The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
Thursday December 15, 1994
Moving through the night, invisible and intangible, slipping through matter and angling around flesh. Tristam dove from one layer of reality to another, through realms of ghost, dream and memory. He marveled at how his vision of the city flickered from dull reality to twisting phantasmagoria.
Except of course it wasn't really vision he was using right now was it? It was some other older, far stranger sense. A few hundred years ago he might have been burned at the stake for having a power like this. A few thousand years ago he would have been a shaman or maybe even a god.
Of course he also kept in mind what Phil had told him. “There's a kind of membrane between the different levels of existence and everything, no matter what world it exists, in leaves some kind of a trail in its passing… It’s kind of like the surface tension on water, we make ripples when we pass. Some people are like boats, others are like icebergs but most folks are just matchsticks bobbin' along.”
So Tristam had asked if that meant that he and Phil were like submarines.
Phil had laughed and lit another cigarette “Submarines that can be airplanes is more like it.”
By some queer association that had made Tristam think of flying fish and when he said so Phil's expression had soured. “There aren't any fish anymore kid. Just a whole lotta fuckin' octapussies with their tentacles in everything.”
And with that the lesson had begun, the fundamentals of tracking, how to find a person’s route in the spirit world and trace it back to the physical world. It was an effort but Tristam could see the wake a person left but following one trail in particular through the convulsing skein of realities was practically impossible.
But if Phil can do it I can do it. Tristam told himself as he paused to regain his bearings. He'd had the old man dead in his sights just a minute ago but now…
Damn it! Where is he?
All Tristam could do was keep moving in the same direction and hope he caught a glimpse of something. He shuffled through his senses, feeling the sounds of traffic and pedestrians, hearing the desperation of the long dead souls that lingered at the crosswalks and tasting the dreams that hung over the city like a haze.
A scream echoed through the worlds, it was soundless but it flash-blinded Tristam like lightning. He reeled in mid air, passing through a moving truck. He hovered there for a moment, lost in the shadows, boxes and furniture.
The streetlight changed, the moving truck turned down a side street leaving Tristam floating there. Moving again he angled towards the disturbance, there was a strange sensation billowing out over the night. It felt like the air before a thunderstorm, eerily calm with an undercurrent of menace. Even the ghosts seemed agitated; they fluttered and thrashed at the air. Whenever one touched a living human their victim would pause and shudder, their features clouded with momentary awareness. Then it would pass and they would continue on their way, shaking their heads ruefully or muttering a prayer.
Tristam was moving faster now, allowing the strange stillness to draw him in to its very heart. When he found Phil he would be rewarded with a new lesson, a lesson in how to take control of another being, a lesson in how to wear the flesh of another. With a power like that he could do anything.
The Carvale Home was just coming into view when he heard a shout echo through his mind- “Where the fuck are you going?”
“Considering that I'm on the other side of the city I doubt it.”
Shifting his focus Tristam realized the old man was some distance behind him. He'd been led astray, probably by something Phil had planned from the start.
“Where you even paying attention? I left a trail a retarded Girl Scout could have followed.”
“I don't know what happened.” Tristam said as he made his way through Albany's seedier side, pausing briefly at the Booby Hatch.
“You're not going to get very far if you let your dick lead you everywhere.”
The motel he found himself hovering over was a functional ruin. The neon sign hissed and crackled, the front office was surrounded by a mire of dirt and yellow grass, the walls sagged, the paint and plaster were pockmarked and shabby. In the parking lot cars, both new and falling apart, clustered near the back, their owners engaged in furtive negotiations. Tristam realized with an unconscious shiver that he would never have come to a place like this with a body.
Phil was standing on the balcony of the second floor flicking cigarette butts into the street. He said aloud, “You made it.”
“What the Hell are we doing here?”
“I wanted some privacy. Even the ghosts stay away from here.”
“Old atrocities, they can linger like bad odors and relatives.”
“I'm ready for my lesson.” Tristam flew closer.
“Good.” Phil puffed smoke, “But first we need to discuss terms, I mean really discuss them.”
Tristam hovered above the parking lot, he should have guessed this was coming. He'd spent more than a few hours wondering what the old man would demand of him.
“Here's the long and short of it. I need you to help me destroy someone. I need to make sure he dies on every level of existence.” Phil flicked the last of his cigarette away.
“It's too late for that and you know it.” He smiled and jingled a room key in his hand, “Time to make your bones kid.”
“I'm not a murderer!”
Phil unlocked the door and cast a thought Tristam's way, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. All the best murderers start out with animals. That and bedwetting. How are your sheets by the way?”
The old man stepped into the motel room and locked the door. Tristam howled silently, “You bastard!”
“Look the simple fact is that the guy we are going after is the Antichrist with ambition. I want him dead for revenge but you should want him dead for what he'd do to the world.”
