Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Too Much Information

 Here's a story I wrote a few years ago, intended for elementary school and junior high readers . . .

The bell rang as usual at 3:10.  I bolted out of Mrs. Riley’s 7th period history class.  I wasn’t rushing to get somewhere, exactly, but any place would be better than that class.  Nothing against Riley, she’s okay as far as teachers go, but U.S. History should be left as it is . . . history. 
So anyway, I was shuffling along with my head down, which I normally do to avoid eye contact with Jake Ratliffe, one of the mutant high school punks who just lives to torture us middle schoolers on our way home from school.  Ratliffe saw me coming and immediately started lobbing dirt clods at me.  I just kept walking until I got out of range.  Thankfully, he wasn’t in the mood to follow me all the way to my front door, hassling me like he usually does.  I was just about a block from my house when I noticed a cell phone lying in the bushes next to the sidewalk.  Nokia, early model, no camera, no graphics, nada.  Just your standard “we’ll get this one for the kids because they’ll lose it anyway” model.  And in this case I guess the parents were right because whatever kid owned this had indeed lost it.
I figured the least I could do was scroll through the phone numbers to see if I recognized a name so I could maybe return the phone, but there were no numbers listed.  But I did notice that there was a new text message that hadn’t been opened.  Of course, I opened it.  Wouldn’t you?   It was just one of those ads that the cellular company sends every now and then, “FOR INFORMATION, DIAL 411.”  Like who doesn’t know that, right?   I stuck the phone in the pocket of my jacket and headed home.
Later that night I was doing my algebra homework, and the phone beeped.  I picked it up, and there was a new text message.  This one read, “FOR INFORMATION, DIAL 411, REALLY, GIVE IT A TRY.”  I guess the folks at Cellmark were desperate for people to call information for some reason.  Since there was no one I needed to call, I put the phone back on my desk and kept working on my math. 
Sure enough, the phone beeped again with another text message.  “FOR INFORMATION, DIAL 411.  DON’T BE AFRAID, STEVE.”  Whoa!  How did Cellmark know my name?  Especially since this isn’t even my phone.  Creepy.  Curious, I dialed 411.
“Thank you for dialing 411 information, what can I do for you, Steve?”  A woman’s voice, kinda sounds like Angelina Jolie.  Nice.
“How do you know my name?” I asked.
“This is information.  We know everything,” replied the voice.  “Certainly you must need some information.”
“What, you mean like someone’s phone number or address or something?”

“Well, sure, that’s one possibility, but isn’t there some other information you could use right now?”  Man, her voice was hot.
“Oh, yeah, okay.  Let’s see.”  I looked at my math homework.  “All right, solve the following equation for X.  4x + 17 = 47 - 6x.”
“Simple, Steve.  X equals 3.  Have a good evening.”  She hung up.  
How cool is that!  Looks like ol’ Steverino might actually pass math this semester.  Just how much “information” did this phone have, anyway?  I dialed 411 again.
“Thank you for dialing 411 information, what can I do for you, Steve?”
“Who won the World Series in 1978?”
“The Yankees over the Dodgers, four games to two.”
“What happened to Han Solo at the end of The Empire Strikes Back?”
“He was frozen in carbonite, and Boba Fett took him to Jabba the Hutt.”
Okay, so the 411 lady was a trivia buff.  Let’s crank this up a little bit.  Time for some more specific info, stuff that she couldn’t possibly know.
“Alright, let’s see.  What is my favorite kind of ice cream?”
“Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.”
“What CD is in my CD player?” 
“An illegally burned copy of Linkin Park’s Meteora.”
“What is the name of the girl I have a secret crush on?”
“Cindi Lubanski.”
WOW!  This thing really DID have all the information.  I hadn’t told anyone about Cindi.  Heck, I don’t even think she knows I exist.
“What do I have under my bed right now?”  I asked.  That should stump her.
“Five MAD Magazines, a pair of roller blades, a broken X-Box controller, Monopoly, three dirty socks, and 138 chewed-off fingernail clippings.”
This was unbelievable!  That was exactly what was under my bed!  Well, I was taking her word for the fingernails, but I figured she was pretty close.  Bad habit.  I pressed “end.”  This was a lot to handle for one night.  I needed to consider the possibilities.  I could get straight A’s.  Know anything about anyone.  Hey, I wonder if it knows about the future.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?  I’d have to give that a try.  But it was time to hit the sack.
I woke up early.  I had already thought of what I would ask 411.  I dialed. 
“Thank you for dialing 411 information, what can I do for you, Steve?”  It’s official.  I’m in love with this voice.
“Okay, when I go downstairs in about fifteen minutes, what is the first thing my mom is going to say to me?”
“She’s going to say, ‘Don’t forget to clean your room after school, Steve, Aunt Tina is coming for the weekend.’” 
“Thanks.  Bye!”  I hung up.  This was gonna be interesting.  I took a shower, brushed my teeth, got dressed, gelled the ‘do, and packed my backpack.  Trembling with excitement, I went downstairs for breakfast.
“Mornin’ Mom.”
“Don’t forget to clean your room after school, Steve, Aunt Tina is coming for the weekend.”
“Okay, Mom, no problem.”  I was dying.  I held a 21st century, Nokia crystal ball in the palm of my hand. 
School that day was a breeze.  I got 100% on my math test (I had to whisper into the phone), I found out that Cindi Lubanski actually does know who I am and thinks I have a cute smile, I won five bucks from my best friend Noah when I told him exactly what he had in his lunch bag, and I solved the Dokesville Middle School mystery of all time, that yes, that is indeed Mr. DeCola’s real hair.
All in all, it was a great day.  Once I got home from school,I figured I’d start asking some much more important questions. 

