I GOT OFF THE TRAIN AT R.F.K., AND I WAS ALONE, BECAUSE THERE HAD BEEN NOTHING REALLY GOING ON IN THE STADIUM FOR YEARS. JUST FLEA MARKETS ON THE WEEKENDS IN THE PARKING LOT, AND AN OCCASIONAL SOCCER GAME, NOTHING ELSE AT ALL. I STEPPED OUT OF THE STATION AND WENT UP ABOVE GROUND AND WALKED A WAYS. THE PARKING LOT WAS HUGE, JUST VAST AND EMPTY, SECTION AFTER SECTION, ABANDONED. I ALMOST COULDN'T SEE THE OTHER END OF IT. THE CEMENT WAS CRUMBLING, AND THERE WERE A FEW INCHES OF SNOW COVERING IT. THE SUN WAS ALMOST COMPLETELY DOWN AND NO LIGHTS ANYWHERE CAME ON. WAY OFF IN THE DISTANCE THERE WAS A LINE OF ROW-HOUSES, AND A HIGHWAY, BUT IT WAS JUST ME, ENTIRELY ALONE. THE STADIUM WASN'T EVEN VERY CLOSE. I JUST WALKED THROUGH THE PARKING LOT FOR SEVERAL MINUTES, WATCHING THE LAST OF THE SUN GO DOWN, KNOWING THAT WHEN IT WAS PERFECT DARK, I HAD TO LEAVE. I ABSOLUTELY COULDN'T BE THERE AT EIGHT. I KNEW HE'D BE THERE EXACTLY THEN.

BUT WHEN I THOUGHT HOW THIS COULD BE THE END OF EVERYTHING I'D ENDURED, I STARTED TO NOT WANT TO GO. I THOUGHT, WHY SHOULD I STAY ALIVE, WHAT FOR. AND WHAT WOULD IT BE LIKE TO STAY HERE UNTIL EIGHT O'CLOCK, AND FIND OUT SOMETHING THAT MAYBE NO ONE LIVING EVER HAD, TO STUMBLE INTO SOME KNOWLEDGE THAT ONLY I WOULD KNOW. NO ONE WOULD BE LIKE ME, AND MAYBE THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN TO ME WAS THAT I DIED, OR MAYBE THAT WASN'T THE WORST, BUT WHAT MIGHT I FIND OUT, HOW DIFFERENT WOULD THE WORLD SEEM IF I MET FATHER HALL HERE, TONIGHT, AND KNOW THE MYSTERY OF GIVING MYSELF OVER TO SOMETHING THAT WOULD BREAK MY IMAGINATION. THERE SEEMED NO REASON TO EVER GO BACK TO MY ROOM. WHATEVER WOULD BE HERE IN A COUPLE OF HOURS, IT WOULD BE IMMENSE. GOING WITH FATHER HALL WOULD BE THE ONLY BRAVERY I'D EVER KNOW. THIS IS THE LOGIC MY MIND HAD CONSTRUCTED, WHICH I SEE NOW WAS JUST A DEMENTED WISH FOR SUICIDE. BUT BACK THEN, INSTEAD OF WALKING BACK TO THE STATION AS NIGHT EMERGED, I WALKED ALONG THE VERY OUTER EDGES OF THE PARKING LOT IN A CIRCLE, GETTING WARMER AND WARMER. AND IT GOT DARK FAST.

I SAW HEADLIGHTS CREEPING TOWARD ME. IT WAS A CAB THAT HAD SWUNG OFF THE MAIN ROAD AND INTO THE PARKING LOT, TAKING A CHANCE THAT I MIGHT BE A VIABLE FARE. THE WINDOW ROLLED DOWN AND THIS ASIAN MAN ASKED ME IF I NEEDED A TAXI. AND I SNAPPED BACK INTO SENSIBILITY, ALL IT TOOK WAS SEEING HIS FACE. I GOT INTO THE BACK AND HE DROVE AWAY. IT WAS PERFECTLY WARM INSIDE, I COULDN'T BELIEVE I HAD EVER BEEN OUTDOORS. IT SEEMED IMPOSSIBLE. HE TURNED ONTO THE MAIN ROAD AND I TOLD HIM I WANTED TO GO TO UNION STATION. I DON'T KNOW WHY I SAID THAT. ALL I WANTED WAS TO SEE THE LIGHTS OF THE CITY. I TURNED BACK AT ONE POINT AS WE DROVE AWAY AND LOOKED AT THE PARKING LOT. I THOUGHT ABOUT FATHER HALL SEEING MY FOOTSTEPS IN THE SNOW.

