Beneath The Wizard's Robe
Martin and his grandfather used to be the best of friends when he was younger. Though after a strange event one visit they drifted apart.. Many years later once he passed away, Martin and his sister find themselves digging through the rubble or piles more so of his life. They may not like what they find, for it will change how they view him and their family forever...
As the tires of his parents' station wagon crunched along the gravel road, a charming white house came into view. Martin's little chubby face fogged the glass of the back seat window. He knew when he saw the pristine lawn and white fences, that he was at Grandpa Walt’s.
The grass was freshly cut as if done with scissors by hand. The hedges carved into perfect squares as though Michaelangelo had sculpted them himself.
An angel statue stood in the center of the yard as if a monument to it.
Martin jumped from the car as fast as his plump legs would take him, running towards the front door. A tiny suitcase swung wildly, barely within his finger grasp. Grandpa Walt’s round face would enter the front storm door, and before Martin knew it he was off the ground in the grasp of one of the strongest bear hugs known to man. Despite Grandpa Walt saying all the time that real men don’t give hugs.
Martin was whisked into the house where he had spent many summer weekends. He was hit with the smell of peppermint and the faint scent of cigarettes.
The inside was just as well kept as the out. You would be none the wiser that Grandma Kay had passed several months back. Grandpa Walt would brag about how you could eat off the floors.
The carpet was both clutter and stain free around the plastic wrapped couches. Martin never knew what the plastic was for, he just knew Grandpa Walt would get grumpy if anyone messed with it.
Martin would give his parents a speedy goodbye, then the two were off to start a weekend full of fishing, bushwacking, and stories.
Martin would hang on every word, his favorite was when Grandpa Walt would tell scary stories, or stories from when he was younger.
Some of his favorites were about “window peekers,” or people who in the night would look in the windows of their house. Martin liked to pretend it didn't scare him, though sometimes he was afraid to walk to the bathroom at night.
The two would hoof it to a nearby pond to go fishing. Normally they would catch something and they would have surf and turf. Or if the fish weren't biting they would only have “turf,” as Grandpa Walt would call it.
More often than not it was surf and turf though, followed by the best part, hot fudge sundaes.
The two then would sit on the couch scraping spoons at the bottom of their bowls and watch a movie, or American Bandstand. Though Martin never understood why Grandpa wanted to watch it, every time he did he complained that it wasn't real music, and back when he was younger they wouldn't even let those types of people into the club to perform. Martin didn't know quite what he meant by that.
One visit always stuck out to Martin more than the others. It was summer of 1986, he was maybe eight or nine years old. It was the usual surf and turf, the two even played a game of Rummy.
Then came the sundaes. This time Grandpa Walt told Martin he could go get the ice cream from the basement himself. Something about his knee bothering him. He knew Martin was afraid of it, and so told him. “If you wanna be a good, strong Polack one day you are gonna have to face your fears of that old basement.”
Martin wanted to impress his Grandpa, so he relented.
Martin made his way through the kitchen past his Grandpa as he was doing dishes. He remembered thinking he looked funny, he was wearing his suspenders still but didn't have a shirt on underneath. It was a humid summer day after all.
His gray hairs poked out from everywhere as if it were a shirt of its own. Martin took note of his back muscles, despite being old, Grandpa Walt was in great shape. He had retained his strict military regiment well into his 50’s.
Martin stared down the stairs for a moment, a moment that felt too long before he turned on the light.
“Now while you're down there boy, don't be fiddling with your Grandma and Grandpa's old things, just come straight up when you're done.”
Martin nodded, “Yes sir.” He hoped Grandpa hadn't seen him frozen like a chicken at the top of the stairs.
He slowly went down, every few steps creaked beneath him. Once he got to the bottom, he could hear the freezer humming to his right. The ground was chill to his feet, the basement was very cool compared to the humid upstairs. Though it smelled like something old, but not in the way Grandpa smelled.
There was only a chain light above the freezer that he would have to stretch to reach.
“Okay let's get this over with. I’m a good Polack. I’m a good Polack.” He continued to tell himself.
He reached up, stood on his toes and pulled the chain. The light popped, startling him as it came to life. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” he said with a sigh.
