The story started the moment I entered this accursed room, but this telling of it started sometime after.
Or so I thought, maybe.
The moment I entered this damn house, climbed those crooked stairs, and entered this possibly doomed room, and all my reasons for doing so? That’s just the part before all of this, a part of the story before the beginning. It’s stuff that doesn’t matter.
I can see that now as I sit at this typewriter. I can see it as plain as the black ink typed on the white paper: The story started as soon as my fingers started dancing on the keys, finding a rhythm and doing a little song and dance. I can scroll up and down the floppy white page in the typewriter here, going forwards and backwards, and there’s nothing before this. What matters here only began as soon as I started telling this account. This swan song.
There’s a fear that my story ends tonight, far more abruptly than I’d like, so I’ll just keep typing periodically. A record of my observations, a reminder that I was here, and maybe through these notes I’ll find a way to survive past each aching moment.
The door is locked, and there’s danger in here with me. As was promised to me. I can’t shake this feeling deep in my seasoned marrow that I really will lose my life tonight. Even worse, this whole affair seems designed to cause me to lose my mind before that.
* * *
And yet, here on the table in this room, right in the center of the room, away from the fireplace and the couch and the leather chair, there’s a typewriter. A typing desk with an old typewriter on the center of it, and a stack of crisp blank white pages next to it, just waiting to be used.
What is this game?
Am I being challenged to talk my way out of this?
Whoever you are, you have no idea who you’re dealing with, do you?
* * *
Maybe I’ll wear out the floorboards with my pacing. I keep an eye on the clock, watching it ticking away. The night is progressing, and for each second we push further on into it, I am still here. I rub the dry thirst from the corners of my mouth and smirk. It’s a nice thing to remind myself of: I am still here.
And then I reach into my pocket and pull out the crumbled up slip of paper I shoved in there earlier. It’s the note that brought me here originally. It’s typewritten, probably composed on this very typewriter in the room with me.
The room looks like an old private library. Or a study. A drawing room. Or a withdrawing room. I don’t know. Something out of an old story, I guess, the kind of thing that rich old bastards had in their country manors.
It says simply: Enter the room sharply at 8 p.m. and if you survive until the dawn then the evidence against you will never see the light of day.
When I beat this deathtrap, and I will, I’m going to kill whoever has been putting me through this. Been putting me through this for weeks. The taunting letters. The blackmail. I’ll find out who it is and I’ll strangle them with my bare hands.
* * *
The moment I walked in here, the door swung shut behind me. There was a loud clicking and the door locked, seemingly of its own volition. Maybe it was on a timer or was remote controlled or who knows. Whoever set all this up, they’re goddamned theatrical. I’ll give them that. I’d be impressed if I wasn’t so angry.
I’m typing this because maybe someone else will read this someday. Maybe that’s what I’ll want if I don’t…
Doesn’t matter. No one else will read this. Just me, as I type this. If I die sometime in the night then I’m sure my game master torturer will keep this account to themselves. Their private snuff narrative. Masturbatory torture game.
* * *
No phone in this room. Who could I call anyway? The cops? Have them come racing down here to stop this bastard who’s trying to instigate this deathmatch and then also find the evidence against me? I’m not interested in mutually assured destruction. I’m going to beat this. I’m sure of it. I’ll beat this creep at his own game, in my own way. And why not? Fortune favors the bold, after all.
* * *
There are two windows opposite the wall with the fireplace that has the giant painting of some old, cruel looking fucker hanging over it. I’ve already checked the fireplace and it’s closed off. There’s no escaping it, and it doesn’t seem likely that some hidden assassin would be able to shimmy their way down it for me.
Then I tried the windows. They look normal, but they’re solid as hell, and tough. I threw a chair against them and it just bounced off. It was loud, but there didn’t appear to be any damage to whatever those windows are made off. There was a little wobble, and that was it.
So I sighed and dragged the chair back to the desk and resumed typing.
* * *
For a moment it feels like the eyes on the painting were following me around the room, so I grabbed the letter opener, slashed at the painting, and then tore it from the wall. There was nothing behind it but wall. No secret perch by which to spy on me. Not even a hidden wall safe, like in the movies. Damn.
