Those of a certain age who grew up in the UK will remember the old-style, red phone boxes, emblazoned with the Royal Crown and with the motif ‘Telephone’ written above their glass panelled swing doors. In fact, you’ve probably seen photographs of these booths which are regarded as quintessentially British, acting as tourist attractions in London and elsewhere.
There aren’t many active red booths left these days as there isn’t much call for payphones in general, not in an age where everybody carries a smart phone. Nevertheless, one such booth is central to the story I’m going to tell you – a paranormal event which occurred 25 years ago, while I was still in my teens and going through a particularly traumatic time in my life.
I grew up in a small village located in the rural south of England – a quaint but unremarkable hamlet with little to mark it out from hundreds of others dotted across the Home Counties. We lived in a cramped but cosy bungalow situated in a housing estate on the edge of the village. Across the street from us stood a forest that dated back to Anglo-Saxon times and was inevitably the site of various local legends.
The phone booth in question was set just off the pavement and on the forest’s edge, facing directly out towards the woods. It was a local landmark of sorts. The area was dimly lit and isolated at night and so became a convenient place for local teens to meet at the weekends – to smoke, drink and engage in clumsy sexual encounters.
I’ll admit to frequenting the site myself for those very reasons. At first, I was looking for these cheap thrills, but in time I went there just to escape from the house…And that’s when these strange events began.
I can’t fully explain what happened all those years ago, but I believe I owe my life to that mysterious phone box and the paranormal entities somehow tied to it.
Let me begin by telling you a little bit about my family. Looking back, I’d have to say my early childhood was idyllic. I was the eldest of two – just me and my little sister Alice. Our natural father left when we were both small and I never did see him again. My mother was our rock though. She raised us on our own, showing amazing strength and love.
Mum worked hard to provide for us and – although we certainly weren’t rich – she made sure me and Alice never went without. I won’t claim everything was always rosy. There were fights and hardships, and I could be a stroppy teenager on occasion, bored of life in a small village and often driving Mum up the wall with my rebellious nature. It’s true that you never appreciate your mother and all she does for you, not until it’s too late.
Things started to go downhill shortly after my 15th birthday. That’s when Jeff came into our lives.
I’ll never entirely understand why our mum got together with him. Sure, he was handsome and charming, on the surface at least. I suppose she was lonely when he came in and swept her off her feet.
I didn’t like Jeff from the start. I guess there was a degree of jealousy, and certainly I saw him as a rival for my mother’s affections. But still, the man got my hackles up and I was always suspicious of him. I didn’t like the way he spoke down to me and how he looked at Alice. But I knew he would never have tried anything while our mum was around. She would have killed him if he touched either of us.
I’m sure our mother would have eventually seen through Jeff and given him the boot, but then she got sick. When you’re a kid you always think your parent is going to be around forever. I certainly took her for granted back then. Mum would’ve done anything to protect us and so it’s no surprise that she played down her illness, telling Alice and I there was nothing to worry about and she would be fine.
And so, she attended hospital appointments and started chemotherapy treatment, all while trying to carry on as normal, looking after her children like she’d always done. But, as strong as she was, the cancer turned out to be too far along.
I’ll never forget those last few weeks in the hospital – the shock, anger and fear I experienced when I realised she wasn’t going to make it. Mum told me to stay strong for my sister and I did try, but it was a terrible time. Every day she got weaker as she lay in the hospital bed, until eventually she couldn’t speak, move or even acknowledge our presence. That was the hardest part for me – to see such a strong and vibrant woman reduced to this – wasting away in front of our very eyes.
It was almost a relief when she finally stopped breathing, but of course that’s when the real nightmare began. I can hardly remember the funeral as my sister and I were almost paralysed in a grief-fuelled haze.
Jeff became our legal guardian soon after. I’ll never fully understand why this was allowed to happen. I guess it was because there was no-one else to take responsibility for us. Our natural father was long gone, and our grandparents lived up north. Jeff was our only option if we wanted to stay in our home.
At the time I wondered why Jeff wanted to keep us. Why didn’t he just do a runner after Mum died? Initially I thought he just wanted the council house we lived in and to perhaps milk the system for whatever child benefits he could claim. It was only later when I realised he had a much more sinister agenda.
I remember the first time he hit me. It was only a few weeks after Mum’s funeral but already his whole attitude towards us had changed. For my part, I was still dealing with the grief and was prone to mood swings. Jeff had ordered me to take the rubbish out to the bins and I talked back. That’s all it took to provoke him.
