by m. james moore
Winston Thurber had his eye on a particular car stereo, and had finally decided to get it. He bought it from a rather shady business, called TranceTronics, but knew this stereo would make him the talk of all his competitors at the dozens of car shows he attended in his custom ’49 Ford Sedan Delivery. With as much as he had invested in his car, it was the only vehicle he could afford to keep, so he drove it everywhere.
One day on his way to work, the radio suddenly went silent. He was at a light, so he looked down to change the station to see whether they’d simply had a broadcasting problem or whether the system was bad. Before he could touch it, he heard a voice.
"Winston," said the voice, in a female tone.
He looked out his window, but no one seemed to be trying to get his attention.
He checked in the back of the vehicle. No hiding passengers.
"What?" he said, not sure who to answer.
"I am your stereo."
It took him a moment, but he finally replied.
"My what? Who’s fooling around here?" he said, looking at the dancing lights of the stereo. The streetlight turned green and he drove on.
"I am your stereo. Do you like me so far?"
"I used to, but now I’m not so sure. Who is this really, and how do you know my name?"
"Why, you’re Winston Thurber. You’re 34 years old, you have a tattoo of a dragon on your left hip, and you like to dance by yourself to Earth Wind and F..."
"Stop! Who is this? Stop joking, this isn’t funny!"
"Like I said, Winston, I am your stereo. Will you do as I say?"
"Why should I?" he asked, then suddenly became incredibly dizzy. He could hardly tell what was up or down and the road seemed to loop-de-loop into a thousand knots ahead of him. A police siren chirp brought him back to reality. He pulled over, and the officer came up to his window.
"Everything OK there? You were waving all over the lanes back there. Had much too drink, pal?"
"No officer, I just became dizzy suddenly," Winston said, handing over his license and proof of insurance.
"I’ll be right back, you sit tight," the officer went to check Winston’s credentials with the dispatcher.
"Plan on doing what I say now, Winston?" the female voice coming from his speakers said again, as the officer walked out of range.
"Yes, just stop this nonsense. What do you want me to do?"
In the blink of an eye, Winston was back on the road driving, with no officer in sight, as if nothing had happened.
"My name is Evelyn and we’re going to play a little game."
"I don’t like the sound of that, but I guess I don’t have much choice."
"Good decision, Winston. Each day I will change one aspect of your life, and you have to guess what it is. When you think you know it, come back to me and say my name and what I changed by 10:00 a.m. each morning. Sound simple enough?"
"I guess. When does it start?"
The radio came back on, and Winston looked down at it. He looked back up to see he was actually still waiting at the same red light as earlier, foot on the brake.
"I must be loony," he said to himself.
The next morning, he woke bright and early to the sound of wind, and felt chilly. The window above his bed had been broken, and there was a little hole in his wall.
"What in the," was all he could say. He got some tape and a plastic bag to tape over the area to keep the cold air out has he called a repairman.
"You’re Winston Thurber?" the repairman bellowed into the phone.
Muffled yells could be heard on the other end of the line that sounded like, "He’s awake! Go! Go!" before the repairman replied.
"Well, yes. Of course you are. I’ll send someone over right away."
"Thanks. My address is 1902 Roosev..." Winston began to say when the repairman hung up. He looked at the phone and simply hung it back up. "The game," he remembered.
Suddenly gunfire began rattling his house. He ducked behind furniture, dove behind couches, and was pelted with splintering drywall. He crawled into the garage to his car, passing by his cat laying unconscious in a pool of its blood. He slipped in the driver door, just as a stray bullet shot through his windshield and broke the rearview mirror, sending glass fragments all over the interior.
"Evelyn! Someone’s trying to shoot me!"
"Nope, not quite, Winston. Try again."
"Everyone’s trying to shoot me!"
"Correct, but you didn’t say it the right way." A bullet shot through the windshield again and blasted through the head rest, sending down a shower of stuffing.
"Evelyn! Everyone’s trying to shoot me!"
