MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
It’s like that sometimes.
It starts weird and in the wrong place.
Rain Thomas went to bed on Thursday and woke up on Saturday. She had no idea at all that someone had stolen a whole day from her until she arrived twenty-three hours and forty-eight minutes late for a job interview.
The interview did not go well.
Her alarm clock always sounded like an outraged cricket. It yelled her awake and then seemed to dodge her flailing hand until she finally caught it and slapped it silent. Bastard. She patted the bed next to her, looking for Joplin, but he was gone. He almost never stayed the night. That was the arrangement. He lived two doors down in an identical brownstone walk-up, and last night, let’s face it, had been a booty call. She’d called him this time. It worked out to about fifty-fifty on who called whom. Great sex, some nice holding, and then retreating to separate corners.
That was fine. Rain preferred to sleep alone. Sleep being the operative word.
The warm lump by her feet was her dog, Bug, a mixed breed of rat terrier, Cavalier King Charles, Chihuahua, and god knew what else. She was small, cute, loyal, and semi-hysterical. Bug liked to crawl under the covers and burrow into the darkest, warmest spot on the bed.
Rain hovered on the warm edge of slumber, wishing she could roll over and drop back down. There was a dream she wasn’t finished with. She tried to swim deeper, even though it was dark down where the full dream was swimming. Dark and a little scary.
But it was important. She was sure of that.
Against her will, the day coalesced around her. Her apartment was a little icebox on the fifth floor of a Brooklyn brownstone that looked like ten thousand others. The steep sets of creaking stairs were her gym membership. She wore pajama bottoms, socks, and a sweatshirt to bed but she was always cold. Even in summer. The landlord didn’t turn the heat on until the end of October, and when he did, it sounded like a cokehead monkey was beating on the pipes with a hammer. What little heat leaked out of the radiator didn’t have the enthusiasm to reach out to any other part of the room. No one was allowed to have a space heater. Fire hazard. Sneaking one in was the best way to get evicted. The upside was that the cockroaches didn’t like the cold, and most of them stayed downstairs in the laundry room.
The apartment was on West 238th Street in Kingsbridge, several light-years from the encouraging footfall of gentrification. She had one room that was half the size of her mother’s walk-in closet, with a kitchenette in the corner and a bathroom in a cubbyhole so small that she had to squeeze between the toilet and sink to get into the shower. The windows were nailed shut, and it looked exactly like the kind of apartment they’d put in a movie if they wanted to show how freaking depressing someone’s life could be. Joplin’s flat was a two bedroom with a full kitchen, which he’d inherited from his dad and had turned into his art studio. Sometimes she went over there, but it was every bit as cold, and he was a slob. A gorgeous slob, she had to admit, but one who hadn’t evolved his social skills past his dorm room days at art school.
Rain rubbed her face with her palms and then glanced at the clock.
“Shit,” she said. The interview was at nine thirty all the way in the city.
She had every intention of jumping to her feet and going full whirlwind through her morning routine. Bathroom, shower, clothes, makeup, out the door, bagel and coffee on the 1 Train.
That was the plan.
Why bother? asked her inner voice. You won’t get it anyway. They’ll do a background check and you’ll be out on your ass.
It was a familiar voice—the part of Rain’s mind that ran a constant disapproving commentary on everything she did. It was one of several voices that vied for attention inside the untidy mess of her brain. One of the legion of counselors she’d sat with over the years suggested the label of “parasite.” That fit. It lived within her and knew everything about her, but it had no interest at all in her well-being, though it was slippery and sly and often pretended to be the voice of her common sense, her better angel. As if.
Rain tried hard, every single day, to ignore that voice. Sometimes she managed, but it was persistent, relentless, and it knew all her secrets.
She put her face in her hands and tried not to cry. Not because her life was so hard. Her life had always been hard. And not because she couldn’t remember the dream, even though she felt she had to. No. Rain Thomas cried because this was another day when she wouldn’t score some rock and smoke her way off the planet. Another day. It was day number one thousand one hundred and six of not using, and it hurt every bit as badly as day one. She hid behind the closed doors of her palms and waited for the tears. Waited. But they didn’t come. Not that morning. It wasn’t a relief, though, because she knew they’d show eventually. They always did. People patted her on the back for getting her shiny pink three-year coin from Narcotics Anonymous. They told her she was strong. Joplin told her she was tough as Supergirl.
The hell did he? The hell, in fact, did anyone know?
Bug, disturbed by her attempts to get up, wormed her way from under the blankets, stuck her black nose and brown eyes out, and peered at Rain. There was a flutter of blankets from the dog wagging her crooked little tail.
