I held the drawing out to Lyda and asked her, «Who did this?»
She took it from me and upon seeing it smiled. «Tom,» she said. «Yesterday I told him to draw whatever he wanted.»
«It's good, don't you think?» I asked.
«Pretty good,» she said and turned back to the television show she had been watching.
The portrait I held in my hand was of a young woman with long, dark hair. This was no monster. She was rendered with the same attention to detail as had been given to Mrs. Werewolf, but this girl, whoever she was, was beautiful. I was especially drawn to the eyes, which were luminous, so full of warmth. She wore an expression of amusement—a very subtle grin and a self-consciously dramatic arching of the eyebrows. I went to the kitchen and called for Tom to come in from the living room.
I told him to take his usual drawing seat, and then I handed him the picture. «You will tell me who this is,» I commanded.
He stared for a moment at the portrait, and then it happened, a fleeting expression of pain crossed his face. His hand trembled slightly for a moment.
«You must tell me,» I said.
«Marta,» he said, and although it was only a word, I could have sworn there was a hint of emotion behind it.
«You must tell me if this is your wife,» I said.
He slowly brought his left hand to his mouth, like a robot programmed to enact the human response of awe.
«Tell me,» I said.
From behind his fingers, he whispered, «My love.»
It was a foolish thing to do, but I applauded. As if the sound of my clapping suddenly severed his cognizance, he dropped his hand to his side and returned to the zombie state.
I sat down and studied him. His hair had begun to go gray at the edges, and his beard was now very noticeable. Those wrinkles I had detected the first sign of a few days earlier were now more prominent, as was the loosening of the skin along his chin line. Invading his blank affect was a vague aura of weariness. As impossible as it might sound, he appeared to me as if he had shrunken a centimeter or two.
«My love,» I said out loud. These words were the most exciting shred of humanity to have surfaced, not so much for their dramatic weight, but more because he had failed to follow my instruction and definitively answer the question.
I left him alone for the time being, seeing as how he seemed quite saddened by the experience of remembering; but later, when Susan had returned home, we cleared the kitchen table after dinner and tried to advance the experiment. We conscripted Lyda into the plot, since it was when he was with her that he had created the portrait of Marta.
«Tell him to draw a picture of his house,» I whispered to her. She nodded and then Susan and I left the kitchen and went into the living room to wait.
«He looks terrible,» Susan said to me.
«The spell is slowly dissolving,» I said. «He is becoming what he should be.»
«The human mind is frightening,» she said.
«The Haunted Palace,» I told her.
Twenty minutes later, Lyda came in to us, smiling, carrying a picture.
«Look what he drew,» she said, laughing.
He had created a self-portrait. Beneath the full-length picture were the scrawled words Tommy the Zombie.
I pointed to the words and said, «Well, that didn't work as I had planned, but this is rather interesting.»
«A sense of humor?» said Susan.
«No,» said Lyda. «He is sad.»
«Maybe we shouldn't push him,» I said.
«Wait,» said Susan and sat forward suddenly. «Tell him now to draw his home.»
Lyda nodded and was gone.
An hour passed and Susan and I waited in silence for the results. We could hear Lyda, in the kitchen, talking to him as they worked. She was telling him about this boy in her class in school who always bites the skin on his fingers.
«When Mrs. Brown asked Harry why he bites his skin, you know what he said?» asked Lyda.
There was a moment of silence and then we heard the deep, flat response, «What?»
Susan and I looked at each other.
«Harry told her,» said Lyda, «he bites it because that way his father, who is very old, won't die.»
A few minutes passed and then came a most disturbing sound, like a moan from out of a nightmare. Susan and I leaped up and ran into the kitchen. Lyda was sitting there, gaping at Tom, who was pressing on the pencil with a shaking hand, writing as if trying to carve initials into a tree trunk. There was sweat on his brow and tears in his eyes. I went over behind him and looked over his shoulder. There was a picture of a ranch-style house with an old carport on its left side. In the front window, I could make out the figures of a black cat and a woman's face. He was scrawling numbers and letters across the bottom of the picture.
«Twenty-four Griswold Place,» I said aloud. And when he finished and slumped back into his seat, I saw the name of the town and spoke it. «Falls Park.»
«That's only an hour north of here,» said Susan.
I patted Tom on the back and told him, «You're going home,» but by then his consciousness had again receded.
The next morning I got up well before sunrise and ordered Tom down the hall to the guest bedroom to change. He set to the task, a reluctant zombie, his rapid aging causing him to shuffle along, slightly bent over. Literally overnight, his hair had lost more of its color and there was a new, alarming sense of frailty about him. While he was dressing, I went in and kissed Susan good-bye and told her I was taking him as we had planned.
«Good luck,» she said.
«Do you want to see him?» I asked.
«No, I'm going to go back to sleep, so that when I wake up I will be able to discount the entire thing as a bad dream.»
«I hope I get him there before he croaks,» I told her. «He's older than ever today.»
I settled Tom in the backseat of the car and told him to buckle the belt. Then I got in and started driving. It was still dark as I turned onto the road out of town. Of course, I was taking a big chance by hoping that he might still know someone at the address he had written down. Decades had passed since he had been abducted, but I didn't care. Think ill of me if you like, but as with the lawyer in Melville's «Bartleby, the Scrivener,» who ends up finally abandoning the scribe, which of you would have done as much as we did? Shadowed entities be damned, it had to come to an end.
«You're going home,» I said over my shoulder to him as I drove.
«Home, yes,» he said, and I took this for a good sign.
I looked into the rearview mirror, and could only see the top of his head. He seemed to have shrunk even more. To prepare myself for a worst-case scenario, I wondered what the bill would be to have a pool of putrescence steam-cleaned from my backseat.
About halfway into the journey, he started making some very odd sounds—coughing and hushed choking. This gave way to a kind of grumbling language that he carried on with for miles. I couldn't make out what he was saying, and to block it out, I eventually turned on the radio.
Even with the map, the address, and the drawing, it took me an hour and forty-five minutes to find the place. The sun was just beginning to show itself on the horizon when I pulled up in front of 24 Griswold Place. It was remarkable how perfect his drawing had been.
«Go now and knock on that door,» I said pointing.
I was going to get out of the car and help him, but before I could get my belt off, I heard the back door open and close. Turning, I saw his figure moving away from the car. He was truly an old man now, moving beneath the weight of those years that, in the brief time of our trip, had caught up and overtaken him. I hoped that his metamorphosis had finally ended.
A great wave of sorrow passed through me, and I couldn't let him go without saying good-bye. I pressed the button for the window on his side. When it had rolled down, I called out, «Good luck.»
He stopped walking, turned slowly to face me, and then I knew that the transformation was complete. His hair had gone completely white, and his face was webbed with wrinkles. It was Malthusian. He stood there staring at me, and his eyes were no smaller because he did not wear glasses.
I shook with the anger of betrayal. «You bastard,» I yelled.
«Let's not let it ruin our game,» he said with a thick accent, and then turned and went up the front steps.
I was so stunned, I couldn't move. He knocked on the door. After a few moments, a woman, as old as he, answered. I heard her give a short scream and then she threw her arms around him. «You've returned,» she said in that same accent. She ushered him into the house and then the door slammed closed.
«Marta Malthusian, the sister,» I said to myself and slammed the steering wheel. I don't know how long I sat there, staring blankly, trying to sort out the tangled treachery and love of a mad man turning a zombie into a zombie of himself. Eventually, I put the car in gear, wiped the drool from my chin, and started home.