Cunningstuff

A new life, for an old man.

Category: Fiction

The Curious Case of Billiards – End

In this drop I see the fields of gravity that hold our planet hostage to the sun, the force of air being pushed by a high speed bullet, the ability of light to contain huge amounts of knowledge in a tiny space, and the beauty of the chaos of our universe. And still, it is only a drop of water, in existence for a shorter time than we can blink.

The day for court arrived with much fanfare. The most important names and faces had been told it would be an interesting case, worthy of perusing for enlightenment as well as entertainment. No one suspected my end speech though, recorded here for posterity.

“Take your villeins and crimes, take your ideas of heinous and inhuman behavior and throw them out of the door. I want to talk about the art, the art today is the show. I had the opportunity to play on this amazing table, this amazing game, until my cue ball was swiped off the table and chucked out the window. I am… not of the world as most of you are, but instead, I run around and under it. I take on all kinds of nefarious doings, both the good and the bad, and I do them, and it is how I have made a good bit of money and enough of a name to gather all in the audience today. I have seen all of you here, in way or another, at your worst, and while I admit to the brothers being at their absolute worst when I undertook this case, I did not know I would see someone at their absolute best in return.

“We live in an extraordinary time. We have discovered we are on planet, we have found we live beside a star, and that the heavens are truly made of millions of stars. We have found that we only have this planet to live on, and we are indeed, in a delicate position. I shudder sometimes at the thought that this planet is somehow suspended in emptiness, and we could fall off of it any moment. While I spent time playing, I noticed something curious, my imagination was on fire! I indeed  am still burning a bit this day, as my rambling speech can account to. I began to think about our lives, the lives of humans, in a giant galaxy, and what other lives like ours could be out there.

“As I played I thought of how would we ever get there? I know there has been some speculation since the maths have come to prove all of this true. I began to wonder, where are these ideas? Who is talking about them, and in the past month since I played, I have read science of the heavens galore, and begun to understand I know very little, as well do we all. I didn’t hear a word those brothers were saying until they interrupted my play, and brought me, so to speak, down to earth.

“My first reaction is the same reaction I bring to you today. I know it will ruin my reputation as a fair player, but in this instance, I think it may be time for me to retire from the big city, and go back home and read a bit. My reaction is indeed absolute frustration that this beautiful piece of art and knowledge be sold off to the nearest museum, as soon as possible, so that many people can come and be inspired. The inspiration I found in the game of planetary billiards should be had by all. Everyone should be thinking of the stars and the planets, and how we may see them and learn from them. Our basic physics models are from the astronomers, they pieced together the logic for us to understand nature. We have the illustrious Darwin learning of new species, guided by the stars.  Friedrich Bessel measured the distance to a star almost 50 years ago, and accurately, using the same type of math an engineer uses to measure your property.

“We have let our shortsighted life of leisure ruin our ability to think. If we live in the lap of luxury and modern conveniences, what with gas lights at night, trains to take us hither and yon, ships burning coal to power us across the seas, we should also have the ability to think beyond our providence, to go beyond our daily life and see the energy and the beauty of the universe. The challenge we have in front of us is obvious. We can give over to silk and satin, or we can use it to our continued great age. I was given a challenge in my profession, and I have, fortuitously, failed that challenge.

“I can no longer fight for the rights of men, if we all no longer fight for the rights of man. I find in us a tremendous ability, and for the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to see how we could become greater, and not lesser men. It is why I called you here today, so that maybe, we can begin to build a better snowball of enlightenment, and not a greater castle for the lords and ladies. What these two brothers fail to see, is something we are all doing these days, we are not allowing ourselves to be greater. Their mother is a grander creature than they, and sees how best money could be used. No bank master or accountant would agree, they will only see the limited ink with which each purchase was recorded, and only feel the loss of weight in the bags of coins. They, as the brothers do as well, would not be able to feel the fire of imagination, or the beauty of the table itself.

“I call this my last case, for I can expect no new clients to trust me with their secrets, and I indeed intend to turn back to my country manor and educate the young in my town. I ask that the court understand the devilry wrought at the hands of profit, and instead see that the mother is holder of our true values. She is the one who took the industry and fortune of our time and turned into something anyone can appreciate and learn from.  It is her I ask the court to side with, and turn those poor children of hers into wards of the manor, and allow her to find a better way to spend her money and time, than they would want.

I took of my wig and gown, folded them neatly, and walked out of the court. For a minute, you could only hear my steps as I shuffled away, but then suddenly a great noise went up from the courthouse. Everyone was yelling out loud to see the table to save it, to help the mother. Eventually I learned that the court had the museum purchase the table, and once a month, they have a lottery as to who can play a game on it. It has brought good fortune on the town, and is considered a great luck if one is chosen. I have kept my word and retired, and now I teach math and astronomy to the children of my township, for free, in my house, with a replica billiards set.

