The Reign Of Confusion—George Davis
In my business I meet a lot of strange people. I have held a PI license for the past twenty years. The story I am about to tell you is true. I know. I lived it.
My name is Damien Blake, born in the small town of Bickford in Maine, a rural area thirty miles northwest of Portland. I moved to the big city to set up my practice.
The building known as Watson Towers is the tallest structure in Maine. At eighteen stories high it has no equal. It is in this building my story begins.
This edifice was built during the First World War. Seven stories were added over the years making it a landmark in the state.
It is said, a construction worker fell from the fifteenth story to his death in 1955. Some say, his ghost walks the halls on the fifteenth story. I made fun of such a ridiculous tale until one day I was working late. At first it sounded like someone screaming. After several minutes I heard it again. It was coming from the floor above, the fifteenth floor; the room above me, 1520.
I took the elevator to that floor, and searched for the noise I heard below. Room 1520 was down the corridor and listened outside the door of room 1520. A loud rasping noise emanated from the suite. Under the door a light shone, and a shadow crossed the gap between floor and door. I shook the handle. The noise stopped, and the light went out.
Believing there was someone in that room, I ran from across the hall, and with my shoulder knocked down the door.
Turning on the light I was amazed at what I saw. The room was decorated in a 19th century motif. I knew that this whole building had been renovated and brought up to date four years ago. I have been in this room many times since the remodel. I never saw these furnishings before tonight. On one wall hung a picture of President Benjamin Harrison. A second wall was home to several men whose photos declared them to be officers of the Fidelity Bank and Trust Company. That insurance company went out of business after the Great Depression.
Something was radically wrong. A room could not revert to its original decor. There has to be a rational reason this room is different from all the other rooms in this building. Am I going crazy, or am I dreaming. Pinching myself I knew it was no vision.
I closed the door, the lock was broken and I was unable to lock it. I left it the way it was and returned to my office.
I’ve been working too hard lately. I have three jobs I’m laboring over right now. Mr. Harold Snowman. His brother is missing. He assumes he has left the state; maybe in New Hampshire. Mildred Mason’s husband is cheating on her, or she believes he has a mistress. And, I’m working with my friend, Jack Thistle another PI in Waterville. He has been chasing an ex-con, Willard Porch, wanted for conning an elderly woman out of her money.
I didn’t need another mystery to solve, and certainly not a spiritual enigma. Tomorrow is another day. I’ll go up one flight and check the room with the number 1520 written on the plastic placard.
I spent the next four hours rehashing the puzzle that has my mind spinning like a top. Midnight, and I can’t sleep. I got up, dressed and drove over to the Grub Hub an all-night diner on Congress Street.
The waitress, Shirley Haskins asked. “Well, what brings you into the diner at this hour of the night, Damien?”
“What usually drives anyone to roam the streets after dark, insomnia, Shirley.”
“I know what that is, Damien. I have those nights too, and sometimes days. Depending on what shift I’m working.”
“Well, Shirley, I’ll take some coffee if it’s real fresh.”
“I just made it a half-hour ago.”
“Good, and I’ll have an order of French toast with sugar-free syrup, two over medium and a side of crisp bacon.”
“Sounds like a breakfast to me, Damien.”
“It is. I’m up for the day.”
Shirley put in my order, and returned to ask me. “Is something bothering you, Damien? I mean is it woman trouble. Did your girl break it off with you?”
“Nothing like that, Shirley. I’m just tired. I’m seeing things that aren’t there. I would take a vacation, but I’m really busy right now; got a lot going on.”
“If you don’t take a break, you will end up in the hospital, and, then what?”
“You mean the looney-bin?”
“I didn’t want to say that, but, yes, the Pysch Ward.”
The conversation ended as she brought me breakfast. “Enjoy, Damien.”
Shirley went back to the counter too take care of the two men who came in while we were talking.
“What’ll it be, boys?” The two ordered coffee and blueberry muffins. By their dress, I assumed they were city workers, maybe road crew.
