A Phone Call from the Phone Booth Killer
by Feng Gooi
A stranger called and I picked up my phone.
“Hello, how are you doing today?” said the voice from the other end. The voice belonged to a woman, an older woman. It was deep and luxurious, a perfect balance of grace and authority. Just from that simple hello, I could hear the weight of experience, a lifetime of training in forming the perfect first impression.
“Doing good, thank you. Who am I talking to?” I replied.
“I’m very sorry but I can’t tell you that.”
“I’m sorry what is this about?”
“I’m calling for a conversation. Aren’t that what calls are for?”
“Yeah, I guess but who are -”
“Again, I’m sorry but I really can’t tell you. Please understand it is not out of malice but necessity. I am about to commit an act which while not immoral is still illegal.”
Confusion overwhelmed me. Silence was all I could give.
“Would you like to know what the act is?”
“Yes.” My voice was so low it was barely a whisper.
“I kill phone booths.” Her answer was also soft, softer than the air brushing over the curve of my ear, yet it boomed in my head.
“You kill phone booths?”
“Yes, that is what I do and what I’m about to do.”
“About to… I-I don’t…What do you mean by kill phone booths?”
“I can hear the alarm in your voice. I can picture the gears in your mind turning, forming hypothesizes and generating conclusions. Rest assured; I am being quite literal here. This is not a metaphor. There is nothing deeper here. I don’t have a young girl next to me bound and gagged with duct tape and a sharp glinting knife in my hand.”
The voice chuckled. I didn’t find it amusing.
“I’m sorry again. Perhaps that wasn’t the best joke to make, doesn’t really inspire confidence but still I assure you when I say I kill phone booths I mean it. There is no ambiguity here. The only thing in danger right now is this phone booth I am inside of.”
“So, do you mean you’re going to wreck a phone booth? Like vandalize it?”
“No, I mean kill it. I am going to kill a phone booth. Kill is the most appropriate term, the best word. What I’m about to do is violent. It is raw and it will end in complete annihilation. Kill is the only word.”
Silence again from my end. She is comfortable with it and lets it flow through her.
“Okay then. Why are you going to kill a phone booth?”
“Why does a hummingbird beat its little wings in search of nectar? Why does the cheetah hunt the gazelle?”
“Well, yes but there is something deeper there. A need. A drive. An instinct. It is imperative for survival.”
“Are you saying if you don’t kill a phone booth you’ll die?”
“Okay perhaps I am being a little dramatic. I won’t literally die, at least not physically. Any death would be more spiritual or psychological. If I go too long without killing a phone booth, I can feel myself fading. Bit by bit everything is stripped away. I am erased. I turn into a ghost. Less than a ghost. An impression of a human being. An atomic shadow etched into stone.”
“That is still very dramatic.”
“You’re right. I apologize.”
“It’s alright.” I was lost. I had no idea what’s going on or what I’m saying, why I was even responding. Everything was automatic now.
“It’s an occupational hazard. I am corporate trainer you see. I fly around the country giving these talks to assist in the growth and development of our employees. All terribly boring stuff, filled with buzzwords like efficiency and graphs on PowerPoints. I spice it up a little, add a little dramatic flair with a colorful metaphor or an exaggerated story, anything to jolt those corporate drones awake. This may be pretentious of me to say but I like to think of myself as an artist, creating powerful messages with powerful language. It bleeds into my life sometimes as my husband often complains.”
“Sounds like you’re very good at your job.”
“I am excellent at it. I love this job. The company pays me well and treats me well. But one of the best parts about it is that it accommodates my interests. Every time I land in a city or town, I shut myself in my hotel room and prepare myself. I talk to myself in the mirror, go over my notes again and again. Then I head into the office and wow the crowd into enhancing their productivity rate. When I’m done I go driving around to find a phone booth to kill.”
“And how long does that take?”
“Finding a phone booth?”
“Oh, anywhere from one to twenty-one hours. These days it’s usually in the later range, it’s been getting harder and harder to find a phone booth. I’ve committed myself to giving up at twenty-one hours.”
“Twenty-one hours?! I’m sorry lady but this is absolutely deranged.”
“Call me crazy but I think driving for hours to search for phone booths to destroy is–”
“To kill is highly unusual behavior wouldn’t you say?”
“In one perspective, yes.”
“In most perspectives, yes! You said you had a husband, right? Is he aware of what you’re about to do?”
“No, he is not.” She took a pause. “I admit it I keep this as my little secret. Nobody knows what I do, not husband, not my children. Nobody but the people who pick up the phone.”
“Is this why you called me then? To confess?”
“No, I don’t think so. Like I said, this is a drive. I do not feel shame or guilt for this, I just don’t inform my family or friends out of convenience. Too much explanation with too much attachment. Actually the reason I call is to honor the phone booth.”
