Arthur’s mouth felt like he bit into a jalapeno when his phone buzzed. It was his dentist.
“That bastard better not be trying to cancel my appointment,” he muttered.
The light turned green, the car in back of him beeped, and he hit delete. Dammit. No matter, he was less than five minutes away, he’d settle it at the office.
When he pulled into the parking lot, he was greeted by a cascade of flashing lights. Arthur stared out the window as his dentist rolled by on a stretcher.
“What happened?” he yelled.
“Don’t know. He was working on a bicuspid when all of a sudden he collapsed,” a technician said.
When the procession of emergency vehicles left, Arthur drove off to work.
“You’re late again,” his manager Percy said as Arthur tumbled into his chair.
“My tooth. Remember, I told you yesterday.”
“Right. All better now,” Percy said.
“Not really. My dentist just kicked the bucket, and I’ll have to find another one,” he said, feeling his jaw.
“Do yourself a favor and schedule it on your day off. That way I won’t have to write you up.”
As Arthur turned around to log in, he heard the buzz.
“Now what?” Percy said.
“Nothing, just that annoying car dealer trying to get me to trade,” he said, swiping his finger to delete the message.
Like the seasons Arthur’s toothache returned, and like the plague his good-for-nothing brother in law left him a message.
“Hey, Art. You know that job I had at the warehouse, well, I was on the third level and there was this grandfather clock; the boss told me to get it down, and—”
Arthur hit delete because he knew how it would end. He’d lost his job, the fifth one this year, and needed a few bucks to get by.
When Arthur got home, he saw his wife hunched over the arm of the couch.
“My brother, he—”
“Left me a message, lost his job, needs money.”
“No. He’s dead.”
“He was fine, he just keeled over.”
Three deleted messages, three people dead, he thought. An unbelievable coincidence, nothing more, but an idea came to mind. Arthur thumbed through old voicemails until he found the one he wanted, then he slid his finger across the screen and deleted the message.
The following morning at work Arthur sat at his desk and waited. When the owner walked toward him, he gulped.
“Got some bad news; Percy’s wife called. He died from a heart attack last night.
“But I didn’t—”
“I know you two were close. That’s why I’d like you to go around and take up a collection for his widow. By the way, we’ll need a little extra from you for a while. I’m sure you understand.”
The drive home from work was surreal. Arthur stared at his phone. Four deletions, four people dead. How could a small plastic rectangle have that power? Who could he explain this to, and if he did, would they believe him? Arthur was still pondering the question when he barreled into the semi that had stopped for the red light.
They stood outside in a light rain as the casket winched into the ground. His wife tossed a handful of dirt and uttered a tearful goodbye. Once home she went upstairs to change and saw Arthur’s phone on the dresser. She picked it up and ran her fingers over the screen.
“Hi, this is Arthur Warren. Please leave…” In sadness, she deleted the greeting. Then, realizing how much she missed him, she touched undelete. Arthur would be there forever.
In a small plot, socially distant from the living, a persistent thump echoed under the well-manicured lawn.
H.E. Vogl is a retired professor who has turned to writing fiction. His work has been published in Fiction on the Web, Bewildering Stories, and Every Day Fiction. He and his wife Rita live in Ormond Beach, Florida.