Mary Eldrige never liked her Grandpa’s mansion. The doors creaked when they opened, and the floor groaned underfoot. Throughout her childhood, any time she spent the night, she was sure she would be brutally murdered by ghosts. Now at the age of twenty-nine, Mary still had a deep unsettled feeling as she walked throughout the mansion.
Her mother, Adeline Elridge, felt just the opposite. The old building warmly reminded her of her childhood and the good old days.
After the passing of Mary’s grandpa Jack, the mother and daughter had been tasked with clearing out the old mansion of anything worth keeping. The rest of it was condemned.
They moved a few pieces of choice furniture into the U-Haul out front as well as some photographs, paintings, and silverware. Mary walked the house to double check that they had taken everything worth taking. Standing in the hallway outside of the guest bedroom she had stayed in as a child, she looked up at the folding stairs that led to the attic. Grandpa Jack had always told her to stay out of there. Lacking a curious bone in her body, Mary had obliged.
Standing on her tip toes, Mary pulled the string on the stairs and pulled them down. Dust fell around her. The stairs creaked loudly as they settled against the ground. Mary looked up in the darkness of the attic that probably hadn’t been opened in many years. The smell of decay wafted down. She cautiously climbed the stairs.
Reaching the top, she turned on her phone’s flashlight which illuminated boxes upon boxes. She opened one and found it full of children’s toys. They were old and disgusting, so she set them aside. She opened the next. This one had a large folded document on top. She unfolded it to discover a hand drawn family tree. Starting six generations ago, she traced it down to her grandpa Jack. Next to him was their Great-Aunt Marcy who had died a decade ago. A branch went down from her, but the name was scribbled out. It was the last branch of the tree.
Mary heard footsteps creak on the old stairs and whipped around, eyes wide in terror. It was her mother. Adeline looked in surprise around the attic. She walked over to the mound of boxes. “I snuck up here once as a kid. When dad found me, he was pissed. Kept a lock on the attic until I moved out.”
“Grandaunt Marcy never had any children, right?” Mary asked.
“No, she was infertile.”
Mary frowned. She set the tree aside and kept digging. There were plenty of old documents. Most were letters between people whose names she did not recognize. She began to read one:
Your daughter’s surgery was a success. However, I cannot say much about her emotional state. While I respect you and your choices, I cannot say if there is any crime that warrants this punishment. In this state, you may struggle to find her a husband, for men have a particular interest in keeping their legacy. Speaking of legacy, your son has
“Look at this?” Adeline interrupted Mary’s reading. She held up an old framed photograph of a man in his thirties. “That’s your Grandpa Jack. You can tell because of the gap in his teeth.”
Mary set the letter aside and moved a few boxes aside to reveal an old chest. She pulled the heavy lid open as the wood groaned loudly. Inside were various old photographs, a few small wood carvings, random papers, and various Knick knacks.
The first photograph was a young boy, a young girl, and sitting in front of them was an older man.
“That’s Grandpa Jack,” she pointed to the young boy with the hole between his front teeth. Adeline looked over her shoulder
“That must be Marcy,” Adeline pointed to the woman. “I’m not sure who he is. Maybe their dad?”
Mary eyed the old man between them. He had a deep scowl. She removed the objects one by one until the chest was empty. But when she looked back inside there appeared to be a small hole in the bottom on the side. She stuck one finger into the hole, but it didn’t touch the ground or peak out of the chest. She felt around the hole and discovered the wood moved easily. It was a fake bottom. She pulled it out and looking into the chest she nearly screamed.
There was a skeleton in the chest. But that wasn’t the worse part. The worse part was that the bones were small.
Mary fell backwards with a gasp. Adeline rushed over. “Are you okay?” Mary pointed to the chest.
Adeline looked in and turned white. “Oh god,” she whispered.
They looked at each other, frozen in shock.
“What do we do?” Mary asked.
Adeline looked back at the bones. “I don’t know…” she admitted.
Mary slowly sat back up and looked back in the chest. It was then she noticed a picture tucked away in the corner. She took it out. In the old photograph was a young man, a young woman, and a baby girl. The man had a large smile, the gap between his teeth quite obvious. The woman had a small smile as she held the baby in her arms. The baby had a misshapen and elongated skull but was grinning ear to ear. There was a gap between her teeth.
With a shaking hand, Mary reached into the chest and picked up the small skull. The skull was misshapen as in the photo, but there was a section that was broken. Like something had shattered it.
Adeline grabbed the skull from her and put it back in the chest. “No one can know about this, okay?” She quickly closed the chest.
Mary looked down at the photograph in her hands. At the smiles.
68 years ago, Jack Eldrige returned home to his father sitting in chair in front of the fire.
“How was Thea today?” Jack approached the little girl sitting on the ground holding a few small blocks. His father did not respond.
Jack picked Thea up and bounced her up and down as she laughed. “Where’s Marcy?”
Again, his father was silent.
“Dad, are you okay?”
“I sent her away,” his father said.
“Marcy is not coming back. She is at a boarding school for girls.”
Jack put Thea down. “Why? What do you mean? What about her daughter? You can’t separate them.”
His father stood abruptly. He looked down at Thea. “I spoke to August.”
“He claims Marcy and him never had intercourse. They never even kissed.”
“He’s lying. He just doesn’t want to own up to his daughter. He just-“
“Shut up!” His father slapped him across the face, and Jack staggered backwards. Thea continued to play with her toys.
“If this were to ever get it out it would destroy our reputation. Do you understand that? No one can ever know.”
Jack shook his head, “Thea isn’t-“
“That abomination?!” Jack reached for Thea, but his father grabbed him but his shirt and pulled him away. “No one can ever know she was born.”
“Dad!” Jack tried to fight his father, but he was smaller, and he was thrown to the ground as dad approached the little girl. He struggled to his feet, but he was too late.
He fell to his knees by Thea’s side.
“No one can ever know, do you understand?” His father stood over him. “No one can ever know.”