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Meant to Be
Author's note: Hey everyone, it's Emily! I know it's still rough and un-polished, but I hope you'll read this book. If you like horror, mystery, romance, please read!!! If not, please read anyway! I would love to get some feedback. Thanks! Enjoy!
It’s quieter than the moon here. That is the first and perhaps the only way I can think to describe it. Cold, it is, too, which I would guess is also a trait of the moon. Though the coldness isn’t around me, it’s inside me, slowly seeping into my flesh and replacing the warmth within me. I can’t seem to breathe in as much air as I normally would, and I’ve learned in school that the moon has no air either. Yes, it may as well be the moon that I’m lying on. Maybe that is in fact where I’ll be going soon. I’m not sure. Some call it Heaven, but who’s really to know? How can anyone know for sure what’s really there until they get there? I don’t understand why some people spend their entire lives trying to predict where it is they’ll end up, because they will never succeed. Trust me, I know this from experience. You’ll never know what’s meant to happen to you. Quite frankly, I don’t want to know.
I feel the body lying next to me, cold and stiff; hollow. But there is no one lying there next to me, not anymore. The blood from it is crawling, creeping closer to me, sliding its thick tendrils beneath my back, almost a tickle. Maybe I would laugh at this if I could, maybe I wouldn’t. I probably wouldn’t.
So I lay here for a while, possibly a few minutes, though it feels like at least an hour. But I know that would be impossible—I would be dead right now if that was the case. Drained of my fluids and chilled, like a pig being prepared to be chopped up and sold. That is close to how I feel right now as I lay here, listening to my cuts make muted popping noises as they ooze, feeling the beads of blood roll down my skin like the curious touch of some twisted version of a baby’s tiny finger. Soon my feet and hands begin to buzz with prickles, and my open eyes see not only the dim glow of the lamp, but also floating, grey starbursts that blot out the untrustworthy light.
I must be dying. It will be inevitable if no one finds me or if I don’t do something. So I do something.
Well, I try.
I move my arms and place my hands on the floor to my sides, ready to push myself upright. But when I put pressure on them , my muscles flex and my skin twists, just a little, but enough to disturb my cuts enough so that the thin, repairing film that has congealed over some of them tears, releasing more blood, and pain.
Oh, the pain.
I cry out and drop myself down, retreating to a frozen position on the floor. Paralyzed, I lie here as the agony gradually settles down over the next few minutes. So I can’t get up, then. No one is supposed to be home for a while, and I don’t think I have a while.
I am going to die here. Very soon, I will be gone like the one that was lying next to me not an hour ago.
That’s one thing you can have faith in, I guess. Death. It will come and get you in the end, no matter what you know or don’t know, no matter who you are, no matter what you have done or haven’t done. There are only two mysteries when it comes to death: One, whether it will gently tug you away from this world or snatch you from it, and two, where it will take you. Two mysteries. Two uncertainties. That’s way more than you could say for pretty much anything else in this universe. So should something that stable be comforting? Perhaps it should. Perhaps it is.
Perhaps I will have that certainty, soon.
And, I’ll admit, that is somewhat comforting to me.
Comforting enough to make me reach over with a steady hand to the knife beside me. Comforting enough to make me lift it to the soft, bruised and scratched skin of my neck, squeeze the slippery, sticky handle tightly. I grab the cold, stiff hand of my deceased companion next to me and hold it just as tight, for even more comfort. Death comforts me enough to feel ready, ready for control and stability.
Comforts me enough to, with the last breath of energy in me, push the blade right into my throat.
And I know, finally, I know—
It is over.
This I know.
I place my hand on the doorknob, the stainless steel freezing to the touch. I take in an equally icy breath, ready to greet my father when I open the door. But I let that breath out when I try to turn the knob and find that it’s locked. This is odd because our family, my father included, never lock the doors during the day when we’re home. We have no reason to, not in this neighborhood.
I turn my head towards the driveway, making sure my dad’s car is there, which it is. Returning to the front door, I knock a few times, and then wait. No response. I pound more, yelling “Dad!” this time, but still, no one answers. Eventually, I give in and dig through my backpack for my key. I find it and let myself into the house.
“Dad?” I call as I slip off my shoes and hat and coat. When I’m free of my winter armor, I realize that it’s barely warmer inside than out. I make my way towards the thermostat, messaging my hands together in an effort to warm them. “Dad, it’s freezing in here!” The thermostat tells me that the heat had been turned off, so I turn it back on.
