Docweasel Christmas 2007 #10: Christmas Secrets and Memories by docweasel
It was a quiet night. No wind, no rain, no moonlight. Not a night normally associated with spirits and mysticism. Just a quiet, spring night. Clarissa laid across her bed, reading. She was preoccupied and distracted, and her mind wandered out of the story as her eyes continued drifting over the pages, without really seeing. She was thinking of something her Mother had told her, years ago. Remembering.
Her mother had died when she was five and three-quarters, ten years from this very night, Christmas Eve. Well, not this very night. That would be just too convenient and ouvre.
But ten years and a few days, Christmas Week at least. Casting her mind back those many years she often remembered her mother telling her stories of a warning. Or it seemed so, but memories were so foggy and indistinct sometimes.
Maybe it was a dream of a warning. A warning about something hidden. Always the memory floated just above her grasp, and she could never hold it and examine it closely. It was always on the edge of her consciousness, just out of reach of her reality.
Then last week she had found, while sorting old Christmas cards in a forgotten drawer, something that had jogged her memory. One held photo of her and her mother, both in red dresses with enormous bows, standing at the head of the stairs before a Christmas Wreath, in this very house.
The small attic half-door, only four foot high at the bottom of the slanted ceiling of the gambrel-roofed third story, crouched dark and forbidding behind them. And it had loosed a dream and a memory of her Mother and a Christmas long forgotten.
And Clarissa remembered…
She had been just four, curious and fearless for her own good with the innocence of the very young, who do not yet know the evils in this world. She had wondered as she wandered many times near the attic door, but was too small to reach the handle.
A year later, she was still tiny for five years old, but bright and brave. Today something within drew her, and with wide eyes, she cast toward the door and reached out a hand. An idea lit her precocious mind, and she stood and bustled to her bookshelf. She stacked three books and stood on them, and reached the door, pulling it open until it banked against the books. She swung on the door, leaving her feet, swinging over the books and slipping quickly inside.
It was dark and dank in the attic, light dimly straining through the dingy window at the end. Boxes and dustcloth-covered shapes hulked under the roof lowering around the edges of the attic, then rising to a peak in the center like a chapel. The shapes seemed like sleeping spectres, long dead and harmless, or maybe only slumbering, waiting for a spark of life to wake them.
She moved deeper into the attic, unafraid and but solemnly quiet, questing for something that drew her farther from the safety of the door back to the playroom.
There was a tiny closet, not more than two foot wide, nearly blending with the wall in a dark corner of the attic. It was inside this small chamber something called to Clarissa’s heart.
She struggled to open the door but it was old unopened in ages, like the portal to a crypt long forgotten and unused. It was difficult for a five year girl, especially a tiny waif like Clarissa, to budge the damp-swollen door stuck within its frame. Still, the magnetism drawing her was potent. Instinct bade her seek her destiny, entwined with an unknown entity inside that closet. She gave a mighty (for a child) heave and the door popped loose and creaked open.
A musty, old-bookish smell wafted out, comfortable and warm. She stood tiptoe to look inside, her eyes becoming accustomed to the absolute blackness within. There, low on the wall, was a simple wooden case, attached to the wall. There was a small gabled roof on the case, and it stood like a tiny house floating in the darkness.
A little wooden door with a cunning little latch was centered on the case, shut, but not locked. She lifted the latch and peered inside, unseeing in the triple removed darkness of the attic, the closet, the little case on the wall. She thought she saw a glimmer of something, a movement or a glow of life within, when suddenly she screamed piercingly in shock and surprise.
A hand on her shoulder and another at her waist made her jump and call out in panicked fear. Her mother had come behind her, unseen and unheard, snatching her away from the case, pulling her out of the closet, then carrying her bodily out of the dwarf door of the attic. Her face was white and drawn, in fear and anger, shaking Clarissa, yelling into her face.
“Never go in there again!! Never touch that door!! You have no idea what is in there, its no place for you. Never, never never go in there again! Promise me!”
The little girl, weeping and hiccupping in fright and shock could only shake her head, choking on tears and her nose running down her face. She broke free and ran, stricken and heart-sore, to her bedroom and flung herself down on the bed, her face on her arms, sobbing as though her heart would break.
Her mother, relenting, came in, sat on the bed and stroked her hair, quieting her.
