Tom was leaving the Levitate Superstore with his son, George. It was a bitterly cold, yet calm, morning. The sun shone low in the sky, making it the kind of day that signalled winter had arrived. George- excited and impatient- couldn’t resist the temptation of his Action Bot, ripping the vibrantly coloured piece of plastic from its packaging, and weaving it through the air like a jumbo jet, accompanied by all the appropriate whooshing noises.
“Watch where you’re going, George,” his father said, carrying two paper bags, one under each arm, “you can play with that when we get to the car.”
“No buts, George, there’s traffic about, now stay close to me.”
As they reached the pedestrian crossing, Tom heard someone call to him repeatedly, “Sir, sir?”
Turning, he saw a gentleman approaching, dressed in a thick duffel coat, buttoned right to the top. “Thank you, sir.” he said, vapoured breath emerging, reminding George of when his father smoked the occasional cigar, which he wasn’t to tell his mother about. “Do you have a few moments to discuss your health insurance needs?”
Tom shook his head. “No, thank you.”
“It will only take a moment, I promise.”
“We really have to get going, I’m sorry.”
Tom looked around, scanning the vicinity, momentarily losing sight of his son. The few seconds it took for Tom to become distracted was all George needed, breaking free to shoot his Action Bot back through space. Spittle peppered from his lips as his imagination soared, transporting the bot to another galaxy, followed by cries of pew-pew as the bot either shot, or dodged laser beams- it wasn’t entirely clear which.
“Stop that,” Tom said to George, whose eyes immediately peered up at his father.
“I’m sorry sir, I don’t mean to interrupt your day,” the man interjected, a black beanie pulled down to conceal his eyebrows, while Tom noticed the gap where a lateral incisor once stood. “I can see you’re very busy, but if you just give me a couple of minutes, I could save you a third on health insurance.”
The man’s words drifted as Tom’s attention became preoccupied once more, George reverting to flying his Action Bot, only to be instantly reprimanded by his father. “Stop it, George,” he said, his face glowering down at him, “put that away until we get to the car, I won’t tell you again.”
“No George, now.”
The man’s smile faded. “I’m sorry, I get the impression I’m intruding.”
He was, but the sad pathetic look that stretched across his face, sparked a twinge of guilt to flare from within Tom’s gut, knowing all too well what a thankless task cold selling could be. He knew this from experience, having had a similar gig in his late teens, selling kitchen accessories door-to-door, accompanied by his mother in their battered old Ford. “No, no, don’t be silly,” Tom smiled, shaking his head to dismiss the notion. “We have a lot to get through this morning is all, do you have a leaflet or something I can take with me?”
The man’s smile returned, as if flicked on by a light switch. This time it was George who noticed the missing tooth, his attention drawn from the bot, now gawping wild-eyed at the stranger. “I don’t have a leaflet, but if you scan your phone here, you’ll have everything you need.” The man held up a tablet; a bright white screen, with a QR square sat in the centre.
“Sure,” Tom said, placing the bags by his feet and wriggling free his phone. Squinting from the sun, he hovered the camera until it synced with the QR code, diverting Tom to the Tierney Insurance website. Gesturing his phone to the air, Tom said, “Got it, thank you.”
“No, thank you,’ the man said, smiling wide. ‘I’m Jamie, by the way.”
“Thanks, Jamie,” Tom replied with a stifled smirk of his own, before placing a delicate hand against his son’s shoulder. “Come on George, let’s go.”
“You have a good day now,” Jamie said, still grinning.
Once out of earshot, George tugged at his father’s coat sleeve. “What is it, George?”
“Daddy, that man was creepy.”
Tom glanced back, only to see Jamie still observing them from a distance, waving a final gangly farewell. “He was a bit strange,” Tom acknowledged, feeling a slight shiver crawl along his spine, as the sensation of gooseflesh spread to the nape of his neck.
