The Room Upstairs
by Dylan Henderson
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
That winter, her mania underwent a change, and for the first time, she said he was watching her. In her mind, he was always there, listening, and on the rare occasions when I visited her, she never spoke above a whisper, afraid that he might be near. Talking on the phone was obviously out of the question, and I now went whole weeks without seeing her. I sensed that she missed me, but I did nothing.
The winter was even colder than the last and, for the first time I could remember, it snowed on New Year’s Eve. I was taking a walk after work, hoping the fresh air would soothe my mind. My legal troubles had all but bankrupted the company, and I saw no hope for a recovery. My latest offerings had sold poorly, and a review in the Library Journal had connected my troubles at the University of Tulsa to the company.
Walking sometimes helped, and that evening I took my usual route past the crumbling foundations of Dr. Lacy’s Mineral Bath to Dorothy where I turned south. I strolled past the remains of the Mendenhall, paying little attention to the deepening gloom, and then turned again at elm-shaded Fourth Street. I felt restless and continued east until I reached Main Street where I loitered for half an hour, trying to imagine the old brick buildings as they had been a century before.
I remember wandering as far east as the old Community Bathhouse, torn down long ago, and then, bored and tired, returning west on Ninth Street. A few blocks from the office, I saw a white shape walking aimlessly through the snow. I must have stepped right up to the woman before I recognized Mrs. Goldman.
She was draped in an old ball gown, its lace yellowed with age. She smelled horrible, and I saw how helpless she had been without me. Tears streaked her wrinkled face. She was terrified, mumbling something about how her husband had never come home and now they were going to miss the dance at the Bayless Mansion.
Taking her by the hand, I led her back to the office and helped her to the bathroom. After a long struggle, she finally urinated, and when I flushed the toilet, I saw how brown and toxic her urine had become. I lodged her upstairs in my office — she seemed calmer now, almost listless — and went across the yard to fetch some clean clothes from her house.
The front door was wide open, and a layer of snow, almost an inch thick, now covered the foyer. I found the clothes without difficulty but, when I got back, she was shaking with fear. She said there were maggots crawling out of a hole in the ceiling, and clutching at me like a madwoman, she pleaded for me to find a ladder and stop the infestation. I remember her saying that they poured out of a drain in the ceiling.
That evening, not knowing what else to do, I took her to the Claremont Regional Hospital, and I spent most of the night by her bed. Looking back, I hope that my presence reassured her, but truthfully, I don’t think she knew I was there.
Shortly after she was admitted, the maggots returned. They were pouring out of the ceiling and crawling down the walls to her bed, and she was too frightened to sleep. She said some things, which I am loath to repeat, about a man in the ceiling who was whispering to her, and I finally crawled into bed with her and held her close until she grew quiet. Around dawn, she lost consciousness.
When I left to return to work, the nurse told me that the hospital had finally reached Mrs. Goldman’s daughter in Texas and had received permission to admit Mrs. Goldman to the Elder Ward downstairs. The nurse thought that she might have urinary tract confusion, a not uncommon condition that can infect the brain and cause dementia in the elderly.
Whether the nurse’s guess was right or not, I never learned, for once Mrs. Goldman was admitted, the doctors refused to speak with me. Guests were never allowed inside the ward since the patients within needed as much peace and quiet as possible, and not being a relative, I had no right to information.
Three days later I read in the Claremont Progress that she had died without ever regaining consciousness. Thinking that she might have left me something, a hope I am ashamed to say I held, I contacted her lawyer. Dorothy Goldman had left me nothing, nor had she left much to anyone else.
The family fortune had been spent long ago, and at the time of death, she had no more than a few hundred dollars left in the bank. The house and the property were left to the Rogers County Historical Society.
Worried that Walter Goldman’s collection might be lost, I contacted the historical society immediately, and the curator, recognizing the collection’s value, requested that I compile a catalogue of its contents for the benefit of the Will Rogers Library, which planned to add the books to its special collections.
