Thursday, March 5, 2015
PAYPHONE (Revised Version)
By Daniel Skye
There’s a payphone on the corner where Essex and Fairview intersect.
Mark Watkins passes that same payphone everyday on his mail route.
Why is this worth noting? Well, with the evolution of cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices, these primitive eyesores have been declared obsolete.
Nowadays, when you actually do see a payphone, it sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. As did the archaic remnant that was stationed on the corner of Essex and Fairview.
Mark certainly noticed it on his daily walks, as it was the only payphone left standing in Greenville, and probably all of Long Island for that matter.
It was a Friday in December when he turned the corner of the Greenville public library and the payphone that had remained desolate for years astonished Watkins as it began to ring.
He stood slightly aghast as the rings droned on, refusing to cease. Then he looked to the left and to the right, scoping out the area. Whoever this call was meant for, they clearly weren’t there to accept it. So Mark did what felt natural. He stepped up and took the call for them.
Standing under the privacy hood, Mark lifted the black receiver to his ear and said, “Hello?”
He could hear breathing on the other end of the phone, heavy, yet oddly distant, as if the caller had him on speaker phone and was standing quite a distance from where the phone was set.
“Anyone there?” Mark inquired.
“I’m here,” a voice finally spoke with a harsh whisper. It was a man’s voice, Watkins was sure of that.
“Who are you trying to reach, sir?”
“You, Mr. Watkins.”
Mark took another look around, eyes frantically glancing in every direction. The coast seemed clear, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t being monitored.
“Are you watching me?”
“I am incapable of watching, Mark Watkins. Just as I am incapable of enjoying a cold beer or enjoying the company of a beautiful woman. This phone is my only form of interaction.”
“Who are you?”
“Barney Stahl.” The name jarred Watkins. His head shaking back and forth in disbelief, he cringed as it felt as though his inside were being stirred around with a metal whisk.
“Stop playing games,” Mark said, eyes darting around again, trying to nab the culprit. “Barney Stahl is dead. He died right here on this street corner. It happened one year ago.”
“You’re correct,” the voice said. “Now please don’t hang up, because I’m about to tell you something very important.”
“Oh, yeah?” Mark sneered. “What’s that?”
“I’m about to tell you who killed me.”
* * *
It had been four days since Stacy Montgomery had seen the sun or sucked in a breath of fresh air. Her right ankle was raw and purple from the shackle that kept her chained to the cold cellar floor. The chain was ten feet in length, giving Stacy some mobility, but offering no possibility of escape.
Her captor was not a man who could be reasoned with. He didn’t want money. He didn’t want to be on the six o’clock news. This wasn’t about fame or fortune.
He wanted to see seventeen-year-old Stacy Montgomery suffer to her last breath.
Starved and beaten, Stacy had undoubtedly suffered. And the worst was still yet to come.
So she let her nervous mind wander. It kept her from pondering what her sadistic captor had in store for her next.
An image of a five-year-old girl with pigtails skipping rope brought a fleeting smile to her face. It was the younger version of herself. The version of Stacy that hadn’t been robbed of her innocence yet. The version of Stacy that had yet to discover the horrors of the real world. The version that had never experienced fear before; not on a level of this magnitude.
But that smile was short-lived and it evacuated the moment she heard the cellar door open. Light flowed in from the upstairs fixtures, and an imposing shadow was cast over the decaying wooden staircase.
“I’m back,” a chilling voice called down to the cellar. “Did you miss me?”
* * *
In the lengthy conversation that had ensued, Barney Stahl–or the man claiming to be Barney Stahl–had spilled his guts. He had caught his own brother, Darren, red-handed. Literally.
Darren’s hands were covered in blood and one hand was still grasping the straight razor when Barney found him holed up in that soundproof cellar. The girl was a drifter, brown hair, hazel eyes, eighteen or nineteen. And she wasn’t the first. Darren had tearfully confessed to Barney that the drifter was his fifth victim.
He tried talking some sense into Darren. Tried talking to him about getting some help. But Barney could see his brother was beyond help.
That night, Barney snuck out and walked to the nearest payphone on the corner of Essex and Fairview. But Darren had trailed him there. And before Barney could place that call to the police, Darren had pierced his lung with the edge of a sharp blade.
Barney urged Mark Watkins to put a stop to Darren before he killed again. “223 Ridgewood Drive,” was the last thing Barney said before the line went dead.
Watkins was at a crossroads. What could be done? If he went to the police and babbled absurd tales of haunted payphones and vengeful spirits, they’d tell him to beat it or haul him off to the local laughing academy in restraints. And if what Barney said was true and he tried to take on Darren Stahl himself, he could easily wind up dead. It was quite the predicament he had found himself in.
First, he was going to need some proof. “223 Ridgewood Drive,” Mark repeated and jotted the address down on a piece of junk mail from his letter carrier.
That night after work, Mark dressed all in black and took a ride down to Darren Stahl’s neighborhood. He parked across the street from 223 Ridgewood Drive and slid down in his seat, peeked out the window occasionally to watch the house.
It was around nine o’clock when he saw the front door swing open and watched Darren Stahl step out, lock the door with a key he then pocketed, and walked to his green Stingray.
Mark sat back up in his seat and watched Darren take off down the block until the car disappeared into the night.
Once he was sure Stahl was gone, he ran from his car and bypassed the front door. He already knew it was locked, so he snuck around the side of the house and tried the side door, which was also locked.
He tried the back door too, which was locked tight as well. He was about to walk back around the front when he heard the screams.
The basement windows were blacked out, but the shrill cries were unmistakable and they were definitely emanating from the cellar.
Mark froze, momentarily assuming the role of a reticent bystander. What was he to do? Even if he shattered one of the windows, they were too small, too narrow for a man his size to squeeze through. He could bust in the backdoor and check it out himself, and he could end up getting charged with breaking and entering if he did. And he knew that Darren could return at any minute.
So he improvised.
An anonymous call was placed to the Greenville police department from the payphone on the corner of Essex and Fairview. Darren Stahl was arrested one hour later. Stacy Montgomery was found locked inside his damp, soundproof cellar. A few bruises aside, the girl was relatively unharmed.
Physically speaking, that is. Mentally, the scar that Darren Stahl had left on Stacy would not soon fade. But her trauma was soothed when she heard the news that Stahl was looking at seven consecutive life sentences.
She never got to thank her mysterious savior, the one who had placed the call. The cops were able to trace the call, but all it led to was a payphone on the corner of Essex and Fairview.
A week later, Mark Watkins was on his daily route when he turned the corner of Essex and Fairview and the prehistoric payphone began to chime. With no one else around to answer the call, Mark hesitated briefly before lifting the receiver to his ear.
“Hello?” he answered.
“Thank you,” was all Barney said before his voice faded away.