Jill Walton was ecstatic. She had spent weeks training and studying. She had passed the Civil Service Examination with flying colors. (More or less.) She had blanketed the field with her Curriculum Vitae and had been playing the waiting game for a few weeks. She had hoped that she would find work with the Fire department or EMS, but she wasn’t too disappointed when the Police department picked up her resume and basically hired her after only a quick interview. Today was the day she started her work as a police dispatcher.
Her first day mainly consisted of a tour and explanation of her duties by her boss. Jill was slightly disappointed at the equipment that they had in their disposal. She had been expecting a big sprawling computer system that was capable of simultaneously identifying callers and tracking their location while displaying their personal information. What she instead found was a pretty average looking computer that displayed caller information if it was registered.
It wasn’t as high-tech as Jill had hoped, but the job was everything she had dreamt of ever since her childhood. Her fascination with 911 dispatchers began when she was just a child and her father had one day collapsed on the kitchen floor while gripping at his chest. She dialed 911 and being eight years old at the time, broke into tears. The 911 dispatcher spoke so calmly and reassuringly that Jill was able to calm down enough to give them the location and nature of the emergency. After that point, she wanted nothing more than a job in that field. She wanted to help people in the way that the calm and commanding voice on the other end of the phone had reassured her that day.
Her boss walked her through the basics. How to answer calls, how to deal with impending emergencies where police forces had to be dispatched, and how to classify and list emergencies under codes. Jill’s boss concluded her training by answering a call himself to show her how to correctly do everything and lead by example. Her boss looked at her and calmly answered the phone.
The feminine voice on the other end of the line stammered, “Y-y-you gotta help me! I-i-it’s dark and I’m so scare-”
His face went pale and he quickly slammed the receiver down and disconnected the call.
Jill was shocked and about to confront her boss about his seemingly callous and recklessness endangerment of a person when he told Jill about the echoes.
He began, “Back in the earlier days, the computer would record every call so that they could be used to assist in police investigations. However there was a tiny glitch in the system. Sometimes when the system receives an incomplete call, like someone mistakenly dialing 911 and then hanging up before we can answer, it would get its wires crossed and think someone was trying to access its recordings and play them back. I don’t know why it always plays THAT message. We call them echoes. It is best just to ignore them.”
Jill was about to ask him more about these echoes, but he told her that they had had enough training for one day. The concept of getting an emergency call from the past was an intriguing concept. The boss who had been talkative and welcoming was now curt and almost cold. He sent her home after giving Jill her login information for the system. She acquiesced and chose not to press her boss for more information. She decided she would ask her co-workers about the echoes.
Her first week was a relatively quiet one. The other technician she worked with was a thirty year old man with a pot-belly named Dave Eastwood. As she was new on the job, he fielded most of the more urgent calls and let her handle the manageable ones. He had a bit of a prankster mentality about him and would occasionally send prank and non-pertinent calls her way. The first time she got a call from an elderly woman complaining that Taco Bell was closed she raised an eyebrow at the smirking Dave and explained to the caller the nature of the calls she received and how a fast food chain being closed at four a.m. was not an emergency.
The second week, she was more confident and on good enough terms with Dave that she felt safe in asking him about the echoes. They had spent the past week talking about a multitude of subjects ranging from home life to politics. On a particularly quiet night, Jill brought up the topic of echoes. Dave tried to be nonchalant, but Jill could see he was nervous. He explained that it was a bug in the system that IT can’t remove without crippling the entire thing so it was something they just had to deal with. She pressed a little further and asked what had happened in the original call.
Dave took a second as if deciding about something before he said, “I wasn’t here for the original call so I only have hearsay, but it’s better than nothing right? Apparently a year or so ago, one of the technicians received a call from a woman. In the call, she says she is hiding and is worried that someone is coming to get her. The technician tried to get more information out of her, but she was too riled up. By the time she managed to dispatch police to the location, they were too late. I was on vacation at that time, but I worked with that technician. Her name is Mary Kee.”
He paused for a few seconds before continuing, “She quit recently. The boss man actually hired you to replace her shift. She had a bit of a mental breakdown. Apparently she received one too many of those echoing calls. The guilt at not being able to calm her down and get enough information to accurately dispatch police to her location before it was it late was too much for her. Last I heard, she was in therapy and doing better, but she wants nothing to do with 911 dispatch anymore.”
Jill asked, “Did they ever find out who did it?”
