FINALLY!!! I've been trying to write this damn pasta for like a year, lol. It's part 4 of my mostly ignored series, "The Follower". You don't really have to read the other parts to read this one. I'm not really looking for help on the plot, but what I need advice on is all the phone stuff. I don't have a smart phone and I don't text, so I need people with expertise in this area to tell me if anything phone related in this pasta is unrealistic or whatever. FYI: I chose "ping-a-PONG!" as Monica's text alert because that's what my mom's sounds like, lol. If anyone has suggestions for what to change it to I would appreciate it. I kinda of like it because it's annoying, though, which serves the narrative.
Monica Bowen was a 27 year old fashion consultant living and working in New York. On August 17th, 2011, she was found unconscious in her apartment with blood leaking from both ears. She was taken to a nearby hospital where she remains in a vegetative state. Her family's legal battle to keep her alive is still ongoing.
Monica looked down at her phone, expecting a text from her little brother, Bradley. Instead, it was work telling her to e-mail some overbearing client.
"Oh God, this jerk?" she groaned; it was that kind of day. The streets were uncharacteristically barren for a weekday afternoon, and the skies looked anxious to rain. Monica glanced down the sidewalk where two men were walking together; not side by side, but rather one in front of the other. The leader was intently staring at his watch; an eccentricity to Monica, who only trusted her phone.
There was her text from Bradley.
Bradley: Hey Mon! You on your way? I'm being really lazy about packing.
Monica: I just left work. Can't believe my baby brother is going to college! Haha :)
Bradley: Everyone goes to college. Is it really that amazing? lol
Monica: I meant that you finally grew to college age, silly.
Bradley: Oh I get it now. LOL
As Monica fixated on her phone, thumbing her next message, she collided with the man who was staring at his watch; a somewhat typical modern day scenario. Her phone hit the ground with a cringe worthy SMACK-a-clack!
"Are you alright?" the man asked.
"Yes, I'm fine, but my phone better not be broken!"
"Well, you should be paying attention."
"I saw you staring at your watch. You weren't paying attention either. Neither was your friend."
"Well, I thought he was your friend. I guess he wasn't because he's gone now."
The man's face turned white.
"Are you okay?" Monica asked.
"Why did you think he was my friend?"
"Well, he was walking so close behind, I just assumed you were together."
With that, the man's expression went blank, as if he were trying to piece something together in his mind. Then, in a brief but intense moment, he seemed remarkably struck with fear and proceeded to sprint away down the sidewalk. His "friend" was nowhere in sight.
"What the hell just happened?" Monica asked the universe as she bent down to pick up her phone. There didn't seem to be any damage, but it had shut off and was taking an unusually long time to turn back on. She adjusted her outfit and shook off the incident; returning to the conversation with her brother.
Bradley: You there?
Monica: Yeah sorry. I bumped into some guy and dropped my phone. :(
Bradley: Is it damaged?
Monica: I don't think so, but the guy was really weird. Kinda spooked but whatever.
Bradley: Well come here quick. I'm bored doing this by myself.
Monica: K going to shut my phone off so I don't bump into to anyone else. lol
Bradley: K see you soon. :)
On the way to meet Bradley, Monica deliberated on what had just transpired. What was that guy so freaked out about? Was that other guy following him? She attempted to picture the other man's face, but she hadn't gotten a good look since it was so close to the back of the first guy's head. Something didn't feel right, but they were strangers and they were gone now. There was little cause for concern, yet she couldn't help walking a little faster to her destination.
Monica sprung up the steps of her family's old brownstone. Before she could knock on the door, Bradley came out and threw his arms around her.
"Heyyyy, Mon!" he said, applying his best bear hug.
Monica yowled, "Hey, stop! I'm gonna break!"
Bradley relinquished his grip and informed her, "I still have to finish packing, but we're gonna go get something to eat with Jen before she goes to work. I won't be able to see her tomorrow."
"Ah, that's a shame. How is she holding up? I know she's going to miss you like crazy."
"Yeah, but we're gonna skype every day, so it won't be so bad."
"I still haven't really gotten to know her. Maybe when you're gone we can hang out," Monica said in an inexplicably sneaky tone.
"I've been wanting you guys to do that forever!" Bradley barked, and they both starting laughing. "So what happened before? You bumped into someone?"
Monica didn't really want to talk about it, but if she acted accordingly then Bradley would only become more curious.
"Typical situation on a New York City sidewalk. Person A is looking at their phone; walks right into Person B."
"Were they looking at their phone, too? That would be a hilarious video!"
