There was a dead body putrefying inside the walls of Paris Hurley’s apartment. The stench was beginning to have some psychosomatic effects such as blood pooling in the veins of her legs and a nervous twitching that started in her hands.
Paris was not only worried about the added health hazards since there were many, but also hearing the sound of a hundred rats feeding on the victim’s body nearly drove her over the edge.
Of course, the apartment superintendent said the smell originated from her neighbor, Mr. Garcia, who smoked cigars, but Paris knew better. She knew that some poor soul was decomposing behind her bedroom walls, and it must have been a woman because mixed into the rotting stench was the fragrance of Shalimar. Paris had once worn that fragrance every day until the bottle had broken a few years ago.
Moving day was a flurry of men dropping boxes marked fragile on her kitchen floor, and slamming her grandmother’s dresser into the door jam.
In spite of the disappointment of damaged furniture, broken china, and the stench inside the walls, Paris loved her new apartment. It held almost all of its original charm from the prohibition era. The same crown molding and thick-framed windows graced the living room and bedroom, along with high-polished hardwood floors and loads of closet space.
It was only a few days after settling in that Paris discovered the mysterious door in the hallway that refused to open. She even tried taking a screwdriver to the door jam with no apparent luck.
Curiosity drove Paris to the hardware store to purchase a clawed hammer and wide screwdrivers. She wedged that screwdriver in the door jam and started to pound. Within minutes, the door snapped free and creaked opened.
She was disappointed to find another wall with crisscrossing boards. She tried to rip the boards free, but this mysterious room was not giving up its secrets that easily.
The same thoughts haunted Paris night and day, why would someone go to all this trouble to keep tenants from finding out what’s buried inside these walls?
On Saturday evening, Paris tried to ignore the smell by emptying more boxes, and she only stopped when she found a sledgehammer wedged under the kitchen sink, a leftover item from a former tenant. She lugged the heavy hammer down the hall to that door, and she began to swing. A few boards cracked, and pieces fell away uncovering an old newspaper jammed between the splintering boards.
Disentangling the document, she leaned against the opposite wall, reading the front page of the Boston Herald from June 5, 1943. How long had this chamber been boarded up?
Paris set the paper aside and returned to pounding, feeling even more compelled to uncover the room’s secrets. She went lower, this time, hitting something unyielding that caused the wood to fragment into many pieces. It was a gold metal doorknob.
With a rush of excitement, she used the clawed hammer to pry the rest of the wood from the center until she could see a green door hidden beneath.
Whatever secret lay behind that door; someone had gone to an awful lot of work to keep it hidden. She wiped the sweat from her brow, and nervously bit her lip, pondering the possibilities that a murderer or monster was waiting on the other side.
She shook herself, disregarding the silly thought, and went back to swinging, determined she would get this door open today. But it was getting late, and Paris hated missing the news broadcast- yet solving a mystery was much more intriguing than any of the local crime scenes splashed across her TV.
Paris nearly had it now, a few more boards, if she could open the inside door, she could duck inside. She turned the doorknob. The rusty hinges screeched in protest, and the warped wood groaned softly as it opened. It was dark––no light switch on the walls or windows. A shiver ran across her shoulders. She could not explain the coldness that crowned her forehead or the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach from the déjà Vu. The room was too dark. Paris turned back to the hallway to find a flashlight.
The vintage furnishings were untouched by time. The low beam flashed over a skeleton seated in a red chair. Paris gasped and covered her mouth. The skin had long since disintegrated as well as the clothing. Whoever died in this room could never have caused such a stench. This body had decayed years ago. The beam of light fell on an envelope sitting undisturbed by dust or time, on the small table next to the skeleton.
The note inside said, Find me. Bring me home.
And a key fell out of the envelope into the palm of her hand. The tag attached written in scripted pen said, closet door.
