A Nice Young Man (Short Story)

 

 

 

“My life is a sham.”

“Why?  Just because you’re a successful bond trader making lots of money you didn’t earn?”

“That and the fact that I’m not who I say I am, not who you think I am.”

“Well, we all have our secret lives, our hidden stories.”

“True, but not everybody’s a werewolf.”

Doctor Professor Jurgen Reinholdt paused, finally beginning to comprehend.  “And when did you first realize you were a werewolf?”

“Probably my first kill.  A woman I knew.”

“You killed a woman?”

“Well, it wasn’t me, exactly, it was the werewolf.  I don’t think it would’ve happened had the moon not been full.  It was cold and rainy and the moon wasn’t even visible, but I think it must’ve been full, don’t you?”

A full fledged fantasy.  Doctor Reinholdt felt himself quivering.  Perhaps there was a paper in the nice young man lying on the couch, all unconcerned, relaxed and easy even while telling of murder, a murder Doctor Reinholdt was certain had never been committed.  That was unimportant.  What was important was that this young man believed it had, and that he, a werewolf, committed it.  “Tell me about her.”

 In the silence that followed, the room began to dim, until, nearly dark, flickering, near transparent shapes appeared, dancing across the walls and ceiling, a kaleidoscope of color and motion.  Wondering, Professor Reinholdt watched the flickering scene, knowing somehow that the woman walking down the trash littered street was real, and that something terrible was going to happen to her.  He knew her name, he knew why she was on that street at that hour.  He did not know how he knew, but he knew with certainty he was watching something happen in the present moment.

           Her name was Patricia Lumsdell.  She was 42 years old, a career bureaucrat with the Office of Insular Affairs, a case worker, assigned to the Semi-Autonomous Republic of Philadelphia.  She would not normally have been on the streets as the late November dusk approached, for it was dangerous enough inside the walls in the day time, but she had received a frightened call from one of her cases, a call urgent enough to cause her to abandon her normal caution.

          A light, cold drizzle had begun to fall as she parked her car a half block from the frenzied woman’s home, a drizzle the forecasters said would turn to sleet as the temperature dropped.  No snow was forecast, no accumulation foreseen, but the temperatures were expected to drop into the teens overnight.  She walked the sidewalk in the gathering gloom, past the curbside trash, past the dark windowed brick row houses, turning over in her mind the procedures for getting emergency heating oil to the young woman and her children.  She would put in a requisition, but the oil would not be delivered until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest, which meant that the woman and her children would have to be placed in a shelter overnight.

          That was not the whole of it, of course.  The water would have to be shut off and the pipes drained, or they would freeze and burst.  There was a requisition for this, too, but she knew no one from Maintenance would get out here tonight, and so she knew that she would have to do it herself.  And then there was the matter of what happened to the oil that was delivered to the house in September.  It had been a mild autumn, and the woman should have had plenty of oil left.  She would have to check the oil tank as well.  She could tap an oil tank with a table knife, or her car keys even, though a heavier object was better, and tell by the sound if it were empty or not.  If not empty, then something was wrong with the furnace, and that would have to be looked at.  And if the tank were empty, that meant more paperwork, for it could only mean the woman had sold the oil, and someone from Consumer Fraud would have to look into it, not that they ever prosecuted anyone, not even when it could be proven that the oil, or the food stamps, or the clothing vouchers, had been sold.

          She was almost there, and though she was wary, she was not unduly afraid, though she was the only one on the street.  Her bright yellow flak jacket identified her as one of the caregivers, a social caseworker, someone who cared for the people living here, someone trying to help.

          The rain was coming down hard now, freezing rain, almost sleet, driving into her face, and she bent against it.  She reached the marble front steps of the house and had one foot on the bottom step when she became aware of someone suddenly and unaccountably next to her.  She turned to see who it was, and her eyes widened in sudden fear.  She felt a sudden warmth saturate her thighs as she lost control of her bladder, but that was the last thing she felt.  She fell, silently, her throat ripped open, her coagulating blood freezing on the sidewalk.  Fine grained sleet clung to her body.  Unseeing eyes stared into the cold November dark.

