The last time I talked to Bill, he said he was going to get gas for his car and that he’d be right back. The gas station was two blocks away, so I figured he wouldn’t be gone long. They wanted us all to report to these military-administered camps and rescue stations, the nearest of which was rapidly assembled on the former university campus of yours truly. Bill and I were college buddies, we went out drinking just about every weekend and had the same major, so we studied together and worked on papers and all that sort of crap. We both were out-of-towners and didn’t like the idea of being holed up here on the campus, perhaps indefinitely, with things looking as bad as they did. So we decided to make a run of it, hit the road, bypassing the clogged freeway by driving out through the eastern hills, and then catching one of the interstates into the desert towards Tahoe and Nevada. When Bill didn’t come back, I figured he either went out for some supplies after getting gas, or had been caught and escorted to the rescue station. The buses that used to take workers and students up the straight avenue from the freeway to the university had been commandeered to evacuate people up to the campus, with armed escorts to herd, by force if necessary, any stragglers into coming along. The reports of rioting and looting on the East Coast were common knowledge now, and the troopers here apparently had orders not to let any civilians try to cut out on their own and possibly become the looting and raiding problem out here on the West Coast.
I guess you might be thinking that it was also possible that Bill decided to cut out on his own without me. But you don’t know Bill. He’s my friend, he wouldn’t ditch me. When he hadn’t come back by nightfall, I figured he wouldn’t be back. Things weren’t yet so bad out here. No one I knew had actually seen any of the things that all the commotion was about, and to be honest I started to think the whole thing was just a big misunderstanding, or a ridiculous cover-up for some other real agenda. I saw no reason to panic and leave, and where would I have gone anyway? So I stayed in my first-floor apartment, thinking Bill might show up by surprise. I ate dinner, avoided the news, and went to bed just like any other normal night. I didn’t even do anything about the fact that next to my front door in the main room, there is a floor-to-ceiling panel of thin glass as a window. I guess I really just wasn’t that scared of anything yet. I hadn’t seen anything to be scared of.
A sound jolted me awake that night and I sat bolt upright in bed. I was too out of it to know exactly what I had heard, but I thought it might have been really distant thunder. Then I heard it again, and again, and again. There was no mistaking it, it was gunfire, and it was out on the main avenue no more than three blocks away, by the sounds of it. I think that was when I truly began to feel fear. It was about 4:00am, so I didn’t bother trying to go back to bed. Who could after waking up like that? I sat in bed, sitting up, with the blanket in my lap and my baseball bat in my right hand.
The next morning, I opened the front door and stepped outside into the shared parking lot for this apartment building and the one right beside it, set in a bit from the road. There was no sign of activity anywhere in the area. Almost all of the cars were gone, and I didn’t see any lights on in any of the neighboring apartment windows. It really didn’t look or feel any differently from a holiday weekend, since most of the students around here went home frequently throughout the years on the various breaks. I did see a line of smoke over the roves of the houses across the street, however, coming from roughly the same place where I guessed the gunfire had happened the night before. I guessed most of my neighbors had either taken off or gone up to the campus rescue station.
That morning, I made a decision that easily saved my life. I decided to take the things I thought I’d need for a few days and move to one of the apartments upstairs. I didn’t think I would be on my own very long. I guess I was still pretty dense, still half-believing that this whole thing would end up being some really bad joke. I took my baseball bat, a few blankets, my cigarettes and some clothes upstairs, along with the food in my fridge that would spoil the quickest. I knew I’d be able to get into the upstairs apartments. My first year in college, when I came home really drunk one night, I’d stumbled right up to the wrong door and used my key and walked right in…. to my neighbor’s apartment. Luckily, he was asleep and the lights were all off, so I quietly backpedaled and closed the door. Apparently all the door locks in the building worked under a single key. Goddamn cheapass college town landlords. He was probably one of those perverted voyeur types who couldn’t resist reserving the ability to sneak into his tenants’ apartments and snoop around.
