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Authors: Richard Matheson

Hunger and Thirst

BOOK: Hunger and Thirst

Hunger and Thirst

Richard Matheson


Hunger and Thirst
Copyright © 2000 by Richard Matheson
Cover art to the electronic edition copyright © 2011 by RosettaBooks, LLC

All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher or the author.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Electronic edition published 2011 by RosettaBooks LLC, New York.
ISBN e-Pub edition: 9780795315794

With deep love for my wife Ruth Ann
and children Tina, Richard, Ali and Chris
—whose lives were yet to bless mine
when I wrote this book.


This novel (with the virtually Russian title) I wrote after graduating college. Dramatically, I actually
it, staying in a rented room and trying to emotionally duplicate the draining sensations of not eating, not drinking. The flashbacks are based largely on my war and college days. The manuscript sat in a drawer for 50 years. I trust that the E-Book won’t. I think that the novel is pretty effective. Proof positive not to give up too soon.



When he woke up he couldn’t move.

Not a shoulder, not a limb, not a finger. Every muscle felt paralyzed, useless. There was no sense of body.

He lay there on the bed and stared up at the ceiling and tried to remember. What had brought him there, where he was and, even, who he was. His brain was a sluggish current that slid like lava over the effort to know. He could almost feel it shift and slough like a turgid river against the walls of his brain.


It was quiet outside. It was almost never quiet outside. Not in the city, not where he lived. He wondered where the elevated trains were and the trucks and the cars and the people hurrying.

Silence. His brain tried to work.

It was an effort. It was like standing in sweating impatience over an obdurate machine, cursing it, kicking it, trying to get it running. And, all the time, the lump of an engine sat there like a stubborn mule and refused to turn. It mocked. The very lack of motion was an insult flung in the teeth. That was what his brain was like then. He could not know: Where am I? What day is it? What time? Why did he feel as though encased in cement?

His sleep-crusted eyes rolled down. He looked at the floor.

He saw his overcoat there, dropped or thrown, all bunched up and wrinkled. It was a mountain of wool, ridged and cliffed with silk slopes of lining and great hidden caves of sleeves.

His eyes shifted and he saw his hat in the chair, leaning slanted against the back. The same color and the same motionless pose. As if all things were frozen in time and space and he looked at them from some timeless attitude. He stared at the hat and he thought—Odd, how did I manage to get it there in the dark without even trying when…

The memory clouded. A fog of forgetfulness suddenly exploded its mist over all recall. He could not remember the slightest incident from what seemed to have been “the night before.” He was thrown back to the room and there he was, lying stock still on the bed and feeling as though he had turned to stone, as though he were a rock there.

Further away on the thread-bare brown rug he saw the money.

It was spilled out on the floor, dozens of dark green bills. It looked as if, from the ceiling, a strange financial cloud had formed and rained green money to the rug. A manna, a benefit from the skies of his room. There were the perfectly shaped drops. It had rained bills. His eyes collected them, fives and tens, and twenties. He couldn’t tell how many. Bills hung under each other, hiding numbers. All in clumps of green. And his eyes were not good enough.

Still only silence.

Why? In the city? Impossible. Unless he had caught a moment of rarity when all motion and all effort were suddenly ended. When the strands of traffic and commerce had parted completely for a moment before reuniting into its noisy weave.

He looked up again, still groggy. The room shifted about him. It was made of cloudy rubber. No shapes would form with sharpness, no edges gain the knife-like clarity they should have had. He blinked and blinked his eyes, feeling the tiny daggers of residue stab at the corners of his eyes.

He tried to wake up. He wanted to get up and wash his face.

He thought maybe he was exhausted. He thought maybe that was why he couldn’t move. He looked down inspecting over his long immobile body. It was like standing behind a battlement and staring out over the terrain of a rumpled and torn battlefield. He was still not awake. He wasn’t sure he wasn’t still sleeping. It might have been, he thought. Things like that happened.

His left leg was on the bed. The shoe on his left foot was pressed against the paint-scratched foot of the bed. He felt the pressure. Strangely. Not a direct, located pressure. It was vague, without definition; as though he felt it in his mind because he saw the foot pressing and knew there should be a pressure somewhere.

And he thought again he might be asleep because that was how things felt in a dream. Nothing was etched on ligament and tissue with the true sensation of those pressures and touches of actual waking. In dreams you felt pain but there was no pain; and sensuality when there was no physical cause for it. It was a thing of the mind completely.

His eyes shifted.

His right leg curled over the edge of the bed and hung to the floor. All he could see was the ridge of the knee cap bulging through the worn material of his pants. He couldn’t see his right foot. It was on the side of the bed, lost to his eye.

Now, either the dream grew more real or sleep departed, veils withdrawing one by one.

He began to feel.

