“Nothing weighs on us so heavily as a secret.”
Jean de la Fontaine
It had been years since Nan had gone up into the attic. As a little girl, she had decided to play pirate and sought booty amongst the many chests and boxes stored away in the space. However, her pilgrimage was short lived when her father discovered her and was less than impressed. He scolded her severely and banned her from ever entering the attic again, which she had obeyed, until now.
As she walked up the steep narrow steps, Nan smelt the faint odour of century’s worth of mould, mothballs, and stale air. At the door crowning the staircase, Parker pushed against it with his broad shoulder and tried to budge the thick old wood on its stiff unyielding hinges. After applying a great deal of pressure, the door opened and they found themselves in a dull, dimly lit, dust filled room, with low peaked rafters and a single beam of light that emanated through a solitary octagon window at the room’s end.
The atmosphere was ominous. Cobwebs hung everywhere and there was an eminent sense that at any minute a bat was going to swoop down and accost their heads. Nan had once encountered a bat and she remembered it well. The room itself from floor to rafters was piled full of boxes, trunks, suitcases, unwanted furniture, and years’ worth of knickknacks—once someone’s treasured possessions, now forgotten relics.
As Nan looked around at the dismissed objects, an odd chill ran down her spine. She gave a little shiver and spun around as if she expected to find someone standing behind her. No one was there.
“It’s a lot smaller than I would have figured it was from looking at it outside,” Parker observed. He wandered through the cramped space in search of a spare inch to set the box Nan had laden him with, down and locate the paper steamer. Nan inched behind him, stopping every couple of seconds to look over her shoulder. The strange sensation of being watched continued to tickle her neck.
Parker set his box down in front of a stack of others and began rummaging through them. “It’s almost as if your dad kept everything he ever owned.”
Nan laughed despite the eerie surroundings and put the box she carried on top of Parker’s. “He did. Dad was a genuine pack rat.”
She turned in the opposite direction as if someone had just called her name. Nan stared into the unoccupied space, unnerved. Something’s not right, she shivered. Could it be one of the ghosts in the house?
It had been a well-known fact between Nan and her father, that their comfortable country home was haunted. In the night, it was a regular occurrence to hear footsteps on the stairs, doors closing, piano music, and most commonly the sound of a radio. Nan was sure she had even seen an apparition once, as if it was trying to communicate with her.
As a child, Nan’s father had explained to her they were not alone in the house, but were in no harm, the former occupants simply unready to leave. This helped Nan not to fear the lost souls sharing their home and since then had never been bothered by them. Until now that is. Even having grown up in a haunted house, Nan could find no explanation for the unsettled feeling upon her.
Curiosity getting the best of her, Nan wandered to the other side of the room and left Parker to his search. As she rounded another stack of boxes, her steps froze in astonishment. There, staring her straight in the face was a small rectangular door, almost unnoticeable due to the never- ending heap of items in front of it.
Startled, Nan yelled to Parker, “Hey look at this.”
Within seconds, Parker appeared beside her and looked around at the desolate mess. “What?” he asked, not spotting the door.
“Look,” exclaimed Nan as she pointed to the cluttered entrance.
“Wow, now that’s weird.” Parker strolled forward to get a better look. Nan still cemented to the spot.
Not wasting any time, Parker robustly erupted into action and began moving the pile of junk, which barricaded the door. “I knew this attic seemed too small. I never would have spotted it, how did you see it?” he grinned with self-satisfaction.
Nan watched him nervously. “It was like something was drawing me to it.”
All she received in response was a sarcastic grunt. Again, Nan felt the odd ripple run down her back. A bit queasy, she looked around and anxiously said, “Maybe we should just forget about it and go find the paper steamer so we can get out of here.”
Parker paused, looked at her in a contemptuous manner and laughed, “Don’t tell me you’re scared. Afraid a ghost is going to jump out at you?”
Nan scowled and huffed, “No, I just think we’re wasting time that’s all and for your information smarty pants the house is haunted.”
“Yeah okay, Nan, and bats turn into vampires at night, right?” he mocked.
Like a spoiled child with a pout on, Nan all but stomped her foot before muttering, “It’s true! I’ve heard them myself.”
She got no reply. Nan thought back to all the times she had heard the unexplainable noises and seen the shadow play on the walls out of the corner of her eye. She knew the ghosts were real, but what were they trying to tell her?
With everything out from in front of the door, Parker grabbed its metal latch to open it. Nan shrieked, “No wait!”
Caught off guard by her outburst, Parker looked back at her over his shoulder and asked, “What?” When she couldn’t come up with a logical reply, he shook his head irritated and sighed, “Oh will you stop.” Reaching for the knob once more, Parker gave it one good pull and the door creaked open. A small room was revealed.
“See nothing happened,” Parker said sarcastically.
For fear of what might come out, Nan had closed her eyes. She opened them upon hearing Parker’s triumphant words and was relieved to see that all the door had concealed was the other half of the house’s attic. She followed Parker’s lead and stepped inside. Nan was shocked to find the space practically empty, apart from an antique wooden bedroom set— consisting of a dresser, nightstands, vanity, and headboard and footboard—a floral fabric straight back chair and a couple of boxes, all neatly piled to the left of the door.
