“Dial Tone” by Benjamin Percy

This is my twelfth short story read for my annual Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge.  I drew the ten of spades from my short story deck  , which I had assigned to this story from the anthology “The New Black,” a collection of noir stories I first first heard of at Paula Cappa’s blog

Sometimes, when I go to work for yet another eight-hour shift or when I visit my parents for yet another casserole dinner, I want to be alone more than anything in the world. But once I’m alone, I feel I can’t stand another second of it. Everything is mixed up. This is why I pick up the phone sometimes and listen. There is something reassuring about a dial tone. That simple sound, a low purr, as constant and predictable as the sun’s path across the sky.”

Benjamin Percy’s story “Dial Tone,” features the troubled (ya think!?) narrator  quoted above, one who works a monotonous and soul-sucking job as a telemarketer. A job that sometimes leads him to a point of self-loathing that I’ve always thought telemarketers just HAVE to feel. This narrator (not named, though he refers to himself as “C-5” – his location in the “vast hive of cubicles” at work) is self-aware enough to realize he is close to “losing it” but he doesn’t change jobs, even though employee turnover at his company is about as high as one would expect.

“A jogger spotted the body hanging from the cell tower.” This was actually the first sentence of the story, and with an intro like that, the reader knows right away that this tale will not be a pleasant one, and it certainly isn’t. Where it gets you (or me at least), though, isn’t through raw violence, but an insidious evil that may be present anywhere, waiting to seize and control us at an opportune moment.

At one point, when looking from a elevated vantage point on highway traffic below, he muses that he:

“…could see the chains of light on Route 97 and Highway 100, each bright link belonging to a machine that carried inside it a man who could lose control in an instant, distracted by the radio or startled by a deer or overwhelmed by tiredness, careening off the asphalt and into the surrounding woods. It could happen to anyone.”

Has it happened to him?

You can actually read this story online (at least as of this posting) at https://muse.jhu.edu/journals/missouri_review/v030/30.2percy01.html

(Above: Author Benjamin Percy; picture from goodreads.com)