Jersey Serial Killer (Annotation: When a Stranger Calls)

Ok, so in the nice part of New Jersey, a couple decided to hire a nanny to take care of the kid for the night. Julie, who had never babysat before, happened to be the girl they called. She was a little nervous cause it was her first time, but thought a 5 year old wouldn’t be to hard to take care of, so she decided to take the opportunity to make some extra money. So she got to the house at 8 o clock and the parents greeted her at the door, welcomed her inside told her where everything was. She got everything down, the couple took off, and the night went well. She and the kid hung out and watched TV, had a great time. The kid was getting sleepy so she got ready to put him to bed. Right when she was about to go upstairs, the phone rang. She answered and she says, “Hello?” but there was no one on the other line. It was just… quiet. So she hung up and said, “ok probably a wrong number.” She gets ready to put the kid to bed again but right when she’s about to go upstairs the phone rings again. This time, she hears a faint breathing, like a wheezing sound. She didn’t know what it was. She asks, “Who is this? Who is this? Hello, hello?” No answer, so she hung up. She gets ready to go back to the kid but then the phone rings a third time. She answers the phone and once again hears the breathing. She says, “I don’t know who this is, but I’m calling the police right away” – the voice answers back and says, “You shouldn’t do that.” And she hung up, and she freaked out. She calls the police and says, “Someone’s been calling me and I don’t know where from. They’re calling the house and threatening me and I don’t know what to do,” so they say “we’ll tap the lines and see what happens.” So she says ok. The phone rings a 4th time and she answers and says, ”Who is this?” but all she hears is wheezing and she hangs up immediately. The police call back and ask, ”So did anyone call yet?” and she say, “YES someone just called didn’t you get it?” But they say that no one called; there is no trace of anything, no phone call coming into the house. But then the phone line cuts out, and there’s a knock at the door. She immediately begins over exaggerating. She tells the kid, “quick you need to get to your room and close your door,” so the kid runs upstairs. She goes to the window and looks outside and she doesn’t see anything except a fog, and she doesn’t understand who knocked at the door. She steps back away from the window but then trips and falls. The boy upstairs hears a scream but is afraid to see what happened. After a few minutes though, he decides to investigate and slowly creeps downstairs. But then he sees the girl, dead on the ground, probably choked, with the windows and door open, with fog creeping into the house.”

The informant had been told this story as a child growing up in Connecticut. His father would tell him and his siblings the story around Halloween in order to scare them and get them in the mood of the season. It is interesting to note that the beginning of the story seems almost identical to the plot of the movie, “When a Stranger Calls,” and when the informant retells it, it seems that much of it is being reconstructed around certain key points, such as the babysitter, the mysterious calls, and the police. However, details seem to be improvised to fit the setting, for example the wheezing breathing and the particulars about the boy and girl (He changes from kid to boy multiple times, and states Julie’s name only once at the very beginning), showing that the story could have roots in the movie, with details and minor implications changed throughout time. Many pauses are made throughout the story, either for emphasis or to make up new details, and an emphasis is made on the narrative characterizations of different characters, ex: the babysitter’s anxiety at the mysterious calls.

However, beyond being just a scary story for parents to tell children, this collection fits many of the themes and motifs of ghost stories. Mysterious phone calls, fog, heavy breathing, and nighttime are all characteristic of ghost stories, even while a ghost is never actually mentioned. Not only that, but it can be argued that this story utilizes ghosts warn its readers. Lessons about leaving your children at home with inexperienced babysitters, or even educating children on the dangers of opening doors for strangers, especially around the Halloween time.

Being told from a third person perspective, the informant had a degree of freedom in retelling the story. As this story is told seemingly with the intention to frighten, it is not so much a matter of whether or it is true, but rather the interpretation of the motifs and being able to see other purposes besides scaring its audience.