As on the previous two hundred nights, Sam answered the phone at the third ring. He never spoke anymore, and nor did the caller, the only sound, some almost perceptible background static, interference from local power lines maybe, on stormy and humid nights, the static increased.
He would listen for a moment, the calls and the lack of a caller no longer troubling him as they had in the first few days. They had inadvertently become a handy reminder for the start of his evening soaps. They were almost comforting, familiar.
During the first fifty or so calls, and after the complaints to the phone company had gone nowhere, Sam decided that it was a glitch in the system, a scheduled process on a computer somewhere in an exchange accidentally opening the wrong line.
Until there was a cough. Faint, distant, but definitely a cough.
‘Hello?’ said Sam, reflexively, and with surprise unhidden.
The coldest of shivers down his spine. Sam instantly understood everything.