An Extremely Wrong Number
by Nils J Rasmussen
Still half asleep on the mag-train as I make the morning commute, I grogilly fumble to extricate my phone. As I remove it from my back pocket, I glance at the luminous screen, fully expecting to see some progress report or production memo or some other pointless text from my boss but it isn’t. It’s a number I don’t recognize from an equally unknown area code. Edmonton has three area codes, and I’m familiar through my work with a good chunk of area code. I read the text.
< “The man has dark eyes and in every photo he is looking directly into the camera lens.”
I pause for at least ten seconds as I try and make sense of the message. Even though this text is obviously not meant for me- a wrong number, before I know what I’m doing I find myself typing out a reply.
> “Okay. Keep me posted.”
Three little dancing dots hover at the bottom of the screen indicating he sender is composing a reply.
< “Yes, sir”
That seems to be the end of the exchange and I smile to myself, feeling like I’ve just pulled off a unique little prank. Whomever the message was actually intended, he or she will not know that the man with dark eyes is staring directly into the camera lens in every photo. My pointless work day concludes as usual at 4:59 pm and in a dozen minutes I am once again aboard the mag-train returning to my flat.
It feels like I have accomplished nothing meaningful during my nine hours any more significant than my private little prank. It says a lot about my outlook on life that I feel more proud of this than anything I achieved doing during the entire work day.
Not long after I have disembarked the mag-train, as I climb the steps to resurface up at street level, my phone pings again. I’m a single bachelor with on a couple of friends and I’m not expecting anything from anyone so I find myself inwardly groaning. If the recent past dictates anything, I fully anticipate that this is my boss texting to inform me I am being politely “requested” to come into work this upcoming weekend for yet another pointless reason.
< “He must suspect we are watching. On four separate occasions we have observed him glancing back over his shoulder. How should the team proceed?”
A new development! Instantly, my troubles are wiped from my mind. I smile and begin tying out a response. This is hilarious.
> “No change in plans. Proceed with caution.”
I tuck the cell back in its pocket and wonder what sort of mess I surely must be making. The possibility that it’s some sort of police sting or stakeout seems plausible but as far as I know this little charade of mine isn’t breaking any law. Surely not any important laws. Even if it is tracked back to me somehow I don’t see how this could get me in any legitimate trouble. Plus – the strange area code gives an extra feeling of security. As far as I know, the sender might be halfway around the globe. Based on my limited understanding of the Canadian justice infrastructure, if this IS breaking some law or another, the authorities in question wouldn’t have jurisdiction in Edmonton. Although this train of thought rings of self denial, I can’t see any flaws in the logic.
I arrive at my basement flat, feeling slightly smug and spend the next few hours watching one pointless reality show after another. I consider texting the number back with further fake instructions but decide against it. Despite my self assurance, I don’t feel like pushing my luck. I’m enjoying this far too much to get reckless and blow it any earlier than it will undoubtedly play itself out naturally. After downing my sleep medication, I go to bed vaguely disappointed with the lack of anymore new developments but I don’t lose sleep over it.
The following morning aboard the mag-train, at roughly the same time as the previous time, I’m delighted to hear the ping announcing a new text. I try not to allow much heed to the bittersweet realization that I haven’t had this much fun in ages.
< “Johansen not responding. We have lost eyes on the target. Operations may be compromised.”
Hmm… Johansen is “not responding”? What does that mean? Is “Johansen” dead? Did I kill “Johansen”? Surely I didn’t kill Johansen.
I decide I’m letting my imagination run away with this. All these thoughts of spies or police stings has me making a big deal out of nothing. I actually have no idea what we’re talking about. I’m sure that people named Johansen don’t respond all the time.
Surely whomever is on the other end of this conversation is expecting a quick reply but I am dumbstruck as to what I should say. I decide that my conscience won’t rest if I think I’ve killed Johansen. I decide to play it safe.
> “Locate Johansen and report in immediately.”
There. That seems logical. I hope Johansen is alright.
After two hours of pointless morning busy-work at my pointless job I get my requested update.
< “China has Johansen and the joint staff is unanimously refusing to bargain. Science division is recommending Hadron to reset.”
China? China has Johansen? What? Tiny animated dancing dots appear at the bottom left on the screen indicating that the sender is typing more. Another message.
< “Two of the five scientists associated within Hadron are Christian and are voicing strong opposition so far as to the direction this situation is leaning but as always, the final word comes from you. Abort?”
Shit. Are they talking about CERN? The CERN Hadron particle accelerator in Switzerland or something? How many Hadrons exist? Is there anything else named Hadron? What does Hadron even mean?
I stare at the text silent and blank-faced and feel the clock ticking.
I eventually conclude that whatever this is, it surely cannot be good. Between this and the pointless job, the pointless job suddenly seems to quickly be becoming the far safer option. Maybe now is the time to drop the charade and come clean that they have the wrong number. But…
No. I’m just letting my imagination run wild again. Whatever is actually going on, I’m sure they will figure it out. Johansen is on his own. I don’t want to know.
They reply quick.
< “Abortion confirmed. Expect results in one relative rotation before results manifest.”
Manifest? Who says manifest? No one says “results manifest”.
My initial enjoyment of this joke has evolved into an uneasy knot in my stomach.
I’m just not going to reply anymore. I’m SURE that they’ll figure it out.
After weighing my options I decide the wise thing to do might just be to sleep on it. The next time I get a text I’ll just ignore it. I finish out the work day uninterrupted and get home with no further developments. I take my sleep medication early and hit the sack.
The following morning, I wake to discover a noticeable gap on my bookshelf. After perusing over the titles a few times, it strikes me that the empty spot is in the space which should be occupied by my parents’ old bible. Thinking back to when I last looked, I know for a fact that the gap on the shelf was definitely not a gap last night. Its absence is definitely something I would have noticed. The idea of someone breaking into your place to steal an old copy of The Bible doesn’t sit right with me.
I toss a banana, five strawberries, eight blackberries, and a scoop of protein powder in the blender for my morning smoothie. Even as I hold the lid security while it’s blending, I can’t get my mind off the missing Bible. I can’t figure out why this is bothering me to this extent.
After pouring the blender’s contents into my to-go thermos, I pull on my overcoat and step outside.
Oh my God. . . .