PREVIOUSLY, from 1.1 The First Room:
Eryx eased back to the table and eased his hands along the tabletop to the waiting lamp. Opened the book of matches. Struck one. The light so startled him, he almost dropped the match. But it was just reflections in the glass of the oil lamp, nothing more. He lit the wick. Found the chimney. Slotted it into place. Lowered the flame. Picked the lamp up.
And for the first time, he took a look at himself.
He was covered in dried blood.
Or rather his clothing was. Some were near the tears. After he set down the lamp, needing both hands to keep it steady, he slotted his fingers through the bloody hole in the vest, through the shirts, to bare skin over, right over the heart.
Dead man’s clothing.
Which someone had hung up again.
An errant thought struck him: Is Eryx a dead man’s name, too?
Shivering, he dropped his hand. Darkness lent dark thoughts, or perhaps that was just his bent. Or maybe it was just the unknown . . . or uncovering the unknown . . . or worrying about uncovering the unknown.
He didn’t know much about himself, but he figured himself an obsessive sort.
Didn’t sound healthy or useful.
Either way, he picked up the lamp and turned to the contemplation of other things.
But he didn’t linger on the table, though. The smooth table. Not a hint of splinter or groove anywhere. Except apparently in his mind long moments ago.
The bed, however, hadn’t changed. Still rumpled from his leaving it. Now that he noticed it, he could smell the freshness of its sheets—reminding him of laundry hanging on the line—from here. It didn’t fit the room.
Nor did the wall behind it. It dripped with peeling wallpaper, but despite that he could make out the writing scribbled over it. Flattening them up helped little. Sections were missing, taking most of the message with it. Not that the words made sense anyway.
That brought him near a dark window, with one, open, lace curtain. The other curtain was missing.
It made less sense than scribbles, for a far worse reason.
It wasn’t dark because there were no moon and no stars out. No, someone had papered it up—from the outside.
Black paper. No light filtered in through fuzzy rends that weren’t quite rends. Just soft bends where the paper had been folded over a lot before being pasted in place.
Did that mean it was night? It felt like night. But he couldn’t be sure. Not until he left this room at least.
He rested his fingers on the pane. He could try unlatching the window.
Better not. Just . . . better not. Someone might be watching. Someone who might have placed me here and misplaced my memories and clothing on the way. His fingers were trembling as he dropped them away.
Eryx wiped them hastily on his duster, the clean parts, and continued his inspection of the room. There was a chair perpendicular to the bed, against the far wall. Wooden. With a cushion strapped on. Clean. Unstained. Comforting. Less comforting was its focus: easy to watch the bed from that position. When he felt the cushion with his free hand, he wished he hadn’t.
It was still warm.
It made him dash the light about, as the thought struck, The person could still be here—in the room—with you—watching you—now.
There was no one.
There was, however, a note on the door, one he could comprehend. It said, “You do not have the Master Key. The Master Key is not here. It is waiting Out There.”
He touched the long chain hidden beneath his collar.
If he had a pen, he’d try his hand, to see if he had written the message. And what did that mean then about his memory if he had taken to writing notes to himself?
Likely it was the taller man.
The taller, dead man.
Or the woman who shared quarters with that person. Was she also dead? He didn’t care to confirm anything about the stains on her clothing at this point; that wouldn’t bring peace of mind.
But if she weren’t dead, maybe she had been the one who had whispered his name, waking him. Maybe she had left him while he was creeping about.
All without him hearing?
Eryx looked down to the door, its handle, and saw the keyhole. He hesitated. Maybe she had answers, and if he hadn’t disgusted her with his cowardice, she’d spare him some.
So he crouched, held his breath, and placed his eye to the keyhole, expecting something frightening to see.
Or something peering back.
Eryx saw nothing.
With a sigh of relief, he rose and tried the handle, but it wouldn’t turn. The rattling sound bothered him. The thought he might be stuck here bothered him worse. Then, before the panic could rise to fast and too hard, he remembered the key.
He fished it out and slid it home.
It fit, turned, and unlocked the door.
As he returned the room key to his neck, a thought struck him: So . . . if the door was locked all along and I had the key, where did the chair sitter go?
Fear froze him, and his breath, until a possible answer came to him: Two inhabitants, two keys; she had her own. Right?
His held breath came out in a gust. Well, one thing he was sure about. He was tired of this room and he person it was turning him out to be, and with that thought, he opened the door and stepped out into the hallway.
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Jodi Ralston, All Rights Reserved. 2016, 2017.