My very first entry into my writing log, however, is the following:
Contacted Dr. Clifford Bennett about publishing “Hope,” “Conversation,” “Love”. He died May 4, 1987 (82 years old).
You can see there were other stories I was working on.
Dr. Bennett was in the publishing/writing world, and I no longer remember how I discovered him (maybe it was a referral from some critique group I was in at the time). For some reason, I also remember Dr. Bennett performing hypnosis, and we’d worked a couple times with some hypnosis sessions. Anyway, I’d met with him a couple times, then I remember he was “hard to get hold of,” and soon afterward I’d learned that he’d died. His obituary is posted after this story. Dr. Bennett was my first contact with “the publishing industry” and the first “professional” to help me with my writing. I wish I remembered more about him.
Anyway, this story harkens back to my straight horror writing days. It’s not one of my best, but it’s short and sweet. It needed some clean-up.
Inspiration? Aside from today’s telemarketers, we’ve all gotten wrong numbers. In today’s world there’s the “butt dialing” phenomenon. But back when I wrote this, in 1987, we just had plain old wrong numbers.
This story had been published in SCIFANT #8, May 5, 1988.
A Conversation With Hell
© F. P. Dorchak, 1987
It was the same thing. The same thing for the past month. Will Garret had made a brief jaunt back to his house to pick up some papers he had forgotten. No sooner had he stepped into the hallway, when the phone rang.
A crackling sound over the phone with no answer.
Who was it? Was there a problem with the phone?
He’d already had it checked.
A bad line?
Nope, had that checked too.
Whatever it was, it had gotten annoying a long time ago. These calls came at all hours of the day, none of them consistent in time. Some would come at two in the afternoon, while others would come at three in the morning.
He hung up; no use prolonging the agony.
Will stepped back from the phone and watched it. Then to his surprise (and then again, maybe not), it rang again. He let it ring a few more times, he couldn’t not answer it.
He just had to know who wa—
“Hello,” came the smooth as silk reply. It was a masculine voice.
“Who is this?” Will asked, more than a little irritated.
“Uh…Fred Tarpenton…of Tarpenton Buick,” came the reply.
“Oh—I’m sorry. I’m a little on edge…I’ve been getting these crank calls, and—”
“Not to worry, apology accepted.”
A promotional call from a car dealer. Not interested, but figured he might as well listen for a while, considering the way he’d answered the phone.
After hanging up the phone, he went back to work. A corporate executive is a busy guy.
At his office, Will slaved over extensive paperwork on the merging of a new client. His huge oak desk was filled with reams of paper, a coffee cup was buried underneath the piles, somewhere. His phone rang and he absentmindedly fumbled for it.
“Yes,” he said, his reply neutral, distracted.
Over the receiver came that familiar crackling sound.
He shot up from his desk, hurtling the phone across his office. He moved behind his chair and gripped it in tightly.
It had been bad enough that he had been getting these calls for the past three and a half weeks…but they’d been confined to his home. This is the first time he had ever gotten one at work.
He was already on his way into reception, where his administrator worked. “Miriam, did you just forward me a call?”
“No, Mr. Garret, why?”
Will forced himself to calm down, no use letting his charges think he’s losing his grip on reality.
“Oh, nothing…nothing.” He turned and returned to his office. He told Miriam to hold all calls.
Back in his office he sat back down. This was getting out of hand. He looked to the mess over by the wall. Guess hadn’t really needed to have Miriam hold his calls. Have to get a new phone now.
It was nearing nine o’clock as he entered his driveway. It had been a tough but profitable day. He exited his car and entered the house. He’d just opened the front door, when the phone rang. Will slowly closed the door behind him and cautiously approached the ringing instrument.
It continued to ring as he put his briefcase down. Reached for the receiver.
“Who is this?”
“What do you want from me? Money? I’ll give you anything you want, just—”
“Fuck.” Will slammed the receiver down and reached for the wall jack, unplugged the phone and the other two he owned. If nothing else, he was determined to get some sleep tonight.
The next day was bright and sunny and Garret awoke in an excellent mood. There had been no phone calls to wake him. He ate a well prepared breakfast, read the paper and began to leave for work.
He felt as though he could take on the world!
Standing in the doorway, he thought it better to reconnect at least one phone, and backtracked in, reconnecting the living room extension. As soon as the contacts connected, the instrument rang.
“Answer this, buddy!” he said, and flipped off the phone.
The phone continued ringing.
It was a busy day, as usual. Business calls, meetings, paperwork and more paperwork. It was 4:05 p.m. and he thought it best to leave a little early today. He began clearing off his desk—
“Oh come on, Miriam, where the hell are you?”
After several rings, he grabbed the phone.
A bright yellow-orange bolt of flame shot out of the receiver, searing straight through Garret’s skull. Not stopping there the flame wrapped itself several times around his head, burning flesh dripping like wax from his charring skull.
Will did get a chance to utter a shriek, but that was about all.
He dropped the receiver as he tried to stand up, his hands going up to his incinerated head. Tiny flames sputtered around what had been his nose and left ear.
Miriam burst in just in time to see him sink back down into the plush executive’s chair. The dying flames and smoke continued to issue from the blackened remains of what had been his head. The carnage was total.
Miriam stood, frozen, at the entrance unable to move.
Garret’s body from the neck down was untouched. It twitched a few times then lay still, arms hanging to their sides, his head cocked to one side and smoldering. A few feet from Will’s body on the floor lay the still flaming receiver. Several defiant flames still licked at the handset. Had Miriam her sanity, she would have heard the faint echoes of a demonic chuckle.
Out in reception, a phone rang….
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