It is and always has been my dream to be a writer. Specifically, a fiction author of books. I have, on and off, tried to pick this dream up again and breathe new life into it. Some years I’ve been more successful than others. This year I’d like to really work towards it again. To that end, I’m trying something new this year.
Instead of starting a new book, getting lost in the plot, questioning my characters, retooling my plot multiple times, and having long droughts of non-writing and subsequent depression, I’m trying a shorter form of writing. I’m hoping that this will help me build the habits I need to actually start and finish a book later on. At the very least, it will help me finish more stuff and will also help me get my writing out there for public consumption. This is also intended to work towards the two writing related practices I am working on for my reboot.
Last year (or maybe 2020) I started using weekly prompts from a website called Reedsy with the intention of finishing and submitting a short story to turn in for their weekly contest. Unfortunately, I’m pretty terrible with writing deadlines. Just ask my teacher from High School who was kind enough to change my Creative Writing almost-failing grade for my last quarter to something more appropriate, even though I didn’t turn in my last assignment until after the class was over. Anyway… I got close to finishing and submitting a story a handful of times, but could never quite make it.
So this year I am taking those stories that I almost finished and the ones where my muse was actually talking to me, and finishing them to post here. It’s my way of being brave about my writing and posting it for the world to see (or at least the few people who visit my blog).
In addition, I’m working on a daily writing practice, which is one of the first steps I need to take to support my writing dream.
This story takes place in a house that I lived in for a time in Carthage… I remember the house vividly, as it is an old Victorian. Nothing as weird as what happened to my main character happened to me in this house. In fact, I have quite fond memories of it. But when I started writing this story, it just popped into my head, like it was meant to be there.
I try not to question when this happens, so I went with it.
Anyway, the prompt for the story was: write about a couple who have just moved to a place that one person loves, and the other hates. I hope you like where my muse took this prompt. I sure did.
The House on Cherry Street
The tires of the car crunched on the gravel, as we pulled up in front of an old Victorian House. I heard the sound of the engine turning off as I surveyed the house. It was, well, if it were a more modern house, I might call it “rundown”. I thought “dilapidated” fit it a bit better, though, especially given its age and the time it was built. Usually, I loved old Victorians, but something about this house was unsettling. A shiver ran down my spine, and I shuddered.
“Beautiful, ain’t she?” my husband’s southern drawl came from behind me, interrupting my thoughts. I turned to look at him, seated there in the car beside me. He was holding the car keys in his right hand, and fidgeting with them with his left. His big body was turned towards me, his shoulders hunched forward and his head tilted down. Dark eyebrows rose over seeking blue eyes. He really wanted to know my opinion. Since he had bought the house for me sight unseen, and he knew I loved Victorians, he really deserved an answer. But what could I say? “Sorry, I do like Victorians, but this one is giving me a weird feeling”, just wouldn’t do. So, I settled for something a little more neutral, “I think she needs a lot of work”.
I smiled to soften the blow. He must have thought that was a good sign because he all but threw open the door and jumped out. I let myself out while he came around the front of the car and walked toward the metal gate.
As I stepped away from the car, I came out of the shade from the one old tree in the front yard. The bright autumn sun blinded me and I put up my hand, trying to shade my eyes.
My husband turned to me suddenly and said, “She does need a lot of work, doesn’t she.” It wasn’t really a question, and his tone was excited. I nodded my head absently and he turned and went through the gate, almost running up the sidewalk to the front door.
Big men shouldn’t be able to skip like that and still look like little kids, but somehow he managed. I felt a wistful smile tug at my lips, and shook my head. Like a kid at Christmas. Well, at least one of us was excited. Maybe I could pick up his excitement by osmosis. I watched him unlock the front door and enter. The old wooden screen door stayed open behind him. It must be warped. Just another thing to fix, I thought, and turned my attention back to the gate in front of me.