The Curious Case of Billiards – Part Two

The very first thing that was offered was a game on said table. I could tell from the brothers demeanor, they had no intention of enjoying the game, but I could not wait. To cue up for a hit, you had to use the fowl as a precursor, and they only rolled one way, straight, so multiple hits required delicate maneuvering and forethought. I immediately found myself immersed in a strange speculative thought pattern. The beautiful art kept my eye delighted, and my mind responded with a capricious and sprightly thought pattern. It became apparent as well that there was a cause and effect of weights and design. It was easiest to hit the moon, and then use the moon to push other balls around. After about two hours the genius of the game was so immense I was left almost flabbergasted and distraught, but I knew there had to be more to my visit than just this. Our conversation was becoming more distressed as we played, and it was obvious that the brothers did not grasp the subtle clues and intentions the game itself kept buried in its mechanics. Indeed they became down right angry with the whole thing.

“Is it not preposterous, this monstrosity of a game, dear Spiker? I am completely convinced my mother has gone mad, and is just out of control with her airs!” Hampton spun his monocle from his chain, peering down his nose at me.

“Of course it is brother, it is just again, her demanding and control of the estate, put to horrible use, and a useless end.” Richard put his billiards stick on the table, closing the game.

“Your Mother is an artist, I am sure she meant it to be enjoyed by the two of you, and your friends…” I did not finish the statement, as it was obvious that they hated the table, the game, and anything coming close to statement. Another round of scotch was poured, and this would be the fifth round of heavy pouring, I was aware I needed to stay quiet and find out what my 50 pound fee was going to entail.

Richard picked up one of the chicken cue balls, and with a hearty sideways swing of his arm, neatly chucked it out the open glass top of the room. “That is were this belongs, on the lawn, as a decoration! Her insistence that we play it at least once has been observed, let’s talk about why we called you out.” His face was flushed, and he was angry, so I did my best to keep a pleasing face and smile for them, as they began to talk with me in earnest.

The table cost £180,000. The ivory for the sticks cost £2000 alone, and between the large semi precious stones used as billiard balls, and the payments for sculpting artists, the table had wrought considerable financial difficulties for their shipping investments. The problem was that their mother controlled all their interests for 5 more years, and they worried that her madness would manifest itself in spending every penny they had. They had every intention of ruining her in court, and getting a judge who had been handsomely bribed to give them the control over their various monies, before they were gone. We sat on the two lounges in the library, and as we sat, Hampton kept chucking various pieces of the table out the windows.

Now I have never felt the bite of a moral, or had the desire to shield people from each other. Indeed, I was quite the opposite, you do whatever you need to do in life, and I will do my best to profit off of it. I had no interest in the mother, but as they talked, half of my soul and heart began to betray my conscience . I could feel the normal half of my brain agreeing with them, telling them what judge they should bring the case to. The other half of me was setting up an even more elaborate plan, however. I heard my self telling them to chose to use the high court, not the county court. My arguments seemed sensible, as the high court has more jurisdiction and power  and would likely not be contested, however I knew it was much easier to bribe a county official than a high court justice. They had £20000 to bribe with though, so there was a part of me that said it could work, and justified the idea to the other half of me. No matter though, it was a trap, a trap I was devising as we spoke. I was about to betray my position as a scoundrel  and go against all my work before me. I was sweating over it, when the mother herself came in.

She saw the mess of the table, and at first, smiled greatly, correctly assuming that we had played a game with her table. She talked about it, and I listened with an intent ear, for the table was a prize, a prize for all mankind, if I had ever seen one. She eventually noticed the missing pieces however, and then the row began. Her sons, angry in the first place, were not to smart to me however, and I winked at them as a conspirator should, and admonished them and sent them and the servants out to search for all the pieces.  She was distraught, but soothed by the fact that they did indeed find all the parts, and I wrung an apology from both of them to their mother. She finally smiled and said goodnight, and retired to her rooms.

I of course, was immediately under the ire and angst of the brothers. I cajoled them to think about how perfectly I had set this up for them. Let the table alone, indeed show it off a little bit, it could not hurt, as it was well done and proof of how well heeled they were. Use it to write a contract on, and laugh about how silly the game is, and all the while I would set up the case for the high court. Once I knew the judge, I would send word to them and they could approach him privately and settle their accounts. There would be an end for all, and until then, smile and be polite about it. They discussed it privately outside, while yelling at the servants to put out the lanterns that had been lit to find the various pieces. They both came in and slapped me on the back heartily, positive and happy about the course of action we had set.

