The Telephone

By Michael Berry All Rights Reserved ©

Other

Chapter 5

Sarah made it back to home just as the last drops of gasoline began to be run through the engine. She parked up inside the garage and filled it back up with a small gasoline can. She carefully wiped the car over with a damp cloth to get rid of the dust that had settled over its body. She knew very well that its was no ordinary dust, but what was left of most of the corpses, but she had lived to long in this world to be bothered by it. She enjoyed the shine given off by the car when she had finished and threw the cloth into a small bucket. She walked through the door that led into the main building.

Sarah’s apartment building was situated in the outer fringes of the city, not far from the residential districts further out. She could have moved away into one of the countless empty houses there and have a house all to herself, but, she had lived in her apartment for quiet a long time before the war and that was her home and always would be. Besides, she always hated moving.
Her apartment building was old and signs of decay and rot had set in quiet considerably, especially the parts made of wood. The infection of the germs from the war had somehow corrupted every material made from organic elements and caused it to slowly break down.
The front door of the building creaked when she opened it and seemed like it would fall apart. The main hall was small, hardly big enough for more than two people at a time. A wooden staircase was situated at the opposite end of the front door and led up to the apartments. Small metal mail boxes were attached to the wall to the left, all rusted and jammed with unopened mail. Sarah preferred not open the mail and peek inside, despite the ones they were addressed to were long dead. She had gone to open one of them before and had felt the strong feeling of grave robbing. She had immediately put the letter back in an awkward position.
At the bottom of the staircase was the door that led to the landlady’s room. Sarah always felt a twinge of sadness when she remembered the landlady, Mrs Hopkins. She was the only one who was actually a friend to her. She always invited Sarah into her room whenever she was peckish and always offered a friendly ear or a shoulder to cry on. She always felt more like a mother to her and not just a friend, her real parents having died when she was young. Mrs Hopkins husband had died years before and the two of them took pleasure in each others company.
Sarah had tried her hardest to try and convince her to come with her into the shelter instead of sitting at home waiting to die. But, she had been adamant that that was where she’d stay. She had lived there with her husband and his pictures and personal things where still there and she wanted to die with him. Sarah could almost feel her dying the moment the wave of infected air had reached the continent.
Sarah had so wanted to take her out and bury her in the local cemetery, instead of just lying rotting in her apartment. But, she could never muster the strength to even set eyes on her. It would be like going into your parents room and finding them dead, looking into their cold lifeless eyes where you once saw happiness and life. Sarah took comfort in the knowledge that hopefully she was with her husband in the great unknown. It seemed slightly funny to her, she had forced herself not to feel anything for the death of the rest of the world, but allowing herself to be overwhelmed by one person would be like putting a pistol in her mouth.
Totally ignoring Mrs Hopkins door and turning her head away, she made her way up the creaking rotting staircase up to her apartment. Every time she walked up or down the stairs, the threat of it suddenly collapsing and her falling with it seemed ominously closer. The stairs creaked like a large tree blowing in the wind, occasionally her feet broke through some of the steps, but only making small holes. Countless occasions of that happening had taught her to react quickly whenever she lost her footing. She worried what happen one day if the one thing came crashing down and the route between the upstairs and downstairs was just an empty gap. She didn’t have the knowledge or the experience to put together another staircase, plus, the whole thing could collapse again. At this rate, she would have to throw a rope up to her window from outside and climb up. She often wondered whether fixing the stairs with metal supports would help keep in place, or maybe strong wood preserver would keep it from rotting and give it its strength back.
In a matter of seconds, she came up to the second floor and faced the hall of apartments. The hall was horizontal and didn’t veer off in any other directions. It was only wide enough for one person at a time and Sarah took full advantage of that whenever it happened. Their were seven apartments in all; three on either side and one at the opposite end of where she stood. The last apartment on the left was hers, she took of her shoes and tiptoed down the hall, the wooden planks below the long carpet seemed to creak louder than the stairs.
Coming home to her apartment always seemed like an annoying ritual for her that had to be carried out, no matter what she did to avoid it. She had to ignore Mrs Hopkins apartment to avoid from collapsing into uncontrollable emotion, then the fear of leg breaking on the staircase and finally, the cherry on the cake and the most difficult of challenges, her only neighbour, the annoying Ted Jessup.
Like Sarah, Ted had lived in his apartment since before the war and had gone back there after the germ had dissipated. She had tried to make friends with him when they met, but his unusual and creepy behaviour made her think twice about it. Since the war, he had tried his best to encourage her to live with him in his apartment, saying in a creepy tone how he had always like her and thought the world of her. She was his soul-mate and the death of the rest of humanity was the call fate had made to get them together.
Ever since then, she has tried her best to sneak by his door without him hearing her. True, he was annoying and creepy, but she didn’t believe he’d do anything violent. Although, she caught him once trying to look through her keyhole from the outside. She
