Authors: Richard Matheson
Ride the Nightmare
Copyright © 1959, 1987, 2014 by Richard Matheson
Cover art, special contents, and Electronic Edition © 2014 by RosettaBooks LLC
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
Cover jacket design by Brad Albright
ISBN e-Pub edition: 9780795336096
In the hall, the telephone rang.
“Now who’s that at this hour?” Helen said, straightening up from the dishwasher.
“I’ll bite—who?” asked Chris.
Helen made a face at him. “You,” she said, “are just the funniest.”
“Sure you do.”
Smiling, Helen left the kitchen and walked across the living room, her slippers making a muffled sound on the rug. In the hall, the telephone jangled stridently. They should have had it installed in the kitchen, she thought. It was an old thought; one which recurred every time the telephone rang after Connie had been put to bed.
Helen’s fingers closed over the coolness of the phone and cut off its ringing. Pushing back a lock of hair with the receiver, she held it to her ear.
“Hello,” she said.
“I want to talk to Chris Phillips,” said a man’s voice.
Helen felt herself bristle. The voice was so sharp, so demanding.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “You have the wrong number.”
Was that a laugh? It sounded more like a viscid clearing of the throat.
“I don’t think so,” said the man.
A look of irritation tightened Helen’s face.
“I’m sorry but our name is Martin,” she said.
“Never mind that,” the man said, and Helen got a vision of teeth clenching, of lips drawn back. “Put Chris on the phone I said.”
Helen shivered. “I’m afraid—” she started.
“I said put Chris on!”
Helen stared blankly at the receiver.
“You his wife?” the man asked.
“Yes. Now would you—?”
“So old Chris is married,” said the man.
You have the wrong number
,” said Helen.
“You just put Chris on,” said the man. “You just put him on.”
Impulsively, Helen dumped the receiver onto the table and headed back toward the kitchen, wondering why she hadn’t hung up. Obviously, the man had a wrong number. It was just that he sounded so certain of himself. He’d intimidated her with his rude assurance.
“Who was it?” asked Chris.
“Some man,” she told him, frowning. “He wants to talk to Chris.”
“So what’s the mystery?” he asked. “I’m Chris.”
“Chris Phillips,” she said before he’d finished.
He made a scoffing sound. “So what are we talking about?”
“He’s—still on the line,” she told him.
Chris looked surprised. “How come? Didn’t you tell him he had a wrong number?”
“Yes, but—” She shrugged and looked exasperated. “He wouldn’t listen. He just said—put Chris on.”
He looked at her, a faint smile edging up the corners of his mouth.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“What’s our name, lady?”
She shrugged. “So all right,” she said. “You tell him.”
“Yes, my love.” Chris got up and walked out of the kitchen. Helen stood motionless beside the dishwasher listening to his stockinged feet thud across the living room. For some reason her heartbeat was unnaturally fast.
In the hall, Chris said: “Hello.”
Helen found herself straining to hear the man’s reply as if his voice were audible.
“I’m sorry,” she heard Chris say. “You’ve made a mistake. My name is—”
There was a pause.
“I’m sorry,” said Chris. “My name is Martin.” His voice was louder now. Helen moved toward the living room.
“Now, listen,” said Chris. “I’m telling you you’re making a mistake.”
Helen stood in the doorway looking toward the shadowy figure of her husband in the hall.
“My name is Martin, I tell you!”
Helen took an involuntary step into the living room, her heart beating even faster. She could feel it pummeling beneath her breast.
Chris shouted: “
When she reached him, he was trembling in the semi-darkness of the hall, staring into the receiver. She could hear the sharp buzzing of the dial tone.
“Chris, what is it?” she asked.
His face was blank as he turned to her. Slowly, he lowered the receiver, feeling for its cradle. The dial tone stopped.
“Who was it? Did you know him?”
He shook his head.
“What did he
“He said he was going to kill me,” he told her.
” She couldn’t finish. A vacuum of dread swept across her and, for a moment, she thought she was going to faint. “Chris,” she murmured, clutching his arm.
He looked at her dazedly. “Chris, it was a wrong number.”
“Of course it was,” he said, hollowly.
“Well… who was he? Why should he—”
“I don’t know.”
“But that doesn’t make—” She broke off, hearing a shrill quality in her voice. Taking in a deep breath, she tried to calm herself. “What did he say, Chris? Just that—”
“Just that he was going to kill me.”
“But that doesn’t make sense!”
“I know,” he muttered.
“Maybe it’s a joke,” she said.
Chris didn’t answer.
“You know how your friends at the club are always—”
“No.” He shook his head. “It’s not a joke.”
“Call the police,” she said.
“But what if—”
“What if it is a—joke?”
“You just said it
“I know but—”
“Honey, whether it is or not—” Abruptly, she turned for the hall. “I’ll call them,” she said.
“No, I’ll do it,” he told her. “Go finish the dishes.” He walked past her into the hall, then turned and looked back. “Go on,” he said.
them, Chris,” she said.
He turned to the table and lifted the receiver from its cradle. After a moment, she heard the clicking of the dial as he spun it once. There was a pause.
“Give me the police,” he said.
