My dad always taught me that there would always be more than one solution per problem. The problem for me was, dad wasn't there after I was seven to help me find the second solution to my problems. My mom wasn't there, but my aunt Katarina was, bless her, always there for me, along with my uncle Morris. She taught me everything, home schooled me, and got cancer when I was thirteen. Before she died, she gave me something.
"Abigail, Abby is that you?" she asked, doped up on meds, her eyes glassy, her cap slipping off to reveal the purple bruises not just on her face, but escaped all around her tired body.
"Yes, aunt," I said, stifling back the tears as best I could manage.
"I want to give you something before I go, get me that wood box there on the dresser," she lifted a weak, pale finger, then coughed softly into a handkerchief until their were small specks of red, dotted here and there on the thin, worn cotton.
I turned to the wooden dresser, filled with beaded necklaces and a lace covering in which almost fifty pins were secured snug, all of them antique, all of the hers. A wood box with a parquet lid of oak and cherry wood rested close in front of the old mirror. The little silver clasp was rusted and had broken long ago, the lid and it's base held together by a single piece of twine twisted in the lock, despite the freshly installed hinges, free of damage, put on last year by Uncle Morris.
I lifted the box with gentle care and swiftly brought it to aunt Katarina. She looked paler as she tried to lift the box, it seemed a great load to her, small and easy to carry to me. She had small deft fingers however, and quickly undid the lock on her lock. Inlaid in a bed of gold velvet was a locked, carved vines twisted around the outline of the heart shaped metal. She opened it, and some words were scrawled on the left side in almost unreadable script.
She held a smile for a brief second, then gathered enough wind for speech, "It says, 'Curiosity is the key to all happiness, if you know how to use it,'."
"What does it mean, auntie? Please tell me what it means."
"I can't my darling, you have to figure that out, figure out that riddle for me, I never could." she fastened the locket around my neck, the cold clasp shocked me, I almost gasped. I touched the metal, it was cold, almost as cold as aunt Katarina. Uncle Morris called me and I went out. It was his turn to sit with Aunt. He closed the door behind him.
For a second, I sat there outside the door, eavesdropping. I could hear him talking to her, her soft snores soon filled the room, then, all of a sudden, the snores stopped. Uncle Morris kept talking to her, about me, him their wedding oh so long ago right after high school, then they went away so he could use his scholarship and go to college. It was a love story.
Then, he gasped and before I knew what I was doing, I pushed the door open and looked. Aunt had gotten so much more pale, she looked like a ghost, with veins. Her chest wasn't moving and her mouth was closed. She wasn't breathing. I walked over and touched my locket, uncle Morris looked up at me, eyes sullen. Then he hugged me, and I just stood there. We both cried because we both knew that she was gone.
Her funeral was in the living room. I made a special glass vase with her art supplies and kiln down in the basement for her ashes. She would rest forever with her name etched on the vase. Uncle Morris placed the vase on the mantle, under the mirror she loved, taken from her dresser. She so very much loved that mirror and she never said why. She would softly stroke the cherry wood frame surrounding the liquid-like clearness.
The night after her funeral, I woke up to the sound of laughter. Soft tinkling, bell-like laughter pealed from the living room. I put on my robe and slippers and peered outside my room. I knew there wouldn't be a party, my uncle disliked parties as much as someone dislikes a sunburn. I opened the door an inch more and tucked a lock of my hair behind my ear. I began to walk to the banister to go downstairs when I realized that my slippers were making a noise. I slid them off and put them by my door.
Shadows and the clinking of glasses sounds wafted up from the downstairs room up to where I was. I tiptoed down to the banister and walked down, holding onto the railing and letting my hand run down the smooth wood, polished to glossy perfection. The noises grew louder each time I placed my foot on a step down. Then, on the second-to-last step, the noises vanished, but the shadows remained. They were so fuzzy and blotchy, I could hardly make them out.
When I stepped from the staircase to the floor, the shadows floated off, gasping, to the front of the fireplace. Before I could get further into the room enough, they were gone, vanished. I walked back up to my room, hoping that I would hear the sounds of the happy shadow people again, there hadn't been laughter in the house in so long. I let my hand stroke to the locket, and let my mind wonder to Aunt Katarina.
The next day, I sat at breakfast with Uncle Morris. He was sullen, hadn't spoken since the funeral. He wouldn't want to talk about what I had seen last night. I debated whether I should say something, or should I keep my mouth shut, some mention like that could bring up Aunt, if she had anything to do with the shadow people downstairs. That last thing he needed was to be reminded of her, to days after she, you know.
So I left it alone. The next night, I got up and sat by my bedroom window with some hot coffee, I would find those shadow people, no matter what it took. By then I had become convinced that they had something to do with Aunt and the locket, something. Something to tell me why she died only two weeks after she was diagnosed. There had to be something more. Something more, the word kept echoing in my mind until it went blank.
I woke up to a cold breeze, and the clinks of glasses and disembodied laughter. I had fallen asleep. I quickly whipped on my clothes, jeans and a tee shirt, where ever these shadows were going, I was going too. I put my blue sweater over my arm and made sure the locket was securely over my neck.
I walked down the stairs, a secret hope of seeing the shadows face to face concealed hotly inside stirred as I reached the last stair. The shadows raised what might have been their heads and looked at me. They stared, then floated away