Hi. I’m Tonia Thompson, horror writer and creator of NIGHTLIGHT: The Black Horror Podcast.
This week, we have a story from Alicia Thompson. Alicia is a black author of science fiction, fantasy and horror who lives in the heart of Los Angeles. She has had two YA sci-fi thrillers published by Short On Time books, “The Underminers” in 2014 and its sequel, “Cellblock Earth” in 2017. Members of Kindle Unlimited can read both novels for free. Links will be in the show notes. We’ll have an extended interview with her available next week, so mak e sure you keep your eyes out for that.
This week’s episode is partially brought to you by Audible. Try Audible today by going to nightlightpod.com/audible to get 30 days and 2 books free! This week’s recommendation is THE CHANGELING by Victor LaValle, a novel USA Today calls a “woke Brothers Grimm”, is a Locus Award-winning story of a Black book dealer who marries a librarian who begins to act strangely after the birth of their child. It is being adapted to TV by FX, the same network that brings us American Horror Story, but if you’re like me, you need to read the book before watching it. You can do that for free by getting your Audible free trial, or you can wait until the TV series premieres and a fancy new hardback debuts for $25. Get your free trial today so you can see what all the fuss is about.
By Alicia Thompson
“Multiple lacerations to the upper torso with significant bruising to shoulders and chest. Fractures to the scapula, sternum and…”
She frowned and tapped the transcription pedal with her foot to rewind the electronic audio and strained to listen to the word again. Maybe it was referring to the collarbone. Sighing, she pulled her headphones off and reached for the medical dictionary. Collarbone, collarbone… where would that be? She flipped the pages, searching through the C’s. After a few minutes of fruitless searching, she turned to the Internet. Just as the Google page scrolled down with what seemed like hundreds of links, the phone rang. She muttered in frustration and pushed back from the desk.
Walking briskly into the living room, she picked up the receiver and glanced at the caller I.D. The glowing display read “M.E. (0) 000-000.” Another damn sales call. She pushed the answer button.
“Hello?” she snapped.
There was complete silence on the other end of the line with a faint buzz of static in the background.
“Hello” she said again, her tone clearly annoyed.
“Does your home need protection?”
The voice that finally spoke was sibilant, strangely soft and male. It reminded her of the way some older men would speak to young children in an attempt to evoke a kindly uncle or a doting grandfather. However, it usually ended up sounding more like Mr. Rogers doing 20 to life.
“No, I’m not interested” she responded and began to hit the disconnect button.
“Are you sure?” the soft, almost lispy voice asked.
The way it seeped out of the message speaker into the room set her teeth on edge.
“Yes. No, thank you.”
She hung up the phone. They needed to hire some people who didn’t sound like extras in a “Scream” movie.
The next day while she was cleaning the bathroom, the phone rang. Muttering curses under her breath, she glanced into the bedroom. If she didn’t answer the phone and it was her husband, she would get the third degree. With her hands covered in Softsoap, she stomped in and looked at the receiver display. M.E. (0) 000-000. Goddamn it, these people again! She returned to the bathroom, letting the call go to voicemail. Checking the phone later, she saw a message had been left. She pressed the playback button and listened.
“Are you really sure your home doesn’t need protection?”
She shuddered and quickly hit the delete button. Geez Louise, that guy was creepy as hell. How did they manage to sell anything with a sales guy like that?
On Saturday her husband was home. They were sitting on the couch watching a show on TV and eating lunch. She was kind of pooped from going to the market, taking the comforter to the laundromat and picking up food for them both. This was the best part of the day: eating a loaded pastrami sammi and catching up on “Orange Is The New Black.” The phone rang. The caller I.D. box popped up in the upper left corner of the TV screen. M.E. (0) 000-000. She groaned. Her husband looked at her.
“It’s a sales call” she explained.
He picked up the receiver.
“Hello” he said, putting extra baritone into his voice.
“Hello” he said again.
He hung up the phone after a few seconds of silence.
She wrinkled her forehead.
“Really? I got some weird dude when they called before.”
Shrugging, she turned her attention back to the TV and promptly forgot about it. Monday afternoon and she was engrossed in a particularly difficult transcription job involving a surgical procedure. Every other word was a term she had never heard before. Her medical dictionary was dotted with Post-It notes and sticky arrows. She had been working on it for two days and was almost done. She could not wait – her carpal tunnel was flaring up, her eyes were blurry and she had a headache from lack of sleep. The phone rang.
“Goddamn it!” she blurted out and pushed back from the desk.
When she complained to her husband about the constant barrage of sales calls during the day, he simply said, “Don’t answer the phone”. She knew she couldn’t just do that though. Jobs often came in over the phone. And of course, if it was her husband, he would just call again and bitch at her about why she hadn’t answered the phone earlier. She really didn’t feel like hearing the “You work at home. You’re not busy” line of thought. Again.
She sighed and grumbled as she stormed to the insistently trilling thing. M.E. (0) 000-000. She had had enough of these people now. Snatching up the receiver, she hit the answer button.
“Have you decided your home needs protection?”
It was Mr. Rogers.
“Look, we already have an alarm system. Please take me off your call list” she said as curtly as she could.
“Are you positively certain that’s what you want?” he said.
Suddenly, unbidden, an image of a snake standing upright like a person came into her mind. She could see it weaving slightly in front of her, its dead black eyes fixating her, forked tongue flicking in and out of its scaled slit of a mouth. She almost dropped the phone on the floor.
“Yes, I’m certain. Take me off your list and don’t ever call here again!” she practically shouted into the phone.
“Yes, ma’am” he said.
She could swear it sounded like he was smirking. She slammed the phone down into the cradle.
“Freaking son of a bitch” she said.
Her hands were shaking and she felt foolish. Sighing, she rotated her head and stretched the tight muscles in her neck. Maybe she would take the next couple of days off and not accept any assignments. She had been working eight days in a row because freelancers didn’t take weekends off.
The phone was uncharacteristically quiet for the rest of the week. She didn’t even notice until Friday that Mr. Rogers had taken a hike. The level of relief she felt shocked her a bit. He had honestly freaked her out. But it was silly anyway. He was just a stupid salesman. They were trained to be pushy and intimidating, weren’t they? Well, that company had a prize catch on their hands.
Tuesday of the following week, the doorbell rang at around two in the afternoon. She answered the door drying her damp hands on a kitchen towel. A man stood outside holding a box under his arm. She strained to see him clearly through the heavy metal security screen.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Delivery” he responded, his voice muffled.
She dropped the towel on the living room table and opened the screen. In the back of her mind a thought emerged, quiet and unnoticed, that there was no truck parked on the street. She gazed expectantly at his tall, thin frame that wobbled slightly as he stood and his dark, glittering, unblinking eyes. Recognition ran through her body like a glass of ice water dashed into her face.
“Who are you?” she asked, her hand tightening on the screen.
He smiled, lips cracking open in a reptilian slit.
“You don’t need protection. It’s me.”
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Thanks again for listening. We’ll be back next week with another story.
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This week’s episode is partially brought to you by Audible. Try Audible today by going to nightlightpod.com/audible to get 30 days and 2 books free! This week’s recommendation is THE CHANGELING by Victor LaValle.