The Room Collector

Edric Salvador expected the knock at his door any moment. To be fair, the knock had been a long time coming (and still had some time coming yet. There's value in patience as he would learn),-the moment was delayed retribution, a satisfaction he had been waiting on for five years. As Edric sat in the bed-room of his New Hampshire estate though, his patience was tiring—he was growing bored waiting for the sound to come to his door. His right arm was arched upon the rest of a chair with his fist pushing up into his cheek-bone, as he bit deep into an apple, making an arranged pattern of mis-shapen "U's". Everything about his face was like inconsistent weather, there was a one inch scar above his left eye, and another one slightly smaller above his cheek, bits of skin still had baby scars, scattered about making his complexion look off white in areas, (that was the rain I believe, reminders of an incident that will be divulged in good time...patience again.)- But there was hope in the storm, his eyes were blue in the right light and they still beat through the scars, a feeble hope maybe, his hair still maintained it's youth and was parted all the way to the right and back, (the seas turning and calming) and the ash white (the seas breaking) was hinting at age-some days the hard weather was more clear than others. He felt his body getting restless now as he flipped his right leg to let it rest on the other—Edric knew when his door was disturbed, it would mean the beginning of the end for the man named Winston Conhill. He snapped on the apple and made a half-moon shape before turning it and starting on the other side. But he deserved it he thought. Absolutely-and he would fit so perfectly inside the great hall, or maybe something better. Maybe he would have his own room. That's what Edric decided upon, Winston in a small room surrounded by a Vietnamese jungle. Right in the center.

In the room where he sat he had the view of the ocean from two large windows. In between sat his bed, to the right a letter desk with a type-writer and a laptop side by side. There were documents neatly arranged, skulls from Madagascar in a glass case above the desk, small figurines of rams and the Venus of hohle fels, boots from Rome, a Persian carpet, upholstery from China, a glass owl over the door that hung high up, watching down into the room. And wine jugs. Dozens that lined the walls. High above there were 14 Grand Cru bottles coveted like children along the molding.

And in the middle was Edric Salvador, watching the ocean. The current was strong as the sun was setting and now the moon would become full and pull it with all it's might. It was a lengthy horizon, spanning the Atlantic ocean with broken rocks and jetties that kids walked out on in the summer, jumping from rock to rock and eating their lunches at the light-house base. Edric, with his indomitable eyes, watched quietly, growing tiresome with the hour. It wasn't like Winston to keep him waiting. Not like this. And then the resentment built inside of him, his hand tightened and he considered that maybe Winston would not show. He was probably half-drunk at a pool-hall in Thailand, the arrangement they made forgotten in his booze-infested brain-then Edric doubled back and thought even further—maybe Winston was already dead.

And then the knock came.

It was like someone tapped the door with a padded drum-stick and Edric knew who it was-Ignatius, his straight-lawed servant, a tall thin man he affectionately called Iggy (it came from when he was a child and the name stuck). He came in with his hair combed the same way it had been for the past 37 years, straight back and not a touch out of place. He had a hard face, almost mechanical, it never flexed or had any real cadence, it just sat. Edric had his back to him, blocking him with the back from the chair.

"Sir, Winston Conhill is here."

Edric didn't turn around or even look backwards. He was just getting to the center of the apple, the core was yellow, and the tiny black pit showed through. It was finished now. Empty in the light.

"A Rome apple Iggy. The Eternal City. Strength of the river. Home of the very first shopping mall." And then from his chair Edric tossed the core out the open window. It flew out into the coming darkness. "Is he carrying the box?"

"Yes. An old ballerina box circa. 1926 from my estimation."

"I'll meet him in the second lobby where he entered. Keep him there."

In a few more moments Edric would be face to face with Winston Conhill. The man who nearly cut him from this world. Five years ago In the French Alps, really the Pennine range along the Monte Rosa, during a storm the two had lost each-other in the fog while descending. Edric missed his footing, slipped down an ice ridge and smashed his tibia into his knee-joint-breaking his leg. The rescue effort was one-horsed, or perhaps they did the best they could under the circumstances. The idea was, well Winston had the idea, they had two ropes each 100 feet in length, and Winston came up with a make-shift solution. If they were tied together they could make a long enough rope to lower Edric down off the East Ridge. He used a Prusik knot—their big mistake if you didnt count Edric missing his foot-hold first. It looked like cats cradle, or a tight pussy according to Winston. He probably saw it many more things than just a climbing rope. But the knot wouldn't make it through the belay plate (irony at it's finest), Edric was yelling down there below Winston, saying things you never thought you would hear from the man. You'd be surprised what even the most straight guys would yell when their shin bone is protruding from their body. Shitttt I wanna go home, errrrr why the fucking hell are we up here (more inaudible screaming) Fuck you Winston, Fuck, sonofacunttttt. Anything to breathe in the air and try facilitate the pain. He kept screaming wishing for brandy and painkillers-and that's when Winston had to tell him he needed to stand on both legs to give him enough slack to the get the rope through.

