Mary walked away from the freshly dug grave, making sure to avoid stepping on the resting places of the dead as she headed to her car. Once inside, she stared out over acres of well-manicured headstones, wondering what it might be like when her time came. A knock on the window jolted her back to reality, as her cousin motioned to roll down the glass.
“Mary, would you like to join the rest of us for lunch?” asked Marc.
“Thanks, but I need to be alone for a while,” she responded.
“If you change your mind, we’ll be at the diner,” Marc added before walking away.
Mary started her car and drove away as fast as the cemetery speed limit allowed. Then, she merged onto the interstate, and watched the speedometer approach 75 mph. Flashing red lights appeared in the rearview mirror, and before she was even able to react, the police car sped by. With her heart racing, Mary realized she got a lucky break and headed for home.
Lying on the couch, Mary’s thoughts flowed freely, beginning and ending with a question:
Why does life have to be so complicated and unpredictable?
What have I accomplished so far?
Do I have enough time to do something with the years I have left?
Minutes later she came to a revelation, stating aloud,
“I suppose there’s nothing like being faced with death to unearth a memory from decades ago. It’s time I retrieved the story I wrote when I was 16 and submitted it to a publishing house. Fortunately, I didn’t toss it into the dumpster, burying it in the basement instead.”
It didn’t take Mary long to find the spiral notebook containing the tale she believed would earn her a Pulitzer Prize. Now it was up to her to work toward her teenage dream or reconsider its literary value. As she placed the decaying papers onto the kitchen table, she felt herself transported back in time. Mary visualized her bedroom, a small white desk and the wooden chair with the pink vinyl seat. Every night she wrote for hours, creating her masterpiece, one word at a time.
“Mary, turn out the light and go to bed! It’s way past midnight!” her father hollered.
“I just need a few more minutes Dad. I promise I’ll be up and ready for breakfast before you are,” she responded.
“I hope you’re aware that being a writer is a solitary and often fruitless business,” he answered.
“You’re going to be so proud of me Dad. Just wait and see,” said Mary smiling.
Eventually, life got in the way, so the notebook lingered in her desk drawer, patiently waiting for her return. That didn’t happen, of course, as one priority led to another, and writing became a distant thought. Once Mary moved out on her own, she packed her treasured possessions in boxes, which followed her from place to place. Few, if any, were ever opened.
Mary poured herself a beer, flipped open the cover and began to read her story from an adult point of view.
THE KEY TO THE CASTLE
I’m going to let you in on a secret right from the start. You’re not going to get access to the key until the actual end. That may seem self-explanatory, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. After I pass away, my Will is going to dictate that the conclusion of this story can be revealed. So, if you’d prefer to stop now, since the epilogue is pending, I’ll understand. However, if you choose to read on, try to find the clues which might help you guess what may be inside the thick walls of the castle.
Jake was my best friend. I didn’t realize how important he was until his parents decided to move away and steal him from me. I was completely devastated and didn’t think I could live without him. Every day I would slip into the woods behind our house, lean on a tree trunk, think about Jake and cry.
Sometimes I would scratch at my skin when the sadness became too overwhelming. When my anger grew into rage, I would repeatedly punch the rough bark until my knuckles bled. Once, I broke my wrist, but told my parents I tripped and fell into a pile of rocks. Carrying around the cast made me feel better for a while, as weird as that might sound.
Looking back, what does a six-year-old really know about relationships? Well, I was more aware than anyone could have imagined, even though adults said I was too young to truly understand.
I also knew that parents had immense power. The kind of authority that could cause long lasting and deep-seated damage to a growing child. I should know, since it happened to me. As a result, I had no confidence, belief or trust in any of them. I avoided seeking solace or asking for direction, counting only on myself. Needless to say, I often failed and got into a lot of trouble.
There’s no sense belaboring my early childhood. I’d rather not get into being dragged to a therapist who claimed she “knew me”, despite being completely off base. Or the fact my older sister never gave me the time of day but teased me relentlessly when our paths did cross. All you really need to know is that up until the age of 13 I had lost my way and everyone called me a loser. I couldn’t have agreed more, and the best words that described me were lonely, isolated, insecure, angry, confused and invisible.
