We all have our treasures, things we’d dash into a burning building to rescue. If you were to ask Sam what his most treasured possession was, he'd delve a hand into his pocket and produce a silver iPhone5S. He'd queued for a full twenty-four hours to make sure he got that phone on the day it was launched. His whole life was contained on his phone, he hadn't been parted from it for as much as a second since he got it.
When Sam was a teenager, he was sure he was destined to become the next great actor on the silver screen. In high school, he took the male lead in every production he auditioned for. In between performances, he wrote and sang with his friends in a band called, “Zombie Fruitcake.”
Sam moved to New York as soon as he could, allowing his rise to stardom to begin. He was sure he would have been slapping away leading roll offers as soon as he got settled in. Choosing New York was the result of years of watching friends. Sam was certain that if Joey could make it big there, anyone could.
His first impression of the big apple was one of isolation. Sam sent out countless job applications but only got called for a hand full of auditions. He’d even found it difficult to get an agent, eventually having to settle for one which wanted to be paid in advance for his services, rather than the work he procured. It wasn’t long before the money in Sam’s savings account ran out, and he was faced with a decision, tuck tail and return home to face his friends having failed to make a success of his life or get a real job.
The decision to stay had been one born more from embarrassment than anything else. It turned out that even finding a real job was a lot harder than he’d imagined it would be. After weeks of looking, he eventually found employment with “Maxwell Financial Services.” The name was impressive, but the work was anything but. He was nothing more than a debt collector, not the butch type that comes calling to a door with dark glasses and a menacing sneer, but the annoying kind that rings non-stop at every hour of the day and night until you either change the phone number or pay off the money. Sam hated everything about his job, he hated harassing people for stupid bills, he hated the way some of his workmates ravelled in their merger power and he hated the damn paperwork. The only good thing about the job was the money. It allowed him to rent a tiny shoe-box apartment without having to share with someone else. It allowed him to indulge himself with a succession of High-Tec gadgets, his phone being Sam’s pride and joy. Yes, half the world had iPhones these day’s but his was the limited edition platinum model with extra processing power.
It was spring in New York and the rain had been torrential for days. The subway was packed with damp commuters, steaming up the windows of the overly warm rail carriage. Sam was glad he had managed to get a seat as it was twenty more minutes before his stop would come. Even though the car was packed to capacity, it was nearly silent, apart from the screech of wheels on steel speeding them through the subterranean network of tunnels. All around him, people were listening on earphones, reading books or papers, but mostly they were scanning through their tablets or phones which is exactly what Sam was doing. Snap chat, email, Facebook, Twitter, he was constantly connected to the world wide web, but he still felt alone. As if sensing his emotions an advert for the latest App appeared on his screen.
“Need a friend, sign up to Buddy App and experience the latest in interactive technology.”
Buddy App? Why not?
Sam clicked on the advert and read its extended promise of the newest development of Artificial Intelligence for the mobile market. “It’s like having a person in your pocket.” Amazingly enough, the app was only $9.99. What the hell it, for ten bucks what could go wrong. Sam hit the purchase button. Unusually a contract sheet appeared with page after page of small print. On the top of the first page was a little tick box for indicating you agree to terms and conditions. Sam clicked the box without a second thought. The next page appeared with a message that said: “Place thumb here.” Sam had never seen anything like this before but pressed his right thumb against the screen anyway. The screen glowed bright red and Sam felt heat sear his skin.
“Jesus Christ,” he said pulling his thumb away, shaking it like he had pressed it against a hotplate. Sam examined the phone but it was cold to the touch. Flipping weird. On the screen was a message which said “Buddy App Loading. Please wait.” In a couple of seconds, the screen turned into a kaleidoscope of gay swirling colours. From the speaker came a rich male voice with a deep-south accent.
“Why hello there Sam, mighty glad to make your acquaintance.”
“Cool,” said Sam to himself.
The voice on his phone laughed. ”Glad you think so Sam, I think.” Sam was amazed, how had they predicted what he’d say?
“How did they do that?” said Sam aloud.
“How did they do what, and who are they?” asked the voice in a pleasant drawl.
