A Stir of Echoesby Richard Matheson
Tom Wallace lived an ordinary life, until a chance event awakened psychic abilities he never knew he possessed. Now he's hearing the private thoughts of the people around him-and learning shocking secrets he never wanted to know. But as Tom's existence becomes a waking nightmare, even greater jolts are in store as he becomes the unwilling recipient of a compelling message from beyond the grave!
This eerie ghost story, by award-winning author of Hell House and I Am Legend, inspired the acclaimed 1999 film starring Kevin Bacon.
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A Stir of Echoes
By Matheson, Richard
Tor BooksCopyright © 1999 Matheson, Richard
All right reserved.
The day it all started--a hot, August Saturday--I'd gotten off work a little after twelve. My name is Tom Wallace; I work in Publications at the North American Aircraft plant in Inglewood, California. We were living in Hawthorne, renting a two-bedroom tract house owned by one of our next-door neighbors, Mildred Sentas. Another neighbor, Frank Wanamaker, and I usually drove to and from the plant together, alternating cars. But Frank didn't like Saturday work and had managed to beg off that particular day. So I drove home alone.
As I turned onto Tulley Street, I saw the '51 Mercury coupe parked in front of our house and knew that Anne's brother, Philip, was visiting. He was a psychology major at the University of California in Berkeley and he sometimes drove down to L.A. for weekends. This was the first time he'd been to our new place; we'd only moved in two months before.
I nosed the Ford into the driveway and braked it in front of the garage. Across the street Frank Wanamaker's wife, Elizabeth, was sitting on their lawn pulling up weeds. She smiled faintly at me and raised one white-gloved hand. I waved to her as I got out of the car and started for the porch. As I went up its two steps I saw Elizabeth struggle to her feet and adjust her maternity smock. The baby was due in about three months. It was the Wanamaker's first in seven years of marriage.
When I opened the front doorand went into the living room, I saw Phil sitting at the kitchen table, a bottle of Coca-Cola in front of him. He was about twenty, tall and lean, his darkish-brown hair crew-cut. He glanced in at me and grinned.
"Hi, brother man," he said.
"Hi." I took off my suit coat and hung it in the front closet. Anne met me in the kitchen doorway with a smile and a kiss.
"How's the little mother?" I asked, patting her stomach.
"Gross," she said.
I chuckled and kissed her again.
"As they say," I said, "hot enough for you?"
"Don't even talk about it," she answered.
"Hungry?" she asked.
"Good. Phil and I were just about to start."
"Be right with you." I washed my hands and sat down across from Phil, eyeing his blindingly green polo shirt.
"What's that for," I asked, "warning off aircraft?"
"Glows in the dark," he said.
"Helps the co-eds keep track of you at night," I said. Phil grinned.
"Now don't you two get started again," Anne said, putting a dish of cold cuts on the table.
"Whatever does you mean?" Phil said to her.
"Never mind now," she said. "I don't want any needling session this weekend. It's too hot."
"Agreed," said Phil, "needling excluded. Agreed, brother man?"
"And spoil my weekend?" I said.
"Never mind," said Anne. "I can't face that and the heat both."
"Where's Richard?" I asked.
"Playing in the backyard with Candy." Anne sat down beside me with a groan. "There's a load off my feet," she said.
I patted her hand and we started eating.
"Speaking of Candy," Anne said, "I trust you haven't forgotten the party tonight at Elsie's."
"Oh my God," I said, "I did forget. Do we have to go?"
Anne shrugged. "She invited us a week ago. That was excuse time. It's too late now."
"Confusion." I bit into my ham on rye.
"Brother man seems less than joyous," Phil said. "Elsie's shindigs no goo'?"
"No goo'," I said.
"Who is she?"
"Our next-door neighbor," Anne told him. "Candy's her little girl."
"And parties are her profession," I said. "She's the poor man's Elsa Maxwell."
Anne smiled and shook her head. "Poor Elsie," she said. "If she only knew what awful things we say behind her back."
"Dull, huh?" said Phil.
"Why talk?" I said. "Go to the party with us and see for yourself."
"I'll liven 'er up," said Phil.
* * *
A little after eight-fifteen Richard fell asleep in his crib and we went next door to Elsie's house. In most marriages you think of a couple's home as theirs. Not so with that house. Ron may have made the payments on it but the ownership was strictly Elsie's. You felt it.
