Friday, January 14, 2011

Fiction: Fade by Alejandra Taylor

When you lock something away, you must never remember where you put it. The point is that no one should find it—especially not you.

Lydia Ellis dropped a heavy iron key down the well on Fairling Hill one bright November morning, and then disappeared. It was rumored throughout the village of Moor that she had walked off a bridge with stones in her pockets, but it could never be proven. There was no body. There was no scrap of handkerchief, no tear-stained note. The only thing left of Lydia was one solitary boot, shoelaces still tied neatly, left at the bank of the river.

Lydia’s family did not notice the absence of the key for nearly a year. It might have been longer than that if Ella hadn’t ventured into the cellar on a dare from her older brother, and found the door.

It was tucked in the darkest corner, behind rows of old canned peaches and a black steamer trunk full of yellowing photos. Ella had never seen it before, though vaguely, she had known the door was there. It was small, small enough to lead to a broom closet, or perhaps just extra storage space.

Ella pressed against the splintery wood frame, trying the handle. The door did not yield, but the strangest smell did. It overtook Ella, wrapping around her as quietly and thickly as wood smoke. It stuck to the roof of her mouth, crept inside her throat, and she wanted to vomit or choke or cough, but found she could hardly breathe.

Her brother, Thomas, found her sobbing in the stairwell, tears dripping down her freckled nose as she gasped for air.

When he went down to investigate the door, he, too, was reduced to sobs, unable to speak when his father demanded to know what had happened.

It smelled, Ella and Tom would later whisper to each other (long after their father had gone to smoke his pipe, hands trembling; longer still after their grandmother had finished her prayers, knotted fingers slipping over each rosary bead), like life-altering despair. It smelled like the day you find out your mother is gone, gone forever, and will never croon a song into your ear or smooth your hair or hold you too tight again.

It wasn’t something rotting or decaying behind that door, they knew. It was something growing. Something inescapable, unbearable.

They clung to each other until they slept, and in the morning, they pretended it was all a dream, a memory of a memory, and never spoke of it again.

Their father looked for the key to that door everywhere, certain that once he found it, he would find his wife and the answer to her disappearance. He could not remember what Lydia had kept in there, or if the door had been there before she had gone, or really, if Lydia had ever even been down to the cellar…or the way Lydia’s hair shone in the sun, or what her eyes looked like in the morning, or what her favorite color had been, or the way her hand had felt in his.

It was odd, but he could hardly remember anything of Lydia at all.

Early the next morning, he woke his family without so much as a word, locked up the house with a set of iron keys, and together, they walked down the long dirt road. He found them room and board in town, and that night, he tucked his children in and kissed his mother on the cheek.

Just before midnight, he climbed Fairling Hill. The well was dark when he peered into it—so dark that the quiet water seemed to swallow up the moon’s reflection. He dropped his set of keys down into the depths, listening for the clank against cold cobblestone, the inevitable splash when they broke the water’s surface.

He stood there, shivering, until the sun warmed the horizon, waiting (waiting, waiting) for a sound that never came.

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