19 • A SCIENTIFIC Approach
I folded the letter and slipped it carefully back into its envelope. The white paper was yellowing at the edges and in the creases where it was folded. The flashlight beam was beginning to dim. The batteries were obviously running out. I had tried to avoid reading the book that my attacker threw into the hole with me, but my curiosity got the better of me and I read a short chapter. I stopped myself and read another one of the translated letters as if it would somehow cancel out my brief surrender to temptation.
I pushed myself up with a groan, the pain in my shoulder still aching. I picked up the flashlight, which started to flicker as I shone it around the room. The small room was filled with all manner of moving parts and mechanisms, all still and silent. The opening above was at least ten feet up. I picked up the book and bound it together with the journals and letters using the leather strap that was wrapped around them. I held the flashlight up with my bad shoulder and used the other arm to throw the bundle of books and papers out of the hole. It landed with a thud on the clock room floor. Now, it was time for the hard part.
I shoved the flashlight, beam shining up, into the front of my waistband and started my climb. Scrambling up gears and drive shafts and pistons, my shoulder burned intensely every time I hung my weight from it. Still wearing only my black dress socks, my feet slipped again and again from the metal components. I should have put my shoes back on, but for some stupid reason, I’d thought it more important to defy the house. The whole house had been getting slowly but noticeably colder. I found myself longing for the warmth of my shirt and jacket. My defiance had accomplished nothing at all, aside from changing my look from cool Jack Webb to sad Wall Street burnout. I wrapped my arm around a large drive shaft at the elbow and reached down with the other to remove my socks. The full extension of my arm sent electric shocks from my damaged shoulder down trough my fingers, which spasmed and released their grip on the socks. They fell back down into the darkness out of sight. I was already about halfway to the opening in the floor and the strength in my shoulder was wavering. It wasn’t worth it to go back down and retrieve them.
My bare feet gripped the surface of the slick metal much better than the soft cotton of the dress socks, but the metal was even colder than the air in the room and the shock of it sent a physical chill through my body. I continued my climb slowly and carefully, using only one limb at a time. As I pulled and stretched my body I discovered more aches and pains, obviously the result of my fall. I made it to the edge of the opening and managed to pull myself up and on to the clock room floor. There was a thin strip of light seeping in from underneath the door, but it was barely enough to even make out the door itself. I shone the dim flashlight around the room and gathered my discarded garments one by one, shirt, jacket, right shoe, left shoe, and tie.
“Oh fuck it,” I said aloud, flinging the tie carelessly over my shoulder into the dark of the room.
I made my way to the door following the small dagger of light stabbing in from the hallway. I left the room, closing the door behind me, and got dressed outside. Aside from the infinitesimal improvement in warmth they provided, wearing the clothes again somehow made me feel better.
I thought about the lights in the clock room. Neither Tresa nor I had been able to find a light switch inside or outside the room. How had my assailant switched off the lights? The more pressing question was why he would bother throwing a book in with me if he was planning to turn off my only source of reading light. He knew I had the flashlight, but how? I had grabbed the flashlight in a panic after Master was attacked on the monitor. In fact, the only reason I had thought of it at all was that I figured I could use it as a weapon if necessary. The attacker had assaulted Master on the ground level and there’s no way he could have seen me take the flashlight three floors up. Is there more than one? The thought made me more paranoid and I instinctively looked around me. I eyed the book in the bundle and wondered what he, or they, wanted me to get out of reading it.
With a huff I threw the leather strap of the bundled books and papers over my shoulder and made my way back down the three flights of stairs to the boiler room. I walked in and went directly to the large electrical box on the wall, flipping the latch and pulling the door open. The sight inside forced me back and my foot caught on a pipe running across the floor, sending me down on my back. The interior of the breaker box was covered in the same black goop that was eating the library upstairs. It pulsed slowly as it moved over the breakers, pipes, and wires. Bits of it had fallen out on to the floor as a result of opening the door. One of the wires was completely eaten through. It was connected to a breaker marked by the same Chinese character as on the clock room doorknob.
I stood up and pulled the hanging bulb over toward the electrical box; there was a stream of the strange black substance running up the wall from a crack in the concrete near the floor. It was spreading through the house. My concern shifted to the library. If this strange disease had made it this far into the lower levels, the library must’ve been completely overrun. I had to find a way to stop it, but I didn’t even know what it was. I had never seen anything like it before. I held up my bandaged finger and thought about the intense pain that resulted from a mere brush with the substance. There was no way I could reconnect the wires without touching it again. I looked frantically around the room for something to cover my hands with. My eyes settled on a pair of thick rubber gloves hanging on the edge of a workbench in the far corner of the room. I also made note of the faucet on the wall next to the door. It was centered over a concave drain in the floor and connected to a hose that was wound and hanging from a hook on the wall above.
