Long Distance Call
Chris Bayles – Philip Abbot
Sylvia Bayles – Patricia Smith
Billy Bayles – Bill Mumy
Grandma Bayles – Lili Darvas
Mr. Peterson – Reid Hammond
The Babysitter – Jenny Maxwell
The Doctor – Henry Hunter
The Fireman – Lew Brown
Narrator – Rod Serling
Trigger Warning:Death, funerals, near child death, drowning (off-screen)[, life support equipment on a child /su_spoiler]
A man is helping his elderly mother down the stairs. Apparently she is ill as he insists that after the birthday party is over she needs to go right back upstairs. She says of course, she always follows the rules of the house…except when she doesn’t agree with them. She looks a little faint and he takes her arm to lead her into the dining room.
In the dining room a little boy is fiddling with something on the table and his mom puts a party hat on him. When his grandma comes in he runs to her and gives her a big hug. She calls him her angel and picks him up. Her son scolds her for doing so. He tells her that the doctor told her not to exert herself. She says she’s not exerting herself, that Billy is as light as a feather. Chris’ wife, Sylvia, asks him to get the lights so they can light the cake. Grandma sits down with Billy on her lap and tells him not to open his eyes until she says. The cake comes and Billy blows out the candles (five of them). Grandma asks if he made a wish and he nods. She asks to hear it and he whispers it in her ear. Sylvia asks Billy if they can all hear his wish but Grandma says no, it’s their secret. Chris gives Sylvia a “what can you do?” look. The look she gives back seems a trifle more…annoyed.
Grandma pulls the cake over and begins to cut it. Chris suggests letting Sylvia cut it but Grandma isn’t having that. She starts cutting it. Billy takes too big of a bite and icing squishes out of his mouth. Grandma’s on it, though. Wiping his mouth and calling him her love and her angel. He’s not a freaking toddler. She says her heart is full and she wants to make a speech. She goes on to say how much she loves Billy and how when he held his hands out to her he made her feel alive. She gets a little teary and Billy wants to know why she’s crying. She says she doesn’t know, probably because she won’t be there very much longer. Mom does not look happy and I really can’t say I blame her. Billy wants to know why and she says she’s going to be away. Billy wants to know where. Dad breaks in and says nowhere, Grandma’s going to be right there next year. Grandma says not to lie to him, she’ll be gone. Uh maybe they just don’t want to talk to him about it right then.
Dad grabs Billy up to take him into the other room. Mom starts to say something to Grandma but notices that Grandma’s out of breath. She asks if Grandma’s all right. Grandma says yes but I’m guessing not. She also looks weirdly happy about it. In the other room Billy has opened a present. A cap gun (I hope it’s a cap gun, anyways). His mom starts to hand him another present but Grandma calls Billy over to open her present. Mom looks annoyed. I can’t say I blame her. She literally waited for the Mom to hand Billy one to call him over. Billy unwraps it and it’s a telephone. Grandma says it’s for her and Billy. So they can talk at any time, even when she’s not there. They then pretend to talk for a minute on it. Grandma starts to get up but doesn’t feel well. She asks her son to take her upstairs now. Billy asks if she wants to play. Grandma tells him to talk to her on the phone, she’ll hear him. As Chris helps her from the room Billy says into the phone “Please don’t be sick, grandma”.
As must be obvious this is a house hovered over by Mr. Death. That omnipresent player to the third and final act of every life. And its been said, and probably rightfully so, that what follows this life is one of the unfathomable mysteries. An area of darkness which we, the living, reserve for the dead. Or so it is said. For in a moment, a child will try to cross that bridge which separates light and shadow. And, of course, he must take the only known route, that indistinct highway through the region we call the Twilight Zone.
Upstairs a doctor is checking out Grandma and down below Chris is pacing and they’re all waiting for the doctor to come down. Billy wants to see his Grandma but his mom tells him that he can’t at the moment, she’s not feeling well. The doctor finally comes down and shakes his head at Chris. The doctor says she isn’t in any pain and Chris asks if they can see her. The doctor doesn’t suggest it because he says she might not know who they are. Chris says they’ll know her. Billy wants to go and Chris tries to explain what’s going on. at first he says no but Billy starts to cry so the dad says ok and picks him up to take upstairs. Chris tells him that if Grandma acts a little strangely that it’s just because of the medicine. Then they go up to see her.