I left the diner after leaving Shirley a decent tip. My office was one block west. The large granite stone building looked deserted. I knew Harold Coffin, the night watchman would be sleeping now as I unlocked the main door and entered the lobby.
Waking from his reverie, he said, “Hi Damien. What brings you out after midnight, forget something?”
“No, Harold. I need to check something out on fifteen.”
“Want me to go with you?”
“Sure.” I explained to Harold on the way up what I had found in 1520 earlier. He seemed skeptical, and I didn’t blame him. It was too bizarre for one to believe.
“I see you broke the lock, Damien. I’ll have to make a note of it in my report.”
“That’s okay, Harold. I’ll pay for it.”
As the door opened, and Harold turned on the lights I was startled to see the room was now like the other rooms in the building. The photo of Benjamin Harrison was replaced with a portrait of the Blue Ribbon Chocolate Company’s president, C. Edward Holman.
“What’d you think you saw in here, Damien, a ghost?” He chuckled.
“No, Harold. I guess I’m working too hard. I need a vacation, except I don’t have time to take one.”
“There comes a time in life when you have to say, to heck with work and things that aren’t pleasant. You have to grab onto some me-time, Damien.”
“I know you’re right, Harold, but the work would still be there when I returned.”
“Let’s go downstairs and have a cup of coffee. What do you say, Damien?”
My head swimming, we went downstairs to Harold’s station. We had coffee, and Harold had some day-old cinnamon donuts that tasted more like dusted cardboard.
“Go home, Damien, and get some sleep. You look awful.”
“I feel like I probably look, Harold.” I drove home. It was 2 a.m. when I got to bed. I fell quickly into a deep sleep, waking at seven-thirty. I got up, showered, dressed and drove to work.
I was met by Harold who was just leaving the office. “Morning, Damien, feeling better?”
“A little, Harold, thanks.”
Out of curiosity, I went up to 1520 to take another look. The door was open and a blonde was sitting at the reception desk filing her nails. “Good morning, Sir. May I help you?”
Four weeks later I was working late one night when I heard that moaning sound again. There was definitely someone upstairs in 1520. I took the elevator up, and walked over to the door, pressing my ear to the panel I heard talking inside.
Opening the door I saw Benjamin Harrison’s portrait back on the wall; mahogany desk, floral wallpaper, dark tile floor, and an empty room.
Here we go again. Determined to get an answer, I sat down in one of the velvet-seated chairs and waited. If anything was going to happen it would happen by daybreak.
A ringing phone woke me at six-thirty. I looked around the room, shaking my head to loosen the cobwebs. Old Ben Harrison was still on the wall. Now, at the dark-mahogany desk was occupied by a large, dark-haired woman of indeterminate age.
“May I help you, sir?”
“Yeah, where am I?”
“Why you are in the office of F.W. Billingham Insurance Company. Are you all right, sir?”
“I’m not sure. I may be sleeping.”
“I don’t think you are asleep, sir. Maybe you are a little confused.”
“A little confused? Ma’am, I am totally confused.” I told her of my plight. She drew in a half-gallon of air, exhaled it and said, “Sir, that is impossible. I realize you are dressed funny. I’ve never seen that style of clothing before. Where is your collar?”
“This is a collarless shirt. This is the 21st century, Miss.”
“I’m afraid you are mistaken. This is the year 1891. And this is Portland, Maine.”
“I don’t know what’s happening to me, but I’m outta here.” I opened the door and ran to the elevator, took it to my floor and entered my office.
My manager asked. “Where’ve you been, Damien?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. But, can you spare a minute?”
“You do know you are twenty-minutes late. In all the years I’ve known you, you have never been one minute late.”
“If you come with me, I will show you why I am late this morning.” The manager and I went up to 1520. I opened the door and we went inside.
“What the—?” A blonde lady has taken the place of the other receptionist who was there, not ten minutes ago.
