THE COUNSELOR • by Kendall Furlong

Allen Mosby had been on the phone all day at the Family Services call-center and a new inbound was the last thing he needed. It came at 4:58 PM; two minutes before off-time. Sighing inwardly, he used his most saccharine voice to intone, “Hello, my name is Allen Mosby and I’m a certified family counselor. How may I help you today?”

No answer.

Allen could hear labored breathing, like wheezing, and background noises that sounded like someone stomping on the pedal keys of a pipe organ.

“Hello, can you hear me?” he said. “Is this a medical emergency?” Still, no answer. Because it was an emergency line and call management rules allowed for callers with speech challenges, he said, “If you can hear me, tap three times.”

Immediately he heard, thump, thump, thump. Not the sharp tapping of metal or plastic, but dull, like a finger would make, over the labored breathing and bass notes.

Allen’s heart beat faster–his first real crisis. “Okay, stay calm,” he said, as much to himself as to the caller. He took a deep breath, “I’m going to ask you some questions. If you are unable to speak, tap once for ‘yes’ and twice for ‘no’. Okay?”

After a moment’s pause, a single tap.

“Good,” Allen said. A warm feeling came over him. He had taken the call-center job to help people. Here was someone whose life might depend on him.

“Are you sick?” he said. Two taps followed.

“Are you a prisoner?” Silence and heavy breathing, then one tap.

Oh my God. How can I find her without speaking?

He turned on his first generation GPS tracker and started typing. Matching streets populated a drop down search box. Blue circled the approximate area of the call, overlaying a part of the Pleasant Grove district. It was bounded north to south by Military Parkway and Lake June Road, with Masters Drive and Buckner Blvd from east to west–just about a square mile.

“Okay, I’m going to say a letter. If it’s the first letter of the name of the street you’re on, tap once. Otherwise tap twice. Can you do that?” He heard one tap.

“Great,” he said. On his map ‘Praire Creek Road’ ran the length of the shaded area–a good place to start.

“Does your street start with the letter ‘P’?” He heard a single tap. Typing ‘P’ into his search box the drop-down displayed Palisade Drive, Pinehurst Lane, Pleasant Drive, Pondview Drive, Praire Creek Drive, and Pruitt Avenue

Noting two streets began with ‘Pr’, he asked, “Is the next letter ‘r’?” This time there were two taps. That eliminated Praire Creek and Pruitt.

He tried the second letter of the first street remaining. “Is the second letter an ‘l’?”  One tap. “Good,” he said. It must be Pleasant Drive. Is that correct?” Again, a single tap.

The next problem was where on Pleasant Drive. It was a long street that ran parallel to Buckner Blvd for the entire length of the target area. He said, “Now, I want you to tap out the numbers, one tap for the number one, two for the number two, and so forth. Can you do that?” Once more, a tap told Allen the caller had understood.

“Great, go ahead and start.”

The taps came as three, pause, three more, pause, then one tap, pause, and finally four taps.

Allen said, “Are you at 3314 Pleasant Drive?” He held his breath waiting for the caller to confirm her location—he wanted it to be a ‘her’. It took longer this time for the tap to come, but when it did it was single, confirming his analysis. He exhaled explosively. He became aware of the perspiration on his brow and co-workers, by now aware of a situation, were watching. He glanced up at them with a pleased smile—he would do this. He dialed the center’s hot line to the police. “Possible hostage situation, location 3314 Pleasant Drive in the Pleasant Grove area, recommend extreme caution.”

He pulled up the address in Google Street View. It was a white frame house of the kind built during the post-war housing boom. Ominously, a double-height, chain-link fence around it must have been added later.

He switched back to the emergency line. “Are you still there?” The background noise was growing stronger and the confirming tap slow in coming. Allen tried to use his system to locate the caller inside the house, but the deep bass tones were too loud now and growing more staccato and chaotic. Phone taps became impossible to hear.

Trying to reassure the caller, Allen said, “Help is on the way, just hold on.”

This time a deep bass voice answered, resonant as though embedded in an ancient cistern. “Who is this?” it said.

Allen froze. The captor must have discovered her. What should he do? He started to tremble. Had he put the victim in danger? He decided to bluff. “The police are almost there,” he said. “Give yourself up and no one will get hurt.”

At this the pedal tones instantly grew deafeningly loud, rising in frequency until they seemed to come from the middle of a locust swarm. Then the laugh started. It turned Allen’s blood cold, with peels reverberating through some infinite tube, like they were from the depths of hell.

