E.R medics finally arrived to assist the startled medical examiner, and it took them and two nurses to help revive Sam Kramer, who spent 20 minutes gasping and convulsing before they finally managed to steady his vital signs. It had been eight hours since Kramer had been pronounced dead, and yet one might suppose that even nowadays a mistake in the M.E.'s office can be made.
It was an easy mistake to make. Regan Plumbly, the attending M.E, kept explaining to everyone that by the time Kramer had been found behind an alleyway dumpster, he had almost been out of rigor, which meant that he had, in fact, been dead. "Mortis" means "dead," and rigor mortis is what happens to dead people. And yet later, after rigor mortis, after death, Kramer had revived. If this sort of thing is possible, Plumbly said, the next step would be the evil dead simply shooting up straight out of hell and returning to their corpses.
"Really?" a colleague said from across the examining room, walking over and motioning for a policeman and a nurse to leave. He glared at Plumbly. "Is that so? Why would the dead have to be evil, and why would they have to come out of hell?"
Plumbly answered that if he saw a dermis like Kramer's, complete with puncture wounds, track marks, satanic tattoos and enough heroin under it to make an elephant tilt over, then he was forced to conclude that the person previously attached to the body had been bad while they were alive. One doesn't arrive at the M.E.'s office looking like Kramer as a result of living well.
"Maybe he was an undercover cop," his colleague joked.
Plumbly snorted dryly. "With corpses that tattered, the only good thing for me is knowing that they are off the streets. One less rapist or murderer to worry about."
"Maybe so," his colleague insisted, "but people change."
Plumbly turned red, growing more irritated. "Indeed they do!" he replied, slamming his fist on the desk. "In this case they die and then 40 hours later shoot bolt upright on the table to re-inhabit their body. I have shown you the pictures of his corpse!"
The colleague laughed in Plumbly's face. "You idiot, somebody just got confused. Now get back to work. I should have Franks send you to Psychiatry."
There had been no external injuries on Kramer's corpse, no fresh wounds. Plumbly had ordered a toxicology panel, and the corpse had in fact tested positive for heroin. But Kramer must not have been using heroin regularly, because once he was upright and mobile again, Sam Kramer was an undistracted man whose body didn't seem to need heroin. It was true, however, that he didn't know what was going on. He suffered partial amnesia, and could only direct the cabbie to his home by reading his address from his driver's license. When he got there, he recognized the garage over which he lived, and discovered that he rented the loft from an old man who lived on the property in his own house.
After a few days, Sam realized that he had a problem: the fresh aches and cuts that appeared on his body while he slept. Some of the blood from the cuts would dry by the time he awoke, so he realized that receiving the wounds didn't wake him. Unfortunately, these wounds could be severe. One day he woke up with a broken finger. A few weeks later, he woke up with three broken toes. The nightmare tied to this second injury was one of the few he was able to remember. The dream took place on an earthen slope, where a skeletally thin creature with dark green skin and thick red horns sprouting from its forehead used its elongated fingers to awkwardly flutter a red handkerchief against a boulder. In the dream, Sam grew impatient and made the mistake of daring the demon to roll the boulder, and the demon complied. The boulder crushed all of Kramer's lower body. The cost to him when he awoke was three painfully broken toes, one of which had to be amputated that day. In this way Kramer learned that he had limited power over the forces haunting his dreams.
There was a dream creature that lurked around Sam's apartment. It seemed related to the wounds and the dreams. It looked just like Sam. It never said anything. It frequently walked around the apartment naked, and sometimes gave the impression that it had authority over Sam. It partially vaporized and crawled under Sam's ribcage when Sam would fall asleep, disappearing under a slit that temporarily formed on Sam's upper stomach and lodging itself inside him. Most of its time was spent staring at a spot on the carpet, or huddled inside the closet, tapping its fingernails against the wall. Sam didn't know what its proximity meant, or what, exactly, it had to do with the dreams and beatings.