The Curious Case of Billiards – Part One

The Curious Case of Billiards and Backstabbing  or How I Saved the Best Art

Although not generally known, for my reputation as a drinker and a rascal is far better known, I, John Babtiste Spiker Handrow Thronton, am a barrister. I tend to be the man, who in certain circles, takes on certain delicate cases. Basically anything you want to hear about the rich and the powerful, their proclivities, their sins, their moral dilemmas, I am the one who has to cover their assets from loss and public derision. I am a modest man, modern and self made, my background is a bit dubious, because I come from the country and have made myself known in the city. My mother died at childbirth, and my father doted on me, using his money to insure that I became something grand. I hated life in the country, and loved the city, so I fell prey to his motivations, far better than he ever expected. As soon as I entered the city, I began my schooling in the practice of law, but I did so only at person request. I made it known that I could be had for a price, to take the law and make it perform certain loops and circuses for the rich. I first just had certain papers signed, but over the years I was known to be the man who you could take problems and conceal them, children who did naughty things and have them rescued from public indignity, family who was not to be shown in public and have them properly put into the country, and other similar and delicate situations.

I also had a to keep a certain reputation, one I rather enjoyed, so that people would not be embarrassed to approach me with their problems. I had to play the hedonist, you see, I had to know certain madams, and I had to have a list of  doctors, people who could get things done. I had to show my indulgences as well, it had to be known I could have drink, or a tonic, and perhaps absinthe or laudanum. I had to show knowledge of rascals, folks down by the harbor, people who could do things. Keeping such a reputation is the most wonderful way of life I could condone, I suggest it for every man. This lifestyle has so many advantages for a man in the city of London, that many have followed me trying to get into my shoes. I however, being the barrister I am, never allowed a school of bullies to gather around me, instead always following my own personal order, and seeking ever the higher company of people in the proper circles. My hedonism keeps them from being so close to me as well, and most younger fellows and their children are the main company I keep.

I was called on the summer of ’88 by Richard and Hampton Surry, to come and give legal advisement on a certain piece of art that was being delivered. One must understand this predicament usually meant being served the finest scotch available, usually stuff that was made before the war. I ate a hearty meal, and prepared myself for a night of indulgence. I find the two brothers spiteful and arrogant to the extreme, but their table is always filled with the finest liquors, and I am always called on to tell them my distinct ideals on whatever they have in mind. I basically keep them out of trouble of their own make and decision, advising them on when to use servants or people of the village or when they should get their own hands dirty. My fee of 50 pounds per visit keeps things nice tidy for me, as well. The complication of this visit was evident before I ever arrived however, because the visit was over a piece of art. That could only mean one thing, the art was from their mother, and they needed to know what to do about it. Perhaps it was embarrassing and they wanted to hide it, or maybe they found it uncouth and wanted it destroyed. I knew that it would be of extremely personal nature however, I had no clue how dirty the evening would get.

I arrived in my own carriage, dressed richly but simply, this was not a night for women and public reports, but a quiet night between friends, if the indulgences overran or not. I wore a green felt jacket, with a doubled button vest in black silk. I had felt top hat and pocket watch as well, in case I needed an excuse I could say I had a later appointment for dinner. I stepped out of my carriage on to the main entrance at Surrey Manor. I loved their courtyard, the Roman columns standing straight and tall, the marbled steps clean and white. I was escorted through the Main Hall and into the new glassed in Library. Richard and Hampton both stood and greeted me like proper gentleman. The library was amazing, made of this new modern sheet glass, you could see the whole of the gardens right outside, and the entire top 4 feet of the walls were open to allow fresh air in. They showed me the intricate mechanism, made of beautifully cast iron, full of swirls and cusps, that with no effort at all, even a woman could crank the tons of glass up and down, to shut out the cold, or let in the warm fresh air like to day. I do think this Library more an Arboretum than a place for books, for there were exotic plants from all over the world. I was shown various orchids of delightful colors, amazing foliage plants whose leaves were of the brightest greens and yellows, and the most colorful birds in golden cages, whose noise might be a bit much for most, but as the whiskey was in my hand almost immediately after our introduction to each other, I had no complaints.

After a half hour though, I begged that we move on to some business, before the whiskey took me away from my knowledge and left me bare and unexplained with my calling. We walked over to a corner closest to the old walls of the house, but still plenty of room around it. Sitting there in the darker corner, was one of the most glorious things I have ever had the privilege of seeing. A billiards table, made by the artistic mother, sat under a beam of light that peeked in from the setting sun.  She made a beautiful table, an artists interpretation, which is now on display in the British Museum of Fine Art, you can go see it yourself, called The Table of Fruit and Fowl. An amazing, impressive piece, the table of the finest slate, greenish with dark streaks of marbled silver, like marble, but proper slate, like a good table should be. The balls are of the 9 known planets, in this modern time, and each ball is a vegetable or fruit that represents the god name of the planet, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, ect. There is a group of markers, the size of a ten-pence  each hand carved and exquisite, that you may place for each planet, carved of the same stone. Each planet itself is carved of different stone, so that the colors and texture remind one of what we can see in our telescope. Finally for the exquisite joke that rounds the table out, and brings it down to our human level, the cylindrical fowl, designed to roll straight into the carved balls. and the sticks carved of ivory, telling the history of man’s discovery of the planets, and how chicken we really are.

