Artwork by: Eric Lawrence Baldwin
Fiction By: R. I. Tuesday
“My name is The Madman and I will never leave this house. And neither will you. Terribly sorry. You may now take this time to come to terms with this information. Please, have a glass of scotch. It’s located in the bottom drawer.
“I advise that you avoid the furniture in the parlour. Especially the grandfather clock. He lies. They only seem to be sympathetic to your cause. And certainly don’t sleep here. There are five luxurious clouds upstairs that you should avoid at all costs. I should know; I died in — one of them.
“You may have already found that the front door is locked. The key is … around here – somewhere. Not necessarily in here, but maybe in here. It won’t open the front door. I will refer you to the aforementioned, “you will not leave this house.” However, it’s a very nice key and feels rather good to hold in your hand. I am certain that it will provide you a great deal of stress relief.
“Don’t go in the basement. You’d think that would go without saying – but, people these days – you know? Which reminds me; on the subject of things that should go without saying: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. He never does anyone any good.
“You may feel the house shake from time to time. It does that.
“Randolph is nothing to worry about. He may look scary but he means well. Just don’t stare at his head. He self-conscious about being bald. He’ll be glad to answer any questions you may have.
“Oh, and, don’t drink the wine. Do anything but drink the wine.
Bootsy Hayward threw the note on the floor and left the study where she’d found it. Sighing, she accused the whole Puzzlehouse to be pure lunacy. Absolute poppycock. A ghost story. Regardless, back in the main foyer, she found that the front door was, in fact, locked. The obligation to go back and retrieve the note was overwhelming.
“I’m rather happy you’ve returned. I forgot to tell you, bits of your life may be stitched together in random order during your stay here. Try not to believe the hallucinations. They’re hallucinations.”
Bootsy blinked a few times and dropped her mouth open. She stood there for a few moments blinking more and called the Puzzlehouse poppycock again. Maybe the note always had this information and she just noticed it. It didn’t. But that didn’t stop here from taking the stiff parchment again. She read:
“P.S. Dinner is served.”
A bell rang from another room. Bootsy thought, oh my. I’ve finally lost it. She left the study, passed through the foyer, tried to open the door again, failed and entered the parlour. It was empty.
Someone said, “don’t overestimate the helpful notes.”
Boosty’s eyes widened and darted around the room. Seeing no one, Bootsy confirmed that she was the only one in the room. At least the only human. However, still in the illusion she was still sane, Bootsy said, “Uh, hello?”
“Over here.” She followed the voice. “No. Over here.” Bootsy looked down at the footstool. “Yes, right here. Hello.”
Bootsy sat in an armchair and heard, “I know the footstool is talking. Try to get used to it.” The voice was muffled and came from under her. It was the armchair. But armchairs can’t talk.
She jumped up and said, “This isn’t happening. I’m going insane.”
“You’re not going insane.” Said the armchair. “But it’s perfectly natural to feel that way. The footstool is right.”
The footstool cleared its throat and said, “overestimating the helpful notes. The Madman is a liar. But you can trust me. Just ask the armchair. She’s just delightful.”
Bootsy turned to the pink, velvet armchair. She asked if the footstool could be trusted. “Oh my yes, honey. Anyone who enjoys holding up people’s feet can most certainly be trusted.”
Bootsy said, “and the grandfather clock?”
“Well you certainly shouldn’t trust the grandfather clock.” The footstool said. “Everyone knows that.”
Let me guess,” Bootsy said. “He lies.”
The footstool whispered, “all the time.” The grandfather clocked chimed twelve times. When it was finished, its hands swept around its face and settled at 10:22. “He does that.”
Bootsy sighed again. She tried to get the crazy out of her brain by shaking her head from side to side a few times. She said, “great. Good to know. I’m going to go eat dinner.”
“Dinner is served.” The coffee table said.
“Oh yes. Coffee table. This is Bootsy.”
The only thing more disconcerting than the talking living room set was the fact that Bootsy never introduced herself to it. Her heart kicked her in the chest. “Pleasure to meet you – all of you.” She said, “I’m going to go-”
“-indeed. Dinner is served.”
Bootsy walked away from the living room set and into the next room. There, she found her mother and deceased father, her Uncle Griff and Aunt Madeline, Cousin Jim-Bob and Susie Marie, Nana Patches, Papa Joe, her younger sister, her brother in-law and her niece Jenny. They were all sitting around the dining room table and just looking positively jolly about it. Cousin Willy greeted her first with a drumstick in his hand and mashed potatoes in his mouth.
