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Mom wanted to clean and sort through the house before Dad returned from his business trip. I had the dressers while she did the closet. “Just get rid of everything that doesn’t seem right. Whatever we need but don’t have anything of, well, I’ll pick that up tomorrow.”
I laughed. That didn’t seem right, because it left things wide open. Got rid of the single socks that lingered in the drawers. I didn’t even go into the underwear drawer. That left the nightclothes to sort through.
Socks without a partner and the nightclothes that had seen better nights got thrown out. About to open another drawer, a strange key got my attention.
A wooden tag with the number eighteen on it in gold letters and a skeleton key attached lay on the bottom of the sock drawer. I thought I went through everything, but I guess I didn’t.
The key had rust spots on it, with no markings. Nothing on it to identify where it came from. “Mom, do you know anything about a key?”
“If it doesn’t have a purpose, throw it out. There’s enough stuff in here as it is. Fifty-five years of collecting various items does take up a lot of space.”
I went back to my purse and dropped it in. Find out where it came from later.
Five big thirty-three-gallon bags sat full in the garage. I looked at them. “Do you want to know what’s in them? Did you want to see the key?”
“No. I don’t.” She yawned and stretched. “Two hours of doing this and I’m starved. Order us some food somewhere. You know what I like.” After ordering us a sandwich meal, I went back and joined Mom. She turned on the TV, flipping channels.
A quiet meal later, I got up and left. Mom nodded as she went to bed.
It seemed a long time in getting there, but I made it home. I got out the key to examine it. No writing of any kind anywhere on it. I wiggled it and something made a noise.
The bottom slid open to reveal a scrolled-up piece of paper about the size of a stir straw. The itty bitty writing made me get out the only magnifying glass I had. Good thing I didn’t throw it out.
“Death is but an end to an existence filled with pain. Fate called me sooner rather than later, therefore, as you read this I have passed away.” Oh, gee. I had no idea. Nothing else on it other than Green Hills.
It had been a day and I was ready to go to bed. The rest would be deciphered in the morning. What if it opened a giant bank safe or a safe deposit box full of jewels? What if? What if? What if I went to bed and dreamed about all of this instead.
The internet didn’t turn up anything. I got key designs and references for the number eighteen; nothing seemed to be relevant information. The only other source of information that existed in town was Old Man Horace. He knew everything about this town and then some. Nothing that could be found in any library or newspaper, either. He belonged to a family that made it their mission to know all the secrets, old or new. It didn’t matter.
I found his house and showed him the key. He smiled. “I have seen no keys like that for about forty years. Come in and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Most of his story had to do with his childhood and how he got into trouble for smoking and being caught in the car with the daughter of the postal worker. Sorting through that story, I remembered him mentioning an old safe area.
Under Green Hills, tunnels were dug to provide for a safe place to stay while the bombs dropped and guns fired. It was an undeveloped area without any plans until the government stepped in. Green Hills then turned into the military zone.
There were secret, safe closets that anyone could use as long as they were staying in the tunnels. The problem was if you wanted it, you were responsible for it. Nobody would take care of it for you.
However, it had been over seventy-five years since the war finished and they had not used it since then. The integrity of the tunnels was questionable. In order to find out what I got, I had to take that chance.
I got to the tunnels, but the military prevented me from doing anything. While they didn’t use the tunnels, per se, they were in their territory. So, how do I get to find out where that key led to?
Between this permit, that permit, this paperwork, and that person in this office that had to get word for that person over there, it took a good six months before I even could stand in front of the tunnel. By that time, summer changed to winter and snow blanketed the entrance. No one could help me. I was on my own.
All of that headache to get into the tunnels would last until the end of winter, which was around April. I could wait. Yup, the date said I could wait. Meanwhile, got together with Mom and Dad to see what we were doing for the holidays.
Spring couldn’t come soon enough. The snow melted, and there was an unobstructed view into the tunnels at last. I could go in. I had to show all of that paperwork, but I could go in.
Old Man Horace mentioned that the safe rooms were straight ahead. Not to be fooled by the off tunnels. Stay on track and I would find them.
Once I got past the entrance, I was so… no words could explain. Bunk beds, chests, munitions, boxes, and some old skeletons that never made it home. It was like stepping through a time machine.
There were some signs still up. One I thought read Communications, but a few letters were missing, and the one next to it was the Commander’s Office. A few steps away and a door without a label. The door opened so I peeked inside. Body bags filled the room. All of those people still left behind. My personal mission didn’t seem so important anymore. If only there was a way. There had to be. Right?
I almost tripped over a rock. That brought my attention back to that key in my hand. I got to the end of the tunnel. S with Room after it. It had to be it.
All of that rust on the latch and it might fall apart if I touched it. A slight gust of wind blew behind me.
“What? Who’s there?” I looked around. “I promise. I’m only here to find out about my key.”
Almost as if some force came to life, the door opened and a light turned on. I swallowed past that giant ball in my throat to be able to squeak out an apology and a thank you. Number eighteen was against the right wall on the ground. A big chest, like the ones towards the front of the tunnels. Number three next to it sat there and it felt like it dared me to open it. Number fifty on the other side.
My hand shook so much it rattled the key chain. I switched hands to be able to unlock it. In the box, a key for number three and number fifty.
Number three held land deeds and financial information as well as a few bars of gold. Number fifty was the real treasure. All kinds of books filled the box.
