Prompt 21: Family Secrets – 501 Prompts

Illustration by slightly_overwhelmed instagram.com/slightly_overwhelmed/

501 Prompts is me throwing a lot of ideas at the wall hoping at least one will stick.

Here’s how it works: I prepare my idea to the prompt and then sit down for 20 minutes straight to write it down. After a short editing session it goes online as it. It’s open to all genres, topics and experiments with storytelling.

Illustration by the super awesome slightly_overwhelmed.

I hope you enjoy the read!

The Prompt

a well dressed woman a forgotten manuscripta lie told in the dark

My Story

Anna felt lost between the remnants of her grandfather’s life that had ended a few weeks earlier at the age of 83. Boxes of broken Christmas lights, old magazines, and fainting film rolls cluttered the attic of his small house at the end of Oak Lane.

Anna had avoided the place, but her mother had insisted she’d come along to help her sort through his belongings.

“You want some coffee?” her mother asked.
“Sure.”
“Alright. I’ll be right back.”

The old wooden ladder rungs cracked softly. Anna closed another box full of worthless junk and took a deep breath. Then she noticed an inconspicuous cabinet looming like a revenant in the far corner. A stack of old family photos toppled out when she opened the door.

Anna picked up a random picture that showed her mother as a young child with her parents. They were a happy little family. Her grandmother had died of lung cancer when Anna was still a small child. Her memories of the woman were blurry, and she didn’t know if they were hers or just stories she had heard.

Tears came rolling down Anna’s cheeks as she sorted through the pictures. She stopped at one that showed her as a child sitting with her grandfather in his favorite armchair. Anna made a proud and wide grin to show the gap where the tooth she had lost earlier that day had been. Her grandfather smiled gently.

He had been a caring and loving man. Anna always enjoyed staying at his place. They spent hours upon hours watching old movies and shows together. Old Western were his favorite. As she grew older, she visited him less and less until she only saw him during obligatory family gatherings, but he never blamed her for that.

In his later years, his health declined steadily, and soon he was restricted to live between his home, the doctor’s office, and the hospital. Anna hadn’t seen him in 3 years when her mother called. “Your grandfather died last night.”

Since then, a thick knot of guilt pressed down on her chest every time she thought about him. Anna had avoided confronting her feelings but now found herself sobbing. She wiped her face with the sleeve of her shirt, and just as she wanted to close the cabinet, Anna noticed an old shoebox in the lower compartment.

A thick layer of dust covered the box as if it hadn’t been opened or even moved in decades. Carefully Anna brushed it off and took it out. The first thing that caught her eye was an old black and white picture of a well-dressed woman. Her curly hair fell seductively over her shoulder as she gave the camera a teasing smile. Anna didn’t know who she was, but she was sure it wasn’t her grandmother.

There were more pictures inside the box, clearly taken at a later date. Some of them were in color, but they had lost their vibrant life over the years. Most showed random places Anna didn’t recognize. One seemingly endless railroad track. A small town and smoking chimneys looming in the distance.
At the bottom of the box, Anna found a stack of papers stapled together.

On the title page, she read A LIE IN THE DARK by Ethan Edwards. She stared at the name. Wasn’t that the name of the hero of her grandfather’s favorite movie? It was a manuscript written on a typewriter. Anna skimmed through the pages until a particular scene caught her eye. She stopped to read it more closely.

It knocked on my door. I hadn’t even opened it halfway when the thin frame of Julia pressed past me. Since she broke up with me years prior, I hadn’t seen her. Time hadn’t been kind to her. Her clothes were torn, her hair flat and tangled. She struggled to catch her breath as if she had been running for her life. She probably was.
“You have to help me,” she said as she made her rounds through my small apartment to shut the blinds.
“Tell me what you need,” I answered without hesitation.
“Don’t let them take me away.”
I nodded my understanding and opened the trap door that led to the small storage room underneath. She gave me a cautious smile.
I had paced restlessly through my living room for something that felt like an eternity when it knocked on my door again.
“Good evening, Sir. Have you seen anyone suspicious around?” they asked me, implying that I was fully aware of who they were looking for.
Without hesitation, I nodded and pointed at the trap door in the room behind me.
Julia kicked and screamed when they dragged her out. She begged them, appealed to their humanity. Little did anyone know at the time that none of it was left. She cried for help. I just stood there and watched.

Anna’s stomach twisted and turned with every line she read. Had her grandfather written those lines? No one had ever told her that he was a writer. The story felt too real to be just fiction. Slowly a disturbing suspicion settled in when the photos started to make sense to her.

The clink of a mug breaking on the floor pulled her out of it. Her mother stood next to her, eyes wide in terror.

“What is this?” Anna asked, waving the manuscript in front of her.

She snatched it out of Anna’s hand. “Where did you find this?” Her voice was a sharp blur of distress and anger.

The buried pain of a repressed past slowly crawled its way back to the surface and twisted her mother’s expression. Anna couldn’t be entirely sure before, but now she knew that she had ripped open an old festering wound in their family’s history.

“Never speak of this to anyone,” her mother demanded.

Anna stood up. “No.”

Read my thoughts on creating this prompt.

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