I am a 46 year old struggling writer who has been struggling for a great many years. After 20 years working in local radio, I moved into a new career in healthcare most recently the Ambulance Service. But in my free time, I enjoy escaping into fictional worlds and enjoy creating those worlds myself.
Our Next Caller
“Oh my god, he’s going to kill me, he’s got a knife and he’s coming straight at me…” the high pitched, juvenile male voice screeched before dissolving into guffaws.
Tom aggressively yanked down the phone fader and pushed up the mic, “Ladies and gentlemen, my apologies for that, we always get that kind of nonsense during our Halloween phone in! A track now from Rod Stewart before our next caller.” He hit the next track and slumped back in his chair.
Tom Howard was the late-night presenter on Horizon 186, the local commercial station, and it was the regular Friday night phone in show. The bosses had agreed he could do a themed show if he screened the calls carefully, but that was tough when it was 11pm and he was the only one in the building.
He looked at the phone bank, which was a full row of blinking red lights, he found it exciting to play fast and loose and put the callers straight on air, but it was very risky. He was going to give it one more random caller then he would start checking them. Rod was ending, he crossed his fingers and silently asked the universe to be kind!
The mic fader popped up again and he leaned in, “Good evening to all you night owls, it’s Tom H, the night player, with all your thoughts on this spooky October 31st.” He cringed inside at the nickname, he must come up with something better, took a deep breath, “.and let’s go to our next caller,” he pressed the next red light, “you’re on Horizon 186, what’s your nightmare?”
A scratchy silence issued through his headphones, he was spooked for a second, then his radio fear of dead air took over, “hello caller, you’re on the air, what do you have to scare us with?” Still silence, then very faintly, almost too quietly a little voice said, “I think I’m lost.” Then just a dial tone.
Tom immediately shivered and was stunned for a few seconds, then hit the next track, cutting the mic. Unprofessional, but something about that call got right into him. His eyes lifted to the window and out into the dark, empty office. Doing the late-night show on his own had never bothered him, but now he was freaked. He felt cold. He shook himself and said aloud, “Get a grip man, you’re 35 years old.”
He had a long track on now and he was going to damn well screen the next call. He ran his hands through his hair, shook himself, and flicked the off-air button above the phone fader, and pressed the next light, “Hi, it’s Tom, who’s there?”
Silence again, but not real silence, a weird kind of static, didn’t they call that white noise? Then…what? Was that a whispered voice? He pressed his headphones hard against his ears. “Hello?”
It sounded a million miles away, “I need help. Help me, help me.” The voice sounded possibly female.
“I’m sorry, we don’t have time for messing about. Who are you?” The wobble in his voice ruined any authority he was attempting.
“I don’t know where I am. Where is this place?” So, faint and getting further away.
He clicked the call off, more in nerves than irritation. Still three minutes of the Beatles, on to the next blinker, cleared his throat, “Hi, it’s Tom, who are you?”
That damn white noise again, “Where’s my boyfriend? He was supposed to meet me here. Where am I?” The dial tone again.
He threw his headphones on the desk, half stood, and half staggered till he felt the CD rack behind his back. He pointed at the phone, “no, just bloody no.” What he wouldn’t give for a giggling idiot on the phone right now, this shit was simply wrong. Something in the corner of his eye, and he shouted, before realising it was some rubbish blowing past the window. He giggled on the edge of hysteria, wiped the sweat from his brow. Just then he heard the ending notes of the song. Standing at the desk, not bothering with headphones, he popped the fader, “apologies folks, the ghosts are in the machines just now, we’ll keep the music going while we sort it out.” He hit the next song on the computer playlist. He would catch hell for this tomorrow but right now, he was in no shape to make DJ small talk.
He felt very trapped and an urge to get out of this broadcasting box! He moved round the desk and out the double wooden doors into the empty dark office, rows of desks like sentinels watching, monitors like accusing guards. A psychosomatic shiver round down his spine, the imagination was a wonderful thing. He dragged his eyes away from the office, a normal space that seemed just now like a cavern of scary possibilities, into the reception area, he leant his forehead against the cool glass of the door.
