Thursday, June 30, 2016
Flash Fiction Friday, Week 44: Family Secrets
The prompt this week was to write a story that began with one of the following sentences, and the genre was paranormal. The choices were:
1. 1. I wondered why that particular closet door had been nailed shut.
2. 2. They would never believe it had been her fault.
3. 3. He had to find a way to stop them from demolishing the house.
4. 4. She knew she had to find the necklace.
5. 5. The box was left at the front door, and had no return address.
I chose Sentence #1. I hope you enjoy.
I wondered why that particular closet door had been nailed shut. The closet was located next to the back door in the kitchen. I attributed it to my aunt’s progressively failing awareness of reality. She had lived in this house alone for the past 15 years, and had lain dead in it for a week and a half before her body had been discovered. If it hadn’t been for a ruptured gas line in the area that required entry, her body still might not have been found.
I had never met my mother’s sister. My mother told me when Aunt Sarah married Howard Sandville 15 and a half years ago, and moved to this house on the hill miles from Sawyer’s Mill, no good would ever come of either the marriage or her future. Turns out Mom had been right on both counts.
Sarah had announced to the folks in town that her husband had run off six months after their wedding with their maid. She had also made it clear that visitors would not be welcome. She advised the local shops that should she need any supplies, orders would be phoned in, and the delivery staff were to leave the items at her front door. Invoices were to be included with the delivery, and payment would be sent by return mail.
Aunt Sarah’s will, discovered in a file box on the desk in the master bedroom, stated the house and property were to go to her sister. Mom wanted nothing to do with any of it, and when Mom died, Aunt Sarah’s home was left to me. The lawyer told me Sarah wanted the house torn down after she died. He hadn’t added that stipulation to the will since her requests at that point changed from day to day. He said the house was mine and I could do with it as I wished. I decided to check the place out. On my brief walkthrough, everything had appeared to be quite normal, with the exception of the nailed closet door.
Since Sawyer’s Mill was a small town, I figured everybody knew everybody’s business, so I spoke with as many people as I could to get some background on the house and my aunt. Everyone I spoke to told me the place was haunted. I wasn’t sure where they got that idea since I hadn’t seen any furniture floating or heard any moaning and groaning when I was there. They seemed genuinely concerned for my safety though so I told them I had a friend who knew how to communicate with the spirit world. I told them I’d make sure I had her with me when I next went into the house.
My friend Janie held séances, and I figured she’d jump at the chance to join me in a real haunted house. I was right as rain because she arrived two days later. I had always admired Janie’s showmanship. Whenever she held a séance, she’d invite me to sit in – to help the spirits feel more comfortable, she said. I always looked forward to the terrifying shrieks and sinister laughter, along with the ominous answers to the clients’ questions. At the end of each session, I would tease her, but she would insist it was all genuine, and told me one day, the opportunity would present itself for her to convince me of her psychic ability.
When we entered through the front door, I headed for the kitchen. I was going to show Janie all the beautiful china displayed in the cabinet. Suddenly, I felt Janie grab my left arm, pulled me back toward her, and turned me around to face her. She had tears streaming down her face.
“Lilly, they are in so much pain and terribly alone. They are seeking peace, and you are the one to find it for them.”
This time, I failed to see the humor.
“Janie, cut it out. You’re scaring me for real this time.”
“No, you don’t understand. I’m not playacting. I’ve told you I’m for real. I’m a genuine sensitive. Maybe a couple of my weird noises at séances are for dramatic effect, but there’s no drama here. There are spirits in this house who cannot rest because…because…”
Janie fainted. I panicked. I knelt down and felt her pulse, and it was racing. It suddenly became very warm in the foyer, so I decided to open the front door to let in a breeze. I got close to the door and was faced with the shimmering image of a person. I couldn’t tell if it was male or female, only that is was shaped like a human being, but with no discernible facial features. Its hands were outstretched, palms up, as if to stop me.
I hadn’t seen anything like that when I went through the house before. I reached through it, grabbed the doorknob and opened the door. A cool breeze filled the entry way and when I looked down at Janie, she started to come around. I looked back toward the door, and the image had vanished. Oddly, that encounter hadn’t frightened me.
“Are you okay, Janie? Do you need a doctor?”
“I’m not ill, Lilly,” Janie said as she got up from the floor. “I saw something horrible and it overwhelmed me. Something horrific happened in this house. Those who are trapped continue to grow weaker. Didn’t you say your aunt wanted this house torn down?”
“That’s what her lawyer told me.”
“Don’t, Lilly. I sense that if you do, the secret will never be unlocked and those who roam here will be forever lost.”
“What did you say, Janie, about a secret?”
“It needs to be unlocked. That’s what I’m sensing. There is a barrier to the truth that must be broken. It must be soon though. I sense there are two of them, but only one now has the strength left to make itself be seen for brief periods. When you were here before, did you notice anything unusual or out of place?”
The nailed closet door. If the place was haunted though, which it obviously was, surely Aunt Sarah didn’t nail a door shut thinking it would keep the spirits inside, or did she? I had no idea when it was nailed shut, so maybe it was on one of those days when her mind went out for a stroll without her.
“By the back door, Janie, there’s a closet that’s been nailed shut. Is that what you meant?”
“Oh my God,” Janie started to cry again. “Yes. Nailed shut. Confined. Trapped. Left to die.”
I felt someone, or something, behind me gently putting arms around my neck. It was almost a comforting gesture. I knew I was on the right track. I looked through drawers in the kitchen and found a hammer that had the forked edge on the side used to remove nails. Janie grabbed a pair of pliers and a flashlight and together we removed all the nails. At first glance, it hadn’t seemed like so many, but removing them made me realize she had definitely wanted to keep whatever was behind the door inside forever.
When the last nail was out, I opened the door. It was only an empty closet, and not a very big one at that, with a hook at the back. What kind of secret was hidden here? I looked closely at the top and the bottom thinking perhaps there were trap doors, but there was nothing. Out of pure instinct, I pulled at the hook and the panel pulled back. There was a small hidden room behind this closet. Janie shined the flashlight into the small room.
My stomach turned. Inside were two skeletons, sitting against the wall, arms around each other. A wallet was next to one and a small handbag next to the other, both containing identification. I knew why Aunt Sarah wanted the house torn down. It was so no one would find the remains of her husband and his lover, the maid, who had both disappeared years before. Sarah had locked them both in that room, closed the panel, and nailed the door shut. With no visitors permitted and being so far from neighbors, no one would have heard them if they screamed. Both their bodies decaying behind that wall, and still she continued to live in that house. Unbelievable.
I planned to notify the police, even though there would be no one to prosecute. At least, their families and friends would know the truth. I also planned to give them both a decent burial – side by side. I believed that’s what they would have wanted. I felt arms around me again, and as I turned, the image behind me briefly flickered, then faded for the last time. Now they finally would have the peace they sought and so richly deserved.