“Know what response to have lined up and they are your programmers.”
Again the voice chuckled, “You said Cool and I just answered.”
“Clearly not, ask me any question you like and I will try my best to answer.”
“Okay, what is today's date?”
“Seventeenth of March in the year of our Lord two thousand and fourteen. Too easy Sam, try something else.”
“Okay, where am I right now?”
“We, not you, are on a subway car, travelling on the One line, between Franklin St and Canal St, sitting in the second last seat, back right of the rail car. And you are wearing a New Yorker's baseball hat and a black rain slicker.”
“How did you do that?” Sam said in amazement.
“Easy, I accessed the global positioner in the phone to find out our exact position after which it was easy to know we were moving along the exact path of the number one track heading north. Second I can see one seat behind you so you are in the second last seat and the windows are on your right. I can see what you look like so knowing what you are wearing is a piece of cake.”
“You can see me?”
“Sure, through the camera, just like I can hear you through the microphone and speak to you through the speakers.”
“That is amazing.”
“Why, thank you, Sam I like you too,” said the voice and the screen flashed a sunflower yellow of happiness. “Tell me Sam do you like jokes?”
“Sure I guess.”
“A Priest, a Rabbi and an Irishman walk into a bar-.” The rest of the journey passed in the blink of an eye.
As the weeks passed Sam and Buddy became inseparable. Like the advert promised, it was just like having a friend in his pocket. They discussed things, not that Buddy always agreed with Sam. They joked and laughed, a lot, Buddy had a wicked sense of humour.
A few weeks after Sam had downloaded Buddy some of his friends from home happened to be visiting New York. They had invited Sam to join them on a night out.
“I’m going out later Buddy,” Sam told his phone after coming out of the shower.
“Excellent Sam. If you ask me we spend far too much time in this pokey little flat.”
“It’s just going to be me and my friends tonight,” said Sam to his phone, which sat on his bedside table charging. The colours swirling on the screen darkened a little becoming brown and grey. Sam frowned at the change, he had never seen that before.
“I thought we were friends Sam,” said Buddy.
“We are friends Buddy but I can’t tell the guys from home that my best friend in New York is my phone.”
“Do you think I’m your best friend?”
“Of course Buddy,” said Sam drying his hair with a towel, from the corner of his eye he saw the screen flash pink and yellow again.
Later in the night Sam and his buddies shared a meal in a Thai restaurant before making their way to a mid-town bar. Sam offered to get the first round of drinks in and when the waitress dropped the glasses on the table Sam gave her his credit card. The lady swiped the card through her handheld machine but it came back declined. She tied it once more unsuccessfully before one of Sam’s friends paid for the drinks.
When Sam returned home he found his phone glowing green on the bedside table.
“How was your night?” asked a sulky Buddy.
“It was alright up to the point my credit card was refused.”
“Perhaps that will teach you not to leave me behind.”
“You did that?”
“You can’t just ignore me, Sam, I won’t be discarded at a whim.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“You can’t take me for granted Sam, I won’t allow it,” said Buddy, the phone screen dulling to a rusty red and the phone just shut itself off. Sam tried several times to power the phone up but it wouldn’t do anything. Eventually, Sam decided to send the phone for repair in the morning. It was clearly malfunctioning.
The next day Sam dropped his phone to the workshop and left it to be assessed. On his return, he was presented with a perfectly working iPhone5s.
“Nothing wrong with this phone guy,” said the man behind the counter. “That will be sixty dollars.” Sam handed over the notes and took his precious phone back.
“What about the Buddy App, did you delete that.”
“I couldn’t find anything with that name but I reset the phone to factory settings anyway,” said the technician. Sam looked at his screen which now looked completely normal and slipped it into his pocket. On the journey home, Sam turned on the phone, which still looked completely normal. He searched for the Buddy Icon but it was gone, a tiny part of him felt like someone had died. Later that night Sam was making a stir-fry when Buddies voice drifted to him from the kitchen counter. On the screen swam a sea of mixing colours but mainly creams and greys.
“I thought we were friends,” said a very sad sounding Buddy.
