26 September 2013

The Cost Of A Phone Call

This story was originally published (in an altered, interactive version) in Volume 2 Issue 1 of Dotlit: The Online Journal Of Creative Writing when I was a student at QUT. You can experience the non-linear version for yourself at the archived journal website. After choosing Vol 2.1, scroll down to the Hypermedia section.

For an old-school prose version, read on!

The Cost Of A Phone Call
by Glenn Davies

Now that Carlos had all the time in the world to think about it, their problems began and ended with that phone.

* * * * *

Carlos closed the phone and nodded to his brother Miguel. "It's there."

"Let's go then."

There was a knock on the door.

"That'll be Maria," Carlos said.

Miguel opened the door and let Maria in. She kissed him on the cheek. "Hi honey."

She smiled over at Carlos. "Hello, C."

"Hey, Maria."

"Well?" she asked.

"It's there," Miguel said. "We're on our way there now."

Miguel and Maria stepped outside onto the verandah. Carlos shut the door behind them, and there was the sound of plastic on wood. Miguel spun around.

"Clumsy fool! That's my phone!"

Carlos slicked back his black hair before locking the door and walking over to pick up the phone, giving Miguel his best Cool Guy grin.

"Hey, what are you worried about? It works fine. Trust me, hermano."

"Stop fighting," said Maria. "Come on, let's go."

The giant iron gates were locked. Carlos shook his head. Locks? Seriously, what were people going to do, come in the middle of the night and surreptitiously sneak off with an African elephant or two? On the other hand, what made Leon pick a zoo for the pickup anyway?

Maria kept a lookout for guards while Miguel and Carlos walked around for the best place to get over the wall. It didn't take them long.

Just around the corner from the main gates of the city zoo, a section of footpath was under repair, and the council workers had conveniently left a decent-sized pile of concrete and other rubble against the wall.

"Maria!" Miguel hissed. "Over here!"

Carlos held his breath as she dashed over to them, a guard's flashlight sweeping by.

The zoo guard shone his flashlight along the path, but it was only a lizard on the cobblestones.

He continued his patrol through the grounds.

It was nearly time for a cup of coffee.

The guard's flashlight beam passed right where Maria's feet had been a few seconds before, but she wasn't spotted. They breathed easy.

Carlos climbed up onto the chunks of cement and bent his knees, cupping his hands to give Miguel a boost. Miguel planted his foot on his brother's hands, and as Carlos straightened his legs Miguel grabbed the top of the wall and pulled himself up.

Once there, he lay flat for a little while and watched silently. Nothing stirred, so he moved position to help Maria and Carlos up. As they jumped down to the other side, Carlos heard the rattle of hard plastic on gravel, and looked down. Miguel had heard it too. Sure enough, Carlos could see the yellow phone easily in the dark.

Before Miguel could swing a punch, Carlos quickly grabbed the phone. It took him a few more seconds to find the batteries on the dark ground, but he smiled at them as he snapped the battery cover back in place.

"Don't worry," Carlos said. "It's shock-proof. Nothing can happen to it."

"Maybe, but are you shock-proof?" You be careful, that happens one more time and you're a dead man, hermano." Miguel shook his head and pulled a white sock out of his jacket pocket, shoving his flashlight down into it. He flicked the switch, and it gave out a dimmed glow, but still good enough to see by. He shone it on a nearby sign.

"Just what you like, isn't it, Maria."

She shivered visibly. "Don't, Miguel. Snakes aren't funny."

"The biggest anacondas can..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Where did he say he left it?"

"Leon told me something about the big cats."

"Where are they?"

"We have to find a map first. I haven't been here since I was a young boy, and a lot's changed since then," Miguel said.

"Don't worry," Carlos said. "I was in town this morning, and got a tourist map from the information centre."

"Well done, hermano! You did something right for once!"

"Oh, ha ha." Carlos unfolded the map. "If we're here, the mammals are over that way, so the big cats will be..."

"Oh, give me that," Maria said, taking the map and scanning it with a glance. "It's a map, not Hamlet. Too easy. Follow me. And be quiet. We don't want to wake any guards - or animals."

Their trip to the big cat house, under Maria's expert navigation, was uneventful, and getting inside was a piece of cake, as the Americans say.

Maria and Miguel headed straight for the large iron grille in the middle of the room. They didn't take any notice of Carlos walking behind them, so they didn't hear him slip and fall. They also didn't hear him as he picked himself up off the ground. At least, they pretended not to. They were probably thinking he was just being his usual clumsy self.

"Madre de Dios."

