This is a serial novel. To view Chapter Four visit: https://abdallahalalfy.medium.com/phonecall-from-heaven-chapter-four-db7ef68d1745
By the time his cab had rolled up to the hospital gate it was already getting on in the day. The hassle from that junky-mugger incident had taken quite a bit of time and the traffic had been irritatingly slow to the burger place. There was a queue the length of the Mississippi when he got there, and the traffic to Jad’s hospital had been (if it were at all possible) even worse! Joshua got out and made his way past the gate then headed to the very far right of the hospital complex, where only his friend ever did anything for anyone at any time because he was simply the only person working there, in that abandoned wing, apart from a security guard who never looked up from his newspaper and always ignored Josh when he came to visit. He ignored Josh now as he walked up to his desk and mentioned he was there to see a Dr. Jad. The man did not even look up from his crossword puzzle in yesterday’s newspaper. “What is it with security guards and crosswords in day-old papers today?” Joshua wondered. He was vaguely annoyed that the man did not even nod to acknowledge him, but he was a lot more fazed by the man’s choice of newspaper. The City Standard. He shook his head in disgust and walked past him into the derelict and darkened building.
All the lights on the ground floor were out except for two long lamps, one each above the door of the two elevators in the middle of the lobby. Josh punched the button and waited for the elevator to show up before getting in and heading for the basement levels. There were no lights in the corridors of the basement, so he took out his phone and activated the flashlight to find his way to Jad’s laboratory. The door was open by the time he arrived and Jad was writing something on a large notebook next to his laptop, with only a desk lamp to illuminate the dark room.
“Heeeyyy! Dr Frankenstein. Manage to wake up your zombie yet?” Josh asked, as he threw the paper bag with his friend’s burgers at him.
Jad looked up as he caught the burgers with both hands.
“Your jokes are getting boring and repetitive. Kind of like your personality.”
“Is it so much of a joke though? I mean, here you are, cutting dead bodies up and experimenting with electricity. Just like he did.”
“We’ve been through this before” Jad said wearily. “I barely do any cutting up. And I’m measuring the electrical OUTPUT of dying cells under variable circumstances, NOT trying to reanimate them with electrical input!”
“Whatever. Same rubbish, different garbage-bin.”
“Will you have a little more respect for the dead Lake? Just a little bit more?”
“Alright alright. Don’t get your nipples in a twister. Hey the last time I was here you had lights all over this lab. What happened? They slash your funding?”
“Most certainly not. I just like working in the dark with some dimmer lighting. Helps me think more clearly.
“What did I tell you? Creep sitting up in the dark with dead bodies all night. It’s not healthy. Let’s have some lights around here!”
“In a minute. I’m starving.”
“What kind of a doctor are you? Your patient walks in here and you make him sit in the dark while you chew on your chow?”
“Officially, you’re not my patient at all. I don’t understand why you can’t just go to a clinic like…you know, the rest of the world.”
“I don’t trust the white coats.” Joshua muttered mistrustfully, on cue. “Besides,” he added, “you’ve got so many degrees. You’re like 3 or 4 kinds of doctor all in all! You’re my doctor, psychiatrist, head shrink and…Consultant for all things weird, all rolled into one!”
“Did it ever occur to you that maybe that’s an imposition?”
“It did. Only to be dismissed. The pitfalls of being a prodigy I’m afraid.”
“Fine. But I’m not working till I’ve eaten.”
“Alright well let’s dig in.”
“Besides, I’m a white coat. Why can’t you mistrust me for Heaven’s sake??!!”
As the two friends sat chewing with fervour in the dimly lit lab they were silent for the first 30 or 40 seconds. Then, with the worst of his hunger pacified, Joshua started talking. Mostly between bites, but occasionally even during.
“Man what the hell is up with your security up there. He didn’t reply when I talked to him. He didn’t even look up to see who was coming in!”
Jad laughed for a second, only to almost choke on his burger.
“Are you serious Josh?” He gasped after he had recovered his breath
“The mighty and famous Joshua Lake dazzles the world with his intelligence again.”
