Everyone’s got some sort of secret to hide. While some secrets are simply harmless, others have the propensity to carry a deeper, malicious intent. Why is it do we feel the need to keep secrets? For our own or someone else’s benefit? To hide some level or degree of shame from a thought or action? To protect ourselves and the ones we love from the truth? Here is a secret for you; I have an irrational fear of Charlie Chaplin. I say irrational because who would ever be afraid of such a beloved pop culture icon? I acknowledge its silliness in nature, and consequently keep my fear a secret to hide from the shame. But, from where does that fear come? Why Charlie Chaplin of all figures? The truth is I am often left to ponder on that question without reaching an answer. I know that the fear originated at a young age from a large framed portrait of Charlie Chaplin my aunt and uncle hung on their wall. The portrait hung at the top of the staircase to the second floor of their house. It was a black and white photo of Chaplin sitting cross-armed in a doorway – his beady, evil-looking eyes staring down the stairs, stone cold and emotionless – with a little boy to his left staring blankly out of frame. From the foot of the staircase, his image would stand out from the top as if to ward off trespassers. The eyes, so menacing were they to have felt almost real, following your every move up the staircase. I remember an overwhelming sense of dread wash over me as a child when I looked at it from below. Goading to be courageous, I would tempt myself with reaching the top. But with each step, the sense of dread would intensify; my heartbeat racing faster as I climbed stair after stair.
Go no further, I felt it speak to me as a boy.
Only evil awaits.
Fearing his overbearing and maniacal presence, I never ventured to the second floor of that old home and, to this day, could not tell you what the upstairs looked like. Like I said, silly and shameful. I spent a large part of my childhood in that house. My mother and father both worked full-time with my father spending a majority of his day on the road, so my mother would leave me with my Aunt Theresa several days a week for a few hours to watch me. Aunt Theresa was much older and had been retired for some years while Uncle Alan ran a business which allowed them to live comfortably enough in their small house. Uncle Alan wasn’t around often and when he was, he was busy upstairs with business, as Aunt Theresa would explain. The few times that I did see him were normally holidays or special occasions when family would get together. I never remember seeing him speak much, but every time I approached, he would smile and give me a dollar. He did the same for all the kids which won him their admiration.
I wasn’t always alone; my cousins would be there to help pass the time at Aunt Theresa’s during the day. We would spend the day watching movies, playing video games and billiards. When there were family gatherings, the children would play down in the basement while the adults bickered with each other upstairs. As far as I was concerned, it was a normal childhood with a few of its own twists and turns to boot. But, I never forgot the portrait of Chaplin hanging at the top of the staircase and that feeling of fear which followed me through my growing years.
These days, I’m a respected adult with a full-time career, which is something I never thought I’d find myself saying. I’ve distinguished myself as a working man, built a reputation as a reliable patron of charity work around the country. Yet, despite my achievements, the essence of my character remains veiled in secrets to which I harbor much resentment and shame. As a bachelor of the utmost eligibility, romance, though highly desired, is not something that can come so easily for a guy like me. For one thing: as I’ve grown into my adult years, I’ve developed a degenerative habit in the form of sexual gratification that can only be best described as someone who is a sexual deviant. The path to ejaculation for myself is often hindered and requires an increase of stimulation to be achieved. It’s embarrassing to even hear from my lips; to speak of myself a tarnished man stricken by impotence, deprived of the chance at a normal romance be it simply for the purpose of procreation – a veritable freak of nature.
To say I was self-conscious of this fact would be to understate the truth of its burden. I can’t exactly speak as to how it came about or why it is so difficult for me. From my recollection, my sexual exploration through my teen years was nothing out of the ordinary compared to my peers. But then again, who can fully recall those affluent years. For a time, I had questioned whether or not it had anything to do with my sexuality.
