“Father, why did that happen to us?” I asked him that night. “Why were we the only ones to suffer?”
We were staying in a motel out by the highway. We had several offers from people—including Harriet’s mother—to stay with them while our house was being repaired, but Father wasn’t sure what we were going to do. He told people he was too overwhelmed. He would figure out soon what to do, though.
“I don’t know, Vickie,” he said grimly. “There’s no explaining something like that.”
“It’s almost as if the tornado came after us,” I said. “Like it wanted to hurt us.”
Father looked at me. “That couldn’t happen, could it, Vickie?” he asked. “Tornadoes don’t think—they don’t plan what they’re going to do.”
“Are you sure, Father? Are you really sure?”
He just looked at me.
“And where’s Aunt Claire, Father? What’s happened to Aunt Claire? We haven’t seen her since the storm.”
“I don’t know,” he said quietly. “I really don’t know what happened to her.”
I felt a frigid hand grip my heart: Again my father was lying to me.
The next morning we met a contractor and an insurance agent at the house. While the three of them walked around and talked about rebuilding, I took a flashlight and headed for the basement—without telling them. I was pretty sure they wouldn’t let me enter the ruin, but I had been worrying about my workshop all night.
But all was fine down there. Of course, the electricity was out, so I couldn’t really tell if my equipment still worked, but nothing seemed damaged. I didn’t lose anything.
As I was about to leave, I noticed something. Something different. I pointed my light down the basement wall, down to the other room, the one with the padlock.
The storm had caused the foundation to shift—the cracking noises we’d heard at the height of the tornado. The door frame had separated from the stonework, leaving an opening. I shined my light into the small room and saw that it was just about empty. The only object in there was a large, old-fashioned storage trunk. It was covered with dust and cobwebs.
The space between the doorframe and the wall was big enough for a thin sixth grade girl like me to squeeze through.
And so I did.
The room was cold, bitterly cold. As I stepped carefully through the opening, I saw my breath billow in a cloud before me. Inside the little room, I nearly gagged with the stench. I had smelled death before, back on Green Island, so I knew immediately what it was.
For a moment I nearly stepped back into the basement I knew, but curiosity won out. I wish it had not. I wish I did not know what I learned that day. I wish …
But let me tell what happened.
I approached the old chest, realizing with every step that the foul odor that now was nearly suffocating me was coming from it. Is there a dead body inside? I paused before it for some moments before I decided to try to open it.
I noticed there was a huge old padlock on the hasp. Impossibly, it was glowing softly in the darkness. It was encrusted with rust and corrosion, but it still looked solid and strong. My heart sank as I realized I would never be able to break it.
But the moment I touched it, the lock simply fell open, the parts separating as easily and smoothly as if they had just been sprayed with silicone. I removed the lock and laid it gently on the floor. Its light grew stronger, illuminating the entire room in a ghastly green. I turned off my flashlight, laid it beside the lock, and turned back once more.
Slowly, I reached for the heavy lid.
And—once again—the moment my hands touched it, something unexpected happened: The lid rose slowly, silently. It had taken no effort at all to raise it. None. It rose by itself, as if lifted by an invisible hand.
I leaned over and peered inside. Now the stench of death was so overpowering I was breathing only through my mouth.
But there was no corpse that I could see, not even any parts of a corpse. Nothing organic at all. And I could see very well, for the contents, too, were bathed in a soft green light.