The Man Who Never Sleeps - Chapter 1 - The Missing Body

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Neversleep Part One - The Missing Body title I'll start with the man named Charles Aaron Darf, or `Chaz' to those who knew him. I met him in Adelaide in August, the year 2000. I'd just moved into a unit in Glenelg for a hundred and forty-five a week -- a lot of money for somebody who was on the dole. But it included electricity, water and furniture, and living in Glenelg would save me money on transport. Besides, it was just what I wanted. The building had two stories that comprised nine units all up. Apparently it was no less than a century old and had originally been a brothel. I could imagine that when looking at the layout --- thin corridors, dimly lit, with dull and identical doors all along them. The foyer was thin and long, the floors and staircase always creaked. I holed up there hoping to have solitude until I finished a novel. It didn't end up that way, of course, because like most people I was addicted to company. Whenever I was off guard and tired from writing I would seek it out. That's how I met Chaz. He was always sitting on the front steps of the building smoking cigars. One day I had to get away from my dank room, so I joined him and we got to talking. When he found out I was writing, he took to me right away. It turned out he loved all forms of art, more enthusiastically than anyone I've ever met. He was a painter himself, but he owned a vast collection of literature. When we became more familiar, we were constantly lending books to each other. Neversleep illustration 1 Chaz was a sickly looking man. His skin was so pale that when I first saw him, I seriously had to stop short and look again. The only colour in his face was of the grey bags under his eyes. I supposed it was because he smoked so many cigars and hardly went out. He had a lean build, and always wore what seemed to be the same grey suit with a crooked green bowtie --- not exactly a common look. He had a slight accent that I couldn't pick, but with his kind of name I assumed he was of German roots. The only time I ever saw Chaz was on the front steps. Either I'd pass him on the way in and out, or I'd grab a cup of tea and join him for a chat. He didn't seem to have any friends, and he wasn't interested in anything besides art. To me, he seemed detached from everyone and everything that happened around him. His attitude suggested that something had happened in his past --- something that altered him and prevented him from moving on. I didn't know him well enough to ask, and the more I spoke to him the more I began to see that his love for art was no mere interest. Art was to him what a lifejacket is to a drowning man. Another piece in the puzzle is that Chaz had a knack for making money. I was surprised when Bill, the landlord, approached us one afternoon and asked Chaz for financial advice. But as it happened, Chaz had more than once guided him to fruit-bearing investments. When I think about it, Chaz only appeared to be in his thirties yet he never worked. One time I was reading a book he'd lent me --- The Food Of The Gods by H.G. Wells I believe it was --- when I discovered a bundle of hundred dollar notes stashed between the pages. Of course I returned the money immediately. All the same I often wondered why he was living as he was in his little unit. Whatever conjecture I could make, the truth was stranger still. Bill told me that Chaz had been in the building longer than any other tenant. He also told me that Chaz had originally shared his room with his cousin, a man of similar appearance. Nobody had seen the cousin for years.  Eyeless One afternoon as I was heading down the corridor to my room, I saw an unfamiliar man opening Chaz's door. By the time I reached my room, he had gone in and closed the door. I admit I was curious because Chaz never had visitors --- least of all visitors who would let themselves in—and because the man was almost as pale as Chaz was. He wore a tan suit, and I remember his tie hung loose around his unbuttoned shirt-collar. If there hadn't of been a peephole looking out at me I would have put my ear to Chaz's door. Instead I entered my own room and stood a moment listening from my closed door (my room was directly across from Chaz's). I heard nothing. Later in the night, as I was slugging away at my book, I heard voices coming from Chaz's room. Curiosity got the better of me and I again listened at my door. Chaz was having a heated discussion with the stranger. The stranger did most of the talking, with Chaz adding a sentence or two in the gaps. I couldn't distinguish what they were saying, but I could tell that the stranger had the same accent as Chaz. Then I went back to writing. Although I didn't know at the time, that night marked the beginning of our story. The next day the stranger was gone. I didn't see him again until years later, when I became his disciple. For a while after that everything was back to normal, except that during our sessions on the steps Chaz seemed preoccupied. One Sunday morning he was so quiet that it bordered on sheer rudeness. “Are you listening to a word I'm saying?” I asked him. He was staring at the burning end of his cigar. “What do you write about?” he suddenly asked. “Eh?” I said. He had completely changed the subject. “What is it that you write about?” “Well, I write what I like to read. I try to tell a good story.” “Quite. But what is it about?” “It's entertainment.” “Entertainment is heroin.” He was annoyed. “I've taken you to be an intelligent man, Lev,” (Lev is my name), “You're not another entertainment-pushing idiot are you?” “You're in a fine mood today,” I said. “What's wrong with entertainment then?” “Entertainment is for people with nothing to live for. You ignorant fools are as big a problem as any criminal. If you had any idea the problems you cause unconsciously!” I made no reply. Chaz got like that sometimes. I suspected from his anger that what he said had something to do with his