“One of the Dead” by William Wood

“The notion of a haunted house is a misconception semantically. It is not the house but the soul itself that is haunted.”

(Illustrated by Jim Jonson)

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Published on October 31, 1964

We couldn’t have been more pleased. Deep in Clay Canyon we came upon the lot abruptly at a turn in the winding road. There was a crudely lettered board nailed to a dead tree which read, LOT FOR SALE — $1500 OR BEST OFFER, and a phone number.

“Fifteen hundred dollars — in Clay Canyon? I can’t believe it,” Ellen said.

“Or best offer,” I corrected.

“I’ve heard you can’t take a step without bumping into some movie person here.”

“We’ve come three miles already without bumping into one. I haven’t seen a soul.”

“But there are the houses.” Ellen looked about breathlessly.

There indeed were the houses — to our left and our right, to our front and our rear — low, ranch-style houses, unostentatious, prosaic, giving no hint of the gay and improbable lives we imagined went on inside them. But as the houses marched up the gradually climbing road there was not a single person to be seen. The cars — the Jaguars and Mercedeses and Cadillacs and Chryslers — were parked unattended in the driveways, their chrome gleaming in the sun; I caught a glimpse of one corner of a pool and a white diving board, but no one swam in the turquoise water. We climbed out of the car, Ellen with her rather large, short-haired head stooped forward as if under a weight. Except for the fiddling of a cicada somewhere on the hill, a profound hush lay over us in the stifling air. Not even a bird moved in the motionless trees.

“There must be something wrong with it,” Ellen said.

“It’s probably already been sold, and they just didn’t bother to take down the sign … There was something here once, though.” I had come across several ragged chunks of concrete that lay about randomly as if heaved out of the earth.

“A house, do you think?”

“It’s hard to say. If it was a house it’s been gone for years.”

“Oh, Ted,” Ellen cried. “It’s perfect! Look at the view!” She pointed up the canyon toward the round, parched hills. Through the heat shimmering on the road they appeared to be melting down like wax.

“Another good thing,” I said. “There won’t be much to do to get the ground ready except for clearing the brush away. This place has been graded once. We save a thousand dollars right there.”

Ellen took both my hands. Her eyes shone in her solemn face. “What do you think, Ted? What do you think?”

Ellen and I had been married four years, having both taken the step relatively late — in our early thirties — and in that time had lived in two different places, first an apartment in Santa Monica, then, when I was promoted to office manager, in a partly furnished house in the Hollywood Hills, always with the idea that when our first child came we would either buy or build a larger house of our own. But the child had not come. It was a source of anxiety and sadness to us both and lay between us like an old scandal for which each of us took on the blame.

Then I made an unexpected killing on the stock market and Ellen suddenly began agitating in her gentle way for the house. As we shopped around she dropped hints along the way — “This place is really too small for us, don’t you think?” or “We’d have to fence off the yard of course” — that let me know that the house had become a talisman for her; she had conceived the notion that perhaps, in some occult way, if we went ahead with our accommodations for a child the child might come. The notion gave her happiness. Her face filled out, the gray circles under her eyes disappeared, the quiet gaiety, which did not seem like gaiety at all but a form of peace, returned.

As Ellen held on to my hands, I hesitated. I am convinced now that there was something behind my hesitation — something I felt then only as a quality of silence, a fleeting twinge of utter isolation. “It’s so safe,” she said. “There’s no traffic at all.”

I explained that. “It’s not a through street. It ends somewhere up in the hills.”

She turned back to me again with her bright, questioning eyes. The happiness that had grown in her during our months of house-hunting seemed to have welled into near rapture.

“We’ll call the number,” I said, “but don’t expect too much. It must have been sold long ago.”

We walked slowly back to the car. The door handle burned to the touch. Down the canyon the rear end of a panel truck disappeared noiselessly around a bend.

“No,” Ellen said, “I have a feeling about this place. I think it was meant to be ours.”

And she was right, of course.

Mr. Carswell Deeves, who owned the land, was called upon to do very little except take my check for $1,500 and hand over the deed to us, for by the time Ellen and I met him we had already sold ourselves. Mr. Deeves, as we had suspected from the unprofessional sign, was a private citizen. We found his house in a predominantly Mexican section of Santa Monica. He was a chubby, pink man of indeterminate age dressed in white ducks and soft, white shoes, as if he had had a tennis court hidden away among the squalid, asphalt-shingled houses and dry kitchen gardens of his neighbors.

“Going to live in Clay Canyon, are you?” he said. “Ros Russell lives up there, or used to.” So, we discovered, did Joel McCrea, Jimmy Stewart, and Paula Raymond, as well as a cross-section of producers, directors and character actors. “Oh, yes,” said Mr. Deeves, “it’s an address that will look extremely good on your stationery.”

Ellen beamed and squeezed my hand.

Mr. Deeves turned out to know very little about the land other than that a house had been destroyed by fire there years ago and that the land had changed hands many times since. “I myself acquired it in what may strike you as a novel way,” he said as we sat in his parlor — a dark, airless box which smelled faintly of camphor and whose walls were obscured with yellowing autographed photographs of movie stars. “I won it in a game of hearts from a makeup man on the set of Quo Vadis. Perhaps you remember me. I had a close-up in one of the crowd scenes.”

“That was a number of years ago, Mr. Deeves,” I said. “Have you been trying to sell it all this time?”

“I’ve nearly sold it dozens of times,” he said, “but something always went wrong somehow.”

“What kind of things?”

“Naturally, the fire-insurance rates up there put off a lot of people. I hope you’re prepared to pay a high premium — ”

“I’ve already checked into that.”

“Good. You’d be surprised how many people will let details like that go till the last minute.”

“What other things have gone wrong?”

Ellen touched my arm to discourage my wasting any more time with foolish questions.

Mr. Deeves spread out the deed before me and smoothed it with his forearm. “Silly things, some of them. One couple found some dead doves … ”

“Dead doves?” I handed him the signed article. With one pink hand Mr. Deeves waved it back and forth to dry the ink. “Five of them, if I remember correctly. In my opinion they’d sat on a wire and were electrocuted somehow. The husband thought nothing of it, of course, but his wife became so hysterical that we had to call off the transaction.”

I made a sign at Mr. Deeves to drop this line of conversation. Ellen loves animals and birds of all kinds with a devotion that turns the loss of a household pet into a major tragedy, which is why, since the death of our cocker spaniel, we have had no more pets. But Ellen appeared not to have heard; she was watching the paper in Mr. Deeves’s hand fixedly, as if she were afraid it might vanish.