I chose the last upstairs apartment set the furthest back from the street, so that any noise I made wouldn’t be too obvious to anyone who came poking around for loot or trouble. Break-ins in the area were common even before all of this happened, and I figured it was just that much more likely now. An entire town’s belongings were pretty much up-for-grabs. I took one more precaution as well. There was only one stairway leading upstairs, the kind that was basically just two metal rails with those cheesy stucco or granite or whatever the hell board-shaped steps bolted on at every few inches, and a very frail iron handrail. It was against the building itself so there was no handrail along the wall part. I have a pick-up truck with a very flat, un-aerodynamic front hood, so I pulled it up very tightly against the wall of the apartment building with the nose of the hood right up against the stairway. That way, I figured, if anyone tried to come up the stairs they’d have to climb over my truck’s hood, which I was more likely to hear. I also dragged a couch out of one of the second-story apartments and slid it across the top of the stairway. I didn’t tie it in place or anything. Since someone coming up the stairs would be a lower elevation and would be facing the back of the couch at the top, they wouldn’t be able to just climb over it, they’d have to push it out of the way. I felt content with this dual auditory security system and set about making myself comfortable in my temporary new home.
The apartment I chose was pretty nice, by my standards. It had a much newer, more comfortable couch than mine, which was just a left-behind by an old ex-roommate, and the queen-sized bed with a thick bedspread was a hell of a lot nicer than the one I brought up with me from my high school bedroom. I figured it was grad students. I hadn’t been very well-acquainted with the people who lived in my building, mostly because I was shy and partly because I thought they were all a bunch of pretentious bastards who made complaints to the landlord about the pettiest crap that any reasonable person would just expect when living in an apartment building with twenty other people. Also, they were much better grocery shoppers and cooks than I was, whoever had lived here. The shelves in the kitchen were packed with canned soups, fruits, vegetables, and sauces, and the fridge was full of frozen chicken meat, soda, bottled water, frozen dinners, hamburger meat, and just about all the good stuff you wouldn’t expect to see in a college apartment. There was also a good supply of liquor in the cabinets above the sink.
I tried to take my change in lifestyle in stride. I was never an overly extroverted guy. Wait, let me explain. I’m not a geek or anything, if that’s what you’re thinking. I just was the type of person that, from an early age, knew how to entertain myself without needing to constantly run with a crowd. An independent thinker, if you will. I never really cared much for television, so I didn’t watch much. I figured I wasn’t missing anything all that important. A great deal of what was really going on was hush-hushed, with the news mostly droning on about supporting the new relocation policies, keeping calm, and finding your way to the nearest relocation center A.S.A.P. The real stuff covered was mostly candycoated. The riots on the East Coast were, as most riots are, downplayed as minor civil disturbances which were quickly coming under control. There was still power, so I mostly passed the time playing around on the computer, reading, and relaxing. Mostly stuff I would have done on any normal weekend, minus going out to drink on Saturday nights with Bill when neither of us had a date, which seemed to be most of the time. The phones had been appropriated entirely by the State and Federal governments for official use and coordination of the military and the relocation programs. I wasn’t able to sign online or call anyone, but I figured my family had been relocated anyway. They were the type that didn’t step outside the box very often.
A week passed. It might seem to you that spending a week entirely alone would be unnerving, but to me it was just like an extended weekend. Lots of times, during winter and spring breaks and the various holidays, a good majority of the college students would ditch town either to visit family or go on road trips, so I was accustomed to spending long periods alone. Often, I would go the better part of a week without interacting with anyone, except maybe in e-mail. Most of the restaurants around here were cockroach motels and greasy spoons, so I mostly ate at home and went to the grocery store once every other week or so. All in all, my normal routine hadn’t been upset very much. I did occasionally go out onto the balcony and look around. There was a park behind the apartment building, separated from the parking lot by a chain-link fence where, on a normal day, you’d see people walking their dogs or jogging, or even practicing some amateur fencing. There was no activity there, nor on the road out front. I was set back two blocks from the main town avenue, though, so there never really was a lot of foot or vehicle traffic on my street anyway. In a lot of ways, I had a nice little taste of what I really wanted and never got, even on solitary school breaks: to be left the hell alone for awhile. Even on breaks, I often had papers to write, or books to read, or tests to get ready for, which often required calling up people from class to clarify a question, or to ask about lecture notes from a day I missed, or something along those lines. This was my first real vacation in a long time.