"Weirdly enough, he was looking at his watch, like non-stop. I guess he was trying to be somewhere on time, but he wasn't walking that fast or anything."
"And there was a guy behind him, but I don't think he knew. He got really freaked out when I mentioned it."
"Whoa. Maybe someone was following him."
"Out in the open? I don't know. The whole thing is just odd. I should really stop thinking about it."
"Yeah, probably." There was a casual silence as they prepared to change the subject, then Bradley continued, "We should get going. Jen's probably waiting." Monica nodded in agreement, and they went to meet Jen.
Outside Jen's building, Bradley gave his sweetheart a big hug, spinning her around and roaring like a lion while she giggled. When he put her down, though, there was a sudden tension as they recalled their impending separation.
"Let me take a picture of you guys," said Monica, pushing them close together. They looked at each other awkwardly and smiled, as if they weren't boyfriend and girlfriend for a moment, then looked back at Monica as she snapped a photo on her phone.
"Now I'll take one of you two," said Jen as she grabbed Monica's phone. Bradley put his arm around his big sister and they cocked their heads towards each other, smiling. Jen snapped a picture, but she looked confused. "It made this weird sound. Did you hear that?"
"No, what happened?" asked Monica, hoping there was nothing wrong with her precious phone.
"When I took the picture, it made this buzzing sound."
"Weird, that didn't happen when I took a picture of you two. I hope it's not messed up from dropping it."
"You dropped it?" Jen lamented. "That sucks."
"Well, it wasn't all me, but I'd rather not get into it." Monica quickly changed the subject, "So where are we eating?"
Bradley knew he wouldn't see a Howard Johnson's again anytime soon and just had to have one last bacon cheeseburger before he left. It was quite a hike from uptown so they talked on the way about Bradley's future at Boston University, how Monica and Jen would spend time together when Bradley was at school, and how Bradley and Jen's relationship wouldn't change much even though they'd be quite some distance apart. Everyone was optimistic. Yet, Monica had a funny feeling that some other future would sneak up on them.
After lunch, they went over to Central Park to take more pictures. Bradley was chasing Jen around, trying to tickle her into submission, while Monica tapped out an e-mail.
"Great, who's this?" she sighed, expecting it to be another unwanted text from work. Instead, it was from a private number. The message was just one word: pole.
"Hey, guys. I just got this weird text."
Bradley and Jen heard the word "weird" and immediately stopped their frolicking. Monica turned the phone to show them the odd message.
"Pole?" Bradley laughed. "Is that supposed to be a dirty text?"
Monica furrowed her brow. "Ha ha."
"I get random texts sometimes," said Jen, preparing to state the obvious. "Just ignore it. It usually happens once or twice and that's it. Sometimes they meant to text someone else, I think."
"Or it's a crazy stalker who wants to see you dance on a stripper pole!" Bradley wasn't winning any stand-up contests. The two girls looked at him in a way that made him cower in an exaggerated manner.
"I'm going to take your girlfriend's advice and ignore it," said Monica in a purposefully snooty tone, and she deleted the text.
The next day, Monica drove Bradley off to Boston to start his journey of independence. On the way, they wrestled with the radio, Monica claiming she needed her 90's rock jams to drive, and Bradley trying to turn her on to Pitchfork's finest.
"This isn't even your generation, Mon," Bradley said in an attempt to belittle her musical tastes.
"Yeah, but dad used to listen to this stuff all the time when I was little. You don't remember because you were a baby."
Bradley didn't say anything at first. Their father died some years back but, being older, Monica was more affected by it than her brother which made him feel a little guilty.
"I guess I should school myself on the 90's, huh?" he said, giving his sister a nervous smile.
"Can you see who that is?" asked Monica. "I meant to shut off my phone. It's in my bag."
"Yeah, sure." Bradley reached in and took out the phone. There was a text message from a private number. "Tree?"
"What?" Monica was waiting for the rest of the message.
"Tree. It just says tree," Bradley said in a confused monotone.
"That's who it's from?"
"No, it's from an unknown number. The message is just 'tree'."
"First pole... and now tree..." Monica was trying to make a connection.
Bradley just made a compound word, "Poletree?"
"You're being stalked by a chicken!" Bradley then proceeded to do his best chicken impression, "BAWK! B-B-B-BAWK!"
Monica cracked up until, like many women when they laugh too hard, she suddenly had to pee. They pulled into a rest stop where they both freshened up and Monica filled the tank.
"Let's take a picture," suggested Bradley.
"Here? It's just a rest stop."
