by Meagan Elixabeth
The old man grabbed an oriental rug by the corner and pulled. His bones creaked with the effort. “This house is older than I am,” Grandpa said. He took a moment to cough into the crook of his elbow. The rug slid across the floor to reveal a wooden trap door. “A bomb shelter, supposed to be.”
I sprang from my seated position. “You never mentioned this before.”
He grinned, rows of gums showing through parted lips. “I never mentioned this to your grandmother, either. Everyone has secrets, my boy.” His knees popped as he bent to open the door. “I don’t have the money you asked for.” Wrinkled hands grasped the large bolt holding the door closed. “You want your wife to recover? The answer is down here.”
A ladder had been nailed into a cinder-block wall. Grandpa took the lead, the steps creaking louder than his bones. My heart pounded as my fingers brushed against splintered wood. I tensed, expecting the weight of my body to push my foot through each step.
A cord dangled from the ceiling. Grandpa pulled on it, awakening an exposed lightbulb. It swung from the motion, causing shadows to dance along the walls. A lifeless face stared at me, a man with a feathered cap and untamed hair.
“What is this?” I asked.
Grandpa stood with his hands clasped behind his back. He stood before a portrait of a ship, rocking in the waves of a storm. “Rembrandt,” he said. “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.”
“I don’t understand.”
He shuffled to the other portrait. The face continued to stare at me, black ink on white canvas. “This is Rembrandt himself.”
“Grandpa, what’s your point?” My eyes traveled over the two portraits to settle on the old man, who was grinning from ear to ear.
“This is your answer.”
Grandpa’s smile dropped. His shoulders sagged, as if pressed down by some invisible weight. “No?”
I studied Rembrandt’s self-portrait, my eyes gliding over the various ink strokes. The ink captured eyes that looked as hollow as I felt. “Grandpa, this is stolen art.”
“Worth millions, my boy.” His weathered hand clasped my shoulder. “They would solve many problems beyond your wife’s recovery.”
My knees wobbled. “My wife…”
“Take the art, son. Sell it. You will be better off.”
“No, Grandpa.” Sobs shook my body as I slunk to the floor. “Not with stolen money. She would never forgive me.”
He patted my back as I cried. The way he did when I scraped a knee many years ago.
When I regained composure, Grandpa pulled the cord to extinguish the light. We climbed our way back to the top in silence. The old man moved to close the door, but I stopped him.
“My wife needs an honest man,” I said. The door closed with a thud, and I secured the bolt. “Not more secrets.” With combined strength, Grandpa and I pulled the oriental rug back in place, the trap door hidden beneath.
About the author
Meagan Elixabeth is a student, writer, and volunteer English tutor who works with adults to improve their English skills. Meagan enjoys her coffee with French vanilla cream, no sugar, accompanied with a fantasy novel. Visit her website at www.meaganelixabeth.com.