The Phones


The smell of gunpowder makes its way into my nose. God. You’d think a cop wouldn’t mind the smell. Might even crave it. No. It’s horrible. This is reality. It lingers in the unmoving air of the store.

I see bad things doing what I do. Bad is a grievous understatement. I work hard to keep myself steady. With my job, I get here first. After the shooters have fled. After the smoke has risen.

Because the dead do not speak, and spent bullet casings do not bang, there is not a sound to be heard. Until I listen to my footsteps. Muted, and going click, click, click along the linoleum tiles.

I look from one lifeless body to the next and the next and the next – and they seem to never end! – I hear new noises. Ringing and tones and vibrations, and my senses feel like they’re going to melt, and there is a migraine in the near future.

The department store floor is covered with the dead. And the ringing and the different tones and the vibrations. From within their pockets, their bags, purses. Their phones ring and vibrate and sing.

I move closer to a woman. Collapsed on a table of cardigans. Bullet holes snake up her back. Her blood pools under her and soaks into the sweaters. Her left hand clutches onto her phone. It vibrates. Vibrates. Her thin fingers vibrate.

If I gaze sharper, look closer, I can read the text on the screen.

Are you okay?

Another vibration.

Watching the news. Something bad is happening downtown.

Another vibration.

Stay away from downtown and all stores. Call me back asap.

I find myself reaching out, toward the young woman. My fingers, I see them floating to the phone. I want to send back a message. Want to tell this stranger, I’m okay. Want to give them some sort of reassurance. Why? I don’t know. I don’t know.

My eyes fall back on the woman, who is really only a girl, still. She can’t be older than twenty-five.

I pull my hand back, back to myself. It’s my hand. I’m spinning. The walls blur. What am I thinking?

I don’t want the stranger on the other end of that phone to suffer through the pain of this girl’s death.

I don’t control this. I have no control.

Behind me, a different phone rings, a deafening sound in the near silence of the store. I jump, a tingle runs up the back of my neck.

I turn, and there on the floor lies an older woman, probably in her sixties. Her body twisted, carnage riddles her torso. The carpet like a sponge beneath her. Her phone has fallen away from her. It rests on the floor ringing and ringing, a shriek in the dead store.

I step, once, then twice, then three times, and I stand over the screaming phone.

I don’t want to, I don’t want to see the screen. But, I look. A glance.


I stare until the call is missed. The woman’s foot is by the phone, and I think the call will always be missed.

A text message appears on the screen.

I know u went to the store earlier. U always answer. Freaking out. Please tell me you didn’t end up going to the store.

Has my heart been beating? I have to stop myself from doubling over and vomiting.

Back away. I step into the middle of the aisle. Between the girl on the cardigans and the woman on the carpet. Their blood smells the same. It’s the blood in my body. I consider the blood in those who chose to kill. And that is the same blood. And I think of spilling that blood, sure it would fix something. Always told actions like that fix nothing. By people smarter than I. I’ll hold them to that.

My feet move. I don’t move them. Obviously, I do. But, I don’t feel in control. I have no control.

Racks of clothes, shelves of baby supplies, and books, and toys, and electronics, it all passes me, and all of the dead which fill the aisles. And their phones. The vibrating, the ringing, the tones. Calling, calling, calling, with messages and words…

Are you okay?

Are you okay?

I lean against a column, and repeat, ‘No, they’re not okay.’ My hands on my temples, fingers moving in circles. ‘No, they’re not okay.

My head is bursting.

Here’s that migraine – calling on me with fury, vibrating down my neck, and ringing in my head.


story-idea-credit goes to the always lovely and indelible Michelle Whiteley (né Lapolla)


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