The Basement – Final

I asked the manager if he could send a message to Curtis, he gave me an address for mailing, a post office box. He asked if everything was going well, and I nervously nodded and left the office. He eyeballed me once and grunted, the familiar mask of I don’t want to know coming over his features. I begged a stamp off of the front desk, and began to write. My letter was short, obvious, and infuriating if he was what I now suspected, a serial killer and rapist, using the kind gay uncle act to sort it all out. I wrote how the dolls and toys and other junk were becoming very suffocating, so I had been giving them out to various drag queen get-togethers. They were a big hit, and all the queens, some were men in their 50’s, loved the dolls the best, so I was about halfway through giving them all out. Could he maybe stop by and let me know any other places that men like him would like to get some gifts?

Nothing much more than that, a couple of descriptions of the more prominent and obvious dolls, so he would know them. I had noticed a printed label on each box, on the back, as if naming them. I was furious, sickened, and wound up. Each day I slept barely enough to rest, 3-4 hours. My nightmares now were all of the girl, I had named her Jill, because that name was printed on the back of the box for the doll she was holding up in the picture. I had been to the Shrine several times, some of the homeless kids knew me by name, and just assumed I was taking care of it. I had been able to find out Jill was her name, and she was from Houston, Texas.

I had come back and lain down from another day of looking for answers in the slim clues I held, just getting my head down on the pillow. As I lay there, breathing silently, I heard my door open, from the outside room. Quiet footsteps, silent almost, but in the dark silence of my room, you could hear sheets move on the bed, much less a shoe on tile.

“You are going to pay my friend.” The quietest of murmurs, Curtis was indeed back.

I lay there with my eyes closed, hoping I could get out of the bed fast enough to grab him. He was being quiet, but he didn’t seem close to me. When the doll room door opened, I knew I had him. I slipped out of the bed, using the creaking of the door and his astonishment to cover my actions.

“What is going on!” He almost screeched these words, for of course, I had left the room exactly as I found it. I grabbed him from behind, his body half in the door, half out. He was not strong, not tall, very thin, and surprisingly weak. I pushed him over and fell on top of him, his breath escaping from his mouth in a huge gasp, and he was done for. I used the ribbon from my pajamas to tie his hands behind his back, and shoved him up against a pile of dolls on the floor.

Once I caught my breath, and he caught his, we stared at each other. He never said another word, but instead stared at me lifelessly, with dull eyes. I didn’t have to say a word, because he had stared at Jill’s doll, the only one out-of-place, set on a shelf by itself, the box open as a stage for the doll.  I grabbed some rope from the storage room, and tied him up good. He never flinched or moved much at all, indeed, he never resisted me at all.

I let him sit for two days, in his own soil, when he finally spoke.

“You can’t get away with this, you will go to prison.” His voice was scratched and weak.

“I am not interested in getting away with anything. Jill is in my head, my heart, my dreams. Tell me, confess, tell the police, I won’t kill you.”

He laughed and spat on the floor. I kicked him hard, with boots on, and he made wet mewing noises, his jaw broken. I picked up a thick wooden closet rod, and hit him again. I didn’t stop hitting him until he stopped breathing, which took a ridiculously long time. I was splattered in blood, the room was splattered in blood, and I was a crazy man, delirious with no sleep from watching him. I climbed into bed, and fell asleep, not worried, not knowing, not thinking, just sleep.

My dreams were the release I needed. Jill stopped screaming, my grandmother pulled the blanket up to my neck, and I slept for 10 hours. I woke up and took a long shower, got dressed and went out into the city. I had a full breakfast of my favorite food, pancakes and bacon with maple syrup, and then took a short walk to the police station. I told them what I did, I told them about the shrine under the city, and I was taken into custody. When police went over the shrine, they found the bones of a long missing child, 9-year-old Jill Hennings, eventually identified by her dental records.

I continued to work with the detectives who were in my case. Eventually they found burials of over 90 missing girls, all of the names corresponding with the names on the back of the boxes. Work continued for years, names turning up of missing girls all over the country. I was never released, I am in containment still, but solitary, no general population, and I mostly just take care of the inmates library in Denver County Jail after hours. I never wrote another word, except for these memoirs. I recorded these only for the Parents of Jill Hennings, and I am trusting they are delivered by my lawyer.

