Rang and Rung

March 11, 2011
I'd like to say that I constantly wondered about those phones on the subway. The bright yellow ones nobody ever seems to use that dot the platforms on their graffiti-and-sticker-covered concrete poles. A bright speck of colour in the middle of the grey subway. I'd like to say I wondered who used those phones, imagined the conversations they might have had.

I'd like to say I had ever noticed they existed, really. But that would be lying.

I'd like to say I had seen people using the banana-yellow phones before. Maybe that would have made the shivers that ran down my spine when it rang less prominent, less chilling and ominous.

But no. I'd never seen anyone talking on one of the phones. I'd never seen them. As such, I jumped out of my skin when it burst to life, ringing shrilly.

To my credit, it was a creepy situation to begin with. Imagine a subway platform. Crowded, bustling, maybe a little dirty and smelly, but full of people, full of life. I'd never, ever been on the subway alone before, travelling the usual sorts of routes at the usual sorts of times. Now imagine that subway platform again, right in the middle of the day after work, except now take out all the people. Every single one, vanished into thin air.

I stared straight ahead to the other side of the tunnel, ignoring the phone. I'd never ridden this line, only having come here because I'd taken a taxi with some friends after work to a café; maybe people tried to ring the subway all the time at this platform, maybe people who regularly rode this train got calls on this gaudy banana-yellow phone. I tried to block out the voice in the back of my mind, commonly known as Sanity, whispering its dirty little truths: Who would call a subway platform? Can you even call a subway platform? Wouldn't it make more sense if those phones made out-going calls only?

I counted the rings as I waited for my train and lost count. I checked my watch three times, watching the second hand crawl forward at a pace too slow for my racing heart. I prayed the phone would stop, my train would come, and I could go home. The temperature seemed to be dropping slowly as I stood there, trying hard to keep my hands from wringing themselves, stuffing them in my pants pockets and my jacket pockets and crossing my arms tightly.

It took maybe three minutes past the scheduled time for me to figure out that the train was never, ever coming. It took another four or so rings before I figured out that it had to be the phone doing it--somehow, the phone was stopping the train from coming; the phone was keeping me here, alone, on the dim platform down below the bustling city.

It wants you to answer, Sanity's close cousins, Incredible and Impossible chorused, as if stating the blindingly obvious.

My hand shook as I picked up the phone, holding it carefully. For a moment, I didn't hear anything. Then, faintly, I heard the screaming, and after that had sunk in, the calm, even voice that spoke over the muted chaos.

"Everyone is going to die," it said, even and matter-of-fact, ignorant and uncaring of the threat of cliché. "Run. Fast. Far away. Far away from the fifty-seventh street station. Go. Run."

There was the click of a phone hanging up, but the screaming remained.

I listened a moment later, waiting for the voice to come back, tell me what more to do, tell me Who The Hell Is This Speaking?, anything. I broke not long after the voice had hung up, though, carefully replacing the receiver, my fingers lingering on the ripped sticker someone had vandalised it with.

If I made the decision to run, I didn't realise it. I didn't realise I had moved until I was already running, tearing out of that awful station, up and out the flights of stairs and turnstiles. Back to the city above, where I could breathe the dirty air better, see the taxis and the people, pedestrians and carpoolers and a single, sole police officer.

"Sir! Sir, the phones down in the subway," I panted, pointing and gesturing and wheezing just a bit.

He looked at me with concern, trying to work out what I was getting at as I tried to catch my breath. "Do you need a few cents to make a call, miss?" he asked in that good-cop sort of way.

"No, no, what I was going to ask, do those phones receive calls? Like, can someone call the subway?"

Previously he had been leaning in, trying to hear what I was saying through heavy breaths. Now, he recoiled, "Is this some kind of a joke?"

"No! No, I got a call, on the subway phone, you know, the yellow ones!" More gestures, more broad and desperate now.

"Pay phones make outgoing calls only," he told me, no longer speaking to me and instead speaking at me, informing me also that he was no longer amused.

"Please, tell me they can receive calls," I begged; I am not crazy I am not crazy I am not crazy tell me I am not crazy.

"Miss, if this is some kind of joke, it isn't very funny," he said, advancing towards me again, presumably to tell me off or arrest me.

Except, that was when the bomb went off. And if there was screaming, or a calm voice calling to say "I told you so," I didn't hear it.

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