Bogleech.com's 2018 Horror Write-off:
Submitted by Ellen "Space Lizard" Edwards (email)
If you ever come across a phone booth that still stands, on some deserted street corner, a relic too unimportant to remember to destroy, and you hear it ringing: do not answer it. Never answer it.
There were once two friends on a late night drive; let's call them Alice and Kathy, though you can imagine anyone you desire. This story has occurred many times before, and will occur many more times yet. Their phone were low on power, and when they needed to make a important call, they were drawn to a phone booth in a long-abandoned gas station's weed-choked parking lot. Partially out of need, partially out of a strange, nostalgic curiosity, Alice found herself drawn to it.
As Alice drew near, it began to ring. Alice could have gone back to the car, but her curiosity had warped into a more morbid strain. Kathy watched as her friend picked up the phone, listened intently, and hung up, returning to tell her friend to keep looking.
What Alice heard was a high-pitched screeching, a mechanical scream, its pitch always modulating. After the short transmission ended, Alice forgot it entirely; not that she picked up much consciously. Just talk of "survivors" and desperate hope.
Over the coming weeks, Kathy noticed her friend changing. Alice complained regularly of abdominal pain, and a feeling that somewhere inside, part of her was sloshing around as if floating in liquid. Eventually, the two stopped talking at all. Kathy let a million anxieties colonize her mind, a million reasons it was her fault, but in truth, Alice could no longer speak. Not in a way any human could process.
For her throat was choked with coiling cables, and her veins entwined with thin strands of wire. She noted the stinging pain first; then she noticed the hard lines forming just under her skin. Then she felt her chest after a morning of incomprehensible pain - and noticed an odd depression.
After weeks of silence, Kathy received a text from her friend: she invited her to an address. A quick search revealed it to be an old phone repair shop, long since rendered obsolete by time. Kathy considered that this was a joke, but she went nonetheless.
The back door was empty, and Kathy soon found that among dusty shelves and boxes long picked apart by scavengers, there was a notice board like one you'd see outside a building. Letters were placed reading:
DESERVE NO DEATH
And then she turned a corner, and found her friend.
Alice was standing perfectly still, in a line with a dozen others, all also still. Two lines of people, facing each other on either side of the room, evenly spaced, unmoving, except their eyes. Their eyes followed the visitor's course.
Kathy tried to speak to her friend, but she shouted herself raw to no avail. And soon her voice was covered by the ringing. A rattling like a hammer against bone, frantic, methodical. In unison, the mouths of all the gathered men and women opened - deepening the cacophonous rattling. Kathy's ears were overwhelmed.
Wordlessly - of course - Alice pointed mechanically at her stomach. After a great internal debate, Kathy looked, and she saw odd incisions, in a rectangle, and a strange little cavity off to the side. When Kathy reached for it, she saw Alice slowly nod.
Kathy reached inside, and swung open a makeshift door of skin, muscle and bone.
In a hollowed-out chamber, a phone sat, made of spurs of bone and chunks of flesh. A twisted rib provided the handle, and within its cage ran Alice's former throat and vocal cords, rattling wetly in harmony with the bone. On one end of the handle laid the splintered nerves of the inner ear; on the other lay a tongue, cut and stretched. Transceiver and receiver.
Wires and cable spun out from the base of that horrible device, and Kathy's eyes traced their course as they entangled blood vessels and caged the unmasked, beating heart.
And throughout it all, there was the ringing. The rattling rib and squirming bits of flesh. The uncovered rib cage caught feedback and magnified the rattling now poisoning Kathy's ears.
Kathy glanced down, and she saw that each of the former-people in the room were connected to a cable. The cables ran together, and they ran into the wall to who knows where. Paper was pinned to the wall: old, fading printouts, three in total, each holding just one word, repeating into eternity:
Many have come there, or to the many places like it. Friends, lovers, families. Pairs and trios and groups coming to find their converted other half. All of them eventually face the choice: answer, or run? Linger, or forget? Become, or return?
Her eyes shot towards the door. Kathy knew she would never forget. Could never forget. But she could tell someone. Her friend was gone, but maybe they could stop this.
Kathy's hand hovered over the phone inside her friend - drawn by an inescapable knowledge that this call was for her, that this was her friend, her call.
The door. The phone. She thought. She considered.
And like all of them, she made her choice.