They say that college is a place of experimentation. So, experimenting is what I did. I was always a hardworking student, excelled in every one of my classes and did not shudder at the aspect of my studies. But, there was the social aspect to the college years in which I was rightfully afraid to indulge. It was one thing to question my sexuality, but my incapability of reaching climax was an issue that could have potentially cut both ways, in a manner of speaking. My sexual exploration remained concealed from public knowledge while I delved into an underground world mired in sexual domination and fetishes absent of physical preference. What I discovered in that time about myself was that it was not the type of partner I desired, but the level of stimulation needed to reach an orgasm. As a lover, I required more than just conventional sex. You see, all it took for me was a small level of pain, either through role-play or any level of debauchery, to reach an orgasm. The sheer sensation of pain was a profound discovery for myself. Though I was not sure how to feel about it, there was some sense of relief in finally having closure on such a sensitive topic. However, with that relief came humiliation from the truth and frustration from its unknown origin. Nevertheless, it would remain a secret.
Today, I live a quiet life where I seek nothing more than to be a contributing member of society. And though I’ve managed to avoid any images of Charlie Chaplin, I am once again forced to confront my fear following the event of Aunt Theresa’s death. Her wake is held in that very same house in which I grew up. It was over twenty years since I have been inside her home. The last time I was there was when her husband, Uncle Alan, had died. I have vague recollections of his passing other than my understanding that it was of natural causes. I do remember a lack of emotion throughout the family when he died. As he lay in his coffin at the funeral, I noticed that my family members – aunts, uncles, mom and dad – none of them seemed upset at his passing. Indeed, I was quite young and naïve to the finality of death, but I did find it odd the majority of my kin did not so much as shed a tear in response to my uncle’s death.
As I enter the house, I’m immediately overwhelmed by the scent of mothballs, a staple of Aunt Theresa that always made me nauseous. The rest of the family and friends have already arrived, all mourning in their own way. My mother strolls among the crowd playing the saintly hostess, raking in the condolences and prayers from others like cold hard cash. She handles the loss surprisingly well. She spots me and heads straight for me.
“Sweetheart,” she greets me with a hug. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Sorry I’m late, had a work thing to deal with.”
“Always working, even at a time like this.”
“You know I mean nothing by it. It was unavoidable.”
“I shouldn’t complain. You know I couldn’t be prouder of how hard you work.”
“How are you holding up?”
“Oh, I’ll be fine,” she assures me. “Death is just a part of life. She lived a long life, seventy-six years. God willing, she’s at peace now.”
Mother was never a religious person, only when it was convenient.
I am suddenly surprised by the presence of my father, a rare sighting since him and my mother split when I was in high school. After, I graduated and went on to college, I saw him less and less. He never got along with my mother’s family, what with their pension for arguing and confrontation. The simple fact that he is here today is quite unexpected.
“Hey there, son. Good to see you. Haven’t heard from you in a while.”
“Yeah you too. You know, just staying busy. What are you doing here?”
“I just wanted to come and show my support for your mother. I know Theresa and I may not have gotten along all the time, but being there for your mother is the least I could do.”
“How’s Shelley? Didn’t bring her along?” I ask with detectable sarcasm.
“We thought it best that I come alone,” he says, as if still trying to convince me to have a relationship with his new wife. Regardless, it’s a surprising sentiment from my father.
“Well, it’s nice to see you both in the same room together.”
“Oh no need to get all defensive, hon,” Mother objects.
“I’m being honest, mom. It’s unfortunate circumstances, but nice to see you two together.”
“I just thank God we’re all here together now.”
My mother is one for empty sentiments – generic responses indicative to the emotional status of a situation. For lack of a better phrase, she dabbles in sociopathy. Her superficial performance is exhausting, so I wave them off and move on.
