Debra wasn’t a big fan of yard sales, but somehow her friend Louise talked her into doing the yard sale circuit one beautiful Saturday morning. One yard sale blended into another – they all started looking the same after about the third one. When she mentioned this to Louise, she was treated to a lecture.
“You never know what treasures can be unearthed in a yard sale, although it really depends on why they’re having it.”
“What do you mean?” Debra asked before she could stop herself.
“Well, some people have yard sales just to get rid of their unwanted junk. Those are the worst ‘cause they tend to keep the good stuff for themselves. Then there are the people who are moving, so they need to lighten the load. You can get some good bargains at those sales, but again, you won’t find many family treasures.”
“For that you need a sale like this one, where the homeowner died.” Louise lowered her voice. “I heard it was a suicide. The family probably only took a few mementos and now they’re getting rid of a lifetime of memories. Sure, most of it’s just crap, but sometimes you can find a real gem. I like to think of it as an archaeological dig, and I’m Indiana Jones looking for that lost artefact.”
Debra rolled her eyes behind Louise’s back and wandered over to a table set up under a large tree. It looked like it held the contents of the garage, or maybe the basement. Amid the assorted junk were a few rusty tools, boxes of what looked like electronic parts, three radios that were in various stages of being disassembled, a toaster, and a very old rotary phone. It was tall and slender and looked like a prop for an old film noir.
“Does this phone work?” Debra asked the portly man sitting in the shade of the tree.
“Beats me.” He shrugged.
“How much do you want for it?”
A few minutes of haggling later, Debra was three dollars poorer, but richer by one old fashioned telephone.
“Personally, I wouldn’t buy any of this stuff. It’s too creepy.” The man leaned forward in his chair. “The guy who used to own all this junk committed suicide.”
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~*
Debra took her find home and cleaned it up and was pleasantly surprised when she plugged it in and received a dial tone.
“I guess Louise was right about finding treasures.”
Late that night she was awakened by the sound of a phone ringing. Bleary-eyed, she checked the digital clock on her night stand. It was 3:25 a.m. Fumbling with the phone beside the clock, she held the receiver to her ear.
There was nothing but dial tone. Muttering about idiots and crank calls she slammed the phone down again and went back to sleep.
The following afternoon she was sipping her coffee out on the patio when she heard the phone start to ring. By the time she picked up the extension in the kitchen, whoever it was had given up. Shrugging, she went back outside.
Debra had trouble getting to sleep that night. Shortly after three she got up and went to the kitchen for a cup of tea. While she was waiting for it to steep, she heard a phone ring. She was one step away from the extension in the kitchen when she realized it wasn’t the phone ringing. The sound led her to the living room where her new phone sat on the little round table by the sofa.
Hesitantly, she reached out and picked the phone up.
“I know it was you that done it!”
“Ain’t no excuse for it. I know it was you that threw Kiki’s ball into that patch of burdock. We ended up having to shave that poor dog.”
“Who is this?”
“This is your Uncle Wilfred. And I’m calling to tell you you was one mean little kid!”
“I don’t know who this is, but my Uncle Wilfred died almost twenty years ago.” Debra slammed down the receiver and went back into the kitchen. The call was disturbing on many levels, but the most disturbing part was the fact that the caller was right. When she was seven years old she had thrown Kiki’s ball into the burdock. How had he known?
The following afternoon she was in the kitchen when she heard her new phone start to ring, although none of the others seemed to be working. She glanced at the clock and was relieved to see it was only 2:15.
“Debra? This is your Aunt Missy. I wanna know why you stole that twenty dollars out of my purse.”
“Who is this really?”
“I done told you who this is. You’re nothing but a no good thief.”
“If this is some kind of prank, it’s not very funny. Aunt Missy died ten years ago.”
“I ain’t the only one who’s not happy with you. You can expect a lot more calls.”
There was a click and then dial tone. Debra held out the receiver and stared at it. What the hell was going on?
The next call came at exactly five o’clock, this time from Aunt Bettina who complained about how Debra had snipped all the heads off her prize winning roses, right before the horticultural society judging. Aunt Bettina had been dead for twelve years, and Debra suddenly remembered she’d died at the stroke of five.
She checked her mother’s old family bible and was unsurprised to see the times of death, as well as the dates, for various family members. The woman was anal to a fault. Sure enough, Uncle Wilfred and died at 3:25 and Missy at 2:15.
Debra called the phone company and had her number changed, but it didn’t stop the next three calls.
“Why are you doing this to me?” she tearfully asked the last caller, Uncle Lewis.
“Cause we’ve been waiting a long time to tell you how we feel. You’re no good, little Debby, and it’s time you owned up to it.”
She slammed the phone down. She hated being called little Debby, and Lewis knew that. Maybe she hadn’t been a perfect child, but she hadn’t done so bad as an adult. I mean, yeah, she cheated at games, but who didn’t? And if she snuck out of restaurants without paying, well who cares, everyone did it. And scamming seniors was just too easy. But that didn’t make her a bad person.
The calls began to come faster – friends, family, acquaintances. Debra tried unplugging the phone but it would still ring. She put it out in the garage but found it back on the table the next day. She even drove out to the lake and threw the damn thing as far as it would go, but when she returned home it was back on the table.
By now she was a nervous wreck. She couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, all she could do was listen to the litany of her perceived past sins. At last came the call she was dreading.
“Debra, this is your mother.”
“Of course it is,” Debra said.
“I expected so much more from you Debra, you’ve been nothing but a disappointment from the day you were born.”
“Well it’s a little late to do anything about it now.”
“It’s never too late to fix a mistake.”
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
It was a beautiful day for a yard sale.
“How much for this old phone?” Henry asked the teenager standing behind the table.
She shrugged. “Make me an offer. Everything has to go, the realtor wants this junk gone by the weekend.”
“This’ll look great in my den,” he said enthusiastically, after they’d reached an agreement.
“Personally, I wouldn’t buy any of this stuff.”
“It’s too creepy. The woman who owned it all is dead.” She leaned forward. “They say she committed suicide.”