My mother never had a “thing” like most people do. We moved from house to house almost yearly, so she never had the time to pick up a real hobby. My childhood consisted of watching her go from one interest to the next: knitting, sewing, painting, mandala drawing. You name it, she’s probably done it. The walls in our childhood home were covered in doodles upon doodles of hers, painted in swirls and curves. The house ended up abandoned, the massive amount of renovations and additions needed to make it worth anything dissuaded most reasonable buyers. So my mother put it to my name in her will. I was only informed of this after her battle with stage 3 lung cancer, when her final will and testament was passed out. My father got nothing (she resented him her whole life, and would complain at least once a day about his incompetence), my siblings got her money and main household along with other assets, and I got the house. The kooky, 150-year-old home covered head to toe in strange encrypted messages that my mother always told me I would understand one day.
So, naturally, I had to go see what was so important about this warped home. It had changed an impressive amount from what I remembered it as. The walls had been painted over; the ceilings and light fixtures changed from the minimalist light bulbs that hung when I lived there to the massive chandeliers that had been installed by the real estate agent; one of his many fruitless attempts to make the house seem like a paradise to the weary potential buyers. However, the paintings remained. Even when making my way up the stairs to my old bedroom, I noticed that they still covered the railings and walls. I look down at my paper, and a thought hits me.
“Why is there no listing for a basement?”
There was always a basement in the house, one that my mother refused to let me or my siblings into. The twins eventually just lost interest, but mine remained. My nagging curiosity as a young child refused to let the door slip my mind. The door with the padlock and chain that kept it attached to the wall. As I walked, the stairs creaked under my feet and I was reminded of the times my mother would chase us as children around the halls of the ancient house. Hide and seek was always impossible here. I ventured through the halls, and as soon as the door made its way into my line of vision, I noticed that the chain and lock were gone.
Now was my chance to see what my mother was always afraid of my siblings and I finding out about. I wrapped my hand around the rusted handle, and gave it a good tug. Slowly the hinges gave way, revealing writing on the cinder block walls.
“Verity,” it reads. “Read carefully. These messages are designed for your eyes only. Take no pictures, no videos, and no audio recordings. This should exist only in your memory and yours alone.”
My eyes widen as I continue down the stairs. My late mother’s loopy handwriting is scrawled across the walls. It’s surrounded by color and designs, but all I can see are the words.
“I created this space for you. I watched you grow, from an infant to a toddler, from toddler to middle schooler, and I hope I get to watch you grow until I breathe my last breath. This is why you inherited this house. Not because of its value — it has next to none — but because of this message.”
I follow her words to a trapdoor, where they disappear behind the door. I grab a rusty flashlight that had probably been waiting for me for dozens of years, and pop the trapdoor open. I crawl through on my hands and knees, and continue on.
“You, Verity Grace, are the child I knew would succeed. I want to be a part of that success. Even from beyond the grave. Whatever your career is now, I wish you all the best in it. And if there is an afterlife, I will be here with you when you read this.”
A cold breeze flows through my shirt, even though it’s the middle of summer in Arizona. I shiver, and the flashlight flickers.
“Continue along this path until you reach the other side. Have no fear, Verity. I am not here to harm you.”
I would swear that I felt a hand on my shoulder, but I shrugged it off and continued on. As I continue down the tunnel, I begin to see ghostlike shadows moving around me, and I hear voices of people I know and remember. I hear my uncle, hit and killed by a train. I hear my cousin, who died of a cocaine overdose, and my stepfather, who cried over my mother until he couldn’t cry anymore. My heart practically leaps out of my chest as I shine the flashlight around. The tunnel is covered in paintings. Hundreds of portraits of family members, or people my mother idolized. There are even scattered paintings of my favorite stuffed animal, a fluffy grey elephant with suede ears and feet.
I feel a pang of longing, but quickly pull myself together. I continue my journey down the tunnel, as it feels like it’s getting smaller and smaller by the foot. Small spaces were never a problem for me, but all the nostalgia makes my heart race. Finally, my flashlight shines on a door. I shove it open with every ounce of strength left in my body.
It swings open, and I am greeted by a room covered in my pictures, as well as toys or clothes I thought I had lost through the years. The colors around the room are nearly blinding, and I squint to make out what sits in the center. A blank canvas sits alone, the only space not covered in images of me or my siblings and memoirs. The canvas flickers, like a screen, then turns blue, then green, and finally shifts into a pair of lips, which part and begin to speak.
My mother’s voice emerges.
“Come, sit down, Verity, and let me tell you the secret of life.”