Our prompt for the January 2018 writing contest has been:
Your character returns to their childhood home for some reason. During their stay, they find a secret room they never knew about…
And the winner is… Susan Grant!
Susan’s entry had a special haunting feeling to it which kept us reading through with baited breath. Enjoy her work below!
By Susan Grant
I walk through the empty house in a daze. I see everyday items here and there waiting for my parents to return and pick them up. I shake my head in hopes of clarifying my thoughts. I sit down on the stairs and events from the last week stomp through my mind.
I was at work when my brother showed up to speak with me. I remember looking up from my desk and seeing Phillip striding toward me. My first thought was, I bet he’s locked his keys in the car again and needs me to drive him home to get his spare set.
I move to get my purse, but Phillip stammered, “Sarah, it’s Mom and Dad. They’ve been in an automobile accident, and they’re both gone.”
I just stared at Phillip as his words echoed through my mind. Gone? Both Mom and Dad? How could this be?
I sat down hard on my chair, and Phillip mumbled, “We need to call the airport and arrange a flight to Georgia as soon as possible.”
That was just under a week ago, and now I’m sitting in the house of my childhood with two huge differences; my parents are no longer there. My exhausted mind briefly focuses on the funeral and visitations of the last few days, and I wonder how I can be functioning with so much grief and mechanical socializing.
I get up from the stairs and walk into the living room where family pictures cover much of one wall. I move from frame to frame looking closely at the images of my mom and dad. These photos stir up a myriad of emotions; grief, hurt, fear, anger, and guilt. Growing up in this house was far from perfect, and I knew that I had excess emotional baggage because of it. My mother and father were difficult, in many ways, and I realize for the first time how much resentment I harbor in my heart toward them.
My mom, Janice, was an angry woman who believed that giving encouraging words to her children would cause them to take advantage of her and become lazy and non-productive. Mom believed that fear was the best motivator and I grew up knowing it intimately. My mother’s words still ring in my ears. “You had better straighten up now! No child of mine is going to act as you are. You will not be an embarrassment to this family!”
My father, Samuel, was a passive man that rarely expressed his feelings about us or anything else in life. He usually cowered in response to my mother’s dictatorship.
For a long time, I always thought that I was resentful only of my mother and her harsh ways but, walking through this empty house, it occurs to me that I may be just as angry with my dad. You should have stuck up for me, and you didn’t! You just let everything go on, and you stayed quiet. How could you?
I continue my reflective tour through Mom and Dad’s house. Phillip told me last night that we have to go through their things soon, deciding on what we should do with them. I pause in the laundry room and look around. I see that towels are still in the dryer from the last time my father had used it. I glance at the shelf that holds the detergents and then look up and see something that I never noticed before; in the ceiling, there is a trap door. I figure it must lead to a part of the attic I have never seen. I frown in concentration. What, if anything, is up there? I have to find out.
I look behind the door and find the step ladder that Dad used to paint the living room last year. I move it just under the trap door and gingerly climb up. I am surprised when I discover that this door is just a painted piece of plywood that covers the opening and moves easily. I slide it over and realize that I need some light to see what is up there.
I grab a flashlight and scoot back up the ladder and in through the opening. Shining the light around, I see this part of the attic is isolated from the rest; it appears to be a little storage room accessed only through this crawlspace.
I stand there slightly hunched over as the angle of the roof allows little room. As my eyes adjust to the dim light, I see there are multiple pieces of old-fashioned luggage. It looks as if these suitcases have seen better days and multiple questions come to mind.
To whom did these pieces of luggage belong? Why are they here? Do they have anything in them?
I walk over to the closest piece. My heart gives a small jolt as I read the name, Janice. Why would my mother’s luggage be here? The case is locked, and as I lift up the bag, I drop it quickly, surprised by the weight.
I make my way around all the other pieces of luggage and notice each one has a label with either my mother’s name or my father’s.
I reach out to inspect a random bag; it also is heavy and locked. I move around lifting suitcases and learn that all of them are full and locked; for safekeeping, I wonder?
I’ve got to know what is in these cases. Certainly, the contents must be valuable or important because Mom and Dad have hidden them away like this.
I climb down the ladder to get some tools. In a matter of minutes and I am back in the secret room, kneeling in front of a bag with Mom’s name on it.
A few bangs on the lock with a screwdriver and hammer snaps the lock open. I put the bag on its side and open it; my eyes grew large with shock. This case is full of dirt! It doesn’t make sense. Why would Mom store a piece of luggage packed with soil?
I run my fingers through the dirt pondering this discovery when my fingers detect a small piece of cardboard. I pull it out of the mound and brush at the particles of dirt and see that there are words on it. Moving my flashlight on it I read, An alcoholic mother and an absent father raised Janice.
Frowning, I check the rest of the dirt, and there is nothing else in this case.
I get up and move to another piece of luggage, again labeled with my mother’s name. I force the lock, and it too is full of dirt. My body trembles when I find another piece of cardboard hidden within. This one reads, Janice’s mother was a heartless authoritarian who believed in giving no mercy to her children.
Agitation flows through me as I move to the third piece of luggage, one with my father’s name on it. Breaking the lock, I expose another suitcase full of soil and digging through it also produces another cardboard sign. This one reads, Samuel’s father was infantile emotionally and demanded constant care by his children.
I shut the case suddenly and grab another with Dad’s name and force the lock. I plunge my hand into the dirt and uncover a fourth cardboard sign. This one reads, Mother was distant and cold; she moved in and out of Samuel’s life.
I continue to rummage through all the bags and gather the pieces of cardboard each contains within a grave of soil. I slowly make my way down the ladder and walk to the kitchen and lay the pieces out for inspection.
Mother had a furious temper that ignited quickly. Janice was often the target.
Samuel’s father would spend hours in his room in depression, isolated from his kids.
Janice’s father never defended her when needed.
Mother never once declared that she was proud of Samuel.
Tears fill my eyes as this attic discovery reveals to me that Mom and Dad had excess baggage of their own. If only I knew this when they were still with us; I would have shown more compassion and patience toward them.
If only, if only, if only.
Phillip and I return to Mom and Dad’s house the next day. I am anxious to take him up into the secret room so he, too, can see Mom and Dad’s unique luggage. We go to the laundry room, and I move the ladder back in place. I climb up to move the plywood and am stunned; there is no trap door in the ceiling.
How can this be?