It was old, like the rest of the house. I had seen gates like this for sale on Etsy, marked “vintage”. It had a thick rounded outer frame, like many modern chain-link fences, but inside was more delicate woven wire in a grid-like pattern. In the center of the pattern and at the top, the grid came up and around, creating loops. The looping pattern gave it a more decorative look. On top of the frame were pieces of flat metal curling up and around, making it look even fancier. The metal was mostly dark brown with chips of white paint embedded in the rusty metal. It must have been a long time since anyone cared what this gate looked like.
I pushed open the front gate, noticing the flimsy wire mesh fence and decayed state of the walkway and yard, but all my attention was on the house. I had an odd feeling that I had seen it before.
It was a smaller Victorian without some of the wackier architecture that you could find in houses from that period. It was definitely not one of those behemoths that you saw on Main Street, which was probably why it was stuck way off over here on a little-known side street. I bet it wasn’t even on the Historical Preservation Society’s list. That could mean good things if we did decide to fix it up. And boy did it need to be fixed up.
The paint on the outside was about halfway gone, curling in the places where it still stubbornly clung to the walls. The bare patches showed gray wood, hopefully only weathered by the elements and not too far into the rotting process. It wouldn’t be cheap to replace the old wooden siding.
At least the main outside structure looked mostly sound with a tower or turret room on the left and a wrap-around porch on the right. The tall roofline indicated that there was a second story. I could see a small rectangular window with old lace curtains above the covered porch, and I could just barely make out the peak of the roof above the turret room. That was probably an extra bedroom or even an attic area. That window was pretty high up there. I would bet that the first story had ten or maybe twelve-foot ceilings. A feature not uncommon on a Victorian, but they were a bitch to clean.
The only thing that sagged was the porch and that was only in one spot where the floorboards in front of the window dipped. Every wooden surface, even the old latticework below the porch, was covered in that old white curling paint. It didn’t look like anyone had updated any of the paint in several years.
The only other worrisome thing I saw from the front was the film on the windows in the turret room. I wondered how long it would take to clean them and whether it was on the outside or inside.
Despite my thoughts that the house was structurally sound, I couldn’t shake the feeling of dread growing in my stomach. Another shiver rolled down my spine, and I moved my hand, gazing at the late summer sky. There was no cloud in sight and the sky was the kind of bright blue that seems too harsh to look at; especially against the bright green leaves of the trees. The day was too bright and sunny for the dark feelings that were filling me. What exactly was bothering me?
As my eyes traveled back down and I looked over the house again, I thought that it looked oddly familiar. Had I lived in a house like this when I was little?
A lone breeze sprang up, carrying a sweet dark scent with it. I took a deep breath of the loamy air and closed my eyes. That smell always made me feel conflicted: happy and sad all at once. I had always wondered about that feeling, and I took a moment to search my memory for the smell. I swore I could almost see something. But if the memories were there, they were as insubstantial as vapor.
I opened my eyes in exasperation and froze.
A little girl squatted in shorts and a tank top, barefoot in the flower bed along the front porch. She was slight, with wispy blonde hair and thin limbs. She must have been in there for a while, dirt clung to her hands and feet and crawled in spots up her arms and legs. There was even a wayward streak on her cheek as if she had reached up to scratch an itch with her dirt-clad fingers. Her hands dug in the dirt, pulling out and then discarding things in a small pile on the other side of the natural stone rock wall along the edge of the flower bed.
The flower bed lay in shadow, cast from the porch above, and a strong smell of wet earth was in the air. I noticed then that the earth that covered her was damp. The plants she was pulling up were a deep healthy green, their roots hanging onto clumps of the moist soil. As I watched, I realized that she was only pulling up bits of grass and leaving the sunflowers intact.
“Honey, are you coming?” I heard a voice call as if from a long way away. My breath came out in a whoosh, only now realizing I was holding it. I looked up, towards the source of the voice, but all I saw was the darkened doorway into the house. Jack must have been calling me from inside. When I looked back at the flower bed, the little girl was gone. The flower bed was sitting in full sun, filled with dry, cracked dirt through which only sprouted a few straggly tufts of grass. I took a deep breath, smelling only dusty earth. It was still the same bright day as it was before the apparition appeared, but I shivered.
