Book: Black River (2016)

Previous: 6.
Next: 7.

 

 

 

 

There was only one window lit in the building. Someone was having a private vigil. At night now the royal blue lettering above the doors of the Galway Times Office was rendered faint in the darkness—a shadowy mauve, a discreet whisper imparting the name of the newspaper. The same as on the reporter’s card. He had been waiting and watching, waiting for a long time now. In the shadows of the park on a bench beneath a tree, he was observing his own vigil, his and the building’s facades aspectant together. And now after hours just one last candle burned.

For time uncountable he watched, his ears deaf to the quiet hum of night time traffic around him, the muted hiss of soft rain on the concrete. His face turned upwards as if to receive benediction from the darkness above, his glasses steamed, eyes blank and holy. As he watched a shadow came to the window, a dim shape covering the light, and a gentle tremble, unrepressed, quivered his spine. His lips parted with a sigh.

It was the reporter, the one who understood. The other.

Droplets from the clouds spilled down his cheeks as though tears, the water cool and forgiving, like the caress of a virgin’s hand lifted from the satin of her coffin. He knew what happened next. How he would release himself from this other’s intrusion. When the shadow faded from the window, his brow creased as though pained by the loss.

Keeping his eye on the window, he removed his phone from his pocket and held it in his hand. Phones were convenient items, they were like the mind—cataloguing names and numbers, intimate details, memories imprinted in photo or film. But when you put them to your lips you didn’t have to say anything at all. That was the secret. He dialled the last called number—along with the new girl’s number, one of only two saved in his address book—and held the phone to his ear. Thunderous excitement rumbled through his feeble chest as he heard the voice speak. It was the voice of the other.

“Hello?”

He smiled, counting moments with silent blinks.

“Hello?”

He disengaged the call.

Presently the light went out and he stood from the bench, inching closer toward the building, the better to get a full view of the street beneath. When the doors opened, he winced his brow, scrutinizing the darkness, trying to see. And then he moaned. A silent, twisted rictus of agony that scarred the infinite blandness of his face. It was himself—that was the first thought—his true self. Underneath the masks and cowls. A walking corpse. The other was the same as him, tall as him, thin as him, and his flesh too was rotting. Even in the faintness of the streetlamps, the orange of the streetlamps, he could see the sores, read the disease. This was no man. The other was like him. It was an idea that inspired only terror and despair.

But he knew what he had to do, even though certainty had thus been acquired, he needed to be sure on every level, so before he left the darkness of the trees, he called the reporter’s number again. There was no smile this time when he heard the voice, when he watched the walking corpse hold its own phone to its face and speak from the other end of the park. He hung up and waited for the reporter to lead.

He kept his distance as the other walked, of his personal skill-set stalking was one of his most cherished and enjoyed. All the while he followed, he was transfixed, amazed, bewildered. There was no effort to follow, he was attached now by every instinct. The effort was only in holding back behind the one who led. Together, step in step, lurching, they reached the reporter’s apartment building and then the other went inside. He watched from the street until he saw a window light up above and then he stepped back into shadow, eyes to the light, where he waited.

Previous: 6.
Next: 7.