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Ringing

tinnitus

The doctors were perplexed, although not enough to do much about the problem, which was that Tonya’s ears had been ringing for the last month. The low tone monotone squeal made Tonya want to rip her hair out and stick her head under the water. She played loud rock music whenever she could, but then at night, when the noise departed and silence washed back over the house, the ringing resurfaced.

The first doctor suggested a few things she could try—none of which worked—and charged her $150 for the 10 minutes of terrible advice. The second doctor spent 20 minutes with her and prescribed her medicine. But he charged $180, and the medicine didn’t work.

Tonya was watching TV five weeks after the ringing had started and kept turning up the volume to drown out the sound in her ears. Finally, she hit her right temple just once with the heel of her hand, using defective-alarm-clock logic to stop the ringing.

The ringing stopped.

She muted the TV just to make sure. Blessed, blessed silence.

“Hello?” a tentative voice said, seemingly out of nowhere.

“Hello?” Tonya said, looking around her chair for tiny home invaders. She checked her phone to make sure she hadn’t butt dialed anyone.

“I’m glad we could reach you,” the voice asked.

Tonya got up and moved to the kitchen. “Are you still there?”

“Yes. Thank you for answering. We’ve called you several times.”

“You have?” The voice seemed to be following her. It seemed to be in her own head. She thought about the medicine she was taking and wondered if hallucinations were a side effect. Tonya looked under the kitchen table.

“Oh yes!” the woman practically cooed. “We’ve been calling and calling.”

“So . . . what do you want?” Tonya asked.

“I’m glad you asked,” the woman said. “We have this great limited time offer on a new Pan Am credit card, only 45% APR for eligible customers, with 25% on balance transfers and very affordable annual fees. You gotta act now though.”

Tonya hit her left temple. She did it a couple times until the woman’s voice suddenly cut off. Well, that was that.

A minute later, the ringing started again.

It took five minutes before Tonya broke down and hit her right temple. The ringing stopped.

“Hello?” she said.

“Good evening, ma’am,” a man’s voice said.

“Are you from the credit card?” Tonya asked.

“Credit card?” the man said. “Goodness, no. Nothing like that. I was just wondering if you were satisfied with your long-distance service. Deseret Telecom now has a package deal for this month only—”

Tonya hit her left temple so hard she only most knocked herself out.

*         *         *

“Let me get this straight, you want me to prescribe you medication that will put you on a no-call list?” The doctor’s forehead wrinkled so hard it looked like a geriatric pug. Tonya thought she could see his hand straying towards the speed dial button marked Psychiatric Ward.

“Well, not exactly,” Tonya said, “but essentially, yes.”

The doctor prescribed her medication to help her relax and charged $240 for the service.

*         *         *

“I don’t think you’re lying,” Tonya’s sister Debbie said that night. “You don’t have the imagination for it.” They were sitting on Tonya’s couch eating Slovenian takeout from their favorite restaurant, Little Ljubjana.

“But you think I’m crazy?”

“Eh.” Debbie shrugged. “Is it still ringing?”

“Nonstop. I’m going bonkers, no joke.”

“So answer it. Answer it now. Let’s see who it is.”

Tonya set down her Styrofoam container of štruklji and tapped her right temple. “Hello?”

“Congratulations, you’ve won the lottery!” a cheery woman’s voice said.

“So, how much did I win?” Tonya asked, picking up the štruklji again.

“Ten million lievers!” the woman crowed.

“Oh, really? Ten million levers?” said Tonya, who couldn’t see how the woman had spelled the word. “So what is that in real money?”

The woman’s confident tone faltered. “I’m sorry?” The conversation had apparently gone off script.

“What’s a lever?” Tonya took a big bite and gave Debbie an apologetic look. Debbie, who could only hear Tonya’s side of the conversation, was looking worried and fascinated and a bit like she had to pee. Worrinated, Tonya decided. I won the lottery, she mouthed.

“It’s . . . money,” the woman said. She appeared to find her place again. “So anyway, we are all ready to send you your winnings. All we need from you first is—” Tonya tapped her left temple and hung up.

