I wrote a frilly poem,
Then dreamt a silly dream.
Where animals were everywhere
Floating on puffs of steam.
They flew and dashed and
Somersaulted, vaulting to and fro
Not one fell from their cloudy perch
Unconcerned with ants below.
I stared and stared in wonder
At the antics they displayed,
And spied a silly, lily sheep
With a coat made of brocade.
I was amazed to say the least of things
Til my gaze was grabbed again
The sight so shocking I gasped out loud–
The sheep had wandered, willy nilly
Right into the lion's den.
Darian sighed, dropping his head into his palms. It was the kind of sigh that pulled all the air out of his lungs and the energy from his soul.
What had been going in that old man's head?
This poem made absolutely no sense. His death made no sense. Nothing seemed to make sense anymore.
He looked down at the worn paper again, noticing all the imperfections. There was some kind of stain in the bottom corner and pencil marks left behind from hasty erasing. But there was no denying the swirling script belonged to his grandfather.
It wasn't the kind of thing Clive Anthony Nelson was known for writing. His serious, formal musings were held in great regard by the local historical society for whom he spent countless hours writing and researching during his years of retirement.
Darrien didn't know his grandfather even wrote poetry or had a whimsical side. Maybe he never really knew him at all.
Crazier still, this piece, this silly poem had been specifically bequeathed to him along with a private collection of books from the estate.
What could it mean?
He flipped the page back over looking for any hidden notes. Anything to tell him why this was important.
He knew he was fixating on this poem as a way to escape, that the grief was hovering just at the edges. Tugging on his heart, putting an ache in his gut. But he couldn't deal with it.
No, he was already pressing the hurt and pain back behind those doors he built when he was twelve. They were bulging now on swollen hinges from the amount of heartache he'd endured.
But they were solid doors, harvested from the Southern Pine that'd taken the lives of his mother and sister. One small patch of black ice had sent them careening off the road.
Darian lost his father the same day too. He faded into a shell, unable to recover from the tragic death of his wife and daughter. Too bad he forgot he had a son that was still living. And on the cusp of manhood with no one to guide him but ghosts.
On the one-year anniversary of the accident, Darian came home from school to find an empty house and a note on the kitchen table along with twenty bucks.
Son, I need to move on to forget, and I need to do it alone with no reminders.
Call your grandfather for help.
I'm sorry, Darian.
That was the last Darian heard from him.
He made the phone call and went to live with his grandfather. Just him and the old grouch in a huge sprawling manor. And Hazel. She became the one honest, good thing in the mess of his new life.
That'd been fifteen years ago. It was bizarre to think he'd lived longer without his family than with them.
And now he was the last. Or it felt like it anyway.
His surname was hyphenated, so at least he was able to carry on both family lines. Too bad that ray of hope was overshadowed by the fact that it made his initials D.A.M.N. for Darian Anthony Mathers-Nelson. He could never decide if it was Poetic? Ironic? Tragic? Maybe all three.
In complete contrast, his grandfather's initials were C.A.N. They fit him to a tee as his personal motto was, "I can do anything I set my mind to."
It was something he admired about the old grump, his can-do attitude. He was a hard man, not one for the 'softer' emotions as he called them, but he was fair and most importantly, he was there for Darian.
Grief rose up, rattling those weathered doors. Darian pushed his palms into his eyes until they hurt, daring the tears to fall.
Shit. This was getting him nowhere.
He shot to his feet in an angry rush that had him a bit dizzy and stumbling toward the desk that sat in the center of the room. His hands shot out to gain traction but too late.
Darian smashed into the corner, sending papers and books flying to the floor.
And bringing the computer monitor to life.
Reset your password flashed on the screen.
The prompt gave him pause. That was strange. He stared for a moment before moving to settle into the desk chair ignoring the ache in his hip and the mess he's just made.
His grandfather had passed away over a month ago. Why was this coming up now?
Lost in thought, Darian failed to notice the shadow steal over the doorway until the figure responsible was right in front of him.
