Jennifer E. Miller
Rochelle leaned against the counter of Good Food Fast during her shift. She glanced out the window and saw large flakes falling. No one is driving around in this weather, she thought. It’s going to be slow night.
Her cell phone dinged in her back pocket, indicating a text message. She shouldn’t answer her phone at work, but it was from her best friend, Marcy. Plus, she was bored. Sliding the phone out, she opened the message. It simply stated, This just happened. Rochelle answered back with a ? A few moments later, she received a response with a photo. She nearly dropped her phone in surprised shock. A bloody sink. There was something in the bottom. She pinched the screen to zoom in and her heart dropped. Teeth. Frantic, she called Marcy, but all she got was voice mail.
“Marcy? Marcy? Are you alright? What’s going on there? Please call asap.”
How long should she wait? Five minutes? That seemed so long.
Her phone dinged again.
Don’t try to call. I’m coming now.
What do you mean? Here? To the restaurant? she typed.
There was no response.
I’m really worried about you.
Marcy has already left. I’m coming now.
Rochelle’s heart thumped in her chest. She felt her blood pulsating everywhere throughout her body. This wasn’t her friend. And if it wasn’t, who had her phone?
Looking around the restaurant she checked for any patrons. There was no one. She only heard the hum of the walk-in refrigerators. Should she lock the doors? They were supposed to stay open late for business. But this was a matter of safety. She wished her manager, Patrick, would hurry back. He liked to leave on break when it was slow. Except he took breaks all the time, frequently leaving her alone. Rochelle wished she had the tenacity put her foot down and said that made her uncomfortable. And it was against policy.
With her hands shanking, she dialed 9-1-1.
“9-1-1 what is your emergency?”
“Hi, Rochelle Stevens. I got some weird text messages from my friend’s phone. I think she’s in danger. She—well, maybe someone else who has her phone—also sent me a photo of a bloody sink.”
“What’s the address?”
“1213 S. Grove Street,” Rochelle answered.
She heard the operator typing.
“There’s no such address. Please say it again, maybe I misheard you.”
“1213 S. Grove Street. I’ve been there hundreds of times.”
“There’s no address on our street grid. Is this a prank? We don’t have time for those—“
“NO! Please send someone. And please send someone here, too. Whoever has Marcy’s phone said they are coming after me, too.” Rochelle started to panic once she realized the circumstances. Speaking them out loud validated them. It scared her blood cold, now.
“Where are you, Rochelle?”
“I work at Good Food Fast on Cherry Street. That’s where I’m at.”
There was a pause.
“Hello? Ma’am? Did I lose you?” She briefly held her phone away to check the connection. No dropped call. “Can you send someone please?”
“There is no such food establishment. We don’t even have a Cherry Street in this city.”
Rochelle was confused. How is it 9-1-1 doesn’t know these addresses?
“This is Lincoln Heights 9-1-1 center, correct?”
“Then you should know my locations and where my friend’s house address!” Rochelle practically screamed.
“Calm down. Is there a landline available? If you call using that it will send the address directly to me. But don’t hang up your cell phone.”
“Ok. Yes, there is one here.”
Rochelle walked to the corner of the store near the refrigerator and picked up the beige telephone covered in greasy fried filth. Its long cord dangled from the phone down to the floor. She picked up the receiver with her free and pushed three numbers. It rang and rang.
“Why aren’t you picking up?” Rochelle asked the dispatcher.
“The phone isn’t ringing.”
“I’ll try again.” Rochelle hung up. Sometimes the landline acted up. It was old and it frequently got knocked off the wall. She placed the receiver back, picked it up, and dialed again.
“It’s ringing now. Once twice—“ she gasped.
“Rochelle? What’s wrong?”
“The phone went dead.” She whimpered.
“Rochelle, are you there by yourself?”
“Lock the doors.”
Rochelle ran to the front of the restaurant. She grabbed the key from the lanyard secured to her belt loop, shoved it into the lock, and turned it. The keys jingled as she fumbled with them.
The dispatcher heard it and continued, “Good. Did you get the back door?”
Rochelle ran to the back where the employee entrance was. She locked that door as well.
“I’m glad you got that taken care of, Rochelle. I’m worried about your friend. Tell me more about her teeth.”
“She sent me—“
Rochelle abruptly stopped. She didn’t tell the dispatcher about the teeth, just the blood in the sink.
Rochelle reflected on her situation. Her mind was blank and running wild at the same time. Someone was out there stalking people. Was that same person corrupting cell phones? Was that even possible to do? She flashed back to Marcy. The bloody sink. The threatening text from whoever that was.
“Hello, Rochelle. I’m still here.” The dispatcher’s voice spoke softly in her ear.
“Can you help me?” Rochelle whispered.
“I don’t know.” Her words were flat and stern. They were no longer friendly.
She yanked the phone down from her ear and pressed the end button. At least that worked.
Thinking quickly, she looked at the alarm system mounted on the wall next to the employee entrance. She pressed a series of numbers and the unit flashed a red light indicating it was now armed.
Next, she made her way up front to the tills. The motion sensor was aimed in front of the counter, in case someone tried to rob the establishment. She slid over the counter and onto the other side. Simultaneously, she jumped and criss-crossed her arms overhead to activate it. A searing alarm went off.
Rochelle breathed a sigh of relief. The alarm company would get the message and dispatch the police. She imagined the safety of the red and blue lights and how she would tell the officers to race to Marcy’s house.
The alarm suddenly ceased. Buttons were being pushed at the alarm panel. Rochelle hear a familiar cough.
Patrick. He probably sucked down a half pack of Marlboros while he was gone. At least it was a familiar face. She climbed back over the counter and towards the employee entrance where Patrick was changing out of his snow boots and back into work tennis shoes. His back was turned toward her as he stooped to change footwear. His large winter coat swallowed up the slim shape of his body. As Rochelle approached him, she noticed he didn’t reek of the usual cigarette smoke.
“Patrick?” she inquired.
With his back still toward her, he held up his hand as if saying, “Hold on.”
Rochelle didn’t wait. “Patrick, I got frightening and threatening messages while you were away. I had to call 9-1-1, but something weird was going on. They didn’t have addresses in their system. We’ve got to get out of here. I’m worried about a friend, plus our own safety.”
Patrick didn’t say anything. He just shook his head.
An uneasy feeling engulfed Rochelle. Something seemed off. This whole evening seemed off.
“What did you do while you were gone?”
“Zey toog my teez, too.”
He coughed again, this time into a paper towel he pulled from his pocket.
“What?” Rochelle didn’t quite understand what he had said.
Slowly, he turned around. The paper towel was stain red. She took a step backward and looked up at Patrick’s face. His lips looked like they were painted with ketchup, but she knew what it was. Curling his top lip, he showed her most of his front teeth were missing.
Rochelle swallowed hard. Patrick collapsed onto the floor.
The next thing she heard was the knob turning. The door clicked open about six inches, blowing in large snowflakes. A hand reached in. It was grasping a bloodied wrench.
Copyright 2016, by Jennifer E. Miller