The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
Friday November 25, 1994
“You never said what you wanted.”
Phil's directions had been odd; usually they met at his house or in some secluded place. This time however they were meeting in a storage building about the size of a small garage. The old man was hunched over a box of journals, reading by the light of a battered old lantern.
“Wish I was here like you.” Phil grimaced as he set the book down, “In spirit and not in flesh. It's damn cold.”
“Why are we here?” Tristam darted about the room, coasting along the walls like an errant shadow. “And you still haven't told me what you want.”
“Not thinking of pussying out on me are you?”
“No!” Tristam hovered closer.
“Then don't worry about it.” Phil stood and stretched. “You been keeping yourself to yourself like I said?”
Shaking his head Phil walked over to a red suitcase and undid the buckles and snaps. “Bet it wasn't easy. Bet that pounding your pud just doesn’t cut it after you've learned you can spy on all the girlies in the neighborhood.”
“Hey don’t feel ashamed, we've all done it. Fuck I've done worse.”
“Like what?” Tristam felt morbidly curious. Could the old man have done something really wicked? Had he ever killed someone? He had thought Phil was going to kill him that day in his mother's office.
“Mamie Van Doren.” Phil said his voice full of pride.
The suitcase was full of expensive-looking suits; he began riffling though them. “Christ kid, don't you know anything? Mamie Van Doren- blonde with big tits, like Marylyn Monroe but pretty.”
“Never heard of her.” Tristam flew this way and that, threading in and out of the walls.
“Your loss.” Phil pulled an old wine bottle from the bottom of the suitcase, “Gotcha!”
“If you say so. So you slept with a movie star, that's your big bad thing?”
“No I did better. See she didn't know me. I wasn't even in the same time zone as her, but I had a thing for her. A real thing. So one night I flew out to Hollywood, not in a plane you see. I flew like you. The lovely Mamie was married to some dumbass bandleader…” Phil closed the suitcase but didn’t bother to lock it.
“Wait a minute. You got inside him? You possessed him?”
Phil inspected the wine bottle, a thick coating of wax covered the cork. He smiled at the sight of it then stuffed it under his arm, “I wore him like a sweater and when I told her to spread for hubby you damn well better bet she did. I tell you I love Zara with all my heart but that was the fuck of my life. The best part was that she never knew it was me in there… she never knew.”
“You raped her?”
“Maybe by some people's standards I did but as far as I'm concerned you can’t rape the willing kid. And don’t tell me you never thought of it. Don't tell me you wouldn't like to try it out on some little cock tease down at the schoolyard.”
“I don't-” Tristam shrank back.
Phil wiggled his eyebrows, “Or maybe you got a hankering for some of the meatheads on the football team?”
“Ok. Ready for your lesson?”
“If you'll stop screwing with me!”
“You kids today are soft, soft like babies.”
“The lesson or I leave.”
Phil waved a hand, “All right all right. Last time we talked about ghosts, I can tell you liked the lesson because you're still glittering. No wonder you can’t be still.”
“Yeah… I almost wanted to go back for more.” Tristam admitted.
“No bingeing. It makes you go all wacko.”
“Oh.” Tristam stopped in mid air, considering the phrase ‘…going all whacko.’
“Now. Ghosts and souls are two very different things. A soul is what makes us alive, what makes us perceive.” Phil fished a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. The rustle of cellophane seemed impossibly loud in the small storage room.
“Is this like god stuff?”
“I told you before, no God, no Heaven just different kinds of energy. Science not religion. What are they teaching you in school?”
“I go to a Catholic School.”
“Oh yeah.” Phil lit a cigarette and started puffing away. “Anyway soul is just a term somebody picked to describe the part of you that turns into a ghost when you die. Get it?”
“All right. It's like the world, everything is in layers. People are in layers too. There's the outside, the meat. Then there's what's inside and I don't mean your liver and lungs inside. I mean inside-inside. The part of you that is created by all the electro-chemical shit in your head. It's your memories, your personality, it's what makes you like peanut butter but hate jelly. That's your soul.”
“And when you die it becomes a ghost.”
Phil flicked ashes away, carefully avoiding his books and souvenirs “Exactly.”
“But I thought ghosts were just… dumb animals.” Tristam felt nauseous. Had he eaten someone? One of the books Rich was always talking about was a novel about an albino with a magic sword. The magic sword gave the albino strength but to do that the black blade had to drink their souls. Tristam had always thought that was kind of a corny idea but now he wondered if that was what he had just done, if he had devoured someone's soul.
Phil started fiddling with the wine bottle again, turning it end over end in his hands. “They are because by the time you're dead they're all fucked up beyond recognition. They're not souls anymore- they're ghosts.”
“But if you know the right tricks you can scoop the soul right out of someone.” He waved the bottle in front of Tristam, shaking it roughly like a novelty snow globe. Something in the bottle shifted, something in the bottle begged. “Tristam meet Reginald.”