“My condolences, Miss Sharpe. Your father was a great man.”
I nodded, forcing another fake smile. My face hurt from the effort and I really wanted to get this over with. We had put my father in the ground hours ago and I had done what any devoted daughter would and held a wake for all his old friends and the few remnants of our family which I barely knew. The thing was, I was not a devoted daughter and Christopher Sharpe was nothing short of a lousy father.
He may have been a great man to others, but he was a big nothing to me.
“Nora, would you like me to stay with you? You shouldn’t be alone.” Krystal, my third or fourth cousin from my father’s side, said as she rubbed my back. Her husband Peter trailed after her, giving me a longing look. Creep.
“I’m fine, thank you. I actually think it would be good to stay alone, get my thoughts together, reacquaint with the house.” I assured her. She gave me a sympathetic smile, her manicure digging into my shoulder. “Thank you for coming, though.”
“Of course, dear.” She smiled again and I noticed most of her lipstick was gone, just a few dark lines around the edges of her thin lips remaining. She must have been quite the beauty back when she was my age, but now she looked like a forty-something woman desperately trying to look twenty. “If you need us we’re just fifteen minutes away. I’ve left you my cell and our home number on a notebook in the hallway. Don’t hesitate to call.”
“I won’t,” I assured her. I won’t call you, I wanted to say. She hugged me again, then dragged her husband towards the door. He sent me another look over his shoulder before the two of them disappeared. I glanced around the house - the kitchen on my right was a mess of dirty glasses, plates and plastic containers with the remains of food. Krystal had insisted on helping me put them away and I had let her, afraid she may stay longer if I didn’t; on my left lay the living room with more glasses on the old coffee table, over the mantelpiece above the fireplace, I even noticed one in the weird pot plant by the window.
I sighed, kicking my shoes off and dragging my feet to the living room. I flopped onto the old sofa, pulling the two hair clips holding my hair up and tossing them on the sticky coffee table. The ashtray was overflowing with cigarettes and a couple of cigar butts, no doubt Elijah’s, my father’s best friend. I caught him snooping around the house twice just today and while I honestly couldn’t care about my father’s belongings I really didn’t like that he tried to lie to me. If he had asked I would have given him whatever bloody thing he was looking for.
I still couldn’t believe I was here. Home. Or at least everybody kept telling me that. But how could I tell them this had never been a home for me? Truth be told, it could pass for home while my mother was alive, but after that, it was more like a prison. Like every inmate, I received food three times a day. I was supposed to stay at my room or sent to grandma, who was also dead now, where Krystal now lived, and picked up like a package when work was done only to be deposited in my dark, cold bedroom. I could not have friends over or stay after school to hang with them. And I was never, ever allowed to enter my father’s study, where he spent all of his time when he was not away.
I had left this wretched place the moment I turned eighteen and I had never looked back. My father had tried to contact me two times for the last three years and I had ignored both. A sting of guilt pierced me as I realized the second call came barely a day before the police contacted me to let me know he was dead.
I got up from my seat and headed towards the stairs. He had probably called me to tell me what a disappointment I was. I doubted he would have left me the house - or anything - if he hadn’t been killed. The police were still investigating his death, but I honestly couldn’t care less. My plan was to see what I could keep from the house and put the rest for sale. I wanted nothing to do with this place.
My feet took me to the second floor and past the banister on the right, all the way down to the corridor. I stopped in front of the door I was forbidden to open for eighteen years, and I cursed myself for hesitating. Then I grabbed the handle with cold determination and pushed it open. The door creaked and I stepped inside, flipping the light switch.
A soft glow flickered from the chandelier hanging on a threat from the ceiling, revealing a small room. There were two library shelves on both sides of the room, as well as a big cabinet by the door. The small space that remained held a big worn-out desk with a chair on either side.
“Well, dad, I hope you’re turning in your grave,” I mumbled as I took another step in the room. Contrary to my expectation, nothing happened. I had almost expected to be booby-trapped or some kind of alarm to start shouting ‘intruder!’ from a hidden speaker. Considering how private and secretive my father had been, that was not out of the question.
I moved by the library on the left, running a finger over the books - most were drowning in dust and some seemed older than the house itself. I took out a book at random, wiping away a cobweb and opening it carefully. The pages rustled from the years of neglect and misuse and I stared at the drawing of a horrifically deformed man. On a second look, it didn’t look like a man despite the initial likeness - the hands were too long and the knees bent the wrong way. The face was a grotesque mash of flesh, teeth and hair.
“Not creepy at all.” I shuddered, slamming the book shut and returning it to its place on the shelf.
I moved towards the desk, circling it and taking a seat in the armchair behind it. I could almost imagine my father doing the same before getting to work on god knows what. The only time I had asked him what was he actually working, I got a slap so hard that half my face was blue for a week. It was safe to say that I never dared ask again and all of my classmates thought my father was FBI or a spy and that was why nobody knew what he was doing.
