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Phone Call from the Dead

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The line's undead.
A character gets a message from someone in the form of a letter, phone call, what have you, usually a loved one such as a spouse or a child. Except that the person in question is dead and likely has been for quite some time. This isn't a Dead Man Writing, in which someone writes a message in anticipation of or just before their death, because the person in question is already known to be dead when they leave the message. Often the character who gets it will take it to mean that the dead person is somehow still alive, or is trying to contact them from beyond the grave.

The person who receives the message will often not recognize it for the very bad thing it is, because these types of things usually do not end well, and are a staple of the Horror genre.

May involve a Supernatural Phone. Contrast Disconnected by Death. Not to be confused with Phoning the Phantom, which is when you avoid looking like a lunatic while talking to somebody only you can hear by pretending you're on the phone.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Digimon Ghost Game, when Kiyoshiro ends up in Purgatory and Limbo at the hands of Monster of the Week Sepikmon, it's shown to be a Dark World mirror of Japan. He tries to call for help but his phone is (also) dead, so he runs into an electronics shop and grabs a power bank. With it, his ghost phone is able to call Hiro in the world of the living, confusing the others as it was right next to them unmoving in the real world.
  • Dr. STONE: Subverted. The phone hidden at Senku's empty grave allows Taiju and Yuzuriha to talk with him, but they know he's not dead. Lampshaded by the narration jokingly calling it a "communications device to the spirit world".
  • Shigofumi is all about letters sent by the dead to the living.
  • Serial Experiments Lain does this with e-mail in the very first episode, kicking off the whole plot of the series.
  • Wonder Egg Priority: In the final episode, Neiru goes to the Dream Land and falls for the temptation of death. Ai receives a phone call from her that night, but she decides not to answer and even throws her phone from the balcony.
  • Your Name: The Reveal is that Taki and Mitsuha have been communicating across a 3-year gap, including leaving each other messages... and Mitsuha died three years ago when a meteorite struck her hometown.

    Comics — Newspaper 
  • Funky Winkerbean. Les Moore's deceased wife Lisa calls him in the airport to warn him not to take a flight that's destined to crash. He takes the flight anyway, but she saves him by arranging for the plane's mechanical problem to be discovered.

    Comic Books 
  • The Walking Dead: Rick Grimes gets a phone call from a woman who is eventually revealed to be his deceased wife, a sign of his Sanity Slippage. Although he stops taking the calls, he still brings the (disconnected) phone with him, knowing that all he has to do to hear his wife's voice is pick up the receiver.
  • Chicago Typewriter: The late Remž Geroux communicates with Emilio Enzo through an enchanted typewriter ribbon, warning Enzo not to interfere with his "work".

    Fan Works 
  • In This Bites!, after Soundbite Awakens the Noise-Noise Fruit, he gains (unknowingly, at first) the power to take calls from the deceased. Gol D. Roger is the only person who's ever posthumously called in to the Strawhat Broadcast Station - and while initially it seemed Jaguar D. Saul had also called in to comfort Robin, it was revealed several years later that he actually survived Aokiji seemingly killing him due to the future Admiral apparently making his stint as a Human Popsicle a Deliberately Non-Lethal Attack.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Mothman Prophecies, the main character gets a phone call from what appears to be his wife.
  • The movie White Noise is about a man who receives messages from his dead wife through the static on television sets and radios. It's implied that it wasn't his wife but a more sinister ghostly entity.
  • The plot of Frequency involves the main character being able to communicate through time with his long-dead father, albeit through a ham radio rather than a telephone.
  • There was a French movie (shown at the Jewish Film Festival) where the (Jewish) protagonist starts receiving mocking phone calls from his dead father. Throughout the movie, he often talks to his father on various phones, but this is very, very expensive.
  • John Dies at the End features a drug, only known as "Soy Sauce", that causes a number of unusual "side effects" to the user. Contrary to the movie's title, John dies about halfway through, but through the power of Soy Sauce, he is able to contact his friend David, first by calling him on his (broken) cell phone, then through a Bratwurst that David is instructed to hold to his ear like a cell phone.
  • In the American film adaptation of The Ring, the announcement of Samara's curse comes through a phone call received by the tape's watcher, in which Samara's ghost whispers "SEVEN DAYS!"
  • In Scary Movie 3, the announcement comes the same way, except with a bad connection at first, resulting in an I Can't Hear You gag.
  • The Black Phone follows a boy kidnapped and imprisoned by a serial killer who receives aid from the ghosts of his prior victims, who communicate with him through a mysterious black telephone. Adapted from a short story by Joe Hill.
  • The Devil Commands: One night following his wife's death, Blair absentmindedly switches on the power to his brainwave-recording equipment, only to turn it off again during one of his more lucid moments. Then Blair finds his attention drawn to the graph, which ought to bear nothing but a flat trace for the minute or two that the machine was turned on, given that the receiver wasnít hooked up to anyone or anything. Thatís not what he sees, though. Not only is there a wave pattern on the graph, but itís Helenís wave pattern! Blairís research has already shown that only Helenís brain could produce that pattern, so itís difficult to find any explanation for the graph save that the idle recorder was somehow picking up Helenís thoughts from beyond the grave.

