The following is an excerpt from VHS, a literary novel by Pablo D’Stair being released in various e-formats, absolutely free-of-charge (and in limited edition print-editions-by-part through giveaways). Information on the project, including links to what is currently available, can be found at www.vhsbook.wordpress.com
Lexi was in the parking lot of my neighborhood, still in her car, motor going for the heat and I heard the slow pulse of some music or another in there with her. Tapped on the window.
“Lexi, how are you?”
“We need to talk about your friend.”
She seemed pretty upset, but not in a hysterical way.
She told me to please get in the car because having the window open was counterproductive to the heat. I asked could we drive out of the neighborhood, since she knew I always hated thinking about neighbors looking at me and it was bad enough already, her having been idling there, who knew what that’d looked like.
While she drove us to a nearby office park, I regretted having said “bad enough” and “idling,” thought they gave the wrong tone to things, worried her silence was as much about these poor word choices as about whatever it was with Edvard.
She waited until a song she liked finished, then turned down the radio almost all the way, undid her seatbelt to face me better so I did the same.
“Edvard keeps calling my house and leaving messages.”
“Calling your house or you personally?”
“Because I didn’t know Edvard knew your telephone number, let alone your house number.”
She looked at me—I wanted to defend myself but it’d be hopeless, I said I was sorry and asked her politely to continue.
“He calls my house and leaves messages where he counts. He just counts.”
“Counts as in he says numbers?”
“Yes, Desmond. Counts in the usual meaning of the word ‘counts,’ he says numbers, sequential numbers, otherwise I would have said he calls me up and ‘says numbers,’ meaning ‘in no particular order.’”
It was a good point.
“He counts and counts then just hangs up. But the next time he calls, he picks up from where he left off in the count.”
“Wait—I’m not being a dick by asking, I’m just curious, but how do you know it’s Edvard? He doesn’t really have a particular sound to him as far as I’d be able to tell and haven’t you only met him twice like years ago?”
“He says ‘Hi, this is Edvard Demoines, Desmond Argyle’s good friend, Desmond Argyle meaning the guy who works at the video store’ and then he starts counting.”
I scratched behind my ear, unable to stop even when I knew the skin was getting irritated.
“He introduces himself every time?”
“Only a few of the times, not every time.”
I shrugged, said I had no idea what to make of it, but that it seemed strange then added that—as much as I hated to suggest it—it could just be a coincidence, because I hadn’t really seen Edvard in a very long time, maybe he’d just started calling people and counting and it happened to be Lexi’s home number.
“Do you say on the message anywhere your name or does your mom or whoever made the message say a surname?”
“My mom? What do you mean?”
I really didn’t know why I’d said that, knowing full well Lexi lived alone and even knowing full well the content of her answering machine message.
“Did you try unplugging the machine? The phone? Do you even use your home phone?”
But she didn’t answer and I got the picture, told her I could track down Edvard and see what he thought he was up to.
“Should I say it’s freaking you out or something?”
“It isn’t freaking me out, I just want him to stop.”
Sighed, decided I would say it was freaking her out, but kept this to myself—to not say that might cause more trouble and I just wasn’t in the mood for any of this.
“Just call him, okay?”
“And don’t say the counting is freaking me out.”
“Because it isn’t, and if he wants it to be that might just rile him up, make him think he’s making progress.”
“But won’t he just infer that, one way or another?”
“That’s not up to me, but if he does it’s all in his own head, not something I’m countenancing, you know?”
“Just call him, alright?”
I had a lot of trouble falling asleep. When it got to be two in the morning, I began watching Infomercials and trying to get in a very gullible mind-frame, just because if I called to take part in any offer or something I wouldn’t want to be ironic about it, figured it would be defeatist that way. Genuinely, I was interested to know how all that stuff worked and to be on the line placing an order for a music collection or a specific piece of exercise equipment or an “inventors kit” or an “entrepreneurial guidebook” or a directory of ways I could get free money from government programs. And I could afford it, any of it. I just wanted one to really hit me just right—the abdominal machines came the closest, physically fit people luring me, such ease and grace—but no, turned off the television eventually and blinked in the dark until my eyes got used to it enough I could probably have read a book.
