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AFTER A WHILE you will get over being afraid. There’s nothing you can do, just be careful to walk at night. The sun is terrible; summer nights are no help. You must wait for cold weather. The first six months are your prime. In the seventh month the water will seep through with dissolution. In the eighth month your usefulness will fade. By the tenth month you’ll lie weeping the sorrow without tears, and you will know then that you will never move again.

But before that happens there is so much to be finished. Many likes and dislikes must be turned in your mind before your mind melts.

It is new to you. You are reborn. And your birthplace is silk-lined and smelling of tuberoses and linens, and there is no sound before your birth except the beating of the earth’s billion insect hearts. This place is wood and metal and satin, offering no sustenance, but only an implacable slot of close air, a pocket within the earth. There is only one way you can live, now. There must be an anger to slap you awake, to make you move. A desire, a want, a need. Then you quiver and rise to strike your head against satin-lined wood. Life calls you. You grow with it. You claw upward, slowly, and find ways to displace earth an inch at a time, and one night you crumble the darkness, the exit is complete, and you burst forth to see the stars.

Now you stand, letting the emotion burn you. You take a step, like a child, stagger, clutch for support—and find a marble slab. Beneath your fingers the carved story of your life is briefly told: Born—Died.

You are a stick of wood, trying to walk. You go outward from the land of monuments, into twilight streets, alone on the pale sidewalks.

You feel something is left undone. Some flower yet unseen somewhere you must see, some lake waiting for you to swim, some wine untouched. You are going somewhere, to finish whatever stays undone.

The streets have grown strange. You walk in a town you have never seen, a dream on the rim of a lake. You grow more certain of your walking, you go quite swiftly. Memory returns.

You know every lawn of this street, every place where asphalt bubbled from cement cracks in the oven weather. You know where the horses were tethered, sweating in the green spring at these iron waterfonts so long ago it is a fading mist in your brain. This cross street, where a light hangs like a bright spider spinning light across darkness. You escape its web into sycamore shadows. A picket fence sounds under your fingers. Here, as a child, you rushed by with a stick raising a machine-gun racket, laughing.

These houses, with the people and memories in them. The lemon odor of old Mrs. Hanlon who lived here, a lady with withered hands who gave you a withered lecture on trampling her petunias. Now she is completely withered like an ancient paper burned.

The street is quiet except for the sound of someone walking. You turn a corner and unexpectedly collide with a stranger.

You both stand back. For a moment, examining one another, you understand something about one another.

The stranger’s eyes are deep-seated fires. He is tall, thin, and wears a dark suit. There is a fiery whiteness in his cheekbones. He smiles. “You’re a new one,” he says.

You know then what he is. He is walking and “different,” like yourself.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?” he asks.

“I have no time,” you say. “I am going somewhere. Step aside.”

He holds your elbow firmly. “Do you know what I am?” He bends close. “Do you not realize we are the same? We are as brothers.”

“I—I have no time.”

“No,” he agrees, “nor have I, to waste.”

You brush past, but he walks with you. “I know where you’re going.”


“Yes,” he says. “To some childhood place. Some river. Some house. Some memory. Some woman, perhaps. To some old friend’s bed. Oh, I know, I know everything about our kind. I know.” He nods at the passing light and dark.

“Do you?”

“That is always why we lost one’s walk. Strange, when you consider all the books written about ghosts and lost walkers, and never once did the authors of those worthy volumes touch the true secret of why we walk. But it’s always for—a memory, a friend, a woman, a house, a drink of wine, everything and anything connected with life and—LIVING!” He made a fist to hold the words tight. “Living! REAL living!”

Wordless, you increase your stride, but his whisper follows:

“You must join me later, friend. We will meet with the others, tonight, tomorrow, and all the nights until at last, we win!”

“Who are the others?”

“The dead. We join against”—a pause—“intolerance.”


“We newly dead and newly interred are a minority, a persecuted minority. They make laws against us!”

You stop walking. “Minority?”