Martin strained to open the large person sized freezer. He didn't understand why someone would need something so enormous. He reached in through the frozen mist, grabbing the gallon pail of vanilla ice cream. His knuckles felt the bitter poke of the cold. Martin tried to close the freezer door, the weight of it slipped through his fingers slamming with a loud slap.
He listened for a grunt, or movement but there was nothing.
Martin reached to turn off the light but then saw something further into the basement.
It almost looked as though someone was standing against the far wall. Martin slowly put the ice cream on top of the freezer and stared at the shape, he looked for any movement. A lump grew in his throat. His eyes squinted into the darkness until he finally found a light switch. The light blinked, struggling to come on.
Martin saw what was against the wall. There in the middle was a makeshift locker, or at least that's what it looked like to him, next to it were several photos and maps framed on the wall.
Along the wall were several clothing racks lined with different dresses and shirts. These must have been Grandma's things that Grandpa was walking about. Martin stood close to the map, in bold letters it read The Empire of Japan.
The shadow that initially made him turn on the light turned out to be a dark blue uniform. Martin found himself standing in front of it, he held his hand above it before finally touching it. When he gripped it in his hands it felt heavy, and smelled like wool and must.
Martin pulled it to face him, to his horror the hanger went sideways, his heart did the same as the jacket fell in slow motion. It thudded to the ground, but what really made the noise was the hanger clanging at the bottom of the makeshift locker.
Martin winced, he sat listening for creaking floor boards and quick footsteps. Though they never came.
He breathed a sigh of relief as he bent over to pick up the coat, but inside the locker he noticed something else.
Along the back of it was a gap of some kind.
Martin placed the military jacket on the bottom of the locker, and reached back toward this mysterious indent.
He pried his little hands into the crack which after some wiggling budged and opened as if it were another door.
His eyes widened as he tried to soak in any light, he could see something else hanging in the secret compartment. Martin could barely make it out but it looked like a wizard's robe. Was Grandpa Walt a wizard? His heart leapt in excitement. That was why he was so cool. There hanging in front was another chain light he could see, Martin reached for it, his curiosity blinding him.
Just as his hand felt the tiny beads of metal that were the chain light, he heard a gravelly voice behind him. “What the sam hell do you think you’re doing boy?”
Martin froze, his breath escaped him in a gasp. He turned around to face the imposing figure behind him.
He had never seen his Grandpa this menacing before. The shadows partially covered his face and what Martin could see was that of bulging veins beneath his thinning gray hair. In his eyes there was a shadow as well it seemed. Martin wanted to cry.
“What did I say to not do boy?”
Martin knew what to say but could only stammer out a few words. “N-not to, not to.”
“Not to go fiddling in things that aren't yours! Get over here.”
Martin left the jacket on the locker, and started to turn toward his Grandpa, who immediately scooped him in the tight grasp of his arms.
He swiftly grabbed the ice cream pale, and stomped up the stairs with Martin in hand.
Martin was terrified, though right before Grandpa Walt clicked off the lights, he got one last glimpse at the locker before it was submerged into darkness.
The tires of the Honda Pilot rumbled along the grass covered gravel until coming to a stop in front of a house, whose paint was once white and proud. Surviving pieces of a white picket fence littered the yard, sticking from the ground like jagged teeth.
Weeds and brush overran the yard with an indent in the middle of the grass where crumbled ruins of a statue remained.
A young woman in her early thirties and a man in his mid forties got out of the Honda Pilot taking in the sight of the house. The woman opened the back of the vehicle, and pulled out a box of garbage bags.
Martin pulled off a pair of black sunglasses, his long slender frame fully extended in a deep stretch.
“Well Grandpa really let the place go to hell,”Melisa said bluntly, her head tilted as she scanned the yard and its disarray.
“Well the man was like almost one hundred," Martin said as he walked towards the front door; the grass tickled his calves with every step.
“All I'm saying is ask for some help right? Or maybe don't be such a dick to your kids, and grand kids.”
Martin shook his head, “Melisa you hardly knew him for you to say that.”
“Well for what I did know of him, it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows.”
Martin felt the need to defend his Grandpa, though stopped himself, he didn't want any more drama or emotions stirred up going through a dead man's house.
Somewhere nearby a bird called out, a squirrel seemingly answered in return. Martin carefully stepped over the broken white fence. In seeing this place now, he couldn’t help but feel it was like looking at where the American Dream once lived, and this was what remained.
