by Sophia Boettcher
Elsie Kantordin, a smartphone user, downloads the app FindAllTheThings on her phone before she goes to bed one evening. The app FindAllTheThings retrieves all a user’s lost belongings.
The next morning, sun flickers through dirty window blinds, and outside a train rolls by and rattles the whole apartment. It drowns out the alarm clock's shrill singing. Elsie Kantordin wakes up, surrounded by a hundred or more bright red eyeglasses. They form a circle on her bed. They are aligned such that the eyes watch the head of the bed.
Elsie blinks away the fuzzy image of a door in the middle of the ceiling. She gets up, reaching her hands out to hold onto something. Her hand catches the cold figure of a porcelain toothbrush holder shaped like a dog.
“Phone, could you retrieve useful things I’ve lost, not this junk?” Elsie grumbles at the glossy, gossamer-thin device. It stares at her blankly through its dark blank screen. “Please,” she adds insincerely.
“Sorry, I didn’t understand ‘Cured yule retrieve useful things Yvonne, notice junk’. Do you want me to search for Christmas card stores nearby?” replies Phone.
“No, I said...”
“Do you want me to search for cosmetics brands that start with the letter ‘Y’?”
“Do you want me to search for H&M?”
“No, just shut up,” Elsie snaps. “Thanks, Phone,” she adds.
The phone grows silent, as if sad, or as if to contemplate the origin of its bad hearing and pathetic intellect despite its hardwired connection to the wealth of information on the Internet.
“It’s okay, Phone. I accept you.” Elsie takes her phone off the charger and goes to the kitchen to scrounge up something for breakfast. Stupid phone, she thinks. After a rousing bowl of gluten-free muesli, which tastes like pine nuts, wet cardboard and raisins, she goes to work.
At her desk at work, Elsie finds herself presented with seventy-three Bic ballpoint pens. Only three work – and getting them to work requires scrubbing the tip against corners of scrap paper for five minutes. So far, the app FindAllThethings disappoints, she thinks. Then again, maybe it just needs time to calibrate and be useful.
By 5:00 pm Elsie leaves work and stops by the grocery store on her way home. She finds herself presented with recyclable shopping bags, which, surprisingly, prove useful. Elsie begins to love her phone. What a life saver! she thinks.
At home in the laundry room Elsie almost trips over a pile of fifty lint-pink left-fit socks. She removes her two white socks and places a left-fit sock on each foot, excited by the reunion party on her feet.
Dinner consists of kabocha broccolini soup; a savoury, hot, thick, vermillion-hue smoothie with green bits of vegetable carnage floating through it. While eating in front of her computer and lurking on friends’ Facebook walls, Elsie notices a red flag appear. It indicates a friend request from none other than her grandfather, a ward of the state for the last twenty years.
Indeed, twenty years ago the Kantordins’ family doctor, Dr Tod, a tall, lanky man who looked and moved more like a plant than like a person, seduced Elsie’s breast cancer-afflicted grandmother. She divorced Granddad, and both parties signed off on the documentation twenty-three days before her death.
Elsie’s grandfather subsequently went on a rampage at work, stabbing co-workers in their necks with blue Bic ballpoint pens. He promised to kill all the Kantordin womenfolk, as an ambulance crew strapped him on a gurney and dragged him to the nearest hospital.
Elsie cannot remember second grade in detail; however, when it comes to her grandfather, she can remember him perfectly. She can still replay in her head the ABC evening news special about her grandfather. She imagines looking into the dark, loveless eyes of a psychopath. A sweaty man with shining, beady black irises wearing a teal hospital gown that exposes his pastel pink backside and rolling mounds of fat. Granddad looks like a man who owns a semi-automatic gun and smells of tinfoil, blood oranges, tobacco and baked beans and the neighbour’s wife’s Shalimar perfume. Elsie remembers growing up fearing Granddad more than the Bogeyman, bed monsters, ghosts and space aliens.
Elsie finds herself presented with a red crystal pony figurine she fails to recall losing. It emerges out of the shadows of the coat closet, side-winds towards her feet, slithers up the leg of the dining room table and halts on a doily. All the while, her phone winks with its one blue LED eye in an all-knowing way.
