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It was only a month after Nina's death when he finally remembered what she had instructed him to do. He had been so upset, and moped around the house for so long, his memory had drifted to sleep up until now, and he'd only remembered because that leather bound book was still on the couch where he'd unwrapped it. He was letting his fingers drift lazily along the bare pages when he remembered.

Elliot hauled himself up off the couch, and shuffled upstairs to her office. It took him a few times of scanning the room before he spotted the book, and behind it, the box she'd told him would be there. It was a small box, but an old one. There were intricate markings along its lid, and reminded him of a treasure chest he would find in a pirate story. It lit up the spark in him again, the treasure hunt of sorts, and he felt the familiar warmth pass through his limbs.

When he opened it to find several long papers, a letter from his aunt, and a small bronze key, his interest grew tenfold. The many different papers, were legal forms, stating his ownership of the land and house, as well as the contents in her bank accounts. Those were useless to him. He didn't want her money, he hadn't even wanted her house or land. He didn't want anything, he'd rather Nina be alive, than own all of it. Despite his dislike of the things he now owned, he read through the papers. In the back of his mind he knew he was only reading them to delay reading her letter. Reading that really would be goodbye, and it would bring back all the memories that were now painful.

He had to hope that would change as time went on, that the memories would be happy and good again like they had been when they were made. He didn't want to look back on his time with Aunt Nina and feel sad each time. He wanted to feel happy. He would. He had to. That's what the hero would do if he'd just lost someone. He'd stand up tall, and he'd be brave, and hold every memory like a precious work made of glass. Elliot wanted to do just that.

It took him several long minutes to open the envelope with his name messily scrawled across the front. He couldn't help but laugh dryly at her handwriting. He must have compared it to the writing of a doctor countless times in the past. Half the time he'd never been able to read it.

It was common, whenever she sent him off to do the grocery shopping, that he'd had to guess at list she put in his hands. "What on Earth did you buy this for?" She'd say when he'd get home, gesturing to the random items in the bags he had lugged in from the car. "Never write a book by hand, Aunt Nina. There'll be subliminal messages in your handwriting.. For instance, where this here possibly said salad, subliminally, it told me, I have no idea what this is so just buy the things for tacos. Not my fault!" He'd say as he ducked to avoid her playful tap against the back of his head.

The paper was smooth against his skin, and the smell of ink would be overwhelming to anyone who didn't shove their noses against the pages of a book everyday. It was folded neatly twice to fit into the envelope, and as he flattened it out, the sound of paper crinkling stirred wild butterflies in his stomach. He could feel their wings beating furiously, and placed a hand to his navel to calm them.

It was just like getting a new book and first opening it. There was so much wonder behind the cover, and the second it was opened, and bent back flat to the table, the spine would shudder and sigh and the smooth, new paper smell wafted through the air at each turn of the pages.

He used to walk through the bookstores and marvel just at the paper of the books, the bold lettering that had yet to have a thumb swipe across it.

The letter was there, in front of him, and even though he tried to distract himself, and procrastinate reading it, his eyes finally ventured to it, and then he was reading the messy scribbling, already tearing up and choking back sobs.

"My Dear Elliot,

It would be foolish if I said I am hoping you will never read this letter. Death is inevitable, and I will never try to run from it. I only regret that we will be parted for a while. I wanted to see your grand adventure take place personally, but i'll have to read it another time.

You are a wonderful person, Elliot. You have grown up into a brilliant young man. I always knew you would, and so did your mother.

When she told me to take care of you on her deathbed, I was terrified. I didn't think I could do as great a job as she would have been able to, had she not fallen ill. Because I knew that she would raise you in a library or some gigantic castle and your nursery would have its own library. I dreamt she'd have provided something fantastical, something I could never do for you. But when she placed you in my arms, and I saw your pretty face, I knew I had to take you. Even if the castle I gave you wasn't as large as the one my sister had planned, you would make it in the world.

You know that book I first gave you? Your mother and I read it together. Every night before bed, over and over. When I put it in your hands, and your face lit up, my heart leapt. You were just like her. You still are.

