Fiction
"Dream Job" AN Block
"The Flyer in the Train" Charles G. Chettiar
"The Great One" Lou Gaglia
"Rome 1973" Todd McKie

Creative Non-Fiction
"The Sweetest Sound" Mary Donaldson-Evans
"The Vomit Comet To Koh Tao" Brennen Fahy
"Japanese Taxis and Elementary Incidents" Anthony Head
"The Paperboy Incident" Frank Morelli

Poetry
"Hunt" Elliot Greiner
"R.O.T. Rallies" Jill Hawkins
"Mt. Gretna" James B. Nicola
"The Taxi I Called" Saundra Norton

charles g. chettiar

The Flyer in the Train
Charles G. Chettiar

People armed with their smartphones nowadays want to document the whole universe. That is what Bigesh did with the pamphlet he found stuck in a local train while on his way to work.

It seemed like the pamphlet had waited for him, in the train. It had its own spurious, seedy quality, but it had a gradual pull that drew him toward it. He couldn’t understand why he took a photograph of it.

It seemed handmade with a promise of solving all problems if you just called the number mentioned on it. It struck him with sheer curiosity, at first, but it passed certain criteria for the type of good picture Bigesh looked for, so it went in his mobile.

He would have forgotten about it, but it remained the first picture in his folder, no matter the other pictures he clicked.

“This is strange,” he told Kara. “This picture doesn’t go back.”

He showed it to Kara. Kara squinted because of her near-sightedness. “Is it some download?” she asked.

“No, it is a picture.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“It doesn’t seem to get back, no matter the other pictures I click. Let me take your pic.”

He clicked it and then opened the camera folder on his Android phone.

“See, the pic of you, Kara, is appearing after it,” said Bigesh.

“Strange. Maybe a virus. Can you move it in the camera folder?”

“I don’t know how it is done,” he said.

“I also don’t. Just try moving it in some other folder.”

“Let’s see. It is going all right. Bingo.”

“OK, see you in the evening.”

Bigesh concentrated on his work. The mobile buzzed. He saw an unknown number and didn’t pick up, he blocked it. But then, during lunch, he saw a message about an investment opportunity. He skipped it and forgot about it.

At home, in the night, the phone buzzed again.

“Oh no, these telecallers,” he said.

They kept calling, no matter what. In a day, he received seven or eight calls about apartments for sale, insurance, holidays and, of course, credit cards! He bit his cheek. He tasted the inky coppery taste of blood. He cut the call and blocked the number.

“Blocked it,” he said.

“Ugh,” said Kara when the phone buzzed again.

“Not again,” said Bigesh. “Oh, I can’t believe it. It is the same number. I blocked it just now.”

“Maybe your app doesn’t work,” said Kara. “I told you before.”

“Let me see the block list. Kara, it’s there in the block list, but still I am getting the call.”

“I told you before only to get an iPhone, but you wouldn’t listen.”

“I have received a message. Some gibberish about an investment that can change my life!”

“Bullshit,” said Kara.

“Is it a virus?”

“How can it be when it was you who photographed it? If you had downloaded it from somewhere, then I could believe it was a virus.”

“Or can it be a pic virus, like when I take a picture and there is something in it which then transforms into a virus. Like I said about the barcode which we scan.”

“I don’t think so,” said Kara. “Those barcodes are designed for it and they link to a website which verifies the barcode.”

“But see here, it has numbers. Maybe these numbers mean something. Maybe these numbers say that there is a code hidden deep which answers to these numbers.”

“It can be.”

The phone buzzed again, and for a change Bigesh pressed the answer button.

Investment like you have never heard before. Remember, the investment has to be done only once. The investment is you.

A shrill voice sounded, which increased in its pitch until Bigesh let go of his mobile.

“What happened?” asked Kara.

He picked up the phone, but the line disconnected. Then the message came.

Just a small investment. A very small investment and enjoy your wealth always. Offer is only for a limited time. Hurry!

“Weird,” said Bigesh.

“What’s weird?” asked Kara, resting her head on her hand.

“The message. It says what other such messages say, but not completely. It is strange.”

Kara had turned her face and switched off the night light.

In the hurry of the morning, Bigesh forgot about the message and decided to take the mobile to the service center. The service center guy fiddled with it and deleted the picture, assuring him it wouldn’t display again. He looked more bored than interested, and for him it seemed a minor issue. Bigesh bit his inner cheek when the man said, “Of course, sir,” for the third time.

Kara called Bigesh after he got back to his desk.

“Bigesh…that picture, did you send it to me?”

“No. Why would I? I’ve just come back from the service center. They deleted the picture, serviced my mobile, and it looks fine.” Small beads of sweat started forming on his forehead.

