The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
Thursday January 26, 1995
“I don’t think we’re the only ones to come this way.” Greg glanced at the path that had been made through the debris to the stairwell door. A piece of old police tape had gotten stuck to the bottom ofGreg’s shoe. He kicked and scraped at it with his other foot.
The dead man put his hand against the stairwell door, “The building’s shifting. Can you feel it?”
Greg glanced nervously at the ceiling, “What?”
“It’s all lining up like dominoes.” The dead man turned to him, “You shouldn’t be here.”
“Well, I am here.”
The dead man pushed the handle, the door to the stairway whispered open, “This isn’t one of your games.”
“Isn’t it?” Greg brushed past him. By the light from the fire he could see the stairwell was streaked and distorted, strange graffiti mingled on the walls. There were thick gashes on the steps, as though some kind of a wild animal had been loosed there, “Aren’t we scaling a tower to kill an evil wizard?”
The dead man cracked a little smile as he followed Greg. The door swung to a close. “Flashlight.” Greg said, “I left the flashlight in the car.”
“Just wait. Your eyes will adjust.”
“My eyes? What about yours?” Greg asked.
The dead man didn’t answer.
Robbed of his sight Greg waited for the shadows to resolve themselves. He could hear a distant reverberation; it made him imagine long abandoned machinery sputtering to life. What kind of machinery would be running here? The moment they started walking a strange rolling sensation began to tickle his stomach
“Can you feel the shifting?” The dead man said, “Grab hold of my shirt, there isn’t much time.”
Greg gripped the fabric, suppressing a shudder at the feel of the cold flesh beneath it. The spinning sensation seemed to grow worse with every step; the building seemed to pitch under his feet like a ship at sea. Thoughts of the sea were a source of momentary comfort for Greg. He and his father tried to go deep sea fishing at least once a year, his Dad loved it so much that usually for weeks afterwards he was using ocean metaphors in his sermons.
By the time they had cleared the third floor landing Greg’s eyes had adjusted to the shadows. He could see the stairway was all ninety-degree angles but it felt like they were moving in an endless spiral. The patches of discoloration became full- fledged gaps in the walls, revealing hallways and rusted pipes.
“Tristam.” Greg said, “I hear voices... whispering.”
“Nothing that can bother us.” The dead man mechanically scaled the steps, one by one.
Bloated amorphous shapes slipped among the shadows, oozing out of the cracks and gaps in the walls, following them, crowding around them. Misshapen appendages clutched at Greg, whenever they touched him he felt a tremor of desperation. The whispers became louder, almost shouts.
“God.” Greg said, “What are they?”
The dead man replied, “Souls.... Ghosts might be a better word.”
The shapes crowded in around them, grasping lazily. The dead man pushed through them easily. “They can’t hurt us. Don’t be afraid...”
“...I turn away from my sins and ask you to forgive my sins...”
“What are you doing?”
“Praying.” Greg tried to keep his voice from shaking.
“I told you they can’t hurt us.”
“I’m praying for them.”
The dead man paused and spread his arms wide, “Don’t bother.”
Greg felt a tug, as though the off kilter gravity of the stairway had shifted again and now the dead man was the center of everything. The ‘ghosts’ became panicked.
One by one they were drawn to the dead man; they squealed in mindless panic, the sound resounding through Greg’s mind. “What are you doing?”
“Getting ready.” The dead man replied, “I have to fill in the parts he took as best I can.”
“You’re... you’re killing them?”
“Eat or be eaten.” When the stairway was empty save for the two of them, the dead man started walking again, “That’s the way of the world.”