A Skeleton Key and Skeletons in the Closet
The skeleton key was on the table in the foyer. Angela saw it as she was leaving for work and wondered how it had gotten there. She lived alone in a rented duplex and was obsessive about keeping track of important things like keys, cash and her purse. But she was in a hurry with no time to contemplate the key. Her boss had called a meeting for 8:00 a.m. citing upcoming changes. She had no intention of being late. She picked up the key and dropped it in a drawer.
Arriving home at 7:00 p.m., exhausted by a trying day, Angela unlocked her front door and flipped on the light. She hung her coat in the closet and turned to find the key once again on the foyer table. Willing herself to believe she had left it there that morning, she shoved it in the drawer and walked into the kitchen for a late dinner.
The next morning was a Saturday and Angela slept in. She lived in a revitalized neighborhood called Victorian Village located near downtown Columbus. Her home was originally an opulent single family home, but had been turned into a duplex several years back. It retained much of its original charm and unique architecture along with a storied past. Old newspaper articles revealed it had been a speakeasy during Prohibition, and that a murder had taken place on the premises in 1930. The owner, John Neilson, had found his wife with her lover and killed the man on the spot. He had sent his wife away, living out the remainder of his days alone and despondent. He had avoided prison by claiming self-defense. Being one of the richest men in town allowed him a certain latitude with the law. Neilson died in 1950 and was buried at nearby Green Lawn Cemetery. The house had changed hands many times since then.
Angela awoke to the sound of scratching in the attic. Her neighborhood had been overtaken by squirrels and raccoons, plus bats had found a home in her attic, so she never knew what caused the odd sounds she heard. Typically, she would have rolled over and gone back to sleep, but there was a certain rhythm to the scratching that was different and a bit unsettling. Shaking the cobwebs from her mind, she rolled out of bed, deciding coffee was needed. She threw on a robe and slippers and found her way to the front door to bring in the paper. Passing the table in the foyer, she caught the glint from the key. She felt a sudden chill and pulled her robe a bit closer. She picked up the key, dropped it into her robe pocket and brought in the paper.
The front page reminded her it was Halloween. She made a mental note to buy candy and to drag her creepy skeleton statue out to the front porch. Victorian Village was a favorite for trick or treaters. It had a certain haunted air that appealed to lovers of Halloween.
Angela read the paper from front to back, had a couple cups of coffee and occasionally touched the key in her pocket. She knew she had put it in the drawer and she knew she had never seen it before. She also knew the scratching in the attic had not stopped. Angela had never been in the attic. She decided it was time.
She pulled the stairs down with some difficulty – rusty hinges and springs didn’t help. She grabbed a flashlight and started her ascent. There was one light with a pull chain, but the bulb had burnt out years ago. It took her eyes a minute to acclimate to the dusty, dark space. A small window cast a square of light on the furthest corner. She swung the flashlight from left to right trying to get her bearings. There were a few old rugs, a couple of broken chairs and a rusted bicycle. It looked like nothing had been touched in years. She was ready to head back down the stairs when a glint of metal caught her eye. Hidden behind a support beam was an old wooden chest. The glint was from the lock and clasp. She shoved it into the light and studied the exterior. It was a beautiful chest, unlike anything you would find today. It made her think of steamer ships and cross Atlantic voyages. It also made her think of the key in her pocket.
Angela couldn’t help but feel something very strange was happening. She pulled out the key, studied its shape and size and knew it would be a perfect fit for the chest. Sliding it into the lock, she gave a quick turn to the right and heard a click. The lock came loose and she pulled it out freeing the clasp. She took a deep breath, made sure her flashlight was still on and lifted the lid. A flash of light burst forth, knocking her off her feet. A luminous woman floated a few inches off the floor. She pointed at the chest and then disappeared. Angela looked inside and saw a yellowed wedding gown and a newspaper article from 1930 about the murders that had occurred. There was a sketch of the back yard with a large X drawn over the spot where the gazebo now stood. Angela stumbled to her feet, somehow found her way to the stairs and called the police. She was pretty sure someone was buried in the back yard.
By 5:00 that afternoon, Angela had finished with the police and reporters. She had turned over the chest, the map and the key. The reporters were thrilled with the story and knew it would be on page one of the newspaper the next day. They were already digging up old articles about the 1930 murder.
Angela called a friend who came over to spend the evening. There weren’t any trick or treaters because the police had cordoned off the whole area. Her friend wanted to spend the night, but Angela just wanted to be alone after the exhausting, emotional day.
After her friend left, Angela got ready for bed and slipped under the covers. She brought her cell phone with her along with her flashlight. At 2:00 a.m. she was awakened by a knock at the door. Against all her better judgment, she got out of bed and went to the door. She thought it might be her friend returning to check on her. She flipped on the porch light and saw an older gentleman standing on the porch. He had a dignified air about him, but she was not inclined to open the door. Pressing the intercom she asked him what he wanted.
“I am Thomas Neilson, the son of John Neilson. I understand you had a bit of activity here today. There is more to the story. Will you allow me to share it with you?” Angela had him hold his identification up to the window and then let him in. The mystery had totally ensnared her by now. There was no turning back.
John came in, took off his coat and hat, and sat on her sofa. Over the next three hours he told her about the night of the murder. He had witnessed the whole thing – he was a mere child at the time. His father had sent him away to a state hospital so the facts of that night would never come to light. It was only after his father’s death that John was able to prove his sanity. He had lived his whole life knowing he had lost both his mother and father due to the tragedy.
Just then, a bright light burst through the window. The luminous woman had returned. She smiled at her son and extended her hand. John touched her fingers, was absorbed into her light, and the two figures were gone. All that remained was a pile of John’s clothing and his wallet. In his wallet, was an old picture of a very young girl.
Angela went back to bed with two thoughts. She wasn’t afraid and she knew who the little girl was. She also knew she would not be moving from this house. She had a few secrets of her own that seemed to fit beautifully into the fabric of this space. She just hoped the newspaper reporters didn’t delve too far into her background, or she too might have to disappear into thin air. There was a reason the key had come to her. She was the daughter of John Neilson and had been given up for adoption 35 years ago. This house was hers and she intended to stay.