His right shoulder was aching. Slowly, like the pain rising after one had burned himself. A delicate and clocklike flaring of uncomfortable sensation. In slow, rather than faster waves of pain, all gnawing fragile toothed at his brain centers. He found his lips pressed together when he grew conscious of them.

He grew conscious of them because his lips were dry, very dry.

He saw his arms. His left arm was at his side, fallen and inert, like a toppled warrior. The thumb of his left hand was pointing out as if he were trying to hitch a ride with it. The rest of the fingers were bent slightly, arches of motionless flesh. They were white, almost leprous. The streaks of dirt in the knuckles were like tiny roads over the tops of his flesh.

He couldn’t feel his left arm or his left hand.

He felt sure then it was a dream. For he might have been looking at someone else’s arm. He knew it was his and yet how could the eye insist when the body would not recognize the testimony?

He looked at his other arm because he felt it. The arm was running down along the edge of his body, so close to the edge that it might have been a growth on it. His right hand was pinned beneath the thigh. It was white too, what he could see of it. But he felt it. It was aching dully. It seemed as though he could say definitely that it was his. He could identify the location of that dull aching.

A breeze washed over him from the opening in the window.

He had opened it six inches. He remembered that. Suddenly he saw himself standing by the window and hitting the sides of the window to loosen the grey, dusty ropes and raise up the window six inches. He remembered that there had been neon lights shining down in the street. He had seen people walking.

This was his room then. And he had opened the window two days ago. Or was it three days ago? After it had rained, he thought. Yes, after it had rained. And now the wind was coming through the window. Cold and sharp.

Outside, sound flared.

The moment of unnatural silence ended as though in keeping with his dream. He heard the noises that he was so used to hearing. A truck grinding into gear, wheels turning. An elevated train rumbling into the station, raking to a halt, starting up again and howling off in to the greyish glaze. And the entire amalgam, the intangible pattern of noise that a city formed of its own.

He thought—It must be early morning, I’d better get up.

He couldn’t move.

The ends of his mouth turned down. Eye edges wrinkled. His face, in dream or waking, reflected the rising ire he felt. It was not fear or foreboding. He was just getting angry. Because he said it was morning. He saw clearly that it was morning and yet when he told himself to get up, he couldn’t do it.

So he told himself again—Get up, get up, never mind this. But added to himself quickly, secretly—If it turns out that you can’t move then obviously this is a dream because only in a dream could such a thing happen because…

He tried to draw in his arms. But his arms wouldn’t draw in. They might have been riveted to the bed. His entire body might have been nailed down like some outlandish horizontal Christ. The fingers of his right hand only twitched. He saw them. He kept looking from arm to arm, feeling a rising sense of unreality about everything.

The room was shifting again, quivering and trembling. Clouds were forming in the corners again. A dream, patently, a dream, he began to assert. But kept trying anyway. Come on, he said to his body, draw up your left leg, drop it over the side of the bed and sit up.

He couldn’t do it.

Forgetting his idea that he was dreaming he let a sound of alarm fill his throat like a whine. He tried to talk.

Then he was sure it had to be a dream. Because when he tried to talk, he couldn’t. Words were glued together into a sticky irresolvable gum. Unmirrored thoughts piled up squirming in his head. His brain became an ant hill throbbing with mute life. His tongue tried to push out between dry, flaky lips. But it couldn’t and, suddenly, he tasted the fetid, decay of food in his mouth, the repugnant hot cloud of his own breath. A groan flooded from the cavern of his mouth before he could control it. It sounded like a hum, as if he were humming a crazy, tuneless song in the morning air. But his ears seemed to be clogged. Because it sounded like a noise coming from miles away.

And the room was not shaped correctly. And he was growing stronger in his conviction that it was a dream. It had to be. It hadn’t the slightest element of reality. Life was a thing of facts and definite sensations. Life was not this vague and mixed up series of moments in which he could not feel or move or even discover to his own satisfaction where he was and in what condition.

His voice spoke then and he didn’t recognize it it was so grating and mechanical. He said,

“What is this?”

What is this? The question. What was this feeling of inability to move? Why couldn’t he move and why couldn’t he either drift into final sleep and then wake up in the morning or find himself truly awake and get up and wash his face?

Breezes covered him again. The room grew brighter as the wind puffed in the brown muslin curtains on the window. In a gap of sound from the street he heard the rustle of the curtains against the table that stood before the window. He saw in his mind the porous material, dusty and light brown, the thick, hardy weave, the rents in the torn threads.

He heard a bus hiss open its doors. He heard garbage men tossing cans on the sidewalk noisily and one of them shouting, “Come on, mac!”

Oh my God, what is this?

He wasn’t moving in either direction, to sleep or to wakefulness. He was being given no sign as to whether he slept or was awake. It was the first moment he could sense actual fear. In definition one could find an answer, one could adapt. But when you were suspended between possibilities, there were no hand holds and you were alone and fear was irrational.

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