I put on the gloves, took down the coiled hose, and set the open end over the drain. I flipped the water on and ran it over the gloves to make sure there were no leaks.
“Here we go…”
I reached my hands into the breaker box and began scraping as much of the substance out on the floor as I could. I stopped briefly to wash off the gloves, quickly diving back into the box to expunge more of the black sludge. After getting most of it out, I frantically grabbed the wires and started twisting them back together, ignoring the obvious danger in connecting live electrical cables with wet gloves. Stupid. I stopped and flipped the appropriate breaker to the off position. I had nearly finished when a sharp pain stabbed at thumb. I retracted my hands and noticed that the fingertips of the gloves were being eaten away. The ends of the wires had cut into my fingertips and the blood was streaming out and mixing with the black sludge. I ignored it and finished twisting the wires carefully with the fingertips that were still covered with rubber. Finally, I ran the edge of my palm down the wall, cutting off the stream of the substance coming from the crack. I tore off the gloves in a frenzy and threw them on to the drain. Then, opening the nozzle all the way, I took up the hose and cleared the floor of the sludge. I sprayed the crack in the wall and my hands as well before tossing the hose back on to the drain and closing the nozzle.
I stood hunched over with my hands on my knees, panting like a dog. I took a moment to examine my hands. Left hand: clean. Right hand …
There was a trace of the black substance on my thumb, but it wasn’t the same thick, textured fluid that I had scraped out of the electrical box. It was less viscous and tinged with red. It was mixed with my blood. It didn’t burn like it had before, but there was an unusual tingling in my thumb. I quickly turned the faucet back on and washed my thumb, squeezing the end of my thumb as tightly as I could to milk it. The blood that emerged was nearly as black as the mixture I had washed off. I tried to squeeze it all out, but it just kept coming. Finally, when I thought I had gotten as much out as I could, I grabbed one of the less filthy rags from the workbench and wrapped it tightly around my thumb.
I flipped the breaker for the clock room back on as I left the room. I ran as fast as I could up the stairs to the library. The door was closed. I couldn’t remember if I had left it open or not. Upon entering the room, I found the floor covered in huge piles of books just as Master and I had left it. The carnage on the lower floor was reassuring, but as I turned my gaze to the upper levels, a cold panic entered my legs and made them quiver. It was too dark to make out anything above the first level of shelves. I shone my dim flashlight up and noticed a subtle movement all around the upper levels. The ceiling, empty shelves, ladders and walkways were completely coated in the black substance. It seemed to be slowly making its way down the spiral staircase and walls toward the books on the first floor. There was way too much of it to stop it or even slow it down. I had to get out of the house before the whole thing was consumed, but I wanted to save the books and I needed to figure out Matt’s connection to all of it.
I waded through the wreckage and made my way to the table between the reading chairs to find the book about chakras that Tresa had found. Surprisingly, it was still there, buried under a pile of volumes from the upper levels. I took a yellow legal pad from a shelf near the door and went down to the kitchen. I dropped my things in one of the chairs around the dining table and started tearing blank pages out of the legal pad. I laid the pages out over the table, completely covering the surface of it. Consulting both my journal and the book on chakras, I began to draw a large layout of the house on the papers, adding all the notes and information I had collected. I didn’t know what to write about the chakras. I simply copied down what seemed to be the most relevant words associated with each: parts of the body, locations, names, and functions.
Doorknob: 憶 (memory)
Flower: purple, 1,000 petals? = infinite?
Chakra: Sahasrara (crown of the head) - pituitary gland, hypothalamus, thalamus – awareness, enlightenment, attachment
Books: Saturday Nights in Hell
October 22, 2008
Lost in Familiar Territory
- Tresa disappeared
- Master appeared
- black ooze
- 1977 penny
Doorknob: 明 (clarity)
Flower: white, 2 petals
Chakra: Ajna (forehead) – pineal gland – concentration, insight, illusion, intuition
- Sarah was pregnant = ultrasound film
- My name is Charlie
- Matthew’s fight = Master’s last memory of him?
[PICTURE OF THE CLOCK]
My watch is stopped on the same time
- 7:55 or 19:55? 1955?
- my attack (Master = same attacker?)
Doorknob: no door
Flower: orange, 6 petals
Chakra: Svadhisthana (genitals) – sacrum, testes, ovaries – violence, pleasure, guilt, addiction, creativity
- San Francisco
- Note: I wrote, “This is my kitchen” and Tresa wrote, “no, it’s not.”
- missing penny = who?
- ultrasound photo (“Charlie” written on the back)
- young Matt outside the window
- introduction to the black ooze = Master
Doorknob: 感 (perception)
Flower: purple, 1,000 petals? (same as library)
Chakra: Sahasrara (crown of the head) - pituitary gland, hypothalamus, thalamus – awareness, enlightenment, attachment (same as library)
- broken monitor = same Chinese character as doorknob
- channel 13 = woman’s voice = “please come back to me”
- security tapes = Matt’s home videos (but NOT home videos)
- Master disappeared
- 1977 penny
Doorknob: 情 (meaning?)
