Disconnected

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
When Rob Miller forgets his mobile phone one morning he starts to notice that he is the only person not constantly staring at the tiny screen. He discovers the sinister truth as to what is really going on.

Submitted: May 08, 2014

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Submitted: May 08, 2014

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It was a Thursday. The weekend was nearly here but not close enough. I woke feeling lousy. My head was throbbing and I ached all over. I was cold yet covered in sweat. It took all my energy to shower and dress for work. I knotted my tie, shrugged into my coat and headed for the train station.

As I stood on the platform I realised I’d left my mobile phone at home. I swore. Must be ill to have forgotten my phone. I checked my watch. Just gone eight. The train was due in ten minutes. I looked up and down the platform. Unknowingly taunting me every other person waiting for the 8.11 train had their mobile phones in hand. Everyone stared down at the tiny screens.

The train screeched into the station. I shuffled on with the rest of the crowd. I managed to find a seat. I slumped back and sighed. It was going to be a long day at the office. Having no mobile phone to amuse me on the journey I stated around the carriage. A real mix of people occupied the train. There were school children in their blazers, students in their baggy fashions, commuters in the grown up version of uniform, and elderly people in sensible clothes who, surely must be on their way out somewhere nice for the day.

Something struck me as I looked around. All these people had one thing in common. They were all staring down at their mobile phones. Maybe it was because I was feeling ill, maybe it was because I did not have my phone with me, but just then it seemed like everyone was hypnotised by their phones. The people had nothing in common, no shared interests, very different occupations and hobbies, yet every single one of them was using their phone. A voice in my head whispered is that normal? The train pulled into Urmston. This was one of the busiest stops on the way into Manchester. I glanced out the window. The queue of people filed towards the doors of the train. And each one had their faces illuminated by the screens of their phones. They pushed along, onto the train, heads down, glued to their phones. The throng found seats or huddled in the aisles of the train. Everyone still looked at their phones. It seemed really weird. Nobody spoke or chatted to each other. They just sat side by side, heads bent over the small devices. There was no chatter, no laughter. When did this happen? The inventions that we thought would connect us had turned us into strangers. And I was the only person not on my phone. A shiver went through me. I felt like I was the only person who was awake.

As the train neared my stop I pushed my way through the subdued crowd. Most people did not even look in my direction as I passed. I walked up the street towards my office. It was a cold morning. I made fists with my hands and shoved them into my coat pockets in an attempt to keep them warm. A woman in her thirties walked towards me. She was looking down at her mobile phone. I looked up and down the street. There were maybe half a dozen people walking to work. They were all using their phones. I took a deep breath. Shook my head. Told myself I was being ridiculous. What was wrong with using your mobile phone? Nothing. But I still couldn’t help find the whole thing disturbing.

 

A few cups of tea later I felt a bit better. I had a few things to sort out at the office. I wouldn’t say I liked my job but it paid the bills. And on days like this it was a distraction. Throwing myself into the problems I had to resolve helped take my mind off being under the weather and my irrational concerns about the mobile phones. The morning went by quickly and it was lunchtime before I knew it.

I popped down to the office kitchen. Made a cup of tea, grabbed my sandwiches from the fridge. Went back to my desk. As I crossed the open plan office something made me stop in my tracks. The office lunch hour was from twelve till one o’clock. Most people ate their lunch at their desks but would stop work for the hour. There was a variety of lunches being eaten by the staff at their desks. There was everything from pasta, sushi, Pot Noodles, to boring ham sandwiches. But each one of them was using their mobile phone.

It was as though they were sleeping. They slumped in the office chair, head down, oblivious to their surroundings. If I had been stood there in women’s clothing or naked nobody would have noticed. The feeling of worry swept over me. I mean, this wasn’t right was it? How could this be considered progress? These people were not being entertained by there phones. They were being hypnotised.

At one o’clock lunchtime was over. My colleagues put their phones away and resumed working. It was as though they were waking from slumber. Was that really the best way to spend our free time? Shouldn’t we be doing something?

 

The journey home was similar to the journey to work. I shoved onto a packed train carriage. I was surrounded by people of all ages and from all walks of life, everyone was on their phones. By the time I got home I was convinced I was right about the mobile phones. I knew I sounded like some conspiracy theory nut job but it only takes one nut job to be right and we’d be in trouble.

I found my mobile phone where I’d left it on my bedside cabinet. I switched the thing off. If anyone wanted to speak to me they could called the landline. I just did not want anything to do with the device. I went downstairs. Convinced I must be losing my mind I put a pizza in the oven. I hoped the food would help sort my head out.

