Estimated reading time — 7 minutes

Creepy Calls and Accursed Numbers

Almost from the moment that the telephone was first introduced to the public, it has been considered an instrument capable of strange and undoubtedly creepy uses. Over the decades various stories and urban legends have sprung up that link the telephone with the supernatural, in particular with ideas that this device could be a way of contacting and conversing with malevolent or supposedly unreachable and even deceased partners. 

As a machine that allows conversation with an unseen partner it was perhaps inevitable that the telephone should attract these kinds of stories. Firstly there is the action of dialling, reciting or performing a specific set of actions to seemingly ‘conjure’ from thin air the voice of an invisible participant and then listen. This, in and of itself had connotations of mediumship and necromancy for early users of the telephone.

 Then there is the fact that this other participant can be miles away in another location not always known to the caller. The fact that the telephone provides a conduit between these two separate places and realities is fertile soil for the imagination for the simple reason that it presents the user with countless potential unknowns. Who might be calling? Where could they potentially be calling from and how can you ever trust that the person on the other end is actually who they claim to be? 

These anxieties around telephone communication now find similar manifestations and often almost identical urban myths via the internet. With the same questions being transferred to a newer technology and familiar tropes usually applied to the telephone transferred to computers. A quick survey of the urban myths and creepypastas that have grown up around chatrooms, zoom and skype calls and even emails, shows that they are often built upon templates first used in reference to the telephone.

What is particularly interesting however, is that even as the phone is used less and less for actual conversation, it has become more and more popular as a central instrument in urban myths, bravery test games and creepypastas. Firstly, because the internet has allowed for stories of creepy phone calls and haunted numbers to be distributed more widely, but also because for the younger generation the very fact that talking on the phone is less popular makes the idea of actually calling and speaking to someone seem outmoded, archaic and a little foreign and spooky.

Often the urban myths around telephones attach themselves to particular specified numbers. These numbers are variously said to be cursed, to allow the caller to contact the dead or to put them in touch with some other realm or otherworldly entity. These myths often framed as cautionary tales either work as stand alone ‘friend of a friend’ stories, told in the first person in a format similar to modern creepypasta stories or make the leap into being bravery tests, where the established myth works as an introduction to a ‘game’ in which participants are encouraged to called the ‘cursed’ or ‘haunted’ number and endure the consequences. This in turn can then generate new stories in which the initial myth is used as exposition, the call as the crisis and the actual experience after the call as the main body of the story and conclusion.


What makes this second type of story even more interesting is the fact that in many cases the fabled numbers do in fact lead to some creepy consequences. Not because the line is cursed or because of some supernatural agency, but because it is one of a set of numbers set up by others which when called will connect the caller to an unsettling message or interaction. Basically, if you dare your friends to call those numbers, the line won’t simply go dead, they will hear something. 

Phone Myths and Urban Legends

‘Haunted number’ stories, usually centred around the concept of speaking to the dead or to some otherworldly entities, are almost as old as the telephone itself. Shortly following the wider comercial use of telephones stories surrounding numbers considered bad luck or to have some diabolical connotation sprang up. 

Stories circulated of phone companies avoiding any number that might have repetitions of the number 666, because of its biblical associations with ‘The Beast’ in the book of revelations and the common association of the number with the devil. It is interesting how many of the supposedly cursed numbers pick up this format of repeating numbers being an ominous sign. 

Following world war 2 a common story pertaining to phones was the notion that dialling the service number of a soldier killed in action backwards would enable someone to contact that soldier, with any missing numbers being filled in with 0. 

Naturally, these early myths extended to the apparatus itself, with stories of cursed phones and call booths or ghostly phone operators being quite common. Some have linked the notion of a ‘bad luck’ or ‘death’ telephone to the frequency with which people received bad news during the wars of the twentieth century. News of killed or injured soldiers was usually delivered to next of kin by telegram/ letter or in person rather by phone call, but the subsequent spread of the news via phone call meant that there were phones in particular locations that would have been the bearer of bad news on multiple occasions and would gain a reputation as being a machine that was cursed or bad luck. 

As the use of the telephone spread across the globe, with  many beginning to have phones in their own homes and more recently in their pockets, the stories began to focus less around the machinery itself and more on ‘cursed or forbidden numbers’. With different regions and countries having their own particular stories.

Notable examples of this kind of ‘cursed number’ myth were the so-called ‘red numbers’ of Pakistan. In this myth which has several variants in other countries, a call to an individual’s mobile telephone turns the screen red. Playing on the paranoia some have about mobile phone usage and the possible damaging effects of the radiation on the body, the story then went that if answered, the call would emit a frequency that would cause the listener to have a brain hemorrhage and die. So, if a call turns your phone screen red, don’t answer, or at least let it go to voicemail. 