Paris didn’t stop to ponder the incongruity of the situation. Instead, her fingers trembled as she placed the key in the hole and twisted, hearing a familiar click. She watched, as the crystal doorknob turned under its own power and opened.
A blast of ultra-fine mist sprayed her face, causing momentary coughing, light-headedness, and temporary blurred vision. A rush of heat and the blinding sunshine so bright she squinted feeling herself stepping forward as she tried to focus on what she was actually seeing.
Paris stood in front of a bakery across the street from what used to be the CVS, but now was a Singer sewing machine shop with a cigar store next door.
Men passed her on the street, riding bicycles, wearing suspenders over soiled long-sleeved shirts. Most of the others who moved along the sidewalks wore fedoras, long black suit jackets over starched white collars. They rudely walked right through her. When she protested and jumped out of their way, they offered no apologies but kept on their determined trek.
A sign on the street lamp said Welcome to Cambridge, third largest industrial city in New England. How had she gotten here? It was midnight once she’d broken through the door. Now, it was daylight in the city. She started to wonder if finding a dead body was having a psychological effect on her mind.
She studied everything and everyone and all the windows. The only eyes looking straight at her came from a man seated on the other side of the bakery window.
Paris reluctantly made her way inside and stood awkwardly near the mysterious mustached man, with the square jaw and dark eyes, wearing a black suit. He could have been Tom Cruise’s double.
“Strangers sit with strangers all the time,” said the man. “Or are you new to this century and its customs?”
Paris frowned. “You can see me.”
“Of course, I can. “Please sit.” He pointed at the empty chair.
“I think I might be suffering a brain aneurysm. It’s the only explanation- or maybe I’m dreaming. If this is a dream and not some lost in Wonderland reality, then I’ll sit at your table.” She slid the heavy chair out slightly so she could drop into it. “Where am I?”
“You mean when are you,” he said, placing a newspaper aside. “You are in Boston, springtime, 1943. The city will get a little rain here tonight.” He tapped his finger on the newspaper, shaking his head with disgust. “The widespread propaganda of war bonds is rampant advertising in this century. This city has way too many weak-minded patriotic citizens.
On the interesting side of things, a man named Robert Hurley, your great grandfather, by the way, will file a patent application today for a pocket protector shield that nobody in the twenty-first century will ever use. In addition, there will be a parade in Copley Square around two o’clock that I don’t want to miss. ”
Paris frowned. “Am I dreaming? Did I fall and hit my head?”
“I assure you Paris; you are not hallucinating, or dreaming.”
“Why do you know my name, and yet I know nothing about you?”
“J.L. Rymer, “He said holding out his hand by way of introduction. “You can call me James. I promise you there is no association with the Penny Dreadful Vampire even though my uncle claims we are distant cousins. All imagined I am sure.”
Paris hesitated before shaking his hand. His skin was cold as a winter night.
“I’m afraid my profession is the reason you are sitting here,” said James. I am a prestidigitator, or what is commonly known as a magician.”
“I just want to know how to get back home.”
“That’s the problem,” said Rymer. “Once you’ve stepped into my chamber you can never return.”
“Are you saying I’m stuck here? I won’t accept that. Maybe you want to stay, but this is not my world,” said Paris. “I think that all I have to do is find my apartment building someplace here in Cambridge.”
“I’m afraid, that will not work Paris. I created the chamber in 2013. If you find your building, my secret compartment will not have been created for another seventy years.”
“I don’t want to wander the streets of Boston as a ghost until the twenty-first century,” said Paris.
“There is a method I’ve devised, in case I wanted to opt-out and return to the future. It hasn’t been perfected. It’s a bit tricky.”
“What happens if it doesn’t work?” asked Paris
“You will die,” he said. “Are you willing to take that risk?”
“Look, if you can create a chamber that takes people back in time, then I think you might be one hell of a magician. So, I don’t think I’m risking very much by trusting you.”
“Excellent. Did you find my note and key when you first stepped into my chamber? More importantly did you bring the key with you as instructed?”