"Gah!" he yelped, clutching his chest.
The barely 5-foot-tall woman before him chuckled.
"Hazel, you scared me half to death," Darian grumbled, feeling silly at his outburst. "Knock or something next time."
"I did," she said with another laugh. "You must have been deep in thought."
"Wow, I must have...," he said as his voice drifted off, gaze returning to the screen. "Hazel, has anyone been in here since grandfather, uh, since he hasn't been...around?"
Hazel's laughter dried up as her expression turned somber. "No, I don't think so. Why, is something wrong?"
He thought about that for a moment. Of course something was wrong, his grandfather was gone. But that isn't what she was asking.
"Uh, no. I guess not. I thought maybe someone had been trying to get on his computer, but if no one's been in here, that's impossible."
"Oh, that was me," she replied sheepishly. "I was trying to turn the machine off but the password wasn't working. I tried a few times before giving up. I meant to tell you."
"His normal password didn't work? That's odd."
Grandfather had never changed it in all the years he lived in this house and even when he went off to college. He wasn't sure why he had a password in the first place since the only other two people that lived there knew what it was.
After a few moments trying to puzzle this out, he realized Hazel was still standing there.
"Was there something else, Hazel?"
"Oh, ah, yes," she seemed lost in thought as well. "I came to see if you were ready for lunch. I thought maybe we could eat out on the veranda. Like old times." Her voice softened as she spoke, unshed tears clogging her throat.
"That sounds wonderful. Let me just clean up this mess I made, and I'll be right down."
Hazel gave a small nod and then slipped back out of the room, leaving Darian to his thoughts again.
What was with the poem? What was with the password reset? Were they connected somehow?
Grandfather always had a purpose to everything he did and often found ways over the years to put Darian to the test. He delighted in creating tasks for his grandson that involved problem solving and trying his patience.
Was this one final test? Or had his mind finally snapped?
Whatever was going on, he'd figure it out after his lunch with Hazel.
* * *
He'd been at this for hours. His eyes felt like they were scrubbed with grit and his back ached from hunching over the desk.
No matter what words or phrases he picked out from the poem, none of them worked to reset the password.
Darian was stumped. He'd never seen anything like it. Every time he typed in a new password, it would disappear after he hit enter, like he'd done nothing.
He tried turning the computer off with the power button. It shut down without a hitch, but when he turned it back on, 'reset your password' popped up on the screen. It was really starting to piss him off.
He typed in a few cuss words, his initials, birthdays, favorite foods. Nada.
It shouldn't be this hard. Darian had no doubts now that his grandfather came up with this ridiculous puzzle to torture him.
So many questions plagued him. How would his grandfather have known to set this up in advance? When did he have time?
Poor Hazel was the one that found his body slumped over in his favorite recliner when she came to bring him his breakfast and morning coffee. The county coroner ruled it a heart attack.
Standing up, Darian rolled his neck from side to side as he worked to loosen his tense muscles. Then his eyes moved around the study slowly taking it all in.
It still smelled like him. That rich leather scent mixed with faint eucalyptus.
God, he would miss this place.
True to form, grandfather had left his manor to the historical society as it was one of the original homes in the area. Hazel was to be kept on as caretaker and Darian had a list of private pieces he would be taking with him, but this was one of the last nights he'd have freedom to roam.
Nostalgia hit him hard. Like a visceral punch to the gut. Sometimes it felt as though his childhood was being erased, one death at a time, trying to live up to his unfortunate moniker–DAMNed. The Southern Pine started to rattle...
Come on, think Darian!
If grandfather set this up, and he was pretty certain he had, what was the lesson? How did it all fit together?
He needed to go over the poem again. It had to be the key.
He looked at it with an even greater critical eye. And made a startling discovery.
It had no title...
That was it. He knew deep in his bones that the missing title was the needed password.
He remembered a puzzle like this only once and a long time ago. Grandfather was trying to teach him to look for what was missing.
