15 • MOUSE TRAP
I laid the book on the control console and tried to picture what Matthew was going through. He continued to mention this “flaw” that we shared. He believed that my mistakes as a father had somehow etched themselves into his fate and that he would be doomed to make the same mistakes. It seemed like a lot of Freudian nonsense to me, but his life had taken some similar turns. I wanted to find him as soon as possible, but the house wouldn’t let me leave.
The book on the console in front of me was not the one I had been reading from previously. After Master and I buried the library floor in huge piles of books, I hadn’t been able to find it. The new book, titled Humpty Dumpty, picked up almost exactly where the other one left off, skipping over just a couple of weeks as far as I could surmise. Tresa told me that she was never able to find the beginning or the end of the chronology in the library, but I desperately wanted to find the end. Assuming it would be the most recent account of Matthew’s story, it would likely hold information about his current whereabouts. At the very least, it might point me in the right direction.
I had settled in the security room to read for two reasons. First, the library was somewhat uninhabitable due to the recent reorganizing. Second, I wanted to keep an eye on Master using the security monitors. I was worried about the idea of him searching for Tresa alone when there was clearly someone else in the house. I had caught glimpses of him here and there on the monitors as I periodically looked up from my book, but it had been a while since the last sighting. It was time to go find him.
The last place he had shown up on the monitors was in a dimly lit hallway that I didn’t recognize. It must have been on one of the upper levels. I started to walk out of the closet-sized security office, but stopped for a moment and considered a little more carefully. I walked back in and scooped up the book I had been reading in one hand and the heavy flashlight in the other.
I stepped out into the squeaky hallway, the floor still wet from when I threw Master’s bowl of water in a rage. I went to the end of the hallway and looked up. The stairwell extended into almost complete darkness. I climbed to the next level and looked down the hallway. It had a different atmosphere from the two lower hallways. It was very dimly lit by a mere handful of orange shaded lamps that hung low from the ceiling. All of the doors were on the left wall, the opposite of the second level hallway. The right side was decorated with framed movie posters and album covers. The light was too dim to make out the images on display. I flipped on the metal flashlight and held it next to my head as I looked through the artwork on the walls.
The movie posters included Double Indemnity, Rear Window, Seven Samurai, Fists in the Pocket, Taxi Driver, Being There, Straight Time, the Last Picture Show, Notorious, Ikiru, Blade Runner, the Swimmer, Wise Blood, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, Ace in the Hole, 3 Women, Remember the Night, Little Murders, Persona, and Citizen Kane. If this was Matthew’s house, he had an old man’s taste in movies, good taste. It was a familiar selection, but I couldn’t put my finger on why it felt so. It was a frustration I was becoming accustomed to in this house. I loved old movies. It was a time when filmmakers were breaching new topics in cinema and pioneering new techniques. It must’ve been an exciting time to work in the movie industry. By contrast, everything I had seen in the last thirty years or so was completely devoid of that life and immediacy. With a handful of exceptions, Hollywood had basically been on life support since the seventies.
Next, I checked out the series of framed album covers. Robert Johnson’s King of the Delta Blues, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, Beethoven’s Symphonies 5 and 7 conducted by Carlos Kleiber, Duke Ellington’s Ellington at Newport, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Howlin’ Wolf’s Moanin’ in the Moonlight, The Beatles’ White Album, John Coltrane’s Blue Train, David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, Tchaikovsky’s Symphonies 4, 5, and 6 conducted by Evgeny Mravinsky, The Wailers’ Burnin’, The Clash’s London Calling, Elvis Costello’s My Aim is True, and Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. It was another superb collection, a good mix of rock, classical, jazz, blues, soul, folk, and punk. It was the kind of list I would have come up with in one of those hypothetical desert island scenarios. And again, there was something strikingly familiar about it.
There were only four doors along the length of the left wall, which were evenly spaced. I chose the one closest to me, but it was locked. I thought about the key I found in the security room along with the first aid kit and the flashlight. I had encountered a lot of locked doors in the house and maybe the security room key could open some of them.
