“Where’s the key for the wardrobe in the spare room?”
“What … why?”
My wife, Jane, looked down at the carpet. “Oh, uh, I just fancied looking inside. Who knows what’s in there?” She gave an unconvincing laugh.
“What’s Lucy been saying?”
“Come on, what’s that girl been imagining this time?”
“Look, Tony, I’m worried about her. First there was that nonsense about Roman soldiers under the bed, now this.”
“Well, she said not to tell you, that you’d be cross.”
I felt a twinge of guilt. Perhaps I had been less than sympathetic over the soldier episode. But Lucy was eleven, for heaven’s sake. “Come on, out with it.” I smiled. “I won’t be cross, promise.”
“Well, she said she heard whispering from it.”
“She said it said ‘Let me out, it’s dark in here.’”
“Yes … er, ‘I’m lonely, I want a friend to play with.’”
“OK, well, there isn’t a key, I’m afraid. That wardrobe’s always been locked, even when I was Lucy’s age. And there’s all granddad’s junk in the way, anyway.”
She sighed. “Well, I just thought, if we could open it and show her there’s nothing inside ….”
I went into the spare room. It was gloomy and silent. Through the window there were dark, oppressive clouds, and sporadic raindrops spattered the pane. The wardrobe stood in a far corner, barricaded in by boxes and trays of granddad’s tools – ancient hand drills, blunted planes and chisels.
We’d inherited this house from my mother, who in turn had inherited it from her mother a few years earlier. In that time, we’d visited rarely, my mother mainly coming to us, preferring the bustling market and lighted shopfronts of St. Albans to the dry-stone walls and slate-grey skies of Derbyshire.
But Jane had hankered for the rural life and after endless arguments we’d upped sticks, sold our house for a king’s ransom, metaphorically speaking, and moved here three months earlier.
It’d been on my mind to empty out the spare room and throw out granddad’s tools and boxes of nuts and bolts. I wasn’t one for sentimental junk. But I’d become friends with a guy – Jonno – from the local pub. He owned a garage and in his spare time restored vintage vehicles, something I enjoyed helping him with, whilst drinking steaming cups of pungent Earl Gray tea to keep the cold out. So, I’d been spending much of my time there, to Jane’s chagrin.
She worked at a bakers in the village, selling pork pies, hot Cornish pasties, sausage rolls and the like in their little shop. It paid a pittance but she seemed to enjoy the company.
“You need to look for work too, Tony, it’s no good tinkering around in Jonno’s garage, expecting the money to last forever!”
But, well, it could wait a month or two, surely? Heaven knows, I deserved a break after twenty years of driving HGVs.
I leaned over the stack of boxes and put my ear to the wardrobe. Nothing. As I’d expected. I held my position until my shoulder started to ache then headed back across the cluttered room. As I reached the door, there came a knock that startled me. A knock with a wooden, hollow sound. I whirled around and stood, expectant, feeling a strange fluttering in my stomach. Then came a faint scratching, like fingernails scraping against wood. Get a grip! Or a mouse in the skirting, more likely. I reminded myself to set some traps.
But the problem hadn’t gone away. Lucy would insist on going in there to see if the whispering would come – and, of course, it would. ‘It’s dark in here, let me out … I’m lonely, I want a friend to play with.’
So, I’d spent a couple of hours lugging granddad’s boxes down to Jonno’s truck, ready for the tip, and the wardrobe now stood exposed, its dull, drab mahogany unsightlier than ever. I’d made the decision to get rid of it. I’d asked Jonno to call round at lunchtime to help me down to the truck with it. But first, I had a little task to perform. Something I was quite looking forward to, in fact. Maybe there might be something interesting in there – or valuable even. I took granddad’s sharpest chisel and a hammer and placed the blade in the crack by the lock.
Let me out. It’s dark in here….
Outside it was dull and dark and raindrops once more spattered the window. It never seemed to stop raining here. Why hadn’t we stayed in Hertfordshire? If only Jane hadn’t been so bloody determined to move, we could’ve sold this place for a tidy sum.
I’m lonely, I want a friend to play with.
I gave the chisel a powerful blow and there was a loud boom as the wood splintered and the door flew open. I felt a sense of deep disappointment. The wardrobe was empty. Nothing, not even a rusty coat hanger.
“There you are, you can come out now!” My voice echoed in the wardrobe. Suddenly I felt myself gripped by agonising pain – like the time I’d trapped a nerve and couldn’t move a muscle without tormenting spasms shooting down my left-hand side. But now, it felt like I had cramp in every muscle in my body. I wanted to scream but nothing would come. It felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach, there was no air in my lungs. I collapsed onto my hands and knees, eyes squeezed tight shut, fighting against the pain. Then I heard Jane’s frantic voice, muffled and distant.
“Darling, are you OK?”
Just as suddenly, the pain vanished. I found I could stand up. “Yes, I’m fine, I was just, er, looking for, ah …. “
Jane looked from the wardrobe to me and back. “Well, no skeletons!” She laughed.
The rain began more heavily against the window. I turned the light out and we left the room.
“No, just a young girl’s vivid imagination.”
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