I sat on the couch, staring at the reciever in my hand. It looked like a normal telephone reciever, and when I followed the cord with my eyes, it appeared to attach to a normal base unit. Nothing looked out of the ordinary.
And yet, somehow, this unassuming little device had let me into a world of weirdness. And all before eight-thirty in the morning.
I plunked the receiver back on the base and slumped back in the couch. I was trying to figure out what I could do to bring some sense of normalcy back into my morning. I didn't want this interaction with "Alexander Graham Bell" to set the tone for the day.
I glanced around. I had eaten my toast and cereal and had drunk my tea. That was normal. Good. Something to latch onto. The teapot was still hot, so I could pour myself another cup and latch onto that too.
I refilled my mug, added a touch of milk, and sat back again. What else could I do that was normal?
I took a couple of sips, and then it came to me. I needed to use the phone to make a regular, everyday, pedestrian call. I needed the phone to shift out of its role as a purveyor of the extraordinary and back into the role of utilitarian device.
I put down the mug and picked up the receiver again. I paused for a moment, wondering who I could call this early in the morning. It was just a touch after eight, and most people I knew would either still be asleep or getting ready for work.
Work. That was it.
I decided to call my voice mail at the office. There probably wouldn't be any messages waiting for me, but at least it would be a normal phone call.
I pressed the speed-dial button that held my work number.
After four rings there came a click, usually the signal that the recorded outgoing greeting was about to play.
This time, though, that didn't happen.
"Protagonize Character Placement Agency," came a voice from the other end. "This is Susan. How may I direct your call?"
How could I have dialed a wrong number? I'd hit the speed-dial button on my phone. The very button I had programmed myself, with my very own work number.
It seemed unlikely. Why would someone reprogram my phone? And what was this "Protoplasmic Placing Agency" that I seemed to have reached.
"Uh..." I said, unable to quite get my mouth working again. "Uh... I seem to have ... uh ..."
"Are you all right, sir?" the woman asked.
"Uh ... well ... Actually, no, since you're asking." I wasn't quite sure why I was suddenly confiding in her. "I hit the speed-dial for my work number, and I'm a bit mystified as to why I've connected with you."
"That's funny you should say that, sir. We've been having odd things happening with our phones today, too."
I frowned. "Really?"
"Yes. Why, not ten minutes ago I recieved a call from the North Pole."
"The North Pole?"
"Yes. A very nice man on an expedition was trying to reach his wife. I couldn't imagine how he'd connected with our office, but, well, there it was."
I scratched my head. "You didn't catch what year he was in, did you?"
There was silence for a moment.
"What would make you ask that, sir?" She sounded a bit concerned now.
"Well, as it happens, I recieved a very strange call myself this morning. From ... are you ready for this? From Alexander Graham Bell. Evidently he had just completed the very first phone."
"Good heavens. That's remarkable."
I hadn't expected her to believe me. Either she was quite gullible, or this was all part of the most elaborate prank I'd ever heard of.
"You sound like you believe me," I said.
"Well, sir, considering the type of work we do at this agency, there's not very much I find implausible anymore."
I thought about that for a moment. I couldn't imagine what kind of work she and her colleagues would be involved in, but it was no doubt something scientific, what with "protoplasm" in their company name.
"May I ask, sir," she said, preempting any question I might have formulated on the subject, "where you're calling from?"
"Oh, sure. I'm in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Have you heard of it?"
"Oh, yes, certainly. One of our authors hails from there. Lovely part of the world."
Authors? That seemed an odd word choice for a scientific company. Perhaps they were all about publishing research papers. For some reason, I decided not to ask. I'd had quite enough weirdness for one day already.
"Um, what was your name again, Miss?" I asked.
"Oh, Susan. Susan Foreman."
"Well, Susan Foreman, it's nice to almost meet you. My name's Martin Esker."
"Nice to almost meet you, too, sir."
"And where are you folks located?"
There was no reply. I heard the distinctive sound of a phone line going dead. There was no click, just a change in ambience, and then, after a moment, the dial tone.
It didn't seem like she'd hung up on me. She didn't seem the type, anyway. The line just went dead.
So, once again, I sat on the couch, staring at the handset of what I now deemed to be a cursed phone.
At that moment, it was the only explanation I could think of.