At first Sam thought that he was hallucinating when he saw the creature, maybe as a result of something that happened to him because of his death. Now he assumed the creature was real. It didn't just look like Sam, but also had the same cuts and tattoos that he did. If Sam suffered a cut on his back from a bad dream, the same cut would appear on the creature. After Sam's three toes were broken and one of them had been amputated, his foot was fitted with an orthopedic shoe. As for the dream creature, it limped around the apartment with the same injury, the amputated toe hanging off its foot next to the other two broken toes before the toe eventually fell off on the carpet. During this time the creature glared accusingly at Sam, and punched Sam's head a few times, doing so harder than usual.
Sam started to have some of the tattoos that were left from his former life removed, and did research into having his more severe scars looked at by a plastic surgeon. Every week or so, however, his dreams left him with fresh cuts that his newfound vanity compelled him to go and get stitches for. At a beauty salon he overheard a conversation about somebody getting their teeth bleached. So Sam Kramer had his teeth bleached. The dental hygienist doing the treatment recommended that if he wanted to look younger, he could always get botox treatment. So Sam Kramer got botox treatment.
In his loft he found some information about a man he had been ordered to intimidate when he was a mob enforcer in his former life. The notebook contained the amount the man had owed the loan sharks and his and his daughter's address, as well as a picture of the daughter when she was still a teenager. For some reason, seeing the picture of the 17 year old girl almost completely brought back Kramer's memory of her father. Generally, Sam couldn't remember anything from his past clearly, but he remembered the picture of the girl well. Possibly, he had refused to kill the girl, and so for this refusal the mob ordered Sam's death, for whatever reason making it look like a drug overdose when carrying it out.
The man was called Hebel Rhamsey. He managed a branch of an advertising agency. Kramer liked the idea of becoming involved in advertising, and since he hadn't held on to the information of any of the other debtors, he wondered if maybe Rhamsey's connection to the advertising world was the reason he had kept Rhamsey's information to begin with. Kramer decided he would track Hebel Rhamsey down and try to get Rhamsey to give him a regular job. One day Sam followed him after he left a coffee shop and cornered him into an alleyway. Not knowing what choice he had and acting on impulse, Sam threatened to kill Rhamsey and his daughter unless Rhamsey gave him a job. Since the threat was empty, doing this was acceptable, Sam thought.
Possibly because of twenty-five years of dangerous gambling, three divorces, dual alimony payments, alcoholism and bouts of cocaine abuse, this Hebel Rhamsey had become a terrible ironist. On seeing Sam and hearing the death threat, he asked Sam if he had any office skills. Sam Kramer remembered that he had become Microsoft certified years ago in prison. Speaking of prison, Rhamsey said, he could only give him a job as a secretary if Kramer had the large tattoo of a swastika on his neck removed.
That was right, Kramer thought, the swastika. Something left over from those four years in prison almost a decade ago. Kramer realized with a jolt that it was bad to have the tattoo of a swastika on his neck. He told Rhamsey that he would have it removed immediately. He said to himself that he should have had that particular tattoo removed first. The swastika must have been why he continued to get those dirty looks from people on the street, even after the flattering effects of the botox treatments had begun to take. Those stares at the beauty salon hadn't been his imagination either. The swastika also explained why security guards had appeared to accompany him out of the Dentist's office.
Kramer's first few weeks at the ad agency were tough. His coworkers and superiors noticed at once that there was something off about him, and of course they were right. But by the end of his first week most of the staff imagined this weird male secretary must have gotten the job for some reason, and then they forgot him and went on with their work.
Hebel Rhamsey only told one person, the branch president, Jenkinson Metcalf, that Kramer had coerced him into giving Kramer the job, and Rhamsey didn't tell the mafia he had so often owed money to in the past about Sam Kramer's latest threat. The children of debtors to the mob are rarely murdered collaterally, and most likely Rhamsey, whose chronic gambling problem had led him down many obscene paths, knew this, and didn't fear for his daughter or himself. So Rhamsey's odd discretion was of course lucky for Sam, because the mafia would immediately have killed him, in all likelihood a second time and perhaps far more violently than the first time, for involving Rhamsey in his own schemes.
It was weird having this kind of job, typing out memos and getting coffee for normal people. Sam's attention was soon drawn to a copywriter called Melanie. He soon surprised himself by thinking about her far more than he would have liked. Unfortunately, however, he was compelled to think about Hebel Rhamsey, too, who came into the office most work days swaggering and smiling, and when he saw Kramer he always gave him two exaggerated thumbs-up, a gesture he reserved for Sam alone. Sam Kramer was confused as to why Rhamsey was so friendly. He hated seeing him or thinking about him.
