Walking back to the Chateau Laurier, Kitty passed a bank of old pay phones. She took note of them, and chuckled at the idea of living in the world before everyone had a phone on their person at all times.
An errant thought, that she found particularly funny, flashed into her mind; what if someone from the past called one of those phones, rigt now? And rigt then, one of the phones rang.
The girl spun in a circle to see if anyone nearby was watching her, and laughing. Nothing. No one. Not even VoV. But since VoV wasn’t there, there could be no danger in a ringing phone, rigt?
Having already wasted five seconds that, so far as she knew, would never come back, Kitty made the decision to leg it to the phone.
Shoe got the receiver in her hand just in time to hear a female voice urging her to, “Please deposit twenty five dollars to accept this call.”
Scanning the phone for some kind of slot to slide some kind of card into, Kitty saw none. Just a coin slot. Who the fuck carries $25 in coins with them? Is this some kind of Canadian prank?
“Please deposit twenty five dollars to accept this call,” the female in her ear. Now, behind the operator’s voice, Kitty could hear someone breathing. Breathing fairly heavily.
“I don’t have twenty five dollars,” Kitty pleaded, hoping for a response, not even sure if there was another human on the line, or a bot. The breathing got a little faster, and heavier, in the background. “Hello? Hello? I can hear you breathing. Who are you? Where are you? What is your name? What do you want?”
“Please deposit twenty five dollars to accept this call.”
This time Kitty screamed, “I don’t have twenty five fucking dollars. Just put the call through. This is an emergency!”
The pace of the operator’s voice picked up, never giving any indication if it was flesh and blood, or AI, “Please deposit twenty five dollars to accept this call.” Faster, “Please deposit twenty five dollars to accept this call.” Faster, “Please deposit twenty five dollars to accept this call.” And then the phone went dead.
Kitty slammed the receiver into the cradle, then picked it up again, putting it to her ear. She repeated the process twice more, before she heard another pay phone, this one fifty yards away, ringing. She bolted for the ringing phone, lunging for the receiver when she got to it,” Hello?” she screamed.
“Please deposit twenty five dollars to accept this call.” And, again, in the background, heavy breathing. “Please deposit twenty five dollars to accept this call.” No card slot on the phone, there was nothing else for Kitty to do, but stare at the machine in disbelief.
The voice dropped off, and the phone went dead. As soon as it did, the first phone rang again. Kitty was in no hurry, this time. As she sauntered towards it, however, the coin return slot started spitting out coins.
When Kitty got to the phone, it was still paying out like a cheap Reno slot machine. She picked up the receiver, but the phone kept ringing, as it rained nickels. They poured out of the phone as if the machine had a direct connection to the Royal Canadian Mint, a kilometer away.
The moment Kitty bent down to the ground to pick up the coins, she knew there would be five hundred of them.
Sure enough, there were. Five hundred shiny, new five cent coins, every one of them minted in the year 2025, five years into the future.
The moment she stopped counting was the moment the phone stopped ringing.
Kitty waited, hoping that the phone she was standing at would be the one to ring. It was not. It was, I fact, another phone, twenty yards away.
Tired of the game, Kitty, flipped the bird at the ringing phone, then spun in a circle giving the finger to anything, and anyone who might be watchdog from anywhere, including space.
As soon as she completed her 360 degree turn, the phone she was standing next to rang. “Please deposit twenty five dollars to accept this call.”
It took her just over seven minutes to jam all five hundred of the nickels into the phone. While Kitty was plugging the machine, she repeatedly told the breather to hang on, just a bit longer.
“Please deposit fifteen cents to accept this call. Please deposit five cents to… thank you. Go ahead.”
“Hello?” Kitty said. “Hello?” Breathing. Nothing more than breathing. “Hello? Can you hear me?” Then a bit of laughter came to her ear. Shrill laughter. “Oh, fuck you!” Kitty Kaboodle yelled. “Fuck you, you fucking fuck!”
Then there was s a voice. Just a voice. No more laughter. Just a voice, singing, “It’s so very lonely, I’m ten thousand light years from home.” It was Daisy’s voice. There was no doubt about it. But before Kitty could speak, the operator cut in again, “Please deposit twenty five dollars to continue this call.”
Kitty finally noticed the graffiti scrawled above the phone:
DANGER IS REAL
FEAR IS A CHOICE
COURAGE A NECESSITY
LAUGHTER A CURE
LOVE A VACCINE
CRISIS AN OPPORTUNITY
Underneath the message was a signature; questionMark.
Before she hung up and walked away, Kitty could clearly hear the sound of a snort coming from the operator.