“Good morning, fuzzball,” said Rain thickly. Bug wagged harder, but her eyes cut to the night table where a Ziploc bag stood next to the clock.
“You want your morning cookie, don’t you?”
A more enthusiastic wag.
Rain took a crunchy treat from the bag, broke it into three small pieces, and placed them on the mattress. It was a ritual. If she didn’t do that, Bug would not emerge from the bed at all. Now she wormed her way on her belly like a World War I soldier sliding under barbed wire strung across no-man’s-land. She took the first treat. Moved farther. The second. The third. By then she was completely out of bed and lay there, stretched to her full length, which wasn’t much. A tiny body spotted with black, white, and brown, a tail that had been broken before Rain adopted her from the shelter and which perpetually canted to the left.
“Mommy has a job interview today.”
Bug wagged her tail with great enthusiasm. Rain’s cheering section.
“Think I’ll get it?”
Bug sat up, hoisted a leg, and began licking her own crotch.
“Gosh, thanks for that note of encouragement,” said Rain. She braced her palms against the edge of the mattress and pushed up against the gravity of her need. She stumbled across the cold floor, squeezed into the bathroom, and tried to make herself look like someone worth hiring. Worth trusting.
That was going to take a lot of makeup.
Rain fed Bug, got undressed, turned on the shower, tested the temperature mix, pulled the curtain over to keep from getting any water on the floor, and sat down on the toilet with her feet resting on the warm pile of socks and jammies. Her bladder was so full that it hurt, and it occurred to her that life was pretty sad if a good pee was likely to be the highlight of her day. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually. She reached for a magazine but realized she hadn’t brought her reading glasses in with her. Sighed, put the magazine down. Kept peeing.
The shower curtain billowed out over the edge of the tub, spraying her with water that was still cold. She yelped and jerked back and then pushed the curtain back in place. The droplets on her leg felt like ice water. It always took so long for the hot water—such as it was—to crawl up five flights. Rain fished for the hand towel that hung over the sink and rubbed the water off her skin. The drops, cold as they were, left red spots on her skin as if she’d been sprayed with boiling water. Not blisters, but very bright and red. She frowned at them and watched them fade.
She kept peeing. It was turning into a marathon.
A few seconds later, the shower curtain whipped out again. Faster this time and the cold water slapped her from shins to breasts. Stinging cold. Not a trace of heat. Rain shrieked and punched the curtain over the edge of the tub, cursing at it as her entire body erupted into gooseflesh.
“You son of a bitch,” she snarled.
The curtain rippled as if the cold water was somehow creating a wind in there. Rain glared at it, daring the plastic to move again. It was a pretty curtain, covered with Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Swirls of blue and yellow and black. She’d bought it after winning twenty-five dollars on a scratch card, and she thought Joplin would approve. Buying it had been rare indulgence for someone who counted pennies, and a case could be made that it was the prettiest thing she owned. She and Joplin had broken it in by making love in that shower, her standing with her hands braced on the wall, him behind her, the water hammering on them as they moved together. Right now, though, Rain was ready to tear it from the rings, stab it with scissors, and stuff it in the recycle bin.
The curtain hung for a moment, gently rippling, as behind it the water still ran cold. There was no warmth at all in the bathroom, no plumes of steam to indicate the presence of a single goddamn drop of hot water from the goddamn boiler in the goddamn basement of this goddamn pile-of-shit building.
Rain tried to squeeze her bladder empty, but there was still more. How? She’d had a single cup of tea before bed last night. How could she, or any human being, pee this much?
She was reaching for the paper when she saw the shower curtain began to blow outward again. Not a lot … just a puff. With a growl, she slapped it back.
“Don’t,” she warned, pointing a finger at it.
It hung straight, trembling only with the beating of the shower water.
And then it moved again.
Harder this time. Faster. Rain growled again and slapped it back hard.
And then she screamed and jerked backward, half falling off the toilet, hitting the wall, recoiling as far and as fast as she could from the curtain.
No. From something on the other side of the curtain. Her slapping hand had hit something. It felt like …
She hung there, leaning away from the toilet, the tub, the curtain. Part of the curtain hung over the edge now, and water ran down, forming a pool on the worn linoleum. Rain was afraid to move, to breathe. Her heart fluttered like a rabbit’s—too fast, too hard, hammering at her chest as if it wanted to break free.
“Joplin, if that’s you playing some kind of stupid joke, I’m going to kill you.”
“I’m not messing with you. This isn’t funny.”
The curtain billowed slowly, and Rain stared at it, unable to blink, too frightened to turn away. She knew that it wasn’t Joplin. He had his faults, he wasn’t always the warmest guy, but he wasn’t this mean.