Then I broke anything glass in the room. There was a crystal ball on one shelf, holding up a stack of books, and I grabbed it and smashed it to the ground. I guess I’m taking my fate in my own hands now! But really I did this because I was worried there might be hidden cameras in there. If whoever is doing this to me can’t see me, maybe they can’t… Shit. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll stand a chance.
I pace. I run my fingers through my hair. I’m perspiring a little and as I notice that, I notice my elevated heart rate. I tell myself that I need to take deep breaths and get a handle on this, but it’s also I’m saying tis to myself that I notice the way the shadows move on the wall. There’s an ebony sculpture of a large dog in the corner of the room, and as the shadows move with it, it’s like another creature lives behind it, and it’s skulking, watching me, preying, getting ready to pounce.
My imagination playing tricks on me, sure, I know that. Or, my fears, my guilt, my… whatever, all of it taking life, finding shape, transmogrifying into something vile and nasty, something with red eyes and razor blades for teeth, ready to devour this sinner. Right? Wrong!
I’m not afraid of what’s under the floorboards in here. I’m not some Edgar Allan Poe character. I won’t be succumbing to my own guilty madness any time soon. If anything rubs me out, it’ll be the mysterious bastard who put me in this room, but not if I can figure out their plan and put a stop to it first.
Sure, I’ve done some bad things. You don’t need to know what. If you’re reading this, you probably already do, and I’m not going to add a typed confession to the skyscrapers of evidence against me. Let’s just say this: My sins and my crimes are vast, and significant, and have been, at times, profoundly depraved. I don’t want to talk about feelings of guilt or regrets or any of that nonsense. I’m not that hopeless of a case to be desperate for redemption just yet.
* * *
The only thing I had left unbroken before were the drinking glasses by the minibar, and a mirror above them. There’s a fine looking scotch next to them. I check the glasses carefully. Either they or the booze are probably laced with some kind of poison, I’m sure of it. Whatever. Fine. I can go a night without drinking something, easy. I pick up the scotch and pour the amber liquid onto the fine carpet beneath my feet. I watch the way the liquid catches the light in the room as it soaks into the carpet and then I look up at the wild eyed man in the mirror. He looks dangerous. Something behind his eyes.
* * *
I move back and forth from the typewriter and the bookshelves. Did I mention that every book on the numerous shelves in here are murder mysteries? Almost every single one of them is a tale of an impossible crime or a locked room mystery. Whoever you are, you have a sick sense of humor. Fucking hilarious, you are. I almost admire you.
They’re old books, too. Leatherbound. First editions. Some are worn, obviously well used. Stained covers. And some look almost new, taken good care of even as their pages have yellowed.
Anyway. I read a little. I lick the tip of my finger and turn each page carefully. I snort at the irony of it, and then I come sit back here and type more. I change it up to keep from getting bored, or letting my mind wander to too many dark corners. The dark corners are full of fears and if I give in to those, then I’m doomed. It’s the idiots that slip up and let themselves be dragged into the dark parts of their mind that don’t make it.
So, I read and then I write all of this town. I do it to - poor word choice aside - kill time.
* * *
Have to be more careful as I type now. I cut my hand when I broke the mirror. Tore part of my sleeve and wrapped it around the cut, as tight as I could. It’s still bleeding, but it’ll stop soon. There’s blood on the keyboard, but I don’t care.
It seems like the ticking of the clock is getting louder. I’m sure this was intentional, a designed feature of whoever created this room to drive me mad. To really ratchet up the intensity. I won’t say that it’s not working, but I can say with assured defiance that it’s not breaking me.
Every tick, every fucking tock, is just another moment that I’m still here to appreciate.
* * *
A drink sure would hit the spot right now.
* * *
I pulled the drawers out of the desk, inspecting them closely. The contents of the desk surprised me: The evidence against me, neatly compiled in several thick, sealed envelopes. It appears to be the originals of the documents and the pictures. There’s even negatives clipped to the pictures. Maybe there are copies somewhere else. This was a hell of a bait by whoever laid this trap.
But why? Just to watch me squirm? To watch me sweat?
Fine. You monster. Can you see what I’m typing here? I’m squirming. I’m sweating. But I’m still going to cross the threshold of that doorway the moment I can in the morning. I’m going to beat you.
It’s possible that even I didn’t believe that until I saw the words right there on the page, after I typed them. I can say it aloud, but that doesn’t matter. There the words are, declared on the page. It’s like they’re official now.
