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"Ringeth Over," short story excerpt

Monday 11/15/21

A man set down a steaming cup of coffee on his desk and prepared to begin a stupendous project of towering significance for the human race when the coffee cup started to ring.


The ring was like the one the man's phone made when someone called him, now that he had set that phone, after much deliberation, to the sci-fi selection among the available choices. He didn't receive many calls, so when the government phoned with a reminder to vote, he was sometimes frightened by the wobbling Theremin theme, until he thought, “Oh, right, ha ha ha.”


But he wasn't scared by the ringing coffee mug because it was also a nice break from the stupendous novel he was about to start, for which he’d stuck an important note on the fridge the evening before when he made a couple of (ham and cheese) Lean Pockets that read START NOVEL, and then START NOVEL, and, finally, START NOVEL!!! when the alterations were complete.


He’d been telling a lot of people about this book, which was the one thing he talked about, just as everyone else had one thing they talked about, whether that was their kids, their sports team, their lawn, the Republican party, or how the world used to be a lot better. Thank God he had his one thing. Whew. He didn’t know what he might replace it with, so this was a vital day when he’d smear his thumb with ink—metaphorically speaking—and (start to) leave his mark all over humankind.


Aft first he thought maybe he’d left his phone in his coffee mug, and the device was heroically calling out for rescue, refusing to give in to the liquid that seeped through its innards. If the phone could talk, it would say, “It’s not too late for me, for us, so long as you drop me in a bag of rice. Hasten, sir! O hasten!”


“A ring can be like a sentence,” the man once remarked to another man like himself, over soy lattes. They pretty much agreed, so this was all kind of familiar.


But there was the phone several feet away, also on the desk, previously hidden but now discovered beneath a spent bag of Lay’s potato chips, and decidedly inert, unlit, powered down, or else out of juice. He’d let it get that way, so that when he turned the phone on again there might be an accumulation of texts and voicemails, and others would be out there in the world (or scattered through Connecticut) thinking he was busy doing something remarkable.


The ringing continued, though, so the man weighed the facts, shrewdly noting that there wasn’t a spoon near the mug or within the hollows of the Lay’s bag that could have vibrated and produced a weird noise against the porcelain either directly or from some inches away via the conductive surface of the desk. No, the coffee cup was definitely, legitimately ringing.


The man was unsure what to do, but he figured it’d be whimsical to bend down to the edge of the mug, as if it was one of those old phones that made people say “Hello? Hello! Hello?I” after someone had obviously hung up on them. The rising steam moistened his ear lobe, which felt kind of nice.


“Hello,” he said, head in position. “I am here. Speak, contents.”


There was a twitch of static as the ringing ceased—a rustle, a feeling that a channel from lifetimes away was locking into place.