Written by: Matt Molgaard
Continuing on with my 13 Days of Halloween short story coverage, I felt it was time to fit the legendary Ramsey Campbell into the mix. I’ve read quite a few of Campbell’s shorts, and while there are a great many I could have fallen back on, I opted to read a story I’d yet read: Call First.
This is an imaginative little tale that would have made for a top notch Masters of Horror or Tales from the Crypt/Darkside episode. A rapid but appropriately swift pace leads the story’s focal character, Ned, into a position he probably couldn’t even fathom. An older gentleman who frequents a local library on a regular basis requests to use the library phone nightly. His brief message to the listener on the other end? I’m coming home now.
Ned, who’s a quirky fellow himself (that doesn’t particularly care to let anyone use the library phone), has witnessed this carbon copy motion for some time, and he becomes determined to know who it is that this fellow calls before departing the library each evening. A little research (which helps provide a clear outline of Ned’s idiosyncrasies), and Ned’s got an address and an urge. Unfortunately, what he’ll find at the home of this stranger is anything but welcoming.
This truncated tale of terror is an absolute blast. Having somehow missed this one after decades of reading is beyond me: it’s fantastic! The visuals that Campbell creates, particularly during the final pages of the story, are absolutely chilling. What’s even more unsettling is the realism at work. This is a tale that one could almost imagine happening. Were it to happen to me, I’d simply hope to play the role of anyone other than Ned. His future doesn’t look too bright. Such is the price one may pay for snooping about.
Great character development, great direction and a very thrilling conclusion make Call First a mandatory read. I regret having missed it for such a long stretch, but have zero doubt that I’ll revisit it again in the future. Probably sooner than later.