THE SHOCKING STORY BEHIND “CELL PHONE INTOLERANT”
By Kevin O’Brien
“I am not worthy!”
That was the first thing that went through my head when the wonderful folks at Suspense Magazine asked if I’d like to write a short story for their thriller anthology edited by Jeffery Deaver, NOTHING GOOD HAPPENS AFTER MIDNIGHT.
They mentioned that the other authors writing tales of terror for the anthology would be Linwood Barclay, Joseph Badal, Rhys Bowen, Heather Graham, Alan Jacobson, Shannon Kirk, Paul Kemprecos, Shannon Kirk, Jon Land, John Lescroart, D. P. Lyle and Hank Phillippi Ryan.
I make a pretty good living as an author. When people ask me what I do, I tell them: “I write scary thrillers, the kind where someone says at some point, ‘The call came from inside the house!’” If I’m with a friend when such an inquiry is made regarding my occupation, I depend on them to pipe up: “He’s a New York Times Bestselling Author.” That’s what friends are for.
At the same time, I suffer from imposture syndrome whenever I’m on a panel or lumped together with a group of big name thriller writers. I remember being on a panel with one of the aforementioned authors and some other heavy hitters, and as we were being introduced, I thought: “I’m going to make an ass out of myself in front of these superstar authors.” I imagined audience members asking each other later: “Who was that author who was babbling incoherently and then fainted?”
So, I was pretty flattered—but intimidated—to be on this list of authors. I wasn’t sure what kind of story to write for NOTHING GOOD HAPPENS AFTER MIDNIGHT. Then it dawned on me. Amid all the tales of terror woven by suspense experts in this anthology, I could do something kind amusing—with mild suspense and a little O. Henry twist in the finale.
So I went out for a walk, hoping for inspiration to strike.
But I live in a very trendy neighborhood of Seattle. So instead of being inspired during my constitutional, I was just frustrated at having to step aside for all the cell phone absorbed idiots who didn’t know how to share the sidewalk with others. In one busy block, I passed about sixty people—some walking alone, some in pairs, some walking dogs and some in groups. All of them were looking at their phones. I didn’t pass a single person without a phone. I was the only one. It was very Orwellian. I started to laugh. And it was okay to laugh insanely, because no was looking up from their phone to notice me.
I think this is what’s happening in most big cities—and in Seattle, especially, because of all the techies who live here. Unfortunately, that just increases the odds of running into rude cell phone users.
He’s in the men’s room, talking on the phone while at the urinal next to me. She’s in a movie theater, texting in front of me during a very emotional moment of the film. He’s twittering while walking his dog and letting the leash stretch across the entire sidewalk so I can’t pass. She’s a millennial mom on a crowded sidewalk, blithely pushing her child in a stroller as if it were a battering ram while she gazes down at her phone. He’s shirtless in a locker room, taking a selfie in the mirror by the showers while I’m there toweling off. And that’s not even taking into account all of the people who text and drive.
The locker room incident really happened to me not long before Suspense Magazine contacted me about writing a story for NOTHING GOOD HAPPENS AFTER MIDNIGHT. I remember confronting Mr. Selfie: “Do you mind not doing that? I have no clothes on…”
“I’m not taking your picture!” the guy countered.
“There are signs everywhere saying you’re not supposed to be using cell phones in here.”
The guy looked at me as if I were utterly insane.
I thought about that incident while I was out on my constitutional, dodging so many cell phone users on the sidewalk. It occurred to me: Wouldn’t it be great if you could invent a device that would shock a rude cell phone user—and put their phone out of commission?
That was the inspiration for my short story, Cell Phone Intolerant.
And I have to admit, writing the story was quite therapeutic. I was also somewhat inspired by a classic old Twilight Zone episode starring Burgess Meredith as a myopic bookworm, “Time Enough at Last,” written by Rod Serling (from a short story by Lynn Venable).
In fact, when I read an advance copy of NOTHING GOOD HAPPENS AFTER MIDNIGHT, I felt like I was reveling in a marathon of Twilight Zone classics I’d never seen before. My fellow authors have helped create a wonderful smorgasbord of suspense. I hope my Cell Phone Intolerant is worthy of a place among these brilliant stories.
So, call a friend and tell them about NOTHING GOOD HAPPENS AFTER MIDNIGHT. Just be careful where you use your cell phone.