Caller Unknown

by M. L. McIntosh

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

conclusion


The cat’s walking on me.

God, cat. Get off!

Oh, no.

Something pushed gently over the sheets, working its way up to her. Please be Ramona.

“Hey, Ramona, are you awake? Hey,” Kelly whispered, and reached back to poke her friend.

She didn’t feel anyone. Where is she? Kelly flipped over.

“Uhh!”

A woman with a bonnet and blonde, curly hair rolled over to face Kelly.

Ramona’s face greeted her. “Hey, have you been, like, prodding me?”

Kelly told herself to pull it together. She slowly shook her head. “I call butt pinch.”

Ramona didn’t know what to think. She had definitely felt the gentle pressure of something pressing down on her legs, tugging the covers just before Kelly gasped.

Like they’re straightening up the sheets.

“Hey,” Kelly looked expectantly at Ramona. “Do you hear that?”

Ramona listened harder than she ever had, her eyes reflecting the parking lot light streaming from the window. She heard something, and it wasn’t just the wind. It was too rhythmical, too... man-made, but she couldn’t say it was music more so than possibly just the building sounds. The elevator, the pipes, things all humming together.

Kelly shifted closer and whispered, “Is that Cab Calloway?”

Ramona looked at her friend. “What?”

The sound grew slightly louder. It is swing music.

“Should we shazaam it?” Kelly asked.

“Why?

“Because if it’s Squirrel Nut Zippers, it’s probably not a ghost.”

“It’s not a ghost.”

Kelly looked away from Ramona. “Hey, why did you open the curtains?”

Ramona’s face twisted in concern. “Okay, it’s a ghost.”

Both women jumped as the phone rang.

In the ensuing silence, Ramona slowly reached for Kelly’s hand. Kelly jerked it away, then held onto Ramona as she realized it was her friend’s hand.

The phone rang.

And rang again.

Kelly bit her lip as the cold fear sank into her. What if they’re calling about Mom? What if my cell phone’s not working? What if they’re calling me to tell me—

Kelly’s hand was cold in Ramona’s, and Ramona covered it with both hers.

“I’m not answering,” Kelly said in a tiny, tight voice. It almost didn’t sound like Ramona’s best friend at all.

Ramona whispered, “Maybe it’s Wacky Videos calling to say we’ve been had.” But Ramona knew what Kelly was thinking. Felt what she was fearing.

The phone rang again.

“It’s not gonna stop,” Ramona said, pushing herself up and peering around the dark room.

Kelly thought about the first time she answered a call from the hospital. “Please, leave it be.”

Ramona clicked on the lamp, and both women’s eyes shot around the room, each looking for the thing haunting them.

“Okay, I’m going in.” Ramona reached across Kelly and picked up the phone. “Pretty late for entrees, pal.”

No one answered.

“Are you dicking with us? Because that makes you an awfully big dick.” She could tell someone was on the other end. “And no, I’m not interested in the size of your dick.”

“Room service.”

The voice sent a chill of fear through Ramona.

“A real sick dick!” She slammed the phone down.

Big band music drifted through the air, along with a new sound. A woman’s voice, crying and saying words unintelligible through the walls.

Then a man’s terse voice in reply.

The TV popped back to life, the screen blank and black.

“Jesus Christ!” Kelly jumped from the bed and ran toward the cable.

“Kelly don’t touch that!” Ramona screamed as Kelly yanked the plug from the wall and the TV died.

“Okay,” Kelly said, dropping the cord. The belly dancers stared at the TV, both expecting the chick from The Ring to pop out.

Nothing happened. It was just an unplugged TV.

Kelly’s breath came in heaves. “Bail time?”

“Oh, hell yeah,” Ramona jumped up from the bed. “Grab your bag, honey. This haunting’s over.”

Kelly flung her duffel over her shoulder and Ramona did the same. They stepped to the door together when — BANG BANG BANG — the door bulged and shook with the force of the pounding.

Neither belly dancer was willing to look out the peep hole.

The room door jerked backward, and the dancers grabbed at the doorknob to hold it shut. Kelly’s legs went weak, but she held the door.

