Rick and Ernie found the perfect apartment on Chicago’s West Side. Before they’re settled, Rick begins having all-too-real disturbing “dreams.” Each time, an emaciated young man with sad brown eyes appears, terrifying and obsessing him.
From their next-door neighbor, Paula, Rick learns about Karl and Tommy, who lived there before them. Tommy’s mysterious disappearance pains her. When she shares a photo of her with Tommy and Karl, Rick is shocked and troubled. Tommy is the man who appears to him in his dreams.
The ghostly visitations compel Rick to uncover the truth about Tommy’s disappearance. It’s a quest that will lead him to Karl, Tommy’s lover, who may know more about Tommy’s disappearance than he’s telling, and a confrontation with a restless spirit who wants only to—finally—rest in peace.
In this scene, our hero, Rick, yearns for an unusual apartment he’s seen a million times from the Chicago L train he takes to work every day. But now, there’s something different—the apartment is available.
I never imagined my dream would come true.
But it did. And in a funny way, what drove me to this particular apartment led to a lot of dreams coming true.
But dreams can turn to nightmares in the space of a single breath.
Fate stepped in one day and changed everything—past, present, and future—when I rounded the bend of the L tracks and my glass-walled apartment came into view.
On that day, there was a change, a difference of two words.
Hanging as though suspended in midair was one of those black-and-red signs one can buy at the hardware store. The sign proclaimed: FOR RENT. Below the bright red letters was a white rectangle with a phone number written in black marker.
Oh my god. It’s coming true. This place will be gone by the afternoon! I can’t let anyone else have it.
I dug inside my messenger bag, groping for paper and pen to jot down the number. I’d call the moment I got to work, already feeling like I was racing against some imaginary clock hanging just above my head. Such a unique place wouldn’t be on the market for long. Hell, someone else might have already snatched it up.
I wasn’t fast enough to write the number. Of course, I wasn’t. The train had stopped for only a minute, two at the most, long enough to let a few folks off and a whole bunch on. There was a lot of chatter, the huffing of the train, the pneumatic hiss of the doors closing, and the garbled announcement for the next stop.
The apartment—and the FOR RENT sign—sailed by as it always did, and the phone number along with it. I turned in my seat, straining to try to see the number from this distance, even though I knew it was a stupid and impossible move.
I knew, as sure as anything, if I waited until the next day, with my pen poised and ready over a pad of paper, the sign would have vanished. Someone else would take possession of what I felt, in a weird and possessive way, was rightfully mine.
There was only one thing to do.
I tried to be patient despite my thundering heart, waiting until we neared the next station. I leapt up and edged my way through the crowd toward the doors. When they slid open, I stepped out and stood on the platform, giddy with my own impulsiveness. This wasn’t like me. I was usually a planner, every decision carefully considered before moving forward—or not.
Impulsive was something other people did.
On the platform, I paused for a moment, watching the southbound Brown Line train as it continued its journey toward the Loop. In the distance, the skyscrapers of downtown rose. A breeze rustled my hair. Autumn was definitely present, even though the sun peeked out through scattered clouds, drifting downward in illuminated shafts, like a religious painting. There was an undercurrent of chill that, at the time, I attributed to nothing more than the changing of seasons.
But now I wonder—was the chill an omen, foreboding? Was fate trying to tell me to get back on the next train and get to work like the safe and dependable guy I was? After all, I had a home and in it was a man I loved, a man to whom I hadn’t even whispered a word about wanting to move.
It was late autumn in Chicago and the day had all the portents of the coming winter. Gray, low-hanging clouds amassed near the horizon, some of them so dark they verged on black.
In the short time I stood there, the weather made a dramatic change, which, if you’ve ever visited Chicago, you know isn’t unusual. “Don’t like the weather?” Self-proclaimed wits were fond of saying about the Windy City. “Stick around for a few minutes, and it’ll change.”
The little sun there was vanished, beating a hasty retreat behind a bank of fast-moving and bruised clouds. Drizzle hung in the air. A needling, cold mist crept into my bones, making me shiver. This was worse than a downpour because it seemed like no matter how much one bundled up against it, the cold seeped into one’s bones, making it nearly impossible to get warm. The wind, which blew off the lake two miles east, picked up, running at a breakneck pace, westward bound, down Irving Park Road. I watched from the platform as the people below rushed to get out of the inclement weather, their umbrellas turning inside out. The wind ripped the last of fall’s leaves from their branches.
In spite of the weather, I made my way along the old wooden L platform to its northern end so I could stand directly in front of the object of my desire.
It was the first time I’d actually seen it up close. And now it almost looked unreal, as though it were a movie location dreamed up by the guy who did the set for Hitchcock’s Rear Window. My current view had that same urban, surreal feel, that same voyeuristic quality.
Looking back, I wondered if it also had that same air of menace Hitchcock was so noted for.
Real Men. True Love.
Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.”
Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…”
Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.