Let it Ring

Upon his retirement, John Neville, weary of the grey city in which he lived, moved to Penance and rented a small cottage in the village. Continuing his lifelong habit, he rose before dawn each day and took his morning walk. It was a bitter land; to the east of the coast road along which he walked lay the salt marshes, blanketed in morning mists and echoing with the cries of sea birds, to the west, abandoned farms. Nothing grew in the salty soil of Penance but stunted, misshapen trees. Lured by cheap land and confidence, many had tried to make it, but after years of despair they had moved back inland, cursing the soil of Penance.

He stopped outside one of the farms. The family must have departed in a hurry; a tractor rusted on the lawn with its plow still attached, moldering white curtains floated like phantoms behind black windows, and the unhinged front door had been cast aside to reveal a black and fathomless entrance. From the house’s untold depths, a phone tolled – its ring as loud as church bells in the silent air. John thought it curious that the phone company had not disconnected the line after so many years. He listened to the sound for some time, a desperate relative perhaps, hopeful after so many years that their loved ones would at last answer. “Sorry, Mother, we have been so busy with the golden fields of wheat and barley that I had quite forgotten to ring you.” John smiled at the thought and continued with his walk. The phone’s echo accompanied him until the road turned a bend and left him with only the cries of the seabirds and the distant sound of the ocean.


It would be the same every morning, the phone’s loud chimes greeting John on his morning walk. One evening, he mentioned the old farm in the village’s only tavern. “That would be Victor Moore’s house,” an elderly man who had introduced himself as Jim replied, “A stubborn old fool he was; he made a go of it until 1966, much longer than the rest of them. Penance broke him in the end though, like it did many a lesser man.” He shook his head sadly. “I went out to visit him in the spring that year, hadn’t seen him in a while. Thought he had holed up for the winter, but the farm had long been deserted. Old man Moore must have slipped out of town quietly one night, too ashamed to tell us he couldn’t make it work, and was going back to farm the rich soils of Vermont.”

“The phone is still on at his house. I hear it every morning when I take my walk,” John announced.

The old man stared at him for some time. “The phones haven’t worked on the south side of town since the blizzard of ’78 blew down all the telephone poles. What you heard was probably some old machinery or metal banging around in the wind; it gets mighty fierce out there, no trees or mountains for shelter. John smiled politely and nodded his agreement.


The next morning, outside Moore’s farm, the familiar chime of the phone resonated in the quiet morning air. “That’s a phone damn it, not some piece of scrap metal banging around in the wind.” John muttered to himself as he stalked across the yard determined to solve the mystery. The black interior of the house mellowed to half-light as he stood on the threshold. “Hello!” he yelled. His voice was drowned out by the shrill bawl of the phone. The floorboards groaned under his weight, awakening from a long slumber, as he took his first tentative steps inside.

He was in a large room. The dust and sand from the yard carpeted the floor and filled the air like a fine mist; everything it touched was colored a soft grey. The room must have served Victor Moore as a parlor, he mused. A rocking chair faced an empty fireplace, its rockers buried beneath the grey powder. A small wooden table sat nearby, upon which squatted an open whiskey bottle. The amber fluid had turned muddy brown, and dust choked the neck of the bottle. Beside that lay an open book, the pages yellowed and the words faded.

The ringing was coming from the far corner of the room, and through the semi-darkness he could make out the phone’s dim shape on the wall. Its cry escalated to an insistent holler, as if it sensed he were near and the long wait nearly over. The wall began to tremble as John stepped closer and the phone’s violent vibrations reached a triumphant crescendo. He reached out and picked up the hand piece, the metal was warm to his touch. A deep, drawn-out sigh ending in an orgasmic shudder breathed into his ears. “Hello?” His voice quavered with apprehension. A whisper was the response, unintelligible at first, then intensifying into the shrill shriek of three words over and over again. “It’s your turn.”

‘Wha…’ He did not finish, suddenly aware how peculiar he felt, formless, floating, everything black. The phone was ringing again, it was all he could sense; the sound felt urgent, it was all around him, inside him.

Jim Craugh lowered his drink and watched the old man shuffle across the floor toward the bar, his eyes set on an array of whiskey bottles. “I’ve not seen you around here before.” Jim called out. The old man stopped and stared, unsteady on his feet. He swayed gently and looked slowly around the room until at last his eyes came to rest on Jim. “Sure you have, Jim, name’s Victor. Just been away, that’s all.” He croaked. “I need a whiskey if you’re buying.”


In the cool evening air, as the mists formed in the salt marshes and the sea birds returned home to roost, the sound of a telephone could be heard. John Neville waited patiently for somebody to answer, the words ready on his tongue. “It’s your turn.”