Part 1: I was depressed, so I took some time off to wander through junk stores. In a small town, I found myself drawn into an old shop and to a tiny back room that contained an ancient desk. The proprietor seemed eager for me to have it, an just as eager that I know its history. Here begins part 2
Joe closed his eyes, leaned back, and related the story, occasionally pausing to bring more coffee from the front room, It took a while, but the passage of time did not seem to matter. The story was a local tale that had grown into legend over the years; the story of star-crossed lovers. Once during his recital Joe brought in a bag of store-bought cookies and munched while he spoke.
Time faded. It became impossible to tell whether a couple of hours had passed or as many days. I was lost in the tale of how a local boy, Henry, had fallen in love with Elizabeth Grace but had been forbidden to see her, so he left the little town and she herself had also been sent away.
Years passed, and when the young man returned, he found her father living alone in the family home, now a bitter old man whose wife and daughter had both died. “The place sat empty for years until I got it from the county for the back taxes and opened a junk store.
I found this room just the way you see it now, the way the old man had kept it after she was gone. This room is all that is left of her, and it is unchanged in all those years. I come here late at night and listen to her. She lives on here in this room, and she is restless; restless and uneasy, waiting and searching.”
I was puzzled. Setting my mug on the desk, I scratched my ear and asked, “How did Grace die? Why did you tell me her story? Don’t misunderstand, it is a fascinating story, but why me? I assume you don’t bring people here every day and share this yarn.”
Joe winked. “Oh, indeed not, youngster." I saw a slight tremor in the old man’s hands, and he clasped them together, voice barely audible, “I don’t tell the story to just anyone. I’m dying. Cancer. It won’t be long now, and she has been in my mind more lately. When you walked in, her voice in my mind told me that you were the one.”
“The one? What one? What do you expect of me?” My stomach was churning and I could barely hear. It was all I could do to keep from going to the desk and running my hands over the dark wood. "What happened? You haven't told me how she died."
Joe sighed, "Some friends convinced her to go out to the San Saba river for a party. It was the summer she graduated from Baylor and she had been moping around. The others hoped an outing would lift her spirits, but did not know of the heavy rains that had fallen to the west the day before.
Their day of fun ended in tragedy. The river came up suddenly and Grace was swept away. Her body was never recovered.” I stared. "That is tragic, but what about me? What do you want of me?" Joe smiled weakly, eyes watering, "You're the one."
“The one? What one? What do you expect of me?” “I want you to take her desk. She told me that you would understand.” The old man's voice was little more than a whisper, thin and reedy, but his words hit like a runaway truck.
I must have look rather silly with my mouth hanging open again, because Joe chuckled and leaned back in his chair. I didn't believe in ghosts, but this whole thing was puzzling. I didn’t believe for a second what he said about the young woman who died years ago living on in the desk, but the old codger was so insistent that I finally gave in.
We negotiated a price; I actually did want the desk, but not for any ghosts that might live in it, and wanted to pay more than Joe wanted to take. He kept insisting that it was what Grace wanted, and he felt bad about making money on the deal.
We finally reached an agreement and I left, taking time to enjoy the food at the little café he had told me about. I was pleased to find that he was right. The meal was good, the atmosphere homey.
The next day I returned with a friend and loaded up my purchase. It just fit an empty place in my den, and I have to admit that it completed the room. In fact, it looked as if it had been there forever. It looked like it had found a home.
My swivel chair just fit into the knee hole, so I set up my computer and cranked out a couple of thousand words. I was in the zone, writing without really seeing what emerged. When I came up for air and read it, I was floored.
The story I thought I was writing was a tale of forest sprites, but when I read what was on my screen, it was a tale of love and loss, mourning and death. The last three lines were, “Find me. Find me. Find me. Please find me.”
My fingers felt like they were on fire. I leaned back, staring at the screen, thoughts racing. What just happened? I let my hand touch the desk, and then jerked it back in surprise when I felt the wood vibrating. What was going on?
The room dimmed. Whether it was actually from the lights going down or just my vision, I don’t think I will ever know, but everything went dark as a soft, feminine voice crooned, “You must find me.” This time I was so frightened that I slammed the lid on my computer and scooped it up, fleeing the room and the desk.
A long hot shower helped calm my nerves until I felt like I could finally sleep. I was wrong. Instead of the forgetfulness of dreams, all I found when I closed my eyes was the voice speaking in my head, urging me to “find her.”