She gasped. She froze and then shattered. Turning around she left the dining room, slamming the door behind her. With her back against the artisan crafted mahogany woodwork, she let out deep breathes, failing to scream. She thought, this place is playing with my head. There must be something in the air. I must be dreaming. Which she wasn’t, unless she was. A lot of stuff just became possible.
Mustering up courage and taking more deep breaths, Bootsy turned back around and opened the door to the dining room. It was empty save a grim looking bald, yet fashionable, man in white gloves standing at the head of the table. That was Randolph. He was on the far side of the room.
“Um – hello. I’m … Bootsy. I’m in the Puzzlehouse… again. I suppose.”
“Well, of course you are. Where else would you be at dinner time?” Randolph called Bootsy, “Miss Hayward” and smiled removing the silver cover from her plate.
Bootsy said, “what did you just call me? How do you know my name?” Randolph laughed and told Bootsy that she was acting more coy than usual. The smells from the dinner plate reached Boosty’s nose. She was delighted. “What am I smelling?”
“Dinner. It’s still warm.” Bootsy walked over to the other side of the room telling Randolph that he must be Randolph. And, because Randolph was Randolph, he said, “Indeed, Miss Hayward. I’m Randolph now, five minutes ago and I will be at sunrise.”
Bootsy sat down. She admired the melon grass garnished steak with mashed potatoes and a rice mixture on the plate in front of her. She said, “sunrise?” and stuffed food into her mouth.
“Why yes, I’m taking that vacation you’ve been insisting I go on for all these years.”
“Oh.” She said. “Yes. All these years.” With her mouth full, she asked, “what is this?”
Randolph said, “it’s called Maximus. It’s a delicacy on The Tipping Point. Wine?”
“Delicacy? It tastes like pork?”
“It is a sort of swine, yes. Wine?”
Skeptic, paranoid and afraid, Bootsy looked at Randolph through squinted eyes. “No thank you.” She said. “Is there any gin in this house?” Randolph laughed out loud and without hold. “Is something funny?”
“Oh. No. I thought you were being facetious. There is more gin than water available in this house, Miss Hayward. It is your favorite.” Which was true but Bootsy thought nothing of it. “Would you care or a glass in the lounge after your meal?” Bootsy said Randolph already knew the answer to that question.
Randolph asked, “shall I leave you to your meal Miss Hayward?” Bootsy grunted with food in her mouth and pouring raisin sauce over her plate of Maximus.
Time passed. Sort of. The grandfather clock had since chimed seven times and positioned its hands at 3:17. Bootsy finished her meal and decided to pay a visit to the bath. If anything, she thought she’d take advantage of the luxury that was the Puzzlehouse. However, knowing nothing – or forgetting everything – about The Puzzlehouse, Bootsy had no idea where the bath was. Or even what floor it was on.
The dining room, where Bootsy had just eaten, was on the first floor. The bath was up a flight of stairs, down the hall. Third door on the right. Bootsy stood up and exited the dining room and found herself looking into the guest bedroom. Her ex fiancé, Pirro, was standing next to the queen sized bed looking out the window. He turned around and looked at Bootsy with a smile.
“Pirro?” She said, thumbing the spot on her finger where she used to wear an engagement ring. “Pirro, what are you doing here?”
Boosty’s late lover moved his perfect jaw to say, “I’m just thinking about what this is going to look like when it’s the baby’s room.” Bootsy stood, shocked and frozen with inexplicable regression. “Look,” Pirro pointed out the window. “You can see the giant spider ranch from here. They’re grazing right now.” Which wasn’t true. It was night time. But more importantly, The Puzzlehouse is alone for thirty miles in all directions.
“Pirro? How did you get here?”
Bootsy felt her muscles go tense as Pirro took a few steps toward her. “You know,” he said, “I ask myself the same thing sometimes. And I wish I knew what I did to get here; with you.” Bootsy clarified. She asked how long Pirro had been in The Puzzlehouse. “I know. Three weeks in our first house feels like yesterday doesn’t it.” He went to touch Boosty’s sides and leaned in to kiss her.
Afraid of the touch of a dead man, she screamed and fled the room. She slammed the door behind her, putting her back up against it and breathing heavily. In her fevered panic, she slid down to the floor saying, “no, no, no, no, no.” Rocking back and forth she mumbled, “I’m splitting at the seems. My brain. My brain. MY BRAIN.”
With her face buried in her hands, she took a deep breath. Her dead ex fiancé was in the next room. She stood up, puffed out her chest and went to go confront a ghost.
Bootsy opened the door to the guest bedroom her and stepped into the master bath. This took her by surprise. She ducked her head back out the door to confirm that she had not moved. Which she hadn’t. Unless she did.
