He was about to agree to Sadie's suggestion, to say that he would wait until something else happened, with the additional promise that he would take whatever horror with him back on the road again, when the telephone rang. The sound, ringing out in the deathly quietness of the night, with no traffic noises or the bustle of daily life to act as an audible backdrop, shook them all with fright. Every pair of eyes in the small sitting room widened in surprise and turned dramatically towards the telephone.
The apparatus was a semi-modern reproduction of an ornate, black Bacolite contraption where the handle sat atop a gilded cradle. It wasn't one of the cheap copies either, which looked as though they had old-fashioned dials which were in fact luminous push-buttons, but an actual heavy duty dial which required a finger to be inserted in each of the holes, corresponding to the numbers, and spun around clockwise until a click was heard at the end of each rotation. It vibrated as it rang, giving it more life than it should have had.
It sat on top of a huge linen chest--Sadie's pride and joy--and was surrounded by family portraits and casual photographs in various fancy frames, as well as a huge wooden clock which chimed on the hour, every hour, and had the loudest ticking mechanism Carl had ever heard. There had been many times, staying over in what was now Donnie's room when Chrissie had still been alive, when he had wanted nothing more than to slip downstairs and smash the thing to bits against Sadie's overly-floral, Victorian wallpaper.
Sadie stared with bulging bug-eyes at the telephone as though it had suddenly sprouted wings and was doing the crazy chicken dance on her linen chest, gouging deep scratches in the surface of the luscious mahogany. She didn't make the slightest move to answer it.
"Sadie?" Carl asked on the fourth ring.
Sadie seemed to snap out of her reverie and rose with a groan. Carl could have sworn he actually heard her knee joints snap as she straightened, even though she wasn't what he would call old or frail. For a woman in her late fifties, she was extremely handsome and sprightly.
"Whoever could be calling at this hour?" she asked almost to herself as she reached a tentative hand out and plucked the handset from the cradle. The telephone stopped its shrill cry in mid-ring and Sadie held the black plastic earpiece to her ear.
"Hello?" she asked querulously.
Carl's skin crawled with goose bumps and irrational thoughts sprang to the surface of his tired mind. But were they so irrational, after tonight's events? Unexpectedly, from nowhere, he got the most intense urge to rush over to the linen chest, snatch the handset from Sadie's hand and slam it down. He got the bizarre notion that if he did not, or if he didn't act quickly enough, something would crawl up from the other end of the chord and ooze through the tiny holes in the mouthpiece, contaminating this room, this space, this world. He was one hundred percent certain that whatever had dialled Sadie's number was not of this world, and wanted nothing more than to cast darkness and misery in its wake. How he knew that, he couldn't be sure, but it was knowledge as simply understood as knowing that the sky was blue and the grass was green.
Carl glanced at Laura and saw that she was staring at him, trembling ever so slightly. Her eyes were huge marbles in her face. An eyelash flickered, a sudden nervous tick.
"Hello? Who is this?" Sadie asked, and Laura cried out as though struck with a cattle prod, telling her to hang up.
Sadie looked at the two people on the Chesterfield settee and frowned. The lines on her forehead deepened, and shadows sprouted up beneath her eyes as though a lifetime of worry and strife had picked that precise moment to record its results onto her face. Something clouded her eyes, something frightened and wary, like the eyes of a trapped animal. It dimmed the lively sparkle that usually resided there; a look that said she wanted to be anywhere but in her own sitting room, listening to whoever or whatever was on the other end of the line.
Carl sprung to his feet. He snatched the handset from Sadie's unnaturally strong grip and slammed it back in the cradle, shivering.
Sadie stared at him, eyes swimming out of focus, and as she crumpled in on herself as though she had been punched heftily in the gut, Carl caught her and held her tightly until the strength came back into her legs. He helped her back to her chair and picked up the mug of tea from the table, holding it to her lips as her shaking hands clutched the porcelain in such a tight grip that he feared the mug would explode into tiny, sharp fragments. When she had sipped enough of the sweet, cooling, brown liquid, she placed the mug back on the table and drew in a long, resonant breath.
"Are you okay, Sadie?"
"No, I'm not. I feel as if I just walked into a room full of wickedness. That's the only way I can explain it. A room full of evil."
"Who was on the telephone?" Laura asked. "What did they say?"