Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Telephone (07/17/08)
TITLE: The Conditioning
By Lynda Schultz
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At exactly fifteen minutes after midnight, Cynthia, startled from a sound sleep, rolled over, struggled to untangle her arms from the duvet cover, and made a grab for the phone. On her first attempt, she missed, sending the book she had been reading just before turning off the light, tumbling to the floor.
Nothing, not even a breath, or a whisper answered her.
“Hello? Who is it?”
Cynthia boasted about her ability to sleep through anything. During the years of the cold war, the accidental triggering of an air raid siren had sent the entire town into panic mode. She blissfully slept through it all. Storms, parties, and street races, never affected her beauty rest. It was odd that the ringing phone should do what nothing else could.
Calls at midnight usually signaled a family crisis, a drunk whose fingers did the walking in all the wrong directions, or a legitimate wrong number. The latter was usually followed by an apology or sometimes with the hasty “clink” of a receiver into its cradle and the sound of the dial tone.
There was nothing but silence this time.
Cynthia hung up and went back to sleep muttering about the rudeness of some people.
Saturday, August 2
At precisely fifteen minutes after midnight, the phone rang.
This time, Cynthia’s reflexes responded with more accuracy. Her hand grabbed the receiver on the second ring.
“Look, who is this?”
Empty air answered her.
The receiver returned to its cradle just a little more violently than it had the previous night.
Cynthia was scheduled to have Saturday morning brunch with some friends. Over orange juice and scrambled eggs, she recounted the experience of the last few nights.
“I don’t know what to do. Should I report it to the phone company? It doesn’t seem serious enough to call the police. There isn’t even any heavy breathing.”
Her friends commiserated with her. Maybe she should consider taking her phone off the hook at night, or getting an unlisted number.
Sunday, August 3
The clock in the living room struck 12:15 a.m. just as the phone beside Cynthia’s bed began to ring. For a second it seemed part of the dream haunting her at that moment. She had been walking along a road. Fog lay heavy and wet around her, preventing her from seeing much beyond the end of her nose. Branches hung from the trees—dripping telephone receivers, which she kept banging into. The sound of the phone pulled Cynthia off the path. The sheets were damp, her pajamas bathed in sweat.
“What do you want?” This time, politeness fled with sleep.
Again, there was nothing but silence.
Cynthia flung the phone down. She considered unplugging it, but resisted. Her father wasn’t well, and the family could call if something were to happen to him.
Later that morning, the now bleary-eyed woman, shared her experience with the other members of her Sunday School class.
“If whoever is on the other end of the line would just say something, then at least I would have some idea of how to respond. But this silence, and the clockwork timing is so frustrating.”
Cynthia felt better after the others prayed with her asking that the Lord would intervene in the situation. She went to sleep that night hanging on to those prayers, plus a few of her own.
Monday, August 4
The sound jerked her out of a peaceful slumber. This time, precisely fifteen minutes after midnight, Cynthia didn’t even bother to ask who was calling. She pulled the phone from its cradle, listened to the silence for thirty seconds, and then put the receiver back.
The routine chores of the day were carried out on automatic pilot as Cynthia chewed on the dilemma of the midnight caller. There was so much to do as a first-time homeowner. The hours in the day never seemed enough.
Tuesday, August 5
Cynthia woke up at precisely fifteen minutes after midnight—to absolute silence. There was an odd smell in the room and a light haze. Her mind, now conditioned to respond at this hour, kicked into high gear. She recognized smoke and the odor of something burning.
On her list of things to do in the new house had been a revision of the smoke alarms.
Later, as the firefighters checked the house for any further signs of overheated wiring, she thanked God for His midnight caller who had saved her life and her home.
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