Adam McOmber is the author of The White Forest: A Novel (Touchstone 2012) and This New & Poisonous Air: Stories (BOA Editions 2011). His work has recently appeared in Conjunctions, Ninth Letter and The Fairy Tale Review. He is the associate editor of the literary magazine Hotel Amerika at Columbia College Chicago, where he also teaches creative writing and literature.
The Other Sofa
One of the bright guests died suddenly that evening. It was Miss Helena, who wore a long strand of pearls and an ostrich feather in her hair. Some said she’d drowned in the mansion’s gray fountain. Others claimed she’d fallen down the garden’s stony stair. After such a shock, the whole of the party moved to Lord E’s brooding mansion, some half-a-mile away. That’s when the real trouble began. For Lord E was not the gentleman he pretended to be. He did not care for the party guests. He loathed them, in fact, for the dreadful way they’d treated him over the years. And he was in possession of a certain ingenious instrument; something that looked for all the world like a velvet fainting couch. It was a mechanical thing, an oversized music box, imported from some faraway city where such things were not uncommon.
Everyone knows what happened next. The guests were ushered into a secret chamber. The tall maid threw the latch on the door. And then Lord E himself started the machinery inside his sofa. The beautiful party guests screamed. And their evening came quickly to a violent close. Or so we were led to believe.
Yet recently, one of the guests, who is now a very old man, stepped forward and testified as to what he’d actually seen that night. “The sofa,” he said, “did not spring to life as some are want to think. It didn’t harm us directly with its wooden legs and velvet arms. That wasn’t its function at all. Lord E was too refined a man for something so obvious. Instead, the gears inside the sofa turned, making a low humming sound. A subtle noise arose, almost a song. It was the sort of music that—once you’ve heard it—you can never quite get it out of your head. All of us felt as if we were descending then. As if the noise itself had become a long passageway. And there, at the end of that darkened hall, we witnessed a most terrible scene. We saw ourselves, decked in our usual finery, attending yet another frivolous party. Women wore beaded fringe. Men dressed in dapper suits.
“Yet there was something horribly amiss about the gathering. The light in the room was without color. All of us looked as if we’d been drawn in pen and ink. Our languorous bodies were harshly outlined. Appendages ended in sharp, narrow hands and feet. We looked ghastly, mournful even. There was a knowing silence in our ink-colored eyes.
“Then we saw it, at the back of the strange party—a second sofa. The other fainting couch. Like the guests themselves, this sofa was sketched in black and white. We all understood it wasn’t a sofa at all. It was a cruel thing, ancient and cold. It watched us as we passed into the crowded room. And somehow it commanded us to remain.
“We drank gallons of caustic liquor that night. We danced with our doubles until our feet bled. Each of us left the mansion the next morning exhausted, our fine black cars looking somehow like hearses. And etched onto the surface of our hearts, we carried something new. A hand-drawn remembrance, tattooed forever. The sign of silences that would come.”