The tiles were polished to a shine and looking as glorious as the day they were put in. Bootsy screamed again and locked the door behind her. Afraid of the open space she dove into the tub where she hugged her knees and rocked. She took shallow, heavy breaths from the haunted air. Fear welled up over her eyes and fell down her cheeks. The tub made Bootsy feel safe.
There was another note pinned to the wall. It took Bootsy five years, or five seconds or five weeks to build up the courage to retrieve it. It read:
“I hope you enjoyed dinner – well, I know you did; Randolph is a fantastic cook. And rather endearing. Don’t you think? Either way, by now, I have no doubt in my mind that you have experienced that pesky jumble of your fragmented life in various rooms. Terribly sorry. Drove me mad too…
“There is nothing you can do about that. Well, I suppose there are two things you can do. Interact with your hallucination or don’t. Wow! How droll. I wish I could remember what I chose to do about them. I am almost certain that information would be helpful.
“P.S. The bathroom sure is nice. Isn’t it? I found the tub rather soothing. I think it’s the ivory.”
Bootsy crumpled up the note and threw it across the room. Knowing that The Madman and countless forgotten others had experienced the soothing aura of the bathtub was the first tactile horror of The Puzzlehouse. And it sent her screaming out of the tub, onto the floor and out of her mind. She thrashed on the tiles talking to herself and finding no response, she’d shout, “when are we going to wake up?”
When Bootsy didn’t answer Bootsy, she said, “this isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. This. Isn’t. Happening.” Bootsy went on like this for a few hours. Or a few months. Or a few millennia. There was no difference. Time did not pass in the Puzzlehouse. The grandfather clock chimed fourteen times and positioned its hand to 5:25.
When she had finished and collected herself, Bootsy sat up. She squinted something scribbled in lipstick on the wall in the far corner. It read, ‘I don’t feel at all like I thought’. Standing up, she said, “I am not trapped in here.”
Bootsy ran for the front door. She passed through the parlour, where the foot still yelled. “Hey, it’s Bootsy. Look! Bootsy is back. Hi, Bootsy.” She tripped over the footstool. “Hey, you tripped over me!” She didn’t look back and the footstool said, “Okay! Bye, Bootsy.” In the foyer, she grasped the handles of the front door, paused for a brief second and smiled. They were locked. She yanked and pulled and kicked the wooden door over and over and over again.
Bootsy said, “AAAAHHHHHHH” a rational statement; considering… She began to cry. She blinked and discovered another helpful note.
“A meal before dawn. Those are the terms.”
Bootsy screamed again. She said, “I just ate dinner. You let me out. Let me out of here. Now.”
“P.S. The key is in the basement. I remember now. That’s where it is. The only problem is, the key is in the basement. And you shouldn’t go in the basement. Please.
When Bootsy opened her eyes again she was not in the foyer anymore. Randolph was looking at her from behind the bar in the lounge, polishing a glass and looking Bootsy right in the face. “Good evening, Miss Hayward.” Mouth-open-awestruck, she and blinked. And blinked and blinked. She turned around and did not see the front double door. She saw Randolph. Who said, “Wine?”
“Right away, Miss Hayward.” He poured her a tall glass of gin. Bootsy sat on her favorite stool and stared at the glass waiting for it to settle. But it didn’t. The liquid rippled and shook. Looking up, she noticed that the different bottles of spirits were also shaking and moving and clinking together. Be it insanity or earthquake, Bootsy asked Randolph what was going on. “Why, the house is shaking again. It does that.”
Bootsy recalled her first note from The Madman and said, “of course it does.” She asked, “how do I get out of here?”
Randolph laughed again thinking the idea absurd. “Oh, Miss Hayward, you never cease to amuse me.” Bootsy did not look amused. In fact she looked down right frustrated with the whole terrible situation. More serious now, Randolph said, “just go out the front door.”
Bootsy grunted in shallow agreement. She needed to go get the key. She had to leave The Puzzlehouse and return back to sanity. She thought about what the armchair had said. Bootsy shouldn’t trust The madman. His notes were tobbyrot. And they were. Bootsy would go in the basement if it was the last thing she ever did.
The basement presented itself in the same horrifying fashion that basements tend to. Not only was it dark but it smelled like something had been molding for the better part of a century. And, oh yes, the stairs creaked and moaned, cracked and echoed. Of course it was cold.
There was also a chorus of squeaking rats.
