I looked around the empty stagnant smelling bar and asked the bartender, “Hey, where the hell is everybody?” It was an honest question – it was three o clock and not even the ever present Eddie was a no-show.
For years it was a work day ritual: from 3 to 5 the five of us would drink our faces off on the cheap draft for happy hour. To most people it would have sounded like a hollow and shallow existence, but to the five of us it was the chance to say we weren’t anti social recluses – we were just alcoholics, which in this day and age was a disease and much more socially acceptable than saying we were all loners. Loners are looked upon as potential sociopaths that will end up shooting up a school – drunks just are too be looked on and pitied. Pity meant around these parts being left alone, and that’s how me and my four compatriots preferred the majority of our days spent, so it all worked out well in the end.
A week ago, there was the five of us sitting around and bullshitting the happy hour away, but four days ago, our number started to decrease by one each day.
The bartender didn’t look up from wiping the mug that was in his hands as he replied, “I imagine he got the call last night.”
Fuck. That’s all I had heard for the past few days when I asked where someone hadn’t shown up. The first day was Frank, the second day was Perry, the third day it was Larry and now it was Eddie. Each day it had become harder to joke about the disappearances.
It had all started with Larry last week. He had come in talking about a web site a co worker had gone to – one that the co worker had said once you put your name on the list, you’d get a phone call and...
And what we had asked, more to placate Larry than take him seriously. Larry shook his head – he didn’t know, the co worker never showed up for work that day. The rest of us mocked Larry for the rest of the night about taking such an obvious prank so serious. After all, with a website with the name of “R.U.S8?.Com”, how serious could putting your name and phone number on some list be dangerous?
“You think it’s bullshit?” Larry challenged all of us, “Why don’t I put our names on the fucking list then and see, then?”
The following day Larry informed us that he put our names on the web site that morning. In what order he was asked and he said that he put Frank’s name, then Perry’s, his own, Eddie’s and then mine. Then the following day, Frank never came into the bar. The rest of us didn’t think much of it, every one was allowed to miss a day now and then – we just didn’t expect anyone to make a bad habit of still being sober by 5:30 each night; that could lead to forming a stable relationship with a member of the opposite sex and forever leaving the dwindling barfly sub-species of the small town hick population.
The next day, neither Frank nor Perry appeared at the scheduled time – Eddie, Larry and I began to joke nervously that night about Larry being next. I had tried to phone both our missing companions but all I got in the ear was a busy signal. What made matters worse was when Sheriff Lantrans came in after we had bugged him to get off his ass from his complimentary coffee to go check on the two of them. He looked grim as he sat down at our shrinking table.
“Boys,” he said curtly, slightly tipping his hat over his pudgy aging face to us. He licked his lips and contrary to the usual coffee he ordered a double scotch. He waited until the waitress had brought his drink and had quickly gulped the entire contents of the glass until he spoke to us again.
He said with a scotch scorched voice, “They’re gone. Looks like the answered a phone call and died. Damnest thing..both had the call being answered at 6:05” He said no more but just left the three of us to sit and drink to our fallen comrades in beer.
The next day came and Eddie and I found ourselves watching the clock on the bar wall as it slowly ticked past three. Then four, there was no Larry.
At five, Eddie and I decided to head over to Larry’s apartment – we had tried phoning but as with Frank and Perry, the line was busy. We decided not to call Lantrans, he wasn’t much help the day before and in our alcoholic sharpness we figured we could handle just about anything.
We got to the apartment complex and Eddie remembered where Larry hid his extra key and we let ourselves in, calling out his name softly. Eddie made it to the kitchen first and he half called my name before he had to run over to the sink and regurgitate. I smiled at first and was about to make a crack about not being able to hold his liquor but when I saw Larry’s corpse laying on the kitchen floor I joined Eddie at the sink.
His phone was still tight against Larry’s ear, his eardrum must have exploded and the puss, ear wax and blood had cemented it there because both of his hands held what must have been Larry’s tongue – which it looked like he had pulled out of his mouth himself.
Eddie and I looked at each other; I knew what had to be done. Eddie wasn’t about to grab the gore caked phone so I slowly reached down and with a large cracking sound pulled the phone from Larry’s ear. Maggots had already started their feasting, so I knocked the few that were dining on the ear piece away and looked at the display: unknown name unknown number at 6:05. I held the phone up to Eddie’s face so he could see the display for himself. I threw the phone down and started to wipe my hands repeatedly on my pants, trying to get the sludge that had been all over the handset off my skin.
