For Richard Matheson and George Romero
The id will not stand for a delay in gratification. It always feels the tension of the unfulfilled urge.
Human aggression is instinctual. Humans have not evolved any ritualized aggression-inhibiting mechanisms to ensure the survival of the species. For this reason man is considered a very dangerous animal.
Can you hear me now?
The event that came to be known as the pulse began at 3:03 p. m., eastern standard time, on the afternoon of October 1. The term was a misnomer, of course, but within ten hours of the event, most of the scientists capable of pointing this out were either dead or insane. The name hardly mattered, in any case. What mattered was the effect.
At three o’clock on that day, a young man of no particular importance to history came walking – almost bouncing – east along Boylston
Street in Boston. His name was Clayton Riddell. There was an expression of undoubted contentment on his face to go along with the spring in his step. From his left hand there swung the handles of an artist’s portfolio, the kind that closes and latches to make a traveling case. Twined around the fingers of his right hand was the drawstring of a brown plastic shopping bag with the words small treasuresprinted on it for anyone who cared to read them.
Inside the bag, swinging back and forth, was a small round object. A present, you might have guessed, and you would have been right. You might further have guessed that this Clayton Riddell was a young man seeking to commemorate some small (or perhaps even not so small) victory with a small treasure, and you would have been right again. The item inside the bag was a rather expensive glass paperweight with a gray haze of dandelion fluff caught in its center. He had bought it on his walk back from the Copley Square Hotel to the much humbler Atlantic Avenue Inn where he was staying, frightened by the ninety-dollar pricetag on the paperweight’s base, somehow even more frightened by the realization that he could now afford such a thing.
Handing his credit card over to the clerk had taken almost physical courage. He doubted if he could have done it if the paperweight had been for himself; he would have muttered something about having changed his mind and scuttled out of the shop. But it was for Sharon. Sharon liked such things, and she still liked him – I’m pulling for you, baby, she’d said the day before he left for Boston. Considering the shit they’d put each other through over the last year, that had touched him. Now he wanted to touch her, if that was still possible. The paperweight was a small thing (a small treasure),but he was sure she’d love that delicate gray haze deep down in the middle of the glass, like a pocket fog.
Clay’s attention was attracted by the tinkle of an ice cream truck. It was parked across from the Four Seasons Hotel (which was even grander than the Copley Square) and next to the Boston Common, which ran along Boylston for two or three blocks on this side of the street. The words MISTER SOFTEE were printed in rainbow colors over a pair of dancing ice cream cones. Three kids were clustered around the window, bookbags at their feet, waiting to receive goodies. Behind them stood a woman in a pants suit with a poodle on a leash and a couple of teenage girls in lowrider jeans with iPods and earphones that were currently slung around their necks so they could murmur together – earnestly, no giggles.