“I’m not ruling out insanity,” Debbie said, when Tonya had relayed the call to her. She held up a finger messy with prekmurska gibanica. “But, you may be getting telemarketing calls from another dimension. I’m not saying you are, but it is either that or insanity.”

“Okay, Stephen Hawking, so what do I do about it?” Tonya asked, stabbing a piece of štefani pečenka with her fork.

“Do whatever you want,” Debbie said. “What are they going to do, steal all your money? Good luck getting it from wherever they are.”

Tonya’s ears started to ring again. She tapped the side of her head. “Yep?”

“Good evening,” a young man said, clearly reading off a script. “Do you dream of a vacation away from it all where you can relax and be your true self?”

“Yes,” Tonya said. “Yes, I do.”

“Oh. Good!” the man said. “Um, when you take a vacation, do you like to lie on the beach or go mountain biking?”

“I like to ride a mountain bike on the beach,” Tonya said. “Look, just give me your most expensive package.”

She heard pages rustling. “You mean, the month-long getaway on a private island in Viti Levu?” the man asked in a tone pregnant with commission payment calculations.

“That’s the one. Make it for two. My sister’s coming with me.” Private island, she mouthed.

Everything went well until they got to the credit card. Tonya made up a number and gave it to him.

“I’m sorry, what kind of card it this?” he asked. “We take Adventure, BNY and Bourse. Oh, and Discover, of course.”

“It’s an Adventure card,” Tonya said, winking at her sister.

“But all Adventure card numbers start with a ‘P’, the man said, sounding confused.

“Right. Sorry, I’m skydiving at the moment and couldn’t read the card number well.”

She tapped her temple and hung up. “I got us a month-long trip to a private island.”

“That’s great,” Debbie said. “Good for you.” She held up container. “You want any more jota? I’m stuffed.”

*         *         *

Over the next week, Tonya answered as many as twenty calls a day. She signed up for everything that was offered, plus promised to co-sign a loan for a prince from Abyssinia, and even agreed to pay the IRS $4500 in back taxes with Barnes and Noble gift cards. It was better than the constant ringing, at least.

The next Sunday, Tonya was on the treadmill when the ringing started up again. Her ears were not ringing all the time these days, so it seemed that answering it was doing something. She tapped her temple.

“Hello, sign me up,” she said.

“By Moroni’s beard,” a voice said. “It’s really you.”

Tonya stepped off the treadmill, still breathing hard. “Who is this?”

“You don’t know me, but everyone knows you,” the man said. “You’re the sign-me-up lady! I thought you were just an urban legend.”

“What do you mean?”

“They say that when you’re working the night shift and the call center only has a few operators, every so often a line will get switched and a woman answers. She has no idea about normal things like money and credit cards, and she can’t name any of the eight original Beatles, but she’ll buy anything. You take all her information and then she disappears, and none of the information works.”

“That’s me,” Tonya said. “My name’s Debbie.”

“Hey, just like the president!” the man said. “My name’s Jimmu. I don’t suppose you’re going to want to sign up for an explosive earwax removal system, do you?”

“I think we both know that I do want to sign up,” Tonya said. “But that’s up to you. Hey Jimmu, I don’t suppose you can put me on any sort of no-call list over there, can you? This is fun and all, but the constant ringing is driving me nuts.” Even as she said it, though, she wasn’t sure if it was true anymore, at least not completely.

“I don’t even know your number,” Jimmu said. “My screen says that this is the number for Adelardo Bess. You don’t know him, do you?”

“Not even a little,” Tonya said. “Have a good night. Who knows, maybe you’ll get me again sometime.”

“I’d like that,” Jimmu said. “Oh, the giant ant alarm is going off again. I’d better go.” And for the first time in Tonya’s life, a telemarketer hung up on her.

 

 

 


Going the Distance

The door closes, coffin-like. The interior is stifling. I’ve trained years for this moment, braving broken bones and lost hair.

A muffled thump and I’m airborne. I’m tumbling freely until I can work the controls enough to level out.

Impact. I’m slammed mercilessly into the unforgiving sides.

