Excerpt from my book, ‘Fragments of Fear, Collection’.
Harold was not having a good day. What little hot water he usually had for a shower was already used up by another tenant in the undersized, overpriced, rodent infested, apartment building he lived in. So, yet again, he took an ice cold shower. The shower must have felt sorry for him, and somehow told the toaster to make it up to him.
The toaster obliged by giving him a little extra heat and burning his last piece of toast. Harold choked down the burnt toast, and washed it down with a half cup of cold coffee, as he stumbled out the door, trying to dress himself. He barely made it to the bus stop in time.
He sat down, hoping that his luck would change when a spring from the seat broke and shot up into his leg. It didn’t hurt him, the real problem was when he stood up, the spring caught hold of his pants and ripped a large hole in them. The rest of the way to the office, he had to cover the back of his pants with his tattered briefcase. In the elevator on the way up to his office, he heard snickers from behind him that stopped when he turned around.
He got off at his floor and quickly made his way to his cubicle that was barely big enough to fit his tiny desk. He collapsed into his chair and let out a long sigh.
Harold was not having a good day. In fact, Harold was not having a good life.
He just couldn’t seem to catch a break. He was never popular in school, but he always made decent grades, usually just missing the honor roll.
When he was in ninth grade, his father passed away, leaving him to take care of his mother. She had Alzheimer’s disease that got progressively worse. Some days Harold would come home just to be chased off by his mother, who thought he was a burglar.
On good days, she chased him with a stick, on bad days, a shotgun. His mother passed away just before he graduated high school. The house was left to Harold, but the mortgage still had ten years left to pay it off, and Harold couldn’t afford the payments. He sold the house and had just enough left for a down payment on his pitifully small apartment.
He wanted to go to law school but couldn’t afford it. So he got a job as a clerk for a low-grade law firm, which was essentially a bunch of ambulance chasers. He hoped that he could get some practical experience, study for the BAR, and maybe move up to middle management in the meantime.
Six years later, Harold still sat in his same tiny cubicle. His computer was so out of date he couldn’t even run the internet. His chair and desk were falling apart, and the ‘one’ button on his phone hadn’t worked in nearly two weeks. He tried to call maintenance, but their extension number was ‘221’. Every time he went past their door, a sign was hanging on it saying, ‘On break. Leave a voice mail for any repairs.’
The other clerks were very possessive, and wouldn’t let anyone else use their phone. The display on Harold’s phone said, ‘341 messages, press ‘one’ to retrieve.’ While trying to decide what to do, his phone rang.
“Harold Funston, how can I help you?” he said.
“Funston!” his boss shouted.
Harold jumped, nearly dropping the phone.
“Where’s my report?” he growled.
“What report, sir?”
“The one I needed done two days ago, on last month’s profit/loss margin.”
“Sir, you never asked me to do any report.”
“I left you three voice mails in the last week.”
“But, sir, my phone, it’s … ”
“I don’t want to hear your excuses! Have that report on my desk in one hour or you’re
Harold was so upset, he dropped the receiver, comically juggling it all the way to the floor. He hung the phone up and frantically began gathering information to start his report. As much as he hated his job, losing it would be catastrophic. He was already living paycheck to paycheck and falling behind on bills. Soon he would have to get another crappy job on top of this crappy job, just to afford living in a crummy apartment. His only glimmer of hope was a faded postcard he kept by his computer, showing a beautiful tropical beach. The phone rang again. He picked it up while continuing to type.
“Harold Funston, how can I help you?”
“You have just won five million dollars!” proclaimed an automated voice.
Harold’s jaw hit the desk. It was the miracle he had been waiting for. He looked at his picture and started to dream of diving into the clear blue ocean. He was brought back to reality by the voice on the phone.
“The ACME prize corporation has selected YOU as its grand prize winner! You need
only confirm your name and address to claim your prize. If you do not confirm, we will pick another lucky winner.”
Harold was drooling. He knew that from now on, everything was going to be okay.
“To confirm your prize, simply press ‘one’, and an operator will assist you.”
Harold stared at the phone in disbelief.
He started hammering on the ‘one’ button, like he was playing a video game, in the
desperate hope that the button might register just one time.
“Please press ‘one’ to confirm,” the voice repeated.
“One! One!! ONE!!!” he screamed into the phone, as a last, desperate act.
“I’m sorry, we did not recognize your response, better luck next time.”
The line disconnected.
“An equally entertaining story, sir.” The conductor said. “May I collect it?”
“Sure,” the man said, eyeing the conductor cautiously, “as long as you don’t go getting’ rich off it behind my back.”
“No need to worry Mr. Darden,” the conductor said. “I collect these stories only for myself.”
“All right, let’s shake on it,” the man said, grasping the conductor’s hand.
Instantly, shock spread across the man’s face as he quickly released his grip.
“My apologies sir,” the conductor said. “I have poor circulation.”
The conductor moved on to the next passengers, leaving the man to stare at his hand.
“What’s wrong?” his friend asked.
“It felt as if his hand was made of solid ice.”
“How did he know your name?” the other passenger asked slowly.
The woman who sat beside him smiled and shook her head.
“It’s on the ticket he just punched.”
The conductor ambled up to the next passenger. She was an elderly woman, tall and thin who wore a black dress and functional shoes. She sat alone, straight as an arrow in her seat. She seemed to sense that someone was approaching, even though the conductor moved as silent as the grave.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said to the conductor. “Has anyone turned in a large, King James Bible to lost and found?”
“No ma’am,” the conductor said. “Did you lose one?”
“Well, yes,” she said. “I always take it with me on long trips. And now that I think about it, my purse is missing too.”
“Nothing has shown up, ma’am. Are you sure you brought it with you?”
“I’m positive!” she said. “At least, I think I’m positive… I’m pretty sure…”
She trailed off.
The conductor smiled a knowing smile.
“I will look for them with all diligence,” he said. “In the meantime, may I have your ticket?”
“Oh, of course,” she said, handing the ticket to him. “I’m sorry, sir, you must get so tired of the silly ramblings of an old woman.”
“Not at all,” he said, sincerely. “In fact, I enjoy hearing a good story. Do you have any?”
“None of my stories are good enough to tell,” she said.
“You’re just being modest,” the conductor said with a sly grin.
“Well,” she said, starting to blush. “I do have one.”
“As they say…’I am all ears’.”