Flash Fiction Challenge: Scary Story Part 1

Tarot cards Tarot, the devil card

This week’s challenge was to write the beginning of a scary story, ideally the first act, and post it to the terrible minds website. Then next week, everyone will pick one of the beginnings, and write the second act. The next week, everyone will finish a story, so that we have a bunch of collaborative scary stories. Sounds like a cool experiment. Because this is only the first act, it is mostly set-up and not very scary. Yet. I hope it has enough potential elements for someone to run with.

Yay vacation, I thought to myself as I turned the key of my mother’s front door and stepped into the house, coffee cup in hand. I was supposed to be in Cuba right now, sitting on a resort beach with a drink in my hand instead, but when my mother suddenly died two weeks ago, I cancelled my trip to spend the time sorting through her house with my two brothers. We had managed to go through the living room and bedroom, boxing up her knick-knacks and clothing, consigning some and donating the rest. We had also tackled her kitchen, sorting through all the appliances, bakeware, and devices. I ended up taking more of it home than I intended, although Dale surprised me by fighting me for the food processor and blender. Now all that was left was her study. I told the guys to take the day off. As the eldest and executor of her estate, I would have to deal with any worthwhile paperwork, anyway.

After three long hours, I had only gone through half of her desk, with the other half and an entire file cabinet to go. I decided to take a break and headed into the nearly empty kitchen. In a brilliant show of foresight, I held on to the coffeemaker, and kept some essential groceries around, including coffee, milk, and sugar. Fresh coffee in hand, I returned to the study and decided to tackle the top drawer of the desk, the “junk drawer”, filled with old stationary and other odds and ends. It took the better part of an hour to sort through all the debris, and then in the back right corner of the drawer, I pulled out a black velvet pouch. I carefully pulled the drawstrings open and removed the deck of tarot cards from within.  I shuffled through the deck and drew a card. The Devil. For several seconds, I studied the card, and then remembered the first time she let me touch the cards, when I was 12. Every morning, she would shuffle the deck and choose a card that was meant to represent the theme or lesson of the day. That day, she let me choose and I picked The Fool, a card of new beginnings and possibilities. Today’s card was not so cheery. But I didn’t really believe that nonsense anymore, anyway. I put the cards away, not having the heart to throw them out, and moved on the filing cabinet.

The first drawer was filled with old papers, most of which were garbage. Old medical bills, credit card bills to be shredded and even old pay stubs, although my mother had been retired for twelve years. By then I had moved on from coffee to an old bottle of bourbon I had found in one of the desk drawers. I took a swig straight from the bottle, sighed, and tackled the second drawer. These files contained all the paperwork of mine and my brothers’ lives: birth certificates, hospital records, even all our report cards. I divided up the files so that I could give my brothers the stuff that belonged to them, and then took another swig while I flipped through my own.

I always thought I had the original copy of my birth certificate, but I was stunned to see another, older-looking copy in the file. I picked it up and stared at it, not actually believing what I saw. My copy, issued a month after my birth, had both of my parents listed on it. This copy, issued only a week after my birth, had only my mother’s name. Under the father’s name it simply said “unknown.” The realization of what I was seeing hit me like a fist to the gut and I suddenly felt queasy. The father I had known all my life, the actual father of my brothers (I checked their birth certificates), was not my birth father. I pawed through the files until I found my parent’s wedding certificate. They had always told us they were married for almost a year before I was born, but the certificate showed they actually got married the month after. My mother was already pregnant, by someone else, when they got married. I sat down hard on the floor, overwhelmed with all this new information, tears welling, then spilling over.

I sat for a long time, thinking of all the memories of our family, how it had all been a lie. After a while though, I realized that it wasn’t. He was still the father that was there at the stupid dance recitals (I was terrible), school plays (I was even worse) and through all the tears when stupid teenaged boys broke my heart. He was still my dad in all the ways that mattered, even if we weren’t blood. I wiped the tears with my sleeve, stood back up, took another long swig from the bottle of bourbon, and decided to finish up. It was dark by now, and I just wanted to get home, drink some more, and zone out in front of the television.

My file was still sitting open on the desk, so I rifled through the rest of the papers. At the back of the file was a manila envelope with my name written on the front, in my mother’s handwriting. I wasn’t sure I could take any more surprises right now, so I grabbed it and threw it in my purse to deal with at home. I closed the file, placed it with the other important paperwork, and called it quits for the night.

I stared at that envelope every day for a week, wondering what was inside but not daring to read it. Was it her explanation of what I had found in her study? Was it something else, some other dark revelation from her or my past? Finally, one night, I sat down, glass of wine in hand, to open it, mentally steeling myself for what I would find inside. I took a large sip of wine, slit the top open and dumped the contents on my lap. Inside was what looked like some sort of coin, but with markings I had never seen before. It was a darker color than silver – pewter, maybe – and heavier than I expected. There was also a folded letter.

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