“Shhh. Shhh my angel. When you are older I’ll explain to you. You are too young to understand many things in this world. There are things you need, things you will use, that are dangerous and strange to you now. There is a special power in the little case, a power you are not old enough to comprehend. When you older, and can understand, I will tell you the secrets, and many more besides. But for now you have to promise me never to look in there again. I promise all will be clear to you someday. And you will understand the power and you will know how it brings us into the light. But for now you must trust Mama.”
Clarissa sat up and threw her arms around her Mother, burying her face in her Mother’s fragrant hair. Soon she began to quieten down and slipped her head into her Mother’s lap, and began to breathe deeply. Her Mother eased her off her lap and left Clarissa’s room, closing the door gently behind her.
Clarissa had drifted off into a stricken sleep, dreaming of danger and mystery and wonderful old things and strange and bright new things. And in her dream her mother had died, without explaining, and the years had passed.
And Clarissa awoke from her reverie, and snapped back to the present, Christmas Eve, years later.
Clarissa had forgotten the secret little closet, and the little case, and the bright little mystery waiting inside. Then she had seen the photograph of the Christmas dresses, and something about the dwarf-door out of focus in the background had moved a mark in her memory. And she felt drawn to the mysterious, cunning little latch again. She had to know the secret of what lie inside.
Clarissa had told her father and her step-mother she’d be fine as they went out for the evening. She would read her book and go to bed early. But the little dwarf-door was in her mind. She was older now. She could understand the mystery her mother had kept from her. After her parents had been gone for an hour, and hours from returning, she put her book aside and went to the forbidden door.
She had not entered this little door since that day, more than ten years before. It was in the unused, unentered chamber at the back of the third floor, her old playroom. Her toy chest and her bookcase full of Cats in Hats and Ramona and Harriet sat dusty and abandoned, their little owner grown up and gone.
Clarissa’s memory was moved again with the smell and sight of her toys, her books, her old hobbyhorse, her giant dollhouse with the blank-eyed inhabitants still sitting to dinner these ten years, waiting for a sign.
She moved to the little attic door, and laid her hand on the knob. It seemed to pulse under her hand, and she snatched away, burnt. But it was only the static spark giving her a tiny jolt and a fright. She laughed nervously at her foolishness and grasped the brass doorknob again, twisting it.
The door creaked open, stiffly but without difficulty. She was older and stronger now. Her mind was stronger too, and without any residual fear she entered, dimly sensing the outline of the closet in the back of the long narrow room, near the window framing the distant woody hills.
She could find no light switch or string-pull, but she had brought a candle. Its light was wavering and sickly, but it guided her with the dark flowing around her like a blanket, and she moved toward the little closet slowly, dragging her feet to avoid barking a shin or stubbing a toe. Her eyes adjusting to the light, she found the tiny glass knob of the closet door, and taking a breath, grasped it with her fingertips and turned. The damp-warped closet door was still sticky, and popped open with a jerk, throwing her off balance, stumbling. Her candle flickered and went out.
Now, these years later, instead of on tiptoe, she bent slightly to look inside, her widely dilated pupils straining in the dark of the closet, the dim refracted light coming through the dusty attic window barely enough to see within. Her vision cleared and there it was, on the wall, the little wooden case shaped like a toy cottage with a tiny door.
Here was the mystery, the secret her mother had not lived long enough to explain to her. The power. The light. The knowledge. The memory of her Mother came flooding back to her on this Christmas Eve so many years later.
Clarissa unhooked the tiny latch, and with the very tips of her fingers opened the toy door, and within saw the dull glow of the secret power. She was drawn to it like a moth. She opened her mouth in wonder, and reached out to claim it. She could feel its warmth and vibration before she touched it. Then she grasped it, and it locked her hand tight, and she could not let go.
It flowed through her hand and filled her body with light ever-blinding and holy, and she understood the secret, and her innocent young heart swelled and burst and she glowed and burnt like a comet then went out like a candle. There was a sizzling sound, but no one to hear, and smoke in the air, but no one to smell the odor of burnt hair.
Then everything was still.
“Terrible, terrible shame,” the coroner said much later to the sheriff’s deputy. “These old houses, fusebox not up to code, bare wires, someone had replaced the blown fuses with pennies, so the current didn’t blow out as it would on a modern breaker box. She was dead before she hit the ground.”
“Inconvenient place for it, way up here in the attic closet. Guess the next owners will move it downstairs when they replace it,” the deputy said. “The owner said the family plans to move out immediately and sell. Too many old bad memories here, I guess.”