Mr. Deeves sprang suddenly to his feet. “Well!” he cried. “It’s all yours now. I know you’ll be happy there.”

Ellen flushed with pleasure. “I’m sure we will,” she said, and took his pudgy hand in both of hers.

“A prestige address,” called Mr. Deeves from his porch as we drove away. “A real prestige address.”

Ellen and I are modern people. Our talk in the evenings is generally on issues of the modern world. Ellen paints a little and I do some writing from time to time — mostly on technical subjects. The house that Ellen and I built mirrored our concern with present-day aesthetics. We worked closely with Jack Salmanson, the architect and a friend, who designed a steel module house, low and compact and private, which could be fitted into the irregularities of our patch of land for a maximum of space. The interior decor we left largely up to Ellen, who combed the home magazines and made sketches as if she were decorating a dozen homes.

I mention these things to show that there is nothing Gothic about my wife and me: We are as thankful for our common sense as for our sensibilities, and we flattered ourselves that the house we built achieved a balance between the aesthetic and the functional. Its lines were simple and clean; there were no dark corners, and it was surrounded on three sides by houses, none of which were more than eight years old.

There were, however, signs from the very beginning, ominous signs which can be read only in retrospect, though it seems to me now that there were others who suspected but said nothing. One was the Mexican who cut down the tree.

As a money-saving favor to us, Jack Salmanson agreed to supervise the building himself and hire small, independent contractors to do the labor, many of whom had dilapidated equipment that appeared to run only by some mechanical miracle. The Mexican, a small, forlorn workman with a stringy moustache, had already burned out two chainsaw blades and still had not cut halfway through the tree. It was inexplicable. The tree, the same one on which Ellen and I had seen the original FOR SALE sign, had obviously been dead for years, and the branches that already lay scattered on the ground were rotted through.

“You must have run into a batch of knots,” Jack said. “Try it again. If the saw gets too hot, quit and we’ll pull it down with the bulldozer.” As if answering to its name, the bulldozer turned at the back of the lot and lumbered toward us in a cloud of dust, the black shoulders of the operator gleaming in the sun.

The Mexican need not have feared for his saw. He had scarcely touched it to the tree when it started to topple of its own accord. Startled, he backed away a few steps. The tree had begun to fall toward the back of the lot, in the direction of his cut, but now it appeared to arrest itself, its naked branches trembling as if in agitation; then with an awful rending sound it writhed upright and fell back on itself, gaining momentum and plunging directly at the bulldozer. My voice died in my throat, but Jack and the Mexican shouted, and the operator jumped and rolled on the ground just as the tree fell high on the hood, shattering the windshield to bits. The bulldozer, out of control and knocked off course, came directly at us, gears whining and gouging a deep trough in the earth. Jack and I jumped one way, the Mexican the other; the bulldozer lurched between us and ground on toward the street, the operator sprinting after it.

“The car!” Jack shouted “The car!”

Parked in front of the house across the street was a car, a car which was certainly brand new. The bulldozer headed straight for it, its blade striking clusters of sparks from the pavement. The Mexican waved his chain saw over his head like a toy and shouted in Spanish. I covered my eyes with my hands and heard Jack grunt softly, as if he had been struck in the midsection, just before the crash.

Two women stood on the porch of the house across the street and gaped. The car had caved in at the center, its steel roof wrinkled like tissue paper; its front and rear ends were folded around the bulldozer as if embracing it. Then, with a low whoosh, both vehicles were enveloped in creeping blue flame.

“Rotten luck,” Jack muttered under his breath as we ran into the street. From the corner of my eye I caught the curious sight of the Mexican on the ground, praying, his chain saw lying by his knees.

In the evening Ellen and I paid a visit to the Sheffits’, Sondra and Jeff, our neighbors across the canyon road, where we met the owner of the ruined car, Joyce Castle, a striking blonde in lemon-colored pants. The shock of the accident itself wore off with the passing of time and cocktails, and the three of them treated it as a tremendous joke.

Mrs. Castle was particularly hilarious. “I’m doing better,” she rejoiced. “The Alfa-Romeo only lasted two days, but I held on to this one a whole six weeks. I even had the permanent plates on.”

“But you mustn’t be without a car, Mrs. Castle,” Ellen said in her serious way. “We’d be glad to loan you our Plymouth until you can — ”

“I’m having a new car delivered tomorrow afternoon. Don’t worry about me. A Daimler, Jeff, you’ll be interested to know. I couldn’t resist after riding in yours. What about the poor bulldozer man? Is he absolutely wiped out?”

“I think he’ll survive,” I said. “In any case he has two other ’dozers.”

“Then you won’t be held up,” Jeff said.

“I wouldn’t think so.”

Sondra chuckled softly. “I just happened to look out the window,” she said. “It was just like a Rube Goldberg cartoon. A chain reaction.”

“And there was my poor old Cadillac at the end of it,” Mrs. Castle sighed.

Suey, Mrs. Castle’s dog, who had been lying on the floor beside his mistress glaring dourly at us between dozes, suddenly ran to the front door barking ferociously, his red mane standing straight up.

“Suey!” Mrs. Castle slapped her knee. “Suey! Come here!”

The dog merely flattened its ears and looked from his mistress toward the door again as if measuring a decision. He growled deep in his throat.

“It’s the ghost,” Sondra said lightly. “He’s behind the whole thing.” Sondra sat curled up in one corner of the sofa and tilted her head to one side as she spoke, like a very clever child.

Jeff laughed sharply. “Oh, they tell some very good stories.”

With a sigh Mrs. Castle rose and dragged Suey back by his collar. “If I didn’t feel so self-conscious about it I’d take him to an analyst,” she said. “Sit, Suey! Here’s a cashew nut for you.”

“I’m very fond of ghost stories,” I said, smiling.

“Oh, well,” Jeff murmured, mildly disparaging.

“Go ahead, Jeff,” Sondra urged him over the rim of her glass. “They’d like to hear it.”

Jeff was a literary agent, a tall, sallow man with dark oily hair that he was continually pushing out of his eyes with his fingers. As he spoke he smiled lopsidedly as if defending against the probability of being taken seriously. “All I know is that back in the late seventeenth century the Spanish used to have hangings here. The victims are supposed to float around at night and make noises.”

“Criminals?” I asked.

