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Short Story Orgy #3: The Listeners - EV Reboot David O'Byrne's short story, motors there and back again

Short Story Orgy #3: The Listeners - EV Reboot

David O'Byrne's short story, motors there and back again

by David O'Byrne, International Desk
first published: May, 2024

approximate reading time: minutes

Short Story Orgy... This time, an uncanny episode from David O'Byrne

SSO3

David O'Byrne is a British writer currently on the lamb in Turkey where his journalism has been published in newspapers, magazines, and used by agencies and websites all over the English speaking world. He has reported live for a host of English language broadcasters including BBC, RTE, CBC and France 24, and wrote and researched a large part of the Time Out guide to Istanbul. Additionally David writes about music we can't hear, for Outsideleft.



THE LISTENERS _ EV  REBOOT

"Is there anybody there?" said the traveller tentatively pressing the button on the doorbell camera, and peering hopefully into its tiny fisheye lens.

No light was showing through either the glass panelled front door or from the ground floor windows, speckled now with flakes of snow from the gentle flurries which had been falling intermittently for some hours.

Puzzled and shivering from the cold, he replayed in his mind the conversation that had led him to embark on such a long drive on such an unforgiving winters'  evening.

There was, he reasoned, no ambiguity - the invitation had been quite clearly enunciated. And, as far as he could recall, it was entirely unprovoked.  To the best of his understanding nothing he had said, could have been construed as him fishing for an invitation, or even hinting that he might expect or even welcome such an invitation being made. Of that he was sure.

Their smiles had seemed genuine. And they'd even addressed him by name, handing over a calling card pointing out that by entering the postcode into his SatNav he'd be able to find them with ease.

Odd though that the card bore no names, nor indeed any hint as to their identity.

And - how remiss, he hadn't thought to ask. Still, nothing he couldn't bluff over in open conversation, he reasoned.

It had, he concluded, been a spontaneous gesture of friendship, made willingly, and with what he had assumed with no less willingness, could only have been the best of intentions.

On precisely that understanding he had left home some hours earlier to drive through the failing light, texting ahead to signal his impending arrival.

The rush hour traffic had been heavier than he'd expected, exacerbated, both by the weather, and a long tailback which at one point had slowed his progress almost to a standstill. The cause eventually revealed itself as being a breakdown.

A large reflective triangle and a flashing light warned approaching drivers of the hazard, forcing them to elbow their own vehicles into the outer lane, slowed now to a snail's pace as a result. 

As his EV inched forward towards the obstruction, through the swirling eddies of snowflakes he could just make out, a single passenger car stationary by the kerb side, blocking one of the two lanes of the dual carriageway.

Ahead of it, a breakdown vehicle flashed brightly colourful messages of both warning and hoped for salvation as two figures worked furiously under the hitched up bonnet of the stranded saloon, their faces shrouded by clouds of steam.

Drawing closer he was able to read the decals on the tailgate.

"Hah, the 'axis of diesel' gets its just deserts…. Fools!" the traveller had sneered, smugly observing the driver of the stalled vehicle and his female companion visibly deflated and sheltering beneath an umbrella by the roadside.

Proudly patting the padded steering wheel of his newly purchased EV, and casting a fond eye over the generous display of coloured LED lights ranged across its dashboard he had mused on how wise he had been to trade up to this the cutting edge of automotive technology.

Despite the delay, he had arrived brim full of hope in the full expectation of an enjoyable evening to be spent in interesting and erudite company.

Posture relaxed and buoyed by a feeling of breezy bonhomie, he had approached the darkened doorway, suddenly illuminated by the robotic response of a motion-operated porch light,

Cradled in the crook of his left arm, a bottle of a decent - but not too expensive, Chilean cabernet sauvignon. Reciprocal generosity, stopping comfortingly short of ostentation.

Now though his disappointment was becoming quite visible.

The harsh white LED glare of the porch light gave his pale complexion a ghostly sheen, throwing the lines that fringed his tired eyes into sharp relief.

The gentle smile that had been playing across his face had been replaced by a scowl of troubled consternation.

It was getting late now, close to midnight. And he had come too far to go back quite so soon. 

A sudden buzz from his mobile phone, stashed in the breast pocket of his second best jacket - smart, relaxed casual but not too casual, distracted his attention.

The battery charge on his EV had fallen below the crucial 12% mark. The Plimsoll line for EV batteries, the pdf handbook - or possibly one of the online videos he'd watched, had informed him.