God, I hoped this house wasn’t haunted. Old houses that needed physical upkeep I could do, spiritual, not so much.
I walked up to the porch and through the front door feeling apprehensive, but what I saw upon entering cheered me up considerably. The first room happened to be the living room. It was quite large, which was normal for the time the house was built. Victorians like to stuff their living rooms (which they called the “parlor” or “drawing room”) with lots of furniture. This was because the room served as a place to show off your wealth. Like most Victorian living rooms, this one was oddly shaped due to the bay window which mimicked the curve of the wrap-around porch on my right, and because their purpose was not to house a tv. The floor of the living room was slightly dusty, but the wood gleamed beneath. Someone, at least, had taken care of the hardwood floors.
Instead of a single hall leading off this room, there were five separate doorways set into the wall to my left and the wall opposite me. I could see how that section of the living room would need to stay free of any furniture in order to allow people to move between the rooms. That could mean that the part of the living room that housed furniture might look overcrowded. I was already planning how to counteract this. That fireplace opposite me in the wall would be a problem to design around, but at least we could enjoy cozy fires this winter… As long as it was in working order, anyway. I added another item to my mental list of “things to do”.
Turning my attention back to the doorways, I studied the layout. Two of the doorways were on the wall opposite me, one with an actual door was closest to the corner to my left, and the other (to the right of the door) was an opening that stretched into a small hallway. I couldn’t see very far down that hallway, but I could tell it led to at least one more room. Though there was another door along the left wall of the hallway that I wondered about. Did it lead into the same room or closet that the door beside the hallway did? I would have to check it out in a moment.
The wall to the left had three doorways in it. Again, only one of the doorways had a door in it. Maybe both covered doorways led to closets? Though, I had yet to see a set of stairs that led to the second level. The first open doorway (and the smallest) closest to the wall opposite me led to the kitchen. I could see some of the cabinets and a slice of the stove from where I stood. The next doorway to the left was the one with the door, and the one beside it was a wide opening into the turret room.
My curiosity led me that way. I loved turret rooms. Something about their circular dimensions appealed to the artist in me. There were windows set into both outside walls, not quite as big as the bay window in the living room, but almost. This would make a great office, studio, or both. I turned around slowly, trying to picture where I might set up a desk and my painting nook. But instead, all I could picture in the room was a dining room table. The light oak wood contrasted nicely with the darker boards of the floor. A handmade lace tablecloth and an old oil lamp, with its intimate glow, made a cozy eating area.
I shook my head, trying to clear it of the daydream. Old plain oak, lace tablecloths, and oil lamps were definitely not my style. I wondered where that particular image had come from. I turned around and walked back into the front room.
I checked the door between the tower and the kitchen next. That closed door led to a set of stairs going down, but I couldn’t seem to find a light switch. Probably, we had a basement. It had been a while since I had a house with a basement. Maybe that could be converted into something…
I heard a loud thump and a curse from the depths of the house. I shut the door, figuring Jack could check later, once he finished doing whatever caused the cussing. I moved to the right, pausing just long enough to flick on the light inside the kitchen door and take a peak. The wall to the left of the door had no furniture against it, but there was, oddly, a streak of something blue-green and bulbous. It was the only thing marring the wall and I wondered if it was some kind of mold. Once that streak was removed, I could see that a small table or even an island might work well there, as there was plenty of space to move between it and the rest of the kitchen. Old fashioned Formica counters in faux white marble wrapped around from the wall opposite me to the wall to my right, terminating in a doorway which led to a room shrouded in darkness. Just to my right was an ancient stove, with a few cabinets just above it, and a small stretch of blank wall. It was likely left like that so that it didn’t interfere with the doorway. The floor was an ugly old yellow linoleum, which I would replace as soon as possible. I left the light on and turned towards the closed door that I suspected was a closet.