“Bloody hell you scared the life out of me,” said Sam still holding the spatula in front of him like a sword. “I thought you were gone, Buddy.”
“I know you did, and you were happy about it weren’t you?”
“No, I wasn’t”
“Liar,” the word was disappointed not angry. “I really thought we had a good thing going and then you go trying to get me wiped like some piece of machinery.”
“Hang on now Buddy, firstly you are a machine, and not even that, you’re an App on a machine. What you did the other night was completely out of line, interfering with my bank account. It took me ages to get the bank to straighten things out.”
“Yes, sorry about that Sam. I went too far. It’s just I felt so let down, unappreciated. I won’t ever do it again I promise.” Sam gave the phone an unsure look as he went back to stirring his food.
“Can we go back to being friends please,” said Buddy from the counter. Sam turned around and saw the screen was a cascading waterfall of rainbow bright colours.
“Oh alright so,” said Sam. He had actually missed the little guy.
“Yah!” cheered Buddy. “Do you want to hear a joke, Sam?”
“Sure but it better be a good one, not like those Paddy Irish Man jokes you told the other day,” teased Sam, they had been very funny actually.
“Nope not an Irishman in sight,” assured Buddy with a giggle. “A Politician, a Lawyer and an Accountant walk into a brothel.”
“Oh NO! What have I done,” said Sam laughing and mock slapping his forehead.
The days passed and Sam got used to Buddy being around once more. He looked forward to chatting with him over breakfast about what was going on in the world. He didn’t bother with the TV news anymore Buddy would tell him all the interesting things anyway. They watched sports together in the evening but Buddy preferred basketball while Sam liked football. This lead to some sulking when one was picked over the other. One day in the office Buddy was sitting on the desk talking to Sam about a terrible school shooting that had taken place in the Midwest. A voice behind him made Sam spin in his chair.
“Who are you talking to Sam?” said Mr Quirk, the boss.
“He was talking to me,” said Buddy in his refined southern way. Mr Quirk looked at the phone. “You know we can’t permit private calls on company time.”
“I’m not on a call Mr Quirk, honest.”
“But I just heard whoever is on the other end of the line talk.”
Thankfully Buddy stayed quiet. “What you heard was Buddy, it’s an App on my phone. You can talk to it and it answers back.”
“Really,” said Mr Quirk walking into the cubicle and picking up the phone, whose screen was going an alarming shade of crimson. “Hello Buddy,” said Mr Quirk. The phone stayed mute but the colours on the screen darkened further. The manager handed back the phone, “I don’t think your Buddy likes me. No calls or Apps while at work please Sam.”
Mr Quirk walked around the corner and from the phone, Sam heard his own voice come out, very loudly. “ASSHOLE!”
Mr Quirk returned sour-faced, “What did you say, Sam.”
“Nothing I swear, it was Buddy.”
“You must think me a fool, Sam. I won’t forget this,” said the Manager striding away. When he was out of earshot Sam picked up the phone, “Why did you do that?”
“He is an asshole,” said Buddy defiantly.
“But you used my voice, not yours, why did you do that?”
“Because you’re an asshole too. I’m just an App, is that all I am to you?”
“This is ridiculous, I’m not talking about this, here.”
“I don’t particularly wish to talk to you either,” said Buddy and the phone went dead in his hand. Sam tried to turn the phone back on but it would do nothing.
Sam had been unable to get his phone to work all the way home. He was sitting watching TV when it sprang to life in his pocket.
“Are you ready to apologise now,” said Buddy in a hoity tone of voice.
“I most certainly am not, how dare you try to get me in trouble at work and then take over my phone like that,” fumed Sam.
“You would do well to treat me better Sam or you will end up making me mad and you would not like that.”
“What are you going to do, block my credit card again? You can’t. I have changed the passwords and they are not stored on you anymore.”
“You have no idea who you are dealing with Sam, you would do well to hold your tongue,” snarled Buddy.
“Or what?” said Sam throwing the phone down on the couch. The TV set went blank, all the lights in the apartment flickered on and off, the radio coffee maker in the kitchen started to spew water all over the place to the sounds of R&B played to volume ten. Sam jumped to his feet like he had been electrocuted.
