From the author: When his reclusive uncle commits suicide in a mansion full of curiosities, Jamie Lawson is left to clean up his dusty estate. As Jamie peels back the layers of his uncle’s life as a semi-famous horror author, he discovers an eerie connection between his uncle’s works and real life tragedies. Now, he must uncover the truth behind his uncle’s books while trying to rebuild his life in a new town. But, the bizarre facts he uncovers may just threaten his new life and everyone in it.
Annabelle’s arm shook as she tried to keep hold of the antique lantern. Her fingers ached as a powerful force seemed to lift them away, one by one. She fought to keep control of her hand, to shut out the voice that told her to let go, but the force was simply too powerful. The lantern seemed to spit fire as oil and flame spread across the carpet.
By the time the first firetruck had arrived, the house was already engulfed. The firefighters tried to save the family inside, but the weakened structure crumbled around them and made it too dangerous to continue the search. Everyone and everything in the house was completely destroyed, all except for a wooden music box pulled from the smoldering rubble.
Jamie stopped mopping for a moment to take in the ending of the book. He could see the image of the little girl in his head, setting her home ablaze. That was a dark twist, but he understood that the forces of good don't always triumph. He'd learned that lesson on the middle-school playground. The final passage seemed oddly familiar to him. He thought back to the typed page T.J. had left in the typewriter. Although he couldn't remember the passage exactly, the characters were the same.
The page still sat next to the typewriter, untouched since he’d moved in. Jamie sat in the office chair and read the lines on the paper.
Annabelle stood on the edge of good and evil as a powerful force tugged her toward the darkness. She felt herself losing control of her hand, which threatened to drop the oil lamp on the living-room carpet. As her hand trembled, she thought of her parents, sleeping in their bedroom on the second floor. She fought to keep control of her arm, and just as she started to let go, her mother clenched Annabelle's hand tightly, preventing the lamp from falling to the floor.
That's weird.Why would T.J. rewrite an ending to a story that was already published? Jamie thought the published ending was a bit of a downer, but it was certainly a better ending than what he’d found in the typewriter.
Jamie took a solid week to clean the house and remove the layers of dust from the countless artifacts his uncle had on display throughout it. He could have paid someone to do it, but his classes didn’t start until the next day, and he had plenty of time to kill. Idleness tended to take him to a dark place, so he tried his best to stay busy. Many of the shelves were full of medical and animal specimen jars, which looked as if they hadn't been cleaned in years. He found a display of anatomical models particularly hard to clean since each organ had to be removed and dusted one by one. Not only did the cleanup keep him busy, but it also gave him a chance to get to know his uncle, even if posthumously.
A minuscule stack of cardboard boxes sat in the corner of the dining room. They seemed tiny when compared to the massive mansion and all the knickknacks living inside. After a thorough cleaning of the house, Jamie slowly unpacked his belongings. A small plastic zip-top bag sat at the bottom of one of the boxes. In the last desperate throes of packing, Jamie had simply started dumping the contents of his drawers and cabinets into boxes, and the bag must have been buried in one of his desk drawers.
He slid the contents of the bag out into his hands and sorted through the pile. Instead of souvenirs and photographs, Jamie hoarded tickets. Aside from old movie stubs, he found lift tickets from when he and Lilly would go skiing and an admission ticket covered in Japanese symbols. Work had sent him to Tokyo a few years before, and Lilly was able to take the week off and go with him. They stayed in a tiny hotel room barely larger than the bed itself and visited the Edo Museum in their free time to explore the history of Japan. He was more adventurous then and even talked Lilly into trying boiled octopus and fermented squid. He hadn’t done anything spontaneous in a long time, and the memory of the trip seemed far away.
Jamie left almost all his uncle's things in place for the time being, except for T.J.'s unique wardrobe, which he swapped out for his own. Looking at the remnants of his uncle’s life, he still felt like a visitor in someone else’s home.
While Jamie removed a decade's worth of grime from nearly everything in the house, Buttons busied himself exploring the recesses of Turner House's massive back yard. The yard and gardens sat in stark contrast to the inside of the house. T.J. kept a small groundskeeping crew on the payroll, so everything was neatly trimmed and maintained. Buttons disappeared among the flower beds, but every once in a while, Jamie would see his head pop up from behind a hedgerow. This was heaven compared to the dog’s typical pit stop.
Jamie took a lunch break and ate a sandwich as he flipped through a copy of the newspaper at the kitchen island. He thought back to the newspaper article his father had showed him as a child. That little clipping contained more information about T.J.'s life than he had ever gleaned from the man himself. And now, he sat in the middle of T.J.'s mansion, eating a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. Jamie thought of how sitting alone in this giant house for a decade or two must have felt. He could sympathize with T.J. because of his own lonely nights in the apartment after Lilly's death, staring at a computer screen at four in the morning or lying on the couch all day, watching TV. He didn't pity the man—he feared becoming him.
Jamie reached for his phone and pulled up his conversation with Sarah. He typed out a new message: Just finished cleaning the house. Still interested in a tour?
She replied a few minutes later. Absolutely! When were you thinking?
He tapped out a response. What about tonight? Have plans? If not, come over, and I'll cook.
I have a faculty meeting until 6 but could be there around 7. That work?
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This story originally appeared in The Dreadful Objects.