Grabbing the phone I almost barked: “Is she okay?”

    “You made a mistake.”

    “No.” The dial tone throbbed in time to the painful beat in my head as the phone dangled from the cord, limp.

    Linda Frear

  27. Willow Morningsky

    Suddenly It’s Over

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”
    You hang up.
    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”
    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.

    Looking at the limp hanging phone, I contemplate, "Hang up again, and allow another call? Or leave it hanging and possibly miss a call I want to receive?"

    Inquisitiveness overrules avoidance. I reach for the limp receiver. Hesitate only for less than a full second. Tentatively twine my resistant fingers around the smooth plastic of the receiver, lift, and place it once again on its rest. Silence.

    Relief swarms over me, I exhale. Shaking myself a bit to center my mind again, I start for the vacuum and turn it on as I suction up the wisps of dust under the couch. The vacuum roars. In the far distant audio of my mind, I hear a faint calling that lurches my stomach back into my throat. It has to be my imagination, but my thoughts are now brought back to the argument last week that brought my already shakey marriage to a heart-wrenching end. Paul had broken our marriage vows with an illicit liaison.

    My world was shattered. I cried. And spewed accusations and insults at him, as he became increasingly withdrawn and belligerent. Finally he joined in my assaultive verbal volleys and began levying his own disappointments in me, at me. Things got worse and worse. It seemed that pure hate was dislodging anything akin to the love that had bonded us together for so long. I couldn’t take any more.

    I commanded him to gather his things and leave. He did. I had called in sick to work and have spent the last three days curled in the fetal position with waterfalls streaming constantly from holes in my head that used to be eyes. The vacuum roared. But I had been frozen in reverie, still, and unmoving for several minutes.

    There it was again, repeating itself nauseously into my consciousness. Digging into my brain. Demanding my attention. No. It was not my imagination. That horrible phone was ringing again. It was Paul, I knew it. He wanted to justify himself, his actions, slander and berate me again. Everything within me, every molecule of my being withered, shrank, dehydrated into a numb piece of lifeless coagulated cells devoid of anything but a robot-like response.

    I mutely reached for the button that silences the vacuum. The quiet was absolute stillness. And then the jangling, screeching of that cruel ring of the phone shattered the silence, the same as Paul’s infidelity had blasted my heart into disjoined fragments.

    I picked up the phone, my hands, whole body trembling visibly.

    "Don’t hang up!" It was Paul. I stood there silently, numb to the core, waiting for the impending assault.

    "Honey, why me? Why am I so dumb? How could I have been so stupid? You made a mistake when you married me. You deserve far better. What can I do to repair this? Can you ever forgive me?"

    The healing was about to mount the long journey to repair an injured marriage.

    Willow Morningsky

  28. Mark James

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”

    You hang up.

    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”

    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.

    Maybe I should have picked it up, tried to stop him, but it wouldn’t have done any good.

    A scream came from the dangling phone. Bastard. He didn’t have to make her scream.

    "I know you’re there, Lanie," his voice said. "Answer me. I have time for at least two more before midnight."

    I grabbed the phone. "What do you want?"

    "You know what I want." Jack’s voice was low and steady, not at all the voice of a man who’d just killed a woman.

    "How about I call the cops?" I couldn’t believe the lost hopeless whisper that used to be my voice, couldn’t believe it was coming from my lips.

    "You’re smarter than that," he said.

    "Maybe I’m feeling dumb."

    "Maybe I’m feeling like going next door. There’s a little girl over there."

    "Don’t," I said.

    "Play nice, and I won’t."

    "Alright. I will."

    "Thirty minutes."

    Then he was gone.

    I retreated to my living room. Crouched between my leather recliner and the small glass table with coffee cup rings engraved on it, I thought about contracts and desperate writers.

    I tried to remember how I’d ended up partner to a serial killer.

    When I saw the ad that said "Write the Perfect Story Now", I should have known better.

    I answered the ad.

    When I walked into the small office off Madison Avenue, and saw an upside down pentacle on the wall, I tried to tell myself it was drawn in red paint.

    Mr. Winston told me all I had to do was sign a contract, and I’d write the perfect story. The writing was so small, and the contract looked handwritten, and I thought, no way.

    The Labyrinth Agency didn’t collect any money until their customers published their first book. And then, it was only ten percent. There was no cost to sign.

    Who could pass that up?

    I signed.

    Seven days later, Jack the Ripper, newly released from Hell, showed up on my door step. He said he’d come to help me write the perfect book about murder.

    He did.

    I wrote down everything he said, and like magic, it was the perfect story. That was years ago. I’m a bestselling writer now.