had nearly broken his arm because of this, she said he was so sorry and wanted to make it up to her with a meal in his place. She opened his door for him and pushed him with a heft kick up the ass and shut the door behind him.
Sarah made feathery footfalls as she tiptoed down the hallway, her eyes constantly wavering from the door of her apartment to Ted’s. Her heart beat was racing, she began to sweat uncontrollably, her mind raced with imagined scenario’s of Ted suddenly appearing from behind the door and then pulling her inside. She had to admit to herself, she was afraid of him. She didn’t know what he was capable of and had to expect the worst. She had seen what others did to force someone to stay with them and she didn’t want to be on the receiving end.
She was within mere inches of her apartment now, a bright smile of relief forced its way onto her face. She fully expected to be disappointed by now, but it never came. Her hand fumbled in her pocket for the key, her fingers getting confused by the loose change she carried. Finally, her fingers recognised the sharp edges of her key. She hastily drew it out of her pocket, almost dropping it to the floor. She put the key in the lock and turned it to the right. It clicked. A wash of relief and the victory of successfully running the assault course yet again. She opened the door and closed it tight behind her, relocking it securely.
She had been getting tired lately of doing her best to avoid that creep. Every instinct in her body told her to get over to his apartment and beat the crap out of him and throw him out. She wouldn’t be afraid to do it, she would be too pissed off to be afraid. She felt that she had the right to do this anyway. Mrs Hopkins always considered her a daughter, so by rights, she had the final say over who stays and who leaves.
She decided to put the thought on standby for the moment and lock it away in the keepsake part of her mind. She wasn’t in the mood for thoughts of personal vendettas, she just wanted to relax and prepare for the next day.
Sarah’s apartment was pretty large, given the smaller size of the building. A large alcove lay at the opposite end of the room where her bed was, a small open window sat above the bed, the low breeze blew eerily through the white curtains. The bathroom was to the left and possessed a decent sized bath. The main living room bore a single bright grey leather settee and a large comfortable armchair of the same colour. A small coffee table with a worn rug lay in between them. Finally, to the right of the room sat a large old fashioned fireplace. Pictures of Sarah as a child and of her father sat above the fire.
Sarah heaved a great, deep sigh as she beheld the comfort of her home. Finally, she was safe and secure, away from the misery and defeat of the outside. She felt a chill in the room, the goose bumps on her stood up immediately. She covered herself with her arms in the defensive manner. She took a box of matches from the fireplace and struck a match, the flame flickered in the surrounding cold. Before it blew itself out, she threw the match on the collection of wood on the fire. The wood burned ferociously, throwing a large flickering shadow over the floor. The intense light seemed a safe place away from the surrounding darkness. She sat with her knees bent in front of the fire, carefully warming her hands. She had thought that the cold she always felt came from the window and had shut it only to find the cold still there. There was no obvious signs as to where it would come from, but she wasn’t in a hurry to find out, either.
She wrapped her warm hands around her and stood up to switch the light on. In an instant, the room was bathed in a soft comforting light. She smiled as she began to relax.
She decided to run a bath. She walked into the bathroom, her feet felt the cold touch of the black and white tiles. She turned on the hot water and let it run. She dumped a handful of light green bath salts into the water. They had the smell of freshly cut grass; one of her favourite smells. When the hot water began to splutter, she turned it off and turned on the cold water. After a few minutes, she put her hand in the pool of water, deciding it was hot enough. She took off her dress and underwear and slipped in slowly into the hot, comforting water.
She looked up at the pale white ceiling above, her eyes never moving away from it. She felt her muscles slowly relax as the water did its work.
She always did most of her thinking whenever she took a bath, though she didn’t allow her mind to wander for too long. Too much thinking caused her to imagine bizarre things about life and what the afterlife was like. It was hard for her to return to earth whenever this happened. She allowed herself simple thoughts, about her father, mainly. Her father had been everything to her, since her mother died when she was young. She remembered how he had read riveting stories to her from his large collection of old books he kept in a large bookcase. She would sit on his lap or on the bed and listened to them, hearing his comforting voice and watching him rock backward and forward in his rocking chair, dressed in dark brown trousers and waistcoat to match. The spectacles he wore never seemed to waver, even when he looked down directly. She still remembered the strong smell of old leather he always had, what with him being a librarian. He often brought her home rare books for her to read, reminding her continuously not to take them everywhere she went, lest they become too damaged. She was glad that her father had taught her the importance of books, allowing her to appreciate them later in life. Before and after the war, she had collected quiet an array of old books of varying genres and writers. When their wasn’t enough room to keep them in the closet anymore, she put them in the attic and a couple of the empty rooms outside. She kept the doors locked and opened them with the only copy of Mrs Hopkins skeleton key that she now had, just in case the asshole next door decided to go walkabout.
Sarah felt herself slowly slipping into unconscious, her final memory of her father before she fell asleep was of being a small child and falling asleep in his lap, the thick smell of the leather mixed with the sensual aromas of the bath salts wafted through her nasal passages.
“Night, Daddy,” she said before she finally fell asleep.