It was Ron who answered our knock. He was twenty-four, a couple of years older than Elsie, a couple of inches taller. He was slightly built, sandy-haired with a round, boyish face that seldom lost its impassive set; even when he smiled as he did then, the ends of his mouth curling up slightly.
"Come in," he said in his quiet, polite voice.
Frank and Elizabeth were already there, Elizabeth settled on the red sofa like a diffident patient in a dentist's waiting room, Frank's thin body slouched in one of the red arm chairs. He brightened only a little when we came in, raising his bored gaze from the green rug, straightening up in the chair, then standing. I introduced Phil around.
I glanced over and saw Elsie peering around the corner of the kitchen doorway. She'd cut her dark hair still shorter and bobbed it still tighter, I noticed. When we'd moved into the neighborhood, she'd had long, drabby blond hair.
We all said hello to her and she disappeared a moment, then came into the room with a tray of drinks in her hands. She was wearing a red, netlike dress which clung tightly to the curves of her plump body. When she bent over to put the tray down on the blondwood coffee table, the bosom of the dress slipped away from her tight, black brassiere. I noticed Frank's pointed stare, then Elsie straightened up with a brassy, hostesslike smile and looked at Phil. Anne introduced them.
"Hel-lo," Elsie said. "I'm so glad you could come." She looked at us. "Well," she said, "name your poison."
What happened that evening up to the point when it all began is not important. There were the usual peregrinations to the kitchen and the bathroom; the usual breaking up and re-gathering of small groups--the women, the men, Frank, Phil and myself, Elizabeth and Anne, Elsie and Phil, Ron and me--and so on; the drifting knots of conversation that take place at any get-together.
There was record music and a little sporadic attempt at dancing. There was Candy stumbling into the living room, blinking and numb with only half-broken sleep; being tucked back into her bed. There were the expected personality displays--Frank, cynical and bored; Elizabeth, quietly radiant in her pregnancy; Phil, amusing and quick; Ron, mute and affable; Anne, soft-spoken and casual; Elsie, bouncing and strainedly vivacious.
One bit of conversation I remember: I was just about to go next door to check on Richard when Elsie said something about our getting a baby-sitter.
"It doesn't matter when you just go next door like this," she said, "but you do have to get out once in a while." Once in a while, to Elsie, meant an average of four nights a week.
"We'd like to," Anne said, "but we just haven't been able to find one."
"Try ours," said Elsie. "She's a nice kid and real reliable."
That was when I left and checked on Richard--and had one of my many nighttime adorations; that standing in semi-darkness over your child's crib and staring down at him. Nothing else. Just standing there and staring down at his little sleep-flushed face and feeling that almost overwhelming rush of absolute love in yourself. Sensing something close to holy in the same little being that nearly drove you out of your mind that very afternoon.
I turned up the heat a little then and went back to Elsie's house.
They were talking about hypnotism. I say they but, outside of Phil, Anne and maybe Frank, no one there knew the least thing about it. Primarily, it was a dissertation by Phil on one of his favorite topics.
"Oh, I don't believe that," Elsie said as I sat down beside Anne and whispered that Richard was fine. "People who say they were hypnotized weren't, really."
"Of course they were," Phil said. "If they weren't, how could they have hatpins jabbed into their throats without bleeding? Without even crying out?"
Elsie turned her head halfway to the side and looked at Phil in that overdone, accusingly dubious way that people affect when they have to bolster their own uncertain doubts.
"Did you ever really see anyone get a hatpin jabbed in their throat?" she said.
"I've had a five-inch hatpin in my throat," Phil answered. "And, once, I put one halfway through a friend of mine's arm at school--after I'd hypnotized him."
Elsie shuddered histrionically. "Uhh," she said, "how awful."
"Not at all," Phil said with that casual tone undergraduates love to affect when they are flicking off intellectual bombshells. "I didn't feel a thing and neither did my friend."
"Oh, you're just making that up," Elsie said, studiedly disbelieving.
"Not at all," said Phil.
It was Frank who gave it the final, toppling push.
"All right," he said, "let's see you hypnotize somebody then." He squeezed out one of his faintly cruel smiles. "Hypnotize Elsie," he said.
"Oh, no you don't!" Elsie squealed. "I'm not going to do terrible things in front of everybody."
"I thought you didn't believe in it," Phil said, amusedly.
"I don't, I don't," she insisted. "But...well, not me."
Frank's dark eyes moved. "All right," he said, "who's going to be hypnotized?"
