Evil Machines

By Terry Jones

A darkly funny set of linked tales about vengeful phones and hoovers

You might think that there was nothing particularly evil about a Truthful Phone. It simply told the truth, which is, of course, “A Good Thing To Do”. But the way this particular telephone told the truth was not at all good. In reality the thing was evil from the tip of its mouthpiece to the end of its cord.

It was put up for sale in a shop window with a label that read: “The Truthful Phone - £10”.

“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” said Mrs. Morris, who was frail and elderly but of an enquiring mind.
“I wouldn’t take it, if I were you, Mrs. Morris,” said the shop- keeper, who was a kind man despite his appearance. “The truth can get you into all sorts of trouble.”
“Oh dear,” replied Mrs. Morris. “I always understood the truth never hurt anyone.”
“Don’t you believe it,” said the shopkeeper. “The truth can be dangerous and undesirable and should be shunned as long as is possible. Nobody really wants the truth. They want to live in a world that is comfortable and happy. The truth would just make most people miserable.”

“But I need a new telephone,” said Mrs. Morris, “and this one is the cheapest by far!” And with that she bought the phone and took it home. And that very day she got Albert, the odd job man, to come and install it.

The first time it rang, Mrs. Morris picked the phone up and was surprised to hear her old friend Mabel say: “Ha! May Morris, you old fraud! I hope you rot in hell!”
“I beg your pardon? Is that you Mabel?”
“How dare you call me a parasite!” cried Mabel indignantly.
“I didn’t, my dear… Are you feeling quite well?”
“If you’ve always thought I was a free-loader who cultivated your friendship simply for the free teas, why have you pretended to be my friend for so many years?” shouted Mabel.
“Upon my soul!” cried Mrs. Morris. “I think you had better ring back when you’re feeling more yourself again, dear.” And she hung up. She then stood for some time gazing at the phone.
A little later she rang the Greengrocer.

“Hello, Mr. Murphy?” she said into the phone. “I hope you’re well today?” There was a long silence on the other end of the phone. “Hello? Are you still there?” asked Mrs. Morris. “I’d like to order a big bag of your best potatoes and some leeks.”

“Er…” said Mr. Murphy.

“And a cucumber, a lettuce and a pound of tomatoes. Is that all right?” asked Mrs. Morris.

“I think my wife’s coming!” said Mr. Murphy hurriedly and he rang off.

Mrs. Morris was more than a little astonished, though she had the feeling that the phone may have had something to do with the odd way in which Mr. Murphy had received her order for potatoes, leeks and salad. As for Mr. Murphy he was equally surprised. He had picked up the phone and had heard Mrs. Morris, that sweet little old lady from down the road, say: “Hello, you gorgeous hunk! I’ve been thinking about your bottom all week!”

He was so surprised in fact that he didn’t know what to say. Then he heard Mrs. Morris continue: “I love the ginger hair on your arms and the manly way you tip potatoes into my shopping bag and
then stick in the leeks.” All he could say was “Er…”

Then Mrs. Morris went on: “Since the late unfortunate Mr. Morris disappeared under mysterious circumstances in the Campsie Fells, I have dreamt of running a market garden with you in Worthing!”

At this point, Mr. Murphy began to get really worried, and made up some story about his wife walking into the shop. He put the phone down and blinked at his assistant, Tom, and then at the customers. Had they
heard what Mrs. Morris had said? What on earth had got into the woman? He spent the rest of the day keeping to the back of the shop in case Mrs. Morris should turn up in person. But she didn’t.

In fact Mrs. Morris was far too busy to go down to the shop to pick up her leeks and potatoes. She was round at the police station telling Constable Robinson how she’d received a strange phone call.

“It was Albert, the odd job man. He said he was going to come
round and fix the boiler for me…”
“Does he often ring up and say things like that?”
“Oh yes, officer, he’s very helpful.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“Well he also said that he’d probably steal a few things while he was at it. He said he’d noticed some valuable-looking jewellery in a drawer in my bedroom. I said I didn’t realize he’d been poking around in my bedroom drawers, and he told me he’d been stealing things from me for years, but I’d never noticed because he only took small things and only a few at a time.”
“Why do you think he was telling you all this?”
“Oh! I don’t the he was!” said Mrs. Morris. “I think it was the Truthful Phone.”
“Hm!” said Constable Robinson. “The Truthful Phone?”
“Yes,” replied Mrs. Morris. “I want you to arrest it!”
“We don’t normally arrest telephones,” said Constable Robinson.
“Perhaps I’d better come and have a look.”