I didn’t see the punch coming as he hit me hard in the stomach. Jeff was a big guy and the blow hurt, taking the wind out of me as I bent over in pain, struggling to regain my breath. Afterwards, he coldly warned me against telling anyone what had happened. He said no-one would believe me and – even if they did – the result would be us being taken into care, my sister and I getting sent to separate foster homes.
I guess Jeff was a practised abuser, because he knew how to cover his tracks. The beatings became a semi-regular occurrence and sadly I learnt to live with them. My biggest fear was that he’d start hitting Alice too, but he acted differently around her. My sister seemed to be his favourite, and I didn’t like the way he was around her – how he looked at her, how he touched her.
Deep down, I knew he was hurting her when I wasn’t around. Alice didn’t talk about it to me, but I could see the change in her. She went from being bubbly and outgoing to withdrawn and depressed. Part of it was due to the grief, but there was something else too. I guess I couldn’t admit it to myself – the truth was too horrible and sickening to contemplate.
As the weeks passed, I spent less and less time in the house, sneaking out at night to hang out on the streets. And my favourite spot to hide was the wooden bench beside the old red phone booth, facing out towards the darkened woods. And that’s where my story begins.
The evening when I took my first call was unremarkable. It was a Wednesday evening in November – a cold and windy night out on the streets. Any sensible person would be at home in front of the fire, but I didn’t want to return to our cottage, because I knew he’d be there.
I had a four pack of beer cans and a pack of cigarettes I’d managed to buy from the supermarket using a fake ID. The drink and smokes help take the edge off as I nursed my bruises and lay down on the hard bench, staring up at the stars above while I contemplated my place in what I considered a cruel universe. That’s when I was surprised by the sudden ringing of the phone.
The sound took me off-guard, making me jump up from the bench. I recall staring suspiciously at the phone box, which was illuminated by a small light inside of the booth. I assumed the incoming call would be a wrong number. Initially I ignored the ringing as I thought whoever was on the other end would hang up, but this didn’t happen.
Eventually I pulled myself up off the bench and sluggishly made my way over to the booth, opening the glass-plated swing door and entering. I experienced a moment’s hesitation as I reached out to grab the phone, and on some level I think I knew this wasn’t going to be a normal wrong number. Nevertheless, I sheepishly picked up the receiver and spoke.
“Hello?” I said.
“Karl, it’s me.” came the unexpected response.
I recognised the voice straight away. Just three words spoken, but they brought a chill down my spine. It was my mother, apparently speaking to me from beyond the grave. I stuttered, finding myself unable to speak as my confused brain attempted to make sense of this. I couldn’t find the words to reply and so she had to prompt me.
“Karl, I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s really me. It’s important that we talk.”
There was something eerie and unsettling about the way she spoke and the tone of her voice. It certainly sounded like my mother, but something was off. It was like a part of her was missing, and I heard an awful sadness in her voice that she’d never had in life.
I told myself this had to be a trick. Somebody was playing a sick joke on me, and I wasn’t happy about it.
“Listen you evil witch!” I spat out angrily, “I don’t know what you’re playing at…”
I didn’t get to finish my tirade before she cut me off.
“Don’t you dare speak to me like that!”
I was shocked into silence by her sharp rebuke. This was my mother alright – I’d been told off by her enough times to recognise that tone.
I experienced an intense emotion in that moment as all my pent-up grief threatened to spill out.
“Mum?” I spluttered between sobs, “I don’t understand…You’re gone…I held your hand when you died…We buried you!”
“I know it’s hard to take in, Karl. And I know you were there when I passed away, and I’m so sorry you and your sister had to go through that. You were both so brave at the funeral, and I was so proud…”
She paused briefly before speaking again.
“I don’t have much time. You need to listen carefully to me son. We can talk through this phone. I don’t fully understand it myself, but this line is a link between the mortal world and the afterlife…”
I shook my head, my hand shaking as I struggled to hold onto the receiver. I noticed how my mother’s voice wasn’t the only sound I could hear on the other end of the line. The background noises were faint at first, but steadily grew louder. To my horror, I realised I could hear screaming – the sound of many souls crying out in terror and pain. And there was something else too – a cruel cackling which sounded almost inhuman.
I felt so scared in that moment, sensing my mother was in danger…and I was powerless to help.
