Read an ExcerptThe Nightwalker
By Thomas Tessier Dorchester Publishing Copyright © 1979 Thomas Tessier
All right reserved.
Chapter One In the dream he had become something else, but he did not know what it was. Less than human, impossible to define. He could only be certain that he had changed, as if everything about him had undergone some unique metamorphosis. Yet he remained the same person beneath it all, with the same brain and emotional makeup. Or did he?
In the dream nothing happened. He stood there seeing himself standing there. Present but not quite visible. Through leaves. It felt like a summer night, cool and windy but pleasant. He saw himself behind foliage and branches, on the other side of a shrubbery perhaps. He stared at himself and he stared back. Only the bushes moved in the breeze. No matter how hard he tried he couldn't make out the features of the face. It remained in shadow. The eyes caught what light there was; otherwise he might not be sure.
In the dream the ending was always his ending. Was it his death he experienced again? He would stand watching, prepared not to move until it all became dear to him, never taking his eyes from the dark presence of a few yards away. He knew he was watching himself, but there was more. A message, something he had to discover. Something very important to his life. But always the apparition ended without revelation. His body grew steadily weaker. The effort to remain standing grew more difficult, as if the force of gravity were pulling him down. His shoulders slumped, his face sagged, he would slip into a crouch. Mental cables would snap; he would lose his hold on the scene. He would give way and dissolve, like a photograph vanishing into a million random dots. The shadowy figure, his twin self, would watch, unmoving, as he disappeared into himself.
What would be left?
Vaguely he realized it was not part of the dream. The sweet blackness of oblivion had bottomed out in another world. He was awake; he stirred in bed.
He opened his eyes and found the room was still dark. It must be very early morning. Again. He groped for his watch. His eyes began to hurt and then he could feel it in his nose-smoke.
Christ, something's burning. He scrambled out of bed and turned on the bedside lamp. A steely cloud hung in the air, growing rapidly thicker as more smoke drifted in from the hallway. He began to cough as he pulled on his pants. If the building's on fire I'm in real trouble, he thought. His flat was on the top floor of a narrow, three-story building in Kensington. It was a tired, mock-Tudor structure with an updraft which could now turn the whole place into a silo of flames.
Without bothering to look in the kitchen, he unlocked his door and stepped onto the landing. Smoke billowed up the stairway, confirming his fears that the fire came from below. The tiny back top-floor flat was vacant and had been for years; Mrs. Jackson, the landlady, who lived in the basement, used it as an attic storeroom. There might be an exit to the roof in there, but he didn't intend to waste time breaking in to find out. Instead, he started down the stairs. It was the only way to go.
The thought of fire terrified him, but he was surprised to find that in spite of the dense smoke the stairway was not unusually hot. Tears streamed from his eyes as he stumbled, reaching the second floor. He turned and took a couple more steps down. Abruptly there was much less smoke.
He had almost forgotten Platt, the middle-aged man who lived alone on the second floor. The smoke was coming from the half-open door of his flat. Had the man already fled or was he still inside, unconscious or maybe even dead?
He bent over until his head nearly touched the stairs, coughing violently to clear his lungs and blinking until he could see more clearly. Then he took a deep breath that was only mildly irritating and rushed into Platt's apartment.
He had never been in these rooms before and he didn't know his way around, but lights were on in every direction and music came from a radio somewhere. He moved toward the sound and entered a large kitchen. Smoke billowed furiously from the stove, but a cold breeze told him that a window must be open, thus pushing the smoke farther into the building. He reached the far wall, found the window, opened it all the way and gulped in fresh air. There was no fire; he could see that now.
A large blackened pot sat over a low flame on the stove. The fool had intended to heat up a late-night meal for himself and then had forgotten all about it. Fallen asleep probably. A few more minutes and the place would have started to burn.
He turned off the flame, but in all the smoke he couldn't find anything to grab the pot with. Then his hand fastened on a large plate, intended for the meal no doubt. With it he knocked the loose cover away, and then he slid the plate over the top of the container, cutting off the torrent of smoke. That's it, he thought. No danger now, no need to fear. But he was still trembling with agitation.
He went back to the window for air. The smoke was beginning to clear and more details of the kitchen became visible. The sink was piled high with unwashed dishes, pans and utensils. The counter was covered with empty cans-predominantly baked beans-and fruit peels, eggshells, bread crusts and empty wrappers. The table held more of the same clutter, including several empty gin bottles and dirty glasses. He could almost feel the grease that covered everything from floor to ceiling. The place was a one-man slum, a human garbage can.
He had forgotten about Platt. He rushed into the next room, where a light was on. Smoke still hung heavily there. He opened the single window and swung the door back and forth to fan the room a little clearer. It was the bedroom, and he could see immediately that it too was a pigsty. But Platt wasn't there.
The next room was bright, with several lights on, but it too was full of smoke. No Platt, no furniture, only boxes of empty bottles stacked against the walls. Hundreds of bottles-all gin, except for a few mixers. He must keep every bottle he's ever had. A perverse sense of accomplishment. The light came from two floor lamps and a cheap chandelier, which made the room look even more absurd. What an animal, he thought.
Platt was in the bathroom. He wore only socks and dirty underpants. His shirt and trousers had been thrown on the floor by the door, actually helping to block out the smoke. Platt lay on the floor, curled around the base of the toilet. How appropriate. Like a cockroach.
He stood in the doorway looking down at the wretched creature, the snoring cockroach ... And it all began to circle in his mind. The panic and fear he had felt on waking. The tension-as if his body were full of wires stretched to an unbearable degree.
Then it all began to spin and buzz, like amorphous dust clouds of gas and matter gathering into the somber heat of a monstrous new star in the night.
He turned to the bathroom mirror, part of his mind noting the filthy condition of the glass surface. His body cellophaned in sweat, smeared with streaks of smoke and soot, his hair wild, his face seemingly twisted with furious disgust-he hardly recognized himself, but it registered: himself and nothing more.
He turned to Platt.
"Wake up." His voice seemed unusually loud in the small room.
The other man moved an inch or two, sighed and lapsed back into noisy, rhythmic breathing.
"Get up," he yelled, crashing his bare heel down on Platt's ankle. "Up, get up." He kicked again.
"Aauuggh," Platt moaned, rolling onto his back. His eyes fluttered blindly.
Now he stomped relentlessly. The drunken man's ankle had become a kind of contact point; every time his own foot slammed into it he felt as if an electrical charge was shooting through his body from heel to brain.
"Get up, you goddamn pig."
Pain hauled Platt into consciousness. He swung his feet away protectively and his eyes widened with terror and bewilderment. Who was this? What was happening? What was he doing on the floor? He had been having a quiet drink. Pain telegraphed its message. Move. Do something.
He grabbed Platt tightly by the hair and ears, yanking him up into a sitting position. "Stupid fucking pig." He slammed Platt's head against the rim of the toilet bowl. "Stupid fucking cockroach." The words sang in his head like rhapsodies of lightning. "Burn the goddamn house down."
Bang-into the porcelain.
"Oh, God, stop it," Platt wailed, blood washing freely down the side of his head. "Stop it, stop it, please."
He pushed the door open with one foot and dragged the helpless man along the floor. This pig should be out of here for good. The whole flat should be stripped and cleaned. Start again. Platt began to resist, striking weakly at his arms, squirming like a desperate beast.
"No, no, what are you doing? Stop it."
He let go long enough to hammer the man about the head and face until more blood splashed and his fists hurt. Then he resumed kicking-stomach, ribs, neck and groin-until Platt rolled into a screaming, fetal shape.
Into the kitchen.
"Look at it, look at what you've done. Goddamn fucking shithead animal. You aren't human, do you hear that? You aren't even human."
He flung the table over, sending bottles flying through the air and crashing on the floor. Platt moaned loudly, still not knowing what was going on.
He took Platt's head in his hands again, like a football, and twisted it toward the stove. Anger had become a bright jet of energy surging through him.
"See what you did, pigshit. Try to burn the house down. Look at it."
"Oh, God, leave me alone," the other man whined.
"Leave you alone. Bullshit I'll leave you alone. You shouldn't even be here. You're an animal, motherfucking shit-eating scumhead bastard."
He yanked Platt out onto the landing, punching and kicking him as they went. Then he shoved him violently down the stairs. Platt tumbled awkwardly, like a broken pinwheel, crying aloud. He thumped into a heap at the next landing and remained there, sobbing, not daring to look up.
Above, his rescuer stood impassively. The burning light within had gone. He felt calm, refreshed, even cleansed. He spun around and returned to his own flat on the top floor. The sound of the radio drifted away.
Excerpted from The Nightwalker by Thomas Tessier Copyright © 1979 by Thomas Tessier. Excerpted by permission.
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