I greet my mother’s other sisters, Martha and Celeste, who are both sorrowful and mourning in their own way. Martha is the second oldest, a stern woman, cold and unwelcoming. She’s a traditional conservative woman. When I was an infant, Martha would show me catalogs of women’s lingerie and bikinis to keep me from “turning gay.” But, her mental state is such that she claims to speak to God as well as aliens, who allegedly planted a device in her head allowing only her to communicate with them, as she is wont to explain. I pay my respects to her and keep my interaction with her as brief as humanly possible before she begins to ramble on about government conspiracies. Celeste is the youngest of the four sisters and understandably so. Although she is an older woman, she drinks and socializes like a college sorority girl. She never turns down a good time, but today she is in a rare state: sober. She’s much different when sober, quiet and frail. I offer my condolences and give her a hug. As I hold her, she begins to break down in tears and falls to the floor screaming.
“My sister! My big sister! Why did she have to go?”
It’s an embarrassing moment for us both. This family has a flare for dramatics. I leave her to be Aunt Martha’s problem – she’s much more apt at dealing with her than me.
As I shuffle through the house passing strange acquaintances to my late aunt, I join my cousins who are congregating on the back porch to have a smoke. There’s David and Emily, Theresa’s son and daughter. They are both just a few years older than me. David is a small-time troublemaker and the poster child for mass shooters. David had an affinity for making knives and weapons as a boy and also enjoyed torturing insects and small rodents. Emily is a drug-addled, first rate con artist who jumps from relationship to relationship to feed her addiction. She’s the very definition of a succubus, preying on foolish men and then taking them for everything they’re worth.
Next to them are Martha’s children Mark, Rachel and Steven. Mark’s your average success story: Ivy League grad, degree in biomedical engineering, and up to his neck in research grants. He carries his mother’s conservative attitude with his own sense of demagoguery. His social acumen, though derivative of his mother’s own twisted perception, was best defined in a single statement he once made as a budding teenager: “all unskilled-workers should be sterilized to prevent their procreation of unfavorable genes.” Naturally, his choice of biomedical engineering as a career was and still is cause for concern.
Rachel is the living, breathing, humiliating stereotypical millennial. She remains glued to her phone every minute of the day, couldn’t tell you who the first president of the United States was, and only speaks in social media code. Steven is a bit slow, but the only good-natured person in this family who likes to keep to himself and his hobbies.
Finally, there’s Jason, the black sheep of all the cousins and Celeste’s son. Though Jason was the son of the youngest daughter, Jason is the actually oldest cousin. The story goes that Jason was the son of some random guy Celeste had met in high school that never stuck around. By the time she got married, Celeste and her husband decided not to have any more kids. Either that, or her husband, Bill, never saw her fit to have kids considering she was a heavy drinker. It was assumed that Jason and Bill never got along. They fought often, whether it was in public or private. I didn’t know much about Jason, for he dropped out of high school and left home as a teenager. He was born with a birth mark under his left eye that somewhat resembles a scar, bestowing upon him a predetermined persona of a troublemaker. We all looked up to Jason as kids being the rebel that he was, leaving home and taking jobs as a truck driver or a roadie with bands; doing all kinds of odd jobs and simply experiencing life overall. None of us knew whatever happened to him within that time, for we rarely ever heard from him or saw him. His presence here today is more of a surprise than my father’s.
“Well, look who it is,” says David as I step outside.
Emily scoffs loudly.
‘Pretty boy, mama’s joy,” she vocalizes half-hearted.
“Hey! Good to see you,” Steven says, who seems to be the only one genuinely happy to see me.
“You too Steven. David, Emily, sorry about your mother.”
“What’s to be sorry about?” Emily questions harshly. “She lived a miserably long life.”
“Yeah, it was about time if you ask me,” David chimes in. “It’s just too bad she didn’t have any inheritance to leave behind.”
Typical soulless David.
Rachel doesn’t bother acknowledging me as she chews gum like a cow and searches the latest trends on social media. Her brother, Mark, is at least capable of lifting his eyes from his pocket-sized book about Eugenics to nod his head and say hello dryly. Then there’s Jason, who still carries an air of intimidation.
“Hey Jason, long time. Didn’t expect to see you here.”