I feel so guilty at times. I knew her for so many years, and you only knew her touch for a mere few days. If you can believe it, she was more of a bookworm than I am!

You are her son through and through. You have her intelligence, and love of literature, and i'm so very proud of you. I really am.

I had never planned to leave you alone with nothing. As it is, I am now. All I have to offer you is the house. Where you tumbled into the lair of dragons or the headquarters for superheroes. I only hope that it will offer you some sanctuary from the things that haunt you.

The key.. well.. that's what you make of it. I found it one day while I was out and about trying to tidy up. I don't recognize it. It doesn't look like it's for our place, but who knows, try different locks round the house, it's possible it's for just that, and i've forgotten.

I wish I had more to tell you, or that this letter were more informative and helpful. I wish a lot of things, Elliot, but wishing will not do much, certainly not in this case.

Keep your head up, your heart light, and your books close, and remember, there is no light without a dark, as there is no dark without a light. It's okay to be afraid of the dark, as long as you remember that there is a light.

I was never good with goodbyes.

Do take care, I love you,

Yours, Nina"

Elliot fell back against the couch, and hugged the letter to his chest. He curled up into the fetal position and sulked there, crying until there were no more tears, and sobbing until his throat was burning and chest aching. When he couldn't cry any more, he uncurled and rolled over and just laid there, limp as a rag doll, staring up at the ceiling above.

Dust was clinging to the fan, slinking down towards him. It looked close enough to reach out and touch, but he knew it wasn't really. It was up several feet on the ceiling. Still, he extended his hand for a moment. When he scooped up nothing but air, he let out all the hot air he'd been steaming in his stomach, and picked himself up off the couch.

He tucked the letter away in her book, and set it, and the papers on the mantle, before he began to get to work cleaning the place up.

He hadn't been in the house since the funeral up until today, and as he looked around, he noticed how the dust had already made the furniture, pictures and corners its home. He couldn't let the house fall victim to destruction, it was the only home he'd ever had.

He walked in through the kitchen to the supplies closet and got out the mop and bucket, the broom and dustpan, and the feather duster, and set to work.

The time fled his mind as he went through and cleaned the house top to bottom. He dusted the shelves, mopped and waxed the floors, and scrubbed the mirrors til they gleamed. In the end he wasn't sure he'd ever seen the house this clean. Even the library looked brand new. The floors shone and he knew once he finished cleaning them, the brightened windows would let in the fading sun, which cast a large shadow along the shelves as it set, and would throw warmth against the tables as it rose.

As he swept the cloth across the window, his attention turned to the large house beside him. The large bushes kept his view from being too clear, but he could still see the window at the top.

While he stared he thought he could see the shadow of someone standing there. Someone standing there staring back at him. He must have blinked, or looked away, or perhaps a bee had flown past his eyes view for just a moment, because the second his eyes refocused on the window, the shadow was gone. He had to be imagining things. Perhaps he had been working too long, or the cleaner he was using to wash the windows was making him delerious, he thought. Even if it was someone, they were gone now. Either way, he had no time to play silly games, he told himself, and so he shrugged it off for the time being and got back to work.

Sweat clung to his brow as he bagged the garbage up from all the rooms of the house. He bagged it up and headed down to the garage and set the bags in their containers, and began dragging them outside to the front of the drive. He left them in their place, and walked around to the back yard to start with that lot of work. He grabbed a few tools from the tiny shed in the corner of the yard, and went about trimming the hedges and cutting and removing weeds from the lawn. Despite the shade provided by all the tall palms, he was panting and his shirt had been soaked thoroughly. It felt good though, even if his limbs were aching. Hard work kept him focused on other things besides the past month's events, and for that, he was thankful.

On the way back to the front of the house, to dispose of the backyard's waste, he once again found himself looking up at that house, at the window far up. For a second time, he saw the shadow. This time round, when he blinked, the shadow remained there.

His heart skipped a little, and the feelings he'd often had, the theories and stories and fears of what was there returned in a flash. It was almost like he was a child again. At the age of twelve, he'd moved on to other strange places to explore, after a worried speech from Nina, and had put the eerie house next door to the back of his mind. Now however, everything was back, and he couldn't help but wonder again. Even when he tried to reason things, or put logic into the mix to dim his childhood stories and keep his head on straight, it didn't quite work. He had always been much too curious, and the house was just too strange to ignore the thoughts it provoked.