    Every time Jack kills, he has to come and tell me. If I write down his story, he can kill again at one minute past midnight. If I don’t, he can’t kill again until I do. No, he can’t kill, but he can torture, and make phone calls, and make me listen to them scream.

    For every book I write, he’s one step closer to being free of Hell and the contract.

    I don’t know how long, how many stories, before he’s free to roam the world, and kill again at will.

  29. Khara E. House

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”
    You hang up.
    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”
    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.

    You stare at the phone, dangling like limp bones from a hangman’s noose, as you begin to process what you just heard. You tell yourself at first, yes, the voice sounded familiar, but couldn’t be . . . But now you are sure. Now the doubts vanish like the color from your face as you rise from bed and walk across the room. You open the closet door, push aside the mementos and clothes you’ve stacked inside, and find the last plaid shirt, the last wrinkled collar and scent of cologne, the last curl of hair clinging at the neckline for dear life.

    You run for the door.

    The air is cold; the moon and sun both hidden in early morning shades of grey. Your feet freeze against the damp grass of the lawn, the chilled sidewalk with all the cracks you used to avoid because he told you tales of breaking backs and aching mothers. You head to the end of the block, barely sensing that this is not a dream, you are really here, walking to the black iron gate and limestone crosses.

    You know this path by heart. You walked it the day of the memorial service, every day for a month, and every Saturday night since then. You pass Mr. and Mrs. Donagher, and the Harriston family. You step over them carefully and kneel into the familiar grass, the dew soaking your bones. But it isn’t the cold that makes you shiver.

    You’ve told yourself a million times, the choice belonged to both of you. You made it together. You knew the sure results. He packed his bags, you moved your life into the bedroom and curled alone missing his pillow, his toothbrush, his morning coffee and dirty socks. You planned for it all, together, and knew life apart would eventually mean more than life together. But, for all this mutual planning, it was you who said it, one word to change the world: “Leave.”

    And he did. And a few months later you received the call, and the world did change. They say it happens; a husband goes out for a pack of cigarettes and never comes home, or a lover rises in the morning to find his partner gone in the shadows of night. But not like this. You agreed. A temporary separation. Better for the both of you, you said. But he went and changed the deal. And the world was changed, but now how you planned. And now you kneel at the foot of a headstone, leaning on it like a comfortless pillow, and say, “Oh God, I made a mistake.”

    And the next morning you wake, clutching plaid to your chest and remembering the fading visage of wandering ghosts.

  30. Loveskidlit

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”
    You hang up.
    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”
    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.
    Authors. All crazy, all convinced they’re John Grisham or one of his characters. Why is a simple "no, sorry, the piece isn’t for us" never enough? And this one… well, couldn’t she just tweet? It’d be quieter around here. The slush pile whispering to itself in the corner doesn’t make much noise, after all. Sigh. Back to work. More mistakes to make before quitting time.

  31. Henry E. Powderly II

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”

    You hang up.

    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”

    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.

    You make yourself a pot of coffee, set the kettle over the burner and toss five spoonfuls of Kona into the French press. Ten minutes later the kettle screams and you ignore it.

    The kettle spits.

    You change your socks because the cold stone floor chilling just the ball of your foot feels strange to you. It’s like the whole of your foot is dead except for one patch.

    “If you’d like to make a call please hang up and dial the number again.”

    You smell the Kona grounds from the bathroom, and hear the kettle whistle and gurgle as you brush your teeth.

    A puddle of hot water bubbles under the flame.

    Seven minutes later you fill your cracked Elvis mug with coffee and drink it black while a woodpecker hammers into your cottage somewhere outside.

    You turn on the television and bring up the guide, and the bird keeps drilling in two-second intervals.

    Paid programming — paid programming — paid programming.

    And you shake your head — “Why me?”

    An hour later you hang up the phone.

    It rings again.

  32. chrisd

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”
    You hang up.
    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”
    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.

    My daughter was in the playpen and my son was sitting in the middle of the floor lining up his Hot Wheels.

    "Up." With brown curls and pudgy hands that opened and closed, it was hard to resist, but I had to. I picked up the scattered board books and shoved them into the basket.

    I used my arm like a windshield wiper and scooped all the legos and yellow Tupperware shapes into a pile. I flung the pieces in another plastic basket and my daughter began to cry.

    "Four," said my oldest. For some reason he kept repeating the number over and over. He held up a Hot Wheels car with a tiny number four on the roof.

    "That’s right, four." I smelled like popcorn in the kitchen. My daughter was calling "mommy" as I hoisted myself up. Three more months until this new one would be born.