If he could have seen Edric's face through the distance and fog he would have seen a man who looked like he just had been given news he was going to need to stand after someone had just crushed his legs with a bull-dozer. Dead blue and broken. But he didn't see his face. He could hear him sort of, when the wind calmed for a moment, the sound of a screaming came through, shrill yells, but mostly everything below him was white mist and jagged ridges. He couldn't see or hear any sign of his friend. Then the wind started to get a heavier. A storm was coming and it was getting darker. Soon it was black.

The formality for Winston was he had lowered Edric too far, he was resting below a cliff, his hands badly frost-bitten, when he took off his gloves his finger-tips looked like burnt matches. It made tying anything impossible, much less climbing up to the next ridge 50 feet up. And the reality of the situation set in. Winston couldn't pull Edric up or climb down, and Edric couldn't climb up. Not on his life at that point. His right leg had gone numb and neither of the could communicate to one another. They both just hung there in the breeze, limp as a dog that's been sterilized.

Edric knew Winston could feel him. The weight was letting him know he was still there. Alive or dead that was another can of worms. Maybe Winston was up there each minute wondering if he was lugging a dead body beneath him. It was the kind of uncertainty that could eat at you. High up in the negative temperatures with the wind hitting him Edric recalled every moment being torture. Hours. Nothing. No sign of Winston. Hanging there like a baby on a string, helpless and fragile. Swinging like fish on a hook, flapping in the breeze. He remembered, waiting there for a sign and all he could think of what would happen to his estate? Someone would auction off his Bob Mackie robes to an asshole who sold dried fruit—or fuck, his priceless antique bar globe from Italy would be in the home of a California yuppy who had no idea what to do with their money. But it wasn't him being shallow, Edric felt sorry for the situation and Winston, it was simply one of those random thoughts that came through his mind, the things in his estate were his family (sad but take it as it is)...and now with hypothermia coming, it was match-point going to the elements. Inaction was plaguing them.

Hours passed. Nothing. More hours. Sleep like certain death was coming to Edric and he had a thought, it may have been a hallucination, it was of him and Winston at the Helston brewery (it doubled a lodge but it was a bar first, don't make the mistake, the old fogey's who face-plant there will fight you to death.) They were laughing about the incident, Winston slapped Edric on the back and it was okay. Everything was honky-dory, the event was like a train-wreck in their rear-view mirror, forgotten already. Three more beers in and they had a real riot going—Hey remember when we fucked up and got stuck on that mountain on the same rope and almost died? You pissed yourself three times, but it was warm and felt nice, I know. I felt it too. Edric had a lot of these visions but every time he woke up to the pounding winds, and every time it was more real than the last.

High above, Winston could feel the pressure mounting. His belay seat was becoming twisted, it was bending back too easy like a kid would do to a spoon to play around. Slowly but matter-of-factly the child's hand was pushing the metal further—they might as well have both been dead if neither did something.

At sixteen hours Winston cured the inaction and made a bold decision, he cut the rope. Edric plummeted 100 feet like an actor falling in a green-screen, only this wasn't a movie—he could reach his hand out, (they always have those dramatic falls), but this was anything but graceful, it was more like when you're a kid climbing trees and the branch breaks. Nothing to do but wait for the impact, and hope the blackness and not torture takes you. Edric got the latter. He fell 100 feet into an ice cavern. Both legs were broken, his hands look like over-cooked steaks, and his ribs...someone was pointing a knife into his lungs. At that point Edric thought he was dead. For a day he lay there. Face flat in the snow. He would scream if his lungs werent deflating rafts, maybe Winston would hear him as he climbed down. Maybe the Yanks would win the series that year. Maybe, but death and delirium are close brothers, and he felt his mind going. No. It was natural for him to think Edric dead. Then more sleep.

Someone was pulling him, someone was taking his hand. He was walking through Yankee stadium with his father. It was 1996 and The warrior Paul O-Neill was in right-field. Yes dad, we can sit in the bleachers and yes we can each fish for Bass this weekend -then he awoke. Everything was numb. He felt nothing. Saw nothing. He could have been in the Jiffy-Lube of Paterson NJ, the back-yard of his house on Glen when he a child. His mind was a pancake now. Someone had taken it out and inserted cotton. But someone spoke to him. Get the fuck up. Go. And he pulled out both ice picks, his heart somehow still going and spent four days climbing to base camp, just in time to find Winston safe and sound about to head home. Edric spent a year in the hospital and another year doing physical therapy with a woman named Joyce who was fat and didnt help much. And then one more year more he was back home, where he is now. Edric survived, and now he stood, staring at the ocean, and grabbed for his cane.