    Literature 
  • In Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency a guy makes a car phone call and starts talking into the answering machine, then gets killed. Just later his ghost tries to communicate by talking through the phone, which is recorded on the answering machine as well. Dirk deletes the message, before it screws up the timeline of when he actually died.
  • October Daye gets her Call to Adventure in Rosemary and Rue by receiving a phone call from the murder victim, who happens to be a fae, and who geases Toby into solving the case.
  • This is the premise of The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates, a surprisingly upbeat short story by Stephen King, of all people. A husband who died in a plane crash was trying to call his wife just before impact; she gets the call two days later and gets to talk to him in the afterlife (which, apparently, is a bus station). She gets to say goodbye, and he warns her about a future disaster, which she manages to avoid.
  • Fight Club: When Marla receives phone calls with no one on the line, she believes they're from the departed. It's left out of the film, except for the "Prepare to evacuate soul" phone call scene, which has a different context.
  • A Clock Punk version is faked in Going Postal, with the ghosts of dead clacksmen supposedly sending a message through the clacks accusing the Grand Trunk Company of their deaths.
  • A non-supernatural version in the Ken Macleod short story "Like Old Times," in which the narrator is sorting through his late father's collection of sf novels, when he hears his father's AI "Agent" answer the phone to one of his dad's friends and, in an exact imitation of the dead man's voice and mannerisms, arrange to meet up at an upcoming convention, because it can see it's in his diary and knows he'd want to do so. When he calls back to explain, it turns out the friend is also dead, and his Agent is doing the same thing.
  • A short story about a man who has had family members buried while they were still alive insists upon having a telephone in his coffin. Shortly after he is buried, it rings... (Possibly called "The Red Telephone", but not the John Jakes story of that name.)
  • The Joe Hill anthology 20th Century Ghosts features the story The Black Phone, where in the ghosts of a serial killerís victims communicate with an imprisoned boy through the titular phone in order to help him avoid their fate at the killerís hands.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The X-Files: In "Christmas Carol", Scully gets a phone call from her dead sister. This ends up leading her to a girl who is her biological daughter, created using the ovum extracted from her body.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • In "Long Distance Call", soon after her death, Grandma Bayles begins calling her beloved five-year-old grandson Billy on his toy telephone and implores him to commit suicide so that they be Together in Death.
    • In "Night Call", Miss Elva Keene begins receiving strange phone calls on a stormy night. She initially can't hear anything on the other end of the line but she later hears moaning and eventually a man saying "hello" over and over again. When the phone company investigates, they discover that the phoneline was damaged during the storm and it is resting on a grave in Valley View Cemetery. The grave is that of Elva's fiancé Brian Douglas.
  • In the Supernatural episode "Long-Distance Call", several people, including Dean, seem to get this kind of call from deceased loved ones. It turns out to be a nasty ruse.
  • Doctor Who: In "Deep Breath", the Eleventh Doctor phones his companion Clara Oswald from the past, asking her to accept the new Twelfth Doctor.
  • Downton Abbey: It is implied in the Christmas Special that Lavinia's spirit "talks" to Anna and Daisy through an Ouija Board and writes the words "May they be happy. With my love" in reference to Matthew and Mary.
  • Fringe: In "The Arrival", complete with lots of static, and the dispatcher confirming there have been no calls.
  • One Death in Paradise murder mystery begins when Dwayne gets a text message from an old friend whose body is in the process of being cremated. Subverted when it proves to have come from a concerned third party who'd stolen his phone, but it spooks Dwayne enough to investigate his death, which exposes his murderer.
  • Friends subverts this in that Joey gets a phone call from what he thinks is his dead agent but is actually Phoebe impersonating her (it's complicated).

