Sunday, February 13, 2011


This is a story I’ve written in response to Yvette’s Short Story Challenge. Once they are all posted, I’ll include a link here for them too. I’ve included a link to the story that triggered this. It’s a fascinating article concerning a flat in Paris that was abandoned and untouched for 70 years and all the wondrous items found within, which included a painting of a beautiful and mysterious lady. The challenge was to put our own spin on it and mine is entitled Sanctuary. Please enjoy, and make sure you check out the article too.


“I’m telling you I am going in there, Brigston. Now that the old bat is out of the picture, I’m calling the shots from now on. Meet me there in one hour with the key or you will be looking for another meal ticket. Understand?”

When Geoffrey Brigston heard the dial tone confirming Brian Avery had hung up, he sat back in his chair and heaved a deep sigh. What a despicable creature this young man was. He wondered how a woman of such grace and kindness could have had a son so completely alien. Ellenoir Avery had been faithful to her family’s tradition her entire life, as had her mother and her grandmother. And now this sorry excuse for a man was planning to violate a sacred oath and break the trust that had survived three generations. While he would do all he could to prevent it, failing changing the young heir’s mind, he was powerless to stop him. The estate in its entirety was his to do with as he saw fit. The recommendation was clearly there in the will, but it was only that. A plea, really. If only Ellenoir had been able to see that her son would never honor her wishes and assume his duty. Honor was not part of his character.

Brian was pissed. He had arrived at the precise time, yet Brigston still wasn’t there. He’s too old, Brian thought, and I’m going to have to speak to one of my friends about getting this reassigned to a different law firm. My family’s been dealing with these jokers for way too long. Time for a change. The whole situation has gone on way too long. His nutty great-grandmother started this wacky business and no one has ever been able to provide him with an explanation as to why. The apartment is a piece of prime real estate and great-grandmother, grandmother and mother all made sure the rent was paid and that it was kept locked up tight. Since Ellenoir had a son, the duty fell to him. She told him that the lawyers will pay the rent each year, and it was his responsibility to make sure there was always enough money available. His obligation included informing his wife and children of all the facts to enable them to carry on in the event of his death or inability to continue as caretaker. Caretaker? Of? He was determined to find out.

Geoffrey arrived a few minutes late and apologized repeatedly for keeping his client waiting. He despised the young leech, but knew if the estate was assigned to another firm, everything the Avery family had worked to hard to maintain would be lost. He was determined to try to reason with Brian to protect that which he knew was of the utmost importance even though he had no knowledge of what it was he was supposed to safeguard.

As the lawyer turned the key in the lock, the tension in the air was palpable. Brian pushed him back and flung the door open. He tasted dust and stumbled in the darkness to find a window or light switch. He located heavy curtains and pulled them apart to reveal a large front room devoid of any furniture, but full to overflowing with an assortment of items. There was a collection of a dozen or so porcelain dolls in a circle in one corner, vase after vase overflowing with artificial flowers, stacks of books, many of which Brian recognized as first editions by well-known authors, and countless odd trinkets from eras unknown. Colorful parasols, stubs of carnival admission tickets, cocktail stirrers with umbrellas on them--all carefully laid out on the carpet. Geoffrey hardly knew what to make of it all.

Brian went charging into the various rooms and found them all to be empty, with the exception of what was most likely the master bedroom. There he came upon a luxurious four poster bed covered with fine lace, and a writing table in the corner covered with letters written on scented stationary--there was still the faint scent of lilac. More trash, he thought, letters are worth nothing. The books, dolls and the bed though, they might be worth some money. Then, as Geoffrey stepped into the bedroom, they both saw the painting on the wall.

She was young, dressed all in pink, ribbons adorning her golden ringlets, sitting in a field of multi-colored flowers, her empty hands open, reaching, seeking something not seen, her eyes tearful, her smile quite forced. Both men were quite shocked at the sight of her. Geoffrey was unsure of her identity and the sorrow depicted tugged at his heart. Brian, however, was trying to decide which appraiser to contact since this water-color of a sad-sack broad might be worth a fortune, even though no artist’s name was present.

“Well, that’s it then,” Brian said coldly. “A couple of pieces I can unload, dump the rest and sub-let this joint. Location like this? No limit to what we can charge. Get on that, Brigston, and I’ll call you in a couple of days to set up cleaning day. Bring trash bags and a dust mop, and we’ll have this place ship-shape in no time. One question though. Why in the hell is all this garbage in here and why was it kept so long and locked up like a bank vault? Makes no sense.”

Geoffrey had no answer, but in his heart, he knew there had to be a good reason. On his way out, he noticed Brian taking a gold letter opener from the desk and slip it into his pocket. It had jewels inlaid on the handle and was probably quite valuable. Probably take it to the nearest pawn shop, Geoffrey thought with disgust. He took one last look at the lady and told her he was so sorry, but he couldn’t protect her any longer. He scooped up the pile of letters from the writing table, determined to learn the identity of this poor creature and the reason for all the secrecy and seclusion. He returned to his office and awaited Brian’s call. If only his mind could be changed. The apartment lost in time must remain intact. He still didn’t know why. He just knew it must remain untouched.