“Why’d you turn the heat off?” Dad still isn’t answering me, and I’m starting to get worried. “Daddy?” Nothing. Maybe he’s napping. But he doesn’t take naps, and he would’ve heard me calling and woken up. I check to see if the back door is also locked, and it is. Maybe he’s out on a walk. But he never does that sort of thing.
Something’s wrong. I can feel it.
I sit down on the couch and just stay there for a while, doing nothing, as if he’s going to pop out at any moment and say, “Gotcha!” But he never does.
That’s when I notice the smell. It’s not a bad smell, it’s just…another-person smell, like a stranger has been here.
I get up and stretch my legs nervously, flinching at every creak in the floor. I then walk through the hallway as quietly as possible.
When I reach the top of the stairs that lead to the basement, another smell hits me; A terribly foul smell.
I fling my eyelids open and my muscles tense in cold remembrance, projecting myself out of the gut-wrenching nightmare before it would have gotten too far. I couldn’t bear to see those horrible images again. The mess…the flesh…the blood, so much blood. But my mind wanders… The memories are just as vivid when I’m awake…
STOP. Just stop thinking about it.
I feel wetness on my face and palms. I’m perspiring like I’m in a sauna and I’m shaking, too. My throat feels as dry as a wind tunnel, so I get myself together as best I can and head for the bathroom for a glass of water. When I leave my bedroom (technically it’s mine and my little sister, Madison’s) and enter the upstairs hallway, I run into my little brother, Todd. I don’t literally run into him, but, you know.
“What’s wrong with you?” He asks, either noticing my flushed face, my tremors, the sweat running down my forehead, or all of the above.
“I’m just a little hot,” I lie, perfectly rehearsed, as always.
“Good. I thought it was some gross girl thing or whatever,” I hear him say as I turn into the bathroom. So what if I lie to him? He wouldn’t understand what I’m going through. Not him, not my mom, not my friends, not the counselors, no one. That’s because no one else has been through what I’ve been through. No one’s seen what I’ve seen. Except for the police and detectives and all of those people, but they’re used to dealing with that sort of thing.
No one knows about my nightmares, either. I’ve been having them ever since…well, I don’t want to go into detail about that. It’s been several months, anyway. The nightmares are all of the same thing; that terrible evening five months ago replaying over and over again. Usually I’ll dream then wake up before I get through the whole memory, like I did this morning. Then the nightmare will start right where it left off the next time I rest my stained eyes. Other, more unfortunate times I’ll involuntarily torture myself through the whole thing, reliving the entire memory all in one night. That’s only happened a couple times, though.
But the nightmare is so vivid. Every detail has been burned into my brain, the wounds so deep that they’ll never heal and bleed out occasionally, without warning, reminding me they’re still there and bringing the pain back again.
I chug down the entire glass of water, the coolness of it gliding down my throat and dousing some of my weariness. Careful not to look at my reflection in the mirror, I wash my hands and arms and face and whatever else I can at the sink. I feel dirty and worn down. I look dirty and worn down. But I’ve gone through this state, this withdraw, before. I know what to do. I’m in control.
What I do is I ignore my feelings, let them pass as quickly as possible. Because why should I waste my time fretting and torturing myself over the past? Things I can’t change? What I can change, what I can control is my future and how I spend it. So that’s what I’m focused on doing—letting go of the past.
And after today, I’ll have a heck of an easier time doing that.
“Hey, look who’s finally up,” Mom says as she dishes a mess of scrambled eggs and strips of bacon onto Maddie’s plate.
“What time is it?” I ask, despite the digital clock on the oven displaying my answer.
“Ten-thirty,” Mom says, placing a plate at an empty seat for me. “We have a long day ahead of us, so I’m glad you got a lot of sleep, but that gives you less time to pack the rest of your stuff.”
“I thought someone was supposed to wake me up by nine,” I scowl, grouchier than I really feel. I send Maddie a fierce glance, whose intently devouring her eggs.
“Hey! Let’s not get into any arguments right now. I want to make today as least stressful as possible.”
Maddie mumbles something illegible and probably snotty as I sit down at the table. Todd and my other little brother, Matthew, come and join us. We all sit and eat in silence, until “Maddie, can you pass me the pepper?” Matthew asks.