The dancing shapes dimmed and the room was bright and cheerful once again.

“My word,” Doctor Reinholdt whispered, trembling.  “That was real, wasn’t it?  That was you, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” the young man said wearily, “that was me.  Or rather, as I’ve stated, someone or something inside me, of me but not me.”

“Does that someone or something have a name?”

“Victor.”

“And how often does Victor appear?”

“More often than I would like.”

“And that would be?”

“Once a month.”

“At full moon.”

“At full moon.”

“You are aware, of course, that this evening’s moon will be full.”

“It is full even now,” the young man said.

The room grew dim and shapes and colors danced across the walls.

           His name was Jurgen Reinholdt.  He was 42 years old, a career bureaucrat with the Office of Insular Affairs, a case worker, assigned to the Semi-Autonomous Republic of Philadelphia.  He would not normally have been on the streets as the late November dusk approached, for it was dangerous enough inside the walls in the day time, but he had received a frightened call from one of his cases, a call urgent enough to cause him to abandon his normal caution.

           A light, cold drizzle had begun to fall as he parked his car a half block from the frenzied woman’s home, a drizzle the forecasters said would turn to sleet as the temperature dropped.  No snow was forecast, no accumulation foreseen, but the temperatures were expected to drop into the teens overnight.  He walked the sidewalk in the gathering gloom, past the curbside trash, past the dark windowed brick row houses, turning over in his mind the procedures for getting emergency heating oil to the young woman and her children.  He would put in a requisition, but the oil would not be delivered until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest, which meant that the woman and her children would have to be placed in a shelter overnight.

          That was not the whole of it, of course.  The water would have to be shut off and the pipes drained, or they would freeze and burst.  There was a requisition for this, too, but he knew no one from Maintenance would get out here tonight, and so he knew that he would have to do it himself.  And then there was the matter of what happened to the oil that was delivered to the house in September.  It had been a mild autumn, and the woman should have had plenty of oil left.  He would have to check the oil tank as well.  He could tap an oil tank with a table knife, or her car keys even, though a heavier object was better, and tell by the sound if it were empty or not.  If not empty, then something was wrong with the furnace, and that would have to be looked at.  And if the tank were empty, that meant more paperwork, for it could only mean the woman had sold the oil, and someone from Consumer Fraud would have to look into it, not that they ever prosecuted anyone, not even when it could be proven that the oil, or the food stamps, or the clothing vouchers, had been sold.

          He was almost there, and though he was wary, he was not unduly afraid, though he was the only one on the street.  His bright yellow flak jacket identified him as one of the caregivers, a social caseworker, someone who cared for the people living here, someone trying to help.

          The rain was coming down hard now, freezing rain, almost sleet, driving into his face, and he bent against it.  He reached the marble front steps of the house and had one foot on the bottom step when he became aware of someone suddenly and unaccountably next to him.  He turned to see who it was, and his eyes widened in sudden fear.  He felt a sudden warmth saturate his thighs as he lost control of hls bladder, but that was the last thing he felt.  He fell, silently, his throat ripped open, his coagulating blood freezing on the sidewalk.  Fine grained sleet clung to his body.  Unseeing eyes stared into the cold November dark.

The dancing figures stopped.

“That was me,” Dr. Reinholdt said, trembling unaccountably.  “It really happened, not in this world but in a fantasy world of your creation.  How often does this scene take place?”

“Every month.”

“And it never varies?  The woman with the empty oil tank, the dark street, the sleet?”

“It never varies, except of course for the victim.”

“Who was Patricia Lumsdell?”

“A woman I knew.”

“And where is she now?”

“She is dead.  You saw her die.”

“With your permission I will write a paper of this quite amazing, fully developed fantasy world of yours.  You will need to see me a few more times, of course.”

“I’m sorry, doctor,” the young man said, rising languidly from the couch.  “I’m afraid there will be no paper.”

In the dark, in the sleet, Jurgen Rheinholdt walked the trash filled street.

 

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