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The Line Went Dead
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The Line Went Dead

by Steve Timm

Kev was midway through his night shift, when he witnessed the burning of Matt, an infamous teenage thug, who had been a major bane in his side for years.

He made no effort to save him, preferring to watch the hypnotic dancing flames lick the solitary figure within the partly built house. He continued to stare as a flash burst easily sucked away a head full of hair. Even when several layers of skin were peeled back from the inferno’s entrails, the sore glistening youth stood there, looking over to Kev, making little sound or movement.

Kev had seen dead people before, but not witnessed the actual moment of death, and bizarrely, he felt an excitement he had never before experienced. Despite it being abnormal, he felt enjoyment watching the suppressed pain bypass the mouth and scream from the other holes burnt through the neck. The flame stretched taut sinews created an awful throaty rasp like laugh that hung in the air and made neighbourhood hounds howl like banshees. Finally, the head rolled uncontrollably as the muscles finally snapped releasing their tension, but for an instant their eyes remained locked. Kev smiled and offered a sardonic farewell wave, as the flames engulfed Matt for the last time.

With no sign of life evident, Kev finally raised his radio and called the emergency services.

In the time it took for the first vehicle to arrive, Kev had already climbed the scaffold, searched through a pile of discarded clothing and slipped the better of two Samsung camera phones into his pocket. He bundled the other with the designer clothes and dropped them into the white hot pit below before returning to the safety of the pavement.

He was stood besides the road smoking, when the first police car pulled alongside quickly followed by the fire engine.

“Any idea what started this?”


“I’ll bet a pound to a penny, it’s the kids” stated the policeman.

“Yes, little bastards”

“You see anyone?”

“No, it was well underway by the time I got here”

The policeman sensed an inbred hostility aimed toward him, and started to search the area in silence as Kev made his way back up to the site office.

Not surprisingly, with the hive of activity outside and a few more inevitable questions, the rest of the night passed quickly.

He later read a news article stating that a corpse, identified by his dental records, was found in the remains of the inferno. Investigations were on-going but due to the intensity of the blaze and lack of clues, it would probably receive a verdict of death by misadventure from the inquest.

Rumour had it, the body was found grasping a phone that had survived the blaze amazingly well, but Kev took that tale with a pinch of salt. He had heard enough tall stories in his life to smell bullshit a mile away.

Ironically, Kev used his new toy to photograph himself, smiling besides the remains of the fire damaged building and sent them to the few people he knew capable of receiving the photos.

No one called back.

The polyphonic ring tone told him a message had been sent, as he drove home from work later that week. Glancing down, he saw the caller number withheld message and opened up the photo attachment. He cursed and shook the obviously fire damaged phone which showed nothing more than slightly stained and torn, white satin shroud.

A new message arrived a day later. Like before, the number was withheld and again it was just a photo attachment. This time it was a freshly dug over soiled area, a little disturbed grass and lots of trodden down autumn leaves sprinkled around.

A crap photo but a least the phone’s working now, thought Kev.

A new photo was sent most nights. It usually arrived when he was sat at work and consisted of various non-descript pictures of wet pavements, road gutters or the toe of a mud wrapped shoe.

It had become a boring guessing game now and Kev, not noted for his patience, was becoming increasingly irate with each pointless snap.

A photo suddenly arrived that was different from the others. This one was raised slightly and caught the bottom corner of the street nameplate opposite his site. His heart skipped a beat as he recognised the picture and realised it was only a stones throw away from the site cabin.

Nothing else was sent for the next couple of nights.

It had become a disturbing game now.

It was still dark, as Kev drove away from work and he jumped slightly as his phone beeped from an incoming message. He skidded to a halt and missed the slight blur, in his rear view mirror of somebody crossing the road. He held the phone in a slightly trembling hand, and recognised the picture of his own car, passing by, a few moments before. The instant shock outweighed the previous anger as he realised his tormentor was so close, again. His peripheral vision picked up a slight movement behind and he jerked his head round quickly, disappointed but relieved to see nothing there. It was the knock on the driver’s window that caused his sphincter muscle to twitch uncontrollably and a surprised shriek to escape from his mouth. His heavy breathing bordered on hyperventilation, as he wound the window to the policeman stood there.