Dave answered, “It really wasn’t that difficult of a case. Apparently the poor girl had just cut ties with her abusive boyfriend who, in the form of a Facebook post told her she was ‘dead to him’ and concluded with ‘Rest in pieces.’ Apparently pieces of her were all the cops found and it was a pretty open-and-shut case. The boyfriend says he was innocent, but fuck that abusive piece of shit.”
A couple of days passed after that and Jill really got into the swing of things at work. She was calm in a crisis and managed to effectively categorize the incidents and alert the police when necessary. Dave began to allow her to handle more urgent calls and pretty soon he was able to stop babysitting her and allow her to handle calls on her own. They even had a game of seeing who could answer the phone first.
One night after Jill had beat him to the phone one too many times and he was a little surly with her and self-conscious about his pot-belly, Dave registered a call and let her answer
He spoke in monotone, “It’s for you Jill…”
She answered the phone and the voice on the other end stuttered and stammered, “Y-y-you gotta help me! I-i-it’s dark and I’m so scared. Someone’s in my house. I’m hiding under the bed, but I can hear him coming up the stairs.” The voice paused as if the voice was listening to someone's response before continuing, “He’s at the door! Oh god, I can hear him scratching at the walls with something!” There was another long pause and then the sound of something being drug across the floor and the girl screaming.
The message went on and Jill listened to it all.
Jill felt sick, she had just heard someone’s last moments on earth. She had heard a knife worrying away at a bone and the crack as it broke from its socket.
Dave spoke softly and apologetically, “I’m sorry, I thought you would have hung up when you realized it was the echo.”
Jill whispered, “I heard it all, I heard him when he- Oh god…”
Dave sent Jill home early, but that didn’t do anything to improve her mental state.
For the next week, she noticed that she would receive an echo call every few days. The week after that she was receiving an echo call every day. She did her best to hang up the instant she recognized it, but she still had to listen long enough to hear those stuttering terror-filled first words. Each phantom call made her more and more uncomfortable. Soon Jill couldn’t sleep at night. She would have nightmares where she imagined what happened to that poor girl hiding under the bed for fear of her life.
The calls eventually took such a toll that she couldn’t get to sleep at night. Everyday she went into work, she was terrified that every call would have the voice of the whimpering girl on the other line. She was supposed to help people and now she was panicking every time the phone rang. It only took a few more echoing calls before Jill couldn’t do it anymore. She went to her boss, intending to put in a resignation, but he managed to head her off and gave her a week of paid leave to try and recover a little.
The first night of her paid vacation, she drank herself into a stupor. She passed out and when she woke up, she noticed that she had one missed call. She brushed it off and tried to put all of that echo business behind her. She managed to get through the day without thinking of that poor girl's fate, but once night rolled around, she was woken up by a late night call.
She had missed the first call, but they had called back. She groggily pawed at her bedside table and swiped across the screen to accept the call. It was 3 o’clock in the morning.
She asked in a frustrated tone, “Who was phone-” as she raised the phone to her ear and accidentally bumped it into her head cutting off her question. Jill quietly cursed under her breath and asked, “Hello?”
There was a slight pause before the voice stammered, “Y-y-you gotta help-” Jill hung up.
The next day, she chalked it up to a dream and made up her mind to ignore the calls.
She thought wistfully, “’’Out of sight, out of mind.’’”
By lunch, she had fifteen missed calls. By dinner, she had fifty. Before she tried to go to bed for another sleepless night of attempting to sleep despite being tormented by echoes, she noticed she had over seventy. She had long since muted her phone, but now she shut it off. She spent the night tossing and turning and thinking about how such a thing were even possible.
That morning she had over five hundred calls and her voice box was full of stammering and sobbing pleas. She knew she was losing it, but knew there was nothing she could do. She decided to call her mom. To Jill, her mom had always been the great comforter. She was able to listen to anything and provide calm reassurance. She dialed the number and waited as it rang, trying to hold back her impending tears.
Jill heard the click as the phone was picked up off the hanger.
She began in a choked voice, “Mo-”
A stuttering and scared voice cut her off, “Y-y-you gotta help me! I-i-it’s dark-”
Jill hung up her cell phone as soon as she placed the hauntingly familiar voice. She took the battery out of her phone and then dropped it into the garbage disposal and flicked the switch. She wept tears of relief as the horrible grinding emanated from the sink. Her tears turned into a manic laugh as her house phone rang.
One day later and the house phone laid in pieces on the floor of the kitchen. Still Jill couldn’t find any peace. She knew that even without her cell phone and home phone the calls would keep coming. She realized that even if she bought a new phone they would keep coming. It was in her sleep-deprived state that she realized the calls were not echoes; they were something else. This was someone trying to get a message across and Jill reasoned that the person communicating must have been that poor girl. She needed Jill’s help.
