The Secret Door

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Commercial Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Anna searches for the hidden door

The Secret Door

When Aunt Sadie died, someone had to go through her house. Not just her house, because after her divorce, Aunt Sadie moved back with her parents. They lived on the family farm. Five generations of stuff in that beat up old house.

Uncle Albert rigged up this call where all three siblings could see and talk to each other. “There could be treasures!” he cried from Florida. You could see a palm tree waving in the distance.  

“I can’t fly anymore,” Aunt Grace hollered from Maine. “I got lost in Atlanta.”

There was a long pause and then my mother said, “Anna will do it.“ She used her - final voice - as she was the oldest. I leaned into the phone.

“Anna is thorough,” Aunt Grace replied. “She’ll take her time, and she did spend all those summers there.”

“There could be treasures!” Uncle Albert cried again, and we all remembered his son who got indicted for fraud.

“What else has she got to do,” my mother said, which cinched it. So, there was another pause while they waited for my answer.

“Alright,” I said. Not knowing what I was getting into, but I was OK with it. I had spent summers there. And Aunt Sadie was different. She wasn’t stern, or successful, or plotting her investments out on a graph.

One year she grabbed hold of my arm. Eyes wild, hair all out from her head. “The secret door,“ she cried. “Oh, Anna, its here.”

“What secret door?” I asked my mother when I got home. I was thirteen that summer and Aunt Sadie had scared me. Squeezing onto my arm, eyes popping, standing in a field of pop corn because they grew corn for Orville Redenbacher. So, I figured there must be an  energy there, some kind of force that she got into.

My mother looked at me. Her permanent wave wound close to her head. Eyes hard, she took a big breath. “Aunt Sadie went crazy,” she said. “She never was like the rest of us. We got out, got an education, and got jobs. Aunt Sadie married that hippie guy, took drugs, ran all over the place until he left her. Then she went home and lived with our parents.”

“But the secret door,” I said, because of the way Aunt Sadie had said it. And grabbed onto me, and pleaded with her eyes. I felt this link between us.

My mother just shook her head. “She was all the time talking about energy fields, and ley lines. She believed the farm was some sort of gateway, a door to another world.”

Then my mother grabbed hold of my arm, much in the same way Aunt Sadie had, “Listen to me now, Anna.” Her voice was measured and calm. Her eyes were logical and firm. “Stay in the real world. Work hard, do good, stay on the right path.”  

I nodded, agreeing, knowing I’d never go back. Never again would my mother let me stay there another summer, and she didn’t. But I remembered Aunt Sadie’s eyes, crazy, yes, but joyous and over the moon. Open to all the world.

* * *

Ben Brickman lived on the hard road. He had a comfortable, well-built house and his farm surrounded the family land. Like his father before him, he farmed all of it and gave Aunt Sadie her share.

He’d been a good neighbor to my aunt after her parents died. “Ben’s there,” the siblings would say as they went home after the funerals. They’d play golf, go to their cabin on  the lake. Go to church four hours a day and let Aunt Sadie be crazy there by herself. Ben found her that day when she didn’t answer the phone.

“Not bad,” he said as he opened his door. “Ten hours,” he looked at his watch.

I’d told him I’d leave at two in the morning and drive there by noon.“Twelve o’clock on the dot.” I breathed a sigh of relief to arrive in one piece and stand in his house of peace and sanity. Ben looked more like his father since I’d seen him five years before when my grandmother died. Solid and reassuring as he herded me into his study. His wife waved in the background.

“A good row to hoe,“ my mother told me more than once while I was growing up. Now Ben sat safely behind his desk.  

“It’s good to see you, Anna,” he said. Honest and capable. The kind of man I should have married. I’d married the fairy tale romance guy. Went on the roller coaster of love, until he left me. Then, like Aunt Sadie, I’d slunk back home to my parents.  

“Here are the keys,” Ben said. He gave me a list of names.“People who can help. There are companies who sell things, and get rid of things. Charities, and cleaners to help.”

“How bad can it be?” I laughed and Ben shook his head.

“It’s over your head,” he frowned and I took it to mean that it was beyond me and smiled. When my grandmother died it was messy, yes, but nothing I couldn’t sort through.

“Do you remember a secret door?” I asked because Ben had lived there his whole life, and maybe heard of it. “My aunt mentioned it once.”

“We had one here,” Ben said, “at the house that fell down. We found a door in back of a cupboard. Those old houses were built in a lawless time and people needed a good place to hide.” He paused and I saw him choosing his words, “Brace yourself, Anna. I’m here if you need me.”

I drove along the gravel lane between the cornfields. It was June and the corn was waist high. The cornfields lay in long, straight rows to the horizon. A peaceful place, lovely and  green in the summer.

The farmhouse came into view. It rose tall and angular, not fitting the yard. Awkward and  ragged, all by itself. The paint had peeled and long strips lay on the ground. The whole place appeared to be shedding. Not the dear, sweet house you’d want to fix up. Old, and ugly and falling apart.

“Let Ben buy the land and Anna will clear out the house,” my mother said. “We’ll keep our memories to ourselves. ” Now, stepping from the car, there was a bleakness, a loneliness - I’d never seen before. Wind waved over the corn like a cry of despair.

Yet, Aunt Sadie grabbed onto my arm. “The secret door,” she cried as her eyes bored into me. I heard her voice in my head, “Oh, Anna, its here.” Some sort of hope that connected us, that burned in my brain.

I got my bags and walked to the door. “Aunt Sadie,” I called half-waiting for her to answer. Turning the key inside lock, I peeked in and grabbed hold of my chest.

