The Answering Machine

The Answering Machine

I grew up as an only child in a small house in the Hollywood Hills, before housing prices in the neighborhood skyrocketed. My parents were not the helicoptering type; perhaps because they themselves grew up in a small, safe town in the Midwest in the 1950s/60s. I spent my childhood roaming the neighborhood and the hills, playing imaginary little stories through my head. I had a couple of local friends over the years, but generally there were no kids in our neighborhood. It wasn’t the place to raise children; it wasn’t a great part of Hollywood at the time, and the 101 Freeway was quite literally in our backyard. Most of the streets were unpaved, and there were no sidewalks. Mostly it was populated with aging hippie types and struggling actors. So 90% of the time, I played and wandered alone.

One day, my mother picked me up from school and we headed home. Once through the door, we did the usual: kicked our shoes off, shouldered off school and work bags, greeted the cats, and attended to the blinking red light on the answering machine. I think I so vividly remember our usual little routine that day because what cut through it next was so UNusual and unsettling and rang in such sharp contrast to the comfortable little world I’d always felt so safe within. I was maybe eight or nine at the time, and this was definitely a moment of innocence lost.

There was only one message. A man’s voice, grinning, invaded the little house:

“I would LOVESO much… to SCARE… your DAUGHTER.”

Then he laughed, maniacal-sounding and exaggerated. It would’ve sounded like the guffaw of a villain in some movie, but it didn’t, despite the obvious theatrics. It didn’t sound that way, because it was real. It was far scarier than any fiction.

The laughter was loud, long, and drawn-out. I didn’t even hear the end of it; my Mom hit “stop” on the player, cutting him off abruptly. But his presence still hung heavily in the air. My little world had been irrevocably disturbed.

I remember my mother playing it off very casually and telling me that it was nothing, and that I shouldn’t be afraid. And I recall how shocking her composure was — how was that NOTHING? Shouldn’t I be afraid? Why wasn’t she afraid?

Looking back now, I realize she was putting up a front for my benefit. Whenever I’ve brought this up to her now as an adult, she seems to sort of vaguely remember it and goes, “Ohhh, yeah. I don’t know what that was. Just someone playing a prank.” I’m shocked, honestly, that my parents didn’t go to the police with it. That’s not what I would consider a “prank”. To this day, I think my Mom is still trying to downplay it. She grows uncomfortable when I bring it up.

Anyway… after that incident, I could never really fully enjoy myself when I was out in the neighborhood by myself. I always wondered if that man was somewhere in the hills, watching.

By: boopsbucket

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