From the author: When his reclusive uncle commits suicide in a mansion full of curiosities, Jamie Lawson is left to clean up his dusty estate. As Jamie peels back the layers of his uncle’s life as a semi-famous horror author, he discovers an eerie connection between his uncle’s works and real life tragedies. Now, he must uncover the truth behind his uncle’s books while trying to rebuild his life in a new town. But, the bizarre facts he uncovers may just threaten his new life and everyone in it.
“Go to bed,” Jamie said, pointing at the crate.
Buttons had no interest in the crate. In fact, he loathed the crate.
“Go to bed,” he said again, more forcefully.
Buttons lowered his head and walked into the crate. He gave a low grunt as he plopped down into his doggie bed and looked longingly up at his owner.
“I'll be back tonight buddy,” he said. “I'd take you with me, but I don't want to leave you in the car all day. Deshawn will take you for a walk later.”
Jamie heard the cries from the other room as he grabbed his coat and left the apartment. The drive to Cincinnati from Pittsburgh was nearly five hours long, so he’d have plenty of time to fantasize about what awaited him. The term “estate” brought to mind a posh house, Ferraris, and piles of gold. It was certainly a departure from the whitewashed apartment and the middle-class tragedy that had become his life.
Ash and Associates sat in a yellow-brick building in the middle of an old town square. The name of the company was emblazoned in big gold letters on the front window, which made it hard to miss. Jamie's tires hummed against the brick road, and he found a place to park on the street, along the side of the building. He walked around to the front entrance and pulled open the heavy oak doors. The interior was dimly lit, and the walls were covered with fleur-de-lis wallpaper and dark wooden molding. A receptionist was barely visible behind the massive reception desk, and her beehive hairdo appeared to be older than the antique desk itself.
“Help you?” she wheezed, exerting the smallest amount of energy possible. Her voice was deeper than Jamie's and must have resulted from years of frequent smoke breaks.
“I'm here to see Don Ash regarding T.J. Lawson's estate. I have an appointment.”
Saying “Don Ash” as two separate words was hard, but the secretary understood. She waved him through the side door and into the main office area. Ash and Associates seemed frozen in time, filled with leather wingback chairs and grand desks. The carpet was forest green and reminded him of the old carpet in his elementary school. He did a double take at an old rotary phone sitting on one of the desks.
“Jamie?” someone said from behind him.
He turned around and smiled in affirmation.
“It's nice to finally meet you. I'm Don, the manager of Mr. Lawson's estate,” the man said with an outstretched hand. He was short and stout with curly hair and a widening bald spot at the top of his head. His mustache lent an absurd touch to his already cartoonish look.
“Nice to meet you too,” Jamie replied.
“Please, come into my office and have a seat,” he said, guiding Jamie through the doorway of a nearby office. “We've got quite a bit to discuss.”
Don gestured for him to take a seat and walked over to an antique drink cart. He uncorked a large decanter and poured an amber liquid into a glass tumbler.
“Brandy?” he asked.
His watch read one in the afternoon, but Jamie had no place else to be.
“Please,” he replied.
Don poured a second glass and sat down across from him. He slid one of the glasses across the desk.
“You know,” he said. “It took me years to develop a taste for this stuff. I had a client that would send a bottle to the office every year for Christmas. I used to give it to one of the interns. When the client passed a few years ago, his widow came to the office to sign some paperwork. She noticed a bottle that I'd left on my desk and told me that her husband had purchased the very last cases of it at an auction years ago. It was made in the city where he'd proposed to her. She didn't drink much, but she'd share a glass with him on special occasions. When he was diagnosed with cancer for the first time, he gave up drinking completely, so he'd give the bottles away to his closest acquaintances. I don't know what I did for the guy to make the list, but ever since I heard that story, I've had a fondness for it. Of course, I reserve it for special occasions.”
“And what makes this a special occasion?” Jamie asked.
“Your uncle was a close friend of mine. I handled most of his financials, and I'm pretty sure that I was the only one to whom he spoke regularly. He wasn't exactly right in the head, but he was a good guy. You probably haven't read the story, since it only made the local papers in Cincinnati, but your uncle killed himself a week ago. I'm sorry to be meeting with you under these circumstances, but you are listed as the primary beneficiary in his will. The man had a considerable estate, and he's left nearly everything to you.”
Jamie slid back in his chair, and the leather cushion made an unfortunate squeak. He knew his uncle had been a well-known writer in the mideighties to nineties, but he knew little more of the man than what appeared in the yellowed New York Times article his father had kept in a photo album. He hadn't even read his uncle's books. T.J. was a solitary man who never married or had children. Jamie's dad had kept in touch with him every now and then, but he had passed away two years before. Jamie was still affected by the sudden loss of his father, and he felt a tightness in his chest whenever he came to mind.
The thought of being the only little branch left on his grandparents’ family tree produced a gnawing pain deep inside Jamie’s gut. He was an only child whose mother had died of cancer before his fifth birthday. His father, Paul, fought to pay for his schooling, keep him fed, and make sure he had some semblance of a normal childhood. While no childhood was completely normal, love had given Jamie a fighting chance.
“Doing okay, son?” Don asked.
“Oh, sorry, lost me there for a minute.” He snapped back to reality.
Don removed a file folder from a stack on his desk. He flipped through until he found the summary page, which listed T.J.'s primary assets.
“The two biggest items in the estate are a home in the city and, of course, monetary assets. If you look here,”—Don pointed—“you'll see the sum of his liquid holdings.”
Jamie read the highlighted line but had a hard time processing what he was seeing. Someone appeared to have forgotten to add a decimal point to the number.
“Three million?” It sounded just as absurd aloud as it looked on the page.
“That's right, a little over three million in liquid assets. There are stocks as well as a few other securities, but your uncle also kept a tidy amount in cold, hard cash,” Don replied. “T.J. also has a safety-deposit box, but I'll have to see if I can dig up a key for it first.”
Jamie wasn't sure what to make all of this. He picked up the tumbler from the desk, put it to his lips, and tipped it back, emptying the rest of the brandy into his mouth. The shock of instant wealth was too much. He wasn't sure whether the cause was the brandy or the three million dollars, but his eyes began to water. He took off his glasses and wiped the corners of his eyes with his thumb and index finger.
“Why don't we go to the house and take a look around?” Don asked. “Looks like you could use some fresh air.”
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This story originally appeared in The Dreadful Objects.