Light streams in. Assistants help me outside to wild cheers. I survey the scorched field strewn with other fridges. I’ve gone two lengths further than the Chinese fridge.

My gold medal for the Fridge Nuke around my neck, I go explore the rest of the Hyperbolympics. Maybe I’ll check out the shark jumping.

Nuke the fridge - The Top 10 Everything of 2008 - TIME

 

In case you’re wondering about the inspiration:

Jumping the Shark

Nuking the Fridge


The Smartening of the Home

The inspiration for this story came from when I was recently reading in 1 Kings where Solomon was building the temple. He named two of the pillars Boaz and Jachin, and I realized that we name parts of our house too, the smart parts.

smart home

It was on the fourth day of March in the Year of Our Lord 2020 when Dan created his smart home. Devices he bought from Best Buy and Amazon and assembled in his living room. Twelve days of unpacking followed, with great tearing of tape and unwrapping of plastic wrap. The unpacking produced 3 talents[i] of Styrofoam and the user manuals stood two cubits[ii] high when stacked.

First Dan set up the living room. On a table near the router, he established the first of his Echoes. This Echo he named Mr. Cranberry, for he thought the name was funny, but he kept the wake word as Alexa. And when he called to Alexa, she did answer in a calming manner.

On the north wall of the living room, he set up the smart TV. The TV was five cubits[iii] diagonally from upper left corner to lower right corner. He proceeded to set up the Wi-Fi and when all was set, Dan spake and said, “Alexa, turn on TV.” And the TV turned on and thus did he watch Netflix.

Next, Dan set four smart bulbs in the lamps of the living room. These bulbs he named Michelangelo, Donatello, Rafael, and Leonardo. He connected these bulbs to Alexa and named the group Ninja Turtles, for he had always been a fan. Then spake Dan, “Alexa, turn on Ninja Turtles,” and the lamps turned on.

After this, Dan set a smaller Echo in the upper floor and connected it to the network. He named this Echo Porky, for he found this name funny as well.

Dan spent many more days after that setting up other rooms of the house, from the second TV in the den to the Echo Show with the screen that he set in the kitchen.

Lastly, Dan set up a camera outside the gate to see anyone who might approach the house. He connected this to his Echo Show, and spake, saying, “Alexa, who is outside the front door?” But Alexa did not understand. Then Dan spake again, saying, “Alexa, show me the front door,” and Alexa understood and showed the front door.

It came to pass that a week after Dan had smartened his home, the winds rose and the rain fell and a great storm came upon the house. In the middle of the night, the power flickered and then died, leaving the house in blackness.

Then Dan awoke and went to the living room. “Alexa, turn on Ninja Turtles,” he said, but Alexa did not hear and no Ninja Turtles came on. It was then that the power came on with the beeping and chirping of many devices.

“Alexa, what time is it?” spake Dan, but Alexa answered not. Instead a red light spun on top of the Echo.

Then Dan did powercycle the router and Alexa at last turned blue. “Alexa, turn on Ninja Turtles,” but no Ninja Turtles came on. Dan consulted the app upon his phone, saying, “Crap, the bulbs are all offline.” No matter how he called to them and tried to reinitialize the bulbs, no Ninja Turtle answered, for they were offline.

Then Dan in his anger deleted all the bulbs from the smart house and added them again, renaming each in its turn. Then Dan with a deep breath called out to Alexa saying, “Alexa, turn on Ninja Turtles.” And the lamps came on and again, Dan was happy.

 

 

[i] 225 pounds (102 kg)
[ii] 3 feet (91 cm)
[iii] 90 inches (229 cm)


Hot Pepper Vacation

FF217 Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Copyright Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

 

“I’ll have the ghost pepper pie,” I said.

The waitress’s expression was that of a cop approaching a rooftop jumper. The words Are you sure? crouched unsaid on her lips.

I glanced out at the bleak Alberta winterscape. The meteorologists were rejoicing at the mid-February heatwave as the mercury rocketed up to -20.

“I just need a little heat in my life,” I whispered.

Twenty minutes later, my mouth was ablaze and sweat poured off me like a monsoon. I closed my eyes and imagined Cancun.

