The telephone shrilled. RiYue jumped from his sleeping-place on the floor to the ceiling and hung there like a clot of shadows, glaring at the phone with almond-shaped eyes the color of wedding-bands. The phone had no business ringing after midnight. Especially when he was alone in the house. He dropped soundlessly to the floor, as if whoever was on the other end could already hear him.
The answering machine clicked on. The Girl whose house he inhabited had not yet gotten around to recording a fragment of a song or movie onto it, so an automated robot-woman told the caller, “after tone-- record-- message.”
Instead of a message, the machine beeped shrilly. Then silence. Then another beep.
RiYue was deeply unsettled, more so with every beep. Unbeknownst to most people, there were things in the vast empty spaces between telephones. Things with long white fingers groping forward from the darkness. They had fingers, of course, because what else could they dial with? They could beep forever. Beeps were bad karma. Even humans who were silly enough to wear beepers knew this, albeit subconsciously.
RiYue picked up the phone. He waited. There was not quite silence on the other end. He heard a great many whispers, the nasty sort. The best way to deal with these sort of gremlins was to be firm. “Hello, what you want?” he said. He spoke Mandarin and a hundred Chinese dialects including Tibetan, but his English left much to be desired.
Whoever it was giggled in a way that made the temperature drop. RiYue could see his own breath. A fat blue spark sizzled up from the answering machine.
He spoke the magical ward slowly and clearly --“You have the wrong number.”-- then hung up. KuanYin alone knew what those nasty things wanted. The telephone was cracked across the middle. The digital face of the answering machine was warped, smoky black. The cord looked like a long curly-fry left in the pan too long.
The Girl would blame him for this unless he could find a new telephone. He left the apartment only to find himself walking down a pitch-black corridor instead of a series of stairs down to the street. That was bad karma for you. Beeps could send you all sorts of places. Get too many and you were at their beck and call. Lucky it was him, not the Girl.
Not unduly concerned, and possessed of excellent night vision, RiYue wandered down several passages before he heard voices yelling at each other. He allowed himself a toothy grin. If they were gremlins, they were in for a surprise.