Later that evening, Tom and his wife, Charlie, stood in the kitchen sharing a bottle of wine. They could hear George in the lounge playing with his Action Bot, the seven-inch piece of plastic had rarely left his side since they’d returned home.
“He certainly loves that toy,” she said, clinking her glass against Tom’s.
“If it keeps him happy, fine by me.”
“You know, I’ve been looking at those villas you emailed earlier, I think we should have a chat with Martin and Annie, see if they want to join up and go together? George and Jerry get along grand, what do you think?”
Tom frowned, which only served to emphasise his receding hairline. “Do we really want to spend a fortnight with Martin and Annie?”
“What? They’re lovely.”
“They are,” Tom sighed, “but there’s a difference between spending an evening together and a fortnight.”
“Oh, stop being such a grump,” Charlie chortled, swigging back her wine, “you need to lighten up a little.”
“Are you telling me that you actually enjoy Martin’s political rants? Listening to that condescending tone of his, putting the world to rights?”
“He’s just passionate,” Charlie said, before refilling their glasses, a hollow gurgle echoed as the wine sloshed free. “And he makes a lot of sense.”
Tom sighed again, this time through clenched teeth. “I know he does, but there’s just something about the way he speaks that grates on me. Doesn’t it grate on you?”
“Not really?” Charlie replied, her tone insinuating a question.
Tom pushed back his glasses, musing the reasons why Martin annoyed him. “How do I say this,” he paused briefly, brow furrowed. “It’s not that I disagree with his views, it’s just how he articulates his point. That squeak in his voice, and the way he nods really enthusiastically when agreeing with someone, kind of makes me hope he loses the vote.”
A deep laugh bellowed from Charlie’s stomach, and she found herself lurching forward to stifle it. “So, you’ll vote against him not based on actual policies, but because he annoys you personally?”
“No,” Tom hacked a laugh of his own, “I’ll still vote the way I always do, but if they lose, I’ll take a certain pleasure knowing how pissed off they’ll be.”
Charlie laughed once more, placing her glass on the work surface and walking around the kitchen island. She slid herself up against Tom, resting both palms flat on his chest. “I think we should stop talking about politics, what do you think?” she said, hovering an inch from his lips.
“I think I can manage that,” Tom said.
They began to kiss, only to be interrupted by the vibrating buzz of Tom’s phone against the countertop. Twisting to the right, he noticed a picture of the salesman from earlier, accompanied by the name Jamie flashing across the screen. “What the hell?” Tom said, holding the phone in his hand.
“What is it?”
Gently breaking from their embrace, he pointed at his phone bemused, before answering. “Hello?”
“Oh, good evening, sir, I don’t know if you remember me, we met earlier today?”
“Yes, I remember,” Tom began, his tone stern, a complete contrast to the jovial approach adopted by Jamie, “how did you get this number?”
“Why sir, you gave it to me.”
“No, I didn’t,” Tom shook his head, the anger beginning to swell from within.
“You did, you scanned the QR code, remember?”
“I scanned a code to take me to your website, I didn’t consent to my details being used. And how the hell have you added yourself to my contacts?”
A light chuckle travelled down the line. “I sense some hostility in your tone, but please…”
Tom interrupted. “No, I’m sorry, I’ve listened to you enough for one day. Please remove my details from your database and don’t call me again.”
“Goodbye.” Tom ended the call, deleted Jamie as a contact, and placed the phone back on the smooth island surface. “Fucking companies and their marketing ploys.”
“What is it, honey?”
“Some salesman from earlier, trying to sell me health insurance. I stupidly scanned the QR code for their website, I must’ve inadvertently consented to being contacted.”
“Sneaky bastards,” Charlie said, taking a sip of her wine, which stained the corners of her lips with a purple curl.
“This guy even managed to store himself in my contacts.”
“That’s not cool,” Charlie choked, swallowing the contents of her glass. “Is that even legal?”
