by Thadd Presley
During the meeting with the landlord, she told him that the fourth floor had been used as storage area for years. She talked a bit about her father passing away and leaving the building to her. “My brother got the money, and the yacht, and the hotel. All I got was this run-down place.”
“But, why was the fourth floor empty?”
“He had plans for it, I guess. He was always a dreamer. Fact is, he won the building in a high-stakes poker match during one of the worst years of his life. He lost everything and bet everything he had on a single card.
“As you can see, he won.”
Jack smiled. He liked to hear stories of people making good on a million to one odds.
“Too bad, my mother told him. Looks like you lost more than you’ll ever know with that place.”
Jack wanted to ask about her brother, but she didn’t give him a chance.
“My father was into gambling and drinking. That is… until he met Adam. My dad didn’t go to church much, until the end, but Adam helped him to find God and so much changed after that.”
Jack thought it was a lot of information to be telling a stranger, but then again, they had someone in common. Through Adam, they were far from strangers.
“There could be rats or bats or anything up there,” she told him. “I haven’t cleaned the place or even been up there in over a year.” She looked out over the river that passed in front of the restaurant where they had lunch. “When you get your room finished, we’ll see what we can throw away, but you might find treasures up there.” She smiled. “I think the last tenant of the fourth floor was in his early seventies. He was a bit of a pack rat. He kept everything and I’m sure you will run into it.”
“Treasures would be great,” he remembered saying, assuring her he wouldn’t steal anything; he was afraid if he stole from her or lied to her, drugs and death were sure follow. He wondered what Adam had told her about his situation. “I don’t need anything fancy, mind you, just a quiet place where I can get used to being on my own again.”
She smiled at that and explained again that room wouldn’t be suitable for human occupation until he gave it a bit of love and care.
He liked that she used the word “love.” It gave him a warm feeling of acceptance, a thing he hadn’t felt in a long time.
* * * * *
We need you, Jack , the voice snapped again, sending a frosty bolt of lightening down his back, calling him back to the present. It seemed to come from all around. Goosebumps sprang out on his arms. The urge to pee suddenly returned, and he quickly turned from the sink, which continued to run nothing but cold water, and faced the toilet.
Once finished, he washed his hands and made his way to the kitchen, only looking into the living room to check the heater. Once in the kitchen, he knew he couldn’t stay and that he was going to call Adam. But, not quite yet. First he made a sandwich from the leftover macaroni and carried it to the warmth of the couch where sat down.
He used his foot to pull his small electric heater toward him and watched the locked door like it was going to crash open any minute. Listening for the voice, trying to steel himself against it if it happened again. He thought if he sat and waited, he would know exactly where it came from, but even before he finished his sandwich, he started to doze.
His dreams began immediately.
* * * * *
He stood in the stairwell that led up to the fourth floor. Looking down over the metal rail, he mentally counted the flights he’d passed. Was he on the right floor? Each landing looked the same. But, the door which opened on the fourth floor was painted green, where all the other floors had white doors. But, there was no door at this landing. He hadn’t seen a green door on any of the landings all the way up. He was lost, but that was impossible because there was only one set of stairs. He looked up, surprised to see that the stairs climbed higher and higher.
There wasn’t but four floors in this building.
Panic struck him then. Where was he? The wrong building? His eyes filled with hot tears. The feeling of loneliness suddenly encased him and pushed closer and closer, farther and farther into his mind. He was overwhelmed; he needed to find the door to his floor or the door to the street. If he was found in the wrong building, someone would think he was trespassing. The cops would be called and his probation violated.
His mind screamed the fact that he was alone in the world. He’d killed the only woman who’d ever loved him. Being alone had never bothered him before; it was the way he wanted it. But now the desire for someone to care for him, to love him; it overwhelmed his mind and flood his blood with fear. He would do anything to have someone love him, anything for a companion to sit through the evenings with him and read.
The climb up the flights was not a particularly bad one; he enjoyed walking, and this was a source of some much-needed exercise and another good habit he could take up. He assured himself that the next landing would be his. But, the stairs went up and up. They seemed to be never ending.
Before having to stop and catch his breath, he climbed twenty flights and never passed a single door.
He turned and began to start down when he saw the door. But, it wasn’t green, nor was it in the right place. It was one flight below him. He knew it wasn’t there before, but none of that mattered now. As long as it lead to a floor and to someone who would direct him in the right direction.
As he walked down the steps, dread began building up inside of him. By the time he stood in front of the door, he was afraid to open it. He couldn’t just stand there. He had to go through the door. He built up his courage and just as his hand touched the knob, it became the locked door in his apartment.
We are waiting, Jack. We need you.
To turn around and start back down seemed impossible. It would only begin his journey all over again, and he knew he couldn’t leave and abandon anyone, not again, especially if someone needed his help. Meaning if he could help them, he would.
“Who’s there,” he called and listened as his voice echoed off the concrete walls of the stairwell.
His hand was still on the doorknob.
We need you, Jack.
He jerked his hand away from the cold brass.
A moment passed, and he knocked on the door, then banged on it. “Hello,” he yelled and then listened as his voice echoed again and again in the endless stairwell. “Who are you? Where are you?”
“I will, just….”
Just what, he thought? How could he help anyone when he was the one lost?
Everything in him wanted to help, whether it was the homeless at the food ministry or orphaned children in another country. It was in his nature; at least, it was a part of his new nature.
He put his ear to the door, listening for movement. He was suddenly aware of the silence. The terrible feeling of loneliness returned. He wanted to help them. Whoever they were. He felt, he needed their companionship as much as they needed him. After all, wasn’t he trapped as well? He pressed his ear to the door harder and listened with all his might.
Boom, Boom, Boom
The door rattled with thundering knocks which caused him to jerk his head away. His foot came to the edge of the steps, and he rocked on the edge for a moment; for a millionth of a second he floated there, not knowing if he was going to go over or keep his balance. Then, as gravity would have it, he tilted too far and started to fall….
The slow, tumbling fall into forever brought him back to the real world with a jolt.