Flower: Green, 12 petals
Chakra: Anahata (heart) – thymus – love, grief, passion, compassion
- translations of Gōda-sensei’s journals and letters
- Music: Robert Johnson, The Rite of Spring, Beethoven Symphonies 5 and 7, Ellington at Newport, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, Howlin’ Wolf, The White Album, John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Tchaikovsky Symphonies 4, 5, and 6, London Calling, Kind of Blue
- Movies: Double Indemnity, Stray Dog, The Small Back Room, Rear Window, Rome: Open City, Cabin in the Sky, The Great Dictator, Meet John Doe, Casablanca, Laura, Fantasia, and Citizen Kane
- Nighthawks minus 1
- Gōda-sensei’s collection of journals & letters (translated for Matt)
- James Casebere photography book
Doorknob: 志 (meaning?)
Flower: red, 4 petals (same as Boiler Room)
Chakra: Muladhara (base of the spine, perineum) – gonads, adrenal medulla, bulbospongiosus muscle – sexuality, survival, fear, will
- made of dirt
Doorknob: 生 (meaning?)
Flower: red, 4 petals (same as Scary Tunnel)
Chakra: Muladhara (base of the spine, perineum) – gonads, adrenal medulla, bulbospongiosus muscle – sexuality, survival, fear, will
- Master attacked
- boiler furnace, electrical box, water heater, workbench, pipes, wires, tubes, tools, etc.
- heart of the house (is the house alive?)
- black ooze
- furnace gauges
- flower symbol (faded) = no power?
- Chinese characters (faded) = low power?
- I woke up here = can’t remember
- Tresa appeared
- 7 identical suits (including the one I woke up in)
- 7 1955 San Francisco mint pennies (brand new)
- Is 7 an important number?
- 7 chakras
- water damage on the wall
- door opens OUT (all other doors on that floor open IN)
- strange geometry of the room (walls and ceiling are mirrors)
- my reflection looks different (younger? Injured?)
- Master has no reflection
- my journal has no reflection
- DON’T OPEN!
That was it, all the information I had collected so far. Looking at it all, organized and spread out over the tabletop in a diagram, I realized that I still had no idea what was going on. I was still missing a lot of details about some of the rooms I had visited and all of the information about the ones I hadn’t. I had to expand my investigation.
I missed Tresa and Master. They were my only connections to Matt, however indirect. Not to mention, they had been my only company in the house, my only source of human interaction. They were lost or being held somewhere in the house. I recalled my attack in the clock room. I assumed that my attacker and Master’s were the same person, but Tresa had simply disappeared. I didn’t witness her disappearance and I didn’t see any signs of a struggle anywhere in the house. In fact, the only room that seemed to be in disarray was the library. I browsed through the list of characters I could recall from the books. I imagined that if Tresa and Master had shown up in this place, it was likely that the other person in the house might also be mentioned in the books. I skimmed through my memory, Gōda-sensei, Gobō-san, the little girl in Okinawa, her mother, the soldier, Kuriyama-san, Master’s daughter Misa…
Misa. I flipped the journal open to the last page and read the name at the bottom.
As I set the journal down on the table, I noticed a strange numbness in my hand. I unwrapped the dirty rag from around my thumb and examined the wound. The dried blood around the edges of the puncture was much darker than it should’ve been, almost completely black. It looked like volcanic rock. Under the skin, there was a strange network of thin black lines spreading from the hole in my thumb. It looked like an outline of the capillaries and veins running through my hand. A flutter of panic struck at my chest and made me breath harder. It was inside me. It was moving slowly, but it would inevitably spread like it was already doing in the house. I wondered how much time I had. Now, there was not only an expiration date on the house, but one on me as well. I had to hurry.
I looked over my diagram of the house again and then over at the kitchen. The memory that I had seen of me throwing the toaster at the fridge and taking the ultrasound photo was still so vivid in my mind, but I was beginning to wonder if it was really my memory. Matt had been overcome by an almost identical memory when his mind was trying to block out his sexual encounter with Tresa. Had I seen his memory or had he seen mine? The chances that we had both had an identical experience with identical circumstances separated by 30 years were so near to zero that they weren’t even worth considering. Matt had never known me, never met me. Therefore, it seemed much more likely that I had seen his memory. It was probably a result of this place and the books I had been reading. I made a note of it on my diagram, writing, “Matt’s memory or mine?” in the room labeled “kitchen.”