Jason takes a long drag of his cigarette, refusing every ounce of energy to say hello.
“Yeah, well neither did I.”
“So, what brings you back to town?”
“I heard about Theresa… happened to be in the neighborhood so I figured I’d drop in. It’s only temporary.”
“That was good of you.”
“I wouldn’t say so,” he breathes with another long exhale. “I figured there’d be no better opportunity to piss on her grave.”
I anxiously giggle at his remark thinking it a joke. That’s just his kind of humor, always was – dark and demented, absent of traditionally laughable punchlines. But, he’s not laughing. He stares me down with all intensity, making it perfectly clear I’ve misunderstood. He’s dead serious.
“…You’re not kidding.”
I want to ask him what gives, why he would do such a thing. But, in all honesty, I still get the feeling of intimidation just talking to him.
“Well, speaking of, nature calls. If you’ll excuse me.”
He doesn’t bother responding. He simply takes another drag of his cigarette and stares off into space.
I seek out the main bathroom and, to my surprise, it’s out of service. That means the only other bathroom is upstairs beyond the wretched portrait of Charlie Chaplin. Standing at the foot of the staircase, I feel like a six-year-old again. That familiar feeling from my childhood returns like it never missed a beat. There he is, like the devil himself. It’s strange, as I look upon it now in my age, I take notice of the boy’s face as he sits next to Chaplin and how different it seems to look. It’s as if he himself is dubious of the man sitting next to him, in some way harboring a sense of suspicion toward Chaplin.
Suddenly, a silhouette steps out from around the banister into view, scaring the living shit out of me. Had my bathroom emergency been any direr, I might have relieved myself then and there. To my unsoiled relief, it was only Uncle Bob, Martha’s husband. Though a hardline alt-right conservative like Martha, Bob’s personality was a gleaming contrast to Martha’s; a warm, friendly man that chooses to keep his political affiliations private unlike Martha who wields it like a weapon. Bob is also Martha’s third husband and, in my opinion, the most relatively normal of all.
“Well hey there, buddy!” he greets me. “It’s been forever. You okay there? You look like you seen a ghost.”
“I’m fine, thanks. You just startled me is all.”
“I’m sorry about that. Seems like everybody’s a little jumpy nowadays.”
“I suppose it’s just being back in this place, washing up a few old memories.”
“Yeah, my condolences for your family. It’s been really tough on your Aunt Martha and the other sisters. Now that Theresa’s gone, they’re left with this house and all the junk that’s in it that was Alan’s. I know that can’t be easy for them being as they never got along well with Alan.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
Bob’s face grows stiff with fear as if he just farted in public.
“Oh, uh, I’m sorry I thought you were familiar with their relationship.”
“So did I, but now I’m beginning to question that.”
Bob takes a deep breath.
“Well, you’re an adult so I think you have a right to know. There were suspicions among the family about Alan when he was alive that he was in business with the wrong kind of people.”
“Is that so?”
“The rumor was that he was cooking books for some unsavory characters and using his business as a front to launder money for them. He seemed like a decent guy up front, but the sisters had a different opinion of him. They claim he was an abusive man and that they tried to talk her out of marrying him all those years ago. After he died, they all just kind of quit talking to one another for a while.”
I’m utterly awestruck in hearing this. How could I have possibly been in the dark all this time? It suddenly hits me that my family’s indifference at his passing all those years ago must have been due in part to his negative image. The memory of his funeral becomes clearer as never before. I remember running my hand along the wood of the coffin as my mother stood over his casket to “pay her respects.” But, not a word of prayer came out of her mouth, she only remained silent and stared indifferently at his corpse. My father lingered in the back of the room, unwilling to lend any respect to the dead man. I remember looking at his body and expecting him to sit up and eat me like some sort of zombie. Granted, I watched a lot of television as a child. But, every person in that room – Martha, Celeste, Bob, my cousins – displayed no sense of remorse.
