Family Secrets

by Augie Peterson

My grandmother knocked gently on the front door to our new apartment. I shot up from my place on the couch to answer it. I smiled wide and met her with open arms. With a fist full of tissues and reddened eyes, she smiled sweetly and met my embrace.  She had grey hair that she kept long and styled. Her frame was slim and bony, but she maintained a youthful glow around her even though she was nearing 80. “Oh dear, it’s so good to see you. Where is everyone else?” she asked. “They’re in the living room. Come on in.” I grabbed her coat and shook the snow off onto the floor. Emma, my little sister, ran up to grandma and gave her knees a hug. Grandma patted her small back and giggled “hello little one, how are we?”

“Good” Emma said cheerfully “have present?” she asked with puppy-dog eyes. “Of course, I have a special gift for you dear” replied grandma, pulling a small stuffed lion out of her purse. “MAISY!” Emma screamed, running around the room making the lion fly. “I thought maybe if I found a lion like the other one, she might not notice” grandma said to me quietly as we watched the gleeful three year old run around the small apartment. “Oh mom” said my mother, rising from the couch and headed towards our guest. “She’s been asking for Maisy for weeks now and I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth.” My father nodded in agreement behind the book he was reading, still seated in his armchair. “You wouldn’t happen to have anything in there for me, would you?” I asked in a small voice. “Absolutely” she said with a wink and handed me a bag of my favorite licorice candy. I smiled and hugged them close to my chest. “Have a seat, mom. Can I get you some tea? Coffee?” asked my mother, desperate to be a hostess again.

“I was so sorry to hear what happened” said grandma, sipping her second cup of Oolong tea. After catching up with my mother, she and I were finally alone, able to talk like we used to. She once lived in our home’s basement apartment until she had a bad fall and was moved to an assisted living facility. “Yeah, I guess we just weren’t meant to live there forever. We’re not even sure how the fire started.” I said, rubbing my arm nervously. “And it happened in the kitchen, right?”

“Yeah, but a lot of our personal things were destroyed by the radiating heat and smoke.”

“You don’t happen to know if there were any unharmed boxes in the attic, would you?” she asked, widening her eyes. “No, I think just about everything in the attic survived aside from some soot stains. Why?” her shoulders relaxed in relief as I spoke. “I left a few boxes of my own up there before I moved and there’s something in one of them I’d like to get back.”

It didn’t take long to track down her boxes, especially since we were barely unpacked yet. Grandma seemed nervous as we searched; jumping slightly every time I thought I had found them. “There, it’s that one there” she said, pointing to a small, unmarked box. Before I could ask her how she knew, she lunged for it and tore off the tape seal. It left black soot on her hands, but she didn’t seem to mind. She tore through the newspaper packaging down to the bottom of the box and pulled out a picture frame. Her eyes began to well up with tears as she looked down at the photo. She stood with it in her hands, and, leaving black streaks while doing so, wiped her eyes and smiled. Without warning, she suddenly dropped the picture frame on the ground, shattering glass and wood all over the carpet. She bent down and swiped away the glass to pick up the picture inside. I knew it well; it was a photo of our entire family outside of my grandparent’s old farmhouse right after my grandfather passed away. “What’s going on, grandma? You’re scaring me.” I said, my voice trembling. “Have you ever wondered why your grandfather never had a funeral? Or how I’ve managed to look so young for all of these years? Have you ever seen your mother do inexplicable things or have you, yourself ever done something that just seems like magic?”

“Well, I…” I stammered, remembering the sparks that had flown from my fingertips, catching the dishcloths on fire, and my panic as I was unable to stop the spreading flames until the entire kitchen was engulfed. “We’re witches, Esther. All of the women in this family” she said, staring back at the photo.

Without another word, she took a deep breath and unfolded a piece of the picture I had never noticed. She shrieked and dropped it. Covering her mouth and sobbing, she fell back against the stack of boxes behind her and crumpled down onto the floor. I picked it up and looked at the piece of the family portrait I had never seen. The rose garden my grandfather had loved so well covered the bottom half of the photo, with dead branches and decaying flower buds. Through the garden in a greenish yellow haze, walked a skeletal figure with glowing green eyes and needle-shaped teeth, its face frozen in a scream of either agony or malice.”Wha-what is that?” I said, unable to look away. “That’s your grandfather.” Grandma said in nearly a whisper.” I tried to keep him, I used a spell to trap his soul in that photo, but I’ve been punished. I used magic that I never should have because I couldn’t stand to lose him.” I sat on the floor, placing the picture face down on the carpet and rested my head in my hands. My grandma and I cried together until there were no tears left.

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Writers Bio

Augie Peterson is a horror writer with a passion for short stories and all things psychological. She is 24 years old and lives on the East Coast of the United States with her husband and three fur babies. She began writing at the age of 10 and has never stopped. Her collection of short stories will be published on October 27th. Until then, you can read her short scary stories, and even an excerpt from her upcoming dystopian novel on her blog

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