“Mum, what’s happening?” I whimpered fearfully.
I could hear the anxiety in her voice, as she spoke more quickly.
“I’m out of time, but we will speak again. Come back to the booth at the same time tomorrow night. But this is important…when we talk, you must stay inside of the booth. Don’t step outside or open the door until you’ve replaced the receiver and ended the call. Do you understand?”
I could tell she was serious by the tone of her voice, and it frightened me. For the first time during the conversation I paid attention to what was happening outside of the booth, as I glanced out onto the street and the darkened woods beyond. I noticed that the road was now cloaked in darkness, as all the street lights seemed to have gone out. Now, the only illumination came from the dim moonlight.
The forest was eerily silent. I couldn’t hear any local wildlife or even the rustle of leaves in the wind. But there was something there, behind the treeline – the dark shadow of a creature or person that I couldn’t identify. I experienced an almost primal fear as my eyes followed the black shape moving between the trees, edging ever closer to the phone booth I occupied.
I had no idea what this creature was but sensed that it held malicious intent, and I was its target. Somehow, I knew this monster wasn’t of our world. I almost dropped the receiver and succumbed to blind panic, but my mother’s voice pulled me back.
“Karl! Listen to me now! It can’t hurt you as long as you stay inside the booth!”
The wailing and cackling on her end was much louder now, to the point where my mother needed to shout to be heard over the awful din.
“Put the phone down now!” she said firmly, “We will speak again soon. I love you son.”
“I love you too Mum!” I replied emotionally, before the call abruptly ended.
And suddenly it was over. The dark entity had vanished and the street lights came back on. It took me several minutes to compose myself and work up the courage to exit the phone booth. When I eventually did, I found nothing was amiss. The street had returned to normal and there was no evidence that any paranormal event had ever taken place.
I wandered home in a daze, relieved to find that Jeff had fallen asleep on the sofa after downing half a bottle of whiskey. I lay on my bed all night, unable to sleep as I tried to come to terms with what had happened. I wondered whether I was going crazy. I thought about my mum and feared she was in grave danger.
I didn’t know what the creature in the woods was but in my heart I realised it was something evil. I won’t deny that I was very scared, but I l knew I would go back to the phone booth the next night. Frankly, I had no other choice.
I got to the bench early the next evening as I impatiently waited for the call. I didn’t drink but did smoke like a chimney in an unsuccessful attempt to calm my nerves. I felt tense enough already but almost jumped out of my skin when I saw a figure approaching along the dimly lit footpath. It was my sister Alice, coming down to see me.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I shouted out.
“Well, it’s nice to see you too brother!” she shot back, the hurt evident in her voice.
I couldn’t help my hostility. This wasn’t a safe situation and I didn’t want my sister here. I hadn’t told her anything about what had happened the previous night and didn’t wish to expose her to whatever this was. Somehow, I needed to get rid of her before Mum’s call came in.
She sat down beside me and I saw her red, puffy eyes, meaning she’d been crying.
“Can I have one of those?” she asked, pointing down to my cigarettes.
“You shouldn’t be smoking!” I answered, going into full big brother mode.
“Neither should you.” she shot back defiantly.
I shrugged my shoulders and passed her a cig, lighting it for her as we smoked together. I suddenly forgot about my business for that evening as I worried about my sister.
“What has he done to you now?” I asked, trying in vain to hide my anger.
She shook her head and couldn’t meet my eye.
“It doesn’t matter. I can handle him.”
“I’ll kill him if he hurts you again!” was my furious reply.
“No you won’t!” Alice cried, “If anything happens to him, they’ll take us into care. You know that!”
She was right of course, but this didn’t make it any easier to hear. The anger and frustration I felt was nothing compared to the hatred in my heart, for him. I was thinking of what to say next when suddenly the phone started to ring.
I cursed, realising I’d left it too late. My sister was a part of this now and I had to let her in.
“Alice, we’ve got to take that call. You need to come into the phone booth with me.”
“What are you talking about?” she replied, with a look of bafflement on her face.
“You need to trust me sister. This is really important.”
She still didn’t look convinced, but Alice took my hand and followed me into the phone box, and we picked up the receiver together.
“My babies united, thank God you’re both safe.”
I saw the shock and disbelief in my sister’s eyes when she first heard our mother’s voice. I suppose she was going through the same rollercoaster of emotions I’d experienced the night before.
