Fact: I hate the telephone. I have trouble talking to people when I can’t see who I’m talking to; I’d much rather either speak face-to-face or converse in a text-base medium. (I am a writer, after all.) But I’m willing to make an exception for… shall we say, special cases: I am more than willing to call creepy phone numbers that actually work. It helps, of course, that most of these creepy phone numbers don’t require that you actually speak with anyone; when you dial them, you almost always reach a voicemail box set to play a spooky recording to anyone who rings. Still, though — I will happily set aside my phone phobia in pursuit of that delightful frisson one gets from a brush with the unknown. Especially around Halloween.
[NOTE: Head here for an updated list of creepy phone numbers that work, all of which are functional in 2021!]
Novelty hotlines are nothing new; indeed, I would argue that their heyday occurred during the ‘80s and ‘90s, at which time you could call everyone from Freddy Krueger to the Ninja Turtles. Their popularity began to wane during the 2000s — but interestingly, we’ve seen them evolve in the years since, too. Thanks to free, online tools like Google Voice, pretty much anyone with internet access can set up a weird novelty number with ease. What’s more, the draw of a novelty phone number might even be stronger than ever — possibly because we so rarely use our phones these days to actually, y’know, make calls. Distance makes the heart grow fonder and all.
[Like what you read? Check out Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark, available from Chronicle Books now!]
Sadly, a good deal of formerly wonderful creepy phone numbers are no longer in service (RIP, Call Carrie White) — but I can attest to the fact that, as of Fall 2018, all of the numbers seen here are in working order. I know, because I called every single one of them myself. I am also, you might note, still alive and well, so it’s… shall we say, unlikely that any of these numbers is actually “cursed,” “haunted,” or otherwise dangerous to call. They are, however, all based in the United States, so you might want to be wary of long-distance charges if you’re calling from somewhere else. Phone bills can quickly become one of the most frightening things of all.
So, if you’re feeling brave this Halloween season — or any other time of year — try giving these numbers a ring.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll get lucky.
Maybe one of them will call you back.
Remember the SCP Foundation? This phone number is a fun little Easter egg pegged to the fictional organization. It’s basically a tip line: Upon calling, you’ll be greeted with a recorded message informing you that you’ve reached the Southern California, Division 19 branch of the Foundation and asking you to leave the date, time, location, and description of an “incident” you may have witnessed — an incident which you believe requires the Foundation’s… unique skill set. The number is based in Banning, Calif., which is located in Riverside County just south of the San Bernardino National Forest.
I don’t know if they call you back, though; I didn’t leave a message. The strangest thing I’ve witnessed so far today has been my cat running around the house like a maniac for about 20 minutes before engaging in a sudden and abrupt nap — which is perfectly normal behavior for her and therefore did not require SCP Foundation intervention.
A lot of rumors surround this number, the freakiest of which insists that it’s a so-called “red room number” — a number which can allegedly be used to track down the physical location of people who either call the number themselves or answer calls they receive from it, after which they are kidnapped, brought to a “red room,” and tortured, killed, or both. These alleged torture sessions/murders are said to be broadcast live over the deep web.
I can assure you, however, that 408-634-2806 is not a red room number. As far as I know, red room numbers don’t even exist; they’re just an urban legend — a legend which, notably, forms the premise of the of the video game series Welcome to the Game. Indeed, it’s not even totally clear how the number 408-634-2806 gained a reputation for being a red room number in the first place; the clearest link I’ve been able to find is still tenuous: YouTube channel MKP Studios’ video on 408-634-2806 starts out by likening it to an alleged red room number they had previously called, but fails to actually connect the two numbers in any meaningful way.
So: If 408-634-2806 is not a red room number, what the heck is it? Because it’s still really weird-sounding; when you call it, you hear a recording of demonic voices, someone saying “All’s well that ends well,” and a spooky music box. It’s got to be connected to something, right?
The answer is yes. It’s connected to the iOS game Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, which was released by Capybara Games in 2011. At the end of the game, you’re given a number that turns out to be this phone number. It may have been part of an ARG attached to the game that never quite took off, or it may not have been; I don’t know that the meaning of the message you hear when you call the number has ever been “solved.”
Then again, maybe it doesn’t have to be. Also, it’s worth noting that the message reportedly changed a few times. Just, y’know… FYI.
[NOTE: If you try this one, make sure you dial it correctly. It’s 828-756-0109. A common misdial for this one goes to a real person’s phone number. If you hear anything other than the message heard in the video here, you’ve misdialed. Don’t bug the person, and don’t be rude or obscene. But, again, ideally, check to make sure you’ve entered the number correctly BEFORE you hit the “call” button so as to avoid that whole situation in the first place.]
This number is a true mystery. I can tell you where it’s based (Marion, North Carolina, in McDowell County about 85 miles west and slightly north of Charlotte); I can tell you what you hear when you call it (some earsplitting noises and a man’s voice frantically relaying what sounds like a message coded in binary); I can even tell you what the binary says when it’s been converted into text (“death”); but I can’t tell you anything else. I have no idea who made it, what it means, or what it may or may not be connected to.
It’s super weird, though.
If you call what is possibly my favorite find from the research process for this post, you’ll reach a clown named Wrinkles who lives in Naples, Fla. and will, according to the Washington Post, “make an appearance at your party or gathering, prank your friend, or even scare your misbehaving kid straight” for the low, low price of a few hundred bucks. Very little is known about the man behind Wrinkles; he’s in his 60s, retired, and originally from Rhode Island, but that’s all he’ll say to reporters. He’s definitely got the evil clown market cornered, though — and if you call this phone number, you’ll get his voicemail. Leave him a message and he’ll call you back.