The Basement – Part 4

I was feeling old and moldy  like a paper box left in  a damp basement for a decade. I could literally see the black mold creeping up along the seams of my shirt. Dirt was sifting over the color of my jeans, and my skin was rotting off my bones, sloughing off slowly over the years, dripping fat and ichor into the drain. My vision began to float above my body, and I could see I was not myself. I was actually the rotting corpse of a little girl, maybe around 8 years old, with rusted chains around her feet. The vision was so gruesome, so realistic, I woke up nauseous and faint, my heart pounding.

My strange apartment was dark and still, silent and unbearable. I stood up out of bed and sat down on the edge of a nearby couch, my head in my hands. I blamed the mushrooms from the party, but this had been occurring for weeks now. I wake up with the sounds of sobbing in my ears, screaming in my heart, I can’t breathe, I can’t write. I have gone through two jobs in as many weeks, and I shake if I am alone for to long.

The worst part is I have a sneaking suspicion I know why I am having a hard time. The cry for help resounds through out my entire being. I have always been one to stand up for those who can’t, a geek who grew up tough and strong in a ghetto neighborhood. I would fight for the limp-wrist friends, the skinny weak friends, the friends who had brains bigger than their arm muscles. I was never a bully, I instead turned that caveman emotion onto the only qualified recipient I could think of, the bully himself. I would never strike a friend or a lover, but a bully can usually only be handled by brute strength that he respects, and I was the man to give it to them. I had this same feeling the whole time I have been disgusted and feared into a shaking leaf.

I started looking through the separate rooms for clues. That I lived in a haunted place was no longer a question, but instead, why was it haunted? What specter will not leave rest until its secret is found? What smaller pup had its life torn apart by a wolf? One thing stood out above all others, there were collections of toys yes, but any boy would have been disappointed instantly. Stuffed animals filled on room. All kinds of cloth animals, soft and cuddly to old and worn. The small room was maybe 3 meters by 4 meters, and there was no furniture. The next room was all baby dolls. All sizes again, all qualities, old and fairly new. Then the woman dolls, commonly called Barbie dolls, all the same general doll, but thousands of outfits.

Eight rooms, all of toy collections, all girl toys. I asked the maintenance men about the guy, and they all said basically the same thing, quiet gay man, never really talked with him much. Mostly they avoided me, and I then knew they knew about the haunting as well. I was not losing my mind after all, but instead started to become more like a detective, hot on some trail that was elusive and old, misty and hidden, and mostly wanted to be forgotten.

I had been at the library for days in a row. I was both looking for another job and researching the hotel. The labyrinths under Denver were known by very few, but there was a long tradition of tunnels dug by miners, governments, rich and poor alike throughout the entire city. I went down to the city park, where the punkers and the youth who had lost hope and homes hung out. One of them agreed to take me to a tunnel, after I promised to purchase some of the medical marijuana for them. We met up at night, and hiked down to the river that ran through the city.

He was an ok kid, smart, not to criminal or thuggish yet, and he enjoyed taking an adult out for a tour of secrets. We pulled on an expanded metal grate on what looked like just a water drainage tunnel. after about a block crouched over almost double, the pipe opened into an angled hallway. We followed it, using our LED flashlights, the blue-white light giving everything a ghastly tone. After about an hour, I asked if there was anything down here he liked in particular.

‘Oh man, let me show you tha Shrine!”

“The Shrine?” I asked, a bit off and tired of smelling musty air.

“Yeah, a little girl disappeared some years ago, and she has had a shrine down here ever since.”

I nodded, trying to look impressed but uninterested, but the reality of it was that my heart was in my mouth.

He took off and we ended up fairly close to where we started. A door made of tin sheathing and discarded lumber hung off what looked like hinges made of an old baseball glove. I had to duck a bit when I entered the small antechamber, and almost immediately got sick to my stomach. there were about ten pictures of a little girl, all on a small table that had old flowers and toys and stuffed animals. One of the pictures showed the young girl on the knee of Curtis  the man I had rented the room from. She was in the room of Barbie dolls, her face showing excitement as she held what must have been her favorite. My guide must have thought I was getting sick of the smells, because he asked of I was ok. I nodded and begged a full stomach was not the way to see the rest of the trip, and had him guide me out. I ended our business with a good-sized portion of some of the green smoke I had procured from my last paycheck, and weakly stumbled on my way.

I sat down hard at the first park bench on the street I could find. It was one of the main bustops of the city, but no one was there at the moment. I sat down and then began to throw up,  my stomach and brain putting the whole sordid affair together. I knew beyond a doubt, I knew what was making things so bad, and I knew how they were all connected. I had no proof, but I knew, Curtis must have done some nefarious deed, something horrible, and the reason I could feel the specter of someone, that someone was the little girl who had but one buried shrine in the dirt of the city to remember her.

The Basement – Part Three

Part Three, a bit slow, but it is my first short story here, and I am using the back burner method of simmering the story out. It is also based on a dream, a place I feel the most important stories come from.