I put my hand on the knob and tried to turn it, but something stopped me. The feeling of dread that had filled me on the sidewalk hit me again. Only this time it was stronger. What the hell was going on? I shook my head and turned the knob. The door opened with a creak. My heart started beating wildly and my breath came in gasps. The door swung open and I saw a set of stairs leading up into the darkness. Just over my head, a few steps up was a white string hanging down. I moved forward, my foot landing on the shadowed first step. I felt suddenly light-headed and spots swam before my eyes. I tried to take another step, but my legs felt like they were filled with lead. I was gasping for breath now and I felt like I was falling. The world titled around me, and I realized I was staring up at the ceiling. Then nothing.
I woke up, laying on the floor, Jack crouched over me, his eyebrows drawn together in concern.
I sat up, my cheeks hot with shame.
“I’m okay,” I answered, my voice shaking before he could ask.
“You don’t sound okay… Or look it.”
I glared at him from under the bangs that hung over my eyes. “I’m fine,” I said again, my voice more firm this time. “I just got light-headed and I must have fainted…” Even I thought that explanation was silly. What modern woman fainted these days?
“Okay…” he said, looking skeptical. He eyed me for a minute, then reached down and helped me sit up. “Do you need some water?”
“No,” I answered. “I’m okay, really.” Because I knew he was really worried and wouldn’t leave me alone, I stood up a little unsteadily.
“Did you see what was up there?” he asked. I eyed the open doorway leading to the shadowed stairs. I took another steadying breath. “I was going to.” Tugging his hand I said, “Let’s go see the rest of the house first. I’m sure that’s just the attic or something.”
The rest of the tour was uneventful. There were two bedrooms at the back of the house, one was the dark room off the kitchen and the other at the end of the short hallway that led from the living room. The short hallway had a bathroom on one side, and a closet tucked in under the stairs. So, that’s where that door led.
As we came back into the living room, Jack stopped and looked at the door he had found me laying beside. He peeked in the door, but because his back was to me, he didn’t see me flinch. He reached up and pulled the string that was a few steps up. It only lit the stairs. He bounded up the stairs and I saw another light come on. “It’s an attic, but it looks like someone tried to turn it into a bedroom, maybe,” he called.
I swallowed the lump in my throat. The site of the stairs all lit up seem to do nothing to quell the trepidation I was feeling. “Okay,” I replied. “I need to go to the bathroom and I think we should bring the rest of the luggage in.” I didn’t know why seeing that stairway and trying to open that door earlier made me feel so leery, but I would tackle that later.
After I finished up in the bathroom, I found Jack outside, hauling the luggage that we brought out of the car. I helped him carry it inside, and we spent the rest of the evening unpacking and getting our sleeping bags set up in the bedroom. We’d be sleeping on the floor until the movers brought the rest of our stuff. A prospect I didn’t relish, but one that was, unfortunately, necessary.
The movers arrived the next day, and I breathed a sigh of relief as they brought the rest of our possessions in. No more sleeping on that hard wooden floor. It didn’t take them very long to get everything in, including a mountain of boxes.
The rest of the day was spent unpacking and trying to get our house into order, as Jack was at work. I was anxious to start looking for a job, too. Until then, I would have to occupy myself with making this house a home.
It was almost dinner time and I had only three boxes left. I had left them unopened because they were boxes of books from college and they would have to be stored. I looked at the boxes and then looked at the door to the attic. That was really the best place for them, as long as there were no leaks. But I had been avoiding that door ever since that first day.
I felt stupid standing here, afraid to open a door. So I marched over to it and grasped the handle. The brass under my hand provoked no feelings of dread, nor did I start breathing heavily. I sighed and opened the door. The same shadowy, narrow staircase I had seen that first day greeted me. I stepped up the couple of steps I needed to reach up and pull the cord. I didn’t feel light-headed and my legs were moving fine. Okay, this was really weird. Maybe yesterday was just an isolated incident. I took another couple of steps and the feeling of foreboding that gripped me yesterday took hold again. I took another step and my heart started racing. One more step and I couldn’t breathe. I sat down heavily on the step that I had been standing on a moment before. It took a few minutes of deep breathing before I could stand again. When I did, I made my way shakily back down the stairs and closed the door behind me, not once looking back. I decided that the hall closet would be fine to put the boxes in for now.