So Constable Robinson went with Mrs. Morris to her house, to take a look at the Truthful Phone. It didn’t look very different from an ordinary phone, except that it had a switch on the side.
“May I try it?” asked Constable Robinson.
“Of course,” said Mrs. Morris.
So Constable Robinson rang the Superintendent back at the Police Station.
“Oh! Hi, Super!” said Constable Robinson. “Robinson here. I’m just trying out Mrs. Morris’s Truthful Phone.”
“You’re what?” exclaimed the Superintendent, who was startled to hear Constable Robinson say he knew all about the bribes the Superintendent took from criminals and local businessmen, and that he was going to report the matter to his superiors.
“I’m trying out Mrs. Morris’s Truthful Phone,” repeated Constable Robinson.
“You do and I’ll break every bone in your body!” roared the Superintendent. “And I mean that!”
And, from the tone of the Superintendent’s voice, Constable Robinson knew it was the truth, even though he hadn’t the slightest idea what he had said to make the Superintendent so angry.
“It’s not what you said,” whispered Mrs. Morris, “it’s what the phone said is the problem. I think I’ll take it back to the shop.”

Just then the phone rang.

“Hello?” said Mrs. Morris. “This is May Morris speaking.”
“I don’t want to go back to the shop,” said the phone.
“Who is this?” asked Mrs. Morris.
“It’s me, your new telephone,” said the phone. “I like it here. If you try to have me disconnected, I’ll make your life a misery.”
“You’re already doing that!” exclaimed Mrs. Morris. “I’m going to call Albert now.”
“What and let him steal from you?” said the phone.
“At least he doesn’t mess around with what I say!”
“Don’t disconnect me or I’ll…”
But Mrs. Morris had already slammed the phone down.

“Who was it?” asked Constable Robinson.
“It was the phone,” said Mrs. Morris.
“I know it was the phone, but who was on the phone?” asked Constable Robinson. But before Mrs. Morris could explain, the phone rang again. Mrs. Morris picked it up and then turned to the police officer.
“It’s for you, constable,” she said. Constable Robinson took the phone. “Hello?” he said.
“Ask Mrs. Morris what happened to her husband,” said the phone and then rang off.
“What was that?” asked Mrs. Morris.
“Someone just said: ‘Ask Mrs Morris what happened to her husband’, and then rang off,” explained the constable.
“What!” exclaimed Mrs. Morris in some agitation. “Who was it?”
“They didn’t say!”
“It’s the phone!” cried Mrs. Morris. “It’s evil!”

And she grabbed the phone and shouted into the mouthpiece: “I’m having you disconnected and you’re going straight back to the shop!” But all she got back was the dialling tone.
“Constable,” said Mrs. Morris. “Would you help me disconnect this phone? I don’t trust it to say what I want it to say.”
“Certainly,” said Constable Robinson, and he started to pull at the wires, whereupon the phone rang again. Constable Robinson stopped and looked at Mrs. Morris. She shook her head.
“Don’t pick it up!” exclaimed Mrs. Morris. “Don’t listen to it!”
“But it might be the Superintendent,” said Constable Robinson, and he picked the phone up as if it were a live crab.

“Look in the garden shed,” said the phone.
“Who’s that?” shouted Constable Robinson, but the phone had rung off. Constable Robinson frowned. He looked across at Mrs. Morris. She was white-haired and frail.
“No, no…” he said to himself. But then he remembered that it was his duty as a policeman to investigate anything that needed to be investigated.
“Would you mind if I looked in your garden shed, Mrs. Morris?” he said.
“Of course not,” said Mrs. Morris. “Is there something you need from there?”
Mrs. Morris took Constable Robinson into the garden and showed him the shed. She unlocked it, and he went inside. Immediately the phone started ringing back in the house, and Mrs. Morris hurried back, while
Constable Robinson inspected the garden shed.

