The Dead Line was originally published in Whispers 13-14 edited by Stuart David Schiff. It was used as the first story in The Year’s Best Horror Stories Series VIII. 10 years later, Wagner included the story in a second collection Intensive Scare, his collection of medical horror. There has to be a reason the story was placed in the opening slot both times.
This story grabbed me immediately with the horrific act of grinding up glass and dropping it in a comatose victim’s eye. In just a short number of pages Etchison was able to flip my perception about what was going on and the horror became more about the lack of a reaction from the victim.
The story is about a man who has been visiting his brain-dead wife in the hospital, spending time with her as she is kept alive in order to harvest her organs at a later date. He encounters a women whose husband was recently brought in to the hospital and she seeks his advice about whether to pull the plug or keep her husband alive for transplants.
What I find brilliant about this story is the lack of the supernatural. The horror from this story comes from actual medical developments and the need for us as humans to redefine what death is. It makes me think of the classic phrase of warning- “Just because we can doesn’t mean we should”.
You can check out an article written by the Dr. who inspired Etchison to write the story here.