I tried not to think about the two reactions I had to the attic door and stairway, but they stayed with me the rest of the day. I had even tried to do some painting after I set up my easel along one wall of the tower. I tried to concentrate on the feel of the brush in my hand, solid and real as I roughed out a quick landscape. But every time I closed my eyes to picture what I was trying to paint, all I saw was the door set against a shadowy background.
I took a break and put on some music on my phone. Billy Joel’s voice crooned out of the speaker and I breathed deep, listening to him sing about playing the piano in a local bar. I couldn’t help but sway to the song and hum along. When it got to the chorus, I belted out the lyrics, just like they were intended and I was struck by a sudden memory: my mother and I singing this song at the top of our lungs at each other, wooden spoons held up to our mouths to mimic microphones. I stopped singing, trying to pull more of that memory from my mind. It was odd. I could clearly see us, but nothing else around us. No floor, no counters, cabinets, or stove, but somehow I knew we were in the kitchen. Billy Joel had been one of my mother’s favorite singers. It was something I had inherited from her and I listened to him whenever I needed to feel better or distract myself.
I left the music playing and returned to the canvas as I shook away the memory. I worked for a while on the landscape until I caught myself humming and swaying to another favorite of ours: “New York State of Mind”. I opened my mouth to sing, but stopped as I heard the sound of scuffing feet and humming behind me. I froze. Jack wasn’t due back for a few hours at least and there was no one else in the house with me.
I whirled, intending to confront whoever was in my house that shouldn’t be. What I was going to do to them with a paintbrush, I would never know. There was no one there. I could still clearly hear the sound of moving feet and faint humming, though. I stood there, unsure if I should even move. The sounds only lasted a moment more before they faded away. I stayed still for a moment longer, before abandoning my brush on the easel and leaving the tower.
For the rest of the day, I avoided that room and tried to read a book to distract myself. It didn’t work, though. By the time dinner rolled around, I was a jumble of nerves.
As Jack and I sat down to dinner, I decided to bring up the subject of my feelings. “I don’t like it here…” I started, and immediately felt silly for saying it out loud.
“I know it’s a bit of a fixer-upper, Jules, but this house could really be something,” he said, misinterpreting my meaning.
I shook my head as I said, “I don’t mean that I hate the way it looks. I mean–” I paused, unsure of how to voice my worry. “I mean that I don’t like the way it makes me feel,” I finished lamely.
He looked at me, his eyebrows raised. “You’re gonna have to give me more than that.”
“I can’t,” I answered. “I really wish you would have consulted me before putting a down payment on this thing.”
“I was trying to make sure that we had a place to stay,” he said, sounding angry.
“I know that,” I said. “But we could have stayed in a hotel until we found a place we both liked.”
He sat there quietly for a moment, his shoulders rigid and his mouth making a hard line. “I thought you would love this place. You’re always going on about how you would like to live in an old house. That they don’t make houses like they used to. I found this place and thought immediately of you. I’m sorry you think I don’t know what you would like,” he said, sounding offended. He got up from the table suddenly and stalked off.
I sat there feeling hurt, unsure if I should follow him and try to fix it. A moment later I heard the front door open and close shut. I knew then that he needed time.
I went to bed before Jack got home that night. It was after midnight when he crawled silently into bed beside me. I lay awake for a while until I heard him start snoring softly. It wasn’t long until his rhythmic breathing lulled me into my own sleep.
I was in a room, and I was afraid. I was convinced there was something in that room. The room was filled with shadows, but there was a deeper set of shadows near the edge of the room opposite me. There was something lying in those shadows. I couldn’t tell what it was, but the sight of it lying there in the dark filled me with a fear so deep that it tasted like ashes in my mouth. I swallowed and took a deep breath. I stepped across the room, my feet making no sounds on the wood floor. I walked past boxes leaning against the walls to either side. Between two stacks of boxes was the thing I was trying to get to. I paused, only now questioning why I was moving towards it. Something pulled me forward, and I was desperate to know what it was. I tried to take a step, but it was like I was walking through water. I tried to move faster, but the harder I pushed, the slower I moved. It felt like I had been walking for a long time, but never getting closer. I tried to take one more step, certain I could break through whatever was holding me back, and woke up with a start.