I tried the next door, which clicked open. I pushed it open and revealed a room with an atmosphere similar to the hallway. I stepped in and pushed the door shut behind me. The room was dimly bathed in the same orange light that radiated from the lamps in the hall. There were two large upholstered chairs in the far corner of the room separated by a small round table. There was a large coffee table book about the photography of James Casebere lying open on the table. I recognized the picture on the open page. It was a picture I had always liked, but Sarah never understood why. Artists were always more critical of other artists. “Just liking” something was never enough. I wasn’t any better of course. I was always on her case about reading Stephen King and Michael Crichton novels.
I stopped dead in my thoughts and realized that I was recalling whole memories outside the clock room without any resistance. I wondered if this room had the same effect or if something had changed in the house. Each room in the house seemed to have a specific purpose whether it was obvious or not. What was this room’s?
Situated between the chairs on a corner-set shelf were the various pieces of audio equipment I had seen on one of the monitors in the security room. There was a big pair of monitor headphones slung over the back of one of the chairs, the cord of which was connected to one of two record players on the top shelf. Below those, there were the other items I had seen on the monitor, a cassette player, CD player, a stereo receiver and amplifier, and…an 8-track. I laughed to myself. Above the rack of audio gear on a wall-mounted shelf in the corner sat an old phonograph with a large elaborately shaped horn. A cursory glance revealed a number of speakers mounted around the room, including two large ones adjacent to the chairs. An adjacent shelf held the metal piggybank with the word “Charlie” inscribed in white. I picked it up, feeling the weight of it, and ran my fingers over the letters to see if the tactility of the word would inspire deeper connection to the name; it didn’t.
A bright spot on the wall caught my eye as I was looking around at the speakers. Hanging from the ceiling on the other side of the room were two small track lights like the ones used in an art exhibit. They were both aimed at a large painting on the wall. Aside from the intricately patterned wallpaper, it was the only piece of art in the room. I squinted as I approached for a better look. The contrast of the bright track lights to the dim orange glow in the rest of the room confused my eyes momentarily. As I got closer, I could make out the picture and it seemed obvious. It was Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. As I had seen on the security room monitor, the man who was usually adjacent to the woman was missing completely. I looked around for a camera and found one hanging just behind the lights on the ceiling that was aimed directly at the painting.
I couldn’t figure out why Matthew had placed such importance on the people in this painting or why he associated them with his parents. It could have been Sarah’s influence. She was the artist after all. I looked closely at the face of the woman in the picture. She looked lost in ambivalence. Maybe she had once been beautiful, but even in the broad layers of oil paint, her face looked heavy with age. There was a loneliness in her eyes as she distracted herself with something in her hand. I didn’t understand the connection between the scene in the painting and my son, but there was something simple about it. Boy grows up without father. Boy can’t find father, talk to father, see father. Boy imbues presence of father on subject in painting where he can visit and talk with father whenever he wants. It almost made sense.
Most of the rest of the room was empty aside from the wall-to-wall shelves brimming with records, cassettes, CDs, and 8-tracks. I looked at what was on the record player to which the headphones were connected. It was spinning. I looked around the room hurriedly. The door was still shut. I ran through it and out into the hallway, looking in both directions. My mind made the most optimistic jump first, “Tresa,” I said aloud. There was no one outside the room and no sound to be heard. I went back inside and pressed my finger on the cylinder to stop the spinning record. It was Beethoven’s seventh symphony performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. The gasp I expected the discovery to evoke never came. Instead, I huffed a sigh and said, “I hate this house.”
Even if someone had been watching me on the monitors when I was conducting in the air and making coffee, they couldn’t possibly have known what I was playing in my head. I tried to think of it as just a coincidence, but I knew better. Even Master’s accidental revelation about the about the correlation between the 24-hour reading of the clock and my birth year seemed too unlikely to be mere chance. As an American with no military experience, it had simply never occurred to me to read the clock in 24-hour time. Did the clock stop as a result of my being here? I looked over at the record on the turntable again. Did I have some kind of power over the house? My experience so far had been the opposite. The house was the one with the power. I looked back over at the painting. If that was supposed to be me next to the woman in the diner, what did it mean that I was missing? Was this Matthew’s house or mine? My head started to ache again. It was becoming a frequent occurrence in this place.