“Why should I believe you?” Tristam passed through the dirt-streaked window. He found the motel room as cruddy-looking on the inside as it was on the outside. The bathroom door was cracked open and the shower was running. Phil started undressing, he paused to set a thick wad of hundred dollar bills on the nightstand.
“I don't give a fuck what you believe. You're doing this.”
The shower stopped with a hiss and a clang of pipes. Tristam started at the sounds.
“Finished your cigarette?” The voice that spoke was feminine but there was a hard, weary edge to it.
“That voice. I know that voice!”
“Finished your shower?” Phil replied.
“Yeah.” Ariel stepped out of the bathroom, careless in her nudity. Beads of water rolled over her skin; her hair was dark and wild with moisture.
Tristam hovered in the center of the room, feeling as though he'd been struck.
Ariel glanced at the stack of money and said, “This is the last time OK? The last time.”
“Just relax.” Phil, naked and looking like a plucked chicken, approached her. He ran a worn, spotted hand over her firm, tan breast, working the nipple, “It's not like you're a whore, we're just two consenting adults having a good time. We're friends.”
“Stop touching her! What the fuck is this?”
“And you know how generous us old folks can be to our friends.” The old man nuzzled the stripper's neck, his other hand stroking the curve of her hip, “Just pretend that I don’t disgust you for a little while.”
Ariel smiled at him but it was the same fake smile she wore when giving lap dances or enduring catcalls. She pushed Phil back onto the bed, her long pained nails tracing a path down his chest. She lowered herself to her knees.
“Bastard! You bastard!”
Phil thought back to him between waves of pleasure, “You may have no choice but I can still make it worth your while, give you freedoms you never imagined.”
“I'm not a murderer!”
“Baby…” Phil gasped, “Say it. Say it please.”
Ariel paused in her ministrations upon him, “Oh Tristam, you’re such a bad boy.”
A slow smile spread across Phil's features, he laced his hands behind his head and watched Tristam writhe with anger.
“If you want to occupy another persons’ body you have to be in the realm of dreams,” the old man thought, “that way is always at least partly vulnerable. You aim for the back of the head, the medulla oblongata. Most folks are pretty helpless there.”
“I'm not getting into her you sick fuck.”
“Damn right your not, I bet you give lousy head. I want you to possess me so you can enjoy the girl. She'll do all the work.”
Phil’s grin widened, “Think of it as a present.”
Tristam couldn’t look away, how had the old man known where to find her? How had he managed to set this up?
“This is small potatoes compared to what you'll be able to do when we're finished,” Phil thought with a sigh, “Now are you in or can I blow my load in her face and go home?”
There was nothing more to say, lust and the Cold Inside set Tristam trembling. He wanted the girl and he wanted the old man dead but most of all he wanted to be able to reach out and tear the world apart.
Phil casually turned his head to face away from him. “Back of the head boy. Medulla oblongata. Most of the time there's resistance but you gotta push through. It's like taking a girl's cherry.”
Tristam had always been keenly aware of the points of no return that populated his life. Those times when everything changed; that first time with Monique, the killing of the dog and that near-kiss with Drew had all been moments like that, but he had only realized it with the benefit of hindsight.
But here and now he understood that this moment would change him irrevocably. The idea to flee surged to the forefront of his mind. Would it be so bad to straighten up and fly right? Or better yet not fly at all? But the Cold Inside reminded him of that day he’d flown high over the school and blotted it out simply by holding a hand over it.
Tristam wanted that, he wanted it more than the woman kneeling between the old man’s legs.
A ripple moved through Tristam as he drew closer. It seemed as though the back of Phil's head was growing larger or perhaps he was the one simply growing smaller. He pressed his way through flesh, through the seven layers of reality until he felt the crackling proximity of the old man's soul. It blazed and sputtered like a downed power line.
“Better hurry or you'll miss the main event.”
Tristam had expected to be burnt or shocked as he brushed past Phil's spirit but it was no more difficult than brushing aside a curtain. There was a moment of blurred agony, a moment when the world seemed too dark and too bright all at once. In that moment Tristam was certain that he had been tricked after all, that the old man was going to devour him as easily as he devoured ghosts. Then-
-Then every thing settled back down with a lurch and Tristam found himself lying flat on his back staring out of strange eyes. Pleasure and uncertainty left him gasping. He looked down at Phil's body, at the scrawny limbs and the bulging belly, at the old scars. He could see Ariel pleasuring him with mechanical efficiency.
The old man's voice slithered from the back of his head like a memory “Not bad for a start... eh partner?”
Shuddering Tristam reached down and grabbed Ariel by the shoulders. He pulled her up onto the bed and pushed her onto her back. He touched her everywhere, tracing the paths his eyes had laid down months ago. She smiled up at him uncertainly, the sudden change in his demeanor leaving her skittish.
With an animal grunt Tristam flipped her over onto her stomach taking her as roughly as he could manage with the old man's body.