“Mum,” Alice muttered, “Is that really you?”
“Yes baby, its me. I know what you’ve been going through and want you to know you’re not alone. Your brother and I love you very much and we’re going to stop him.”
I was shocked to hear her say this. Somehow my dead mother knew Alice was being abused. Was this the reason she’d made contact from the other side? And could she really help us? I had so many questions to ask, but there was no time.
I heard my mother scream and suddenly the line went dead. Both Alice and I shouted down the phone as we feared for our mum and whatever horrors she was facing. But, as it turned out, we had our own problems.
Alice saw it first, and she let out a cry of absolute terror. I looked out and saw what had spooked her. It was the same entity I’d witnessed the night before – the black shadow, standing just beyond the treeline. I couldn’t make out its features or see a face in the darkness but realised the monster was glaring directly at us, poised like a predator ready to pounce.
My sister panicked and went for the door, trying to escape from this monstrosity standing before us. Luckily, I remembered what Mum had said and grabbed hold of my sister, holding her tight and keeping her inside the phone box, where I hoped we would be safe.
In that moment I heard a new voice on the other end of the line – a chilling, deep male voice full of malice and seemingly devoid of humanity.
“Greetings my children, I am sorry to interrupt your conversation with your beloved mother, but alas, she is otherwise engaged.”
My anger overcame my fear as I shouted down the phone.
“Who the hell are you? What have you done to my mum?”
The man or creature, or whatever he was, laughed cruelly before replying.
“Now now, young man. Your mother is quite fine, for now at least. She is my guest here. But alas, I cannot guarantee her safety indefinitely. There are many wicked spirits in this realm, and I cannot hold them back forever…”
I was left confused and scared, facing a situation which was beyond my understanding. I looked into my sister’s eyes and saw only pure, unadulterated terror. I realised then that I needed to speak with this entity, there was no other choice.
“Who are you?” I repeated, “What do you want from us?”
There was a noticeable annoyance in his voice as he answered.
“Who am I? I am the one in possession of your mother’s soul! I could condemn her to an eternity of suffering and pain…if I was so inclined. Alternatively, I may allow her to leave and ascend to a better place. But there’s a price to be paid. A soul for a soul. I’ll set your mother free, when you deliver a suitable replacement…”
I shivered, watching the dark shadow as I struggled to breathe.
“What do you mean?” I whimpered.
“You know very well what I mean!” was the angry response. “Bring him to this place tomorrow night and wait for my call. Keep him outside of the booth and my servant will do the rest.”
And with that, the call came to an abrupt end. I carefully replaced the receiver and comforted my sister, assuring her that the shadow beast had gone. Alice looked up at me with tears in her eyes, but she spoke with a fiery defiance and determination.
“We’ve got to do this, for Mum.”
I nodded my head in confirmation. We needed to be strong now. I knew what was coming wouldn’t be easy or pleasant, but it had to be done. And so, we made our plans and prepared to set events in motion.
Some may judge me for what I did that next evening. I can assure you that it wasn’t an easy decision, and I’ll live with the consequences of my actions for the rest of my life. I could argue that he deserved what was coming to him after what he put me and my sister through. Perhaps this is true, but in the end I did it for my mother. She’d given her life to us and so I owed it to her. I needed to make sure she had peace in the next world.
After much argument with Alice, I insisted that I’d be the one to lure him out. My sister would be waiting for me by the phone box. It was a risky plan and we had to get the timing just right.
I found Jeff slouched on the sofa in front of the TV. He stank of booze and had a mean look upon his reddened face. It didn’t take much to provoke Jeff’s anger and I intended to push him over the edge.
He glared up at me when I entered the room, his bloodshot eyes looking over me with complete contempt.
“What the hell do you want?” he spat out.
I shook my head and let it all out, speaking the truth I’d kept to myself for so long.
“You know, if Mum hadn’t gotten sick, she would have kicked you out. You were never good enough for her, not even close.”
I saw the shock on his face as he shot up from his chair. Jeff wasn’t used to being spoken to in this way, and I suppose he was surprised that I was finally standing up to him.
“What did you say to me?” he demanded, whilst forming a fist in his right hand.
“You heard!” I shot back defiantly, “You’re a drunk, a bully and a scumbag. And I know what you’ve done to my sister. You’re not getting away with it, you sick bastard!”
