A small “FOOMP” sounded from the other room quickly followed by a scream and a thud.
“What the…???” Daria screeched.
I ran into the bedroom. “What happened?”
Daria was standing between the bed and window staring at a blackened pile on the floor. Wisps of smoke drifted up.
“My phone exploded! I was just scrolling through my social feeds when it blew up! This is a brand new phone! What the hell?” Her eyes were wide and her voice carried a combination of fear and anger.
“Are you okay?” I asked, staring at the smoldering heap of electronics.
“Yeah, I am. I dropped it pretty quickly,” Daria said. She shook out her left hand and peered at her fingertips and palm. “Nope, no burns. How the hell does that happen?”
“I’m gonna guess a battery flaw. Well, we can take it back to the brick-and-mortar store and see what they say,” I said.
“Good idea. Okay, I’ll clean it up.” Daria grabbed a brush and dustpan and scooped the remains of her phone into a cardboard box. I noticed that, ironically, it was the same box the phone had shipped in.
When we arrived at the store twenty minutes later, I was surprised to see a long line of people winding out the door and down the sidewalk a ways.
“What’s going on?” I asked the employee standing at the door.
“Are you here to buy a new phone or report a battery issue?” she asked.
“Um, battery issue,” Daria answered.
“This line,” the woman said, gesturing to the line coming out of the door.
“Seriously?” I was astonished. What was going on? She just nodded and pointed.
We trotted to the back of the line which was now several people longer than when we walked up.
“This is so weird,” Daria commented. The extremely trendy-looking gentleman in front of us turned around.
“Oh, honey. Weird doesn’t even begin to describe it!” he said. “I was simply scrolling through social media, catching up on all my celebrity gossip and scandalous news of the day when boom! The phone exploded! And so did theirs!” He pointed to the people in front of him.
“What? I was looking at social media too!” Daria said. “Were they doing that too?”
“Um-hmm.” The man nodded, giving us a significant look. “Like I said, weird doesn’t even begin to describe it.”
A thought struck me. “I’ll be right back,” I told Daria. She gave me a puzzled look.
I walked up to the employee at the door. “I’m not trying to cut line. I just want to ask everybody a couple questions.”
She gave me a funny look but nodded. “Fine. I don’t care.”
When I entered the store, I could see that the line was longer than it initially appeared. It wound around the outside walls of the store before trailing out the door. I approached the woman who was at the front.
“Excuse me, ma’am. I’m trying to get some information. Can you tell me what you were doing when your phone exploded?”
“Just scrolling through social media this morning. Nothing in particular, just catching up on news and some gossip,” she said.
“Thank you.” I turned to the next person in line but he pre-empted me.
“Same thing social media, only news and sports,” he said.
I received the same answers from everybody else until I got back to Daria and the flamboyant gentleman in front of us, who’s name, Daria told me, was Dwight. I also asked the people now standing behind us and received the same answer as well.
When I relayed my question and the answers I’d received to Daria and Dwight, they both stared at me.
“What the hell is going on?” Dwight dropped all his flashy mannerisms and stood stock still, staring at me. The sun glinted off the large, round, white frames of his glasses. His appearance reminded me a bit of Elton John in his early days.
I shrugged. “I wish I knew. I have no idea if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. On the surface it looks like something, or someone, blew up these phones to stop everybody from looking at social media. That could be good, since it is time-sink and a mind-warp. Or that could be bad since some of those apps do convey useful and accurate information when regular sources can’t or won’t. When I was inside the store, I overheard the customer service guy telling somebody that they were considering it a battery manufacturer error and the parent company is replacing all phone and using a different battery.” I looked at them both. “But that means we’re all going to be without a phone for a while since they have to swap out batteries and get new phones. I suspect this store will run out shortly, and we’ll have to wait for things to be shipped.”
Daria frowned and Dwight glared down at the bag in his hand, which presumably held the remnants of his phone. He sighed.
“Well, I do have a library card, so at least I can go get a book. And Jerome will likely be at the coffee house tomorrow at two, so I’ll have somebody to chat with…” He sighed again.
“Which coffee place? We’ll meet you there,” Daria said, patting Dwight’s arm. I could see the lost look in his eyes and knew she was responding to that.
“Oh, honey, would you? That would be great. Better Brew, over on Market. I’m not real good face-to-face with people, but I also hate not having someone to talk to,” Dwight said quietly.
“I know the place. We’ll meet you there tomorrow at two,” I said, nodding.
The next couple weeks were very strange as phones kept exploding when people tried to read any social media sites. We weren’t able to access anything on our laptops or other devices, but at least those didn’t explode, just returned an error. On the other hand, both Daria and I were able to continue to work from home without any issues. It seemed only social media sites were the problem. After work and on weekends, Daria and I met up with Dwight almost every day at Better Brew. It felt good to get out of the house on a regular basis and I noticed that all of us seemed to be in better moods more often, especially as time went on.
About three weeks after Daria’s (and everybody else’s) phone had first exploded, and after the ensuing speculation, we learned quite suddenly what happened. The official explanation was that there had been an unusual solar flare which impacted the batteries. Questions regarding why only phone batteries and not, say flashlight batteries went unanswered. In all ways, the authorities were, shall we say, less than forthcoming.
The conspiracy theories started almost immediately. Some of them were very plausible and got me to thinking.
But I also worried. Who or what had the power and frankly, the chutzpah, to narrowly target phone batteries only when the user opened a social media app?
That was an almost impossible question to answer and I was pretty sure that no matter what the reasoning was behind the explosions, I was not going to be happy when the source was revealed. Since we were out in the park enjoying a picnic on a sunny day with Dwight and Jerome, I decided I’d follow Scarlett O’Hara’s mantra and think about it tomorrow.
And we’re off on another year of Odd Prompts! I was something of a slacker at the end of 2023, but I plead long days of travel and hanging out with family. But, I’m back and excited to keep the pump primed for writing this year! If you want to join in the fun, just send an email to oddprompts (at) gmail (dot) com and you will be added to the randomizer. It’s easy! It’s fun! And best of all… it’s free!
My challenge this week came from ‘nother Mike: When the first cell phones exploded, everyone thought it was a manufacturing problem with the batteries. Then we learned…