“Of the worst sort,” said Sondra. “What was the story Guy Relling told you, Joyce?” She smiled with a curious inward relish that suggested she knew the story perfectly well herself.

“Is that Guy Relling, the director?” I asked.

“Yes,” Jeff said. “He owns those stables down the canyon.”

“I’ve seen them,” Ellen said. “Such lovely horses.”

Joyce Castle hoisted her empty glass into the air. “Jeff, love, will you find me another?”

“We keep straying from the subject,” said Sondra gently. “Fetch me another too, darling” — she handed her glass to Jeff as he went by — “like a good boy … I didn’t mean to interrupt, Joyce. Go on.” She gestured toward us as the intended audience. Ellen stiffened slightly in her chair.

“It seems that there was one hombre of outstanding depravity,” Joyce Castle said languidly. “I forget the name. He murdered, stole, raped . . . one of those endless Spanish names with a ‘Luis’ in it, a nobleman I think Guy said. A charming sort. Mad, of course, and completely unpredictable. They hanged him at last for some unsavory escapade in a nunnery. You two are moving into a neighborhood rich with tradition.”

We all laughed.

“What about the noises?” Ellen asked Sondra. “Have you heard anything?”

“Of course,” Sondra said, tipping her head prettily. Every inch of her skin was tanned to the color of coffee from afternoons by the pool. It was a form of leisure that her husband, with his bilious coloring and lank hair, apparently did not enjoy.

“Everywhere I’ve ever lived,” he said, his grin growing crookeder and more apologetic, “there were noises in the night that you couldn’t explain. Here there are all kinds of wildlife — foxes, raccoons, possums — even coyotes up on the ridge. They’re all active after sundown.”

Ellen’s smile of pleasure at this news turned to distress as Sondra remarked in her offhand way, “We found our poor kitty-cat positively torn to pieces one morning. He was all blood. We never did find his head.”

“A fox,” Jeff put in quickly. Everything he said seemed hollow. Something came from him like a vapor. I thought it was grief.

Sondra gazed smugly into her lap as if hugging a secret to herself. She seemed enormously pleased. It occurred to me that Sondra was trying to frighten us. In a way it relieved me. She was enjoying herself too much, I thought, looking at her spoiled, brown face, to be frightened herself.

After the incident of the tree everything went well for some weeks. The house went up rapidly. Ellen and I visited it as often as we could, walking over the raw ground and making our home in our mind’s eye. The fireplace would go here, the refrigerator here, our Picasso print there. “Ted,” Ellen said timidly, “I’ve been thinking. Why don’t we fix up the extra bedroom as a children’s room?”

I waited.

“Now that we’ll be living out here our friends will have to stay overnight more often. Most of them have young children. It would be nice for them.”

I slipped my arm around her shoulders. She knew I understood. It was a delicate matter. She raised her face and I kissed her between her brows. Signal and countersignal, the keystones of our life together — a life of sensibility and tact.

“Hey, you two!” Sondra Sheffits called from across the street. She stood on her front porch in a pink bathing suit, her skin brown, her hair nearly white. “How about a swim?”

“No suits!”

“Come on, we’ve got plenty.”

Ellen and I debated the question with a glance, settled it with a nod.

As I came out onto the patio in one of Jeff’s suits, Sondra said, “Ted, you’re pale as a ghost. Don’t you get any sun where you are?” She lay in a chaise longue behind huge elliptical sunglasses encrusted with glass gems.

“I stay inside too much, writing articles,” I said.

“You’re welcome to come here any time you like” — she smiled suddenly, showing me a row of small, perfect teeth — “and swim.”

Ellen appeared in her borrowed suit, a red one with a short, limp ruffle. She shaded her eyes as the sun, glittering metallically on the water, struck her full in the face.

Sondra ushered her forward as if to introduce my wife to me. “You look much better in that suit than I ever did.” Her red nails flashed on Ellen’s arm. Ellen smiled guardedly. The two women were about the same height, but Ellen was narrower in the shoulders, thicker through the waist and hips. As they came toward me it seemed to me that Ellen was the one I did not know. Her familiar body became strange. It looked out of proportion. Hairs that on Sondra were all but invisible except when the sun turned them to silver, lay flat and dark on Ellen’s pallid arm.

As if sensing the sudden distance between us, Ellen took my hand. “Let’s jump in together,” she said gaily. “No hanging back.”

Sondra retreated to the chaise longue to watch us, her eyes invisible behind her outrageous glasses, her head on one side.

Incidents began again and continued at intervals. Guy Relling, whom I never met but whose pronouncements on the supernatural reached me through others from time to time like messages from an oracle, claims that the existence of the living dead is a particularly excruciating one as they hover between two states of being. Their memories keep the passions of life forever fresh and sharp, but they are able to relieve them only at a monstrous expense of will and energy which leaves them literally helpless for months or sometimes even years afterward. This was why materializations and other forms of tangible action are relatively rare. There are of course exceptions, Sondra, our most frequent translator of Relling’s theories, pointed out one evening with the odd joy that accompanied all of her remarks on the subject: some ghosts are terrifically active — particularly the insane ones who, ignorant of the limitations of death as they were of the impossibilities of life, transcend them with the dynamism that is exclusively the property of madness. Generally, however, it was Relling’s opinion that a ghost was more to be pitied than feared. Sondra quoted him as having said, “The notion of a haunted house is a misconception semantically. It is not the house but the soul itself that is haunted.”

On Saturday, August 6, a workman laying pipe was blinded in one eye by an acetylene torch.

On Thursday, September 1, a rockslide on the hill behind us dumped four tons of dirt and rock on the half-finished house and halted work for two weeks.

On Sunday, October 9 — my birthday, oddly enough — while visiting the house alone, I slipped on a stray screw and struck my head on a can of latex paint which opened up a gash requiring ten stitches. I rushed across to the Sheffits’. Sondra answered the door in her bathing suit and a magazine in her hand. “Ted?” She peered at me. “I scarcely recognized you through the blood. Come in, I’ll call the doctor. Try not to drip on the furniture, will you?”

I told the doctor of the screw on the floor, the big can of paint. 1 did not tell him that my foot had slipped because I had turned too quickly and that I had turned too quickly because the sensation had grown on me that there was someone behind me, close enough to touch me, perhaps, because something hovered there, fetid and damp and cold and almost palpable in its nearness; I remember shivering violently as I turned, as if the sun of this burning summer’s day had been replaced by a mysterious star without warmth. I did not tell the doctor this nor anyone else.

