Complete Story – 1000 Words
Food never spoiled in that kitchen. I once left a gallon of milk on the counter and, when I returned to throw it away, condensation coated it still. In the same span, the orchids in the library had blossomed and wilted. That was four days for me. I don’t know how long it was for everything else.
A car crash had left me an inheritance from parents I barely knew. It was a hodge-podge of architectural styles piled into three stories and smeared across too much land. The inside was much the same with decayed Queen Anne antiques jumbled among art deco pieces and modern Scandinavian minimalism. Whatever the era, everything smelled of dust and damp.
Salem and I had come for the same reason as every married couple who leaves their life behind to move to a strange house far away from everyone. We came to start over, to find a time when we were younger and dumber, and the clock moved slowly enough for us to grow together.
It had been our first day rambling about the ad hoc rooms. I was folding away our clothes when Salem called from the bath, “Hux! The water is freezing!”
I set off to find the water heater, happy to have those little spousal tasks that were the dew of normalcy. Wandering the maze of nonsense rooms, I eventually found the cellar.
Expecting a hoarder’s dream, I was surprised to discover a huge contraption to be the only occupant. A wren’s nest of piping erupted from a central core that appeared as the love child of a water heater and the space shuttle. On the face there was only a single dead, red bulb and a fat, plastic switch slumbering in the off position. I flipped the switch, and it broke off in my hand. Still the red light blinked to life and a sound like moving water rumbled within the pipes.
I trotted back upstairs and wound my way around the aimless corridors until I arrived at last at the door to Salem’s bath. I rapped twice and peeked in. Salem spun away and rubbed her nose with one hand while she swept the rim of the tub with the other.
“Water heater’s on,” I said my jaw tightening.
“You need to knock, Hux,” she said without looking at me.
“I did,” I said. “You promised you were going to stop all that.”
“You made promises too,” she said sounding hollow. She was shaking but, whether it was from the cold or the anger or the powder, I didn’t care.
Days flowed by like storms, passing in either a flash of fury or lingering for weeks of grey bitterness. During those tempest days, I explored more of the house and less of Salem. I discovered why a twenty-minute nap in the third floor’s fourth guest room left you feeling completely rested and why you should never read a good book in the conservatory.
Today, I was hiding out in the library among the orchids and yellowed pages. There was more life in there than in the whole of the house and it was rarely haunted by my wife. The hall clocked moved more slowly than my watch in the library and I had learned early that I could spend all day reading before she was even out of bed.
The trove was stocked floor to ceiling. I had selected for my pleasure the collected horrors of Poe and was reading The Cask of Amontillado when a creaking from behind drew my notice. Craning my head around, I saw the doors swing shut. I frowned. Despite its other peculiarities, the house was not a drafty one.
I laid the book aside and shuffled in my slippers towards the carved double doors. Gripping the tarnished brass handles, I pushed but they did not turn. I rattled them and found them locked. After a moment of disbelief, I set my jaw and threw my shoulder hard against the stout wood. It quivered but did not yield.
I pounded on the door with both fists screaming, “Salem! Let me out!” I shrieked until my throat burned. Just when I could scream no longer, there came a knock that stretched over hours like a horrible moan.
A sticky note popped out from under the door. “Good morning,” it read above a smiley.
I hammered against the old oak. “Let me out! This isn’t funny!” I called and then screamed and then whispered when my voice grew too rough to use. Finally, I slumped against the door and waited. She would not keep me here forever.
I waited while the hands on my watch trudged a day’s journey. My throat was blistered, and my head ached. A few hours’ sleep found me propped against the door. I woke to a stretched scratching and after minutes, a second note emerged. “Still there?”
My fists pounded against the door until they were bloody and bruised. My throat shredded as I screamed through the glue that has been my saliva. When at last I collapsed, a third note appeared. “Hope you’re having fun.”
Salty tears dribbled down my cheeks. Salem, please.
Time passed in sputtering, lurching hours like a rickety car. My skull squeezed my brain to the point of bursting. White sparks exploded behind my eyes. Every joint and muscle ached with its own weight. Blessed sleep counted only in minutes as the agony of thirst ripped me from rest.
On the third day, I could not rise. My moans were a desert wind, and the world swam about me. Salem, why? Salt crystals clotted at the corners of my eyes. The weight of exhaustion crushed my bones and tugged the shades on my eyes. As I relaxed into the relief of my final sleep, a yellow note arrived beneath my nose. “Good night.”
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