by Daniel Shebses
|part 1 of 4|
It was a beauty, a gem, a technological masterpiece. Mike Devlin’s new cell phone, the X Phone, was the highest of hi-tech. Oh sure you could make calls on it, but that’s just where it began.
Mike sat at the edge of his bed in his college dorm room as he selected a ring tone. “When the Saints Go Marching In?” Nah, too old fashioned, maybe a Latin rumba. No, that wasn’t him either. It didn’t matter what he picked, as it would only be temporary. Eventually he would download his music to his phone and make a song his ring tone. Mike smiled knowing that he would be among the first at Southern State University to have the X Phone.
His roommate, Adam Maynard, walked in and noticed the new toy.
“Hey Mike, what’s that there?”
“The new X Phone. Just came out today. You can do anything with this thing.”
“Wow,” said Adam. “Can it get you a girlfriend?”
Adam laughed at his joke and walked toward the bathroom. Mike rolled his eyes and flipped Adam off to his back, obnoxious jackass he thought. Mike liked his other two roommates, Jose and Bill, better. They lived in the room next door, but the four of them shared a common room and bathroom. At that moment Bill Walsh walked in, fresh from one of his aviation classes. He could hardly contain his excitement.
“I got my pilot’s license. This Saturday I’ll be flying a single engine, wanna come?”
Mike made a face and shook his head. He was a lover of the ground, unlike Bill whose head was in the clouds. Mike turned his attention back to the phone.
“Hey, that the new X Phone?”
“Sure is.” Mike handed the phone to Bill as he marveled. Bill wanted one as well, but at $250 he would have to wait for it. Bill’s pilot’s license had to come first.
“You know this has a GPS device. I’ll never get lost again,” said Bill.
How Bill had gotten a pilot’s license was beyond Mike’s comprehension. You could put a paper bag over Bill’s head, and he’d be lost. Still, Mike liked Bill. He was tall and athletic with a great head of long, untamable dark brown hair. He was outgoing too. Mike, shy and introverted, liked being with him. Some of Bill’s glory sometimes dripped down onto him.
“Hey there Goldie. How’s it going?” Bill’s attention shifted from the phone to Mike’s goldfish. Goldie was a rather large fish, mean too. Anyone who put his finger on the glass could expect Goldie to go after it, and if you were stupid enough to put your finger inside the bowl, you might lose it altogether. Adam nearly learned that lesson one drunken night.
Bill tapped the outside of the bowl as Goldie hungrily lunged at it. Whump, whump, whump.
“Bill, quit it. I don’t want him beating his brains out,” said Mike.
“What brains?” laughed Bill stepping away from the bowl. “The way this fish rams himself into the glass it has to be the stupidest creature on Earth.” Just then Adam reentered the room triumphantly.
“Guess who just took the greatest dump of his life?” Mike and Bill exchanged glances.
Adam was a beer-bellied, party-hearty frat boy. His chubby face was always cracking a joke, mostly at Mike’s expense, but he was fun and did get Mike into the best parties.
Adam crashed onto his bed as the mattress springs sank under him. He picked up a Playboy and buried himself in it as Bill smiled and left the room. In no time at all Adam would achieve an erection, something Mike dreaded, having accidentally walked in on Adam’s “private time” once already.
Fully engrossed in his X Phone again, Mike began to scroll down the screen viewing only some of the many features the phone boasted: Calculator, Timepiece, GPS, Thesaurus, Dictionary, Games, Address Book, Text Messaging, Keyboard, Email, Compass, Deathalator, Camera, Music...
Mike scrolled back up a bit. Had he read the word right? Deathalator? He had read it right. That was a new one on him. He didn’t know the word, much less its function. He clicked on Deathalator and a blank box appeared beneath it, instructions on the Deathalator’s use.
“Type a person’s name in the box above and calculate the chances of their death in the near future.”
Mike smiled to himself. He had seen similar things on the internet. Joke websites where you type in basic info about yourself and based on your answers it tells you how long you have to live. Some software engineer in Silicon Valley had a sense of humor. This could be a fun trick. Who should he type in?
He peered at Adam on the other side of the room, with his Playboy. He would do, ADAM MAYNARD. The Deathalator made a quick beep and calculated Adam’s chance of death at, 0.0025%. Mike eyed the figure warily. It was low but not zero.
Mike pondered it a moment. It made sense even if it was just a joke. Life had its risks and nobody was ever completely 100% secure. Flukes happened all the time, but all in all, beer-swilling, porn-mongering Adam was good and safe.
Then another idea came to him, MIKE DEVLIN. A beep later a figure arose, 0.00010%. Awesome, thought Mike, he was sitting pretty. A joke or not, his own reading gave Mike a warm feeling.
It was a silly game until he typed in Bill’s name, 1.4%. It was very low, but unlike his and Adam’s, Bill’s chances were above 1%. Bill, being a new pilot, was at a slightly higher risk, thought Mike. He had often thought in horror at the idea of Bill going down in a fiery crash. It was a terrible notion. He fed off Bill’s charisma.
Was it all random? Did the programmers who designed the Deathalator simply spring a few higher numbers in there to tease people? It was a fairly serious tease, the kind of thing an obnoxious computer programmer could be sued over. Wary intrigue swelled up inside Mike until a growl from his stomach reminded him that although it was after 3 pm, he had not eaten lunch, and now he was famished.
