The Delphi Room (Excerpt)

Read the second chapter from The Delphi Room by Melia McClure, available September 17th from ChiZine!

Is it possible to find love after you’ve died and gone to Hell? For oddball misfits Velvet and Brinkley, the answer just might be yes.

After Velvet’s suicide attempt is successful, she finds herself trapped in a bedroom she believes is Hell, she comes in contact with Brinkley, the man trapped next door. Through mirrors that hang in each of their rooms, these disturbed cinemaphiles watch the past of the other unfold?—the dark past that has led to their present circumstances. As their bond grows and they struggle to figure out the tragic puzzles of their lives and deaths, Velvet and Brinkley are in for more surprises.



The heavy door shut behind me with surprising force, as if pushed from the other side. Vast vistas of cloud-tinged azure? No, a small room with blush pink walls and a frilly coconut pie of a bed. The lighting was florescent and over-bright. I moved to the bed and touched the bedspread, a delicate eyelet with matching pillow shams, the kind I begged my mother to buy me when I was ten. How our tastes change. Over the bed was a barred window, which at first I thought had a white blind over it, until I put my fingertips to the glass, felt the coolness and realized that the whiteness beyond was the view. Stuffed animals sat on the eyelet and on the deep windowsill, tattered and well-loved, ones I recognized: Paddington Bear with hat and raincoat, black and yellow bumblebee with mesh wings, chocolate brown dog with large ears muffing its head and a very tattered, rather small almond-coloured bear—Beary Bear—with a fraying nose. They had all belonged to me. A gilt-edged mirror hung beside the bed, a built-in picture of cherubs above the glass. It was then that I saw: no red dress, no fancy shoes. Just flesh. (Why wasn’t I cold? I thought, this place must have central heating.) I looked thinner, although mirrors can be deceiving. What to do when you find yourself unexpectedly naked? I climbed into bed.

Okay. What the Hell? I drew the pink sheets up under my chin. On the opposite side of the room was a beautiful Chinese screen traced with the fine lines of bamboo leaves. On one side of it was a small writing desk on which sat a yellow legal pad and a purple gel pen. In front of the desk sat a matching chair. On the other side of the screen was a closet, and on the wall next to it was a clock that was stopped at 8:57. I got out of bed and approached the closet, panic playing a calliope behind my ribs. The door opened and inside was a childish pink sundress, simple sheath, to the knee. Thank God—I ripped it off the hanger, shimmied in. And that’s when I thought—there must be some mistake. I turned to the room’s big white door, seized the gold knob and yanked—yanked—yanked, but the door remained closed.

Breathe. That’s what I told myself. So I stood there for a few moments, sucking oxygen and shaking like a wet cat, before I quit dignity and started pounding on the door. Surely God wasn’t deaf. What had I hoped God would say to me at the pearly gates? I don’t know… You’re better looking in person? I wasn’t sure, but I thought there’d be something, some form of dialogue. Who’s minding the store, here? This couldn’t be the inn Christina Rossetti was referring to; the poem didn’t say one word about being trapped. But you can only shriek for so long before you start to feel ridiculous—even in this place, apparently, self-consciousness lives—and besides that, my voice started to shrivel to a croak. So either God had eyeshades on and earplugs in, or I was being ignored. Either way, I felt like tearing out Paddington Bear’s stuffing and writhing on the floor like an overturned crab.

I went to the bed and settled for hurling poor Paddington at the door, causing his little rain hat to fly off. I sprawled out on the eyelet and stared at the ceiling, which I now noticed, to my further chagrin, was covered with glow-in-the-dark suns and moons and stars, just like the ones I’d had and loved, until they stopped glowing and refused to recharge, no matter how much time I spent shining a flashlight on them. Ambushed by my childhood. Surprised there wasn’t a TV playing nonstop Scooby-Doo. So I lay there, tracing the outlines of perfect stars with an imaginary finger, whirlpooled by confusion. And disappointment. And rage. And then horror, as I felt the familiar cold sluice of despair.

