by Raji Singh
Per my archeo-apology endeavors:
I am yet tying together archive data concerning the Rope Haired Man stalking my great grandmother, Shelva. The incident occurs at the First International Cat Boxing Tournament in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is the 1870’s.
Shelva’s nervously written girlhood writings I have so far unearthed reveal her protector to be the handsome young Czarevich, Alexander. He sweeps her away, to one of the Royal Romanoff Manor Houses. Has Shelva found refuge from danger? Has she found peace, perchance, love?
(The latter is obviously not the case, since I am no great grand-son-of-czar.)
The incident I tonight display, Shelva relates in later writings. It takes place 15 years after her stay in St. Petersburg. I am quite certain a tie, twisted as any Hitchcock mystery, exists between this, the Rope Haired Man and the Czarevich. The strings of this rope puzzle…slowly they entwine. Perhaps together we can unravel the Rope Haired Man, via the hints Shelva gives, and then bind him with his own tresses.
* * *
So warm, tender, with family, friends, is the Fiction House. But oft time, mysterious is the Fiction House. Your halcyon life takes a quirky turn one afternoon when you round a corner of the dim basement pantry after fetching preserves for supper. You discover…
PART I: A DOOR, JUST SLIGHTLY, A JAR
Your darlink, druzhyna husbant, Dr. Fiction, his vials, carafes, jars of stump juice elixirs line the shelves. He catalogs them precisely – ayurvedic, homeopathic, herbal, holistic curatives. These are old, even ancient remedies the Doctor collects from America, Russia, Lindia, really all parts of the world we travel to discover ingredient and formula. They are medicines either forgotten about or hardly known now in the 1890’s.
One of the sections of shelves seems crooked and ready to collapse. You grasp a section, to prove to yourself that it is firm. If not, call hirert hand Efraim. He can sturdy it. The glass containers rattle; some of the sulfurous odor of the medicines escapes loose lids. The section is sturdy, yet begins appearing, curiously, even more crooked.
A slight breeze from upstairs, just slight mind you, seems to knock over a row of shelves. “Quickly, Shelva,” you tell yourself. “Reach to catch it. Save as much of the precious medicine as possible.” You lose balance and fall forward. You hear a ‘scree’ sound, like a squeaky hinge. “Scrunch up you face, Shelva. Maybe doing so will protect you from lacerations when the glass breaks.” You fall, not into breaking glass, but against the wooden floor. A mere ‘thud’ is all you hear – that of your body. There is no chime of glass breaking all at once.
Your preserves fly. They ‘thud’ too.
You rise, unhurt, befuddled by something you’d never noticed in your hundreds of times coming down here. (Such are all the innumerable mysteries of the Fiction House as this that you would discover in the coming decades.) Those aren’t jars, on shelves. The shelves end abruptly at a door. The door is painted with shelved jars that camouflage it. The breeze pushed it open.
You have stumbled into a secret room. Amazement of it overshadows your befuddlement.
PART II: SHADOWING SHELVA ACROSS CONTINENTS AND DECADES
In the room, brightly lit by the series of windows open to the clear skies, are so many reminders of Mother Russia. A pot of coffee, still warm to your touch: It’s deep, earthy aroma is that only of a blend you smelled in the coffee houses in central Moscow. On the walls above the couch, table and chairs – intricately drawn maps of the empire, showing each river, mountain, and grass covered steppe. You close your eyes just briefly, imagining the slap of sturgeon, growl of bear, and howl of wolf you heard in those places when you were younger.
“Run out and get Efraim, Shelva,” you say to yourself.
You should be scared by this imitation world of your past, existing less than ten feet below the main floor of the Fiction House. But as you breathe deep, you feel calm. The mixing scent of all the different climbing plants in the room, overpowers your senses, and relaxes you. You’ve seen, smelled these broad leaves and lush vines before. Where? When? The pleasantness of them ironically makes one of the most unpleasant times of your life return.
You think of the Rope Haired Man. Thankfully, he has been out of your head for well over a decade. But now he revisits, full flourish in your thoughts.
Just then, a voice coming from upstairs startles you. “Shelva, are you down there?”
You know that voice, Efraim’s. But against all logic, you tell yourself. “No, that is not Efraim. It is the Rope Haired Man. He is the one who has been living here, waiting for this moment to have you alone. Just shout out, Shelva. ‘I am down here Efraim,’ and this awake nightmare will vanish.”
You raise your arms, to bring as much air into your lungs as possible. You breathe, deeply, get ready to shout, when something you see hanging on the wall shackles your voice.
Thick-chained, cold, terrifying iron shackles – used to contain American slaves on auction blocks a half-century ago. You look past them, to the shadows of your frame the bright sunlight reflects on the wall. Your wrists’ shadow is imprisoned by the shadow of the shackles. This takes your breath away, and when you try to shout out, “Come down, Efraim, please,” you are mute. Your throat feels glued shut; shackled as your wrists.
You hear Efraim say. “Mz. Shelva must’ve left it open by accident.” You hear the door shut, and lock.
“Will you be alone now, Shelva? When whoever lives here returns.”
NEXT WEEK: EXHIBIT ‘B’ – SILHOUETTING SERFDOM, SHACKLES, AND SHELVA
(Join me every Sunday night at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment. Meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures. You can read of their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE. They are completely different stories. My novel is available at Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.)
©2013 Raji Singh