What that meant, I had no idea. Running my fingers over the spines on my bedside shelf, I picked out a book, but could not concentrate on the words. An hour later, I finally gave up and gathering my nerve, threw on a robe against the night chill and returned to my den and to the desk.
For a while I did not approach it, I simple stood just inside the doorway and stared, willing the inanimate hunk of lumber to give up its secret. It sat there as if mocking me, so I edged over, plopped into my recliner and kept staring, noting every detail. The devilish desk was about five feet long, with drawers on each end, three on one side of the kneehole and four on the other.
On a whim, I eased over as if sneaking up on it, and tentatively reached out my hand. This time, contact with the wood brought no voices, so with a sigh of relief, I opened the first drawer, the top one on the right. Empty. There were a couple of numbers, faded almost to invisibility, scrawled inside it, but they made no sense.
The second drawer was similar, containing nothing but dust, and so was the third. I began with the smaller drawers on the left, and found them the same way; they contained nothing. The hair on the back of my neck began to stand on end as I leaned back in the chair, pushing away a foot or two and simply stared at it and thought.
A thought popped into my mind, so I thought of the bottom of the drawers; perhaps there was a clue hidden there. That made me laugh and shake my head, I had watched too many mystery stories, but I pulled one after another of the drawers free and turned them over, letting my fingers help examine them for any irregularities.
Nothing. There was nothing there, but the feeling that I was missing something important was growing stronger, so I turned my attention to the back panel. It rose some two feet above the desktop and contained rows of cubbies just large enough to hold papers or perhaps ledger books.
This time I rose and pulled the whole thing out into the middle of the floor and carefully ran my hands completely over it, then grabbed a flashlight and used it to examine inside the cubbies. Ha! At last I found something odd, well, something even more odd than the whole situation.
Two of the cubbies did not look quite as deep as the rest. Without the aid of a light and a suspicious mind, I might have never noticed. A tape measure confirmed it; two of the cubbies did not extend as far back as the others. from the back of the desk, all was the same, so the difference was something in the back of the slots.
It took some figuring, but at last, I found that if I lifted up on one side of a divider while pushing down on the other, I could slide it out. Two more followed, and as I set them aside, I admired the workmanship and ingenuity.
One questing hand reached to the back of the cleared space and my fingers encountered another panel which gave way under a slight pull. This time, when I looked in with the light, I broke out into a huge grin. There was a small book secreted in the hidden space!"
Pulling it forth, I sat back in my recliner and simply let my hands hold and caress it. A sense of peace was filling the room and I relaxed into it, letting it settle over me. Eyes closed, I let the book speak, willing it to give up its secrets. It was about five inches tall and four wide, with a thick cover.
I finally opened my eyes and saw that it was a diary. The cover was blue leather, now cracked with age although the hiding place had protected it from fading and from dust. An aroma of decay seeped into the air as I held it close to my nose, a smell of hope mixed with regret and despair.
I reclined in my chair and merely contemplated it for several minutes, wondering if I would be violating her privacy by reading it. There was no doubt that the diary belonged to Grace, secreted in the desk to keep it from the prying eyes of her father. A closer examination revealed the letters EG embossed on the front, down in the bottom corner.
It was hers. Doubt flew away as I remembered the dream voice calling out, “find me.” Could this be what she meant? Was it her diary that she wanted found? It seemed reasonable, so I made up my mind, steeled my nerves, and turned the front cover.
The first page was dated January 26, 1937, and Grace wrote about her twelfth birthday. "It was a wonderful day. I helped Mama bake a cake and for once didn't have to help clean. All my friends came.
Aunt Judy gave me this diary and I'm writing in it for the first time. Henry came to my party. He looked so cute even though he had to ride his bike all the way across town. Daddy wan't happy. He frowned at Henry because his overalls were patched.
At least Henry's shirt was clean, but Daddy didn't care. The other kids didn't either. They would barely talk to him. They should. They would find out he's really nice. I wish I had been brave enough to talk to him, but I just got all flustered. Maybe I'll talk to him tomorrow. I have to thank him for coming to my party."
*** End of Part 2 Don't miss the third and final part. What will our hero do? Why was he drawn so strongly to the desk of a dead woman? Why was it calling to him across the years?