“That picture is in my mobile. I don’t know what to do.”

“How could it? I didn’t even open it yesterday.”

“But Bigesh, it is here on my iPhone.”

“Delete it,” said Bigesh. “That’s the best course of action.”

The sweat droplets held on his forehead and Bigesh struck his head with his palm.

“But it doesn’t delete!”

“What?”

He struck his head again and wiped it with the back of his hand.

“Yes. Didn’t you hear me? There is no option to delete it.”

“Hold on.”

Bigesh went to his home screen and accessed the apps. Then he went to the Gallery app and opened it.

“I don’t know, Kara, but the picture hasn’t been deleted. It is now showing on my camera folder and download folder.”

She didn’t reply.

“I’ll delete it,” said Bigesh.

He tried, but it wouldn’t delete. He went back, only to see that the picture showed also on the Facebook folder.

His hands shook of their own accord and he dropped the phone. He felt a wave of chillness in his stomach. His forehead burned and he struck it once again thinking, How? How could it happen?

“Kara? Are you there?”

“Yes, Bigesh.”

“We should meet.”

“Evening. Just forget about it.”

A virus, it seemed, which spread from one platform to another; even the bulletproof operating system of Apple wasn’t immune to it.

The phone buzzed once again and Bigesh saw that the number was the same. He pressed the answer button and the same tele-commercial greeted him. Although he wanted to, he didn’t press the disconnect button.

Investment like you have never heard before. Remember, the investment has to be done only once. The investment is you.

It crooned in his ears. The voice seemed soporific, and something tugged in his head. He walked out of the office and went again to the service center. He screamed at the “Of course” guy until the man called his supervisor.

“You don’t do proper service. You serviced it just an hour back and see what has happened. That picture doesn’t get deleted.”

“OK, sir.”

“But what are you going to do?”

“A replacement.”

Bigesh felt butterflies in his stomach. He happily took the newest version of the phone and worked until the late hours. He couldn’t contain himself. A new phone in less than four months, without an extra penny being paid. He couldn’t wait to show Kara.

When she entered, he hugged her and started jabbering, “Oh, Kara, I got a new phone—the latest.”

“How?”

“Just listen. I went to the service center and complained about their pathetic service, and so they gave me the latest phone. I don’t think the same problem will occur now.”

Her lips were tight and she thrust her iPhone at him.

“It is showing on nearly half of your picture folder. Look at mine,” he said. “Oh, my Gosh! Now it is showing on Evernote, too. The picture is filling up my memory card.”

Both stared at their phones, knowing not what to do.

“I’ll call customer care,” said Kara.

She dialed the number, keeping the call on speakerphone. The call connected.

Investment like you have never heard before. Remember, the investment has to be done only once. The investment is you.

“Oh, my God!” said Bigesh.

He took his head in his hands, collapsed on the sofa, and stared ahead.

“Internet,” he muttered. “Let me send an email to the concerned service center.”

He searched for the phone service center, but the search results were all the same: www.investmentonce.com

They looked at each other, and their expressions sufficed to say what was not needed in words. Kara displayed her mobile to Bigesh, showing him the search results: www.investmentonce.com

“Let me check the chat room for the service center,” said Bigesh. “On Twitter.”

He opened Twitter, but the feed was eerily similar.

Just a small investment. A very small investment and enjoy your wealth always. Offer is only for a limited time. Hurry! Use the hashtag #investmentonce.

“Am I going crazy?” asked Kara, massaging her temples.

“How can it be? I am also having the same delusions. Madness is not always this consistent,” said Bigesh. “Delusions are not shared.”

“We can do one thing,” continued Bigesh. “We can try using the normal phone.”

When the landline rang, Kara flinched. Bigesh wouldn’t have picked it up, but to stop its ringing he unhooked the receiver and kept it on the table. He couldn’t help clutching his hands. The nails dug into his palms.

The speakerphone started sounding: Investment like you have never heard before. Remember, the investment has to be done only once. The investment is you.

Kara started crying and Bigesh felt like he was slipping along a rope, but not able to keep pulling himself up.

“Let’s try another dumb phone instead of a smart one,” he said.

The first thing he did was call his mother.

“Hello, Amma?”

“Yes son?” said his mother.

“Are you al—”

There was the sound of the engaged tone and then the recorded message started once again.

Investment like you have never heard before. An investment…

He flung the phone away.

The mobile trilled, the tone of a message received. Even before he saw it, he knew what it was going to be.

He saw the shattered screen display, which showed that a message had been received. He pressed the “read” button.

Investment like you have never heard before. An investment…

He turned the mobile in his hand. It had disassembled when it struck the wall, breaking into three pieces, including the battery. He turned it once again and saw that the screen was lit, even without the battery working.

