The Phone Takes Its Toll
By J J Dewey
(This was my second short story, again written in 1961 at the age of sixteen. At the time I was reading Edgar Allen Poe’s works and thought I would write a story patterned after his style.)
“No, no, I won’t talk.” “Please don’t shoot — please – please…” A series of shots put an end to the old man’s cries. The air was filled with silence only transcended by the dire thoughts of the murderer. “The old boy didn’t have much life left; besides he could have caused me plenty of trouble.”
“I’m the killer. You must have a pretty vile opinion of me from my previous act, but you need not have, for I have a good reason for all my deeds. You see, I never kill a man without a reason. The reason I killed the old man is very explainable. He knew things – things which could cause me trouble. It’s better this way – for both of us. His mouth no longer threatens me and he no longer has to fear death; he should thank me for ending his life. No doubt life was an affliction to one as old as he.
As I walk home I feel relieved, knowing I have nothing to fear. The law is farther from me today than ever. I breathe with deep breaths of exultation, for the first time in ages, my mind is at rest.
Those were my thoughts; surely no one would have thought me a murderer. If you could have seen how calm, how unruffled my nerves were, surely you would have not thought I had just killed a man. I was clever, I knew I had committed a perfect crime. No human eye could possibly find fault with the job I had completed so well.
All the way home the air seemed to be filled with a state of tranquility. No doubt the knowledge of my safety allayed any fear which ran through my brain.
Upon reaching my house I found something very strange. I found an extra telephone in my home. It was dull black in color and placed on the mantle of my fireplace. What kind of person would go around implanting telephones on mantles of fireplaces? I thought there was something wrong with this neighborhood ever since I moved here – we don’t have cat burglars, instead we have the opposite.
I examined the phone. I lifted it off the hanger; there was no dial tone. I pressed my ear tightly against the receiver. It sounded as if someone had his phone off the hook. As I listened, I heard the sound of breathing – It was very deep and slow; nevertheless, I Knew someone was there. Suddenly: “You are there, aren’t you Mr. Masters? I knew you would come. You have no idea how long I been waiting.”
Surprised, I let the phone slip from my fingers. I drew back as I watched it swing back and forth while hanging on the wire. The person had a dry parched voice; it sounded as if he just came off the desert. Whoever he is; he has nerve…going to all the trouble of installing a phone just to scare me. That breathing – I can still hear it, slowly, silently, but very discerning. It’s as if the matter of my brain were exposed to the cold breath of a ghoul. I went in the den, opened a book and commenced reading, concentrating, but still the breathing was there, so close, so very, very close, like that of the soul entrapped within the body. It’s merely my imagination; the cause is merely the memory of the breathing I heard on the phone, flowing through my brain.
To end this madness all I have to do is hang up the phone. This was my decision. I entered the doorway to the living room and viewed the phone, still dangling on the wire, swinging very gradually. I approached the phone – gradually, with much care, as one would approach a man in his sleep with intent to kill. As I verged upon the object, the breathing became more apparent, more noticeable. The intensity of the sound didn’t vex me, but just its existence – whether mental or physical began to disturb increasingly, my being, like that of a snake creeping and crawling through one’s brain. Finally, the phone was within my reach, I grabbed it and held it tightly within my grip. As I was about to hang it up, I began to wonder who was on the other side. I put the earphone a few inches from my ear. I heard nothing, even the breathing seemed to become stilled.
Daringly, I ventured to put it closer and closer until, at last, I had the phone pressed tightly against my ear. I listened with great concentration, but heard nothing but impenetrable silence, as if the universe ceased to exist. Then came that voice — dry, muffled, parched — it seemed to jolt my soul even more than death itself. “I am with you, Mr. Masters, I shall be with you to the end – an end which shall never come.” Then came the laughter, so hideous, so abhorred and intense that it seemed to be echoing out of the depths of hell to place an eternal scar upon my soul. He seemed to expel laughter with a large exhaling of breath as if the cause was holding his breath during the previous moment of tranquility.
The terror of my soul was somewhat eased after I thrust the receiver on the hook. The laughter ceased and again silence was the victor.
I hurried into the bar to pour a drink. Having done so, I released all of my mortal self to the support of an armchair. I closed my eyes, feeling a bit at ease, a bit content until – until my horror was again commenced as the cold breath flowed across my brain, growing more intense — and more — and more. The sound was again becoming more apparent. He was right, he is with me – whether behind – in front or within me – I don’t know, but he’s here, breathing on me.
The phone’s ringing. He’s trying to call me towards him, to put me in fear to satisfy his odium. The phone – it caused all of this madness, the breathing, the laughter. Perhaps it is my way out. If I were to disconnect the phone perhaps it would release the psychological bond between our minds, or whatever the cause of the breathing.
I bravely opened the door to the living room and viewed the phone undisturbed on the mantle. I ventured towards it and as I proceeded, I noticed a marked change in the breathing. It was heavier, deeper, louder, and seemed to be upon or within my very being. Instead of disturbing me, it gave me confidence, for I knew I vexed him with the thought of removing the phone. I smiled greedily; my brain grew cold. as I reached to dismantle the phone. I yanked it loose and crushed it triumphantly on the floor.
While in my stupor, I seemed to have lost contact with the breathing. I gazed at the phone lying on the floor with the receiver extended the full length of the wire. At this moment, I realized that the atmosphere was absent, the appalling breathing. Again, there was a state of silence, so quiet, arid and placid that I doubted my existence. This was short-lived, for soon the tranquility was interrupted by that sound I now know so well, that abhorrent breathing. It sounded as if the air were being forced from the lungs of a dead man. So quietly he breathed, but I could. hear it so well.
I could no longer feel the breathing in my head, but I could hear it, so faintly, so waning. The phone, it’s coming from the phone. He wants me, he wants me to come towards him. I swore that I wouldn’t give in. I have to dispose of the phone completely then my horror shall end.
I approached the phone cautiously and slowly, again as one would approach an enemy in his sleep. Slowly I proceeded, but quickly did he commence his work with his horrible breath – his horrible soul. I reached for the phone, but he was upon me — within me, destroying my very being. I reached further only to yield myself to his hideous engrossing soul. I became weak, my legs could no longer support the weight of my body. Sweat came from every pore. He was fast overpowering me, but I fought. I fought with all my soul and spirit. Then came the release. He lost all power which he had over me. I raised in exultation. Then I noticed it, very small, but it was there, the fire.
The fireplace had a fire placed in it, at first a small flame, but growing quickly. Suddenly: “I am with you, Mr. Masters. I shall be with you to the end – an end which shall never come.” I looked and viewed his form which was as horrible as his piercing soul. The phone — I reached for it to throw it away — only to have my hand pass through. I heard laughing. It was him coming toward me. I looked toward the fireplace. The fire was growing larger.
Oct 13, 2007
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