Snatching the poem off the desk, Darian held the thin sheet of paper over the desk lamp and turned it on. He waited a moment for the bulb to heat up, then started pulling the paper back and forth, focusing on the edges.
After about a minute or two, he held his breath and looked.
At the bottom edge, a set of numbers and letters began to appear. He moved that part over the heat of the lamp again.
It was a code of some sort. He quickly grabbed his phone and snapped a shot so he had backup.
Huh. Were those coordinates? Measurements?
That didn't seem right. L1, W1...line 1, word 1?
Darian scrambled to look at the poem again, quickly counting out lines and words.
'I dreamt of lions'
He had no idea what that meant, but it didn't matter as long as it worked.
It took him three times to enter it correctly, he was so excited.
The moment his finger hit enter the last time, the screen came to life.
He did it. He felt a surge of pride. His grandfather would be so–
And then reality came crashing back in. His grandfather wouldn't be anything. He was gone.
The weight of those thoughts stole his breath.
He was really gone.
It was finally sinking in.
He sat there heart aching as the tears began to flow.
And then a face filled the screen–
Clive Anthony Nelson.
Darian hastily wiped at his face and fumbled to look for the volume button.
As the familiar voice of his grandfather filled the room, Darian sat back in stunned silence, smiling through his tears.
"Darian, my boy, I'm sorry you're watching this. It means I'm gone. It hurts me to know that I'll miss all the amazing things you're going to do with your life. You've had such a difficult time but it hasn't stopped you from having a loving heart.
I hope you know that I am so proud of the man you've become. And I knew you'd figure out this last puzzle. In my old age, I've gotten a bit sentimental and wanted to challenge you one more time.
Ah well, you've probably been asking yourself about the significance of the poem. And that is a story I've never shared.
I know you're aware that your grandmother died giving birth to your father. We had tried to conceive for so many years, that we were over the moon when she went to full term with him.
Unfortunately, she began hemorrhaging right after delivery and well, you know what happened.
She was the love of my life, and as selfish as it was, I didn't want to share her with anyone. I was so sad and angry but I had this sweet baby boy to care for. A piece of her.
It was the best and worst time of my life. I miss her still to this day.
What you don't know, not even your father, is that I used to write poetry for her based on my dreams. She loved them so. It was our special thing.
The poem I left for you was the one I wrote the morning she died, your father's birthday.
I never got to show it to her. And I'm ashamed to say I never shared it with your father either. After her death, I burned them all save this one and never wrote poetry again. I don't know why I saved it. But I'm glad now that I did.
There's another reason, I included this poem in my final words to you. I'd like it if you could show it to your father. I understand if that's too much to ask. Just think about it. For me.
I've kept track of him all these years. Despite what he did, he's still my son. Mr. Parker, my lawyer, has his address. In fact you can thank him for the little computer issue.
I update this video from time to time, and he's been under strict orders to set this little task into motion by remote access the moment my death has been confirmed.
Well, as much as I don't want to, it's time for me to go.
And I'll leave you with this one last thought, I know you CAN do anything you set your mind to, and DAMN anyone that says otherwise.
I love you, Darian."
* * * *
The sun beat down, heating up the morning air, causing the thin cotton to stick to his lower back. Darian had been standing across the street from the old apartment building for what felt like ages, trying to muster the courage to walk up.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the tenant on the lower floor peeking out at him again. He must look like some kind of creep just lurking out there. He needed to do something before they called the police.
One foot after the other quickly brought him to the entryway of 2B. Taking a deep breath, he rapped on the door and waited. After a few moments, his nerves got the better of him and he turned to walk away when he felt the rush of cool air behind him. Someone had opened the door.
Slowly angling back, he saw his older reflection and recognition dawned. "Darian?"
"Yeah dad, it's me. Can I come in? I've got some news to share."
Written for the Reset Your Password challenge.
Thank you for reading!
If you liked this piece, please take a look at another one of my short stories:
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