The Mystery Fiction Competition Winner

1st Prize: £100.00 Roy Peters

2nd Prize: £ 50.00 Julie Walters

 The story had to include:

 Ellie Lacey

A stolen jewellry box

A photograph.

Echoes of Time

by Roy Peters

All I had left of the woman who haunted my dreams and spurred me on to my greatest achievements was the aging photograph. Ellie Lacey, my great grandmother who had died shrouded in mystery and tragedy and the story had woven a place in my heart forever.

My mother had talked of her a great deal when I was young, prompted by my inquisitive boyish curiosity, we sat in the hearth and roasted chestnuts in the open fire at Christmas and talked of how our dwindling family had once been great, until Ellie Lacey had allegedly betrayed those around her and had stolen an exquisite jewellery box-no one knew why she did this but I knew there would have to be a good reason. To my small ears, Ellie had sounded wonderful even though, through the years she had been marked as a prostitute, a home wrecker and a witch.

‘How could she have been all those things?’ I had innocently remarked. I remember well, the sensation of my mother running her smooth, cool fingers over my head, comforting me even though I didn’t realise the atrocities of her death. All I knew at that tender age was that she had died accused. As I grew older, I realised there was far more to the tale than my mother had revealed, the story had been softened for that young boy but as a man, the need to know my family background was strong and Ellie seemed the ideal starting point. I had no brothers or sisters and my mother was ill. Soon I would have nothing left but memories and history.

Ellie’s legacy was strong. I had inherited her love of herbs and enjoyed earning about the medicinal qualities. Her love of gardening had been passed to me too and I tended the home of my childhood with a great deal of love and care. One part of my garden had been dedicated to Ellie, the message hidden within the flowers that I planted. My mother knew I think but said nothing. I just caught her looking at me quizzically sometimes and a faint smile upon her lips, sometimes I would find her sat in that shady bower, reading, her long brown hair tumbling over her shoulders. She said she found the place both spiritual and peaceful.

All that was so long ago. Now death was waiting eagerly for my mother to pass and I too longed for that moment because I couldn’t bear the pain that she was enduring. She was only half the woman I remembered, the cancer was eating her alive and her face was haunted and hollow. Only the day before, she had made me go into her bedroom cupboard and pull out a large, old wooden box that was covered with dust. She made me promise not to open it until she had passed away and I had promised. I had stored it in my bedroom desperate to know its secretes and yet, knowing when I did, that my mother would be dead. She had clung to me that day, her eyes wide and staring, whispering that I must be my own man and forge my own future, I must not live in the past. I didn’t really understand what she meant but I kissed her sweating forehead and told her to sleep.

And now as I stand in her room, I know the end is near. I want to cry as I see her thrash in pain. Convulsions, headache, impaired vision and abdominal pains all symptoms of the poison I had slipped into her glass earlier. I think she had known as her eyes softened and misted but she took the glass from me, desperate for release.  Her cries are ripping me apart, I want to stay with her and hold her hand, tell her I love her, I want to see her through from this world to the next but I can’t bear to see her suffer and I hate myself for running out of her room and locking myself away.  

I sit on the floor, whimpering like a child and I realise that I am not strong at all. She has stopped crying out my name now and I know that it is all over. I feel more alone than I imagined would be possible. I reach for the box that she bequeathed me and my breath catches through my tears as I see a beautiful jewellery box within and an abundance of other precious items. In an instant, I know that my mother had kept every last item that belonged to Ellie. I can barely focus on all of the items because the tears keep welling up but there are letters, necklaces, rings, a journal, and her herb books. I feel overwhelmed by it all and the past moves a little closer to me. At last I am going to find out the truth.

 As I read her journal, I learn more about Ellie than I could ever have imagined. She wrote beautifully and honestly and recorded every thought and feeling including her affair with a married man. I search to find his name but it seemed that even in her journal, Ellie couldn’t break the silence surrounding their affair. The love she felt for him oozed from every page and I couldn’t put the book down. On the last page, her handwriting was blurred in places as if she had been crying whilst capturing her thoughts and as I read, I could finally understand why. The love of her life had died at her own hand, not with malice but to protect him from pain and suffering as his illness was long and fatal.

 Our lives were inextricably linked and sadness permeated through every pore and the air felt heavy and desolate around me. Was this what my mother had meant when she had said I must be my own man and not to live in the past? Both my life and Ellie’s were bleeding into one. At that moment our connection was strong and I felt her pain as much as I did my own, she had killed to protect as had I but Ellie had paid the price with her own life. The shadow of my guilt was heavy but I still had a chance to forge a good life for myself and bring honour to my family name. Unless, I like Ellie am caught and made to pay for my sins.

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