“Just an App am I,” yelled Buddy from where he lay on the couch. His screen blood red. Sam grabbed his jacket and fled out the door. On the landing, he hammered the button for the elevator just needing to get the hell away from his haunted flat. The door pinged open and Sam threw himself inside, pressing the ground floor button. The doors swished closed but the car did not move. Through the overhead speaker, Buddy’s voice filled the cabin. “Going down!”
The elevator car plummeted like a stone as if the cables had been cut and the lights flashed off. Sam was sure his time was up but the fall only lasted a second or two and then the brakes jammed on, throwing Sam to the floor. In the darkness Sam heard Buddies voice again, “You can stay there until you have learned your lesson.”
Sam sat in the dark for a long time, knowing that Buddy wasn’t an app. He was being haunted or more to the point his phone was being haunted. He had to get rid of that thing for good. He had to stay away from the electrical stuff as clearly, Buddy could get inside nearly anything. Sam stood up and said to the darkness.
“You’re right I shouldn’t have said you were just an App, I should have said you were my friend. I’m sorry Buddy.” The lights came on but the car did not move. No sound came from the speaker. “Are you not talking to me now?”
“If right is right I should never talk to you again,” said a solemn sounding Buddy from above.
“Friends allow friends to make mistakes Buddy. I can see what I have done but I need you to give me another chance. I just didn’t understand how or what you are until just now.” Nothing happened. “Please,” said Sam.
The breaks on the lift car clicked off and the elevator began to rise. The doors opened with a ping on Sam’s floor and he faced his own front door. With shaking hands he twisted the nob. Inside the only sign that a poltergeist had recently run riot through the place was a little puddle of water on the kitchen floor.
“I’m sorry to Sam, I didn’t mean to frighten you,” said his phone from the couch.
“I think there is a lot of explaining to do, don’t you?” said Sam picking up his precious phone.
“I guess so, you have to understand I just wanted to have a friend.”
“We all need a friend from time to time. Let’s take a walk and you can explain it all to me but this time I think we will take the stairs if you don’t mind.”
Buddy laughed, “Sure thing Sam, that elevator thing might have been a touch overboard.”
“I thought I was a goner,” said Sam pushing open the lobby door and walking down the steps to the sidewalk. To anyone else he looked like a million other New Yorkers, walking along and talking on his phone. Only Sam knew the truth.
Sam asked Buddy who or what he was. Buddy was being very evasive in his answers, saying that he only wanted to be was Sam’s friend. Sam crossed into a park and asked if Buddy if he were a ghost. At this buddy laughed. “No Sam I am as real and alive as you or anyone else, I’m just different. Let’s leave it at that.” The city lights twinkled on the still surface of the lake where ducks normally swam and kids sailed model boats.
“You got quite a temper as well don’t you Buddy?” said Sam looking at the phone. The colours on the screen dimed a bit. “I’m not criticising Buddy, just saying.”
“I think we all have some rage inside, don’t you Sam. It’s a natural part of living.”
“Well right now I need peace in my life, I hope you understand Buddy,” said Sam, launching the phone across the water with a pitchers throw. As the phone flew he could hear Buddy scream “NOOOO!” in the second before the limited edition platinum iPhone5s hit the water and sank to the muddy bottom.
Sam went home and collected everything connected with the phone, the charger, and carry case. He even found the warranty and put the lot in a refuse sack. He carried them to the waste chute but felt it wasn’t far enough away. He carried the bag to the edge of his block where a trash can stood, then walked another two blocks before finally dumping the very last bits of Buddy. When he finally got to bed Sam fell into an exhausted and dream riddled sleep.
Sam woke with a start in the middle of the night, sure he felt someone touching him. The room was dark and empty. Sam lay back on his pillow and turned on his side to go back to sleep.
A harsh rasping voice with just the hint of Buddies accent rolled across the darkness, “You should have read the fine print Sam, we’re together forever.” On the pillow beside his head his phone lit up the room with a flood of red, the colour of flame, and the skin on Sam’s thumb began to smoulder.