In November Los Angeles burns. After the long drought of summer the sap goes underground and the baked hills seem to gasp in pain for the merciful release of either life or death — rain or fire. Invariably fire comes first, spreading through the outlying parts of the country like an epidemic, till the sky is livid and starless at night and overhung with dun-colored smoke during the day.

There was a huge fire in Tujunga, north of us, the day Ellen and I moved into our new house — handsome, severe, aggressively new on its dry hillside — under a choked sky the color of earth and a muffled, flyspeck sun. Sondra and Jeff came over to help, and in the evening Joyce Castle stopped by with Suey and a magnum of champagne.

Ellen clasped her hands under her chin. “What a lovely surprise!”

“I hope it’s cold enough. I’ve had it in my refrigerator since four o’clock. Welcome to the canyon. You’re nice people. You remind me of my parents. God, it’s hot. I’ve been weeping all day on account of the smoke. You’ll have air conditioning I suppose?”

Jeff was sprawled in a chair with his long legs straight in front of him in the way a cripple might put aside a pair of crutches. “Joyce, you’re an angel. Excuse me if I don’t get up. I’m recuperating.”

“You’re excused, doll, you’re excused.”

“Ted,” Ellen said softly. “Why don’t you get some glasses?”

Jeff hauled in his legs. “Can I give you a hand?”

“Sit still, Jeff.”

He sighed. “I hadn’t realized I was so out of shape.” He looked more cadaverous than ever after our afternoon of lifting and shoving. Sweat had collected in the hollows under his eyes.

“Shall I show you in the house, Joyce? While Ted is in the kitchen?”

“I love you, Ellen,” Joyce said. “Take me on the whole tour.”

Sondra followed me into the kitchen. She leaned against the wall and smoked, supporting her left elbow in the palm of her right hand. She didn’t say a word. Through the open door I could see Jeff’s outstretched legs from the calves down.

“Thanks for all the help today,” I said to Sondra in a voice unaccountably close to a whisper. I could hear Joyce and Ellen as they moved from room to room, their voices swelling and dying: “It’s all steel? You mean everything? Walls and all? Aren’t you afraid of lightning?”

“Oh, we’re all safely grounded, I think.”

Jeff yawned noisily in the living room. Wordlessly, Sondra put a tray on the kitchen table as I rummaged in an unpacked carton for the glasses. She watched me steadily and coolly, as if she expected me to entertain her. I wanted to say something further to break a silence which was becoming unnatural and oppressive. The sounds around us seemed only to isolate us in a ring of intimacy. With her head on one side Sondra smiled at me. I could hear her rapid breathing.

“What’s this, a nursery? Ellen, love!”

“No, no! It’s only for our friends’ children.”

Sondra’s eyes were blue, the color of shallow water. She seemed faintly amused, as if we were sharing in a conspiracy — a conspiracy I was anxious to repudiate by making some prosaic remark in a loud voice for all to hear, but a kind of pain developed in my chest as the words seemed dammed there, and I only smiled at her foolishly. With every passing minute of silence, the more impossible it became to break through and the more I felt drawn in to the intrigue of which, though I was ignorant, I was surely guilty. Without so much as a touch she had made us lovers.

Ellen stood in the doorway, half turned away as if her first impulse had been to run. She appeared to be deep in thought, her eyes fixed on the steel, cream-colored doorjamb.

Sondra began to talk to Ellen in her dry, satirical voice. It was chatter of the idlest sort, but she was destroying, as I had wished to destroy, the absurd notion that there was something between us. I could see Ellen’s confusion. She hung on Sondra’s words, watching her lips attentively, as if this elegant, tanned woman, calmly smoking and talking of trifles, were her savior.

As for myself, I felt as if I had lost the power of speech entirely. If I joined in with Sondra’s carefully innocent chatter I would only be joining in the deception against my wife; if I proclaimed the truth and ended everything by bringing it into the open … but what truth? What was there in fact to bring into the open? What was there to end? A feeling in the air? An intimation? The answer was nothing, of course. I did not even like Sondra very much. There was something cold and unpleasant about her. There was nothing to proclaim because nothing had happened. “Where’s Joyce?” I asked finally, out of a dry mouth. “Doesn’t she want to see the kitchen?”

Ellen turned slowly toward me, as if it cost her a great effort. “She’ll be here in a minute,” she said tonelessly, and I became aware of Joyce’s and Jeff’s voices from the living room. Ellen studied my face, her pupils oddly dilated under the pinkish fluorescent light, as if she were trying to penetrate to the bottom of a great darkness that lay beneath my chance remark. Was it a code of some kind, a new signal for her that I would shortly make clear? What did it mean? I smiled at her and she responded with a smile of her own, a tentative and formal upturning of her mouth, as if I were a familiar face whose name escaped her for the moment.

Joyce came in behind Ellen. “I hate kitchens. I never go into mine.” She looked from one to the other of us. “Am I interrupting something?”

At two o’clock in the morning I sat up in bed, wide awake. The bedroom was bathed in the dark red glow of the fire which had come closer in the night. A thin, autumnal veil of smoke hung in the room. Ellen lay on her side, asleep, one hand cupped on the pillow next to her face as if waiting for something to be put in it. I had no idea why I was so fully awake, but I threw off the covers and went to the window to check on the fire. I could see no flame, but the hills stood out blackly against a turgid sky that belled and sagged as the wind blew and relented.

Then I heard the sound.

I am a person who sets store by precision in the use of words — in the field of technical writing this is a necessity. But I can think of no word to describe that sound. The closest I can come with a word of my own invention is “vlump.” It came erratically, neither loud nor soft. It was, rather, pervasive and without location. It was not a solid sound. There was something vague and whispering about it, and from time to time it began with the suggestion of a sigh — a shuffling dissipation in the air that seemed to take form and die in the same instant. In a way I cannot define, it was mindless, without will or reason, yet implacable. Because I could not explain it immediately I went to seek an explanation.

