I couldn't tell you why it was our job to clean out the house when Mrs. Swenson died. She wasn't a friendly neighbor and had never invited any of us inside in all the years we'd lived next door. She was just a mean, pale, old shut-in who lived with her elderly mother. "It can be so ...draining caring for someone like that" people said. Whatever that meant.
I don't recall when the elder Mrs. Swenson died but I guessed she must have done. We'd never actually seen her.
The relatives had come and gone, grabbing whatever they wanted to keep and dashing off like they couldn't put the place behind 'em fast enough.
When I say WE had to clean the place up what that really meant was ME. My dad had a job, my mom was always busy, my brother and sister were older and had important things to do, so stuff like that always fell to me. I aint complainin' honestly just sayin' why it was I happened to be all alone in some stranger's house when ...it happened.
Someone had given us a key and asked us to get rid of whatever remained in the house so it could be put on the market. Like I say I don't know why that was our business other than it being something no one else wanted to do. They'd said "Help yerself to anything you want" maybe that was our payment. Well I didn't want anything but to put the job behind me. The place smelled like old lady and it gave me the creeps. So I carried several truckloads of old furniture to the thrift store. (It was probably worth a fortune if I'd known)
And then I found it.
There was a door at the back of the house hidden behind a massive, heavy bookcase. It took some investigation to determine that indeed there was space for a small room at the back of the building with no entry or exit aside from this one sealed up door.
Why exactly was it that the relatives didn't want this job? I had a sudden suspicion that the answer was on the other side of this door and I wasn't sure I wanted to know.
There was a tightness in my chest and I could feel my heart beating rapidly. It was the thrill of mystery and possibility combined with the dreadful suggestion of danger. There could be treasure! There could be corpses. There could be dark secrets or maybe nothing at all.
I dragged the heavy bookcase away from the wall. The deep impression in the carpet said it hadn't been moved in years.
The key in the lock turned reluctantly then snapped with heart stopping suddenness and the door creaked open to reveal ... a room... just an old lady's room, with lacy curtains and porcelain nick-naks.
... and the elder Mrs. Swenson rocking gently in her chair and smiling at me.
"Come in dear?" she said, "I haven't eaten in such a long time."