Maddie stares at the pepper shaker for a moment, contemplating whether or not she should obey her brother’s command, then she gives it a quick push with her fingers, sending it sliding across the table and into Matthew’s hand.
“Thanks,” he says quietly, violently shaking the shaker over his eggs until they are almost totally blackened with pepper. Maddie watches in disgust as he does this, then gags sarcastically on the air.
Mathew and Maddie are twins, but although they were two fetuses in a womb, they are defiantly not two peas in a pod. They are two totally different creatures. Matthew loves pepper and Maddie hates it. Matthew wants a dog and Maddie wants a cat. When Maddie says yes Matthew says no. They disagree on just about everything. The one and only thing they seem to agree on is that fighting is the way to fix their disagreements.
Fighting is never the way to fix things, trust me.
It’s ironic; I’m packing all of my boxes into boxes. What I mean is, I’m packing my collection of boxes into cardboard boxes, readying them for the move.
I love boxes. Not just ordinary, plain boxes, though, I’m talking unique, decorative boxes. Ones that are old with character or ones from all around the globe, or maybe just a dusty, quirky one I’d find at a flea market. I have dozes them, all of different shapes and sizes and each looking completely different than the next. I’ve collected so many that I don’t even put things in some of them.
I started collecting boxes when I was seven, I think. My grandma and grandpa went on a trip to Paris and came back with souvenirs for everybody. I don’t really remember what the rest of my family received, but I sure remember my present. It was a blue music box, about six inches long and four inches wide and four inches deep. The outside of it was detailed with embossed silver swirls and a fancy silver latch that kept the lid shut. When you opened it, a tiny ballerina in an ice blue tutu popped up and spun around as the box played It’s a Small World. I loved that box so much, and I still do, but since then I’ve acquired many other boxes that also have meaning. Now I have one box that I cherish most of all, and it’s not the largest or the prettiest or the most expensive or from the most foreign country. Then again, this certain box also came into my possession with something inside of it:
My father’s heart. Figuratively, that is.
The heart-shaped box is very small, no more than two inches by two inches. But despite its size, the box is surprisingly heavy. Solid metal, that thing is. Weighted down with love, as my father had put it. It’s pretty plain, too. It’s not painted any color, the grey, dull metal presented raw. The only decoration is on the lid; a small enameled rose with deep, blood red blooming petals and a bright green stem with leaves. The inside of the box is lined with red, satiny fabric, where a locket and chain lay. The design of the locket mimics the box it’s in. It’s shaped like a heart and has the same image of a rose on it.
Inside the locket, my father had planted a tiny picture of our family. On the opposite side of the locket, my dad inserted a paper where he scribbled in the tiniest letters:
I love you, Amber!
That’s all he could fit onto the small scrap of paper, but it’s enough for me.
I thought too little of this locket when I received it. Now, I think about it as its own human being, having layers. As you go deeper, each layer gets more personal and fragile than the last. You have to be careful not to cut too deep or else you’ll damage those fragile parts.
My father was fragile. He’d been cut too deep.
Anyway, my dad gave this to me on my sixteenth birthday about seven months ago. No, it wasn’t a car, and yes, I thought too little of that gift.
That would be the last birthday I’d ever spend with him.
“Mom, I thought you said the house wasn’t very far away,” Madi whines impatiently.
“It isn’t. We’re almost there.” Mom smiles that fake smile I’ve seen way too many times lately.
“I don’t see any town,” I say, staring out the window at the bare countryside passing by us. We’ve been driving on interstate seventy westbound for almost an hour, and ever since we left the city, that’s pretty much all we’ve seen.
“You won’t see any town.” That grin is still haunting her face.
A chorus of What?s and Huh?s reverberate from the back of the van.
“So, will we live in, like, the middle of nowhere?” Todd interrogates.
“It’s not in the middle of nowhere. There are a few houses nearby and it’s no more than five minutes away from the main town, Mocking Hill.”
“And how big is Mocking Hill?” I ask, not quite ready for an answer.
Mom doesn’t look like she wants to say either, but, “Under a thousand people.”
My heart sinks. We’ve lived in the depths of Columbus, Ohio all our lives, have never spent a minute on this earth without the buzz of city traffic or the heavy, polluted air pressing on us and filling our lungs—all things I’ll miss.