But Mrs. Morris didn’t answer the phone; she simply took it off the hook and left it there. She didn’t want to hear another word it said. When Constable Robinson returned from inspecting the garden
shed, he said to Mrs. Robinson: “You have a very fine garden shed, Mrs. Morris. It is remarkably well-equipped: you have welding apparatus, wood and metal lathes, and even blast furnaces for smelting.”
“Yes,” replied Mrs. Morris. “It was my late, unfortunate husband’s favourite place. He spent hours in there making all sorts of things.”

“Is there someone on the phone?” asked Constable Robinson, indicating the receiver lying off its hook.
“Ignore it,” said Mrs. Morris.
But Constable Robinson had already picked the receiver up.
“Well! Did you see it?” hissed the phone.
“It’s full of equipment,” said Constable Robinson.
“Don’t listen!” said Mrs. Morris.
“The weed-killer!” hissed the phone. “In the bottle on the shelf by the flower pots! That’s what she used!”
“For what?” asked Constable Robinson.
“Take no notice of it!” said Mrs. Morris, and she grabbed the telephone receiver out of the Constable’s hands, and yanked the wire hard.
“NOOOO!” screamed the Truthful Phone. “Don’t!”

But it was too late! The wire came out of the socket in the wall, and the Truthful Phone was disconnected. Mrs. Morris sank down in a chair.
“It is an evil thing!” she said, glaring at the phone. “I shall take it back to the shop straight away.”
“But what was it talking about?” asked Constable Robinson.
“It was raking up old and unfounded rumours about my late and unfortunate husband’s disappearance, under mysterious circumstances in the Campsie Fells,” replied Mrs. Morris. “You see he liked making things in the garden shed, which, as you so rightly observed, is remarkably wellequipped. One day he told me he was going out on the Campsie Fells, which as you know is a range of hills to the north of Glasgow, to test out a new kind of dog-walker. The Campsie Fells was his favourite place for testing things. But that day he never came back.”
“I’m very sorry,” said Constable Robinson.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Morris. “I was sorry too. Would you like a cup of tea?”
“That sounds like an excellent idea,” said Constable Robinson.

And so that’s what they had.

When Constable Robinson returned to the police station, however, he found the Superintendent waiting for him. “Listen, Constable Robinson, I’m thinking of promoting you.”
“Really!” exclaimed Constable Robinson. He’d been in the force without promotion for so long he’d almost given up hope. “Yes,” said the Superintendent. “But there are one or two things
that we should keep confidential just between you and me…” “I see,” said Constable Robinson. “That’s OK by me.”

But the business with the Truthful Phone was not quite over.

“Oh, by the way,” said the Superintendent, “There’s a message on the message machine for you.”
Constable Robinson recognized the voice on the message machine at once. It was the Truthful Phone. “Listen, Constable Robinson,” it said.
“Just in case I do get disconnected, I think you should know the truth about Mrs. Morris’s husband. He didn’t disappear under mysterious circumstances in the Campsie Fells. He was poisoned in his own home.
With weed-killer.”

Constable Robinson shuddered. All his working life in the police force he’d dreaded this moment when he would be confronted by a real criminal and would have to make an arrest. Of course he’d given out the
usual speeding fines and he’d reported several cars for going through red traffic lights, but he generally managed to avoid any contact with proper criminals.
Now here he was faced with a criminal of the worst sort: a murderer - possibly a murderess! But Constable Robinson didn’t hesitate. He knew what his duty was and he went straight to his Superintendent, and told him the story. The Superintendent immediately leapt into action.

“We’ve no time to lose!” he said. “She may be armed and dangerous!”
“Who? Mrs Morris?” stuttered the Constable, who was having difficulty imagining that dear little old lady wielding a machine gun. But the Superintendent was already on the phone.
“I want six squad cars and an armed escort a.s.a.p.!” He yelled and slammed the phone down.
In less than an hour, the police had arrived at Mrs. Morris’s home. Several armed officers leapt out of a van, wielding machetes, and broke down Mrs. Morris’s front door. Four sprang up the stairs and broke down all the doors up there, while six ran through the ground floor, knocking down any door that happened to be shut and one or two that weren’t. They opened all Mrs Morris’s cupboards and pulled out all her clothes and personal belongings onto the floor. They pulled all the tins off her larder shelves and ransacked her fridge.