“Oh. What the hell,” I thought as I dropped the needle on the record and placed the headphones over my ears. I sat down in one of the big chairs just as the first orchestra hit blasted into the first movement. It was the same Carlos Kleiber conducted performance with which I was so familiar. The album artwork was hanging just outside the room on the wall. It was the same recording I had played in my head when I was making coffee in the kitchen. I leaned back in the chair and soaked up the dance-like rhythms and woodwind melodies.
Just as the drone of the second movement started, I opened my eyes and noticed a bundle of papers and small leather-bound books barely sticking out from a nook next to the record player. I reached in and pulled it out. The bundle was held together by a large leather strap with a buckle. I removed it and looked through the papers, which were envelopes. The address and postage was written in Japanese. The envelopes were all already opened and the white of the paper was yellowed with age. I pulled out one of the letters, which was also written entirely in Japanese. The leather-bound books were small journals written in what appeared to be the same hand. I opened a few more of the letters, some of which were written in what looked like different handwriting from that in the journals. Among the tattered yellowing envelopes were some slightly larger bright white ones. They looked as if they had just been bought. There was no postage on them and only one word written in English, “Matt.”
I pulled out the first of the papers, which looked like a sort of invoice. I read through the information on the sheet:
Document: Letter dated December 17, 1945
Unit #: 23 of 49
Source Language: Japanese
Target Language: English
Word Count – Source: 753
Word Count – Target: 1,278
Contact: Matt Fox
It must’ve been the journals and letters the monk in Kurama had given Matthew. I wondered why they were in the house. I would have to read through them to figure out the connection, if there was one. Matthew’s skepticism about all of the Chakra and spiritual healing nonsense seemed more than justified. Had I been in his place, I would’ve treated it with the same suspicion. However, unlike Matthew, I probably wouldn’t have come around. My own journey would’ve ended much sooner. Then again, I was trapped in a house by some unexplained force and had quickly become a believer in the power it held. I told myself that my circumstances were more personal; they involved a son that I had never known. My first response to my situation had been to find a way out at any cost. Now, I was trying to find the connection to the house that would lead me to Matthew. I had to find him. Tresa and Master were my best chance.
I wrapped up the bundle of letters and journals with the same leather strap and threw it over my shoulder. I would have to find time for them later. According to what was starting to become protocol for navigating the house, I checked the doorknob and the threshold for the symbols I knew would be there. In response to Master’s critique, I took my time copying the Japanese character from the doorknob. Next I opened the door and found a green lotus flower with 12 petals. I copied it down as well and titled the page “listening room.” I wrote that I found the bundle of translated letters and journals given to Matthew by the Kurama monk and translated by his friend in Kobe. I shut the door as I left and wrote down both the list of album covers and the list of movie posters on display in the hallway. I snapped my journal shut and shoved it back in my pocket just as it occurred to me that I forgot the main point of interest in the room. I pulled the journal back out and wrote “Nighthawks minus one.”
The original intention of my trip to the third level hallway had failed. Master had already moved on to somewhere else in the house. I figured I should go check the monitors again and see if he turned up. I went back downstairs and walked into the security office. I tossed the flashlight back into the drawer in which I had found it. As I was sliding it closed, I noticed the key again. I scooped it up and shoved it into my pocket thinking it might open something important at some point.
I sat down just in time to catch Master on one of the monitors. It was the one marked by a red circle around a square and upside-down triangle that were arranged concentrically. His surroundings were dark and it was difficult to make out the interior of the room. He was spinning around looking for something. Upon noticing the camera, he started waving his arms at it and shouting. I frantically looked for the numbered button that matched the monitor on the console. I pressed it and heard his voice crackling over the speakers.
“Matto-chan! Are you still in there? Hey! I found something down here! I’m on the basement level opposite the kitchen stairwell! Get down here!”