"So? I've never been this far from home without mom and dad. I know it's not that far from New York to Boston but it's the closest thing to a road trip I've ever been on."
"Good point," Monica agreed, and they each put an arm around the other as they took simultaneous selfies with both their phones. Again, Monica's made a weird buzzing sound.
"Damn. I'm gonna have to get this checked out when I get back. Why did I have to run into that stupid guy?"
"Because you're a magnet for stupidity?" Bradley joked, inviting a playful shove from his sister.
"I still think something weird was going on with that other guy, though."
"What other guy?"
"The one that was following him. At least I think he was following him."
Monica stopped talking as an image of the two men appeared vividly in her mind. Slowly, like a camera zooming in on a photograph, the image came closer, driving away the reality that surrounded her. Two bodies, one mostly hidden; the first man's face covering all but the ear and bearded cheek of the second. Even a sliver of his average, unassuming form made Monica nervous, yet she was mesmerized.
"Mon? Are you okay? Helloooo?"
"W-what?" Monica said in a sluggish tone as she tilted her head towards her brother.
"You spaced out for a minute there. You okay?"
Monica collected her thoughts, realizing she just had some kind of frightful vision.
"I'm fine. Let's get going."
"Yeah, sure," Bradley said, making sure he sounded concerned, which he was. They got back on the road, and Monica let her brother play whatever music he wanted.
It was a typical scene at the university -- a sea of fresh faced youths carrying electronics and desk chairs into the dorms. They had made good time, so Bradley decided to give Monica a tour of the campus before joining the fray.
"Don't you want to go find your dorm?" Monica asked, not that she wasn't enjoying herself.
"Let's just take a picture by this statue, then we'll get moving."
Monica scanned the statue up and down.
"It's a little strange, don't you think? Looks like something from those snobbish galleries in soho."
"It's actually dedicated to Martin Luther King. It's called 'Free at Last'."
Monica blushed. "Oh..."
"Ha ha! You got schooled."
Bradley waved down a passing family, using his charms to persuade them to take his and Monica's picture by the statue. They politely obliged, and the father snapped the photo, first with Bradley's phone and then Monica's.
"Thanks," Monica said as the father handed back her phone.
"No problem. I don't know if you know, but it made this weird static-like sound when I took the picture. Does that always happen?"
"Ug. I dropped it yesterday."
"Ah, I see."
As Bradley took back his phone, and chatted up the nice family, Monica checked her text message.
"Pump? Are you kidding? Pump... Pump?"
Bradley broke away to see what Monica was going on about.
"What's up, Mon?"
"Another weird message."
"Why don't you just block them?"
"I did. This must be a different number."
"What does it say?"
"Okay, these are definitely dirty texts."
"I don't know. This is just weird. Two different numbers texting me one word. I'll just keep blocking them, I guess. Hopefully they don't have a third number."
On the drive home, Monica went on autopilot as her mind was consumed by recent happenings. The more she thought about the messages and the two strangers, the more her body tensed up. The road drifted away as she spiraled into a state of near paralysis.
Monica's heart leapt out of her chest. She looked in the rearview mirror and saw a car following so close she was surprised it hadn't rear ended her yet. The angry driver swerved recklessly into the opposite lane, giving her the finger before swerving back in front of her. Stunned, she pulled over to catch her breath.
"Oh, shut up," she told her phone, and turned it off.
A nice, hot bath and a bowl of pasta pesto, and Monica was feeling relaxed and refreshed. She sat in bed with her laptop next to her and a drink in her hand. Wondering how Bradley was doing on his first day, she picked up her phone.
"Oh, right," she said, remembering the text message she ignored earlier. Again, it was just one single word from some unknown number. "Statue?"
Monica pondered over the progression of the messages: pole, tree, pump, statue.
"Wait a minute... Statue?" She pulled up the pictures she and Bradley took over the past few days. When she got to the picture of them standing by the "Free at Last" statue, she scanned it for anything unusual. It was just her and her brother, arms around each other's waists, in front of the statue. Then she noticed something. On the right side, she could see part of an arm, an ear, and a sliver of face. Someone was standing behind it.
Monica zoomed in closer. Even with such a small portion of the person's body, something felt familiar. The color of the jacket, the scruff on the face, the shape of the ear. She had seen this person before. That's when it dawned on her.
"Pump," she said, swiping back to the picture of her and Bradley at the gas station. Again, she zoomed in, this time on a gas pump. On the left side she could just make out a hand, the tip of a shoe, and part of a face. She swiped back again to a photo of her and Jen at Central Park.
