One Missed Call

Submitted into Contest #140 in response to: Write about a character with an unreliable memory.... view prompt

22 comments

Fiction Funny

Will ran for his cellphone and bailed when he hit the smooth spot of floor outside his bedroom. Time had worn it to the bone and his socks had long lost their grip, but luckily his body took the brunt of the fall so at least his security deposit was still safe. He missed the phone call though.

He hurt, and spent a couple moments just lying on the ground whimpering. The muted swears of his downstairs neighbour thumped through the floor. No doubt something along the lines of “noise complaint!” or “calling the super!” or “questionable observation about minorities!”

With some effort, Will rolled to his side and got to his feet. He balanced himself against the wall and tested things. His legs were fine, but his butt hurt. Head seemed okay. Upper back though, especially the left shoulder – ouch. He tested his arm, found he could move it. Ish. If he ran into a situation where needed to rotate it slowly, he should be set. At least it didn’t feel like anything was broken.

He shuffled into his bedroom and grumbled something about this definitely being the last time he’d forget about the damned floor.

On the bright side his phone must have charged, because it was blinking at him. Right, the call, that’s what he was here for. That’s what he missed. Well, no loss there, it was probably just spam. Nevertheless, he turned the screen on to check, because otherwise the phone would keep blinking its accusations at him.

At the top, a notification: “1 missed call from Sinclair Associates…”

Will frowned. Then his eyes widened. The job! If Sinclair were calling him back that must have meant he got the job, because they were pretty brutally, undiplomatically clear that they would only contact the “successful candidate” and that “you don’t need to contact us, we’ll let you know.”

He grinned as he swiped up, felt his heart thrill as his index finger hovered over the PIN entry. In truth, he had given up on Sinclair since the interview was over five weeks ago and he hadn’t heard anything from them since, but now, now that they called him he realized it was his dream job all along. Not just that, it was a real job.

And then he paused, just a moment, finger hovering over the 3. Then it twitched towards the 1, and trembled, uncertain. He settled on the 3. 3-2-8-1.

Incorrect password, said his phone.

Will figured he must have mistyped it, so he did it again. 3-2-8-1.

Incorrect password.

“Hmm,” said Will. He knew the numbers in his PIN, of course, but the order… Well, he knew the shape anyway. It was a kind of triangle thing, an upside down pyramid pattern. Up down up, right-to-left.

Or maybe it was left-to-right? Yes, of course! That was it. 1-2-8-3.

Incorrect password. This phone has been locked for 30 seconds.

Will chuckled, scratched his head. Winced when his shoulder reminded him of the fall. It was funny, of course. He’d entered his PIN so many times it had become automatic. Sure, he knew it, knew all the numbers–

“Oh crap!” Will said. It wasn’t an 8, it was a 5. Obviously.

He waited for the lockout timer to expire and then entered 3-2-5-1.

Incorrect pass–

1-2-5-3!

Incorrect password. This phone has been locked for 1 minute.

He growled, scratched his cheek roughly, really dug the nails into the scraggle. Then he closed his eyes and tried to trace the pattern in the air while he waited. Then he opened his eyes and watched his finger because he couldn’t visualize it.

He made the triangle shape, but both left-to-right and right-to-left felt the same. Neither felt righter, and the more he did them… they started blurring. Getting fuzzy, untethered. He stopped, afraid he’d lose the memory altogether, but then it hit him: he had written the PIN down. Yes, of course he did! Because he was smart and wanted to avoid exactly this problem.

Now if he could only remember where he had written it down…

Of course. For his written down PIN to be useful he’d have to have it with him all the time, and what, other than his phone, did he always have with him? The wallet.

He grabbed his wallet from his bed stand and cracked the old beast in two. Its well-worn leather housed a lifetime of memories in expired coupons, business cards for people he never intended to contact but took because he didn’t know what else to do, the odd receipt, plastic and – oh, even some cash today – and an old magazine cutout of Cindy Crawford which he didn’t recall ever putting in there, but now looking at it… okay, it can stay.

Will was a smart guy, he knew you didn’t write passwords down as-is, so that any shmuck could come along and steal your accounts. He had a system. He would reuse all those business cards and tactically circle letters on them, each one spelling a password out that only he could understand.

He spread the cards out on his bed and started looking. The first one was for a Jason Yamagawa from some donut place in Cincinnati, and the only thing he had penned on the card was a phone number and the word “pizza.” The next card was Dr. Denise Moray, a dentist, apparently? He had circled all the e’s on the card, so that wasn’t of any use. Wait – there were twelve e’s. Was that a clue?

