03. MUSIC INSPIRATION
"If you're listening to this, then you're already dead." Joanna tweaks the transformer spool and leans in closer to the lead contact. This is her ninth time talking to the dark empty room and it may be the last time before the packs arrive. She tries again.
"You're in this room somewhere. I know it." Despite the extraordinary circumstances, this sounds just as stupid on the ninth try as it did the first. "I'm sorry to bother you," she says. "But I need your help."
After what feels like fifteen minutes she unlocks her phone. Three minutes have passed. She fumbles through a stack of paranormal books written by television actors, straining to read in the phone screen light. The static box hums with jumbled radio signals, but there are no voices rolling over the white noise. Those TV shows are bullshit.
"Alright, Mom, where the hell are you?" Joanna's voice shakes with desperation. "You're just as unreliable now as you were when you were here."
The packs have been seizing north-end neighborhoods for days now, and there's not much resistance up there. Most of those wealthy homes fled before fighting began. Joanna's dorm is in the Blocks, where students can still afford housing. Down there, most of the students stayed. To protest. To move supplies and food around. To fight.
Joanna's childhood home is between the two worlds, a blurry line between periphery and core. It's far enough to avoid her parents day to day, yet just a two-stop bus ride away. Still, it's been a year since she's been back, and if it wasn't for the insurgency, she probably would've stayed away forever. And she plans to once she gets into that safe.
Chapter 7 in "Ghost Calls” recommends trigger objects that your dead family members enjoyed or used in everyday life. You want to coax them out, it says. You want to make them comfortable. On the table, she has a jumbled collection of pieces from a sewing kit, no needles. She's seen too many horror movies where the white people invite their own death. Beside the spools of thread she has a nail file buffer block and her mom's favorite cigarettes. There's a mini-golf pencil and a single sheet of lined paper. She worries there's not enough static electricity in the room. She worries she didn't really know her mom that well.
"I'm running out of time Mom," Joanna says impatiently. "You're in here somewhere. You'd never leave this house. This is your chance, let me fucking have it." Chapter 4 discourages provocation. Joanna doesn't care. Two decades of silent treatments and cheap shots was enough. She was happy to let them go, right along with the broken nose and police report. But even in death her mother controls her life, locking Joanna's passport in the safe as ransom just days before the accident.
Now, Joanna has one chance to flee before the insurgents shut down all the airports in the midwest. She's not staying to fight. Who would she fight for? Her roommate said fight for the city, but she hated this city. An education was supposed to help her get out. Now she's relying on junk science and a dead relative to get her back the one affluent possession she owned. She takes a last swig of whiskey, her thumb blistered and warm from rubbing the flask's smooth metal like a worry stone.
Either fireworks or bullets rattle outside. She pushes away her makeshift microphone and throws the static box against the wall. She closes her eyes and starts to cry but no tears come out. She tries one final death roll before abandoning her dumb idea.
"Mom. Listen to me. I need you. I am sorry I wasn't who you wanted me to be. Maybe we could've fixed it with time. But we didn’t, okay? I was hurt. I still listen to your voicemails, the mundane ones where you check in or ask me about something you could've just googled. You felt responsible, but this is how you can even it out. Help me, please."
It startles her at first. The sound. The lights. Electronic tones mapped to keypad numbers, lit up in a synchronized dance. 4-5-9-8. Of course.
She hears a click.
The tears finally fill her eyes.