Bootsy had a childhood fear of basements. She also disliked rats but nobody likes rats. It was too perfect. Too terrifying to be real. Bootsy made a firm and level headed decision to stop allowing the scribbled notes of The Madman get to her.
The bottom step of the basement was fortunate enough to receive some light from the ground floor. Bootsy could see an oil lamp and the matches for its use hanging on a rusted nail. Beyond that, there was only darkness, rats and a man named Charles.
Not that she did, but if she waved her hand in front of her face, Bootsy wouldn’t have been able to see it. In perfect dark, the brain will create an image of your hand. It keeps one from going absolutely south, insane. Bootsy lit the lamp and saw another note:
“Well here it is. The basement. I hope it has exceeded your expectations and even left you speechless. Because coming down here was a poor choice. A poor choice indeed. That key you’re looking for is off in the corner and covered in dust. I hope it helps. You shouldn’t have come down here. That’s why I suggested not to…either way, don’t mind Charles. He’s more afraid of you than you are of him.”
“P.S. You should get some matches.”
Boosty’s lamp went out and she dropped the matches. “Here.” A voice said.
“Thank you.” Bootsy replied, struck the match, lit the lamp. A face lit up orange in the lamp light, decrepit, aged and bearded. It was smiling. And Bootsy screamed absolute genocide.
“HELP! Good Lord, please don’t hurt me!”
Charles scurried away from Bootsy, hunched over and sweating. From his corner, he said, “you stay away from me. You hear?”
“Stay away from you? You stay away from me.”
There was an awkward silence.
It lasted a bit.
Quite a bit.
So long that it was no longer clear who should speak next.
Bootsy backed away from Charles, glancing into the corners and trying to find that key. The basement of The Puzzlehouse was exceptionally dark; an advanced sort of darkness. The kind of darkness that has weight to it. Bootsy had to get very close to the corners to find a large skeleton key hanging on a peg. “Looking for this?” was written next to it on the wall.
She took her prize.
“So, you’re Charles then?”
Emaciated, bearded and wide eyed Charles starred at Bootsy. He said, “I am. Or, I think so. I was. Yes, at the very least I was Charles. But that was ages ago. Yes. Yes. That seems right.”
“How long have you been down here?”
“An eternity; fifty years in this house. Mostly here in the basement. I don’t believe in the end. Not anymore.”
Because Charles did not look fifty under his scruffy beard and stringy hair, Bootsy said, “Fifty years? You’ve been trapped in this wretched house for fifty years?”
“Oh my yes, fifty years. Or; a week? Two weeks? No, no, no, no. Not two weeks. Perhaps three months. Yes. At least three months. Fifty years at the most.” Charles stood there nodding with a concerned face on. He kept nodding and agreeing out loud saying, “yes, that sounds…about right.”
She didn’t know what to say. She was afraid to make any claims or state any facts which may have upset Charles – or rather, the blank slate formerly known as Charles. Which was difficult because the list of things that may have upset Charles was as limitless as his insanity.
She wanted to tell him she didn’t think he’d been down there for fifty years. His skin was still taut. Charles didn’t have white hair. Or grey hair. Or a grey hair. Suggesting age to a man with no concept of time could be quite dangerous.
With rational for the deranged swirling around in her head, Bootsy looked at that key. She held it in her hand. It felt rather good. Heavy and smooth. The Madman was right about the key. It did provide a great deal of stress relief.
She said, “How long have you been in the basement, Charles?”
“The basement?” he said. “No, absolutely not. You don’t go in the basement.” Bootsy walked around the perminiter, where all the wine was kept. She found another note:
“There is a fine bottle of botanical spirits in here. It’s almost worth the psychological trauma of going in the basement. Which, I wouldn’t do, as you know. But you stopped listening to me weeks ago. Didn’t you?
Bootsy rolled her eyes. She looked over at the various bottles of wine lining the walls. And the gin cache. One dusty old bottle in particular. She smiled and brushed off the label which read: Hayward Gin. That didn’t terrify her.
What terrified her was Charles’ response to -, “well I go in the basement. The good gin is in the basement.” She uncorked the bottle and ingested a mouthful or three.
-which was, “You’ve been in the basement?”
“We’re in the basement.”
“We are most certainly not in the basement.”
Bootsy turned around to look at Charles who was sitting in an armchair next to the full size bed. She dropped the bottle of gin. With, perhaps the only shred of fortune in The Puzzlehouse, the bottle did not break. She said, “how did we get here?” Bootsy poured gin into her mouth. “Why aren’t we in the basement?”
“Because Maximus goes in the basement but not in the bedroom. And I am afraid of Maximus.”
“Who is Maximus?”