TEN MINUTES INTO THE RIDE WE WERE IN THE CITY. IT WAS SIX-THIRTY, AND I BEGAN TO FEEL VERY STRANGE, VERY LIGHT-HEADED. I FELT HOLLOWED OUT, LIKE I HAD LOST FIFTY POUNDS OUT OF NOWHERE. AS I WAS LOOKING THROUGH THE CAB WINDOW AT THE STOREFRONTS PASSING BY, I SAW THAT DARK MASS THAT I HAD SEEN IN MY ROOM, IT WAS THERE AGAIN, ON THE SIDEWALK. AT FIRST I THOUGHT I WAS LOOKING AT A BLACK BOX. THIS TIME THE MASS WAS COMING FOR ME MUCH FASTER, AND I TURNED AWAY, I LOOKED OUT THE OTHER WINDOW, BUT IT WAS EVERYWHERE IN MY VISION, A FIXED POINT, COMING AT ME. I CLOSED MY EYES BUT IT WAS ALSO THERE INSIDE MY EYES, GETTING BIGGER, AND I CRIED OUT TO THE CAB DRIVER. ALL I SAID WAS 'HELP ME', AND I HEARD HIM SAY 'WHAT'S THE MATTER, WHAT'S THE MATTER'. ALL OF A SUDDEN I HAD PASSED OUT, AND THE LAST THING I SAW INSIDE MY CLOSED EYES WAS THE IMAGE OF THE STREET THROUGH THE FRONT OF THE CAB WINDOW. IT WAS INDEPENDENCE AVENUE, BACKED UP WITH TRAFFIC, AND THE WHOLE IMAGE TURNED BRIGHT GREEN IN AN INSTANT, LIKE SOMEONE HAD SET OFF A NUCLEAR BOMB MILES AWAY. AND THEN I HAD NO CONSCIOUSNESS WHATSOEVER, I WAS GONE.

WHEN I BECAME AWARE OF THINGS NEXT, I WAS LYING ON MY BACK, LOOKING UP, INSIDE A ROOM, BUT THE CEILING WAS JUST FOUR INCHES OR SO FROM MY FACE. THEN I REALIZED THAT IT WASN'T A CEILING I WAS LOOKING AT, IT WAS THE UNDERSIDE OF A BED. I WAS UNDER A BED, IN THE DARK. I TURNED MY HEAD TO THE RIGHT, AND I SAW THREE PEOPLE VERY CLOSE TO ME, HUDDLED, LYING UNDER THE BED, LOOKING AT ME. A COUPLE OF THEM WERE GRINNING AT ME, THERE WERE TWO MEN AND ONE WOMAN. I SAID TO THEM, 'WHERE AM I?' AND THEY SAID 'YOU'RE JUST LIKE US, YOU'RE WAITING TO BE FED'. I SAW THAT THESE PEOPLE WERE THE PEOPLE FROM THE WOODS, AND THAT NIGHT WHEN THEY'D MADE ME GO THROUGH THEM AGAINST MY WILL. CURTIS WAS THE ONLY NAME I REMEMBERED. NOW THEY WERE NAKED, DEPRAVED, AND I WANTED TO GET OUT OF THERE, BUT I COULDN'T MANEUVER, I WAS BIGGER THAN THEY WERE, AND I COULD BARELY MOVE. CURTIS TOLD ME TO STAY STILL, THAT AS SOON AS THE MAN IN THE BED FELL ASLEEP, WE COULD FEED. I OPENED MY MOUTH A SECOND TIME BUT I COULDN'T SPEAK. THEY LOOKED UP AT THE UNDERSIDE OF THE BED AND THEY WERE TRYING TO HEAR SOMEONE'S BREATHING. JUST A FEW SECONDS LATER, CURTIS SAID, 'IT'S ALMOST TIME, YOU CAN HEAR IT, WE ONLY HAVE TO WAIT A BIT MORE', AND THEN HE PUT ONE ARM OUT AND GRABBED MY ANKLE. HE HAD TEN FINGERS ON EACH HAND, LIKE STICKS. HIS FINGERNAILS WERE LONG AND SHARP. HE SAID, 'NOW! WE HAVE TO EAT QUICKLY!' AND THE THREE OF THEM SCRAMBLED OUT FROM UNDER THE BED. BECAUSE I THOUGHT THEY WOULD MURDER ME IF I DIDN'T DO AS THEY SAID, I DID TOO. WE WERE IN A DARK BEDROOM AND THE THREE OF THEM GOT TO THEIR KNEES AND THREW THEIR FREAKISH HANDS OVER A FIGURE LYING IN THE BED. I RECOGNIZED HIM RIGHT AWAY. IT WAS PETER. HE NEVER WOKE UP, NO MATTER HOW MUCH SOUND THEY MADE. I DID AS THEY DID, IN THIS DREAM, IN THIS OTHER WORLD, COMPLETELY OUT OF FEAR. IMMEDIATELY THE THREE GRAY-EYED PEOPLE RIPPED INTO THE BLANKET, THEN THROUGH PETER'S SHIRT AND INTO HIS STOMACH, THEY TORE IT RIGHT OPEN, AND THEY GRABBED HIS INTESTINES AND RIPPED THEM OUT AS HE CAME AWAKE AND STARTED TO SHRIEK. OUT OF FEAR I DOVE UPON HIM TOO, AND LET MY HANDS BE COVERED IN BLOOD. THE FEEDERS' HANDS WENT FROM PETER'S STOMACH TO THEIR MOUTHS AS THEY ATE EVERYTHING THEY TORE OUT OF HIM. I PRAYED THAT THEY WOULDN'T SEE ME NOT EATING, BUT CURTIS TURNED ON ME, HALF HIS FACE COVERED IN BLOOD WHILE THE OTHERS TORE PETER APART IN A FRENZY, AND HE SAID TO ME, 'IF YOU WON'T EAT, PRECIOUS, YOU CANNOT STAY,' AND I WAS ABOUT TO TRY TO RUN AWAY WHEN I WAS SOMEPLACE ELSE AGAIN.

