It rained all day, even into the night without any sign of letting up. Torrents of rain lashed the windows of the old house, thunder rumbling in the distance, the driveway filling up with dark water. The downpour showed no sign of letting up, even as the roof began to leak with a steady drip, drip, into a steel bucket, the noise echoing through the cluttered, dusty attic.
The front lights from the taxi swept across the driveway, the glare bouncing off the dark windows. A woman stepped out, holding a book over her head as she fumbled with the bags in the trunk before rushing up to the front door.
The front door creaked open as she hurried in. Julia dropped her bags on the floor with a loud thud, shaking water out of her hair. “I’m home,” she called to the empty front hall, letting out a little laugh as she remembered that there was no one here to respond. She sighed, wringing out her hair. Julia cursed as she stumbled into the small lamp on the table, catching it before it hit the ground. The faint, but familiar smell of cigarettes made her wrinkle her nose as she groaned, lifting her heavy bags again and heading down the dark wood-paneled halls.
The stairs creaked as she carried her bags up, dumping them on her bed, dust billowing up in the dim light. Julia sighed, rubbing a hand over her face. Keeping the old house seemed like a good idea at the time, but now she wasn’t so sure. It groaned and creaked like an old bellowing beast, hallways forever empty except for the lonely ghosts of memories haunting them. She desperately wished that she had just sold the damn place, flattened it, maybe made some money off of it, and bought a shiny new apartment with it.
A sharp knock on the front door startled her and she froze. It was near midnight; she wasn’t expecting any visitors, especially after her long trip. She grabbed the nearest book off her nightstand, a thick biology textbook, and crept down the stairs, holding it in front of her.
There was the shape of a man in the front door. She peered around the corner, watching as he pounded on the door again. “Jules?” He called, the familiar voice sending relief through her.
She unlocked the door and pulled it open, letting out a sigh as she did. “What are you doing here?” She asked, wrinkling her nose at the strong smell of smoke that greeted her.
“Not a nice way to address your baby bro,” Fred sassed as he shoved his way in, a lit cigarette smoking in his hand.
“What are you doing here?” Julia repeated her question, thoroughly fed up.
“Thought I’d visit the family house,” Fred breathed out a plume of smoke into the air.
“You never visit,” Julia raised her eyebrow. “You told me, and I quote, ‘I’m never coming to this dump again. Do as you please.’ So what are you doing here?” She crossed her arms over her chest, eyeing her brother up in down in his tattered and soaked clothes. She remembered the smell of cigarettes with a jolt. “Were you waiting for me to get home?”
“How was your trip?” He changed the topic.
“Still avoiding my questions I see,” Julia sighed, exasperated. “How did you even know about it?”
“I have my ways,” he leaned against the wall with a smirk.
“Did you get into trouble again?” Julia groaned. “Don’t tell me that’s it. If the police show up here, I swear-”
“I didn’t do anything wrong!” He shouted. “Jeez, why do you have to be so annoying!”
“Maybe because you showed up at my house,” Julia said sarcastically.
Fred rolled his eyes but lapsed into silence. Julia feared her suspicions were correct. “Look, what do you want? I’m tired. I just had a three-hour plane ride and I want to sleep.”
“Will you help me?”
“If it gets you out of my hair, then yes.”
“Fine.” He exhaled out another breath of smoke.
“Put out the cigarette. I hate the smell.”
“Ah, yes,” he extinguished it against the wall. “Julia, the goody-two-shoes. Never smoking. Perfect grades.”
Julia scowled at him. “If you’ve come here to snipe at me, then you might as well leave.”
“I’m looking for Dad’s diary.”
Julia froze. “Why would you want that?” She remembered too clearly the kind officer who had knocked on the door. I’m sorry, Ms. Williams. Your father has passed, he said.
“I need it.”
Fred hesitated, staring at the ground. “I want to find the Cavern.”
Julia stared at him before bursting out in laughter. “You can’t be serious!” she howled. “You want to find the Cavern? The place from a story Dad used to tell us when we were kids? Wow!” She shook her head, still chuckling. “I can’t believe I fell for that. What do really you need?” She pulled out a few bills from her pocket. “How much?”
