Shelly sat in the attic, looking at the pile of paper before her.
Her father had died three months before. She had inherited the house and everything that was in it, but she hadn’t the strength to start clearing things away until now. Even then, she was more looking through things than throwing anything out, the black bags she had brought up here were still sitting neatly to one side, completely empty. She had found this box of letters and recognised her fathers handwriting immediately, neat and orderly, and a few that seemed to have her mothers spidery scrawl. When she had opened the first she had expected some kind of love letter or letters from when her father would go on long business trips. It felt strange to be reading them, but she hoped it would provide some connection to her parents, who were always very affectionate to one another, and to her, in life. It had practically killed her father when her mother died three years before. Shelly could see that he was just going through the motions and she had feared for him. She had tried to bring him to life, to encourage him to go out and make friends, do something, anything than sit around the house. It had seemed to be working for a short while, until he shut himself away again.
The letters had begun innocuously, the top few were between her parents, general conversation sprinkled with love. As she worked her way deeper, the tone started to change, they were more formal letters, listing details they should have known about one another. Business like in their discussion of marriage and children. About half way down the letters between her parents stopped and the letters took a strange turn. To her left was the first letter she had found between her parents, from her mother to her father. It was short and simple,
“Dear Mr. Conway,
My name is Edith Smith, I’m sure are this point you have been made aware of the arrangement. I thought this would facilitate our eventual meeting.
I graduated top of my class and immediately started in the field. I worked alone for the first three years before it was decided I should have a partner.
I am a clean person, I enjoy cooking, but not cleaning. I expect each of us to look after our own laundry and mess. I will happily cook for us both if you are happy with that. I enjoy listening to the radio and reading books in my spare time. I enjoy dinners out and going to the movies occasionally.
I do hope we will get along as it seems we are to be together for a long time.
I look forward to hearing from you,
Her fathers reply had been similar in tone, it was a few letters later that they began to become friendly to one another and eventually, she could sense the easy familiarity and then love.
The letters before that were from some kind of business. Lots of letters congratulating him on a job well done, the details were not very clear or specific. Mostly just “congratulations on your solving the Frederick case, it was a tough one.” And “We were pleased you were able to complete the case so quickly and with minimal fuss.” Along with a few details regarding payments or how he could follow up on the case.
None of them went into detail, though neither did they seem to contain codes. Shelly couldn’t understand it. Her father had been a businessman, but the letters seemed to hint at more than just simple business. As far as she had known, her parents had met when they were in their early twenties at a dance and had fallen in love quickly, married within a few months. There was no mention of this strange correspondence or the apparent arrangement of their get together. Was it some kind of arranged marriage they were ashamed of? Were they some sort of spies in deep cover? Shelly dismissed that theory quickly, if they were spies they certainly would have put any of this in writing, nor would they have kept it. Even now she wasn’t sure why her father had done so. Perhaps he couldn’t bear to part with a physical memento of her mother. Maybe he had just forgotten they were here. His mind had been slipping at the end.
She gathered up the letters and placed them back into the box. She would bring them with her and study them later. Perhaps something of their mysterious past would be revealed once she had time to digest it a little. She set the box aside and grabbed another, hoping she would find more clues.
She went through several boxes, each one full of useless junk, none of which she could figure why they would be stored here. One was simply full of doorknobs, none of which matched any of the others in the house. As far as she was aware her father didn’t collect them though she had started to question what she really knew about her parents.
She pulled over another box and feeling the weight of it, decided it would be the last one for the day. She pulled it open and revealed books, some thin, some thick and all crammed in together. Frowning she started to unpack them. Both her parents were voracious readers, but they never kept books for long. Usually they were stacked on a shelf in the living room until it was deemed time to bring them to a second hand bookshop, usually when there were about ten or so. Each one of the books had a thick cover that felt like leather. None of them had titles written on the front or the spines of the them. She opened one and found her fathers neat writing. Were they diaries? She flicked through it, but found no dates listed. She opened another few, grabbing them at random. One or two had her mothers writing, but most seemed to be written by her father. She stopped at one entry,
“It was a difficult case, I was almost caught twice by the police. Luckily, I was able to dispatch Mr. Smith quickly and quietly. His body was sent back for examination. It seemed we were right and his kind were mutating, even if it was only slightly. They had failed to disclose this information to us. There is some discussion as to whether they will be exterminated. They have appeared friendly and open in our past dealings, but we all know that can be a clever ruse on their part. We learned that hard way with the events in the village of Heatherford. I still have nightmares about that place.”
She stopped reading. It sounded as though her father had murdered a man, and what was this talk of extermination? She read through more entries, some followed the same theme but others talked about meetings and seemingly peaceful ends.
“Edith is pregnant. We have discussed it at length, well, more argued. But she has finally agreed to stay at home once the child is born, though until then she is allowed to work. I worry for her terribly, even though I know she is a capable woman. It is a dangerous job, few live until retirement. I am fully accepting of this, as is she, but the child complicates things. I cannot bear the thought of it being orphaned. We had discussed other options, but we agreed that neither of us would be happy with that. The truth is we have wanted a family for a while even though it is a taboo subject among our kind. We are happy together, much happier than we ever expected. I would have liked more children, but we have agreed that this will be the only one. I am open to Edith returning to work at a later period, after the child has had a chance to grow some. She has accepted this compromise, though I do hope she will change her mind. If she wont, I have considered giving up this line of work myself. If she will allow me to do so, that may be the only option.”
As far as she had been aware, her mother had always been content to be a homemaker. She hadn’t realised her mother had even had the choice at the time. She closed over the book, wondering if she really wanted to continue reading it. She could just leave them here, forget about them and let them gather dust. She placed the books back into the box carefully. As she closed it over Shelly came to a decision. She needed to read these, not just for her curiosity, but for peace of mind. She had to know what her parents had been up to, what if they had enemies or people that might come after her? Sure, it wasn’t very likely, but it always paid to be prepared. Her parents had always said that and well, now was the time to take that advice. If they mentioned who they worked for, she might be able to figure out what they actually did. Work out if some of it was written in code or something. She picked up the box with a little grunt of effort and brought it downstairs, then she went up and got the letters. The rest of the stuff in the attic could wait for now. She’d go up there again soon to search for more information, but everything else could wait.