Bug came creeping into the bathroom and stared at the curtain. All the hair along her spine slowly stood up, and she bared her tiny fangs. That scared Rain even more.
“Who’s there?” she asked, knowing it was a stupid question. If anyone answered, her world was going to break apart. But no one could answer. She’d reached in to turn the water on, leaning a head and shoulder past the edge of the curtain as she set the water mix. The tub had been empty. Of course it had. She’d have known if there was someone in there.
Of course she would.
Bug suddenly yelped and ran from the bathroom. Rain could hear the dog’s nails skittering on the floor as she crawled under the bed. Her place of safety.
That made it worse. Bug, small as she was, would stand up to the neighborhood pit bulls. She snapped and snarled at the gangbangers who hung out on the corner down the street. She was a rat killer.
Now her terrified whimpering filled the apartment.
It’s him, whispered a voice, and for a moment, Rain couldn’t tell if it was inside her head or inside the bathroom. Her heart jumped sideways in her chest. The curtain continued to move as the water pounded on it, the drops popping on the thick plastic. The starry night swirled.
There was no one in her shower. There couldn’t be. No way. And yet she stared, waiting, knowing that she had felt something. She had. She had. She had.
It’s not him, she told herself. She did not say his name. Not now. Not in a moment like this. No way. God, no way. Please, please, please, no.
She tried to force herself to be real, to be logical. What was the sane choice? The obvious choice? How could it really be a hand? That was impossible, that was stupid.
It had felt like a hand. Her fingers were splayed when she’d hit the curtain. She felt the impact, felt the different points of it. Palm and fingers and thumb. As if someone timed a slap to hers. As if someone had been waiting in there, watching her somehow, seeing her there on the toilet, naked, peeing, shivering with the cold. And then had pushed the curtain, knowing she would push it back. Timing a slap to meet hers. Playing a game. Playing with her.
“If someone’s there, I’m going to kick your ass!” she yelled. It sounded stupid, even to her own ears. She was one hundred and ten pounds of naked nothing. And he was …
She realized with a start that she knew it was a he. The hand had been much bigger than hers. Harder.
It’s not him. It’s not him. It’s not him.
“I’m going to call 9-1-1.”
The curtain moved. Slightly. Was it only the water moving it? Was that all it was?
That’s when she saw the shadow. Blended in with the swirling skyscape of Van Gogh’s tortured night was something else. A tone, a darkness that didn’t fit in with that painting. There was someone in there. Standing just behind the curtain, not moving. But there.
Rain was absolutely frozen into the moment, her flesh smashed against the tiled walls, heartbeat rising and rising to a panicked crescendo. Part of her mind tried to tell her that this was it. She was going to get raped and killed. When they found her body, she would be naked and covered in piss and her own blood, and that’s what the cops would tell her mother. That’s what her grandmother would hear on the news. That’s all anyone would ever know of her. Ex-junkie murdered in her fifth-floor walk-up. Another piece-of-crap person added to the statistics of “Who gives a damn?”
That’s what the parasite told her.
The only warmth in the whole world was a small line of pee that trickled down the inside of her left thigh.
“Please,” she begged.
The shadow didn’t move.
The curtain rippled once more, harder than before, and more water spattered on her right leg, all the way to the hip. The water was warm now.
She saw the first curl of steam rise like a snake above the shower rod.
“Please,” she said again, a thick whisper almost without volume.
The swaying curtain stopped moving and hung straight.
It took every ounce of strength that Rain had to push off the wall, to raise her arm, to extend a hand toward that curtain once more. She knew it was a stupid thing to do. She should run. Get out of the bathroom, pull the door shut, get to the kitchen, grab a knife, make him earn whatever he took from her. Cut him for doing this to her. Die fighting instead of …
The curtain did not move at all. Rain stared at the shadow. It wasn’t moving, either.
Nothing moved in the bathroom except the snakes of steam that twisted and wrestled up by the vent to the fan that hadn’t ever worked.
“Please?” said Rain, and it came out as a question this time.
It took everything she had to stand up. Her legs buckled at once, and she sat down hard on the edge of the toilet and then slid off onto the floor. By pure reflex, she snapped a hand out to catch herself, but she missed the edge of the tub and caught the curtain instead, jerking it, tearing it off half of the rings. It whipped and twisted and fell with her. Hot shower water pelted her, pushing her down to the linoleum as steam billowed.
There was no one in the shower stall.
No one at all.
Copyright © 2018 by Jonathan Maberry
copyright © 2002 by Christopher Moore
copyright © 2006 by Rosemary Ellen Guiley