She had made it about five steps out of the kitchen and into the mess that was the dining room before realizing she would have to go back. If she was going to have any chance at finding garbage bags, the kitchen was her best hope. With it being the cleanest room in the house, it was her best hope of finding anything.
It hadn’t taken her long and she had been quick, into the room and back out. It had been a stroke of luck to find a couple boxes of garbage bags under the sink. Her uncle had plenty of them, she couldn’t understand why he hadn’t been using them. Though she could think of one reason, he had given up.
Of course he had given up. How many years had he been stuck in this cabin all alone, unable to talk to anyone but the dead. How long do you think you’ll really last? He made it nearly fifteen years, you were just a little girl when he had been struck with the curse. Do you really think you’ll last that long?
She had to push the thoughts from her head, as she knew the answer, and already feared it. She had been in the cabin less than half a day and already it was starting to wear on her. The constant bombardment on insults coming from outside, the silence in, and there was no one she could talk to. If only she had someone she could open up to, but the moment she did that, the moment she gave that creature another target.
Stay focused. The dining room had plenty to occupy her mind. Looking around, she could see the piles of papers and books. There were a lot of them, but there was also just a lot of garbage thrown about. She figured her best bet would be to start from the farthest corner and work her way out from there. That plan was a failure when she realized she couldn’t reach the farthest corner as there was just too much junk in the way.
“Well crap. Fine then,” she said to the empty house. She wished she had her phone. At least then she had some music she could play and the house wouldn’t feel so empty.
She went to the farthest she could go which was actually near one of the chairs. The chair had scrabbooks piled on it, and well, it was as good of a place to start as anywhere else. Clear off the chair, then she would have a place to sit and work out from there. She could work her way to corner and then work out in all directions from there. It seemed like the best plan that Lizzie could come up with.
“So what do we have here?” Lizzie picked up the binder and opened it. The cover was covered in dust, but opened to reveal photos. It was an old photo album. The pages were yellowed and all the pictures were vintage. They had that look to them like old photos. It reminded her of that filter she used on Instagram a lot, though she couldn’t remember what it was called. Many of the pictures were washed out, but all of them had smiling faces. Some of the photos contained people she even remembered, while most were alien to her.
She came across a picture of her parents with her uncle and his wife. They were all standing there on a cliff, the beautiful skyline behind them and a lake that could be seen much lower than they. Underneath the photo was written on a little label, “Starved Rock Vacation, 2002.”
2002… That would have been shortly before the curse passed down to him. They all looked so happy, young, and oblivious to the hell that was about to crush them and tear them apart. Lizzie ran her finger along the photo. A tear slipped from her and landed on the clear film that protected the page and soon there were more landing there. Her parents so happy, her uncle smiling his big tooth filled grin. Lizzie wasn’t sure where she was or why she wasn’t in the picture. Her mother had just begun to lose her pregnancy weight, but there were still signs of the bump that had been her.
And there was Cynthia. Lizzie had forgotten how beautiful she was and how happy both of them looked together. They were an amazing couple that should never have been torn apart so viciously.
Lizzie turned the page to find more photos. Many of the pages were filled with ones similar to the previous one, all taken while at some national park and so long ago that she wasn’t even able to walk yet. Her parents must have had her grandparents watching her, but couldn’t imagine why they would have left a near newborn alone with them for what looked like a vacation.
As she progressed through the book, it showed other memories. Some of them were with her parents and some were with friends. It seemed like her uncle was so well liked as he always seemed to have large groups around him, and at the center he was always with Cynthia, both of them with wide genuine smiles. Had they ever truly been as happy as their pictures made them look. She remembered him, barely, but when she did, she thought mainly of the big fight her dad had with him.
She turned a page and saw the four of them. Her dad, mom, Cynthia and him as they all stood. Then she saw the little girl in the background and saw as she was running to them. Behind the girl was an agitated woman, and Lizzie immediately remembered Cynthia’s sister who would watch Lizzie as her parents and the two of them would go out to parties. In the background, Theresa was the sister’s name, was chasing after Lizzie as she was supposed to be watching her for the day.
* * * *
“Daddy! Daddy save me before the monster get’s me” Elizabeth yelled, though she had to fight it as she was also giggling as she ran.