Probably I should call Edvard, get that out of the way, I thought, found where I’d written his phone number down once in an old notebook, sat on the end of my bed and had a cigarette.
Got dressed, decided I’d go for a walk and call him from a pay phone someplace—it made me feel funny to think of making a call to him under the specific circumstances from one of the house phones and also I didn’t want anyone listening in, forming their own opinions on matters without the full story, maybe going so far as to entangle themselves in the whole thing.
I miserably smoked the whole way to the shopping center, unable to take any of the short cuts because it’d be too tricky in the dark and likely I’d slip and fall due to the snow and the unevenness of the ground—smoked five whole cigarettes and got to a phone only to realize I didn’t have coins.
Dialed the call collect, which turned out it might be better, put Edvard on the defensive, he’d have no way of making heads or tails out of me charging him for a call in the middle of the night, it was just a matter of him answering, then I’d have him riveted from the get.
“Where are you, are you okay?” he said after a beep.
“I’m on the phone outside Wendy’s and all.”
“By the school?”
“Yeah. By the school.”
An odd description, but perfectly accurate—our grade school was just a short way from where I was leaning, shivering, new cigarette getting lit.
“Why are you calling Lexi and counting into her answering machine?”
He groaned, had a real exasperated tone, right away.
“That’s not me, I don’t know who’s doing that but it’s not me. I actually sort of thought it was you, to be completely honest.”
“Bullshit, Eddie, we both know it’s you, just knock it off alright.”
“It seriously isn’t me. You’re like the twelfth person to call me about this, I’m just tired of it, I’m not meaning to take it out on you but fuck off.”
He ranted about how in the last three days he’d gotten calls from all sorts of people—some who he knew, some who he kind of knew, some complete strangers—all telling him to stop calling up their houses or places of business just to count. He was very upset and I started to sympathize with him.
“Imagine having to deal with this over and over, man. At first I’m at a total loss—first two people call up and I think it’s a prank, but then this one kid calls and his mom is crying in the background, it’s a real mess and I start to realize these people genuinely think it’s me messing around with them, like I get perverse kicks from counting into telephones. It’s making me a little insane, quite frankly, so look I just don’t want to talk about it.”
I started to apologize, but then needed to clarify one thing, which I did in as politic a manner as I could come up with.
“Now wait, if you didn’t know some of these people, even if you introduced yourself, how come they knew how to call you? They looked your number up, I guess?”
I was satisfied with my own explanation—the idea of looking him up occurred to me even while I asked—but instead Edvard said “No, in the instances where it’s strangers—because believe me, this is one of the first things I asked—whoever is making the calls leaves my number.”
“And do they always mention me?”
“As far as I know, yeah. I’d’ve thought you might be getting calls, too.”
I wondered if I was—the house had a voice mailbox, but I never checked it, didn’t think anyone did, really—the receiver did beep when I picked it up, indicating messages were there, but it had been like that forever, the mailbox pretty much abandoned.
I told Edvard I was sorry, but now he was in a better mood, seemed relieved I just saw the truth of the situation and didn’t insist on holding it against him or nursing it into a grudge.
“I mean, I can well understand that Lexi would be pissed off, if you want to you can explain it all to her, but you don’t have to if it’d be weird or you think she’d get in a fight with you.”
“Get in a fight with me?”
“Because she’d think you were lying to her, taking up with me in some plot.”
“I see. Yeah. Well, not for that reason, but I’ll keep it to myself.”
I told him to go back to sleep and that I would cover the cost of the call, but he told me forget it, because he had a lot of money all of a sudden and didn’t mind spending it even if there was no reason to.