Page 71

It was slow going in the dark. I didn’t dare turn a light on, not with the chance that the backyard was full of sleepwalkers, and so I worked my way around by feel. When I discovered the butcher’s block I pulled out a cleaver, holding it in one hand while I continued to feel my way along with the other. I’d be more likely to cut myself than anyone else, but it made me feel a little bit better to at least have the potential to defend myself.

Ten minutes later, I had found a bunch of half-rotten bananas and a loaf of moldy bread, but no phone. I made my way slowly out of the kitchen, walking past the bright haven of the bathroom to the front of the house, where that big picture window now seemed terrifyingly exposed to a night that contained who-knows-what. My search turned up no phone here either. I winced. Apparently, my choices were staying in the house, cut off but potentially safe, or going out into the world with no idea where I was or how far I would have to travel to get back to the bowling alley. I’d be able to see any sleepwalkers better if I waited for daylight, but sleepwalkers had to sleep too. Were they more or less active during the day?

I didn’t know. Nobody knew. That was the problem: I was standing in a safe place, trying to make plans that would mean leaving that safety for a whole new kind of danger. Maybe I really was a wimp, but that idea didn’t seem very appealing.

There was still one door I hadn’t tried. I stepped through the other exit from the front room, and stopped. It was an entryway, as I had suspected. It was also the access to the stairs. That was more of a surprise, and for a moment I just stood there, contemplating the seemingly impossible task of convincing my tired, strained legs to carry me to the second floor.

If the people who lived here had been killed by sleepwalkers, they wouldn’t have had time to take anything with them. Even if there wasn’t a landline, there could be cellphones in the dark upstairs, little electronic miracles just waiting for me to find them and use them to summon a rescue.

I took a breath, gripped the banister, and began pulling myself, one agonizing step at a time, toward the second floor.

It took what felt like an hour for me to climb the twenty or so steps between the entryway and the upstairs hall. When I finally ran out of steps I collapsed forward, landing on my hands and knees on the plush carpet, and fought the urge to curl into a ball and cry until the pain stopped. Every muscle I had from the waist down felt like it was on fire. The drums were pounding so hard that I was beginning to worry that Sherman had undone the surgery that was intended to keep me alive. Worst of all, there was no light up here: either the curtains were drawn, or there were no windows in the hall, leaving me in absolute blackness. It was like being thrown back into the vent, only this time I had no destination in mind.

When the tremors in my thighs stopped I pulled myself to my feet, picking up the cleaver from the floor, and began shuffling forward into the dark. I moved like a sleepwalker as I tried to avoid running into anything. My hand found a wall. I followed it to an open door. A search of the room on the other side—which was slightly less dark than the hall, thanks to a small window looking out on the empty backyard—yielded nothing. The next room was much the same, as was the one after it, until I’d searched the entire back of the house without finding what I needed.

The first door on the other side of the hall was closed. I stopped before turning the doorknob, pressing my ear against the wood and listening for any signs that I wasn’t alone in the house. I didn’t hear anything. I turned the knob and pushed the door slowly open. The room on the other side was utterly destroyed, but what I could pick out through the light filtering in from the street below seemed to imply that it had belonged to a teenage girl: everything was frilly and pale, washed out so that I couldn’t tell its original color. Most of it was also broken, thrown to the floor and crushed by some angry hand. The tattered remains of posters still blanketed the walls, and what water remained in the fish tank near the bed was foul and dark with mold. I noted all this dispassionately, the bulk of my attention going to the room’s single largest fixture:

The window.

It was closed, rendering the room stifling and somehow septic-smelling, like something had been left in here to rot, but the light seeping in from below was strong enough that I knew it would give me a good view of the street. I could find out whether it was safe for me to leave the house and go looking for a pay phone. I stepped into the room, drawn to that window like a moth to a flame.

Something moaned in the dark. It was a small, weak sound, but it was still enough to bring me to an instant halt, my back going so stiff that it pulled at the wounded muscles in my thighs and made me want to start moaning. I bit my tongue to keep from making a sound and turned, as slowly as I could, to face the farthest corner of the room.

My eyes were adjusting to the dim light. As I peered into the corner, it began slowly resolving from an indistinguishable jumble into distinct shapes. That long, broken pillar was a piece of the bed. Those soft mounds were the comforter, humped up and caked with something foul. And the skeletal collection of joints and angles in the middle of it all was a human being, eyes sunk deep into a skull that was barely contained by a thin panel of tight-stretched skin, hair almost completely ripped from its scalp. I couldn’t tell its original gender: it was naked, but so huddled over that it could have been male or female. Not that it really mattered. The figure was clearly on the verge of death, having been locked in this room so long that its body had already cannibalized every useful bit of tissue that it could without shutting down essential systems. I didn’t know how long it took the average person to starve to death, or how big this one had been when the door shut and the food stopped coming, but regardless, they didn’t have much longer.