I ate the pepperoni pizza with a strong cup of tea while watching a Champion’s League football game on television. After an entertaining first half I had put my bizarre theory about mobile phones to the back of mind. Then the half time advertisements came on the screen. A garish advert for an online betting website flashed up. It gave the odds on what would happen in the second half. It told viewers to get your mobile phones out now. I swore at the screen. Switched it off.

 

Ten minutes later I pulled up just across Barton Swing Bridge. I just had to get rid of my phone. I did not want it anywhere near me. It was just not right that the small devices held such control over people. I wanted nothing more to do with the thing. With the cold Salford wind tugging at my hair in the darkness I launched my mobile phone out into the brown murky deep of Manchester Ship Canal. As I drove back home I felt like a weight had been lifted. I noticed that not one person I passed on the street was without their phone. From people walking their dogs, to smokers huddled outside pubs, to those waiting at bus stops, they were all gazing at their phone.

I had no idea exactly what was going on with the phones but I knew I was right. There was definitely something going on and I wanted no part of it. As I locked my front door behind me I was glad that those damned phones were outside and I was safe inside. I made myself a strong cup of tea, rejoined the second half of the football match on television. I watched the two European teams battle it out. I felt relieved to have gotten rid of my phone. It was like a burden had been lifted.

 

The next morning as I was getting ready for work there was a knock on my front door. I’m like you, nobody comes round at this time in the morning. Not the hour for social calls. Wondering who on earth it could be I went to answer the door.

A man wearing a brown parcel service uniform handed me a small cardboard box. I signed his form.

‘What is it?’ I asked.

‘Your replacement mobile phone.’

Before I could ask anything else the guy climbed in his delivery van and drove off. I shut the door and went through to the living room. This was really weird. I had had replacement phones in the past but I had ordered them. I had called the phone company, hung on the line for best part of an hour and told them I needed a new phone. But not this time. And yet here it was. The unexpected arrival of this new phone confirmed my reservations. Then last thing I intended to do was switch on and activate this new phone. Still in its box I tossed it in the rubbish bin and left for work.

 

That evening I was watching a repeat of the Sopranos when the landline phone rang. I picked up expecting a friend or family member to be calling for a catch up.

‘Hello?’

‘This is an automated message. We understand you are experiencing problems with your mobile phone. Please state the nature of the problem after the tone so we can rectify the issue and have you back to normal as quickly as possible.’

I hung up. I did not want to get back to normal. If that meant being glued to my phone then they could forget it. It occurred to me that since I’d stopped using my phone I had been thinking a lot more. I was more aware of things around me than I had previously been. I was thinking of taking up hobbies I hadn’t done in years. I was going to get back into things like writing, painting, and martial arts. I felt so different from the poor saps I saw sitting motionless staring at their phones.

 

Sunday afternoon. I had just come back from a run, something I hadn’t done for ages, when there was a knock at my door. Still red-faced and sweating I opened the door. The man on my doorstep wore a dark suit and a pleasant expression. He looked like a salesman. While I understand that people have to make a living I hated it when people tried to sell me things. If I want something I’ll buy it. If I need assistance I’ll ask for it, till then, leave me alone.

‘Good afternoon, Mr Miller. I’ve come about your mobile telephone. If I could come in for few moments to discuss the problem I’m sure we can-’

‘Sorry. Not interested.’

I went to close the door. He jammed a foot in the doorframe. I stared at the polished shoe in shock. He pushed against the door. I shoved back. I could not believe this was really happening.

‘We are trying to help you.’ he called.

‘Leave me alone.’

‘I’m afraid we cannot do that.’

I swore. I drove my heel down hard on his foot. He moved his foot. I slammed the door shut. Then locked it. I went to my front room window. The man was talking on his phone as he headed back to his car. I was shaking. This was ridiculous. All this because I refused to have a mobile phone? Could this really be happening? My home phone rang. I picked up.

‘Good afternoon, Mr Miller. I’m calling about your mobile phone.’

I hung up. I dialled 999. Before the emergency operator could ask which service I required the line went dead. I tried again but didn’t even get the dialling tone. Whoever these people were they clearly wanted me back on my mobile.

I spent the next few hours cooped up in my house. I was panicking. Things were getting stranger. I had an awful feeling that my initial worries about being a mobile phone zombie had been correct. And the recent events seemed to confirm that.

I saw a guy coming up my garden path. He had a grey hoodie pulled low over his face. What now? I grabbed a heavy ornament from the fireplace. I wielded it like a baseball bat. If this man tried to get into my house he would cop for it. My letter box clanged. I heard something hit the mat. The man turned and headed back down the path. I sighed. I went to see what junk mail had been pushed through. It was the latest in and endless stream of take away menus that come through my door on almost a daily basis. No wonder this country had problems with obesity. If you managed to resist the temptation on your way home there was a menu on your doorstep to tempt you.