    "Just a minute, honey. Mommy will be right back." I went through the Fisher Price Obstacle course and found my frozen corn without water on the stove. I turned off the burner and looked into the other room.

    Mark was giving his sister a little car so she would quiet down. I navigated my way through the hallway and narrowly missed sliding on top of the latest copy of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

    "Honey, no. She can’t have that little car. She could choke." I touched his hair and turned on the High Def baby sitter.

    I crouched down to pick up the rest of the toys when the door rang. I pulled myself up again and rubbed my stomach. It seemed like it was extra tight, but I couldn’t think about it.

    I bent over, picked over the book and waddled to the door. I closed my eyes and made a futile Dorothy-from-Kansas wish.

    "Be the guy from King’s Wok. Be the guy from King’s Wok."

    I peered through the door and saw my sister’s glare. I rubbed the right side of my lower belly, unhooked the lock and opened the door.

    "Hey. What’s up?"

    My sister rolled her eyes and came it. She looked so crisp in her Anne Klein cropped double jacket and Kate Spade Park Slope slung over her arm.

    I couldn’t remember if I brushed my teeth that morning.

    "Look at you. Look at this place. God. Here." She dropped her bag on my couch and pulled out the papers.

    "Thank God I went over the numbers. You added wrong so I corrected it. All you have to do is sign it. It was so simple, Lori. You never used to make mistakes like this. Now that you’re home I thought you’d have plenty of time to check your mistakes. What do you do all day anyway?"

  33. Conni

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”
    You hang up.
    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”
    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.

    “Wait a minute” my reverie was interrupted as I tried to remember the voice. That voice. Could it be? No, but still, what if it was?

    I threw the blankets off and sat on the edge of the bed. Still woozy from the beers Beth had so persuasively managed to get me to drink last night, I shook my head, flipped on the light and reached for my glasses.

    Looking at the caller ID display, I scrolled through the last calls. Both from the same number, but no name was displayed. Hmmm, must have been a cell phone. I placed the receiver back on the phone base and considered crawling back under the covers.

    Just as I had put my glasses back on the nightstand, the phone rang again. I grabbed the specs and looked at the caller id. Same phone number. Should I answer, curiosity was killing me and I knew I wouldn’t get any more sleep.

    “Hello?” I tried to sound as awake and strong as I could.

    The same low voice reverberated across the phone, “who do you think you are anyway?”

    I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing.

    “I’m ruined because of your liberal crap; it’s nothing but lies. You are nothing but a liar. A filthy lying son of a bitch!”

    Now I knew what to say: “Congressman Craig, next time you tap your feet, repeat after me: there’s no place like home.”

  34. Robert

    A few seconds later, maybe ten, you manage to hang the phone up. It wasn’t the words themselves that managed to make you drop the receiver, but the person that said them. "Dad," you finally say aloud, even though he hung up on his end close to 30 seconds ago. You weren’t used to such abuse from someone that close to you, especially a family member. You turn to the blue sky outside for comfort, but soaked rainclouds roll into view. You clutch at your stomach, its emptiness caused by more than hunger.

    You stand and start to cross the distance to the kitchen, curling your toes into tiny fists as you go. You pass your large bulletin board-style calendar on your way to a sandwich. The appointment, while noted on the square that represents yesterday, dominates the board. You open the fridge, pull out lunch meat and condiments and apply them to bread. There is no taste, but you feel yourself chewing and swallowing.

    You made a mistake, he said. "And how," you say aloud.

  35. Teri B Clark

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”
    You hang up.
    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”
    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.

    How many times do I have to hang up on her before she gets the picture? Big, framed, and matted with the words, “The end.” It’s like she’s never read a kid’s book and seen those words before.

    Of course, this wasn’t a fairy tale and it certainly didn’t have a fairy tale ending.

    Why me? I should ask that question, too. Why? Probably the sultry eyes and that low cut tank. Maybe the classy voice and the gorgeous smile. Whatever “it” was, it vanished with the reality of what was behind the eyes and the smile.

    Here I am a writer, and I can’t think of the right word. Shrew? Battle-ax? No, not quite. Well, whatever the word, I’m through.

    And she has the nerve to call me and say that I’ve made a mistake? Well, she is technically right. I DID make a mistake – going out with her in the first place. Being taken in by the persona hook, line, and sinker. That was my mistake. Leaving, on the other hand, that was no mistake. No, that was the smartest thing I had done in months.

    In fact, leaving definitely calls for a celebration. Pizza, a cold one, and the Monday night football game – with my feet on the coffee table, I might add. Yes, this was going to be a great night.

    Who’s walking up the front steps? Andy next door hoping to catch the game on the big screen? Maybe Josh is home from school a day early. That would be great. I head on over to the door with a big smile that fades immediately.