    Radio 
  • In season 8 of The BBC Radio 4 Mockumentary series Incredible Women, the interviewer, Jeremy, starts getting phone calls from his great-grandmother when he's trying to interview a paranormal debunker. After the debunker turns out, to her own surprise, to be Dead All Along, they both take over the radio studio.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Geist: The Sin-Eaters: The Sin-Eaters' ghostly Powers via Possession can Invoke this. They ritually break or disable a means of communication - anything from a cell phone to a pen works - and leave it alone with a ghost, who can create one message that unerringly finds its way to its recipient.

    Video Games 
  • Silent Hill 2 begins with one of these from the protagonist's dead wife, although it turns out to be a Dead Man Writing, he just thought it was this because he had repressed the memory of her death.
  • Trauma Team has Naomi Kimishima, the forensic investigator. When she gets in contact with a deceased's body (or its remains) she can perceive their final words through a call to her cellphone. It isn't made clear if this is either a power of hers or of the cellphone.
  • The plot of Another Code is set in motion when Ashley receives a birthday present from her father, who she thought was dead.
  • Shadowrun Returns begins with one of these, which is actually justified with an implanted Dead Man's Switch. The sender is one of the PC's old friends, an alcoholic runner named Sam Watts who offers them one hundred thousand nuyen from his life insurance policy is they can figure out who killed him and bring them to justice. In the end it turns out he was lying and there was no money, he just hoped his friend would care enough to investigate it.
  • Five Nights at Freddy's: The Phone Guy ends up getting killed by the animatronics. The night after his death, you'll get another phone call; however, you'll hear a demonic voice from the other end saying something in a backwards message of sorts, rather than the optimistic voice that you're used to.
  • Phantasmagoria 2: Throughout the game, Curtis will receive various post-mortem messages (phone calls, letters, e-mails) from both his dead mother and his various murdered coworkers, who call him a monster for causing their deaths. The ending reveals them all to be hallucinations send by the Hecatomb in an attempt to drive Curtis insane.
  • About halfway through Spec Ops: The Line, protagonist Capt. Walker starts getting harshly critical radio messages from Colonel Konrad, and engages him in arguments about choice and morality. At the end of the game, Walker follows these messages to their source, and discovers Konrad's long-dead body - the transmissions were nothing but a product of Walker's Sanity Slippage, as he needed to invent someone to blame for the things he'd done in Dubai. Sharp-eyed players will notice that the walkie-talkie Walker picked up was broken to begin with.
  • In Metro: Last Light, while passing through the anomalous River of Fate with Khan, a decades-old utility phone with no visible power source rings. If Artyom picks it up, he can hear the voice of his dead mother calling for him and will drop the phone in surprise. It even gives the player a moral point.

    Webcomics 
  • In Achewood, Roast Beef sees a pay phone while in Hell and attempts to call home. Unfortunately, because this is hell, the person on the other end can only hear an extremely pushy telemarketer.

    Web Original 
  • A creepypasta lampoons the trope thusly: So ur with ur honey and yur making out wen the phone rigns. U anser it n the vioce is "wut r u doing wit my daughter?" U tell ur girl n she say "my dad is ded". THEN WHO WAS PHONE?
    • Often including followup jokes that it was her mom calling.
  • The SCP Foundation discovered the afterlife known as Corbenic when a woman who had received a treatment that gave her the ability to make phone calls with her mind died and didn't lose the ability.
    • SCP-2190 is the ghost of a Filipino woman who continually makes phone calls in an attempt to break up her daughter's marriage (she doesn't approve of the husband because he's a Filipino - the mother wanted her daughter to marry a rich American - and a Protestant - the mother was the sort of Catholic who only considers Catholics "Christian"). The Foundation is using its resources to "trap" the ghost's phone calls so she can neither reach her daughter's family nor get into the Foundation's phone tree.

    Western Animation 

 
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The Hotline

The Hotline allows the Director to take messages from Beyond, including dead members of the Bureau.

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