“Kiss my ass sand-nigger.”
“Suck my cock cracker.”
The two mis-matched friends went on with their obscene verbal sparring for a while, hurling friendly buffets at each other while downing their burgers and junk side orders. When they were finished Jad wiped his hands on a tissue, put down the burger wrapper and his face took on a very serious expression. You could almost say it was a solemn expression if it were not for the fact that this was a routine look for him while he’s working.
“Alright then. Enough loafing around. Let’s get down to business.”
Joshua looked around as he slid out of his chair.
“Let’s have some lights around here first.”
Jad clicked his fingers and on came the lights. Cold and blue. Fitting for a laboratory in which mostly corpses and dying cells were studied.
“Alright. What’s this ‘urgent problem’ that couldn’t wait until next week?”
Joshua took a deep breath and hazel met hazel as he looked his friend in the eye. He wanted to make this sound as rational as possible but all the agitation of the morning that he had managed to avoid and phase out was catching up to him in one big rush, and he could feel it pushing against an invisible barrier in front of his mouth, trying to get out.
“I don’t know where to start…” He began, “I’ve been having these…He sighed “….I suppose for lack of a better word I’ve been having these “visions” or “hearing these voices”. I thought they were hallucinations and I was going some kind of crazy. And that was bad enough when I thought that. But then earlier this morning something happened and I just.. I don’t know it just doesn’t feel like I can call it a hallucination anymore I mean if I’m going crazy that’s explainable right? People go crazy, their brains malfunction, that’s science right? Right? But if I can’t even cling to the idea that I’m crazy then what can it be? Even more crazy? I just don’t….”
“Joshua,” Jad’s deep voice interrupted. “Slow down. Remember who you are man. You’ve seen alotta shit in your time. You ain’t the kinda guy to scare easy. Now breathe SLOW. Tell me exactly what happened, the first time around. Slowly.”
“Alright. So I was asleep this morning and I had a really weird dream. I dreamt my mother was calling me from heaven. On my landline. The dream was so intense, vivid, and real it was like I was really awake. I mean, even in the dream I could tell how impossible this is. We had a…well. A conversation. Then she told me that I’m dreaming but that I’m going to wake up to an actual phone call from her. And then the phone rings, I wake up, and the same voice from my dream is continuing the conversation from my dream as though it’s the same one! The same conversation, Jad!”
Jad’s face was blank and unreadable as he listened to all of this. “And then?”
“Then I put my thoughts together, phased everything out somehow, got a phone call from Peter and went to work. At work I got another phone call. This time on my cell phone. Still my mother’s voice. Knowing details about my life I don’t see a stranger knowing. Commenting on stuff that happened during my day. The gist of our conversations seems to be that she’s calling because I need her help. That I haven’t been handling things in the best way in the past few years. Only this time it was different. It was on my cell. I looked at my cell and I was sure that I wouldn’t find a call log. Then I’d know I was hallucinating. But I did. I found a call log with no number. That was when I knew I needed help ASAP. And I called you. Now, unless I imagined seeing the call log, there’s something more than hallucination going on here. I didn’t just eat something with bad fungus that’s just messing with my head. I mean, my phones did actually ring.”
Jad was silent for a while. A silence that lasted up to two minutes. Joshua seemed not to notice. His eyes had taken on that faraway look they took when he was remembering something from the past. Finally, the medical prodigy spoke.
“Let me see your phone.”
Josh handed him the phone silently as Jad went through the call log. Sure enough. There was the no number call. The doctor brought out his stethoscope, and listened to Josh’s heart. Then his breathing. Then he brought out a cuff and measured his blood pressure. Then he pricked his finger with a small device to measure his blood sugar.
“Let’s be clear on something. Since there actually is a no number call log and you haven’t seen any other inexplicable phenomena then we’re not looking at the possibility of visual hallucinations just now. Since the call log indicates that the phone ringing actually happened, then we’re narrowing down auditory hallucinations to those induced by a trigger.”
