Nowadays, you can order most fandoms’ merchandise through a website. But back when Unspeakably Scary Things was being printed, it wasn’t uncommon to cut out a coupon in the back of a comic to get novelty items.
Fortunately for my growing curiosity, the writers, marketers, or whoever oversaw Unspeakably Scary Things had been forward-thinking. Instead of a coupon—and the conundrum of ripping out a page of a possibly priceless collectible—there was a phone number to call.
There were quite a few options for what you could buy. Ten pages of advertisements for everything from tee shirts displaying the magazine’s logo to figurines based on some of their apparently “most popular” characters. But the tenth page was where things got too good not to try it.
Eight items. Each had a little scale to show their size, and none were smaller than a football. I couldn’t even imagine the logistics of sending them to fans back in the ’70s. Any of them was probably a collectible in its own right.
And what was even better was, at the top of the page, there was an alphanumeric code ten symbols long, and it claimed that if you called in with it, you could get one item from the last page for free.
So, of course, I called it.
It didn’t even ring before someone picked up. Their voice was sharp, low, and reminded me of when Lenny had to order a few teenagers out of his thrift shop. It was the kind of voice that ensured compliance.
“Code now. Speak it clearly.”
I sputtered out various noises of disbelief, trying and failing to form any thoughts about the situation.
“Ten seconds!” the voice barked.
In a rush, my words probably too garbled to be understood, I said the string of numbers and letters.
“Confirmed. What do you want? Five seconds.”
It’s amazing in hindsight what actions have the biggest effect on your life. And how quickly you can lock yourself into a pathway. It’s arguable that all that happened later, the horrors and terrors that would define my life for a long time, were determined in that moment.
My gaze latched onto one of the eight items at random.
“The Phobia Box.”
“Confirmed. Enjoy your gift.”
The line hung up with a loud thud that wasn’t anything like the sound it should’ve been. It sounded more like someone getting hit—really hard—in the head.
I stood there with my phone for a long moment, wondering about a lot of things. How was a line like this still in use? How did they still have a free item for me? If I called again, could I buy the other seven items?
And then, with a sudden bubbling laugh, I realized: I hadn’t even given them an address. None of what just happened could be real. It was probably some prank from the fandom. I still couldn’t shake the sensation that the comic was real, but the last owner had probably obtained the phone number to mess with whoever called it. Maybe even the voice on the other end had been prerecorded or was automatic in some way.
I debated posting something online, telling the internet the weird stuff that had occurred, but I kept stopping short. People would just say it was fake, make fun of me, like I’d done to so many others.
Instead, I spent my night reading Unspeakably Scary Things. The stories were all, at least in my limited experience, unique entries. Not some collection of older stuff that fell out of copyright. My favorite one was about a big alien monster that ate the people in a suburban house and then made vast tunnel systems to do the same to the entire neighborhood. The last few lines implied it would eventually go for a nearby city. It was an eerie little tale and exactly what I expected from a magazine like this.
I read all of Unspeakably Scary Things Issue #13 that night, each story gory, strange, creepy, or just brutal. A few of the entries were not the type of horror I like to read, but overall, I was happy that the magazine I’d been so obsessed with was actually enjoyable. There was something almost life-affirming about that. Once I turned the final page, I put it away in a cabinet and went to sleep, wondering what I’d do next.
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