“I didn’t think it was, but…” Tom was halted mid-sentence, his phone vibrating – the beaming, gapped-tooth smile of Jamie returning to his screen, the handset shuttling across the surface with each ring. “What the…” Tom growled, before trailing off.
“It’s him again.” Tom plucked the phone and angled the screen toward Charlie, as if to make a point. He clicked accept and said, “Listen, I told you to delete my information and not call again.”
“But sir, how will you discover the amazing deal I have to offer, if you won’t let me speak?”
Tom’s patience had worn thin, like a sheet of ice melting in the sun. “I can’t be any clearer than this; hang up, delete my details and never contact me again. If you do, I’ll report you not only to your company, but to the police as well.”
Tom rung off, again deleting Jamie’s contact information and placing the phone back down on the island.
“Honey?” Charlie said, noticing the anger that now wheezed from Tom’s chest.
“These companies have no shame.”
They both suddenly became aware of George, who had entered the kitchen. He hovered by the doorway, looking up at his parents. “What is it peanut?” Charlie asked, noting the nervous expression sketched thick across his face; George’s eyes bulging, saturated with fear.
George pointed away from the door. “There’s a man stood outside our house.”
Tom stared down at his son. “What did you say?”
“There’s a man just standing outside,” George repeated, a wobble now resident in his voice.
Before Tom had the opportunity to react, his phone went off yet again, the buzzing rattle causing each of them to flinch. Peering down at the screen, the grinning image of Jamie stared right back. Picking up the handset, he walked with trepidation to the lounge, moving toward the window and cracking the curtain a sliver. Stood at the edge of the driveway was a dark figure holding a phone to his ear. He couldn’t decipher any redeeming features, but the tall, slight frame certainly resembled the salesman from earlier.
Peering at the dark shape, Tom answered the call. “Hello.”
“Sir, I have the deal of lifetime to offer you, one that might just save your life.”
Feeling his heart rate pick up, immediately jabbing at his ribcage, Tom managed to keep his voice calm and measured. “I’m calling the police now,” he said, and hung up. Upon hanging up, Tom struggled to control the tremor that suddenly laced his fingers like a violent storm. This was followed by a sickening flutter that spread throughout his gut, a sensation that left him feeling lightheaded.
Acutely aware that his teeth were chattering, Tom called to George and Charlie, who both scampered from the kitchen and joined him in the lounge. Charlie was still unsure as to what was actually transpiring, but felt her nerves beginning to shred nonetheless. “I want you both to head upstairs to the bathroom right now and lock the door, okay?” Charlie nodded and gently took George by the hand.
“Daddy, is everything okay?”
Tom crouched beside his son and said, “Yes, everything is fine,” but before he even had the chance to lift himself back up, the doorbell sounded – a thunderous, reverberating ding-dong. The sound made all three bolt upright, as the lingering hum of the bell suffocated the house.
“Go, now,” Tom barked. The pair ran toward the staircase, Charlie attempting to reassure her son at the same time, but as they passed the front door a pounding knock followed – thump, thump, thump, thump, thump. The dull thuds echoed, sending shockwaves through the hallway.
Tom edged toward the door, pausing to notice Charlie standing halfway up the staircase, as if glued to the spot, hesitant and afraid. Tom waved his hand furiously, as if shooing her the rest of the way up. “Go,” he hissed, watching her blonde ponytail bounce as she moved up the remaining stairs.
Tom’s attention now focused on the door. He took a step forward, the creak of the floorboard now deafening, croaking under his slippered foot. Another gentle step was followed by another, and another, until Tom eventually reached the doorframe. His body no more than an inch away from the oak, he readied his eye to look through the peephole. He felt sick, a sour acidic taste rising from his stomach and smoothing across his tongue.
Tom’s beating heart smashed against his chest, in addition to the throbbing pulse that thumped in his neck, like a parasite worming beneath the skin. And to complete the set, a drumming sensation pounded his ears, each beat reminiscent of a rumble of thunder, clapping hard and true.
