This story is by Larry Bone and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Owsley hears his cell phone ring. He notices “unknown caller” on the id display. Normally he won’t answer. A stranger could say he owes one million dollars. Pay up “or else.”
But this morning, he’s having a good wake-up so far. A bad dream torments him all night. He walks all over Los Angeles looking for his wallet. Though asleep for six hours the 10-minute dream with identical imprecise LA-ish scenery, continually repeats as though in a loop.
“Is this Owsley? Owsley Carruthers?”
“This is Death.”
“Nice to meet you over the phone,” he says.
“Your death is near.”
“Really? Should I put it on my calendar?”
Death’s pauses. Which prompts a fear in Owsley that he quickly suppresses. So predictable Death seems that Owsley laughs slightly. He knows Death’s creepy diva drama; deep voice well-designed to disturb, derange and destroy.
“I can’t tell you the date, the hour, the minute, nor the seconds until you are no more. Or else, you’d be upset,” he says, as he tenderly fakes concern.
“I’m good. Can you give me a hint?”
Owsley’s late father was always telling him; act confident. Be pleasant in adverse circumstances, otherwise bad things will happen.
Just like Death. Just like Death would say. Was it Owsley’s half-sister’s grandson? The one who’d made several bomb threats to members of the family? There’s voice altering software he could have used.
“This is a courtesy call,” Death said. “You’re lucky. I rarely do this.”
“Well thanks so much. Be seeing ya,” Owsley says and ends the call.
Should he call the police? Report a suspicious phishing phone call even though he wasn’t asked for his credit card information? The FBI? Death calling over a threat isn’t a federal offense. Although it would be if made by someone other than Death.
Anyway, Owsley didn’t want to tell anyone.
“You over-think everything!” his exasperated quasi-ex-girlfriend always told him. Going out with her was like never getting out of an eternal audition. Even if she’s correct, he doesn’t need to be reminded.
Still, Owsley begins to worry. He slowly puts himself through his getting ready for work routine. Because he’s in the company operations department, he doesn’t need to wear a suit. So, he puts on a green sport shirt and tan trousers.
As he walks to the train station, he looks over his shoulder. There doesn’t seem to be anyone walking behind him in the early morning dark.
“The next station is Newark-Penn station,” the conductor announces over the intercom.
Owsley draws a nine of hearts on his smart phone Solitaire game as he notices a telephone cord out of the corner of his eye. It flies over his head and wraps around his neck. Whoever is behind him pulls it tightly as he begins to choke. He tries to loosen the cord but it tightens. He’s sure he will pass out.
Just then, the train slows to a stop and the sliding middle exit doors open. The phone cord releases and a man in a black suit and fedora jumps up out of the seat behind and races out the door onto the platform.
Maybe he was an angry insurance claims adjuster guy who wanted to get back at that bastard customer who called him late yesterday. Shouldn’t have told the guy where to go or what he could do with himself and then have to explain to HR why that is not, nor ever could be, the ideal optimal customer experience. All this because the damn call was recorded.
But it’s okay. It’s all right. Never mind. Owsley safely arrives an hour early at Penn Station and goes into a Starbucks for a grande coffee and a turkey sausage sandwich. He needs to check the news on his phone and possibly win a Solitaire game in three and a half minutes or less, if possible. Then he gives himself 15 minutes to get to work, run his pass through the elevator bank gate reader, go up in the elevator and run to his desk to clock in on time.
At five in the afternoon work ends. Today is just like yesterday. After getting off the late afternoon train home, he walks over to the grocery store to buy a loaf of wheat bread. While walking out of the store he looks back to see if anyone is following him. No one. He feels better as he walks across the street.
But he hears an echoing set of footfalls as he walks underneath the railroad overpass. He walks faster. Behind him a pudgy guy, slovenly dressed in a bright orange tank top and torn dirty brown trousers is about 50 yards behind him. Owsley pivots and walks out into the street. As he glances back and runs over the middle double white line, a Ford pickup truck honks its horn and screeches to a halt almost right next to him.
“Idiot!” the driver yells.
As the truck moves forward towards a stop signal, the guy crosses the street behind Owsley. Owsley walks quickly into a large public park. People sit on benches looking at the trees and a few squirrels dart about.
Owsley breaks into a run and hears a huge “crunch” sound as a stone hits him in the back of the head. He falls forward into the grass. The overweight guy puts his head down on the grass directly across from Owsley’s.
“I’mmmmm goooooing to killlll you,” he yells.
Owsley wonders why the guy doesn’t just ask for his wallet, his money clip, his cell phone and just take the bread. Despite the fact he really doesn’t want to give the guy anything.
Suddenly he feels a sharp pain in his side and notices blood on the blade of a small pocket knife the creep is holding as he smiles back at Owsley.
Realizing he’s hurt; Owsley gets up and starts running as fast as he can out of the park. The guy runs after him. He starts wheezing and needs to slow down a little but not too much. He doesn’t want to be hit by a car or a bigger rock. As he crosses the street, he sees the guy running after him mowed down by a bus followed by a thump as it rolls over the body. Owsley doesn’t want to get stopped, blamed, asked a lot of questions and get arrested.
As he runs up the street, a red SUV runs alongside him.
“Need a ride to the train?” a man in a black jacket asks.
“No. But I could use a lift home,” Owsley says as he opens the door and climbs into the passenger seat.
“You’re bleeding pal. What happened. Fight with the wife?”
“Nah, I never married.”
“I can see why! Look, I’m taking you to emergency.”
Owsley pulls some spare napkins from his right pocket and stuffs them under his shirt to staunch the oozing blood. He touches the back of his head. It’s not a far drive to emergency. He opens the door and steps down into the street.
“Good luck,” the SUV driver says and drives away.
“Thanks,” he says as he salutes the driver and walks up the emergency room driveway to the sliding door entrance.
Luckily, there’s no one on line at the registration counter.
“Can I see your health insurance card?” the receptionist asks.
Owsley opens his wallet and hands her the card. Then, noticing blood drops on the floor, he pulls out napkins from his pocket, leans over and cleans it up as best he can.
“You don’t have to do that. I’ll get someone,” the receptionist says as she picks up her phone receiver and hands his card back to him.
“Thank you,” he says as he puts his card back into his wallet.
A nurse appears and escorts Owsley inside the treatment area where there’s a huge round desk in the middle of the room. Around it, are table height stretcher cots enclosed by curtained partition dividers. The nurse guides Owsley over to one of the cots. He sits down and lays back.
“The doctor will see you shortly,” she says
Probably treating a gun-shot victim.
Owsley starts thinking about cost. It’ll probably be an $800 deductible at least if he has to stay overnight, plus whatever treatment he has to get besides an MRI for the head wound. If he dies, someone will have to pay the hospital unless no one will. At least, after that, there won’t be any more health insurance to pay for.
Owsley tries to relax as he looks up at the bright white light fixture hanging from the powder green ceiling.
“Thank you, Jesus,” he says as he puts his hands together in prayer.
Death was wrong. No more answering “unknown caller” Death calls he decides.
Then the lights go out.