After spending three days holed up in his hotel room on the south end of town,
Kelvin Hartner stepped out into a the cold, wet early May night to a pay phone. He
wore a long black coat that frayed along the bottom edge due to its dragging on the
ground. His shoulders appeared to be the size of baseballs at either end of a foot-long
ruler. His pale skin was sporadically blotched with scabs that gave it the appearance of
a dead shark that washed up on the shore and was left to rot in the sun. Behind his
stringy dark brown hair were eyes that were of the same shade of gray as the clouds that
have been hiding the sun throughout the week.
Then there was his walk. The mere act of watching it as he did it was an exercise
in utter and inevitable exhaustion. Even if one was blind, that person was subjected to
his breathing that sounded like someone dying from an advanced case of emphysema.
To the casual observer, it would appear that Kelvin Hartner was not so much taking a
walk to the pay phone as he was halfway through embarking upon an expedition into the
African wilderness with malaria and cholera settling in to ravage his already worn out
body. With one final step to the phone that seemed like it required more effort than
every other step preceding it took combined, he attained his goal.
Taking a deep breath, he rummaged through both pockets looking for a quarter and
a piece of paper. He was able to find both of them. He held the quarter before his eyes
and stared for amoment at George Washingtons silver profile. OK, he thought, I have a
lot of paper money in my wallet, but I only have one quarter. If this call doesnt go
through, the machine will give me my quarter back, but I am so exhausted that I could
die before I have time to make another call. Even that call might not go through for all I
know. Picking up the receiver with one hand, he released the quarter into the slot with
the other. Money, Money everywhere, but only a quarter to spend.
Looking down at the sheet of paper, he engaged himself in a rapid process of
elimination with several numbers with names attached to them that were written on it.
This one in the center looks promising, he thought as a fingers made their way to the
keypad. Once he pressed the seven digits, he waited for the ring while hoping not to
hear a long whistle followed by a female voice saying, Were sorry, but the number
you have dialed is no longer in service. He thought about reporting that to ATT
once, but then thought better of it when he considered that they might ask him, so what
are you doing calling numbers that have been disconnected?
He was in luck, at least somewhat, when he heard the first ring. Good, a number
that works. The phone rang again. Come on, pick up. A third time. I aint got all
night. Really I aint. After the fourth ring, Kelvin not only began to fear the worst, he
began to fear several kinds of the worst. What if shes not home? What if shes a heavy
sleeper? What if she likes to listen to loud music at night? What if she changed and left
Hello, a sleepy female voice said.
Hello, is this Annie Mackenzie? asked Kelvin in an even more exhausted tone.
Who am I speaking with?
Ill only be a minute. Long streams of droll were escaping his mouth as his
head weaved dizzily from side to side.
Look, I dont know who the hell you are, but youve got a hell of a lot of nerve
to call me one in the morning. I am trying
SHUT THE FUCK UP AND STAY ON THE GODDAMN PHONE, YOU
OK, Maybe I should not have done that. It wasnt his foul-mouthed outburst or
the fact that he used such language with a lady; it was the energy expended. He had to
take two more deep breaths before he could work himself up to ask, are you still
uhh yethhhh. He could almost see her now. Her jaw lay slackly upon her
chest as if it was weighed down by an anvil. Her eyes were open wide enough to see
everything while staring at nothing. Slowly but surely the nausea began to leave his
body and he was able to restrain the saliva within his mouth.
Ok, Im going to need for you to listen to me now, he said while feeling slightly
more energetic than he did seconds ago, but there was still a long way to go before he
was completely refreshed.
unngggay.., she said even more lethargically than her pathetic attempt to say yes.
Good, now let us begin. He began to speak the code that allowed him to
partake in The Feeding. It was a code that noone walking beside of him would
understand had they been bored or foolish enough to be out this time of night in this part
of town. They would have assumed he was just another one of them foreigners that
Clinton gave our jobs to. No, the code could only work with a Speaker, a Conduit, and
the Food. That was the only way the race could survive. At least until the next phase
began. Who knew when and what that would be? he thought as her bodys electrical
energy merged with the electrons in the phone line.
The diner/Greyhound terminal still had a few patrons an elderly couple who
looked like they belonged to the aircraft carrier sized Winnebago parked by the gas
pumps. By the window sat a trucker who lamented the fact that he partied through
college and now had to drive an oversized Peterbilt to support his ex-wife and three little
girls. Along the back wall were five guys with long hair wearing denim and leather
jackets with band names with indecipherable logos on the back complaining about the
club owner who wouldnt even let them have a free pizza for putting on a kickass show.
It was at that time a young man walked in.
His hair was a thick and lustrous dark brown that hung about his shoulder.
His eyes were the color of a clear autumn afternoon sky. His wide shoulders were
framed by a long coat that flowed to his knees without so much as one Irish pennant.
The first thing that caught his attention was a rack of cheap used paperbacks that stood
beside the ticket booth. One in particular caught his eye. Hmmph., he giggled as he
looked the cover with a design with a well dressed man with fangs protruding from
beneath his upper lip. If there is one thing that evolves more slowly than the Food, it is
their ideas about who we are. The Piece known as Bram Stoker really gave them a lot of
false ideas. Instead of him and the idiots that followed him, they should have read
Charles Darwin more to understand us. The last one of us to have actually tasted
human blood died in 1946. Unlike the Food, we have-
Can I help you with something?, his train of though was broken by a man
working the counter.
Umm, yeah. Can I have a ticket to Tampa?, the young man asked.
The one that leaves at 4:30 this morning?
Yeah, thats the one. , he replied while thinking of the names in the Tampa
phonebook for future reference.
The cashier pushed several keys into a keyboard and then said, Thatll be
The young man pulled out four twenties and passed them to the cashier. It
was a small amount from the wad of bills that made his wallet almost too thick to close,
which in turn was also only a small amount compared to all the money made from
shrewd investments over the years.
A slightly sad look crossed the cashiers face as he said, Im a little low on
ones right now. Is it OK if I give you seven quarters?
Not a problem, the young man said with a smile.