Grandma’s laying in bed and Billy runs to her. She knows him. When Chris says hello, though, she doesn’t know him. Well, she sort of does. She says he’s not her son because her son was taken away from her by a woman. Ouch. Billy’s her son now. Mom looks like she’s about to get into it with Grandma over that. Deathbed or not I kind of understand that. She says she’ll be lonely and she wants Billy to come with her. Billy asks where and she just says away. She wants for it to just be her and Billy, no one else. Ok, because that’s not creepy. In the middle of this Grandma passes away. After Sylvia takes Billy out of the room Chris grieves for his mother by himself for a moment.
The next scene is a very peaceful looking pond with some flowers floating in it. And Billy bent over, seemingly staring into the water. His mother comes out and asks if he heard her calling him. He says no and then she scolds him a bit for playing so close to the pond. Inside the house Chris is going through his mother’s jewelry and stuff. Not in a nasty, greedy way. Sylvia sends Billy upstairs so she can talk to Chris. He asks what’s wrong and she says she’s worried about Billy. He’s been walking around like he’s in a trance. Chris says that’s not too surprising, she knows how close they were. She says she knew, in a weird voice. Chris wants to know what that’s about. Sylvia says they were too close. It wasn’t normal. Then she repeats what is bothering her. That Grandma called Billy her son. Chris says she didn’t mean it. Sylvia doesn’t buy that, neither do I. Sounded to me like she knew exactly what she was saying. He says no, she was full of sedatives and dying. Sylvia apologizes. She says they’re all upset today.
Sylvia walks off and picks up Billy’s suit coat from where he dropped it. As she does she hears Billy talking. He’s asking someone to come over and play. He goes on to talk about lunch and asks if it’s cold there. Sylvia asks who he’s talking to and Billy says that he’s talking to Grandma. Grandma wants him to come stay with her. Billy asks if he can. To which I would give a hearty “Hell no!” Sylvia doesn’t answer but she looks at the telephone in a scared way.
The next scene Sylvia and Chris are returning from the funeral, looks like. As they walk in the door Shirley, the babysitter, calls for Mrs. Bayles and she says to hold on a second. She asks Chris if he’d like to be alone but he says that’s the last thing he wants. Sylvia says ok, she’ll go make some coffee. Sylvia goes in to where Shirley is waiting nervously. As she starts to talk to Sylvia a man gets up from the couch and says he hates to bother them right now, the babysitter told him about the funeral. Sylvia wants to know what’s going on and the man says it’s about her son. This freaks Sylvia out (naturally) and she looks at Shirley. Shirley says that Billy is ok, she put him down for a nap. She says she’s not, she’s been shaking for the last twenty minutes. The man starts yelling at them about Billy playing in the streets. Sylvia goes to check on Billy. Chris says that Billy doesn’t play in traffic and Shirley says she knows that, that’s why she didn’t say anything when Billy went out to play. The man breaks in saying that Billy played in the streets today, he didn’t even have time to put on his brakes and barely missed Billy by inches. Shirley says it wasn’t her fault and Chris says he knows, it wasn’t anybody’s fault. I have to disagree. Shirley was supposed to be watching Billy so she should have been keeping an eye on him. I get the guy being scared and irritated but what does he expect to get from going in there and yelling at them? They obviously weren’t there. Unless he didn’t trust the babysitter to tell the parents.
Billy’s upstairs, not sleeping, but when his mom peeks in at him he acts like he is. He seems to be waiting. Downstairs the guy who almost hit Billy is getting ready to leave. As he’s putting his coat on he tells Chris that he’d better have a talk with his son. Chris wants to know why. The guy says that when he saw Billy was all right he asked Billy why he would do something like that. Billy told him that someone told him to. Chris thinks that’s ridiculous and asks the man if Billy told him who told him to do that. The man says Billy didn’t say. Shirley breaks in and says that she would never tell Billy to do something like that. Sylvia wants to know who else Billy talked to. Shirley says he didn’t talk to anyone, just stayed in his room talking on the toy phone. Sylvia freaks out and calls Chris to go upstairs with her. Chris apologizes to the man and the man says don’t apologize, just be glad the boy’s safe. Chris goes upstairs, Shirley’s still hanging out downstairs.