He must have stood out there for twenty minutes or more, and it was only when the cool night wind nipped at his fingers that he finally chose to head back in, but not right away. He just had to know, had to know if that shadow was just a bunch of things stacked up that looked similar to someone's shadow, or if it really was a person. Maybe if he got this one answer, and it proved to be a simple shadow of a coat hanger, or another silly inanimate object, it would put the rest of his questions and curiosity to rest. With that in mind, he raised his hand up waved to the window, feeling just a little silly.

He remained deathly still, eyes transfixed on the shadow, not sure if he was hoping more for movement or nothing. Once more, it appeared his imagination had gotten him again, and as he took a step towards the house, scolding himself for being foolish, out of the corner of his eye he saw it.

The shadow had a hand raised and as he watched, it waved back. There was someone there. Suddenly he felt nervous. This mysterious shadow knew he was watching. It knew he was curious, and Elliot did not want to know what it would do if he wasn't supposed to be snooping. Perhaps that was his childhood fears coming back, but he would not argue them tonight.

He hurried inside, and locked the door up tightly. He stood there, catching his breath, and letting the minor adrenaline rush fade off, before he jogged up the stairs to the bathroom. He was in much need of relaxation, and there was no other perfect way to do so, than a bath. Well, no other way besides a good book.

He had never felt any of these things. He was much too young when his mother had died, to understand death, grief, mourning. He was experiencing normal wear and tear that most did long before now, and he wasn't prepared for it. It was taking a bigger toll on him than he had thought it would. He would make it though, it wasn't killing him, it was merely tiring him out. Life was good at that it seemed. He knew it was nothing he couldn't handle and eventually he would move past it.

He was relieved to finally make it up the stairs and into the bathroom. The seafoam green walls comforted him as he walked in. It offered him many brilliant memories, like every other room in the house. He'd probably spent a good hundred or more hours in here, making up his own stories with the rubber ducks and plastic octopus. The time he'd spent in here could only be rivalled by the library. He had stayed in the water, til it grew cold, and all the bubbles had gone, and his fingers were ten times the look of a prune. Most times, Nina had to come in and literally take him out of the tub to get him to leave.

He wondered briefly, if he would ever again enjoy the time in this room, or any, but he shook the thought from his mind as quickly as it had come.

Letting out a deep sigh, Elliot undressed. He took his time unbuttoning his shirt, mind occupied on too many things even though he was trying his best to relax. After shedding them, he dropped his clothes into the hamper, shut the curtains tight across the window and leant over the side. He turned the taps hard to the right, pouring a mix of hot and cold water into the porcelain tub. Its steam rose high up to the window, fogging its glass, and blurring the night sky outside of it, but even through it, he could see the lit up window of the attic.

He stepped into the water in relief and sank down as the water quickly filled in the tub around him. The hot water soaked him head to toe, and relaxed his tired limbs. For the time being, he took his mind off of the window, and whomever or whatever, was behind it, and instead concentrated on the hot water. He snatched the cloth off the side and soaked it through, sliding it over his arms and shoulders, down his legs and across his stomach and chest, scrubbing off the dirt that clung tight to his skin.

It was quiet. One of the silences he enjoyed, where there was nothing but the soft wind outside, and the sound of his own movements in the water. For a while, he stared down at his own reflection in the rippling water, studying the small details of his facial structures with mild interest. He had no idea what it was that people found strange and abnormal about him. He acted normal, or at least he thought so himself, he wasn't a bad person, always polite to the people he met, even strangers, and he looked alright. He was pretty sure he didn't look like a psycho or someone a regular person would not want to be around.

From his eyes, bright hues of celeste blue, to his light brown hair which settled on the tips of his shoulders, he looked normal. His creamy white skin and soft freckles were also average characteristics that plenty of people had. His nose, which sported a red line from his glasses, didn't show off that he was the type of person to disappear for days just to be at peace to read a book. It didn't say he was a harsh man who would sooner beat up another than be friends. Nothing in his appearance really said anything about him. Somehow though, people just knew he was strange.