"I wouldn't suggest me unless we want to spend the whole night here," Anne said. "Phil used to waste hours trying to hypnotize me."
"You're a lousy subject, that's all," Phil said, grinning at her.
"Okay, who's it gonna be then?" Frank persisted. "How about you, Lizzie?"
"Oh... " Elizabeth lowered her eyes and smiled embarrassedly.
"We promise not to make you take your clothes off," Frank said.
"Frank." Elizabeth was thirty-one but she still blushed like a little girl. She wouldn't look at anybody. Elsie giggled. Frank looked only vaguely pleased. Elizabeth was too easy a mark for him.
"Come on, Elsie," he said, "be a sport. Let him put you under. We won't make you do a strip tease on the kitchen table."
"You--" Ron started to say.
"Oh, you're awful!" Elsie said, delighted.
"What were you going to say, Ron?" I asked.
Ron swallowed. "I--I was going to ask Phil," he said, "you--can't make someone--do what they don't want to do, can you? I mean--what they wouldn't do? If they were awake, I mean."
"Oh, what do you know about hypnotism, Ronny?" Elsie asked, trying to sound pleasantly amused. The acidity still came through.
"Well, it's true and it isn't true," Phil said. "You can't make a subject break his own moral code. But--you can make almost any act fit into his moral code."
"How do you mean?" Frank asked. "This sounds promising."
"Well, for instance," Phil said, "if I hypnotized your wife--"
"You could make her do something wicked!" Frank asked, looking at Elizabeth pointedly.
"Frank, please," she almost whispered.
"Say I put a loaded gun in her hand," Phil said, "and told her to shoot you. She wouldn't do it."
"That's what you think," Frank said, snickering. I looked at Elizabeth again and saw her swallowing dryly. She was one of those pale and pitiable creatures who seem constantly vulnerable to hurt. You want to protect them and yet you can't. Of course Frank wasn't the easiest man in the world to live with either.
"Well, for argument's sake," Phil said, smiling a little, "we'll assume she wouldn't shoot you."
"Okay, for argument's sake," Frank said. He glanced at Elizabeth, a hint of that cruel smile on his lips again.
"But," Phil said, "if I were to tell Elizabeth that you were going to strangle her and told her that the only defense in the world she had was to shoot you right away--well, she might very well shoot you."
"How true," said Frank.
"Oh, I don't believe that," said Elsie.
"That's right," I joined in. "We have a friend named Alan Porter--he's a psychiatrist--and he gave a demonstration of that very thing. He had a young mother under hypnosis and he told her he was going to kill her baby and the only way she could stop him was by stabbing him with the knife she was holding--it was a piece of cardboard. She stabbed him all right."
"Well, that's different," said Elsie. "Anyway, she was probably just playing along with a gag."
"Look," said Phil, gesturing dramatically with his hands, "I'll prove it to you right now if you want. Just let me hypnotize you."
"No, sir," said Elsie, "not me."
"How about you?" Phil asked Ron.
Ron mumbled something and shook his head with a faint smile. "He's already half hypnotized," said Elsie, kindly.
"Can't I get me a customer?" asked Phil. He sounded disappointed.
"How about you, Frank?" I asked.
"Uh-uh," he said, smiling as he blew out cigarette smoke. "Don't want ol' Lizzie knowing what's in my dirty old subconscious."
Elsie giggled and Elizabeth pressed her lips together, having failed in the attempt to smile.
"Well, that leaves you, brother man," said Phil, looking at me.
"You don't really think you could hypnotize me, do you?" I needled.
"Don't be so darn sure," he said, wagging a finger at me. "You arrogant ones are the first to topple."
I grinned, shrugging. "So what have I got to lose?" I said.