I noticed a scrap of paper sticking out of the glossy menu. I picked it up. Stared at the handwritten note.

Do not trust them.

Be at the bus stop outside the Golden Lion pub at 7pm.

 

I was still reeling from the guy trying to force his way into my home. I was also concerned about not being able to call the police. I picked up the house phone again. I tapped 999. Hit the call button. Instead of the line ringing there was an automated message. It told me that this number could only receive incoming calls. Whoever was doing this wanted to back me into a corner. If I wanted to call the police for help then I would have to use my mobile phone. I felt isolated. All this was happening because I was refusing to use my phone. And now if I wanted to call for help I would have to use the very thing that had gotten me in trouble in the first place.

 I read the note again. I did not have any other option. I did not want to see what they would do next. Would they torch my house to see if I would ring the fire brigade?

 

I stood in the glow of the bus shelter light. Every person on the street shuffled along using their phone. Nobody even looked at me. People walked right past me, heads down, like I wasn’t there. I felt invisible. Just as I was wondering what the hell I was doing and what would happen something was pushed into my hand. I couldn’t tell who had passed me the scrap of paper. Nobody glanced my way. I read the note.

Get on.

I looked around me. The number sixty seven bus pulled into the stop. Deciding I had nothing to lose I boarded the bus. The passengers were glued to their phones and oblivious to my stares. I plonked myself down on an empty seat. I waited to see what would happen next.

For the next twenty minutes the bus bumped along. I watched people get on and off, stared out into the early evening darkness. As we neared the city centre the bus began to fill up. A man in his thirties in a long overcoat took the seat next to me. Like everyone he stared down at his phone, tapped keys quickly, either tweeting or texting.

I sighed. Unsure whether I was the victim of a hoax or prank I decided I would give it another couple of stops then get off and jump on a bus heading back to Salford. The guy next to me leaned in.

‘Come on.’ he whispered.

He got to his feet. Headed for the front of the bus. I followed as he got off and stepped out into the darkness. He handed me a phone.

‘What’s this?’

‘Don’t panic. It’s a kid’s toy. Pretend to use it otherwise they’ll spot you. We’re on CCTV all the time we’re outside.’

‘They will spot me? Who’s they?’

‘We’ll get to that later. This way.’

Tapping buttons on our plastic toy phones we shuffled along. Part of me was relieved that I was not going crazy. There was something going on with the phones. But another part of me was scared as to what I would uncover and what would happen next. We turned off the main road onto a residential street. Again everyone I saw was on their phone.

I followed the guy to a terraced house. He rang the bell three times and knocked twice. A second later the door opened and we were ushered into the house. As we made our way down the narrow hallway the guy tossed his toy phone on a small table. I did the same. He turned to me. He had a serious yet welcoming expression.

‘I’m Ian.’

‘Rob Miller.’ I said.

‘We know.’ he grinned. ‘And we know about your recent problems.’

He showed me through to the back of the house. In the large kitchen half a dozen people were sitting around the dining table. They were talking and drinking. The table was cluttered with mugs, whiskey and wine glasses. Jazz music played from a stereo. The talking stopped as we entered. The group looked at me. They were a mix of ages, from early twenties to sixty plus. I noticed that no-one was using a mobile phone. The table top was free of phones too. I was introduced to the group. They seemed friendly enough but quite serious.

I was invited to sit down. I took the chair next to Ian. When offered a drink I went for the whiskey. A man called Allen leaned forward. He had thinning hair and thick glasses. He was somewhere in his mid-thirties. His eyes locked on mine. I got the impression that he was the leader of the group.

‘Rob, let me bring you upto speed. It will be a lot to take in but bear with me.’

He paused. Nobody spoke. I took a sip of whiskey.

‘You will have noticed the mobile phones. The general public are being controlled and subdued by the handheld devices. The first thing people do in the morning and the last thing they do at night is go on their phones. You were the same until recently. The technology that was supposed to improve our lives is now dictating our actions. We are not free to think for ourselves. We are hypnotised by social media and addictive but ultimately pointless games. We are helping our oppressors by pouring our thoughts, hopes and ideas into social media.’

‘Who is it? The Government?’ I asked.

‘Good question. The answer is that there is no government as such. Everything is connected. The government of each developed country, all the big corporations, the television companies are all under one umbrella. They produce junk food and alcohol for you to binge yourself on, cigarettes to get addicted to. Those in charge want the consumer to eat their manufactured crap, guzzle the chemical ridden alcoholic drinks. And to distract you from the problem they put the latest phone in your hand and get you playing Angry Birds or taking photos of yourself to post on some website or other.