When Chris gets upstairs Sylvia is listening at the door to Billy talking to someone. Chris goes in. He asks Billy about the street incident and why he did it. Billy says he doesn’t know. Sylvia asks who he was talking to. Billy says nobody. Sylvia tells him not to fib and asks him again who he was talking to. Billy insists that he wasn’t talking to anyone. She gets a little radical and asks again…vehemently. Upset, she leaves the room. After she leaves Billy asks Chris if Mommy doesn’t like him anymore. Chris says of course she does. Chris says she’ just upset. Then he tells Billy that Grandma didn’t go away. She died, so she won’t be coming back. Chris tells Billy that he knows Billy is just pretending to talk to Grandma but he wants Billy to not do it in front of his mother. Billy asks why not. Chris tries to come up with an answer but ends up with “just don’t”. After he leaves the room he listens at the door for a minute but doesn’t hear anything. Then he looks irritated and walks away. After he does Billy, talking on the phone, says something about his Mommy.
In the evening Chris is smoking moodily by the window. Sylvia asks him to talk to her. He says that funerals suck. He’d rather have remembered his mother the way she was. He goes on to say that he knows it’s been a little hard on Sylvia but his mother never meant any harm. Sylvia half-heartedly agrees. Chris insists it’s true. He says that the two children his mother had before him, she lost. He was all she had. Sylvia says “Until Billy”. He says to her Billy was him, a chance to go back. Chris says that he realizes that it wasn’t right or fair to Sylvia. But she did it out of love. Well, then that makes it ok. You’re right. It’s not fair to your wife. When he says she did it out of love Sylvia says love for whom? Chris gets annoyed and she apologizes but yeah, I think ‘Grandma’ was being pretty damn selfish. They snog and make up and go to bed.
Over in Billy’s room it sounds like Grandma is telling Billy the story of Peter Pan. Hmm. I think we can see where this is going. After the snog Chris and Sylvia are asleep in their chaste twin beds. Sylvia wakes up to Billy giggling. Billy’s talking on the phone, saying something will be their secret and asking if he can have a chocolate bar. Sylvia yanks it from his hand and listens for a second, then she screams and drops the phone. Billy freaks out about his phone. Chris hears from the bedroom and goes running to see what’s wrong. Chris rushes into Billy’s room. Billy is still freaking out about his phone and Sylvia is hyperventilating. Chris grabs her and asks what’s wrong. Sylvia says that she heard Chris’ mother. She says she didn’t hear words but she heard her breathing. Chris tells Sylvia to snap out of it and Billy runs out the door.
They look for him and find him in the pond. Chris pulls him out. The ambulance comes and the EMT’s have him on a respirator (or CPR machine, I’m not sure what it is…something to help him breathe, anyways). Sylvia says that she took him. The Grandmother took him. Chris tells her not to say that but she does. And then he tries to put his hand over her mouth in a really awkward way that looks like he’s smooshing her face. Sylvia starts to cry. Chris leaves her for a minute and asks he EMT’s what Billy’s chances are. The EMT looks awkward and says that they’re not good. He says if they’d gotten there a little sooner then maybe it would have been better. He tells Chris that the doctor will be there soon and he’ll give Chris’ wife a sedative. Chris looks at his wife for a second.
He goes upstairs and looks at the telephone. He picks up the phone and starts to talk to his mother. He tells her that she said she loved Billy. He begs her to give him back if she really loves him. He pleads with her, saying that Billy hasn’t lived yet. this is actually a very well-written, well-acted part. and love that they have the father begging for his child back. You don’t see that much. It’s usually the mother. The actor also plays it perfectly. I have to admit, this scene is one of the few Twilight Zones that make me tear up. The mother’s mile-long stare is also pitch perfect.
Downstairs the EMT’s are fiddling with the gauges saying they’ve got him. The EMT says he doesn’t know how but they got him back. Sylvia calls for Chris. They embrace happily and shocked at the same time.
A toy telephone, an act of faith, a set of improbable circumstances, all combine to probe a mystery to fathom the depth, to send a facet of light into a dark after-region. To be believed or disbelieved depending on your frame of reference. A fact or a fantasy, a substance or a shadow but all of it very much a part of the Twilight Zone.
This episode was a difficult one for me. I don’t like how much the media uses child death to boost its stories or for shock value or cheap emotion manipulation. in particular, drowning seems to be a ‘popular’ accident, as well. I’m cutting Twilight Zone some slack because it is older and they don’t use it very much. The Grandmother also is very grating.
I’m pretty sure that the boy who plays Billy in this episode is the same kid who has the unfortunate tendency to send people into the cornfield.
Next week’s episode is a great one so stay tuned!
Join us again for next week’s Twilight Zone Tuesday – A Hundred Yards Over the Rim