You’re shown to your seat. It’s your first day at the company, and you’re just another face. There’s your computer, your pens, your phone, and your trays. Then they open the single draw, and a large handset is inside. It’s old, the chrome rotary dial covered in dust, never been used. It’s not even connected up, the tangled tail of copper wire proving it beyond redemption. If this rings, they say, it’s the end of the world. Do as you’re told. Not a trace of a smile, not a flash of irony through their eyes. They must have been doing the joke a long time to be this good.
You sit down. You start work. It’s the same job as always, you’re sent data, you collect it up and make sure it’s sent on to the right person. You’re the middle man, you’re nobody, you’re just another face. A single face in an endless sea of cubicles and clamouring phones. You’re on the three hundredth and seventeenth floor. You’ve never felt so cut off from the rest of the world.
Time goes on, whittling down the days, months, years left on your contract one at a time. Soon you’ll be free, soon you’ll find out what it is you’re really meant for, and you’ll move on to bigger, better things.Your desk gets cluttered with pictures and posters and knick-knacks, anything to break the monotony. You wonder how anybody passed the time before rubber bands.
Then one day you come to work to find nobody there. Is it a day off and you didn’t get the memo? The company never had days off. Maybe there’s a bug going round. And then you hear it. A quiet, metallic rumbling. Shrill, insistent, and angry. You can’t help yourself. You follow the sound, weaving through the shoulder high maze before ending up at your own desk. The aching clatter of bells pulls your hand to the drawer, and there, in the same place it always had been since your first day, is the phone.
You pull it from it’s place, and the limp piece of wiring hangs dejected from the back. And still it rings. You move to the window, pushing away the blinds that keep out the light and the world, and look down on the city below. Everything looks normal. The buildings, the criss cross network of roads surrounding them, just like your own cubicle. The sky, still as always, an unresponsive cloudy grey. And still it rings. Was this the call? Was this what you were waiting all this time for? Was this the reason you’d been picked, been placed in this particular cubicle? That couldn’t be true. And still it rings. You feel your gut scrunch into a tight ball, your forehead sprout beads of sweat, and your spine tremors with a sudden, electric chill.
And still it rings.
Maybe it’s a joke. It can’t actually be the end of the world, can it? Why you? Why wasn’t anyone else here? What if it’s already too late? What if it’s all a big joke or the wrong number or a–
And then it stops. Just like that. The desperate, screeching telephone falls dead in your hands, returning to it’s normal, inert state. You snatch the receiver off the hook, pressing the piece to your ear in the hope that somehow, they’ll still be there. Silence echoes out, spreading across the room. You don’t dare put it back down, but as your eyes are drawn out of the window the cold, clammy grey of the sky blackens, and one by one the lights of the buildings across the city from you wink out. Darkness consumes the city one block at a time.
You close the blind. You move back to your cubicle. You sit down, and place the phone back in it’s draw and slide it shut. Maybe it’ll ring again. Maybe you’ll have another chance. This time you’ll answer. This time.
It never rings.