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Authors: Chet Williamson

Tags: #Horror

Second Chance (6 page)

BOOK: Second Chance
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"No. I gave Carla more than sizes—little descriptions of each person so she'd know the kind of things they'd wear. As I recall, you were country chic—denim bells, Dingo boots, work shirt, bulky knit sweaters."

"Love it," Frank said as they climbed into the car. "God, I was cool, wasn't I?"

Woody laughed. "Groovy, man."

The smiles faded and the laughter stopped as they pulled into the parking lot in back of the old apartment building. "It hasn't changed at all," Frank said softly. "It's eerie."

Woody forced a chuckle as he backed into a space in the empty lot. "And we haven't even been inside."

They both sat for a moment, looking through the windshield at the dark windows.

"Well," Woody said, "are we going to sit here and wax nostalgic or are we going to move some furniture?"

Frank brightened. "I didn't know I had a choice."

Though Frank trailed as they climbed the squeaking stairs, Woody could sense his nervousness. It was the same as his own. He put the key in the lock and turned the knob quickly. The door opened with a soft squeal he remembered well, and he stepped inside.

He drank in the place with all of his senses, and knew what Odysseus must have felt upon reaching home after twenty years of wandering. It was not sight or smell that captured him, but an ambience, a sense of time turning on itself, sweeping over him like a warm blanket, and it seemed that he saw the place, not as it was now, but as it had been, and a great joy filled him.


It was Frank's voice, but it sounded younger, and Woody knew his friend was with him, sharing the escape back into time, and he turned to him, beaming.

But then he saw that Frank was old, and knew that he was older too, and the joy ran out of him.

"It's really weird," Frank said, shaking his head. "I didn't think it'd hit me like this, but it's really weird."

"I know," Woody said, turning back and looking at the furniture he had never seen before. "I thought for a minute . . ." But he shook his head, denying the past its hold on him. "Let's look around."

The living room still had two sofas, an easy chair, and a coffee table, but the furniture was too contemporary to suit Woody's purposes. The only things that could remain were the tall brass lamps whose style hadn't changed since the fifties, and the brick and board shelves, the perennial college student excuse for bookcases. The walls were no longer their sickly, institutional, pale green, but an off white marred here and there by chipping and dirt, and a wall to wall carpet had replaced the thin, worn, oriental whose design had been lost years before.

As they walked into the dining room, Woody thought he saw, from the corner of his eye, a figure leaning against one of the pillars. He turned quickly, but no one was there.

"What is it?" Frank asked.

"Nothing," Woody said, thinking of Keith's habitual station, holding up the left hand pillar. But then he saw the sideboard, and gave a breathy laugh of disbelief. "My God, it's still here."

They had always called it a sideboard, although it was actually a dressing table minus its top. It had always made a convenient place to put serving dishes if the table was full, though they had filled its three wide drawers with underground comics and magazines rather than tablecloths and linen napkins.

"Table's gone, though," Frank said, examining the dining room suite with its
top. "I liked that old metal table. Made me think I was at my grandma's house."

"Then you'll be happy to know I've got an exact copy downstairs. All we have to do is haul it up."

The kitchen had changed the least. The sink was the same, a hulking expanse of yellowed porcelain that nearly filled one side of the small room. Next to it was a white metal cabinet with an assortment of mismatched drinking glasses and unbreakable dishes. The refrigerator had square corners instead of the soft curves Woody had remembered and hoped for, but it was all right. After all, everything couldn't be perfect. Dressed up or not, the people would still be in their forties, living denials of the illusion Woody wished to perpetrate.

"Still no shower," he said as they looked in the bathroom. Then he turned, walked around the short wall that separated the bedroom from the kitchen and bath, and entered the bedroom, to find that the beds he had bought at Sid's were nearly identical to those in the room. He should have realized it. Frames were sturdy. Only mattresses and springs needed to be replaced. Good.

Fewer things to carry up and down the stairs. Even the dressers looked the same.

The three beds were in the same positions they had been decades earlier, two with their heads against the inner wall, the third with its side against the outer. He heard Frank in the bathroom, pulling open the door to the medicine cabinet, so he sat on the bed in the place where he had slept, where he and Tracy had first made love, and wondered if it was the same bed. There was no way to know. Certainly not the same mattress after all this time.

But still, he lay down, put his cheek against the smooth material, breathed in very gently to see if some trace of her remained, yet fearing that he would inhale some other, unknown, unpleasant scent instead.

There was only the aroma of cheap aftershave, and he sighed and rolled over, staring up at the flyspecked ceiling that had greeted him on so many bright mornings of his life.

"Still a dump, isn't it?"

Woody turned and saw Frank leaning against the door frame. "Yeah," Woody said. "But it was our dump."

Frank looked around the bedroom. It didn't take long. "So what do you think of it?"

"I think," Woody said slowly, "it seems haunted."

"That's . . ." Frank searched for the word. ". . . projecting, don't you think? Haunted by who?"

"You know," Woody said, watching the ceiling. “By Keith. By Dale . . ." He took a shallow breath, then said it. "Tracy."

"Is that what this is all about?" Frank said after a pause. "Tracy?"

Woody shook his head. "No. It's . . . nostalgia, that's all. I'd just like it to be the way it was—just for one night. And if I'm lucky, I might get enough inspiration out of it to make some music." He hopped off the bed and patted Frank on the shoulder.