“Don’t tell me that you don’t remember. He told us that we would be able to find it if we read his diaries. That if we ever lost him, we would be able to find him there. No, seriously.” He frowned. “I’m being serious. I don’t need money.”
“Fredrick Robert Williams not wanting money?” Julia laughed. She stopped when she saw the serious expression on his face. “You’re not joking? Are you sure you’re sober?”
“Yes, I am. We can find him, Julia.”
Julia winced, trying to stop the wall of memories from crashing through. “Look, Fred, he’s gone. He’s not coming back, no matter what Cavern we find.”
“There’s a chance.” He insisted. “Did they find a body?”
“No,” she mumbled. She remembered the details of the incident as if they were engraved on her hand. A car crash on Interstate 84. No body found, but the driver's license said it was from Henry Williams, their father. It was strange, she had to admit, but Fred was probably being delusional like he usually was.
“There’s a chance.” Fred pleads. “Please, Jules, for me? For Dad?”
Julia sighed. She really didn’t want to get roped in on this crazy mission. She just wanted to sleep. “We’re not going to find anything.”
“We at least owe it to Dad that we learn more about him. I want to read his diary to find any clues.”
It did make sense when he put it that way, Julia had to admit. “Fine,” she said reluctantly.
“Well, where are they?” he asked.
“Follow me,” she sighed.
The house somehow seemed even lonelier than before as she led Fred to the study. She couldn’t believe that she had lived here for two months by herself. It had seemed so lively when she was growing up here with Fred and their father, reading in the giant library, riding bikes down the hall, playing soccer as their father yelled at them to stop. She winced, pushing away the memories.
The door of the study creaked open in front of Julia as they stared into the mess, at a loss for words. It looked exactly as it did two months ago, books strewn across the desk, loose papers scattered across the floor. A clap of thunder startled them, making them both jump.
“It looks exactly the same,” Fred whispered.
“I didn’t have the guts to clean it up,” Julia admits. She hesitated before she stepped through, her footprints leaving a trail through the dust coating the floor. Julia kneels at the bookcase, blowing the dust off the covers. She sneezed, then turned to see Fred still standing in the doorway. “You coming?”
He nodded awkwardly, then crossed the threshold, kneeling next to her.
The rows of books went on forever. Julia wondered if her father even read them all or if he just kept them in here for show. Some of them seemed ludicrous, with titles such as Unicorns in Caves: A Guide to Hiding and How to find the lost dragons. The diary seemed to be nowhere.
“I’m sorry,” Fred says at last.
“It’s fine,” Julia said gruffly. She didn’t want to think about it right now.
“No, I mean it, Jules.” Julia looked over to see Fred’s eyes watering. “I never should have left. I was just so mad that Dad was gone. I couldn’t stand being here anymore.”
Julia nodded, relief filling her. She reached over and pulled Fred into a hug, just like when they were kids. “I forgive you.”
“Thanks,” he pulled away, wiping his eyes. “Oh, look!” He reached over to the shelf above her and pulled out a thin green book. On the side, in fancy gold script, William’s Diary was written.
Julia snatched it from him and flipped through it furiously. To her dismay, most of the pages were blank, water splotched and wrinkled. There was only one entry written in it, dated to the day their father had died.
December 8th: Route 18, mile marker 28. Turn off the headlights and go down the staircase. Left along the rocks, half a mile in, you’ll find it.
“I knew it!” Fred crowed.
“Don’t get your hopes up.” Julia felt like she was being plunged into the icy depths of a pool, water filling her lungs, holding her down, even as she thrashed. If it was true, then… then, it confirmed her worst fears. It meant that he really did leave them.
“Let’s go!” Fred jumped to his feet.
“Can’t we wait until morning?” Julia lagged behind, but Fred had already snagged her car keys and was running out in the rain.
“I bet you’re not tired anymore!” He called.
Julia had to admit he was right. She felt wide awake now. “Fred! Wait!”
She heard a beep as Fred unlocked the car, jumping into the driver's seat. Julia rolled her eyes, yanking the door open. “Out.” She pointed to the passenger’s seat.
“Fine.” Fred was too excited to argue. Julia wished she could say she was excited, but she just felt cold dread trickling down her spine as she twisted the key in the ignition, hearing the car rumble as it started up.
