The Phone Call

by Logan Cartwright

        The sound of his ribcage cracking woke him with a start. He groaned slightly, but tried to hold it in when he heard voices. He was still groggy and couldn’t make out what they were saying, but they seemed pretty frantic. He peeked out from under the tarp he was using as a blanket just in time to see a group of teenagers running off in the distance. Noticing an android peering out the window above him he quickly covered back up. "One of those kids must have hit me in the rib when he fell out of the window", Erik thought to himself as he continued to hold his breath. There hadn’t been this kind of excitement in Rockdale in quite a while, and he had to wonder if something had changed in their deal with A.G. Dismissing that thought he instead inferred that those hoodlums had simply been somewhere they shouldn’t. ‘Stupid kids,’ he thought, ‘They’ll probably get themselves killed, or worse.’ He smiled, as this thought reminded him of his days as a teenager, pulling stupid pranks on the Pewter Guard and sneaking around pickpocketing members of the Pru Empire. Looking back on it he realized how incredible it was that he was still alive.

           Later that morning, after he had determined the coast was clear, Erik headed towards Carl’s general store. “Morning Carl!”, he called to the boy sniffling under one of the collapsed shelves. “I told you not to call me that,” the kid said. “Carl was my dad’s name.” The once family-owned general store was now Carl Junior’s living space, in which he occasionally rationed out some of the supplies he managed to save from A.G.’s forces, but mostly he just cried in the dark, alone. “Perk up, CJ. I need you to grab me some pain pills.” Erik was trying to cheer the boy up by taking his mind off things, not very successfully. “How’d you manage to hurt yourself this time?” CJ asked as he sulked over to the pharmacy counter. Lifting a panel underneath the table, he pulled out a medical kit. “Some kid fell out of a window and broke my rib,” Erik explained, as he caught the pill bottle the kid had tossed him. CJ let out a little chuckle, briefly brightening the sad look that had covered his face for the past few weeks. Ever since he lost his family, Erik was the only person who could bring CJ out of his depression, even for a moment. Just a few days ago he even kept him from ending it all. “You know, the Elementals came through here earlier,” CJ mentioned. His friend raised his eyebrows. “Were they everything you dreamed of?” he asked. “No,” the kid said with a sigh. “They were just a bunch of class A jerks, totally ignorant of my situation, and apprehensive about even trying to help.” Erik looked down and smiled. “I figured as much. It was probably one of them who broke my rib.” They both laughed at the this clearly improbable situation.

             Moving on from the general store, Erik continued his daily routine. Ever since A.G.’s forces had destroyed Rockdale, his days tended to follow a strict formula: Wake up, visit CJ, scavenge for supplies, drop off whatever he didn’t keep at the general store, find a new place to make camp, and go to sleep. Rinse and repeat, seven days a week. Erik thrived in this post-apocalyptic version of a city he never quite felt at home in. Surviving somehow felt more natural to him than filling up his gas tank, going to his day job, and pretty much every other menial task he performed in Rockdale before the fall. In some ways, he was thankful to A.G. for giving him a purpose, and for ridding him of his boring life that he used to hate so much. Now that society around him had collapsed he felt freer than ever, and he didn’t want to let that feeling go. Of course, he knew A.G. is a dreadful dictator, and he hated her as much as anyone else for all the suffering she’s caused, but deep down he felt more needed in her world than he ever had in his whole life.

              Preparing to make his way back to the general store, Erik made his last stop of the day – the pay phone. This was the last landline in the entire city still intact and connected to the outside world. Unzipping a pocket on the side of his backpack, he pulled out a pouch full of coins. The brown leather was stained and worn, clearly one of his regularly used possessions. After inserting one of the coins (the currency was obsolete here in Rockdale, but so was the pay phone), he began typing in a number he knew by heart. After a few rings, his call finally went through. “Hello, you’ve reached the voicemail box of – Hey! Quit it!” Erik could hear the smile in his wife’s voice as she shooed his daughter away. “This is the voicemail for Jamie and Erik Anderson,” she continued. “Sorry we missed your call, and we hope to talk to you soon!” “Talk to you soon…” Erik whispered as he dropped the phone, letting it hang by the cord. He stood there for a moment, silent. As he stared ahead of him, a thought he had once had came back to him. As he deliberated this decision in his head he felt conflicted, but the phone call had convinced him there was nothing left for him. He was suddenly attentive again as he felt the tears being washed from his face. It was starting to rain. “Time to go”, he thought.

              Erik used to call his family every day after he left work. Working away from home was always hard for him, but Rockdale was the furthest away, and he was going to be there longer than anywhere he worked before. Once A.G. had taken over they stopped answering, and he could only assume the worst. Today he was missing them more than ever, and he was starting to lose focus… and motivation. He was so lost in thought that he nearly jumped out of his boots when he heard a steely voice say, “Surrender your supplies and prepare to meet your fate!” A look of horror washed over Erik’s face as he came face to face with the android which had just threatened him. The cold red eyes, emotionless face, and the glowing laser hand charged up and leveled at his head – how something so evil could rule so much of the world Erik could not comprehend. He knew for certain now that he wanted to live – he couldn’t leave this world, the world he was supposed to raise his daughter in, to those monsters. But he didn’t seem to have a choice anymore. Erik closed his eyes, held up his hands and gave up. And then the gunshot came. Androids don’t have guns. After a moment of confusion he opened his eyes not knowing what to expect, and he was pleasantly surprised to see CJ standing over a very dead android, his hands shaking and his gun on the ground.

        They embraced, CJ still shocked at what he had done, and Erik relieved to have a friend. He had bottled up all of his feelings, fears, and otherwise for weeks so that he could support CJ when he needed him the most. Now the bottle was uncorked and the tables had turned. Erik needed CJ just as much as he thought CJ needed him.