Parker knelt down to examine one or two of the boxes. “There’s nothing spooky in here except a bunch of tacky girl’s clothes.”
A little ashamed of her wimpy behaviour, Nan looked down at him and with a tiny smile and said, “Yeah, I guess I got all worked up for nothing.”
Anabel, a whisper floated through the air. Nan went numb. “Did you hear that?” she asked with a shiver.
“Hear what?” Parker’s slightly muffled reply came from the box his head was in.
Nan turned and looked around the bare room, a gnawing feeling chewed at her gut. It had been a voice, I know it, she thought, someone had called my name. Something was wrong she could feel it. They never should have opened the door.
Then, her eyes fell upon it. At the back of the room, under another octagon window, apart from the rest of the stored items, was an old tin steamer trunk. Floods of light from the outside world setting it aglow like a prophetic alter. Why is it set apart from everything else? Nan contemplated, almost as if dad didn’t want anything to touch it.
“That’s strange,” vocalized Nan, transfixed by the mysterious trunk.
“What’s weird?” Parker looked in the direction Nan indicated. “What that old trunk?”
“Yeah, don’t you think it’s weird how it’s placed over there away from everything else?”
“So what?” he frowned, unable to grasp the unusualness of the situation. “You read way too much into things, you know that?”
Nan shook her head at his narrow-mindedness and huffed, “So, why isn’t it with the rest of the stuff then, huh? It’s almost like dad was trying to hide it or something.”
Parker chuckled. With a mischievous wink, he said, “Oh yes, maybe it’s a ghost trunk or better yet, maybe there’s the dead corpse of one of your dad’s secret lovers in it.”
“Oh shut up!” barked Nan, less than impressed at his jest. “My dad didn’t have any lovers.”
However, Nan couldn’t deny something about Parker’s theory caused alarm bells to ring off inside her head. The joys of the secret curse she had been plagued with all her life, an ability to know or sense things for no explainable reason, told her so now. The closed, barracked door, the half- empty room, and isolated trunk, it all smelled disastrous to Nan.
She mustered up her courage and inched her way over to the trunk to check it out for herself, leaving Parker and his jokes behind. An overwhelmed dread engulfed her. At the trunk, Nan knelt down before it and ran a hand over its aged wood—the battle of indecision wreaked havoc inside her. Slowly she lifted one brass latch of the trunk’s face and then the other. With a deep breath in preparation for what she might find, Nan placed both hands on the lid and pushed up.
An ear piercing “bang” rang throughout the silent room. Nan screamed and jumped to her feet. Parker was also visibly alarmed as they both whirled around towards the room’s entrance. In the doorway stood the fury innocent, puppy eyed face of Blue, with her smiling mouth and wagging tail. Upon searching for her master, the dog had nudged the narrow door with her snout and caused it to fly back and hit the wall, giving both Nan and Parker a heart attack as a result.
“Really, Blue?” Nan bellowed upon seeing the hapless animal and placed a hand over her palpating chest.
Parker bent down, petted his knee and called the dog over, “Come here you silly girl,” at which Blue perked up and pranced toward him happily.
Her pulse settled a bit, the expected danger having passed, and Nan knelt back down in front of the trunk and once again attempted to lift the lid. It wouldn’t open. Stunned, Nan let her hands fall to her knees and looking over her shoulder at Parker—still patting the attention-loving canine—moaned, “It won’t open.”
Parker got to his feet to come and investigate. He soon detected her issue after he looked the trunk over thoroughly and with an impish grin, said, “That’s why, it’s locked,” and showed her the locked padlock on the trunk’s side.
Nan scowled at this new anomaly. “That’s weird,” she whispered.
“Looks like your dad didn’t want anyone getting inside,” Parker shrugged, released the lock and walked away from the trunk.
“Yeah, but why?” agonized Nan.
He headed for the door with Blue at his heels, bored with the unsolvable mystery. “I don’t know, but let’s find that paper steamer and get back to work.”
Nan sighed and continued to stare at the trunk. She had the sickening feeling something sinister was hidden within its bowels. What was dad trying to hide, and from whom? Not sure, she really wanted to find out, but with intrigue gnawing at her gut, Nan reluctantly got to her feet and left the room.
Not long after they exited the strange room, the two found the wallpaper steamer and headed back down to the main floor to commence their task. It had become late by the time they tackled the hall, but with Parker masterfully stripping the walls and Nan painting them, they soon had made great progress. They ordered a pizza and plugged along, unaware of the time until Rory walked through the front door, signalling it was well past ten o’clock.
“Wow,” Rory exclaimed as her eyes swept over the freshly painted, ivory walls. She spotted Nan on the stairs, paintbrush in hand and said as she shut the door, “You’ve been busy.”