“You pulled up rather sharply, are you alright sir?”

Kev couldn’t swallow properly and through wide frightened eyes managed a slow nod. The policeman realised the man was battling a state of shock, but saw him bring it admirably under control.

“Sorry Officer, just an annoying case of hiccups,” lied Kev.

The young policeman looked smugly down at Kev, enjoying the power and respect his uniform obviously demanded. With his ego inflated, he smiled, stepped to one side and waved the burly security guard on with a warning.

“Just be careful, accidents happen easily enough without driving like that.”

Kev ignored the cop and sped away, without noticing within seconds of him driving off, a dark form ripping out the policeman’s spleen from behind.

He had been in some sticky situations before, but had not experienced a case of the jitters like this for years. It was an alien feeling being stalked and out smarted by someone unknown and one he didn’t particularly relish.

He hardly slept the next day and felt sick as his next shift approached. Uncharacteristically, he arranged cover from a colleague and called in sick. He sat alone in his lounge, lit only by the outside streetlight, listening to the whispering winds outside. He watched the smoke spiral from his cigarette, through the dim glow toward the stained ceiling and tried to reassemble his rapidly fleeing logic. In a last ditch attempt to recapture his sagacity he sprang to his feet, shook his head and cursed loudly.

“This is feckin stupid. Come on Moll,” he hollered at his dog.

The phone still remained silent in his sweating hand, but he sensed it was unlikely to remain that way.

Kev set off, pleased that there was no swirling mist around his feet or forks of lightning in the sky, there was just the strong northerly wind bearing down.

The dog ran ahead, pausing slightly beneath each cone of sodium light from the upgraded gas lamps. Kev normally let her go out of sight but tonight he whistled his halt command stopping her in the distance. Almost echoing his whistle, the phone in his pocket sang out to him. He hesitated slightly before taking the phone from his pocket and looked at the picture, taken just feet from the dog.

Kev’s mouth emptied of moisture as he stopped walking and looked ahead. The nerves took over once again and terrorised his decisions. Within seconds, he had contemplated sprinting away without the dog, crossing over the road and walking on or aggressively facing his stalker. The pulse in his neck resounded in his ears, louder than the wind, as he decided to walk on calmly, ready if necessary for a confrontation, but hoping against one.

He caught up with Moll’s last position and found her laid beside the path. Her front legs had been snapped and her jaws prised apart, leaving her looking like a set bear trap, and sadly, she had been sadistically left alive. Kev felt nauseous as he quickly looked around him. The dog was in terrific pain and all he could see were the shadows mimicking him. He swallowed hard, and mercifully stamped on her neck. A tear slipped out as he heard the crack, but again, fear kept his true emotions hidden away.

Kev walked on and noticed a security light ahead flicker, as if something cut across its luminescent beam. He preyed it was just some tree branches, dancing in the wind, but again his conscience convinced him otherwise.

Sure enough the phone played its familiar tune, and Kev looked to see his own profile a moment earlier. The last remaining shards of bravery dispersed quicker than a sneeze, and Kev felt his bladder empty as he sprinted home, stopping only once to vomit in the gutter.

He ignored the phone now, as it continually chirped in his hand.

He entered his home, bolted the door, and almost jumped up the stairs four at a time.

He fell into his bedroom, dragged the bed in front of the door, and crawled into his walk in wardrobe. He shut the door and sat with his back barricading it, before releasing an exhausted exhalation which beat in rhythm to his deafening pulse.

He didn’t want to look but knew he had little choice as his hand drew out the phone to peruse the waiting gallery of photos. Sure enough, there were a few of him running away, one of his open front door, and one of his carpeted staircase.

It was then that he heard a shuffle beside him and smelt a stomach churning stench of singed hair, burnt flesh and putrefied tissue, before looking at the last sent picture of the inside of his wardrobe.

Copyright Steve Timm 2005

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