IT WAS OUTDOORS. I WAS IN A RUINED CITY, IT LOOKED LIKE A VERY OLD CITY THAT HAD BEEN BOMBED OR DESTROYED SOMEHOW, THERE WAS ALMOST NOTHING BUT THE BURNED REMNANTS OF BUILDINGS ALL AROUND, UP AND DOWN A STREET LITTERED WITH RUBBLE. IT WAS A COLD DAY, COLDER EVEN THAN IT HAD BEEN IN THE REAL WORLD. THERE WERE DARK CLOUDS OVERHEAD AND I WAS WITH A GROUP OF PEOPLE, HIDING BEHIND A BARRICADE THEY'D CONSTRUCTED OUT OF RUBBLE. THERE WERE FOURTEEN OR FIFTEEN PEOPLE HIDING WITH ME. HALFWAY DOWN THE STREET WAS A BELL TOWER, AND INSIDE THE BELL TOWER WAS SOMETHING THE PEOPLE WERE VERY AFRAID OF. ONE BY ONE THEY WERE TRYING TO RUN DOWN THE STREET, PAST THE BELL TOWER, TOWARD AN OPEN DOOR IN A STOREFRONT WHOSE WINDOWS HAD BEEN SHATTERED BY A BOMB BLAST. I WATCHED AS A YOUNG WOMAN WAS PUSHED FORWARD BEYOND THE BARRICADE, AND SHE BEGAN TO RUN DOWN THE STREET, AND WHEN SHE GOT ONLY ABOUT TWENTY YARDS OUT, I HEARD A RIFLE SHOT AND A SPRAY OF BLOOD LEAPT UP FROM HER LEFT SHOULDER AND SHE COLLAPSED. SOMEONE UP IN THE BELL TOWER UP AHEAD ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE STREET HAD FIRED DOWN UPON HER. THEN THE NEXT PERSON WENT. THIS TIME IT WAS AN OLD MAN, HE MUST HAVE BEEN SEVENTY YEARS OLD, AND HE COULDN'T RUN VERY WELL AT ALL. HE GOT RIGHT TO THE POINT WHERE THE YOUNG WOMAN HAD FALLEN WHEN ANOTHER SHOT RANG OUT, AND HE WAS HIT IN THE LEFT SHOULDER AS WELL, EXACTLY LIKE THE YOUNG WOMAN HAD, JUST BESIDE THE NECK, AND HE COLLAPSED ALMOST ON TOP OF HER. THERE WAS A LONG SILENCE. THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE BARRICADE WITH ME WERE DECIDING WHAT TO DO, BUT THEY SAW NO CHOICE BUT TO KEEP SENDING ONE PERSON FORWARD. ANOTHER MAN WENT OUT, RUNNING AS FAST AS HE COULD DOWN THE STREET, AND AGAIN, IN THE EXACT SAME SPOT IN THE STREET, INCHES AWAY FROM THE FIRST TWO DEAD BODIES, HE WAS SHOT FROM ABOVE IN THE LEFT SHOULDER, PRECISELY WHERE THE OTHERS WERE. THE BLOOD SPRAYED IN THE SAME PATTERN, THE SHOT MADE THE SAME SOUND. I LOOKED UP AT THE BELL TOWER AND NOTHING COULD BE SEEN UP THERE, THERE WERE TOO MANY SHADOWS. AND I YELLED AT THE PEOPLE WITH ME, I SHOUTED AT THEM TO STOP, DIDN'T THEY SEE WHAT WAS HAPPENING, WE WERE BEING MASSACRED, BUT STILL AGAIN THEY SENT ONE MORE PERSON, AND THIS TIME IT WAS A BOY NO MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS OLD. I REACHED A HAND OUT TO STOP HIM BUT IT WAS TOO LATE. HE RAN FORWARD, HE GOT TO WITHIN INCHES OF THE THREE CORPSES, STARTED TO RUN AROUND THEM, AND THEN HE WAS SHOT FROM ABOVE, AND HE TRIPPED AND FELL FACE DOWN. IT WAS LIKE A FILM BEING RUN AGAIN AND AGAIN, THERE WAS NO VARIATION IN HOW THESE PEOPLE WERE MURDERED, NO DIFFERENCE IN THE LOCATION, THE KIND OF WOUND, AND WHERE THE WOUND APPEARED.