‘As you see, the phones are just one small but vital part of it. You head off to work and instead of asking yourself just what you are working all those hours for, you tweet about last night’s X Factor. You work long and stressful hours to buy the latest products and clothes that you do not actually need.’

‘Really? I mean, that’s a strong opinion. Seems a very cynical way to look at things.’ I said.

‘You have had a man trying to get into your house to get you back on your phone. I bet they have stopped you dialling out on your home phone too.’

I nodded. My head was spinning. They certainly did put forward a convincing argument. But this all sounded like some crackpot internet conspiracy. Unless that was what they wanted the public to think. Anyone who questioned what was happening was ridiculed and looked upon as something of an oddball. I took a hit of whiskey.

‘So, the phones are to occupy our minds to ensure we go along working and consuming the things that they tell us to.’ I said.

‘Exactly.’ Ian replied. ‘Give me an example.’

I thought for a second.

‘Mingo Pizza doing Whatever You Want Wednesdays. A lot of the lads at work really fancy a pizza on Wednesday. You have to wait longer than normal because the pizza place is so busy.’

‘You see? You are told what junk to eat and when to eat it. Haven’t you had texts offering you simply irresistible offers?’

I nodded. It certainly seemed very plausible. I had my own experiences with mobile phones. And since I’d started to notice it, the people did seem to be being duped.

Alan pointed a finger.

‘You can see it, can’t you?’

I said nothing.

‘Anyone who speaks out publicly is gotten rid of. There have been a lot of accidents or apparent suicides. That rock star that died the other week. He was on to what was going on. He was all set to release a statement. He was going to tell the people that they were being controlled. He died the night before. It was a supposed drug overdose. Strange thing is that he had been clean for two years.’

A woman in her early thirties in a large woolly jumper spoke.

‘Not a new thing either. This has been going on for years. John Lennon protested against the way things were going. He said we should stop going along with everything. He campaigned for peace. And he was shot.’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘By a crazy person.’

She raised an eyebrow. She took a sip of wine before continuing.

‘If they catch you they will do one of two things. If you are too far gone or too much of a threat they will kill you. Notice how many accidents there is each year? They are not all accidents.

‘If they feel they can make progress with you and return you back to how they want you they will wipe your memory. They give you a mundane office job and the latest phone. They call it rehabilitating.’

‘You can stay here tonight. Go home tomorrow. Take the toy phone with you but say nothing to anyone.’

I shook my head. Poured myself another whiskey. The woman who’d suggested Lennon was assassinated leaned forward. Patted my arm. It was so much to take in. The way I looked at the world was changing drastically. I had so many questions. But I did not question that anyone there was telling anything but the truth.

‘How do you know all this about the rehabilitating?’

‘Brian has seen it. So have others.’

A bearded man with sad eyes at the bottom of the table merely nodded.

‘Others I’m in contact with have reported similar accounts.’

 

Later that evening we went through to the living room. We flaked out on leather sofas. The woman who’d spoken to me earlier took the space next to me on the sofa.

‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘I can’t remember your name.’

‘It’s Lucy. I know it’s a lot to take in but once you get your head round it everything makes sense.’

‘I know. And I know you’re right. That’s the real mind job.’

We chatted for ages. I really warmed to her. Around midnight she gave me a kiss on the cheek, said she had to make a move.

 

The next few weeks rolled by. I spent a lot of time at the house. I grew close to the whole group. I became especially fond of Lucy. We had so much in common including the same silly sense of humour. She was able to recite almost as many Monty Python sketches as I could. She said she would lend me her prized collection of Goon Show CDs.

We were all careful. We arrived and left the house at different times. We changed buses or drove different routes. We all had our plastic toy phones whenever we were out in public.

 

One evening I had a note shoved through my door.

They have found the house. Go to the new address below.

I memorised the address then tore the note into pieces.

 

That night I went to the new house. It was tucked at the dark end of a small cul-de-sac. I gave the distinctive knock and was let inside. I noticed the sombre atmosphere immediately. A few people were missing. Those who were there had thick lips or black eyes. Lucy was not there.

‘Where are the others? What’s happened?’

Ian shook his head. ‘They’ve taken them.’

Tears stung my eyes. I leaned against the wall.

‘Where are they? When are we going to get them back?’

He gave a sad smile.

‘We can’t. We would lose everything we have been working towards. We are not the only group. There are other pockets of resistance like ours.’

‘You call this resistance? Ian, we have to get her back.’

