It was a gloomy day in Valdese, colder than it should have been. The mist and the moisture clung to your bones, the way packing peanuts cling to peanut butter.
It had been a quiet day in our office - too quiet. The kind of quiet that puts a person on edge, the kind of quiet that makes a person wonder. The kind of quiet that makes a dog curl up an inch from the heat of a space heater, sound asleep, then wake up and look out a window, desperately trying to find a reason to bark. The kind of quiet that creates a tension of its own, making a person wonder when the quietness will end, and worse, how, for quietness always, always, ends.
Patti tapped idly on her keyboard. Leo packaged up some the days sales. The dog decided it wasnt worth it and went back to sleep.
Suddenly the phone rang.
The phone. Of all the nefarious things to break the silence. The phone.
"I'm not home", Leo said, a Pavlovian reflex, as automatic as an M-16 or Moe poking Curly's eyes.
The phone rang again. Phones were bad news, bad luck, no good, not wanted. Nothing good ever came from a phone. Curse you, Alexander Graham Bell!
Leo shot Patti a glance, a hard glance, a tough glance, a glance with an edge, a glance that said "Please please please don't give me the phone, I don't like talking to disembodied voices, you never know what they're going to say, I beg of you, have mercy."
Patti picked up the phone, and held the receiver to her ear. Silence. No words. Just quiet. A quietness that made the edginess of the previous quietness seem a blessing. A quietness that extended much longer than it should have. A quietness that wouldn't end.
Patti hung up the phone, and began idly tapping her keyboard.
Leo gave Patti a look, a look which said, "Have you been a secret agent all these years and you just got a message from your handler? Is Le Carre for real? Are you going all Tom Clancy on me? Did you just enter a secret code on a website which will set in motion momentous events in Valdese?"
Patti, who knew the look well, said, "Just playing phone chicken. I don't say anything, then see how long it takes for them to hang up".
Leo cocked his head a little. The dog stretched and yawned, and fell back asleep. The quietness decended - slowly, surely, until the room was enveloped in it, overflowing with it, as surely as leaves fill up a gutter in autumn.
Things were normal again. Or were they?