Nan smiled with satisfaction. “Yes it’s been a very productive day, thanks to Parker.” Rory’s gaze followed as Nan nodded her head in his direction further up the stairs.
Rory’s expression changed in an instant from pleasant to that of a rabid dog. Completely ignoring Parker’s presence, as if he was an unpleasant hallucination, Rory snarled, “He’s still here?”
Parker took no notice of her tactlessness and continued working away, but Nan glowered and in a sharp disgruntled tone, fired back, “Yes he is. He’s been helping me and as a matter-of-fact, he’s going to be here a lot more from now on. I’ve rented him the loft.”
“What?” hissed Rory, invisible flames spewed from her dilated nostrils.
“We’re going to be working together anyways, so I might as well rent it to him instead of letting it sit there empty.”
“Sure, but not to him!” Rory tartly opposed.
Surprised by Rory’s blatant churlish manner and lack of decorum in Parker’s presence, Nan stared at her in stunned silence. Nan narrowed her eyes and with an authoritative stance, replied, “I can rent it to whomever I choose. It is my property and no concern of yours.”
Astounded at Nan’s imperious attitude and mad at herself for lashing out like she had, Rory shrank down within herself. “Of course you can. I didn’t mean…” She didn’t finish her sentence, but instead walked down the hall to the kitchen without another word.
Nan watched Rory’s retreat with a repentant heart. She looked back up at Parker who gave an unsure shrug, but then returned to work. There was nothing to be done about it now she thought and she followed his example and resumed her paintbrush.
Within another hour, the stretch of wall going up the stairwell was finished and the pair stepped back to admire their work. It was time to call it a night they decided. Parker helped Nan clean up sombrely, knowing there was no point in prolonging things, and then headed for the door. “Well I guess I should be hitting the asphalt.”
Nan followed him and said appreciatively, “Thanks again for all your help.”
“Glad to be of service,” he smiled, giving her a theatrical bow.
“Oh get out of here, you,” laughed Nan and playfully pushed him on the shoulder.
Parker yearned to grab Nan and wrap her in his embrace. Drawing their bodies tight together and kiss her succulent, warm, perfectly formed lips. Nevertheless, he knew it wouldn’t happen. Instead, he headed out the door and yelled back over his shoulder, “Be good and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Always,” Nan giggled as she watched him get into his black Dodge Ram.
He laughed, “Yeah right,” before he closed the door, started the accelerator, and drove away.
Nan glanced into the living room after she shut the door. Rory had been hiding there since her reappearance from the kitchen, where she pretended to be oblivious to everything but the rerun of Gilmore Girls she watched on the television. Too tired to deal with any extra drama tonight, Nan tended to Poe and Blue and then trekked upstairs to her room.
She changed into her pyjamas and climbed under the covers, the bed being the one thing she had managed to organize in her new room before Parker’s arrival. Her aching muscles rejoiced at the feel of the soft mattress. Blue curled up comfortable on the floor and Poe stretched out at her feet all ready for the night’s slumbers. Not plagued by thoughts of her father due to tiredness, Nan soon found herself in a deep comfortable sleep.
It was dark, a black blindness. Nan felt her breath catch in her larynx as she searched her ebony surroundings, trying to figure out where she was. She stretched her arms out and pivoted in all directions, hoping to find a surface or something with mass in the dense stillness. There was nothing.
Panic brimmed inside her. Nan tried to call out, but uttered no sound. She was mute, as the darkness around her. Nan froze to the spot, not knowing what to do next, engulfed in the shaded silent abyss.
What is going on? Where am I? The thoughts whirled through her mind, as desperation traveled up every nerve in her body.
Far off in the distance a dim, red glow appeared, like a lighthouse’s beacon against a stormy sea. Hope sprang to Nan’s chest as she willed her fear paralysed legs towards it. One foot in front of the other, she neared the cerise beam. It illuminated more around her as a steady mist began to grow.
She neared the source of the light and looked down. Alarmed, Nan realized she wore some sort of medieval gown, not the string strapped T- shirt and fuzzy shorts she had gone to bed in.
Finally, she reached her target. Nan found to her horror that the scarlet glowing orb sat above a large golden steamer trunk. Flustered and disconcerted beyond logic, Nan stared as mist poured forth from the trunk’s seams and grew dense and eerie against the red hue.
Let thy out, Anabel, a voice whispered in the night.
The sound of her name made Nan’s blood run cold. She spun around and scanned the dark surroundings for the voice’s owner. She was alone.
Let thy out, Anabel, she heard again.
Nan stared down at the trunk and realized the voice came from inside.
Be true to thou self, Anabel. Let thee out, it urged desperately from the seams.
With a pensive step forward, Nan reached down, fear still thudding in her heart, and unlatched the clasps. The trunk opened. As if by the speed of light, two great skeletal hands burst forth from the mist, grabbed her arms and pulled her down into the belly of the beast. Nan screamed for dear life, flailing in vain. But the lid slammed shut behind her.
To read the full book click on the link. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00POBHJCW
Copyright ©2019 Siobhan Searle
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