He limped into the adjacent room, tapping the floor one two, one two, hitting the marble and making a hopping step that made him feel way past his age. It shouldn't have been like this. There would be no more mountains to climb-for three years Edric moved around hobbled like a broken man, every time he moved he thought of his hand, and the concussion, and how the adventure was over. In time he felt he would grow complacent, play Chess with Iggy, maybe write a book...no that wasn't him. He would rather own them than read them, put them in alphabetical order and show them off, show them off...there would be no one to show them off to. Forget it. No more mountains.

At the end of the hall, Edric entered an old bed room. It had pink walls, but they were dull to the point of being white, faded to an off color that was somewhere between pale and non-existent. Somewhere above was a large light fixture, a glass globe that was like a sun when turned on. Edric felt the wall and the light came on, show-casing in the middle of the room his prized possession, a statue of a young woman, still beautiful, she had copper hair now, stone eyes that were stuck in place and looked back at him, forever being part of one summer, one afternoon in 2007 where in her bed-room she became delirious with toxic-shock, and spoke like she was just learning. A life-time boiled down to baby-talk. But that was only one month. In time she was still herself, the same as she always was to Edric. Her name was Sylvia and she was once alive.

The last thought he had of her was within this room. Edric placed his cane down by the door and walked up towards the statue. He felt it. The bronze felt cold against his palm and he slid his hand up her fore-arm , feeling the metal skin until he got to her shoulder where he stopped—her eyes met his-remember the time you got tanked up and went to the Peach-Tree dance? Peach-tree dance, she laughed at the name like it was from the 20's, saying it was archaic and old-fashioned and that maybe she should put on her knee high socks and sew a sweater—but that was why they went, they were old-fashioned, and boring to a point, (they both did cross-words and played back-gammon daily), not to say they didn't know how to let loose and swig wine like fiends, hence the jugs festooning the estate—and the travel. They went everywhere. Mostly Spain where Edric to a favorite spot on a hill where they picnicked under a tree and got drunk off of cheap tequila, until they fell asleep, and awoken due to cold unable to find their way back to the hotel but laughing about it all the way. The man led them. Where was the fight?-Edric stopped. He looked back up at Sylvia. It is time he said and left her in the darkness of the afternoon.

Limping back Edric still thought of the dance, it was eight years ago but somehow when he looked at Sylvia it was what he remembered. And how he had to stop half-way through to tie one of his shoes. Inconsequential. Nothing about that moment had any significance to the night, there was more to the fact that they made love in the baseball out-field, or that they didn't get home until 3 A.M and had terrible wine-headaches—Edric didn't know, but maybe it was when he had finished the last loop from tying his shoe and looked back up and saw Sylvia's face. She had smooth cheeks and lime-stone eyes, and she said to him, you gonna leave me waiting all day Tiger? With her brow pointing up. Sarcastic love. Insurmountable. He was hers since that moment.

Edric was through the main-hall now. He was coming along the upper-balcony which over-looked the first floor. It was slow-going but steady, his cane prancing lightly on the velvet rug. As he came closer to the center stair-case, he got the first sight of the pirate who left him to die since following the incident—it made Edric smile inside to see Winston growing impatient. He was sitting at the foot of the stairs leaning his back against the banister. There was a gold box by his side and he was smoking a filter-less cigarette. Pall-Malls. Fucker hasn't changed. He got a flash-back, When they climbed the Monte Rosa, Winston would toss those into the air and they would go by in the wind. 54 of them in those sixteen hours. Some how the wind caught them and always pushed them by him. Edric made his way down the center stair-case, taking each step slow, one because he physically had trouble and two because he wanted to take in what was coming into his sight, placing the cane, then stepping, he saw the red bandana on top of his head, then his face came into view and the naked arms with tattoos of a bare-breasted woman and tribal slang. Slowly he came into speaking distance, trying hard not to say anything to soon before Winston opened his mouth, and all hell came out.

It didn't happen that way. As Edric approached, Winston looked up at him and smiled.

"You got a light?"

Winston's cigarette had gone out, he snubbed it into the carpet and was ready for another one.

Edric reached for a lighter from his inside jacket and pulled it out. He moved farther down to Winston and onto the lower step. He kneeled, even though the pain in his knee was rising and got face to face with Winston. He hit the lighter and the flame went up in front of the cigarette. Edric looked into his eyes. Winston smelled awful. He looked like he sweat liquor, not the dark browns of Brandy but a piss yellow that looked like watered down whiskey. Even when he wasn't sweating, he would speak and the curl of his mouth revealing old, uncared for teeth. He wasn't smuggler or a sailor, no Winston was something in between.

"We have business to attend to friend. I hope you're ready for a long stay."