I stepped into the hall and switched on the light, pressing the noiseless button. The light came down out of a fixture set flush into the ceilings and diffused through a milky plastic like Japanese rice paper. The clean, indestructible walls rose perpendicularly around me. Through the slight haze of smoke came the smell of the newness, sweet and metallic — more like a car than a house. And still the sound went on. It seemed to be coming from the room at the end of the hall, the room we had designed for our friends’ children. The door was open and I could see a gray patch that was a west window. Vlump … vlump … vlumpvlump …

Fixing on the gray patch, I moved down the hall while my legs made themselves heavy as logs, and all the while I repeated to myself, “The house is settling. All new houses settle and make strange noises.” And so lucid was I that I believed I was not afraid. I was walking down the bright new hall of my new steel house to investigate a noise, for the house might be settling unevenly, or an animal might be up to some mischief — raccoons regularly raided the garbage cans, I had been told. There might be something wrong with the plumbing or with the radiant-heating system that warmed our steel and vinyl floors. And now, like the responsible master of the house, I had located the apparent center of the sound and was going responsibly toward it. In a second or two, very likely, I would know. Vlump vlump. The gray of the window turned rosy as I came near enough to see the hillside beyond it: That black was underbrush and that pink the dusty swath cut by the bulldozer before it had run amok. I had watched the accident from just about the spot where I stood now, and the obliterated hole where the tree had been, laid firmly over with the prefabricated floor of the room whose darkness I would eradicate by touching with my right hand the light switch inside the door.


Blood boomed in my ears. I had the impression that my heart had burst. I clutched at the wall for support. Yet of course I knew it was Ellen’s voice, and I answered her calmly. “Yes, it’s me.”

“What’s the matter?” I heard the bedclothes rustle.

“Don’t get up, I’m coming right in.” The noise had stopped. There was nothing. Only the almost inaudible hum of the refrigerator, the stirring of the wind.

Ellen was sitting up in bed. “I was just checking on the fire,” I said. She patted my side of the bed and in the instant before I turned out the hall light I saw her smile.

“I was just dreaming about you,” she said softly, as I climbed under the sheets. She rolled against me. “Why, you’re trembling.”

“I should have worn my robe.”

“You’ll be warm in a minute.” Her fragrant body lay against mine, but I remained rigid as stone and just as cold, staring at the ceiling, my mind a furious blank. After a moment she said, “Ted?” It was her signal, always hesitant, always tremulous, that meant I was to roll over and take her in my arms.

Instead I answered, “What?” just as if I had not understood.

For a few seconds I sensed her struggling against her reserve to give me a further sign that would pierce my peculiar distraction and tell me she wanted love. But it was too much for her — too alien. My coldness had created a vacuum she was too unpracticed to fill — a coldness sudden and inexplicable, unless …

She withdrew slowly and pulled the covers up under her chin. Finally she asked, “Ted, is there something happening that I should know about?” She had remembered Sondra and the curious scene in the kitchen. It took, I knew, great courage for Ellen to ask that question, though she must have known my answer.

“No, I’m just tired. We’ve had a busy day. Goodnight, dear.” I kissed her on the cheek and sensed her eyes, in the shadow of the fire, searching mine, asking the question she could not give voice to. I turned away, somehow ashamed because I could not supply the answer that would fulfill her need. Because there was no answer at all.

The fire was brought under control after burning some eight hundred acres and several homes, and three weeks later the rains came. Jack Salmanson came out one Sunday to see how the house was holding up, checked the foundation, the roof and all the seams and pronounced it tight as a drum. We sat looking moodily out the glass doors onto the patio — a flatland of grayish mud which threatened to swamp with a thin ooze of silt and gravel the few flagstones I had set in the ground. Ellen was in the bedroom lying down; she had got into the habit of taking a nap after lunch, though it was I, not she, who lay stark awake night after night explaining away sounds that became more and more impossible to explain away. The gagging sound that sometimes accompanied the vlump and the strangled expulsion of air that followed it were surely the result of some disturbance in the water pipes; the footsteps that came slowly down the hall and stopped outside our closed door and then went away again with something like a low chuckle were merely the night contracting of our metal house after the heat of the day. Through all this Ellen slept as if in a stupor; she seemed to have become addicted to sleep. She went to bed at nine and got up at ten the next morning; she napped in the afternoon and moved about lethargically the rest of the time with a Mexican shawl around her shoulders, complaining of the cold. The doctor examined her for mononucleosis but found nothing. He said perhaps it was her sinuses and that she should rest as much as she wanted.

After a protracted silence Jack put aside his drink and stood up. “I guess I’ll go along.”

“I’ll tell Ellen.”

“What the hell for? Let her sleep. Tell her I hope she feels better.” He turned to frown at the room of the house he had designed and built. “Are you happy here?” he asked suddenly.

“Happy?” I repeated the word awkwardly. “Of course we’re happy. We love the house. It’s … just a little noisy at night, that’s all.” I stammered it out, like the first words of a monstrous confession, but Jack seemed hardly to hear it. He waved a hand. “House settling.” He squinted from one side of the room to the other. “I don’t know. There’s something about it … It’s not right. Maybe it’s just the weather … the light … It could be friendlier, you know what I mean? It seems cheerless.”

I watched him with a kind of wild hope, as if he might magically fathom my terror — do for me what I could not do for myself, and permit it to be discussed calmly between two men of temperate mind. But Jack was not looking for the cause of the gloom but the cure for it. “Why don’t you try putting down a couple of orange rugs in this room?” he said.

I stared at the floor as if two orange rugs were an infallible charm. “Yes,” I said, “I think we’ll try that.”

Ellen scuffed in, pushing back her hair, her face puffy with sleep. “Jack,” she said, “when the weather clears and I’m feeling livelier, you and Anne and the children must come and spend the night.”

“We’d like that. After the noises die down,” he added satirically to me.

“Noises? What noises?” A certain blankness came over Ellen’s face when she looked at me now. The expression was the same, but what had been open in it before was now merely empty. She had put up her guard against me; she suspected me of keeping things from her.

“At night,” I said. “The house is settling. You don’t hear them.”

When Jack had gone, Ellen sat with a cup of tea in the chair where Jack had sat, looking out at the mud. Her long purple shawl hung all the way to her knees and made her look armless. There seemed no explanation for the two white hands that curled around the teacup in her lap. “It’s a sad thing,” she said tonelessly. “I can’t help but feel sorry for Sondra.”

“Why is that?” I asked guardedly.

“Joyce was here yesterday. She told me that she and Jeff have been having an affair off and on for six years.” She turned to see how I would receive this news.

