The following is the second chapter from the book “The Room” by Brian C. Copper. All Rights Reserved.
Things That Go Bump In The Night
When I woke, there was a faint scent of bacon emanating from the first floor. I casually grabbed my robe and headed downstairs, enjoying the aroma as it heightened and intermingled with other scents, each slowly revealing themselves the nearer I got to the source.
In the kitchen, Max was busy cooking up a storm. Gone was the uniform, replaced by a plain dark blue t-shirt and matching sweats. The bacon was joined by scrambled eggs, sausage, toast and hash browns, each residing on separate plates laid out across the countertop. It all smelled amazing. I just lingered in the doorway, watching this man caught in the flow of cooking. He seemed right at home for someone who, until yesterday, had never been in this house before.
He must have spotted me out of the corner of his eye, because without a pause in his actions he said, “Your timing could not have been better. There’s fresh squeezed orange juice in the fridge, if you would be so kind,” he said, grabbing a pair of plates from the cabinet. “I hope this is okay ?” he stopped suddenly, looking at me for a moment, waiting for a reply. “I just wanted to show my gratitude for you rescuing me last night.”
“No worries, Max,” I said, putting him at ease. “This is a safe haven and your efforts are very much appreciated, and I did say to make yourself at home.”
“Figured we’d do buffet style, since I wasn’t sure what you’d want,” he said, handing me a plate.
“Thank you,” I replied, still adjusting to the morning. I put my plate down on the counter for a moment to grab the juice that he had made from the fridge, then proceeded to build a sampler of this wonderful looking spread my new guest had been kind enough to conjure. We both had good portions of everything. It all looked and smelled too good not to indulge. The fresh juice was a great finishing touch, just enough pulp and no seeds. The meal continued without any talking beyond the occasional ‘mmmm’ and ‘oh, that’s good’.
When it was finished and the kitchen cleaned, we adjourned to the living room with some fresh tea. Max again sat on one side of the sofa, looking out of the big bay window where nature continued a presentation of wind, snow, and more snow. I reclaimed my place on the other side, an unoccupied cushion between us.
“David, I want to thank you again. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I am very grateful for your hospitality,” he said, his sincerity very evident.
“You are quite welcome, Max” I replied. “Where was it you were heading off to on your vacation, if I might ask ?”
“No plans really,” he said, turning to look out the window briefly. “Just some down time to relax. Had I known all this was coming, I might have planned to get out of town.”
“Maybe better that you didn’t,” I offered, “if they’ve shut everything down anyway.”
“Good point,” he said, looking out the window again. Then after a few minutes, he adjusted himself on the sofa, turning to face me, pausing for just a moment to get his words right. “Last night, some time after falling asleep, I woke up and realized I’d completely forgotten to charge my cellphone,” he began. “I remembered the charger was in my duffle bag in the front hall, along with this change of clothes, so I got out of bed and ventured down to get them. I noticed your door was open and the light was out, so I figured you were sleeping,” he continued. “After getting the charger and starting to return upstairs, I heard something. I don’t know quite what it was, but my instincts kicked in and I couldn’t ignore it,” he said, pausing again.
I listened intently, wondering if this was going where I thought it was, but not giving any indication either way, merely allowing it to play out as I sipped at my tea. Wondering also if he was aware that he was speaking as though he were delivering a police report. Or perhaps he was pointing out how innocently this little middle of the night adventure had begun. Either way, I was enjoying the tale.
“The sound seemed to stop for awhile. I had almost given up on it being just a strange environment playing tricks on me or the wind outside,” he went on, “but then it happened again, and it sounded like it was coming from below me,” his eyes not faltering, his tone still steady.
A slight grin appeared behind my cup as I sipped. “Go on,” I offered, my interest bumping up a notch, my expression remaining neutral.
He paused one last time. Then, continuing to look directly at me said, “I found your playroom. Sorry. ‘A’ playroom, down in the basement.”
He waited for some reaction from me, but my demeanor didn’t even flicker. “You’ll notice, Max, that the only doors with locks around here lead to the outside of the house,” I began. “I have no secrets from my guests that have questions. I ask merely that those inquiring be prepared for the answers.”
He took a sip of tea while pondering my statement. He started to speak, hesitated, then tried again, “You mentioned that you’re an artist. May I ask what sort of art do you create ?”
“I indulge in several mediums, depending on my moods. Painting, composing, sculpture, digital drawing, to name a few,” I replied, adding, “I also deal in the art of exploration.”
“Exploration ?” he asked, with more than a twinge of curiosity in his voice.
“Yes,” I said, “some of my clients come here to explore. To find their boundaries and limitations, as it were. For most, I assist in that exploration,” allowing the words to pause there while he took in the information.
“In your, ‘the’, playroom ?” he corrected himself.
“Yes, is the short and simple answer, but it is a bit more involved than that,” I countered. “Shall I continue, or was that sufficient for your curiosity ?” I asked, taking another sip of tea.
