THE CRIMSON ROOM AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS By Dr. Mel Waldman

After dark, I’ll return to the crimson room at the top of the stairs, my tiny home in the seedy part of town, where the junkies and alkies O.D. on a cornucopia of poisons and feast on freaky visions. But in the early morning or afternoon, I sit in Eros Park and count the myriad objects of beauty. Some mornings, I come to the park about an hour before dawn. I wait for the light, the crepuscular insects, and a glorious, gold sunrise. I take a few deep breaths, close my eyes, and listen to the holy rhythm that soothes me, and imagine I’m floating in a sun-baked ocean or lying in the hot iridescent sand on a pristine beach below a tropical sun. And I listen to the melodious ebb and flow of the turquoise waves.

All this is part of my therapy. Something happened to me in my unforgiving past. I can’t remember. Yet I have vague, fragmentary visions that flow through my consciousness for a couple seconds before vanishing. My shrink tells me I’ll remember when I’m ready.

I wait. But today, my battered brain explodes. My healing meditations are impotent. And now, it is almost time to act.

I open my tired ebony eyes as dark as the pitch-black abyss that engulfs me. Peering through my private hell and into the multiple universes that consume me, like wild fires that burn interminably, I search for an exit from my seething serpentine maze.

I swallow my meds. Sometimes they protect me from the wicked world that surrounds me.

I rise and wander through the bleak streets, trudging across the barren landscape with my black cane, as I slowly head home, a solitary old man drifting toward a familiar but melancholy place.

To avoid the drug dealers, the sleazy death salesmen, I take a tortuous route home. You see, when they cross my path, they mock, curse and threaten me, waving switchblades and other weapons for my destruction. And I fear the young cocky creeps will kill me one day.

After a long, labyrinthine journey, I arrive at my destination, the antediluvian building that contains my claustrophobic space, my vacant life, stolen dreams, and diminishing time left to live.

My home is flanked by broken-down factories. I do not enter the decrepit structure. Brandishing my cane at the predatory night, I guard the entrance. Yet no one comes here.

But suddenly, I suffer a bout of vertigo. My head spins and I lose my balance. After an indeterminate amount of time, I stagger up the stairs and unlock the door to my studio apartment, a 5th floor walk-up I enter and stumble to the center of this smothering space.

My rolling eyes dart and flit across the tiny tomblike room I call home. The crimson walls swirl and whirl and crash into my psyche, shattering my brainwaves, and slicing my sanity into slivers of madness. The vertiginous room spins savagely out of control. It’s a bloody sphere launched into inner space. My knees buckle; I drop my cane, and plummet to the red carpeted floor.

I pass out, for a few seconds or a couple hours. I don’t know. The watch I wear on my right hand is broken.

When I open my weary eyes again, I notice the seven black owls perched on the top shelf of my red bookcase. The multi-holed owls stare blankly at me. They flank a solitary yellow lantern with a burning candle inside.

Looking up, I watch the fierce flow of the yellow flames. Two more fiery lanterns flank the row of owls, one at each end.

The seven ebony owls frighten me. I avert my eyes. Yet I feel compelled to look again. The owls and the lanterns swallow my brain.

I grab my cane and crawl to the glowing bookcase with its fierce owls and fiery lanterns. Clutching a lower bookshelf, I clamber to my feet. And when I look deep into the vacant eyes of the owls, illuminated by the flame-filled lanterns, I see the Angel of Death.

My body shakes. Yet I howl silently, inside the wasteland of my mind.

Now, I hear heavy footsteps coming up the stairs, approaching the 5th floor landing. They reach and cross the tiny square space and stop at my door. A long ominous silence follows.

I wait. Perhaps he-it is gone. But then, the stranger pounds ferociously on my door.

“The Beast has come for me!” I shriek.

And in an apocalyptic moment, at the time of the full moon and the syzygy, my arms flail and sail into the fiery lanterns, knocking them over.

I start a malignant fire that spreads and consumes the crimson room, my black cane, and my moribund body.

It’s very hot in here. My brain’s sizzling and my flesh is burning. Can’t breathe! Got to get out of this crematorium Chance and I created.

But outside my door, the preternatural stranger waits for me. He-it pounds incessantly and suddenly, begins to howl, bestial ululations that drill a hole in my brain. The howling shatters me. (Yet are these alien shrieks my own?)

Inside this raging inferno, the cannibalistic fire devours me.

Almost dead, I’m in zugzwang. Whatever move I make, I’ve got a rendezvous with Death.

Got to get out. I’ll face the beast outside, even fight the Tasmanian tiger.

I rush slowly through the flames. Festina lente! Just a few more feet and I’ll open the door. My burnt hands reach for the doorknob.

The fiery moment, seething with evil, lasts for eternity or until tomorrow.

EPILOGUE

From far away, perhaps another world, I watch. And tomorrow night I’ll return to the park, the terrible streets, and the crimson room at the top of the stairs.

Fate is a ferocious foe, isn’t it? And death is but a wormhole into Hell, with no drugs to kill the demons inside or beyond the phantom flesh.

*

Dr. Mel Waldman is a psychologist, poet, and writer whose stories have appeared in numerous magazines including HARDBOILED DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE,ESPIONAGE, THE SAINT, DOWN IN THE DIRT, CC&D, PULP METAL MAGAZINE, INNER SINS, YELLOW MAMA, and AUDIENCE. A past winner of the literary GRADIVA AWARD in Psychoanalysis, he was nominated for a PUSHCART PRIZE in literature and is the author of 11 books.  Four of his mystery, fantasy, and horror stories were published by POSTSCRIPTS, a British magazine and international anthology, in October/November 2014. He recently completed an experimental mystery novel inspired by one of Freud’s case studies and is looking for an agent. He has been inspired for decades by his patients and their heroic stories of trauma and survival.

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