The fact that the dog did not come wagging his tail when he opened the door was bizarre. It had not been his idea to bring a dog into the house, but the pressure from wife and children had become too high. With the arrival of the pet, his restraint also disappeared. The rest of the family initially thought it was strange that he was the one who cared the most about the animal, went out for walks with it most of the time, provided fresh water, inquired whether or not it had been fed, … Asked about his changed attitude, he answered truthfully that he had initially opposed the arrival of the animal, but not the animal itself. A nuance that many missed. The days that he – like that day – had office duty, he had lunch at a fixed time in the canteen, usually with the same colleagues. Those were the moments he didn’t like to be disturbed. When his cell phone rang, he would push the off-button even without looking, for which he was repeatedly told off by his superiors. A call from the home front was the last thing he expected. He remained seated after the meal when his staff had already left. He called back, but received no answer. He thought someone – his wife or one of his sons – had mistakenly pressed his number. He decided to call again later that day, but he forgot the incident almost immediately, just as he did his intention to call back.
He only thought about it again when he was already on the train home. Halfway through an article he was reading, his attention was drawn to a sound that he could not immediately explain. It was like the stepping of rubber boots in mud. He straightened, looked in the middle aisle and as far as possible in the adjacent compartments. When he took his vibrating cell phone from the inside pocket of his jacket, he noticed that the sound came from there. He swiped the screen to unlock it. White letters lit up against a completely black background, just long enough to read the message:
A joke from his oldest son, he laughed. He himself did not know how to set up such a trick. He thought it was fun. He pressed the shortcut key for home, but still no reply. He opened the magazine again and tried to find the paragraph where he left off. He heard the sound of boots in mud again, this time louder. There was a smile on his lips as he unlocked his cell phone. The words
reappeared on the screen, but the moment they faded, bright red letters flashed:
a few times. Startled, he threw the device away, as if it were something dirty. If it was the intention to worry him – even if only for a joke – they succeeded. He picked up the device and unlocked it. He called. Now the ringtone didn’t even ring – he feared he’d broken the device. He asked a fellow traveler if he could use his one for a moment and tried to hide his agitation. A nervous smile when he didn’t get a reply either. He put the magazine back in his briefcase. For the rest of the train journey he was under the spell of his cell phone. He took out the battery a few times and started the device again and again. Eventually he had to admit his powerlessness.
A few miles before entering the station of his hometown, he was impatiently waiting until the train stopped and the doors opened. In his rush, he missed his footing and sprained his ankle. Hopping, he quickened his pace. Then he heard the macabre sound of boots in mud again or at least something reminiscent of it – a smooth splish splash … – again and again.
The words remained and slowly something else was added:
No more worries. Outright panic. He was unable to walk faster, certainly not running anyway. Rotten phone …
He didn’t live far from the station: first a slightly sloping lane with plane trees, then a stone bridge and finally a few hundred meters passing Japanese cherry trees, in full bloom right now.
But didn’t he rush the matter? Did he evaluate this situation adequately?
What if there actually was a slaughter going on? What could he do? He suspected that he could not get anywhere with such a story. Although he had made some enemies professionally, he was completely in the dark about who could have sent him these messages. He looked at his wrist watch and thought that his youngest son was still in the sports club, the oldest in the music academy. His wife was at home, he was almost certain of it.
He hesitated for a moment and slowed down his pace … it had not been going so well between them for a while. He was worried about her mental health. He had slowly seen her change from a strong, independent woman into an (almost) scary creature with inexplicable tantrums. He had already cautiously suggested seeking professional help, but she didn’t care. On the contrary, she had burst out in a frightening frenzy. The children had become afraid of her. In recent weeks he had inquired at real estate agencies about properties that were for rent. It was over between them, that much was clear. The thought that at this very moment she might be the victim of a massacre … He was in wavering. He wasn’t very proud of this, but he almost hoped for it. This would feel like a liberation, a new start for him and the children.
Suddenly he realised: it was a mid-semester holiday that week, the sports club and music academy were also in recess. So they were at home as well. Probably, just like the dog.
The fact that the dog did not come wagging his tail when he opened the door was bizarre.