We were enjoying the annual Christmas party at Boon Hills Baptist Church. Turnout was good, and the kids all seemed to be enjoying themselves. Santa Claus showed up promptly at 7:00, handed out presents and candy, posed with the kiddos for photos, and left promptly at 7:15. (Seems Santa had to get changed and hurry back in time for the meal.) I was seated with my family, eating turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and my favorite, mac and cheese, when my cell phone rang. This was odd – the church is located in a dead zone, signal wise, and I’d never been able to get a call in or out in this neck of the woods. Nonetheless, my phone rang, and it was a number I didn’t recognize.
“Hello?” I answered, with a “WTH?” glance at my wife.
I heard a clicking sound and thought “telemarketer.” Then, as if from far away, I heard a voice in a strange dialect – no, another language! – followed a couple of seconds later by a choppy, heavily-accented English voice.
“Hey, how you doing?” It sounded like one of those robo-calls.
Still looking at my wife, who now was giving me a “WTH?” look of her own, I said, “Uh … I’m fine, how are you?”
There was a pause, followed by my question translated into some other language, followed by the response, followed a few seconds later by the robo-English translation.
“I am good, good. This is Russia.”
I frowned. All around me, children and grown-ups, my own parents and children included, celebrated Christmas. Everyone was having a great time – except me. Here I was, on the phone with a damn prank caller.
“I’m sorry, this is who?”
Again the pause, the translation, the response, et cetera. I was already tired of the conversation and ready to hang up. “This is Russia,” came the answer.
“Uh, did you say this is Russia?”
Pause, translation, etc.
“Yes, this is Russia. So, what are you doing?”
“Um … I’m at a party.”
“A party, what sort of party?”
I gave my wife a look that unequivocally said, “This is crazy!” By now my side of the conversation had attracted the attention of a couple of other people; otherwise, the celebration proceeded as normal.
“A … Christmas party?” I said, with the interrogative inflection, because I simply couldn’t believe what I was saying.
“Christmas, what is that?”
“Um … it’s where we celebrate the birth of Jesus, and exchange gifts and eat, and have a good time.”
“Jesus, who is that?”
“OK, who exactly is this? Why are you speaking in a foreign language?” My parents were standing nearby, listening. Meanwhile, a handful of younger kids were hiding under the buffet table from their cousins, who wanted to steal their toys.
“Yes, as we said, this is Russia.”
“What does that mean, this is Russia?”
“We would like to discuss the nuclear situation.”
I had to laugh. “The what?”
“The nuclear situation. We are ordering you to surrender now.”
My dad sat down next to me, looking both amused and concerned at the same time – a trick I’d only just begun to practice with my own kids.
“Um … I don’t think I understand.”
My voice must have carried a certain amount of emotion, which is unusual for me, as I am normally a calm guy. People were now beginning to turn around and stare, their faces scrunched in curiosity. My wife placed a hand on my leg, as if to quiet me down.
“Stand down your forces or face annihilation within the hour.”
“I beg your pardon?!”
“Stand down or United States will fall. One hour, you have.”
I guess everyone could tell from the look on my face that I was in the middle of something truly crazy. The church had gone quiet; even the kids were watching me. My wife’s lovely brown eyes were getting wider and wider.
“I’m — I don’t — I don’t have the authority to do that,” I replied. “I don’t have access to … military … stuff.”
“Who is speaking, please?”
“You should know!” I cried. “You obviously have hacked my phone!”
There was a pause of about ten seconds, during which I silently mouthed to everyone watching, “THIS IS ABSOLUTELY INSANE.”
Then my caller replied, “Please tell us who is speaking, please.”
I sighed with an eye roll. “This is Marvin Fuller, who is this?”
Another lengthy pause. Everyone, including me, hung on each passing second. Then the caller said, somewhat awkwardly, “Hey. How you doing?”
Now I was confused; we seemed to have reset the conversation. “I’m fine. How are you.”
“I’m doing good.” The robo-voice sounded suspiciously cheerful. “We would like you to forget this call, please.”
“Forget this call?”
“Please do enjoy your Jesus party.”
“Um … thank you.”
“Have a nice day. Surrender, United States.”
There was a click, and the voice was gone. I lowered the phone, staring at it as if it contained a monster. My dad clapped me on the back. “Everything OK?” he asked in that booming voice of his.
I glanced at him and grinned. “Yeah, sure. I … I guess.”
He grinned toothily. I could smell egg nog on his breath. “Good! Great.”
The party quickly swung back into gear. My wife returned to her mom, meatball plate and glass of 7-Up punch. I tucked my phone away and tried my best to do as the caller instructed – to forget about the call. For some reason, I could get neither the voice nor its … order ... out of my head. Had the Russian-speaking caller tried to … brainwash me?
I drank a glass of egg nog and, still reeling from the phone call, excused myself to catch a breath of fresh air. The woods sighed all around me, dark shapes swaying in the cold wind. I saw the moon through the trees, a silver coin in the void.
Beneath it streaked an object, arcing across the sky, east to west. It seemed to leave a contrail. I thought it looked like a giant sparkler.
Shivering, I went back inside.