In The Next Room
By: Tom Fowler

3.

It always feels strange to tell this story. I suppose I give the impression I've told it often, but I haven't. I guess I've told it no more that half a dozen times since I've been here, and at that only to the doctors who still don't believe me.

That's why I'm going to tell you. I don't want to go to my grave without SOMEBODY outside this hospital besides Mom knowing exactly what happened, and why I am here. Believe or don't believe, that is up to you, but I am going to die soon so I need to tell you now.

In the spring of 1975 I was a young man with the world in the palm of his hand, or so I thought. I was 25 years old, single, and had enough money in my pocket to pay what few bills I had and enjoy myself with the rest. Although not an athlete, I had an athlete's build and, if I may say so, was not too sorry on the eyes as far looks went. I was fortunate to have several young ladies who didn't mind my company at all, and I considered myself a bit of a lady's man.

So, when I rented a two-bedroom apartment over on Larson St., I thought I had it made. The other bedroom was to house my bicycle, telescope, and ever-growing collection of books and magazines. I planned to look for a house to purchase and hoped to close a deal before the lease on the apartment expired.

Life in the new apartment started innocently enough. I was pleased with the added space and looked forward to the warmer months of spring and summer. However, what happened in the other room changed my life tragically and forever.

I think that one reason I've had all these emotional problems through the years is because I cannot accurately describe, even to myself, exactly what was in that room. I was a writer in my youth and always prided myself on being able to express myself. But this, well, this is different.

So, anyhow, you have noticed I'm beating around the bush. Almost a quarter of a century has passed and I still get frightened thinking about it. Be that as it may, here's what happened:

Saturday evening was date night for me back then, and early one Sunday morning, after I had lived there about a month, I returned to the apartment shortly after 2:00AM. I was in a good mood, as I had spent a pleasant evening with a very nice young woman whom I looked forward to seeing again. Entering the front door, the lighted clock on the lamp stand told me it was 2:13. I looked forward to getting out of my clothes and into bed. However, before I could act on this wish I heard a faint noise from the study, as I called it. Puzzled, I walked the few paces it took to get to the study door, which I kept closed because of its untidy condition. When I opened the door, the life I had known was over.

In the darkened room there was something, something that I've already said that I cannot really describe. It wasn't an animal, ghost or monster, but yet it was all these things. It was big and encompassed almost the entire room. It made no noise, except for the small sound it had used to draw attention to itself. It did not move, and emitted no odor, which will disappoint the would-be horror writers out there. What it did have was a presence: a cold, harsh, evil presence, which literally almost frightened me to death. I spent the first couple of years in the hospital trying to come up with that word, until Dr. Johnson suggested it. Presence, that's a good word. I felt its presence the moment I opened the door and, it did communicate with me, for in the space of a few moments I experienced the horror and terror of a thousand years.

It hit me all at once, as a speeding car would a pedestrian. I envisioned rotted corpses rising from muddy, crumbling coffins. I saw dead and maimed accident victims and slaughter from wars too numerous to count. I felt the terror of drowning children and burning elderly people, fear and vomit spewing from their mouths. Souls groaned in such loudness and agony that I was convinced I had stumbled into hell. Death hung in the room like stale cigar smoke. Dead animals, sea creatures, and insects; all with the defeated look of finality on their pitiful faces, lay in a giant pool of blood and human waste. Every bad and vile thing in creation wrapped around me like a foul, dirty blanket. Mercifully, before this went on too long, I passed out. Is it hard for you to understand that fear is too mild a word to describe what it was like? That compares with saying a king or president is a powerful person.

Spiritual persons would say that I encountered the devil; others more practical would suggest that the too long evening of rich food, wine, and early morning lovemaking with my lady of the moment caused a nightmarish hallucination. Well, all I can say is that must have been some nightmare. Nightmares go away with the comforting light of day. Mine has lasted 25 years and is the reason I'm where I am.

Nightmare. Terror. Horror. The devil. I've used these words to make my best attempt to describe the experience in the study. Hellish is another apt description. However, bizarre as it may seem, I had an even worse experience in store for me the next morning when I awoke.

I awoke on the floor; face down in the study doorway. I felt as I had many times before when having too much to drink, nauseated but thirsty. I got up, my nose slightly bloody from falling and still fully dressed in the previous evening's clothing, and stumbled into the bathroom only a couple of steps away. I turned on the light over the sink and intended to splash water on my face when I saw myself in the mirror. I saw the skeletal face of a man many, many years older than I. Thinning gray hair, stained teeth, pale but leathery skin, wrinkles too numerous to count and frightened, hollow eyes to go with the broken and bloody nose. For the second time in six hours, I passed out because of fright.

It was only last year that DNA tests proved to the police that I am indeed Bradley McAdams, the same Bradley McAdams that lived in the apartment on Larson St. My mother, who is 80 this year and looks much younger than I, had a locket of baby hair that they used to match with a snip taken just a few months ago. They couldn't believe that I am not yet 50. Preliminary tests on a tissue sample taken from my thigh indicate that I should be at least 120 years old!

For many years, they thought me mentally incompetent; that I was somehow involved with the disappearance of the young Bradley McAdams. I've never held that against them, for why shouldn't they think that? They found me, an old man and a stranger that no one in the apartment complex had ever seen before, near death in Bradley's bathroom. Bradley was never to be seen again. At least, not the young Bradley I used to be.

So, what did I see in the study? Did I see or hear anything? Did I experience anything other than a terrible nightmare? Well, maybe not, but how many persons do you know that age almost 70 years in one night?

Perhaps that I have lived to tell you about it is the most horrible thing of all.

See you on the other side.

THE END

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