This story is by K S Logan and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The attic was cold and desolate like it hadn’t felt a heartbeat in some time. I sensed the presence of my dead father there with me. He was there, in the corner, with the Christmas decorations circa 1977. He was over against the wall, with the boxes piled high with forgotten books, pictures, and Tony Bennett records. I fought the painful lump in my throat and swallowed as I walked to the middle of the room and pulled the light cord. I didn’t know which effect was worse, the sinister corners without the light, or the shadows the swaying light revealed.
Dad passed away only three days ago, at the age of ninety-one. He was still with it, and quite capable until a massive stroke dropped him to the floor. And just like that, he was gone.
We were always close. Mom died from cancer when I was nine, and then it was just the two of us. He raised me to enjoy a hard day’s work and taught me to live by the adage, ‘idle hands are the devil’s workshop.’ He was a great dad, a great man, and I loved him.
With the memorial plans taken care of, I had no more excuses; I had to start to pack away dad’s things and figure out what to do with it all. So, there I was, surrounded by objects that held most of his memories, my memories too.
I started with a stack of three suitcases under a weather-beaten window. The first two contained suit jackets and pairs of well-worn leather loafers that I put in a pile for goodwill. The last case, made with heavy-gauge leather and a metal frame, was quite handsome. I gasped and dropped it to the floor as a giant, hairy spider scurried across the top.
Inside was a folded, green soldier’s uniform that must have been from dad’s young army days. There was also a weighty box of medals. I looked at each one and felt proud of all my father had accomplished in his life.
My father, Maxwell Banford, was a British soldier in World war II. After the war, he immigrated to America and became a decorated fighter pilot in the Korean and Vietnam wars. After he retired, a decorated four-star general, he became an acclaimed author, writing about his incredible military career.
At the bottom of the case was a stack of brittle newspaper clippings. Each article covered the same topic; a mysterious soldier in WWII that was the first to enter Hitler’s private office after Germany’s surrender. Under the papers were some tarnished dishes and something wrapped in tattered cloth. I unwrapped it and found a figurine.
It stood about twelve inches high and appeared made of lead. The grey figurine’s face had a simple, dour expression. It had a long, wrinkled neck, with arms crossed in front of a tall body. The groin area had an inverted triangle, with what looked like a swastika at the top. It’s legs molded together down to a thick base. It was an ugly piece, but it looked ancient. I had the creepy feeling I had seen it before.
My cell phone startled me.
“Hi, mom.” It was my daughter, Simone. “Can you pick Lilly up for me today after school?” Her voice sounded shaky.
“Sure, everything okay?” I asked.
“Well, no. I’m stressed out. Lilly’s having trouble at school. It’s a fight to get her there every day, and I need a break.” Simone started to cry.
Lilly is my beautiful, eight-year-old granddaughter. She was born with Asperger’s Syndrome and had been struggling socially at school. She’s a kind, loving little girl, and I dote on her every chance I get.
“Of course, I’ll pick her up,” I said.
“I’m sorry to put this on you right now,” Simone said, her voice steady now.
“She’ll be a welcome distraction. She can help cook dinner.”
I taught ballet in the afternoons in my basement studio but had taken a week off due to my father’s death. In my youth, I was a principal dancer with the Boston Ballet company. Forced to retire at twenty-eight, I opened a dance studio. I still felt as strong and energetic as I did back then, even in my fifties.
I had high hopes when Lilly was born that she might become a professional dancer; she had long, slender limbs like me (Simone was always built stocky like her father). But as signs of her disability emerged, a professional ballet career was out of the question. Lilly had a passion for cooking, though, so that’s what we did together. I planned to help her grow those skills, so one day she might be independent and successful.
My father’s memorial service went well. We had all moved to the tearoom when I noticed Uncle Jeffrey, my dad’s estranged brother. They hadn’t spoken in decades.
“Thank you for coming, Uncle Jeffrey,” I sat next to him. He harrumphed and looked away. “I’d like to ask you something,” I told him about the old newspaper articles and the plate and cutlery. Then I mentioned the figurine.
He looked at me, straight in the eye, “Throw that damned thing away,” he growled. “Throw it in the ocean.”
“What? Why?” I asked.
I tried to grab his arm as he got up and walked off. I followed him outside.
“Uncle Jeffrey, please. I need to understand.”
He spun around. “Look, Angie, your dad and I had strong disagreements about some things. He went his way, and I went mine. That’s all there is.”
I was frustrated now. This feud, even beyond the grave, was ridiculous. “I think it’s jealousy. You couldn’t handle my dad’s wonderful life and career because you never measured up. That’s what this is about, isn’t it?”
He emitted a strange noise and turned around. At first, I thought they were sobs, but it was laughter.
“You spoiled brat. Do you want to know what your father was? What he did?” He was right up in my face now. “He was a thief. He stole things from Hitler’s office and refused to hand them over to the army. I was going to rat him out, but he was my brother.
“That cursed figurine. We had the text on the cloth translated. It’s from ancient Egypt,” he backed up a bit and continued. “The legend is, if you tell it what you want most in the world and keep it in your possession, your wish will be granted. You must tell it before your twenty-first birthday, and the spell can only be broken upon your death.”
I giggled. “You don’t truly believe that? That’s just folklore bullshit.”
“Really?” he chided. “Well, your father believed it. I begged him to throw it away. He refused to face the reality of what this damned thing had done for Hitler. How many thousands of lives it had taken? But he went through with it. He wished on that…thing!” He was back in my face now, his teeth clenched
“Why the hell do you think he became a war hero, a famous pilot, and then an author? At the same time, I watched his rise to glory as an accountant. I never even made partner. And then there’s you,” he laughed. “Your parents were told you’d never be a great dancer. You had flat feet!” he was in hysterics now.
“You’re a liar!” I yelled.
“I don’t care if you don’t believe me. But deep down, you know it is true. Now, do what your father should have done and get rid of that thing before it falls into the wrong hands again. Like it did in Germany. Do it right away, Angie.”
I watched him get in his car and drive away. My jaw hung open, and my legs felt weak.
What he said couldn’t be true. I was only a great dancer because my dad had me wish on that hideous figurine? And my dad wasn’t the amazing, talented man I always believed him to be? Was it all a lie?
My very foundation crumbled, and tears ran down my face. I got in my car and sped away.
“Happy birthday, dear Lilly, happy birthday to you,” we all sang together to my lovely granddaughter. I couldn’t believe she was sixteen today. It seemed like she was just born yesterday.
With the presents opened and the guests gone, Lilly and I walked to the back yard, where I had pushed her on the swings not so long ago.
We sat and talked a bit, laughed as we reminisced about some of her childhood exploits. Then I knelt beside her and pulled the figurine out of my bag.
“Lilly,” I said. “You’ve got one more wish to make today.”