“So where do we go from here?”
“Well, you seem fine. And since you called me on the phone till this very moment, nothing I’ve seen from you suggests any cognitive dissonance or malfunction. Of course, a few tests and some bloodwork as well as a few psychological questionaires are needed to completely rule out any of the conditions modern medicine knows about, and I’ll measure your brainwave activity on one of my machines here but honestly, I think it’s unlikely we’ll find anything with all that extensive testing.”
“Woah woah woah woah woah woah woah! Slow down there doc! You wanna put these sensors that were just on some dead guy’s head while you did God knows what to his poor dead neurons and brain cells, on MY head?”
“Well you can get an appointment to get all your scans in the hospital if you feel like waiting in lines and filling out forms. No? I didn’t think so. Now lie down on that table and hold still!”
“I don’t wanna lie down where your last corpse was!”
“Come on. Don’t be a baby. I scrubbed it with detergent. You know for a guy with all your time at merc. school you sure act like a big wuss!”
“There’s a reason I didn’t take a merc job Jad! Or a job with defence! I made all my career choices precisely so I would NOT have to rough it any more than I need to.”
“Right. So that stint as a war-correspondent was a year of total luxury was it?”
“No! That’s why I quit!”
“Whatever. Come on, let’s get this over with.”
“Wait. I picked you up something from Chinatown”
“What is it?”
Joshua handed him the acupuncture set. The doctor’s eyebrows went up in surprise as he took in this unusual gift before replying with dry humour. “Oh yes, I see. I’m a practitioner of Western medicine so you give me a Chinese medicine kit. Very funny. Now, I can’t believe I’m saying this again but lie down and hold still!”
“Oooh. Dirty doctor. At least buy me dinner first.”
“With what they pay here? Fat chance.”
“You’d think with all that funding you brag about all the time they’d pay you better.”
“Maybe if I went back to working on the living.”
Joshua lay down on the table as his friend and doctor started attaching all these electrodes onto his head to measure his brainwaves. The process was surprisingly short. A surprise which Joshua expressed when he found that they were done so soon.
“Done so soon?” Joshua quipped, never one to jumble his words needlessly.
“Yeah well, this is just a peak into your brainwave activity. You still need a few hours of continued observation as well as a sleep study done to focus on the brainwaves as you sleep. As well as all sorts of scans of that block of a head of yours. But so far, I don’t see anything to worry about.”
“Ok. So if you are right, and none of these tests turn out to be the answer. What could it possibly be? Something you have no scientific way of identifying yet?”
“Well, that is a possibility. However, it could be that you really are getting…Phone calls from heaven.”
“Are you serious? A cynic like you? Believing in the supernatural”
“You’ve known me for a very long time now. You know I am a practicing Muslim. My practice is, perhaps, not as complete as it should be, but I am a practicing one nonetheless. So yes. Of course I believe in the supernatural. I’m merely cynical about bad science.”
“And as a Muslim, what do you think of the idea of a dead person’s spirit making contact from heaven?”
“As a Muslim I have absolutely no opinion on that whatsoever. In Islam, knowledge of the soul is with Allah. With God, and God alone I imagine. There is a verse in the Koran in which the messenger of God, Peace and Prayer Be Upon him is instructed to tell those who ask him about the soul that its knowledge is with God. So as far as I’m concerned, this whole phone call from heaven thing may or may not have a place on the round table of truth.”
“So what do I do now?”
“I would say roll with it for now and see what comes up. Try to find a reliable way to record your phone calls though. Odds are, that would rule out auditory hallucinations far more quickly than all those tests and scans would.”
Lake heaved another sigh “Alright. Thank you Jad.”
“You’re very welcome. This is the strangest thing I’ve come across this week. Stranger even than all the broken bones we’ve been finding on all these OD cases.”
“Say what now?”
“Well, as you are perfectly well aware, the office that stands behind my research works very closely with the Medical Examiner’s office.”
