Grace never bothered to change her phone’s ringtone. The vaguely electronic dance music chirping sound it emitted was the same one that it came with. Her phone is her lifeline to the world. It’s her source of work and entertainment both. But she kind of hates it.
Looking at the screen she was surprised to see that it was 42561 calling. In the second between looking and answering, Grace ran through dozens of reasons in her mind why 42561 might be calling her now after all of her attempts at friendship had been rebuffed. None of them were correct. Some things you can’t anticipate.
42561 sounded like she was on the verge of true panic “Grace I need your help, someone tried to grab me off the street!”
Taken aback, it took Grace a moment to answer “Uh, okay, where are you?”
“I’m in Needles at the Days Inn.” There was rustling in the background as if she was moving around furtively while she talked.
“Okay, well I’m in Phoenix so I can drive out there if you want, but if someone is after you shouldn’t you call the police?”
Her voice took on a disturbing thin hiss-like quality “I can’t call the cops, this is about . . . well you know what it’s about. This isn’t a cop thing.”
“Are you sure it’s that? Not for nothing, all due respect, but you sound off. I don’t mind coming to visit either way, but did you take something? Are you maybe just having a bad time?”
“I’m not on fucking drugs, some fucked up shit is happening and I need your help!”
“Alright, but like I said I’m in Phoenix so it’s going to take me a couple hours to get there. If someone is after you, you should leave right? I can meet you somewhere and we can talk about it, let me look at a map here . . .”
“Just fucking get here, now!”
She hung up. If there’s one thing that bugs Grace, it’s rudeness. How about a “thanks for coming to help me, see you soon, goodbye?” Is that too much to ask? It’s a testament to how little Grace has going on in her life currently that not ten minutes later, she was in the car heading west. If you wanted to, you could also draw some conclusions from the fact that all she “packed” for the trip was a 12 pack of Miller High Life Widemouth Tallboys, an extra pair of underwear, and a $4 Pixar “incredible mom” t-shirt from Wal-Mart.
Three hours later (please obey all posted speed limits readers), Grace was in Needles, California. Based on the name and location, she was expecting it to be the kind of desert trash down like Imperial where you drive by wondering if anyone actually lives there. Instead she saw a weirdly resorty-looking town in the middle of nothing. She drove by what seemed like 50 hotels before finding the Days Inn. Must be a good hiking spot or something, why else would anyone come out here?
Grace found the room 42561 had texted her and knocked on the door, but there was no answer. She peered through the window and could tell that someone was in there but she knocked several more times and no one came. She finally called and 42561 answered but she wouldn’t come to the door. She kept saying “How do I know it’s really you?”
Grace was convinced that this was the behavior of a woman under the influence of substances, not someone experiencing some flavor of magic crisis. Either way, 42561 was clearly scared out of her wits. It was an hour of talking through the door, texts, and calls before 42561 would let Grace in. Standing outside, Grace was favored with several people’s curious looks – they must have just thought it was a lover’s spat though since no hotel staff or police showed up.
When 42561 finally did open the door, Grace was not prepared in the least for the sight that greeted her. 42561 was not the problem even if she was having a bad trip. She looked tired and her eyes were red and wild, but otherwise she looked the same as before. The problem was the dead man lying on the floor. And he being dead was not the really disturbing part.
80% of the dead man looked fine, you know, for a dead guy. Just your standard guy in stupid cargo shorts and a blue polo. That other 20% though, that was a doozy. The left side of his face was dominated by a giant multi-faceted eye like you might find on a housefly. Only scaled up for a human head, and then 35% more. The area around the eye for about six inches was not human skin but some dark shiny hard material that seemed more suited to holding a bug-eye.
The face was so startling that you could almost overlook the fact that his left hand wasn’t a hand at all. Technically I suppose it was a claw, but it looked more like a curved knife – a sickle really – made out of that same dark chitin that surrounded the eye. Made all the more horrible by the dozens of stiff hairs that protruded from it at all angles. Hair shouldn’t come out of a shell like that.
Grace knelt down by the man “Huh.”
She wasn’t quite as nonplussed as all that, but being the person called in for help changed things for her. If she came across a bug guy she’d freak out, who wouldn’t? But being brought in to someone else’s bug guy issue was a psychological difference that made her feel a tad more removed from the situation. And thereby more calm.
Grace stood up and looked at 42561 “So, I guess I see why you called me.”
42561’s body unclenched with relief “You see it too? Thank god, I thought I might be losing my mind.”