I closed and locked each of them before I left so I could get help to get them out. Mom and Dad laughed when I told them what happened. They said I made it up. There were all kinds of stories like that. Most of them didn’t turn out to be anything.
Out of desperation, I went back to Old Man Horace and asked if he knew anyone. That’s when he smiled and patted me on the shoulder. A few minutes after that, three men came out with a wheelbarrow and portable wheels attached to a platform to make it easier to move.
We got everything out all right. Of course, the military needed to inspect what we removed so that we didn’t remove anything we couldn’t. Once that was cleared, everything was loaded up and brought to my house.
The woman’s name was Arabel Margaret Fitzpatrick, born in Scotland before moving to the US when she was still a baby in 1923. That was where her life began. I read all those books and tried to share them with Mom.
She pushed them away. “I hate any kind of history. That woman—just go put them where they belong. Poor family forgot they had any relatives in those godforsaken tunnels. They closed those down years ago. You must’ve bribed someone to be able to get those. Get away from me with those things. I’ve got more cleaning to do before your father gets home.” She looked at her watch. “I don’t have time now. It’ll have to wait. Just go do what you’ve been told.”
I had every intention of sharing these with her but based on that, I had no choice but to go home. The military didn’t want to have anything to do with them. If they did, they wouldn’t have been there.
I found a seat on my sofa and thought about everything. That woman was Mom’s grandmother. Mom always told me she didn’t have one because she died before she was even born. I tried to find a way to tell Mom, but unless she was willing, it wouldn’t do any good.
Dad came home and it was a Sunday. That meant Mom would be doing housework while Dad would be watching something on TV.
I got there about mid-morning. Lucky for me the garage door was open with her hovering over the washer and dryer. I looked at the piles of books in the backseat. There was always hope.
I had to try one last time. “Mom? I’d like to show you something.”
“Nope. Don’t need nothing,” she said, as she loaded the washer. “My house is spick and span. Your dad is home. Whatever it is, don’t want it. So unless you came here to tell me I won the lottery, I don’t want to hear it. That’s final. So stop this stupidity before I get angry and slap you.” She turned around and went back into the house. The door slammed after her.
I couldn’t say anything. I was dumbstruck by Mom’s hostility. All of those books had to mean something. It had to do with her because her name was in it. I turned around and went back to my car.
I took them to the only other person who might want them, and he was so happy to receive them. About to leave, he called me over.
I couldn’t help but look up to him. “Yeah?”
“Do you know who this woman was?” He smiled.
“Arabel Margaret Fitzpatrick.”
He nodded and smiled. Something had to be up and I was missing it. “That woman was in charge of the children during the war. She educated them and made sure they were healthy. She did a lot during the time they had to hunker down in the tunnels. I’m only sorry she had to leave her daughter behind.”
“What are you talking about?” Nothing like this was ever mentioned in the diaries.
“Her husband died. She had nothing. No money or a home. Her family died in an explosion. She left her daughter on the doorstep of a church in the hopes they would take care of her. It’s also said that her daughter tried to get in touch with her, but she was always turned away. Arabel died a lonely old woman. She was supposed to be rich, but how much she had or even where she got it nobody knew.”
Could that be why? Could that have been Mom trying to connect with her grandmother, but every move she made was rejected? Mom wouldn’t give me an answer and she made it clear she didn’t want to hear it.
I thanked Old Man Horace and made a mental note to get him a basket for Christmas. I knew he loved fine wine and good food.
I turned on the radio which allowed me to think. I’ve read those diaries so many times I knew them by heart. I couldn’t think of any passage that even mentioned anything about her own kids.
Time heals all wounds, and I could only hope that with time, Mom would go back to having a sense of humor that was a little off. Work, home, and the occasional outing with friends was how I spent my time while I hoped the phone would ring.
Maybe it never would but I couldn’t give up hope. I talked to Dad a lot. He told me he was working on it but he couldn’t promise anything.
I sought out the properties and they were gorgeous with green hills and big trees. Mother Nature at her best. I thought about getting rid of the gold bars but I didn’t know how. I made arrangements with my bank to help keep them safe.
The one thing I wanted but couldn’t get was for Mom to let go. I wouldn’t give up as long as she was alive.
One more time, I had to try. Mom was home and in the kitchen. I smelled onions and garlic which could mean she was getting ready to cook a pot roast. I stood there and watched, almost regretting what I wanted to do.
“Mom? We need to talk.”
She stirred something and turned a burner off. “All right. Out with it. As you saw, I’m busy so make it snappy.”
Here went everything. “I really think you should consider at least reading one of those diaries. They might—”
I never saw it coming. My cheek stung for what seemed like forever. The pulsing made it worse. “Why?”
“For being stupid. I told you I don’t want nothing to do with anything. That slap might help your pea brain to work, Missy. Now either shut up about it and get the table ready or get out. I’m sick of you trying to bring it up.”
I turned around and walked out. Rivers of tears flowed down my face. All I wanted to do was to show her what I found. It might have given her hope.
I remembered a line from one of them that read, “When all went dark and black, death could be felt all over. There was a difference between dark and black because one could happen without the other. It had to do with the presence of death. As long as he was there, it would always be black. Darkness only existed because there was no light.”
I pulled into my parking spot and turned off the engine. “Don’t worry, Mom. This was only a setback. I can lead you out.”
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