The tale before you is a rewrite of a story I wrote in my 5th grade English class. The idea of two old men and a window was directly inspired by a story from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz, titled “Bed by the Window.” However, other than the basic plot devices of the old men and the function of a window, the two stories are wildly different. I lived for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark when I was a boy, and here now, is my dedication, my homage, to the trilogy, and more specifically, the unsettling, nightmarish art of Mr. Stephen Gammell (of which I am co-opting here, so sue me)…
Like bats in a cave, the nurse’s heels echoed off of the walls.
Two old men were in the room of a hospice. John, the old man in the corner, was new, having been there only two hours. The other old man, positioned in front of the window, had been there for a little over a month.
The sun cut through the linoleum floor, a rectangle of light which grew more oblong by the minute. John had not yet spoken to the old man at the window; he had been sleeping since John arrived.
John would have believed the old man at the window to be a corpse if not for his snores. They came at odd intervals, with no timing to them – an anti-metronome, an awkward flutter, the beat of leather wings.
The clock on the wall read 5:30. The rising stars and setting sun would remain unseen to John. The corner he rested in was at such an angle to the window that it was impossible to see more than the bark of the elm just beyond.
John reached down for the call button attached to his bed, and pressed it.
Nurse Lucy walked in, greeting her new patient.
‘What’s his deal?’ John asked her, gesturing toward the old, sleeping man.
She looked to the man by the window. ‘Mr. Renfield? Not much of a deal,’ she said. ‘Sleeps all day, doesn’t really say anything ever.’
John fell back into his pillow. ‘Great company.’
Nurse Lucy nodded. ‘Better silent company, than someone who never shuts up, I figure.’
There came a wild scream from down the hallway, a wail about pills and something other. Something unintelligible, the cry of a ghost trapped. Nurse Lucy turned, slightly, toward the noise. ‘You could have him as your roommate,’ she smirked, ‘if it’s talk you crave.’
They laughed together.
‘I suppose I’m all right, then,’ John conceded.
Nurse Lucy smiled, young and subdued. ‘Anything else, Mr. Harker?’
‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Why does the guy who never wakes get the window seat?’
She giggled and shrugged. ‘That’s actually a good question. I’ll talk to someone about switching your places.’
That nurse’s smile. ‘Anything else, Mr. Harker?’
‘Yeah,’ he decided, ‘when you call me Mr. Harker, it reminds me that I’m in this place.’
She understood. ‘How about just John, then?’
He thought. ‘Mr. John... Yeah, I like that. I like the Mr. part, we’ll leave that.’
Nurse Lucy turned out of the room. ‘Just call if you need anything, Mr. John. I’ll be here all night.’ And she was gone, but for her heels, clicking, seducing, down the hall.
And he lay there. Legs – sigh – useless. His feet wiggling, but the idea of using them, standing upon them – sigh – that was not for now… for now, there was only…
So much silence, John couldn’t stand it. Mr. Renfield had stopped snoring, now sleeping as if hiding from death. And outside of the window, even there was silent. Where are the birds? The dogs barking? Where are the playing children? Where are the leaf-piles being jumped into? Why so quiet? Ahhh! I can’t take it.
Away the sun went, swallowed downward. And will it ever rise again? John wondered. He was feeling absolutely wretched in this place. He felt old. Older than he was. He felt miserable.
Shadows grew wider, denser, darkening to their darkest.
It was past 10 o’ clock. And the room was colored in the shades of night. Blues, violets, all sliced with the blades of the waning moon. So John closed his eyes for sleep.
He didn’t know how long he had been asleep, but a noise! and when looking at the floor, the silver of the moon cut a different path along the tiles. John had heard something, a voice? The din of animals? Whatever it was, the silence had finally been broken. For that small fact, he was thankful. Where one sound was, hopefully more would follow.
But, John was tired, and now he was awake because of the unknown noise.
‘It’s not close…’
John started under his blankets, and sat up, instantly. He threw his unclear eyes around the room, Who had spoken? The voice was slow and slurred, hardly there, but in this room of silence, it was a boom in the dark.
‘Who’s there?’ John hissed.
He saw the hand of Mr. Renfield rise, only slightly, and John wondered if he was hallucinating.
The old man’s head turned, and he held John within his eyes. ‘It’s not close…not yet…’
He pointed his arthritic finger to the window.
John trembled, despite himself, unsure if this was fear or mere bewilderment from being woken, suddenly.
‘Not close, yet…not yet…’ Mr. Renfield’s finger pointed at the window, lingering.
‘What’s not close?’ John asked, while thinking he truly did not wish to know.
The old man did not answer. He just watched the window.
‘Renfield,’ John huffed, keeping his voice just above a whisper. ‘What do you see?’
‘Hmm,’ breathed the old man, ‘hmm…time…we’ll give it time…’
John reached down and pressed his call button. He jammed it with his thumb, again and again. Nurse Lucy! his mind shrieked. Come on! Nurse Lucy!
Pressing, pressing, the button slick with fresh sweat. John pressed the call button. Nothing, no sound from the hallway.
‘Where is that nurse?’ he asked aloud, and settled his body back down onto his bed.
John watched the ceiling.
He heard Renfield’s bed squeak, and the old man said, ‘Oh…closer, now…it’s closer…’
John looked to Renfield and the window. Sweat drenched him, up and down his entire body, dampness. He felt terribly uncomfortable.
Steady, Renfield kept his gaze upon the window. ‘Getting closer…we’ll give it time…more time…’
‘Enough!’ John shouted. ‘You’re crazy! Damned crazy! What is this? What’s closer?’ He beat his fist on the bed.
Renfield turned and stared at John. Soon, he smiled, lips curled. ‘It’s…das wampyr…getting closer…so, I have to keep watching…’ Renfield’s eyes looked back to the window. ‘I am…the sentry…you see…’
Crazy, John knew. Incredibly crazy. This guy shouldn’t be here. He should be in an asylum.
John buried the back of his head in the pillow and shut his eyes. I’m over this.
‘Closer, now…’ Renfield whispered. ‘Have to be quiet…getting closer…’
‘Mm-hmm,’ John muttered.
There was silence, once more.
The moon arced and time followed. Night remained. The moon’s light left. The room was black black black, deep, endless, as a cave, as leather wings, as the eyes of the bat, their centers. The only sparse light trickled in from the window, which cast Renfield in a dim, gray square.
‘I am in the window…’ Renfield spoke. ‘I am a window…’
‘Oh, boy,’ John mumbled behind closed eyes. Going full-crazy, now.
‘Open the window…’ Renfield barely whispered. ‘Closer, now…open the window…closer…’
‘Yeah?’ John asked, dryly, ‘how close is he?’
There was a mad slapping of feet across the floor, and John’s eyes jerked open.
Renfield’s face, inches from John’s, gazed down, wildly, at him. Blood cascaded over Renfield’s neck.
John pulled his face back, deeper into the pillow. ‘…Renfield…?’
The streams of blood dripped onto John’s chest. His hand searched for the call button along the edge of the bed. He glanced down and saw her. Nurse Lucy, face down on the floor, her pool of blood filling in the white borders of the tiles. A shadow knelt over the body.
John looked up. His eyes met Renfield’s.
Renfield smiled. ‘Close as can be.’