by Raji Singh
The ‘slamming’ shut, the resonant ‘clicking’ lock of the upstairs door:
TRAPPED ! ALONE! In the secret basement room of the Fiction House.
Despite your trembling, your fear, you try to stay calm by talking to yourself, making rational this irrational situation.
“No use shouting for help, banging on walls, ceiling, or pipes, Shelva. Fiction House is soundproof, since it was an Underground Railroad safe house. Think logically, Shelva. Will you be at the mercy of whoever took up residence here, when they return? Or will they be the ones scared, and cower or run, when they realize they are discovered?
And, how did they gain entry in the first place, without you ever knowing?”
So many questions!
The secret room continually brightens, from the multi-angled windows allowing in the outside life. You look out and see Poppy Sol wink at Captain Polly who flies past, sky high. She seems blinded by his glare, and almost splats into Luny Mum who stays the day.
“Tell Captain Polly to find Efraim, so he can let me out,” you want to tell the celestial air pair. Instead, you tell yourself. “Don’t allow your imagination free play, not right now. You don’t know through what frightful corridors of the mind it may lead you.”
Drafts push through the basement’s cool, dark corridors. They circulate the exotic scent of smoked caviar that emboldens your surroundings. The secret room’s door sways butterfly wing gently, but carrion crow eerily as its squeaky hinges ‘scree-scree’. You scrunch up your shoulders, and make a sour face. This irritating fingernail to blackboard sound: It must stop – immediately – so you may rationally consider your plight. You begin to prop the door with a brass samovar from a side table, but reconsider. Instead, you stack thick copies of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky to keep it open and carry the samovar: your teatime weaponry, sharp-handled, long as your arm, fat as risen bread dough.
“Don’t be a silly swan, Shelva,” you joke aloud, thinking the sound of your voice will allow you to put discovery of the room into a clearer perspective. “You wouldn’t want to clout some innocent person. This perhaps may be your dear, but kooky Uncle Vanya’s secluded domain: His private place, quietly reminding him of Mother Russia. Like Efraim has his man cave up in the hills, Uncle Vanya has his healing podval, his basement sanctuary.”
~ ~ editor note: Podval: Sort of a Russian version of a man cave, I suppose. ~ ~
Your fear overcomes logic and you clutch the samovar as you search for a hidden door to the outside.
What other Russians are there in the area besides Uncle, who might replicate such a nostalgic hideaway? There’s your pride and joy, James III, but he’s but six months into this world. (Thinking of your little, ‘Jamoy’ helps calm you and you smile. You’ll need to nurse him in an about an hour. Nanny will come looking for you.)
There’s a tinker, a Moscow emigrant, in town: He cannot read a book or maps, or would not keep a place so clean, or appreciate let alone have tasted exotic caviar. So it wouldn’t be him.
There’s the doctor who delivered Jamoy. When he’s not in his office or making rounds, he’s studying in his home, which is more, his medical library. So Shelva, you’ve quite easily eliminated the obvious.
Your suspicions return to the Rope Haired Man. Some say he is dead. Yet you have your doubts. You never truly knew his nationality – Lindian, Russian? Both? Could it be the Rope Haired Man, who…
“Don’t let your imagination carry you away to dark corridors, Shelva,” you tell yourself. The idea that it could be him is preposterous. You validate these thoughts, when you see items upon a side table. Secure in a crystal stand is a delicate Faberge egg depicting the garden of the Royal Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Beside it are silver table settings as those of the Czar. No doubt, these are items Vanya, at one time or another, pilfered from his arch adversary, the tyrant.
This must be Uncle Vanya’s podval.
You hear a sound; like a throat clearing.
You look around: no one. You hear a familiar voice of a man. It is not that of Uncle Vanya.
“Finding what you seek, Ms. Shelva?”
You hold the samovar tight, and prepare to defend yourself.
NEXT WEEK: The Man Residing In The Secret Room Of The Fiction House – Part III.
(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