I relaxed the usual social inhibitions so much, in fact, that I stopped bothering to dress altogether. I started going about all day long in nothing but boxer briefs and a comfortable underwear t-shirt, much as I did just about anytime I was at home and wasn’t expecting any company. I still showered everyday, though, not being able to stand the dirty heaviness of my hair and the faintly sticky feeling under my arms when I went more than 24 hours without cleaning up. Not wanting to bother with moving the couch and hopping over my truck to get to the downstairs laundry room, I just filled up the bathtub with soapy water and soaked my clothes in them overnight, and borrowed the apartment’s previous tenant’s clothes while my own clothes were hang-drying. If you thought I sound at all like someone you might call a dork, you should have seen this guy’s underwear. Skinny little speedo-type briefs with color blocks, like a thick red stripe over your crotch and around your rear, with white on the left and right. I figured if this whole thing blew over, I might do this guy a favor and set fire to his clothes before I relinquished his apartment back to him. Might help him not get laughed at when he undresses in front of a date he brought home.
On the 11th night, it rained. I woke up because I very much enjoyed the pleasant sound of rain falling, and the heaviness of the wind outside carrying so much moisture. A few times, I heard a faint voice-like moan carried on the wind, but I assumed this to be my imagination and thought no more of it.
On the morning of the 15th day, I heard footsteps outside, near the sidewalk along the street. Thinking it might be someone who cut out on his own, and beginning to feel mildly saturated with my isolation, I decided to go out on the balcony and see who it was. I got up out of bed and, in no particularly hurry, figuring if this one moved on before I got their attention there’d probably be another some other time, I started to pull on my jeans and get some shoes on, just to be presentable. By the time I was sitting on the couch tying my shoelaces, the footsteps had moved into the parking lot, and this worried me slightly. I wondered why some random loner would be interested in coming up to investigate the building, which as I said before was set back a bit from the street. I got my baseball bat and listened.
Whoever it was, they started making a racket that jolted me. I felt the adrenaline rush, beginning to fear that I might have to fight some psychopathic homeless asshole trying to break in. I heard some pounding on a window downstairs, and then, strangely, the footsteps shuffled slowly up towards the door to the downstairs apartment, and the pounding began, this time on the hollow wood of the apartment door. Now I was really worried. Someone just trying to find a place to rob could have just broken the window and come in. Why would they pound on the window, stop, change their mind, and then start pounding on the door instead? Then I realized something. Whoever it was, they weren’t at the first apartment, they were at the second one – mine. I paused for a second more and then a wave of relief swept over me – it had to be Bill. He must have snuck out of the relocation center and made it back here on foot. Good for him. I rushed for the door, opened it, and went out onto the balcony.
I couldn’t see him, because the balcony juts out from the apartment building about five feet, and the doors to the apartments downstairs were set into the building by about two feet. So, even with me leaning way over the rail, I couldn’t catch a glimpse of him. The pounding on the door had stopped, and I heard the footsteps backing up.
You might wonder why I didn’t call out his name. I’m not sure why I didn’t. As I’ve told you, I’m a pretty quiet person. I don’t like to call out or holler, and it just seemed that much more inhibiting to do so when the neighborhood was so damn quiet. I don’t really care for the sound of my own voice, and I imagined it echoing down the abandoned street. Some instinctually cautious, and perhaps frightened, part of me also warned me not to draw more attention to myself than I absolutely had to. So I just waited for the footsteps to back up enough for me to see whoever was down there.
I saw the dark dirty-blond, light brown head appear, with broad shoulders winging it, from my vantage point. I instantly recognized my friend Bill. I called his name. I didn’t need to say it loudly, since he was now directly under me. I was mentally working on some witty quip to tease him about ditching me for so long. I really was very glad to see him.
What happened in the next moments frightened me so much that I couldn’t fully recall it until much later that evening. I called Bill’s name, and he stopped his backwards treading from my apartment door. His dark dirty blond hair, or light brown, I was never sure which, started to angle backwards as he lifted his face. What I saw was something straight out of some horrible Twilight Zone-inspired nightmare, the type that imposes surrealism onto your normal thoughts and twists them in a way that is subtly frightening. It was the same smooth forehead, the same sleek nose, the same intense, soft eyes and handsome face of my friend Bill. But it was totally drained of healthy human color. It was a gray, almost bluish tint, and the mischievous yet compassionate and understanding look I always saw in my friend’s eyes were replaced by a dull, empty look.
