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I Know The Secret

Story ID:10701
Written by:Michael Timothy Smith (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Location:None USA
Year:1850
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I competed in the Writer's Weekly 24-Hour Short Story Contest this weekend.

Here is the topic and word count I had to work with and my entry.

Topic:
The barren, tan corn stalks behind her snapped
in the cold evening breeze, the only sound louder
than the dry, fiery red leaves swirling around
her tiny, shivering bare feet. She'd lost her
bearings again and she hoped the dinner bell
would ring soon. A gray tree with endless arms
and fingers, devoid of any remaining foliage,
loomed before her. She gazed at the odd markings
on the trunk, which appeared to outline a hand-cut
door of sorts. And, as she stared, it opened...
~~~~~
WORD COUNT: Stories for today's topic must not exceed 940
words.


I Know The Secret

The barren, tan corn stalks behind Tallah snapped in the cold evening breeze, the
dry, fiery leaves swirled around her tiny, shivering bare feet. She’d lost her bearings
again and hoped the dinner bell would ring soon. A gray tree with endless arms and
fingers, devoid of any foliage, loomed before her.

Tallah gazed at the odd markings on the trunk, which appeared to outline a hand-
cut door of sorts.

She walked closer to examine it. On the right appeared to be rusty hinges partially
covered by the bark of the tree. They must be very old, she thought. There was no handle
that she could see, but near the middle of the left hand seam was a small hole. She stuck
two fingers in and pulled, but nothing happened. She needed some type of lever.

Tallah looked around, saw a fallen branch and picked it up. She stuck one end in
the hole and pried at the supposed door. At first nothing happened, then there was a snap
as the new growth of tree gave way and the door opened on the creaking hinges.

She looked inside. There appeared to be stairs leading down into a dark hole.
Tallah’s heart pounded in her chest. “Was there treasure down there?” She would need
light.

Just then she heard the dinner bell ring and learned which way was home. She
pushed the door closed and vowed to return with a lantern the next day.

She rushed home, breaking branches, to mark the way back to the secret tree.

Tallah slept little that night. She got up at first light, ate the breakfast her mother
prepared for her, and bolted for the door.

“Where are you going, young lady?”

“Just for a walk, Mamma.”

“Chores!” her mother scolded.

Tallah lowered her head, “Yes, momma.”

She went to the barn, gathered eggs and helped her father milk the cows. After
her chores, and out of site of her father, she picked up a lantern and hid it outside of the
barn.

Tallah took the eggs to her mother. “Momma, I love the woods in the fall. Can
I go for a walk?”

“Don’t be gone too long, like you were yesterday, young lady.”

“I won’t momma.”

When her mother turned her back, Tallah grabbed a couple matches from the box
near the wood stove, and left before her mother changed her mind. She rushed around the
barn, picked up the lantern and hurried off, following her marked trail.

She used the same stick to pry open the ancient door, lit the lantern with shaking
hands and peered into the hollowed-out tree. The stairs dropped down into the darkness.

Tallah, took a deep breath, stepped into the tree and pulled the door closed behind
her. Tentatively, she began the decent into the unknown.

At the bottom, the lamp lit up a small room. The floor was flooded with a foot
of water, but the rest of the room was lined with what must have been bunks for sleeping.
On one side was a work bench. She took her only pair of shoes off, and put them on the
last step above the water line and waded to the bench.

Before she reached it, the lantern exposed an opening in the back of the room.
Tallah gasped. It was the opening to a tunnel that appeared to have partially collapsed.
She looked up and wondered how safe the room was.

She held her dress high. The water splashed her legs as she approached the
bench. Tallah put the lantern on the molded wooden top. She looked around. This room
appeared to be a holding area. Why else would there be sleeping places, with straw
bedding that was mostly rotted away?

Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a small booklet in the shadows at the
corner of the bench. She carefully picked it up. It threatened to fall apart, but she held
it together.

She put it in the light of the lantern, slowly lifted the first page and read. “My
name is Tehilalla. We flee the south and head north, where Negros can be free, so
my poppa says.

“We’ve travelled many miles and spent months in hiding on this long journey.

“Today, a kind man led us to this hiding spot under a tree. He will let us know
when it is safe to enter the tunnel, the last step to enter, what Poppa calls ‘British
North America’. He says we’ll free there.

“After many months, with little food, I wonder if we should have stayed in the
south. We at least had food. If this tunnel doesn’t lead to freedom, I’m afraid we’ll die.”

A clump of dirt dropped from the roof into the water beside Tallah. She jumped
with fear and realized this was not a safe place to be. She gathered the pages and climbed
the hand carved stairs and into the sunlight.

On the way home, she thought about stories her grandfather told her about her
great-great-grandfather. “He had a secret, but no one knew what it was. He only
hinted at it, but he never told.”

Tallah crashed through the door and ran into the kitchen.

“Tallah! Don’t bang the door, child.”

“But, Momma, I know the secret!”

Word count: 883
Michael T. Smith