No, he tossed the card. And the next one, and the one after that too. And eventually all of them. Some had random letters circled on them, some had cryptic messages written in drunken scrawl, and some had doodles. One he did recognize as an old email password, but he no longer remembered the email address. For the rest, whatever his system might have been, it was too good for him to figure out. Only one card had something that even vaguely resembled a four digit PIN, and he knew it was useless since it was just 1-2-3-4.

He tried it anyway.

Incorrect password. This phone has been locked for 2 minutes.

Will let out a nervous whine. Could he lock himself out completely? No, probably not. There’s no way phone manufacturers would do that. Or would they?

Inspired, he decided to Google it. He grabbed his phone and–

“Oh.”

Right, the lock.

Then it hit him. He had been too focused on the outside numbers, the left and right of the pyramid, but the problem was the middle digits. He was going high-to-low, but it was supposed to be low-to-high! Obviously.

So not 3-2-8-1, but 3-8-2-1.

Incorrect password.

Oh, right. Not right-to-left, but left-to-right. Duh.

1-8-2-3.

Incorrect pass–

“Shut up! Stop saying that!”

Will tossed his phone on the bed and ran his hands down his face. Let out a ragged breath, a mantra of swears. Somewhere below him the neighbour was thumping again, and he was feeling his head starting to ache in time with it.

He started pacing. If he got permanently locked out of his phone, he couldn’t call Sinclair back, which meant he wouldn’t get the job of his dreams. He paced faster, trying again to trace the PIN pattern in the air. Now every shape was feeling vaguely incorrect.

Then he suddenly stopped, very very slowly traced an upside-down V instead of an upside-down pyramid. No, that didn’t feel right. Probably. He couldn’t afford to try it any case. He couldn’t afford to lose this job. He needed help. And of course, who do you go to for help with stupid tech stuff? Max! Good old Max, childhood friend turned professional computer geek. He’d know what to do.

Will picked up his phone to call Max.

“Shit!”

Right, still locked.

He sat down again and sighed. “I need a plan.” And he thought of one. Simple, stupid, but it should work. All he had to do was try every combination. Except, of course, he could narrow it down a little since he knew it was four digits, and the only possible digits were 1, 2, 3 and 8. And 5. And maybe 7 and 9 instead of 1 and 3, but probably not.

He wrote down all the patterns, practiced each one on a paper keypad he drew to get its finger feel, and then he started entering them.

Four hours later he had successfully locked himself out for a whole day, and the phone told him he had one more try before it wiped everything as a security precaution.

Will was tired, hungry, drenched in sweat. His blinds were down and he sat on a chair in one end of his dark room, glaring at his phone sitting in the opposite corner on a stool. One last chance. One last chance for his dream job, for reconnecting with his friends, for checking sports scores while on the john. Probably, also, should call his mother one of these days.

One chance, and it would all go to crap because his stupid finger couldn’t remember the stupid PIN.

He needed help, he realized. For real this time. One shot, one last chance, was way too big a risk. He couldn’t count on Max, but he could go back to the dealer.

Will jumped out of his chair, his face beaming. Of course! The dealer! They probably dealt with these issues all the time. They probably had some secret manufacturer magic to get customers back into their phones. Two seconds and he’d be set.

He giggled a delirious little giggle, put on his coat, and grabbed his phone and keys. And then he turned back and grabbed his wallet.

He held the wallet high and shook it. “Thought you’d get away from me, eh fella? Well, old Will’s done forgetting, you betcha.”

And then he stepped onto the smooth spot in the hall and slipped again, swearing.

He got to the phone dealership as the staff were already starting to close, but when Ian from sales took one look at the bedraggled desperation in Will’s eyes, he grinned wide and beckoned the new hires to pay attention.

“Well, of course we have time for you, sir,” he said.

“Oh, thank god. You would not believe the day I’m having. I’m supposed to be starting a new job soon–”

“–oh, congratulations sir–”

“–yes, thanks! It’s my dream job, and it’s really awesome. Only I have to call them back, but I can’t remember my PIN–”

“–oh no, that must be so frustrating–”

“–you have no idea. And I can’t call my buddy and my phone says it’s going to delete itself or something and I wasted all day trying to guess the stupid PIN, and I don’t want to lose my contacts because I need to call Sinclair and I don’t remember their number and… and can you help me?”

Ian from sales drew himself up, his expression textbook grim. “Well, that sounds like a pretty bad situation, to be honest with you, but it’s a good thing you came in when you did. We can definitely help you.”