visitor. “What do you paint about?” I asked. I'd never been into his room although he more than once said he would show me his paintings. But he wouldn't be challenged. He gave me a dramatic sermon about why “creating a work of art is nothing short of godlike!” Chaz had the annoying trait of being overdramatic at times. “You take a blank page or a canvas,” he said. “It is a void. And you can create a universe of your fancy to fill it. The writer becomes a god, you see?” “Sure,” I said. ` “Nonsense!” he snapped. “You don't see. Otherwise you wouldn't be producing shit.” “Well, why don't you fill me in?” “As the writer, you can provide the perfect environment in which to experiment. In this way the artist is also a scientist.” He paused, waiting for me to comment but I decided against it, so he continued: “The characters are your guineapigs. You have absolute control! A mere human could walk along on the dirt, then suddenly lift off and fly away. You have all this potential. Do not waste it! The last thing we need is more shit.” He actually blathered for longer than that, but the above is the bulk of what I remember. Soon after, he stormed away to his unit and I didn't see him again for a week. Out of the blue he knocked on my door. I opened it and he came in with a book I'd lent him. I sat down but he remained standing, fidgeting with his hands as if he had something on his mind. “Interesting book,” he said. The book I'd lent him was The Supernatural Tales Of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I was drinking a tea so I offered him one. He said no. “Sit down!” I snapped. “You're making me nervous.” He floated over to the bookshelf and started browsing. “What do you know about alchemy?” he asked. “A little bit -- producing gold artificially. That's the most well known objective, anyway. The alchemists were the first chemists.” “What do you mean producing gold?” “Well gold doesn't just exist. It's created inside the earth over the years from, like, the compacted layers of rock there. The theory goes that all matter comes from one primal substance. You know, when the earth was formed this one kind of matter varied itself into the different elements. The alchemists tried to make a universal solvent that would break down anything into that original form. If you can do that then theoretically you could find a way to make gold like the earth does.” He nodded. “Hmm. But they're just quacks aren't they? I mean they never succeeded.” “There have been claims of success -- some from well known scientists. One bloke made like a `laboratory diamond', whatever that is. Depretz was his name.” “Have you anything on it?” “Nothing that detailed. But there's something on it in the Blavatsky.” He took the book from my shelf then sat down with it, and lit a cigar. “One substance, eh? Can you break that down?” he asked. “According to that book you can,” I said. “You believe that?” “Beats me.” He skipped through the pages for a bit then said, “Can I take this book?” “Yeah.” After some more page skipping, he stood up to leave. “See you later,” he said. “Alkahest!” “What?” “That's what they called the universal solvent” --- I'd just remembered the name. “Alkahest.” “Oh.” And he went. It was a strange conversation for us to have, because up until then Chaz had never expressed any interest in the occult. In fact, he had expressed aversion to it. From then on, I never saw Chaz sit on the steps. As I went about my own life I hardly saw him at all and the bastard never returned that book.  Eyeless Perhaps my oldest friend is an American named Schaffer. He grew up in Australia but moved back to the States for college. Now he's living there designing computer chips for satellites and mobile phones. While I was living in Number Three, his brother --- a wheeler and dealer of sorts -- was in town as part of an Australia-wide holiday. He and his medical student friend came around and I spent the day with them at a wildlife park. That night we sat at a restaurant and shared a bottle of wine with our meal. The restaurant was up the road from where I lived so when we parted I walked home from there. I was mildly drunk when I came dragging my feet to the back of the building. It had just been raining heavily, so besides me, the streets were empty. Then, in the dark ahead, I saw the silhouetted form of one man helping another to walk. I assumed that they were a couple of rummies staggering home from a pub, but when they passed under a streetlight I saw blood. The fitter man was Chaz; he saw me and called to me for help. I rushed over. Chaz and I supported an arm each over our shoulders. “We'll get him to my place,” instructed Chaz. As we carried him, I had to hold my breath. The injured man reeked of dry sweat mixed with blood. While Chaz was opening his door, I supported the stranger by myself. He looked up at me, and an expression flashed on his face that unnerved me. Besides the pain, I can only liken the expression to the way a thief might look at you after you've just flashed your wallet in public. But the expression quickly gave way to suffering. I carried him in and Chaz directed me to his couch. There was very little room as the unit was crowded with paintings. We laid him there and Chaz closed the door. The man had a wound in his chest, not unlike a bullet wound, but it seemed to have stopped bleeding. He was very old and wore slippers and an evening robe. Strange. “Where's your telephone?” I asked Chaz. Chaz shook the man by the shoulders and yelled, “We're here now, so speak up!” This shocked me. The man was about to pass out. “Chaz!” I yelled. “Your telephone?” “William!” shouted Chaz, ignoring me. I hesitated between running for my phone and pulling Chaz away from the man. The man coughed and laughed. Then he said to Chaz, “You're as big a bastard as I am!” He pulled Chaz's head down and began whispering something into his ear. He let go and a look of relief came over his face. Then he closed his eyes and passed away. Chaz stood up straight. He looked dazed, as if he