[Leave a Message After the Beep]

This was my submission for Round 10 of Three-Minute Fiction, the short story contest from NPR’s All Things Considered. Here’s the premise: Write a piece of original fiction that can be read in about three minutes (no more than 600 words)–in the form of a voice-mail message.

“Hello. You have reached the ‘Martin Family.’ We’re not home, but if you leave your name and number we’ll get back with you.”

[The machine beeps and the following message is recorded.]

My name is….my name ain’t important.
What is important?

I have your son.

By now, I’m sure you’re pretty panicked. Maybe you’ve called the cops. Maybe you haven’t. You need to understand that I’m not playin’ around here. Think about how quiet your house is now. How empty. Do you want it to stay that way?

I didn’t really plan this. This damned economy. Your wife drives a Volvo. I had seen the house. It’s nice. I figured you were good for the money. I didn’t really spend time watchin’ all of you.

[A boy’s voice can be heard in the background.]

Your house sucks. You don’t have wifi. What is that stickin’ out behind your TV? What year is this? Why do you have recliners? No one has recliners anymore. I can’t eat this– I’m not allowed to eat processed foods. Why does your phone have a cord? What’s it for? My parents will sue you. You won’t even get to keep this crappy stuff.

Please take him back.

This little fucker ain’t worth this.

No amount of money is worth this.

I know you’re at home. I drove by earlier.

Pick up the damn phone.

[The caller begins to play music to drown out the sounds of the kid.]

So I stepped out to buy some dog food for the cat…

(Sigh.)

I know why you ain’t answering. I practically did ya’ll a favor.

What a Grade-A sucker I am.

Look…

I have twenty-something dollars in the bank and I’m sure I can come up with another hundred.

Let’s just forget this ever happened.

[The boy’s voice continues over the sound of the music.]

Is this what they listened to back in the 40’s? What are those little trays you put in your freezer? My shoes cost more than your house. I would kill myself if I lived like this.

I’m hopin’ for your sake that he was the first one and maybe you got it right the next time. Just don’t seem right to let somethin’ like this loose on the world. It’s downright selfish.

Pick up the phone!

I’m gonna drop him off somewhere real public like. I hate to do it to the poor people, but I can’t take anymore myself.

You all’s is rich. I would recommend one of them schools where your kid gets sent off to live somewheres else. And maybe if he were to accidently get kicked in the head by a horse–it might make for a better time for all involved.

I’m just spitballin’ here.

[Beep]

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