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The living room is a mess. The floor is buried under pizza boxes and wads of used notebook paper, the remnants of a school year just finished. Being marked by a noticeable lack of detritus, it's no challenge to identify the major thoroughfares: bedroom-couch, couch-fridge and couch-bathroom.
The cheap, worn-out coffee table is covered with dirty dishes, tasteless DVDs and video game controllers. On the left side of the table is a Pacific of paper bags from the McDonald’s drive-through; on the right, the Atlantic. Though occasionally one might spot an island of Arby's, or an atoll of KFC.
The only place to sit is the middle cushion of a sad, dilapidated couch. The majority of this poor couch is covered in junk mail, old newspapers, and more dirty dishes. Bills too. Those at the bottom of the pile are the friendly type: kind reminders of credit-card balances and long-distance phone charges. Examples nearer the top, though, are becoming less pleasant every day. The companies concerned have long ago stopped using standard black ink, opting instead for a more aggressive and impatient red.
The most recent examples may have been written in blood, but it's difficult to be certain.
The phone rings…
And then it stops.
The bedroom is shrouded in an inky darkness. Tin-foil taped to the windows prevents sunlight from just barging into the room, uninvited. In this artificial night, a man, accosted by consciousness, can be heard slithering out of bed.
Sam Bodwin carefully navigates the room by memory, dodging the myriad obstacles that litter his minefield of random knick-knacks and useless toys. Unscathed, he succeeds in turning on the light.
After a few minutes of sitting on the edge of the bed, squinting, Sam dons a pair of roomy, gray sweat-pants and a 2-days-dirty t-shirt. He stretches, yawns and slowly trudges towards the living room to resume his progress on whichever game he was playing last night. That it was in fact “this morning”, rather than “last night”, doesn't occur to Sam. He has more important things on his mind; he's not sure exactly where he shut off his game “last night”, so he’s enjoying a pleasant sense of anticipation. Sam quickens his pace.
His commute is cut short, however, when he happens to spot the blinking light on the answering-machine. Vaguely recalling an obnoxious ring disturbing his sleep earlier, Sam meanders to the phone, and hits the “play” button.
A shrill female voice comes from the machine. “This message is for Samuel Bodwin from Activia Collections," it says. At this point, Sam would usually just hit delete and resume his trek to the couch, but a subtle malice in the woman's tone compels him to keep listening.
“Mr. Bodwin, this is your last chance,” the voice continues. “If you do not call us and make a payment by 5:00 pm, Pacific Standard Time, we will burn your building down. Thank you.”
The message ends with an ominous click that echoes like a gunshot in the still air of the apartment. Sam lazily glances at the clock on the microwave (it's the only clock in the place that does not require batteries, and therefore, the only one that still works).
“Oh shit, it's 4:54,” Sam mutters, as he grabs the phone. “It's gonna be close, but I think I'm gonna make it.”
He carefully dials the number and patiently suffers through the automated greeting.
After which, he is promptly put on hold.
As Sam listens to the sirens of the approaching fire-trucks, he feels a strange calm. There had been just enough time to save his most precious possessions: TV, game console and most of the games. He'd find somewhere to plug it all in. He has no doubt.
“And look on the bright side,” Sam mumbles to himself. “The assassin that the phone company sent will have a lot more trouble tracking me down with no address.”