Melanie had barely taken the last bite of cereal when the next knock came. She chewed hurriedly as she walked to the door. How many visitors was she going to have this morning, anyway? She opened the door and stared blankly at empty space. What the heck?
“Down here, miss.” The scratchy voice came from around her waist. She jumped back and looked down at two very old and wrinkled people. They were so wrinkled, she couldn’t tell if they were male or female.The one on the right was wearing a dress and the other was wearing shirt, pants, and suspenders.
“Hello. Can I help you?” She hoped she sounded polite.
“May we come in? We are Mr. and Mrs. Cartwright. We were friends with your grandmother, and she left something with us for you.”
Melanie smiled and stepped back from the door. “Please do come in. Forgive my manners, I’ve already had one unpleasant visitor today.”
The Cartwrights looked at each other as they stepped through the door. “It was Coralynn Babcock, was it not?”
“Why, yes, it was. How did you know?”
The Cartwrights sat down on the couch. Melanie thought it was Mr. Cartwright doing the talking. “That woman has been bragging for weeks about how she was finally going to be able to sell this cabin because Maddie Flanagan’s granddaughter was sure to be a ditzy pushover.”
“Well, she has had that impression corrected,” Melanie said with a smile as she sat down in the chair across from the sofa.
“Good. Now, let’s talk about why we are here. Your grandmother was our best friend, but we have never been up in the attic of this cabin. When she knew she was dying, she gave us this keychain and told us these keys were for the attic and we were to give them to you as soon as we could when you arrived.” Mrs. Cartwright held out a keychain with four or five keys of different sizes on it.
Melanie reached out her hand. Mrs. Cartwright dropped the keychain in her palm. “Do you know what the keys are for?”
“No. We had never seen them before your grandmother gave them to us. Naturally, we haven’t tried them.”
“Wow. Thank you. I shall have to do some exploring.” Melanie smiled and wished they would go away.
“You’re a sweet girl. You won’t say how you’re dying for us to go so you can poke around upstairs. Well, you know, I’m sure, that the trapdoor is right there,” he pointed to the ceiling, “and we’ll see you around. Here’s our address and phone number if you want to come visiting.” Mr. Cartwright handed Melanie a scrap of paper with shaky handwriting on it and headed to the door with his hand under his wife’s elbow.
Melanie followed them to the door, waved goodbye, and locked the door. She checked all the windows, pulling the curtains, and the back door. She didn’t trust Coralynn Babcock as far as she could throw her. She got a flashlight from the kitchen, and made sure it came on with a bright light.
Only then did she stand under the trapdoor, staring at it. How was she supposed to get it open? It was nothing more than four cracks in the panelling of the ceiling, touching at the ends in a rectangle. It would have been a long time before she found it if Mr. Cartwright hadn’t pointed it out. After a long time, and her neck was stiff, she saw a tiny hole in the panel. She glanced down at the keyring and saw a long, thin piece of metal, not really a key at all.
Melanie reached up and pushed it into the hole in the panel. Nothing happened, so she tried to turn it. It didn’t move. She turned it the other way, and it slid easily. There was a click. She tugged on the metal, and the panel swung down towards her, bringing a set of wooden steps with it. She looked up into the darkness above her, clicked on the flashlight, and began to climb.