Elsie closes the lid of her laptop, which puts it to sleep. Nauseous and uncomfortably warm, she stands up briskly; she drives her chair seat under the dining room table vigorously, almost violently as if to drive away the sick feeling.
A dark grey wave descends on Elsie’s field of vision. Her knees buckle. She falls for half a second, five seconds, perhaps a minute. A sonic boom claps her ears. When she wakes up, she wakes up to the vision of a door on the ceiling. Her phone winks with its one blue LED eye, pleased at what will happen next.
“Phone, power off!” Elsie growls, creeped out.
“Did you say, ‘Pwn Powerpuff Girls?’”
The door sidewinds towards a wall and slithers down next to a bookshelf that contains a bar of Black Sea Mud soap, an old stuffed dog and just short of four books: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Das dicke Kind und andere Erzählungen, a collection of short stories by the twentieth-century author Marie Luise Kaschnitz.
“Phone, airplane mode!” she tries.
“The distance from Seattle to Portland is 173.9 miles,” Phone replies, purposely acting as stupid as ‘doughnut’ spelt ‘donut’.
“That’s not cute, Phone. You turn Wi-Fi off immediately, or I’ll... OR ELSE.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that. Please say the first name of the person you want to call.”
A spangling globular blue light zips like a dragonfly to the top of Elsie’s head. It pulsates, growing bigger, brighter. Something strong like a magnet pulls her to the other side of the room. Elsie tries to get loose. She kicks. She digs her fingers into the wood floors. Nothing helps.
“Phone, turn Wi-Fi off!” Elsie commands. Tears fill her eyes. “Power off! Power off! That’s an order!” Elsie barks with as much authority in her voice as she can muster.
Elsie finds herself stripped down to her underwear spread-eagled on her back on an exam table in a white room. She looks down at her feet and sees a man wearing a teal balaclava over his head. It covers his face. The man holds a seven-inch long needle. Carefully he sticks it in Elsie’s navel. As the needle punctures her skin, Elsie feels cold and warm. She feels tickled more than pained. He swirls it as if stirring a boiling soup.
“I thought I’d lost you forever, Elsbeth-Marie,” he says in a small voice.
Elsie’s intestines churn as she sees bloody yellow wormlike structures surface on her abdomen. “That’s your small intestine. Pretty, just like you.” Her grandfather points at her navel, smiling through perfect white teeth. His large, pocked hands fidget erratically; his fingers curl as if electrically shocked. Some small electrical device secretes a blue light every one... two... three... four seconds. The light shows through the pocket of his white lab coat.
Elsie thinks to scream for help from her psychotic grandfather. But like a fish out of water she can only gulp for air while fidgeting on the exam table. She hears a baby’s scream.
“Your cousins are in the next room,” explains Granddad, “my wife and I are extracting faeces samples from babies.”
“Why?” Elsie manages to croak, bewildered, scared and drenched in cold sweat.
“Why? To find the cure to cancer, so I can save my wife. She has breast cancer, you know?” Granddad replies. Tears suddenly fill his eyes but he refuses to let them go. “Don’t you love Grandma?” he asks, digging the needle deeper in her navel.
Elsie passes out. She wakes up in a waiting room filled with women and their daughters, who all look just like herself. They sob violently, pacing around in teal hospital gowns that expose their olive backsides. Some mothers whine for their babies. Their hands fidget like Granddad’s. Meanwhile, Elsie cannot recall where she last placed her phone.
A white door appears. It blasts open, scattering hundreds of papers. Elsie catches one and reads her name in the header. She catches another and reads her name in the header. She catches a dozen. Each contains her name in the header. Elsie recognises the flying papers as her old homework dating back to middle school. The app still works... Where is my phone? she wonders.
A fat, teenaged girl with beady black irises and flowing black hair squawks like a goose as something strong like a magnet drags her by her feet towards the door. She kicks and gnashes her teeth and tongue, wailing at the ground with her small, fleshy pink hands.
Elsie runs to the door but not in time to save the girl. Staring at the other side, she sees only her reflection.
With a start Elsie awakens and finds herself huddled over a wet, snotty pillow. By the end table by her bed lies her phone, which she promptly powers off.
Copyright © 2013 by Sophia Boettcher