Martin pulled out the key to the house and let himself rub the chipped red paint of the front door. It was still warm from the summer sun.
His sister came up behind, “So on a scale of one to hoarder, what are we expecting here?”
Martin shrugged as he inserted the key. “Hard to say I haven't been here in like twenty years.” The door creaked open. Long gone were the smells of cookies and peppermint Martin thought to himself. In its place was the odor of mildew and newspapers.
“Well what happened between you two? I mean you guys used to be boys.”
Martin bit his lip, “ya know hard to say, I mean eventually he just stopped inviting me or anyone around.”
The two walked into the house, Martin was surprised as the ground shifted beneath his feet.
He looked down to see an issue of Life magazine, he moved his foot, an old man sitting with a pipe in his hand was on the cover. The Old Soldier Looks Back: General Douglas McArthur.
Melisa flipped a light switch, but was met solely by the afternoon glow of the outside.
“I thought the power company was keeping it on through the end of the month.”
Martin looked around the living room, ignoring the rapid clicking of the lightswitch as Melisa switched it several more times.
“Guess not.” Then again Martin knew that the old man had been behind on most of his bills, so any extension was generous.
He could make out large piles on top of the couch, and the armchair. Martin adjusted his thick hair before pulling the blinds from the windows. Dust floated in the light, he imagined it being a poisonous gas of some kind.
“Jesus,” he heard his sister murmur.
He turned around to the sight. The large shadows on the couch turned out to be piles of newspaper and assorted boxes from Amazon. Piles of clothes were cast along the living room in a trail as if they were worn once and then discarded where the person stood at that moment.
“On a scale of one-hoarder, gonna have to go with hoarder,” Martin said more mournfully than he meant to.
Almost equally mournfully, Melisa moaned, “we're gonna need a lot of garbage bags.”
More like a dumpster. The stale humidity clung to Martin's hair, he slicked it back and nodded.
Melisa gave an exaggerated sigh. “I'm going to go get some more garbage bags from the car.”
Martin turned his attention to the kitchen, he squeezed in between leaning towers of boxes. The floor squeaked beneath his feet with nearly each step. Without looking he hit the light switch out of habit. “Shit, that's right.”
Even in the dimly lit kitchen he could see numerous boxes, a pile of something besides dishes was in the sink. He reached over the pile to pull down the blinds from the window above.
Flies buzzed as they clinked against the window. Outside, Martin could see overgrown weeds in the backyard, some as large as small trees.
“Got more trash bags, and boxes. I guess I will-” Melisa stood at the entrance of the kitchen, her eyes wide again. “Man why do we have to be the only ones to do this, I swear.” Her hand wrapped around the refrigerator handle, though she paused perhaps thinking better of it.
Martin understood the task at hand, he also understood that this was mostly just a chore for his sister. Being that she was twelve years younger than him, she didn't get to have the relationship that Martin did with Grandpa Walt. She only saw the shattered pieces of it. “What were you going to say?”
Melisa rubbed her chin for a moment before wiping her glasses with her t-shirt, “Ah, I don't remember, but anyways I guess I will start in the living room, that way we can have a path started.” She placed her glasses back on and nodded her head to herself, “at least that's how they did it on Hoarders.”
Martin smiled, rolling his eyes. “Crazy how your room always was similar to those shows growing up. You should be an expert.”
“Oh, whatever! I guess be glad I got that practice, Marty.”
“At least we know where you got that from.” He gestured to the endless piles surrounding them.
“Piss off, where are you going to start?”
Martin bit his lip, “I'm actually going to check out the basement real quick.”
“Oh. You want me to come with?”
Martin held up a firm hand, “Nah, it's okay you get started. I’ll let you know if I find Jimmy Hoffa though.”
Melisa’s lips curled into a circle, “Who?”
Martin shook his head, “Never mind.”
“Okay good talk, well let me know if you need help. Shit you may not even be able to get down the stairs!”
Her footsteps creaked away back into the living room. He listened to her sigh as she unwrapped a garbage bag.
Martin walked slowly to where the door to downstairs used to be. The stairs were clear aside from a pair of boots filled with cobwebs.
His breathing became shallow, he pulled out his cellphone, turning on the flashlight app.