Those weren't the words he wanted to say, not even close, but Edric thought of the old axiom, the cliché wording, revenge is a dish best served cold, well you rotten shit, i've got ice-cold gazpacho with chili powder coming your way. It's been five years, have a tub full. And then the words seemed adequate, Winston sort of sat back and laughed and then Edric was standing making his way back up the stair-case, cane in hand toeing his way to each step. Winston had the Pall-Mall down half-way and the ashes were going all over, his black finger-tips tapped the end and then a half-inch sucker of long ash hit the carpet and burned it. It was the second hole he had made after he snubbed the first cigarette into the ground. Edric signaled to Iggy who the whole time was silent as a soldier eying the situation, he came over with a silver ash-tray that had the heart of Paris etched into the center, placing it down in front of Winston and making a courteous nod.

"You could use a cheap fuck. That's my professional opinion." He rubbed his cigarette out over the Eiffel tower, and looked up at Edric. "Whens the last time you had a woman?"

It was always this way. Edric could have just fired back with the simple of answer of your mother last night, but this was too simple, he hadn't fully spoken with anyone for the past three years except for Iggy and that never amounted to more than greetings and basic sayings sometimes Iggy would go off and say something out of left-field, a philosophical query, but it was like he was programmed with essential sayings. Imagine your toy robot out of no-where telling you a life lesson. But regarding Winston's jabbing Edric didn't think much of it. Sensitivity and solitude do strange things to a man, and sometimes even primal urges get buried in the loneliness. After a while he just didn't care any more.
"We have a wager to fulfill, and I don't believe any more time should be wasted regarding it."

Edric meant it. He was at the top of the stairs and Winston was at his feet now, flexing the banister and the railing that led up.

"Do you know how I got this ballerina box?"

As Winston said that this he lit another cigarette. He had the look of a man who is perpetually smoking from sun up to sun down, he flexed his cigarette inhaled and then blew the smoke out through his nose. It rose and then dissipated right before Edric's face. "I pried it from a dead girl's hand in the Sahara. She was fleeing from an up-rising. My guess was this was her most prized possession. I found her be-headed and this was in her safe bag."

The box was shining in Winston's blackened hands. It had a flower embroidering that made ridges and a full circle on it until the roses inter-twined and formed one.

"Well why didn't they take the box?"

And then staring at Winston Edric thought he had the answer. He watched Winston look at him, and he knew he was wrestling with the inescapable thought of a young girl being slaughtered, but it was all play, Winston was keeping his poker face flat, laughing on the inside at the idea.

"No. I didn't kill her. I only found her. Those insurgents were in a hurry. The girl was lucky. It wasn't a clean cut either I'll tell you that, but her body was intact."

"Enough." Edric cut him off, "You're placing that box on the table so to speak?"

"If the price is right. What are we dealing with?"

Revenge. Sweet revenge. What's been coming to you for the past three years. Ever since I crawled my way back to life—

"Three minutes in the heart of this house. If you last more than that, you have my estate, my savings, my posessions...if you fail, that box is mine."

And I know just where it will go. The Vietnam room.

Winston was going for it. He didn't ask any more questions. He had hubris coming out his ears. The sound of owning everything cluttered any vague terms which were just lay before him, he was the man who spent four years being fed a thin paste inside a tiger cage in Vietnam, he was the man who had climbed every mountain range in the world...he could spend three minutes in one room.

"You're a fool." He replied. "You've really gone mad being alone in this place."

"Three minutes Winston. That's all. You could buy a boat and live at sea. Or sell this house. Either way you'll be rich."

With that Edric continued to the top of the stairs, and turned right where they divided and up another small flight. Behind him Winston had his knife out, twisting it with the glint of it's shine making light fixtures on the stairs. He turned it sideways and let the light shine down over the marble, seeing his own reflection. Then he looked up at Edric pacing himself and followed.

The two had first met in 1999, at a rock climbing convention in Fayetville, West Virgina. They were hunked up together in a deluxe amish cabin with two other greenies,Ted Sullivan, and a man named Red Culster (They never did find out his real name), Edric and Winston formed a natural bond after they started discussing rare artifacts, Winston was good at acquiring them, Edric was good at buying them, it was a natural fit. Aside from that they seemed to both were already ahead of the curve (Winston being 38 and having been in Vietnam), having attended a convention the previous summer and then climbing Black Rock together. It was a week long convention spanning mostly the Meadow River area and the Summersville Lake, it required to have at least some skill, a little more than climbing the baby-wall in your basement, or the foam cushions that were at the gym. Teddy was this new innocent kid that Red would rip on constantly, he berated him at every turn, and when they were going up he kept calling him pussy-feet. Everyone wished he would just shut it. Edric and Winston never said much though, when they had card games at night it was always Red who folded first (he'd yell bullshit and one or two times flip his chair and walk off) and Teddy who was passed out from a half glass of whiskey. Then Edric and Winston would keep playing, talking about the Yanks possibly winning it all again, and then finishing off the whiskey that was left behind.