Over the months the dream creature's frame had become less transparent, even as its movements became quicker. Even though Sam had at first thought that it may be responsible for the beatings at night, he soon realized that if the dream creature wandered away and Sam fell asleep alone, without the creature inside him, the beatings were more severe. So it became difficult for Sam Kramer to fall asleep if he knew the dream creature had wandered too far away. Since it seemed to stay within 400 feet or so of the loft, Sam realized that something very bad might happen to his body if he fell asleep outside this perimeter.
If Sam smoked inside the loft, the dream creature protested by defecating on the bed, and so Sam would smoke on the old man's back lawn. Partly because the creature sometimes smelled horribly, Sam found himself spending a bit of time on the back lawn, sitting in one of the old man's lawn chairs and frequently smoking. He would look at the small stream that flowed on the edge of the property. Large amounts of reddish liquid sometimes soaked the streambed and the grass near it. There was no way to tell whether the gooey red liquid had been splashed down as though poured out of a bucket, or if red water had welled up from under the ground -- or if, somehow, the red goo was deposited by the stream water, which lapped over the reddened stones without washing it away. In a few weeks Sam noticed that the more injury his body sustained during the night, the more what he now thought was blood coated the grass and the further it encroached onto the property.
After four unpleasant months at work, only to come home to beatings that varied in intensity during the night and which sometimes took him to the hospital and continually drained his savings account, he decided that he needed to work with the strange dream creature that seemed to function as some sort of buffer, some sort of intermediary, between him and the source of his violent dreams. He decided that his best bet would be to somehow free it as it existed inside him while he slept and to let it get out of the loft during the day. In this way Sam Kramer hoped he could divert the energy giving him the beatings somewhere else.
One day, the creature crept up behind Sam to punch his head against the wall. Sam surprised the creature by twisting around and getting his arms around its smelly torso. Sam threw himself and the creature down, pinning it to the floor, surprised that it didn't put up the least resistance.
"What are you doing?" it rasped. "Are you lonesome?" Aren't we together enough at night?"
Sam didn't say anything.
"Your injuries can't be avoided," the creature said, guessing the question. "Unless you are willing to get creative."
"That's what I thought," Sam said. "Well, we'll start by cleaning you up and then we'll try to get you a job."
The two got up awkwardly, and Sam went outside to have a cigarette.
It was good that the creature looked just like Sam, because this meant the creature could easily take on his identity. He would simply show Sam's driver's license to prospective employers. But the tattoos and bodily damage were still there, on the dream creature's body, and so Kramer had to go to the trouble of getting some of the same tattoos that had been lasered off his body lasered off the creature's body as well. Sam spent his time driving it to the plastic surgeon, the dentist, and the beauty salon. He had to explain basic rules, like going to the bathroom properly and how to be polite to people.
In a month the creature found a job as a telemarketer. The creature, taking on this new identity, complained that Sam kept calling him creature, and so Sam said that he would call him Demon. The creature didn't like that either, and said for Sam to call him Harry, which it had told the people at work was the name he went by. It was agreed on, and Harry settled into his job.
For two or three months it seemed that Sam and Harry were both progressing well. Harry easily reached his sales quota, and adjusted to this new environment fairly well. Meanwhile, when he could, Sam chimed in at work with a droll ad idea or two. For a frozen apple pie account, for example, Sam suggested "it tastes so good it is like biting into an apple orchard" as a pitch, and some of the writers might smile at his sincere expression as he said things like this. They sometimes invited him to the writers' room if their day was slow.
Harry the dream creature, unaccustomed not just to work but even the strain of being away from the loft during the daytime, was very tired once the workday was over. This was especially the case when he had just begun his new job. It appeared that the more worn out Harry was, the more effective a buffer he was between Sam and the spirits mauling Sam's body at night. Seven months into his new job now, Sam's nightmares only caused him a mere infrequent cut. Once he went twelve days without so much as a scratch. If this continued, then Sam's plan had worked perfectly.