Jake was asleep when the phone rang.
At first he didn't wake up. He was in the VW Bug, riding up to Maine. Everything was great. The sun was high in the sky, and his mother was alive. She laughed and talked and sang along with the radio, just like she always did. This was the way things should be.
And then there was the noise. A shrill ringing that seemed to push back against the illusion. It came from the radio, it came from the engine. It even seemed to come from the road itself.
Jake put his hands over his ears to block out the sound, scrunching up his face, but it was no good. And then, even though his palms were pressed to the sides of his head, his mother spoke. She looked away from the road, fixed her gaze upon him, and she spoke to him.
He heard three little three words. No, not so much heard them, as discovered them inside his head. Her mouth moved, but the words didn't arrive via his ears, but rather filled his mind.
It's me, Jake.
He didn't know what she meant. Of course it was her. Who else would it be? He could see her sitting there, next to him in the car.
And still she was looking at him. She wasn't paying any attention to the road, or the way the car drifted closer and closer to the verge. She didn't care that the steering wheel was slowly turning of its own volition.
She didn't even look back when the car mounted the grass, wheels kicking up chunks of dirt and sod. Not even when the front impacted a tree so hard that Jake felt himself lifting from the seat and careening toward the windshield...
Jake opened his eyes, an unvoiced scream dying on his lips. His mother's words echoed, as if they had followed him out of the dream.
It's me Jake.
He lay there, the words rolling around in his head, still not sure what they meant. If they meant anything at all.
He sat up.
The bedroom was dark. The clock in the shape of a cartoon bear, a Christmas gift from a few years ago, announced that it was after midnight.
The house was quiet.
Except for the old rotary dial phone.
It was on the floor in the corner of the room, where he had abandoned it a few days before. After that, he'd forgotten all about it.
Now it was ringing.
It was disconnected, unplugged.
But it was ringing.
Jake rubbed his eyes and swung his legs off the bed.
He took one step, then another, approaching the telephone as if it were some sort of cornered animal.
Still it rang.
If it kept this up the whole house would be awake.
Jake knelt on the floor and reached out. He knew he should be afraid, but he was not. The phone was his friend. He sensed that.
But only if he answered.
Jake reached out and dragged the unit across the floorboards until it nestled between his legs, then lifted the receiver.
The shrill ring was cut short.
Silence returned to the room.
"Hello?" Jake could see the cord trailing from the back of the phone. It wasn't plugged into anything.
The same old familiar interference popped and whistled against his ear. Like before, in the living room.
"Who's there?" Jake tried again. The phone had been ringing. There must be a person on the other end, even if it wasn't actually connected to a wall socket. This was logical.
Swirling static spewed from the handset.
Jake peered at the receiver, disappointed.
His mother's words popped into his head again.
It's me Jake.
Something connected inside his head. He almost dropped the receiver, the revelation was so sudden. He knew who was on the other end of the phone. He knew why it was so hard to hear them. Phone calls from beyond the grave were not meant to be easy. Talking with the dead was a tricky business, even with the help of a magic telephone.
"Mom?" He spoke into the phone, his voice rising at the end of the word. It repeated, a beat out of synch, in the earpiece. His voice sounded thin and reedy relayed through the small, ageing speaker.
The static buzzed and hissed.
And then a voice came through.
It whispered in his ear.