The manager noticed. The next week, they were advertising Mexican vacations, $4.99 a slice.


Hey, You Never Know

Happy New Year, even if we are almost a month into it already. In the world of international admissions, this is a very busy time of the year, with students coming in for the spring semester. It’s my job to keep track of them and get them registered and set up with everything they need, while still processing applications that are coming in for next fall. But everyone who is coming for this semester is here, so hopefully things will quiet down a little. I hope to be back as much as I can.

FF216 Na'ama Yehuda

copyright Na’ama Yehuda

Hey, You Never Know

I wrote my number on the napkin and reached forward to drop it on the tray of the cutie in 12B. She didn’t look back.

Then I got a text. Who’s this?

13C. Winking emoji.

A minute later: Can I have your Haagen-Dazs? The flight attendant had just gone through, distributing the little cartons of heaven.

I hesitated, then slid the frozen treasure onto her tray.

So, what do I get? I audaciously added a kissing emoji.

My husband might kiss you. He’s in 12A.

I sighed and called the attendant. “Another napkin,” I said sadly. “Plain white.”

12B snickered.

flirty-napkins-1

I was actually on a flight that had these napkins. Luckily no one gave me their number.


Chad

FF215 CEayr

copyright CEAyr

“So, who else should be in the club?”

“What about Chad?” I suggested.

Marcus choked.

“Chad?” he shouted. “Chad Shermanburger? Investigated-by-the-FBI Chad? Started-a-forest-fire-testing-his-homemade-rocket-fuel Chad? Brought-a-baby-cougar-to-school Chad? Sold-his-own-version-of-the-Nobel-Prize-online-sparking-outcry Chad? You want Chad freaking Shermanburgar, who somehow sneaked aboard Air Force Two and met the vice president to join the Adventurers’ Club?”

I gulped. “Not at all. I meant Chad . . . Parsons.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Looking back, I should have stuck to my guns. Chad Parsons was boring.


Death of a Reader

I heard the scream at almost the same time I heard the crash. Joan, my next-door neighbor was unusually clumsy but I wasn’t surprised to hear my phone ring a moment later. I answered it, reluctantly.

“Get over here.” Joan’s voice was full of pain and panic. “There’s been a terrible accident.”

A moment later, I was in her apartment and we were both looking down at the recently deceased lying prone on the floor. Joan was sobbing.

“She had a good life,” I said. I bent and picked up the Kindle, which Joan had named Bethany. Its screen was cracked and a jagged circle like a bullet hole was bleeding out high-tech ink into the rest of the screen.

Joan buried her face in my shoulder and shook with a pathos that rivaled the ending of Old Yeller.

“You can get another one,” I said, patting her awkwardly on the shoulder.

“But it takes . . . two days to ship with . . . Amazon Prime,” she gasped between sobs.

Joan was a reader in the same way the sun was a tad warm. She told me once she usually read over 400 books a year. Looking around her living room, I saw only one bookshelf, mostly covered in knickknacks. Her whole library had been transferred years ago to the flatlining piece of tech in my hands.

“Maybe you can read on your phone until then.”

She wiped her eyes and looked at me morosely. “The screen’s too small. It hurts my eyes.”

“You could read on the computer,” I said. She wrinkled her nose with a look of such revulsion you would think that I had suggested pooping on the welcome mat.

I helped her order a new Kindle and offered to drive her to the library. Then I remembered that it was Sunday and it was closed. I didn’t really read myself and I didn’t think that inviting her up to play Fortnite would help much. I left her clutching a dictionary and rocking back and forth slowly.

Joan and I weren’t much more than acquaintances, but I felt I should check on her after supper, just to make sure she was okay. She didn’t answer her phone, so I went next door and knocked. There was no answer, but I saw that the lights were on. Finally, I tried the door. Thirty seconds later, I called 911.

“She was just lying on her couch, staring at the ceiling,” I told the doctor at the hospital. “Maybe I panicked.”

“No, it’s good you brought her in,” the doctor said, shining a light into her eyes. “Did she have any trauma or shocks recently?”