We exited Larry’s apartment quickly, locking the door and then phoning in an anonymous report to Sheriff Lantrans, which afterward we both thought was stupid in light of the fact that the sink was full of our DNA as well my fingerprints would be on the phone. We parted ways, with Eddie saying he wouldn’t be answering any fucking phone calls, I said that I’d be doing the same.
That was yesterday, but when I tried calling at 3:23, Eddie’s line was busy. I was alone. There was a table of the semi-barflies, the people who drank but had a family to go home to so they only drank reasonably – they weren’t as fun as my crew, but I resigned myself to the fact that I no longer was part of the old group. I’d have to force myself to sit with the half asses and I had to remember not to answer my phone – ever. I sat with them until 5 and as they hailed themselves a cab, I even joined them in the communal ride, making jokes and rude comments the entire ten minute cab ride.
First stop was my place. I got out, and walked to my door, shouting rude comments back at my new drinking companions. I took out my keys. I waved good bye and entered my little abode, the mirth that I had just seconds ago dissipated as I closed the door leaving me in the darkness. I glanced at the clock on the wall; it said 5:30. I forced myself to chuckle at my foolishness – after all, just because my name was on the list as the others, it didn’t mean that I would be next. Tomorrow, in fact, I chided myself; everyone would be around laughing that they had gotten me with a foolish and childish practical joke.
I went up and made myself a plate of pork and beans and sat down at my small glass kitchen table to eat. I was hungry, but I could not get myself to do anything but push the beans around the sauce on the plate with my fork. The thought of actually putting anything to my lips soured my stomach – the acid boiled furiously at the thought of the digestion of anything. I had to do something though, so I moved the beans around to make a picture and let my mind wander as I did so. I focused once more to see that I pushed the beans around to that of a screaming skull, the white colour of the plate had been freed of the thick bean sauce to emphasize the horror in the eye sockets of the bean skull.
The clock on my wall chimed mockingly six times; I dropped my fork, and pushed myself from the table in quiet resignation. Tonight would be the night – my night. I felt the certainty of it deep within my very core.
Fear mixed with the testosterone that pumped wildly through my body: the only way I would survive is if I believed that I was stronger than the others before...But was I? My close felt as if they were constricting against my skin, trying to bind me down and offer my body and soul to the horror that was coming. I had to break free – I couldn’t go down without a fight.
I quickly began to remove the sweat soaked apparel before it could imprison me. I kicked the pile of discarded clothes for their attempt at treachery; the sweat cooled the heat from within. I didn’t want to look at the clock – honestly – I tried not to look but my will power failed and I saw the time: 6:05. My scrotum curled itself up tight, while my penis hardened as if to shout out its defiance at the coming storm – I would go down as a man, not as a helpless baby. I looked at my hands to see why they suddenly ached only to see that my nails had pierced my palms and blood now dripped away from the self induced slits: even the essence of my life wanted to flee.
The phone rang once. I did not move, not wanting to answer though it would never be over for good or bad until I did.
It rang once more. I had bitten down on the inside of my cheek that I could taste the flow of salty fluid sliding along the back of my throat and seeping out of the corner of my mouth.
The phone rang a third time; my hand reached slowly and grabbed it from its base. I stared at the glowing announcement: unknown name unknown number. My stomach curled.
The phone harkened a fourth time; my thumb slid to the talk button and pushed down. I put the phone to my head. I felt the blood drain from my hands, turning them icy to match the voice that I knew would be on the line. I took a deep breath, a lone bead of sweat slid down from my brow to my chin as I slowly lifted the receiver to my ear. I felt my mouth become dry as if a hundred cotton balls had been shoved in as I quietly resolved not to let my voice betray my fear.
I could not help the instinctive gulp as I waited for the voice...the bile welled into the middle of my throat with full intention to be released as a bodily reaction; my bowels began to howl, I clenched my butt cheeks to stop myself from evacuating its contents into my pants. The trembling became more pronounced, each millisecond of silence compounding the terror a hundred fold. Then what I feared the most violently thrust itself through my ear drum into my brain.
As I heard the voice, my knees buckled and I fell to the floor, phone still to my ear as if I instinctively knew that I couldn’t stop what was coming even if I wanted to. The sound of my heart beating thundered through my head as those dreaded words razored themselves through the synaptic nerves of my brain:
“Good evening, sir! I’m a representative of “Are You Sate” with your phone service. Could I talk to you about your satisfaction with your long distance provider?”