Marlon was the first to be called. He was alone at home. He should have been in bed, he knew, but the empty bed was cold and uninviting. He sat on the couch watching old war movies. He'd bought a bottle each of rum and Coke to drink while he watched, but he'd grown bored of drinking before finishing the first glass.
His heart leapt when he heard his phone ring, then fell when he saw the caller ID. Not a friend or a lover calling to chat. It was Ms Shan. He answered, knowing what the message would be.
"The battle's on," Ms Shan said. "Tomorrow. Dawn."
"I'll be there. Need me to help you call the others?"
"No. I have to do this."
"'K. Take care."
He hung up and looked at the flat, warm rum-and-Coke on his coffee table. Somehow, it looked even less appealing than it had before.
Fiona dreamed of Hell. She dreamed of fighting the flames with her water powers and it not being enough. Axel and Sophie were already trapped in the fire, which was rising to engulf her and Norman, and no matter how much water she raised ---
But then the fires dissolved in the opening chords of Royal. Her phone. Blearily, she answered.
"Buuuuh?" she said.
"Fiona? It's Ms Shan."
"It's war. Dawn."
"Bluuuuuh. 'll be th're."
With the last of her consciousness, she set an alarm before drifting off to sleep. This time, she dreamed of redemption.
Zorbar woke and jabbed ineffectively at the phone with an angry finger for a few minutes, until his wife sat up and swiped it for him.
"It Zorbar speak."
Ms Shan invited him to the war. In deference to the neighbors who lived on the other side of the thin apartment wall, Zorbar did not respond with the terrible war cry of the chimps.
"Zorbar be there. Fight Barn."
"So you're going?" Carol asked once he'd hung up.
Zorbar looked down. "Zorbar know you want Zorbar keep safe," he said. "But Zorbar friends in danger…"
"Shhh, it's okay," she said. "Of course I don't want you to get hurt. On the other hand, those bastards tortured you. You go fuck them up for me, okay?"
"Zorbar not 't think Carol believe revenge."
The phone woke Norman in his bedroom in his Mum's house where he'd slept since he was a child. It didn't wake the woman beside him, who was clearly a sound sleeper.
He looked down at her hair, fanned over the pillow and smelling faintly of carob. He wondered if she'd stay with him. He didn't like one night stands. They made him feel too much like his dad. He wondered if he's still like her when he got to know her better. On the other hand, he wasn't sure if he could be in an ongoing relationship while he was still in love with Ms Shan…
The phone rang a second time. Ms Shan. A bolt of guilt pierced his heart for sleeping with someone who was not his love--followed by a jolt of contempt for himself for loving a woman who could never possibly love him back. He answered the phone and heard the call to war.
It cheered him. All his confused emotions fell away before the knowledge that he might be dead within twelve hours.
He was not the first young man to prefer the simplicity of a fight to the death to the complexity of everyday life. Perhaps if young men did not feel this way there would be no wars – although of course there is no way to be sure of such a thing.
Karl got the call as a courtesy. Certainly, Ms Shan didn't expect him to rise from his hospital bed and fight.
He rose from his hospital bed, all right, and retrieved his camera and digital recorder. He may only have run a shopping centre newspaper, but that didn't mean that he wasn't a reporter, a journalist, a newsman damn it. If there was a war on, he planned to be a correspondent.
And so the call went out. Adam said little, then sat in the dark, silently sharpening a cleaver he'd borrowed from his cousin's butcher shop.
Donna fretted and paced and wished that Sadie was there to tell her what to do. Ali took his children back to their mother's house, and while he was there he said all the things he wished he'd said; all the kind things he regretted not saying before the divorce. Jane Nguyen from the key cutting counter had dreaded this call for weeks, and now that she was hearing it, it came as such a relief that she just went back to sleep. There was no way to get a message to Axel or Sophie. Even so, they slept badly in their respective cells.
All the others were told, the cashiers and cleaners. The ones who knew where the washers were to be found and the ones who looked after the paint rollers. The people who knew a 6mm self-tapping wood screw from a 5mm plasterboard bolt. The ones who dusted the house numbers on display and the ones whose work lives smelled of mulch and manure. All of them got the call. Some wept, others waited stoically for dawn. A couple gave Ms Shan their immediate resignations, which she accepted without question. But most of them, most of them readied themselves for the coming battle.
"I'm coming with you," Mrs Lebeaux said, somewhere in between calls.
"No. This isn't your fight," Ms Shan said.
"It affects you, it affects the Super Centre, it affects me."
"I know it affects you, my love," Ms Shan said. "That doesn't make it your fight."
"So you want me to just wait on the sidelines?"
"No, I don't want you standing that close."
"No." Ms Shan laid down her phone and put a hand on her lover's shoulder. "You can't fight. Do you know why?"
Mrs Lebeaux nodded. "I know you're afraid of losing me. I know you don't think I can fight. Lord knows if I did, I would have been shot of my ex-husband long before I was. But...
"I don't want you to die," Mrs Lebeaux said. "But I know you're a fighter. When you have to be. And that's why I need you to stay out of the war. Because we might lose. We might lose, and then it won't be Handy Pavilion vs DIY Barn any more. The only thing standing in the Barnlings' way will be gone. You will have to take it from there."
"I... I don't know if I'm up to that."
"Then I'll have to try not to die."
The last one to get the call was Angela McGregor. Her house was silent and dark, though she was not asleep. She could see perfectly well. Lights just cost her money and accomplished little.
A little square of light broke the darkness of her flat. Ms Shan. War. It had been bound to happen. The ground had been broken, the seeds planted. Now it was time to stand well back and watch the harvest.
The phone rang again.
She didn't need to be there at the end. It didn't matter now who won or lost. That was not her concern.
The phone rang a third time. Why did people make phones that shone so?
Why did they need light to see?
She picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Hello. It's Ms Shan. The fight's on. Dawn."
There was an unpleasant feeling at the back of Angela's throat.
"I'll be there," she said.
She hung up. For a long time she just sat alone in the dark wondering 'why'.