“Elizabeth!” The monster, who was a young woman wearing a black formal dress, called out as she tried to chase the little girl through the crowd of people. It wasn’t hard as she was wearing healed shoes instead of her flats and trying not to bunch up her dress by running too fast. This left her moving slow as she was more mindful of how she continued to look later in the day than the girl she was trying to capture. “Elizabeth get back here!”
The girl darted through the crowd of well dressed people, while the woman chasing her had difficulty getting the other adults to move out of the way. Because of this, the girl was able to seek out her target and rush him long before the monster had any hope of catching her.
“Woah there.” The man groaned and looked down at the girl whose age was around four years old, wrapped around his leg. The man smiled at her bemused and then looked over at the other man next to him. “I think I have something that belongs to you.”
“Oh?” The other man said, looking down at the girl. He made a funny face at her and she giggled as he looked back to the man. “Nah, I don’t think so. I don’t recognize her. She looks like a wild beast. Why don’t you keep her.”
“Daddy!?” The little girl said, releasing the man she had clung to so that she could wrap herself around her dad.
“Nope. Don’t know her. My daughter is a nice, good little girl who is being good for her aunt. I mean, you kinda look like her, but she would never be running through a church.”
“I’m sorry Dan. She just took off.”
“It’s okay.” Dan said as he looked down at his little girl. She could see that he was trying to give her the ‘hard’ look but she also saw his hints of a smile. She didn’t know it then, but later would discover that he was working hard to bite back the laugh and joy of being around his little girl, his ‘Lizzie.’
“Well, we should probably make our way in to pay our respect.” Tom, her uncle, said as he looked over at Dan and patted his back.
“I’ll take her over to the other kids so they could play. The church opened up the youth center since there’s so many here.”
“Really? I mean, I don’t even know half these people. I mean, who are these people? Our uncle hadn’t been seen by anyone in our family for what, twenty years?” Her dad said as he lifted Lizzie into his arms.
“As far as I knew, yeah. He’s been a compete recluse hiding away in that cabin of his.”
“I heard someone say that’s it’s all family of his wife.” Theresa, otherwise known as the monster aunt, said as she reached out to take Lizzie from her father.
“I got her, I’ll walk her in.”
“He has a wife? Someone was actually living with him in that run down shack?” Tom said as they walked towards the church entrance.
“I knew he had one, but she had passed away a while back. Dad never said much about it. He didn’t talk about his brother much. It sounded like every time they had talked it had been a big fight.”
“Da- Dang, man.” Tom said, obviously catching himself from cursing in front of Lizzie. She, of course, stuck his tongue out at him and he in return stick his out at her. They both giggled.
Both Tom and Dan turned around to see a short man, bulging out of his suit as it seemed like someone had forced the man to be shorter and now the fat was being forced out. Lizzie had to struggle not to giggle as the man fought to pull his pants back up and keep it from again falling too low.
“Yes?” Dan asked.
“Mr. Tom Rogers?” The man was questioning, obviously not sure which man was his intended person of interest. The brothers looked at one another and then Tom turned back, a raised eyebrow in question.
“That’d be me.”
“Okay. I used to be your uncle’s best friend. He asked me to draft a will, and have you as beneficiary. I’ll need you to swing by sometime later today to go over everything.”
“Today? What kind of lawyer works on a Saturday?”
“He was a friend. He asked me to do this and said it was very important to go over what you inherited right away.”
“Okay. I don’t see what’s so important and I’m busy today and tomorrow. Cynthia and I have plans and I’m not going to break them because I inherited some old shack in the woods. I can meet you at the office on Monday.”
“Your uncle said it was important we did this right away.”
“I’m sure he did. He was nuts.”
“Look, I’m sure our uncle had some crazy idea that his cabin out there in la la land was some big deal,” Lizzie’s father said, stepping up to the shorter man, his agitation clearly getting the better of him. “But this is his funeral. Why are you doing this now?”
Her dad looked from the lawyer to a couple that was entering the funeral home. Lizzie recognized them vaguely but wasn’t sure until they stopped to say something.
“Dan, why didn’t you get a sitter. A funeral is no place for children.”
