UNKNOWN NUMBER By Frank Quinn

“I’m not going to tell you what it is,” Jessica said into her phone. “You’ll just have to see for yourself.”

She slipped her credit card back in her wallet and mouthed a ‘thank you’ to the girl behind the counter. The clerk was the same age as Jessica but gothed up in a black tee, black nails and sleeves on both arms.

“I love your ink,” she said as Jessica turned to go. “It’s tre cool.”

Jessica threw the girl a wave and shouldered her way out the glass door and into the lingering heat of the summer afternoon.

“When do I get to see it?” Chris asked. “Is it someplace that’s going to be fun to find?” he asked the question with a certain lasciviousness in his voice.

Jessica laughed. “Maybe,” drawing out the word in a tease. “That is if you’re nice when you get home.” She turned north along Main street passing a glass fronted hamburger joint and an antique furniture store where a set of silver bar stools and a wooden zebra squatted in the long shadows of the sinking August sun.

“When’s your flight arrive?” she asked.

“Tomorrow. By noon,” he said. “Two if there’s a delay.”

Jessica’s phone buzzed in her hand. She glanced at the screen and saw she had a text: 
Unknown Number

I C U
Love the pink tee
I can C your nips

Jessica froze, unconsciously raising an arm to cover her breasts. She glanced down and saw her nipples were indeed raised, pressing against the thin material of the pink tee shirt. The creep who inked her must have sent the message. The guy had a look about him. It was freezing inside the shop. He probably kept the A/C cranked so women’s nipples would pop up. Well, she wasn’t going to stand around and be a victim.

“Hello? You still there?” Chris asked.

“What?….Yeah, yeah. I’m still here,” she stumbled. Traffic stopped at the light began to roll slowly past. “Hey, I gotta go,” she said. “Call me when you check in at the airport, okay?”

“Sure babe. Can’t wait to see the new tat.”

Jessica spun and marched back to the tattoo parlor. She was going to give that pervert a piece of her mind. Stepping up to the plate glass window she realized it couldn’t have been the tatto guy who texted her. He was deeply involved with a customer. The tatoo guy’s greasy yellow hair was pulled into a tight pony and he leaned over a man’s back, pen in hand, thick glasses propped on his nose. 

Jessica watched for several seconds before he finally pulled away to adjust his equipment. She could tell from the casual nod he gave her that he had nothing to do with the text. 

It had to be the girl. Yeah, that was it. The receptionist chick had her cell number on the receipt. The little dyke was getting her jollies sending creepy texts. But not today bitch, not today. 

Jessica flung open the door and stomped in. “I didn’t appreciate your text,” she growled. 

The girl looked up from a magazine staring at Jessica’s accusing finger. She glanced over her shoulder then back at Jessica. “Are you talking to me?”

“Hell yes, I’m talking to you. I didn’t appreciate your little text. It’s not funny and I’m not going to be coming back to this parlor.” The girl stared, open-mouthed, as Jessica turned and stomped out the door.

Feeling rather self-satisfied at having stood up to a jerk, Jessica crawled into her Toyota and headed for home. Traffic was light, for a Saturday afternoon, and she didn’t feel much like cooking. At the last moment, she swung into a Walmart parking lot to pick up dinner from the deli and some cat food for Mr.Kelly.

Jessica slid out of her car and was halfway across the parking lot when her phone chimed:


Unknown Number
I like your tight little ass

She spun and examined the lot, her eyes darting from car to car. Jessica backed towards the store entrance. There was an old woman in the handicapped parking and a Hispanic couple sweating near the curb in a dilapidated Buick. No way either of them was the texter. So who? The lot was full of cars. The pervert could be in any one of them.

She’d be careful; watch for anyone in the store who might be following. More likely he’d wait outside, follow her home. If he didn’t already know where she lived. She opened her duffel bag of a purse and dug inside. Where was that pepper spray her father gave her two years ago? She finally located it at the bottom and shoved the black cylinder in her front pocket.

Feeling better, now that she was armed, Jessica bought a sandwich, a salad and two cans of Fancy Dining for Mr.Kelly. Bags in hand, she stood for a long while at the store entrance. She studied the lot daring her phone to chime. 

Nothing.

Quickly, she walked across the lot and jumped into her car. On the way home, she meandered through several neighborhoods in order to give anyone tailing her the slip.

No one followed. 

She’d either lost them or what was more likely; they already knew where she lived. It could be a prank, she reminded herself. A stupid prank; that’s what it was. No reason to believe anyone had it out for her. 

What about knowing her tee shirt color? Her nipples sticking out? She wiped the thought away. She’d be careful, that was all. She’d be real careful.

Jessica pulled into the driveway, wishing, not for the first time, that she’d cleaned out the garage. Then she could park her car out of sight. Stars were beginning to twinkle in a cloud-flecked sky as she unlocked the front door and stepped inside. Her house was cozy, just the right size for her and Chris, and of course, Mr. Kelly. They’d discovered the simple two bedroom when they’d first moved into town last year. The old tan carpets had cleaned up well and although neither of them had much furniture, the house didn’t seem empty at all. 