I raked about the books and papers on the desk but found nothing there - just old bill notices, property contracts, a couple of texts in languages I couldn’t even name. My eyes moved to the drawers on both sides of the desk and I set myself to go through them one by one, finding nothing of consequence. The bottom one on the right refused my advances even after a vicious kick that probably hurt me more than it hurt it.
Growling, I grabbed the letter opener from the drawer above and jammed it between the desk and the drawer, forcing it down to unhinge it. After a couple of minutes of grunting and a scary cracking sound, the drawer finally gave in, falling in my feet. I picked it up, my heart beating fast, just to find it empty save for a single item in it - a photograph. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I looked down upon the picture, staring back at my own reflection.
I must have been fourteen or fifteen, just fresh off my braces since I avoided smiling much before that. My eyes were gleaming with the typical childish joy that I have long since forgotten. I couldn’t see the cynical glint that I saw every time I looked in the mirror now. That girl in the picture was as dead as her father.
“Out of sight, out of mind, as always.” I murmured, tossing the picture back into the drawer and jamming it in its place with unnecessary force.
I had thought that coming back would be easy since I didn’t care about anything here. But I felt more exhausted and depressed than before I got the call, and I was honestly considering getting rid of all of it. Somebody else can have it, somebody else can throw it away. I just wanted to be done with it.
I sank back in the chair, giving the room one last glance. I had expected it to be bigger, it should have been bigger. Considering the emplacement of the house, it should have been twice as big, trice even. It should have matched the living room, at least partially and the next room, which was my parent’s bedroom, was quite small so where was this extra space gone?
I got up, moving past the opposite library wall than the one I have already examined. I looked perfectly normal, albeit there were less dust and cobwebs on it. I checked a few of the books, finding most of them to be just as concerning as the one on the other side, each depicting strange creatures or weird rituals. Nothing out of the ordinary - apart from the actual books.
I hesitated, my father’s words nagging at me.
“I’ll say this once, Nora. You’re to never, ever enter my study. Under any circumstances. Am I clear?”
I grabbed a handful of the books and dumped them on the desk. I returned to the shelf and grabbed a few more and then again and again. I had cleared six shelves and was half done with the seventh when I felt resistance as I tried to pull one of the books. I threw the other on the floor, clearing the shelf from all but that one which seemed glued to the wood. I tried to pull it with all my strength then I tried to push it but it didn’t budge. I balled my hand in a fist and knocked on the back of the shelf - just as expected the sound was dull and distant like there was an empty space behind it.
I could go and get the fire iron from downstairs and I could take the whole thing down. But that didn’t make sense. If there was anything behind the library, then there must have been a way in or my father was going to have to take down the whole wall every time he went to access it. Unless whatever was behind that wall was not supposed to be accessed.
I stepped closer to the empty shelves, tilting my head so I could read the title of the one left. I was not at all surprised to find it in another language. Squinting my eyes, my gaze moved over the faded letters. ‘Κλειδί στην καρδιά σας’.
I rose up, smiling.
“Greek, dad, really?” I mumbled. I was a child with no friends and a lot of free time. Thanks to my father’s strict rules and total control-freak disposition, I had probably read more books than a normal human being in my twenty-two years. And I spoke more languages than I would ever need. “Key to your heart.” I read out loud, trying to make sense of the inscription.
I tried to remember if I saw any keys in the drawers, but there was no keyhole on the book or the shelves. Frustration rose in my body and I almost rushed downstairs to get the fire iron. But destroying the library here would probably take down the price of the house, and I could use as much money as I could get from it. Besides, I was not ready to let my father have this final win over me. I was going to figure this out. I was going to find what he was hiding so passionately.
“Key to your heart, key to your heart,” I repeated to myself as I paced around. “What can it be a key to your heart?” Love, suggested my mind, but I brushed it aside. Love couldn’t open secret doors and most certainly was not the key to anything. Kindness, my mind tried to help again, but somehow I couldn’t see how caressing the book would make any difference. Still, I raised my hand and slid my fingers gently over the cover. Nothing.
I cursed under my breath, glaring at the lone book.
“What if…” I bit my lip. What if it wasn’t metaphorical but literal? The key to anyone’s heart was blood. Without blood, the heart wouldn’t work. “Son of a bitch.” I mumbled, turning back to the desk in search of the letter opener I had used for the drawer. I found it after knocking down half of the books and I raised my right hand, holding the blade with the left.
I hesitated for a moment before I pressed the blade against my palm, cutting the skin with surprising ease. A sharp pain coursed through my hand, but I just gritted my teeth until my palm was painted in red. Still holding the letter opener, I grabbed the book. I tried to pull, then push, but the book didn’t budge. Dropping my hand, I let out a sigh in defeat. He had won again.
Ready to jam the letter open in the stupid shelf, I froze as my eyes focused on the cover of the book that was glowing softly. The stains of my blood soaked into the letters and with a loud, heavy creek the shelf opened inwards.
“Holy shit,” I mumbled, taking a careful step forward. Cold air engulfed me even at the threshold of a corridor so dark that I could hardly see even a step away. Fear gripped on my chest, but I pushed it down. This was it. This was the reason I was never allowed into the study. And there was nobody that could stop me now.