9. Crafted Soul

When she woke up of the first morning, Barbara had accounted her expression as being just a dream. A few too many videogames, a few too few hours of sleep, and she’d just had a big meal! That sort of thing led to long, heavy sleep, and it wouldn’t be the first time she’d had a strange dream after the family meal. Bacon and poatoes were not the healthiest food in the world. Resolved in her mind, she’d sought to remedy that feeling with a light breakfast of fruit and juice, and relatively few handfuls of marshmallow-laden cereal from the tupperware container.

Relatively few. It wasn’t like she was trying out for pope or anything.

As her mother pulled the car out of the drive, crinkling gravel of the cool morning air, she made her own way down the path. Being independent had its vices – while her brother was driven to his appointments, Barb had luxury of locomotion, and given means to walk. Socks pulled up high, skirt close to the tops, she’d made a concession to the cold by wearing a full hoodie, loose white fabric hanging around her neck, strands of white around her shoulders and the tight, soft grip of the wrists resting around her fingers. Blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, this path was one she had walked in the past so many times she could almost find her way by the sounds of her own footsteps.

Eyes closed, Barb felt the grass scrunch under her toes, the moisture flicking against her socks. Fwiff fwiff fwiff through the green lines, then scrnch as she pressed toes against the gravel that spoke of the damaged sidewalk. A step, a turn of ninety degrees, and the toes of her sneaker slid with a vfffffnh across the unfinished surface. Then, eyes open, she faced forwards – and stared up the hill.

In moments like these, facing a challenge, even a challenge she knew she could beat a thousand times over, she smiled. Barbara didn’t even realise she did it. Foot before foot, athletic girl pushed her way up the hill, picking up the pace as the incline increased. Push hardest as the hill got hardest, defy what it told you. Most of her friends took it easier on the hill – not Barbara.

The fuhmph of her foot hitting the pavement, now running, rang in her ear just in time with the bleat from her phone. Stepping forwards, shoulders back, the girl heard the sound… and ran anyway. Barbara did not run because she loved school and wanted to be there; she did not run because she was late. With wind in her hair and cold crispness on her lips, Barbara ran because she loved the running. Whenever she tried to explain that to anyone, to her classmates, the only words that sprang to mind to expound were the cliche, “like, y’know,” and once again, she’d let silence wash over them.

Another beep from the phone, another drop of ambivalence. Rounding a corner, Barbara slowed, knowing that there were more people walking these sidewalks, students from her school, dogwalkers and even some local store-workers making their ways to work creating a stream into which she could swim, like a fish.

A hundred heads on the street, most tilted down, looking at phones.

Barbara fell into an empty space, her steps falling into the same motion as those around her, and then the third beep from her phone grabbed her attention. Now, a floe upon the river of people, Barbara was finally so deprived of mental stimulation that she reached into her pocket and yanked out her nokia. Text messages in their tight little fixed-width system view glared out at her from the display, as accusatory as the tone.

Y U BLANKIN
SRSL BARBIE

It bleated again, and Barbara faced the crossroads. Further into the history, or into the newer messages? Thumb up, thumb down… she tapped upwards, to see the most recent message.

DINT YOU C MSG?

Barbara sighed, giving a shoulder movement that had been coded somewhere in her DNA as a flounce. Turning and whipping her head around, letting her hood tumble back across the back of her neck, she stopped, biting her tongue, letting it jut between her lips. Surveying the moving bergs of people, then slowed just a fraction – just in time for a full body to whallop into her side.

“Baaaarbie!”

“Oh good glory, good Glory,” Barbara offered, turning around and offering her friend a hug. Shorter, brunette, chocolate-skinned Glory wasn’t named that on her birth certificate, but with all the years of friendship, Barbara hadn’t yet found out exactly what was. Tousling her hand through Glory’s hair, Barb bumped her head forwards, before setting her down.

“Okay, okay!” Barbara said, setting down her friend – wearing similar uniform colours, a style that the school preferred. Technically, there was no uniform, but they’d send these damn slips back home to your parents if you weren’t adequately representing the school’s ‘attitude,’ something that did more or less the same job. Red, green, and black woven in tartan around to Glory’s knees, it was a look that always reminded Barbara of christmas ornaments. While Barbara had chosen to wear a short skirt today, Glory was clad from neck to knee. High collar, white, red sweater over the top, flats and thick, wooly socks of white up to the knee. “Geeze, you, like, wake up in the freezer this morning?”