Branches and rain lashed the windows as Julia steered the car onto the main road. The wind howled outside, making the whole car shake, the tires skidding on the wet road. As the numbers on the mile markers neared 28, she felt worse and worse. She tried to breathe through the dread pooling in the pit of her stomach. Julia was tempted to turn the car around and drive back home and sink into her warm bed and pretend that this was all a dream. But Fred shook with such anticipation, almost as if he was ready to fling himself out of the car and run the rest of the way. She didn’t want to disappoint him, not after seeing him for the first time in a month.
She pulled on the side in front of mile marker 28, the car jolting as it crunched over branches.
“Are you ready?” she asked as Fred leapt out of the car before she even parked. She sighed, unsure of what she dreaded more, the storm, or the thought of seeing their father again. Fred rapped on the window and she groaned, opening the door and stepping out.
The rain had slowed to a drizzle as they stood on the side of the road. A few cars whizzed by on the highway, splashing them with water. It would have upset Julia more, if she wasn’t, one, already soaked, and two, too nervous to feel anything else. She followed Fred down the set of slippery stone stairs, wet with the rain, gripping onto the cold slick metal railing as her feet slid from under her several times. At least it wasn’t pouring like it was before.
The wet sand when they reached the bottom wasn’t pleasant either. It stuck to everything, their shoes sinking as the cold glop splattered over their clothes. She didn’t complain though; it least it was nicer than the slippery stairs. Neither did Fred, which surprised her, but she assumed it was because he was so excited.
The ocean was a dull roar in front of them, the water barely visible. Julia could hear the waves crashing down onto the beach as they climbed up onto the rocks next to the pounding waves.
“Be careful,” she warned Fred as he hurried ahead. “You might slip.” Her heart pounded as she saw him nearly fall several times before his figure disappeared completely. “Fred?” She cried, searching for him. She scanned the waves below, fearing that she would see him thrashing in the water before a cold hand gripped hers.
“There’s a small path here,” Fred said. “Follow my voice.”
“You nearly gave me a heart attack,” Julia griped, her heart still pounding as she jumped down on the hidden path. She wiped rain off of her face.
“Whatever. We’re nearly there.” Fred rushed ahead, leaving Julia standing alone above the waves. She wondered whether she should run back to the warmth of her car and drive home, leaving behind this foolish mission. Did she even want to see him again? He was the one who left. She nearly turned and fled back, but something pushed her to keep going. “I’m almost there anyway,” she whispered to herself.
The path narrowed, climbing higher and higher until she had to press her back against the wet rock to keep from slipping into the ocean that roared far below. She could hear the faint sound of cars zooming by on the highway above them, but she doubted that anyone could see them here. Not even a boat sailing below could spot the two small figures creeping along the side of the cliff.
“Julia?” Fred’s voice sounded right next to her ear.
“Coming,” she called, moving her hand over to the right. Instead of the wet rock, she was expecting, her hand went into the empty air. She nearly bumped into Fred, who was standing stock still, staring into the darkness of a mouth yawning in front of them. He fumbled for her hand, clutching it, just like he would when they were small.
“Is this it?” Julia suddenly felt the urge to whisper.
“I think so.” Fred’s voice sounded small. “You ready?”
Julia blew out her breath. It was too late to turn back. “Yeah, let’s go, Freddy.”
The cave was dark inside, but at least it was dry. Julia wished they had brought a flashlight, but it was too late now. Their footfalls echoed through the cave, the only other sounds were from the ocean and the rain falling outside. She pressed her hand against the wall, feeling her way around a turn in the cave, then stopped short, Fred bumping into her. Illuminated by a small light, a cavern sat up ahead, a small cot placed on the floor, clothes hanging from the walls, buckets placed around to catch the water. Worst of all, Julia thought, a desk stood in the center, a figure sitting in front of it, head bent over, hard at work. He stopped writing when he heard Julia’s gasp, looking up at them with twinkling eyes set in a wrinkled face framed with white hair, so familiar, yet so strange. Julia’s urge to flee heightened and she stepped back before Fred’s hand squeezed around hers, forcing her to lift her chin, staring the old man straight in the eyes.
“Julia! Frederick! It’s so nice to see you!” their father crowed.