“How big is that?” Matthew asks.
“Less than, like, a sixteenth of the whole city of Columbus,” I verify.
“How big is that?” Did I mention that Matthew and Madi are nine years old?
“Very small, Matthew,” Todd says. “Almost as small as your—”
“Hey! What did I say about fighting today?” Mom’s smile disappears. “Anyway, I just thought we could use a break from the city life and reside someplace more peaceful.”
We all go silent, knowing what she really means by ‘more peaceful.’
“You guys will love the house I picked out, especially you, Amber,” Mom says, glancing back at me and flashing me that saddening smile of hers. “Well, the house more or less picked me. I was just drawn to it like weight to the ground.”
“Does it have electricity and water and all that?” Madi asks.
“Yes, it does, although the air conditioning might be a little sluggish.”
The whole van goes dead quiet.
“Oh, come on guys! This isn’t a shack I’m talking about! The house is on the older side, but it’s huge. Five bedrooms, two and a half baths, a finished basement and attic, a large kitchen, a dining room, a living room and a family room, I don’t know what the difference is but it’s got both. And that’s just the house. The backyard is a big field and beyond that are acres and acres of woods. You’ll have loads to explore.”
We’re still quiet, but now we’re quiet with thought.
And then she adds, “Your dad would have loved to explore it with you.”
Now we’re just quiet.
After a moment, Mom realizes the mistake that that comment was, and turns on the radio. Soft, soothing, classic country music fills the van. I don’t know what the song is called or exactly how it goes, but the tune seems vaguely familiar.
We drift away from the rest of the traveling vehicles and onto an exit. A few more exits and turns later and we’re on a dusty, bumpy, lonely road. I let out a breath I didn’t even know I was holding when we pass a poorly kempt—and I’m being polite when I say ‘poorly kempt’—mid-sized house.
Then our house appears from a slightly dense patch of trees.
Mom wasn’t lying—it is huge, at least four times the size of our double back in the city. It’s not exactly a replica of the cute, old country homes you see in magazines, in fact, it’s kind of creepy, more like Norman Bates’ house in Psycho. The faded ivory paint coating the siding has chipped here and there and the porch looks questionable as a place to walk around on. Also, the landscaper must have died about fifteen years ago because yard looks like Einstein’s locks, only a roasted orange-green color.
But I didn’t say creepy and neglected wasn’t charming.
I do like the house, so far, at least. Who knows what the inside looks like? Apparently me, because somehow I’ve survived climbing the steps and the walk across the porch to the door and here I go—into the depths of my new home.
The ceiling is higher than usual—that’s the first thing I notice. It makes me feel shorter than I already am. We’re in either the living room or the family room, although, like my mother, I don’t know what the difference between the two is. The room is very spacious, even with the mountains of boxes stacked wherever there isn’t furniture. The bare walls are covered in a yellowed and peeling floral print wallpaper. On the right wall is a massive red brick fireplace with an old wooden mantle, the inside of it charcoal black with years of use. Below the window to my right is a piano, which must have been left in the house by the previous owner because we never owned one. Going up the left wall is a rickety staircase, up which my three younger siblings stampede to the second floor, eager to have first pick of bedrooms.
“Hey! Be careful! If I find anything broken, I’m going to assign each of you your bedrooms!” Mom follows them up the stairs as fast as she’ll dare to go, leaving me alone on the first floor. So I be the big kid and let everyone else choose their bedroom before me. Besides, I don’t really care what room I get, as long as I don’t have to share it with anybody.
I weave my way through the almost-taller-than-me stacks of boxes and strait back to what looks to be the dining room. We’ve never had a real dining room table—you know, one of the big, rectangular ones. There was just never room for one in our cramped double. Maybe Mom ordered one. I stand in the doorway, staring at the empty room, and try to imagine one there, complete with matching chairs and a pretty, lacy runner lying across it.
I try to imagine a whole, complete family eating dinner there, talking and laughing with each other.
I swallow down the rock in my throat and fight to push back the tears clotting in my eyes. Just stop thinking about it, Amber, I tell myself. Don’t let the past haunt you now.
