This post is for the Write...Edit...Publish Flash Fiction Challenge. It's a blog hop so wander on over (after reading, of course) and read all the submissions :D Thank you, Denise and Yolanda, for hosting such a fun blog hop! I'm happy to be back at it <3
The Back of the Drawer
by Jennifer Chandler
The back of that old drawer tempted me, taunted me. Like an all-seeing eye it watched from the far corner of the study. Grandfather said it was jammed, wouldn't close, but I knew the truth. He wanted to bait me, catch me, trap me.
“Just like your Grandmother,” he'd say. “Curioser and curiouser,” he'd laugh.
“Curiosity,” he'd say every time he caught me looking towards the table. “It's why she's gone.”
Yes: he was laying a trap.
He refused to elaborate, refused to give me any more. I'd ask, beg, but he'd disappear behind the paper and a fog of pipe smoke. I understand now that it was necessary, understand that it was the only way. But I'll never, ever forgive him.
It was a Sunday when it happened. Gloomy and grumbling the sky churned. I couldn't leave the house. The wind whipped like the Furies and moaned through the chimneys, the telling cry of a ban sidhe.
Grandfather had to go out.
“Urgent business,” he murmured as Butler helped him with his coat.
“What's so urgent that you have to go out in a monsoon?”
He patted me on the head, “The Gallery. A new acquisition.”
Of course, always The Gallery. Grandfather was in charge of the antiquities department. Old, dusty artifacts came by dark means to the back cellar and he would be summoned. No one questioned. No one dared. The Gallery got antiques, some ancient relics; Grandfather got notoriety and the occasional, personal collectible.
Like the table.
It came from Cairo, so he said. Oh, I believe him now but I didn't back then.
When he was gone, Butler smiled his solemn smile and headed back upstairs to finish the rooms. Me, I wandered to the kitchen for a bit of breakfast. Thunder clapped and flickered the old lights. The electricity, the water, everything was antiquated. Grandfather firmly believed older was better. There was even an original gas lamp on the porch. Thankfully inside the house was electricity, even if it did go out in the slightest breeze.
Sure enough, a gust took out the lights and I was left to comb through the dining room for matches. I found a box, half full, and took one to a small hurricane lamp. I decided the best use of my time for that day was rummaging about the library. Until I passed the study. Until I saw, in the flashing lightening, the flickering flame, the slightly open drawer.
My mind screamed. I remember hearing the warning, like a far off bell keening for the recently departed. The voice was feminine, not unlike my mother's, but she'd been dead for all but one of my fifteen years. I was dreaming; the storm, spooky and ominous conjured some long dead memory of a mother's words. Urgent, insistent, I brushed them off like cobwebs.
Somewhere something thumped, a picture falling off the wall. I stood in front of the table and shivered. The room was so very cold. The fire. I looked at the dark hearth. Strange: Butler always made the fires up before we woke, before we came down. Guess Grandfather's sudden departure distracted him. I took a blanket from the arm chair and threw it over my shoulders, careful not to upset the lamp.
The drawer gaped. The lightening popped and I jumped as something else tumbled somewhere in the house. I could hear Butler's slow, heavy footsteps above. He was in my room now, probably fluffing the pillows and fluttering the curtains. Picking up my books that lay scattered to my liking.
What could it hurt? I wondered. Really, if I pried open the drawer who would know?
I sat the lamp on the table and gave the drawer a tentative tug. Nothing. I tried again. Not even a squeak. I put the lamp on the floor and rattled it, knocking off a letter opener and a bust of Poe holding down a bundle of documents.
The letter opener winked in the lamplight and I obliged it's hint. It would fit easily into the drawer, hopefully pry it open. Slowly it slid but not much wider. I put the opener down, afraid I'd bend it if I continued. It was now open enough for me to put my hand inside. That was perfect. I'd reach inside, take a look, no one would be the wiser.
That's what I thought.
Like a criminal I watched over my shoulder, watched for the shadows of tell-tale eyes. My hand went in and I held my breath.
Then I screamed, screamed until the roof shook and the windows rattled. Screamed until Butler rushed down to find me cradling my arm. There was blood everywhere and the last thing I remember was his pale, horrified face.
When I woke up there was a woman there. She looked like a photograph that hung in the stairwell. Grandfather was there; he didn't look happy or angry. His eyes betrayed gratitude and that's the reason I can't forgive him.
“An eye for an eye”, the old adage states. In this case it was a hand for a hand. My grandmother's returned as did she, from the hospital in Switzerland that kept her deformity hidden. Now, that deformity is mine. Slowly I've acclimated to one usable hand; slowly I've come to grips with the blackened, dead thing that sits at the end of my left arm. Mummified, skin tattered. I refuse to bandage it; the other patients refuse to come near me. That suits me just fine.
Grandfather and Grandmother send their love, books, and postcards from their travels. All I can send them is contempt. I know I'll never leave this sanitarium. I'll never get my hand back. Grandfather's last letter told me the table is now at The Gallery, encased in glass in the Egyptian room.
Safe, he wrote. Where no one again will discover what's at the back of the drawer.
To the other participants: feel free to critique as you see fit. I'm open to full critiques and brief comments/suggestions. The choice is yours.
Thank you all for reading :)