Paul America and the Case of the Missing Toilet Paper

CHAPTER III

Maybe they meant to pick it up on their way back?

That was the best Paul could figure, as he walked the darkening streets looking for a convenience store or supply closet. Surely a wing of the Manor this large would have to be well-stocked with such essentials, no?

He found it, at the corner of Avenue B and Third Street, and entered the shop. Someone had left the light on, presumably unintentionally, and it was only a matter of moments before he was able to locate the paper products in the back. Turning to leave, he stopped short before the register. Even if it was technically his capitalism now, he would feel bad not paying. He clasped the billowing rolls under his one arm, reaching for his wallet with the other, and withdrew a twenty. He was about to see if he could open the register to get change when he realized that something was unsettlingly different. Andrew Jackson’s unusually giant head was contorted with a broad grimace, a look of deep inner suffering penned across his face. Paul fancied he could almost here the man groan with something – pain? Physical torment? …Something worse?

If Paul had to guess, he’d say it was the look of a man who’d seen, too late, what he had done.

He hastily deposited the bill on the counter, weighed it down with a chocolate bar from the rack, and left. Andrew always had been his least favorite of the Jackson Five, anyway.

Outside, the sun was almost gone, and it appeared that the servants had not bothered to leave the streetlights on for him. Paul made haste towards his chosen loft, not wanting to misplace it in the gathering darkness.

A few times, Paul thought he saw movement. It was hard to tell what he was seeing in the shadows cast by the towers of this magnificent fortress, this house greater than any house owned by Usher – no matter how many Billboard Hot 100 #1 hits he might produce. This house, surely built upon a strong and not haunted foundation (foreshadowing!) could not fall.

Ten breathless minutes later, Paul arrived back in the apartment he had claimed, flicking on the light and shutting the door behind him. He was still nervous that someone might be dogging his footsteps although, truth be told, he’d seen nary a dog since he had come.

This was silly. Technically, he was alone. If anyone had asked, Paul would have told them: yes, I am alone here. I am not sure who you are, or why you are asking me about this, but clearly you can’t be anyone after all since I am, as previously observed, still alone.

Desperate for some comforting background noise, Paul turned on the TV. The signal seemed to be still broadcasting, even though there was no one there, and the news was on… or at least an empty newsroom, with a blank ticker below scrolling silence. No stocks. No international highlights. Nothing. If anything was happening, he wouldn’t know about it until tomorrow… but then again, with no people around to act or be acted upon, the horizons of things happening had decidedly shrunk.

A cry went up outside, and that was strange too, due to Paul’s state of definite aloneness. Voice upon impossible voice joined in, echoing through the streets, reverberating and ceasing to be definite. The voices sang with emotions forgotten, something happened upon under couch cushions with a jarring suddenness. More and more joined the unearthly harmony with no signs of stopping until the sound itself was painful. Coming to himself, Paul jumped up and shut the window with a clatter. His gaze swept the streets, trying to see where the noises could have even come from, but nothing showed itself.

The America family had its share of closets, and it was not inconceivable that a skeleton or two might have been carelessly stowed therein by some absent-minded relative. But a house like America Manor had closets stretching from sea to shining sea, and if the sounds coming from the streets below were any indicator, these closets appeared to hold nothing but skeletons.

A shuffling noise from the television caused him to look up. A gaunt, half-there figure was shuffling papers with withering hands as he sat down at desk of the newsroom. Strange, foreign trinkets and jewel-like clothes draped around the figure’s form. “Good evening,” came a voice as heavy and weatherworn as a headstone. “I’m the late Fast Coyote, and welcome to the (similarly) Late Edition. Tonight’s top story is the haunting of America Manor. It is a truism that history is written by the victor; but once a year, it is said that dead men do, in fact, tell tales. Joining me tonight is someone who had the chance to see it all first-hand. Mr. Columbus, so good of you to join us.”

The unearthly speaker began his night’s interview, but Paul was no longer paying attention. This was primarily because he had remembered the purpose of his earlier expedition and had temporarily retired to the bathroom, but as he returned, it occurred to him that something was just a wee bit off about this postmortem news anchor, an anchor who looked like he had occupied Davy Jones’ locker for the greater part of the past several centuries. Or, you know. A closet of some sort.

The digital alarm clock by the bed read 11:58.

Paul wasn’t sure how things usually went around America Manor, but back where he came from this was hardly usual. And Paul’s #1 strategy for dealing with things that were hardly usual was humming cheerily to himself, but for some reason the only tune he could think of to hum was the theme to The Exorcist.

This was less than comforting.

“…From live in New York, this is the late Fast Coyote of the, too, Late Edition signing off.”

Too. Late. The strange and awkward choice of words echoed in the silence for just a second as the lights went out, the TV blinked off, and Paul let out a noise like he was auditioning to be lead singer for The Darkness which had surrounded him.

This was just a dream. It was only a dream. Things like this didn’t happen in real life. Paul tripped over his bag of things as he paced, not sure where to turn or what to do. Technically, he didn’t have to do anything, being as he was alone and only dreaming anyhow, but in a more immediate and practical sense, Paul found he was pleased he had gone to the bathroom recently.

There was a deafening silence as the cacophony from outside ceased. Paul’s heart made a play for attention like the diva of some ghastly opera.

Trembling, but more carefully now, Paul crept over to the window to try and see out. He could make out nothing. But in the dim light from the moon, he noticed the tear-out daily flip calendar sitting on the desk. The calendar read Thanksgiving Eve, the one night of the year that the spirits of those who had been all but writ out of history were said to rise to reclaim their narrative.

It all made sense now. The land here was imbued with the most inescapable magic of all, the weight of karma bearing down. Paul’s forefathers may have been good men or they may have been fools, but they had made some terrible mistakes, with the worst real estate sense in the Western Hemisphere.

America Manor was cursed, and Paul America knew why.

America Manor had been built on an Indian burial ground.

The clock changed to midnight.

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