The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
Tuesday November 15, 1994
There had been bad Tuesdays before but this one was getting worse by the minute. A few of teachers had doubled up Tristam’s homework, telling him he still had to complete Monday’s assignments as well as today’s. That was about four hours of homework, four hours of homework on a night when all he wanted to do was take a hot shower, crawl into bed and just sleep.
But there was no way that was going to happen, because naturally his mother had to work late.
Tristam sat at his mother’s desk with the office door was closed; It made the office stiflingly hot but it kept the living dead from disturbing him. Pencils, paper, textbooks and a can of soda were all within reach. He was doing his Algebra homework now that was the easiest considering how he felt. It came easiest and it always made sense. It was just a matter of using the right formula and a dash of logic. Tristam thought how his sister had been floundering through higher math for years and the most she’d ever managed was a ‘B-’.
I think she peaked with mitten counting in Kindergarten. He thought with a little chuckle.
He seemed to be chuckling to himself a lot lately and why not? He had his very own private joke and the joke was on all of them. The joke was even on his new pals, he tried to share it with them but all they wanted to do was trade nerd jokes.
Fuck’em He thought but he didn’t really mean it. After all if it hadn’t been for them he might have killed himself at the beginning of the semester. By the second week of September he’d started planning and rehearsing the deed in the back of his head, debating razors over pills. At night he would lull himself to sleep by imagining his funeral, imagining how sorry Monique, his sister and the others would be then. Of course he would wonder if his Dad would even show up for or if he would just send a tasteful card and a last minute wreath.
Taking a sip of soda Tristam remembered he’d made a joke about killing himself once and how angry it had made Adelphos. At the time he hadn’t known about Adelphos’ brother, he hadn’t even known Adelphos had a brother.
He looked up at the clock on the, it was almost four thirty and he had about half of yesterday’s homework done. At this rate he was going to be up until midnight.
At this rate I’m going to drop dead of exhaustion!
Would a nap be such a bad thing he wondered? A few moments of rest and then he could stay up however long he needed to. Of course then he would be just as tired all day tomorrow-
The weekend. He thought as he laid his head down on his mother’s desk, I’ll get myself back on a normal schedule this weekend.
Groaning with relief, he began to drift off the moment he closed his eyes. Voices filled his mind, snatches of rambling conversations. Tristam knew he was simply hearing things, as he always did when he was exhausted but there was something about the emptiness of the voices that always disturbed him. It was what he imagined being locked in a madhouse at night must be like.
With each of his breaths the voices receded. Lingering in the darkness between awareness and slumber he felt his tension wash away. He felt lighter, freer. It almost felt as though he was being released from a cage. His flesh sloughed off easily and he was free.
Not again! I just want to sleep!
And with that thought his spirit began to ebb back into his body. There was no pain when he touched his own physical form, only a kind of inner gravity that seemed to grasp desperately at the edges of him. He hadn’t known he could do such a thing but he was grateful for it. There would be plenty of time for spying later.
But the music stopped him before he could fully return to himself. It was strange warbling sound, not quite chiming, not quite whistling. He had heard it before but it had never been so close. Tristam drifted out of the office following his ears, veering around the Carvale Home’s residents and staff. He only heard this music when he was ‘dreaming’ and even then he had always suspected it was some kind of a hallucination. A hallucination within a hallucination- or so he had believed.
But now he knew better; everything else was all real so why not the music?
Tristam paused in front of a closed door, room 302. The music had stopped.
A waste of time. Plus now when I wake up I’ll feel even worse.
Melting through the walls he floated aimlessly around the facility’s central courtyard. The walkway, the trees, benches and picnic tables were all covered with a light film of frozen snow.
If he had substance the snow would have crunched under his feet. Tristam had always loved that sound. He moved past the first floor windows, noticing that most of the rooms were empty. The residents that were capable had all gone to dinner; those that weren’t were in the rooms watching TV.
I’ll never put Mom in a place like this. He thought suddenly, Dad? Dad can be homeless for all I care.
Speaking of his Mom there she was, working on one of the oldsters, a tiny old woman with a face that seemed oddly slack.
Stroke, must be a stroke. He had been coming here long enough to recognize the signs. The old woman had a tray in front of her and his mother was coaching her to use a fork and feed herself. It was like watching a baby try to eat. His mother did all kinds of things to help her patients, from physical exercises to jigsaw puzzles. It seemed to Tristam that half the exercises she came up with were straight out of day care.
It’s like at eighty years old you have to start all over again. What’s the point? He wondered. What would you say Greg? That this woman’s misery was part of God’s great and secret plan? This is the truth here. This is all any of us have to look forward to, if we’re lucky.
Easing into the room he watched his mother work, he wondered to himself if any of the things she did ever really helped. Weren’t these people at death’s door anyway?
There was a flush, the bathroom door swung open. Phil Dowd stepped out and asked, “Did I miss anything?”
“Lucille’s doing great.” Carol Bloom said with a smile, “I’m seeing real progress here.”
Phil walked over and kissed the old woman on the head, “That’s my girl. We’ll get you outta here yet.”
Lucille smiled unevenly.
Enough of this. If I’m gonna wake up in agony I may as well enjoy it. He had a good idea where some of the girls from school lived, if he timed things right he might see that Venezuelan girl student in a way Warren could only dream about.
But first things first. Tristam hovered close to Phil Dowd and gave him the finger, then he thought better of it and gave him both fingers. That done he lifted off. Snowy clouds hung heavy in the sky; he skimmed just below them as he got his bearings.
Halfway to his goal he was yanked backwards with sickening force. Tristam couldn’t stop himself as he fell back to Earth. Pain wracked him, worse pain then he felt when he passed though a person, worse pain then anything he had ever felt in his life.
Tristam snapped back into his body feeling disoriented and nauseous. Phil Dowd was standing over him. His hands were around Tristam’s throat. Blood roared in Tristam’s ears, his eyes were watering. Wheezing and gasping he struggled to pry the old man’s fingers away.
“Who sent you?” Phil Dowd snarled, “Who are you?”
End Of Book One