Will let out a relieved sigh. “Thank god. So, how does this work? Do you have like some secret dealer password?”

“Oh, much better, sir. See, there’s this feature where we can transfer all the files and contacts and history from your old phone to your new phone, and then you can set a new PIN on your new phone!”

Will’s grin faltered. “My… wait, what? I don’t have a new phone.”

“Not yet!” said Ian from sales. “But you’re in luck, because the latest models just came in, and,” he leaned in conspiratorially, “between you and me, we’re not supposed to actually sell them till next week, but if you keep this hush hush I can get you a five percent discount.”

“But… I don’t want a new phone.”

“Sure you do! Everyone does. It’s way faster than that slow piece of junk you’ve got in your hand. And anyway, you got a new job, right? You gotta celebrate! Treat yourself! You’re worth it, my man!”

“I…” Will felt his will draining, and his stomach took that moment to remind him he hadn’t eaten all day.

“C’mon! You know you wanna.”

“Isn’t there any other way?”

Ian from sales made an exaggerated face. “Well, maybe, but it’s not anything I know about. Definitely not something I recommend. I heard some people do crazy stuff like hire hackers, but man, I wouldn’t trust some cyber criminal with my phone. Would you trust one with yours?

“I guess not…”

“Of course not. White or black?”

“Um… black I guess. Is this really going to work?”

“Sure is!” Ian from sales said, already ringing the order up. “Say, can I interest you in our Valid User Insurance?”

“Uh, no.”

“It’ll let us get you back into your phone if you ever forget your PIN in the future, so that you don’t have to buy a new phone.”

Will growled. “Fine, whatever.”

“Perfect,” said Ian from sales. He keyed in the rest of the order while the other staff looked on in jealous awe. “Cash, credit, or debit?”

“Debit.”

“Perfect,” said Ian from sales. “Then I’ll just get you to use the terminal, and once payment clears we’ll get you set up on your awesome new phone!”

“And transfer my things.”

“Yeah. Sure.”

Will was too tired to complain. He pulled out his wallet, grabbed his debit card, and shoved it into the reader. When the price came up he winced. But the nice sales guy was right, he should treat himself. This was the start of a new life for him after all, and he couldn’t show up to Sinclair Associates with some janky old phone.

When the terminal asked him for his PIN, he froze.

Shit.

April 06, 2022 22:37

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22 comments

Shea West
22:38 Apr 09, 2022

HA! I think what you captured so well here Michal, is the frustration that builds over tiny little things. Like when there's a hair on your shirt and it's tickling your arm and the 500 times you try to grab it and remove it is beyond maddening! I could think of a million other scenarios where this type of frustration bubbles to the top. How do our brains forget something so ingrained in our muscle memory?! This was like an episode of Mr. Bean when he just tries and tries again and the viewer at home is so rooting for him. Poor Will, I ...

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Michał Przywara
01:08 Apr 19, 2022

Thanks! Yeah, the way these little frustrations build up can be maddening, even though none of them are particularly notable on their own. The hair-on-shirt idea sounds like it could be a story itself, where the poor protagonist ends up tearing their shirt/sweater apart in a desperate quest to get at the errant hair. But the muscle memory thing... It's fun to write about, but it's such a bizarre feeling when it happens. When you know you know it, but despite that, you don't know it. It makes me wonder about the nature of our minds.

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Shea West
01:20 Apr 19, 2022

Me too. I work as a doula, and I panic sometimes because I realize how much information my brain retains. Like, how will I know what to do when certain things happen when they happen? Because they may or may not happen. It's so much silent pressure that you don't realize is pressure until you're in the moment--Or, hindsight! Our thoughts are just up there standing in line waiting their turn to be used.

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Michał Przywara
00:31 Apr 21, 2022

Oh yeah, that definitely sounds like the kind of job where each case is unique. A lot can happen, most of it won't, but you gotta be prepared for all of it anyway. I was just thinking about this -- we've been talking about failures, but I think this applies to successes too. You ever master a skill? Can you pin-point the exact moment you mastered it? I can't. I remember struggling with all sorts of things as a beginner programmer, but somewhere along the way they became second nature. A junior dev once asked me for advice, and I gave it to...

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Zack Powell
01:21 Apr 08, 2022

This gave me the most anxiety to read. Sometimes fiction is too real. That being said, I loved it. Who hasn't accidentally locked themselves out of their phone (or bank account) by forgetting their PIN, am I right? (Oh, just me?) Very relatable and the humor was great as always. Cell phone dependency is real. I particularly enjoyed how real Ian's schmoozy sales pitch was. This legitimately feels like most of the cell phone store employees I've dealt with. Those guys can talk you into anything. Great turns of phrase as always. "He grabbed h...