“Honor the phone booth?”
“Yes, I give it one last opportunity to serve its purpose before it meets its end. I dial a random number and if someone picks up, I try to give it a stimulating conversation. One last meal before death. Though, nowadays I get broken phones often, the only thing on the other end of the line is silence. Everything’s broken and rusted, already killed by time and history. When I started doing this thirty years ago, it was so so easy to find one to kill. Ripe juicy fruits dangling across streets. Now I just pray that I’ll be able to find one. That’s why I’m fading. I couldn’t find one on my last trip. They’re all disappearing. That’s so sad.”
“It is inevitable. Everyone’s got a cellphone, everyone needs one to survive now even the homeless. Just the march of progress.”
“I know,” she said with a heavy sigh. “It’s still so painful though. Maybe it’s because I’m old but there’s some things a phone both can do a cell phone just can’t. Just imagine if you will, you’re giving one last call to a lover. Your hands shake while you slide the coins in one by one, you hear the electric ringing travelling up from the cord into your ears, then you hear her voice. Her voice filtered through the distance of time and space, yet she is clear. She gives you an answer and hangs up. You are left to the beep again, your hands clutch the phone desperately, the cord sways gently. You’re trapped all alone in this phone booth and it’s four fragile sheets of glass. Out in the street, the world stays on the axis of perpetual motion. There is a separation, the rest of the world and you in this little phone booth. Can you imagine all of that with a cellphone, just won’t hit the same, won’t it?”
I closed my eyes and imagined it. “You’re right, just doesn’t hit the same but if you like them so much and they’re so near extinction. Why do you kill them? You’re just quickening their demise.”
“Like I said, it is a drive. It is not something I chose or control.”
“I still don’t understand. Why are you doing this? Why isn’t something you can control.”
“I already answered you, multiple times.”
“It’s not really an answer.”
“It is an answer. The problem is you don’t want an answer. You want a story. I’m sorry I don’t have one. My parents were not killed and eaten by a monster phone booth or anything. One day I woke up, walked past a phone booth, and this need came into me. My body and mind ached for its destruction. Henceforth, this is what I am and what I do. I kill phone booths.”
“But what happens when there aren’t any more phone booths to kill. It’s bound to happen soon.”
“I suppose I’ll fade then.”
“But what about your husband and children.”
“It’ll be a terrible of course, I wouldn’t want to leave them but like I said, it’s not something I choose or control. But that’s the future, it’ll happen when it happens. For now, we’ll be in the now. Speaking of that, do you want me to describe the phone booth I’m in right now?”
“Sure, by all means go ahead.”
“It’s a beauty this one. Took me nine hours of driving to find it but it’s so worth it. Way out in the countryside, on a tiny dirt road in the middle of nowhere, it feels eerie being being inside it, like I’m in a lone shuttle on an alien planet. Looks like a classic, four glasses, a roof and a big clunky plastic phone. It’s strangely clean and functional. No graffiti, not even an old cheap flyer pasted on the windows. All the number buttons are intact. It feels out of time, something from another era. It’s almost supernatural. Maybe some old farmers still use it for whatever reason maybe they’re still clinging on. It’s so sad that it has to go.”
“Yet it must.”
“I think it had a good life. It’s old but it works. We’re talking. It’s keeping on while the world marches.” One last pause. “I think I’m going to kill it now.”
“I heard some rustling and the sound of something being unzipped faintly.
“I have my tool in my hand now. It’s a tennis racket. You wouldn’t think of it but it is the perfect killing weapon. It’s deadly, unassuming and it fits perfectly in my luggage. This tennis racket was a gift from my husband. Tennis is a hobby of mine and so my husband bought one that’s real premium quality. Very strong yet light metal, the best of the best stuff for my birthday. I bought another one of it the next day. Exact same model. I used that one for tennis and this one to kill phone booths. Can I ask you a favor?”
“Can you stay on the line while I kill it? Can you bear witness?”
“Thank you, I appreciate it. Okay I’m going to start now.”
I fell with the phone. I was dangling and spinning on the cord inches from the floor. I heard a heave and loud banging and banging and banging. The shattering of glass. I closed my eyes and saw the millions of little pieces on the floor, the crude jagged pieces shaped like ice bergs. I heard the sound of metal on metal. The beautiful scrumptious crunch. I saw the buttons of numbers fly across the booth’s broken body. I heard her grunts and strained effortful breathing. The ecstasy in the pain. I heard the booth’s electric gasp and throes of death. I felt the power of the fading. It echoed in eternity. Then suddenly there was nothing. The line was dead. The call had ended.
The cell phone felt warm and heavy in my hand, I set it aside and stared at the wall. I was clear. I was confused. I absorbed this experience and chose how it changed me.
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