I decide to abandon the dining room and continue on into the kitchen. It’s nice and large, like the living room/family room, and it has ornate, buttery tiles dressing the floor, unlike the shabby hardwood floor of the rest of the house. The cabinets are a little outdated though, and there’s a pungent, moldy odor lingering in the air, which brings back more memories. Okay, next room… my subconscious orders.
The next room must be the other living room/family room, but it’s a little smaller than the front one. On the wall to my right stands yet another fireplace, exactly like the first one I saw. It seems like there’s even more boxes in here than in the other rooms, and it hits me just how long it will take to unpack them. I’ve only moved one other time before this when I was, like, four, and I don’t remember much of that process at all. I hope none of our stuff broke.
This room loops back to the first room I walked into, so that’s where I find myself at the end of my personal tour. And that’s where I find myself plugging my ears at the tantrum coming from upstairs.
“What happened?” I ask as I make my way to the scene.
Mom is kneeling in front of a bawling Maddie who begins to huff incessantly. She has that I-want-to-make-trouble-and-you-can’t-stop-me expression nailed onto her reddened, soggy face.
“The boys made it up here before her and she didn’t get the room she wanted,” Mom answers me without taking her eyes off her precious, distressed daughter. But I know all too well what my sister’s really up to; it may be true that she didn’t get first pick of bedrooms, but I’ll bet all my dignity that she’s fine with the bedroom that she got. She just wants to make a scene just because she can. What I don’t understand is why she can’t just take the room without a fuss? Was I like that when I was a kid?
Then again, I guess I’ve behaved that way one too many times in the past five months, and at a high cost.
I abandon the otherwise normal situation and begin the search for my bedroom, which I guess won’t be that hard considering there’s only two more bedrooms I can choose from. The three bedrooms closest to me seem to have already been taken, so I continue down the hallway then turn right at the bend where the other two rooms wait to be claimed.
The first one I peek into is a nice size, not as big as the other ones though. Part of the left wall slants upward as if there’s a staircase chopping through the room. The closet door stands half open, revealing the small space behind it. I wonder if I’d be able to fit all of my cloths in there. Probably not. I decide to move on to the last room.
This room isn’t very big at all; it’s more like an office space than a bedroom. The solo window provides barely enough sunlight to read a book. Together, these two features make the room feel kind of cave-like, which defiantly won’t do much for my slight claustrophobia. But despite my critiques, for whatever reason, I decide to check out the closet, whose door is closed.
The knob is deathly icy. I yank my hand away and push back the terrible memories radiating up my arm with the cold. I take a half step back, once again trying to avoid my haunting past, but then something changes inside of me. A part of me can’t let go of what’s behind this door, and a longing brews inside of me to find out. I feel like I’m actually being pulled back towards the door, like a positive magnet to a negative one. My mind races at this unusual feeling. I’ve never been so curious about something, at least, not since that fateful day back in Columbus five months ago.
So for the first time in a while, I push back my fears and let my curiosity take over. I pursue the closed door once again and reach for the knob, ignoring the prodding cold which actually feels a bit warmer now, and twist it, the knob squeaking as I do so. It takes a few violent yanks to get it open, but eventually, the door gives.
It turns out that it isn’t even a closet I have opened, but a staircase, probably leading to the attic. I cautiously climb the two steps that lead to a landing connecting to another, longer, very steep flight of stairs that lead to the right and up, up, up, into darkness. I don’t bother leaving to find a flashlight, for some reason not wanting to risk not being the first one up there.
So I slowly ascend into the blackness, running my hands along the walls on either side of me, waiting for a break. The steepness of the staircase combined with the inky darkness make me feel a little dizzy and disoriented, even slightly nauseous.
The wall to the left of me is the first to cut off, leaving my hand suspended in emptiness. I immediately pull my arm into me, afraid to accidently touch something in the dark. I continue about five more steps and then the staircase ends. I stop and feel the wall on my right which has stayed beneath my hand throughout the entire climb. It stretches on for as far as I can reach. I fumble along it for a light switch. I find one, a little startled to find that it is laced with spider webs, but I flick it on anyway.
