Locked in a dank, putrid room the size of a cell. Surrounded by near darkness, save for a shimmer of light from uneven floorboards under my bare feet, a light only because of daytime. The walls are of course wood, but they are divided in small square blocks with writing upon them. Words upon words like a crossword puzzle, only they are carved into the wood.
I do not know. The same whose voice I hear that instructs me of my task.
“Solve the mystery of the Puzzle Room,” A loud, thunderous voice shakes my world to the extent my soul cries out.
“Unravel the string of cryptic messages, and you shall be freed.”
How long have I been here?
I do not know. Years, I assume. Before this, my life was completely different.
“Now go play, Adeline,” I told my daughter after Moss returned her ball that rolled into my office.
“Okay, Daddy,” She skipped out to play in the garden and was soon lost in the many rows of hedges that separated my office from the three story house I had only purchased two years ago.
“Cute kid,” Moss sat on the edge of my desk and lit a cigarette. “One day I'll have some.”
“First you have to trick a woman into having sex with you,” I said, went back behind my desk.
Moss' body was overtook with laughter, almost dropping the cigarette. He stood, composed himself. He was not too much bigger than the desk, but his short stature and childish looks, helped in his blending in with people of streets or getting lost in them. Moss was a book thief. And a damn good one, too. I'd hired him to steal the coveted book of poems by the great Solomon. Yes, the Puzzle Poems. Sixteen century poetic who went mad from venereal disease and produced a remarkable book of confusing poems. Read them left to right and it has different meaning, read them crossways, a different hidden message.
“Anyways, bub. Here's the book. You owe me big time,” He said, taking one last drag before stubbing out the butt into my sign that read NO SMOKING. “I had two tails on me while I was in Paris.....and that stupid book gave me the creeps. Thought I was hearing voices.”
“Moss, you always say that. It's your guilty conscience is all.” I felt the leather-bound book with a hand. Feeling the engraved title with my fingers.
“Well, friend, be careful. I've heard bad things about this book. People going crazy reading it, killing each other......”
I laughed. “What's different from the other books you've stolen for me?”
He nodded. “True, but …...Anyways.....you going to sell this one or keep it?”
“I was thinking of solving the riddles, then writing a paper on it for the University, then selling it to Cornell.”
“Paul,” Moss wagged a finger. “You hate Cornell. Why give him a valuable-----” A huge smile crossed his small face. “Your gonna make a fake!”
I never got the chance.
I remember looking through a passage and I spelled out a name.......
Now, I'm here.
But.....possibly now....... I touched each letter with a finger, going backwards---right to left to the middle. Then up, tapping each letter spelling out
The block of wood that had that very word imprinted came from the wall into my hands.
There was a burst of light so bright, I could not see. I heard the voice telling me of my great victory. Everything below me was gone. I felt like I was floating, held in midair for hours at a time. The light vanished and darkness appeared before my eyes.
I remember nothing after that.
I heard a voice....a child's. I looked up and saw Adeline standing over my naked body. Her mouth was left gaping, her eyes wide with shock. I tried to cover myself with my hands, turning around from her, my feet slipping on the carpeted floor of my office. I noticed how she'd grown into a tall girl----maybe twelve or thirteen.
“Mother!” She called out. “Mother!”
“What is it Adeline?” I heard Julia's voice from the garden.
Julia rushed in, a man followed. Julia had changed her hair. She was no longer a brunette, but a blond. And her clothing was more revealing than I remember.
I saw past her. Cornell was at her side, holding her hand.
I shivered as I heard Adeline say, “I found Daddy.”
Hours later, they fed me, clothed me, let me rest. Even listened to my story. It was altogether uncomfortable, and Adeline was just as confused about me as Julia, refused to see me any further.
I sat in a chair opposite Cornell who now sat behind my old desk in my old office. I couldn't bear to look at him. I hated him so.
“You of course can not stay here, Paul.” He said with a smug look on his face. “You understand things have changed.”
Julia appeared, sat on the corner of the desk. Many times I watched her do that, many times it aroused something inside me.
“You were gone for so long, Paul.” She closed her eyes, tried so hard not to show emotion. “I had to move on. It's been six years. Now out of no where, with a fantastic story---”
“That's just it,” Cornell laughed. He picked up the book of Puzzle Poems, thumbed through it. “I've read this book several times, Paul. I wasn't driven crazy---”
“Neither was I!” I screamed at him. “It's all true.” I looked away from them. “I was there---locked in that room for—you say six years----”
“Where's the room?” Cornell stood, holding the book out as if he were going to hit someone with it. “Tell me, Paul, that everything didn't just happen in your mind. Tell me, tell Julia, tell Adeline. Tell us that you were caught up reading this garbage and it drove you to a breakdown and you ran away. Tonight, you tell the authorities you are not crazy, broke into your ex-wife's house—completely unclothed-----and they will not take you away? Or you leave, never appearing again.....and you get to stay out of a mental hospital.”
Julia wouldn't look at me.
Fumbled in my pockets and found the block of wood that read
SOLOMON and flung it on the desk. I saw Cornell's eyes move toward it.
I shrugged. “All right,” I said. “Have it your way, both of you.”
I began to walk away. Out the corner of my eyes I saw Cornell pick up the small block of wood.
I heard the book fall to the desk. Julia screamed. She had her hand over her mouth.
Cornell was gone.