“Yes.” He grasps your arm. “Are we wanted? No! Feared! Driven like sheep into a quarry, screamed at, stoned, like the Jews. Wrong, I tell you, unfair!” He lifts his hands in a fury and strikes down. “Fair, fair, is it fair? Fair that we melt in our graves while the rest of the world sings, laughs, dances? Fair, is it fair, they love while we lie cold, that they touch while our hands become stone? No! I say down with them, down! Why should we die? Why not the others?”

“Maybe …”

“They slam the earth in our faces and carve a stone to weigh us, and shove flowers in an old tin and bury it. Once a year! Sometimes not that! Oh, how I hate the living. The fools. The damn fools! Dancing all night and loving, while we are abandoned. Is that right?”

“I hadn’t thought.”

“Well,” he cries, “we’ll fix them.”


“There are thousands of us tonight in the Elysian grove. I lead. We will kill! They have neglected us too long. If we can’t live, then they won’t! And you will come, friend? I have spoken with many. Join us. The graveyards will open tonight and the Lost Ones will pour out to drown the unbelievers. You will come?”

“Yes. Perhaps. But I must go. I must find some place ahead. I will join you.”

“Good,” he says. You walk off, leaving him in shadow. “Good, good, good!”

* * *

Up the hill now, quickly. Thank God the night is cold.

You gasp. There, glowing in the night, but with simple magnificence, the house where Grandma fed her boarders. Where you as a child sat on the porch watching skyrockets climb in fire, the pinwheels sputtering, the gunpowder drumming at your ears from the brass cannon your uncle Bion fired with his hand-rolled cigarette.

Now, trembling with memory, you know why the dead walk. To see nights like this. Here, when dew littered the grass and you crushed the damp lawn, wrestling, and you knew the sweetness of now, now, tomorrow is gone, yesterday is done, tonight lives!

Inside that grand tall house, Saturday feasts happen!

And here, here, remember? This is Kim’s house. That yellow light around the back, that’s her room.

You bang the gate wide and hurry up the walk.

You approach her window and feel your breath falling upon the cold glass. As the fog vanishes the shape of her room emerges: Things spread on the little soft bed, the cherrywood floor brightly waxed, and throw rugs like heavily furred dogs sleeping there.

She enters the room. She looks tired, but she sits and begins to comb her hair.

Breathlessly, you listen against the cold pane, and as from a deep sea, you hear her sing so softly it is already an echo before it is sung.

You tap on the windowpane.

She goes on, combing her hair gently.

You tap again, anxiously.

This time she puts down the comb and brush and rises to come to the window. At first she sees nothing; you are in shadow. Then she looks more closely. She sees a dim figure beyond the light.

“Kim!” You cannot help yourself. “It’s me! Kim!”

You push your face forward into the light. Her face pales. She does not cry out; only her eyes are wide and her mouth opens as if somewhere a terrific lightning bolt in a sudden storm had hit the earth. She pulls back slightly.

“Kim!” you cry. “Kim.”

She says your name, but you can’t hear it. She wants to run, but instead she moves the window up and, sobbing, stands back as you climb in and into the light.

You close the window and stand, swaying there, only to find her far across the room, her face half-turned away.

You try to think of something to say, but cannot, and then you hear her crying.

At last she is able to speak.

“Six months,” she says. “You’ve been gone that long. When you went away I cried. I never cried so much in my life. But now you can’t be here.”

“I am!”

“But why? I don’t understand,” she said. “Why did you come?”

“I was lost. It was very dark and I started to dream; I don’t know how. And there in the dream you were and I don’t know how, but I had to find my way back.”

“You can’t stay.”

“Until sunrise. I still love you.”

“Don’t say that. You mustn’t, anymore. I belong here and you belong there, and right now I’m terribly afraid. A long time ago we had a lot of things to love, a lot of things we did together. The things we did, the things we joked and laughed about, those things I still love, but—”

“I still think those thoughts. I think them over and over, Kim. Please try to understand.”

“You don’t want pity, do you?”

“Pity?” You half-turn away. “No, I don’t want that. Kim, listen to me. I could come visit every night; we could talk just like we used to. It would be like a year ago. Maybe if we kept talking you would understand and you’d let me take you on long walks, or at least be a little bit closer.”