He glanced across his shoulder at her, then looked away. “It’s all right,” he said, but there was no conviction in his voice.
“Why don’t they answer?” she asked.
“Hello,” he said. She heard him swallow dryly. “Could you—send a patrol car to my house right away? I—I’ve been threatened.”
He stood silent for a moment.
“Yes,” he said. “My name is—Christopher Martin. I live at 1204 Twelfth Street.” He repeated the address. “Yes,” he said. “He threatened me and I—I need protection. Or—”
He stood quietly for several seconds, then said “Thank you” and put down the receiver.
“What did they say?” she asked.
“They’ll come over.”
“Why didn’t you tell them what the man said?” she asked. “All you told them was that he threatened you. You didn’t say he said he was going to kill you.”
“Honey, they’re coming,” he said.
Helen walked over to him and put her hand on his arm.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’ll be all right.” But, even as she spoke, she knew she was doing it more to comfort herself than him; hoping that he’d put his arms around her and verify her words, tell her: “Yes, of course it will be all right.”
He didn’t. He stood beside her, wordless.
“How long did they say it would take them to get here?” she asked.
“Honey, I don’t know.”
“All right,” she said. “I’m sure it will be—”
Her voice choked off abruptly as, beneath her fingers, she felt his arm go rigid.
“What is it?” she gasped.
“What if he was phoning from the drugstore at the corner?”
He turned and hurried to the front door, locked it. He lowered the venetian blinds across the casement windows and drew them. Then, whirling, he turned off the floor lamp, a pocket of shadows enveloping
him. In an instant, he emerged from it and half ran across the room to the table lamp beside the sofa.
“Lock the kitchen door,” he told her.
She hesitated, watching him crank the front windows shut.
” he snapped. Twitching, she turned and hurried across the rug.
“And turn out the light!” he called as she pushed at the kitchen door to make certain that the latch caught.
“All right,” she answered. She turned the lock on the knob and tested the door with shaking fingers. It held. Hurriedly, she pulled the shade down over the window on the door, then, almost lurching for the wall switch, pushed it down.
The house was now completely dark. Helen stood restively in the kitchen doorway, watching Chris draw the blinds and drapes across the picture window that faced the backyard. The living room grew even darker, blocked from the faint illumination of the moon and the street light on the next block. Chris’s body became a formless shadow.
“Draw the kitchen blinds,” he told her. “And the shade over the sink.”
Helen turned back into the kitchen and drew the blinds, wondering what she’d do if the man were to appear outside. She cranked the windows shut, wincing at the grating sound they made. That done, she turned for the sink, her slippers scuffing across the linoleum. She bumped into the dishwasher, crying out faintly at the clank of crockery and silverware inside it.
“What is it?” Chris called urgently.
“Nothing,” she answered. She pulled the shade down and leaned heavily against the sink, eyes shut.
When she came back into the living room, she could hear the furtive sound of Chris cranking shut the two windows in Connie’s room and pulling down the shades. She hurried across the rug and into her and Chris’s room to close the windows and draw the blinds.
This part alone was a nightmare; the two of them rushing through the darkness from room to room, shutting window after window, drawing blind after blind, lowering shade after shade. What if this were a twenty room house? she thought. Before the windows were all shut and covered it would be dawn. The sob that trembled in her throat, under other circumstances, would have been a laugh.
When all the blinds were drawn in their room, Helen pulled one back and looked out at the street.
It was quiet except for a slight wind which stirred the bushes just outside the window. Under the street lamp, a pool of pale light flooded up across the curb, immersing a segment of the lawn. On the parkway, the skeletal limbs of the small Chinese elm were shaking.
Helen could see directly into Bill Albert’s house across the street. In the darkness of their living room, the television flickered. She knew that Bill and his wife were in there and it gave her an eerie feeling. They knew nothing of the terror across the street from them. Engrossed, perhaps even laughing, they were completely separated.
Nearby, there was a sound and Helen whirled, her hands retracting spasmodically.
“You locked the kitchen door?” Chris asked.
She swallowed. “Yes.”
“Then he can’t get in.”
“Do you think that maybe we should—leave? I mean, go across to Bill’s house or—?”
“No, we can’t.”
She stared at his outline in the darkness.
“Chris, what if the police don’t get here in time?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said after a moment. Helen felt a weight of terror pressing at her. Suddenly a sob forced back her lips and Chris put his arms around her. But what good were his arms if he couldn’t do anything? She tried to push the thought aside but couldn’t. In a moment of fear, she turned, naturally, to Chris. If he acted unafraid—seemed to know what he was doing, then she wasn’t so distressed. Even if he pretended and she sensed it, it still gave her assurance.
But when he was as lost and frightened as she was…
“It’s all right,” he murmured. “It’s all right, Helen.”
“But what are we going to do?” She had the premonition that, once more, he was going to say he didn’t know.
“You’re going to stay in here,” he told her.
“Come here,” he said. “Here. Sit down on the bed.”
“Chris, what are you—?”
“I’ll be right back.”
“Where are you going?”
” She lurched up from the bed and caught his arm. “Are you out of your mind?”
“Honey, I’m not going to just stand here and risk your life and Connie’s,” he said. “He has a gun and—”