“I really feel bad having to be the one to break this all to you,” he says. “There was so much that got swept under the rug all those years that I don’t even know half of it.”
“I appreciate you telling me, Bob. I guess that’s something I’ll just have to ask my mother about.”
Bob leans in, “Don’t tell her I was the one that told you. If Martha hears I blabbed, I’ll be in the doghouse eternally.”
He gives me a slap on the shoulder and returns to Martha’s side. After having left me with such a revelation, I struggle to regain my confidence to ascend the stairs. My feet feel weighted, growing heavier with every step. It’s like a force is pushing against me, trying to keep me from reaching the top. I somehow manage to soldier on and before I realize it, I’ve reached the top. Lifting my head, I am startled to find myself face-to-face with the dreaded portrait of Chaplin for the first time in my life. Feeling faint, I seize the banister to keep myself from falling down the staircase. It goes away after a brief spell and I take a moment to admire the second floor of the small house which I have never seen before. All of the doors are closed savor the bathroom door. I hurry in and relieve myself in the appropriate manner. Returning to the hallway, it is rather quiet despite the crowd downstairs. The sound doesn’t seem to find its way upward or vice versa. I decide to have a look around to get an idea of what the second floor looks like. I find Theresa and Alan’s bedroom, David’s bedroom and Emily’s bedroom. The last room I discover is Uncle Alan’s study. As I open the door, I feel a strange wave of sickness accompanied by a chill wash over me. My eyes wander the small room to view the clean and well-organized arrangement of his private quarters. I feel guilt invading a room full of the dead’s private belongings. Then again, there’s an insatiable curiosity emanating from within me involving my family history that centers around my late uncle and it is something I cannot ignore.
Yet, there is nothing in the room that seems out of the ordinary. In fact, the room is extraordinarily ordinary, a pleasantly furnished office adorned with a fancy oak desk, a leather chair, a large bookcase and a golden, baroque-style loveseat. Peculiarly, the room had no window. Behind the desk and chair were shelves of random items, model cars and photos. All of it presumes an innocence in Alan that directly contradicts the type of character to which Bob had been referring. I peruse the photos of family and friends that adorn the walls and the shelves above the desk. Perhaps my curiosity was unfounded.
I then notice an odd photo on the shelf behind the desk. It is an old picture of Uncle Alan sitting on the couch with a young Jason whose no more than nine years old. It was taken during a family Christmas over twenty years ago. In the foreground, the young cousins sit on the floor tearing up the wrapping paper of their gifts while Alan looks over the children smiling with his arm around Jason. Everything about this photo is seemingly normal, except for Jason. While Jason is the type of person that is hard to read, it’s clear in the photo that his demeanor is off. Young Jason stares directly into the camera, his eyes wide. His face remains expressionless, but it is clear that Jason’s look carries hints of fear and discomfort. His body language reads desperation as if he’s trying to signal the person behind the camera – to signal me – that he is in danger. In a way, it reminds me of the portrait in the hallway of Chaplin and the child, as both children, through some physical aspect, create the image of harboring suspicion toward their fellow subject.
Suddenly, all of the family photos within the room begin to share a strange quality that leaves me uneasy. Every family member that posed for a photo with Alan isn’t smiling. Even though Alan can be seen in every photo with a wide grin, each of the subjects posing with him carry a sense of dread in their expressions. There’s an old photo of Alan with Theresa and her three other sisters – including my mother – sitting on a deck. Alan sits between Theresa and Celeste with his arms around both women. Alan and Theresa smile pleasantly while the three other sisters carry brooding looks on their face. Another photo is of David and Emily as young preteens sitting around a table with Alan on Emily’s birthday; a cake sits in front of her with candles lit. Perhaps they were a little too old to be having birthday cakes at that age. She looks as though she had just been crying, her eyes red and swollen. David has his arms crossed with a begrudging look in his eye.