After a while—who knows how long, there were no real suns and moons and stars to guide me—I realized I was scrunching the eyelet so hard my fists ached, tears waterfalling into the thicket of my bob. I had always been a person who believed in signs, and the appalling lack of them was terrifying. It was becoming evident that no Big Hand was going to pluck me clear through the stick-on solar system—room service was even doubtful. Not that I was hungry, appetite had gone the way of my life. But I was frantic to hear the rap of another being on the other side of the door: Welcome Velvet, glad you could join us. Or maybe the lack of signs was the sign; this is it kid, this is what all the do-gooding (okay, well, maybe “good intentions” would be more accurate) is for. But no, the stuffed animals, all the childhood hauntings, must be ushering me back through the annals of my life, preparing to spit me out fresh the other side. Then, the thought that had been jostling all the others buffaloed to the front of the line: I hung myself, now Eternity is going to hang me out to dry. Through all of the heart-mash, nerve-searing sadness and terror of the Shadowman, I’d never believed in Hell—a depressed optimist? Was this the brutal serves-you-right-you-should-have-known-better Truth? I’d always loved to be alone, no one imposing on my aura, pricking my energy field. The quiet shoaling into the chattery crevices of my mind. Alone was a kind of Heaven, if that word can be used to describe anything on Earth. But this was a prison, and even worse than that, I was still the same, steel-boxed inside the Hell in my head. (Though the Shadowman hadn’t shown up yet, threatening to burn me alive—so maybe my wish had come true and I’d escaped.) But solitary forever? I expected people who liked me, people I liked. Falling into open arms as if into a womb of fleece.

Well, wasn’t this a Welcome Home party. Break out the charred hors d’oeuvres. Where was the giant spit to roast myself on?

And that’s when I thought of Purgatory. The med-doped, middling mood, or non-mood, the thick-aired, sludgy-boned half-state. Was I in a waiting room, being voted on, before being passed on to The Dentist with the Eternal Drill, or a champagne-clinking First Supper with wellpadded chairs and chocolate soufflé?

Neurons ricocheted, limbs accordioned in. I lay on my side embryotight, and screamed. Screamed. Screamed. Screamed until I curdled, decibel-spent, on the floor. And then there I was, sweat, tears (blood? I can do that too—where’s my razor?), ears throbbing, bulldozed by stasis.


I got up, lurching, staggering through timeless Void, and faced the seraphim-festooned mirror. Red lips gone. Winged Hepburn liner gone. Face parchment-plain, dark almost black eyes headlighting out of the pale. I could see the bob might’ve been a good idea if it’d been cut with a steady hand, with a few layers shredded in, but now it looked like an electrified headdress. Oh well, no heads to turn. I looked as wan and waxy as I had in the weeks before I’d turned myself into a mobile, or, correction, before I’d covered the mess of my face with my string-up makeover. Mirror shone back the self I remembered, although it seemed the checkerboard of tendons had started to loosen, once pearl-round cheeks flattening into a small, drooping mouth. Eyelids puffy from crying, new awnings for damp pink eyes. My nose—slightly reminiscent of my father’s, if a lone photograph of him is trustworthy—shone red. (Where was my father? Shouldn’t he be knocking on the door? Introducing himself? Explaining what the Hell was going on?) An angry welt choked my neck. I did look thinner, as though the stuffing had been knocked out of me and my skin was struggling to catch up, and everything seemed looser, looser and dissolving, breasts in retreat. I pulled up my dress, placed a hand on my stomach, moved it down a deflated thigh. Dropped the dress and sighed, inspected my arms and veiny, piano-fingered hands. All of the marks were there, everywhere: freckles, bruises, traces of cellulite and the scar on my left arm from the afternoon the Shadowman forced me to try carving a flower with a boxcutter. All were accentuated by the horrible florescent lighting, the hellish trick of retail stores back on Earth, designed to depress you into splurging on the more expensive bathing suit. Well, I thought, that seals it. This ain’t Heaven.

Peregrinations, again—God, get me off this fucking treadmill. Gold doorknob in my hand, wild rattling. Bashed my knuckles into the heavy white, polka-dotted it pink with my blood. Moved to the writing desk so I could get a running start, and splatted my pink-sundressed bag o’ bones. My heart spazzed, as though trying to pump clots, and I wore a groove between desk and door.

Little pool of body curled on the floor, streaked bloody, joint-wobbly. My breath came in obscene gasps; brutalized, orgasmic rushes. All right God, or Whoever, or the Great Nothing, there you have it: blood, sweat, and tears. Happy now?