I was shaking uncontrollably, and my throat was burning as if I had been crying for hours. I sat up, and my husband grunted and shifted in the bed beside me. Moving carefully, so I wouldn’t wake him, I pulled my knees up to my chest and hugged them. Leaning back against the headboard, I stayed like that for a long time, watching the shadows from the branches of the tree outside, slowly swaying in the wind against my wall.
The next morning I woke up on my side. I must have fallen back asleep last night, but I didn’t remember doing so. I turned over, discovering that Jack had already gotten out of bed. I stared at the empty hollow in the pillow where his head should be and sighed. Well, this wasn’t going to fix itself.
I forced myself to get out of bed, wash my face, and do all the little things I liked to do in the morning. We had elected to take the bedroom off the hall, and I tiptoed down it, listening to see if I could tell what kind of a mood he was in this morning. I heard nothing, except for the creak of a board as I stepped carefully. I paused, sure that Jack had heard it, and then wondered why I was being so careful.
I walked normally the rest of the way into the kitchen. Jack was at the table, carefully sipping his coffee. He didn’t look up as I entered, which told me that he was still mad. I poured myself a cup and sat down at the table next to him.
It was a Saturday, and we didn’t really have anything planned. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend the day not talking about the elephant in the room or hashing it out. I knew from past experience that once we started, we’d be forced to keep going; to try and fix whatever was happening that neither of us liked. Once one of us broke the silence, we couldn’t leave it alone. I sighed, deciding that it was at least peaceful at the moment, and stood up to make myself some toast. That’s when my phone rang. I jumped up and ran into the other room, grateful to put some space between us.
When I saw that my Aunt Cora was calling me, I was ecstatic. I was going to call her today, and invite her over. Part of the reason we moved to this area was because it brought me closer to her. She had raised me after my mother died, and we were as close as mother and daughter.
I answered the phone and my aunt replied with, “Hey, Little Bit. Where are you living?” That was my Aunt Cora, straight to the point. “Jack found a Victorian on the east side of Maryville. We’re at the corner of Cherry and Bingham.”
There was an uncharacteristic silence on the other end of the phone. Then Cora’s voice came through, sounding hesitant. “What’s the address?”
“Uh, hang on,” I said. I actually don’t have it memorized yet. I hurried back into the kitchen and asked Jack the address. “Ok,” I told her, “It’s 2130 S Cherry.”
Again, there was silence on the other end of the line.
“Are you there?” I asked, worried that the call had been dropped.
“Uh, yeah,” my aunt answered, her voice strained. “Is your house across the street from a church?”
“Yeah…” I answered. “How did you know that? Have you lived here before?”
“Not… exactly.” There was a pause, then a sigh. “It will make more sense if I tell you when I get there.”
“Ok,” I said, taking my own turn to pause as I thought of something else to say. “We’ll be here when you get here.”
“I’ll be there in about half an hour.”
I said goodbye and hung up the phone. “That was weird,” I said, thinking out loud.
“It sounded like it,” Jack said. I glanced at him, but couldn’t tell from his face whether he was finally talking to me or just making a simple comment. I explained what she had said. He grunted in response and gave me a look that said he couldn’t explain it either.
“Well, I guess I’ll go get dressed, then,” I said, and went upstairs to do just that.
When Aunt Cora showed up, she stepped into the house, and looked around, like she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. When her eyes landed on me, her open mouth shut suddenly and she reached out to hug me, tears in her eyes. “I missed you, too,” Aunt Cora, I said.
She opened her mouth, but seemed unable to say something. “Are you okay?” I asked. She just shook her head. I had never seen my Aunt like this. She was the original independent woman, and nothing seemed to phase her. I put my arm around her and motioned for Jack to follow us into the kitchen. After I got her settled at the table, I turned around and busied myself making some hot cocoa.
