This is a tale from the 90's, that long ago time when land lines ruled king of communications. It was during this hypercolor era that I was left alone one evening on my family’s 120 acre plot of land in the Great Piney woods of East Texas. The house that we lived in was a bit ramshackle with the original shack my stepdad had lived in making up the back of the house and a new edition making up the front of the house. I don’t know how old my step dad’s home was or how long it had been there but it seemed straight out of a dusty story from the great depression. My parents bedroom and master bath took up the whole of that area and the living room, kitchen, main bathroom and two bedrooms made up the newly constructed edition. Truth be told I never much liked the old part of the house and spent as little time back there as possible, save for when I wanted to take a bath in the giant soaker tub that my mom had insisted be installed before we moved in. There was a single door that connected the old and the new and whenever I was home alone I made sure that it was firmly shut.

So there I was one evening, just me and the furry mountain of cats that lived on the front porch. I was blissfully enjoying my quiet time by belting out songs from the radio as I danced in the living room, the many windows surrounding me reflecting my awkward movements. We didn’t have any close neighbors and it was a half mile journey down a winding dirt road to get to our house so I was feeling uninhibited as I strutted across the room, each pane of glass revealing my revelry to the nocturnal animals that surely scurried through the surrounding woodlands. Somewhere out in the night our dogs acted as sentries, their silence only emboldening me to sing louder and more passionately as I was sure that all was good and I was safe and alone.

And all was good too, until the phone rang. The sudden jangle ended my impromptu concert with a startle. I was fast, as tweens in those days happened to be, and quickly picked up the receiver with hopes that one of my friends was calling to dish some new and exciting gossip.

“Hello,” I gasped into the mouthpiece as I tried to catch my breath, my hearts still racing from all of the dancing. There was a half second or so of full silence and as my lips began to form the word hello again I heard it. Clapping. It was clear and loud and coming straight through the phone at me. Applause. My mind couldn’t really understand. There was no logical reason for there to be that steady, purposeful sound coming through the phone, and yet it was.

Panic was setting in as I slammed down the phone. Suddenly every window pane was a stranger’s view into my world and I had nowhere to hide. With my heart pounding in my ears I slunk into my room and shut the door, drew every blind and curled into the corner of my bed to wait for my parents to get home.

And that was that. My parents came home, laughed off my strange tale, and I never received another telephone ovation. The most I ever thought about the story was just a brief retelling when spooky stories were passed around among my me and my friends. It was during a retelling to my partner that he had a sobering idea on the matter.

“It was a land line, right?” he asked and I nodded, “Yes.” He went on, brow furrowed as if he was coming to terms with the implication of his line of thought as he was relaying it to me.

“Well, you used to be able to dial a code, like *69 to hide your number, but this one would make the other phones in your house ring from their own line.”

“You mean the call came from inside the house?” I said it to be funny but it didn’t really seem that funny as I considered the very real possibility that the call had indeed come from inside the house, from the back part of the house. There was an old french door back there that led outside, and right next to the door had been my stepdad’s desk and atop it a phone.

I guess I should feel lucky that whoever was hiding back there in the shadows that night enjoyed my singing. I’d hate to think about what could have happened if it wasn’t just applause that they felt like unloading on me that night.