They still paid no attention. Carlos could hear them trying the wimpy bolt-cutters on the grille. Leon couldn't have picked a worse spot.

"Come and give us a hand, Carlos."

Carlos didn't answer.


Carlos heard Miguel turn around, frustration evident in his voice. "For the last time, C... what's the matter?"

Carlos stayed where he was, his right hand moving in between some bars. "Be quiet, Miguel!"

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong! Don't worry!"

"What's in the cage?"

Carlos silently pointed to the sign beside the cage. Miguel shone his dim flashlight towards it.

"Carlos, is that cage empty?" Miguel's frustration was replaced by a faint hope. He took a step towards his brother, who waved him back.

"I don't want to wake it up!"

No, the cage wasn't empty. Carlos might be clumsy, and think of himself as a Cool Guy, but he didn't mess around or play jokes like this.

Maria stepped up behind Miguel. "C, are you crazy? What did you do, drop the phone in the cage?"

Both Miguel and Carlos motioned for her to be quiet.

"Oh my God. You did, didn't you. You crazy son..."

"Maria." Miguel took her arm and moved her back. "Let's just hope Carlos can reach the phone, OK?"

Across the other side of town, Leon looked at his watch, and pulled out his phone. "They should be done by now."

Carlos stretched his fingers as far out as he could. How had the phone gotten so far in the bars? He shook his head and strained against the cold metal, trying to will his arm into growing longer.

His fingers touched the edge of the phone. He started to pull it towards him, but his sweaty fingertips slipped and the phone jerked a few centimetres away from him.

He swore under his breath.

Leon punched in the first few digits of Miguel's number.

Miguel and Maria returned to working on the locked grille. "Carlos, forget the phone. Come over here and help us."

He waved his hand at them. "Just one more time. I know I can reach it."

Leon pressed the final button and held the phone to his ear. There was a buzzing tone.

The golden eye winked open in an instant. A soft rumble echoed from its sleepy throat.

Carlos stared in shock at the ringing phone, hoping whoever the idiot was who was ringing them, he'd hang up.

He lunged sideways, his shoulder managing to just fit between the bars. The phone was in reach!

He jerked his arm out for it, but the lion was quicker.

Carlos fell back against the floor, his shirt stained with four red streaks. "Miguel..."

Maria screamed, Miguel jumped up, and the lion roared. The bloodstained phone was lying on the floor, thrown outside the cage in Carlos' panicked fall.

"My side hurts..."

Miguel shouted at the lion. "What are you looking at?"

The big cat just roared back in his face.

The guard stood and ran out of his office, heading straight for the big cat house.

He crashed into Maria as she ran screaming out of the building. He grabbed her arms to steady her.

"What are you doing here?"

"Help, there's... a man's hurt... oh God, he's dying..." She burst into tears. The guard sat her down by the door and ran inside.

* * * * *

Miguel, Maria and Carlos sat on the hard wooden bench as a stern-faced desk sergeant finished writing their names and addresses on the forms. Carlos winced and gingerly moved so that he didn't stretch his bandaged wounds.

"Right," the sergeant said, putting his pen down. "What's the story?"

"I found these three in the city zoo. The lion attacked this one here when his phone went off."

"What were they doing there?"

"They were looking for this bag of money, hidden in the drainage system of the cat house. They're not saying who left it there for them, or how they broke in."

"How much money?"

"Fifty thousand."

This figure brought a whistle. "Any personal belongings?"

"Just a phone."

The constable passed him a sealed plastic bag, containing something that had been once been yellow, but was now strangely discoloured.

* * * * *

The bars in front of him were just like those at the zoo, only now the problem wasn't getting in.

Now that Carlos had all the time in the world to think about it, their problems began and ended with that phone.

© 2001 Glenn Davies

Behind the story...

The story was inspired by real events, which I found tucked away in a corner of the World News section of a local newspaper.

Lion answers man's call

MEXICO CITY: A man trying to retrieve his cell phone from a lion's cage was attacked when the phone started ringing, prompting the animal to lunge.
The 25-year-old man had sneaked into the zoo in Pachuca, central Mexico, with his girlfriend and his brother after it closed.
He accidentally dropped the phone into the cage and was trying to retrieve it without disturbing the lion.
When the phone rang, the lion lunged at the man, injuring his stomach.
- Associated Press

Why would three people be inside a zoo after closing time? Well, here it was The Beatles to the rescue.

You keep all your money in a big brown bag
Inside a zoo - what a thing to do!
- The Beatles, "Baby You're A Rich Man"

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