This story is by Tina Weaver and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Julia sat on a chair near the door in the entryway. Her hands rested on the cane because her inflamed knuckles prevented her fingers from curling over the handle. This was the last day she would spend in the home that belonged to her family. She’d lived here all her life.
Her parents purchased it when they married, then raised five children in it. Three married and moved around the country, but Julia, the eldest stayed close to her parents until their death. No matter how far her siblings moved, they always came home or called her. That link had been broken with the sale of the house. In her pocket lay the family heirloom.
“Aunt Julia, this is the last of the furniture. Do you want this old writing desk at the new place?” Tom gestured to the scratched and stained piece that held so many memories.
“Yes, I want that. It won’t take up much room.”
The two men picked up the desk and one end slipped crashing to the floor. “Sorry, I didn’t get a good grip on it.” Tom and Steve checked the desk.
“No damage. Good sturdy piece of workmanship here.” Tom noted as they re-gripped the piece, taking small steps to the door.
Julia looked back where the desk had been, on the floor in its place lay a small square of paper. She started to call someone to pick it up then decided she would attempt to get it herself. With the rubber tip on her cane, she pulled the paper toward her and stared at the square. It wasn’t just paper; it was a photograph. The black and white had faded to an almost sepia tone, but the figures remained as clear as the day it had been taken.
A cold chill ran down Julia’s back. Her blood thickened and her breathing slowed. She wanted to crumple the stiff square into a small ball and find the hottest fire to burn it. The faces in the picture were seared into her mind and memories took over the present.
“Julia, what did you make for a treat today?” Henry, her younger brother, demanded as he threw open the door to the kitchen. His two best friends, Luke and James, followed right behind him. The other two slid into the chairs by the table and watched Julia as she came into the room. They were in their last year of school and as cocky as they came.
“There are cookies from the other day unless you ate them all. I’m not here to bake and keep your bellies full of sweets.”
Henry grabbed her around the waist and lifted her into the air. She was a small girl but strong. She pushed on his arms and dug her nails into his skin until he let go.
“Come on Sis, we’re starved. We walked all the way from town.” He threw himself into a chair. The other two sat and tilted theirs back on two legs.
“I heard a truck stop and drop you all off, so don’t get smart with me.” She made them each a sandwich and put some cookies on a plate. They devoured the food and washed it down with cold milk.
Luke hugged her a little too long before he headed outside. Henry patted her on the head and thanked her. James stood close enough for her to feel his breath brush her hair. He ran the back of his fingers over her cheek and leaned very close to her face. “You’re a very special girl. I’m glad you took the job to clean for Mother. I’ll see you on Monday. Thanks for the snack.” He winked at her and the screen door slammed behind him. She let the breath she’d been holding ease from her body.
Julia shivered thinking back to what transpired. James was nice looking, but something about him made her uneasy. She avoided him and made sure she finished her housework before he came home. That was until two weeks later. The memory rose like stench from a garbage pail.
James’ mother received a call to a friend’s home just after Julia arrived. “I’m taking Lizzy with me as Emily hasn’t seen her in a while. I made a list of extra chores I need done.” She picked up the baby leaving Julia alone in the house.
She began her chores. In the master bedroom she stooped to dust mop the floor under the bed when she felt a hand over her bottom. Julia jerked back and sat on the floor staring up at James. He leaned against the foot board and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Hello Sweetheart,” he drew the words out. His eyes devoured her.
“What do you want James?” She stood, holding the mop handle in front of her.
“You, but you knew that. It’s why you took this job.”
“I took this job because I need the money. This isn’t the only job I have in town. I didn’t take them because of you either.” She faced him and edged her way toward the door. James quickly blocked her escape as he leaned against the door jam.
“Oh no, you aren’t going anywhere, is she Luke?” The other boy stepped into the doorway behind him and to her horror, Henry’s face appeared between the two.
“Get her boys.” Luke and Henry obeyed. Each grabbed one of her arms. She tried to pull away, hoping they were teasing her.
“Lay her on the bed and hold her down.” James ordered, his hands at his belt.
Julia screamed at Henry to stop, to save her and not let this happen. Henry shook his head. “James said you’ve been teasing him and asking for this ever since you started to working for his mother. We’re just doing you a favor.” He never looked at her again.
They each took their turn at her, even her brother who was urged on by the older two. The ordeal went on for hours until they had their fill of fun. They left her, confident she wouldn’t tell. Julia stumbled from the house and never returned.
Henry graduated and a short time later disappeared, never to be heard from again. During the following year James died of a stomach trouble the doctors couldn’t find a cure for. Luke drowned in his own vomit. Drunk, the police determined.
Julia looked around the bare entryway. This was the last time she’d pass through this room that had welcomed her each time she entered. She listened for the sounds of goodbyes and shouts of welcome, but only silence surrounded her. The photo slipped from her stiff fingers.
She felt for the soda shaped bottle in her pocket. Her nephew gave it to her earlier, then asked, “Aunt Julia, what kind of drink is Monroe’s Elixir?” He’d tried to open it. “It has our name on it. Was it made for our family?” He struggled old fashioned lock.
Julia jerked it from his hands, “Don’t touch that. It’s the last bottle of our own family medicine.”
“What’s it for?”
“Getting rid of diseased flesh.” She’d turned to stare out the door. “The stuff worked three times,” She muttered under her breath. Memories of her brother stumbling out the front door, collapsing on the front porch holding his stomach. No one ever found him.
“Aunt Julia! Are you okay?” Hands shook her and snapped her back into the present.
“I’ll be fine. Is everything gone?” She looked around to see her grandnephew staring at her.
“Yes. It’s time to go to the ho—” He bit off the word. “Your new digs.” He tried smiling.
Tom helped her to stand and held her arm as she made her way to the door. Steve took the chair and stepped on the photo, it fell off as he stepped out the door. Passing over it she left it in the house along with the past.
The bottle felt heavy in her pocket. She’d need to dispose of it before she died. Her family had no need for the poisoned family medicine.