On the table next to Emily in the photo, there sits an old animatronic toy called a Furby — a once widespread craze among children and young adults in the late nineties. I used to despise those atrocities as a young boy. I scoff to myself as I recall those abhorrent toys that were everywhere when I was kid. Then, once more, I am flushed with a memory from my youth; one that, before this moment, I could not previously recall. I was just a boy, who knows how young—maybe ten or eleven—spending an afternoon at Aunt Theresa’s. My mother had to work a late shift and had just dropped me off. Theresa was in the kitchen with the radio turned up high smoking a cigarette and reading a magazine.
“They’re down in the basement,” she said without lifting her head, referring to my cousins.
It was one of the rare occasions in which all my cousins, save for Jason, spent the day at Uncle Alan and Aunt Theresa’s. As I descended the stairs, I first noticed Rachel sprawled out on the couch reading one of her teen magazines despite being too young to be a teen or to understand most of the articles in the magazine. Mark was glued to the television playing video games while David and Emily fought over Emily’s new Furby doll. Steven, though, was nowhere to be seen.
Emily was the first to spot me coming down the stairs.
“Oh great,” she bemoaned. “Pretty boy, mama’s joy is here.”
“Shut up, Emily,” I hurtfully responded.
“Yeah Emily,” David patronized. “Before he goes and cries all over you.”
“Give my Furby back you jerk,” Emily demanded once more.
“You want your stupid toy? Go get it,” David answered, throwing the toy across the room. Emily screamed at the top of her lungs as she chased after it while David laughed.
“You guys are so childish,” said Rachel without even lifting her head out of her magazine.
“You broke my doll you asshole!” Emily shouted as she picked it up. The doll’s eyes kept rolling in the back of its head while it made strange unintelligible noises.
“Aww, you going to cry about it now?” David bullied.
Emily ran upstairs shouting for her mother as David scoffed and shook his head. Meanwhile Mark remained silent, still fixated on the TV screen. I approached him and sat next to him.
“Hey Mark, do you mind if I join in?”
“Why not,” Mark sighed. “You need some practice in losing anyway.”
Suddenly, a loud thumping sound emanated from the closet door.
“What’s that?” I asked frightened.
“It’s just Steven,” David said dismissively.
I ran over and turned the knob to realize David had locked Steven inside the closet. As I unlocked it and opened the door, Steven spilled out onto the floor with blood running from his nose. He was sobbing hysterically. But, no one in the room paid any attention to him.
“What happened?” I asked helping him up.
“The retard and I were just playing a game,” David chimed in. “It’s called ‘who’s afraid of the dark.’”
“Are you alright?” I asked Steven, ignoring David.
“I don’t want to play anymore,” sobbed Steven. “I want mommy.”
Steven ran upstairs and everyone went back to doing their own thing.
After almost twenty minutes, Emily came trudging back down the staircase, her eyes ready with tears.
“Still crying over your toy?” David remarked.
“Dad wants to talk to you,” she answered flatly. David dropped the smile on his face.
“Dad’s here?” he asked with a hint of fear. It was the first time I recall ever seeing David afraid. Emily nodded her head. David walked up the stairs with hesitation and disappeared out of sight while Emily took a place on the couch next to Rachel.
“Where’s your Furby?” Rachel asked.
“Who cares? It’s just a stupid toy.”
She did not speak again. Another twenty minutes later, David returned and was himself out of sorts. His face was pale with the look of terror still lingering.
I feel dizzy as the memory inundates me. The rush is nauseating and discombobulating. I rub my eyes trying to shake off the sensation of pins and needles that are tickling my outer extremities. My vision sharpens and, glancing around, it’s as if I’m looking at a completely different room. There is something that is unyielding and unsettling about the space. I slump into the sofa to keep myself from becoming nauseous. Suddenly, I feel a strange draft breeze past me. There are no windows open and it isn’t nearly hot enough to run the air conditioning. I notice that it seems to be coming from the bookcase. As I walked toward it, the draft is more pronounced and am certain of its origin. I slide the bookcase away from the wall to reveal a loose panel behind the bookshelf. The panel is a makeshift door within a false wall. As I press against it, the door swings open.