A ceiling lamp slowely lights up to a dim glow, stuggling to illuminate the huge room, and I mean huge. The place is equivalent to at least two of the already large bedrooms in this house, but the ceiling is at a normal height, in turn making me feel like my normal five-foot-one self (I guess being five feet and one inch tall isn’t very normal for a sixteen-year-old girl, but that’s my normal!) Also, there isn’t that swabby insulation showing everywhere like most attics. Instead, there is an actual floor and ceiling and two opposite walls that slant in and upward, the remaining two flat, completing the attic’s irregular hexagonal shape. The light is very dim, dimmer than the last room I was in. That’s when I realize that there are no windows in here, or at least I can’t see them. There are large patches of black rectangles here and there on the walls. I walk over to the nearest one to investigate. The flat rectangles are some kind of super-thick construction paper haphazardly arranged and stapled onto the wall around the edges. I grab hold of a corner and tear the paper off the wall. Light pours into the room from the window that was behind it. Why? I wonder. What was the purpose of this? I can’t figure it out.
I rip the remaining blindfolds off the windows and reveal five more that were hidden. More natural light than I ever could have imagined in an attic now floods into the space, overpowering the man-made light fixture on the ceiling. I turn that off and stand in awe at what I hadn’t been able to see before:
The first thing that catches my eye is simply the color of the room. Instead of the drab, colorless ivory of the rest of the house, the walls in this room are painted a light teal color, like a robin’s egg—my favorite color for a bedroom. I’ve always wanted my room painted this color, but our old double was rented, so I wasn’t allowed. Plus, Madi would have had to agree with a new wall color because we shared bedrooms, and she wouldn’t have liked that color anyway. Bright, bubble gum pink is more her style.
Another thing I like about this room is the shelves. Almost the whole face of one of the flat walls is lined with shelves—shelves that would be perfect to display my precious boxes. Something else I notice is the hardwood floor in this room. It looks like it’s in a lot better shape than the rest of the wood flooring in the house, like it’s been used less. It’s a little hot and stuffy up here, but I could manage.
This is my room. This is my room. It’s almost like it was really made for me, Amber Wickley; perfect.
In the long, right wall that is partly slanted inward, just after where the staircase ends is a door that must be a closet or some storage space. I move in towards it and I’m reaching for the doorknob when— “Amber, honey?! Where are you?!” my mom’s muffled voice echoes from somewhere on the level below me.
I position myself at the top of the staircase. “Up here!” Did I leave the door open? I can’t remember.
“Where?!” Before I can answer, I see Mom’s dim figure step up onto the platform. She turns and looks up the steps towards me. “Oh, there you are.” She begins the hike up the stairs to my bedroom.
“You like?” I ask when she gets to the top of the steps. I feel an odd sensation in my facial muscles, then I realize I’m smiling my first smile in five months.
“It’s hot in here,” is the first thing Mom says.
“Gee, thanks for your approval.” I leave her to go examine the shelves. “I like it.”
“Approval? What do you mean, like, you’ve picked this to be your room?” Mom looks around, her eyebrows furrowed and the bridge of her nose wrinkled like she’s smelling something bad.
“Yeah,” I say brightly. “It’s big and I’ll have the whole floor completely to myself. It’s just perfect. And I’ll get used to the heat.”
“Mmmm.” That’s my mom’s word for ‘whatever’. “I guess it’s cute, but don’t you think you’ll get lonely up here all by yourself?”
“I like being alone. No one will bother me.”
“I just want my baby to be happy.” She wraps her arms around me and squashes my face into her chest.
“I am happy, Momma.” But I’m not really. Who would after what I’ve been through? You may be thinking, Come on! I’s been five months, Amber! But when you’ve seen what I’ve seen, no amount of time can dillute the damage, the horror.
I wiggle out of her grip.
She takes a step back from me and then just looks at my face with a faint smile in hers. At least it’s real this time.
“Okay, take the stuffy attic, I don’t care.” She puts her hands on her hips. “But is it okay if I use that little room down there as my office, it can get kind of messy, you know.”
“Mmmm.” I smile back at her.
“Okay, back to you,” I say to the closet door after my mom leaves. I turn the knob and open it, feeling that same pull I hard on the door to my bedroom.
A blast of hot, dust fringed air swallows me when I open the closet. It’s so dark in there that I can barely see three feet into it. From what I can tell, it looks a lot less finished than the rest of the attic with its décor of stained wood panels, so it’s probably just a big storage room. I can tell by the sound of it, too. I mean, the noises coming from somewhere in that darkness; moth’s wings fluttering, mice’s feet skittering across the floor, and it all seems to echo a bit.