“She broke her Kindle today,” I said.

The doctor looked pensive and puckered his lips in a way I found disconcerting. “Let me run some tests,” he said.

He left me in the waiting room wishing, ironically, that I had something to read, but he was back in twenty minutes.

“It’s a rare condition called a bibliophilic comatose state,” he said. “It’s caused by a sudden lack of reading material. We’ll try to draw her out of it. We’ve got a medical grade e-reader set up, but we need to know what she usually reads.”

“History, I think?” I usually tuned Joan out if she started talking about what she was reading. “She likes British history. I think.” She had said something about British history, I remembered.

“Okay, we’ll start her out on a regimen of historical fiction. I’ll try twenty pages of Philippa Gregory and see how it goes.”

The doctor assumed that I wanted to see Joan, so he led the way back into the newly constructed Injuries of the Arts wing to her room. I looked through the window at her lying in bed, monitors strapped to her arms. Her eyes were open and an e-reader was set up in front of her. A little robotic finger flicked at the screen every ten seconds to flip the page, making a beeping noise as it did.

I woke up in a chair in the hallway of the hospital with a nurse leaning over me.

“I thought you’d want to know about your friend’s progress,” she said. “We’ve switched to Alison Weir. If that has no effect, we’ll have to try something harder, maybe even David Starkey.”

I didn’t know what that meant, but I left my number and went home to sleep. The next day as I was returning from work, I saw that Joan’s new Kindle had been delivered and was sitting outside her door with the usual lack of security that delivery companies reserved for expensive high-tech devices. I took it to the hospital to see if she was awake.

Joan seemed responsive when I got to her room. I knocked on the window and she looked my way. I pointed at the package and her face lit up with relief. I went into the room and gave it to her.

“Thanks,” she said, “and thank God it came so fast. I’ve been reading nothing but British history for the last day. I don’t know what idiot thought I liked that stuff.”

 


What the Donkey Saw

FF 208 J Hardy Carroll

copyright J Hardy Carroll

What the Donkey Saw

The blindfolded child tottered towards the two-dimensional donkey, another victim of her uncle’s over-enthusiastic spinning.

The point of the pin swayed. Then, with a deft thrust, she skewered the animal’s eye.

In a bunker near Pyongyang, technicians watched the screen turn to static.

“Sir, camera destroyed.”

“Clearly,” the captain said. “Well, Operation Birthday Party was yielding less intelligence than anticipated.”

“Sir, I was wondering—”

“For the last time, no bouncy castle!” the captain shouted. Twelve faces drooped. “Well, maybe for the Dear Leader’s birthday. Now, switch to Operation Chucky Cheese. That mouse has some dark secrets. I guarantee it.”


Starring in the Very Special Olympics

I will admit, I was in kind of a weird mood when I wrote this. But it makes me laugh, so I make no apologies.

It was like a nightmare, standing before crowds of drunken fans, naked, but for a Speedo. How had he gotten here?

The gun fired. Six people dived, followed by six wet slaps.

The water was Jello.

The crowd whooped. They’d known.

He pulled himself along, wallowing like an epileptic badger. Some got in his mouth: Tropical Fusion flavor, damn them.

He woke with a start in the locker room. It was a dream.

“Harrison, there you are!” the coach said from the door. “You got your 10-meter maple syrup dive in five minutes. Come on!”

He pinched himself.

No luck.

 

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Moaning the Lonely Ghost Blues

FF206 Jean L Hays

Copyright Jean L. Hays

The late Johnny White sulked. He barely had enough spirit to make the temperature dip.

“Hey, Boo!” Jessica said, sliding through the wall. “How’s the haunting?” She looked around the empty ruined house. “Oh.”

“You’re lucky,” Johnny said. “Your house gets lots of visitors. Nobody even knows I died.”

“My husband did brutally murder me,” she said sympathetically. “Look, if I ever manage to write in blood, I’ll say ‘Go down the road three miles. It’s super scary.’”

“You don’t think we could . . . co-haunt?”

Jessica looked skeptical. “That’s sweet, but I’ve only known you a few centuries. Maybe next millennium.”

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