If I tell you what happened next, you’ll see why I think this is the moment I started to lose my grip on sanity. Bill’s face sparked recognition, but not in the friendly way I would normally expect. It was more like—well, how can I explain it. It is how I mentally picture the look on a rapist’s face when he finds the woman who narrowly escaped him and found a place to hide just minutes before. His mouth opened in a half-smile as he stared up at me, full of sadistic glee at finding me. The sound that came out of his mouth at that moment of recognition, written words can barely describe. It was an “Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!” sound, but it was truly perverse. It sounded like the way a Nazi doctor with a fat bald head and little circular-rimmed glasses would say it when he turned around holding a huge knife after saying, “Now it is time to begin zee operation”, and, initially puzzled at not seeing his patient on the surgical table, located the little Jewish kid huddled up under it. That kind of “Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!” sound. High-pitched and twisted and threatening and animalistic and deranged all at once. I half-expected to hear it followed by “THERE YOU ARE!” in a demonic-sounding voice. I still don’t know if I did the sound justice. All I know is that, hours later, when I finally came back into myself, huddling and whimpering in a corner of the bedroom under a blanket, with my jeans wet all the way down one leg, I couldn’t remember why I was there.
I didn’t move from that position for all of that night and all of the next day.
That night, my repeated self-whisperings of “maybe he’s gone away now, Bill’s gone away” had half-convinced me that Bill had, indeed, gone. I hadn’t heard anything downstairs during the time that I could remember. I got up, slowly, and, with a deathgrip on my baseball bat, I walked so very carefully across the carpeted floor towards the main room. I realized suddenly that I was hungry and my throat felt parched.
Complete and total panic.
I had doubled over and knelt down against a wall when a sudden sound broke the complete silence both inside and outside the apartment. It was a deep hollow sound, and I realized it was the same sound made when the garbage men were putting the big metal trash dumpster back against the back wall of the apartment near the chain-link fence and slammed it into the wall.
HE WAS STILL OUT THERE!
I had no idea what the hell could possibly have happened to him, except some vague fluttering memory of news jabber about some new illness related to the chaos that was going on. My memory started to come back. The fright I felt looking into Bill’s face and hearing that god-awful sound had completely consumed my conscious thought, but unconsciously my eyes still took in the whole picture. The broad shoulders, and the blood. The deep, blood-stained gory gash from above the left hip down across his lower stomach to the right thigh. Very deep. A little hint of intestines protruding slightly. The ragged jeans completely soaked with now-dried blood.
He had to be dead. Oh God he had to be dead. It pounded in my head over and over with the increasing thrumming tempo of an accelerated headache, over and over. More crashing outside, thumping, slamming, pounding. Furious for awhile. I don’t know how much time passed while I sat there huddled against the wall in an upright fetal position, trying to make myself as quiet and invisible as possible.
The next morning, thirst and hunger and the complete exhaustion brought on by a lack of sleep for days and the constant fear elicited a feeling of resigned, almost stoic apathy. I had to drink or else I felt I would dry up completely and die. It was quiet outside, so, on the count of ten (okay, it ended up being more like 57) I finally got the balls to get up and walk into the kitchen. I drank three bottles of water from the fridge and then started gorging on some almost-still-good fruit. I hurried over to the sink and heaved it all back up, and then went back and tried it again, slower this time. For awhile, I thought it would come back up, but finally it settled and my stomach begrudgingly accepted my offerings, though it was clearly still highly pissed off.
When the noises started again outside, I half-started, but, the exhaustion and pain in my eyes and head and stomach made me completely fed up and I willed myself to ignore it. First, I removed the television and VCR from the large oak entertainment center and dragged it, inch by inch, in front of the large window in the main room. Then I pulled the couch in front of the door, with the back of it fitting tightly under the doorknob. Then I retreated back into the bedroom, the furthest point from the front door, and locked the bedroom door and collapsed on the bed and slept. If it broke in and got me, I did the best I could. I was too tired and pissed off and, partly, afraid to care at that point.
I don’t know how long I slept, but when I woke up I felt a lot better. The first thing I did was to take off all of my clothes and shower. Thankfully, the water was still running. Everytime I moved from the bedroom to the bathroom, I kept locked doors between me and the front door. The hot water helped me to relax and think, and I came to a few conclusions. First off, whatever happened to Bill, it had really dumbed him down. It was pretty obvious he was dying to have a little reunion with me, and it wasn’t one I was eager to have. Yet, it apparently had not crossed his mind to climb over the truck and come up the stairs. Perhaps the loss of blood from his wound had damaged his brain. How he was still walking around with such a ghastly injury was something I decided to ponder later. For a moment, I worried that whatever the hell was wrong with him, it might be contagious. I’d certainly smelled something really horrible coming off of him when he was right under me, another detail that I hadn’t recalled at first. I figured that if he had something insanely contagious, I probably had it by now, and there was no use worrying over it.