"Teddy Sullivan's dead." Winston cut in. "He slid off the Smooth Emerald Milkshake in the Rocky Mountains. His damn crampons balled with snowballs and he slid right off. They're still searching for the body. I don't think he has the gonads you do. Or the heart to survive long."

They had entered a long room on the balcony filled with liquor in glass cases, with Brandy all the same year filling the wall, with enough space to walk, notebooks filled some of the space, along with various trunks and cabinets. Some of it looked old but along with wires and screens still filled the wall.

"He's dead if he's lucky." Edric replied. "Other than that he has my sympathies."

Winston was somewhat behind Edric, next to him but slightly to the back and he was noticing the cane he used, and the cluttered mess they were wading through. "How do you get around in this junk? What do you do with all this shit?"

His voice was like watered-down velvet. Like Whiskey over asphalt.

"I get around just fine." Edric replied.

He didnt want to talk about what they were walking through, Edric kept to his study making sure the ocean still had the same charm and Sylvia wasn't aging poorly. There was resentment though... "shit", it was all valuable to Edric and after that was said he could feel a bit more intensity rise in him. This though was the first time in several months he had ventured out. The truth was he didn't know where the house ended. It was a maze, too big for an army let alone one man.

And Edric was moving fine. Better. Almost quicker than he had been before.

Sonofabitch Winston thought and he was considering knocking the legs out from beneath him and just taking it all. If he was as helpless as he looks it wouldn't be a problem. Then he remembered being on the mountain and how he felt the weight of the rope, the stress on his body instantly lift and he was sure that he had cut the rope and that Edric had fallen to his death. Ordinary men would have. It was some sort of realization, helpless or not Edric wasn't an easy man to kill. He probably had a pistol in his jacket.

They kept moving, and they didn't talk much after that. Neither mentioned the mountain or what had happened six years ago. It had been buried, for Edric it was festering inside like a shit-eating wound, waiting for the right time to leap out. He had planned this when one year ago when Winston was back in the states. He called him out of the blue, speaking in business terms over whether he acquired any note-worthy treasure on his adventures. He had. But he wasnt willing to give it up easily. What he had in his hands wasnt worth losing. That's when Edric really became interested and they arranged to meet. And that's when Edric decided he would introduce him to the chamber. Winston on the other hand had gotten over the incident. They both survived, and he would have cut that rope a second time given the situation. It didn't manifest into anything more than that.

The liquor room was ending. There was something like a Roman arch at the end of the wall. It was made of stone and had some engravings on it. They walked beneath it and through a door into a short hallway. That's when Winston began to understand Edric's madness and perhaps even question whether his own safety in this was in jeopardy. In the hallway, on both sides behind glass cases, were large framed photos of Edric's recuperation after the fall. He had made the cover of Naked Trail magazine last Spring. It was the first time he walked under his own power in a year, and the photo was hanging directly to the right as you entered the hallway. They had asked him personal questions, whether he still was friends with Winston, how he managed to find the strength to crawl for four days back to base camp—he gave textbook answers and mostly dodged anything regarding his relationship with Winston. I choose not to disclose any intimate details of our relationship, and that I believe speaks for itself. That's all I have to say regarding the matter.

Since then Edric had been walled up in his estate. He never read the article, or the magazine, it was bull-shit, all of it. He pent up everything until in a feat of spite he would have his revenge. Winston was eyeing photos now, the farther they both walked down the hallway the farther back they went until you got to day one, when Edric was just a mash-up of toilet paper bandages and machines that fed him liquid baby-food. They were half-way, and Edric was in a cast from the waist down. His face looked like a dried up mango that was still ripening, fluorescent and full of colors. And all the while Winston didn't say a word, just spit on the floor occasionally. Pent up motherfucker he thought, and then in an instant the situation became something new for him. Before he wanted Edric's money just to have his money and be on top of things, now as he walked through the hallway, Winston felt reverence inside of him and he wanted to put the final nail into Edric. He wanted to win the bet to shut him up for good.

The last photo on the wall, at the end of the hallway was Edric in the hospital, more white bandage than man and looking as if he were ready to croak any moment, even the EKG machine looked had a flat line in the still of the second the photo was captured. Neither of them spoke during this, and when Edric finally opened the door into the next room he felt he had proved something of a point, if nothing more than to rile up the guilt in his counter-part.

They entered the door at the end of the hall, inside was a young girl's room. Three dolls sat on top of a large bed, with an oak mirror and two hair brushes by it's side. There were dresses on the floor and all four walls were a dull pink, faded to an almost a white. It was silent as if they had entered a memorial room. On the opposite end was a 90210 poster, Brandon and Dylan shoulder to shoulder-The original Fear Street series lined a top-shelf. 1-52. New-girl to The Step-brother. It had the air of a teen-age girl who was just coming into her own. A large net was in the corner and it had stuffed animals holding them up like a hammock. Something about it was off. It was like walking on top of someones grave.

