So many times I was over at my Aunt Victoria’s house. Sometimes it was just for a couple hours and other times it was for a week or more. I always poems
/love'>loved going there and I let her know that on more than one occasion.
Now, my aunt was a stickler for cleanliness. I mean she would totally freak if we got the carpet dirty or dropped some food on the kitchen floor. But, for all that, she was the sweetest woman you could ever meet and her kids, my cousins, were a lot like me. We were normal kids with muddy faces, scraped knees and a couple broken bones but she still loved us. But, despite all the love she had for us, there was one room up on the third floor that, if we ever went near it she would be more than happy to beat our asses with one of the willow boughs from the back yard.
I was almost twenty five when she died. I cried for days before the job of cleaning out her house began. The first two floors were easy and we did find some unexpected treasures like a statement for a certificate of deposit for nearly $100,000 as well as a room that housed a couple hundred dolls. Yeah, they were freaky but we knew that she loved them more than life
itself so we took them and donated them to a museum in New York City so thousands of kids could see them in addition to the fact that the entire collection would be kept safe from harm.
The place turned into an empty shell by the time we made it to that forbidden room. It was locked by one of the biggest padlocks I had ever seen. Luckily, Sara, my youngest cousin, had found the key in an ebony chest my aunt kept in her bedroom. Now, that was one thing we were allowed to touch but we were too afraid of it. Even now, over twenty years after she got it, we were scared to open. I think it’s because we nicknamed it “The Coffin”. Mainly that was because of how it looked but who knows it could have been a coffin in a previous life.
Sara took the key from her pocket and held it out in front of her. “You know my mom is looking down at us right now,” she said with a smile. She paused a minute and asked who was going to break the sacred seal. After a couple minutes of debate my other cousin Theresa said that she would take the chance.
None of us knew what the curse was that Aunt Victoria placed on that room and on anyone who had the utter nerve to be so curious that they would break her one and only cardinal rule. Maybe she didn’t put a curse on that room. We weren’t sure…after all Aunt Victoria was a strange old bird so she was capable of pretty much anything.
The key was loose in the lock. We could hear the grit of decades of nonuse as the teeth slid across the tumblers. Actually, the lock opened rather easy for its age. There was a cloud of dust that fell from the door frame as the last tumbler fell into place. The cloud was so thick that it was nearly impossible to see the door or anything else in the area and we were gasping for our next breaths. It took all of five minutes for the dust to settle but even that was temporary. Every time we moved we left a cloud behind us and our footprints became buried as soon as we made them.
I reached over to the doorknob. I saw that it was tinted gold but most of that had been worn off. It was cold to the touch. I don’t mean just cool as it should have been in the 50 degree air but it was colder, a lot colder. As a matter of fact my hand stung from the cold when I touched the smooth metal surface but it turned with just a little effort and the door swung open.
We looked in and there was a resounding, “What’s in there? What can you see?” from all three of us. It was almost musical but there was no music. Our voices almost had the sound of the times were telling ghost stories.
There was no light so Sara felt inside along the walls around the door and finally found an old gas light. She took her lighter, lit it and she stepped into the room. She turned the handle on the lamp and the flame shot to the ceiling before it settled down to a flame about four inches high. The inside was lined with shelves. I counted 10 shelves on the two walls. On each shelf were a large number of containers. Some were made of silver, some gold and more than a few made out of beautiful ornamental glass.
We walked in. The light from the lamp reflected back and forth across the room leaving rainbows of light across the walls. It was almost beautiful.
Theresa walked around. She was usually clueless but, for the first time, she used her eyes and brain before she used her mouth. “Sara, Rob get over here and look at this.” We walked over and there was a plaque on one of the silver containers. It read “Elizabeth Marie Stone – 1924 – 1969.” The one next to it read “Paula Lynne Hannover – 1995.”
“That’s my sister,” I yelled. “She died at birth. I remember how broken up mom was. I was 13 and I had to hold her up. She was hurt so bad.”
Theresa and Sara looked at every container on the shelves. Each and every one of them had a name, a date of birth and a death date. There were a few that lacked any information and the lids were sitting next to them. Sara walked over and reached inside the first one. She let out a yell that sounded like she found a snake or, more likely, a spider but instead of either she brought out a letter.
I took it from her and looked at the front of it. It read “From Victoria Ann Stone to my eldest daughter.” I didn’t open it I just handed to Theresa.
She took it and fumbled with it a moment. “What do I do with this,” she asked in her normal confused state.
“Open it,” Sara responded. Theresa opened the letter and she handed it right over to Sara.
“What does it say,” I asked
“To my eldest daughter,” Sara started. “If you are reading this I must have passed on. Please know that I love all my children and my nephew. I do have one thing I have to tell you. You are standing among the ashes of every female member of my family. It has been a tradition in our family since the early 18th Century. It is my hope that you will take on the responsibilities of maintaining this tradition. Please use one of the empty containers for my ashes – With all my love to all – Victoria.”
The next day Sara and I had Aunt Victoria’s body cremated and we did as she wished. Her ashes were placed in the silver container where the note was found. Sara bought out Theresa’s share in the house and, as part of the tradition, Sara hid the room away although she did make regular visits to clean and dust the room. Unhappily Theresa was the next to go. She was cremated and placed in an container right beside her mother and that is how Sara kept Aunt Victoria’s secret for decades to come.