“What?” Glory asked, laughing. “I was going to ask, what are those socks made of? Fuggin thermite or something?”

“Okay, okay,” Barbara said, bumping her friend with her hip as they settled back into the flow of the foot traffic. “So this is just you, pestering me?” She asked, flipping through the history of messages, laughing to herself.

“Well, kind of. I knew you’d be coming up here and wanted to talk to you. I swear though, you’ve got to stop using that brick.” Glory said, peering around Barbara’s arm, looking at the tiny green-and-black screen. “I mean, how old is that damn thing?”

“I don’t know, but my dad doesn’t, like, work for a phone distributor, so, you know, lay off?” Barbara laughed, flicking back through the history. Despite a phone with apps and photos and scenesters and whatever else it was, Glory still communicated on her phone like a grandmother with caps lock. Flicking back through the history, there was-

Stop.

“… Glory,” Barbara began, turning the phone, to point it to her friend’s face, before the number beneath it answered the unspoken question. it was not sent by Glory. It was not sent by anyone on her phone. In fact, if that number was to believed, it wasn’t sent by a phone: A chain of letters and digits that spilled off the edge of the display, with large, black chunks hiding the text.

“What… what the hell is that?” Glory asked, peering at it. “You look like you’re getting creepy texts from missingno.”

“From who?”

“Ugh, you live in a cave, right. Um, it looks weird. I’ve never seen anything like that.” Glory said, adjusting her glasses.

“You do realise, like, that because your dad sells these, I assume you know, like, what it’s doing?”

“My dad doesn’t sellt hese. My dad sells good phones.’

“This is a good phone.”

‘This is a good heavy weapon. I swear, this thing looks like your dad drove the car over it.”

“Hey, we’re talking about your dad here.”

“Pfft!” Glory said, turning the phone around and around – before popping the back off, and pulling out the battery. A moment later, it slapped bac in place and she handed it back. The booting chime and the re-connecting network signal took a moment, a moment in which two girls walked along, rapt as if it were some sort of concert.

The message was still there. The strange garbled number was still there. Except…

Stop, Please.

“… Okay, that is frreeek-ky.” Glory said, leaning back from the phone and wrinkling her nose. “Hey, Barbie, your phone’s possesssed!”

“Shut up, it is not,” Barbara said, turning the phone over even as she rounded another corner, heading along the path of the doctor’s surgery they had passed a hundred times before. Pulling off the battery again, she put it back in place – with a hard, energetic thwack.

“Oof, so violent.”

The screen faded up again, and this time. Thumed into the message log, Barbara scrolled past Glory’s silliness, to find: Please don’t do that again. It’s very Unpleasant.

Glory looked down at the phone, leaning back agian. “You, uh. You’re getting some weird messages there, Barbie. You let any of the guys at the computer club fondle up your phone?”

“Ew, no,” she said, tapping the keys again. Holding the phone in her hand, the mind that worked despite the attitude that didn’t was already spinning dials. “They can see what we’re doing, or they wouldn’t know how to change the message, though, when I took out the battery…” She tapped her chin, expression one of concentration.

I’m right here.

Turning the phone over and over in her hand, Barbara’s reaction was immediate and decisive. Slung from her hand like a bullet, the Nokia cruised through the air as a missile, punching into the bushes, leaving a hole wider than her fist, with wispy, burnt edges, seared in green flame.

“Barb… did you just set a bush on fire with your phone?”

The ringing of the phone rattled and buzzed against clean concrete under the bush’s facade, and wordlessly, Barbara hoisted over the fence to retrieve it. The fire died out silently, but left behind that odd, sweet scent, a scent that Barbara couldn’t easily identify. Dropping down onto the concrete and rummaging around, Barbara lifted the phone up, turning it over and inspecting it.

Of course it wasn’t damaged. Damn thing-

I’m practically bulletproof! the screen flashed.

“… Phone.” Barbara whispered. “… are you…?”

I am not sure.

Barbara slowly straightened up, looking down at her phone, and slid the device into her pocket. Hands on the wall before her, she hoisted up and over, landing next to Glory. “Well,” Barbara said, adjusting hre hoodie. “C’mon. First period’s soon.” She turned, stepping forwards.

Barbara’s dad didn’t sell phones. But he did know weird.

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