The Fourth Call
The video screen flickers for a moment, as if the connection isn't very steady, but finally I'm just about able to see Katie's face as she leans back from the camera. I'm immediately struck by the fact that she looks absolutely ghastly, with pale skin and tired, ringed eyes. Her hair is straggly and chaotic, and there appears to be old make-up smeared around her lips and chin, while she has a gray blanket pulled tight around her shoulders.
“Hey,” she stammers, her voice sounding weak and rasping. “Sorry I didn't call yesterday, I...”
She pauses for a moment.
“I, uh... I just didn't get a chance.”
“What's wrong?” I ask, shocked by her appearance. Behind her, the apartment looks a mess, with some kind of black writing scrawled across the walls. “Katie -”
“I'm fine,” she replies, although she sounds a little uncertain. “Maybe I'm just a little... I don't know, hungover still. Don't fuss.”
“You went out again last night?”
“No, I was in last night. I was here.”
“Then why didn't you call me?”
Again, she seems to momentarily zone out a little.
“Why didn't I call you?” she asks finally. “Oh, um... I was just busy, that's all. Studying...”
“What does that say on the wall?” I reply, leaning closer to the screen. “Katie, I hope that'll come off. You want to get your deposit back when you leave the apartment, remember?”
She stares at the camera, before slowly turning and looking at the wall for a moment, where somebody looks to have written several unintelligible words alongside various signs and symbols. The whole thing is utterly ghastly, and Katie seems lost for words as she slowly and very lethargically turns back to me.
“That's nothing,” she mumbles. “The landlord'll be cool.”
“Are you alone?”
“Right now. In the apartment. Are you alone?”
A faint flicker of confusion crosses her face.
“Yeah,” she whispers finally. “I'm alone.”
“And what are you doing?” I continue. “What's going on? Are you sick?”
“I'm a little sick.”
“What's wrong with you?”
“I don't know. Just something that's going around. You know how it is.”
“No,” I reply, trying not to panic, “I don't know how it is. Tell me. Are you nauseous? Do you have a high temperature?”
“I'm not gonna throw up,” she mutters, sounding almost as if she's on the verge of falling asleep. “If that's what you're worried about, you don't need to. I don't think I'm hot, either. It's a cool day. I've got the window open and there's a breeze. The river smells a bit, though.”
She's still clutching the blanket over her shoulders, although after a moment it slips a little to reveal her bare neck. To my horror, I see what looks like a thick cut in her flesh, running down to where the blanket covers her chest, and I think there might be another cut running through the first.
“What happened to your chest?” I ask, leaning closer. “Katie, are you hurt?”
“What?” She pauses, before looking down at the cuts and then pulling the blanket over them. “No, Mum, that's nothing.”
“It looked like there was a pattern,” I continue. “Katie -”
“It's nothing,” she continues, interrupting me again. “I fell over the other night while we were out, that's all. We had a few drinks after all, but Agnes and Fernando took really good care of me. And I wasn't drunk, I was just tipsy, and I was wearing heels, and that was completely new to me and...”
Her voice trails off.
She stares past the camera, as if she's looking at something behind the laptop. After a few more seconds her lips start moving, and I realize she's whispering something to herself. Just as I'm about to ask what's wrong, she suddenly turns and looks over her shoulder, staring toward the wall before finally turning back to look at the camera again.
“I have to go,” she stammers. “I need to -”
“Wait a moment,” I reply, trying to stay calm even though it's clear something is wrong. “Katie, I don't like what I'm seeing. You look pale, and sick, and -”
“I just need to go to bed,” she continues. “Seriously, I think maybe I'm coming down with flu or... Yeah, that's probably it. I just have flu.”
I open my mouth to ask if she's been to the pharmacy, but suddenly I notice that there's something new on the tilted shelf behind her. Peering closer at the screen, I realize that there appears to be some kind of foot-high statue, seemingly made from a twisted column of wax and fashioned into a rough approximation of a human body. I stare at it for a moment, convinced that I must be wrong.
“Katie,” I say cautiously, “sweetheart... What's that thing behind you?”
“There's nothing behind me,” she mumbles, still staring at the camera.