I asked, “Where is the other lady who was here ten minutes ago?” She looked bewildered. “I’m the only receptionist on duty today. I’ve been here since seven.”
Staring at the room, I saw, old Ben Harrison was again replaced. The wallpaper has been painted over, and a rich new reception desk in the place of the old one.
My manager asked, “What’s this all about, Damien?” I tried to explain it all to him on the way down to our office. He only shook his head. When we got back, he told me I should take a vacation, get away for a while. I guess he’ right. I left Friday afternoon for Sagamore Lake where I rented a cabin for a week.
The first night I was there I got to bed at nine-thirty, and immediately fell into a deep sleep. I dreamed I was in Room 1520. The receptionist was the same one I had talked with last week.
The secretary seemed to beckon me down a long, dark corridor. She pointed to a door and asked me to open it and go inside. I did, and to my surprise my manager was sitting at an old-fashioned desk. His three-piece suit, vest with gold watch fob across this stomach.
“Well, Damien, what are you looking at? Don’t you know who I am?”
“Oh, I know you. However, how did you get up here?”
His tale only made my visions more complicated.
“You see, Damien. This is all part of a major plan. Do you remember drinking that herbal tea a couple of weeks ago?”
“Yeah, what about it?”
“There was a hallucinatory drug in that cup. We used it to transport you back to the 19th century; a sort of time machine in a capsule.”
“So, what I am seeing is not real. Is that true?”
“Partially. It is a Government experiment to test the senses of some people. Its goal is to send people back who are, shall we say, have mental problems with life in this century. It is in the planning stages, and that’s why we had to test it out, you being the tester.”
Before I could let him know how I felt about their plan to make me a human guinea pig, I woke. The clock read six-thirty.
Breakfast by the lake shore has got to be the best, and most refreshing way to relax and enjoy one’s self.
The second day at the lake, I was fishing off the wooden pier. I like to catch the fish, but I don’t keep them. I catch and release.
“Yoohoo, Damien.” I looked up toward camp. Standing on my porch I could see a man in business dress. On closer examination, it was my manager.
“What are you doing here?”
“I came up to see how you were making out, Damien. How are you?”
“I’m just fine. You could have called me on my cell, you know, saved yourself a trip.”
“I know, but this is something that I need to say to you, face to face.”
“What could be so important that you’d drive all the way up here?” He related this story to me.
“I have a confession to make, Damien. I drugged your herbal tea. I put a hallucinatory drug in your drink.”
“Don’t tell me. You are working with the Government in an experiment, literally introducing a drug similar to LSD. Your purpose is to send people who are crazy into another century where they might adapt more easily. And, you used me as an unwilling recipient of your drug.”
“How’d you know? No one knows this, except some Government scientists and myself.”
“What is the side effect of this drug? You gave it to me, not knowing what the contra-indications might be.”
“I’m truly sorry, Damien. I was under pressure. They said they would kill my wife if I didn’t find someone to try out this experiment on within a week. I had no choice, Damien.”
“Oh yes, you had a choice. You could have gone to the police, or the FBI.”
“They said, they’d kill my wife. Don’t you see what I was up against?”
“So, tell me, what are the side-effects?”
“I don’t know. They said, you might have spells where you go back and forth, but they weren’t sure themselves.”
Four years passed, and my manager lost his job, his wife, and all he owned. He committed suicide last year. As for me. I have been in and out of the 19th century several times. I’ve learned to cope with these infrequent inconveniences. However, I must admit. I would rather stay in the 19th century. There were fewer problems in those years spent in Room 1520.
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I liked the "Twilight Zone" feel but it was confusing (true to its title :); I thought the PI is working alone. In the movies they always are some lone wolfs. This guy is working for a PI agency though. His boss' motivation to use him as a guinea pig is a bit stretched. I would had him drugged by a customer who in reality was a member of that rogue governmental agency that developed the drug. Anyway, interesting premise. And I liked the punch line.