He continued waving at the monitor, probably thinking that I was engrossed in my reading. Suddenly, a shadow behind him moved. My head twitched slightly from the shock of it. I stood up from the chair and leaned in toward the monitor for a better look. Something was still moving behind him, but the room was too dark to make it out. In a panic, I scanned the console for some kind of talkback or intercom button. I pushed a few and started shouting into a quarter-sized convex mesh screen on the console that I thought might be a microphone.
“Master. Behind you. There’s something behind you. Turn Around. Master!” He continued waving at the monitor, completely unaware of the other presence in the room. “Master!” I screamed as loud as I could.
There was no way I could find the room he was in before he came into contact with whatever it was. My heart was jumping like a jackhammer in my chest and my breathing was coming in short panicked huffs. He put his arms down and shouted one last time at the monitor.
“I’ll wait for you here for ten minutes and then go to the security room!”
Just as he finished speaking, the shadow approached him and took shape just behind him. It was a person almost as tall and slender as Master, which made me think it was a man. The figure was wearing a hat similar to the one I had flung from my head in the clock room. I couldn’t make out much more detail than that. He was wearing dark clothing as best as I could tell. He slowly reached a hand up as if preparing to strike. He reached around in front of Master and pulled him into a chokehold. Master yelled in shock and grunted as he struggled to get free. The stranger made no sound at all as he wrestled Master out of the view of the camera. I could hear Master’s teeth-clinching groans and the sounds of the struggle over the speakers.
I ran out of the room as fast as I could move and skidded to a stop at the top of the stairs, looking at my empty hands. I spun around and ran back to the security room nearly slamming into the doorjamb as I entered at full speed. I grabbed the heavy flashlight and turned to go when the speakers suddenly crackled to life followed by the woman’s voice. I stopped dead and tilted my head toward the console. The voice was the same as before, but more intense, more pained.
“… wouldn’t he tell me? Why didn’t you tell me, Matthew? You have to … You have to come back now …”
The voice died in another eruption of crackling sounds followed by silence. I hurriedly pressed the “Push to Talk” button on the console and shouted, “hello? Hello? Can you hear me? Is anybody there? Can you hear this?” No reply.
Master. “Dammit,” I yelled, running out of the room as quickly as my legs would carry me. I ran to the stairwell opposite the kitchen and descended several steps at a time. I slammed wildly into the walls of the stairwell landings, unable to change direction at the speed of my descent without stopping. I passed by the library floor and continued down. The stairs descended into a large cold concrete room similar to the one at the bottom of the opposite stairwell. There were fluorescent industrial lights lining the ceiling, but only a handful gave off light. There were three doors on three separate walls, one of which was open. I ran immediately for the open door. The light inside the room was moving. I ran in and found a dark room lit by a single hanging bulb that was swinging around in large arcs to dizzying effect. There was a metallic scrapping sound occurring at semi-regular intervals coming from somewhere in the room. I looked around desperately, but there was no trace of Master or his attacker. I switched on the flashlight and shone it around. There was a large boiler furnace that was producing a constant hissing sound accompanied by random clicks and rattles. There was a massive breaker box mounted along one of the walls. Another wall was full of metal hooks from which hung various tools and links of chains. A few of the larger chains were swinging back and forth, dragging against the concrete wall and producing the semi-regular scraping sound I had noticed when I entered the room. There was a slew of other industrial-looking machines in the room as well as large tubes and cords that protruded from the walls and ran along the floor in a complicated web. The room looked almost organic, like it contained the internal organs of the house itself. All of the machines in the room worked in harmony, turning, steaming, pumping, hissing, sparking, and producing an amalgam of noises. It was a lot to take in and there was no sign of Master.