Boxes piled everywhere, a massive tangle of wires and cords. Drawers left open - piled high with tools, clothes, bins of papers and books. Stuff and more stuff!

A narrow path existed to the kitchen and I tiptoed, my arms brushing stuff piled over my head. My feet crunched leaves and dirt in the carpet.

I gasped from the smell of mildew and mold, rot and decay. My skin crawled, my breath choked. I gagged my way into the kitchen.

Stared at cabinets in disarray. Drawers left open. Dirty dishes piled high. A chaos of filthy pots, encrusted silverware. And something more.

Inside that chaos, I heard the long dead echoes of slamming doors. The shout downs and screaming rants at my mother as she left. Got out, got as far away as possible and rarely came back.

I grabbed hold of the door and thought of dousing the house with gasoline and striking a match. But then I inched my way to the sink and turned the water on. It worked!

Clear, cold water ran on my hands. Clear, cold logic flowed in my brain. I could fix this! Start with the kitchen. Start at the sink of dirty dishes, and soak and scour. Set the water to boil, smell the soap of scrub and polish because the water ran and there was a window where I could see out.

I could clean this horrible place. Little by little, inch by inch, I’d sort and clear everything. But as I stood there, Aunt Sadie seemed to reach up through the floorboards. I smelled the  sweat-soaked stench of her gypsy blouse as she grabbed hold of my ankles. Felt the quiver gut of despair as she pulled me down.

* * *

The daytime resolve - getting over the shock,  and making a plan, and vowing that I could do this - kept me busy.

I cleaned out the sink and a small space on either side. I cleared off the couch for a place to sleep. Moved the boxes into a square and made a path to the door. Then I got the bedding from my car.

I pried the living room windows open and let the breeze in. Saw the afternoon sun on the fields. Then, I sat in my island of calm and ate my sandwiches.

But as daylight faded from the fields, a gloom descended. As the sun set over the corn, long  shadows surrounded the house.

As darkness fell, I pulled an old Bible out of a pile. Dug out a flashlight and put it near me. Got two silvery tools and wired them into a cross. Then, with my perimeter intact, I turned off the light.

There was a whispering outside the windows. The cornstalks swayed in the wind, wavering, and sighing in the moonlight. The breeze felt across my face like tiny fingers. I prayed.

I prayed to the God of green fields and waving corn and peace and sanity to give me a few hours of sleep. Let me drop off and relax and  not hear anything.

There was a scurrying, a scratching sound in the couch, the clawing of tiny feet. Something lived in the darkness. A crawling, cheeping came from right underneath. I grabbed the flashlight. There in the beam of light, mice poured from the sofa.

Tiny, and crawling, hurrying and flurrying as I  smiled. Mice are kind of cute in their way. I’d trap them and put them back in the fields. Then, something thrashed in the sofa. I felt a gigantic heave as out crawled a great, huge snake!  

I screamed. Clawed, fled to my car and locked  all the doors.

* * *

It was morning when Ben knocked on the glass. Somehow, I’d slept upright in the seat. When I told Ben about the snake, he laughed.

We called the estate sale people, the garage sale people, charities, and people to clean. But first we called the exterminator. Mice, rats, roaches, and fleas. Snakes and more snakes!

We held the biggest yard sale you ever saw. Bags for a quarter. Tools for ten cents. Cars drove up and down through the cornfields. I held my breath as the floors groaned.

Then early one summer evening, I stood alone in that empty old house. There was a sick, sour smell, like when you throw up.

My gut heaved. My ears pounded as the vacant rooms echoed. Ancient voices, raucous laughs, sob stories from long ago.  

Slowly, I knocked on all the walls. Searching, hoping, walking from room to room. No, it was more than that. Aunt Sadie grabbed hold of my arm like all those years ago.

Her mirror still hung on the wall. For an instant, she peered, eyes wild, hair all out from her head, yet with all the excitement. That sizzle link between us.

Long-faded wall paper peeled from the walls. I saw the darkened place where Aunt Sadie’s dresser had stood for years. Ran my finger along the strip that was torn and glued back. Felt the bulge, the jolt of certainty as I ripped. Eyes wild. Hair all out from my head - I saw the door underneath.  

Heaved and pulled until it opened. Shone my flashlight on more stuff!

Silver bowls, guns - old flintlocks, jewels, a sack of gold coins. Floor to ceiling treasure behind that door! The siblings made quite a haul.  

Then, early one morning, Ben and I stood in that empty old house. Sunlight slanted through the windows as I laughed, spread out my arms and twirled. I hugged Ben in a bear hug and carried the family Bible to the car.

Inside was a letter my grandfather wrote to my mother the day she was born. He welcomed his first child. “So glad that you’re here.” I carried pressed flowers from long ago fields. Old photographs. The gypsy shirt Aunt Sadie had worn.  

I drove to the end of the lane as pop corn rolled green to the horizon. Birds flitted the trees as something fell off my shoulders. Some sort of weight from the past. I breathed deep of Aunt Sadie’s wild self. Deep of my practical mother who got far away, and deep of the someone who was me. Trying all kinds of adventures, making mistakes, figuring out the past, living my own way, as, toes tingling, I stepped on the gas. 

Submitted: April 06, 2022

© Copyright 2023 Suzanne Mays. All rights reserved.

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Excellent story. Well done!.

Sat, April 9th, 2022 11:12pm

Suzanne Mays

Thank you, Houdini. I've sorted through the possessions of several relatives after they've died. I found a letter my grandfather wrote to my cousin, his first grandchild, welcoming her into the family. I also found an insurance policy bought years ago, that was still good!

Sun, April 10th, 2022 2:16pm

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