Jill sat down at her computer and began googling any online newspaper or herald in the vicinity for information. While searching for information like the victim’s name and old home address, the computer started a klaxon of alert messages to let her know that her skype, J.Walton1, had an incoming call. It was a voice only message.
She looked at the screen for a second before quietly saying, “Fuck no.” She canceled the call. She had enough information.
It was growing dark by the time Jill reached the house. The impending darkness didn’t cause her pause. The only thing she was really afraid of was spending another night sleepless and plagued by the thought that she would be receiving calls had her phone not been shattered or thrown in the garbage disposal. The front lawn was overgrown and gave the house the feeling that it had been unoccupied. The place had been abandoned as no one really wanted to live in a house where a person was murdered. Jill smiled grimly at the absurdity of the thought. She was about to investigate an abandoned house at night because she was receiving messages from beyond the grave. Life was indeed full of surprises.
The door was locked, but a rock made quick work out of the window through which she was able to unlock the door. A layer of dust covered everything and the wood creaked under her steps. Jill wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it all, but knew that any attempt at laughing would come at as a half-choked squeak. She counted off the spooky house tropes in her mind as she walked slowly through the house.
Old abandoned house filled with dust and cobwebs? Check. Noisy floorboards that creaked under foot and doors that groaned like centuries old coffins opening? Check. Dark stormy night complete with peals of lightning? Nope. Thank god for that.
Jill kept telling herself that there was no such thing as ghosts. She told herself that because the thought of running into the pale form of a mutilated ghost dragging along her non-phantasmal dismembered limbs was too much. She knew that the sight of something like that would drive her mad, but the alternative of being slowly driven mad by incessant calls from a long dead girl was worse. She continued investigating.
Jill spoke the words aloud because they brought her some comfort, “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
Each creaking step and groaning door elicited the saying. It kept her from sprinting out of the house into the night like a screaming banshee.
She began to climb the stairs and the words echoed in her head, “I can hear him coming up the stairs.”
Each step made Jill feel as if the stairs would collapse under her feet and send her plunging into the bowels of the house. At the top of the stairs was a hallway. There were numerous shoe scuff marks on the floor from the multiple police who tromped through the ghoulish crime scene. She saw a long scratch along the wall as if someone had drug a knife along it while approaching the bedroom.
“He’s at the door! Oh god, I can hear him scratching at the walls with something!”
Jill’s breath hitched and her heart started hammering in her chest. She whispered the mantra to herself as she opened the door to the bedroom.
“There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
The bedroom was musty and relatively untouched. The bed lied in the center of the room, waiting for its inevitable trip to the incinerator. The room was quiet, but Jill felt like she wasn’t alone.
She whispered, “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
She approached the bed. She knew that whatever was making these calls would be here. She would find it in this room.
Jill recalled the message with a shudder, “I’m hiding under the bed.”
She drew closer and felt her teeth begin to chatter and goose-bumps well up on her skin.
Jill repeated the mantra like a prayer on a rosary created to ward off evil, “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
She knelt down and grabbed the sheet covering what was under the bed from her eyes. She whispered her warding mantra one more time and tore off the covers and looked into the inky blackness that was under the bed.
She half-expected to see the bloody and mewling face of the ghostly girl lying under the bed who would half-shriek, half-stutter, “Y-y-you gotta help me! I-i-it’s dark…” before cursing Jill to a fate worse than death.
Instead Jill found nothing except the scratches of nails on the floorboard left behind as a poor girl was dragged out of her hiding spot into a brutal and pointless death. There was nothing there.
She felt like sobbing with relief, but instead she managed to say with a quavering voice, “There’s no such thing-”
The sound of a phone ringing from the doorway behind her made her almost void herself.
She spun around to see the pot-bellied form of Dave in the doorway.
He clicked the green receiver button on the phone with his other hand that held a sharpened cleaver and a voice stammered, “Y-y-you gotta help me! I-i-it’s dark…”
Jill didn’t need to hear the rest because she had finally pieced it all together. It was Dave, the same man she had opened up to at work, the same man who sent her the first echo. He was on vacation when Mary got the original call, he was with her when she began to get the echoes, he was at the computer and able to direct the calls. He grinned a sadistic smile so wide that she thought his face would crack open.
In the darkness of the night as she stood in front of her tormentor, Jill Walton came to a realization. She was right, there was no such thing as ghosts.
Written by EmpyrealInvective