I slept fitfully, I kept feeling like someone was in the room with me. I knew it was just nerves, what with the weird rent agreements and all. I got up though, and went into my new bathroom. It was sparse, just a shower, towel bar, sink and one small counter for the sink. I took a shower, but the water never really got hot, just lukewarm. I got out and took a look at the clock. 3:00 p.m. and for me, with the overnights, a decent start for the day. I decided to go explore the next room, the one with all the shelves, and see if I could find a radio.

Walking into the room again, I was just amazed at the amount of display shelves in the room. I would walk around, there were six rows of shelves, each with sides on each row, and no matter how many times I would walk around, it would happen that I would see something completely new. One thing though, it stood out even when I just first glanced around the room. A shelf stereo, and it was something I had never seen before. I immediately thought it might be oriental, or perhaps japanese, because every stereo set up I had ever seen was the required grey, black, or the occasional wood or brass. This stereo was gold, with red oriental dragons in a pattern throughout the gold. Like an oriental silk, red curving dragons of glossy bright red, with gold leaf over the rest. I thought, well… if someone wants it back, I will return it, I am just moving it over a room.

I noticed it had no dust on it, and was as shiny as if it was brand new, so I could not wait to play some tunes. I put it all into a large wicker basket I figured would suit as a trash can, with a liner in it, and brought it back over. It must have been the confusing set up of the room, but I could have sworn I would need a shelf to put the stereo on, but there was a small one, perfect size, beside a support pole waiting for me when I got back. I thought I should maybe draw the room out next time I had a chance, and get my sketching skills back in order. I set it up on the shelf, and plugged it in. Soon the sweet sound of rock and roll was playing in the room, and I felt a little more at ease. A trick of the place though, maybe the large room, after every song ended it seemed I could hear clapping, like amusement or happiness from the song. I liked this college station, and there were no commercials, but since it was amateurs doing radio, there was often silence after every song, if only for a minute. I would walk over to the stereo and turn it down, but eventually I figured it was acoustics and decided to ignore it. It wasn’t very loud and I could never found out what the sound was bouncing off of.

I opened the other doors, and all of them had some sort of collection in them. The kitchen and the toilet were plain and simple like the shower, but the other rooms were highly interesting to look at. One room specialized in porcelain dolls, another stuffed animals and small plastic animals, like in a specialty toy store. A third was what looked like a complete Barbie collection, and I was pretty sure some of them were very old and worth a bit of money. I didn’t write anything down, but took a hard mental note of what was laying about, as I would take a look on some collections in ebay and see if they matched up for some money. I’m not into collecting, but I knew that some things were worth a good bit to hardcore collectors.

This actually sufficed for a good hobby for a few days. There were literally thousands of items, all toys, that were in these rooms, but most looked worthless, missing shoes, hair all in knots and messy, or cut, crayon scribbling on the cloth and boxes, but everything was fairly neat, in a box, usually the original toy box they had come in. I never got to sleeping well, so I would leave the radio on all the time, something I did as a kid, having grown up in a loud large city. I would sleep for two or three hours, then get up, sure there was someone in the room with me. I would hear someone talking, but it always seemed like it was children, or maybe just a child that was talking, always in my dreams.

One night the hotel had a Drum and Bass party in its basement. I had been fired at work for showing up late, mostly because of the duo of working overnight combined with the lack of sleep, but I wasn’t worried, I had 300 US in my pocket and had paid rent for two months in advance already, so I asked if I could hang out at the party. It was on fliers all over the music stores, so there was no reason for anyone to tell me no, and I thought maybe I could meet an interesting girl or at least have a conversation. I was at the party for maybe an hour when three girls and a guy that were cliqued together at the bar started to talk with me. One thing lead to another and I ate some mushrooms with them, and we went into the room that would lead into my set of rooms.

This was the half-finished room, the one with all the drainage depressions and grates. I knew it had to be the drugs, because all I could see and hear was dripping water. I asked the girls about it and they said it was just dry concrete, calm down, it is just the mushrooms messing with my vision. I would stick my hand in what looked like a stream of drops, and I could feel the cold water hitting my skin. I could hear rain, heavy rain, beating down on the floor above us, and I would run up and look, only to find there was no up, just back into the basement party, and then into the hotel. Eventually I was left alone, after not to subtle messages about laying down and letting things wear off. I felt a little crazy, to be honest, because I had been a very veteran party goer all my life, and never wigged out before. I eventually put very calm music on, some classical, and fell asleep.

The Basement – Part Two

This would look like the first room of the basement, without all the junk in it. It’s the little stairs, half high, that does it. I can imagine the little water ditches and the different plywood in peeling paints all over.