The Town Hall is quiet now, the dull humming sound of the restored electricity is now shut off. Its endless corridors and cathedral sized rooms are now plunged into darkness, the scientists now absent from their posts. The one sound that remains is the occasional cracking of the long abandoned wood furniture, slowly rotting into dust. The constant breeze carries the smell of dead wood and the impotence of the place around the area.
The back garden of the Town hall had been really something at one time. Beautiful flowers and buzzing insects were a regular sight to behold, the heavenly perfume of the flowers was always present. The garden was separated into two parts; divided by a door shaped archway constructed from an amalgamation of roses bound together. Large blossom hung above, the eternal bathing of petals falling delicately and silently to the ground was a gorgeous sight to behold.
But, now, even in the darkest of dark, the defeat and utter misery of the place is easily noticeable. The flowers are all dead, dried up and stale, their once bright and happy petals now shrivelled to a dark brown colour, the heavenly perfume is replaced by the incessant stench of death and decay.
The buzzing insects are all long dead, their countless corpses joining the millions more of the human beings. The golden delight of the rose constructed archway is dead and defeated, choked with the strangling grip of the vines and endlessly growing undergrowth . The overhanging blossom trees that once bathed the garden in bright petals are now bent and twisted out of control, their blossom free branches now creak in the breeze. They now bath the bleak garden in a menacing shadow, almost like the image of a menacing skeletal hand.

In the endless night and silence, a new sound emerges, one that has probably not been heard anywhere for years. It is the sound of heavy dirt being shovelled to make a hole. The sound of tired, heavy breathing joins the uncomfortable sound, as well as the slow breathing of others.
William Blake is the one digging the hole in the back garden of the Town Hall, his muscles and eyes are weak and tired, the shovel feeling more and more heavier as he continues. The still body of the man that participated in the experiment lay beside him. The rest of the team of scientists stood around him, their expressions beset with worry and anxiety. Oswald Richardson wandered around, desperate for him to finish the hole.
It was decided that instead of burying the man in the local cemetery, they would bury him here under the cover of darkness. It was very doubtful that anyone would see them, but their was still that possibility. Someone could have seen them burying him and wondered what they doing. If they thought that they had killed him, what with life being so important now, they wouldn’t be able to blink before they’d be hanging from the nearest lamppost.
Oswald was really the one who had decided that they should do this, in fact he was very eager to do it as quickly as possible. To him the man was simply a test subject, a lab rat that could be replaced easily. Nothing would get in the way of the progression of the experiment, not even a human life.
The others had been shocked to his outbursts. They knew he was capable of some things, but no one would consider this. Yet, while they had been adamant and determined not to agree with him, a small part of them agreed with him, no matter how much they tried to bury it. They were all in the same team, working on the same experiment, all had put an incredible amount of work into it. Eventually and reluctantly, they agreed with his proposal.
The scientists stood around the ever deepening makeshift grave, their intestines knotting together as their conscience ordered them to stop what was happening.
“Aren’t you fucking done yet!?” Oswald shouted, his fists and his chest tightening.
William stopped his shovelling and stuck the shovel in the ground. He rested his arms and his head on the handle, allowing his breathe to catch up before he answered. “You think I’m going to slow,” he said, stopping occasionally to harness more air in his lungs. “You wanna’ do it, be my goddamn guest.” He took the shovel from the earth and held it out to Oswald. Oswald merely looked at it for a few moments with a troubled expression. “Just get on with it, I don’t want to be here all night.” He turned his back to the proceedings and crossed his arms. He stared at the immense concentration of overgrowth that had forced its way through the dark wooden fence.
The other scientists wanted to say something to him, if not to stop what they were doing, but at least tell him what they were feeling then the crushing feeling of guilt wouldn’t be so intense. But, they had done all of this before till their throats hurt. Everyone was caught in a cage of silence and guilt.
The incessant digging of the grave seemed to take an eternity in the crushing silence, but finally it was completed, William threw the shovel away into the undergrowth, relived to be free of it at last. He knew better than to ask some of the others to help him push the body in, the expressions on their faces was enough information for him to understand their complete reluctance. With an aggravated sigh, he took rested his foot on the back of the body and pushed it further and further until he heard it hit the bottom of the hole with a deep thud. The scientists shuddered as they heard it; as though the sound reminded them of the full scale of what they were doing.
William proceeded to fill in the hole, cursing himself when he realised he had thrown it away. Instead, he knelt down and used his hands and feet to shovel in the earth. He took a quicker time to do this, it was done in a matter of minutes. William stayed sat beside the grave he had made, his head hanging down as though silently praying. Oswald turned round and surveyed it. “Hmn, very good,” he said in an unfeeling tone. “Now that that’s done, I’ll say goodnight. I want you all back to work first thing tomorrow.”
William and the other scientists hastily left the scene, William flashed Oswald an expression of hatred. He walked with the others into the Town Hall, quickly brushing the dirt from his hands and underneath his fingernails. If he could decided to end this right here and now, he would. But, like the others, he knew that when choosing to serve either the scientist or the human being in them, they always regrettably served the scientist.

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