The Black Phone Short Story is
Not to be Read at Night

Woman reading a scary book

Created with Dream by Wombo

Horror stories like The Black Phone short story have many people scrambling to read it while climbing into an old comfy chair wrapped in a warm fuzzy blanket. What does the reader hope to gain from reading a nail-biter?

First, let’s explore the essence of the short story:

Short stories fall somewhere between novellas and poems — just as their name implies, they’re complete stories condensed into a relatively brief format. When you’re short on time, a short story is the perfect thing to read, whether it’s a classic tale of redemption like James Baldwin’s Sunny’s Blues or a chilling narrative like Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. Sometimes the most powerful stories are packed into just a few pages. (“Short Story”)

The short story is fiction that can stretch across many genres. As stated, people often like short stories since they can typically be read in one sitting. 

The reader who has a copy of The Black Phone short story in her hand, is looking for creepy satisfaction within the pages. She wants to be plunged into another world where there are unsettling sights and whispered conversations and eerie shadows.

The Black Phone is a tale that appears in one of  Hill’s acclaimed collections, 20th Century Ghosts,” initially published in 2005. The anthology places Hill among the best in modern horror literature. It reveals the terrors that can lie in wait for the unsuspecting.

20th Century Ghosts

The Black Phone short story centers around the abduction of a young boy, John Finney, by a child killer named Frank. A child pitted against a seasoned murderer seems to offer no hope for the boy. However, as John finds himself trapped in an isolated basement, an old disconnected black phone becomes his eerie beacon of hope for freedom.

The black phone springs to life with calls from Frank's previous victims. These ghostly voices come to John’s aid, imbuing the story with knee-knocking suspense.

The reader is now hooked. She has questions to which she scrambles to find answers: 

  • Will the boy escape? How?
  • How does a disconnected old phone help him? 
  • Is there a manhunt for the boy?
  • Is there a ticking clock to this story?
  • Will the boy be able to lead a relatively normal life if he survives?

The reader, if the story is crafted well, will stay the course of the story. She may have to pull the blanket tightly around her shoulders as a hedge against the story’s mayhem. Still, she reads on. 

People often read these types of stories because they are often bored. But look at their social media site{s}. Picture after picture leads you to believe that they are living the high life. People look for stimulation. An easy way of finding it is through horror films and stories.

Who thinks of these chilling narratives anyway? Authors do, the ones with wildly vivid imaginations, authors like Stephen King and his son Joe Hill. Joe Hill, as a matter of fact, wrote The Black Phone. Hill, a master wordsmith, doesn’t hold back. He smacks his readers in the face with spectral apparitions, a disconnected phone that rings, and more unsettling devices. Like King, his horror-writing father, Joe Hill delivers unashamedly. Might the capacity for delivering horror be passed down, like eye color, through the genes?

 Why Do People Like The Black Phone Short Story?

The Black Phone

Created with Dream by Wombo

As stated above, many people suffer from boredom, and watching or reading horror provides them with stimulation. It rescues them from their mundane lives. John Finney seeks to escape the confines of the basement. The reader seeks to escape the doldrums of everyday life.

An expert chimes in on the question of why people like horror:

New York City psychologist Linda Hamilton theorizes that the reason some of us love horror movies is that it takes us out of our normal life: “Halloween and scary movies, scaring people and being scared, is not boring . . . We are attracted to doing things that are unusual. How many people slow down and look at an accident? It’s just not something you see every day.

     “You’re getting that adrenaline rush of being scared, and the positive feelings of accomplishment and relief afterward . . . If we’re watching a scary movie, we project our feelings about evil onto the bad guy. When that person is defeated, it feels good.” (qtd. in Moline)

Experiencing boredom, getting an adrenaline rush, and feeling good about the comeuppance of the bad guy are some of the things that attract us to horror stories as clarified by Hamilton.

Another reason the readers may enjoy the story is that regardless of how deeply she ventures into the underbelly of fear, she’s safe. Feeling safe amongst the unfathomable is a feeling she relishes and one that she often searches for in the real world.

Joe Hill’s The Black Phone moves him to best in class among the great literary writers of horror. He’s mastered the art of storytelling by showing how ordinary objects can suddenly become objects of unexpected terror. The story is horrifying and captivating at the same time.

When you read horror stories, be prepared to be whisked away to a spooky place. Realize that your sober mind may not come back in its entirety. A bit of it may stay lost and wander in the dimension of horror. You may not realize that you’ve never quite returned to normalcy. (But others might.)

There’s always a price to pay when you open a door into a supernatural macrocosm. Moreover, the next time you hear the ringing of your phone, take a deep breath. It may be from a disembodied spirit.

"Short story." Dictionary,, story. Accessed 07 Oct. 2023.

Moline, Peg. Why Do We Like Scary Movies?, New York Times, 31 Oct. 2015,