“Keep it shut!” she snapped.

The door jerked again, and again, each time the metal corners straining, the door knob breaking a little more.

The door pulled away from them and Ramona tugged back. I won’t go quietly. I’ll haunt the ghostly jerk right back.

Everything went quiet. Ramona and Kelly gripped the doorknob, unwilling to let go.

A woman’s quiet sobs drifted closer, then passed the room door. The cries faded down the hall.

Ramona and Kelly stared into each other’s eyes, waiting. Waiting.

We have to do something to get out of here, Ramona thought really hard at Kelly. C’mon, give us telepathy. Cut us some kind of paranormal break.

“Whore! Stripper whore!” a man’s angry voice called out in the hallway, and the door shook under the women’s hands.

“I hate that stupid word,” Kelly whispered at Ramona. The phrase cut both belly dancers like a razor through their egos. Whoever it was yelling in that hallway, he knew what to say to hurt the women present, living and otherwise.

“Let’s make a run for the stairs,” Kelly hissed.

“No!” Ramona hissed, wide-eyed. “He’s right outside our door! Let’s wait till he goes away.”

Kelly looked at her and Ramona realized both scenarios were stupid. Wait it out? Wait to be ghost-murdered? Or rush in?

BANG BANG BANG

Who would you respect more in the movie?

Ramona let go of the door with the force of someone resigned to an ugly fate as the sobbing beyond silenced. Kelly took a deep breath and turned the doorknob.

Maybe you just have to be brave.

Kelly’s brow furrowed as she tried again, twisting the knob with more force. She looked at Ramona. “It’s locked.”

“Uhh, whatta we do?” Ramona ran to the bedstand, picked up the bellhop’s keycard and dialed the number.

“Hello?” a bleary male voice on the other end greeted her.

She couldn’t tell if it was him or not, but it was someone and they weren’t whispering at her. “Um, hi, yeah, we’re the belly dancers on the sixth floor and, ummm, it’s just a little too haunted up here and we were wondering—”

“Wait, what? What did you see?” the voice was awake now.

“There’s voices and they sound pissed.”

“Just... hang on. I’m getting security.”

The bathroom door slammed shut as the line went dead, and Ramona spun to see Kelly, wide-eyed, gripping the bathroom door handle.

They stared at each other, the phone beeping a dead line in the silence.

“The ceiling door is open,” Kelly said quietly.

Ramona couldn’t move.

“Come here!” Kelly said.

Ramona hung the phone up and it rang immediately.

Ramona picked it back up. “I think it’s in here.”

“What did you see?” the male asked.

“The trap door is open,” Ramona said quietly.

“What did you see?” the voice asked more intently.

“Nothing!” Ramona shot back.

“Ramona, hang up!” Kelly hissed.

STRIPPER WHORE!” the voice screamed.

Ramona slammed the phone down and ran to the hotel door as the pounding resumed.

“Stripper whore!” the voice screamed beyond the door as it rebounded under the force of whatever struck it.

Each woman grabbed a door handle.

We’re not going to survive, Ramona thought.

Nothing happened for several moments, then Ramona watched as the bathroom doorknob started to turn under Kelly’s hand. “Hold it!”

“I can’t!” The doorknob slid under Kelly’s sweaty palms.

“Let us out!” Ramona screamed and pounded the room doorknob, her fist throbbing in response.

“Girls, are you in there?” came a male’s voice from beyond the locked door.

“Yes, yes! Let us out! Let us out!” Ramona pounded the room door. Kelly gasped behind her as the bathroom door yanked open and Kelly threw her weight back to slam it shut. “It’s going to break!” she sobbed. Ramona dropped beside Kelly and grabbed the doorknob.

“Help us!” she cried.

Both doorknobs rattled, and there was a loud click! before the guest room swung open. The belly dancers jumped at once to greet their savior.

But the hall was empty.

The belly dancers looked back from the doorway as the bathroom door slowly swung open.

Ramona pushed Kelly forward. “Go!”

They piled down the stairs and toward the elevator.

Ding!

Kelly stumbled to a stop as the elevator doors started to open.