"Don't worry. I'm not going to go freaky on you, okay? Now, enough nostalgia for a while. Let's get

Woody buried the ghosts in his work. Together he and Frank brought the furniture down the stairs and into the bookstore, then carried up what Woody had bought from Sid's. By the time they took a break for dinner, the heavy work was finished. All the furniture and boxes were in the apartment, and they began to put up posters, arrange rows of books, and set up the stereo. They searched their memories for the small details that would make their re-creation as authentic as possible, recalling that they always kept magazines here, a pile of records always lay there, there had sat Woody's pipe rack, and there in the corner Frank's trombone case and Woody's first oboe, resurrected for the night, and Keith's Martin guitar, represented by an empty, black simulated leather case.

"I could go for a brew," Frank said, stepping off the couch after putting up the map of Middle-Earth with masking tape. "
get a six-pack?"

"You go," Woody said. "I'll keep working."

dedicated to illusion," Frank said as he walked to the door. "Iron City?"

"Sure. The good old days."

The feeling overtook Woody as soon as Frank was gone. As he looked about him at the icons of a lost and loved age, he felt that he was in that time, that if he looked in a mirror he would see himself, lines of age vanished, hair untouched by gray.

Then he smiled and shook his head at the conceit, remembering Frank's words—"dedicated to illusion." He was indeed, so much so that in another moment he thought he might be seeing his friends all around him, the living and the dead.

Keep it in perspective, he thought. A party. It's just going to be a party.

And then he saw someone out of the corner of his eye.

He was glancing down at the base of the hall tree in the corner near the door, trying to remember what always sat there, when there was a trace of movement, a blur of white, in the darkness of the hall.

Woody gasped, whirled, looked, his arms held protectively in front of him, a chill burning his spine, the hair at the back of his neck slithering.

But there was nothing there.

There had been, though. He had seen it, and now tried frantically to see it again, to shape the air into the form he had glimpsed. But only unmoving, unyielding darkness remained.

Imagination. Just imagination. It could, after all, do wonders. There was no limit, he thought with grim self-reprimand, to what the imagination could create, if someone wanted to see it badly enough.

Or see

The sound of the door opening made Woody jump, and Frank paused in the doorway. "I scare you?"

"I'm all right," Woody said, hoping that Frank didn't notice the way his voice trembled. "But let's call it a night. Drink our beer back at the motel, huh?"

Frank eyed him. "Had enough of this place for a while?"

"I just don't want to overdose on it," Woody said, trying to smile. "Not until it's time. Not until tomorrow."

They turned out the lights, locked the door, and walked down the stairs, Woody in the rear. At the bottom, he listened for a moment after Frank stepped out onto the sidewalk, but heard nothing from above. The building was as silent as an empty building should be.

"Tomorrow," he whispered, and stepped into the night.

Chapter 6

Tomorrow came, and Alan and Diane Franklin promptly left their home in Alexandria, promptly checked in at the Delta ticket window at Washington-Dulles Airport, and promptly boarded the plane to Pittsburgh. At all junctures of the trip, conversation was minimal.

Alan and Diane had been married for over twenty-three years, and had not cared for each other for most of that time. They had no children to hold them together and no lovers to pull them apart. Their marriage survived through adhesion. Two people whom God had joined together simply stayed together, neither happy nor discontent. Both had their own jobs and their own friends.

A crisis had occurred two years earlier when Diane's father, a two-pack-a-day man for fifty years, had died agonizingly of lung cancer. Alan had, for the last fourteen years, been a Capitol Hill lobbyist for the tobacco industry. These two facts did not sit well with Diane, who, unfairly or not, blamed her husband for her father's death.

Though Alan insisted the blame was ill-founded, the marriage almost dissolved until Alan showed Diane that a split would be financially ruinous for her. Since Diane was unlikely to get a favorable ruling, she would have to depend on her teaching salary, which would not enable her to continue living in the style to which she had grown accustomed. Whether Alan helped to poison the whole damn country or not, as she claimed, his assistance in those matters was highly lucrative.

So they remained together, made love less than they had before, and talked far less.

They decided to go to Woody's party, despite the fact that the wording of the invitation had inadvertently ripped open the old wounds that oozed when Alan went to work every day. The evening would be a novelty, and Alan hoped that reminders of times past might bring them closer together, so that life could be a bit more well-lived, and some ease could come back into their conversations.

On this particular flight, for example, their dialogue, other than that necessitated by courtesy, consisted of the following: "I hope this will be fun," said Alan.

"It'll either be fun or a wake."

"Why a wake?"

"Woody never got over Tracy. God, you know that."

And that was the extent of their discourse until forty-five minutes later, when Alan said, "We're landing."


Eddie Phelps's flight from Kennedy arrived in Pittsburgh at the same time as
Jackson's shuttle from Cleveland, and they met, as had been planned, at the TWA luggage carrousels. When they saw and recognized each other, Eddie squealed almost as loudly as
, they dropped their luggage, and embraced.
laughed. "Still gay, I see," she said.

"Still black, I see," Eddie replied.

On their drive to Iselin, they caught up on their careers and romances, the former of which were the same as four years before when they had last talked, and the latter of which, on
part, were modest.

"No, Eddie, I still ain't found myself a man. Unlike you."

“'Ain't?' You use that in front of your students?"

"Shoot, no."
next words were given in a nearly perfect British dialect. "I know how to speak the Queen's English as well as anyone, my dear, and in class I do." She shifted to street talk. "Hell, I got to. My classes are all white kids except for one little girl, and her daddy's a dentist. I think they cloned her from Rudy
. Or vice-versa. Little chocolate

BOOK: Second Chance
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