Oh, I forgot to add depressed, which tended to make me less focused on other people and more fixated on my own misery. That being said, I never told you my name. It’s William, and I was named after my great-grandfather on my mother’s side. My sister was named after our great-grandmother, which brought a bit of levity into my bleak early years. Zelda! My sister’s name is Zelda. She always hated that name, and demanded that everyone call her Zee. Well I wasn’t having any of that. I suppose that’s why she didn’t like me much, since I wouldn’t give in to her wishes. Zelda it was and Zelda it will always be.
Anyhow, a noticeable change happened after I received a brand-new bike for my 13th birthday. It was the first time I ever got something that wasn’t a hand-me-down or from the thrift store, and it came as a complete surprise to me as well as my mother. Every Saturday I left the house early and didn’t come back until dark. Although my mother was worried about my whereabouts, I always returned in a noticeably improved mood. I explained that exercise stimulates endorphins, which makes people feel better naturally. As a result, she was less concerned and even encouraged me to bike more often.
Once a week was plenty, since my rides were purposeful. I peddled a long way to spend time with a number of different people and my parents had no idea what I was doing. Without a doubt, those visits saved my life. I learned about and experienced friendship, caring, personal satisfaction and a choice called love. I even found family I didn’t know I had. My parents were never any wiser, since we kept our interactions private. Everyone agreed to keep what we had created between us, fearing that any mention might ruin everything.
Of course, none of this helped me get along any better with my sister, I still struggled in school and got in the same amount of trouble. However, life was so much easier to bear. All I had to do was get through the week, and Saturday’s escape filled the void I had carried around for seven years.
Then the unthinkable happened! Without any warning, my sister and I found out we were moving, when a rental truck driven by our father pulled up and stopped in front of the house.
“There is no way this is happening!” screeched Zelda.
“You’re going to have to chain me to the bumper if you think you’re going to get me to leave!” I screamed.
Mom walked slowly out of the house carrying our cat Oliver, tears streaming down her face.
“I’m so sorry kids. We’ve been down this road before. When your father makes a decision, there’s nothing we can do about it. I should have done something about this years ago, but it’s too late now,” Mom mumbled.
“How classic! You’ve been abused and controlled by him forever, and allowed us to suffer right along with you. Now this? I hate you!” hissed Zelda before running to her room.
“Just because Dad had you over a barrel, didn’t mean you couldn’t have tried to protect us,” I yelled, before heading toward the backyard.
“William! Zelda! Get out here now!” their father shouted.
“Go find those damn kids!” Chuck bellowed to his wife.
“Uh, O.K.,” squeaked Sarah.
“You’ve got 10 minutes,” ordered Chuck.
Mom hustled into the house, filled a backpack with some supplies, called for Zelda, then fled out the back door. I was standing at the edge of the woods, and Mom made it clear we needed to escape. Mom carried Oliver in his crate, and Zelda and I followed her, running as fast as we could. Eventually, we all sat down on a fallen tree trunk gasping for air. No one spoke for a long time. Mom opened the pack, pulled out a small quilt she had made when Zelda was born, and placed it on the ground.
“It’s time we had something to eat,” Mom said.
“Do you have a burger and fries in there?” I asked pointing toward the backpack.
“No, but I do have peanut butter and jelly, cookies, two bottles of water and some cat food,” answered Mom.
“Sweet,” added Zelda.
“Mom, do you have a knife to spread the PB & J?” I asked.
“Sorry, I don’t. But there’s an old spoon in here that someone used a long time ago,” answered Mom.
“Better than nothing,” said Zelda.
After the impromptu picnic, Zelda decided it was time for “the conversation”.
“I guess better late than never Mom. What do we do now?” Zelda asked.
“I honestly don’t know honey. Running away from your father wasn’t in my plan,” Mom answered.
“Well, I know what we should do. You both need to trust me on this one,” I stated.
Sarah and Zelda stared at me for a few moments, then shook their heads in agreement.
“Come on. I know where we can go,” I said.
Mom put Oliver back into his crate, and everyone followed in my footsteps. It was now up to me to lead them on the journey toward a new life.
As Mary read the story, she made a few critical edits and other slight adjustments to improve POV, tense and spelling. Overall, she couldn’t be happier or prouder of her work. She hoped her father would be too.
Mary took the final sip of her beer before picking up the envelope lying before her. It was tightly sealed, with EPILOGUE printed neatly across the front. Although Mary had been putting it off, there was no time like the present to write her will. She promised her 16-year-old self she would call an attorney in the morning and forward the story on to a publisher.
Before closing the notebook, Mary said, “I have plenty of time to do something important with the years I have left, and will have accomplished my life-long dream.”