"You're a sick bastard." Winston said crossing into the room. "Leave me out of this."

"This one has an interesting back-story. This girl, a young girl, Cynthia Walston," Edric was lifting a picture frame and looking down. "She lost her parents and was living here over the winter. She was hit by a Plymouth riding her bike down towards River st. I haven't changed her room in the slightest since she left. I have a statue of her in a room father down, and hundreds of rooms like this from people who have lived here. I suppose you could say I collect them. Keep them. People need remembering. They're like keep-sakes, keep their rooms, keep their bodies you have a whole person. Who else has as many as I do?"

Winston was standing at the opposite door, looking around, he picked up a photo of Cynthia on a deck somewhere far away.

"You're a lonely person Edric. You can't just collect people."

He looked around the room, "I collect information. What makes a person. And I am never lonely."

Darkness came next. Through the door at the end of the girl's room they came to what appeared to Winston to be another entrance. There was a large stair-case leading up and a front-door with an umbrellas rack by it's side. It was dim, and the light was getting out quick. Edric moved forward and opened a door to his right. There they entered a small room that was completely empty. No windows, just bare walls. Edric pressed against the right-hand wall until he felt the right spot and pushed forward. The wall opened and there was a rock formation in front of them. A cave with a spiral stair-case leading down.

"Down there is the heart of this house. One mile down, and we'll reach the chamber."

Winston took out a cigarette and lit it. He was down to his last three Pall-Malls. He was saving the very last one for his victory. He lit the sucker and it made his face light up in the dim light of the cavern and through it Edric could see his crooked smile with the beads of sweat pouring down.

The first step down the stair-case reminded Winston of a bar he had been at in Cleveland two years ago, it was this real dingy place but they had this spiral stair-case going up to the ceiling. Hookers sometimes danced on it, and really blitzed patrons sat on it, (Ed Herlin a friend of his puked off the top one time and raised his right hand in victory shouting "All hail the king!"-he was never let back in.) but other than it was useless, the hard steel of it though, it came back to Winston as he took that first step into darkness and realized he had no earthly idea what madness he was stepping into.

It was darkness straight to the bottom, in front of Winston he could make out the shape of Edric, his tall build making a shadow in front of him. He was careful with his steps but they moved steady-and then Winston saw Edric moving with speed. He was agile and swift. At some point, (Winston could not recall when) he lost his cane. He tossed it away somewhere. It must have been at the top in the darkness. But before he could finish this thought a wind began to circle them. It had been building so gradual Winston thought it was only a small breeze, nothing more. But it was getting stronger. And then his mind had started to wonder where the wind was coming from. It got heavier and Edric just kept moving with the pace of a young man.

"Oh no, you're not running off and leaving me to die." Winston shouted.

It was unknown if his words reached the man in front of him, but if they had they did not seem to strike any reaction in him. In fact Edric was becoming remarkably silent, moving with the fierce nature of a man who had no time to waste. Winston was through his cigarette by the time they had made considerable progress. He stopped, calling to Edric for a breather but the man did not slow. Fuck it Winston said to himself. He stopped and took out his second to last cigarette and began to light it, alone in the darkness on a stair-case into the unknown-then the wind hit heavier and he had no chance. The light wouldn't flicker. He tried covering the lighter and the cigarette with his hand but the wind was too heavy again blew it out. He persisted but on the third try a face came through the darkness. Winston had thought Edric vanished in his pace, but as he went to strike the lighter he came through and pulled the cigarette out of his mouth.

"We need to keep moving." And that was all. He vanished back into the darkness and Winston picked up his cigarette from the step and followed. Stunned and becoming annoyed by the lack of nicotine. The lower they got the stronger the winds became until soon Winston felt himself getting cold. He had been sweating moving down the staircase but as they approached the long stretch he felt the wind hit him with a chill. His head was pouring, the sound of the cave roared up and the wind stretched out and grabbed for him. Hitting him with force. Then there was a call, from somewhere far off like, Winston would describe it as a hyena with a Roman candle up it's ass.

ERRRRRAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHG EEEEEEE

He felt panic rise in throat and the cigarette dropped from his mouth into empty space. He moved down as quick as he could, passing each step and almost tripping until he came to a break in the stair-case. About an hour in, he found a circular platform, the stairs continued down but there were bridges like clock hands in all directions leading to a dozen doors. Edric had been waiting there for Winston to catch up to him. He was standing at the top of the next stair-case motioning through the darkness but trying to keep quiet. It worked and Winston followed. The sound kicked up once more. Just stay quiet, whatever you do. This is the part where we're both dead if you don't...

And they continued their descent, the noise behind them becoming smaller. It's going. going. going. Where are we going? The noise was fading. The hyena (it must have been, neither had seen but envisioning it, it must have been something similar to a hyena, a Cerberus or evil dog of some sort, Cujo at the very least.)

And they kept getting lower.