I looked over at the bundle of journals and letters from Kurama. After awaking from a near death state that lasted three weeks, Gobō-san described a dream where he had been trapped in a house composed of rooms and relics from his past. That was exactly the situation in which I found myself now. The one difference was that Gobō-san’s house had been composed of his own memories and my only connection to this house was through my son, a person I had never met. Doing the math, it wasn’t difficult to arrive at the conclusion that somewhere outside this place, my body was hovering near death. I held up my hand and looked at the black lines covering my palm. What did it mean that I was dying in this place too? Gobō-san had escaped when his father guided him to the front door and told him to open it. I had not been able to open the door. This was not my house. None of it made any sense. It was necessary to put logic and reason out of mind and just start connecting the bits and pieces I could figure out. I was dying and had become trapped in a house of a stranger’s making. It was like something out of the Twilight Zone.
I tried to make my way through the implications. If I was dying and had become trapped in this house, then the house was some intrinsic part of me. It was some kind of illusory survival mechanism in my mind, like the fight or flight instinct. The state of the house, particularly the boiler room and the clock room, made me worry that the death of my mind was inevitable. The black ooze steadily consuming the house was clearly an analog for my deterioration. I felt helpless against it.
I pocketed the journal, grabbed the flashlight, and slung the bundle of journals and letters over my shoulder. Walking with quick long strides, I made my way down to the boiler room and took the ax from its hook on the wall. I carried it over to the locked door near the scary tunnel and dropped the bundle. I raised the ax up over my head and prepared to drop it with as much force as I could muster. The impact cleaved the thick wood of the door down the middle and sent a spiral of pain down my shoulder and upper back. I tugged the blade loose and took another swing. The next split sent splinters flying in every direction. I swung over and over again until the door was weak enough to kick to pieces. It was sweet revenge for the resistance the door had shown my foot before.
The room inside was a small closet with a thin cord hanging from a ceiling light. I pulled the cord and the light clicked on. On the floor, the body of a little girl was lying lifelessly on her side, her eyes closed. I immediately threw myself to the floor by her side and took up her tiny wrist to check for a pulse. There was nothing. I pressed my fingers into her neck and felt a very faint but steady beat. A dirigible’s worth of air passed my lips in the deep sigh of relief I huffed.
She had dark hair atop a thin face and looked about five or six years old. She was dressed in a long cream-colored sweater that nearly came to her knees. She wore a pair of black leggings covered by a pair of short jean shorts. Her feet were buried in a pair of the oversized suede boots that had monopolized women’s footwear over the past few winters. They looked absurd on a tiny child.
I lifted her up into a sitting position and her head fell forward like a rag doll. I propped her head against my shoulder and brushed her hair from her face. Then I squeezed her shoulder gently and spoke in a soft voice.
“Hey. Wake up kid. Wake up. C’mon, please wake up.”
She didn’t respond at all. Her breathing was shallow and her chest moved up and down almost imperceptibly. On the floor behind her was a thick hardback book with no title on its black cover. I reached over and picked it up, setting it on the girl’s lap and flipping it open. It was full of print like the books in the library, but there was no title page inside. I stood up with the girl in my arms and carefully carried her and the book out of the room. As she crossed the threshold, her mouth opened slightly and she took a deep audible breath followed by a soft unconscious moan. I carried her up to the bedroom, pulled the door open, and laid her down on the bed, sliding the book from her stomach. Her breathing was becoming louder and more regular. I covered her with the comforter and slipped a pillow under her head.
This was the first time I had been in the bedroom since I met Tresa here. I took the opportunity to copy down the flower and Chinese character from the door. The flower was the same purple one with thousands of petals that was also in the library and security room. I wanted to add the information to the diagram in the kitchen, but I couldn’t leave the girl alone in the house with my attacker still at large. I also needed to retrieve the bundle of books and letters from the lower level. I would have to wait for her to wake up. There was no sense in moving her until I knew she was alright.
I opened the big wooden wardrobe expecting to see one of the six identical suits missing, but they were all there. The attacker had not taken a disguise. Since the time I opened the first book in the library, I had encountered characters from the writings, Tresa and Master. It was reasonable to assume that my attacker was also a character from the books. I ran through the list in my head, but no one stuck out as a likely suspect. After all, the only possible connection to me was through…
He was also the only one that would have ill will toward me. He absolutely had a deep contempt for me. If Matthew was the one behind the attacks, he wanted me on my own and he wanted me to discover something in the book he had thrown down into the clock pit with me. I couldn’t do anything about it now. I had to protect the little girl or she might be separated from me just as Tresa and Master had been.
I wondered if all of this was punishment for the things I had done to my family. Maybe, it was exactly what I deserved. I destroyed the lives of the two people whose memories had persisted in these books for the last 30+ years. The flaw that Matthew spoke of in the books was some kind of ruination that I had inflicted upon him in my leaving. What was this power that fathers possessed? Whatever it was, I had wielded it with cruelty in indifference.
“Am I really a monster?”
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