“Well, that explains the way Joyce and Sondra behave toward each other,” I said, with a pleasant glance straight into Ellen’s eyes; there I encountered only the reflection of the glass doors, even to the rain trickling down them, and I had the eerie sensation of having been shown a picture of the truth, as if she were weeping secretly in the depths of a soul I could no longer touch. For Ellen did not believe in my innocence; I’m not sure I still believed in it myself; very likely Jeff and Joyce didn’t either. It is impossible to say what Sondra believed. She behaved as if our infidelity were an accomplished fact. In its way it was a performance of genius, for Sondra never touched me except in the most accidental or impersonal way; even her glances, the foundation on which she built the myth of our liaison, had nothing soft in them; they were probing and sly and were always accompanied by a furtive smile, as if we merely shared some private joke. Yet there was something in the way she did it — in the tilt of her head perhaps — that plainly implied that the joke was at everyone else’s expense. And she had taken to calling me “darling.”

“Sondra and Jeff have a feeble-minded child off in an institution somewhere,” Ellen said. “That set them against each other, apparently.”

“Joyce told you all this?”

“She just mentioned it casually as if it were the most natural thing in the world — she assumed we must have known … But I don’t want to know things like that about my friends.”

“That’s show biz, I guess. You and I are just provincials at heart.”

“Sondra must be a very unhappy girl.”

“It’s hard to tell with Sondra.”

“I wonder what she tries to do with her life … If she looks for anything — outside.”

I waited.

“Probably not,” Ellen answered her own question. “She seems very selfcontained. Almost cold … ”

I was treated to the spectacle of my wife fighting with herself to delay a wound that she was convinced would come home to her sooner or later. She did not want to believe in my infidelity. I might have comforted her with lies. I might have told her that Sondra and I rendezvoused downtown in a cafeteria and made love in a second-rate hotel on the evenings when I called to say that I was working late. Then the wound would be open and could be cleaned and cured. It would be painful of course, but I would have confided in her again and our old system would be restored. Watching Ellen torture herself with doubt, I was tempted to tell her those lies. The truth never tempted me: To have admitted that I knew what she was thinking would have been tantamount to an admission of guilt. How could I suspect such a thing unless it were true? And was I to explain my coldness by terrifying her with vague stories of indescribable sounds which she never heard?

And so the two of us sat on, dumb and chilled, in our watertight house as the daylight began to go. And then a sort of exultation seized me. What if my terror were no more real than Ellen’s? What if both our ghosts were only ghosts of the mind which needed only a little common sense to drive them away? And I saw that if I could drive away my ghost, Ellen’s would soon follow, for the secret that shut me away from her would be gone. It was a revelation, a triumph of reason.

“What’s that up there?” Ellen pointed to something that looked like a leaf blowing at the top of the glass doors. “It’s a tail, Ted. There must be some animal on the roof.”

Only the bushy tip was visible. As I drew close to it I could see raindrops clinging as if by a geometrical system to each black hair. “It looks like a raccoon tail. What would a coon be doing out so early?” I put on a coat and went outside. The tail hung limply over the edge, ringed with white and swaying phlegmatically in the breeze. The animal itself was hidden behind the low parapet. Using the ship’s ladder at the back of the house I climbed up to look at it.

The human mind, just like other parts of the anatomy, is an organ of habit. Its capabilities are bounded by the limits of precedent; it thinks what it is used to thinking. Faced with a phenomenon beyond its range it rebels, it rejects, sometimes it collapses. My mind, which for weeks had steadfastly refused to honor the evidence of my senses that there was Something Else living in the house with Ellen and me, something unearthly and evil, largely on the basis of insufficient evidence, was now forced to the subsequent denial by saying, as Jeff had said, “fox.” It was, of course, ridiculous. The chances of a fox’s winning a battle with a raccoon were very slight at best, let alone what had been done to this raccoon. The body lay on the far side of the roof. I didn’t see the head at all until I had stumbled against it and it had rolled over and over to come to rest against the parapet where it pointed its masked, ferret face at me.

Only because my beleaguered mind kept repeating, like a voice, “Ellen mustn’t know, Ellen mustn’t know,” was I able to take up the dismembered parts and hurl them with all my strength onto the hillside and answer when Ellen called out, “What is it, Ted?” “Must have been a coon. It’s gone now,” in a perfectly level voice before I went to the back of the roof and vomited.

I recalled Sondra’s mention of their mutilated cat and phoned Jeff at his agency. “We will discuss it over lunch,” I told myself. I had a great need to talk, an action impossible within my own home, where every day the silence became denser and more intractable. Once or twice Ellen ventured to ask, “What’s the matter, Ted?” but I always answered, “Nothing.” And there our talk ended. I could see it in her wary eyes: I was not the man she had married; I was cold, secretive. The children’s room, furnished with double bunks and wallpaper figured with toys, stood like a rebuke. Ellen kept the door closed most of the time, though once or twice, in the late afternoon, I had found her in there moving about aimlessly, touching objects as if half in wonder that they should still linger on after so many long, sterile months; a foolish hope had failed. Neither did our friends bring their children to stay. They did not because we did not ask them. The silence had brought with it a profound and debilitating inertia. Ellen’s face seemed perpetually swollen, the features cloudy and amorphous, the eyes dull; her whole body had become bloated, as if an enormous cache of pain had backed up inside her. We moved through the house in our orbits like two sleepwalkers, going about our business out of habit. Our friends called at first, puzzled, a little hurt, but soon stopped and left us to ourselves. Occasionally we saw the Sheffitses. Jeff was looking seedier and seedier, told bad jokes, drank too much and seemed always ill at ease. Sondra did most of the talking, chattering blandly on indifferent subjects and always hinting by gesture, word or glance at our underground affair.

Jeff and I had lunch at the Brown Derby on Vine Street under charcoal caricatures of show folk. At a table next to ours an agent was eulogizing an actor in a voice hoarse with trumped-up enthusiasm to a large, purple-faced man who was devoting his entire attention to a bowl of vichyssoise.

“It’s a crazy business,” Jeff said to me. “Be glad you’re not in it.”

“I see what you mean,” I replied. Jeff had not the faintest idea of why I had brought him there, nor had I given him any clue. We were “breaking the ice.” Jeff grinned at me with that crooked trick of his mouth, and I grinned back. “We are friends” — presumably that is the message we were grinning at each other. Was he my friend? Was I his friend? He lived across the street; our paths crossed perhaps once a week; we joked together; he sat always in the same chair in our living room twisting from one sprawl to another; there was a straight white chair in his living room that I preferred. Friendships have been founded on less, I suppose. Yet he had an idiot child locked off in an asylum somewhere and a wife who amused herself with infidelity by suggestion; I had a demon loose in my house and a wife gnawed with suspicion and growing remote and old because of it. And I had said, “I see what you mean.” It seemed insufferable. I caught Jeff’s eye. “You remember we talked once about a ghost?” My tone was bantering; perhaps I meant to make a joke.