I walked out of the small room, keeping my flashlight trained on the path in front of me. There were two other doors to check. Maybe the assailant had dragged Master into one of them. He couldn’t have gotten too far in the time it took me to get down here. I tried the first door. It jerked open and immediately caught on something. I pushed harder and it scraped open over an uneven dirt floor. The top and bottom corners of the door were dragging against the earthen interior of a long tunnel that stretched out in front of me. The tunnel looked like an animal burrow. It was almost perfectly circular and the dirt walls were packed down hard. I shined my flashlight down the length of it, but there was no visible end. It seemed to go on forever into the unknown. I thought it might be a way out, but before I could chance it, I had to find Master. Now I had two people to track down. As soon as the house cut me a break and gave me something, it just as quickly took it away again. It seemed to be a pattern in my life, one I was almost entirely responsible for. Matthew, however, shouldn’t have been doomed to repeat my pattern. I had to find him. Master, Tresa, a shadowy assailant, the house was throwing a continuous stream of distractions at me to keep me from finding Matthew.
I checked the threshold of the door and jotted down the red four-petaled flower under the title “scary tunnel.” The doorknob bore another Japanese character, which I carefully copied as well. I ran back to the utility room as well and copied down an identical flower symbol and a different Japanese character under the title “boiler room.” Next, I tried the third door in the room, but it wouldn’t budge. I kicked it, over and over, but it wasn’t as easy as it looked in cop movies. The door barely moved from the impact of my foot and I instinctively looked around out of embarrassment. I was alone. My sigh echoed loudly in the big concrete room, reminding me of just how alone I was. I pulled the key from the security office out of my pocket and slid it into the lock. It offered no resistance on the way in, but refused to turn. I huffed and dropped the key back into my pocket.
I was feeling lost. I lost Tresa. I lost Master. I abandoned Matthew. And now I’d lost my way. I went back to the boiler room and looked around aimlessly. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but Master said he had found something to show me. I couldn’t be sure if he was talking about something in the room or the room itself. The room struck me again as a sort of source of vitality for the house. I imagined that if I severed any one of the dozens of tubes and cables that ran down the walls and across the floor, the house would simply die. After losing another companion, it was hard to deny the appeal of hurting or possibly killing the house. There was a fire ax with a metal handle hanging from a hook on the wall. The swaying light bulb in the center of the room sent shimmering reflections across the surface of the silver blade. All I had to do was reach out and take the ax and I could cut out the heart of the house. Something stopped my hand and kept me from playing out the fantasy that was stuck on repeat in my mind. There was a connection between the house and Matt and there was a connection between Matt and me; somewhere in the twisted logic of my mind that sprang up in place of genuine intuition, I reasoned that damaging the house was tantamount to damaging myself. There was no stronger force in nature than self-preservation.
Protruding from the top of what looked like a giant furnace, there was a small black and chrome striped pipe that didn’t match any of the other pipes in the room. The pipe rose from a large cylindrical section on top of the furnace and disappeared into a hole in the concrete ceiling. The furnace itself was in a bad way. It was covered in grime and rust and it rattled slightly as it hummed with power. The rattling came from loose bolts and broken joints. It looked like it had been abandoned along with the house for months, maybe even years. There were several old-looking gauges on the front of the big furnace. The needles hovered low on the scale and jutted back and forth erratically. One of the needles was resting motionless on the far left of the scale. It jumped slightly every so often, but its position never changed. There was a faded symbol printed on the face of the gauge that resembled one of the flower characters. It was the same shape as the others in the house and had too many petals to count. The symbol was so faded that I couldn’t make out the color. The other gauges had faded Japanese characters printed on them. Or were they Chinese? Whatever. I made notes of the gauges and symbols on the “boiler room” page.
Despite the delicate state of the equipment in the room, the house still had power. My attention turned back to the strange striped pipe. I know I had seen something like that somewhere else in the house, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. There were no pipes in the library or the bedroom. I hadn’t seen the pipes in the kitchen. The only pipes in the security room were the common small steel pipes that ran in and out of a breaker box on the wall. The clock room had…
The clock room! There was an amalgam of industrial sized gears, pipes, cylinders, and shafts behind and underneath the face of the giant clock. I’m almost certain that I had seen the same black and chrome striped pipe connected to the clock through the hole in the floor. Is that what Master wanted to show me? Did he notice the pipe in the clock room too? I had to find him, but I didn’t know how or where to start.
