SRU: A Ringing in his Ears

Steven Bergom

The old man sat up abruptly when a great noise interrupted his sleep. He had been having a pleasant dream and was angry that he wasn't able to reach the end. It was the recurring one wherein the Vienna Boys' Choir visited him for a potion that would keep their voices youthful for decades, but instead turned them all into dogs. He had just gotten to the part where they were forced to work for the rest of their lives barking out Christmas carols on inane music albums when the ringing of a phone delayed the completion of his fantasy.

He sighed, grumbled, and muttered to himself while slipping on a pair of soft slippers and a robe before heading down the hallway, returning to his room when he realized that he had grabbed his sales-robe and not the bathrobe he intended. Switching robes he went back down the hallway and answered the phone.

"Hello?" he asked and listened to the speaker for a while. "No, no. I'm sorry, but I'm not interested at this time. That's all right. Good-bye." He replaced the handset and turned back to his bedroom. Normally he enjoyed his privacy but he understood that even telemarketers needed to eat, and a little interruption was acceptable.

With the call completed the old man made his way back to his bedroom, took off his bathrobe and slippers, and settled back under the bedcovers in hopes of finishing his interrupted dream.

Of course, as soon as his eyes drifted closed the telephone rang once again. And again the old man rose, put on slippers and robe and made his way down the hall to answer the phone. "Hello? No, I'm not interested at this time… That's quite all right."

He hung the phone up, not quite as carefully as before, and walked back to his room. Before he could go through the doorway the phone once again called to him. Swearing he stomped back to the phone, picked it up and spoke, "What! Yes, I'm highly aware that you are trying to sell me something, just as you should be highly aware by now that I don't want whatever it is you're selling! Also, I am trying to get some sleep because I have a very busy day ahead of me. Now, good bye!"

The old man slammed the handset onto the receiver and stared belligerently at the device, daring it to even think about ringing again. Satisfied that he may just be able to get some shut-eye he turned back to his room muttering darkly about lightning striking twice in the same place and irresponsible phone companies.

He had no sooner taken three steps when the telephone once again announced in a loud and insistent voice that it was not going to be ignored. The old man stood still, his bathrobe hanging without moving in the breezeless hallway.

It rang once.

Maybe if he didn't move, the phone would stop ringing.

It rang twice.

They couldn't wait forever. The telemarketer had to go on to other phone customers to annoy.

It rang three times.

The ringing will stop sometime, it had to!

It rang four times.

The old man's lip curled up in a snarl. He could outlast that old telephone. He could out-stubborn even the stubbornest of customers!

It rang five times.


And more silence.

The old man waited in anticipation, breathless for the next ring.

It never came.

Now perhaps the old man could get back to his long-awaited appointment with the world of somnolence. He let out a great sigh of relief…

…and cringed when the phone rang yet again. The old man leapt to the phone, his eyes like thunderclouds dancing with bolts of lightning and ripped the handset violently off the hook. "Look, bub," he yelled into the receiver. "I don't care who you work for nor how much you are getting paid, but I am fed up with this insane repetition of phone calls advertising products that I do not want nor need!

"Yes!" he said after pausing to listen to the operator on the other end sputter unintelligible sounds into the old man's ear. "If you haven't figured it out by now, I am irate! Furthermore, I don't want you or those other turkeys you got working with you calling me at all hours of the night, gobbling about life insurance or telephone rates — or even siding! Get it through your little bird brains that I don't need it !"

The old man prepared to continue his tirade but stopped, using an idea he had inadvertently thought up while yelling across the miles of copper and optical wire. Holding the handset away from his face he muttered an incantation and wove his hand in an obscure gesture at the microphone. Satisfied, he listened to the earpiece and when he heard nothing he set the phone down and grinned to himself.

He walked back down the hallway, pausing every few steps to cock an ear and listen for any new phone calls that might be coming in. The hallway was silent each and every time and it was with a weary step that he made it to his bedroom, took off his bathrobe and slippers and settled back into his comfortable bed. The sheets were a bit chilled by his absence but the old man knew that they would quickly warm by the heat of his body. With a thought of dogs barking a slightly off-key 'Carol of the Bells' he closed his eyes and breathed deeply.

Five minutes later those same eyes he closed peacefully snapped open. The old man rose with a cry of indescribable anguish to pound and curse at the alarm clock that chose that moment to announce the arrival of morning.

Mitch Jenkins rubbed at his ear as he filled another paper cup with water at the drinking fountain. Not only did the sound of screaming people hurt his eardrums but the headphones he was forced to wear mashed his ears down painfully over the course of an eight-hour shift. Plus he was beginning to think that he had the beginnings of a permanent crease in his hair where the strap kept the head piece in place.

He stood up abruptly when he heard an odd warbling sound from across the room and turned around just in time to see his supervisor chasing after a wild turkey with a headset around its neck. "What in Cthulhu's name is that?" he asked under his breath.

"The new guy, Duncan's his name. Todd Duncan," came a feminine voice from beside him. "You know, cubicle 14-C?"

Mitch ahhed when he could at last piece the name and face together. "Thanks, Tonya. What'd they do to him? They didn't, uh… you, know…"

"'Fraid so," Tonya shook her head sadly. "They gave him the old man and told him not to give up."

"You know, that has got to be the meanest trick to play on a new guy; they should know by now what happens. Every time, I might add." Mitch took a sip of his water, watching as his overweight and balding supervisor chased after the turkey — Todd Duncan, that is — with his arms outstretched trying to capture the poor transformed beast. It probably would have been comical if it hadn't been the third time something like this had happened since Mitch started working at Evans Marketing. "How does the old man's name keep getting in the databases anyway? I thought we removed it."

Tonya shrugged, running fingers through her hair to fluff out the creases left by the heavy headset. "Don't know. I know I've removed it twice now, but it always seems to reappear after a couple of weeks."

They watched the turkey and their boss make another circuit of the cubicles, silently sipping water and marveling at how a man as fat as their boss was able to keep up with a spry turkey. "By the way, what's on the menu in the cafeteria today?"

"Is today Thursday?" Mitch nodded around his cup. "I think it's turkey pot pie."

Mitch pursed his lips and thought about it for a while. "You wouldn't happen to want to grab a burger for lunch, would ya'?"

"I don't know," Tonya responded raising an eyebrow. "Is this a date?"

"It is if you want it to be."

"Sure, I'm game." Tonya grimaced as soon as the words came out of her mouth. "That is, I'll go with you. Noon sound about right to you?" Mitch nodded and Tonya left, smiling as she put her headset back on and made her way back to her cubicle.

Mitch stayed to finish his water, watching as his boss tripped, giving the turkey enough time to slip into an open elevator. The supervisor arrived just in time to see the doors close and pounded futilely on them when they didn't open. He backed away and looked around to find Mitch staring at him. Mitch shrugged, crumpled the paper cup in his fist and threw it into a convenient trashcan. Walking back to his desk he settled the headset back over his cranium and resigned himself to several more hours of telephones ringing in his ears.