"Very good! Now get up." The shooting had ceased, there was no glass anywhere, and everything appeared normal.
"You play to rough! Go easy on me."
"I make the calls here, Winston."
"How long does this game last?"
"Just 3 days."
"Then you get to live, providing you survive."
"Who are you?"
"I’m your stereo, Winston. I thought we went over that. And don’t even think about unplugging the systems or you’ll really get it."
"Is that it for the day?"
Silence. The clock on the dash read 10:00 a.m. He went through the rest of the day on edge, constantly looking over his shoulder, wondering if this Evelyn would go back on her word, whoever this was. He didn’t mention it to anyone.
He woke the next morning and all seemed normal. His window was one solid piece as usual, no holes in the walls. His cat rubbed against his leg as he entered the kitchen. He fixed breakfast, and was about to walk out to the garage when he heard something.
"What about me?" came a tiny voice.
He turned around, but no one was there. He walked through the house but found no one. No elves, no trolls, no goblins. In the living room, the cat was scratching at the front door, wanted to be let out. As he walked over and opened it, there came he voice again.
"Thank you!" it said.
He looked at the cat, who looked back up at him. The cat then turned and yelled toward the yard, "It’s open!"
Immediately dozens of cats, raccoons, mice and opossums scampered up and into the house, stampeding Winston, who was now quite affright. To add to the flowing carpet of fur and tails, they began chanting.
"We’re hungry! Feed us, too! Where’s my share? Why do you kill our babies?" came little voices all at different pitches, and the animals began to run over the top of him, some knocking him down, some beginning to gnaw at his clothes.
Winston scrambled for the garage, but a baby bear was blocking the door, who said, "you look delicious!" and charged for him. He dashed out the back door and stumbled over scurrying rodents trying to get inside. He ran around to the front, opened the garage, and dashed into his vehicle, only to realize two mountain lions were in the back, waiting for him.
"Evelyn! Talking animals are after me!" he screamed, dodging a swiping claw.
"Well done, Winston. Just in time. Now go to work!"
"What about the," Winston muttered, but there was no reply. The clock read 10:00 a.m., and there were no animals to be seen.
Winston collapsed, out of energy, and was relieved to know there was only one day left. He could only stand it that much longer.
Winston awoke the next morning with bloodshot eyes. He couldn’t sleep much in fear of what this last day might bring. He’d just drifted off to slumber-land as his alarm clock buzzed at 9:50 a.m. He could have sworn he’d set for at least 7:00.
He slapped it off, and scrambled out of bed, but when he took the first step he hit the floor with a hard thud, barely catching himself. His legs were gone.
He couldn’t see what was left of them, but that the jeans he’d slept in were tied together in a knot about mid-thigh. He scrambled to drag himself to the door, turn the knob and pull it open.
His hallway was now about 100 yards long. He furiously began running with his hands, dragging his torso behind, getting carpet burns.
Finally reaching the living room, the clock there said 9:56. He waddled on his hands to the kitchen to the garage door, opened it. He’d forgotten--he’d parked outside.
He dragged himself to the garage door, heaved it open and rolled outside just before it slammed shut. His neighbors were staring at him, but he didn’t care.
To his dismay, he discovered he’d left his keys on the night-stand when he found the door was locked. There was a spare under the left fender which he grabbed rather easily, and opened it.
The other door had been left wide open, window shattered. Winston could only stare in fright -- his stereo had been stolen. It was 10:15 a.m. by the time the state hospital officials arrived and began heaving up the man with jelly-like legs, clearly intact, though he was convinced they were missing. Despite their questions, he could only answer yelling, "Evelyn! My legs are gone!" repeatedly.
A dark, sleek woman pulled up in her Jaguar to the loading dock of the new TranceTronics location. A man opened the sliding garage door, and the woman got out. She handed him a box.
"Here it is again, Chuck. Good luck."
"Thanks, Evelyn," he said with a wink.