Sooo… I just moved in with my fiancé. Yay! or shall I say yikes… lol It’s been pretty crazy lately but I’m glad I’m able to find some time to share a quick post. Nothing– not even this old house that needs massive major repairs or this new strange routine that I’m still trying to get used to (like, seriously, how do married folks stay sane?)– will keep me from this October tradition.
This story first appeared in Toybox published by Thirteen Press UK last August 2015! Each Thirteen Press author was asked to pick a toy to write about and I went with the chatter telephone. You know, this creeepy vintage roll-along pull toy with eyes and all. 🙂 Happy almost Halloween! ❤
by K.Z. Morano
The telephone’s shrill metallic shriek penetrated my nightmares. I bolted from the bed, my heart pummeling like a prisoner inside the cage of my ribs. A searing pain crawled up my leg as shards of glass crunched beneath my feet. For a moment, I stood there, staring at the shattered bottle of vodka and the blood trickling out of my punctured flesh. I remembered where I was and the realization brought a cold stabbing sensation in my chest. Suddenly, all I wanted to do was to slip back into the shrouds of somnolence, never to wake up again. But the telephone’s sharp silver screams kept calling me, reviving me from my self-induced coma, jarring me back to a horrid, inescapable reality. I must live. Such was my penance.
“Hello?” I whispered against the receiver.
Silence. I waited for a few more moments and then a voice crackled at the other end. The words were incomprehensible, though I found that it rarely mattered. Listen. All I had to do was to listen… and to wait. I glanced at the clock tick-tocking monotonously as it hung from the wall. 3am. The spirit world, they say, is most active between 9pm and 6am. That’s when the calls start pouring in. Sometimes, listening to spirits would be like pressing my ear against a conch shell and hearing the sound of the ocean. But sometimes, I’d catch faint snatches of a sentence or a song…
Soon, the caller’s garbled speech took form. “Tu me manque.”
His voice sounded feeble, hollow. I felt the tiny hairs prickle at back of my neck. A gentle breeze trickled from the holes of the earpiece and I felt his breath, cold and foul against my cheek. The force was enough to stir a few strands of my hair. My fingers tightened around the handset.
“I’m sorry.” I said. “You have the wrong number. Goodbye.”
For a moment, I felt his anger vibrating through the telephone lines. I flinched at the string of foreign curses that followed and the angry scream, fraught with frustration, which soon dissolved into static. Then the line went dead.
I replaced the receiver and waited for the next caller to ring. I’ve had worse. Sometimes, I would hear multiple voices, collective whispers calling for help, and compressed screams filled with all the horror of the ages. Sometimes, I could smell them, and my senses would be assaulted by dozens of unfamiliar scents—decaying flesh, stale perfume, the ichor of the earth’s intestines. At times, I could even feel them, and I would inhale their breaths like miasmal gases oozing from the microphone. Once, a cold dead tongue unfurled from the mouthpiece and slithered its way into my mouth. Come morning, my head would be bursting with a thousand dins. It was enough to drive any person mad. But such was my life. Such was my penance.
The telephone’s blue plastic eyes fixed me with its unflinching glare. It used to be Kenny’s. It was his favorite roll along pull toy. Its colorful head was crowned with an old-school rotary dial and painted on its face was a macabre grin. I went to the kitchen for an early breakfast, another bottle of vodka. As the days passed, it became harder and harder to numb the pain. I surrounded myself with photographs of Kenny as a toddler—my beautiful, happy, and healthy baby brother, but it was that last image of him that was forever seared into my memory.
I was 14 at the time. I was supposed to be watching him. Kenny was two and he was crawling everywhere and always putting things into his mouth. That night my boyfriend and I were having a fight over the phone. Adrian was some boy from school, just some stupid boy from school whose face I don’t even remember anymore. Kenny was my brother. He was my baby brother and I loved him. I should have never let him out of my sight, not even for just a few seconds, not for some stupid fight with some stupid boy… not for anything. If I were given the chance, I’d watch him forever. I would never take my eyes of him. But first, I had to find him.
They say that one way to speak to the dead was through their cherished material possessions and the telephone was Kenny’s favorite toy. I took it with me when I turned 18 and left home. Though my parents never said it out loud, I knew that in their hearts, they blamed me. They just didn’t want to lose another child. Still, even after several suicide attempts and years of therapy, nothing would change the fact that Kenny was dead and it was all my fault.
I first knew that Kenny was reaching out for me when the chatter telephone began following me around. I would find it in the oddest places, like on the bathroom floor when I was taking a shower, or at the foot of my bed as though it was watching me sleep, staring at me with Kenny’s blue eyes rolling frantically within its sockets. Once, in the middle of the night, while I was in the kitchen getting a glass of water, I nearly tripped over the damned thing. It rolled away from me with its four wheels and I could’ve sworn that I heard it chuckle.
Finally, when I was at home, all alone, the chatter telephone rang. That’s how it all began. I would answer the calls of the lost souls, hoping that one day I would be able to talk to Kenny. Always, I would be sure to bid each vagrant spirit goodbye, to break the connection, so that they would no longer call me again or linger in my home.
The phone rang for about the third time that day. I glanced at the wall clock. 9pm. It was about 9pm when Kenny died.
I grabbed the receiver and listened in breathless silence. Then, I heard soft whimpering. A tiny voice came through.
I froze. That was what my little brother used to call me. That was how he used to say Cindy.
“Kenny? Oh my God…” I collapsed onto the floor, a trembling sack of flesh and nerves. I told him the words that had been screaming to be let out of my chest. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry…. I’m so sorry, Kenny… I’m so sorry… ”
Silence. I knew that I had to say goodbye, to break the connection, to let his soul rest after I’ve finally said what I needed to say. But then I couldn’t. I wanted him to linger, even just for a while. I clung to the telephone as though my life depended on it. I clung to it even when there was nothing but a loud fizzing sound on the other end of the line. I clung to it until the voice came again.
My heart pounded. An icy chill crawled along my spine.
“Watch me.” It said again. I wondered whether it was still my little brother who was speaking to me.
“Watch me.” The eerie whisper soon swelled into a piteous cry.
“Yes. Yes. I will, Kenny.” I sobbed. “I’ll watch you, I promise. I’ll never let you out of my sight again. I’ll watch you. I’ll watch you forever.”
“Watch me forever.”
Then, just like what happened exactly five years ago, I heard a shuffling noise from behind me. Kenny was two and he was crawling everywhere and always putting things into his mouth. I turned around just in time to see him place the small electric extension socket inside his mouth. I watched, paralyzed, as his tiny body shuddered and blood seeped from his oral cavity. I screamed as I saw his lips and his tongue turn from crimson to black and the smell of his charred flesh filled my nostrils.
My little brother’s voice seemed to float throughout the room, reverberating inside my skull in an eerie echolalia.
“Watch me forever.”