‘You weren’t here, man. Riot police in black unmarked uniforms stormed the house. It was awful.’

Ian lifted his shirt. His chest was almost black with the bruising.

‘You are really putting yourself in serious danger if you go after her.’

‘I have to try. Do we know where she is now?’

‘They are being kept at a holding facility in Manchester. You can try and get to her. If you get yourself killed the news reports will state that you were either a terrorist or a lunatic.’

‘I have to do something.’

Ian sighed. He ran a hand through his hair. His gaze asked if I really knew what I was getting myself into. I held his stare.

‘As I said, there are other groups like ours. All across the country people are waking up to what is really going on. I have connections. There is a chance I can get you forged clearance passes to get you in to the facility. It would take a miracle but if you can find her maybe you can get her out. We all know and accept the risks. Nobody expects a rescue. If you get captured then you are lost. The group comes first.’

The rest of the group thought I was crazy but I could not just leave her to her fate. Maybe it was because I was new to the group or maybe it was because I really felt something for Lucy, but I had to try and get her back.

 

Three days later. Dressed in a dark suit I marched upto the glass doors of the facility. The building had the professional feeling of an office block mixed with the impenetrable air of a prison. I swiped my card down the slot. I walked in the door with the air of a person who has every right to be there. I told myself to keep calm. I tried to ignore my sweaty palms and pounding heart. The pretty receptionist didn’t even look in my direction. I cast a quick glance at the sign on the wall. It told me that the interview rooms were on the first floor. I decided to try there. I rode the silent lift up one floor. The lift doors opened with a gentle ping. I stepped out onto a long corridor. People in suits moved quietly. I noticed that nobody used a mobile phone. That particular device was clearly for the oppressed and not the oppressor.

The doors along both sides of the corridor had small square windows at eye level. I tried to forget about the danger I was in. I tried to forget about what awful torture I would be put through if I was caught. I was here to get Lucy. I really couldn’t bear the thought of not spending any more time in her company.

I strode along looking sideways into each door window as I passed. There was a mix of men and women being interviewed. From where I was standing it looked like more of an interrogation than interview. Some rooms were empty. Others contained prisoners on their own. Some of the inmates looked scared, others merely stared straight ahead. I wondered how Lucy was holding up. I swore that when I’d got Lucy safe I would come back and rescue the others.

Eventually I saw her. My heart leaped. She was in a room on her own. She stared straight ahead. I tried the door. Locked. I swiped my card. Tried again. I was close to tears as the door clicked open. I rushed into the room. I whispered her name. She did not move. She didn’t even look at me. I crossed the room to her.

‘Lucy, it’s me. I’ve come to take you out of here.’

She stared at me blankly. Still didn’t move.

I heard the door open behind me. I turned to see a thin man in a dark suit. He smiled. He handed Lucy a mobile phone. She took it eagerly and began tapping the keys, head down.

‘As you can see she has no idea who you are. She has no recollection of you, nor of the propaganda campaign you people are involved in. She is making good progress with her rehabilitation.’

‘No.’ I whispered.

I looked at her. She did not even know I was there. This was the woman I’d spent so much time with recently. She now paid me no more attention that you would a stranger on a bus.

‘What have you done?’

‘We are working for the good of society. We want what is best for you.’

‘Don’t we get to decide?’

‘We know what is best for you.’

He waved a hand. A mountain of a man in a black uniform appeared at the door. He clutched a machine gun. The glint in his eyes begged for an excuse to shoot me down.

‘Come, Mr Miller, let’s go to my office while we prepare to begin your own rehabilitation.’

I had the choice to resist and die or go along. I touched Lucy on the cheek. She did not register my touch. I swallowed the lump in my throat. I said nothing. I was dragged down the corridor and into a large office. I was told to wait there. The suited guy assured me it would not be long.

I was alone in the office. I looked around me. I swore. There was nothing I could see that would make a half decent weapon. I sat at the desk. I went through the desk drawers. Nothing. Not even a letter opener. I was about to be taken for rehabilitating. I had to do something. Once they had finished with me I would not remember anything.

 I turned to the computer. If I could get my story told then that would be something at least. I would soon have no recollection of any of this. Not even my name would be the same. I would be given a new identity. I would be called John or Dave or Chris or something. Yeah, they will probably call me Chris. Never did care for that name.

But if I could get my report out there. Get my account on the internet then it would not have been in vain. Who knows maybe I would even beat them at their own game.

I could hear voices and footsteps outside. Soon they would be coming for me. I went onto the internet. I began typing.

It was a Thursday. The weekend was nearly here but not close enough.


© Copyright 2019 CTPlatt. All rights reserved.

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