I tried the television after I got out of the shower and dressed (fully, for the first time in weeks), but it was all static. Part of me cursed myself for not having paid more attention to what was going on earlier, when the news was still on, but part of me doubted I would have learned anything useful anyway. Somehow I couldn’t picture reporters telling you what to do if your best friend comes over with gray skin and his intestines leaking out and “Aaaaaaaaaaah!”s at you and then proceeds to pound on your door, window, and garbage bin.
I decided to pretend the whole thing hadn’t happened. After all, what could be done about it now? I tried my best to get back into the routine I’d practiced before Bill returned, and it worked for another week or so. You might wonder how I was able to just go right back to reading and laying around after what I told you happened on the balcony. But, as I told you, this is part of the reason why I think I’m losing it.
One afternoon, I opened the cabinet above the sink and pulled down a bottle of vodka. I drank it straight out of the bottle, ignoring the searing burn in my stomach as it went down. I’ll admit it, I got stark raving drunk. Then something funny happened. I started to feel kind of glad that Bill was outside. I hadn’t gotten drunk without Bill in three years, and his company was a welcome presence whenever I was drinking. You might think me crazy when I tell you what I did. I went into the cabinet and got a little half-glass and filled it with vodka. Then I tied a string around the lip of the glass and wound it around the top and bottom several times, and tied a knot at the top. Then I pulled the couch away from the front door, unlocked it, opened it, and went out onto the balcony.
“Bill….. gooood to see you, have’a’drink,” I slurred as I started lowering the glass down towards him on the string. I took his look of surprise and subsequent bantering moan as a sign of appreciation. When the glass reached him, though, he slapped it away clumsily and I lost my grip on the string, and it smashed on the cement.
“Fine, don’t drinkkk then, assh-hole,” I said, and pulled over a lawn chair that was against the apartment over to the edge of the balcony, and reclined in it with my drink. In my stupor, Bill’s moaning rants and nonsensical sounds almost sounded like normal drunken conversation. I talked back, often incoherently, about all kinds of things. Politics, philosophy, psychology, what I’d been up to, all mixing and overlapping. For awhile, Bill was reaching up with both arms, trying to grab me I suppose, but I was too far up. Finally he seemed to give up and just plopped down, ungracefully, on his rear end on the hard cement. I heard a hard slapping noise when he did it. He just stared up at me and seemed to listen, so I prattled on drunkenly and, I’m not embarrassed to tell you, it alleviated my fear and loneliness.
I woke up in bed, so I figured at some point I must have bid Bill a good night and thudded my way into the bedroom before passing out. Despite all of the time I’d spent alone, I still had enough of my wits about me to know that what I’d done the night before was truly disturbing. I mean, hanging out with dead guys, even if they used to be your friend, and talking to them was never exactly high on my list of how to tell if someone was sane. I guess the solitude of my now-confinement had begun to wear on me. Although I was no longer really deathly afraid of him getting up here, I was a little wierded out by everything that had gone in the last few weeks and stayed indoors for three days. Once, I thought I heard a helicopter overhead, but I couldn’t really be sure. Aside from that, Bill was the only “person” I’d seen since the relocation had started. The craziness of trying to lower a drink to him started to weigh on my mind a little bit, but I dismissed it, rationalizing that I had just been very drunk.
I started to have dreams. They were twisted, nightmarish episodes. Sometimes they were very obvious and straightforward, like suddenly waking up and seeing the front door broken open and Bill hurrying across the room towards the hallway that led to the bedroom. Other times they were more abstract. Images of myself looking like Bill, or whole groups of people looking like Bill, except sometimes both me and the group would be normal again. Sometimes, in my dream, I’d be on the campus where the rescue station was supposed to be, with a bunch of people like Bill outside and some military guy inside yelling at me, demanding to know why I hadn’t come in sooner. It was weird though, it always felt like I was being scolded for turning in a paper late to a professor or something. The dream always ended with the military guy asking me why I left Bill behind. Somehow he always seemed to know who Bill was, and that Bill was my friend, and that I’d left him behind. I noticed disapproval and disgust in his eyes, and the accusation etched there that I had left a friend behind.
