Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: SKELETON IN THE CLOSET (11/30/17)
TITLE: These Walls
By Tracy Nunes
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“Hmmm, today…number nine: Hallway leading to the large bedroom on the first floor.”
Eventually, she’d make it the master by adding a closet and ensuite bathroom. Before her recently discovered grandmother died, she’d filled Joey’s imagination with stories of people who’d once laid their heads down in that room. Starting way back when beds had a chamber pot underneath the bedframes. Back when the people who graced this house had money, and lots of it. Fascinating stuff. Joey just wished grandmother had told her more of the one person she really wanted to hear about: her own mother. And what caused Joey to be raised by a stranger.
Beginning in the hallway near the butler’s pantry, Joey took a large swing with the claw of her hammer and hacked, pulled and peeled away the top layer - 1970’s asbestos sheetrock. She knew the risks, but had no money for a remediation company to do the work.
“A decent dust mask will have to do,” she explained to the walls.
The layer underneath was horsehair plaster on top of timber lathe. She would leave that, and patch the plaster later.
The first few feet of wall went easy. Then, whack! The hammer and Joey’s thumb made a bloody acquaintance.
Running to the only working sink in the house, she let the cool water poor over her throbbing thumb. Applying pressure stemmed the flow.
“Hmmm, bloody but not stitch worthy. I guess I’ll live…bummer.”
Fixing this old house was giving her something to do. It felt like an assignment whose end she didn’t understand. But, would it fix her?
A paper towel and electrical tape and she was back in the hallway, ready to take vengeance.
But her hammer hit the wall with a decidedly different sound - like a hollow bounce. Drawing back, she hit harder, making a tiny dent unequal to the force she’d used. She needed a bigger tool. Running to her limited supply shed she came back with a sledgehammer she’d picked up at a garage sale.
Reaching over her head, she brought it down with all the force she had, and the paneling finally surrendered a big hole. This could take forever. She tried a different approach. Instead of hitting again, she used the sledge to pull back on the lower edge of the hole. Five massive tugs later, the entire panel came crashing down on her head.
“Arrrrgh!” No blood this time but the immediate lump and bruise on her forehead were impressive enough.
Slumping to the floor, Joey rubbed her head with her right hand and stared at her patched up left.
“Maybe sanity isn’t as available as I’d hoped.”
Shaking it off, she stood, using the sledgehammer to rise while shoving the panel away to the side. What she saw didn’t make sense. A small room? No - a closet. Not tiny but not large. Joey had no idea what it would have been for. But the cased opening left no doubt that it once had a door. The trim was gone, probably to help it blend into the rest of the wall. But, why?
Trash littered the bottom of the closet. “Why leave trash in a closet and then seal it up?”
Joey began picking up the items. Newspaper, old rags, a few tin cans. But then her hand touched something solid…a box. A chill shot up her spine when her fingers barely skimmed the lid. Her hand recoiled like she’d touched a snake.
Staring at the box for long moments, Joey felt paralyzed. The thought of opening it filled her with throat-squeezing dread.
“I’m being stupid.”
Finally, she reached for the lid and opened it, pulling out a stack of yellowed newspapers. A headline screamed from the very first one…
HEIRESS JOHANNA RANDOLPH SHOT DEAD! Namesake Daughter, Age 3, Found at Her Side.
And another…MYSTERY DEEPENS: Randolph Daughter Disappears!
Just then, out from the folds of the paper, a polaroid photo fell to the ground. Joey reached down to pick it up. A woman who looked remarkably like her was holding a baby…
Joey’s head hit hard from the long fall to the floor; her mother’s long-ago screams ricocheting around her skull.
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