Monday, January 11, 2016

Call Center

by Alpert L Pine

[This story is also available in the collection, It's Always the Apocalypse Somewhere]

I'm at my station, just settling in for the start of my shift, when the red light comes on.

Already? I reach out to open the channel. Looks like it's going to be a busy night. The overnight shift generally is.

I fiddle with the energies until the channel is open and clear.

"Hello?" It's the voice of a teenage human girl. "Hello? Are there any spirits here?" I'm receiving her loud and clear.

I probe around a bit and realize that she's trying to connect using an inadequate tool, hardly more than a game board. Rather than interface directly, I'm limited to the dreary task of spelling out messages for the girl.

I wonder if she's alone. I'm able to sense the location of the incoming call; I close my eyes and begin to visualize the scene. When the images start coming, I find that I can see a girl's bedroom, probably an American teenager. There seems to be more than one of them--four girls, in fact--sitting around the crude communication device, which they have laid open on the carpeted floor between them. I'm looking up from below as if the floor is insubstantial, looking up and seeing the board from below; it's a collection of letters, numbers, and a few words and phrases. My only means of communicating with them. The girls are all leaning forward, reaching out, fingers resting together on a circular item--the planchette--in the center of the board. It is with this tiny device that I am to communicate with them. I reach out and grip the planchette.

I give the circular object an experimental push; the girls squeal and look around at each other.

"Did you do that?"

"Suz, was that you?

"It wasn't me."

The girl who initially asked about spirits, a blond with pigtails in a white nightgown, asks another question: "Is there a spirit here now?"

I search the board, find that YES and NO are two of the full words printed there, and urge the planchette in that direction. I stop it when it rests on YES.

Another round of squealing and girlish giggling.

"Ask it something."

"You ask it something."

"I just asked."

"Ask again."

"Okay," says the pig-tailed girl. "Spirit--what is your name?"

I study the board above; I'm still seemingly hovering in empty space, beneath the transparent floor. I do a quick translation in my head of my name into the Latin alphabet, which the board limits me to. Then I begin leading the planchette--with the girls' fingers also pressing down onto it--around the board. I can see the looks on their faces as they turn their head this way and that, trying to figure out if one of them is cheating.

I spell out my name. G - L - O - R - Y - W - I - C - K.

There are a few seconds of silence once I let the planchette become still.



"What kind of name is that?"

"Suz, are you moving it?"

"I'm not moving it!"

"Stop moving it."

"That's a dumb name."

The girl in pigtails asks, "Spirit, is your name Glorywick?"

I slide the planchette to YES.

Young human girls are making fun of my name. Wonderful. This is definitely going to be a long night.

"Okay, Glorywick. So, who are you anyway?"

I pause, looking up at the meager options I have for answering the question. How exactly am I supposed to answer that? I consider throwing it back, spelling out, Who are you? One of the other girls steps in, though. "Lauren, you can't ask it that. It's too open. Ask it what it is instead."

It. I know they're only young humans, but that's a little offensive.

The pig-tailed blond, Lauren, tries again. "Okay. What kind of Spirit are you?"

What kind of spirit? Hmm. I think for a moment how to answer. I know what they want to hear. I slide the planchette around the board. D - E - A - D.


I feel one of the girls take her fingers off the planchette. The connection wobbles and weakens. She's the girl with much shorter hair than the others.

"Reena! Put your hands back!"

"This isn't funny, you guys."

"It's okay, Reen. Just put your hands back. It's just a game."

"I don't want to play anymore."

"Oh, come on."

"Are you guys messing with me? Suz?"

"We're not messing with you."

"Come on, keep playing."

"Hey, I have a question." This last comment from the girl who isn't pig-tailed Lauren, isn't short-haired Reena, and who also isn't poor, distrusted, Suz. The fourth one. She's wearing thick-rimmed glasses, looking across at Reena. Reluctantly, Reena leans forward and replaces her fingers on the planchette. I feel the connection return to full strength.

The girl in glasses, whose name I don't yet know, asks the next question. "Spirit. Glorywick"--she stumbles a bit over my name--"are you guy or a girl?"

Well, that's sort of a tough question. I'm not really either. I glance at the board, prepared to spell out, Neither. Not a very satisfying answer; but then, perhaps sensing the pause, the same girl asks, "Glorywick, are you a guy?"

I slide the planchette to NO.

"Are you girl?"

I leave the planchette right where it is. NO. Let them wonder about that, I think, smugly.

The girl, Suz, the one the others seem to subtly pick on as the weakest in their pack, leans forward. "Are you a hermaphrodite?" She giggles while speaking the word which she is probably proud to know and yet doesn't quite understand.

Reena says, "What's that?"

I move the planchette slightly, eliciting several gasps, but then return to NO.

"Okay," says Lauren, raising her voice, "that's your question, Suz. Kira, you've asked already"--so, the girl with glasses is Kira--"which means it's your turn Reena."

"I don't wanna ask it anything."

"Ask it something."

"I don't want to. What should I ask?"


"I don't know."

"Come on, Reena."

"Okay. Spirit," she pauses, forehead creased with thought. "Are you happy?"

Wow, that's a doozy. Yes? No? Right now? Overall? Luckily, there's a middle ground. I slide the planchette just a few inches. MAYBE.

"Maybe?" The connections dulls. This time it's Kira who's removed her fingers; the girl with thick-rimmed glasses crosses her arms over her chest. "That's stupid. This is stupid."

"Kira! Put your hands back."

"No. This is dumb. I don't believe in this anymore. Suz is doing this. ('I'm not!') And even if she's not, it's stupid."


"It's not stupid."

"You said we'd contact dead people and demons and stuff. This is just--"

"Why do you want to contact demons?"

"Oh, shut up. This is stupid. Let's play something else."

The scene is growing dimmer and more ethereal as the connection slowly fades away. Everything is becoming transparent.

The three remaining girls continue to encourage Kira to return. I begin moving the planchette. Suz notices first.

"It's moving again!"

"You're doing that."

"Am not!

"She's not."

"What's it say?"

"Y! It's the letter Y."

I move the planchette again.


And again. "U"

R - E -


T - H - E -


"You're the what?"

"What's it trying to say?"

"You guys are doing that!"

"We're not!"

S - T - U -

"What's it spelling?"

"You're the --"

P - I - D


"You're the stupid?"

"That doesn't make any--"

"It's still moving!"

I push the planchette to the number 1, and leave it there.

"You're the stupid 1? What the hell?"

"Screw you guys!" screams Kira.

"I didn't move it ever," says Suz.

Let them deal with that, I think, smugly. Playing with forces beyond their control and all that. The girls begin fighting and pouting and moving around the room.

When the final girl, Reena, removes her fingers from the planchette, the connection is lost and I'm back at my station, among the white clouds, the divine desks, the heavenly cubicles.

I smell fresh coffee. I float over and pour a cup. One of the guardian angels must have made it--it's weak.

Definitely going to be a long night.


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