Curtis seemed very intent on telling me everything he expected me to do while I stayed in his apartment. I needed to play with his niece whenever she came over, that was the most important part and repeated over and over.  I had to make sure the upkeep was tip-top on all the dolls of his collection. I needed to make sure no one stole the ukulele parts. I could move the couches and the bed around, but I had to keep them here. I could add whatever I wanted to the collection, if I so desired, but the collection and the apartment would always be considered his, so no selling of anything.

“I don’t mean to be rude Curtis, but I am not a caretaker, a museum collector, or any kind of collector . I am renting a place to work as writer, and I am not really up to all of these demands.” I stood up and started walking back the way I came.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” He said this really fast, and came over to me again, putting his hand on my shoulder. “Just one thing, promise me one thing, if my niece comes over, you will play with her one last time. Do that, that one little thing for me?” He had tears in the corner of his eye, and I could feel something strangely desperate about it.

Maybe it was the whole shebang of weirdness, maybe it was the moment of tenderness I felt for another human in a bad situation. I was a little overwhelmed at the whole idea of the place, I was in over my head, but I said,” Ok… I promise one last time for her.”

It was like an Alvin and the Chipmunks version of Tony the Tiger burst out of his mouth. “GurrrrrRRReeeeat! I can go to Paris!” I am not even exaggerating, he started doing some strange dance waving his hands around and bending at the waist, but it was obvious he was happy.

Much to my relief, for the most part, the weirdness was over. He proceeded to grab loads of baggage that was already packed, was helped out in three trips by Bill the maintenance guy, and handed me my keys as he left. He pinched my cheek like a grandmother would, reminded me I had promised, and left. I sat on the couch and blew out a huge sigh.

Bill came back in and was very nice to me. One of the walls in the strange room was actually a roll up door separating my room from another storage room of the hotel, full of actual hotel furnishings. He said I could help myself from this room, all day long, as the supervisor was on vacation until tomorrow, and had no clue what was in or out. He also strung a phone in, advised me no long distance calls, dial 9 to get out,and the phone was free. I soon had desk set up with a typewriter and paper, a coffee table, and all the hotel accouterments a man could ask for. You know, towels, wash cloths, soap, shampoo, coffee and such.

Then it got a little weird again.

“Ok look, once I roll this door down, it don’t come up again, ever. Them other rooms we passed through are yours to use, all the stuff is yours, as long as you do what you promised, you won’t have any problems. Curtis lived here 40 years bef….”

“40 years! He couldn’t! This hotel opened up last fall!”

“Ohhhh yeah, well… That’s why this door stays shut, it goes under the street to the next hotel. Curtis lived here before this hotel was built. Look, I got to get back to work, you ok now?”

That same tension was in him again, the one that had watched me while I waited to get the room. Again I was being forced along some path I didn’t understand, or necessarily liked, but again, I had no real idea of knowing what to do at the time. I nodded and thanked him, figuring it was time to get settled into this place anyways. I took a few minutes washing my face and just looking at all the stuff.

Actually, it was two hours later when a knock was at my door. Ernestine had come back with my duffel bag from the car, and inquired what had happened. She mentioned how no one ever saw Curtis much, and that no one ever came down here anyways, much less a child. I calmed down, begged a few dollars off of her until payday, and got ready for work that evening.

I worked as a cashier in gas station part-time over nights. I really had a hard time concentrating, as the events that had given me my first place in Denver were strange, bewildering, but seemed just that, just weird, no rhyme nor reason to its circumstances. Dawn broke and I found myself walking back to my new place, dead tired after being up all night and all day. I walked in the hotel, past absolutely no one, down all the stairs and paths, and finally collapsed in heap on the bed, not even changing clothes. I was asleep in about 10 seconds.

…and woke up in a cold sweat, heart beating fast, breathing erratic. I was panicked and didn’t know why, but had a feeling of hearing a loud scream, a girl’s high-pitched scream. I was freezing as well, like it was winter just outside the walls. I could even see a bit of frost in the air from my breath, as I had left the lights on when I fell asleep after work.

I calmed down, grabbed a blanket around myself and mumbled and grumbled some cuss words. Damn hard time to sleep, damn cold for summer, damn damn damn. I slowly fell back asleep, the clock saying it was 9 in the morning, and I had only slept for 3 hours. Right about the time I knew I was asleep, I heard a door click. I had a dream of my grandmother putting me to sleep when I was little, muttering about how tired I was, and feeling her tuck the blankets in around me. Probably the first dream I ever remembered having right after I fell asleep.