“Tammy’s sister is going to watch the children during the service.”
“That doesn’t mean they should be here.”
“Yes Ms. Tamarack.” Her father exclaimed with a frustrated sigh that he tried to hide from the older woman. She responded by shaking her head and entering the building.
“Ms. Tamarack? What is she doing here?” Tom said, his mouth slightly agape at the shock.
“I asked her to come.” The lawyer said. The brother’s turned to face him again, Dan having to shift Lizzie as the four year old was getting heavy. “Your uncle has been away for many years but came to me last week. He had me do his will and then asked that I’d get ahold some of his old friends. It wasn’t easy, but I think most of them are here. Of course a number of them had died over the years, but the ones I knew to still be around are here.”
“Why?” Tom said, beating Dan to ask the question.
“He didn’t want his funeral to not have anyone. He said he spent the last twenty years in isolation, he didn’t want his funeral to be…empty.”
“There you two are,” said a very pregnant Tammy as she approached. She had a plastered on smile that anyone close to her knew was for show. She’d been in a lot of pain with this pregnancy and was supposed to be in bed. She had ignored it, saying that if Dan was going to be there to show his respect, he was not allowed to do it without his wife.
He returned her smile as she approached. It was just as forced, neither of them wanting to be there. Lizzie hadn’t realized at the time just how little anyone had wanted to be there. She clung to her father and gave out that annoyed look to them all, quickly bored as there was little to do in the ‘stuffy’ place that was filling with people. Some weren’t even dressed up but had just come in their regular casual wear. Dan noticed it now that the lawyer had said he had to talk many of the attendees into coming.
“Hey Hun,” he replied as he lowered just enough so she could give him a peck on the cheek.
“Want me to take monster?” Tammy said and she didn’t wait for a reply as Lizzie was already holding out her arms to her mom.
“You sure?” Dan looked at the protruding stomach and saw the frustrated grimace that flashed.
“Dang it,” and then she looked to her belly and added, “You better be good looking like your father because your kinda a pain in the butt like him.”
“Oh really?” Dan said.
“Your lucky you’re cute.” She said, flashing her first genuine smile of the day.
“So l’ll see you after the ceremony?” The lawyer asked, bringing everyone’s attention back to him.
“What’s this?” Tammy asked.
“He needs Tom to stop by his office after the funeral.”
“Fine.” Tom said in resignation.
“On a Saturday?” Tammy said.
“Say’s it’s important.” He said to her then turned to Tom, “see you inside.”
Tom nodded, “Yeah, I’ll be in as soon as Cynthia’s back. She had to run for smokes.”
Lizzie’s father nodded and headed into funeral home, his daughter in one arm and the other one wrapped around his pregnant wife. He was going into a house of death, but right then, he felt like he had everything he could have that would make him happy in life.
* * * *
Lizzie turned the page in the scrapbook, realizing that the picture hadn’t actually been from the funeral. She didn’t know what it was about the picture that had brought back such an odd memory. Maybe it was being in the cabin and remembering her dad and uncle talking about it. She could never be sure.
It was just another picture, one of many, just like the memories that were pulling at her. There were so many to remember, so many things to think about. That’s all she could really do now, was to remember and think. That’s all that was left being out there in the cabin, alone in the woods.
She turned the page, and then another, studying all the smiling faces looking up at her. Everyone was smiling and happy. She wondered if she would ever be able to see smiles like that again in anything other than a picture.
She already knew the answer as she closed the cover of the book and set it on the floor next to her chair. She’d keep the book, so it would be the first object to go into her ‘keep’ pile. As long as she didn’t confuse the piles like she would sometimes do when she was organizing her apartment bedroom, she should be fine and able to look through the pictures again someday.
She reached forward and pull the next bundle from the pile. This one was a bunch of envelopes with what looked to be unopened spam mail. She wanted to just chuck it and throw it all away, but couldn’t. All it would take would be to do that once and she might just miss that one scrap of information she would need.
With a grown, she opened the first envelope. Yep, there it was, the solution to all her problems. She had just won Publishers Clearing House. She was rich and now she could live that life of luxury.
With a chuckle, she tossed the envelope into the garbage bag and started on the next one.