Hovering by the peephole he closed his eye, braced to see Jamie’s toothless smile up close. Inhaling a deep breath, he battled against a violent inner angst and opened his eyes wide, forcing himself to look through. Blurred at first, he blinked rapidly, bringing his sight into focus. Yet, upon settling, he realised nobody was there. Furrowing his brow, and sensing a shade of anxiety dissipate, he unlocked the door with a clicking turn of the key and slowly swung it open. The orange glow of the porch light shone from above, while the hazy streetlamp out front illuminated nothing but space.
Feeling his heart fall back into its rightful place, Tom let out a gentle sigh; a sense of calm beginning to return. That was until the rumble of his phone shook within his perspiring grip. Tom’s arm spasmed, as if struck by a static shock. He stared at the screen as it flashed, this time the picture was blank and the caller ‘Unknown’. Unbeknown to him, the figure from the driveway now lingered inside the house, stood no more than ten feet behind him. Dressed in all black – including a balaclava – the figure casually held an outstretched syringe, as if nonchalantly holding a cigarette. Still facing the open door, Tom answered the call.
There was a moment’s silence as the call hummed, before the whispered words of, “I see you,” sent an instant shiver spiralling through Tom’s body. Turning, he caught a brief glimpse of the shape, but no more. The power cut out, bathing the house in an inky darkness. An audible scream reverberated from above, the second the lights went out. The blotched backdrop remained for approximately fifteen seconds, at which point the light returned with an electrical hiss.
Unbolting the bathroom lock, Charlie stormed down the staircase. Her sight immediately latched to the open door, swaying in the gentle breeze, swiftly followed by the sight of her husband laid flat on his back, his body splayed out like a scorpion. “Tom!” she screamed, running to his side and shaking him. “Tom, honey, are you okay?” His eyes were responsive, darting around in frantic movements, but his mouth was frozen in an ‘o’ shape, while the rest of his body was locked in a state of paralysis.
“Tom, Tom, say something,” Charlie said, tears meandering the grooves of her cheeks, each call to her husband now diminishing in clarity. Tom’s eyes continued to roll within his sockets, but it was the only movement he could muster. His life, so secure as he woke that morning, had now been smashed into tiny pieces and scattered beyond repair – he couldn’t even feel the buzz of his vibrating phone, left delicately placed across his stomach.
Charlie reached over to collect the flashing handset, the sight of smiling gap-toothed Jamie – the salesman – reflecting back. Her hands shook furiously as she clicked accept, straining to lift the phone to her ear. “Hello,” she answered, the wobble in her voice evident.
“Why good evening, I trust I have your attention now,” said the voice at the other end, free and jovial.
Strings of saliva stretched from Charlie’s lips as her mouth pushed open, unable to speak or respond. Instead, she simply collapsed across Tom’s motionless chest, listening as Jamie continued with his pitch, lifting her head briefly as George crept into view.
“Is Daddy okay?”
George’s words weaved through the air, but his mother instantly waved him away. “Get back upstairs, it isn’t safe here,” she screamed.
George retreated to the bathroom, but kept the door ajar, watching through the thin crack as his mother’s sobs echoed from below. It was only when the house turned to darkness for a second time that he slammed it shut, bolting the lock firm. His mother’s cries suddenly disappeared. The house had turned silent, and when George heard footsteps edging up the creaking staircase, he understood nowhere was safe.
About The Author
Chris Farrington lives in Todmorden, a quaint little town in West Yorkshire, where on any given day you never quite know what will happen. A new writer, Chris takes inspiration from the roaming hills and green surroundings, where he will often spend hours walking with his dog, Mac. Having developed a fascination for character flaws, unusual scenarios and the supernatural, Chris likes to twist and distort his stories, in addition to exploring the moments in life that tip us over the edge. He has recently had short stories published in the Typishly Literary Magazine and Storgy Magazine.
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