Grimacing from ear-splitting pain, he yanked off his headset and threw it on the floor but the satanical laugh didn’t stop. It grew impossibly loud from the tiny headphones, filling the room with an excruciating, anguished howl. Suddenly, the noise stopped. The earphones began exuding a phosphorescent ectoplasm, flooding the room with an eerie green glow. No one reacted, the ooze holding them immobile, faces distorted in unspeakable, silent agony.

Just as suddenly, the green emanation disappeared back through the headset and the room was empty. The phones rang. No one answered.


Kendall Furlong says: “First, I’m an old guy trying to reinvent himself. Some consternation goes with being referred to as elderly by the set closer to diapers than to me, but though fatal the condition allowed me to retire and pursue the dream of writing. I’ve written one confessions novel (which will remain unpublished), several short stories including a couple of contest winners, and am working on two longer works, a mystery novel and speculative fiction piece set in the near future.”


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Every Day Fiction

  • Paul A. Freeman

    What a weird story. Excellent, suspenseful build up I felt (though a myriad cliches need excising). The ectoplasmic ending was a bit of a let down though, for the sole reason that it could have been so much more impactful (if that’s a word). Even so, I’m giving this piece a four, in spite of what I saw as its shortcomings.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    What a weird story – in a good way. Excellent, suspenseful build up I felt (though a myriad cliches need excising). The ectoplasmic ending was a bit of a let down though, for the sole reason that it could have been so much more impactful (if that’s a word) and chilling. Even so, I’m giving this piece a four, in spite of what I saw as its shortcomings. Oh, and I must admit, I was expecting a humorous resolution for much of the story – glad that didn’t pan out.

  • S Conroy

    Wow. This gripped me from start to finish. Think I agree with Paul. It might have worked better without the ectoplasm. The horror was fine though. “The phones rang. No-one answered.” is, in my books, an excellent ending.

    • Paul A. Freeman
      I think the sting was taken out of the ending for me because green ectoplasm is so 'Ghostbusters'. But yeah, looking again, an excellent ending.
  • S Conroy

    Wow. This gripped me from start to finish. Think I agree with Paul. It might have worked better without the ectoplasm. The horror was fine though. “The phones rang. No-one answered.” is, in my books, an excellent ending.

    • Paul A. Freeman
      I think the sting was taken out of the ending for me because green ectoplasm is so 'Ghostbusters'. But yeah, looking again, an excellent ending.
  • Ah man. It was so good . . . until the last three paragraphs.

    It’s difficult to give this a proper review because it held me tight until the end, then it disappointed me big time. I really enjoyed the suspenseful writing. The pace was perfect. I was invested in the MC and the person he was trying to help. but then it fell apart with the green ectoplasm headphones.

    I’d love to see this with the last few paragraphs re-written. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ah man. It was so good . . . until the last three paragraphs.

    It’s difficult to give this a proper review because it held me tight until the end, then it disappointed me big time. I really enjoyed the suspenseful writing. The pace was perfect. I was invested in the MC and the person he was trying to help. but then it fell apart with the green ectoplasm headphones.

    I’d love to see this with the last few paragraphs re-written. Thanks for sharing.

  • MPmcgurty

    Color me puzzled. I felt no tension or suspense after the first third of the story. I’ll give you that there was a creepy factor in the first couple of tapping instances, and I was impressed with the counselor, but it was carried out in such excruciating detail that it lost traction for me. Seriously, when the really high fence came into the picture, I started wondering if this was a smart-dog story and began waiting for a punchline. When the deep voice said, “Who is this?” I was convinced it was going to be a funny ending. Suddenly, though, satanic laughing ensues and ectoplasm appears and the call center people get consumed.

    Some organ music and three paragraphs summarizing evil laughs, ooze, and agony do not make a horror story. I might have enjoyed it more if it had been a hostage situation.

  • MPmcgurty

    Color me puzzled. I felt no tension or suspense after the first third of the story. I’ll give you that there was a creepy factor in the first couple of tapping instances, and I was impressed with the counselor, but it was carried out in such excruciating detail that it lost traction for me. Seriously, when the really high fence came into the picture, I started wondering if this was a smart-dog story and began waiting for a punchline. When the deep voice said, “Who is this?” I was convinced it was going to be a funny ending. Suddenly, though, satanic laughing ensues and ectoplasm appears and the call center people get consumed.