    My last conscious thought was, “I’m looking down the barrel of my last mistake.”

    © 2009 Teri B Clark

  36. Alexandra Cenni

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”
    You hang up.
    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”
    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.

    I couldn’t do it myself you see. If I did I’d wimp out. I’m a softie that way you know? If I went over there to explain myself, well…

    She’ll tell me she understands first. "Don’t worry everyone makes that mistake."

    Which will make me feel worse then I already do, so I can’t allow that to happen.

    After she’s done telling me she understands, she’ll move on to "If you really felt that way…" And I’ll feel guilty.

    So after already feeling horrible about it, then feeling worse because she’s a better person, I’ll feel guilty as well.

    I’m telling you jumping off the bridge would be easier.

    At this point I’ll get upset–its inevitable you know?–and then she’ll cry and I’ll get more upset because a guy shouldn’t make his best gal cry should he? I’m pretty sure my old man told me that one time.

    Well maybe. It coulda been my mom screaming it at him instead. My parents taught me things like that sometimes. The hard way.

    Anyway so she’ll be crying and I’ll start yelling and then she’ll get real quiet. Like she croaked or something. And I’ll get quiet, worried she HAD croaked and at any moment someone’ll be banging on my door blaming me for it.

    Then just like she’ll tell me to come home soon because dinner is getting cold and hang up like nothing happened.

    But I don’t want that. I’m tired of that same old song and dance. Honestly speaking–and I try to be honest at all times, something else my parents taught me–I don’t want her anymore.

    So I didn’t do it. After I called her and let her believe I was coming home I sent my boy Tony over to deal with the problem. He’s good at cleaning up messes–its what I pay him for after all.

    I guess Tony made it over there and took care of the job if her call was any indication. Huh. Wonder how come he left her alive long enough to call me. Twice. Seems kind of dumb–what if she called the cops? That doesn’t seem like Tony to me.

    Oh he’s at the door. Suppose I’ll get those answers now huh? “Hey Tony why’d you leave her alive so long? I thought I said to–what’s with the gun? I got your money right here. Just put the gun do–”

  37. Paula Hart

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”
    You hang up.
    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”
    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.

    The sound was irritating, grating on my nerves.

    It had to be a wrong number. I looked at the clock.

    Three Am……what a gosh awful time to be waked up. Untangling myself from the sheet I crawled out of bed then sat down abruptly.

    “God, what a headache. That last screwdriver was one too many.”

    My head throbbed. How the hell was I gonna shut up that bleeping phone?

    Would that nut call again if I hung it up? I studied the thing hanging there beside my bed. “Who was that? The voice was not familiar but I felt there was something I should remember. What? Had I done something to someone in my drunken stupor, made some asshole mad enough to call me up in the middle of the night? How did he get my number? Naw… it had to be a wrong number. I picked up the phone and stuffed it under my pillow. I had to have something to drink, delute the cotton in my mouth. I stumbled to the refrigerator and stood there leaning my head against the cold surface. It felt good. When I opened it the glare from the light inside was blinding. Squinting my bloodshot eyes I scanned its contents. A piece of curled up pizza at least three days old, a tub of butter and three cans of Bud. “So what-r-you gonna have”, I asked, as I reached for a Bud and pulled the tab. Chug-a-lugging the cold amber liquid I leaned in and soaked up the cold emitting from the empty interior of the overworked box. The motor sounded like a dog panting after a long run.

    I staggered back to the bed and dropped down; I could still here that damn phone bleeping. I had to take the chance. I hung it up. Before my head hit the pillow it rang. I groaned and reached for it.

    “I’m here.” Click…the dial tone came on…

    “Wait a damn minute, I yelled, what do you mean you’re here?”

    My God, someone is knocking on the door, it’s him. A sudden unexplainable fear gripped me sending chills over my body. I could feel the sheen of sweat as it popped out on my face, it was hard for me to breathe. I stared at the door; the handle turned…What the hell is going on? What have I done?

    © Bodrury

  38. Zachary Petit

    @Kathy and Tanja: Thanks for the stories. One of the greatest things about reading prompt-based pieces is seeing everyone’s unique flair and direction. It’s something we get to see a lot in the office (with competitions, and so on), but not something you see too much elsewhere. I look forward to reading more from you both.

    @Maria: Because of your editorial tutelage some moons ago 🙂

  39. Kathy Booker

    The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”
    You hang up.
    Twenty minutes later, it rings again. “You made a mistake.”
    The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.


    I get these calls all the time. Let me tell you – I don’t always enjoy my job. But I’m just like any other employee – I take orders from my Boss whether I like them or not.