Charles raised his caterpillar eyebrows at Bootsy. Who, in turn, looked around the room; at the dresser, the bed and the night table. “Why, the butler of course.”
Bootsy disagreed. And said so. Randolph was the butler. She knew this. She knew this without a doubt. Even if Randolph was a hallucination or a figment of The Puzzlehouse’s grim imagination, he had to good grace to be consistent about it.
“Randolph is the butler.”
“Is he now. Good for him. Bad for Maximus though. He was doing so well.”
It took Bootsy a little bit to understand dinner. When she did, she vomited on the floor. But it took a little bit.
Charles said, “The sun is coming up. Randolph will be leaving soon.”
Bootsy turned to see the shyest pink creeping over the distant horizon. She said, “Charles? Who was Randolph before he was the butler?” There was no answer. There was no answer because there was no Charles. There could have been. But there wasn’t. Unless there was.
Not in the basement.
Not in The Puzzlehouse.
Not in the room when Bootsy turned around.
Bootsy took a series of cleansing breaths of gin. When she was as calm as she could’ve been, she opened the door to the second floor guest bedroom, crossed the threshold and walked into the parlour on the first floor. She chuckled. She said, “of course. Of, bloody course.”
“Why hello there Bootsy! It sure is good to see you again! I’ve missed you oh so terribly.”
“Shut it, footstool, where’s Randolph?”
“Don’t play games with me coffee table. Tell me where Randolph is before I warm the hearth with you.”
“Bootsy. There is no one named Randolph here. You live alone because you’re afraid of people. Which is why you talk to furniture. Which I’m sorry, is not perfectly natural.”
Bootsy Hayward declared the parlour useless. Futile. “A gaggle of liars.” She left the room screaming Randolph’s name at the top of her lungs. She walked through the dining room and into the parlour. She found herself in the ballroom.
Bootsy walked down the hall.
And down the stairs.
And down the hall.
And down the stairs and down the hall.
And down the stairs.
Hand down the hall.
The paintings were following her with paranoid, moving eyes. They had become suspicious of her motives and, to be honest, quite tired of Bootsy.
She found herself with Randolph.
“Ah, Miss Hayward. You’re up late.” He had a servicemen’s smile on his face. Bootsy slapped it off his head.
“Who are you?”
Randolph blinked. He said, “Miss Hayward, it’s me. Randolph.”
Bootsy slapped him again. “Stop calling me that. How long have you been here?”
Randolph was dumbfounded. He said, “why longer than you Miss Hayward-”
“-My name is Bootsy.”
“I worked for your parents when you were born. I raised you when they passed.” Randolph offered Bootsy another glass of wine. She slapped him again. “Miss-” she raised her hand again. “Bootsy. Please stop hitting me. Have a glass of wine and try to relax.”
“I’m not having a glass of wine.” Bootsy hit him with the bottle of gin. “Your bald head makes you look creepy.” She hit him again. And again. And again. Randolph’s head became the floor as it was mashed into a pulp of brain and skull bits. The bottle broke. It didn’t stop Bootsy.
When she stopped, she stood up covered in blood and loomed over Randolph’s body. It had no head. Just sort of a puddle on his shoulders. Bootsy was heaving from the deepest regions of her lungs. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Nodding her head in sick satisfaction, she dropped the broken gin bottle.
Her footsteps echoed through the empty Puzzlehouse. Bootsy Hayward walked out of the ballroom and into the parlour. She didn’t say a word to the furniture and they didn’t say a word to her. They key slid into the lock in the front door. It clicked, stuck twice and clicked again. The front door to the Puzzlehouse opened up to a dreary, windy scene. It wasn’t raining. Everything was just wet.
It took Bootsy Hayward hours, maybe even all day or forever to get back to Barony. Bootsy arrived at The Jackal’s Alehouse, dripping wet and utterly off her rocker, nuts. Her mouth was moving but no words were coming out. Bootsy Hayward walked into the barroom step. By step. By step.
The broken, antique grandfather clock in the barroom was chiming. The patrons tried not to notice. They watched Bootsy Hayward walk up to the bar where she sat down on her favorite stool and stared at the counter. As usual, no one said anything to her. Except for the bartender.
“Good evening, Miss Hayward. Would you care for a glass of wine?”
Bootsy screamed. She fell off her stool and onto the floor. No one in the room knew what to do. The bartender ran over to scoop her up. She thrashed and kicked and demanded that everyone get away from her. She was gone. Absolutely batty. In no state of mind to be in a bar.
And with that, Randolph, the bartender, dragged Bootsy Hayward back to The Puzzlehouse.
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