“Yes, I did,” said Paris.
“Good girl,” he said. “Give me the key and come with me to my laboratory.”
Paris sat in a large red chair in semi-darkness in a room that looked a little like the chamber she’d uncovered in her apartment.
“I’m slipping a few things into your pocket,” said Rymer. You will need them when I mentally teleport you forward in time. It is vital that you follow my instructions to the letter, understood?”
Paris nodded. “Why do I have to be strapped into this chair?”
“Because if you move during this process, you’ll disintegrate. So, I suggest you sit very still.”
Paris made herself comfortable and closed her eyes.
“Once you drink my remedy you will be home, except only in your mind. You must complete the task that will bring your physical body back where it belongs.”
Paris drank the mixture that tasted like cherry cola. In her mind, she saw herself standing again in the hallway in front of the magical chamber.
It felt so real, she gasped. “I’m home.”
“Good,” said Rymer. “Now draw from your pocket all the items I gave you.”
Paris found three vials labeled with numbers and the key.
“Make sure the inside chamber door is shut and locked. Use the key I gave you. Do all of this before you even open the first vial of powder.”
Just as the door was closing, an unnatural gale-force wind nearly shoved Paris into the opposite wall. “What was that?”
“Nothing important. Leave the key on the hall floor,” he said, his voice sounding different now as if he were whispering right next to her ear. “Pour the contents of the vial number one into your hand and blow it at the door. Do it now!”
She gasped when the wood that she spent so many hours destroying returned, magically unbroken.
Paris followed every step. The moment she’d applied the liquid around the outside door jam, sealing the door closed, something odd began to happen inside her body. She bent over, vomiting on the floor. The brightness of the hallway suddenly vanished; She was in a dim, windowless room, seated where the skeleton had once been, smelling the fragrance of Shalimar.
She studied the room now; the chair directly opposite was the one she sat in at the bakery. The photos on the wall were scenes from old Boston. The people she’d passed on the city streets were the same people in the photos. Paris realized she’d never even stepped outside this chamber. None of it really happened.
Rymer’s note with the key said …bring me home. Somehow he needed that key. The breeze she felt right before she locked the door that must have been him or his spirit returning. He used her to finish his trick so that he could finally return from his dark domain.
Her mind opened up. Paris recalled everything. The ponderous weight of the truth struck her as if a blow to her head. She remembered the day James Rymer attacked her when her perfume bottle fell from the dresser and broke. The same day he condemned her to a slow and vermiculate death.
Strapped into that red chair, she shivered and cried in the damp darkness, missing the sunlight on her skin, watching the blood run from her fingers where she’d panicked and tried to claw the shackles from her wrists and ankles. The isolation and hunger pains, and the physiological horror of being eaten alive by rats drove her insane until the decay of fetid time, and eventual mortality set Paris Hurley’s ghost free to roam her apartment seeking revenge.
Judi Calhoun lives with ferocious black bears and wild wolves that howl at the moon every night in the Great North Woods of New Hampshire. She is both an artist and an author. Her artwork can be found on more than a few e-zine magazine covers, and well over two-dozen articles. Judi’s short stories have appeared in many fiction anthologies such as; Love Free Or Die, NH Pulp Fiction, Snowbound and Zombies, John Greenleaf Whittier Inspired life work, Tales of The Supernatural, Murder Ink, New England Newsroom Crimes, Canopic Jars: Tales of Mummies & Mummification, Bugs Anthology, Tales that Slither, Creep and Crawl, Green Gecko’s The Passion of Cat Anthology, and featured in many other genre, such as Horror, Sci-fi and Fantasy, and literary short story publications. Judi is currently looking for an agent and Publisher for her new novel, Dragon Girl. Artwork can be viewed; http://judiartist2.wix.com/judisartwork.
Tim Bougger is an artist living in Des Moines, IA. See his artwork at www.virtualtim.com.