"Tree," she uttered, her voice shaking. She zoomed in, scanning each tree, hoping she wouldn't see a familiar arm, ear, or anything; but she did. The same person was standing behind a tree.
Again, she swiped back, now to the first picture Jen took of her and Bradley. There was a man standing behind a street pole with his face turned towards it. The left and right sides of his body were visible. It was the man from the street. It was the follower.
Monica gently placed her phone down on the bed, hand shaking, and laid down on her back. She tried to figure out how the same person could have followed them all the way from New York to Boston. Did they follow her back? Or were they following Bradley? No, it had to be her.
Out of nowhere, a song started playing that she'd never heard before.
MONICA GEMS! OH-OH-OH-OHHH!
"Jesus Christ!" Monica jumped out of her skin, blindsided by the loud, noisy music. It was coming from her phone.
"Did you change my ring tone?"
"Ha ha, yeah! You like it?"
"It scared the bejesus out of me! What the hell is that?"
"It's 'Monica Gems' by The Horrors."
"Well, it's God awful."
"Sorry, I was just trying to funny."
"Well, I have to tell you something. Someone was following us. They followed us from New York all the way to Boston."
"Whoa, what? Who?"
"I don't know. I think it's the guy from the other day when I dropped my phone. I looked at the pictures we took. He was at the park. He was at the gas station, and the school!"
"How could someone follow us all that way without us noticing?"
"I don't know, Bradley. I'm just telling you that this guy is in all these pictures. He was following us."
"Well, call the police."
"I will. I just wanted to tell you first since he might still be at the school. You should probably call campus security."
"Yeah, okay. Call me back after you call the cops, okay?"
Monica hung up with Bradley and prepared to call the authorities, when she got another text message.
"This had better not be..."
It was; one word from a private number: dumpster.
"Dumpster?" Monica was confused. She hadn't taken a picture with a dumpster in it. She decided to just call the police and ignore that last message. But when she was about to dial, her phone shut off and wouldn't turn back on.
"You've got to be kidding me. This is why I need a land line." The neighboring apartment had one, so she decided to ask if she could use it. Before she knocked on the door, an idea came to her. What if the text was referring to the dumpster behind her building? What if the stalker was out there right now, taunting her? Instead of telling the police about the pictures, she would tell them there was a dangerous looking man prowling around. Hopefully, they would scare him off.
After scouring the perimeter of the building, the cops found no one. Monica was relieved. She explained about the pictures and how she was being paranoid, which concerned the officers but there wasn't much they could do but assure her they would come running if she called. Her phone still wouldn't turn on, despite being plugged in, so she phoned Bradley on the neighbor's line to let him know.
Later that evening, Monica was e-mailing clients on her laptop when she was surprised to hear a familiar sound.
"Finally," she said, happy that her phone was cooperating again. She wasn't happy about the message, though.
"Dumpster? Again?" In an instant, every cell in her body went into a panic. Why was she getting the same message again? What was the purpose? She hadn't taken any photo of any dumpster. There was no one outside... or was there?
Monica decided she would do her own investigation, as risky as she knew it was. She grabbed a flashlight and the can of mace she never used from her bedside drawer, and a small but sharp knife from the kitchen, concealing them in a puffy jacket. Of course, she took her phone. She thought about letting the neighbor know what she was doing, but she didn't want to be talked out of it; curiosity was overtaking her apprehension, and her better judgement.
From a distance, Monica watched the dumpster for any sign of movement. She hesitated to turn on her flashlight just yet. As she moved closer, she listened through the quiet night air for a shift of clothing or a sharp inhale. Her fear slowly subsided as she began to realize there was no one behind the dumpster. Still, she wondered about the message. Maybe this was the wrong dumpster?
On a whim, she pulled out her phone and took a picture of the dumpster. There wasn't really any reason for it. No one was there, so why take the photo? Still, she felt compelled to do it, so she did. But when she looked at the result, she never regretted anything that much in her entire life. There was a man standing behind the dumpster.
Monica slammed the door to her apartment and locked it, complete with chain, then shoved a chair under the doorknob. Slowly, she stepped backwards away from the door, expecting a knock or a ring of the doorbell. A few minutes went by and she started to calm down, but not enough to forget what she saw. She checked the picture again to make sure she wasn't imagining things. There was still part of a man showing from behind the dumpster.
"Impossible!" she screamed. "Bradley..."
She knew she should call the police again, but instead she called her brother.
"Bradley, you won't believe this! That guy was here! I mean, he wasn't, but he was! I mean-"
Monica's heart stopped.