He often times felt like an old book in the stores, that got picked up and looked at, but its cover wasn't beautiful, there were no drawings of cute animals, or handsome men, just plain material, and as amazing as the story behind it was, not many ever opened to see it.

He, like a book, was judged by his cover, his appearance, and no one cared to find out his story. He knew he wasn't the most interesting person, not the most interesting book to notice and read, but he'd always thought it would be worth it if someone were to get to know him. He had plenty of interesting things about himself that he could share, and his personality was unique like everyone else's. He just needed someone to give him the chance. He'd been hoping for that since he was a child though, and if it hadn't happened in the eighteen years of his life thus far, he was beginning to doubt it ever would.

When he was a child, he had high hopes to make friends, but his fear of social interaction, his almost crippling shyness had prevented him from stepping outside of his comfort zone. He had almost never even spoken to most of the children in the school he'd been in. Instead, he had stepped back to the corner, where he was comfortable, and watched.

On the rare chance that Nina had gotten him to speak to the other children, they never did like him. He didn't know most of the games they were playing, and it was hard for him to catch on very quickly. It did not take long before he was back in the corner with his book, and the other children moved on without him quickly enough.

While he was growing up, he identified with the characters in his books, and not the real people around him. The characters knew him more than any of his peers did. They understood him, they were there for him when he needed them, always tucked safe in his bag, ready to help him with any problems, because half the time the characters felt the same way he did.

It wasn't as though Elliot had grown up and not had any good experiences, it wasn't as if his entire school life was complete Hell, and every day he ran home to Nina crying. He enjoyed his time there, as long as it wasn't around the other students. He loved to spend time in the school library, or in the classroom with the teacher during breaks or after school when they were grading papers. Anywhere he could sit and read, where it would be quiet, and he could get lost in the stories, he enjoyed.

As he leant back to clean his sweat dampened hair, Elliot's thoughts changed. They rose, like the steam, to that window again. He had so many questions. Thousands perhaps. All stemming from the stories he'd created as a child. The stories he had figured were gone by now, were back as soon as the first thought of them had come up. Who was living there, up in the attic. Who was it behind the tiny window. He knew it was someone, but who, and why?

He slid the cloth over his face and sighed soft. If he continued on with his questioning, he'd end up wanting to go over there immediately after his bath, and he couldn't do that. Not when he was so tired. Not when it was so dark.

Elliot rose from the water and climbed out of the bathtub, grasping up a towel and sliding it around himself, shivering roughly. The temperature sure changed the second after one got out of warm water. He felt like he'd somehow went from the sun, to the walk in freezer at the butchers, in two seconds flat.

He rushed into the bedroom and rubbed the towel along his skin, soaking up the water as quickly as he could manage. His fresh from the dryer pajamas were taunting him as he stumbled about trying to dry his hair, which refused to let go of the water it had absorbed. It was still damp as he slid his shirt on and buttoned it up to his neck, a few water drops clinging to the tips. He crawled up into bed and under the warmth of the blankets, prepared to just fall into the world of unconsciousness, but he found it difficult to at first.

The box containing his Aunt's letter, the legal documents, and that strange box, was up on the mantle above the fireplace across the room, in perfect sight. He couldn't help but wonder what that key was for, or if Nina had been truthful about it. She claimed it was merely a key she'd found, probably to one of the doors of the house, but he had checked them all and any of them that had a lock, had a key that matched it already. Had she known the truth about what it was for, and merely wanted him to figure it out, or did she honestly not know? Either way, he would have to take it and check again tomorrow. It was too late at night for any kind of adventure and he was slowly being lulled to sleep by the warmth of his clothes. The material hugged his skin, prompting him finally to sleep, and Elliot did not even try to fight it.
Summary: Elliot Davenport spends his every moment with a book in his face, and his head in the clouds, paying no mind to reality. But there will come a time when he will have to put the books away, and take a step into the world he thought was boring, into a world he thought he knew, only to discover he knew nothing about it at all.

also here on fictionpress: [link]
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March 14, 2012
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