“It’s no use,” she said. “We can’t be closer.”

“Kim, one hour every evening, or half an hour, anytime you say. Five minutes. Just to see you. That’s all, that’s all.”

You try to take her hands. She pulls away.

She closes her eyes tightly and says, simply, “I’m afraid.”


“I’ve been taught to be afraid.”

“Is that it?”

“Yes, I guess that’s it.”

“But I want to talk.”

“Talking won’t help.”

Her trembling gradually passes and she becomes more calm and relaxed. She sinks down on the edge of the bed, and her voice is very old in a young throat.

“Perhaps”—a pause—“maybe. I suppose a few minutes each night and maybe I’d get used to you and maybe I wouldn’t be afraid.”

“Anything you say. Tomorrow night, then? You won’t be afraid?”

“I’ll try not.” She has trouble breathing. “I won’t be afraid. I’ll meet you outside the house in a few minutes. Let me get myself together and we can say good-night. Go to the window, step out, and look back.”

“Kim, there’s only one thing to remember: I love you.”

And now you’re outside and she shuts the window.

Standing there in the dark, you weep with something deeper than sorrow.

You walk away from the house.

Across the street a man walks alone and you recall he’s the one that talked to you earlier that night. He is lost and walking like you, alone, in a world that he hardly knows. He moves on along the street as if in search of something.

And suddenly Kim is beside you.

“It’s all right,” she says. “I’m better now. I don’t think I’m afraid.”

She turns you in at an ice-cream parlor and you sit at the counter and order ice cream.

You sit and look down at the sundae and think how wonderful, it’s been so long.

You pick up your spoon; then you put some of the ice cream in your mouth and then pause and feel the light in your face go out. You sit back.

“Something wrong?” the soda clerk behind the fountain says.


“Ice cream taste funny?”

“No, it’s fine.”

“You ain’t eating,” he says.


You push the ice cream away from you and feel a terrible loneliness move in your body.

“I’m not hungry.”

You sit very straight, staring at nothing. How can you tell her that you can’t swallow, can’t eat? How can you explain that your whole body seems to become solid and that nothing moves, nothing can be tasted.

Pushing back, you rise and wait for Kim to pay for the sundaes and then you swing wide the door and walk out into the night.


“That’s all right,” she says.

You walk down toward the park. You feel her hand on your arm, a long way off, but the feeling is so soft that it is hardly there. Beneath your feet the sidewalk loses its solid tread. You move without shock or bump in something like a dream.

Kim says, “Isn’t that great? Smell. Lilac.”

You touch the air but there is nothing. Panicked, you try again, but no lilac.

Two people pass in the dark. They drift by, smiling to Kim. As they move away one of them says, fading, “Smell that? Something rotten in Denmark.”


“I don’t see—”

“No!” Kim cries. And suddenly, at the sound of those voices, she bursts away and runs.

You catch her arm. Silently you struggle. She beats at you. You can hardly feel her fists.

“Kim!” you cry. “Don’t. Don’t be afraid.”

“Let go!” she cries. “Let go.”

“I can’t.”

Again the word was “can’t.” She weakens and hangs, lightly sobbing against you. At your touch she trembles.

You hold her close, shivering. “Kim, don’t leave me. I have such plans. Travel, anywhere, just travel. Listen to me. Think. To have the best food, to see the best places, to drink the best wine.”

Kim interrupts. You see her mouth move. You tilt your head. “What?”

She speaks again. “Louder?” you ask. “I can’t hear.”

She speaks, her mouth moves, but you hear absolutely nothing.

And then, as from behind a wall, a voice says, “It’s no use. You see?”

You let her go.

“I wanted to see the light, flowers, trees, anything. I wanted to be able to touch you but, oh God, first, there, with the ice cream I tasted, it was all gone. And now I feel like I can’t move. I can hardly hear your voice, Kim. A wind passed by in the night, but you hardly feel it.”