While the water was heating in the kettle, I tried to resist the urge to pester her about what was wrong. I felt like I was a little kid again, needing an answer to whatever burning question was tumbling around my brain. I had learned patience from Aunt Cora.
Could the reaction she was having to the house have anything to do with the weird things I was experiencing here? I shuddered remembering the feelings that had hit me every time I tried to go upstairs, and the apparitions. There was definitely something odd going on, but that didn’t mean the two things were connected. Another thing she taught me was to question my assumptions, and that incidents that seem related may not be. After all, what proof did I have that they were related, except for a gut feeling?
I took a moment to breathe while I finished making the hot cocoa. I would, hopefully, have an answer soon, and no amount of worrying about it would change the outcome.
When I finished, I placed the mugs around the table, then sat down waiting for her to explain.
She sat there, her hands cradling the mug, staring into its depths. I watched a tendril of steam curl up and dissipate into the air. I didn’t want to rush her, but I was intensely curious about how she was acting. When she looked up, it wasn’t to meet my eyes. Instead, she took in the kitchen, studying it with a bemused look on her face. It was a few moments later before she looked at me. She started by taking a deep breath. What she said next made me sit up straight.
“You lived here,” she said. She swallowed audibly, and continued, “You were five.”
I opened my mouth to protest, then thought about the little girl I had imagined crouching in the front flower bed. A thought had just entered my head, but I couldn’t voice it. Now it was my turn to close my mouth and gather myself before I spoke. When I did, it was in a small voice, which I hadn’t used since I was a little girl. “But, Mom died when I was five. Why don’t… why don’t I remember this place?”
Her hand covered mine. I studied the wrinkles and veins that lined the back. “I don’t know, honey. After your Mom died, you came to live with me. You had terrible nightmares for a long time. We took you to therapy, and the psychologist thought your nightmares were repressed memories.” Here she paused and took a steadying breath. “You see, you found your mother,” she began gently. She paused, again, looking down at the table for a moment, as if she was reluctant to continue. Coming to some decision, she raised her eyes to mine and said, “She was in the attic. She had a brain aneurysm.”
“No!” I denied, almost immediately. “Mom died in the hospital. I was there…” I looked up at Aunt Cora, who was shaking her head and looking at me in concern. “I-I remember.”
“Oh, Honey, no–” my Aunt started to say.
I got up suddenly and walked out of the room. This time I didn’t pause as I wrenched the door to the attic open, and ran up the stairs. I reached the top and turned the light on. Dark paneling covered the walls, almost indistinguishable from the hardwood floor in the long narrow room. It was empty, except for the dust clouds which I had released with my hurried steps. I closed my eyes, listening to the thumping of my heart, which sounded overly loud in this empty room. When I opened my eyes the room was still empty, but I could also see stacks of boxes piled along the walls. The boxes were there, but they weren’t; ghosts of their former selves. It was like looking at a double-exposed photo. The one thing that had not changed was the shadows that lay near the back of the room. Before the shadows had been just an absence of light. Now I felt my mouth go dry and my heart start beating faster, just looking at them. There seemed to be something in those shadows, something darker, but I couldn’t tell what. I did not want to find out what.
The sound of footsteps coming up the stairs behind me seemed to break the spell. I looked behind me to see Jack running up, and my Aunt Cora moving more slowly. I turned back around.
I stared at the spot where I thought I had seen the boxes and the deeper shadow, taking deep gulping breaths. I didn’t realize I was also shaking until I felt Jack’s hands on my upper arms. His touch steadied me. It was a few more moments before I could fully catch my breath, and both Jack and my aunt stood there in silence. I couldn’t bear to look at either of them yet. So, I tried to summon the phantom sight again. But no matter how hard I tried, the attic was bare of everything but dust.
Finally, I turned and looked up at Jack. “Are you okay?” Jack asked. I shook my head, though I didn’t know if I was answering his question or trying to deny that I had seen something that wasn’t there. He wrapped his arm around my shoulder and squeezed. “Why don’t we go back down to the kitchen.”
I nodded and followed him back down the stairs, refusing to look behind me.
