‘A great fog has descended over this country. Do not let your hearts fill with fear, but look at the sights around you! People have forgotten Jesus. People have forgotten to forgive and forget. To love – that’s right, to love. We’ve lost the ability to love, because we’ve lost the Lord in the fog.’
Penelope turned off the television.
“He says that every morning.”
She was right. He did. The basic premise behind every episode of Good Morning & God Bless was that a great fog was descending over the country. Every day it was the same: 6:00AM, lights, camera, action, descending fog. Just Father Henderson echoing himself with each new day.
“Maybe he doesn’t realise that fog is normal when you drive to work at three in the morning.”
‘Wait, what? You stole that from me. I said that last week.”
She was right. Sam stole the joke.
‘You’re so annoying when you do that,’ she says to him over her shoulder while sort of laughing ambiguously under her breath.
These early morning wake-ups, Samuel thought, were always punctuated by a keen sense of togetherness and fun.
Later that morning, when they’d both cooled down after the regrettable bedroom proceedings that made up The Penelope Inquiry Into Theft Of Creative Property – in which both chambers of the house sided with Penelope – they found themselves at the kitchen table with the old dried up redback spider eggs in it, Penelope jabbing at disintegrated floating particles of cereal with a spoon in one hand and fiddling the frayed tablecloth hem with the other, Samuel sitting there with a twitching leg pretending not to notice what she was doing with her hands and quietly calculating the risk of playing around on his phone during breakfast.
‘When is rent due?’ she asked him mid-spoonful.
“It’s Thursday, isn’t it?”
‘Is it Thursday or Friday?’
“I wanna say Thursday. I’m pretty sure it’s Thursday.”
“Alright, well – shit. I need to pay that bill.’
“The phone bill from last month which went over.”
“Oh. That bill. Why does it make a difference what day it’s due?”
“I was just asking.”
“I know. Me too.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Penelope said in frustration.
Samuel got his phone out and started playing around on it.
“I’m getting ready for work,” she says with deliberate indifference, taking her bowl to the kitchen. Samuel was able to hear the ceramic dishes clack against the metal sink, the tap running quickly, the noise of a rising volume of water for a second before the clutter went quiet.
After the Samuel Inquiry Into The Absence Of A Nice Goodbye Kiss played its course, in which both chambers sided with Penelope again, he started to get ready for “work,” emphasis on the quotation marks, and found a comfortable place on the couch to write mediocre app software, a job for which he was paid poorly but just enough to live off Penelope without it really appearing that way.
While getting not much done, Samuel was distracted by a YouTube ad from Vodafone Australia, selling him the plan he was already on. He sighed like he was world-weary, because they had signed up four months ago.
But then he double-took, and started thinking about that month’s higher-than-usual phone bill again.
Samuel had forgotten a phrase which he’d heard so many times it became as semantically meaningless as the noise of the wind, but now took on an immeasurable weight:
“Thirty dollar cap.”
What followed was 2 and a half hours of research: calling Vodafone, password re-activating, website double-checking, receipt printing and log scanning, triple-checking, confirming with Penelope, the Penelope Inquiry Into What The Hell Are You Talking About, re-confirming with Penelope, double-checking duplicate phonecalls, calling Vodafone again, re-verification of websites and domains, and the quadruple-checking of that month’s call logs. What then followed after that was more research: the additional checking of that gate around the side, the windows that face the street, that dodgy section of the roof around the back, the locks on the flyscreen doors and the windows again. Then further calls to the local police department, visits to the neighbours on all sides, calls to the local real estate agents, out-of-the-blue phonecalls to what few old friends there were who were audacious enough to break in maybe as a prank, the re-checking of police websites and finally the stalking of more audacious old friends on facebook for suspicious behaviour.
After everything was exhausted and there were no more immediate clues to be found, Samuel did the opposite of what his body felt like doing and he sat upright, strong and tense, sitting on the edge of the couch.
Suddenly, he felt like a great fog had descended all around him.
All the proof was there: somebody else was using their phones.