had heard some revelation. “Is he dead?” I asked. Chaz didn't acknowledge me. “Chaz!” He looked vaguely in my direction. “We've got to call the police!” “Dead?” -- he snapped out of it. “Oh, yes. I'm afraid so. Quite dead.” “Your phone?” “Oh don't worry,” he said smiling. “I'll deal with that. Thanks for all your help.” “What are you talking about?” “I'll ring the police right away. Thanks.” “What happened?” “Oh I just found him on the …on the jetty.” “Who was he?” “Who? I've no idea. Just some fellow.” “But you called his name!” “You must be mistaken.” He came and put his arm around my shoulders, gesturing me to the door. “Thanks for that, friend. You'd best be off now.” “But I have to stay until the police get here!” I said. “Why's that then?” “I'm a witness, you idiot! What's the matter with you? Now where's your telephone?” “Alright then,” he said. “I'll tell you what: you'd better call them from your place. I don't have a telephone.” “Are you sure?” I looked over his shoulder. He sure was acting strange. “Absolutely,” he said, but I saw no phone. “Quickly: go and call the police, man!” He shoved me into the hallway and slammed the door. I guess I was in shock for a moment, but when I came to my senses I raced into my room and called the police. After I hung the phone up, I raced back and found the door locked. I knocked and called after Chaz. There was no answer. I called and knocked again, still nothing. I put my ear to the door: nothing. Not a sound! “Shit!” I exclaimed. For a while I kept listening for sounds and calling Chaz. But there was nothing. What the hell is he doing? I thought. I contemplated ramming the door, but the frame-like decorations on it would have dug into my shoulder. I kicked it hard once, and again. It would give if I persisted. Suddenly I realised that Bill had spare keys to every unit, so I flew up to his home on the second floor. Luckily Bill was there. By the time he dressed, found the key and came downstairs, the police arrived. I introduced myself and told them what was going on. Bill unlocked the door and opened it. As we filed inside I was shocked to see Chaz slumped on the couch smoking a cigar and reading a book. There was no dead man. “What's going on?” he said, looking up at us. Everyone looked at me. “Where is he?” I asked Chaz. “Who?” “The dead man!” “I don't follow.” What happened next was both embarrassing and frightening. The dead man had disappeared and Chaz played completely dumb. He insisted that he had no idea of what I was talking about, and that he'd been sitting quietly all night reading. He didn't mind at all if we searched the place, which we did and found nothing. I then insisted that we check around the building, but at about that time everyone noticed that I was drunk. Bill had known Chaz much longer than he did me, and so they assumed that alcohol and I didn't mix. They were right. However, that wasn't the point. The police gave me strong advice about waiting until I was sober before making allegations. They left me alone and humiliated that night. I went by myself to check around the building and found nothing. Locking my door and windows, I fell to pacing my lounge room. Because I saw the dead man, I feared what might happen to me. What kind of evil man was my neighbour? If he decided to kill me later then surely he'd be able to dispose of my body just as efficiently as the first. “I don't need this!” I kept telling the walls. “Why me?” They didn't answer.  Eyeless The next day I had no reason to go out. I couldn't quieten myself to write so I spent most of the day staring through my peephole at Chaz's door and pacing my lounge room. In the afternoon there was a knock at the door. I looked through the peephole and saw Chaz. His hands were at his sides, no weapons in them. Maybe he has something in his pocket, I thought. There're no bulges but I can't be sure. I opened the door and stood opposite him. If he reached for anything I'd crowd him --- go for his throat, take him to the ground. “What do you want?” I said coldly. “Sorry about last night. May I come in?” His face was friendly yet there was a twinkle of satisfaction in his eyes. I saw it…and I could have knocked him down for it. “Fuck you!” “Don't be like that. It's complicated, Lev. I had to do it.” “You're a fucking murderer. Piss off before I…!” His calmnes enraged me. “I've come to warn you.” “I don't want to hear it.” His face turned cold and he forced a smirk. “You're not so stupid,” he said. “Maybe I'll give you another chance when you've calmed down…maybe.” He turned and entered his unit. I closed my door and locked it. That night I put chairs in the middle of the floor and in doorways, so that any intruder would stumble over them in the dark and wake me up. I put a kitchen knife next to my bed, and as I lay awake I contemplated my future. Leaving would be cowardice, so I couldn't do that. I'd have stay and watch him. The police wouldn't listen to me now and at the time I had no money to pay for a private detective. Doing something myself would only make me the criminal and ruin my own life. I just had to carry on. But I knew he'd get his eventually. It's a simple matter of cause and effect. No man is an island, as they say. Chaz couldn't expect to step out on his own and profit from harming others. When he looked proudly down at me -- a poor man with no connections -- and gloated over what he'd done, he might as well have been looking down at the rest of the human race. He might as well have been looking down at God. You can't expect to get away with that. As it happened I never saw Chaz again. He went away somewhere the day we last spoke, and weeks later he was still gone. Number four did not get rented out to any new tenants, so I assumed that Chaz was not gone permanently. I was no longer on good terms with Bill so I didn't ask. No murder was reported for the dead man I saw. To Be Continued.  Eyeless To be notified when the next chapter of The Man Who Never Sleeps is published on sign up for the Neversleep email list here.