“Thank you for dialing 411 information, what can I do for you, Steve?”

“What am I going to be when I grow up?”

“You’re going to be a salesman for a major computer company.”

Boring.  Oh well.  Hey, maybe it could tell me how old I’ll be when I die.  Yeah!  I dialed 411.  Wait!  I hung up before she answered.  Do I really want to know this?  I mean, what if she says, “seventeen.”  I’d be in a panic for the next four years.  Even if it were older, I’d know when death was coming.  I think I’ll pass on this one.  Oh, I got it!  I dialed.
“Thank you for dialing 411 information, what can I do for you, Steve?”
“How old is Jake Ratliffe going to be when he dies?”  At least I could torture him with that information.
“Ninety seven.”
Figures.  Great people die young, and Jake the Brain-dead Neanderthal is going to be watching Super Bowl CXX with his great-grandkids.  But just thinking about Ratliffe gave me another idea.
“What is the worst thing that’s going to happen to Jake Ratliffe?”
I looked at the phone.  It read, LOW BATTERY.
Oh NO!  I hadn’t thought of that.  I didn’t have the charger. I quickly ran downstairs to get my mom’s.  No good, hers is a different brand.  It looked like I only had time for a couple more questions. I asked again.
“What is the worst thing that is going to happen to Jake Ratliffe?”
The voice said, “He’s going to spend three years in Juvenile Hall and then go to prison.”
AWESOME!  I kept at it. 
“What crime will he commit?”
MURDER?!?  Oh my God!  He’s a killer!
“Who is he going to kill?”  I had to know, so I could warn the poor schmuck.
“He’s going to kill YOU, Steve.”
“ME?!” I shrieked.  “WHY’S HE GONNA KILL ME?”
“Well, Steve,” replied the voice.  “He knows that you found the phone he lost, and he’s desperate to get it back.”

I looked down at the screen.  The battery was dead.  And so am I.


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Grumpy, M.D. said...

Good piece. Rod Serling-ish.

Eva Gallant said...

That was so good! and like Grumpy said, reminiscent of Rod Serling.

Surfie said...

Nice! I'd have enjoyed reading this when I was a kid.

Beth said...

Good story! I wish I had a phone to tell me all the answers. Wouldn't it be great to know what parents were going to come in mad BEFORE they showed up?!

Quirkyloon said...

do do do do

Nice Twilight Zone blog post. Hey! I think they'll be marathoning Twilight Zone on SyFy (not to be confused with Sci Fi) this holiday weekend.


ReformingGeek said...

Good story, Knucklehead!

I don't want one of those phones....

Secretia said...

That is an incredible story, i think you are an amazing writer!


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