The moment Penelope got home, they went out to go and buy a security surveillance system that afternoon before the shops shut, luckily a Thursday. Unluckily: home CCTV setups require a subcontractor on top of the initial heavy payment, which can take up to three hours of wiring. After exhausting all possible alternatives to no avail in the course of this discussion, they agree to let a guy come around at the start of the following week. That night, they stayed up late in the loungeroom, leaving all of the lights on in the house, their phones in their pockets. Every time a car could be heard they peered out the window, everytime wind passed over a window pane they both looked around, everytime a fly crashed into the ceiling lightcover, they jumped. When Penelope received an innocuous text message from a friend at midnight, the both of them froze with fear. They did not sleep.
On Saturday, knowing they wouldn’t be able to stay awake all night again, the two of them invited friends around to crash the night, get drunk, and basically restore morale. And so they did, and the mystery of the phone was told in full detail and passed around the room to be poked and prodded by the unique angles of skepticism all present friends possessed. And to Sam and Penelope, this was a godsend, to discuss the imperfections of modern cell tower and satellite technology, to discuss that one episode of Serial where they go over how all that stuff can be wrong, to discuss the time an old relative’s uncle was charged for international calls he never made, to discuss the work of hack-savvy scammers, to discuss the notion of an elaborate prank by a close friend, to discuss the work of a rogue malicious coder who had been griefed particularly hard during a live game of Call of Duty. They even all began to laugh when Kaitlyn suggested that maybe a relative who had a spare set of keys didn’t want to admit to destitution and was using their niece or nephew’s phone in the early hours to line up job interviews. Something, anything, everything that wasn’t the idea of a man coming into their room at night while they slept, was welcome.
And so they all passed out drunk and strong together in unity, all awoke early to no strange occurrences of the night, and slowly left throughout the day with varying degrees of assistance in cleanup. By Sunday night, Penelope and Sam felt better. They’d changed all passwords, PINs and identification puzzles. They agreed to quiz the CCTV guy on how likely it was they were freaking out before they went all out and changed the locks. When they looked up the locksmiths number on google together at the laptop, they both shared the same unspoken spark of rebellion, and looked at each other as if to “I refuse to live in fear.” They stopped researching, had intense sex and fell asleep in each others arms.
And then that night, somebody used their phones again.
3:26 AM Monday 28/11: To +07 3806 4833. Duration: 25s
3:32 AM Monday 28/11: To +07 3806 4833. Duration: 33s
3:39 AM Monday 28/11: To +07 3806 4833. Duration: 12s
3:40 AM Monday 28/11: To +07 3806 4833. Duration: 3m 13s
And on Penelope’s call log:
3:47 AM Monday 28/11: To +07 3806 4833. Duration: 24s
3:54 AM Monday 28/11: To +07 3806 4833. Duration: 12m 12s.
The number was dead when they called it three hours later.
Whatever peace had caked itself up into a wall of defense over the weekend had disintegrated into paste by Monday lunchtime. For by then Penelope had been able to think about the implications of those call logs for four hours at work. While Samuel waited at home for the locksmith, CCTV guy and police to arrive, he went over these same implications too. And just like the rebellion against fear they had both felt and not told one another about, they now thought endlessly in unspoken unison about two things: what had happened in between the calls, and what was discussed for 12 minutes?
After a lengthy interview with police who seemed to lack a sense of urgency, and after forking out close to a grand on the changed locks and manual labour required of the electrician to wire up the security cameras, Samuel felt dismal end sitting that night again with all the lights on next to Penelope, herself feeling defeated by prevailing anxiety, both of them with new protections on their phone, new locks, new cameras filming them sitting in their own house. Their own prisoners, perverse voyeurs to themselves, concealed by every legal preventive strategy, and made all the more glowingly obvious because of their efforts.
And that’s when it all became pointless. Kaitlyn calls Penelope’s phone. She hesitantly listens, quivers her lip, asks a few questions, looks confused about what she’s hearing. First she asks “Are you sure it wasn’t Pete?” Then she says, “Are you joking?” Then comes the question: “What number was it?”
And then Penelope starts to cry.
They sold everything the next day. Penelope and Samuel broke up. There were rumours about the two of them recording a man standing in their kitchen all night on the cameras but they stopped answering calls for so long, so who knows. Samuel moved away with friends I think. Last I saw, Penelope was working for The Big Issue. I think you can find her down in Hay St sometimes. She’s haggard, now, like she’s been leathery all her life. But if you ask her why she doesn’t like modern horror stories, she can tell them decently enough.