* * *
That spring I worked feverishly to complete the catalogue, which would later be published in the University of Oklahoma Historical Journal as “The Goldman Collection: An Annotated Catalogue of an Occult Library.” In early April, the library rented a moving van, and I helped pack the books while two workmen unbolted the bookshelves from the wall and carried them downstairs. The historical society was not obligated to keep Mrs. Goldman’s furnishings, and everything that could be removed from the house was to be sold at an upcoming auction.
As I was boxing up books, I noticed that an extension cord, once hidden by shelves, ran along the wall and disappeared behind one of the remaining bookcases in the northeast corner. I called to the workmen to unbolt the bookcase. While they were tarrying downstairs, I discovered that the entire bookcase could swing open, away from the wall, as if it were on hinges.
Silence filled the upstairs as the workmen struggled to unbolt the shelves. When the bookcase finally came free, we saw that it had been bolted to a tiny plywood door, no more than three feet high, which had neither knob nor lock.
My hands shaking, I opened the door and, feeling the eyes of the workmen upon me, wriggled inside. At first, I could see nothing, for the only light was a feeble beam that poured through a vent opposite the door.
Picturing the rambling edifice in my mind, I realized that the gable over the east wing must connect to the hip roof in the northeast corner and that this door must lead to the attic over that wing. Despite its tall ceiling, the east wing was only a single story tall, and I had to climb down a ladder to reach the rafters that supported its ceiling.
There was no floor, of course, but pieces of scrap lumber had been placed over the rafters, and I found I could see well enough to crawl along the wide planks. Whiskey bottles and used syringes coated the makeshift floor. In the dim light, I could see the black outline of a television set squatting beside a coffee can, which reeked of urine. There was little else aside from a pile of blankets, a shapeless lump in the dark, which for some reason disturbed my imagination and caused my legs to tremble.
I called for a flashlight, and when it finally flickered to life, I saw the five-fingered outline of a leather glove. Somewhere in the deepest recesses of my mind, a voice was telling me that a glove should lie flat, but even though my hands were shaking so badly I almost dropped the flashlight, I was still in control of myself when the beam of light, rising higher, revealed a pair of black circles, sunk deep in a leathery face, which still leered from its nest in the corner.
I don’t remember if I screamed or not, but I recall a blind fumbling, a manic scrambling as I clawed my way back up the ladder and through the narrow door at the peak of the gable. One of the workmen had fainted, and I remember tripping across his body, which was sprawled in front of the door, as I stumbled to the dormer window and, yanking it open, thrust my head into the sane spring air.
Of course, I’ve heard the rumors that the city wants to tear the house down. I suppose they will. The historical society doesn’t have the money for the necessary repairs, and I know Mrs. Goldman’s lawyer has no interest in forcing the society to adhere to its contract.
And truthfully, despite my love of local antiquities, I won’t mind seeing an empty lot in its place. The house is unwholesome. Its clapboarded walls, stained by the rot spreading up from the ground, are now ashen gray rather than white, and even when a strong wind is blowing, I sometimes think I smell something foul issuing forth from beneath its sagging eaves. I do not enjoy its presence so close to my offices, nor do I relish thinking of the man in that narrow room or the small hole the police later discovered drilled in the ceiling.
But despite my loathing, I entered that house one last time that day. I borrowed a tape measure from old Walter Goldman’s toolshed, and I measured the distance from the central fireplace to the downstairs bedroom. Descending once more into that room of horrors, I measured the distance from the corner to the chimney.
It revealed, as I knew it would, what the ramshackle floor plan had hidden for so long: the corpse was positioned directly over Mrs. Goldman’s bed. If I can bring myself to take her police reports as factual testimony, and even now many in the community refuse to do so, that man — that thing we found in the corner — had lived there for seven years.
Copyright © 2015 by Dylan Henderson