The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
The Family Treasures
by Terrie Leigh Relf
“Each one of our family treasures has a story,” Tante Sylvie reminded us while dusting them wearing her special cotton gloves. “Some day it will be your turn to keep them safe and tell their tales, so listen carefully, children.”
We would stand dutifully while Tante Sylvie told her tales. As the eldest, I think I was the only one who questioned their truth. I enjoyed them nevertheless.
“You can look, but you mustn’t touch,” she would always say, my younger sister’s and brother’s small hands hovering like moths toward some of the treasures displayed on the foyer table. There was Opa’s clock, which no longer chimed, and Oma’s porcelain plate, which no longer held any kuchen. There were with other items that invited us to “ooh-and-ahh” with delight or curiosity, like the urns that contained the ashes of her first, second, and third husbands. My favorite Onkel, Walter, had died unexpectedly the year before. I was pleased that he had the most decorative urn. It was smaller, though, and rested next to the largest one that contained our Onkel Rolf. The other urn contained Onkel Max, who had passed away long before we were born.
“What if we wore the gloves? Could we touch them then?” Irina asked.
Tante Sylvie looked down at Irina with the smile reserved just for her. “My gloves are much too big for you.”
“Besides, you’re clumsy,” Brandt added.
“I will be very careful, Tante.”
“You will have your very own gloves when the time comes.” Tante Sylvie reached out as if to tuck a stray hair back in Irina’s braid, then pulled her hand back with a start. I thought it odd, as when she wasn’t dusting and polishing the family treasures, Tante Sylvie was always fussing about our hair. It must have been because the gloves were dirty. What else could it possibly have been?
And so our childhood summers went at Tante Sylvie’s grand house until a call came one winter’s afternoon while we were packing to make the drive there to celebrate Christmas. Irina, who had always been our Tante’s favorite, had already been there for a week or so.
We finished packing, and Father did his best not to speed to his sister’s house. Mother wrung her hands as usual. She was always the nervous sort.
Once we arrived, Irina was on the porch shivering in her woolen coat. “The police said it was probably a heart attack or stroke.”
Father patted her on the head before pushing past her into the house. We all followed close behind. The police were dusting everything for prints, which included the broken bits of colorful porcelain scattered across the floor. Ironically, there were layers of dust strewn throughout the foyer, with footprints trailing through it.
But my eyes were drawn to Tante Sylvie. The police hadn’t bothered to cover her up even though there were afghans on almost every chair and couch in the living room. She was lying on her back, her arms and legs bent at odd angles. But it was her face that disturbed me the most . . . Her lovely face all contorted and blotchy, lips drawn back in a snarl.
“I didn’t mean to break them.” Irina began to sob, wiping at her face with a sleeve. “I was very careful and used Tante’s gloves while she was napping. Onkel Walter’s urn just slipped out of my hands and knocked over the other canister.”
Brandt refrained from calling her clumsy, which was a relief under the circumstances.
“Your breaking the urn didn’t cause her death, Irina,” Father said, pulling her close to him. Mother just stared at the mess as if she could will it away.
It took quite some time to learn the cause of Tante Sylvie’s death. Apparently, we had all been quite lucky when we stayed with our Tante all those summers and Christmas holidays. We were even more fortunate that day when we arrived to discover Tante was dead and lying within the ashes from Onkel Rolf’s broken urn. While the urn had contained a slight amount of arsenic, the other canister labeled with Onkel Walter’s name, hadn’t been filled with ashes . . . Instead, it contained enough arsenic to kill a horse.
Fiction © Copyright Terrie Leigh Relf
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from author Terrie Leigh Relf:
For thousands of Earth years, the Transgalactic Consortium has had a quiet interest in this planet and its inhabitants, the Haurans. While the Sisterhood of the Blood Moon works together with the Consortium and Haurans to maintain balance in the universe, the Blood Moon is fast approaching. The power of this moon reveals untold secrets . . . including a sacred covenant with the Mora Spiders. There is an ancient pact that needs to be honored—but at what cost and for whose purpose? The world may come to an end. But will there be a chance for a new beginning?