The Basement – Part 1

We turned onto the driveway, out of the hot and busy downtown street. You could see the heat waves diffusing light just a block away, it was so hot, and of course, no breeze. I was worried that my new apartment was going to be to hot, but today would surely shine it’s heat beam on the spot if it was true. Truth was actually a question, I was questioning the truth of the deal I was looking into. A friend of mine works as a bartender at the new Hotel Du Paumpf, all the rage in Denver lately, and was approached by the manager of the hotel wondering whether she knew anyone who could really use a low rent room. She said she knew me, a struggling author, who needed a place to stay.  The rent was ridiculously low, it’s in a hotel already, so why would it be just 100 US a month? Oh well, I never looked a gift horse in the mouth. I do now.

The hotel is exactly what I thought it would be, valets, brass, huge sheets of green glass, water fountains, drinks that cost what I would get for one transcript of 500 words. We were directed to a back vanilla hallway with four precise and uncomfortable waiting chairs, with a plain brown door  that said manager in a brass plaque for our view. Maintenance guys with big rings of keys would come and go, and after about 20 minutes, I started to get heated. My friend Ernestine begged me to be patient, the manger was really cool and laid back, but he hated people to get in a hurry with him. I settled in for the long haul by counting the number of maintenance men who came by. To my surprise, they seemed to be counting me, because they were only two different guys, just similar beefy builds, and they kept eyeballing me nervously as I did them. I counted ten times, before the manager stepped out, with a welcome smile and a handshake and invited me in.

“Heh-heh-hello! You must pardon me, I have had some interesting results in getting your room ready, the maintenance men and I have decided to go ahead and get you on down there.”

“I’m sorry? What’s going on?” I was hesitant, but I really needed this rent.

“Waaaayyyyyelllll… Ok look, this room is a deal, right? The truth is, there are strange circumstances surrounding it, that are out of my control. The last tenant insists on seeing you personally, and though we have tried, your just going to have to put up with him for a few minutes.”

“Ok, explain it to me, I’m very reasonable.” Nervously perhaps, but I just was tired of waiting.

“I will get Bill to take you down, that will be the best way.” He reached over to a 2 way motorola phone, and keyed into it. “Bill, we’re ready.”

Bill popped in almost like he was waiting outside the door, and ushered me out before I got to wordy with my questions. Mostly I just shrugged and let them lead me away, Ernestine begging off to her locker for something she “forgot.” We went down two floors of stairs and ended in a plain steel door at the bottom of the stairs. Bill mentioned that we had to pass some old foundation work to get to the apartment.

He opened the door and the first thing I noted was grey stone, old with pits and worn with rounded corners, like cobblestone, but a wall of it. We walked out onto a platform made of some sort of concrete, but again, old and grey, that had safety rails all around it. Another half flight of stairs, and all around, it was like the basement of the hotel had been built-in someones badly designed warehouse. Plywood of different colors tacked up between studs, some high, some half high, others covering from floor to ceiling. on the other side of the room was the industrial steel grate stairs, going up to a cat walk about as high as this platform, with double doors on it. In the far corner was another plain steel door, painted black. The floor was a maze of what looked like drainage depressions, little ditches in the concrete going to various holes and grates. We walked through this strange room to the plain door into another room.

The door flung open easily, and almost slammed into the stone wall, which had become even more apparent in this place. Walls were 5 meters high, the room was probably 20 meters by 40 meters, and in precise neat rows were the old glass shelf display counters you used to see in every variety store. Piles and piles of stuff arranged in some unseen order, coated in dust. Cups, glasses, plates, pitchers, pictures, knickknacks, small statues, candles, flags, tennis rackets, baskets of yarn unspooled, boxes with lids open, closed, taped, cut off. All manner of plastic goods, flatware, cooking utensils, toys, shoes, jewelry, just never-ending. Bill saw my look and wandering eyes, shrugged, and said one word, “Storage.” He walked me over to another door across the room.

This door afforded even more of a surprise. This room also large, but the ceiling was low. The beams of the ceiling were at 2 meters exactly wooden, and covered in both chicken wire and dust. Also coated in age and dirt were ukulele parts, all tied with baling wire to the chicken wire, that was taped or nailed to the beams. Thousands of ukulele parts. In the exact middle of the room, which was about 20 meters by 20 meters, was a 10 meter square area on a perfect white ceramic floor. Two couches, with a table between, of some old and rather expensive looking material, and a bed butted to the couches, were in the middle as well. 10 doors ran the outside of the room, each door paneled by a different kind of plywood. 3 of the doors were obviously marked by an international bathroom sign, a shower sign, and a kitchen sign, but the other doors, although clearly marked, were obscure in meaning.

A primly dressed older man sat on the end of one couch. He was balding, with longish hair in a sort of wild array that somehow reminded me of a clown. His face was birdlike, and his movements spoke of a nervous but decided individual, quick, firm, but just a bit of hesitation. I like him immediately, and from the lisp he had, was also pretty sure he was gay.

He got up from the couch when we approached, and shook my hand with both of his. “My name is Curtis, and I just know you are the right man for my room!”