THEN THEY TOLD ME IT WAS MY TURN. I REFUSED TO GO, BUT I HEARD A VOICE SAY I HAD TO GO, I HAD TO, THE ARMIES WERE COMING IN ON US, AND I WAS SUDDENLY SHOVED FORWARD. SO I RAN, I KEPT MY HEAD DOWN AND I RAN, AND I HEARD A SHOT FROM ABOVE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY, AND THEN ANOTHER ONE, THEN ONE MORE, AND I COULD ACTUALLY HEAR THE SNIPER IN THE BELL TOWER PULLING THE BOLT BACK TO FIRE AGAIN AFTER EACH SHOT. I CLOSED MY EYES AND VEERED OFF TO THE LEFT SIDE OF THE STREET, AND WHEN I GOT TO THE SIDEWALK I RAN RIGHT AT THE BELL TOWER. I CRASHED INTO A WOODEN DOOR LEADING INTO IT. THERE WAS A SPIRAL STAIRCASE IN FRONT OF ME, AND I BEGAN TO RUN UP IT, TAKING TWO STEPS AT A TIME. I KNEW THE ONLY WAY TO SURVIVE WAS TO KILL THE SNIPER. I WENT UP, UP, RUNNING OUT OF BREATH, MAYBE SIXTY OR SEVENTY WINDING STEPS, AND THE TOP OPENED RIGHT AT THE BELL, AND I SAW THE SNIPER. HE WAS STANDING ON THE WAIST-HIGH WALL, OVER WHICH WAS A SEVENTY FOOT FALL ONTO THE STREET. HIS GUN WAS GONE, HE WAS JUST A SILHOUETTE AGAINST THE SKY. WHEN I GOT CLOSE TO HIM HE JUMPED OFF THE TOWER. I LOOKED DOWN OVER THE WALL AND HE HAD ALREADY HIT, HE LANDED RIGHT NEXT TO THE PILE OF CORPSES HE'D MADE. THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE BARRICADE WERE COMING OUT, AND THEY SURROUNDED HIM, AND ONE OF THE PEOPLE POINTED UP AT ME, AND HE SAID, 'THAT'S HIM! THAT'S THE KILLER!' AND THE ENTIRE GROUP SWARMED DOWN THE SIDEWALK TOWARD THE DOOR TO THE TOWER. I HEARD THEM A FEW SECONDS LATER, TAKING THE STAIRS, TEN SETS OF FOOTSTEPS RUNNING UP THEM TO GET ME, AND I MYSELF CLIMBED UP ON THE SHORT WALL THAT OVERLOOKED THE TOWN. THERE WAS NOTHING LEFT OF IT, IT HAD ALL BEEN DESTROYED, AS FAR AS I COULD SEE. BEYOND IT WAS AN OCEAN, AND THE SUN WAS BEGINNING TO SET OVER IT. AND WHEN THE MOB REACHED THE TOP OF THE STEPS, I SCREAMED AND JUMPED OFF THE WALL.

FINALLY I WAS IN A ROWBOAT. I WAS STANDING IN IT, BALANCING MYSELF ON THE WAVES OF THE OCEAN I'D SEEN FROM THE BELL TOWER. ABOVE ME THE SKY WAS AS THREATENING AS ANY I HAD EVER SEEN. IT WAS SO DARK I THOUGHT IT WAS NIGHT. I WAS ABOUT FIFTY FEET OFF THE BEACH, GETTING CLOSER AND CLOSER TO IT. THERE WAS A MAN WITH HIS BACK TO ME ON THE BEACH, AND IN HIS HANDS HE WAS HOLDING A STICK AS TALL AS HE WAS, AND HE WAS MAKING LETTERS IN THE SAND. HE HAD ALREADY MADE HUNDREDS OF THEM. THE ENTIRE BEACH TO THE LEFT AND RIGHT WAS COVERED IN WRITING, LETTERS TWO FEET HIGH SPELLING OUT SOMETHING I COULDN'T READ YET. HE MUST HAVE BEEN WORKING FOR HOURS AND HOURS. THE BOAT BUMPED THE SHORE JUST A FEW STEPS AWAY FROM HIM AND I STEPPED OUT. I WENT UP TO THE MAN, AND I TOUCHED HIS SHOULDER AS HE WAS MAKING AN L IN THE SAND WITH THE STICK. HE TURNED TO ME. IT WAS MAURICE. MAURICE LOOKED MUCH HEALTHIER THAN HE HAD IN LIFE, BEFORE HE DIED. HE SEEMED STRONGER, AND HIS SKIN WAS A BETTER COLOR, AS IF HE HAD FINALLY BECOME WHOLE IN DEATH. HE SMILED WHEN HE SAW ME. HE SAID, 'I'M GLAD YOU CAME. NOW I DON'T HAVE TO KEEP WRITING YOU THIS MESSAGE. I CAN TELL YOU IN PERSON.' HE SWEPT HIS ARM ACROSS THE BEACH, WHERE THE WORDS HE'D SCRAWLED WENT EAST AND WEST TOWARD NOTHINGNESS.