“Please continue,” he said, already pulled in too far to stop now. He was determined to hear more and unravel this new unanticipated mystery that was presenting itself. His interest making him eager to follow me down the rabbit hole, as his inquisitiveness nudged him forward.
“Some find their limitations early, without much effort on my part,” I said. “Others venture forth into areas they never knew existed within themselves.”
“How do you go about finding these people ?” he inquired. “I mean, how do they come to find you ?”
Taking another sip of tea, I stated, “There are many channels for communicating between myself and potential clients. Some are referred from current or past clients. Others hear whispers and seek me out. Still others find me online in various chat rooms and such.” I could see the pieces moving around inside of his head. Little by little the picture was revealing itself to him as new details were added. His gaze didn’t waver, but there was no doubt of the jousting going on behind those eyes. It would be interesting to see which of his thoughts would be the victor. “Can I get you some more tea ?” I asked, getting up from the sofa. He handed the mug to me.
In the kitchen, my pace was casual. I was giving him time to take it all in and determine which path the conversation would go next, but I was already sensing where it would lead. His cautious nature was dismantling as the intrigue unfolding before him was kicking holes in his reserve.
Max seemed momentarily lost in thought when I returned with the tea so I placed the cup on the table beside him. “Thank you,” he said, more out of reflex than full awareness of my return. I left him to his thoughts. The wheels were certainly turning in there, but there was no outward clue just yet as to what might be going on. Or perhaps he was distracted by the situation brought on by the storm as well, remembering things that needed to be tended to once the path was clear and his departure could resume.
“Max,” I began, trying to offer a sense of repose, “you’ll eventually find that no subject is taboo here. I can see that you’re having a bit of an issue processing something, so I just want you to know,…”
“How does someone go about acquiring your services ?” he burst out suddenly, his voice calm, if not a bit uncertain around the edges.
“Are you inquiring for someone you know or yourself ?” I asked, seeing that he had needed to say the words before the conversation moved on to other topics and this opportunity was lost.
“Myself,” he said, his eyes not faltering.
“That’s easy, Max. It starts with one word: Please.”
He barely paused, still looking me directly in the eyes and said, “Please.” His sense of relief was nearly immediate after uttering the word. His outward expressions were new to me, but I could see the shift of calm as it coursed over him. His slight battle with apprehension successfully defeated.
“There are some ground rules we need to discuss before we can begin,” I said, my tone becoming mildly more serious. He nodded for me to continue. “First, you need to determine a safeword,” I stated. “I never indulge in play without one. That’s why it is the first rule.”
“Can it be anything ?” he asked, his tone not indicating completely whether or not he knew what I was talking about.
“Anything at all,” I replied. “But it should be something that doesn’t come up in normal conversation. I would suggest against using ‘No’, ‘Stop’ or ‘Ouch’, as that would just be confusing,” I added, trying to inject some levity into the conversation. Max smiled and nodded. “Consider it a pause button, or a stop button,” I continued. “Whatever is taking place, at any time, stops as soon as you say the safeword. Then, one of three things happens: we pause momentarily while you determine if you wish to continue with the session; we pause to adjust any piece of “equipment” that might be offering discomfort; or, we stop completely.” I concluded.
He was listening intently, acclimating to these new parameters of the equation.
“There is no wrong choice.” I added. “It is your moment of control. It is always respected.”
He nodded again in understanding, so I went on. “Next, when you’ve had some time to think about it, I’ll want you to make a list of things that are off the table. Lines that you will not cross,” I added. “I will challenge you and push at the boundaries that you define. I will also push at some that you might not have thought of, hence your need for a safeword,” I said. “The better you define those areas, the greater our explorations will be.”
Max was taking it all in. His focus was evident, as was the bulge starting to build in his sweatpants, though I was unsure of his awareness of it or the faint wet spot forming at the summit. “When can we begin ?” he asked, with a trace of expectation in the words.
“Just a couple more guidelines,” I said. “When you are here, and we are in a session, you will give me your complete attention. Normally, when you enter my home, your cellphone is shut off, and you belong to me, but since you are already here and do not have the disconnect of the front door, we shall adjust that locational transition to the hallway outside the playroom. Is that clear ?” I asked.
“Yes, sir,” he stated firmly.
“Next, when the session begins, you will not speak. Even when I ask you a direct question,” I continued. “Because you are a dog in training, you may only reply with barking,” I said, noticing a hint of a smile on the edges of his mouth. “I shall do my best to pose questions that require yes or no answers. You shall bark once for yes, twice for no. Is that clear ?”
“Yes, Sir, I mean, woof,” he corrected himself, as the slight smile returned to a more neutral expression, his attention still focused on my words.
“Good. Also, because you are a dog, and dogs do not usually wear clothes, your first task upon arrival is to remove all clothing, jewelry, and anything you were not born with. Is that clear ?”
“Woof,” he intoned again, the word starting to feel more comfortable.
“Very well. Shall we begin ?” I inquired.
A hearty “Woof,” was his reply.
* * * *