    Some organ music and three paragraphs summarizing evil laughs, ooze, and agony do not make a horror story. I might have enjoyed it more if it had been a hostage situation.

  • Michael Valentine

    I worked in a 9-1-1 center for a while, so this story really grabbed me from the start. Unlike some of the other commenters, I didn’t see a funny ending coming. The ectoplasm might have been a bit over the top, but overall I quite liked this.

    • Kendall Furlong
      I also work at a call center. I wrote the story during the slow hours spent waiting for calls.
  • Michael Valentine

    I worked in a 9-1-1 center for a while, so this story really grabbed me from the start. Unlike some of the other commenters, I didn’t see a funny ending coming. The ectoplasm might have been a bit over the top, but overall I quite liked this.

    • Kendall Furlong
      I also work at a call center. I wrote the story during the slow hours spent waiting for calls.
  • Chris Antenen

    I’m somewhat at an advantage because I don’t read science fiction or futuristic stories unless they are thrust upon me. Therefore, I don’t compare. Didn’t even know what ectoplasm is–but understood phosphorescent, so I could put it together.

    The story was well written, might even use the word excellent. Since I haven’t encountered it before, the buildup was needed. I think this belongs in the ‘horror’ compartment with futuristic elements–I gave it a decided 5.

    Kendall, you might be an old guy, but that just means you have more experience to draw upon. At least that’s what I tell myself.

    Good story, good ending.

  • Chris Antenen

    I’m somewhat at an advantage because I don’t read science fiction or futuristic stories unless they are thrust upon me. Therefore, I don’t compare. Didn’t even know what ectoplasm is–but understood phosphorescent, so I could put it together.

    The story was well written, might even use the word excellent. Since I haven’t encountered it before, the buildup was needed. I think this belongs in the ‘horror’ compartment with futuristic elements–I gave it a decided 5.

    Kendall, you might be an old guy, but that just means you have more experience to draw upon. At least that’s what I tell myself.

    Good story, good ending.

  • Tamera Norwood

    There is no such thing as an old writer, just old ideas, and there was nothing rehashed in this story. It’s a clever idea, and you write very well. The word-count limitation corrupted the flow of the story at the end, but if this were the first page of a horror novel, I’d be so hooked.

  • Tamera Norwood

    There is no such thing as an old writer, just old ideas, and there was nothing rehashed in this story. It’s a clever idea, and you write very well. The word-count limitation corrupted the flow of the story at the end, but if this were the first page of a horror novel, I’d be so hooked.

  • I also felt that the word constraint forced a rushed and unlikely ending. I enjoyed the concept of a demonic presence being the cause of a caller’s emergency.

    I remember reading a slightly similar sequence (caller unable to communicate except in taps) in Readers Digest decades ago, but from the point of view of a caller having a heart attack. This was an interesting possibility: the tension that arises from the person trying to save someone else, not knowing the true situation.

  • I also felt that the word constraint forced a rushed and unlikely ending. I enjoyed the concept of a demonic presence being the cause of a caller’s emergency.

    I remember reading a slightly similar sequence (caller unable to communicate except in taps) in Readers Digest decades ago, but from the point of view of a caller having a heart attack. This was an interesting possibility: the tension that arises from the person trying to save someone else, not knowing the true situation.

    I wonder if I am feeling uncertain about the ending because the evil presence asked, “Who is this?”, which could have been any nasty brute of a captor… whereas I might have felt more startled if the voice had possessed eerie knowledge of the protagonist, saying “Hello, Allen Mosby” or “I’m sorry, Allen, she can’t talk to you any more.”

  • I had many of the same reactions, my combination of them being: I was “hooked” from the beginning, thought there would be a surprise, most likely humorous ending, and was disappointed with the ending that was. Once the deep bass voice came on, there are any number of scenarios, humorous or horrible, that could have followed involving humans. Maybe next time?

  • I had many of the same reactions, my combination of them being: I was “hooked” from the beginning, thought there would be a surprise, most likely humorous ending, and was disappointed with the ending that was. Once the deep bass voice came on, there are any number of scenarios, humorous or horrible, that could have followed involving humans. Maybe next time?

  • Gerald_Warfield

    I was hooked, too. Great story. The ending, however, was a bit of a letdown. Didn’t care for the ectoplasm.

  • Gerald_Warfield

    I was hooked, too. Great story. The ending, however, was a bit of a letdown. Didn’t care for the ectoplasm.

  • Netty net

    this story would keep people on edit of their seats.

  • Netty net

    this story would keep people on edit of their seats.