WE WALKED TOGETHER, ALONG THE BEACH. THE WATER WAS QUIET, BUT I THOUGHT THERE WAS A MASSIVE STORM COMING, AND WE WERE JUST IN THE CALM BEFORE IT. I ASKED MAURICE WHAT WAS HAPPENING TO ME. HE SAID THAT YES, FATHER HALL WAS WHO I THOUGHT HE WAS. HE WAS THE MURDERER HORATIO VELLO. HE HAD BEFRIENDED THREE LIVING PEOPLE SINCE HIS DEATH IN 1937. HE HAD ATTEMPTED THE FIRST 'FRIENDSHIP' FIVE YEARS AFTER HE WAS HUNG. THE SECOND CAME JUST A YEAR AGO, WHEN HE HAD SPOKEN MANY TIMES TO A HOMELESS WOMAN WHO LIVED IN THE SAME CITY I DID. WHY ME, I SAID, AND MAURICE SAID THAT I MUST HAVE BECOME WEAK, SUGGESTIBLE TO ANYTHING, ESPECIALLY MY OWN DEATH. IN MY WEAKNESS I HAD THINNED THE LINE BETWEEN MYSELF AND HORATIO VELLO. HE HAD BEEN WAITING ON THE OTHER SIDE, SEARCHING ENDLESSLY FOR A DESPAIRING PERSON HE COULD PERSUADE INTO ISOLATING HIMSELF TOTALLY, SO MUCH SO THAT A TOTAL 'EXCHANGE' WAS POSSIBLE. IF I WERE TO MEET HIM THAT NIGHT, MAURICE SAID, VELLO WOULD COME ALONE. THERE WOULD BE NO OTHERS. WHAT WOULD HAPPEN THEN, NO ONE KNEW. NO ONE HAD EVER KNOWN, NOR SEEN WHAT TOOK PLACE DURING ONE OF THESE EXCHANGES. FOR THE WEAKER PARTY, IT WOULD BE QUICK AND VIOLENT, UNIMAGINABLY PAINFUL, AND WHATEVER I WAS WOULD DIE. VELLO WOULD BE ON THE EARTH AGAIN, NOT LIVING, BUT PRESENT, AWARE, ABLE TO TOUCH AND FEEL, AND THAT WAS ALL HE WANTED. I ASKED MAURICE WHAT I COULD DO, WHERE I COULD RUN. HE SAID HE DIDN'T KNOW. BUT I HAD TO STAY CLOSE TO OTHER PEOPLE, MAYBE FOR A LONG TIME, SO THAT VELLO WOULD NO LONGER COME NEAR ME. I HAD TO NEVER BE ALONE, NOT FOR A MOMENT. IF I EVER FELT SOMETHING TRYING TO PULL ME OUT OF THE WORLD AGAIN, I SHOULD SCREAM, SHRIEK, DO EVERYTHING I COULD TO BE SEEN AND HEARD BY OTHER PEOPLE. AND I BEGAN TO SHOUT AT MAURICE IN ANGER, SHAKING AND CRYING, AND I SAID 'IT'S YOU WHO MADE ME THIS WAY, THIS IS BECAUSE OF WHAT YOU DID', AND HE SAID 'YES, I HAD A PART IN THIS, I HELPED YOU TO BECOME WEAK, I WAS PART OF THE CAUSE. I DID IT TO YOU, AND LONG AGO, SOMEONE DID IT TO ME.' WHEN HE SAID THAT, I SAW AN AWFUL SADNESS IN HIS FACE. I SAID, 'ARE YOU IN ME NOW, MAURICE, IS THAT WHAT'S HAPPENED TO ME, HAVE YOU TAKEN ME OVER?' AND HE SAID 'YES, BUT I'LL BE GONE SOON. I DON'T KNOW HOW TO STAY, AND I DON'T WANT TO. I WANT TO REST. MAYBE NOW I CAN BE ALLOWED TO REST.'

WE WERE STANDING IN THE WATER, THE OCEAN. I FELT IT, WE WERE ANKLE DEEP IN IT. I LOOKED UP AT THE SKY, AND WHEN I LOOKED BACK AT MAURICE, HE WAS ON HIS KNEES IN THE WATER. IT WAS UP TO HIS CHEST, AND HE SLUMPED FORWARD WITH HIS EYES OPEN. I TRIED TO GRAB HIM BUT HE WENT FACE FIRST INTO THE WATER AND SUNK HEAVILY, AND WITHIN THREE SECONDS HE WAS TOTALLY UNDER. HE DISAPPEARED UNDER THE SURFACE AND I DIDN'T TRY TO SAVE HIM. I TURNED BACK TO THE BEACH AND SPLASHED TOWARDS IT, THE WATER HITTING MY FACE.