A similar ‘cursed number’ story involves not a call received but made for a specific purpose. According to Thai folklore, the number 999-9999, if called, will allow the caller to make a wish. Whilst this wish would be granted, the call also means death in a grisly fashion for the caller. 

This play upon the old ‘deal with the devil’ trope, in which the seeker sells his souls for riches or earthly reward, whilst knowing that there will be an ultimate gory price to pay, also plays on the anxiety around the number 9 and its associations with emergency services (in the UK for example, 999 is the emergency number, whilst 911 and 991 are common in other countries). 

Another variation on the theme that adds an element of chance is from Bulgaria and centres around a number that is a repetition of the number 8. In this version, it is anyone allocated this number as their own who will suffer the consequences. The idea being that someone given the number 0 followed by three sets of three eights, will die a horrible death. 

Though the order and nature of the deaths differs depending upon the teller of the story, there is a general consensus that anyone receiving this number will be cursed and is justified by a list of examples of previous owners who have met an untimely end. This is of course an adaptation of the cursed object trope which has been used in horror for almost a century or more (see M.R.James’ Casting the Runes or W.W. Jacobs The Monkey’s Paw) and can centre around anything from a video or game cartridge to a whistle, a crown or a ring. 

Then of course there is the persistent idea that calling the number 666 will put you in contact with the devil. Something that I’m sure all of those medieval sorcerers and witches with their years of study and complex spells wish they had known. 

Real Life Examples 

Whilst many of the urban myths listed above follow familiar horror templates and simply change the odd detail, some stories of creepy phone numbers are ‘true’. At least in the sense that anyone brave enough to call them will actually find something odd at the other end. Whilst these numbers are not supernatural in nature and are rather set up for the express purpose of creeping people out (or in some cases for another benign purpose) they are nevertheless creepy when heard. Here are some of the best examples

Stories of the SCP foundation, a shady government organisation in the same mould as those featured in the X-Files, Vector 13 and the Men in Black movies are common on Creepypasta sites, messageboards and youtube. 

Often the SCP foundation stories are reports of encounters with cryptids and the measures being taken to capture and contain these unclassified beasties. So popular was this format that someone set up a number for ‘incident reports’ an actual number you can call in real life to report encounters with cryptids or other monsters in the hope that the SCP will get right on it. 

Those calling the number will hear a recorded message through which they are told that they have reached a regional branch of the SCP. In reality it is the message itself and the implication that it could be genuine and therefore the organisation real that is the trigger for fear here. If you do have cryptic encounters to report you’re probably scared enough already and i;’d recommend the emergency services before this dubious phone prank. 

Whilst Pakistan has its ‘Red Numbers’ there are also allegedly ‘Red Room Numbers’ out there too. This version which seems to have clear influences from gore filled torture horrors like the Saw series and to a lesser extent from the movie ‘The Game,’ centres around the premise that certain numbers exist that when called will allow the person or organisation the other end to know your exact location. These shady characters will then find and kidnap the caller, taking them to a ‘red room’ (I’ll skip past the obvious Shining reference) to be tortured and killed, according to some versions, whilst being broadcast live on the dark web. 

One such number which can have its links traced back to a computer game is 4086342806.  Possibly set up as an easter egg, a  promotional tool for said game or as an attempt to create an ARG out of the basic premise of the game the number when called gives the listener a recording of a creepy voice speaking over the top of the obligatory slow child’s music box soundtrack. The voice, which sounds suitably evil, allegedly gives the message “All’s well that ends well” though some claim the message has changed numerous times over the years. 

A less sinister but equally unsettling number to dial is 858 651 5050, a tool designed to test phones by playing recorded messages in which the speaker matches the frequencies and tones of natural speech. The oddly disturbing result for anyone calling the line is to hear a slightly distant and computerised female or male voice intoning strange and nonsensical sentences like ‘These words were the cue for the actor to leave’ down the phone. Somehow the surreal and slightly off kilter collections of words coupled with the aloof demeanour of the speaker makes the experience a highly disquieting one. 

And finally,  if you happen to suffer from Clouraphobia, you could always give ‘Wrinkles’ the clown a call on  4077340254  this number allegedly goes through to the creepy clown’s own number and after a while he’ll give you a call back, one that those who are not fans of creepy clowns in the first place will be unlikely to forget, provided they actually answer it. 

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed under any circumstance.


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