“Listen,” she said. “This isn’t the way. It takes more than wanting things to have them. If we can’t talk or hear or feel or even taste, what is there left for you or for me?”

“I can still see you, and I remember the way you were.”

“That’s not enough, there’s got to be more than that.”

“It’s unfair. God, I want to live!”

“You will, I promise that, but not like this. You’ve been gone six months and I’ll be going to the hospital soon.”

You stop. You turn very cold. Holding to her wrist you stare into her moving face.


“Yes. The hospital. Our child. You see, you didn’t have to come back, you’re always with me, you’ll always be alive. Now turn around and go back. Believe me, everything will work out. Let me have a better memory than this terrible night with you. Go back where you came from.”

In this moment you cannot even weep; your eyes are dry. You hold her wrists tightly and then suddenly, without a sign, she sinks slowly to the ground.

You hear her whisper, “The hospital. Yes, I think the hospital. Quick.”

You carry her down the street. A fog fills your left eye and you realize that soon you will be blind. It’s all so unfair.

“Hurry,” she whispers. “Hurry.”

You begin to run, stumbling.

A car passes and you shout. The car stops and a moment later you and Kim are in the car with a stranger, roaring silently through the night.

And in the wild traveling you hear her repeat that she believes in the future and that you must leave soon.

At last you arrive, but by then you’re almost completely blind and Kim has gone; the hospital attendant rushed her away without a good-bye.

You stand outside the hospital, helpless, then turn and try to walk away. The world blurs.

Then you walk, finally, in half-darkness, trying to see people, trying to smell any lilacs that still might be out there.

You find yourself moving down a ravine past the park. The walkers are there, the nightwalkers that gather. Remember what that man said? All those lost ones, all those lonely ones are forming tonight to move over the earth and destroy those who do not understand them.

The ravine path rushes under you. You fall, pick yourself up, and fall again.

The stranger, the walker, stands before you as you walk toward the silent creek. You look and there is no one else anywhere in the dark.

The strange leader cries out angrily, “They did not come! Not one of those walkers, not one! Just you. Oh, the cowards, damn them, the damn cowards!”

“Good.” Your breath, or the illusion of breath, slows. “I’m glad they didn’t listen. There must be some reason. Perhaps—perhaps something happened to them that we can’t understand.”

The leader shakes his head. “I had plans. But I am alone. Even if all the lonely ones should rise, they are not strong. One blow and they fall. We grow tired. I am tired—”

You leave him behind. His whispers die. The pulse beats in your head. You walk from the ravine and into the graveyard.

Your name is on the gravestone. The raw earth awaits you. You slide down the small tunnel into satin and wood, no longer afraid or excited. You lie suspended in warm darkness. You can actually shift your feet. You relax.

You are overwhelmed by a luxury of warm sustenance, like a great yeast, being washed away by a whispering tide.

You breathe quietly, not hungry, not worried. You are deeply loved. You are secure. This place where you are dreaming shifts, moves.

Drowsy. Your body is melting, it is small, compact, weightless. Drowsy. Slow. Quiet. Quiet.

Who are you trying to remember? A name moves out to sea. You run to fetch; the waves take it away. Someone beautiful. Someone. A time, a place. Sleepy. Darkness, warmth. Soundless earth. Dim tide. Quiet.

A dark river bears you faster and yet faster.

You break into the open. You are suspended in hot yellow light.

The world is immense as a snow mountain. The sun blazes and a huge red hand seizes your feet as another hand strikes your back to force a cry from you.

A woman lies near. Wetness beads her face, and there is a wild singing and a sharp wonder to this room and this world. You cry out, upside down, and are swung right side up, cuddled and nursed.

In your small hunger, you forget talking; you forget all things. Her voice, above, whispers:

“Dear baby. I will name you for him. For him …”

These words are nothing. Once you feared something terrifying and black, but now it is forgotten in this warmth and feeding content. A name forms in your mouth, you try to say it, not knowing what it means, only able to cry it happily. The word vanishes, fades, an erased ghost of laughter in your head.

“Kim! Kim! Oh, Kim!”

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