"Oh shit," he muttered under his breath. He'd only taken delivery a week earlier and despite his video binge, the vehicle's dietary requirements were still something of a mystery.

Having already spotted the residents' own EV parked to the side of the house, he reasoned that the occupants must also have some means of charging it.

Peering along the adjacent wall he found what he was hoping for - a bespoke charging station, thankfully unlocked.

Extending the cable towards his own vehicle it reached only as far as rear bumper.

No matter. Opening the driver's door he released the handbrake and a with a gentle pushed nudged the car forward the necessary couple of metres.  Attaching the plug he heard the click from the contactor, confirming it had started delivering power.

Peering again at his phone he watched as the app began registering the charge with a line of red rectangles flashing in sequence in a silent, deathly tattoo.

"I'll make it up to them," he reasoned silently. "They won't mind."

Disturbed by the activity a pigeon flew out from the eves of the house.

A ghostly flash of grey, fluttering wings cracking the velvety dark silence, muted by the gently falling snow. The bird disappeared into a stand of tall poplar trees, their looming forms silhouetted against the full moon which had appeared through a crack in the clouds.

Mute observers casting sinister shadows over the driveway, his stationary charging vehicle, and the front of the unblinking, silent house.

Momentarily shocked he stepped back, looking up towards the first floor windows.

Both were resolutely unlit.

The smaller window, stood un-curtained and bare save for a single black vase bearing what appeared to be a bunch of dried and long dead flowers. The larger bay window was shrouded by heavy lined curtains, the left edge of which he imagined he saw twitch slightly. Or did it? There were no streetlights in the vicinity, the motion operated porch light had already tripped off, and with the moonlight broken by the ominous shadow of the trees it was difficult to tell.

Either way, no harm in trying again, he reasoned.  Striding purposefully back into the porch, and triggering the light, he gave the bell push a resolute double thumbing, following it up with a swift ratatatat of his knuckles on the frosted glass door pane.

"Is there anybody there," he repeated, squinting again into the tiny lens. "It's me, Walter!"

The house remained as silent and unresponsive as before.

In a final forlorn gesture to completing his mission he bent down and flipping the cover of the letterbox, peered through into the darkened hallway. The glare of the porch light through the frosted door panes cast his broken shadow ominously across the heavily patterned Axminster. To the left he could just see doorways into the unlit downstairs rooms standing open, while straight ahead a brace of tiny green glows confirmed the presence of an electric oven and microwave, and by extension, a kitchen. To the right he could just make out the first few steps of the staircase leading to the upper floor, those above disappearing into sepulchral gloom. Straightening up a feeling of morbid dread passed over him. Amplified by the bitter cold it sent an involuntary shudder through his frame, answered almost immediately by a reciprocal buzz from his phone. Confirmation that the another rectangle on the EV battery charge display had stopped flashing and was now glowing solidly.

Stepping back from the porch he peered again up at the first floor windows, and again imagined he saw one of the curtains twitch ever so slightly.

"Well, you invited me, and I said I'd come," he called up at the darkened window.. "And I did come … I kept my word," he continued, his voice falling in pitch and volume with each word as the futility of his trip sank home. 

Turning away he peered again at the display on his phone.

"Should be enough to get me home," he reasoned, and disconnecting the charging cable, returned it to its berth.

Wrenching his driver's door wide open he failed to notice the row of large stones decoratively fringing the flower bed that ran alongside the narrow driveway. Without his weight in the driver's seat the door passed easily over the nearest stone. With him seated, it didn't. The harsh grating noise as he pulled the door shut, confirming first evidence of wear and tear on the otherwise pristine vehicle.

"Oh bollocks," he snarled, tugging the seatbelt across his frame and angrily forcing it home.

Whirring the engine into life he reversed gingerly back onto the road, turned and with a final glance back at the darkened house purred off into the distance.

Behind the curtain of the main bedroom a figure frozen stiffly in the vertical, visibly relaxed, and turned back to face the bed.

"Has he gone?" whispered a second figure, horizontal, immobile, too anxious even to move.

"Yeah, looks like it " replied the vertical, also in a whisper.

"Oh, well thank fuck for that," laughed the horizontal loudly, the relief evident in her voice.

"Put the telly back on."

© 2024 David O'Byrne


Essential Information
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David O'Byrne
International Desk

David O'Byrne is a former fanzine writer and indie band manager, turned full time freelance journalist, travel writer and occasional fiction author based in Istanbul.


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