He forced himself to take a series of deep breaths, hoping to calm these frayed nerves. Then screamed, a sudden sensation in his thigh, blocked all rational thought, until he realised his phone was vibrating in his pocket. He laughed, far too loud and without a trace of humour, as he slumped on the green sofas and fished the lump of plastic from his jeans. No caller ID was shown, and he couldn’t think of anyone who would be ringing him now. Despite every lesson from every horror film he’d ever watched, he answered.
“Who are you?” It was her. He stared at his phone, still no number shown. How? What?
“My…my name is Tom.” His voice quivered and he was ice cold, but the phone was stuck to his ear, he couldn’t move it if he tried. “Who is this? How did you get this number?”
The voice was young, painfully so, and so lonely. Whoever she was, she sounded as if she were lost in an empty wilderness. He thought he could hear an eerie wind whistling behind her, but he wasn’t prepared to trust any of his senses at this point. “My name is Sophia; my boyfriend was supposed to meet me from college. But he’s not here, and I don’t know where I am. I’m scared, it’s dark.”
“Sophia, it’s 11 at night. What can you see? Are you near your college?” This conversation was insane.
“No, there’s nothing. It’s so dark, I can’t remember anything. Can you help me?”
“I’ll try. Is this your phone? How did you find my number?”
“I lost my phone, I had it, but I dropped it somewhere.” Then the dial tone.
“Sophia, hello? Hello?” But nothing she was gone. She was young, it was late at night, and she had no phone of her own, so what was she speaking on? He immediately dialled 999 on his device, but it wouldn’t connect, he tried again, nothing. He was confused, he never had signal problem here, then frustratingly the low battery symbol flashed, and it went dead. He snorted in annoyance; he was sure he had charged it. He leaned over the reception desk, grabbed the telephone and dialled there, nothing again. He put the phone down, picked it up again, listened, but there was no dial tone. What the hell?
Then he heard silence, realised the music had finished and galloped back into the studio, and hit the next track, desperately hoping the dead air hadn’t lasted long. But where normally he would be nervously waiting for the boss to ring in, he could think of nothing but the girl.
His phone buzzed in his hand, and he dropped it in shock. He stared at it on the carpet, the screen alight with urgent activity. Slowly picking it up, it showed a full battery again. He was now terrified. “Yes?” His voice was almost inaudible.
“Please help me.” She was there again. This time he was sure he could hear horrible screams in the background, far away but very insistent. The darkness in the outer office intensified and pushed in, as if any light were being squeezed out and his world shrank to the pool of light around the mixing desk. “I can hear scary people, and they tell me to go with them, but I don’t want to.”
“Are…are they with you now?”
“No mister, they whisper but I can’t see them.” He could hear sobbing between the hesitant words. “They tell me to walk to them and my guy will be there. But they sound mean?”
“Sophia, can you see any landmarks, any buildings you know?”
“No, no.” More sobbing.
“Sophia, it’ll be ok. I’ll help you.”
“But I can see….”
“What can you see, tell me what’s there?”
“There’s a door and a light. I think…. I can see my Granny. But I’ve not seen her for ages, not since before the church.”
Tom didn’t understand what she meant but it seemed good. “Can you go to her?” Thinking she must have got lost walking to her grandparents.
“It’s too far, I can’t”.
“You can, walk over there, I’ll stay on the phone.”
“But the other voices are scary.”
“I’ll stay with you. Walk as fast as you can to your Gran.”
“Ok, I will. I love my Granny. I’m nearly there, the others are quieter now. Granny wants a hug, she looks so happy, she’s so great. Thank you, mister.”
Then silence and his phone screen was dark again and before he could process any of that, the news line started flashing on the screen. On auto pilot he put his headphones on and answered off air.
“Hi, Horizon 186.”
“Hello, this is the press office of West Merton police. We have a story update. We can confirm we have arrested a 55-year-old man in connection with the abduction and murder of 19-year-old Sophia Mansfield, who went missing yesterday. There will be more details in a press conference tomorrow. Thanks for your help.”
Tears flowed in an unstoppable flood down Tom Howard’s cheeks.