“That goes without saying. I mean, where else would you get all those dead bodies for that creepy necromancy-is-science stuff that you get up to down here?”
“Well I was having a conversation with someone who works down there,” Jad said, choosing to ignore this particular jibe, “and apparently a lot of those Overdose cases came in with an unusual number of broken bones. Also, when they did their autopsies, when they weren’t careful, they’d break even more.”
“That’s odd. A junkie tried to rob me earlier today, and his bones seemed to shatter pretty easily too. What were they on?”
“Well they were run of the mill junkies. Everyone has a drug of choice, sure, but they’ll still try all sorts. Take what they can get when they can’t find their stuff.”
“Was there a drug in common to all of those cases?”
“Sure. Heroin I think. Mostly.”
“Does heroin cause Osteoporosis?”
“Sometimes. But not like this. Nowhere near like this.”
“Hmmm. Can you call your friends down there? Tell them I might swing by sometime in the next couple of days?”
“What? No! These are people I work with Josh! I don’t want you to make this one of your little crusades and drag it out in the papers and all that stuff you live for!”
“Come on. What if it’s something serious? I mean, you know this city has a drug problem already. What if things are about to get so much worse? Don’t you think we should get on top of this?”
“Man these people are junkies. Stop wasting your breath.”
Joshua went quiet for a few seconds. And Jad immediately backtracked.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry dude. I didn’t mean it that way.”
“That was a lousy thing to say.” Josh said very quietly.
“I know. And I’m sorry. But you know that’s not what I meant. What I meant was they’re addicts. Unless they wanna help themselves, there’s nothing anyone can do for them. You know that as well as I do. I mean…You learned the hard way.”
“I sure did.”
“Come on. You know that’s what I really meant.”
“I know. Still didn’t sound very nice.”
“Dude I’ve already apologized like three times. How can I make it up to you?”
Joshua’s sudden smile came out
“Well, you can make that call for a start!”
“You little piece of shit! How did I not see that coming?!”
“What can I say boy? In another life I was a conman.”
As Joshua stood outside at the bus stop it started to rain. Feeling particularly unlucky, since this particular bus stop was without a shelter, he looked for the nearest door shelter or canopy in the buildings behind him and found a big one by the door of a store. As he leaned against the wall next to the door he pondered his options. He tried fiddling with the Chinese Zen balls he’d bought earlier today, wondering if they’d help him think. They proved quite difficult and slow to manipulate, even while touching each other. “How could anyone rotate them without them touching?” He thought. After about a minute he gives up. He puts them back away and pulls out his phone. Time to put his new “intern” to good use. He tries to find her number but then remembers that he just told her to leave it with Peter. So he dials his boss.
“Pete. Send me that kid’s number. No no, don’t indulge your inner-stupid person and ask what kid, don’t try and have a conversation with me, just dig up that number and text it to me capiche? Bye.”
Less than a minute later Josh’s phone pinged with a text sound. He opened the text, saved the number to his phone and dialled Laura Lee.
“Lake. I didn’t expect you to call so soon. Miss me already?”
“Don’t flatter yourself. Something’s come up and I promised I’d keep you looped. If you changed your mind about that “internship” that’s fine by me.”
“No come on, don’t be that way. Want me to take down an address?”
“No, head to my neighbourhood. I assume you know where I live given today’s events.”
“I’m familiar with the vicinity but I haven’t followed you to your building, Lake. I wasn’t lying about that.”
“Fine, meet me at the subway station in like 40 minutes. Traffic sucks but it shouldn’t take me long to get there from here.”
“How about the bar a few buildings down? You know it?”
“The Irish place? Yeah, I know it. Not sure though. Haven’t bin there in a while.”
“Come on, it’ll be fun. We got off on the wrong foot. Let me buy you a drink.”
“I haven’t had a drink in two years but whatever. Fine, I’ll meet you there.”
“Oh are you sober? I’m sorry! I’ll just meet you by the subway station!”
“No you fucking nitwit, I’m not a recovering alcoholic! I said I’ll see you at the bar.”