Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Flash Fiction Friday, Week 8: The Invitation
The prompt this week was promises, broken ones, that is. We were to make someone a promise, break it, and share what happens. The genre was open.
Growing up, I used to dream about being related to rich people. Pop died in a fire at his job right after I was born, and Mom would never tell me anything about his or her family. I would pretend their marriage displeased her father so he cut her out of his will, and that accounted for our financial struggles. When she died a year ago, I thought I was alone. Out of nowhere, I got a letter from Phillip Johnstone, an attorney, in some country I’d never heard of, informing me that I’m the long lost relative of a widow, Mrs. Carlysle. Apparently, she’d been searching for surviving family since her son, the only heir to her estate, died in a car accident a few months ago. That’s where I come in. Evidently, I’m the fifth cousin, three times removed, of one of my mother’s second aunts, or some such nonsense. I don’t understand all that, but it doesn’t matter. All I know is, removed or not, I’m now her heir.
The letter stated my aunt was ill and planning to try a controversial treatment. There was a chance she may not survive the procedure, and she wanted to get to know me before she left for the clinic. I was invited to stay at her home for the weekend. Along with the letter, the lawyer sent a plane ticket and instructions on how to get to her home. Not to sound like a vulture; I mean, I’m sorry about her being ill, but I got fired from my job and my landlord won’t wait any longer for the rent.
I took a flight to JFK. A man, with a letter of introduction signed by my aunt’s lawyer, drove me to an airstrip miles from the city, where I boarded a private jet. When we arrived at another private airstrip, it was early evening two days later. How many time zones we flew through I have no idea, and cared even less. My life was going to change forever and I was going to enjoy every glorious second of it. A limo was waiting for me and took me to the house. It was the size of several football fields. The driver took my suitcase and asked me to follow him in. The entry was huge, with staircases on both sides leading to the upper levels, marbled floors, crystal chandeliers, and more priceless stuff than my neighborhood pawnbroker could handle in three lifetimes.
I was led into a large room on the right where my new favorite relative and her lawyer waited. She was in a wheelchair, and small - probably no more than 5 feet tall, about 120 pounds, and ghastly pale. Her lawyer was a real hottie though – early 30’s, 6 feet tall, dark hair and eyes, and a leading man smile. Maybe something could be worked out between us after the reading of her will. Who knows what my future could bring…
“Come in, Annie, if I may address you in that familiar way. I’m Phillip Johnstone. I’m glad my letter found you well and that you were able to come on such short notice.”
Sugar, you can address me any way you’d like. Frankly, I’d even let you undress me any way you’d like.
“I was happy to find out I had family. After my mother died, I was under the impression there was no one left but me.”
The old hag’s cough startled me. Don’t croak yet, dearie. I need some cash to catch up on my rent and my car needs a new engine. She reached out for me and I took her frail hand in mine.
“Promise,” she whispered. “Please.”
“We must be on our way, Annie. Mrs. Carlysle grows weaker. But, there is one important matter we must discuss first. We will be gone 7 days. While we are away, you’ll have the run of the house, and staff to attend to your needs. Your aunt asks only one thing. You may explore the house and the grounds, but you must never go into the room on the top floor. It is forbidden. We must have your promise – your word of honor.”
Promise not to go into a room at the top? It’s forbidden? I couldn’t wait for their car to pull away so I could run up there. She’s probably got jewelry or some other rich stuff in there.
“I promise,” I said.
“Promise what?” my aunt asked.
Rich people and their quirks.
“I promise not to go into the room on the top floor. You have my word of honor,” I responded. I’m surprised they didn’t ask me to swear on a stack of Bibles.
The old lady started coughing again, and I let go of her hand. A man, I assumed he was the butler, carried their suitcases to the car and Darling Phillip wheeled her out the front door. This sure was a meaningful reunion, all five minutes of it. Oh well. I’ve got the house all to myself. I’ll tell whatever staff is still here to take the rest of the night off. Then, up to the attic to explore. I know I promised; I even gave my word of honor. But, people promise stuff all the time and no one really takes that seriously anymore, do they? Maybe a hundred years ago before contracts and corporations when everything was finalized with a handshake. I won’t mess anything up. No one will know I went in, so it’s no big deal, right?
The butler, he was introduced to me as Ronald, had been the only staff in the house, so I sent him on his way. He told me that he, the maid and the cook would be back at dawn. Good riddance. I went up the four flights to the top level and at the end of a long hallway, there was the forbidden door, unlocked. Trusting bunch, weren’t they? The door was heavy, and the door frame had a second door within it. You could close one door and then another on top of it. I couldn’t wait to see what goodies were in there.
The room was dark. I stepped inside and while I was feeling around for a light switch, I heard something slam behind me and a light came on. The room was windowless and empty. I turned around and saw what the second door was that had closed. It was metal bars, like a jail cell door. I tried to slide it back into the frame, but it was latched onto the frame on the other side. There was a slit in the middle, like where guards slide the food trays to the inmates on the television shows. On the other side stood Phillip and a young woman.
“What the hell is going on? Who are you people - really?” I was in no position to make demands, but I had to give it a shot.
“I’m your old sickly aunt,” the woman said. “You probably don’t recognize me without the costume. My name is Belinda Carlysle, and his name really is Phillip, but it’s Carlysle, not Johnstone. He’s my husband. We brought you here for one of our special dinner parties. You and I are not related, obviously. With the Internet, these days it’s easy to find people with no family and few friends. Add in the inheritance angle, and no one thinks twice about boarding a plane to who knows where.
“Normally, we drug a cocktail and put the subject in the room you’re in. We thought we’d try something different to make it interesting and turn it into a challenge, and you failed miserably. We never left; we drove around and came in the back way. We’ve been in a hidden room on this floor waiting to see if you’d break your promise. It took you less than ten minutes. No wonder the world is going to Hell. Integrity these days is in short supply.”
“What would you have done if I had kept my word?” I wasn’t sure where this was going, so I tried to stall.
“We’d have let you return home with a substantial check and simply found another main cour...subject,” Phillip said. “We’ll be leaving you now. We must make the arrangements for our soirée. A week from today will be plenty of time for you to be ready. Once our friends arrive, they’ll be popping up to take a look at you. They always like to check out who they’ll be having for din…um…I mean, who will be our dinner…guest.
As the outer door was closed and I heard the locks engage, Belinda called out to me.