I’m already feeling the effects these weekly deadlines are having on my first drafts. I’m beginning to feel looser and more willing to test new ideas during what has always been the slowest part of my process. After all this experiment was established to help me write more quickly.
Plus I’m having fun. I hope you are as well. As always, please let me know what you think.
Stats: 659 words. Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 17 seconds.
Irene begged me not to open the door. “Just leave it alone,” she said. “It must be locked for a reason.”
She was more cautious than me. Always had been. But I was compelled. We’d bought the house for its history — or at least for its sense of history, for most of what we’d been told was hearsay. I guess that’s natural for one of the oldest homes in the city. Neighbors claimed that residents didn’t stay long, that they heard sounds at night. Some even swore it was haunted by the old Montresor family. Irene put as little stock in those stories as I did, except when it came to the door at the end of that long hallway.
“There isn’t even enough space for a room behind it,” she said.
She was right. The basement’s wine cellar sat immediately behind. The walls had been built of stone hundreds of years ago, and a white mineral had crystalized over the gray rock in several places. We were told the cellar used to be a series of catacombs. Most of the homes in this area had them.
“Maybe it’s a closet,” I said. “Don’t you want to know what’s inside?”
She didn’t. We already had more space than we knew what to do with. What was one more closet?
I’d combed over nearly every inch of the grounds searching for clues about the former owners, trying to figure out who they were from the candelabra left standing on tabletops, imagining what they ate on the silver spoons still residing in drawers.
Irene enjoyed those trinkets. She wanted to know why they would leave such possessions behind. For me, it was the door. The lock without a key. More specifically, the void behind the wood called to me. There was no earthly reason for it to be there.
The handle had been crafted from iron and decorated with a filigree I hadn’t seen anywhere else in the estate. I tried picking the lock, but I honestly had no idea what I was doing. That’s when I saw that the doorjamb bowed away from the handle — warped, probably from years of underground moisture. So I grabbed a screwdriver and set to prying it open. With enough force, the door swung free as I splintered the wood and sliced my hand with the flathead.
I cringed and gripped my palm to stop the bleeding. What stung more than the jagged cut was what lay within: a storage closet packed with stale air. The space was only four feet deep, and the miniature shelves on either side sat empty. Irene was right. My weeks of speculation were for nothing.
I was about to head upstairs to bandage my hand when something caught my eye.
The back wall rose between two of the supports of the cellar’s roof. I switched on my flashlight for a closer inspection, and indeed, the stone did not match the rest of the walls. Even the mortar crumbled in parts, as though this particular stack had not been constructed with the same precision as the rest of the basement.
My hand could wait.
A waist-high, crooked stone jutted out from the wall. With my reignited curiosity, I used the screwdriver to chisel away the mortar from around the stone. It crumbled under the force of the steel, and soon enough, I was able to remove the brick from the wall. I set down the block, now smeared with the blood from my hand.
The opening smelled of dust and rot. I placed the side of my face against the warm flashlight in order to peer within. My eyes took a moment to adjust. I saw dirtied, striped cloth. Then metal. A shackle, secured around the waist of a hollow puppet.
Not a puppet.
I felt the blood drain from my face, for gripping the shackle were the withered remnants of a hand motioning for its release.