THERE WAS ANOTHER STRANGE JUMP CUT, BUT THIS TIME WAS DIFFERENT. THIS TIME I WAS SUDDENLY AWARE OF INHABITING A BODY, AND ALL THE SENSES THAT BROUGHT. THE BODY WAS MY OWN, I KNEW IT AT ONCE. I REALIZED THAT EVER SINCE I HAD AWOKEN UNDER THAT BED IN PETER'S ROOM, EVERYTHING I'D SEEN AND HEARD HAD BEEN EXPERIENCED WITHOUT MY BODY, JUST MY MIND, AND NOW I HAD THE BODY BACK AGAIN. I WENT FROM SEEING MAURICE SINK IN THE WATER TO BEING ON A STREET IN WASHINGTON, AND FOR TEN SECONDS I HAD NO IDEA HOW I HAD GOTTEN THERE. THEN I REMEMBERED I HAD BEEN IN A CAB AND CRIED OUT FOR HELP, AND THE DRIVER MUST HAVE PUT ME OUT OF THE CAB, OR MAYBE I JUMPED OUT, BECAUSE I WAS ON F STREET, WALKING ALONG THE SIDEWALK, SEEING PEOPLE COMING TOWARDS ME. MY BODY FELT LIKE IT WAS FULL OF WATER, ALL THE WAY FROM MY FEET TO MY HEAD. I WALKED TOWARD THE BRIGHTEST LIGHTS I COULD SEE. I TURNED A CORNER AND THERE WAS A BAR THERE, AND I WENT RIGHT IN. THE PLACE WAS PACKED, IT WAS AN IRISH BAR, A BAND WAS PLAYING AND PEOPLE WERE EVERYWHERE. I JUST STAYED IN THERE FOR AN HOUR OR MORE, AND I LOOKED OUT THE WINDOW AT ONE POINT AT THE PEOPLE PASSING BY, AND I REALIZED THAT THERE WAS NO SNOW ON THE STREET, NO SNOW ON THE GROUND. IN FACT THERE HADN'T BEEN ANY WHEN I HAD AWOKEN FROM THE OCEAN. I ASKED A MAN AT THE BAR WHAT THE DATE WAS, AND HE SAID HE THOUGHT IT WAS THE FIFTEENTH BUT IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN THE FOURTEENTH, AND THAT TOLD ME THAT IT HAD BEEN ALMOST ELEVEN DAYS SINCE I'D GONE TO THE PARKING LOT AT R.F.K. STADIUM. I'D LOST ELEVEN DAYS OF MY LIFE WITH NO MEMORY OF HOW I'D SPENT IT SINCE I'D PASSED OUT IN THE ASIAN MAN'S CAB. I WAS STILL WEARING THE SAME CLOTHES AS WHEN I'D GONE TO THE PARKING LOT, AND PHYSICALLY I WAS HUNGRY BUT NOT OVERLY SO, UNSHAVEN BUT NOT OVERLY SO. ELEVEN DAYS, JUST GONE. BUT I WAS SAFE, IN THE BAR, AND I STOOD THERE FOR THREE MORE HOURS, UNTIL IT STARTED TO THIN OUT. IT WAS ALMOST MIDNIGHT ON A FRIDAY. I FOLLOWED A GROUP OF PEOPLE OUT ONTO THE SIDEWALK, THEN WENT INTO ANOTHER BAR, AND AFTER THAT AN ALL-NIGHT CLUB NEARBY, AND AFTER THAT AN ALL-NIGHT DINER. MOSTLY I JUST STOOD AND WATCHED THE PEOPLE, AND IN THE DINER I DRANK CUP AFTER CUP OF COFFEE, KEEPING MYSELF AWAKE. AT SIX IN THE MORNING I CALLED A CAB WHICH TOOK ME TO THE NEAREST HOTEL, AND I SLEPT. WHEN I TOOK ONE MORE CAB BACK TO MY ROOM THE NEXT MORNING, THE LOCK HAD BEEN CHANGED. I ASSUMED I HAD BEEN EVICTED, AND I DIDN'T BOTHER ASKING ABOUT MY THINGS. ALSO, I NEVER CALLED MY PROBATION OFFICER, BECAUSE I ASSUMED THAT IN MY FUGUE STATE I HAD NEVER GONE BACK, AND WAS IN A LOT OF TROUBLE. I JUST WALKED AWAY FROM MY LIFE.

FROM THAT POINT FORWARD, FOR ALMOST THREE YEARS, I MADE EVERY ATTEMPT IMAGINABLE NEVER TO BE ALONE FOR ANY REASON IF IT COULD POSSIBLY BE HELPED. I LEFT WASHINGTON THE VERY NEXT DAY, LEAVING ALL OF MY POSSESSIONS. I HAD ONLY ONE HUNDRED FORTY DOLLARS AND MY CLOTHES, AND I TOOK A CROWDED BUS TO BALTIMORE, WHERE WITH INCREDIBLE LUCK I GOT A ROOM IN A GROUP HOUSE DOWNTOWN THAT VERY FIRST DAY, ME AND SEVEN OTHER PEOPLE. I PAID FOR THE ROOM BY GETTING THE BIGGEST CASH ADVANCE I COULD AGAINST MY CREDIT CARD. SOMEONE WAS ALWAYS IN THE HOUSE WITH ME. I WENT OUT LOOKING FOR A JOB THE NEXT DAY WHEN THE STREETS WERE BUSY, AND A WEEK LATER I HAD ONE, AT A MALL AT THE INNER HARBOR. GOING TO AND FROM WORK I TOOK PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION TO BE SURROUNDED BY PEOPLE. I ARRANGED MY SCHEDULE SO I WOULD ARRIVE AND LEAVE WORK WHEN THERE WERE GUARANTEED TO BE PEOPLE ON THE STREET. I WOULDN'T EVEN STAND AT THE BUS STOP ALONE. ON MY DAYS OFF I WENT TO BOOKSTORES AND MUSEUMS AND MOVIES AND SAT IN RESTAURANTS FOR HOURS AT A TIME. I MADE AS MANY FRIENDS AS I POSSIBLY COULD. IF FOR SOME REASON THE HOUSE BECAME EMPTY, SOME FREAK CHANCE WHERE ALL MY ROOMMATES WERE GONE, I LEFT IMMEDIATELY FOR A POPULATED PLACE. EVEN GOING INTO A PUBLIC BATHROOM, I TRIED TO WAIT TILL SOMEONE ELSE WAS IN THERE TOO. ON THANKSGIVING I WORKED IN A SOUP KITCHEN. CHRISTMAS DAY, TOO, JUST TO NOT BE ALONE. I NEVER DRANK.