“On the shelf, sweetheart. There's a... I don't know what it is, it looks like a figurine of some sort. A wax figurine, on the shelf.”
She hesitates, before slowly turning and looking over toward the shelf. This seems to consume her attention for fully half a minute, and then she turns back to look at me again.
She says nothing.
“The figurine,” I remind her finally. “Was it a gift?”
She furrows her brow again.
“Oh,” she continues after a few more seconds. “Yeah. Sure. I think so.”
I pause for a moment, before realizing that something seems very wrong. This is not the smart, bright girl I waved off on the train barely a week ago. She seems foggy and disturbed, as if she's not quite sure where she is or what's happening.
“You know what?” I say with a smile, trying not to act like I'm
worried. “I think I might hop on a train and visit you. Just for a couple of days. I've always wanted to see London, and the prices are very low. If I book now, I can be there tonight, and then -”
“No!” she says suddenly.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I'm fine, Mum!”
“I'm sure you are, but I'd like to -”
come here!” she says firmly. “I'm serious! There's nothing wrong except maybe I have flu, and the last thing I need right now is to have you hovering around the place!”
“I hardly think I'd be hovering,” I reply, feeling a little put out by her resistance. “You said before you left that you'd like it if I visited. I was going to come toward the end of your stay, but now I think I'll -”
“If you come, I won't let you in!”
I open my mouth to ask what she means, but it's clear from her defiant stare that she's very firmly against the idea of me showing up.
“It'd be embarrassing,” she continues. “Everyone else doesn't have their parents showing up to check on them.”
“I wouldn't be -”
“Just leave me alone,” she adds. “Mum, I really want to go to bed. I have flu, and I need to sleep it off, and if it's still bad tomorrow I'll go to the pharmacy. I promise. I'll get drugged to the eyeballs on every medication they have. Does that make you feel better?”
“And you'll call me?”
She sighs, as if she's talking to an irritating child. “Yes, Mum. I'll call you!”
“I'd rather -”
“I'll call tomorrow! And now I'm going to bed! Have a nice afternoon, Mum! Bye!”
“What about -”
The call suddenly ends. I immediately click to restart, but this time Katie doesn't pick up. Sighing, I sit back on the sofa and try to figure out how quickly I could get to the train station, before realizing that perhaps I should respect Katie's wishes. After all, she's a capable young woman and I certainly wouldn't want to be bothered if I were in her shoes. I can wait one more day, to see if she gets better, but if she still looks so poorly tomorrow I shall immediately book myself onto a train. Flu is one thing, but I'm worried about those cuts on her chest.
Getting up from the sofa, I head to the kitchen and start opening a bottle of white wine. My hands are trembling a little and I need to calm down.
The Fifth Call
“Katie? Are you there? Katie?”
I wait, but all I hear for a few seconds is a buzz of static. The screen is still blank, but the call appears to be connected and after a moment I realize there's a faint rustling sound on the other end of the line, along with what sounds like heavy breathing. I think I'm hearing the correct audio, even if the video is a little hard to discern.
I grab my spectacles, which have been resting on this week's
, in the hope that they might help.
“Katie?” I say firmly, trying not to panic. “I told you to call me! I waited all evening, but finally I realized you seemed to have forgotten. How are you today? Is your flu a little better?”
The only response is more static, accompanied by the continued close breathing sound. It's almost as if her mouth is right against her laptop's microphone. Either that, or perhaps there's some kind of wrong connection. I don't know if these computers can get their wires crossed, but I certainly hope that I've accidentally called the wrong person. Still, Katie's username is showing at the top of the screen.
I wait, while telling myself to stay calm and not become one of those awful, stereotypical screeching mothers.
“Katie, say something,” I continue. “Katie -”
“Hey Mum,” she replies suddenly, sounding even more tired and weak than before. “It's me.”
“Why isn't your camera on?” I ask, staring at the blank screen. “Katie, turn your camera on! I want to see you!”
I hear a bumping sound, barely audible over the continued static.
“I don't know,” she stammers finally. “Something's wrong with it. I don't know. I can't make it work. Maybe a wire's loose somewhere. The little light's on.”
“Well, can you fix it?” I ask. “I want to see your face.”