“Hey Adam, you hungry?”
Mike looked over to Adam only to see him laying flat on his back with the Playboy draped over his face. The fat idiot was asleep. At that moment Mike heard the shower, so much for asking Bill. Mike was too hungry to wait for him, so he slipped his X Phone into his pocket and left, leaving Adam unconscious and at attention.
It was cool, much cooler than usual for late September. Still, the leaves on the trees were at their greenest. Fall was coming but not quite yet, the leaves had a bit more time. For now the birds and chipmunks were rustling amongst them in preparation for the first frost.
At this point in the day most students were in class so Mike walked alone with only his hunger to accompany him. He headed toward the campus eatery, the “Oak Tree Inn”. It would not be open until dinner began at five, but there was a small snack bar next to it in the same building which served food during the odd hours of the day. Mike just wanted a little something to hold him over until dinner.
When he arrived at the Oak Tree Inn, Mike noticed a huge banner hanging over the entrance. “GO SOUTHERN STATE #7 #33.”
Mike had nearly forgotten the big football game between Southern State and their arch rival, Northern State, was tomorrow. Every Friday night people came from miles around to see the big game, and with their star quarterback George Parker #7 and running back Tyrone Jackson #33, this year they were finally the favorites to win.
As Mike entered, he wondered if they could win. Southern State had acquired some real talent the past few years but Northern State had talent of their own. Mike knew several of the offensive linemen for Southern State. They were good, but they would have one hell of a time blocking Omar McGenty, star linebacker for Northern State.
A sure first-round draft choice to the NFL next year, McGenty was one of the most feared linebackers in all of college football. Analysts, players, and fans alike called him “The Drill.” Offensive lines were his clay and quarterbacks were his victims. Mike didn’t envy the task that awaited Southern State’s offensive line.
The snack bar was virtually deserted. Mike didn’t want to eat much right now so he settled for an apple and a bag of chips. It wasn’t much but it would do. Plenty of empty tables were available to choose from, so he picked one in the corner and opened his chips. The scent of sour cream and onion intensified his hunger, and he devoured half the bag in under a minute.
He gazed around the mostly empty room, and his thoughts returned to the Deathalator. It had to be a joke, but he had only entered three names, not really enough of a test. He pulled his X Phone out again and clicked the Deathalator function. Now who to type in?
On the other side of the room sat two fat girls. Mike only vaguely knew one of them, Megan Brunsky, a truly hideous creature that would gobble everything in sight if she could. In front of her was not one but two cups of French fries, two cheeseburgers, and two cans of soda. None of that food stood a chance of survival thought Mike.
Her hair was frizzy in the extreme as if trying in vain to escape her head. Her pock-marked scarred face was an eyesore to all eyes, and her skin tight clothing made her bulge at the seams. Mike typed in her name MEGAN BRUNSKY... 0.0025%, hideous but safe.
By the window sat Jaime Winters in all his punk rock glory. Mike knew his name but not him. He was the bass player for a college punk rock band called “Arrowhead.” His dyed jet black hair matched his clothing and nail polish. His attention was shared by his IPOD and by a punk rock magazine in front of him. It was all about the music. JAIME WINTERS... 0.00035%, the punk rocker was safe. The Deathalator was proving itself to be just a stupid trick in the phone.
A moment later they walked into the room, Cindy Lugar, Cara Pace, and Julie Erickson. Gorgeous was not an accurate enough term to describe the trio. Mike only knew them through Bill and Adam, and he barely was able to talk to them. The three sorority sisters sat down while chatting by the door of the snack bar. It didn’t surprise Mike that all they each had was a small salad and a bottle of water. They were thin, but fit, not famished. Unlike Megan, who cringed at the sight of them, the three of them looked amazing in their clothing, although, Mike thought their clothes would look better on the floor. Mike chuckled at his Adam-like perversion.
Cindy and Cara were brunettes with fine, dark shoulder length hair. Mike had been close enough to them on several occasions to catch their scent. It nearly dropped him. Julie, with her Scandinavian features and long, bright blonde hair was equally pleasing to the eye... and nose. They were a bit stuck up, but not bitchy and considering their high grades the word “bimbo” could not apply.
Mike shrugged and typed into the Deathalator, CINDY LUGAR... 0.00012%, CARA PACE... 0.00015%, JULIE ERICKSON... 0.00011%, all safe. Good, thought Mike, as he put the X Phone aside and resumed eating his chips. He allowed himself fleeting glances at the three of them and saw Megan taking glances... or glares of her own.
At that moment a snack bar worker walked toward the three beauties holding a bagel and jam packet. She handed it to Julie, explaining Julie had forgotten it at the register.
Julie laughed at herself and was thanking the woman when suddenly the X Phone stole Mike’s attention. This was a new sound. Not a beep, but a grinding, a terrible one. It reminded Mike of a carpet cleaner that was on its last legs. Whatever it was, it wasn’t the ring tone he had chosen.
He grabbed the phone only to see the Deathalator function was still in use except now the screen was blinking blood red with an ominous black message across. “WARNING: A RECENT ENTRANT IS AT A HIGH RISK OF DEATH! CLICK ENTER FOR DETAILS.”
Copyright © 2009 by Daniel Shebses