I shoved my journal back into my pocket and walked out of the boiler room to the stairwell. I climbed back up to the third level and rushed into the clock room. The blast of light almost didn’t faze me at all as I burst through the door. My eyes adjusted to the brightness of the room and I froze in shock. My clothes were still lying aimlessly around the room; my shirt, tie, jacket, belt, and shoes were all there, but my hat was missing. The image of Master being attacked on the security monitor flashed in my mind again. His assailant had been wearing a dark hat and jacket from what I could make out. They could have been the same ones in which I had been dressed. It didn’t make any sense. What was the use in impersonating me? The attacker could have easily gone to the bedroom and taken any of the six remaining suits hanging in the big wardrobe, but as far as I knew there was only one hat.
“One thing at a time,” I told myself.
I approached the square hole in the floor from which the clock and its workings emerged. I walked around behind the clock face and bent down over the edge. Just as I remembered, a black and chrome striped pipe emerged from the dark hole and connected to another big metal cylinder attached to the back of the face underneath two small gears and a cylindrical shaft. I reached out and touched it hesitantly with my fingers. It was as cold as the room was still. It didn’t vibrate or hum at all. As I began to lean back on my haunches, a sharp blow hit me in the small of the back sending me over the edge and down into the hole. I fell only a short distance, but long enough and hard enough to cause excruciating pain in my shoulder, neck, and ankle as I landed awkwardly. I let out a deep bellow, a monstrous growl composed of 40% pain and 60% rage.
From my new position at the bottom of the mechanical pit, I was looking straight up at the underside of the clock and the blinding lights on the ceiling above it. A silhouette leaned over the edge of the hole outlined in a hat and jacket.
“Hey! What the hell are you trying to do, kill me? Who are you? What do you want?” I grunted loudly as I tried to push myself up. “Where’s Master?”
The figure disappeared from the edge and the lights blinded me again.
“Hey! Get back here! Where’s Master? Where’s Tresa?” I was screaming as loud as the ache in my chest would allow, “Where’s Matthew? What did you do to him? I’m gonna find you! I’m gonna kill you!”
From beyond the edge an object came hurtling down the open pit and slammed loudly against the floor a few feet behind me. I tried to stand, but the pain in my ankle put me back down on the hard ground almost instantly. I pulled myself along the hard floor toward where the unknown object landed. It was a book, lying face down and closed on the dusty concrete. There was a fat stack of opened letter size envelopes strapped to the book by a thick elastic band. I held up the face of the book in the light that faintly illuminated the bottom of the pit from above and read the title aloud, “The Truth About Charlie.”
I immediately dropped the book and lowered myself back down to a sprawled posture on the floor. My whole body ached and throbbed with a mixture of sharp and dull pains. I could barely breathe and there was blood dripping down the back of my hand. I had likely hit it on some piece of machinery during my brief descent. Now, a steady stream of red flowed from the broken skin above my wrist. I moaned weakly and tried to focus on my breath. My throat was so dry I could hardly swallow my own saliva.
I assumed the dark figure was the same one that had attacked Master in the boiler room. He was probably responsible for Tresa’s disappearance as well. I wondered if he had also done something to Matt. Maybe, he even knew where to find him. I was unsure about the severity of my injuries, but I knew that for the moment, I couldn’t get out of the pit on my own. I looked over at the spine of the book on the floor next to me.
“The truth about me huh?”
There was obviously something in there that my attacker wanted me to read. It seemed unlikely that he was trying to kill me if he was planning to throw this book down with me. He was putting me in a situation where I would have nothing better to do than read the book. I picked up the book and heaved it carelessly across the bottom of the pit.
The lights in the room above me went off and a heavy blackness settled in around me. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I pulled out the flashlight I had been carrying with me and flicked it on. He knew I had a flashlight. Otherwise what would’ve been the point of throwing the book in with me and then turning off the only source of light in the room. I wondered how long he’d been watching me. I shined the flashlight around the edge of the hole in the floor above me. There was no sign of him. I was still in too much pain to move or climb out of the pit. I loosened the leather strap that was holding the bundle of journals and papers from around my shoulder and laid it out on the floor next to me. I figured it might take my mind off the pain.
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