The Shadowman is in the mirror, playing a tiny violin. He is once again dressed in black cashmere, his dark hair gleaming as though under hot lights.

This is the saddest music in the world. It’s enough to make me weep leaden tears. It’s enough to make Beethoven weep leaden tears. In fact, I think Beethoven did weep leaden tears! You fucked up.

Notes pour forth from the mirror, melodic quavers hooking themselves into the air, pearlescent nails sunk in flesh.

Repeat after me. I will not go mad. I will not go mad. I will not go mad. I will not go mad. I will not go mad. I will not go mad. 

He stops playing the violin and smiles.

Too late.


What the fuck was he doing here? He’d forced me to follow his instructions, threatened to burn me alive after pulling out my fingernails if I didn’t hang myself just so… and I was stupid and naïve enough to have entertained the faint hope that if I did what I was told… I would be free of him forever. But if this was in fact Hell, then I guess I’m hooped. My bid to make a final getaway appeared to be a miserable failure. I could be stuck in bed with the Shadowman for all Eternity.

I seeped fluids into the soft carpet while the clock needled the same numbers on the wall above me. Swayed to my knees like a dumb animal nosing the air after sleep. I had a sense that my skin was full of holes (partly true—skinless knuckles, scratches, bruises) and out of those holes hung nerve-tufts, with a spirally weight like Slinkies. Patted myself down briefly to make sure the sensation wasn’t based in fact— some weird turn-Velvet-into-sludge torture (although I must say I did an admirable job of that myself—why weren’t the walls padded? And why did I suddenly think of the garbage-compacter room in Star Wars?)— then crawled to the chair. My breathing was still shaky, and with one hand on the chair I heave-panted into the carpet, which smelled of lavender. This made me gag. Floral scents are inadvisable when one has thrown oneself against a wall. Hunched over, I felt my tonsils twist and a chilly sweat surge from my face and neck. My stomach trampolined. Front flip. Back flip. Side aerial. And bum drop. Everything falls back down into place. I got to my feet holding on to the chair, then lowered myself into it. It was a very Zen-looking little chair, all black lacquer and clean lines, with a white satin cushion covered in black Roman numerals. The writing desk that was now before me was also spare and simple black lacquer, with Chinese characters etched around the border. As a child I was desperate to learn to calligraph their curves and flutes, lettering far more luxurious and profound, I thought, than the boring Roman alphabet. But I never learned and eventually it seemed too difficult a thing, one of the expansive ambitions of childhood to be looked back on with wistful flutters of self-pity when a sizable chunk of your ease and time had somehow disappeared.

Thick, yellow legal pad, purple gel pen. I read once that a lot of famous writers wrote on yellow legal pads and I thought about trying it, but I felt I needed something with an attractive cover. And the incongruity of it. Churning forth art on legal paper? Was I missing some profound irony? I liked gel pens, although I used them mostly for drawing flowers on jeans, or giving myself a charm bracelet tattoo around my ankle. (Should I have outgrown such practices? Should is a hateful word.) Writing required plain cheap pens, blue or black, Spartan Bics or Papermates. Though purple is my favourite colour.

For some time—the clock still read 8:57—I slumped in the chair, head on the desk. My skull bones throbbed. Miniature individual throbbing skulls sat in each of my knuckles, topped with a messy flower of peeledback skin and drying blood. The right side of my body ached the worst, shoulder felt dislocated and relocated. Here’s a tip: when ragdolling yourself against a wall, remember to switch sides. I listened to the sound of my quivery breathing, face felt webbed tight with salt crystals. I didn’t know what to do. What could I do? The door wouldn’t open, the wall didn’t burst (I did) and no one—perhaps my friend Davie the atheist was right—appeared to hear me, or care. Somewhere in the vicinity of my heart faint bells of panic still rang for troops, but I was too exhausted to answer them with any more bright ideas. A horrible feeling of foolishness crept over me, and the flush of shame, so sure was I in the knowledge that I was the butt of an awful joke. A dupe. An easy mark. A laughingstock. So I sat up, queenly, hauling my spine out of my pelvis, smoothed my hair, licked my lips, squared my shoulders and picked up the purple gel pen. My shame-face deepened to the red of rage, and I uncapped the pen and put it to the yellow legal pad. I wrote these words:



The Delphi Room © Melia McClure, 2013


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