“You better not be going down there to have me do all the work!” Melisa shouted from the living room.
“I'm not,” Martin stammered back.
His throat felt blocked somehow. I'm not a little boy anymore.
Martin took a deep breath before walking down the stairs, the bright glow from his phone slowly brought light to the dark.
Martin remembered the last time he had come down these stairs all those years ago. It was odd, he had come to his Grandpa's several times after that, though never back to this basement. Not even during high school.
Over the years the visits to Grandpa Walt's became less and less frequent, Walt became more withdrawn from Martin as well. That thought gave Martin a sting, though after some thought realized that he wasn't alone in that regard.
His parents had their own disagreements with Walt that were well hidden. All Martin knew is the split crescendoed in 2008. Martin at the time understood it to be a red vs blue thing, politics, though his parents never liked to talk about it.
They would always say things like, Grandpa Walts just stuck in his ways. Or Grandpa Walt just doesn't understand the world, the world just changed too fast for him.
His feet met the concrete as they had those many years ago. Down here the temperature felt terrific, it was at least ten degrees cooler.
To his right was a very broken down freezer.
He raised his hand toward it, he thought about touching it, checking if there was a pail of ice cream inside. Though he knew the real reason he was down there.
He flashed the light of his phone along the walls of the basement. He could make out numerous rows of clothing hangers. It made Martin feel as though he was in some sort of old thrift store.
The rows of his grandmother's old clothes stood where they had ever since he was a kid.
His light narrowed to a single area now, the hanging military uniform. Martin walked closer, now in his older age he knew that it was a United State Marine Corp dress outfit.
Around the locker were various photos and the map of Japan he remembered. There above the locker as well was the famous ceremonial blade of the Marine Corp. He was sure that wasn't there when he was a kid.
Along the wall he noticed more photos than he did before. One was a black and white photo of a group of ten men in military fatigues, he thought he could make out his Grandpa but he wasn't sure. They were just black and white faces cut from the same cloth.
His eyes now met the locker.
Martin pulled on the uniform, its thick wool was just as he remembered it, a small plume of dust floated away. Martin took note that it wasn't as much dust as everything else in the house. He pulled the hanger off the rack, gently setting it down, his heart was beating so fast he didn't know why.
Part of him felt like he was still sneaking under Grandpa Walt's nose and he would come storming down the stairs at any moment. The light of his phone lit up the barely visible outline of the secret door.
Martin reached his fingers into the gap, though he didn't have the fingers of a child anymore. He groaned in frustration and checked around for a ruler or something thin to pry it open, before returning his hands to it.
Maybe this is where the old man left his millions in war bonds, gold from Fort Knox. Or maybe even his will.
Martin felt guilty about the thoughts. In reality it was the curiosity that brought him here, it was as if when he first peaked into the locker he left a piece of himself there waiting. He had to know why his Grandpa acted the way he did. Why didn't he want him to see this?
Finally it budged, allowing Martin to see inside. There was something hanging in the back on some sort of makeshift clothing rack. The wizard robe. Martin remembered.
Martin picked his phone back up, and he didn't know what to make of what was in front him. His mouth hung open as his mind raced in confusion.
Surprising himself he yelled up to his sister. “Melisa!”
“What?” She shouted back.
“You're going to want to come see this!”
He listened to her steps until they came creaking down the stairs.
“What is it?”
Her light swayed across the basement like Martin’s had. “Wow, the one area of the house the old man kept in okay shape. Looking like the back room of a Talbots.” Her footsteps paused behind him finally. “Please tell me its hidden gold.”
“No, not.” Martin's breath quavered, he pulled out the hidden hanger and the robe hanging heavily on it.
“Flash your light on it.” He wanted to be sure of what this was.
Melisa flashed her light onto the white robe, it gave it a ghoulish glow in the dark of the basement.
Melisa gasped, her hands went up to her face in shock.
Martin let the Ku Klux Klan robe fall to the ground as if it were something on fire. It felt like he was in the scene of a murder, or some other vile crime that happened. Not grandpa Walt.
As the two stared dumbfounded and in horror at the robe, Martin couldn't help but notice the utter lack of dust that was on it, as if it were washed and worn with pride.
A Pride that made Martin feel very ill.
About the Creator
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
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The story invoked strong personal emotions
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