Sliding home the deadbolt, she leaned against the door and let out a sigh. Mr. Kelly was waiting, twining his furry frame around her legs.

“We’ll be so glad when Chris is home, won’t we Mr.Kelly?” Jessica scooped up the fat orange tabby and carrying him into the kitchen. 

Mr.Kelly answered with a raucous meow and began kneading his claws into her arm. Once she fed her fuzzy companion and nibbled at her sandwich; the bread was wet and to tell the truth she wasn’t very hungry; Jessica changed into a pair of low cut pink panties and a tee shirt. Any other underwear would rub uncomfortably on the new tattoo.

She turned and examined the fresh ink in the mirror. The green-winged dragonfly, perched on her hip, appearing ready to take wing. Okay, the artist wasn’t a perv, and he did pretty good work. She ran a finger across the rough surface of the fresh tat, like braille beneath her finger. She hoped Chris liked it as much as she did.

Before dropping onto the couch and switching on the latest episode of Game of Thrones, she checked every door and window in the house. Everything was locked. She pulled the drapes and fell onto the old leather couch, pulling an oversized pillow across her lap. Tomorrow, Chris would be back. She’d never bought into the ‘man as protector’ bit but having him around somehow made her feel safer. She wished he were here now.

Halfway through the episode, her phone chimed. Like the prior messages it read: 
Unknown Number

Attached was a picture. It was too close to tell what it was. Some kind of hair. Maybe a coat? Or…oh, my God. Not pubes? She blew up the image. No, not pubic hair, it was too straight.

Her phone dinged again. This time the image was further away. Clearly the fur of some animal; long, orange…. Mr.Kelly! It was Mr. Kelly’s fur.

Leaping to her feet, she raced into the kitchen and yanked a knife from the wooden block resting on the linoleum counter. “Mr. Kelly?” she called out, her voice a choked whisper. Where was that God damn cat? He couldn’t get out. The place was locked tight.

She moved along the hall, poked her head into the laundry room where she kept his sleeping box. “Mr. Kelly?”

He wasn’t there.

Her phone chimed again: 
Unknown Number

Jessica almost dropped the phone at the image. It was Mr.Kelly, there was no mistake. He lay on his side, the fur around his abdomen matted with blood. His body was eviscerated, intestines corkscrewing across the floor, dark red chunks of liver and kidney scattered across the tan carpet. 

Tan carpet? The carpet Mr.Kelly was lying on was her carpet. The texter was here. He was inside.

She dialed 911, her breath coming in quick gasps she tried to focus. Tried to slow her breathing. Just like yoga class, in through the nose, out through the mouth. In through the nose, out through the mouth. What was the closest way out? Front door? Yeah, down the hall, through the kitchen, grab her keys, living room, then out. 

“911. Please state the nature of your emergency,” a woman answered, she had the voice of a ninety-year-old smoker.

“There’s a man in my house,” Jessica whispered.

“Ma’am. Can you please verify your address?”

Jessica gave the operator her house number. She suddenly realized her hand was tingling from the death grip on the knife handle. She uncurled each finger, one at a time ,to let the blood flow back into her hand.

“Ma’am, police are on their way,” the woman on the line croaked. “Do you know where the intruder is right now?”

“No, no,” Jessica said. “He’s somewhere inside. He just sent me a picture of my cat..” Jessica’s voice cracked and she felt tears well in her eyes. “The bastard killed Mr. Kelly. He’s somewhere inside my house.”

“Can you get outside?” the woman asked.

“Yes, yes. I can go out the front door.” 

“Okay. Let’s do that,” the woman said. “Stay on the phone and we’ll get through this together.”

Fear brought a watery looseness to her knees but she forced herself forward. At the end of the hall, she stared at the image in the wall mirror; the terrified woman stared back at her wide-eyed and pale. She stepped into the kitchen. 

Empty. 

Holding her breath, Jessica listened. There was no sound but the hammering of her heart in her ears. 

“Where are you now honey? Are you almost out?” the dispatcher asked.

“Yes, yes, I can see the front door.”

Jessica’s phone dinged. It was another message.

“Someone sent me a text,” she said.

“Don’t look at it. Just get outside,” the dispatcher said. “Police are a just minutes away.”

Jessica took another step towards freedom. She grabbed onto the door jamb to steady her wobbly legs before stepping into the living room. The paused image of Daenerys Targaryen flickered on the TV screen.
What was had the intruder sent her? She had to know. 

“Keep moving honey. You’re almo….,” Jessica pulled the phone from her ear, opened the message.
Unknown Number

It was an image of a green-winged dragonfly hovering above the elastic of pink panties.

 

*

BIO : Frank Quinn an ex-police officer and current software developer living in the wilds of Norman, Oklahoma. His fiction has appeared in several magazines including Tales of Terror, the always fun PULP METAL Mag, Shotgun Honey, Bewildering Stories, Down in the Dirt and DeadLights magazine as well as Mother’s Revenge and Hindered Souls Anthologies. He’s also the recipient of Writing.com’s 2016 Quill Award for Best Short Fiction.

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