The landline started ringing once again. He saw Kara, who sat, rigidly, staring ahead. With shaking hands, he pressed the speaker button and heard the recording.

Investment…

“Kara?”

But she didn’t answer. Something had gone wrong.

“Kara?”

The lights went off.

“Kara? Listen to me? Can you hear me?”

He turned on the phone’s flashlight, but Kara didn’t move.

Then she said, “I told you.”

“What?”

“I told you to invest in LIC beforehand.”

“What has that to do with this?”

“No LIC and so this has come.”

“Come around. Let’s go out.”

He pulled her and they stumbled outside the house, not remembering the keys.

“Come,” he said, pulling her hand.

“No, no,” said Kara, “not the lift.”

Bigesh pulled Kara toward the staircase. Swathed in darkness, the staircase had an anomalous call. Luckily, they only stayed on the second floor.

Outside was calm, with less humidity. It felt oppressive inside, but the knot in his stomach seemed like it had started untying.

His heartbeat started slowing. He made Kara sit down on a bench and brought her some water. She sipped and, slowly, focus returned to her eyes.

“What do we do now?” she asked.

He shook his head.

He waited, but for what he couldn’t say. It would soon be ten in the evening.

“Destroy them,” said Bigesh.

“But how? Both the phones cost close to 100 grand rupees and you are telling me to destroy them?”

“I don’t think that we can keep them,” said Bigesh.

“Is your name Kara?” asked a passerby.

Bigesh looked at the man.

“There’s a call for you,” said the man.

“No, no,” said Bigesh. He took Kara’s hand and pulled her, making her walk in front of him.

“A place where there are no phones,” said Kara.

But where could be a place with no phones in this age?

“There is no other place to go,” said Kara.

“Only one place to go,” said Bigesh, “even if you don’t like it.”

“I can’t go in there. Remember we said we would never go,” said Kara.

“Can’t help it, Kar,” said Bigesh. “Just let the night pass.”

They ambled toward the bungalow of Bigesh’s mother.

“So, you are here,” said Bigesh’s mother.

“I am.”

“And Kara with you? Where is your footwear?”

“Left at the flat,” said Kara.

“Why, what happened?”

“Can we come in please, mother?” said Bigesh. “Someone should go there and check,” he continued.

“No, don’t go there,” said Kara.

“Mornings tend to take care of everything,” said Mother.

“Of course,” said Kara.

“Guess what?” said his mother. “You two can have your old room back. I haven’t changed a thing!”

Bigesh started to doze. Something trilled as if far away, but he couldn’t well place the sound. It seemed familiar, but Bigesh still didn’t open his eyes. It called him to behold. Just a small step, one step at a time. He looked at the sleeping form of Kara and went to the bedroom door.

The bungalow where he had grown up—interiors had been changed after he had moved out.

“What does an old crone like me have to do?” said his mother.

The house seemed familiar, but also unfamiliar in its setup. The trilling sound seemed to come from the room at the end of the corridor.

The knob started turning in his hand. The door began to open. It seemed like a dream, but wasn’t.

Lined on the table were different types of phones, right from the ring dialer to the latest smartphone. A board said: Evolution of telecom. His mother had seemed to cultivate many hobbies, and this was one of them.

The black phone with the ring dialer trilled.

He knew what would be there even before he picked it up.

Investment like you have never heard before. An investment…

Bigesh let it complete its little speech. He heard the end of the recorded message and then he heard Mozart’s lacrimosa.

“It seems you are ready now,” he heard.

“Who is it?” asked Bigesh.

“I am your investment consultant. I will help you to invest the better part of you and enjoy the returns to the fullest.”

“OK.”

“First is the pledge deal. In this deal, you pledge yourself to the fullest. The biggest part is to know how you can use yourself. This would entail you the things required for other things. The other things would heed the heedless, which could give the means to engulf and empower.”

“Bullshit!” he said and banged the phone.

The next phone started ringing.

He moved toward the door and rattled the doorknob, but the door didn’t budge. He jerked the doorknob, but the door remained still. Then another of the phones started buzzing. All the phones buzzed in unison.

Sound penetrated into his head, in spite of him plugging his ears. He pressed his fingers deep in his ears. Still he heard…Investment like you have never heard before. An investment…

About the author:
Charles G. Chettiar is an engineer by circumstance and writer by choice. He works in engineering in Mumbai. He started writing short stories when in college, and has just now completed his first novel. His fiction genres include horror, fantasy, espionage thrillers, and historical. Sometimes, he wears his literary cap. He also takes delight in dark fantasy.

 
 
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