I’m a big fan of old horror stories by Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. I also spend a hideous amount of time playing with my smartphone. This led me to think about what kind of story these masters of macabre suspense might write if they were alive today. Enjoy.
I would like to tell you a story about a terrifying, soul-sucking, life destroying thing that happened to a friend of mine.
He got a new smartphone.
My friend—whose name was Jonathon—was a huge fan of Apple. He once sent me an article saying experts predicted that the next iPhone after the iPhone 4 would be the iPhone 5. To which I responded, “Which experts are saying this? Counting experts?”
But the next phone was, strangely, the iPhone 4S and Jonathon dutifully lined up in the middle of the night to buy one. But while he was waiting, a small wizened old man with a crooked smile and bulbous eyes emerged from the shadows of a nearby alley. The old man wanted to sell Jonathon a knock-off iPhone called an itPhone.
Jonathon laughed and said no, but the more he played with the itPhone, the more amazing it seemed. So fast, so responsive, so intuitive as though the phone knew what Jonathon wanted even before he did. On an impulse, he bought the phone.
At first, he was thrilled. Jonathon’s phone was always the fastest. He was that annoying guy at the bar who could look up character actors’ names on his phone faster than his friends could remember them with their slow human brains.
But after a few months, Jonathon started having problems with the phone. One day, he called me and I was terrified. Because who the hell uses their phone to actually call people these days?
Also, my ringtone is the Wilhelm Scream. For anyone who is not familiar with the Wilhelm Scream, it’s a famous audio clip used in many films when minor characters die or fall from high places. It sounds something like, “oooWAAUHHHooohhh!”
Anyway, Jonathon was in panic about his phone.
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked.
“It’s…it’s haunted,” Jonathon said.
I asked for some examples of what this haunted phone was doing.
Jonathon quickly rattled off a list. “It keeps giving me the wrong directions! And it autocorrects all of my texts! And without asking me it keeps poking all my Facebook friends!”
“Yeah,” I said supportively, “That’s what phones do.”
“You don’t understand,” Jonathon shouted, “It took a picture of my junk while I was sleeping and sent it to my co-workers!”
“Well,” I said, “Was it a good picture? Tasteful lighting? Did it use an Instagram filter?”
“This isn’t funny!” Jonathon whisper-yelled. “It downloaded an app and I can’t delete it.”
“What does the app do?”
“It makes it so the phone screams if I stop touching it.”
I laughed and the line went dead. I almost called back but I really, really hate talking on the phone. It just seems so much easier to send a text, you know?
Anyway, I didn’t hear from Jonathon for a little while. But I assumed he was alright, because he was always online. He was very active on Facebook. And Twitter. And Google+. And Pinterest. And Reddit. And Tumblr. And Etsy. And Regretsy. Even LinkedIn. I admit, that gave me some pause.
Eventually, he stopped responding to tweets and texts, so I decided to make a personal sacrifice, stop everything I was doing, and call him on the phone like a savage.
The phone rang and rang and finally Jonathon picked up and said in a raspy voice, “Hello?”
“Jonathon. It’s me. I decided to call you. On the phone. Because I figured what the hell is a phone for after all?”
There was a pause. And then Jonathon cackled like a maniac for a solid minute. He followed the laugh by quietly saying, “LOL.”
That seemed redundant to me. Then he said something even more bizarre. He said, “No, seriously. Actual LOL.”
That just pissed me off.
I mean, LOL stands for laughing out loud. When you add the “actual” you’re just admitting that the majority of times you say LOL you’re lying.
But I digress.
Jonathon hung up and didn’t answer my calls after that. He started changing all of his profile photos. Strange, artsy shots of the corner of his jaw or just his eyebrow. Thankfully, never his junk. At least I don’t think so.
I emailed his co-workers and discovered he had stopped showing up to work weeks ago.
I decided to make the ultimate sacrifice. I decided to physically get in my car, drive through actual traffic to his home, and speak with him face to face. I even parallel parked. It was horrible.
When I arrived at his house, the door was ajar. I gently pushed it open and it screeched ominously. The house was a mess. Clothes, food, bottles, and papers everywhere. It looked like the home of the least organized serial killer in the world. I heard the soft mewling of a cat.
As far as I could remember Jonathon didn’t own any cats.
I followed the noise to the bedroom. There was a dim glow coming from inside the room. I steeled my nerves, peeked inside, and saw him.
Illuminated by the glow of the phone, it was clear that Jonathon had changed. He was shriveled and hunched. His tiny arms could barely support the weight of his hands. His thumbs were enormous and his fingers had developed into fine points. His hair had fallen out and his head had contorted to make more room for his eyes….his giant bulging eyes. His whole body was bent and angled as if it were being pulled into the phone.
His huge, bloodshot eyes seemed to strain out of the sockets as they stared at the phone.
Stared at cat videos on the internet.
I stood there, arms grasping the door frame to hold myself steady. “Hang in there,” I thought, “Hang in there like the cat on the motivational poster.”
Almost against my will, I heard myself saying, “Jonathon?”
Suddenly, his huge bulbous subterranean eyes locked on mine.
“You,” he croaked, “I know you from the Facebooks.” Then he reached out one of his tiny, pointed fingers and growled violently, “POKE!”
I ran out of the house, screaming and thinking to myself, “THIS IS WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER TALK TO YOUR FRIENDS IN PERSON!”
By the time I had run halfway down the block to my car, I began to doubt if I had even seen it. There was a phrase nagging at me, some traditional wisdom, handed down through the generations. Then I remembered.
The phrase was this: “Pics or it didn’t happen.”
I made my way back to the house. My trembling hands pushed open the door. It screeched again. This time there was no cat sound. I trudged through the debris to the bedroom door and looked inside. Jonathan was gone.
I began to explore the house, my heart lurching into my throat every time I opened a closet door or pulled aside a shower curtain. But Jonathon was nowhere to be found.
Then I heard something, very faint yet very close. Was it a cat? No, it was a scream. A repeated, muffled scream.
And I realized the phone call was coming from inside my pants.
I pulled out my phone, cursing my choice of the stupid Wilhelm Scream for a ringtone. I touched the answer button and held the phone to my head.
“Are you looking for me, Facebook friend?” Jonathon rasped.
“Yes, Jonathon, yes I am.”
“I’m in the bedroom.”
“No, you’re not, Jonathon. I’m standing in your bedroom right now.”
“I’m right where you left me. On the bed.”
I turned and looked at the bed. I gathered my courage, terrified that I knew what I was about to see, and I pulled the covers away.
Sure enough, there was Jonathon, his horrible face writhing with laughter.
Writhing inside his phone.
His pointed little fingers scratching the glass surface from the inside. He stared into my eyes and said, “END CALL.”
The line went dead and Jonathon’s phone went black. I left the phone there, raced to my car, and drove straight home.
Well, not quite straight home, I got lost and had to do a google map search, but the point is I never saw Jonathon again.
No one did. At least, not in real life. He’s plenty active online though. He always says YES to my Facebook invites, but he never shows up. So in many ways, he’s living a very normal life.
I’ve tried to tell mutual friends what happened. But they never believe.
After all, there are no pics. So maybe it really never happened.