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By Richard A. Wright
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Richard A. Wright
All right reserved.
Dread is an alien power which lays hold of an individual, and yet one cannot tear oneself away, nor has a will to do so; for one fears what one desires.
From an invisible February sky a shimmering curtain of snowflakes fluttered down upon Chicago. It was five o'clock in the morning and still dark. On a South Side street four masculine figures moved slowly forward shoulder to shoulder and the sound of their feet tramping and sloshing in the melting snow echoed loudly. The men were warmly dressed and wore mufflers about their throats. The brims of their hats, encrusted with snow, were pulled down at rakish tilts over their eyes. Behind turned-up overcoat collars their gruff voices exploded in jokes, laughter, and shouts. They jostled one another with rude affection and their hot breaths projected gusts of vapor on to the chilled morning air. One of the men threw out an arm and grabbed a companion about the neck and crooned:
"Booker, let me rest this tired old body on you, hunh?"
"Hell, naw! Stand on your own two big flat feet, Cross!" Booker, a short, black man protested with a laugh.
The man called Cross turned and flung his arm about the shoulders of a big, fat, black man and said, "Then how about you, Joe?"
"Look, Crossy, I'm tired too," Joe defended himself, shying off. "Why pick on me?"
"Cause you're soft as a mattress and can stand it," Cross explained.
"If you're cold, it's your own damn hard luck," Joe said. "You don't take care of yourself. Me, I ain't never cold. I know how come you're always so cold, Cross. You drink too much. Don't eat enough. Don't sleep. But, me . . . Ha-ha! I eat and sleep as much as I can. And my good old fat helps to keep me warm. Ain't that right, Pink?"
The man called Pink did not reply at once; he was reddish in color and older than the other three.
"Cross," Pink said seriously, "you ought to take some vitamins or something. Man, you couldn't be cold now. Hell, we just left that steamy Post Office twenty minutes ago."
Cross swiftly pulled the glove off his right hand and, grabbing Pink's shoulder, rammed his bare fingers down the collar of Pink's neck.
"How do they feel, Pink?" Cross demanded.
"Jeeesus! Your fingers're cold as snakes!" Pink gasped, his eyes lit with concern. "They ought to call you Mr. Death!"
"I just need some alcohol," Cross confessed grimly. "My old engine won't run without it."
"You better quit that bottle, Cross," Joe, the big, fat, black man warned. "When you start living on alcohol, you're traveling a road that ain't got no turning. You been hitting that bottle heavy for a month now. Better let up, boy."
Excerpted from The Outsider by Richard A. Wright Copyright © 2005 by Richard A. Wright. Excerpted by permission.
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