The Locked Door
Updated: Oct 1, 2019
My sister and I had great fun on the mountain curves. We were sitting in the backseat of the old 1951 Ford and slid from Betsy's door to my door with each curve. Mom and Dad sang and laughed as we drove along. It's no wonder we were all happy, this was our first family vacation. My Aunt Ethel had let us use her mountain cabin for a week. It was in a place called Fiddletown. Just the name made me laugh.
As we headed deeper into the mountains, the trees became thicker and taller until it looked like monster Christmas trees on either side of the road. We turned off the highway onto a gravel road. While Mom directed Dad from the map she was holding, Betsy and I stuck our heads out the back windows trying to see the cabin.
"It looks like the third street on the left." We drove slowly, and then, "There it is, see the wooden sign?"
The next turn was a dirt road, and we slowed even more. In some places the weeds had sprouted in the road. I didn't see any other houses now. Aunt Ethel had not been up here in a few years, and it showed.
Dad pulled up to a modest two-story cabin. "We're here!" he cheerfully announced, and we all piled out to stretch and look around.
"Let's bring in our things," Mom encouraged.
"I want to know which bedroom is mine," I answered.
"We’ll have a look around," Mom replied.
I watched Mom carry a box of groceries into the cabin. Dad carried luggage. Betsy and I each had our own bag.
I didn't look anything like my mom. Her platinum-blond hair was combed into an attractive French bun. My limp brown hair was thin and stringy. The only good thing about my hair was that it was easy to comb, being so straight any knots just fell out. My older sister got the beautiful blond hair and the blue eyes. My eyes were brown, like Dad's.
The front door opened into a cozy living /dining room area next to an open kitchen. A fireplace at the far wall would not be needed in this heat, but it looked neat anyway. A short hall snuggled under the stairway to the right. It held three doors close together; a bathroom, and two bedrooms. Only the bathroom had a real door on it. The bedrooms had curtains for an illusion of privacy.
Dad put their luggage down in the room with a full bed. Betsy and I went into the room containing two twin beds.
"Which bed do you want?" I asked.
Betsy eyed the open closet and chose the bed the farthest away. She was four years older than me, but she had this thing about closets. At home, the closet door had to be shut before she would go to sleep. This closet didn't have a door, and I hoped she would be okay with that.
On the right hand side of the living room, a wooden stairway hugged the wall and terminated at a small loft that opened out to our left. As we neared the top we could see extra beds, a small folding table with chairs and, on the far wall, a cabinet. Betsy went straight to the cabinet and found it was full of board games. I looked around from the top of the stairs and noticed a door to my right. I tried to open the door, but I could not, so I called for my sister.
"Betsy, can you get this door open?"
"Just a minute, did you see this? Look, they have Monopoly!"
"Yeah, how about that," was my glib reply, knowing she would wipe me out when we played. "Can you give me a hand with this door? I want to see what's in here."
"Oh, Okay." She reluctantly tore herself away from the games and sauntered over. She grasped the knob but it would not turn. She tried to push the door, but it firmly resisted.
"Mom!" She yelled. "Hey Mom, do you have the keys? There's a locked door up here."
Mom started up the stairs, "What are you talking about?"
"This door is locked, do you have the key?"
"Let me check." She tried the door, called for Dad.
He tried all the keys, then shrugged and smiled, "I guess we'll have to have a good time without this room. Think we can do that?"
We did do that. We were having such a great time; we didn't spare a thought for the locked door until much later.
Dad made his famous spaghetti sauce, Mom made a fabulous salad, and we all played Monopoly until the wee hours.
It seemed to take a long time in between turns and my thoughts wandered. As I daydreamed, Betsy's voice would bring me back to the present with a sing song "Guess whose turn it is?" My eyes would then focus, but it was too late. Betsy got Park Place and Dad had Boardwalk so they were almost even till Dad decided to go to bed.
I was steadily losing interest as my holdings dwindled. My daydreaming continued. Again I heard Betsy's sing-song voice saying, "Guess whose turn it is?"
This brought me back to my miserable few dollars. I sighed, "Can I go to bed? I'm getting tired."
"You can't just quit because you're losing." Then her eyes moved to my one remaining card, "But if you're going, I want Marvin Gardens."
It was all I had left so I handed it to her and got up from the table. As I started for the bedroom I heard Mom say, "I guess we should call it a night, Betsy. Looks like you win."
In my mind I heard Tommy Smothers saying, "Mom always liked you best!" I shook the thought from my mind and went to our bedroom.
As I pulled back the curtain I was surprised at the way the moonlight transformed the room. I was glad I had a few minutes to enjoy it all to myself. I went to the window before changing for bed. The whole landscape was enchanted.
Betsy came in trumpeting, "Hey loser, you still awake?" This kind of broke the spell. She hadn't noticed the beauty of the night.
"Look," I said, pointing out the window. She quieted and came to look. Moonbeams spilled over the fir trees and the sky was bursting with stars. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before. We both sighed at the same time and this made us giggle. We changed into our nightgowns, still giggling.
Then we heard mom say, "Time to go to sleep, girls."
After a few more reminders we all settled down and the house was quiet. I was about to drift off when I heard footsteps going up the stairs. I could still see Betsy in the moonlight, so it must be Mom or Dad.
The next thing I knew it was morning. Sunlight illuminated the room and I could smell breakfast. I jumped out of bed and in two or three quick steps, I was in the kitchen.
Mom had made biscuits and gravy. As she put the food on the table, she asked, "One thing I want to know is, who went back upstairs last night?"