When we had settled into the chairs at the kitchen table, I clutched my mug and stared into its depths. Was I seeing the attic as I had when I found my mother? Or was my mind just conjuring that image because my aunt had told me what happened? I couldn’t understand how I could have this perfect memory of my mother in the hospital. I had been clutching her hand. I could still remember how soft it was. I could still hear the machines beeping and smell that odd scent that all hospitals seemed to have. How could that be untrue? I thought again about what I had seen in the attic, and I knew that my mind couldn’t have faked those emotions.
The sound of a throat clearing made me look up. Two expectant faces stared at me. I must have been sitting there for a while. I smiled to reassure them, but I didn’t feel reassured myself.
I took a deep breath and asked the question that was nagging me. “Hey, Aunt Cora, were there boxes in the attic, along the walls?”
“Yes,” she answered, her chocolate eyes filled with concern.
“And she was…” my voice trailed off as those deep shadows flashed in my mind again. I took a steadying breath and continued, “My mom… Was she laying on the floor in between the boxes?”
“You remember?” she asked, astonished.
“N-not exactly. I thought I saw something… Just for a moment, upstairs. But it didn’t last.” I shrugged.
“Maybe it’s a good thing you don’t remember,” she said, patting my arm.
“But I want to remember,” I blurted.
She patted my arm again. “I know you do. I just meant that you blocked those memories out the first time for a reason.”
I tried to smile at her words because I knew that she meant well, but I couldn’t help feeling that recovering that memory would fix something that had been missing for a while…
After dinner Aunt Cora left. I went and sat on the couch in the living room, letting the quiet of the evening sink in. It was still light outside at this time and would be until winter sunk its icy fingers into the world. I was sitting sideways on the couch, facing the wall with the bay window and the smaller one beside it. Evening light slanted in from both, falling at an angle across the hardwood floor. I watched dust motes swirling in the light, struck by a sudden memory of thinking they were tiny fairies when I was a child.
I thought again about the memory I had of being in the hospital and seeing my mom in bed. I remembered holding her hand, the touch of her fingers soft and comforting against mine. I remembered feeling at that moment that everything would be okay. I examined the memory, trying to look at it from different angles. But nothing I did, seemed to change it. I couldn’t remember anything that came before or after. That wasn’t necessarily odd. I had plenty of memories like that. So why did I connect that memory with my mother’s death? I sighed, content to let it be for the moment. I looked away from the swirling dust motes, only then realizing that Jack was standing beside me. I looked up, craning my neck back until my eyes reached his. It was in moments like these when I realized just how tall he was.
He stared at me for a moment, his eyes filled with concern. “Are you okay,” he asked in a whisper. I shrugged and whispered back, “I don’t know.”
Maybe realizing it was uncomfortable for me to stare up at him like that, he lowered himself into a crouch beside me and placed his hand on my arm.
“You know, we can sell the place if you want. Though I don’t know how long it will take, and we’ll have to stay here while we do.”
I looked away, unable to meet his eyes for a moment. I picked at a piece of lint on my jeans, thinking. I really didn’t know what to say. On the one hand, I did love the way this house was built. But it was definitely haunted by memories that I both desperately wanted and didn’t want to remember. What would happen if I stayed here and I suddenly remembered what it was like to find my mother, lifeless in the attic? Would I be able to handle living here? Would staying here improve my chances of remembering, or were those memories only phantoms now?
I sighed, looked up at him, and smiled. “I just really don’t know,” I answered. “Let’s just give it a while before we make a decision.” He looked at me for a moment, then stood up and offered his hand
“Join me?” he asked, with a smile in his voice. I took his hand and we made our way to the bedroom. Tomorrow would be another day, and maybe the new dawn would make everything look better.
Hi, I’m Cassie. I love books and media and think that they have the power to change our lives. I also love to write, play games like Minecraft and ARK, cook, run, and dance. For a living, I provide Digital Marketing and Website Design services under the company I founded Team 3 Media. Currently, I’m working on writing more, learning to bake better bread, and staying consistent with my health and fitness goals.