The bumping resumes, accompanied by a faint clicking, but the screen remains resolutely blank. Just as I'm about to ask if she has a spare camera anywhere, I hear a sudden, brief roaring sound through the static, followed by a set of heavy, thumping footsteps. It sounds like an absolute elephant is thundering through her apartment.
“Katie?” I continue. “What in the name of God was that?”
“I can't make the camera go on,” she replies, sounding as if she's on the verge of falling asleep. “I'm sorry, it just won't work.”
Before I can finish, I hear glass breaking.
“Who's with you?” I ask. “What are you doing?”
“There's no-one with me,” she replies. “I'm all alone. And don't worry, all the doors and windows are locked. I checked a lot of times.”
“Did you drop a cup?”
“I heard the sound of breaking glass.”
“Not here,” she mumbles. “Maybe it was on your end.”
“No,” I say firmly, “I quite distinctly heard -”
Suddenly I hear a rumbling voice in the background, as if someone is whispering to Katie. The sound is too distorted for me to make out any of the words, but it definitely sounds like a man.
“There's someone with you,” I continue. “Katie, who is it? Is it that Fernando boy? Is he there with you?”
“There's no-one here.”
“I can hear him whispering to you!”
don't hear anyone!” she replies, sounding a little exasperated. “Mum, seriously, there's no-one here! Don't you think I'd know if there was? I'm not a complete moron.”
I pause for a moment, listening as the whispering continues. I can't quite make out the words, but I'm no fool and it's abundantly clear that she has someone with her in the apartment. Katie has never been the kind of girl who hides things from me, and while I'm glad that she seems to be making friends, I can't help thinking that something seems very wrong.
And still the whispering goes on.
“Katie?” I say finally. “Listen, this is very important. I need you to fix your webcam. Okay? It can't be that difficult, you've probably just turned it off by accident. Please, fix it immediately. I want to see what's going on there!”
All I hear is static, and the sound of a voice whispering with ever-increasing urgency.
“Katie?” I continue. “Katie, I'm serious, if you don't answer me right now and get your webcam fixed so I can see your face, I am going to get on the first available train to London and I am going to come to that apartment. And if I embarrass you, I don't care, but I have to make sure that you're okay!”
“I'm fine,” she gasps, although she sounds as if she's in pain. “Mum, I'm okay.”
“Who's with you?”
“I can hear somebody whispering to you! Katie, I can hear it right now, even as I'm speaking. Somebody is whispering, I can't make out the words but I am not a fool! Who is it?”
“There's no-one here,” she replies, sounding a little desperate now, almost as if she's crying. “Mum, I'm looking around and there's no-one. It's just me and I'm -”
Her voice stops suddenly.
I wait, as the whispering continues.
“It's just you and you're what?” I ask.
“Oh,” she says after a moment. “Yeah. Sure.”
“I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.”
I wait, but I think perhaps she isn't talking to me. I think she's talking to whoever is in the apartment with her.
“Okay,” she adds. “Sure, but I don't know. No, I don't know. I don't know.”
“Katie! Talk to me!”
The static surges for a moment.
“It's just me and I'm fine,” she groans, but there's now absolutely no doubt that something is very wrong. “Mum, I think I wanna get off the line now.”
Bringing up my web browser, I start searching for trains to London. It's getting late now, and my hands are trembling as I try to find a service that leaves tonight. The last thing I want is to have to wait until tomorrow morning.
“I'm going to book a train,” I stammer, “and -”
“I have to go!” Katie gasps suddenly. “I'm fine, though. Don't come. I'm okay, Mum, I promise. I have to go now. Bye!”
“Wait!” I hiss. “Katie, I'm going to come to your apartment. Do you understand? I'm going to come and check on you!”
“I don't know,” she says finally. “No, I don't know. I don't -”
Suddenly the call ends, and I try several times to reconnect, without any success.
After a few more minutes, I manage to book myself onto a flight that leaves the local station at seven in the morning. That's longer than I'd like to wait, but I can't do much better and I'll head to the station immediately. Even if I have to wait overnight, I can't possibly sit around here at home while my daughter is clearly in trouble.
I try one more time to call Katie, and then finally I realize that I can't delay any longer. After searching for the number online, I call the local police in London.