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Michał Przywara
21:19 Apr 08, 2022

Thanks Zack! I'm glad you enjoyed it. The PIN stuff, it's definitely not just you, heh. I've locked myself out of phones, credit cards, doors... You name it :) You're right about cell phone dependency. We offload so much remembering, sometimes so much thinking, to these little devices. What happens when they fail us? Maybe another prompt... Your feedback is great, and always appreciated!

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Zelda C. Thorne
16:34 Apr 13, 2022

Omg this was brilliant. So tense! I was hooked right from the start and the end was great. I laughed out loud a few times! Because it's so true. Love your prose. The salesman was superb. Well done!

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Michał Przywara
21:58 Apr 13, 2022

Thanks! I appreciate the read and the feedback. There's something fun about writing salesfolk. I think "high pressure sales situation" is something most of us can relate to.

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Renda Brooks
22:43 Apr 12, 2022

Great story and all to real. It made me stop and think of the number of times I have forgotten those ridiculous pins, for phones, for cards, for any number of things. It is nerve racking and worse yet, as your story demonstrates, when you start to panic. By the way, that salesman's tactics is good!

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Michał Przywara
23:14 Apr 12, 2022

Thanks! Yes, it can definitely be nerve wracking in the moment. It might be funny, looking back, but we give these little things a lot of power over our lives. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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Aeris Walker
21:24 Apr 11, 2022

This story had me cracking up and feeling terrible for Will at the same time. Well done!

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Michał Przywara
00:54 Apr 19, 2022

Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Cindy Strube
21:10 Apr 11, 2022

First World Problems*(n) Hilarious and anxiety-inducing! I absolutely knew he would choose debit and… the PIN again (maybe because that would have happened if it were my story.) You have a great feel for humor!

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Michał Przywara
23:16 Apr 12, 2022

Ha, definitely 1st world problems. I guess life isn't too bad if these are the worst things we suffer, but it sure doesn't feel that way in the moment. Thanks for reading, and for the feedback!

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Robin Davidson
02:13 Apr 09, 2022

This story had my stomach in knots but also had me laughing. I feel soooo bad for Will. I'm hoping he eventually got everything figured out! I enjoyed the way you wrote his thoughts, too--made for great pacing. And I'm not sure how you made something as simple as a missed phone call so suspenseful but it was! Great job.

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Michał Przywara
20:07 Apr 09, 2022

Thank you! Very happy it was enjoyable. I'm sure things eventually work out for him :) This seems like one of those events that's super stressful in the moment, but probably something you can laugh about looking back.

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Francis Daisy
12:16 Apr 08, 2022

Perfect ending to a perfect story! I laughed at many parts of your story, but my most favorite line has to be the one about Cindy Crawford staying.

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Michał Przywara
21:36 Apr 08, 2022

Thank you! Always happy for laughter. I like that line too. Some people treat their wallets like vaults, and you forget some of the old treasures you lock away in them.

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Riel Rosehill
06:25 Apr 08, 2022

Michał! How do your do this? I wrote one funny story and it took the life out of me and here you are, posting these cracking stories every week! I love reading them. Poor Will... I'm happy Ian couldn't scam him though, haha. The ending was perfect, just so damn funny especially with everything leading up to it. Btw I was so anxious to see if he can get back into his phone and what will happen with the job (I don't mind that we didn't find out), I was really routing for him! Again, your style of writing is so consistent and you really nailed ...

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Michał Przywara
21:31 Apr 08, 2022

Thanks for the comment, it's really encouraging! It was a little anxious writing it too, since I have locked myself out of phones and cards before. It's a very silly feeling, knowing that you *know* your password, you just don't know it *right now*. Very inconvenient :) I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Suma Jayachandar
05:04 Apr 08, 2022

Do you specialize in doling out humor set in a Kafkaesque world? This is the second story of yours that I read and it left me oscillating between anxiety and laughter. But seriously, the story is such a great metaphor for many things modern that have made us excessively dependent and helpless. This underlying theme is deep and impressive. Language - distinct, precise, and mint fresh. Thanks for sharing!

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Michał Przywara
21:27 Apr 08, 2022

Thank you very much! I'm glad the theme came through. It wasn't initially planned, but when I got writing it occurred to me just how much these little devices dominate our lives. I can't even complain, I'm writing this response on a cellphone. It could definitely venture into horror territory. I appreciate the feedback, and I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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