I promised my wife that I would call Dr. Song today. After putting Mira down for her nap and slipping outside for a smoke, I lifted the receiver. The sound it emitted, which I have heard without pause countless times before, seemed to me otherworldly now, like somebody’s finger playing on the wet rim of a crystal bowl in a derelict theater before the wars.

It’s hard to say how long I stood there listening. It may have been seconds or seasons. The rings of Saturn kept turning in their groove. For reasons beyond me—our seminar had already moved on from late medieval Europe to developing world underworlds—I dialed 1-800-INFERNO, and before the first ring, a woman’s voice answered in heavily accented English.

“Is it you?”

“I think so,” I replied. Outside, the honey locusts sprinkled their pale spinning leaves in real time. Focusing on one as it fell seemed to slow the general descent.

“Oh creature, gracious and good,” the faraway lady recited, as if reading, against her will, from a prepared text, “traversing the dusky element to visit us / who stained the world with blood.” I could hear rain trickling in a gutter spout on the other end of the line.

“Please,” I said into the receiver, “remove my name from your list.”

From Underworld Lit (Wave Books, 2020). Copyright © 2020 by Srikanth Reddy. Reprinted with the permission of Wave Books.