I don’t remember clearly the order of how things happened over the next several days. The mundane routines of eating, sleeping, dreaming, and living (or something like it) all started to blur into one another, with the isolation and confinement as the only constant. It seemed like a feeling of being cut off from the world had replaced the flow of time in my perception. Really, time had started to lose its meaning anyway. You’d be surprised how little time means when you have nowhere to be by a certain time and nothing to do by a certain date. All I know is that eventually I’d started talking to Bill again.
It was brief at first, maybe just going out to ask him how he was doing, or to say hello. I told myself that the real reason I was out there was to hang a sheet I’d washed on the balcony rail to dry, or to straighten up, or to look around and see if I could find any other people. But over the course of time, as I grew accustomed to Bill’s new appearance and constant presence, I started spending more and more time out on that balcony. I didn’t even really mind the smell after awhile. If you want to know the truth, it made me feel better about the days I started to go without showering or changing my clothes. Hell, if he smelled that bad, I’m sure I was a rose in comparison.
When the power finally went out, I started taking my books outside to read on the lawn chair. I didn’t read anything new. I figured it didn’t really matter if I learned new things or not, and it’s always less enjoyable to read a new book for the first time than a book you’ve read before and know you like. So I picked familiar books, like “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger, and “Dune” by Frank Herbert, even “Jaws” by Peter Benchley. I started reading out loud too, just to hear another living voice, and, deep down, I have to admit I read it for Bill too.
Sometimes he would stop wandering around the first floor and pounding on things and trying to get in, and he seemed to almost listen. Maybe, whatever was wrong with him, the loneliness was affecting him as well. I think he began to understand the pattern, because eventually as soon as he heard me come out of the front door (I wasn’t taking pains to be silent anymore), he’d back right up to where he knew he’d be able to see me on the balcony, and would just stand there and stare. He’d stand like that, staring at me, for hours while I read about prostitutes in New York, or Fremen surviving the desert and avoiding sandworms, or a monstrous fish cutting through the ocean depths in search of its next human victim. Bill listened stoically with the attentiveness I hadn’t known him to be able to maintain for long when he was alive.
When these thoughts really started to weigh heavily on me, I went outside and sat down cross-legged right up against the balcony railing and talked to Bill. I told him exactly how I felt, and I apologized sincerely for how I’d been treating him, and I even confessed that I’d been very terrified of him ever since the day he came back from the gas station. I guess I was crying a little, and I asked him to try to remember me, and to try to be like he used to be. He stared at me and didn’t say anything for awhile.
Then he spoke. My face flew up from my lap so fast I almost hit my head against the railing. But when I looked at Bill, he looked as confused as I did. He’d been surprised by my sudden movement. I waited for awhile, unsure if I had really heard him talk or not. No, he’d definitely said something, I was sure of it. He’d said, “Help me.” I promised him that I would try to help.
I started having regular conversations with Bill after that. He started to slowly improve his speech. He had to re-learn how to speak from the ability of a very young child. I was patient, and glad to see him getting better. I helped him with words, and he was a quick learner. I decided I wanted to be a good teacher to help him like I promised, so I went inside looking for paper and pencil. I couldn’t find any in the printer, so I opened the bedroom closet looking for sheaths of printer paper. Instead I found a voice recorder.
Out of curiosity, I listened to the tape that was still inside it. It was apparently the guy who had previously lived in this apartment. He had a deep, baritone voice and he was speaking in another language. Many times, whatever it was he was saying would be repeated, but it sounded more foreign to me each time. I realized he had been working on improving his accent in whatever the hell language he was learning to speak. I played the whole tape for myself about ten times, because hearing another person’s voice was like candy to my ears. When I was done, and feeling in very good spirits, I removed the tape and found a blank one in a bunch of tapes the shelf I found the voice recorder on.
I started taping my conversations with Bill. You might think I did this as evidence, or to research this new disease my friend had, or something. But I had no intention of ever going out to find some scientist at a rescue station and handing this over to him. It belonged to me and Bill. I was doing it to help a friend, he was not my lab rat. He improved so quickly after that that I didn’t even need to play the tapes to show him his mistakes. Within days, we were having full-fledged conversations about what was going on.
One day I asked him, “Bill, should I let you up here with me?”
He replied, “No.”
“Because I want to eat you.”
After he said that, he just stared up at me again, his mouth slightly open. It almost looked like a devious smirk. I saw something in his eyes I hadn’t noticed before. It looked an awful lot like hunger. But it wasn’t just hunger. If you took hunger and elevated it to the level of lust, that was what I saw. I didn’t have anymore conversations with Bill for a week. I stopped going outside altogether, because Bill had really started to frighten me again.