"Hey, Mon. Hey, Mon. Hey, Mon."
"Mmrrr-GAAHHH!!" she shrieked, throwing her phone on the floor. When she realized what she'd done, she frantically checked it for damage.
"Thank, God," she sighed with relief. Then she remembered the potential danger she was in.
"Nine one one. Nine one one," she repeated as she dialed. Before the operator could speak, Monica blurted out, "Someone's following me! They were outside the building but now I think-"
"MONICA GEMS! OH-OH-OH-OHHHH!"
She couldn't believe her ears. Never before had she contemplated insanity, but never had she been more paranoid than in this moment, and she had no idea what to do. All she could think of was to crawl under the blankets and shut her eyes as tight as possible.
Monica didn't move.
No. She had to ignore it. She had to fight the urge. She was in danger.
ping-a-PONG! ping-a-PONG! ping-a-PONG!
The text alert grew louder and louder until it was far past the maximum volume capable by her phone. Monica had no choice but to see what it said. She started to tear up from anxiety when she saw the mysterious texter's latest message: curtain.
Monica looked to her window. She knew she never had curtains there, but windows were the first thing she thought of when she heard that word. Then she realized there was a curtain in the shower.
Hesitantly, she crept with baby steps to the bathroom doorway; the door was wide open. She flicked on the lights, half expecting to see someone; the room was empty. The shower curtain was pulled halfway across the tub but it wasn't entirely opaque, so she would see a sillouette if there was anyone there. Monica knew it was a bad idea, but she couldn't help snapping a photo. There was man behind the curtain.
Monica smashed her phone on the bathroom tile. Over and over she stomped it with her heel until it was in a dozen pieces. She struggled for breath, having expelled all her energy in the terror fueled assault on her cursed technology. Her phone could no longer be trusted.
Frantically, she ripped the shower curtain from the rod, rolled it up, and stuffed as much as she could of it into the trash, then gathered the pieces of her phone and put them in a plastic bag. No one was going to text her now. Exhausted, she flopped face down on her bed and entered a comatose state.
A few hours later, Monica awoke in a daze. Her head was heavy, and her body was drained. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but she was still reeling from her earlier experience. Soon, the awful realization came to her that she had destroyed her phone.
The plastic bag was still sitting on the kitchen counter. Monica picked it up and dumped out all the pieces. She felt as though she should mourn her long time friend, so she sat down and had a moment of silence. A moment that was rudely interrupted.
"Huh?" Monica looked at the sad pile of phone parts.
"Impossible..." she whispered, petrified.
"Shut up!" she shouted as she stood up in defiance. "You're broken! You're fucking broken!"
ping-a-PONG! ping-a-PONG! ping-a-PONG!
The text alert seemed to be coming from everywhere as it got louder and louder.
"Stop it! Why is this happening?!"
Monica held her hands to her ears but it didn't help. The sound kept getting louder and louder, until her ears felt as though insects were eating their way inside. She flailed all around, unable to control her body as it attempted to deal with the pain. Soon, the text alert was joined by her ringtone.
MONICA GEMS! OH-OH-OH-OHHHH!
MONICA GEEEEEEEMS! AH-AH-AH-AHHHHH!
Her brain was nearly being crushed by the decibels. Blood began leaking from her ears, which gave her an idea. She scrambled to open every drawer in the kitchen, not remembering where she put what she was searching for. Then she found it: a meat thermometer.
Monica held the thermometer to her right ear. Was she really going to do this? The sounds were causing her unimaginable pain, the likes of which she had only heard rumors. It was this, or the noise would kill her. There was no more time to decide, so she shut her eyes and went for it.
"GyaAHHH" she screamed in agony, holding her ear and falling to the ground. Violently, she writhed in anguish. Before she could change her mind about her other ear, she consigned it to the same fate.
"GreeyaaAHH! Oh, God!"
Monica sobbed erratically as blood seeped from her ears onto the kitchen floor. There was nothing more she could do. She had smashed her phone. She had pierced her eardrums, and maybe her brain. Yet still, she heard it.
She heard it again and again.
She heard it over and over.
ping-a-PONG! ping-a-PONG! ping-a-PONG!
The sounds were coming from inside her head.
Monica laid there, wondering if any of this was real or if she was still asleep. Her eyes began to close, and her mind began to clear. The feeling in her body was drifting away. Before she fell unconscious, she sensed something in the room with her. She tried to turn her head upwards and back to see what was there, but it was too much of a struggle. All she caught a glimpse of was the very edge of a body. There was a man standing right behind her.