Copyright 1958 by Richard Matheson, renewed 1986 by Richard
Excerpted from A Stir of Echoes by Matheson, Richard Copyright © 1999 by Matheson, Richard. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Richard Matheson was The New York Times bestselling author of I Am Legend, Hell House, Somewhere in Time, The Incredible Shrinking Man, A Stir of Echoes, The Beardless Warriors, The Path, Seven Steps to Midnight, Now You See It…, and What Dreams May Come, among others. He was named a Grand Master of Horror by the World Horror Convention, and received the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement. He has also won the Edgar, the Spur, and the Writer's Guild awards. In 2010, he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. In addition to his novels Matheson wrote several screenplays for movies and TV, including "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," based on his short story, along with several other Twilight Zone episodes. He was born in New Jersey and raised in Brooklyn, and fought in the infantry in World War II. He earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. Matheson died in June, 2013, at the age of eighty-seven.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Returning to his home in Hawthorne from working at the North American Aircraft plant in Inglewood, Tom Wallace sees the car of Philip, his brother-in-law a psych major at Berkley. That night Tom, his pregnant wife Anne and Phil go next door to attend a party. Phil offers to hypnotize any volunteers, but no one steps forward so he informs ¿brother man¿ that he is the chosen victim. Phil successfully hypnotizes Tom.---- That night while unable to sleep, Tom begins hearing voices of people he knows and impressions in his dead culminated with a ghost in his living room. Suddenly, Tom¿s middle class American dream lifestyle seems meaningless as the hypnosis has aroused psychic abilities that he never knew he had. He hears the intimate most confidential thoughts of those around him and learns secrets that shake his existence, but worse is the visits from the murder victim demanding he help her find her killer.---- This is a reprint of a 1950s thriller (and a one degree Bacon movie) that combines an amateur sleuth subplot within a fast-paced paranormal story line containing a ghostly element and psychic abilities. Tom is a terrific protagonist as readers observe the contrast between his lifestyle and his new ESP abilities. The support cast adds depth to Tom¿s travails as he tries to solve a homicide and regain his former existence without ¿hearing¿ the thoughts of others. Richard Matheson shows why he is one of the masters of the thriller genre as this ¿historical¿ piece ages nicely.---- Harriet Klausner
This was one of my favorite movies because it was realistically scary compared to most other movies. So, I decided to check on here one day to see if a book was ever made out of this movie or vice verse. This is when I found out all about richard matheson and the fact most of his books were eventually turned into movies. Including my favorite all time movie "what dreams may come" (which I am currently reading right now), and the not so infamous movie "I am legend". This book was by far much better than the actual movie. Stir of echoes is one of the greatest books ever written, in my opinion. I also love the fact that most of Matheson's books are mostly under 300 pages which is all the more enticing to everyday readers who dont always have the chance to find the time and read. Anyways, the book is almost completely different and much better than an already great movie. Matheson is Mr. Original..
'Stir of Echoes' is a wonderful novel. The movie of the same title did it some justice, but the book is, as with most cases, better. It focuses on a man who has, after a hypnotic incident, the abiltiy to read thoughts and see things in the future. As it turns out, the precognition he possesses may just be his downfall. A real page turner. As with many Matheson books, it is a shorter book, making it an easy read.
I enjoy a good ghost story and a mystery. Watch the movie version with Kevin Bacon. Somewhat different from the book but still good.
Good book, as always, better than the movie. Kept me riveted
Another great work by Matheson. I love how he keeps the suspense building so I couldn't put it down.
I absolutely loved this book! I was a huge fan of the movie, so I figured I would give the book a shot. I knew Richard Matheson was a really influential writer, but I had never picked up one of his books. I'm so glad I did though! This novel is way different than the movie. It is not better or worse, just different. It was a super fast read and always fun. It was terrifying and thrilling. I could not put it down. It is hard to believe such a modern feeling book was written so long ago! I cannot wait to read more of Richard Matheson's stuff :)
The pairing of best-selling author Matheson and award winning narrator Brick is a formidable one. Together they have created a unique, chilling tale guaranteed to produce goose bumps and maybe even nightmares. For openers we hear: "The day it all started-a hot, August Saturday-I'd gotten off work a little after twelve. My name is Tom Wallace; I work in Publications at the North American Aircraft plant in Inglewood, California. We were living in Hawthorne, renting a two-bedroom tract house owned by one of our next-door neighbors, Mildred Santas." Tom sounds like an ordinary guy, doesn't he? Don't be deceived (remember Matheson's The Shrinking Man and his television work on The Twilight Zone?) Arriving home one day he finds that his brother-in-law, Phil, has come to visit. After supper their conversation turns to hypnotism with Phil claiming he can hypnotize Tom. At first Tom shies away from this and then agrees, saying, "What have I got to lose?" The answer to that is everything and more. Quite suddenly he begins to realize that he has psychic abilities, qualities he never imagined he possessed. He can hear the thoughts of other people and learns things he could have gone all his life without knowing. But, even more shocking is a message he receives from beyond the grave. Unimaginable events follow. Matheson's book is the inspiration for the popular film starring Kevin Bacon. Listening is even more pulse pounding than seeing - enjoy! - Gail Cooke