I can feel it within me: The longer I keep typing, the more I know I’ll get out of this.
It feels god to not have the story trapped inside of me, locked away in my head. The more the words pour out of me the stronger I feel. The more I’m reminded that I’m a bigger, meaner son of a bitch than the creep who put me in here. I was cocky and foolish to accept this challenge and to come spend a night in this murder room, but now I see that it was all a bluff. Look at me, scared at first, but declaring I wouldn’t be typing up a confession to past crimes or a plea for forgiveness, but I’m Hemingway pounding on the keys here all of a sudden. I’m full of bluster and thunder and spit.
* * *
The books were meant to make me think, make me paranoid. Of course.
In the locked room stories, there’s always a twist, right? A secret panel. Something done with mirrors. Gas shoots out of a hole in the grandfather clock. A murderous simian hops through a window with a razorblades in its hand.
Whoever this mysterious bastard is… What are they saying to me? That my eventual doom is somewhere in those pages? Or my possible salvation?
* * *
Coat off now. Shirt unbuttoned. Sweating more. It’s getting hotter in here, I think. Maybe the bastard has turned up the heat. Literally.
I look over at the mantle over the fire and I think of that story by Chekhov, the one with the lawyer and the banker and…
Why did I think of that?
Why didn’t I bring a gun in here with me? Was it because the note said I shouldn’t? I don’t even remember, don’t remember what I did with the note… Maybe I balled it up and threw it in the fire before…
It’s getting hard to see.
* * *
The sun will be up in about an hour. Almost there.
My shirt is soaked through and I moved the typewriter a little. Almost fell out of the chair when I did so. The keys feel different now. My fingers hurt. My knuckles hurt. I rub my hands, hoping to massage the ache away, and then I type all of this again.
Sometimes its just a single letter every few minutes.
But it’s my life and I’m not going to give it up that easily. I don’t care about my own past, whatever came before this story. I don’t see it on this page, so I say it doesn’t matter. I’m the author of this story. Not some unseen bastard who thinks he can judge me, control me, punish me. Each letter of this story matters, even if it’s just to me. Every paragraph, every fucking sentence. I decide when the periods get placed at the end of the sentence. No one else.
On the floor now. Still typing.
Still typing. The old pages are on the floor with me. All around me. I look at the droplets of blood on the assorted pages, and the splotches of dried sweat.
* * *
The story is ending. The bastard killed me the moment I walked in here. The moment I started telling this tale. And I only just realized it.
I wanted to talk. I wanted to report my way through this. I’m a verbose, arrogant bastard. Always have been. Pride myself on it. I’m a teller of tales, and this was going to be a doozy. The night I spent in a locked room, my date with death, and how I survived it…
That’s how the story was supposed to go.
I was going to walk around, investigate all the mysterious parts of this strange room. Then I’d sit and type up what I had seen on the typewriter. My words would flourish. I rubbed my mouth. I wiped my eyes. I soldiered on.
The solution was always right under my nose. That’s what the old mystery stories were telling me, but I was too foolish to pay attention to what I was reading. Or what I was typing. The murder weapon was always right there at my fingertips…
The letters on the typewriter have been slowly wearing off over the course of the night. As I wax on and pound away on the keys, never realizing that they were soaked in some kind of poison. Coated in it. Slow acting poison, that I’ve been absorbing into my system all night, and it’s been working it’s filthy magic within me. I can feel myself shutting down, bit by bit. The party’s almost over and someone’s going through, making sure all the lights are turned out…
I have no eloquent words to describe how dying feels. I’m coughing and can feel myself draining away. It hurts. It goddamn hurts. I’m weak, and it’s agony just finding the strength to force my fingers to keep doing this dance on this keyboard. Sure, the damn thing is poison, but what does it matter now? I won’t be making a run for it and making some brave final act to save my existence… Just this. The last thing I’ll do will also be the last thing I say.
Even if it’s just to say this: You haven’t beaten me. At least I figured it out. Too late, but I figured it out. Soon I’ll be gone. The story started here, and ends here, and then another one will begin… Breaking out of one locked room, even if I couldn’t escape the other. But I figured it out, and I wasn’t totally beaten in the process.
And, in my own way, I managed to have the last
Marco Sparks is a writer living in California.
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