Hours now.

Lower.

Madness into night.

One more hour...and then...

Winston distinctly remembered the dry feeling in his mouth. If he was remembering it he would have told you it felt like a day. He would have told you about the dry in his mouth and some wind that was getting into him, and how he would at that point have killed for a cigarette and some water. It was worse than on the mountain. It felt like something abstract, a hallucination but concrete because it was hitting him with force, and he thought he would lose something, an arm or a leg if he kept there any longer, he was alone. He had been for two hours, sitting on the cold metal stair-case with the wind reaching 25 M.P.H...But this wasn't the revenge. Winston was still alive. This was the beginning...

He kept going because he could see a light, a bottom could be a seen. A light was there. A light in the darkness at the bottom of the stairs.

You're probably wondering if this hurts? Winston was yelling against the wind, but there was silence. It feels like a Unicorn licking my balls. Revel in this you dip-shit. But there was no answer. Edric had gone into the abyss. There was no sign of him. In the light of the bottom it was difficult to see anything and Winston thought that he must have been somewhere still in front of him. Maybe he had been swallowed by some void. He pressed forward and ten minutes later he saw the final step and moved towards it. It was a flat metal piece and in front of it was a marble floor.

...And there was Edric, ten feet from the bottom, facing a large tunnel engulfed by wind. Winston went to his knees and then he noticed something else. There in the distance, at the end of the tunnel was a blue light surrounding what looked like a large support beam. It was ice down there. A cavern of thick ice.

"There it is." Edric said. "The heart of reality itself."

Neither one of them could have said for sure if they were planning on making a return trip. Edric for certain had his ways around the house and knew of another access point. (An elevator shaft to the East). He dragged Winston through this with every intention of making him miserable. And it was then that Winston realized his situation.

No water. No food.

A Mile down. Hurricane cold

Darkness and an abstract beast.

A maze. A bet still to be laid down.

"Keep walking. We're almost there."

Winston heard the words, but they sounded strange, like someone said them weeks ago. He felt himself out of place, in a strange abstract void, but he kept his composure. He followed.

There were statues along the wall. Ancient with eyes like frogs. The ground was soft and as Winston stepped he saw he was making prints in them. It wasn't snow but a soft marble as if he were stepping on an old earth, in the core of a new world where everything before him existed all at once. Reality itself spoke to him, and the blue light was indomitable. Edric was once again ahead of him moving into the cavern and then the large opening which held the chamber. Winston followed behind him until he too was inside the large opening with the room. Up close the blue light faded and all that was left was a large block.

He gathered himself and spoke, "What is it?"

His voice ached. He could see himself mouthing the words from somewhere high above.

"To be literal, an anechoic chamber, it was here before the house was, it will be here long after you and I are gone. Inside anything and everything occurs simultaneously. A forced reality bringing you up front with madness. What goes on inside is the heart of he who enters it. It's different with every person...Inside you become the sound."

"I forfeit this bet." Winston said. He couldn't hold himself together.

"What?"

"I want out. You win."

The conflict in on Winston's face was clear. The pirate had turned into a beaten man. He looked back down the way they had came. The ice was shimmering. Glass mirrors with a thousand reflections facing him. He sneered, and the glimmer of Winston's expression gave evidence that his mind was turning. Seconds now. Here. There. He had no way out.

No. Not like this. You fucker.

"You must enter the chamber!" Edric shouted the words, he wouldn't be cheated, not like this. He had been dreaming of his revenge since had climbed from that ice cavern. Not like this.

Then, without hesitation, Winston pulled a knife from his side and with one movement had Edric against the wall, knife to his throat.

"You don't think I came all this way to die inside a room with no escape?"

His face was inches from Edric's now, the whiskey and cigarettes were making Edric turn his face.

"Look at me. You're leading me out of this house, I don't care about your money or your junk."

And the words kept sounding funny, like someone else was saying them but Winston kept himself together.

"I can't" Edric said, "I don't know the way out."

"Don't"

He pressed the knife close, putting pressure on Edric's throat

"How do you live in this hell? Alone with statues and objects? I'd be doing you a favor by killing you and sending you from this prison."

He pressed the knife as far as he could without cutting Edric's throat. Slowly pushing and then Winston spit on the ground and let the knife off of him. He placed it back to his side and turned his back, "I waited sixteen hours before I cut that rope Edric."

The words were coming clear.

"You were a good friend to me. You don't know the position I was in. I have a nightmare every so often where I cut that rope, and you never survive. They never find your body, and they bull-doze your house. But you did survive Edric. You did survive. So did I."

Edric was feeling his throat where the blade had been. He was hunched down with his head leaned back.

"We're both survivors" Winston added. He took out his last cigarette and lit it. The wind was dead now. It was silent and Edric picked himself up.

"I wish to hell I had only nightmares. I'm the survivor. I'm the one who fell 100 feet into an ice cavern and spent the next year eating meals through a tube. I survived."