As I told you in the very beginning, you might think it strange to be terrified of your friend. It’s part of the reason I told you why I think I have lost my sanity. But you know, during that week I spent alone, I started to really miss talking to Bill. I was laying down on the carpet in the hallway, smoking one of the very last of my cigarettes, when I decided to listen to the tapes I’d made of me and Bill speaking. I got up and went into the living room and picked up the voice recorder off of the table. I brought it back into the hallway, laid down, and listened.
The conversation was the same as I remembered it. But, instead of a conversation between Bill and myself, I heard myself saying the things I remember saying, followed by my own voice altered to sound as much like Bill’s as I imagine my voice could. I was so horrified at having no memory of this whatsoever that I sat upright in shock and kept listening. The conversations were still all as I remembered them. Bill really did participate in them sometimes, throwing in moans and grunts and breathy sounds mixed in with my supplied responses on his behalf. At first I panicked, thinking that I’d totally lost it. You have no idea how scary it is to think you’ve lost your mind when there is no community around you to point it out, or help you.
Then I had an almost rational thought. It might have been a rationale, I’m not sure which. I came to the conclusion that whatever sickness had changed Bill, I had caught it and it was causing me to hallucinate. It was all Bill’s fault. If he knew he was sick with something horrible he shouldn’t have come back here. I was his friend, how could he do this to me? I went out and cursed him and verbally abused him in every way I could think of as revenge. He seemed to get agitated and excited, and started grasping for me more aggressively and groaning.
I felt really badly about doing that to Bill the next day. If he was sick, it wasn’t his fault, and he obviously wasn’t in a frame of mind to have known he would be endangering me just by coming back home to see me. And, imagined or not, he had been my companionship, my only companionship, for weeks now. It’s strange, but I felt closer to him than I ever had before. The weight of society suddenly disappearing out from under my feet like a pulled rug had made me feel a stronger bond with my friend, the only person who’d come back for me. I wasn’t sure, in death, that I would have been able to do the same for him, and that made me feel even worse.
Nevertheless, Bill was making me go insane and I had to put a stop to it.
I know most people think they’re really tough when it comes to violent stuff. Or, at least, they think they’d be capable of doing really tough things. You know, getting a gun and shooting it, or picking up a two-by-four and smashing someone’s head in with it. Not only did I not think I could do that, but I really couldn’t do it to Bill. I decided it was important that it had to seem like an accident, both for me and for him.
You might think what I did was not so subtle, but technically I had nothing to do with the fact that it ended up killing him. I dragged the large-screen TV from the floor of the apartment out onto the balcony and then went back inside for some hemp braided string I found in a utility drawer. I wrapped it multiple times in varying angles all around the television, finally tying a knot. Then, with the other end of the rope, I tied a thick knot around the rail of the balcony, giving a slack between it and the knot holding the rope around the TV of just a few inches. Then I lifted the television and carefully moved it over the rail and hung it right over the spot Bill was watching me from. I knew he’d be there, even though I couldn’t see him past the TV, because it was the spot he’d become accustomed to standing and watching me when I came outside. The thin rope strained when I let go of the TV, but it held. It wouldn’t hold forever, though. I cut a few of the fibers making up the braids in the rope, just enough to weaken it, and said goodbye to Bill. I left a book sitting on the rail, because Bill knew that meant that I would be coming back outside soon. I often left the book sitting like that when I went inside to use the bathroom or to make something to eat. I knew he wouldn’t move from that position because once, by accident, I’d left the book out there all night when I went to bed. When I got up in the morning, he was still standing there, waiting for me to come back out and continue reading.
I said goodbye to him. It started to rain. It was really overcast, the type of overcast that makes the whole world look gray. In that light, Bill almost looked normal again, and I felt a twinge of guilt about what I had planned to do. I think I cried, but the rain blotted it out. I wanted Bill to not think anything was out of the ordinary, so I smiled and said I would see him tomorrow. I didn’t lie to my friends.
The rain picked up that night and the wind really howled. I couldn’t hear anything above the weather, so I just laid in bed awake in the dark waiting. It was the longest and most lonely night I’ve ever spent, before or since.
The next morning it was done. All I had to do was open the door and see that all that was left was the knot on the rail. I didn’t want to see what I’d done to Bill. Bill had finally gone away, I pretended, and then I went back inside.