That evening after dinner, he took the letters to his study. Each was dated, which revealed they were indeed from Brian’s great-grandmother Andrea’s time. They were all written by the young lady, whose name turned out to be Penelope. They were all written to Andrea and told a tale of love lost and the desire to simply disappear. Reading them revealed that Penelope had been the daughter of one of Andrea’s servants, who had died after a short illness. Andrea took the child into her home and cared for her until her 19th year, for which Penelope was forever grateful. Apparently, Penelope was to marry a gentleman in the spring, but he was killed by a band of robbers in the area and Penelope never recovered from the loss. She respectfully requested of her adoptive mother that she be allowed to take an apartment in the city, where she would be allowed to live her days out in seclusion. A tragic future for a beautiful and bright girl, but her request was granted.

The letters seemed a sort of journal the young girl kept, recording her thoughts and feelings to share them with her mother, even though she intended never to be in her company again. Geoffrey reasoned that following Penelope’s death, Andrea returned the letters to the writing desk out of respect, placed the girl’s favorite treasures carefully around the place, and made sure the apartment remained in the family. Out of her strong love for the girl, she instructed all that followed that none were to enter--ever. The memories were too painful. Geoffrey planned on returning the letters to their rightful place on the writing desk, and made up his mind to say nothing of what he had discovered. Geoffrey knew Brian would try to cash in somehow on the history of the place and all the mementos therein, and he could not allow this young lady’s name and heartache to be used that way.

Several days passed with no call and Geoffrey hoped against hope that Brian’s attention had been drawn elsewhere. After almost two weeks went by with no word however, Geoffrey became concerned. When he arrived at the Avery home, there were police cars everywhere and an ambulance stood, its doors wide open, waiting. He was stopped at the door by a detective, and after identifying himself as the family attorney, was told that the housekeeper discovered the owner’s body when she arrived for work. She was scheduled to clean weekly, but had been ill and came today to make up her time. Apparently, Mr. Brian Avery had been dead for some time, murdered actually. His throat had been savagely slashed from ear to ear. No weapon had been found at the scene and the detective said he would keep Geoffrey apprised of the status of the investigation. Geoffrey knew where he now needed to go.

When he entered the apartment, everything was as it was on their first visit. Evidently, Brian had not come on his own to remove anything. He felt a chill, but knew he must go to the master bedroom and look upon the lady in the painting one last time. As he entered the bedroom, he felt light-headed and sickened, but no actual fear. It was just as he had somehow known. The lady’s previously empty and open hands now grasped a bloody letter opener with jewels inlaid on the handle. Her tears were gone and her smile was warm and inviting.

“Everything will be alright now, Miss Penelope,” he said softly. “You will not be bothered again. Promise.”

He pulled the curtains closed and the place was enveloped once again in total darkness. He locked the door and returned to his office, planning to place the key once again in his safe. Brian had been the last of the line. Geoffrey would take the duty now as his own. Somehow, he knew the lady would want it that way.


  1. This story was worthy of the best of Rod Sterling's "Twilight Zone" episodes from the 1950's. The mystery surrounding the room and the lady in the painting was as tense as anything I have ever seen. I am blown away!

  2. Thanks so much, Beach. I really appreciate your comments. This was a tough one because I needed to create an atmosphere of past and present colliding. Even though some parts of the mystery were brought to light, I wanted to make sure enough shadows and darkness remained to prevent any real ending. Her grief lives on, as was her choice.

  3. Joyce this is one of your most tightly plotted stories and it works brilliantly. You deliver the usual great dialogue and pace I love it.

  4. Richard, Thank you very much. Even though I needed to incorporate the basic situation in here, I wanted my primary focus to be on the characters. This really was a big challenge. I didn't want to put too much emphasis on the original story--just enough to generate the mystery aspect of it all. Your comments are greatly appreciated and so very encouraging.

  5. Joyce, wow, you came at it from totally different angle than the rest of us. If you've read the other stories, you know that, we all took our own path to the solving of this 'real' mystery. This is what makes this sort of 'challenge' so intriguing, at least for me.
    Great job, Joyce. THANK YOU so much for contributing.

  6. Joyce, I tried posting a comment before about your great story and was unable to get it to post for whatever reason. I'm trying again. Loved the story. You approached it from a different angle than the rest of us. That is what makes this sort of thing so intriguing. At least to me. Again, thanks so much for participating.

  7. What a goodie, Joyce! Your usual high standard - and then some!

    I had to make myself slow down to read the story as you threw up so many tantlising possibilities! I'm glad you ended it the way you did - I can imagine the secret being continued through even more generations!

  8. Crikey, that was chilling! But how satisfying that Brian got his comeuppance in such a grisly way! Thanks Joyce, I really enjoyed your story - as Yvette said, it's nice that we've all managed to weave such varied tales from the same starting point.

  9. Loved it! There was such a sense of menace from the begining that I was primed and ready for the finale.