"You wish both of us had died."

"Only with some honor Winston."

And then Winston did something which Edric even had trouble explaining. Down in the catacombs of the house, face to face with an abstract void Winston placed his knife calmly on the ground and looked toward the structure. The blue light was surrounding it again—visions of the night where childhoods roam and the seagulls bellow on the beach with the morning tide, there was Winston on the beach as a child. The void was looking into his heart. It saw him. He had cut off jean shorts and sand in his pockets. He was picking it up and pouring it on himself then dancing around with his play-shovel. His father picked him up with one motion and lifted him over his shoulder, running into the waves with his son—then the door shut and he was alone. Then it was real. The empty air surrounded him and a noiseless stupor came over him. Everything went blank. He had no window, and could only hear the beat of his own heart-Winston was within the chamber. He ran to the wall and pounded on it.

"You sonofabitch Edric. You sonofabitch."

But the words werent there.

Everything turned black. The air came through him heavy and dark. His heart was loud. Pounding like the feet of elephants marching through the Savannah. He could hear his lungs like steel drums. As he breathed it came out heavy and deafening. Every part of his body moved with the weight of a hammer. Suddenly it became louder. Coming through him and becoming him. His stomach turned and he could feel every piece of move up and down. He wanted to speak to scream, But he opened his mouth and no noise came out. Winston dropped the box to the floor and the sound of the ballerina began playing. High pitched like a whistle it broke him. Ringing out a simple melody for children it sounded too close, too within him. He tried to think of anything, the last song he heard. The Rolling Stones-Honky Tonk Woman. He tried to play it over the ballerina but Mick was quiet. No Honky Tonk No love, just deafening silence with the beat Keith Richards boxing his ears-

He grit his teeth and tried to stay quiet, but the ballerina song kept playing. His heart was beating quicker, and then the visions began.-In front of him he was back in the jungles of Vietnam, The Rolling Stones were playing with tigers coming towards him, ready to maul every piece of him. He saw his best friend Bongo next to him, his legs missing, his face was gone, but he was still alive. Bongo was still alive. Left to die. And then his nightmare became real. Charlie dragged him from the jungle and hung him like Jesus on Bamboo whipping his chest until it ripped open. Then they took him down and he lived in a Tiger Cage on thin stew. Three years. Winston was in the cage, in the room it had been three years and he was still there. Elephants marched in his direction pounding the floor, breaking his eardrums. He couldn't escape it. The pitch of his own heart beat felt like knives and he screamed. He was mouthing out at the door. Out. He began pounding it. Screaming to let him out, and all around him Charlie were speaking Vietnamese, shouting to keep him alive until they were ready-Then sooner than it began the door opened and Winston fell through, to his knees. Deaf and mad. He kept mouthing words, trying to scream but nothing came out.

"I'm sorry Winston, but it had to be this way."

Winston looked up at Edric trying to speak.

"I know, I know, there's no use now. Lets take that box of yours first, and then we'll see to the rest."

Winston wanted to fight but his thoughts had gone from him. All he could do was mouth inaudible sounds.

"To your feet please. We still have the rest of the wager to fulfill."

Winston was shaking his head. Crying. Fighting inside himself. The jungles of Vietnam still surrounded him and he was being taken to a place West of De Nang. There we no guard towers, no barbed wire, no bamboo beatings, it was just a muddy clearing, he was thrown into a dug out hut in the middle, inside was a bucket and a pit. To the right was a doctor's table with pliers, a mason jar, and bamboo sheaths, that was a beginning and an end for Winston Conhill.

...Several hours later Edric Salvador was in his room eating an apple, once again watching the ocean waves upon the beach. It was raining and far out on the light-house base a man and a young girl were in blue rain-coats dropping a bait cage into the water. For an hour they came up empty. They lifted the cage and nothing. They dropped it again and waited. The young girl sometimes jumped up and down, splashing bits of water in her over-sized rain-boots. After over a dozen attempts and more waiting they pulled up and inside was a small crab. The girl stopped. That was all she wanted, a small success.

Ignatius entered and drew Edric's attention from the scene.

"It's ready sir."

Edric smiled.

He and Iggy both walked out into the lobby, and down the stairs and through a maze of rooms. There they came into a small room. Inside was Winston Conhill encased as a statue, new and shining like a diamond in the sun-light. There was bamboo and large green leaves surrounding them.

"I went too far" Edric stated.

"Will anyone ever find this room again?" Iggy asked.

"No. Not in our lifetime." Then Edric shut off the light in the room and left Winston in the darkness, fighting inside his mind, where a room he lived in became him, and even Edric was left to wonder through his time alone, growing old and watching the ocean if Winston had ever escaped or if in all the years which were going by, if he was still trapped in Vietnam fighting to break free. Something told Edric he was. He like Edric was a survivor.