"I thought it was you," I gasped. We all looked at each other, and then we started for the stairs.
"Now, now, now," my dad began, "whatever it was can wait till after breakfast."
We weren't so sure. As we hesitated, dad acquiesced, "Oh, all right!" He threw his napkin on the table and got up. "What do you expect to see up there anyway?"
We shrugged, "I don't know, I just want to look," Betsy replied.
"Me too," I added.
The four of us carefully made our way up the stairs. The wooden floor was dusty, and close to the door, we saw a footprint of someone who was barefoot. Our own footprints were around the door as well, so it wasn't a complete footprint. The front of the foot with the toes was clear in one spot. A heel mark was visible just before the locked door, as if someone had stepped through it. Mom was at the head of the line and gasped at the sight. She tried to get us away, but it was too late. We had all seen it.
"Creepy," Betsy shivered and hurried back down the stairs.
"I'm with you," chimed in Mom.
"Me too," I squeaked as I followed them down the stairs.
"You just had to go and see," Dad scolded. "Now can we have some breakfast?"
The days flew by. We went to the lake every day. We swam, got sunburned, and went fishing. The evenings were filled with playing games from the closet. All too soon it was time to go home and we had not been revisited by the footsteps. What a relief.
When we arrived home, sad news awaited us. Aunt Ethel had passed away during our vacation. Another trip was immediately planned to go to Fairfield, help sort things out, and attend the funeral. Aunt Ethel had prepared envelopes for all of the family. Each envelope had a special message from her along with a description of what she bequeathed to them in her will. We could hardly believe it when dad started to cry as he read his letter. He hugged us tight as he rasped out, "She left us the cabin." It took almost a year before Mom and Dad received all the paperwork and things related to the cabin. No one said it, but we all noticed there were no other keys.
When we got home, dad announced we could get a puppy. With squeals of delight the four of us piled into the old Ford and made the long ride down Monterey highway. There was a chain link fence around the house with colorful doggie cutouts here and there for decoration.
We were in luck. A litter of Schnoodles was just the right age for purchase. The brown one had so much personality; we all fell in love with him. His ears stood up and turned down at the tips and his his jaunty step easily won our hearts.
Barney loved it at the cabin.
"We'll have to hire a locksmith one of these days," Dad reckoned, but “one of these days" just never seemed to come around.
Years went by with summers spent at the cabin. Betsy married when I was sixteen, and two years later I was engaged. Mom and I were sewing the dresses and busy with all the plans. This years' trip, it was just me and Barney with my parents at the cabin.
I cuddled with Barney while I dreamt of my future with Tebo, (Tee-bow). I was one of the few people that knew his real name was Theobald. He knew my real name, too. I was christened Ethel May, after my aunt but everyone called me Mimi.
We had brought our sewing machines and continued our work on the bride maid's dresses. We had also brought a large piece of material to sew into a covering for the locked door. It fit just right and we were pleased with our handiwork.
Our last day there continued busy with sewing and by evening fatigue overtook me. I lay down on the couch and read for a while. I was about to drop off to sleep when I heard footsteps on the stairway. The cloth we had hung that day in front of the locked door billowed out from the wall as if in a breeze, then stopped suddenly. The hair stood up on my arms and I rubbed them, though the room was quite warm.
One day not long after our return from the cabin, Barney came dragging in and puked on the floor. He became more and more listless and would not eat. The vet could do nothing. I held him, crying and praying for God to heal him. But God had other plans, and about a week later, he died. Tebo was sweet and promised that we would get another pet as soon as we could, but I didn't want another pet. I wanted Barney.
Tebo and I went to the cabin for our honeymoon. I showed Tebo around and as we climbed the stairs I told him about the locked door. When I reached the landing I froze, staring at the floor. There were paw prints on the dusty floor leading directly to the locked door. I felt rather faint as I hurried down the stairs to the sofa and sat down.
"I'm getting a really bizarre idea right now," I said to Tebo.
Changing the subject, Tebo asked, "How about we go into town for some dinner? I'll sweep upstairs while you get your coat. You'll feel better once we get back and I'll start a fire. Sound good?"
I nodded and went to get my coat. My shaky hands had trouble putting it on, but I made it just as Tebo came down the stairs with the broom. He stowed the broom, grabbed his coat and my arm and said, "That's my girl, come on!"
There have been many trips to the cabin through the years. Tebo and I brought our children often. Now they bring their children. The locked door now has book shelves in front of it, but every now and then we still heard footsteps going up the stairs.
This year I am going alone to the cabin. I miss Tebo terribly. He's been gone only a month. His heart attack was sudden, but death is always sudden, even when expected. I'm thinking back to that first trip with my sister and me in the backseat. Then I think of coming here as a young bride and I smile. What a long time ago. How quickly it passes.
I turn off the highway and the road is now paved all the way to the cabin. That upstairs area doesn't look like there is room for anything at all beyond the locked door. I sigh, grab my small bag and head inside.
The familiar sights are comforting. I talk to Jesus as I walk from room to room, Thanking Him for His many blessings throughout my life. I think of all the loved ones who shared good times here, so many are gone now; Mom and Dad, Betsy, and now Tebo. A tear warms my cheek, I have one sharp intake of breath, and then I mount the stairs. The door is open! I hear Barney barking, his little head peeks through the doorway. I bend down to greet him. When I look up I see Tebo, young and strong again. I hear a familiar sing-song voice saying, "Guess whose turn it is?"