THE COLD INSIDE
by AL BRUNO III
Wednesday November 30, 1994
Tristam didn’t know how he'd gotten in the bathtub.
One minute he’d been sitting in his room trying to concentrate on his History notes, the next he was sitting in the bathtub.
What happened? Did I nod off and start sleepwalking? Tristam wondered. Sleepwalking, that was all he needed now. Maybe he was cracking up, maybe this whole thing with ghosts and astral projection was all in his imagination.
Sleepwalking. God all I need is for my Dad to hear about this. Tristam climbed out of the tub and headed back to his room. It’ll probably earn me another three-hour lecture
It seemed like he spent every waking hour of the day with different adults talking at him. Not talking to him, talking at him, expecting him to listen and never question. It was always the same, they expected you to act like an adult but they treated you like a child.
Since he was here he decided to take a leak. Then he washed his hands and spent a few moments staring at his face in the bathroom mirror. Sometimes he could see traces of the child he'd been in his face and other times he could almost imagine what he might look like when he was older. It was almost as if-
-Tristam found himself crouched in his closet, pressed into the shadows. A choking noise escaped his throat, he tried to get to his feet and crashed into the clothes hanging above him. Slacks and sweaters tangled about his head-
-And just as suddenly he was back at his desk, starting blankly at his notebook.
What happened? Did I nod off? Was that another dream or another bout of Phil's 'indigestion'?
Glancing down at his notepad he noticed a few mocking words in an unfamiliar script.
“Phil?” Tristam whispered. He looked around the room for some sign of the old man but saw nothing.
But am I looking in the right places? He thought.
Crossing from one level of reality to another was easier each time. The material world receded, becoming smoky and indistinct. Phil was at his shoulder, a glittering silhouette.
“Is that what I look like when I'm out and about?”
“Nah, you look uglier.”
If Tristam could have he would have blushed, he'd forgotten how loud his thoughts could be. Sparks of and flickers of light trailed at the edges of his vision, streaks and smears of gray following in their wake. “What do you want?”
“It's time for your lesson.”
Tristam tried to sound reasonable. After all hadn't the old man proved there was nowhere he could run, no way he could be kept out? “I'm not sure if I want another lesson. You're starting to creep me out.”
“Look kid I'm sorry about earlier. How about you cut me some slack, my wife had a friggin' stroke you know,” the shape before him shrugged half-heartedly.
With that one sentence Tristam suddenly found himself on the defensive, “I know and I'm sorry but…”
The ether rippled around the Phil as he slipped upwards though the roof “And the flashback thing, I should have said something. That was a total fuckup on my part. I really thought it wouldn’t happen to you being as strong as you are.”
After a line like that how could he not follow? “Really?”
They traced a path along the rooftops like low flying gulls skimming above the waves, “You're doing stuff I had to study years for.”
“Yeah. Now you still want me to piss off?”
And with that Phil sped away. Tristam was hard pressed to keep up; moving quickly was like reaching for something you couldn’t see and then dragging yourself towards it. A moments' distraction and your velocity was lost. They sped over, under and through houses like phantoms playing at tag. Dogs howled at their passing and babies were set shrieking in their cribs.
“I want to know how to do what you did to me,” Tristam said when he was sure he could keep pace with the other shade. “And I want you to know how to protect myself from you and worse.”
Phil's shadowy form smiled, “To know one is to know the other.”