“I remember.”

“Sondra said something about a cat of yours that was killed.”

“The one the fox got.”

“That’s what you said. That’s not what Sondra said.”

Jeff shrugged. “What about it?”

“I found a dead raccoon on our roof.”

“Your roof!”

“Yes. It was pretty awful.”

Jeff toyed with his fork. All pretense of levity was at an end. “No head?”


For a few moments he was silent. I felt him struggle with himself before he spoke. “Maybe you’d better move out, Ted,” he said.

He was trying to help — I knew it. With a single swipe he had tried to push through the restraint that hung between us. He was my friend; he was putting out his hand to me. And I suppose I must have known what he’d suggest. But I could not accept it. It was not what I wanted to hear. “Jeff, I can’t do that,” I said tolerantly, as if he had missed my point. “We’ve only been living there five months. It cost me twenty-two thousand to build that place. We have to live in it at least a year under the GI loan.”

“Well, you know best, Ted.” The smile dipped at me again.

“I just wanted to talk,” I said, irritated at the ease with which he had given in. “I wanted to find out what you knew about this ghost business.”

“Not very much. Sondra knows more than I do.”

“I doubt that you would advise me to leave a house I had just built for no reason at all.”

“There seems to be some sort of jinx on the property, that’s all. Whether there’s a ghost or not I couldn’t tell you,” he replied, annoyed in his turn at the line the conversation was taking. “How does Ellen feel about this?”

“She doesn’t know.”

“About the raccoon?”

“About anything.”

“You mean there’s more?”

“There are noises — at night … ”

“I’d speak to Sondra if I were you. She’s gone into this business much more deeply than I. When we first moved in, she used to hang around your land a good deal … just snooping … particularly after the cat was killed … ” He was having some difficulty with his words. It struck me that the conversation was causing him pain. He was showing his teeth now in a smiling grimace. Dangling an arm over the back of his chair he seemed loose to the point of collapse. We circled warily about his wife’s name.

“Look, Jeff,” I said, and took a breath, “about Sondra … ”

Jeff cut me off with a wave of his hand. “Don’t worry, I know Sondra.”

“Then you know there’s nothing between us?”

“It’s just her way of amusing herself. Sondra’s a strange girl. She does the same thing with me. She flirts with me but we don’t sleep together.” He picked up his spoon and stared at it unseeingly. “It started when she became pregnant. After she had the boy, everything between us stopped. You knew we had a son? He’s in a sanitarium in the Valley.”

“Can’t you do anything?”

“Sure. Joyce Castle. I don’t know what I’d have done without her.”

“I mean divorce.”

“Sondra won’t divorce me. And I can’t divorce her. No grounds.” He shrugged as if the whole thing were of no concern at all to him. “What could I say? I want to divorce my wife because of the way she looks at other men? She’s scrupulously faithful.”

“To whom, Jeff? To you? To whom?”

“I don’t know — to herself, maybe,” he mumbled.

Whether with encouragement he might have gone on I don’t know, for I cut him off. I sensed that with this enigmatic remark he was giving me my cue and that if I had chosen to respond to it he would have told me what I had asked him to lunch to find out — and all at once I was terrified; I did not want to hear it; I did not want to hear it at all. And so I laughed in a quiet way and said, “Undoubtedly, undoubtedly,” and pushed it behind the closed door of my mind where I had stored all the impossibilities of the last months — the footsteps, the sounds in the night, the mutilated raccoon — or else, by recognizing them, go mad.

Jeff suddenly looked me full in the face; his cheeks were flushed, his teeth clamped together. “Look, Ted,” he said, “can you take the afternoon off? I’ve got to go to the sanitarium and sign some papers. They’re going to transfer the boy. He has fits of violence and does … awful things. He’s finally gotten out of hand.”

“What about Sondra?”

“Sondra’s signed already. She likes to go alone to visit him. She seems to like to have him to herself. I’d appreciate it, Ted — the moral support … You don’t have to come in. You can wait in the car. It’s only about thirty miles from here, you’d be back by dinnertime … ” His voice shook, tears clouded the yellow-stained whites of his eyes. He looked like a man with fever. I noticed how shrunken his neck had become as it revolved in his collar, how his head caved in sharply at the temples. He fastened one hand on my arm, like a claw. “Of course I’ll go, Jeff,” I said. “I’ll call the office. They can get along without me for one afternoon.”

He collected himself in an instant. “I’d appreciate it, Ted. I promise you it won’t be so bad.”

The sanitarium was in the San Fernando Valley, a complex of new stucco buildings on a newly seeded lawn. Everywhere there were signs that read, PLEASE KEEP OFF, FOLKS. Midget saplings stood in discs of powdery earth along the cement walks angling white and hot through the grass. On these walks, faithfully observing the signs, the inmates strolled. Their traffic, as it flowed somnolently from one avenue to another, was controlled by attendants stationed at intersections, conspicuous in white uniforms and pith helmets.

After a time, it became unbearably hot in the car, and I climbed out. Unless I wished to pace in the parking lot among the cars, I had no choice but to join the inmates and their visitors on the walks. I chose a nearly deserted walk and went slowly toward a building that had a yard attached to it surrounded by a wire fence. From the slide and the jungle gym in it, I judged it to be for the children. Then I saw Jeff come into it. With him was a nurse pushing a kind of cart railed around like an oversized toddler. Strapped into it was “the boy.”

He was human, I suppose, for he had all the equipment assigned to humans, yet I had the feeling that if it were not for the cart the creature would have crawled on his belly like an alligator. He had the eyes of an alligator too — sleepy, cold and soulless — set in a swarthy face and a head that seemed to run in a horizontal direction rather than the vertical, like an egg lying on its side. The features were devoid of any vestige of intelligence; the mouth hung open and the chin shone with saliva. While Jeff and the nurse talked, he sat under the sun inert and repulsive.

I turned on my heel and bolted, feeling that I had intruded on a disgrace. I imagined that I had been given a glimpse of a diseased universe, the mere existence of which constituted a threat to my life; the sight of that monstrous boy with his cold, bestial eyes made me feel as if, by stumbling on this shame I somehow shared in it with Jeff. Yet I told myself that the greatest service I could do him was to pretend that I had seen nothing, knew nothing, and not place on him the hardship of talking about something which obviously caused him pain.