Update, 11/11/19: More on Wrinkles here.
Technically this one is a video game tie-in, but as one Metafilter use put it, “You don’t have to know anything about the game to appreciate the sheer oddity and scope of what there is to listen to on this phone number.” That game is Kentucky Route Zero, a magical realist point-and-click adventure that’s been releasing episodes periodically since 2013; episodes one through four are live now, with the fifth and final episode scheduled for release at some point in 2018. It’s delightful — as are the auxiliary experiences developers Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy have been releasing between episodes.
This phone number is one of those auxiliary experiences. Called Here and There Along the Echo, the phone tree you’ll reach if you dial 207-301-5797 purports to be “a guide to the Echo River for drifters and pilgrims” provided by “the Bureau of Secret Tourism.” It’s weird and surreal, yet also wonderfully serene — and there’s plenty to explore as you dial your way through the various menus to which it gives you access. Pro tip: The first time you’re presented with some options, dial 5.
If you’re into Welcome to Night Vale or the works of David Lynch, you’ll probably dig both Kentucky Route Zero and Here and There Along the Echo. Check ‘em out.
I’ll confess that I didn’t enjoy the actual gameplay of Hotline Miami that much — I’m kind of, uh, not great at top-down shooters — but the story and storytelling are both A-plus; I’m also a sucker for interesting marketing, and, well… this phone number and the message that was placed on its answering machine in advance of the release of Hotline Miami 2 definitely tick all those boxes. Bonus points for the fact that the number is actually a Miami number.
The 786-519-3708 phone number wasn’t new for Hotline Miami 2; indeed, the Hotline Miami Twitter account has been tweeting the number since 2012, prior to the original game’s release in October of that year. But in February of 2015, the number appeared with some new context on the series’ Twitter feed: This time, it included an extension number. What’s more, when fans dialed the number, they found that a new message recorded—the message that’s still there today. When properly analyzed, the message combined with the extension number (10) provided a full title and release date for the second game in the series: Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, to be released on March 10, 2015. And that’s exactly what happened.
The voicemail message is short, but it’s still pretty freaky to listen to; give it a call if you like.
(NOTE: As of January 2021, this number no longer works.)
“Fishing in a mountain stream is my idea of a good time.”
“There was water in the cellar after the heavy rain.”
“Smoke poured out of every crack.”
“Those words were the cue for the actor to leave.”
These are the kinds of sentences you’ll hear if you dial 858-651-5050. They’re spoken by two people — one with a male-sounding voice and one with a female-sounding voice — who just sit there, intoning these poetic yet meaningless messages for as long as you choose to stay on the line.
However, there’s a perfectly rational explanation behind this number: It’s a phone testing tool. The sentences, known as Harvard sentences, were chosen for their phonetic balance — that is, “the frequency of sounds in these lists [match] that of natural language,” as Sarah Zhang put it at Gizmodo in 2015; they “hit all the noises a person would typically hear in a conversation.” According to Ernie Smith writing at Motherboard, calling this number allows phone companies to “ensure the signal quality is strong” — that is, it’s the “can you hear me now?” of phone tests.
It’s still weird, though. It’s the lack of context that makes what you hear when you call the number kind of unsettling.
An oldie but goodie: 630-296-7536 is the original Boothworld Industries phone number. To read the story that launched a thousand phone calls, head here.
Aaaand here’s the second Boothworld Industries phone number. We’ve covered this one in depth before — check it out here.
(NOTE: As of January 2021, this number no longer works.)
Like several other numbers on this list, this one is a video game tie-in — this time for the infamous Five Nights At Freddy’s series. It’s not clear whether the number is canon or whether it’s fan made; either way, though, it’s pretty unmistakably FNaf-related to those familiar with the games: The voice we hear seems to be a garbled version of Phone Guy, and about 32 seconds in, the aria “Votre toast, je peux vous le render” from the opera Carmen — colloquially known as the Toreador Song — which signifies the approach of the Freddy Fazbear animatronic in the game kicks in.
It is not, as some YouTube videos featuring the phone number have suggested, a “cursed phone number” that will make you behave erratically and/or kill you “within 24 hours of calling it.”
Whether or not you know the source material, though, it’s still pretty spooky to listen to; give it a ring if you want to see what the hubbub is all about.
Perhaps the only number on this list that’s more cryptic than the one featuring binary code that translates to “death” is this one. If you call 978-435-0163, you’ll hear a looped message of a man sobbing. He sounds like he’s maybe in a cave or a sewer; there’s a lot of echo and reverb, and it sounds kind of like something’s dripping somewhere in the background. Oh, and periodically, you’ll hear something screech — something that sounds decidedly not human.
It’s a Massachusetts number — as a Massachusetts native, I recognized that right off the bat — and it turns out it’s registered in Billerica, a town not too far away from where I grew up. But other than that, I know nothing about this number — not who owns it, not what the bigger story might be, not even exactly what’s going on in it.
And that, I think, is the creepiest thing of all.
Oh, hey — gotta run. My phone is ringing.
Even though I’m, uh… not actually expecting any calls.
It’s probably fine.
Hang tight, okay? I’ll be right back.
Support The Ghost In My Machine on Patreon for behind-the-scenes access and other bonus content.You can also follow on Twitter @GhostMachine13 and on Facebook @TheGhostInMyMachine. And for more games, don’t forget to check out Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark, available now from Chronicle Books!
[Photo via ISO_S_Fotografie/Pixabay]