    Usually the calls are from an angry spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, kid. After all these years of doing my job I’ve gotten used to them. But the call this morning was different. I felt a lot of empathy for the voice on the other end of the line.

    A knock on the door.

    I know who it is.

    “Come on in, Josh,” I shout.

    He enters the room. I admire what he’s done with his wings.

    “Lookin’ good, Josh.”

    “Shut up, man. What’s this all about?”

    It took years to convince my Boss that we need to think outside of the box and try something different. Of all the people I’ve turned into angels over the past two millennia, Josh is going to be my shining star.

    “Calm down,” I say, but I can tell my words fall on deaf ears.

    “There I am, riding my bike home from work, and BAM! A head-on collision with a Camry. And do I walk away from the accident? Sure! As a freaking human ANGEL! Why? Why me? This has to be a mistake!” Josh collapses into the chair across from my desk and sobs.

    “It’s no mistake, Josh. You’ve got a lot of good things ahead of you.” I walk around the desk and stroke his luminescent blond hair. “This has been in the plans for a while.”

    “But my wife is freaking out and my daughter won’t talk to me.” He flaps his wings. “And what about these? I’m not getting any sleep with these things poking my back, and how are my wife and I supposed to … you know …” I feel the distress in his voice.

    “It will all fall into place. Believe me. You’re the start of something great – the first angel that all people will be able to see. We’re going to get rid of that ‘spirit’ enigma that surrounds us. Your wife and kid will come around – I promise.”

    The phone rings. I pick up the receiver.

    “LET ME TALK TO HIM,” the voice commands.

    I had the receiver to Josh. His head nods in agreement with whatever is being said. I can feel the mood in the room lifting. After a few minutes, he hangs up the phone.

    “Okay, I get it now,” Josh smiles and stands up. “I’ll be in touch.” He floats out the door.

    I sit down thinking I can enjoy the rest of the day. But the phone rings. I sigh. Another call from a disgruntled human. I already know this call won’t turn out so good.

  40. Tanja Cilia

    I tiptoed across the living room, crossed the kitchen, and go out into the porch. I dialled 911 and told the operator what was happening.

    has to be

    I tiptoed across the living room, crossed the kitchen, and went out into the porch. I dialled 911 and told the operator what was happening.

    And the e-mail was wrong, too (migraine!)

  41. Tanja Cilia

    Oh, put a sock on it, Larissa, you know I hate it when you prank call.

    I settled down to wait as I usually do. I leaned over to switch on my pc, and clicked on Start – Programmes – Accessories – Games – Solitaire Special. I wedged the receiver between my shoulder blade and my ear, and selected the cards to make coherent sets.

    I waited for Larissa’s shrill laugh, which usually comes as she hears the musical ditty that accompanies game over.

    It did not come. In the background, a dog was barking. Larissa does not have a dog – she is too house-proud (read obsessive) for that. She goes into a tizzy when she finds one single fly dropping on the bathroom mirror.

    Had I held it any closer, the telephone receiver would have burst my eardrum. I didn’t know there was another phone in the pantry one voice said.

    Put it back in its cradle so they can’t trace the call said the other.

    It doesn’t matter – there’s the dialling tone on.

    This was getting, as Alice would have said, curiouser and curiouser. Was this some kind of radio skit, courtesy of my friends at KNTC?

    Oh you idiot, you’ve stained the carpet. Now how do you expect to get the blood out before his wife comes home?

    It was as if someone punched me in the stomach. I nearly dropped the receiver. I had to see this through… I could, perhaps, even write about it for the paper… that would show you-know-who who gets the better ratings!

    Gently, gently, ever so gently, I reached out with my foot and dislodged a cushion from the sofa. I inched it as close to me as I could, picked it up with my free hand, and rested my telephone on it.

    I tiptoed across the living room, crossed the kitchen, and go out into the porch. I dialled 911 and told the operator what was happening.

    The person at the call centre insisted she would have to call me back on my landline – I told her it was off the hook, and she said she would have to disregard the call. I didn’t know she was testing me then – in the state of shock I was in, I believed her.

    I begged her to call my neighbour while I made my way next door. And she did.

    Not more than ten minutes later, an unmarked car slipped up to my door, and, in sign language, I showed the police officers the way to my living room, where the phone was still cradled on the cushion. They attached something like a CB radio with dials to it, and, after fiddling about with some knobs, one of them made the thumbs-up sign to his colleagues, and they left – just like that.

    My neighbour came over with a long glass of iced coffee, and I told her the whole story.

    Oh, yes. I got both my photo and my article in the paper, by the way!


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