He returned to the car pale and shaky and wanting a drink. We stopped first at a place called Joey’s on Hollywood Way. After that it was the Cherry Lane on Vine Street, where a couple of girls propositioned us, and then a stop at the Brown Derby again, where I had left my car. Jeff downed the liquor in a joyless, businesslike way and talked to me in a rapid, confidential voice about a book he had just sold to Warner Brothers Studio for an exorbitant sum of money — trash in his opinion, but that was always the way — the parasites made it. Pretty soon there wouldn’t be any good writers left: “There’ll only be competent parasites and incompetent parasites.” This was perhaps the third time we had had this conversation. Now Jeff repeated it mechanically, all the time looking down at the table where he was painstakingly breaking a red swizzle stick into ever tinier pieces.

When we left the restaurant, the sun had gone down, and the evening chill of the desert on which the city had been built had settled in. A faint pink glow from the vanished sun still lingered on the top of the Broadway Building. Jeff took a deep breath, then fell into a fit of coughing. “Goddam smog,” he said. “Goddam city. I can’t think of a single reason why I live here.” He started toward his Daimler, tottering slightly.

“How about driving home with me?” I said. “You can pick your car up tomorrow.”

He fumbled in the glove compartment and drew out a packet of small cigars. He stuck one between his teeth where it jutted unlit toward the end of his nose. “I’m not going home tonight, Ted friend,” he said. “If you’ll just drop me up the street at the Cherry Lane I’ll remember you for life.”

“Are you sure? I’ll go with you if you want.”

Jeff shook a forefinger at me archly. “Ted, you’re a gentleman and a scholar. But my advice to you is to go home and take care of your wife. No, seriously. Take care of her, Ted. As for myself I shall go quietly to seed in the Cherry Lane Café.” I had started toward my car when Jeff called out to me again. “I just want to tell you, Ted friend … My wife was once just as nice as your wife … ”

I had gone no more than a mile when the last glimmer of light left the sky and night fell like a shutter. The sky above the neon of Sunset Boulevard turned jet black, and a sickly half-moon rose and was immediately obscured by thick fog that lowered itself steadily as I traveled west, till at the foot of Clay Canyon it began to pat my windshield with little smears of moisture.

The house was dark, and at first I thought Ellen must have gone out, but then seeing her old Plymouth in the driveway I felt the grip of a cold and unreasoning fear. The events of the day seemed to crowd around and hover at my head in the fog; and the commonplace sight of that car, together with the blackness and silence of the house, sent me into a panic as I ran for the door. I pushed at it with my shoulder as if expecting it to be locked, but it swung open easily and I found myself in the darkened living room with no light anywhere and the only sound the rhythm of my own short breathing. “Ellen!” I called in a high, querulous voice I hardly recognized. “Ellen!” I seemed to lose my balance; my head swam; it was as if this darkness and silence were the one last iota that the chamber of horrors in my mind could not hold, and the door snapped open a crack, emitting a cloudy light that stank of corruption, and I saw the landscape of my denial, like a tomb. It was the children’s room. Rats nested in the double bunks, mold caked the red wallpaper, and in it an insane Spanish don hung by his neck from a dead tree, his heels vlumping against the wall, his foppish clothes rubbing as he revolved slowly in invisible currents of bad air. And as he swung toward me, I saw his familiar reptile eyes open and stare at me with loathing and contempt.

I conceded: It is here and It is evil, and I have left my wife alone in the house with It, and now she has been sucked into that cold eternity where the dumb shades store their plasms against an anguished centenary of speech — a single word issuing from the petrified throat, a scream or a sigh or a groan, syllables dredged up from a lifetime of eloquence to slake the bottomless thirst of living death.

And then a light went on over my head, and I found myself in the hall outside the children’s room. Ellen was in her nightgown, smiling at me. “Ted? Why on earth are you standing here in the dark? I was just taking a nap. Do you want some dinner? Why don’t you say something? Are you all right?” She came toward me; she seemed extraordinarily lovely; her eyes, a deeper blue than Sondra’s, looked almost purple; she seemed young and slender again; her old serenity shone through like a restored beacon.

“I’m all right,” I said hoarsely. “Are you sure you are?”

“Of course I am,” she laughed. “Why shouldn’t I be? I’m feeling much, much better.” She took my hand and kissed it gaily. “I’ll put on some clothes and then we’ll have our dinner.” She turned and went down the hall to our bedroom, leaving me with a clear view into the children’s room. Though the room itself was dark, I could see by the hall light that the covers on the lower bunk had been turned back and that the bed had been slept in. “Ellen,” I said. “Ellen, were you sleeping in the children’s room?”

“Yes,” she said, and I heard the rustle of a dress as she carried it from the closet. “I was in there mooning around, waiting for you to come home. I got sleepy and lay down on the bunk. What were you doing, by the way? Working late?”

“And nothing happened?”

“Why? What should have happened?”

I could not answer; my head throbbed with joy. It was over — whatever it was, it was over. All unknowing Ellen had faced the very heart of the evil and had slept through it like a child, and now she was herself again without having been tainted by the knowledge of what she had defeated; I had protected her by my silence, by my refusal to share my terror with this woman whom I loved. I reached inside and touched the light button; there was the brave red wallpaper scattered over with toys, the red-and-white curtains, the blue-and-red bedspreads. It was a fine room. A fine, gay room fit for children.

Ellen came down the hall in her slip. “Is anything wrong, Ted? You seem so distraught. Is everything all right at the office?”

“Yes, yes,” I said. “I was with Jeff Sheffits. We went to see his boy in the asylum. Poor Jeff; he leads a rotten life.” I told Ellen the whole story of our afternoon, speaking freely in my house for the first time since we had moved there. Ellen listened carefully as she always did, and wanted to know, when I had finished, what the boy was like.

“Like an alligator,” I said with disgust. “Just like an alligator.”

Ellen’s face took on an unaccountable expression of private glee. She seemed to be looking past me into the children’s room, as if the source of her amusement lay there. At the same moment I shivered in a breath of profound cold, the same clammy draft that might have warned me on my last birthday had I been other than what I am. I had a sense of sudden dehydration, as if all the blood had vanished from my veins. I felt as if I were shrinking. When I spoke, my voice seemed to come from a throat rusty and dry with disuse. “Is that funny?” I whispered.

And my wife replied, “Funny? Oh, no, it’s just that I’m feeling so much better. I think I’m pregnant, Ted.” She tipped her head to one side and smiled at me.

Read “One of the Dead” by William Wood

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