A Phone Conversation

Originally published in The Leading Edge Issue #43.



"White House."

The little boy breathed heavily into the phone as he talked.  "Hello, is this McDonald's?"

The president paused from emptying out old files from his desk.  "This is the President of the United States speaking."  He cleared his throat meaningfully.  "On an unlisted number."

"Oh."  The little boy exhaled loudly for a moment.  "I guess I called the wrong place.  I thought I was calling McDonald's."

The president clicked a button to record their conversation.  He somehow doubted that.  "Where did you get my unlisted phone number from?"

The voice sounded puzzled.  "I dunno.  I pressed the name on Mommy and Daddy's list."

"List?"  The president sat up, suddenly alert.  "List of what?"

"List of people I should call in case someone came in when they weren't home and I was, and my sister just came in, and they haven't come back with my Happy Meal yet."

There was a long pause.  "I — see.  A Happy Meal, you say."

"The kind with toys in it."

The president took a deep breath, trying to work out whether the child was sincere, or if this was a crank call.  The latter seemed much more likely.  "Happy Meals usually do.  Do your parents leave you alone often?"

"Not when my sister's here."

The president leaned back in his chair, rubbing his eyes.  He had more important things to do; the sooner he cleared this mystery up, the better.  "No supervisor?"

"I don't need one."

"Little children shouldn't be left in the house alone."

The boy sounded puzzled.  "If they didn't leave me, they couldn't go anywhere."

The president frowned at the phone.  "They could take you with them, couldn't they?"

The boy panted loudly.  "I'm not allowed out of the house until I metamorphose."

The president struggled to keep his temper in check.  "Why don't you hang up and try not to dial my number next time?"

"Okay."

Click.

Ring, ring!


The president snatched at the phone on his desk.  "Hello?"

The voice was familiar.  "Oh, I guess it's you again."

Click.

Ring, ring!


"Hello?"

The child's voice sounded amazed.  "Is it still you?"

The president clenched his teeth.  "It's still me."  He pressed the recording button again.  Why on Earth weren't his calls being screened?

The little boy spoke in a confidential whisper.  "I think Mommy and Daddy programmed the caller wrong, 'cause I keep pressing the McDonald's name, but I'm not getting McDonald's."

The president fought to control his temper.  This crank call was no longer funny.  "Where did your parents get this number from?"

There was silence for a moment, punctuated by heavy breathing.  "Dunno.  I guess from those files."

"What files?"

"The ones they find all the numbers from."

The president's mind raced.  A child whose parents worked in the White House?  Or perhaps were hackers?  Of course, it was more likely that this caller was a hacker who thought crank calls were exceedingly funny.

They weren't.

The president tried to keep his voice level.  "May I speak with your parents?"

"They're not home right now."

The president struggled to avoid sounding annoyed.  "Right.  You mentioned that.  Where are they?  Do they have a cellphone?"

"I dunno what a cellphone is."

"Tell me their names, and I'll have them paged."

"What's paged?"

"It means I call their names on a loudspeaker."

"What's loudspeaker?"

The president fought his temper under control again.  "Just tell me their names and where they are!"

"They're Mommy and Daddy, and I dunno where they are."

The president ground his teeth.  "Estimate."

"I dunno.  Probably halfway between Alpha Centuri and Sol, if the lines weren't long."  The little boy added, in his confidential whisper, "I don't like it when the lines are long.  I get hungry, and then I go into hibernation and it takes forever to wake up, and when I do, my food's all cold."

This joke had gone far enough.  The president jabbed a button to trace the call.  It came up negative.  "Where are you?"

"In my house."

The president ground his teeth.  He'd forgotten how maddening little boys could be.  He could deal with congressmen, but little boys were something else.  "What's the address?"

"I dunno.  It's too long."

"It's not good to forget your address.  What would you do if you got lost?"

"I'm not allowed out of the house until I metamorphose."

The president's temper broke free.  "This is no longer funny!  I want to know where your parents are and how you found my private, unlisted number!"

The little boy breathed heavily into the phone.  "I dunn—"

There was a high-pitched scream, and a series of thumps.

"Hey, sis, get your tentacles off the caller!  That's mine!"

Then the line went dead.

Available in print or e-book format through the Worlds of Wonder anthology.