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Sam had given the phone to her daughter, Madison, while she was doing her Spring cleaning. It had been her last non-smart phone, and she had tossed it in an old filing cabinet under the delusion that she might one day need it again and never thought about it after. It seemed like something Madison would like to play with, and it was indeed. From that day Madison wouldn’t leave the house without her phone.

Obviously the phone had no service, it didn’t even have a battery, but that didn’t stop Madison constantly being on it, talking, texting, checking her Facebook— mimicking the adults. Other kids too; when Madison’s cousins would come over to visit they’d all take turns pretending to talk on the phone, or when Sam’s friend June would come over with her kids, James, the youngest, would join in with Madison, even though he was maybe a little old for it. Mathew, June’s oldest at thirteen, would also play with the phone, not pretending to talk on it like the little ones, but handling it like an old artifact. He was particularly fascinated by the slide-out keyboard, on which he got a certain pleasure tapping out messages to no one.

In the car one afternoon, while dragging Madison around town on errands, Sam was startled by a sudden unfamiliar ringing from her phone. She fumbled to get it out, but found the ringing wasn’t coming from her phone at all.

“Mom!”, Madison shouted excitedly from her car seat, “Look!”

Madison was holding out her phone. The screen was was lit up. Sam reached back and took the phone from Madison. She looked at the screen— an incoming call from an unlisted number. She flipped over the phone: no, the back was off and there was no battery, just as she’d found it. How could someone make it ring?

Sam flipped it back over and fumbled with it, forgetting at first and then remembering how to answer her old telephone. A man greeted her. He had a deep voice, rich and dark like chocolate melted into butter. He called Sam by name. He asked for Madison by name. Sam demanded to know who the man was, but he only said, “I’ll wait.”

Sam rolled down the window and tossed the phone out of the car. Madison cried at the loss of her treasured possession. Sam felt bad, but she wasn’t letting that creepy fucker talk to her daughter. To make up for it, Sam took her to a secondhand store, and Madison picked out a new old phone, a fire engine red rotary one, which was heavy, and shiny, and had a long, curly cord, and when you turned the dial it rolled back on its own with a nicely textured sound. The only thing Madison didn’t like about he new phone was that she couldn’t take it with her everywhere, but nonetheless, as far as Madison was concerned, it was about a million times better.

A few weeks went by, Thanksgiving came and went, and Sam had taken Madison to a park to play in the first snow of the season. Sam, who hated being wet and cold and thus hated the snow sat on a bench, a cup of hot—but quickly cooling—coffee in one hand and her phone in the other, killing time on the internet while she waited for Madison to let her go home. Madison, on the other hand, loved the snow and would play in it until she froze to death. Fortunately, Sam knew that if she waited until Madison’s face and hands and feet were red and numb, then she could use the promise of hot cocoa back home to get Madison to leave without a fight.

Madison was building big snowballs, rolling them on the ground until they got too big to roll any further, then starting another one, moving snowball by snowball further away from her mom so that, by the time Sam was ready to call their outing done, the two were on opposite sides of the park. As Sam set out across the snowy field to fetch the girl she heard in the distance the now unforgettable ringing of her old phone, the one she’d thrown out the window of a moving car. Madison stopped rolling her snowball and bent down to pick up something off the ground and put it to her ear. Sam broke out into a run.

“I don’t know…”, Sam heard Madison say as she ran up to her, “I like books…. All kinds books, all the books! Or— oh! A vampire costume!”

Sam snatched the phone from Madison’s hand. It was her old phone, the same one, no battery but nevertheless in the middle of a call with an unlisted number. She dropped the phone to the ground like it had burned her, and smashed it to pieces with the first sizable rock she could get her hands around.

“Who was that!? Who were you just talking to!?”, Sam screamed.

Madison looked perplexed by the question. “Santa”, she answered.

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