The Locked Room

Written: 12/19/2014
Revised: 10/04/2019
Prompt: For years, a room in your house has been locked from the outside. You’ve always been told that you are not, under any circumstances, allowed inside. Today, you noticed the key sitting in the lock…

I stared absently at the TV, hands folded in front of me while I kicked my feet on the couch. My ears were trained to the sounds coming from upstairs. Mom was about to leave. My heart raced in tandem with her footsteps down the stairs.

“I’m heading out,” she called. “I’ll be back in an hour.” I heard her walk into the living room and stop just before the threshold. “Joey…”

I turned to look at her.

“…don’t go upstairs.”

I quickly looked away, feeling my face get hot. How’d she know what I was thinking?

“I won’t ma,” I lied through my teeth.

She sighed, "Please, Joey. I’ll be back soon," and headed out the door. I waited until the bolt thudded into place before sneaking over to the window and peeking out from behind the curtain. Her car backed out of the driveway, slowly sped up down the street, then disappeared around a bend.

Time to go.

I turned off the TV and got together my pre-assembled, hand-picked explorer’s kit: flashlight, walkie-talkie (for calling backup), hammer (in case of monsters) and a few snacks in case I get hungry or have to camp out overnight. I tip-toed up the stairs and held my flashlight in my hand, holding my breath as I approached the far end of the hallway. There, a narrow dark staircase spiralled up to a door unlike any of the other doors in the house. It was old, intricate, and had a wobbly handle carved out of some kind of crystal. The chipped keyhole was just below the doorknob. In my kit, I had a heavy brass key that I found playing in the basement. I tried the doorknob just in case and felt it wriggle, but it was otherwise locked in place. I peered down the hall to make sure the coast was clear, then slotted the key and started to turn. It was a pain to turn and kept snagging, but after trying a few times the lock clicked and the door started to swing inward.

The door revealed a large attic space with an ancient dusty carpet glowing under the filtered rays of the mid-morning sun. It gave the room an almost fiery hue, emphasized by the twinkling of dust motes floating in the sunlight. The room was empty except for the furthest corner, which held some kind of table covered by a sheet. The walls were bare, showing peeling wallpaper of splayed white flowers stained brown with age.

Turning off my flashlight, I tiptoed into the room. My sneakers sank into the old carpet like quicksand, and I gripped my hammer tightly in case of any surprises. I wound my way along the wall towards the ghostly pile at the far corner, constantly looking left and right. The dust was almost choking, and I had to pull the front of my shirt over my nose.

I reached the far corner of the room, where the grimy statue-esque sheet stood towering above. My heart was ready to jump out of my chest, but I steeled myself and pinched the corner. After a few minutes I heaved the sheet off in a single go, kicking a storm of dust into the air. I was expecting something bad, but what I saw made me drop my hammer and rooted me to where I stood.

The sheet hid a small wooden table topped by a stone tablet and a framed picture. I’d seen similar tablets scattered across great open fields, like the one where my grandpa had been buried in the ground. Leaning against the tablet was a picture of me, a picture I don’t remember posing for. It looked recent…actually, it looked like it was just taken. The picture itself was old and fuzzy, but I could see faint details of the room behind me, like the dirtied flowers in the wallpaper. I looked to the tablet, and when I read the text I screamed and fell to the floor. On its stone surface was engraved my full name with two dates beneath it: the day I was born, and today’s date.

The door slammed shut behind me.