Written in 2008 and published in the August 2009 issue of Sonar 4 Science Fiction and Horror E-Zine.
Don’t Dial the Black Room
by Andi Hagen
Willy snaps the door shut behind him, tosses his jacket over the back of the sofa and his gym bag under the hall table, before heading down the hallway to—wait, on the answering machine, a message—two, in fact. He knows all about them before he even presses the button. He is sure the first is someone hanging up, then the dial tone, and the second is a recording telling him that he has won a free vacation to…probably Florida. He jabs the button, almost knocking the machine onto the floor. You have…two…unheard messages. First unheard message:
“ I found the number scratched into the side of a payphone, but if you know the urban legend then you might know that it’s been found in lots of different ways: appearing mysteriously in phone books, personal planners, or cell phone directories, and in even more fantastic examples, during dreams or through automatic writing under hypnosis. Or, although I have a hard time believing it, some claim to have always known it and it’s been churning in their mind since they were born. Regardless, if you aren’t familiar with the story that the kids all scare each other with, it’s this mysterious phone number, always labeled as the Black Room. If you dial it, then you’ll disappear. Here is where it gets the most wild. Some say that you get sucked into a parallel dimension, or end up on an alien spacecraft, or in Hell, or maybe that you are just disintegrated and cease to exist.
“In any case, not believing any of it, when I found the number, I dialed it. I don’t blame myself. I mean, who could buy those ridiculous stories? I was cynical and when I saw the number carved there, an eight hundred number with the words Black Room above it, I figured it was some joker’s ironic prank and I would end up talking to the receptionist at the National UFO Reporting Center or the Catholic Archdiocese or something. It would give me a chance to laugh in the face of the next person who told me the stupid story. But you’ve probably guessed where this is going: I was wrong.
“The details of what happened between when I dialed the number and when I found myself in the room are hazy. It wasn’t as simple as just collapsing, passing out, and waking up somewhere else. There was a journey involved, but I can’t describe it. It was like a series of physical sensations that affected all of my senses in different unrelated ways. I’ve long since forgotten all of it. In any case, I arrived in the room. It’s a small room—just big enough for two of me to lay down end to end in length and width, with wooden floors, plaster walls, and a sloped ceiling like a room under a stairway. All of it is stained black like centuries of dust have been ground into the pores of the plaster and the grain of the wood, making the whole room the same coal color. Other than being—”
The message breaks off with a crunch. The answering machine clicks and drones. Willy stares at its blinking red light, trying to find some sense. On the recording, the man’s voice was dull and flat, like he had recited the message a thousand times, smoothing out more and more emotion every time. Still, throughout were hints of sarcastic pessimism, and beneath that—remorse? Unprompted, the answering machine continues. Second unheard message:
“As I was saying, other than being entirely black, it reminds me of the storage room in my parents’ house. I’ve wondered whether my Black Room is the same as everyone else’s or whether it comes from my memory. Maybe other people are spending eternity in a black barn, cubicle, or attic.
“The room is empty aside from a table, a chair, and an old rotary phone with no cords connecting it to the wall, or even connecting the actual phone to the receiver—all black, of course. Occasionally, the phone will ring. The first few times, I picked it up. I would hear someone asking hello or laughing mockingly. I started to think that I was hearing the voices of people who called the number—the same number I called—and I stopped picking it up. It wasn’t until later that I got the idea to use the phone to call out.
“That’s what I’m doing now, dialing every number in order starting with 211-111-1111 and moving on, leaving messages or talking to people when I can. Mostly it’s all unused numbers or people who hang up on me, or who think I’m pulling a prank or advertising a movie or something. Partly, I’m trying to warn everyone, but mostly I just want to talk. Imagine it—I’ve been in the same room for…who knows how long? I wonder if time passes the same way in here as it does out there. If I had to guess, I would say that I’ve been in here for…a few years, probably, but I don’t ever get hungry or thirsty or tired or have to go to the bathroom so I don’t really have a good grasp on it.
“Anyway, I’ve got to go before your answering machine cuts me off again. Probably you didn’t listen to this whole message anyway. Take it how you will, but if you hear the story of the Black Room or if you already know it and hear some people talking about it, laughing at it or claiming they’ve called the number and nothing happened, tell them what I told you. They won’t pay any attention, or they’ll make fun of you, but it’s all that you or I can do. Thanks for listening, maybe you’ll hear from me again some day. Hopefully when the phone in my room rings, it won’t be your call.”