There’s a light bulb hanging from the low ceiling in front of me with a ball chain waiting patiently for me to tug. I give it a try, and then a few more, but of course it doesn’t work. I unscrew the bulb and head downstairs all the way to the front room, I’ll just call it the living room for now, where Mom is rearranging the stacks of cardboard boxes.
“Hey, hon. What do you need?” Moms seem to always have a way of knowing when her child needs something.
“Uh, do we have a flashlight anywhere?”
“Yes, there should be one…,” She rummages through some boxes, glancing at every other one’s label, then picks up one and tears it open. “…here!” She pulls an oversized flashlight from the box and hands it to me.
“Thanks,” I say, already on my way back to my room, stopping to throw away the old bulb on the way.
I crawl in my knees and one hand, the other one holding the very heavy flashlight. I decided this was a better way to move than half-standing and hitting my head against the ceiling that’s too low even for me.
Just because this flashlight is heavy duty does not mean that it provides heavy duty light. The batteries must be dying because the light is so dim that I’m having trouble keeping my cool, thanks to my claustrophobia. I can only see a couple feet in front of me.
Once I travel about ten feet into the room, I sit on my butt and take a break to look around. I lift up the flashlight and shine it all around the room, surveying it’s depths like the bottom of the ocean.
The flashlight seems to be more efficient being used this way, it’s beam traveling almost the full length of the room. Though there’s still not much to see. All that’s here are a handful of cardboard boxes, a decaying broom, a large wooden trunk, and a thick layer of dust covering everything.
I decide to go for the cardboard boxes first—they look a lot less intimidating than the monstrous trunk of mystery in the far corner of the room.
The first box I open is full of old children’s books, most looking from the fifties or earlier. Most of them I’ve never even heard of, but I do recognize some of the Little Golden Books, like The Big Brown Bear, The Poky Little Puppy and Peter Rabbit. Losing interest in the childish tales, I move on to the next box, which I drop to the floor as soon as I open it. A rat has made the bundles of old black and white photographs inside of it it’s home.
So I save the rest of the cardboard boxes for another time and head for the more rat-safe wooden trunk.
I swear, this chest is as long as I am tall. It’s more like a coffin than a place you’d store objects. But I ignore it’s creepiness and flip up the two metal latches, then lift the lid.
My stomach twists and my brain trips over itself at what I see.
In the trunk are my boxes, each and every one of them—
Yellowed and covered with dust like they’ve sat there, untouched, for the last fifty years.
“What the…?” This can’t be right. I recognize each of the boxes, and they’re mine. But look at them. Why do they look like this? How did they get here?
I grab the flashlight and shuffle-crawl out of the room as fast as I can and in to my bedroom. I stop at the top of the steps.
“Mom?!” I wait for a response.
“Yeah?!” I can barely hear her. She must still be in the living room.
“Did you unpack my boxes yet?!”
I swallow back my whirling confusion. “Are you sure?!”
“Yes.” There’s a long pause. “They’re right here!”
“Your box collection. I’ve got them down here!”
This is not right. Something’s seriously wrong. Either I’m going crazy or this is the biggest coincidence in the history of planet Earth.
I rush downstairs to make sure Mom really has my box collection.
“Here,” Mom hands a box I labeled ‘Amber’s Boxes’ “There’s some in this one and a few more over there, well, you should know. You packed them.”
I open the box and sure enough, my boxes are in there. “This is crazy,” I mutter to myself.
“What?” Mom stares dumbfounded at me.
For some reason, I hesitate to tell her what’s happened. “It’s nothing.” I don’t usually keep things from my mom.
She cups my chin in her hand. “You don’t look very well. Are you okay?”
“I’m just a little dizzy. And nauseous,” I say, and I am.
“Aw, why don’t you just lie down on the couch and rest, and I’ll go take some of your things upstairs, okay?”
“Okay,” I say sleepily, making my way towards the couch. Then I remember that I left the trunk and the door leading to it wide open, exposed. “No! Wait!”
I race back op to my room, not wasting any time to explain myself. I stumble through the darkness of the storage room without my flashlight, close and latch the ghosts of my boxes away and then slam the door to the room shut after I exit.
“What was that all about?” Mom asks, her eyebrows raised with suspicion. She’s standing at the top of the steps, holding a box of my stuff.
“Nothing,” I answer faintly. But boy, was it something.