THREE YEARS I LIVED THAT WAY. THERE WERE A FEW TIMES WHEN I WOUND UP ALONE, FOR TEN OR FIFTEEN MINUTES AT THE MOST. THEY WERE AWFUL BUT I GOT THROUGH THEM. AND I DIDN'T SEE THE MAN CALLING HIMSELF FATHER HALL AGAIN. I DIDN'T SEE MAURICE AGAIN EITHER. I WAS NEVER PULLED OUT OF THIS WORLD.

FINALLY, AFTER I GOT AN OFFICE JOB, AND BEGAN TO LOOK INTO GRADUATE SCHOOL ONCE AGAIN, I MOVED OUT OF THE GROUP HOUSE AND INTO A TOWNHOUSE WITH A FRIEND AT WORK. I FELT I WAS READY TO LIVE NORMALLY AGAIN. I STARTED LOOKING AROUND FOR A THERAPIST, MAYBE ONE WHO WOULD AT LEAST PRETEND TO BELIEVE THAT EVERYTHING THAT HAD HAPPENED TO ME WAS REAL. LAST SUMMER I FOUND MYSELF IN THAT TOWNHOUSE ONE NIGHT COMPLETELY ALONE, A FEW WEEKS AFTER MY FRIEND PAUL AND I HAD MOVED IN. HE HAD GONE TO ILLINOIS TO VISIT HIS MOTHER. I'D BE ALONE FOR ALMOST A WEEK.

I WASN'T SURE HOW I WAS GOING TO DEAL WITH IT. THAT FIRST NIGHT I RENTED A LOT OF MOVIES TO KEEP MY MIND OFF THINGS, AND FINALLY I FELL ASLEEP IN MY BEDROOM AT ABOUT TWO. AT ABOUT FOUR BY THE CLOCK RADIO, I CAME AWAKE, I DIDN'T KNOW WHY. I LOOKED AROUND MY BEDROOM, KEEPING THE LIGHT OFF, AND DIDN'T SEE ANYTHING. BUT I FELT STRANGE. AND VERY SOON I WAS TERRIFIED. I KNEW I HAD TO SPEAK, I HAD TO SAY SOMETHING. SO I SAID WHAT I HAD SAID THREE YEARS BEFORE. I CALLED OUT IN MY ROOM, VERY LOUDLY, FOR SATAN TO SHOW HIMSELF.

THIS TIME, NOTHING HAPPENED. I WAITED AND WAITED. I DIDN'T LEAVE THE HOUSE, I DIDN'T RUN. THERE WAS SUCH HATE IN ME, I FELT STRONG ENOUGH TO FACE WHATEVER MIGHT COME FOR ME. NOTHING CAME. THERE WAS ONLY SILENCE.

I GOT UP OUT OF BED. I WENT DOWN THE HALLWAY INTO THE LIVING ROOM. EVEN NOW I COULDN'T SAY WHY I FELT THE NEED TO LEAVE MY ROOM. THE LIVING ROOM WAS TOTALLY DARK, JUST MOONLIGHT COMING IN THROUGH THE BIG PICTURE WINDOW. SOMEONE WAS STANDING IN THE CORNER OF THE ROOM, IN FRONT OF IT.

BUT IT WASN'T A MAN. IT WAS A THING MORE THAN SEVEN FEET TALL, SWATHED IN A BLACK ROBE, A WRAP OF NO MATERIAL I COULD RECOGNIZE, AND IT WAS STARING OUT THE WINDOW. IT WAS JUST THE SAME AS WHEN I HAD SEEN IT YEARS BEFORE IN THE BOILER ROOM OF THE HIGH SCHOOL, EXCEPT NOW I WAS SEEING ITS FULL HEIGHT. ITS HOOD WAS DRAWN BACK SO I COULD SEE ITS MISSHAPEN HEAD, ITS HUGE HEAD WITH THE FEATURELESS CRIMSON EYES THAT DIDN'T SEEM TO BE LOOKING AT ANYTHING. ITS ARMS WERE HANGING BY ITS SIDES. THE ARMS WENT ALMOST ALL THE WAY DOWN TO THE FLOOR.

