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Fantasy Fiction Funny

When Madam Lapinsky first founded The Ethereal Phone Company (or EPiC as the later conglomerate came to be known whilst she was living in the lap of luxury on her private yacht) it was just a con. She had always made a reasonably comfortable living from the vulnerable and deluded by rapping on tables and ectoplasmic manifestation, but when A I came on the scene she hit on the idea of getting the technology to actually ‘speak’ for the dead through the medium of the telephone. 

For the sake of appearances (cell phones somehow detracting from the mystique) she used the old fashioned bakelite handsets via some complicated arrangement with her internet provider and the IT expert in the offices below. The details escaped her but that they seemed to work was enough. She could almost believe it herself. Particularly when her late husband came on the line when testing the system giving her hell about leaving her crystal ball on the top step of the staircase. No one was supposed to know about that, but it was amazing what technology was capable of picking up if you give it the right hints.  However, she resolved to be personally careful what information she actually fed into the system herself in future - but she always did wonder.

Of course, the voice delivery wasn’t authentic. It actually came over in a comforting Southern drawl allocated randomly by the search engine, which made the accusation seem somehow placatory - a far cry from the actual mien of the deceased in life. Still, it set Madam Lapinsky on the road to fame and fortune and the vagaries of the telephonic delivery could always be explained away to clients by disturbance in the ethereal clamour.

When word spread, they were queuing round the block for the opportunity to chew the fat with their nearest and dearest from beyond the grave.  It was still an elaborate con, however … until.

Until the A I algorithm actually succeeded in opening up a channel from the other side of the veil - it was only a matter of time after all, given the pace at which the technology  was evolving. Obviously, before the breakthrough, the longer clients had been with her the more information Madam Lapinsky had been able to feed into the system to allow more cogent responses to come through. So it was a surprise when a walk-in with minimal information to impart started chatting animatedly to his long-dead grandmother, as though they were leaning over the garden fence. It turned out that she had been watching over him growing up ever since she passed, and even knew about an embarrassing moment behind the school bike sheds which the client thought was long dead and buried, like his grandma (but which also gave him pause for thought about certain other incidents in his past that he would rather no one knew about). Madam Lapinsky rightly viewed the conversation with some suspicion at first, thinking that the client was bullshitting her - it takes a con artist to know another one after all. But the longer the conversation went on, and the more uncomfortable the client appeared,  the more she became convinced that it was actually happening.   

“Bugger me!” were the words she actually used when the revelation finally hit her, followed immediately by a rapidly flickering vision of dollar signs and a hurried application to the patent office to lay claim to the whole process before anyone else muscled in.  Whatever other faults Madam Lapinsky might have had, she had business acumen. Which is how she came to be luxuriating on her private yacht after a billionaire entrepreneur, name of  E. Longates, made her an offer she couldn’t refuse and allowed her to retire, cutting herself off from the world - and any other world - completely. She didn’t even possess a cell phone. The recent conversation with her late husband was all too uncomfortable to contemplate, albeit that it had, at the time, been artificially generated … so she hoped.

E. Longates lost no time in exploiting the phenomenon to the hilt and soon there was a chain of High Street emporia world wide sporting an array of bakelite telephone receivers in direct contact with the dead. 

It remained a mystery, however,  how the realms of Heaven and Hell and other places in between came to be in possession of transmitters to allow the receivers to receive in the first place but, as the saying goes, there are more things …

Obviously, there were no telephone numbers to which to connect. It all sort of relied on word of mouth. The caller just picked up the receiver and uttered the time honoured words “is there anybody there?’ and they were miraculously put straight through after the usual niceties and angelic homilies - or not-so-nice demonic homilies depending on the destination.

At first, it was only those in the Netherworlds who were readily familiar with the concept of telephone conversations who picked up, and the workload wasn’t all that onerous for the operators on the virtual ethereal switchboard at the other end. However, when the much earlier departed who had hitherto only been used to communicating via ersatz morse code finally cottoned on to the possibilities, demand exploded. Not that they had much need of it - anyone they might ever want to talk to in person was already either with them or in the other place, so it was more of a case of relieving boredom than anything else. After all, eternity is a bloody long time and you very probably run out of meaningful conversation with your contemporaries pretty quickly.

Be that as it may, the switchboard was soon run ragged. So much so, in fact, that they introduced their own automated answering system - it only takes a miracle or two, after all. That development was much to E. Longates’ ire because he was soon run ragged himself fending off complaints about the length of time it took to get through and the inconvenience of answering questions the likes of “... if you wish to speak to Abel, dial 1, if you wish to speak to Adam, dial 2, if you wish to speak to the Almighty, dial 3 to make an appointment, if you wish to speak to Cain, dial 4, if you wish to speak to Eve …’ the list was interminable, if only because it was chronologically alphabetical. But that probably made a lot of sense in the hereafter because time is not really a big issue. However, that wasn’t the only issue that was concerning E. Longates, it appeared that the system had also eventually been outsourced because when you did eventually get through the operators spoke in Klingon inflected accents and no one could understand a word they were saying. It seemed that Madam Lapinski had got out of the loop none too quickly.

