AM DIDN’T know how long he had been wandering through hallways before he came to another staircase. A clock with a bent pendulum stood on the landing. Sam knew that at the top of the stairs would be a door, and behind the door would be the mike. Trying not to think about the mike, he began ascending, one step at a time.
At the top there was indeed a door. This one was a heavy door with oversized iron fittings. It was framed in a pair of fluted columns with Corinthian capitals. A coat of arms with rearing lions was carved into the entablature. Sam pressed down on the handle and the door swung open.
The brightness of the mike was blinding. It was a frankfurter-sized mike suspended from the ceiling and glowing white. There were no flashes or sparks, but Sam could feel the prickle of radiation. Sam turned and ran back down the stairs and into the hallway, the door clanging shut behind him. “The mike! The mike!” Sam’s shouts broke the stillness of the corridors.
A figure appeared in an entranceway. It was the caretaker. “What’s all the commotion about? A person can’t get any work done around here.”
“The mike! I saw the glowing mike! It’s behind the door at the top of the staircase with the clock with the bent pendulum.”
“The clock with the bent pendulum? There’s nothing up there. Nobody’s used that room in years.”
“I saw the mike—”
“You thought you saw the mike. I’ve never heard anything so crazy in my life as this business about a glowing mike.”
“I’ll show you.”
“Well okay. But we’re wasting our time. That’s just a storage room. Nothing but a lot of old junk.”
The caretaker accompanied Sam back up the stairs, past the clock with the bent pendulum, to the door with the coat of arms and the rearing lions. The caretaker opened the door, like Sam had done, but there wasn’t any sign of a mike, glowing or otherwise. Instead Sam saw a large, high-ceilinged room with a fireplace and another door leading out. The room was crammed with clutter.
“This is the place,” said Sam. “The mike was right here. You don’t believe me, do you?”
“No. But now that I’m up here I think I’ll check and make sure everything’s okay. You can look around too if you want.” The caretaker sampled the dust on a model of a three masted sailing ship.
Just inside the doorway was a table holding several bronze busts of famous men, a pair of porcelain figures, and an antique globe, brown with age. Sam gave the globe a spin (it didn’t spin very well) before moving on to a wall of etchings. Some were water-stained and all were faded, but Sam could make out scenes of country life under gray glass.
The caretaker meanwhile had seated himself in a chair near the fireplace. He was trying to tighten the strings on an old violin without much success; all he could get when he plucked one was a buzz or rattle. “I shouldn’t be messing with this thing. Probably needs work done on it. Nuts. Some music is just what we need to liven this place up.”
“Here’s a record player.” Sam picked the top off a stack of records. “How about some Handel? Acis and Galatea on Victrola. Deller Consort.”
“Never heard of it. I guess it’ll do though. Play it.”
Soon a chorus was singing:
Oh, the pleasure of the plains!
Happy nymphs and happy swains,
Harmless, merry, free and gay
Dance and sport the hours away . . .
. . . while Sam rummaged through a desk. “These newspapers. I can’t read them. What language are they in?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. I never paid much attention to them.”
“This one is dated 1729. I wonder—” Sam was interrupted by the striking of the clock out on the stair. It was the clock with the bent pendulum and it was very loud. “I can’t believe it’s time to leave already.”
“The periods are getting shorter, they are.” The caretaker stopped the music and gave the record to Sam to put away. “Do you think you can get along without me?”
“I think so.”
“Well then I’d better get back to my work. That door will take you on through.” The caretaker left by way of the stairs. Sam opened the opposite door and saw another hallway. He left by way of that door.
Sam didn’t know how long he had been wandering through hallways before he came to another staircase. A clock with no hands stood on the landing. Sam knew that at the top of the stairs would be a door, and behind the door would be the mike. Trying not to think about the mike, he began ascending, one step at a time.
At the top there was indeed a door. This one was an American Colonial design. Almost everything— the door, the frame, the strap hinges, as well as the handle and latch— was painted white. The only thing that wasn’t white was an eagle, wings outstretched in flight, painted gold in primitive style on the wall over the lintel. Sam drew back the bolt.
Again he was dazzled by the brightness of the mike. It was the same frankfurter mike with prickling radiation. Once more he ran down the stairs and into the hall below, the door banging shut behind him. “The mike! The mike!” he shouted.
This time it took a few minutes longer to rouse the caretaker, who appeared wearing pajamas and a bathrobe. “What on earth is the matter? A person can’t get any sleep around here.”
“The mike! I saw the glowing mike! Behind the door at the top of the staircase with the clock with no hands.”
“The clock with no hands? Another storage room. You always see this mike or whatever it is in a storage room. If it wasn’t for this bit of consistency I’d have given up this game ages ago."
“I really did see the mike.”
“Okay. Let’s go take a look.”
The caretaker followed Sam up the stairs, past the clock with no hands, to the door with the eagle with the outstretched wings. The caretaker opened the door, revealing another large, high-ceilinged room similar to the last one and just as full of bric-a-brac. “Do you see your mike?” he asked.
“No, but I see The Spirit of ’76 hanging over the mantel.”
“You like that painting?”
“It’s one of my favorites.”
“Now that we’re up here we might as well make our usual inspection.” The caretaker began his tour at a rack of early cooking utensils that included a teakettle, several pans, and an pair of tongs.
Sam went to a curio cabinet next to the fireplace. One shelf in the cabinet contained nothing but coins neatly laid out in rows. They were mostly coppers, but there were a few small silver coins and one gold coin, all very old.
Sam opened the glass door of the cabinet and took out the gold coin, which was about the size of a fifty-cent piece. One side of the coin showed a sun rising above a mountain, and the other side showed an eagle with the legend E PLURIBUS UNUM and the date 1787. Someone had damaged this coin though by counterstamping the letters EB onto the eagle, obliterating part of the right wing. Sam returned the coin to its place on the shelf.
“Here’s something you might be interested in.” The caretaker was standing next to a bookcase holding a thin pamphlet. Sam, upon taking it, noticed that its printing had faded from black to gray, and its pages bore the brown splotches of age. The title of the pamphlet was The American Crisis and its opening lines were vaguely familiar: