Updated: May 31
A short story that I penned for a competition (no specified subject: 2,000 - 3,000 words).
Since we moved into this house, it hadn’t stopped raining for ten days straight. Bucketing. A constant string of water sheets falling from above. A greeting. That’s what dad had said, that it was the rains washing away our past to ready us for the future. I didn’t share his bright optimism however and saw it more for what it actually was: Just rain. The benefit of this torrential rain was that it gave us time to properly unpack. But I longed for the outdoors, for the vast backyard in particular. My mum used to suggest that I was an explorer; an adventurer by nature. “You’re like a fish out of water indoors, Lucas.”
She was right. She was always right.
Today was the eleventh day and it had finally stopped raining. The sun had begun to break through the cloud cover and lit up every speck of green as far as the eye could see. Once the pale blue of a liberated sky creeped out, I was freed. I rocketed out back and tore through the hundred or so square meterage of yard. I trundled through puddles and leaped onto trees. I bounced off fences and flipped over various plants and bushes. I gazed out into a world unknown from great heights and crawled through the overgrown grass down low. Once I had exhausted my exploration of this new terrain I resorted to running. I ran in continuous circles hoping that something new would pop out and greet me. I rounded the far corner of our yard and hit a concealed patch of sand. My left foot managed to flail forward but my right foot met aggressively with the sand bed. In a flash, I tumbled over myself and fell face first into the grass. I hit my head violently against the ground, but the hit to my knee was far unkinder.
‘Ouch!’ I yelped whilst holding my head and prodding at a graze that had ripped right through my pants and opened up on my knee. I knew it was merely cosmetic, but that thought didn’t stop the stinging. So shallow it was that no blood had yet seeped out. I pushed myself up and looked back to the offending pile of sand. As I honed in on this deceptive slice of our backyard, there looked to be some remnants of grass here too.
Even in the darkest of places there was light. It obviously worked both ways.
I swept my fingers through and certified that it was indeed grass, but it was blackened. Blacker, far, than I had ever observed grass to be. The colour of death and disease. That’s what my Year 7 English teacher Mrs. Elk had taught me; the colour black was often symbolic of death and disease. She did mention that it could also represent power and reputation. Though, this particular patch of grass didn’t seem too powerful to me, so I presumed the former was more accurate.
I dusted off what I could of the sand from my pants, curse my bad luck for the hole in my pants and swiftl came to terms with my saturated state. Mum had never minded me coming home drenched in the by-product of nature play; whereas dad would always worry. Still worries.
In the middle of the sand trap, erupting upwards almost poetically, was the corner of a tin. I could tell it was a biscuit tin from the moment my eyes flushed over it. In fact, I think I had seen this exact tin many times before in my grandparents’ home. Burnished and reflective and, contrary to any label, was actually a refuge for sewing supplies rather than biscuits. The corner of this tin; however, was a brass flower of rust.
I pulled the tin from its former grave and swiped it clean of muck. I pried open the tin, gleaming with anticipation and a childish sense of awe. It was so blemished with rust that it took all my might to wrench the damned thing open. The insides were a spectacle and did not disappoint. Countless trinkets rattled around and rolled from corner to corner. Miniature soldiers, time-worn and faded. A deck of cards decorated with an array of faces from seemingly popular cartoon characters. A fake moustache like the kind that spewed out of cheap Christmas crackers. Hardened sticks of gum. A pearlescent pebble the size of a field mushroom and a Rubik’s cube, loosened and near broken but just as colourful as the day it was likely purchased. No biscuits though. In fact, the only assorted items within the tin was the enduring collection of bottle caps from various sodas and alcoholic beverages. Mostly beer caps, tinged at the teeth with a black, hardened substance. It felt as if I were peering through a looking glass. Into this child’s life, into their everything. This had proven to be a true treasure trove for a kid like me.
As all good things come to an inevitable end, the cyphering through this treasure tin was no different. I had studied each and every item multiple times now. I wished there were more. I inspected the Rubik’s cube one last time then tossed it back into the tin. It cracked when it met the bottom and a corner piece detached, joining the mixture of other-worldly items that swam around the container's shallows. A shred of paper now peeked out through the toy’s wound, hoping to be seen, liberated now by light.
Elatedly, I pulled out the mysterious note. Unfolding the paper, I couldn’t think of another time I was this excited to read. Mrs. Elk popped back into my thoughts: “To read is to learn.”
Let’s see what I learn from this, shall we? I straightened the paper and began to read.
It was some sort of congratulatory note for a scavenger hunt. The note was clearly withered and embellished in a childish scribble. I couldn’t believe my luck, to have stumbled upon such personal treasures. Something so genuine and candid.
He got one thing right, he was smart. Even if it was more of a description of the hiding place, than clues of how to find it, it was brilliantly penned. I bundled the tin under my arm and scuttled back into the house.
‘What?’ He said, revealing himself from behind the dividing wall as I thrust my shoes off and entered the house all soppy and wet. ‘Wait, let me guess. You have decided that you love mopping so much that you just had to bring in a sandpit with you.’
I didn’t speak. I didn’t dare to.
‘Did I guess right?’
‘Don’t apologise, Lucas, just take your wet socks off and use a towel to dry yourself before running havoc through the house.’ He smiled. ‘Now what did you actually want to tell me?’
‘Actually, before I bestow this awesomeness upon you-‘
‘- Awesomeness? How enthralling-‘
‘- I want to ask a question.’
‘The people who lived here before us, what do you know about them?’
‘Um, I guess just what the realtor told me.’
He paused in thought before speaking, ‘A middle-aged man and his boy lived here alone after their mother passed away. Much like us, hey champ?’ He chuckled to relieve some of the tension, ‘The poor man’s boy ran away or went missing, one of the two, so the man sold up.’
‘More than likely he ran away. That’s what the realtor said. He was young, ten or eleven if I remember correctly. Yeah, ten sounds right.’ He must have noticed the worry wash over my face, ‘Look, nothing bad happened here, don’t worry. You think I’d move you to a place where something bad went down?’ We both took a moment to breathe. ‘Now, you had some thrilling information for me. What was it?’
His words were more than reassuring. The discomfort began to dispel and a tingling sensation shot down my spine, marking the end of this disconcerting feeling.
I continued with the same excitement that I had mustered beforehand, ‘I found some treasure!’
After drying myself, my dad and I rummaged through the contents of Adam’s treasure trove. He inspected each item as closely as I had not moments before. Completely intrigued and mesmerised. Just as I was, or at least pretending to be for my sake.
‘And now I know that he lived here, in this house.’ I showed him the broken Rubik’s cube and the note. He clarified what the words “harbour” and “waif” meant, although I was still somewhat confused by them, especially in the context of Adam’s note. I couldn’t believe it was penned by a ten-year-old. Such sophistication.
‘Well, what are you waiting for?’ Dad spoke, full of excitement, ‘Go and find the secret hiding place.’
I jumped from the chair and ascended the stairs.
‘Oh and Lucas,’
‘Hint for you: the door he speaks of, the one that isn’t at the entry, sounds an awful lot like a cupboard door if you ask me.’ I didn’t ask, nor did I need to.
I reached the first room, my new room. I imagined what it would have looked like when this mysterious ten-year-old boy named Adam lived here. If this was his room. I mean, it made the most sense to be, it was the perfect room for a young boy. It was likely covered in posters and livened by the scent of football boots or a misplaced school sport’s shirt.
I scoured through the cupboard, searching. Adrenaline and anticipation fuelling my every motion. But I found nothing. I scoured dad’s room next. Nothing there also. The guest bedroom, again nothing. There was one final room, an older, damp space that both my dad and I had curled our noses at when we first moved in. It was located downstairs, directly behind the staircase. The stairs seemed to actually run through the room, slanting the ceiling and reducing the general space significantly. We had planned to use it as a dumping room for all our miscellaneous junk. That’s all it would have ever been good for my dad had said.
When I entered this time, it felt cold. Unkind and callous. I had a terrible feeling that this had actually been Adam’s room. I pushed aside some boxes that had already amounted in the entryway and reached for the slatted doors of the cupboard. Having to apply the same force I had with the tin earlier, I pried open the stubborn doors revealing a quaint inner space. It was bare. Dim. Oddly eerie. I stepped in and slid my hand across the wood backing, searching for any inscription that resembled a three. I had almost given up, before I found them. Three crowns engraved messily at the bottom left hand corner of the cupboard. I pushed my hand into the carpet below, revealing a small handle and popped out the wooden pane. By association, the adjoining three panes to the right all snapped out too. Once I had this detached door in hand, I could see that they were all connected by a timber spine, nailed in by an amateur. Likely Adam.
The hole in the wall was dark, far too dark to read a book in. That much I knew for certain. I stepped in regardless. Sheets of paper and something foreign crunched beneath my feet. I retorted sideways and kicked over a bigger object. It rolled for a while before resting up against my leg. I reached down, picked it up and scrutinised it within my hands. My fingers happened upon a small rubber button. Without thought, I pressed down and the space lit up. It was a lantern. As I held it before me, I could tell that it was old, very old, but powerful, nonetheless. It threw light and clarity to every inch and crevice of the space. I could see now that it was just over a metre wide. The ceiling was angled sharper than the room, which meant that this must have existed at the lowest point of the stairway. Large enough for me to sit comfortably, but not nearly enough space for an adult.
The floor was littered with papers, pencils and other junk. That must have been the sound I had heard. The fine corpse of a pencil leveraging against my weight. In the corner, as promised in Adam’s note, was a small trunk. I sat down beside it, nestling up in this graveyard of unfavourable items not worthy of calling the interior of the trunk home. I lifted the lid slowly, eagerness building. I propped it open completely and was met with disappointment. Nothing. Not a single item lay within the confines of this supposed treasure chest.
I leant back. My head met hard with the wooden carcass in defeat. I rested my eyes, exhaling loudly in disenchantment. I’m not sure what I was expecting, whether I was being realistic or not, but I had hoped for great things. Magical things. I grabbed the lid of the trunk, and in my frustration, threw it downwards. It slammed shut with an awful thump and tumbled over. The thump echoed around the dwelling and came to rest back in the trunk. On its side, removed of its upright glory, the trunk seemed different. There was something off about it. The bottom panel seemed to have come loose. I placed it back upright and lifted the lid to look back within. My frustrations, although typically useless and not helpful at all, had exposed a false bottom in this trunk. I delved into the trunk again. My hands squandered around the bottom before coming into contact with a small fabric slip. I pulled at the slip and the false bottom disconnected. Now, when I peered into the trunk, it no longer felt disappointing. No longer was it empty for a journal lay there. Resting at the true bottom, ever-so-tranquilly. I took the journal in hand and rested it on my thighs. I moved the lantern closer: it felt right to read whatever I found in this newfound chasm, within the chasm itself. Like if I were to take it out into the real world it may just combust in the breeze of all things non-fantastical.
I read. For a while, I just read. What first appeared to be fiction, turned real and dire fast. And true to the words of Mrs. Elk, I learned. I learned the truth about Adam. The journal was filled end to end with diary entries. It became known to me quite quickly that this was not the treasure he had intended to leave. That this journal was far too personal and secretive to be given away in a scavenger hunt. A wave of emotions consumed me. Confusion. Anger. Frustration. Hopelessness. Fear. And then nothing. I became more objective the more I read. Soon, I arrived at the last entry.
It may have been the definitive line of this final entry, or the fact that my mind had finally worked out exactly what the black substance that covered the teeth of his hidden bottle caps was, but tears had begun to run down my cheeks. They fell away from the ridge of my jaw and joined the paper cemetery below.
I remained frozen. For a long time, I remained perfectly frozen.
All that followed was a blur. A melting pot of shapes in action that I would surely come to forget in the not so distant future. All I will remember is the severe sorrow and just how much it hurt to cry that night.
The police were eventually called and we handed over Adam’s collection of treasure. It was the breadcrumb nature of his late trinkets that led the detectives to where he was buried. There was a part of me, a part that had only manifested once I began to read through Adam’s journal, that knew.
Knew where he had been buried.
Knew where he was thrown carelessly into a pit and left to rot.
Where he had lay dormant for all these years.
That very patch of deadened grass, black and unholy. Harbouring the corpse of a murdered ten-year-old boy. A ten-year-old waif.
And then it rained again. For ten days straight, it rained.
If you made it to the end, you are the anomaly. Fun fact: our attention span when reading has significantly dropped over the past decade. Microsoft's latest study had it a whopping 8 seconds. This would have taken far more than 8 seconds, so I applaud you!
Let me know what you thought of it in the comment section below - I would love to hear feedback, thoughts, impressions (constructive or not).