I don’t want to go inside fearing I already know what’s there. Don’t do it. I can hear the Chaplin painting calling out to me again, patronizing me.
I told you. Do not go further. Only evil resides and it will be your undoing.
He’s right and I know it. But, I can’t seem to stop myself anyway. I slowly slide in through the entry and what I find is the stuff of nightmares. A remote light switch turns on a bulb hanging by bare wires from the ceiling, ornate with spider webs. The crawl space is tiny. To the left is an old camera sitting on a tripod. To the right is a small mattress which barely fits the width of the crawl space. It is covered in dirty blankets. Sitting on the blankets is none other than Emily’s old Furby doll. My mind can’t seem to process what I’m thinking, but the nausea knows exactly what I’m seeing, causing my body to tremble. I need to leave, but more importantly I need to know.
Behind the camera is an old file box which I can only imagine holds all the secrets that I’m looking for.
I’ve warned you. There’s no going back.
Throwing open the lid, I find a stack of photos that were never meant to be found. As I had feared, there were pictures of David and Emily; even Rachel and Dan and poor Steven. Each photo had been taken in this crawl space where they had been stripped down naked and forced to bare themselves to a monster. There were older photos of my mother and each of her sisters; some that looked to be before I was born, some even after. There were even people I did not recognize, complete strangers holding the same look of fear and humiliation as those of my dear family. Innocence taken in the shudders of the mechanical eye.
The next photo brings the walls crashing down. But, how could it be me? I don’t recall this ever happening. This can’t be real.
Oh, it is real. It is very real. You remember, don’t you?
Perhaps I do—It was a birthday; the promise of a present. Of course, I remember now. Alan leaned against his desk, giving me a soda.
“I hear it was your birthday a few days ago,” he said. “Thirteen’s a big age. A lot of changes becoming a man. But, your body is never in better shape than now.”
He caressed my arm, gripping at the flesh.
“Boy, you’re going to be a strong man. I got an idea. Why don’t we take some photos of you so you can, you know, see how you progress as you get older. We’ll call it our little secret project.”
From then on, the memory gets hazy. I remember feeling light-headed and numb; it must have been the soda that knocked me out. What I’ve come to understand is that this is the moment my irrational fear was born. Except, that it wasn’t irrational and it wasn’t Charlie Chaplin I feared. It was his message that I truly feared. The whole time, he was trying to protect me from the things happening behind the very wall from which his portrait hung; protecting me from a monster.
The last photo in the pile is one of Alan holding a baby. The baby has a scar-like birth mark under his left eye. On the back of the photo it says, “Father and Son – 1982.” Deductive logic would conclude that my family has been harboring an awful secret from everyone. Upon further examination, my very own secret can be assumed to be a direct result of Alan’s own. The only thing I can wonder at this point is what kind of sick humor does God choose to impart upon his creation. And if we are created in his own image, what does that say about God?
This house of horrors is up for sale. No one is living in it. The items inside will be sold off, including Charlie. Sooner or later, someone will find the contents of the crawlspace. What they choose to do with the contents is their prerogative. The monster is long dead, but it is too late. The damage is already done. It has wreaked its havoc and given birth to new monsters like me. The portrait of Charlie Chaplin and I have made amends. He will be coming home with me where I’ll have a place for him. As for the house itself…
It will be in much better hands once I’ve moved in.
Zach Ellenberger is a writer based in Chicago where he lives with his wife and kids. He grew up in Pittsburgh, PA where he spent his childhood writing comic strips and short stories. After spending his formative years as a musician recording albums and performing with various bands, he returned to his love of creative writing where he works in various genres including historical fiction, horror and sci-fi to name a few. Zach has published several short stories as well as his debut novel, Potato Kingdom, and continues to develop new projects in every medium from novels to screenplays and everything in between.