His anger reached boiling point as he stood up from his chair, his huge frame dominating our small living room as he marched towards me, his fists clenched and face filled with pure rage.
“You little shit!” he roared, “How dare you speak to me like that, after all I’ve done for you! I’m going to teach you a lesson you won’t forget!
This was my cue to run. I sped out of the room and through the front door, tearing down the pavement. Jeff chased after me, stomping across the tarmac like an enraged gorilla as he screamed vile abuse and threats.
Thankfully, it wasn’t far from our house to the phone booth. I saw Alice there waiting for me, holding the door open whilst screaming for me to hurry. I reached the phone box just in time, slamming the door shut behind me. Jeff got there a moment later, crying out in bloody fury as he banged his fists against the glass and tried to break in.
I used all my strength to hold the door shut, but I knew I couldn’t keep him out for long. But in that moment the phone began ringing, and I experienced a surge of adrenaline. Alice grabbed hold of the receiver, holding it up to my ear. I heard the entity’s deep voice as he spoke just four words – “Well done, my children.”
In an instant Jeff stopped banging on the door and stepped back. I don’t know what he sensed or saw, but the expression on his face was one of pure terror. And then we saw it – the dark shadow moving out from behind the trees, creeping forwards and towards its prey.
I still have difficulty in explaining what exactly this beast was. The best way I can describe it would be a shadow in the shape of a man, a darkness which had somehow taken physical form.
Jeff froze when he saw it. He didn’t try to run or fight. I don’t know whether he was paralysed by terror or held by some kind of black magic. In any case, I doubt there was anything he could’ve done against this all-powerful supernatural entity.
Its not easy to explain what happened next. The shadow didn’t as much strike Jeff as it absorbed him, the darkness swallowing him up as if it were physically removing his soul from his body. He emitted a bloodcurdling cry and I turned away, holding Alice tightly as we closed our eyes and tried to block out the horrifying screams.
Mercifully, the attack was soon over. I sheepishly looked up to see Jeff’s lifeless body lying on the pavement, and watched as the shadow moved away, its dark appetite apparently satisfied as it returned to its own realm. Then I heard the beast’s master speaking down the phone, and he said this – “He is mine now.”
There followed a brief pause before I heard a man screaming in the background, crying out in agony as he pleaded for his very soul.
“Please…Please God! Somebody please help me!”
It was Jeff, and he was scared. I don’t know what they had in store for him and didn’t care to imagine. Jeff’s screams soon faded, and the dark master spoke once again.
“The debt has been paid and I will keep my word. You mother shall be set free.”
I don’t know what came over me in that moment, but I couldn’t leave it like this.
“I want to speak with her.” I demanded.
There was a tense pause on the other end of the line and for a terrible moment I thought I’d gone too far, possibly jeopardising our deal. But finally, he replied – “As you wish.”
A few more seconds passed before I heard her voice, and my heart almost jumped out of my chest.
“We’re both here Mum!” I answered tearfully, whilst holding up the receiver so Alice could hear.
“I’m sorry you had to go through this, my babies…but I’m so proud of you both. I wanted to protect my children, but in the end you two saved me.”
“Don’t leave us Mum, we need you!” Alice pleaded.
“I have to darling, there’s no other way. I miss you both so much, and we will meet again one day. But you need to live your lives and be happy. Just remember that your mother loves you and will always watch over you.”
There was so much more that I wanted to say, but we ran out of time, as the call came to a sudden end, and we were left listening to an ominous dial tone, our one link to the afterlife now broken.
The following hours and days were chaotic and emotional, but we got through them. The police asked us some questions about Jeff’s death, but nothing we couldn’t handle. The official cause of death was listed as a heart attack. Jeff was a middle-aged man, overweight and a heavy drinker. There were no wounds on his body and so nobody suspected foul play.
We did get placed in care for a short time but ultimately my sister and I went to live with our grandparents up north. I’m not going to claim the next few years were easy, but we survived. What we’d been through together brought Alice and I closer.
Now we’re adults and living our best lives, just like our mother ordered. We rarely speak about the bizarre events of those three consecutive nights back in the late 90s, although we do often share memories of our late mother, recalling the good times.
I still don’t know what the dark entity that held our mother really was, or where exactly we sent Jeff. To be honest, I try not to think about it. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from all this madness, it’s that family is everything. The love between a devoted parent and their children is unbreakable, and this connection will continue, even beyond the grave.
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