I STOOD THERE, LOOKING AT IT, AND VERY SLOWLY ITS HEAD TURNED TO LOOK AT ME. THERE WAS THAT LINE OF MOUTH, I COULD SEE IT PERFECTLY FROM ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE ROOM, THE MOONLIGHT HIT IT JUST RIGHT. IT SAID NOTHING. AGAIN IT DID NOTHING, BUT THIS TIME THE EYES WERE TAKING ME IN, THEY WEREN'T COMATOSE ANY LONGER. AND WE STARED AT EACH OTHER, BOTH OF US A FREAK THAT DIDN'T BELONG IN THE OTHER'S WORLD, BUT WE HAD SOMEHOW CROSSED OVER. I FELT LIKE I HAD NOTHING TO FEAR FROM IT THEN. WHATEVER IT WAS, WHATEVER IT REPRESENTED, IT HADN'T COME TO CLAIM ME. AGAIN, VERY SLOWLY, AFTER A FULL MINUTE, IT TURNED ITS HEAD BACK TO THE WINDOW. IT WANTED ME JUST TO SEE IT, I WAS SURE OF IT. I FOUND THE STRENGTH TO TURN MY BACK TO IT AND MOVE BACK DOWN THE HALLWAY, TRYING NOT TO MAKE A SOUND, AND I KNEW IT WAS GONE AS SOON AS I WALKED AWAY. I WOULDN'T GO BACK TO MAKE SURE. I WENT SOLELY ON FAITH THAT I HAD SEEN THAT BEING FOR THE VERY LAST TIME.

AND THAT WAS THE END OF ALL OF IT. FOR THE PAST TWO YEARS I'VE BEEN HEALTHY AND REASONABLY HAPPY, AND REASONABLY NORMAL. I CAN BE ALONE AND NOT AFRAID, AND THOUGH I CAN'T TALK ABOUT MOST OF THESE THINGS IN THERAPY, AS SOON AS I UNDERSTOOD THAT IT WASN'T ALL JUST IN MY MIND, THAT IT ALL REALLY HAPPENED TO ME, I COULD START TO PUT IT BEHIND ME. THE ONLY THING THAT BROUGHT IT BACK AND MADE ME NEED TO TELL THE STORY HERE WAS SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED FIVE DAYS AGO, WHEN I WENT TO CHURCH FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE I WAS SEVEN YEARS OLD. I STILL HAVE BAD MOMENTS WHERE I DON'T WANT TO BE ALONE, AND I GET BAD VIBES, AND THIS WAS ONE OF THOSE TIMES. I WAS WAITING FOR A BUS THAT JUST WASN'T SHOWING UP FOR SOME REASON, AND THE STREET HAD EMPTIED, AND I SAW A CHURCH ON THE CORNER SO I WENT IN ABOUT FIFTEEN MINUTES BEFORE SERVICES ENDED. I WAS SITTING THERE LISTENING TO A SERMON ABOUT GRATITUDE WHEN I HAPPENED TO NOTICE A PIECE OF SOMETHING HANGING ON SOMEONE'S SHOULDER A FEW PEWS AHEAD. IT WAS A PIECE OF LONG BLACK RIBBON, HANGING OFF SOMEONE'S SHIRT. I THOUGHT, HOW STRANGE. AS I WATCHED IT, IT LIFTED UP GENTLY, AND I SAW HOW LONG IT REALLY WAS, MAYBE SEVEN FEET LONG, AND THIN, AND IT SLITHERED AWAY FROM THAT PERSON'S SHOULDER. IT DRIFTED WITHOUT SOUND BETWEEN TWO PEOPLE IN THE PEW AHEAD OF HIM, AND IN THE AIR IT SLOWLY WORKED IT WAY TO THE RIGHT, DISAPPEARED FOR A MOMENT, THEN RE-APPEARED AROUND SOMEONE'S HANDS, TOTALLY UNSEEN. THEN IT SNAKED FORWARD AND PASSED IN FRONT OF SOMEONE'S FACE, COMPLETELY UNNOTICED EXCEPT BY ME. AS I WATCHED IT, IT WOVE AND TWISTED AROUND TEN, A DOZEN PEOPLE, DRIFTING IN THE AIR, FINALLY GOING DOWNWARDS, TO THE FLOOR, OUT OF MY SIGHT, AND THEN GONE.

I STILL DON'T KNOW WHAT IT MEANS. I CAN'T POSSIBLY KNOW WHAT IT MEANS. SOME THINGS WILL BE BEYOND ME FOREVER, I GUESS. NOW THAT IT'S BEEN SET DOWN, WHATEVER HAPPENS TO ME IN THE FUTURE, MAYBE AT LEAST ANYONE READING THIS WILL SAY: HE DOESN'T SEEM INSANE. THAT'S ALL I WANT. I HOPE I'VE MANAGED THAT. NOW, AT LEAST, THE TALE IS TOLD.