It was a situation that E. Longates found difficult to comprehend and eventually had to dial 3 and wait an eternity for the appointment to come through, unless he wanted to speak to one of the archangels or an angel practitioner. But E. Longates wasn’t a man to deal with monkeys - it was the organ grinder or nothing. So he waited. But by the time he got through the exigencies of dealing with the business had taken its toll on his health and he may just as well have waited a couple more months to pursue the question in person. When it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Not to E. Longates at least.

Anyway, when he did eventually get to the top of the queue after … oh, at least 5 million and the most boring, repetitive,  harp recording he had ever heard …  he was met with a great deal of truculence on the part of the Almighty, which he wasn’t expecting to be honest. But, viewed from the Almighty’s point of view it was understandable. When you’ve successfully created multiverses you expect a bit of downtime to see how it’s all working out. You don’t want to be stuck on the end of a telephone answering stupid bloody questions from beings who’d been given a brain to work things out for themselves - and if that Pope bloke called again requesting a blessing he swore he wouldn’t be responsible for the consequences. Open door policies are all very well as a business model but they’re a bit of a double edged sword in practice. If He’d known how it was all going to pan out when He allowed this ethereal telephone business to take place He would have had second thoughts and fried all the electronics with a lightning bolt, Except that would probably have had untold repercussions below causing hardship where it wasn’t warranted and that wouldn’t have done at all. 

Anyway, long story short, He told E. Longates what he could do with his request to take the franchise away from Klingon, telling him he could organise His operation the way he bloody well wanted and if he didn’t like it he could jolly well go and stamp his feet, And hung up. And pulled the  virtual plug out,

Which is how E. Longates eventually got to meet his maker, because in His frustration, the plug that got pulled was not the telephone plug at all. It was the one labelled ‘Armageddon’. Well, it had been a bit of a hurried job to set up the hardware when the initial call to social media came and the console hadn’t originally been designed for that.

Still, all’s well that ends well. At least it gave an opportunity for a new start, although Madam Lapinsky wasn’t best pleased when an enormous tidal wave swamped her yacht, if only because it meant the time had come to face her late husband … at last. “Oh, bugger!” had nothing on it.

October 27, 2023 08:59

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7 comments

Danie Holland
10:40 Nov 08, 2023

Malcom, I love con artists. For some reason I have this obsession with morally grey characters. I liked your Madam Lapinsky character very much! Also, very unique idea with the AI to the netherworld. It reminded me a bit of the scam calls going around where scammers copy your loved one's voice and then use their voice to try to scam you out of your information and your money. Very clever! Thanks for the story this week! <3

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Humble Sparrow
15:57 Nov 06, 2023

Wow, that went South fast! :-) I love the humour - my story Psychopomp also imagines something mythological as just another job. This is a bit of a nitpicky point - obviously you've chosen a "storyteller" style, but I wonder how much fun it would be to have the plot points revealed in dialogue. I could just see the woman's face like in a movie scene. This would totally work as a movie. Thanks for sharing

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Malcolm Twigg
17:18 Nov 06, 2023

Thanks for reading and I appreciate your comments. This seems to be my signature style for stuff like this. Obviously dialogue would work but it would tend to lengthen the work almosr to novel proportions in my experience. Check out some of your stuff shortly.

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Tom Skye
14:16 Nov 01, 2023

This was a lot of fun Malcolm. The conversational style worked perfectly for this concept and it brought a lot of laughs. Many subtle gags that really hit the mark. I particularly enjoyed that the telephone waiting music was harp :) Also, the clogged up phone line was a clever satire on the overly rapid expansion of any technology. Really great work. Very enjoyable to read. Thanks for sharing.

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Malcolm Twigg
14:51 Nov 01, 2023

Thanks Tom. Much appreciated. This is probably my signature style. I don't like to take my writing too seriously whist, at the same time, hinting at some very pertinent points

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Myranda Marie
22:53 Oct 28, 2023

What a great concept! Can you imagine if it were truly that simple to keep in touch with our deceased loved ones? I'd pay good money for a phone plan which would allow me to once again speak with my Gram as if we were chatting over the garden fence. I suppose in the end, Madame Lapinsky met that tricky little entity called Karma, didn't she? Loved your story, and thanks again for reading mine!

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Malcolm Twigg
10:49 Oct 29, 2023

Thanks Myranda, much appreciated.

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