Five

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Over the next few days, Clayton Jeffries kept pestering Ray about when Davey'd come around to visit. He was uneasy, worried that Ray's nephew was up to no good, and might bring trouble around his old friend. Partly this was Ray's fault, for he had a history of hinting about his nephew and the sort of people he ran around with. A lot of gossip concerning the boy had rattled about the barbershop for a number of years already.

There was the matter of whether young Dave would finish high school, and after that, whether he would ever go on to college. There were stories about girlfriends and parental disapproval of same. There were a few scrapes with the law that got mentioned, and re-mentioned, even though they generally concerned people Dave had known, and not the kid himself. There were general concerns about his limited career choices, given his basic lack of smarts and qualifications. It didn't help how his parents had passed on, medical bills chewing up what little savings they'd ever scraped together, leaving nothing at all for their son after both of them had gone. Dave had been removed from his childhood by the bank upon foreclosure.

And yet, he survived. He had stuff, even a car, and the old men in the shop spared no pains in gossiping as to how that was even possible. He had to be mixed up in something. There had to be unsavory characters. The truth was, they knew nothing about his circumstances. Even before his parents had died, his contact with his Uncle Ray and Aunt Melba had been sparse, sporadic and superficial. When Melba had gone on, Dave hadn't even bothered to come to the funeral, which had hurt Ray's feelings. The two of them were now all that was left of the family. Dave's life became a mystery to Ray, and maybe it would always remain that way.

Dave was spending his days in front of the television, practicing speech and trying to sort out the images and sounds it fed him. He made rapid improvement and by the weekend was able to talk in brief sentences, but he still didn't have much to say. As he told his uncle, it seemed to him that his very existence had only begun with that awakening underground. As to his seeking out Ray's house, it was as if his body had held on to certain memories, but these were disconnected, haphazard, and made no sense to him. He could not explain anything. He only knew that here he was, and that he was what he was, whatever that was.

At night he felt compelled to go out. As soon as the sunset completed, he felt it throughout his body, like an alarm had gone off, and his attention turned to the external world. He rose, moved up the stairs, through the front room and out the front door, down the steps and into the street. He did not feel the weather; warm or cold made no impression on him. He wore the jacket Ray had brought him, but he wore it all day and all night, without distinction. The same was true for the old felt hat. He sprayed on enough of Ray's barbershop cologne to cover up his scent, mostly.

Out in the world he followed rules he didn't think about. To avoid being seen. To stay away from light, whether streetlights or houselights. To avoid staring at things. To keep moving, to move at an even pace. To show no hesitation, no uncertainty. To walk upright, steady and calm. At any sudden movement, he would slide into the most darkness at hand, as smooth as a paranoid cat.

The first nights he stayed close to the waterfront, wandering around the abandoned warehouses, the old train depot, the empty shipyard. This area felt familiar, but the occasional truck roaring through startled him with its beams of light and clouds of exhaust. His instincts pushed him towards the hill, back up and into the park. He spent most of those times in the woods, getting to know his way around them, but for all of that exploring it didn't interest him to return to the place he'd arisen, nor would he have recognized it if he happened to stumble across it. That night was already gone. He was alert in the moment, and sometimes only the moment. In the middle of those zombie nights he was only aware of the dark and the noises around him and it felt as if nothing else had ever existed or ever would again.

The nights contrasted completely with the days; the utter lack of humanity versus the glut of it on the television screen. There he witnessed an appalling and endless scene of hustle and nerves, intensity and alarm, shrill self-importance and earnest pushiness. Perhaps if he had watched another channel, but he didn't know there was one; he saw the morning gossip shows, the local news and then the live afternoon talk shows, eight hours filled with random people and their problems.

He wasn't sure what he was supposed to make of it all. He grasped the concept of the weather forecast foremost; when they said it would rain and it rained, he took note. Nothing else seemed to be the least bit relevant to who or where he was. He figured they were talking to the wrong guy, and didn't know it. Ray had to explain to him one evening that the tv shows could be seen by anyone anywhere, not just him, and not just in that house and on that box. He lost interest after learning that, and kept the box turned off. Ray had brought home a magazine, and Dave found that more engaging. He had retained the language but lost all context. He would have to rebuild the meanings of the world for himself.

He was becoming more at ease in the nights. He began to venture further from the home base into the city, one block at a time, and carefully. Further north from the river were more residential areas, where it was quiet and mostly dark at night. In some of the neighborhoods, many of the street lamps were broken or faint, and there were no people out on the sidewalks. Traffic was scarce as well. Then suddenly he would come upon a wider street, with shops and many cars. He shied away from those, retreating back into the quieter roads. He suspected there was some sort of a plan guiding the arrangement of things in the town, and if he only knew it he could better arrange his outings. He asked Uncle Ray about it one day, and that led to his discovery of one of the most dangerous items he had yet encountered; Ray gave him a city bus map.

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