The doors stuck and as Kelly was about to force them open she froze, overcome by dread, like a thousand telephones ringing in her ears at once.

Kelly stared into the gap between the doors as a cold breeze blew over her skin.

A pair of dark lips pressed to the gap.

Stripper whore!

The elevator doors snapped shut and Kelly backed away. She spun and grabbed Ramona’s hand. “Stairs!”

Two barefoot belly dancers burst into a deserted hotel lobby and made for the door.

They rattled the bar but this door, too, was locked.

Ramona kicked the door with her barefoot. “Damn you! Can’t we catch a break!”

Kelly grabbed Ramona’s arms. “You’ll catch a break to your foot! Just stop!”

At that moment the lights overhead flickered, and they heard the elevator moving. Ramona moaned, “Please, how far is far enough?”

Kelly felt as if she might die of heart freeze. What was worse? Waiting or facing? “This guy is not chasing me to the river. He’s forced one woman into the water. Well, I’m not going.”

The belly dancers looked at each other. Ramona took Kelly’s hand as the elevator doors jostled, trying to open. Kelly and Ramona faced the elevator as the lobby air got colder. Ramona expected to see her breath any moment.

“We’ve been called strippers, hookers, lap dancers, whores, but you know what I’ll never be called, Buddy?” Kelly growled as she saw something move beyond the elevator doors. “I’ll never be a victim!”

The elevator shook, rattling so violently Kelly thought the cables would snap. It was be brave and die, or be afraid and die. That’s all there was. And if Mom could be brave, by God so could Kelly.

Kelly advanced on the elevator door, leaving Ramona behind her. “We’re not strippers, we are not whores! And neither was she!

“Kelly, don’t!”

Kelly eyed the shadowy figure that stalked back and forth, waiting for the elevator to open. “You gonna come at us? C’mon! You think we’ve never been called whore before? What are you gonna do?” Kelly kicked the elevator, and the doors popped open a little more.

The figure stood beyond, in darkness, dark, ruddy lips moving against pale skin. Not today, whore. Not today.

“Got it!” Ramona held a large key aloft from behind the hospitality desk. “Check this break-out!” she scrambled to the front door and unlocked it. “C’mon!”

Kelly stared into the gap in the elevator, at the man’s slender figure staring back, one dark eye fixed on hers. Pale fingers snaked through the gap and slowly over the edge, like spider legs.

Not today, Kelly.

* * *

“Those people need to hire a priest,” Ramona mutttered as they crossed the Kentucky state line. The belly dancers breathed a collective sigh of relief. It was just before sunset when they arrived in Lexington. Kelly slowed to a stop in front of Ramona’s building.

Ramona absently looked out over the dash. “Can you imagine being so unfulfilled when you died that you came back as a ghost? Can you imagine being that angry, scared?”

Kelly shook her head then, after a moment of silence said, “I think I can.”

Ramona studied the darkness of her own windows. “You know, I don’t know if you would rather be on your own, but I just, really don’t want to be home alone right now, do you?”

Kelly let her foot off the brakes. “Maybe we should chill at my place.”

Kelly’s cat was universally less frightening than the prospect of Ramona sitting alone in her apartment. Unless the cat started walking on her.

They pulled out and proceeded to Kelly’s ground floor apartment off of Versailles Road.

Kelly filled her electric kettle, watching the water pour with the wonderful awesomeness of the totally mundane.

The telephone rang. Kelly froze, looked up to Ramona.

“Don’t answer it,” Ramona whispered, clutching Meowzah.

Kelly couldn’t not answer it. What if it was Mom? What if she’d been taken to the hospital?

The phone rang a third, then a fourth time as Kelly calmly replaced the electric kettle. She picked up the phone. “Hallo?”

No answer.

Kelly looked at Ramona, mounting concern in her friends eyes as the silence extended across the line. The cold feeling started, creeping into her ear, seeping down her neck. No, I left that game behind in Chicago. “Is this about my Mom or not?”

No answer.

It’s not the hospital. Kelly sighed into the phone and started to hang up when the voice spoke. “Not today, Kelly.”


Copyright © 2016 by M. L. McIntosh

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