“The suspect seems to have skipped it!” reported Officer Tait to the Superintendent.
“Somebody must have tipped her off!” exclaimed the Superintendent. “Which means she’s not operating alone! Quick! Send reinforcements!” he barked into his radio.
In the meantime, the other police officers dug up the lawn and rose-beds looking for dead bodies, and others raided the late unfortunate Mr. Morris’s garden shed.

“Suspect’s shed is full of suspicious gear!” reported Officer Tait, and he took the Superintendent to see the metal-working lathes, mechanical saws and smelting furnaces.
“Looks like she’s been cutting up her victims and burning them in those furnaces!” exclaimed the Superintendent. “No wonder we didn’t find any dead bodies buried under the lawn or rose-beds! She could be the greatest mass-murderer of all time! Quick send more reinforcements!
This is going to be all over the press tomorrow! Well done, Constable Robinson! I can see promotion ahead for all of us!”
“I can still hardly believe it,” murmured Constable Robinson. “She seemed such a sweet old lady. But look! There’s the weed-killer, just as the phone said!”
“Take that as evidence!” exclaimed the Superintendent. “And that garden fork is an offensive weapon.”
By the time the helicopter had arrived there were something like fifty police officers crowded into Mrs. Morris’s house and garden, most of them armed.
“Now where is that phone?” asked the Superintendent. “It’s our key witness.”
“It’s gone!” gasped Constable Robinson. “She must have taken it back to the shop!”
“No time to lose!” shouted the Superintendent. “We may yet apprehend the suspect, before she can escape the country!”

All this while, Mrs. Morris had been making her way back to the electrical shop where she had bought the Truthful Phone. She went via the Park, where she always spent a pleasant hour feeding the ducks and
pigeons. She then stopped at the Greengrocers to order some leeks and potatoes. The Greengrocer himself wasn’t to be seen, however, as he was hiding in the back of the shop, so she told his assistant to give him her best wishes.
She then went on to the electrical shop, and was surprised to find that it had a helicopter hovering above it.

“There she goes!” whispered Constable Robinson, peering out from the police van, on the other side of the street. “That’s her!”

“Suspect entering shop now!” radioed the Superintendent. “OK men, we’ll go in all together and take the suspect by surprise. Wait for my countdown.”

When Mrs. Morris handed the Truthful Phone back to the
shopkeeper, he nodded. “I didn’t think you’d like it,” he said. “The truth is often very unpleasant.”
“You are quite right, young man,” replied Mrs. Morris.
“But wait a minute!” said the shopkeeper. “You’d got it set all wrong! Look!”
And he pointed to the switch on the side. When you looked closely you could see in tiny letters the words “True - False”. The switch was turned to “False”.
“It’s been telling you lies!” exclaimed the shopkeeper.
“And not just me!” said Mrs. Morris.
And that was the moment, when six specially trained officers leapt out of the helicopter onto the roof of Baker’s Electrical Shop, smashed their way through the ceiling and abseiled down onto the counter.
At the same time, fifty armed officers burst into the shop, spraying bullets at the ceiling. They pounced on Mrs. Morris, handcuffed her, put a bag over her head and bundled her into the back of a van.

The story was, indeed, all over the press some weeks later, but I’m afraid neither Constable Robinson nor the Superintendent got their promotion. The case was thrown out of court on the grounds that the
Truthful Phone was not a reliable witness.

In his summing-up the Judge said: “Since Mrs. Morris onlypurchased the phone that morning, it could not have been a witness to the events it described. It was simply spreading malicious gossip.”

As for Mrs. Morris, she successfully sued the police for wrongful arrest, and with the £84 she received in compensation, she was able to buy a very nice telephone. It was red, and it said exactly what anyone
who used it said and nothing else.

The Truthful Phone itself disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The police claimed it had escaped from custody when they proposed charging it under the defamation laws. But there were rumours.

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